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Teach Me Extras

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  • Excerpt
  • Theme Song
  • Playlist

~ ~ ~ ~ Reviews ~ ~ ~ ~

Teach Me has very frightening suspense, a beautiful love story and makes your pulse race for both these reasons. I couldn’t put this book down.”
– Tea and Book

“A cat and mouse game in between a sweet naïve woman and a psychopath with all the right connections... It really grabbed my attention.”
– Ramblings from This Chick

“I stayed up past my bedtime just to see what would happen. Readers who love romantic suspense will devour this book.”
– So Many Reads

“The perfect blend of suspense and romance.”
– Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

 “Chock full of violence, suspense, sex, and romance. Teach Me never stops moving forward, which makes it very difficult to put down, each chapter leaving you ready for the next.”
– Hines & Bigham’s Literary Tryst

“Emotionally gripping and an absolutely brilliant story. The writing was flawless and I found myself immersed in the entire plot from page one to the end.”
– Cocktails and Books

~ ~ ~ ~ Excerpt ~ ~ ~ ~

What the hell are you doing here?

This wasn’t the first time in the last five minutes that Conlan had asked himself the same question. Maybe if he had an answer, the revolving door in his brain would stop spinning, but that didn’t seem likely. Not anytime soon. Not with the beautiful brunette he’d come to see sitting close enough that, if he let himself look, he could detect the light dusting of freckles across her nose. But he wasn’t looking, and he shouldn’t be here, so how had he ended up standing in line behind the thirtysomething latte league? It sure as hell wasn’t for the coffee.

Legs braced wide, he shifted from one hip to the other, the creak of his motorcycle chaps reminding him he could be enjoying a few extra minutes on the Harley before work instead of spending that precious time here, mooning over a woman. Doe Eyes. The first time he’d seen her all those months ago, he’d thought her eyes reminded him of sweet Georgia pecans and skittish does. The name stuck, as had the memory of her eyes—and a hundred other glimpses he shouldn’t have taken.

Another name called, another latte dispensed, another shuffle forward.

He hadn’t seen those eyes in eight weeks, and yet still he’d shown up every Monday, like clockwork, hoping for one more glimpse and calling himself an idiot. Wasn’t like he planned on asking her out. So why the hell did he torture himself with these weekly forays into enemy territory?

Sex. Or sex appeal, at least.

Another step closer to the counter. The move didn’t ease the constriction behind the zipper of his jeans. This was what she did to him, thinking about her. Especially now, after so long apart.

The thought had a snort escaping. Ahead of him, Mr. Suit and Tie startled and glanced over a shoulder, but Conlan ignored the look. He was too busy figuring out when “this” had become enough like a relationship in his head that he would think things like “after so long apart.” Doe Eyes might appear prominently in his thoughts from time to time—especially certain times—but he’d never seen her outside of this coffee shop. And he wouldn’t. A quick roll in the hay was one thing, but Doe Eyes wasn’t the kind of woman who had one-night stands. He could tell that much just by looking at her. She was a relationship kind of woman, and he was a relationship-phobic kind of guy. Which meant he seriously needed to get a grip—and not on the part of him growing even harder at the idea.

Idiot was right.

He should be at work. Southern summer heat brought out the crazies almost as well as full moons did, and JCL Security was feeling the impact, juggling cases like they had eight arms, which they didn’t. Too many sleepless nights had been spent at his office, especially with the Bennett case coming up. Just a couple more weeks before Thea Bennett had her bastard of a husband before a judge and hopefully out of her life, but the paper- and prep work to get the high-profile bastard there had been a bitch. He seriously needed to—

“Conlan, hey!”

For a passing moment he was convinced the voice belonged to the woman filling his thoughts. But when the high, candied voice called again, he realized it was coming from the counter. The cashier. Tonya, Tammy? Tracy? He couldn’t remember. She was blonde with a deep tan he would’ve deemed impossible in a landlocked city like Atlanta, the shade a stark contrast to her white smile. Stepping up, he threw her a grin. “Hey.”

She batted long lashes, almost hiding the way her glance slid down to the crotch of his jeans, framed in his leather chaps. “Long time, no see.”

He winked automatically. “It’s a long wait between Mondays.”

The girl giggled. “Your usual?”

