Meet Oliver and Vivian in this sexy, quirky and emotional stand-alone. You will laugh, you will cry and most of all, you will not be disappointed!
"What lies beneath my veiled perfection is the ugly truth—my truth, my reality, my destiny."
Vivian Graham has an acceptance letter into Harvard, a badass tattoo, loyal friends, ties to marijuana, a penchant for Dunkin’ Donuts, and her pesky V-card.
Everyday she takes the Red Line to her job at The Green Pot in Boston while her friends enter the coveted, black iron gates to higher learning. The ramifications from a tragic accident have put her life on hold while time marches on for everyone around her.
After graduating from Harvard Law, Boston native, Oliver Konrad, moves to Portland to start his career and his life. Three years later, after a horrific discovery, he returns home to trade in his three-piece suit for leather work boots and his suburban home for a condo in Cambridge.
All he brought back to the East Coast was an aversion to pillows and secrets he keeps hidden behind a mysterious locked door. Oliver’s days are predictable and his nights are lonely until he meets Vivian on the subway. Her long raven hair, green eyes, and mile-long legs are achingly sexy, but the way she "innocently" fingers and licks her Boston Kreme doughnut can only be described in two words—complete torture.
When their paths cross at every turn, laughter is abundant, friendship is easy, and love is unintentional. However, their future seems improbable.
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/1ziO905
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1w6SmWO
Jewel is a free-spirited romance junkie with a quirky sense of humor.
With 10 years of flossing lectures under her belt, she took early retirement from her dental hygiene career to stay home with her three awesome boys and manage the family business.
After her best friend of nearly 30 years suggested a few books from the Contemporary Romance genre, Jewel was hooked. Devouring two and three books a week but still craving more, she decided to practice sustainable reading, AKA writing.
When she’s not donning her cape and saving the planet one tree at a time, she enjoys yoga with friends, good food with family, rock climbing with her kids, watching How I Met Your Mother reruns, and of course…heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, panty-scorching novels.
Ivy League Doughnuts
Wake. Stretch. Shower. Then navigate through the bustling morning crowd to the subway via the corner coffee shop. A kaleidoscope of colors and the inviting bittersweet aroma of America’s favorite pick-me-up dazzles my senses.
No offense to Paul Revere, but when I think of Boston and its exhausting list of historical figures, William Rosenberg is the name that warms my chest and tempts my tummy. It’s my firm belief that his inspiration and influence in the business world fed my ambition to achieve the high merits that earned my acceptance into a well-known university north of the Charles River.
“Boston Kreme and a medium Dunkaccino, please.”
I ignore the piercing glances, rolling eyes, and subtle head shakes behind me. Yes, at five foot eleven inches I can eat whatever I want and not gain a pound. Long, wavy, ink black hair and green eyes, a runway model on the outside. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before. My personal assessment of the reflection in my mirror includes the words lanky, bony, witchy hair, monster eyes, and freaky freckles. A tiny grin tugs at the corners of my mouth as I focus on my phone, moving my thumbs over the screen with effortless strokes to send off a text.
Me: Up, bitches? 2 hrs. to study then get your asses to work. The real world awaits.
Judgments are nothing more than presumptuous thoughts, flawed opinions at best. What lies beneath my veiled “perfection” is the ugly truth––my truth, my reality, my destiny. Though, for now, I grab my decadent treats and sashay out the door with a wicked smile.
Two years after I nailed the admissions interview, I have yet to see the inside of a Harvard lecture hall, but it won’t be long now. Instead, I take the Red Line at Harvard Square to Central Square every morning while my two bitches enter the coveted black iron gates to “Grow In Wisdom.” Since my hopes of love and marriage were snuffed out like a torch my senior year of high school, I have my whole life to focus on becoming a successful entrepreneur.
The air grows thick and musty on my final descent to the subway. And then I see him, my new visual indulgence. He first captured my attention a week ago. A sky scraper among the diverse sea of heads bowed and drawn into their handheld technological gods. But then again, when you’re my height the bar for being considered tall is set pretty high. He must be at least six foot four with lean muscles, short sandy blond hair, and cornflower blue eyes. Sipping my Dunkaccino, I peek over the lid and worm my way through the morning crowd, positioning myself to get on the same car. Everyday he’s dressed in faded jeans, an old T-shirt, and leather work boots. Maybe he’s married, or has a girlfriend, but it doesn’t matter. My infatuation will go no further than basking in his sexy aura and taking mental pictures to use for my own pleasure.
The train screeches to a stop and the whoosh of the hydraulic doors sets the crowd in motion. Most mornings I find a seat opposite my rugged blue-collar worker. We play a flirty game of peek-a-boo where I unabashedly stare at him until he glances at me then diverts his shy eyes, taking a deep swallow. I eat my Boston Kreme doughnut and sip my coffee keeping my eyes fixed on him. Click, click, click—I take my mental pictures.
This morning, however, the car is herded to capacity. I find myself next to him with my drink in one hand and my doughnut in the other. As the rest of the passengers cram in, I glance up and smile. He returns a hesitant smile, and for the first time I can see his straight white teeth and dimples. Holy crap! He has dimples. My heart rate increases exponentially as I lift my doughnut toward my mouth. Dimples! The doors fold shut and the train jerks forward before my legs have a chance to balance and root into the floor.
“Oh shit! Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” I’m drowning in horrid humiliation while peeling my half-eaten doughnut off his gray T-shirt. I can’t look at him.
Through my squinted eyes, all I see is a smeared glob of chocolate frosting in the middle of his shirt. Risking a glance, a grimace takes over my face while meeting his raised brows, eyes darting back and forth between me and his shirt. Depositing the doughnut back in the bag, I retrieve the wad of napkins I shoved in my purse and begin to wipe his shirt like a mother would do to a child. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t move. My brain registers the faint giggles and snickers from a few of the lucky commuters who have witnessed this embarrassing mishap. I may have to start taking the bus from now on, or dress incognito so I’m not recognized as the clumsy doughnut girl.
“It’s fine,” a deep voice sounds. Long fingers encircle my wrist, halting my frantic strokes. “It’s just a shirt.”
