Graduate student Autumn McShane has had her share of heartbreak. She’s been abandoned and betrayed and she lost her beloved mother in a tragic car accident five months ago. That loss damaged her body and fractured her spirit but she’s just learning to recover both until her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend returns to town, intent on making her life miserable.
Declan Fraser hates her ex as much as Autumn does, but the last thing she needs is to put her trust in the hands of another man, especially one like Declan: his hard body and lulling Irish accent makes more than few girls weak-kneed. The talented rugby player is rude and sarcastic, with tattooed, muscular arms and a cocky attitude, but he's the only one who can help Autumn win an ill-advised bet that, if lost, could cost her more than she's willing to pay. The reluctant alliance between Declan and Autumn stirs up cravings she doesn't want to admit, but Declan is a hard man to resist.
Just when Autumn starts letting down her carefully constructed walls to the sexy bad boy, he betrays her in her moment of greatest need. Autumn suspects Declan has dark secrets, and she is determined to uncover what drove him away from her, even if that means fraternizing with the enemy. But will the truth return Declan to her arms or add to the scars on her heart?
Eden Butler is an editor and writer of New Adult Romance and SciFi and Fantasy novels and the nine-times great-granddaughter of an honest-to-God English pirate. This could explain her affinity for rule breaking and rum. Her debut novel, a New Adult, Contemporary (no cliffie) Romance, “Chasing Serenity” will launch October 2013.
When she’s not writing or wondering about her possibly Jack Sparrowesque ancestor, thinking up impossible plots, Eden edits, reads and spends way too much time watching rugby, Doctor Who and New Orleans Saints football.
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My mother’s skin is pale. No steady thump moves the pulse in her neck, no awareness flickers in her eyes as she stares at me. There is nothing there. She is motionless, inert.
This can’t be real.
Glass is fractured all around us, stained red with our blood, and my jeans are soaked from the torrential rain that beats against the car, through the broken windshield. I can’t stop the shaking of my limbs, the shiver of cold that has nothing to do with the temperature. Mom’s face is splotched with that same red color; thick trails of blood leak from her nose and mouth. Her hands are fractured. There are breaks that twist and bend the joints, the bones, and in the stillness of the car, against the intermittent flashes from the lightening above, I notice that my hands are like hers, except where hers are battered and bloody, mine are clean. Strange that my mind can process that we share the same thin knuckles, the same translucent skin, identical ridges that tapper at the wrist. I try to reach for her, to close her eyes, but something is piercing me and it traps me to the seat.
“Mom?” I know she won’t answer. I’ve screamed my voice raw over the past hour trying to get her to respond.
Above the din of racking rain and the drumming pulse of vicious thunder, I hear sirens, but I know that it is pointless. They’ve come too late. She is gone. I am going. My vision blurs and I can only manage to look at her, to take in the dull white in her eyes and the pallid color of her lips.
“Mom, please.” The words come out in a whisper and my head swims with a dizzy cluster of swaying vision. I am floating, falling, but I train my eyes onto her face, a tether to this life, as fleeting as it is. I try again to reach her, but I am met with resistance, some sharp unknowable thing that doesn’t allow me to move. I am helpless here, something I have always made a point to never be. But I cannot rescue her. I can’t manage to even move an inch, to touch her face, to say goodbye.
My mind surfs with desperate thoughts, impossible hopes, until the scatter of images lands on our family, years before, when we were whole, when my parents loved each other, when my father wasn’t a coward. His voice rings in my ears, him singing something old, something very Irish, and I allow myself a smile. I forget the heartbreak he caused. I forget the loneliness in our too big home, how my mother’s smile was never quite the same. The bitterness that I’ve held so near to me, so certain and full next to my heart, slips away like an unintentional whisper and I rest my head back, my eyes still trained on her face. The sounds of storms and sirens around me evaporate and I listen to my father’s voice. It is soft, like a feather, and certain like the force of a windstorm.
“Autumn my love, this song is for you.”
I close my eyes as the phantom of my father sings me into silence, into calm, into the oblivion I know is waiting.
My godmother’s lip print is stained on my cheek. Wiping the color off is impossible. It is thick, expensive I’m sure, and doesn’t budge regardless of the efforts I make against it. The cool night breeze floats against my face and despite the unsettling news from earlier, I smile when the delicious scent of the bakery on the corner invades my senses. Cavanagh is safe, that’s true of most small towns, and I enjoy being able to walk from my apartment to campus and into the quaint easy bustle of downtown without worrying about being attacked. The rugby pitch, apparently, isn’t as safe.
My reflection is fractured, disjointed in Donoghue’s Hardware store window and the handkerchief from my bag is warm next to my skin. Distracted by the task of scrubbing my cheek clean, I don’t notice the form behind me until he speaks.
"You tattled, did you?”
Cavanagh is safe, but I’m not an unprepared idiot. My hand is around the mace in my pocket and extended outward before I see Declan standing in front of me. He stretches his long fingers in surrender, but his face is deadpan, curious. When I lower the mace, Declan slips his fists into the pockets of the thin, brown jacket. I know an argument is brewing. My impression of him in my classroom earlier today is likely correct: smug, condescending, vulgar. His eyes are narrowed, his mouth stretched into a firm line and he looks at me as though I am a stubborn spot on the top of his boot. I’m not in the mood for him, for his annoying little grumbles so I shake my head and walk away, but typical of every insufferably stubborn man I’ve ever known, he follows me.