“That’s right. Thanks,” he said, passing over a ten-dollar bill.

She made change, certain to caress his hand as she laid the money in his palm. Conlan was more interested in the dark Colombian roast another employee was walking toward them. High-octane all the way. The sight of the near-black brew had him salivating for something other than Doe Eyes for the first time that morning.

He reached the condiment counter just as his phone buzzed in his back pocket. Probably Jack. Retrieving the cell confirmed his suspicion.

Where the hell are you? his partner had texted.

Piss off, Con replied, a grin tugging at his lips. The irony that he’d spent too much time asking himself the very same question didn’t escape him. In a half hour he’d be at the office and they could both stop wondering.

With a little back-and-forth he managed to cram the phone back in his tight jeans. He glanced around absently, and his gaze snagged on a pair of amber-brown eyes that suddenly met his.

He froze.

Doe Eyes dropped her chin and shifted over the slightest bit, enough that her friend’s position blocked her from view, but not before he caught the blush coloring her creamy cheeks.

His cock banged against his zipper as if begging to be let out. The bite of pain caught his breath in his throat. Jesus, what the hell was he—

Don’t! Ask. Again. He knew what the hell he was doing here, and he needed to go; he really did. He needed to stop letting his dick run this show, grab his coffee, and get back to reality.

He was restless, that was all. He was a man who needed action. Needed to be doing something, anything, not sitting behind a desk like he’d been for weeks while prepping Thea’s case. Usually he worked off his frustration in a way that involved cool silk sheets and bare skin and satisfaction on both sides, but there’d been no damn time. Just his hand and the additional chafing it provided, which wasn’t near as effective—or satisfying. That had to be the reason he couldn’t stop thinking about his mystery woman.

Of course. That had to be it.

Popping the lid off his cardboard cup released the rich aroma of ground coffee beans into the air. He lifted his cup and blew across the hot liquid, the sound almost a sigh of relief. He was already reaching for the packets of sugar when black squiggles caught his eye. There. On the part of the paper sleeve now facing him, he could see a name and number were clearly written: Tiffany. A 470 area-code phone number.

So that was her name. Sounded like an eighties pop star. A glance over his shoulder found the cashier leaning across the bar where drinks were picked up, her mounded breasts shelved there, on display. Come back soon, she mouthed, her shoulders doing a little wiggle. On reflex, he threw her a grin, but her seemingly seductive move couldn’t pull his glance downward. His dick didn’t even twitch. Apparently only one thing could trigger his runaway libido this morning.

He added the sugar, trying to ignore the panic in his gut and his one-track mind. The latter was impossible. He wanted to know Doe Eyes’ name, her phone number. Were her breasts as full as they looked beneath that starched white button-down? Was her hair as soft as he swore it would be when he fisted it between his fingers?

He stirred a bit too vigorously, and coffee sloshed over the side of the cup.

Don’t look. Don’t. He realized he’d closed his eyes. A sigh escaped as he rubbed a thumb and finger against them, but as soon as the lids popped open, he searched for her. Had to see her. Felt his heartbeat pick up knowing she might meet his eyes.

He was so screwed—and smart enough to admit it. He let go, let the conflict and the churning in his gut and the tension cramping his muscles go. And then he looked toward her table.

It was empty.

“Well shit.”

He stood for a moment, cursing himself, the coffee, and everything else he could think of. When another customer stepped up behind him and cleared his throat, wanting access to the counter, Con grabbed his cup and headed out the door. On his way, he chucked the coffee in the trash without a single sip.

~ ~ ~ ~ Theme Song ~ ~ ~ ~

I wrote Teach Me over a series of drafts that took five years; it was the very first book I ever began. So my understanding of writing changed over time, as did my understanding of the characters. But Jess -- she always came through loud and clear. Here's her song:

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Playlist ~ ~ ~ ~

"Call Your Name" -- Daughtry

"Gotta Be Somebody" -- Nickelback

"Brave" -- Sara Bareilles

"All or Nothing" -- Theory of a Deadman

"Alibi" -- Thirty Seconds To Mars

"Home" -- The Goo Goo Dolls

"Feel Better" -- One Republic

Trust Me Extras

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Also available in PRINT through CreatespaceAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

~ ~ ~ ~ On This Page ~ ~ ~ ~

  •  Reviews
  • Excerpt
  • Theme Song
  • Playlist

~ ~ ~ ~ Reviews ~ ~ ~ ~

“One of the more volatile relationships I’ve seen in a while… The ups and downs and twists and turns are amazing”

– Romancing the Book

“As gripping as the first. Talk about HOT!”