Biting my lips together, I nod unable to make eye contact. He releases my wrist and I shove the napkins into my bag.
“I, uh … I’m just so, very clumsy … embarrassed, and uh, again … sorry.” I. Will. Not. Move. I shall stay bowed in shame until I leap from the train at the next opportunity.
“It’s really okay, no need to feel bad.”
“Central Square,” the speaker sounds as the train’s piercing brakes pull to a halt.
My frantic dash to the door threatens to take out a few unsuspecting passengers. I can’t concern myself with that; sometimes casualties are unavoidable and necessary.
“Is this your stop?” Mr. Frosting Shirt says with a questioning tone, probably because for the past week he’s gotten off the train before me.
It is today!
Without looking back I nod and sprint off the subway.
Lucky for me, when the white sign with the green planter’s pot becomes visible over the hill, there isn’t a line of miffed people waiting under it to get in the door.
“Maggie, I’m so sorry,” I say with a genuine apologetic tone as I shove my bag under the counter and tie on my green apron over my fitted T-shirt and frayed denim shorts. “I had to take the bus and walk the last mile.”
“Vivian, dear, why are you apologizing? I told you to take the day off anyway.” Maggie shakes her head while arranging the packs of seedlings into cardboard flats.
I take over while she rings the customer’s order up on the register. “I know, but this is the busiest time of year and who knows if or when Alex and Kai will show up to help.”
Maggie, proud owner of The Green Pot nursery, originally started her business as a front for growing marijuana. She’s not a law-breaking pothead, per say. She’s a ten-year cervical cancer survivor.
“You don’t see me looking too concerned do you?”
I laugh. Maggie has saintly patience and I love working for her. The Green Pot has become a legitimate greenhouse—one of the top suppliers for local landscaping companies—but she still has a stash of wacky tabbacky for those who don’t want to jump through the hoops to get it legally. Her only request is that these VIP customers don’t all come on the same day with their scarf and bandana wrapped heads asking for the Brown Bag special.
“Chance should be here soon if you want to go out back and double check to see if his order is all there.”
Ah, Chance Konrad, the horny green jack-of-all-trades owner of The Handy Hunk. Chance is a real player and, in his eyes, I am the World Series of his playboy game. For two years he has tried to sweep me off my feet and into his bed. For two years I have rejected his often times outrageous efforts to win my affection.
The familiar red flatbed truck backs into the loading zone as I finish double checking the order. “Vivian.” Chance’s velvety voice caresses my name as he strips me with his usual lustful gaze.
I give him the eye roll he’s come to expect while shaking my head. “Chance.”
I’m not naive enough to think that he has been waiting in patient celibacy for me to succumb to his advances. In fact, I can’t imagine him going a single night without some gullible girl’s naked body wrapped around his. Not that I too don’t find him physically appealing, but I’ve resigned myself to believe that all my orgasms will be self-induced. Chance is eye candy, another visual for my private moments. Click. Click. Click.
“Hate to disappoint you, I know how much you look forward to our sexy banter, but my brother is working with me now so you’ll need to use a little more discretion with your advances,” Chance says as he leans against the back of his truck with his arms folded over his chest.
Uncontrolled laughter erupts from my chest but halts in my throat, nearly choking me, as the other door to the truck opens and a very tall guy steps out with a chocolate stain stamped in the middle of his gray T-shirt.
Kill. Me. Now!
“Viv, this is my brother Oliver. Don’t mind his shirt. Some chick on the subway rammed into him with her doughnut.”
My eyes are so wide I think they’re locked in this position. “That uh, really sucks. She must have felt awful.”
“Yeah, what did you say?” Chance looks at Oliver. “That she scurried off at the next stop with her tail between her legs?” Chance laughs.
Oliver grimaces, glancing at me. “I don’t think that’s exactly what I said.”
“Yeah, bro, it was. You also said––”
“I’m sure she gets the point!”
I nod and cross my arms over my chest. “Oliver’s right. I get it. I can totally imagine it. But I’m sure she didn’t run off with her tail between her legs. It was probably just her stop.” I give Oliver a tightlipped grin and offer my hand. “Anyway, Vivian Graham, nice to meet you.”
Oliver stares at my hand for a few moments then meets my eyes. “Nice to meet you, Vivian.” We shake hands and my grip cinches to convey my unspoken displeasure with his interpretation of what happened this morning.
“Mind if I use the restroom before we load up and head out?” Chance asks, not waiting for my response before he heads into the building.
Oliver and I divert our gazes away from each other as an awkward silence closes in on us. I glance at his shirt and an uncontrollable giggle bubbles up and out.
“What are the chances?” I laugh, shaking my head and meeting his gaze.
He grins and chuckles.
“I really am sorry. I’ll get you a new shirt.”
Wiping his hand over the dried chocolate stain, he licks his lips and smiles so big his dimples steal my attention. “Not necessary. It will probably come out and if not, I’m quite certain I have at least twenty other old T-shirts just like it.”
“Load ’em up!” Chance emerges from the building as we slip on our work gloves and start arranging the plants into the back of the truck.
When everything is loaded and secured, Chance hops in the truck, starts the engine, and rolls down the window. “Let’s go, Oliver, no need to flirt with my girl. After two years of rejecting yours truly, I’m pretty sure she’s a lesbian. And for some reason that makes my dick even harder.”
Oliver closes his eyes and shakes his head as I laugh. “Please excuse my vulgar brother. He doesn’t have a delay button between his brain and mouth.”
I wave a dismissive hand. “I’ve been putting up with him for two years. His potty mouth is the highlight of my lesbian day.”
Oliver furrows his brow with a slow nod. “All right then, I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Later, guys.” I hand the order receipt to Oliver with a wink and walk away to check on Maggie.
“Now I know why you’re taking on so many landscaping jobs instead of sticking to mowing and home repair.” I flash Chance a knowing glance.
“She’s hot as hell, isn’t she?” He grins, pulling out of the back parking lot.
I shake my head. “It’s been two years. I think it’s safe to say she’s not interested.”
