Tristan hit rock bottom, and no one felt the impact harder than Danika. She was forced to see, in the most brutal of ways, that love does not conquer all. Bruised, bloody, and broken she had to walk away.THE AFTERMATHPicking up the pieces of your life after a tragedy is a daunting prospect, and that’s considering you still own all of the pieces. But what if you don’t? What if someone else owns those pieces, and those pieces are a part of your soul?You dig deep and work with what you’ve got.That’s what Danika told herself and believed, every single day, for years.Tristan and Danika’s love had failed every test that life had thrown at them. She couldn’t forget that, not for one second. And if those tests had been overly harsh, well, she wasn’t one to wallow in self-pity. The failure was the thing she had to focus on. The failure was the lesson. She had no intention of working so hard to make it out of hell without learning that lesson well.
Over six years after the night that changed everything, Danika finds herself forced to spend the weekend constantly in Tristan’s company, as they attend the wedding of two of their dearest friends. It’s been long enough that she feels they can be friendly again without it destroying her peace of mind, but just a small amount of time in his presence has her remembering something she had forced herself to forget: There’d been a reason she’d gone through hell with this man, for this man, some true good to precede the bad.
She shocks herself by quickly giving in to a hunger that she never imagined could still consume her.
Even the best intentioned denial has a breaking point.
THE HARSH REALITY
After everything that’s happened, the rise and the fall, the pain and the aftermath, can these two navigate the waters of acute regret, survive the trials of coming face to face with all that they have lost, and find the strength to try again?
THE WEDDING RECEPTION OF JAMES AND BIANCA CAVENDISH
“That motherfucker is even bigger than you,” shot out of my mouth as Tristan took his seat beside me.
He gave me one quick look, and then looked at Akira, but that look told me plenty of things that I’d rather not have known. For starters, my statement came out sassier than I’d intended, and Tristan still loved my sassy. In fact, he ate it up. His gaze had been hot, and…something else that I didn’t want to name.
“Don’t get any ideas,” he said idly, taking a sip of water. “That giant bastard is taken.”
My eyes narrowed on him. “I know that. He’s married to a supermodel. I was just saying…it must be weird for you, usually the biggest guy in the room, having to look up at somebody. And his biceps are even a bit wider than yours…”
His breath whooshed out in a surprised laugh. “You and your big arm fetish. Mine are still bigger than your waist. They haven’t gotten any smaller.”
I didn’t let myself look at them, but it was a struggle. And I’d looked enough already to know that he was right.
Absently, I rubbed at my bad knee under the table. I felt him staring at me. “Does it still hurt?” he asked softly, as though he couldn’t help himself. I made my face into a very careful mask. “It’s fine, just a bit stiff.
Nothing to concern yourself with.” Nothing on earth could have shocked me more than when his hand touched my leg, sliding under mine to rub at my knee, somehow knowing just where to touch to ease the ache. He’d always had a special talent for that.
“What are you doing?” I asked through my teeth. We’d been getting along for days, but this was too much, too far.
He didn’t even flinch away from the look of murder I sent him, the bold bastard. “I’m just trying to help,” he said, deadly earnest.
“I don’t need your help.” My tone was venomous.
He didn’t stop rubbing, still didn’t flinch away. Over the last six years, it had been way too easy to get him to back off, and I found that I had no clue what to do when my venom didn’t push him away.
“I know that. Believe me, I know it. But what if I need to give it?”
“We’re at the wedding of two people I adore, so I will be civil for about ten more seconds, but you had better believe that—“
“What about friendship? Can we just try that? No funny business, I swear.”
I felt so stiff, and I knew hostility was radiating off me in waves.
Frankie caught my eye, her arm around her girl. This was a wedding, a joyous occasion, and her concerned look swayed me. She was worried I’d cause a scene, and it hurt me that she was right to be worried.
I’m more mature than this, I told myself. And hell, why couldn’t we be friends? I didn’t think he was attracted to me anymore. I knew that what he wanted really was just friendship, and forgiveness, so why couldn’t I just give that to him? Why did I feel the need to shut him out completely?
I knew the answer. I was like a wounded animal, lashing out at his indifference, which had become the cause of my pain.
“No funny business?” I asked, then spoke again before he could answer. “I actually believe that now. I didn’t figure you were into cripples.”
His hand dropped limply from my knee.
I got a look at his face, right before his gaze dropped down to the table, and instantly regretted saying something so ugly.
Whatever his feelings for me had turned into, I still had the power to wound him deeply.
“I’m sorry,” I told him quickly.
I opened my mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by a furious looking Frankie.
She sat on Tristan’s other side, giving me a hostile look that I’d never have figured she’d direct at me.
“You okay?” she asked Tristan, her hand going to his arm. He nodded shortly, stood up, and strode away.
“When are you going to stop hurting him? When is it going to be enough for you? You wanted him punished, he’s been through hell. What more do you want?”