– Crystal’s Many Reviewers

“I was holding my breath! It's intense, exciting and I couldn't put it down.”

– Tea and Book

Trust Me should come with a warning of lost sleep and deep circles under your eyes, because that’s what’s going to happen once you start reading this riveting, suspenseful tale of love and revenge. You won’t be able to sleep until you have reached the very last page.”

– Sizzling Hot Book Reviews

“Boldly flavored writing, dynamic characters, and an insidious suspenseful plot will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”

– Smexy Books

~ ~ ~ ~ Excerpt ~ ~ ~ ~

“What’ll ya have?” the bartender asked.

Jack sighed. “The usual.”

John nodded. Twisting to look over his shoulder, he yelled, “Maddie, Sam Adams.”

“Who’s Maddie?”

John turned sideways, showing what his bulk had hidden up till now. Jack glanced down the long service area behind the bar and almost swallowed his tongue.

A woman. A blonde woman, but not the same kind of blonde as the waitress, Taylor. This woman had a straw-colored mane, thick enough it almost didn’t fit in the claw clip holding it in a graceful twist at the back of her head. Spikes stuck from the top of the clip to fall along the sides, pointing to the creamy curve of her ear as she bent her head to focus on the frosted glass she was filling at the tap. A slender neck led to a body encased in a tight white T-shirt and short black vest. The clothes silhouetted her tucked-in waist and a sexy strip of bare skin above Levi’s he would swear were painted on. And boots; God, he had such a thing for boots on a woman. And this woman wore them with the ease of longtime use, confirmation that balancing on them was second nature. One look at those boots and his dick shot straight up and strained in her direction as if she were true north and he was a compass.

Damn.

“Roll your tongue back in your head,” John told him, laughter tangling with the words.

Jack glanced at the bartender, over at the woman, back to John. Swallowed. “Right.”

John shrugged, and his easy smile widened. “I had the same reaction. Heck, every red-blooded male that’s walked through the door since she was hired Monday has had that reaction. She is something.”

“Damn straight.”

The towel resting on the new bartender’s shoulder slid off, landing with a plop on the ground. She bent to grab it.

Both men groaned.

The woman glanced over her shoulder.

John startled, actually blushing. Jack kept looking, appreciating the view from the front as much as the back when the new bartender stood to face them. She had a sweet body with curves in all the right, mouthwatering places.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” she asked, interrupting his reconnaissance. Jack met her eyes, a brown so dark he couldn’t tell iris from pupil, though the narrowing of her eyelids might’ve had something to do with it too. Her lips were tight, pressing together in a way that made him want to tug them apart with his teeth.

The brittle edge to her expression had him narrowing his eyes too. His mama had taught him manners, even if she hadn’t insisted on them for herself, but it wasn’t like he was leering. He believed in appreciating what was before him; nothing crude or ugly about that. Most women he knew basked in the attention.

And maybe you’re getting a bit too arrogant, dickhead.

He answered her look with a wry smile of his own.

The dish towel got a toss into the nearby hamper as the new bartender made her way toward them, Jack’s lager in hand. John tucked himself against the back wall so she could make her delivery.

“Maddie, this is Jack.”

“Nice to meet you.” Jack extended his hand to shake, the anticipation of touching her forcing his erection harder against his zipper.

Down, boy.

Maddie shoved his beer into his hand. “You too.”

Her voice was feminine, husky, arousing. Which was a ridiculous thought, because she didn’t sound like it was nice to meet him. John sniggered. Jack ignored him, bringing the cold glass mug to his lips.

The deep, earthy bark of hops settled in his nose as he took his first drink, but his eyes stayed on Maddie’s. She didn’t back down, didn’t blush, just raised a brow and stared right back. Why in hell did that make him so hot?

When he set the beer on the bar, Maddie nodded toward it. “All right?”

“Absolutely, darlin’,” he said, the endearment slipping out automatically.

The eyebrow got higher. “Good.”