He lifts his shoulders. “She’s baiting me, slowly reeling me in.”
“She’s stamped rejection on your head so many times you have brain damage and can no longer see you make her skin crawl with your dick talking out of your mouth.”
“She’s a nice girl. We have a good thing going. Didn’t you notice how she defended the doughnut chick from this morning?”
“Shit.” I laugh and run my hands though my hair. “She is the doughnut chick from this morning, dickhead.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
I roll down my window and pull my Red Sox baseball cap on. “Vivian was the one on the subway who fell into me with her doughnut. Thanks to you, now I look like a real asshole because you had to run your mouth about the whole tail between the legs comment.”
Chance laughs. “Damn, you lucky son of a bitch! I should start taking the T. I’m probably missing out on a huge untapped population of hot women. They’re wasting their time bumping into you, the one guy who won’t ever give them the time of day.”
I sigh. “You’re right. I couldn’t care less.”
At the chance of risking what’s left of my manhood to some philosophical bullshit, I have to admit that digging in the dirt and being in the sun all day is somewhat therapeutic. I can’t help but mentally pat myself on the back for coming to that conclusion without the help of a psychiatrist. Lord knows in an effort to save one hundred and forty dollars an hour, I can ask myself how I’m feeling and why I think I’m feeling it with less resentment than I felt from those damn therapists in Portland.
We’re adding raised-bed gardens to a hotel in the Seaport district so they can use the fresh vegetables and herbs in their restaurant. Just one of a million reasons I love this town.
“Wanna go out tonight?” Chance asks while mixing the compost into the soil.
“Tara is going to bring her sister. We’re going to some new Italian place by the wharf then to Mike’s for Cannoli.”
“Who’s Tara?” I sit back on my heels and wipe the sweat from my brow with the bottom of my chocolate-stained shirt.
“The girl I took to Mom’s birthday dinner.”
“Oliver, you need to get out.”
“You don’t know what I need and I told you never to mention a fucking second of my past!”
“Jeez, dude! I’m not talking about your past. I’m talking about now! Nothing more than dinner with a pretty woman. She just graduated from MIT and she’s brilliant. A nerdy scholar like yourself. It’s okay to let a nice piece of ass make your dick twitch every once in awhile. Gives your hand a break.”
“Nobody says that anymore, but whatever, your loss.”
I hate that he’s right, but I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than admit it out loud.
“Sorry, Chance, I’m just … shit, I’m just not ready. I’m not saying never, just not now.”
He pats me on the shoulder. “Don’t sweat it, Bro.”
With a deep sigh, I close my eyes and try to shake the image of the one person who does make my dick twitch. And when that fails, I decide to call it a day. It doesn’t appear that my hand will be getting a rest anytime soon.
I’ve been back for two months settling into my new life. I feel like a zombie most of the time. Food lacks taste, I see the sun but I can’t feel it touch my skin, comedy is void of humor, and the monotonous play of life in all its muted colors doesn’t catch my eye. At least that was the case until last week when I started working with my brother.
Living in Cambridge, I take the Red Line to South Station. Every morning for the past week, I’ve sat across from this long-legged woman with raven hair falling in unruly waves around her slender shoulders and down her back. Soft green eyes peek through sexy long lashes, casting a spell on me, and I’ve found myself locked in a trance watching her eat her cream filled doughnut with chocolate frosting. She makes a complete mess of it, and by the time she’s done every guy in the subway car is sporting a boner from watching her lick her full lips and suck the sticky sweetness off her long fingers one at a time like a fucking Dunkin’ Donuts porn movie.
So now the only thing I smell is a mixture of coffee and doughnuts. I can taste sweet cherry red lips that I will never kiss. It’s absurd I’m so fucking enthralled with her just the thought of the subway elicits a pathetic schmuck grin, and the vision of her lingers like a drunken haze even when I close my eyes. But most disturbing is the part of my body she awakens that I swore I’d never use again.
I’m so screwed.
The Welcome Wagon
“Hey, bitches, it’s about time you showed up.” I give both Kai and Alex a big hug.
“Sorry, Flower. Sean and Kai were late.” Alex pins Kai with a gimlet-eyed stare before hugging me.
“I hate when you call her that,” Kai clenches his jaw.
“She calls us her bitches, yet you think calling her flower, like we both don’t know what’s tattooed on her back, is somehow what? Disrespectful?”
I link my pinkie to Kai’s then playfully nudge him in the shoulder. “I can think of worse things to be called.”
The scowl on Kai’s face refuses to fade. Alex thinks she knows everything about the events that led to my inked backside, but she doesn’t. Kai was there and as much as he would like to forget how that night forever changed my life, he can’t. I hope someday we can remember what we were and not what we’ve become.
“I hate that fucking tattoo,” he says.
“Well good thing it’s mine and not yours. Besides, Kate has an infinity symbol tattooed on her ankle.”
“Ah, Kai and Kate. It’s bad enough that you two look like Ken and Barbie, but seriously, hearing your names together is just too much.” Alex mock gags with her finger in her mouth.
“I don’t look like Ken.”
“Maybe not blond Ken, but you could pass for the pretty boy dark-haired doll, and Kate is definitely Barbie. I’ve never seen her in anything but heels. Are her feet permanently molded to that shape? Does she walk on her toes even when she’s barefoot?” Alex laughs.
“Suck me, Alex.”
“Afraid not, babe. Sean’s idea of a threesome is with me and Flower.”
“Timeout, you two!” I make a T with my hands. “I’m going home while you two help Maggie close up. Try to play nice.”
“I won’t be home tonight,” Alex says as I sling my bag over my shoulder.
“You never are. Tell Barbie … I mean Kate, I said hi.” I giggle, giving Kai a wink.
He scans the crowd for onlookers, then waves goodbye with his lone middle finger.
I stick in my earbuds and float away with Ed Sheeran as I take the Red Line back to Harvard Square. At South Station an all too familiar face steps through the doors. We make eye contact, sharing mirrored grins.
“You’re haunting me today,” I tug my earbuds out.
