Free on Amazon Kindle Sept. 12-16.
Publisher Lauren Kinney
Free on Amazon Kindle Sept. 12-16.
Ryan Russo’s life needs a makeover. He’s spent the last five years struggling with his job and partying hard trying to forget Lexi Carpenter. After a chance meeting, Ryan has to make some serious changes if he wants to win her back. Blocking his path to redemption is a mysterious French model, a spoiled pop diva, and a scandal he never saw coming.
It’s Deja vu all over again for Lexi. Ryan hurt her, and once was enough. She has a new boyfriend, and her career as an interior designer is taking off. If only Ryan would stay in the past, but he’s not cooperating, and neither is Lexi’s heart.
Ryan Russo woke up to an empty bottle of wine sitting on the nightstand. The girl with no-name-he-could-remember was gone. Another party. Another one-night stand. Another woman he’d never see again. He swept his hands through his unruly hair and hoped Miss X locked the door on her way out.
Wearing only his jockey shorts, Ryan cautiously slid from beneath the comforter. He felt woozy when he sat up. His stomach churned, and his temples throbbed. A pounding headache flamed behind his eyeballs like torches. He cursed his lapse of judgment once again. At thirty-four, he was not up to being the life of the party the way he had been a few years ago.
Maybe, if he closed his eyes, he could go back to sleep. But, sleep eluded him. Ryan got out of bed, making sure to keep his head upright, and bent down to feel around for his jeans. When the denim slipped up and over his legs, the material reeked of stale cigarette smoke. His mouth was dry, and he was dying of thirst.
“Gatorade. Aspirin,” he mumbled.
Downstairs at the fridge, Ryan poured a glass of the light green liquid, drank it and hoped it stayed put in his queasy stomach. He rummaged around in a kitchen drawer and found a bottle of Tylenol, swallowed four capsules, and gulped more Gatorade.
The remote for the TV lay on the counter. Ryan picked it up and hit the power button. An attractive young Asian woman in a navy blue sheath beamed at him.
“Chicago is a winter wonderland. We could get four to six inches of snow today. The weather doesn’t seem to be a problem for holiday shoppers searching for last minute bargains. Christmas Eve is tomorrow!”
“Great. Don’t remind me.”
Ryan hadn’t purchased a single present. Not for his business partner, his assistant, his mother, his sister or his two nephews. He’d have to suck up the nausea, shower, ditch his smelly jeans, and leave the warmth of his condo to shop.
The clock was ticking. Christmas Eve dinner was at his mother’s house tomorrow night at six. Ryan climbed the stairs from the kitchen back to his bedroom. With every step, his head hurt and his stomach gurgled.
“Crap,” he chastised himself for his procrastination. “Crap.”
When he reached the Mecca of consumer madness, he found a parking space in a garage blocks away from his destination. The parking rates downtown always pissed him off. Not to mention trudging through a freezing blizzard to surrender his credit card in exchange for a peaceful Christmas Eve. If he tried to beg off like last year, his mother would give him the stink eye and a lecture to blister his ear.
Ryan rounded the corner to State Street and headed for Macy’s department store. A blast of raw winter wind blowing in from Lake Michigan nearly knocked him off his feet. He tucked his chin deep into his leather jacket and turned up the collar. His mood didn’t improve as he was herded into the store with the rest of the Christmas cattle.
The air was overheated. Ryan unzipped his leather jacket. Holiday cheer was rampant with shoppers high on last minute bargains. A rake thin blonde with giant fake boobs impeded his path. She wore a Santa hat and enough perfume to make his stomach lurch.
“Hi,” she winked and extended a bottle of cologne. “You look like a North Woods kind of guy.”
Before Ryan could maneuver his way past her, she aimed at a card, overshot her mark, and sprayed the side of his face. The pungent smell of pine filled his nostrils, and Ryan’s gag reflex kicked into overdrive. He pushed past Santa’s helper and fought his way to the men’s room where he splashed his face with cold water, washed his hands with dispenser soap, and dried off with a paper towel.
In a worse mood than when he arrived, Ryan decided to buy the gifts he’d come for and get the hell out of Christmas purgatory. He stopped to get his bearings and collided with a woman jostling shopping bags and pulling two tots alongside her.