He kept staring as Maddie returned to her end of the bar. The spikes of hair sticking up from her clip bounced with every step. Jack imagined his fingers fisting the long length, holding her still for him. Taming the shrew, so to speak. He had not a single doubt that she’d be feisty as hell. Yeah, he’d definitely like to get his hands in that hair.

John’s laugh sliced through his sexual haze. He shot the bartender a sharp look. “Shut the hell up.”

John laughed harder.

~ ~ ~ ~ Theme Song ~ ~ ~ ~

I tend to present some tough situations in my books, maybe because I've seen the barest hint of what abuse can do to someone's life. Maddie has lived through hell, and she's done whatever she had to not only to survive, but to stop her tormenters from hurting anyone else. Her story was inspired by the Rascal Flatts song "Stand." The song is featured in Chapter Four when Jack and Maddie meet on the dance floor.

~ ~ ~ ~ Playlist ~ ~ ~ ~

"Train" -- 3 Doors Down (Jack's theme song!)

“Beautiful Lie” -- Thirty Seconds to Mars

“Gotta Be Somebody” -- Nickelback

“Break the Spell” -- Daughtry

“Round and Round” -- 3 Doors Down

“Renegade” -- Daughtry

"Wherever You Will Go" -- The Calling

“Call Your Name” -- Daughtry

“Tennessee Line” -- Daughtry

“Baptized” -- Daughtry

“Battleships” -- Daughtry

“Truly Madly Deeply” -- Savage Garden

“Ghost of Me” -- Daughtry

“Landing in London” -- 3 Doors Down

Take Me Extras

   

~ ~ ~ ~ Buy the Book ~ ~ ~ ~

Amazon

All Romance Ebooks

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Also available in PRINT through CreatespaceAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

*Please be aware that iBooks has refused to carry TAKE ME for policy reasons. It is, however, available in the other retailers listed above.*

~ ~ ~ ~ On This Page ~ ~ ~ ~

  • Reviews
  • Excerpt
  • Theme Song
  • Playlist
  • Deleted Scene

~ ~ ~ ~ Reviews ~ ~ ~ ~

“I always know Ella is going to move me and dazzle me with her wonderful characters and gripping stories.”
– USA Today Best-seller Angel Payne

“Solid plots, easy flowing dialogue between the characters and really yummy alpha males! That right there is the recipe for an awesome romance novel! Ella Sheridan has written a series that drew me in from the beginning and made me beg (harass?) her for more!”
– Blogging by Lisa

“I FREAKIN LOVED THIS BOOK! Chemistry so thick and heavy it will choke you, heartbreak so intense it will gut you, fear so severe it will take you to your knees.”
– Bookworm Betties

“One point, you’re gripping your seat as the intensity in the search for Micah heats up, and then the next you’re gripping your heart because it’s breaking into pieces. I could feel the connection between the three, and I loved that.”
– Book Hangover Page

“Gabe: Wow... Sam: Holy Wow... Ménage? Gabe, Sam and Peyton were amazing. The sex was wonderfully done and soooo hot... Ella Sheridan's writing was so emotional it left me in pieces one minute and smiling the next. This was a GREAT read.”
– Bound by Books

~ ~ ~ ~ Excerpt ~ ~ ~ ~

Peyton Harrison’s battered old Ford pulled to a rickety stop at the curb across from the Claywater Elementary School. Buses lumbered through the circular drive out front, discharging students of all sizes. Bigger kids hurried inside, while the younger ones followed a teacher’s direction into the fenced playground. Expending energy and first-day jitters before the day began, probably. If only Peyton’s nerves could so easily be dispersed.

Her heart beat a booming drumroll of desperation in her throat, the sound loud in the stifling silence of her truck. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. All she could do was watch the schoolyard across the street with greedy eyes. The child she was searching for was impossible to miss. Right in the center of the play area, a small, sturdy figure hurried up to the monkey bars and began his climb to the top. Even at six years old, he was strong, pulling himself higher and higher, outpacing his classmates until he threw one tan leg over the top rung, clamped down tight, and stopped to assess his playground domain.

King of the hill. Lord of all he surveyed. Just like his father.

The thought added to the blaze of agony threatening to drown her as it mixed with the ravenous ache of yearning clenching her belly. Just a few moments of inattention by the teachers chatting together on the park bench, some wire cutters for snipping the chain-link fence, something to keep him quiet as she ran for the safety of her truck— She pictured every step in her mind, saw how easily it could be carried out, how quickly he could become hers.