Oliver takes the seat next to me. “I could say the same about you.”
“Your obnoxious brother let you off early?”
Oliver laughs. “I didn’t ask. I pretty much decide when I’m done. What’s he going to do? Fire me?” His gaze dips, heating my skin. “So why are you going home so early?”
“Wasn’t really my day to work so I left my friends to clean up the mess and close up shop. Besides, I skipped lunch and I’m starving.”
“You think it’s because you skipped lunch? Or maybe it’s because you left half of your breakfast with me.” Oliver pulls at his chocolate-stained shirt.
“Funny guy, huh? I’m starting to feel less and less badly about this morning’s little incident.”
We both stand as the train stops at Harvard Station. “Come on.” He signals with his head as we step off. “I owe you a doughnut.”
I hesitate as commuters shuffle past us. “That’s a ridiculous comment, but I’m starving so yeah, I’ll let you buy me a doughnut.”
We navigate up the stairs and make our way out to Harvard Square. I hold up a finger and duck into the corner shop returning just a few minutes later. “Here, we’re even.” I toss him a Harvard T-shirt. “Now you can pretend you went to an Ivy League school.”
He shrugs off his shirt leaving me with a gaped-mouth stare as I look around to see if anyone else is watching. Drool-worthy, carved muscles hug his lean frame, and I can’t hide the blush that creeps up my neck as he slips on the new shirt before tossing the old one in the trash.
“What makes you think I didn’t go to Harvard?”
I shrug. “Well, probably the leather work boots. Why? Did you go to Harvard?”
Oliver cruises ahead toward Dunkin’ Donuts. “It’s possible.”
I can feel his smirk as I roll my eyes and jog to catch up.
“After you.” Smirking, Oliver holds open the door.
“Why thank you, Mr. Konrad.”
We order doughnuts and iced coffee then take a seat by the window.
“So, are you?”
“Am I what?” He arches a sly brow.
“A Harvard graduate.”
“Ah, piqued your curiosity, have I?”
“A little.” I remove the lid from my coffee.
He stares into his drink as if he’s waiting for his next words to float to the top. “Yes, I went to Harvard.”
“Cool,” I reply, sticking my finger into the cream-filled hole then licking it off.
With cow eyes, Oliver watches me suck the filling off my finger. He clears his throat. “Yes, I guess it is cool.”
Sticking my finger back in the hole to scoop out more filling, I laugh. “I don’t mean it dismissively, I’m just trying to not make a big deal of it. You’re obviously not using your degree, that is if you received one, so I don’t want to make you feel bad for doing something else in life.”
Sliding my tongue along my cream-covered finger, I wait for his response. He’s staring at my mouth again with his lips parted and he takes an exaggerated swallow when his eyes meet mine.
“Uh, that’s um, an interesting way to eat a doughnut.”
I lick my lips and grin. “I like to savor it. You know, the way some people lick the frosting from the center of an Oreo before eating the cookie part?”
He nods and clears his throat. “I graduated with a degree in Law.”
“Really? Did you ever practice?”
His forehead tenses into valleys of lines, almost looking pained. “For a short while, but … life became too demanding so I had to give it up.” He says each word with slow calculated precision.
“Do you think you’ll ever start practicing again?”
He keeps eye contact, but his gaze becomes glazed. “A few years ago I would have said no, but now I hope I find my way back.”
“Sounds like you’re lost.”
Oliver leans back and laces his fingers behind his head. “I think I am.”
I pull the straw from my cup and chew on the end giving thought to his comment. “Lost is a state of mind. You’ll find yourself when you acknowledge you’re exactly where you need to be in this moment.”
He laughs. “At Dunkin’ Donuts?”
“Nope, just alive.” I smile but it falters as I watch the color drain from Oliver’s face. “Did I say something wrong?”
The legs of his chair screech along the floor as he stands. “No, I just should get going.”
I grab my drink, shoving the straw back into it, and stand. “Okay, well, thanks for the late afternoon treat.”
“Yeah, sure. So I’ll see you around.” He doesn’t wait for me and before I can say anymore he’s out the door.
Now who’s scampering away with their tail between their legs? What the hell just happened? How can Chance be so transparent, as in, “I’d do you in the back of my pickup,” but Oliver such an enigma? I climb the front stairs to my building while fetching my keys.
“Hey, Oliver, how’s it going?”
I whip around and see Oliver waving toward an open window of a condo across the street, then he digs his keys out of one pocket while holding a paper grocery sack with the other. He unlocks the door next to the one with the open window, enters, and closes it without a single glance in my direction.
No way! Oliver is my neighbor?
I have nothing to offer this tall sexy man, yet I feel compelled to march across the street like the welcome wagon with a chip on her shoulder.
Knock knock knock!
He opens his door and his brows sink into a scowl. “Did you follow me?”
I make a fist and point my thumb over my shoulder. “See that red door?”
“That’s where I live. I heard your neighbor greet you as I was getting ready to unlock my door. How long have you lived here and why did you drop me like burnt toast then run out of the doughnut joint?”
He jerks his head back. “Um, two months and I didn’t drop you like burnt toast, I had to get going.”
Crossing my arms over my chest I widen my stance, jutting my hip out. “How have I not seen you coming or going? And yes, you did drop me like burnt toast, and then you ran out the door with your tail between your legs.”
He rests his free hand on his hip and bends down to my eye level. “I don’t exactly have a front yard or porch swing to lounge in, so it’s not a big surprise that we haven’t run into each other. And I didn’t run out with my tail between my legs.”
“Well … whatever. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
Turning on my heels, I sally forth down the stairs.
I stop, keeping my back to him.
“Thank you for the shirt. You said something that hit a little too close to home and I didn’t know how to react so … I left. It was a dick move and … I’m sorry.”
I nod once and continue across the street.
“Hey! Do you want to come in for a drink or something?”
“Are we good?” he yells.
Unlocking my door without looking back, I flash him the A-OK sign with my left hand.
