as, I didn’t like sex. It was uncomfortable and painful, and I didn’t understand why girls liked it so much. From the look on Dustin’s face whenever he got off, I could see that it was fantastic for him. But I never had that feeling. Aside from enjoying seeing him feel pleasure, I dreaded having to do it.
To my mother, Becky. You’ve been cheering me on since I was a child with the habit of telling elaborate stories. Thank you for encouraging me to reach for my dreams. I love you.
I need to start by thanking my agent, Jane Dystel, who is beyond brilliant. Signing with her was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. Thank you, Jane, for helping me navigate the waters of the publishing world. You are truly a badass.
My editor, Sara Sargent. I’ve loved working with her on this book. I look forward to working together on many more books to come. Mara Anastas, Anna McKean, Paul Crichton, Carolyn Swerdloff, and the rest of the Simon Pulse team, for all their hard work in getting my books out there.
The friends who listen to me and understand me the way no one else in my life can: Colleen Hoover, Jamie McGuire, and Tammara Webber. You three have listened to me and supported me more than anyone I know. Thanks for everything.
I need to give a big shout-out to Abbi’s Army, led by Danielle Lagasse. She has pulled together an amazing bunch of readers who promote my books and make me feel incredibly special. I love every one of you, and I am humbled that you would spend your time sharing my books with others.
Natasha Tomic, for always reading my books the moment I type “The End,” even when it requires she stay up all night to do it. She always knows which scenes need that extra something to make them a quality “peanut butter sandwich scene.”
Autumn Hull, for always listening to me rant and worry, and for still beta reading my books for me. I can’t figure out how she puts up with my moodiness. I’m just glad she does.
Last but certainly not least: my family. Without their support I wouldn’t be here. My husband, Keith, makes sure I have my coffee and the kids are all taken care of when I need to lock myself away and meet a deadline. My three kids are so understanding, although once I walk out of that writing cave, they expect my full attention, and they get it. My parents, who have supported me all along. Even when I decided to write steamier stuff. My friends, who don’t hate me because I can’t spend time with them for weeks on end because my writing is taking over. They are my ultimate support group, and I love them dearly.
My readers. I never expected to have so many of you. Thank you for reading my books. For loving them and telling others about them. Without you I wouldn’t be here. It’s that simple.
“Open them wider,” Dustin panted in my ear as he pressed my left knee against the leather backseat of his car. I thought we had this down by now, but sometimes he wanted something different. So I had to adjust. Also, keeping my head in the game was hard to do.
In the beginning it had hurt. Now it was just uncomfortable. But I loved Dustin, and he wanted sex. So I gave it to him. Which meant a few nights a week he pinched my nipples really hard, then did the deed and we were done. Being close to him made it worth it. I had felt so disconnected from him lately that this helped ease my mind. When we were back here together, we were okay again.
“Like this?” I asked, moving my leg up to rest along the top of his backseat.
“Fuck, yeah. Like that, baby. Just like that. You’re always so damn tight. It’s almost impossible to get inside you.”
I agreed with him. Which was why it was so uncomfortable. It seemed like there must be something to make it slide in easier. But he never mentioned that, so I didn’t ask.
“Fuck, uhhhh, yeah . . . God, babe, so good, uhhhh! GAAAAH!” he cried out loudly as he threw his head back and his eyes rolled into his head.
That meant this was over. He was done. Thank God.
When he moved off me, I quickly sat up in case he wanted to go for round two. I felt like he had made me do splits this time. I didn’t want a round two.
“You do know we’ll get married one day, right?” Dustin said as helped straighten my skirt, then handed me my panties.
I had never told him how unsure I was about us having sex all the time, but he knew me too well. He had been my best friend all my life, and when our relationship had progressed into something more, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone.
I had loved Dustin Falco since we were kids, so it only made sense that he and I would evolve into this—even if I wasn’t sure this was what I wanted. Our relationship had changed so much over the past two years.
Or maybe it was just that Dustin had changed so much over the past two years.
Sometimes I didn’t recognize him anymore. The boy across the street wasn’t the easygoing, trustworthy friend I’d always adored. He was the record-breaking basketball star who already had college scouts checking him out his sophomore year of high school. Girls wanted him, and boys wanted to be him. He basked in the attention. He knew he was special and he wasn’t humble about it.
But I loved him. So I accepted this change. At least, I was doing my best to. Even if it meant he only had time for me when he wanted to have sex. The rest of the time he was busy playing basketball—and drinking with his friends, which was something I wouldn’t do. I drew the line at going to the parties he attended. I had gone to two of them with him, and he had gotten so trashed that I had been forced to walk home by myself. If I didn’t come home by curfew, my parents would ground me until I turned thirty.
They trusted Dustin, but they had no idea who he really was. Not anymore. My parents would never be okay with me going to parties. My curfew was earlier than everyone else’s. It frustrated Dustin, but he always assured me that it was okay, that he’d work around it.
“You’re not talking again, babe. That means you’re upset. What’d I do this time?” Dustin asked as I tugged my panties back into place.
“Nothing. Just lost in thought. I’m not upset,” I assured him. This was what I always did: made sure he was happy and worry free.