Hers.

The word throbbed in her oxygen-deprived brain, right at the forefront, taunting her. So simple, just four little letters. And yet the hundred yards dividing them screamed exactly how impossible that word was. Almost as impossible as it had been for the past six years.

He belongs to someone else; you know that. At least for now.

The ache in her fingers where they clenched the steering wheel centered her, pulling her back into reality, into now. She dragged in a gulp of hot Texas air and forced her focus back on the playground, on the child’s clear blue eyes and their steely determination. His soft, full lips displayed the last tiny shreds of remaining toddlerhood. The clothes he’d worn for the first day of school—a short-sleeved, white button-down shirt that looked too adult for such a young child, tan cargo shorts with every pocket neatly fastened, pristine white ankle socks and sneakers—now bore streaks of red clay and wrinkles, the starched collar of the shirt wilting under the onslaught of August heat and childish perspiration. What she wouldn’t give to bury her nose in the sweaty curve of his neck and inhale the wild, little-boy scent of him.

So serious. Even at such a young age, he was deep-down-to-the-bone serious. More little man than little boy. She could see it in his eyes.

Then he smiled.

It hit her like a punch to the gut, that smile. His daddy’s smile. The thought burned like tears behind her eyes, but she couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop eating up every discernible detail she possibly could. His solemn face lit up with that smile, his beautiful eyes bright under the shaggy fringe of thick blondish-red hair across his forehead. That hair was ruffled by deep furrows, as if he ran his fingers through it frequently. The white of his baby teeth was a stark contrast to the depth of his tan, possibly from playing outside all summer. The mottling of bruises on his knees and down his shins attested to that. At least she hoped that’s where they came from. Her heart ached to know for sure. She ran through scenario after scenario in a feverish search for the one that would enable her to bring him home, to finally have him in her arms agai—

Knock, knock, knock.

The drumroll in her chest became crashing thunder. A curse made it to her lips and froze there, held back by the wall of chest that blocked her sight of the playground. The material stretching across that wide expanse of solid muscle was dark blue, crisp and clean, with the title “Claywater Police Department” clearly emblazoned on the patch to one side.

A cop, right outside her window. Tall and broad and intimidating. Her breath stuttered across suddenly dry lips.

“Ma’am?” The cop rapped the back of his knuckles against the glass again. “Roll down your window please.”

The man’s voice tickled something in the back of her fear-frozen mind, something that drew her gaze against her will. Up the precisely buttoned shirtfront. Past the small triangle of skin at his collar, the neatly trimmed red-gold stubble. Lips. Nose. Eyes.

Blue eyes. Familiar blue eyes.

Peyton stared, certain she was caught up in some crazy nightmare. The devil taunting her. Because she knew those eyes intimately. Knew this man—except he wasn’t a cop. Or at least, he hadn’t been when she knew him.

“Ma’am?”

That deep, commanding tone again. It washed over her like molasses, trapping her in memories buried for so long. With hands shaking and tongue tied, Peyton slowly rolled down the window.

“Gabe?” she choked out. Please don’t let this be happening. Despite the all too real rush of air brushing her face, she prayed someone, somewhere, would hear her prayer and make it true.

One of Gabe’s hands rested casually against the side of her truck. A relaxed pose belied by his laser-sharp gaze and the fingers toying with the catch on his holster. She forced her eyes away from the gun and back to his. A flinch shook her as their eyes met.

“License and registration, please, ma’am.”

“Gabriel?” It was all she could get out. She glanced at the name tag, prominently displayed on the left side of his solid chest. Williams.“God, I can’t believe it’s you.” She didn’t want to believe it, not now, when secrecy was paramount. When her heart was already torn to pieces.

He shouldn’t look the same, not after all these years. But he did. He shouldn’t be here in Claywater, but he was. Standing outside her window. His big body was tense, ready for anything—he looked every inch the wolf he was. Cornflower-blue irises gleamed with impatience in his ruggedly handsome face. Too handsome, she’d always said. And empty. Not a hint of recognition.

Gabe didn’t shift, didn’t back down, just narrowed his eyes. “Ma’am, your license and registration. Now.”