I pour myself a scotch and collapse on my back deck. Normally I wouldn’t turn to hard liquor before five o’clock, but the black magic my new neighbor across the street weaves requires something stronger than a Sam Adams. I had the upper hand when she nearly choked on her own saliva as I shrugged off my shirt in the middle of Harvard Square. It was completely unnecessary, but I wanted to see how she’d react. I’m not sure why, since I have no intention of acting on any of my dick brain impulses. The impulses she feeds like blood to sharks. The crazy part is I honestly don’t think she has a clue what she does to me and probably every other straight guy she encounters. Seriously, what was that today? Finger fucking her doughnut then sucking it off like she was giving a tutorial on blow jobs?
I don’t even recognize the voice in my head. I’m depressed, agitated, lost, starving, and horny as hell. It’s been over three years since I’ve had sex. Three. Years! Chance thinks I need to get laid, but I’ve never been the guy who easily indulges in one night stands. However, a relationship is not an option, so I guess I’ll keep my Playboy subscription and hand lotion to save the poor women of Boston from falling prey to my selfish needs and lack of ability to ever commit again.
The scotch is numbing, infiltrating my blood with the ease of molasses. In moments like this I feel outside of my body, a stranger observing the mere shell of the man he used to be. I miss that Oliver Konrad. He was full of life, confident, kind, aspiring, and driven. But mostly he was connected, rooted in this world and thriving in his environment, taking all life had to give.
Lost. I’m lost in this moment. I’m lost in every moment, floundering around as one day blurs into the next. I won’t look back, but I can’t see forward. Stuck—that’s it—I’m stuck. Am I waiting to be rescued? Will I dig my own way out and move forward? Or, will I perish in this dark hole?
I haven’t missed many sunrises in my adult life. It’s my favorite time of the day. It used to be symbolic of living to see another day, but now it’s the reminder I need that time isn’t standing still. For a brief moment I actually feel the earth moving beneath my feet, inching me away from my past.
Several months ago I agreed to move back home under one condition—my family would never mention my time in Portland. It’s asking a lot of my mom, who is a psychiatrist, to pretend her son is not fucked-up in the head, almost to the point of insanity. My dad, however, is a cardiologist and he openly admits the only matters of the heart he cares to deal with are the ones behind the closed doors of a sterile OR.
“Are we still on for dinner, sweetie? Your brother is bringing a ‘friend’ so feel free to do the same. Love you!”
I delete the voice message off my phone with a deep sigh. My family is the best, really. Growing up in Boston our house was the gathering point for all our friends, and when it wasn’t overrun with kids, my parents hosted dinner parties and wine tastings. Now the once Leave it to Beaver house is haunted by the ghosts of my past and the only thing more awkward than the impersonal and random dinner conversation is the blinding pain in their eyes. It says so much more than words ever could.
Me: I’ll be there, no plus one for me. Love you.
I send off a quick text and head to Harvard Square. Leaning against a concrete post in the underground transportation dungeon, I see the doughnut queen come down the stairs. Curious eyes find me as she masks her smile behind the lid of her coffee cup. It should be illegal for someone with legs that long to wear shorts that short. I wait for her to make her usual navigation in my direction, but instead she stares at the MBTA map like she hasn’t seen it a million times before.
Worming my way through the growing crowd, I stand behind her without saying anything.
“Hey, neighbor,” she says, and I think I can hear the grin on her face.
“No doughnut today?”
She turns, both hands cupping her coffee inches from her mouth. “I already ate it. Thought it was in all the other commuters’ best interest.”
I grin and nod. I’m sure I won’t be the only guy disappointed that the 7:30 a.m. doughnut porn show has been cancelled.
We board the subway and stand facing each other again. I look at her coffee with a single raised brow, then at her eyes.
“No worries.” She smiles, securing a firm grip on her hot drink as the train jerks to a start.
“I wasn’t thinking anything.” I chuckle.
“You were thinking I was going to owe you another new shirt. Your eyes say it all. It must be a Konrad family trait because your brother’s eyes don’t lie.”
“Well, you’re wrong. I was actually wondering what you eat when you’re not sucking down caffeine and sugar.”
“If that’s your sneaky way of asking me to dinner, then I’ll stop you right now.”
Glancing over her head I shake mine, rolling my eyes. “I’m not asking you to dinner or looking for a date. I was just making conversation.”
“Good, because I don’t date.”
I shrug. “Neither do I.”
“Fine,” I say back as we approach my stop. “Well, see you around.”
“Indian!” I hear her call as I maneuver my way to the doors.
I glance back.
She lifts her shoulders with a goofy grin beaming across her face. “Since you wondered … I like Indian food.”
“Me too.” I match her grin and jump off as the doors start to shut.
A Nun’s Life
3 Years Earlier
“We don’t have to,” Kai reassures me.
“I know. Don’t you want to?”
“Yeah, of course I do … I just, you know … I don’t want to hurt you.”
I slip off my sundress and wait for him to make the next move. His eyes explore my body and I feel it. Desire. I didn’t know if I would feel it, if I even could, but Kai wants me and when he pushes down his shorts exposing his tented briefs, my hopes are confirmed.
“Are you sure your parents won’t be home until later?” he whispers as if there’s someone else in the house.
“I’m sure. Besides, I’ll be nineteen in another month. What could they possibly do to me?”
Kai nods, shrugging off his shirt. He’s the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome with his olive skin, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and muscles defined from relentless laps in the pool. I can’t believe the boy I’ve known since kindergarten, the one who used to call me skeleton girl because my early growth spurt made it nearly impossible to keep an ounce of fat on my body, stands before me ready to take my virginity.
It’s taken twelve years for our friendship to blossom into something beautiful. There have been a spectrum of emotions and drama between us. But after years of choosing every girl except me, it’s finally my turn. Kai wants to be with me, not as a friend, but a lover. I push back the thoughts of his jealousy. Whether I need it or not, I don’t want to be reminded that he chose me after I showed interest in someone else. A little competition is good. It’s what he needed to see, the only girl for him has been by his side all along.