He leaned over and touched the side of my face. The gentle look in his eyes reminded me of the boy I’d fallen in love with years ago. “You’re my one, Sienna Roy. My one and only. You know that, right?”
I nodded. He had been telling me that since our first kiss. A first kiss that might not have happened if Dustin’s older brother, Dewayne, hadn’t been showing me attention. It wasn’t that kind of attention. Not the kind he showed the girls his age. Dewayne was a senior our freshman year of high school. He and his pack of friends ran the school. They owned it.
On our first day of high school, Dustin had left me behind to hang out with the basketball team and the older guys who were more than willing to bring him into the fold. I was the girl who didn’t know many people because of my strict parents. Dewayne, however, found me in the hallway at school that day. He helped me get through it. For my first lunch in the big cafeteria, Dustin had gone to sit with his new friends and not invited me. I was extremely intimidated by the place, so I found a spot by a tree outside to eat my lunch. Alone. Until Dewayne Falco found me and sat down beside me. It was that way for a while. But the more attention he showed me, the more attention Dustin began to show me. Soon I was Dustin’s girl.
“I love you, baby. You’re my girl. I hate that we have to rush and I can’t take you to a bed and surround you with candlelight. That’s what you deserve. It’s what I want for you. But right now we have to sneak around your parents. One day you’ll be free. We won’t have them watching your every move.”
I nodded. He was right. One day I would go to college and my father’s overprotective eyes wouldn’t be trained on me. He would have to let me make my own choices.
“I love you, too,” I told him.
He grinned, then leaned in to kiss me. It was a soft peck. After sex Dustin liked to treat me as if I were a treasure. He never wanted me to doubt that he cherished me. It was these few moments that made the rest of it worth it. Because the truth w
“We have fifteen minutes to get you home,” Dustin said. This was a nightly ritual with us. He would take me home, then run off to a party or to go play basketball. It was painful to imagine him being around other girls, drinking and staying out late. I had told him once that it worried me that he would get tired of my parents’ rules and break up with me. He’d assured me he loved me and only me. Always.
I jerked my head around, startled by his outburst, to see him holding up his used condom. The come that was supposed to be neatly inside was coating the outside of the latex.
“Motherfucking condom broke,” he swore, before slinging it out the window. “That’s the second time this has happened with the box I bought last week. I’m getting a different brand,” he grumbled.
“I didn’t know another one had broken,” I said, trying to remember the time spent in the back of Dustin’s car the past week.
His face paled a moment, and then he shrugged. “I didn’t want to worry you. It pissed me off and I forgot. But that’s twice now. I’ll get us new ones. Don’t worry,” he said with a wink, then tugged his jeans up and fastened them.
“Let’s get you home.” He opened the door and climbed out, before reaching in and taking my hand to help me. Once we were both standing outside, he wrapped his arms around me and inhaled deeply. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Sienna. I love you so goddamn much. You’re my center. You keep me focused and grounded. I can trust you with anything.”
This was the Dustin I knew. My best friend. The guy across the street I had known all my life. Not the popular jock who drank too much at parties.
I stood on my tiptoes to kiss him, and he still had to lean down so I could reach his lips. Dustin was already two inches taller than his older brother. The Falco boys were tall. But Dewayne had wider shoulders and the kind of muscles that only men had. Dustin was still a boy. But he was my boy.
Still, that didn’t keep me from looking at Dewayne whenever I could get away with it. When Dewayne was outside washing his car, I was up in my room watching from behind the safety of my curtains. Any chance I had of getting a glimpse of Dewayne, I secretly took it.
The day Dewayne sat down beside me at lunch, he had become my hero. He had come to rescue me. And since then he had stepped in and saved me more than once. Having this guy who seemed larger than life always there to help me did things to my heart I couldn’t control. Even though I tried to stop feeling things for him. I just couldn’t.
I was in love with Dustin Falco, but I was in complete idol worship over his older brother, a fact I could only admit to myself. He was the kind of beautiful that a girl couldn’t ignore.
* * *
That night after I was tucked into bed and my thoughts drifted to fantasies of Dewayne (because this was the only time I allowed myself to mentally cheat on my boyfriend with his older brother), I heard the sirens. You didn’t hear sirens a lot in Sea Breeze. It was a small town, and rarely did the ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks have cause to run off to the same location. But the louder they got, the more serious I realized it was. Getting out of bed, I went to my window and looked down the road. I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them. All I knew was they were close.
The noise didn’t fade, but instead grew louder as more emergency vehicles joined in. I wrapped my blanket around me and sat down on my window seat to wait. I couldn’t sleep with all the noise, and I decided saying a prayer for whoever was the cause of this was important. My parents had raised me in church, and I completely believed in prayer.
Just as I closed my eyes my bedroom door opened, and I turned to see my mother standing there with a look of horror on her face. Was my dad home? I stood up as fear gripped me, and I met her gaze. “What’s wrong, Momma?” I asked. “Is Daddy here? He is, isn’t he?”
She nodded. “We’re all here,” she said, then put her hand on her heart and took a deep breath. “That’s not . . .” She stopped and closed her eyes. I let the blanket fall to the ground and started to go to her. She was scaring me.