The comply-or-face-the-consequences tone got through when nothing else could. She’d never forget that tone, no matter how many years it had been—every cop and prison guard used it daily. Her hand was halfway to the glove box before she even realized it. Registration in hand, she retrieved her license from her purse, nerves jittering in her stomach like a thousand butterflies. In a surreal haze she passed her paperwork through the window. The breath in her lungs stuttered as she watched his strong, calloused hand come closer, closer—the hand that had introduced her to the joys of sexual pleasure, the fingers that had ensured her readiness before he took her virginity. She waited for a touch she’d both longed for and cursed for seven excruciating years. And when that touch came, when his fingers brushed the backs of hers as he grasped the papers and pulled them away, she looked into his eyes once more, searching, fearing.

And saw absolutely nothing. Not recognition. Not curiosity. Disdain. Nothing. “And you are?” he asked.

She stared, certain he had to be kidding. “Peyton.” He waited. “Harrison?”

It came out a question, as if she didn’t know her own name. He didn’t, apparently.

“Is there a reason you stopped here, Ms. Harrison?”

Relief coursed through her confusion. A question she was actually prepared for. “I’m lost.”

And she dared anyone to prove otherwise. A glance over her shoulder would plainly show a map of Claywater and a notebook detailing properties in the area. She was, after all, looking for a site for her new restaurant. Had already chosen one, in fact, but he didn’t need to know that.

“Oh? New in town?”

His tone wasn’t interested, and his gaze didn’t drop to her license, the one that had the same date as her move into her bland new apartment over by the highway. She didn’t trust herself to answer.

Her silence drew only one reaction: “How long?”

“Not long.”

He continued to watch her, unsmiling. His eyes hid everything he felt—or didn’t. And then he turned without a word and walked back to his patrol car, her license and registration in hand.

Even the walk was the same. A harsh laugh escaped as she watched him in the rearview mirror. The hair was longer, spiky instead of the buzz cut he’d worn when she knew him, the face harder and yes, now that she thought about it, older, but there was no doubt this was Gabe. Her Gabe. The Gabe that had ruined her life. She’d imagined this moment since the tender age of seventeen, imagined what she would do if she ever came face-to-face with him again. She’d never considered that he wouldn’t even remember the moment that changed her forever. But his blank stare had told her the truth. No memories of hot, sweaty nights and drenching desire lurked there. Not even a hint of recognition for someone he’d seen daily for weeks, no matter how long ago.

Just a quick, easy lay, that was her. Forgettable. Replaceable. Guess she didn’t have to wonder anymore. What she did have to wonder was how the hell her first lover and her son had ended up in the same rural Texas town. Had Gabe been involved all along?

But no, he’d definitely recognize her then. If he didn’t remember her, he didn’t know about Micah. And she was determined to keep it that way.

Gabe returned with the same unhurried pace as before, tapping her license against his thigh. When he came to stand outside her door, dark sunglasses hid his eyes. She felt the loss even though she shouldn’t, a fact that sent anger pounding through her heart. She breathed it away. She couldn’t risk slipping up and doing anything that would endanger her plans. For her sake—and her son’s—she had to stay under the radar. Assaulting an officer would make her a big ol’ unignorable blip. No clawing his eyes out, then.

Squaring her shoulders, Peyton ignored the strain of her nerves as she focused on the tap, tap, tap of the edge of her license against hard muscle. She could outwait him. She just wished she could figure out what she was waiting for.

“And where did you say you moved here from?”

She almost—almost—rolled her eyes. The raised eyebrow, she couldn’t stop. “Memphis.”

He nodded, ignoring the brow. “Your apartment is across town, Ms. Harrison. What address are you looking for?”

Do you call all your ex-lover’s by their last name? “I’m not looking for an address; I’m familiarizing myself with the town. If I plan to open a business here—and I do—then it’s in my best interest to get to know the area.” She was proud of how smoothly the words came out, ringing with pleasant—and quite false—emotion. “It’s a beautiful, friendly town.”

Okay, that hadn’t been as neutral as she would like. But once again he didn’t respond to any perceived insult. “Yes, it is. We’re small but growing, and we keep an eye on each other. You can see why we would be uncomfortable with strangers parked outside our schoolyards, correct?”