My legs shake as I step closer to him. I rest my hands on his bare chest, and he weaves his fingers through my hair. Our lips connect and a silent chill ripples through me as my skin tightens, erupting with goose bumps. We’ve been intimate in every way except having sex. My hand makes the familiar journey along his stomach, slipping under his briefs. He moans into my mouth as I stroke him. I love how firm he gets for me.
Kai moves his hands to my shoulders, gently pushing me down. Freeing him from his briefs, I take him in my mouth like I’ve done so many times before. His head falls back as he sucks in a tight breath. We’ve done this, and as much as I like pleasing him, I want more. I want to feel him inside of me. I want him to take what I’ve saved just for him.
“Kai?” I release him with my mouth but continue to stroke him with my hand.
“Don’t stop, baby.”
“Kai, I want more.” I stand, reaching behind to unclasp my bra. As it falls to the floor, I watch his eyes. “Touch me.”
Kai’s never given me an orgasm. I want that to change tonight. Maybe if there are no boundaries, he’ll take his time with me. Our intimacy usually ends as soon as he’s had his release. Maybe the feeling of him penetrating me will allow me to let go of my own pleasure.
“Please, Kai, touch me.”
He’s still. I slide down my panties, step out of them, and take his hand. As I turn to lead him to my bed, I hear his breath catch in his throat and his grip on my hand tightens. I shouldn’t look back, because I know what I’ll see and it will crush me.
My body deceives me. Turning my head, I see it. Pity.
“Viv…” he shakes his head “…I’m so sorry. Does it hurt?”
Yanking my hand from his, I sigh. “No, it doesn’t hurt! What hurts is the look in your eyes. Jeez, Kai, you’ve touched it before!”
“I know, it’s just … this is the first time I’ve … seen all of it. I didn’t think it’d look so …”
“So what? So gross? So disgusting? So deformed? What, Kai? Tell me!”
Tears swell in his eyes.
“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare cry!”
“I’m sorry, Viv. Maybe we should wait—”
“No.” I pull my hair over my shoulder so he has an unobstructed view of my back. “Take a good long look because this is the last time you’ll see it. The last time I’m going to put up with that pathetic pity in your eyes.”
I grab my dress and slip it back on.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“I’m taking my virginity and what’s left of my pride as far away from you as possible. Hell, I’m taking my freakin’ virginity to my grave someday!”
“Take your sorry ass someplace else. I’m not going to be part of your pity party. Not now, not ever! I can’t change what happened and neither can you. Your incessant apologies have been eating me alive, but that look … you gutted me with that ONE! Single. Look.”
“Kate’s leaving for Italy with her parents in the morning. I’m yours for a month.” Kai swaggers in the house and plunks himself down on the couch.
“It’s laughable that you think I want to hang out with your boring ass for the next month. And come on in, by the way, have a seat, make yourself at home.”
He laughs while propping his feet up on the coffee table. “Thanks, I think I will. Why don’t you grab me a beer?”
“Get it yourself, bitch.” I smack his feet off the table. “It’s been a long day. I just want to fall into bed not babysit you. What are all your frat boys doing tonight?”
“Vacationing or getting laid.”
“Who’s vacationing or getting laid?” Alex asks, tossing her bag by the door.
“Apparently, everyone but Kai.” I give him a gleam of devilry.
“And Viv.” He smirks back.
Harnessing all the maturity I can find, I stick my tongue out at him. “Who put you in charge of my hymen? Maybe I’ve already gotten laid. It’s not like I’d send out a text or anything.”
Kai rolls his eyes.
“Flower, is there something you’re not telling me?” Alex raises a single brow.
“No, there’s nothing she’s keeping from you. Trust me, if there were, she sure as shit wouldn’t let you call her that damn nickname!”
I walk toward the front door, smacking Kai on the back of the head. “Don’t be so sure.”
“Hey, where are you going?” Kai jumps up ready to follow me like the lost puppy he’ll be for the next month.
“I need tampons, but I’d love the company.”
He collapses back down on the couch with a dragged-his-blanket-in-the-dirt look. “I think I’ll stay with Alex.”
“I’m just grabbing some clean clothes and heading back to Sean’s. Sorry, Kai Pie.” Alex sticks out her pouty lower lip as she passes him to go upstairs.
Kai grabs his bag and follows me out the door. “You know the only name I hate more than Flower is Kai Pie. Pencil me in for dinner tomorrow.”
I waltz off in the opposite direction. “Sorry, I’m busy.”
“See you at seven,” he yells.
I amble around the block and head back inside. The tampons were a decoy. I needed to ditch Kai for the night. As much as I love my best friend, he’s still selfish and needy, especially when Kate is gone. I’m not ruling out dinner tomorrow, but tonight I don’t have the energy or patience to deal with my clingy friend.
“For someone who’s known you for nearly sixteen years, I find it ironic that he doesn’t know you stock tampons like survivors of the depression stock food.” Alex laughs, grabbing a bottle of wine out of the fridge.
I lean against the kitchen island. “I’m a terrible friend aren’t I?”
Alex hugs me. “Not to me, Flower.”
“I’m hungry and tired.”
“Then eat and sleep. I’ll see you Sunday.” Alex snatches her bag and gives me a wink.
My hunger can wait. Pulling my canvas bag out of the entry closet, I head out front and sit on the steps. This isn’t my usual location, but now I have this desire to people watch. Okay, maybe person watch. Pulling out my ball of yarn and needles, I resume my recent knitting project: mittens. I took up knitting after I declared to keep my virginity indefinitely. It’s not sexy, but it keeps me focused, and I like the euphoria I get from completing a project. My family and friends are usually the lucky recipients of my crafty work. My dad said he felt like an eighty-year-old man when I gave him a blanket for Christmas, but I know he uses it to keep warm while he lounges in his leather recliner watching his Giants play.
Minutes morph into hours and it’s nearly too dark to see what I’m doing. I’m sure I’ve dropped more than one stitch. Just as a twinge of disappointment hits me, I see Oliver. He’s getting out of a black BMW in front of his condo. Yes, I’ve been waiting hoping to catch a glimpse of him, but now that he’s here I feel ridiculous. As he looks in my direction, I drop my head back to my project.