“Jerk,” she hissed. “Watch where you’re going.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too.” Ryan bowed and stepped aside to allow the woman to shove past him.
When he raised his eyes, he thought they were playing tricks. Ryan took a second look at the woman standing at the jewelry counter. Lexi Carpenter, the woman he let walk away from him five years ago was not a figment of his imagination. She was a vision. Ryan was rooted to the spot where he stood. All he wanted to do was look at her.
Chestnut colored hair cascaded to her shoulders. She wore the same peach lipstick on the lips he’d dreamed of kissing one more time. He swore he could taste her kiss and feel her in his arms. Ryan gathered his resolve, put one foot in front of the other, and started walking. Her coat had slipped from the counter to the floor unnoticed, so he picked it up.
When her green eyes met his, he saw a mixture of surprise and recognition.
“You dropped this.”
She took the outstretched coat from his hands. Was she happy to see him? He couldn’t read her expression.
“You look great.”
She still made him weak in the knees. He felt an impulse to reach out for her, but his hands remained fixed at his side.
“What are you doing here? In Chicago, I mean."
“I moved back a year ago,” she said.
A whole year and not one word. But, why would she want to see him? They broke up, and she moved on with her life.
“I’d love to talk to you. How about a cup of coffee?”
Ryan didn’t think she’d agree, but he was going to give the invitation a shot. Looking at her now, he wondered why he couldn’t commit. His life might be different if he had.
“I can’t. I’m meeting Howard for lunch.”
“Howard?” An unexpected pang of jealousy stabbed Ryan in the heart. Did he think she’d be unattached? She’d fall into his arms, and they’d pick up where they left off?
“My boyfriend. He’s a news reporter at WCHO. You’ve probably seen him. Howard Cross?”
“I can’t say I have.” Ryan didn’t know who the guy was, and he didn’t care to make his acquaintance.
“I have to run.”
Not to his surprise, Lexi was blowing him off. She checked an expensive watch on her wrist. A present from the boyfriend? How could he get her number? He was going to make damn sure she had his. Digging inside the pocket of his jacket, he found a business card.
“Since you’re back, maybe we could get together sometime.” He offered the blue and white card and watched her face as she read the typeface. His life had changed, too.
“Kool Kat Records?”
“The label is mine.”
"You own a company?"
“I have a partner,” Ryan said. “But, yes, I own the company.”
“I thought you never wanted to be tied down to anyone or anything.”
Ryan mustered a confident smile. Lexi wasn’t being mean. She was stating a fact. When they were together, he was a self-proclaimed free spirit, a session musician with sporadic employment.
“We’re an independent, but we do okay. I found my niche.”
For some time now, he’d fallen into the bad habit of leaving work early Friday afternoon and partying aimlessly until he came to his senses on Sunday afternoon. Why was he trying to make Lexi believe he was solid and dependable? Because I’m not happy. The thought was not a new one, and Ryan quickly filed it away.
“That’s great.” She checked her watch again. “I’m sorry, Ryan. I have to go. I’ll be late meeting Howard.”
Again with Howard.
“The offer for coffee stands. Anytime you say.”
Ryan hoped he didn’t sound as anxious as he felt. He’d take any sign of encouragement, but he didn’t see anything in her expression to give him hope.
“It was good to see you again. But…”
“You have to go. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Lexi smiled politely, and Ryan knew she’d never call. And he wanted her to call. Yuletide shoppers faded into the background. Ryan focused on the woman striding away from him. If he put his mind to winning her back, could he make her forget Howard Cross and remember what they had together? Then the obvious occurred to him. He had no way to contact her. She had his business card. He had nothing.
“Duh!”He thumped his forehead with the heel of his hand. She was already out of sight and lost in the crowd. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.”
He wanted to go after her, try to find her, but he knew she was gone. Why did fate allow him to run into her? He could only hope he’d stirred up some past memories, the good ones. Maybe she would call him. More than likely, she wouldn’t.
If it was possible, he had to stop thinking about Lexi. He made one last searching glance, turned, and headed for the escalator.
“Howard Cross,” he mused. “I gotta get a look at this guy.”
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I love telling stories and creating characters who overcome obstacles to reach that happy ending.