Part of me was livid about every word that came out of her mouth, but another part, the part that wouldn’t shut up today, knew she had a point. I had been punishing him, for six years I’d been punishing him, and it had gotten out of hand.
She stood, and I knew that it was to go after him, to make sure he was okay.
I stopped her with a grip on her hand. “I’ve got this,” I told her, standing. “You’ve got some best man duties to attend to.”
“Please, Danika. You don’t have to take him back, but please, just be kind to him. He’s been through enough. You both have. You’re hurting yourself with this bullshit, too, you know.”
I knew it. I let my eyes show her that as I nodded.
I found him walking aimlessly through the woods, somewhere between the wedding tents and the fortress of a building that James called a ‘house’.
“Tristan,” I called out loudly. He froze. He didn’t turn around, just stopped. I caught up to him quickly, grabbing his arm. “I’m sorry I said that. It was an ugly thing to say, and I didn’t even mean it. You know how I am. I can never seem to keep things to myself, and sometimes they come out worse than I mean them.”
“You’ve been pretty good at keeping things to yourself for a very long time.”
My eyebrows shot straight up. He had a point. I had gotten better at holding my tongue, but I couldn’t quite decipher what his tone meant.
“That’s true. I’ve grown up. But what I said back there wasn’t grown up, and I’m sorry for that. I don’t have a grudge against you. I really have gotten over our…history together, and I think you’re right. There’s no reason that we can’t be friends again.”
“Thank you.” His voice was low and hoarse, his head tilted forward. Even in the semi-darkness, I could see that his eyes stayed on the ground.
There was something so defeated in his stance, something so hopeless in his voice, that I couldn’t seem to help myself; I hugged him. For comfort, for support. Whether it was for him or me or both of us, I didn’t dare contemplate.
I had to stand up on my tiptoes to get my arms around his neck, and that was with him slouched down.
He was stiff as a corpse for about ten seconds before he reacted, his arms squeezing me so hard that I let out a grunt as all of the air was pushed out of me.
He eased up, and I took a few breaths before relaxing into him.
My body seemed to take over, because touching him brought back so many sensory memories. We were a train wreck, he and I, but something about touching him had always just felt right to me.
I pressed into him, my face still buried in his neck. He pulled back slightly, and I looked up at him. I couldn’t make out much in the darkness, but I knew he was looking down at me. “Tristan,” I uttered softly. He lowered his head until his mouth was a breath away from mine, and even then, I didn’t think he could possibly be going there. “Tristan.”
He moved his hands to cup my face, and at the corner of my vision, I could see that that they were trembling.
He tilted my head one way, slanted his head the other, and brought our lips together.
He kissed me.
A desperate, hungry, wild, make me forget the past and the future kind of kiss.
Most of my life was spent displaying a cool reserve to the world, my self- control assured and seemingly effortless. One brief kiss and the years dissolved, the past and the present merging into one singular thought that existed right now. And right now all that mattered was this connection, this sensation, that began at our joined lips and traveled down my body, igniting every last molecule of my being into a wildfire of sensation.
My hands clawed at his shoulders, my mouth ravenous on his. I’d always considered myself a good kisser, and I knew for a fact that Tristan was one, but there was no finesse in this. We simply took, and took, and gave in the form of clashing teeth and warring tongues.
His hands moved to my hips, lifting me high against his body. I’d longed for this body, this exact shape, every bend, bulge and curve of him all that my body needed. My legs wrapped around his waist, animalistic whimpers escaping my throat as his erection pushed hard against my belly, and, after I’d shifted just right, straight into my clit.
I knew he was walking, carrying me, but I didn’t care, just sucking at his tongue, biting his lip until I tasted blood. The sky could have fallen around our heads and I wouldn’t have cared. I wasn’t letting go of this; this mindless moment where everything felt like it had shifted back into place, and all of the wrongs were right again.
He tried to set me down, but I wouldn’t let him, my legs a vise around his hips, my arms locked around his shoulders. He pulled his head back, and I bit his neck, rubbing my torso into his.
“Please,” he whispered hoarsely.
That one small request had me pulling back just far enough to look at him. A bright lantern light shone down at us, and I took in our surroundings.
We were on the back porch of the ranch house, and Tristan was pushing my hips away from his, sitting me on the thick rail that ran the length of the patio. Confused and disoriented, I let him.
I swallowed hard, opening my mouth to say God only knows what when his hands shot to the hem of my lavender bridesmaid dress, yanking it up over my hips.
That effectively squelched my urge to try to speak.
We were rushing headlong into this lunacy, and I could worry about the mess we made later.
I wanted this, needed this like I hadn’t needed anything since I’d cauterized all of the joy from my life.
He pulled the dress straight up, flipping it all the way over my head until my arms were effectively restrained. I didn’t know, or care, if that had been his intent.
He unsnapped the front clasp of my bra, moaning and bending down to suck one quivering globe into his mouth. His hands fumbled with his belt and fly. He groaned, and I gasped as his freed erection sprang into my stomach.