A rapturous buzz seizes my nerves as he nears.
“I’m not sure what’s most odd about this situation.”
I glance up with owl eyes as if I’m really surprised to see him. “Excuse me?”
He sits down beside me as I shove my yarn back into the bag. His clean pine and sandalwood scent wafts near my nose, and in spite of the cool breeze that’s crept in over the past hour, my skin flushes with heat from his close proximity.
“I wouldn’t have taken you for a knitter.”
I shrug. “A lot of younger women knit these days. It’s therapeutic, like meditation.”
“You always knit in the dark?” He edges closer, giving me a toothy smile that pulls in those damn dimples.
“Well, um … Most of it’s by feel and it hasn’t been dark that long. I was just getting ready to go inside.” My stomach growls in angry protest; it’s a beastly noise. I squirm while my crimson face prunes.
“Whoa!” He laughs.
Hugging my arms around my stomach, I try to physically strangle it into silent submission. “I’m a little hungry. I sort of skipped dinner.” It’s possible my decision to skip dinner in favor of the late neighborhood watch shift was a teensy bit rash.
“Come on.” He stands and gestures toward his condo with his head. “I just had dinner at my parent’s house and my mom sent me home with way too many leftovers. You like Tilapia, new potatoes, and asparagus?”
A wary smile escapes. “Yes, but—”
“It’s not a date, Vivian. It’s leftovers. Nothing I haven’t done for stray animals.”
Standing tall, I cock my head to the side. “Are you implying I’m a stray animal?”
He shakes his head and offers his hand. “Come on, stop reading into everything I say.”
Staring at his hand for a brief moment, I place mine in it and let him guide me across the street. I’m trying hard not to read into the myriad of physical sensations that his touch evokes. My pulse pounds, heart gallops, and butterflies awaken in my stomach as the warmth from his hand sends a tingling sensation up my arm. Rarely do I not feel tall and lanky, like I want to slouch down to keep from standing out in a crowd, but right now I feel petite and feminine in his lofty presence. He grabs a brown bag out of the back of his car before we head inside.
“Would you like a glass of wine?” he asks while spooning out food onto a plate.
I smack my lips together. “No, I’d better not. I’m kind of a lightweight and there’s the long trip home and all …”
I love the sound of Oliver’s laugh; it’s genuine and spontaneous, like he’s trying to hold it back but can’t. “Water, then?”
“Yes, thank you.”
He sets my plate on the woven gun metal gray placemat and pulls out a chair for me.
“This is weird eating by myself. Are you just going to watch me?” My lips set into a grim line.
I hear the bag rustling, then he sits down across from me with a square glass container and a spoon.
“What’s that?” I ask after swallowing a bite of the best fish I have ever tasted.
“Strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. I was full after dinner so I took my dessert to go.”
“Mmm, looks good.”
“It is. My mom is an amazing cook,” he mumbles behind a napkin while wiping his mouth.
“I’ll second that.” I gesture to the plate with my fork. “This is the best Tilapia I have ever had.”
We eat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, both of us enjoying the culinary orgasms in our mouths. I sneak nervous glances at him while he spoons bite after bite of the cobbler into his mouth, releasing a few humming sounds. Finishing the last bite on my plate, I give him my best puppy dog eyes as I notice there are only a few bites left of the cobbler.
He grins. “Looks like you enjoyed it.”
“Yes, it was very good.”
He nods. “God, this cobbler is amazing. It’s still warm, too.”
“It must be good, you’re really hogging it down.” My comment comes out a little harsher than I intend.
He scoops up the last big bite and lets it hang in the air a few inches from his mouth.
My eyes tighten as I glare at him.
“Oh … did you want to try a bite?” he asks with a devilish smirk.
“No, that’s fine. It’s yours not mine.” I scoot my plate to the side and rest my elbows on the table.
He shrugs. “Okay, then.”
Never before have my eyes felt so close to popping out of their sockets. My mouth falls open as I gasp. “Oh my God! I can’t believe you ate the last bite!”
Oliver’s brow tenses as he inches the spoon out of his mouth wiping it clean with the tight seal of his lips. “What? I just asked you if—”
“I may have said no with my mouth, but my eyes were begging you for just one bite! Jeez, you can’t go on and on about how good it is and make those ridiculous sounds and not think that maybe I might want one little taste!”
His laughter cracks through the air and I fight my impending grin.
“Here.” He shoves the container in my direction. “You can lick the bowl.”
I roll my eyes. “Like I’m really gonna lick the bowl.”
He reaches for the bowl, but I snag it and pull it closer to me, wasting no time swiping my finger inside and sucking it off with my own heavenly moan.
“My God! You sure are a handful, woman.” He scoots back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest watching me clean the bowl like a starved animal.
I flip the switch as if I didn’t bite his head off two seconds ago. “So can you cook?”
His gaze stays on my mouth and he looks like he’s starving too, but not for food. It’s the same look he had at the doughnut shop. I’m not sure why he gets so captivated watching me eat. Weird.
He clears his throat and takes a deep swallow. “Yes, I can cook. My mom made sure both Chance and I could cook, do laundry, and sew on a button.”
“Wow, had I known all this time what a great catch your brother is, I might not have shot him down so many times.”
“Says the girl who doesn’t date.”
“Says the guy who doesn’t date.”
“So do you have dinner with your parents often?”
He nods. “Once a week since I moved back from Portland.”
I tap my fingernail on the table. “Maine?”
“Oh, how long did you live there?”
He purses his lips to the side. “Three years.”
“Why’d you move there?”
He clears his throat, diverting his gaze while adjusting his sitting position. “I took a job with a law firm there.”
Digging my teeth into the corner of my bottom lip, I wait for his eyes to meet mine. “I’m being nosy, I apologize.”
Oliver stands and grabs our dishes, clinking them together with wavering control. I sense it’s time for me to leave so I stand and follow him to the kitchen.
“Well, thanks for dinner. I feel like a mooch. Tell your mother it was wonderful … or not. It’s possible you might not want her to know you fed her leftovers to stray neighbors.”