“Momma, tell me what’s wrong,” I begged.
She lifted her eyes, and I saw the unshed tears shining in them. “It’s Dustin, sweetheart.”
“Dustin?” I asked, stopping and grabbing the first thing I could find to steady myself.
She nodded. “Your daddy just got off the phone with the pastor. He’s on his way to the Falcos’ now. Dustin wrapped his car around a tree,” she said, her voice trailing off.
He wrapped his car around a tree? How did he do that? I had just been with him two hours ago. “But is he okay?” I asked as the sirens continued to mock me. With all those emergency vehicles out there, how could he be okay?
Momma shook her head. “No, Sienna. He’s not okay. He’s . . . he’s gone, honey.”
Six years later . . .
I never expected to step foot in Sea Breeze, Alabama, again. When my parents had packed my bags and shipped me off to live in Fort Worth, Texas, with my mom’s sister, who I hardly knew, I had been told I would return to Sea Breeze after the baby was born. What I hadn’t been told was that they weren’t planning on my baby returning with me.
I glanced back at Micah, asleep in his car seat with his Darth Vader action figure clenched tightly in his hand. Our life hadn’t been easy, but we had each other. I wouldn’t go back and do it any other way. Micah was my life. He had healed me when I was sure nothing ever could.
Keeping Micah meant being disowned by my strict religious parents. My aunt wasn’t the most affectionate person in the world, but she’d disagreed with my parents’ decision. I had been expected to work and pay my own way, but at least she’d given us a roof over our heads.
Giving up on high school and getting my GED was my only option. My aunt Cathy was the principal at the local high school and helped me get a trade school grant, so when Micah was eighteen months old, I enrolled in beauty school. Before his third birthday I had a degree in cosmetology.
I owed my aunt more than I could ever repay her.
Micah and I moved out just last year and finally got an apartment of our own. I didn’t date because I didn’t trust anyone around my son. I also felt guilty paying for a sitter when we needed that money for more important things, like rent, day care, and food. It didn’t keep men from flirting, though, and trying to get me to go out with them. Janell, the owner of the salon where I worked, said that the men all thought I was playing hard to get. It just made them more persistent.
The truth was, I was lonely sometimes, but then Micah would smile and I’d see his father in him and I’d remember that for ten years of my life I’d had someone. A very special someone. And now I had Micah. I didn’t need anything more.
When the call had come two months ago from my mother to tell me about my father’s heart attack, I hadn’t known what to feel. He had never met Micah, and now he never would. My mother had used Dad’s life insurance money to move to a retirement community in central Florida. She’d given her house to Micah and me.
Not one time did she apologize for deserting me when I’d needed her most, or for turning her back on her only grandchild. But the fact that she had given the house to us meant something. I only hoped one day she would realize what she was missing by not knowing him.
Janell had helped me by giving me a glowing reference, and I had managed to get a job in Sea Breeze working at one of the most elite salons in town. I would be making more money, and I wouldn’t be paying rent any longer. Our life would be better in Sea Breeze. Micah would get to grow up in the small coastal town that I loved.
My only fear, and the one reason I almost didn’t come ba
ck home, was the idea of the Falcos seeing Micah. Once I’d realized that my parents hadn’t been planning on me keeping my son, I sent a letter to Tabby Falco, Dustin’s mother.
She never replied.
The first year of Micah’s life I wrote them countless letters and included pictures of him. He looked so much like his father. I wanted them to see that Dustin wasn’t completely lost to us. He had left a part of himself behind.
Not once did she respond.
A few times I’d almost worked up the nerve to call them, but if they weren’t replying to my letters, then they didn’t want to talk to me. They didn’t want Micah. It had hurt even worse than my parents not wanting him. I had hated the Falcos for their desertion. But then I’d learned to let go. Move on. Be happy with my life. With my beautiful little boy.
“Momma? Where are we?” a sleepy little voice asked from the backseat of my twelve-year-old Honda Civic.
“We’re home. Our new home,” I replied, pulling into the driveway of the house that had once been my home and would soon be again.
“Our new house?” he asked with excitement in his voice as he wiggled in his seat to see better.
“Yep, baby. Our new house. Ready to go inside and see it?” I asked him, opening my car door and getting out. It was a two-door, so I had to lean my seat forward to reach him in the backseat. He unbuckled himself, then scrambled out of his seat and jumped out of the car.
“Do other people live in there too?” he asked, staring up at the two-bedroom wood-frame house with wide eyes.
“Just us, kiddo. You’ll have your own bedroom here. Mine is right across the hall from yours.”
“Whoa,” he said, his eyes shining with amazement. Even when we had lived with my aunt Cathy, Micah and I had shared a room. Once we’d moved into an apartment, a studio was all I could afford with day care costs. This house was only twelve hundred square feet, but it was the biggest living space he and I had ever had all to ourselves. The studio apartment had been a third of this size.
“Let’s go see your new room. We might need to paint it. Not sure what color the walls are,” I told him. The last time I’d been in my old bedroom, it had been pink. Micah was determined that pink was for girls and wanted nothing to do with it.