Big fingers shoved my panties to the side, and the tip of him was pushing into me as he raised his head and took my mouth again. He didn’t hesitate, didn’t ask if I was sure I wanted to do this.
I was relieved, because a crash this brutal could handle no brakes at all.
He reared back, then drove forward, burying his cock in me with one hard stroke.
The world stopped as we took what we needed, what I’d been starved for from the very last time I’d been in his arms.
It was a frenzied mating, a swift coming together that took me to the fever pitch of ecstasy with a few rough, heavy strokes, over too soon, the perfect testament to our torrid love affair.
We didn’t move for a very long time after we finished, and more importantly, we didn’t speak. Words would break the spell. Words were reality. This was a stolen moment, and I wanted to keep it as safe from reality as possible.
My forehead had fallen to his shoulder at some point, and what felt like his cheek was pressed to the top of my head. He didn’t pull out, the only movement between us the aftereffects of his member still twitching deep inside of me.
We stayed like that for what could have been minutes or an hour. I had no idea what he could be thinking, and I was trying hard not to think about anything but the moment at hand, and the pleasure of being in his arms for this tiny foray of ours into utter lunacy.
It was the first impulsive thing I’d done in years, and boy was it a doozy. “Danika,” he finally spoke, his voice hoarse but soft. I sighed heavily, pulling back. The spell was broken.
I couldn’t look him in the eye, and looking down was a no go, so I looked over his shoulder as I spoke. “Can you put my dress back on? We need to get back. We’re both in the wedding party, so I’m sure we’ll be missed.”
His hands moved to start righting my gown, and still he didn’t pull out. I would have tried to shift away, but I was afraid it would just lead to another indiscretion.
“Danika,” he said again, his voice very soft, and very sad.
God, it was flooring how just listening to that deep voice of his could captivate me. For just the sound of his voice alone, I could have stayed glued to that spot indefinitely.
I shook the thought off, calling myself a fool. “I need a minute alone, if you don’t mind. I’m going to go clean up.” He tried to kiss me, but I turned my head away. “My dress, please.” My
voice wasn’t sharp, in fact it was gentle, but I saw him flinch out of the corner of my eye.
How did he always do that? Make me want to take back whatever I’d said that may have hurt him, even after all this time.
Reason number one thousand why I needed to stay away from him.
We both gasped in a harsh breath as he dragged himself out of me. I clenched at him involuntarily as he pulled, and that seemed to drag it out, into an act of pure torture. His girth assured that he hit every nerve ending on his way out.
He pulled my dress back up onto my arms, then over my head, then my shoulders. His hands were gently caressing as he eased every inch of it back in place.
I didn’t look at him.
He still had his hips close, still between my thighs, even as he smoothed my dress over my back.
I felt him nudge back against my sex, seeking entrance again.
I don’t know how, but I managed to shake my head. We would not be going for another round, addictive as it might be.
I had to get off the crazy train now, not go for another loop.
I needed just a moment, to go be by myself and think. The sooner the better.
He stepped back, and helped me down. He let me go to tuck himself back into his pants, and I fled into the house.
The place had a ton of bathrooms set throughout the sprawling mansion, but I went up to my appointed guest suite, and used my private bath to clean up, then combed my hair, and touched up my makeup.
I stared at my dazed expression for a solid five minutes, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.
Was this some new sickness, or had the old one persisted, in spite of everything?
Or was this the result of mishandling the situation altogether?
How were we back to square one six years later, within just a few conversations?
Had that happened because we’d never learned to cope with sharing the same space? Had never having any contact at all just made us more susceptible to a screw up of epic proportions?
Had we only made ourselves more sensitive to the other’s presence, when what we’d needed was to be desensitized?
Was it just possible that there was some middle ground here? Some sort of closure to the romantic part of our relationship that I’d never pursued?
I had always thought of Tristan in terms of all or nothing, but clearly, that hadn’t worked. That failure was currently staring me in the face, and perhaps more mortifying, dripping down my leg.
I could admit that cutting someone that had become such an undeniably significant part of me so completely out of my life had been damaging to me.
It had stunted me. Stunted my happiness. Stunted my growth.
That was a fact I’d accepted long ago, in a resigned sort of way, seeing it as a necessary evil.
But what if it wasn’t necessary? What if it was only detrimental? Spending some rare time in his company made me realize something new.
I’d been so focused on the bad of him, of us, the bad of all that had happened, that I’d forgotten the good.
I’d lived the bad, existed with it every waking hour of every day, and some nights, in my dreams, as well.
Why shouldn’t I get a bit of the good? What if, just maybe, I needed it? What if it would help me close that chapter of my life? Being with him was out of the question. A longterm romantic relationship was absolutely unthinkable. But a friendship? Hadn’t I moved on enough to at least give myself that small bit of comfort?
Didn’t I deserve it?