His back is to me, hands pressed against the counter and head bowed. The air feels thick, almost suffocating. This isn’t how I saw the night ending.
“Okay … so I’ll just––”
I’m not sure I heard him, so I wait for confirmation. My inner voice chastises me for not acknowledging the absurdity of this situation. I’m drawn to this man and I can’t give him what other women can, but every look, touch, and soft laugh makes it difficult to not want him. Maybe, just maybe he could be what I need––a relationship based on emotions without the need for physical gratification.
My mind said “go” but my mouth said “stay.” Vivian has this innocence to her that is not of this world, and when I’m with her neither am I. We’re transported to some alternate universe where the past doesn’t exist and the future doesn’t matter. I need her to leave because I don’t trust myself around her. The hunger I feel for her touch is painful. When she placed her hand in mine I had to fight every urge to throw her in the backseat of my car, strip off her clothes, and taste every inch of her body. It’s possible I should be on meds or maybe I do need therapy. I wasn’t like this before. It’s just her, but I don’t know why. Yes, she’s beautiful—stunning actually—but it’s more and I don’t have a word for the more.
Maybe, just maybe she could be what I need––a physical release without the emotional investment.
I face her, allowing my eyes to drink in her soft features: silky skin, full lips, emerald eyes, and black hair that flows in endless waves down her back and over her breasts. The image of those perky breasts peeking through the thick black layers as she sits naked astride me stirs my dick. If her eyes drift a few degrees south, she’ll know how I react to her. I should care and try to hide it, but I don’t.
“Stay. Have some wine or more water, just … stay.”
“Wine, but only if you promise to carry me home when I pass out after two sips.” She brushes her hair back and wets her lips with a nervous graze of her teeth over the top one.
I’ve become my brother, imagining everything she does and says is an invitation into her pants. I’m the “nice” guy; the kiss goodnight on the cheek, opening doors, lavishing with flowers and jewelry, waiting until the third date to kiss on the lips and a month before copping a feel. The old Oliver would insist that sex is at least six weeks out, but my dick hasn’t gotten the memo. This new, completely lost Oliver is ready to tie her up and spank her … I’m not sure why people even do that, but I think modern women like it, so sure, I’d give it a try.
“So wine it is.” I grin while grabbing two glasses from the cabinet. “Do you live alone?”
Vivian laughs. “Why? Are you planning on stalking me and sexually assaulting me?”
Okay, so I think I’ll hold off on the spanking. I probably wouldn’t do it right anyway. “A little paranoid?”
“My roommate, Alex, her parents own the condo. They’re rich, I guess. Anyway, her boyfriend and my friend Kai are good friends so they introduced us when I needed to move to Cambridge. Alex is rarely there, so she was thrilled to have a roommate to look after things and one who needed a job. Maggie, her aunt, owns The Green Pot and needed some help running the nursery since she’s been battling cancer off and on for years. Alex’s parents agreed to keep the condo instead of having her move into student housing with the agreement that she’d work part-time for Maggie. So I get a job and cheap rent, and Alex helps out occasionally at the nursery, but mostly she makes her spending money off my rent payments. It’s a win-win.”
I hand her a glass of wine and motion to the couch. “Alex’s parents are okay with this arrangement?”
She sips her wine. “They don’t know. I make myself scarce when they come to visit.”
“And you’re okay with deceiving people you don’t even know?”
She waves her hand in the air dismissively as she swallows. “I know them. I come to ‘visit’ every time they’re in town. They love me, of course, because I’m such a good influence on Alex.”
“So why not just tell them the truth?”
Vivian tucks her legs underneath her. “They want Alex to stay busy with school and work so she doesn’t get distracted by guys.”
I shake my head. “It’s quite the con you two have going.”
“You don’t know half of it.” She takes another sip of her wine, and another, and another.
I anticipate having her naked within the hour. Reaching over, I fill her glass back up before it’s even halfway down.
God! What the hell is wrong with my brain?
“So why did you need to move to Cambridge?” I ask.
She giggles and I adjust myself because I’m already imagining her glazed over eyes calling to me. “My parents think I’m getting my business degree from Harvard.” She giggles some more.
My dick has officially taken a backseat to this conversation. As much as I want to avoid too much personal detail, her comment has my naturally curious mind turning its cogs. “Why do they think that?”
“Because I got accepted.”
There’s no way I could have seen this coming. Vivian doesn’t just surprise me, she knocks me on my ass leaving me speechless with everything she says and does. “To Harvard?”
“Yes, Oliver, to Harvard. Don’t look so surprised.”
I set my drink on the coffee table and adjust my body to face her. “Let me get this straight. You were accepted to Harvard. Your parents think you’re attending Harvard. You moved to Cambridge so they would believe you’re going to Harvard, but you’re not going to Harvard?”
She massages her temples with her thumb and middle finger then drags her fingers across her forehead “Yep, I’ve had way too much to drink.” She laughs. “So I’m not sure I caught all of your questions or statements or whatever, but … yes, yes, yes … and yes.” Full lips curl into a large and oh-so-proud smile like she just aced some big test.
“I don’t understand.”
“Oh, Oli-ver, you don’t have to understand everything.” She leans her head back and closes her eyes. “I need to pee.”
“The bathroom is upstairs, first door on the right.”
She doesn’t move.
“Do I need to carry you upstairs?”
She opens her eyes and grins, swinging her feet to the floor. “Nope, I just wanted to see if you’d offer. After the cobbler hoarding incident I wondered if you were much of a gentleman.”
She stands with a slight sway. I grab her waist and bright eyes sparkle with hidden wonder as she fixes them on mine, pressing the palm of her hand to my cheek. Every indecent thought I had about her vanishes leaving a murky residue on my conscience.
“You’re alarmingly handsome. Do you know that?” she whispers, feathering her thumb along my lips.
I close my eyes willing myself to hold still, to resist the urge to cup her hand, taste her thumb, pull her closer—so close there’s no space for the rest of the world between us.
She’s gone, but my breath remains hostage in my chest. Opening my eyes, I release it. Okay, maybe I need something more than her body.
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