Fear mixed with her anger, making her nauseous. He’s not reading your mind, Pey. Get over it. She dared a glance at the playground as if just noticing it. “Of course, Officer Williams,” she said, pushing confidence into her voice. She kept her eyes wide open and innocent. A whisper of copper traced across her tongue as she bit down, holding back any further words.

Tap, tap, tap. “What kind of business are you planning?”

“A restaurant.”

“In Claywater?” He said it like she wasn’t too bright.

“Of course. This is a beautiful area—and growing, as you mentioned. It’s perfect.” She forced a smile, small but sweet. “You should come by sometime once I find the right location. Hoolihan’s. Coffee on the house.” She watched closely but didn’t catch even a glimmer of recognition. Coffee had always been on the house for Gabe when he visited Mike and Shelly’s place in Memphis. He’d always bragged about her coffee being the best in the world. Now even the name of the restaurant didn’t jog his memory.

“I’ll do that, ma’am.” He tipped his hat before handing back her license and registration. “You have a good day now.”

Right, I’ll just do that. Swallowing tightly, she dragged the words from an uncooperative throat. “You too.”

Gabe walked back to the patrol car parked behind her, his head swiveling as if watching for threats. It wasn’t until he got in and closed the door that she was able to release her breath and allow oxygen into her anxious brain. Movement across the street drew her eye. The kids on the playground were lining up, heading in to begin their day of learning and growing. She had things to do too, but she couldn’t resist one last, long look at her little boy. The desire to throw caution to the wind, to snatch him up and take him home despite the teachers, other children, and even cops in the vicinity who would surely stop her, almost overwhelmed her. Who knew—maybe Gabe would understand if he realized who that little boy was.

Or, considering the way he’d left her in Memphis, alone and pregnant, maybe not.

But watching that amazing little face, she knew it was too soon to take him, no matter how much the knowledge broke her already damaged heart. She couldn’t risk rocking the boat without more information. She had no idea if he was in a home with people who loved him, who cared what happened to him—who might come after him if he disappeared. Taking him now could risk him hating her forever.

No. No matter how the need for him clawed at her gut and made each day unbearable, she couldn’t risk scaring him, alienating him. Hurting him.

Because he was her son. Their son. And she’d protect him with her life, even from herself.

~ ~ ~ ~ Theme Song ~ ~ ~ ~

I lived with these three characters for a very long time, much longer than it took me to write (and rewrite) their story. Over and over, the one thing that kept coming back to me was memories. The memories Gabe and Sam shared, that Gabe and Peyton shared. The painful memories that each of them carried alone. The memories they built together, and the ones that will come in their future. So their theme song was pretty clear from the very beginning: "September" by Daughtry.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Playlist ~ ~ ~ ~

"Start of Something New" -- Daughtry (Sam's song!)

"Over You" -- Daughtry (Gabe's song!)

"Crawling Back To You" -- Daughtry

"Someday" -- Nickelback

"How You Remind Me" -- Nickelback

"Hurricane" -- Thirty Seconds To Mars

"Heaven" -- 3 Doors Down

"Home" -- Goo Goo Dolls

"Separate Ways" -- Journey

"Ghost" -- Cavo

~ ~ ~ ~ Deleted Scene ~ ~ ~ ~

Gabe couldn't tell Peyton why he was leaving her the morning after they made love the first time, but he wanted to. The need to tell her haunted him for a long time. If he could've said good-bye, here's what he would've written:

Peyton,

I think about you every day.          

I think about the scent of your skin, about the weight of your breast in my palm, your tongue in my mouth. I think about the look in your eyes when I lay my weight on top of you: Hunger. Sheer bliss. And all that I am is destroyed when I think about leaving you behind.

Could I have done something differently? Probably. Would I? If it was possible, yes. But I just can’t see the way. I’m trapped in the knowledge that, as much as I believe you could love me, sharing that love with another man could shatter you. What I would ask of you— No, there was no other way.

Knowing that doesn’t mean I can accept it. Or even live through it. Because right now, I don’t know how I’m going to take my next breath, much less get out of bed in the morning. As much as I tell myself it’s better to leave you happy and whole, before this love that’s killing me takes root in you as well, it doesn’t stop the feeling that I’m drowning more with every second that passes.

I love you, will always love you, but I have to go.

Gabe