“Not going to deny it?”
Ava’s news about my father has my nerves on edge. I’m anxious that I’ll turn the corner and see him waiting for me. I really don’t need Declan to add to my bad mood by picking a fight with me. He pulls on my elbow and spins me around and the small thread of patience I held breaks completely. I hope that my angry expression is vicious enough to make him realize just how stupid it would be to piss me off.
“I am not the girl and this is so not the night. Back off.”
He lifts one dark eyebrow underneath his shaggy hair and looks mildly impressed, but a second later, a board frown appears to accentuate the dimple in his cheek. “You were with the president.”
His frown deepens and his cheeks have taken on a pink hue, as though he’s either very annoyed or slightly drunk. “Did you not say you didn’t want anyone in a mess?”
“So what did you say to Winchell? Did you tell her about last night?”
I shouldn’t be surprised by his self-serving attitude. It’s been my experience that most men are solely focused on things that concern them and them alone. I release some of my anger, eager to put this bullying Irishman in his place.
“You know, it must be lonely living in a world that revolves solely around you.”
He smirks again. I’m starting to believe this guy has one superior, arrogant expression. “Insult me all you like, McShane, I’m not fussed.”
The casual use of my surname bothers me. It seems that hearing my first from his lips would require an exertion he can’t be bothered to manage. “Clearly you are. If you aren’t, why are you bugging me?”
“Just trying to see how deep the well of shite is I’m in.”
I walk away, pulling my arms across my chest to keep off the chill in the air. Naturally, he follows at my side.
“Get over yourself, Declan. Dr. Winchell is a family friend. We were just having dinner.”
“And I’m supposed to believe that, am I?”
What an unbelievable prick. “I really don’t give a shit what you believe.”
I don’t want to give this jackass the satisfaction of knowing he irks me, but I can’t stand on the sidewalk arguing with him all night. I also can’t hold back the litany of filthy oaths I muttered under my breath.
“What else am I to believe then? You and nancy boy Tucker are doing your best to piss me off.”
“Oh and how are we accomplishing that very easy task?”
Once again he stops me. He holds onto my arm longer than it takes to make me pause. His grip is snug and I feel a flush run over my chest, up my neck.
“A book sale?”
I jerk my arm free from his hold. “He thinks you could stand to be taken down a peg or two.”
“It’s an expression. Tucker didn’t buy your apology. Neither did I. Working on the book sale will help you learn humility.”
He arches his neck into a frustrated shake. “It’ll piss me off. And I don’t give a shite what Tucker thinks I need. I’m not here to kiss arse. I’m here to play.”
“All that playing you’re doing is what got you into trouble in the first place, isn’t it? Besides, Tucker said—”
“Oh sod Tucker Fecking Morrison.” I frown. It’s not like I haven’t said something similar about my ex in the past year, but Declan’s anger at Tucker seems extreme. It can’t just be the ridiculous amounts of testosterone I know fills the rugby pitch and Declan being pissed about having to apologize to me. Whatever it is, he ignores for a moment and his irritated frown and curled lip disappear. “That’s right. You fancy him, don’t you now?”
His smile is wide, incredibly condescending and I can only sigh at what I’m sure will be more sarcastic jibes.
“Well now that’s a shame.”
“And why is that?”
He shrugs. I don’t like the ridiculous grin on his face or the way his eyes light up with humor. “I just think it might be good for you to have a nice ride, even if it is with Morrison.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re wound so bleeding tight it’s a wonder you don’t pop.”
This guy really is full of himself. A five minute conversation and he thinks he knows me? “And how would you know that exactly?”
“I did kiss you.” Declan takes a slow step in my direction, his eyes narrowed and unflustered as he stares down at me. There is a crinkle of electricity in that stare and I my throat constricts. “Drunk as I was, I could tell you liked it. You weren’t all frigid, not for the whole of it. I felt your…a…” he looks down at my chest and his eyes linger between my two top buttons, “bits that were keen.”
He can’t be serious. For a moment I can only manage to stare at him, pausing to measure the expressions on his face, to see if he’s joking. Declan wets his bottom lip and I can do nothing but laugh. I didn’t realize men were really this obnoxious. He doesn’t seem to like my reaction. His face hardens, becomes guarded and severe and his cheeks grow an even deeper shade of pink.
“You think you rocked my world?”
“I did in fact, I’m guessin.”
I’m about to lie to a complete stranger. I have zero plans for getting back with Tucker. Besides, by his comment,
I get that Declan knows nothing about our history. I move in for the kill and Declan doesn’t jerk away from me when my fingers touch his face. His green eyes darken and he bites the inside of his lip. The crackle of energy returns, but I know it is forced, that my slow, intimate movement has elevated the tension exactly how I intend. I lift my hand, rub my thumbnail across his bottom lip and he swallows, the sound of his throat working is audible.
“Funny, because I recall my world getting rocked a lot harder those few minutes Tucker and I were alone in my classroom.” I drop my hand and step back, just a bit smug when I see Declan’s flustered gape and curled lip. As I continue down the sidewalk, I know he’s watching me. I know he’s frustrated, likely angry that I got to him. My heels click against the pavement, but the sound is drowned out by Declan’s low curses echoing behind me.