Hello my lovelies! I know I’ve been bad and absent – I’m hoping to fill things in >.> soon. However can you believe it’s the fourth Tuesday of the month? Already?? It’s the beginning of fall, and we also have birthday girl Gwen Hayes with us! Whoo whoo! *does a little dance* So everyone grab a drink and some birthday cake. Settle in for some great entertainment.
They say it’s your birthday…..
I’m celebrating my birthday today! And by celebrating, I mean I’m eating cake and drinking too much wine and wondering how I got to be so old so fast? Whose idea was this madcap ride, anyway? I don’t particularly mind being in my 40s, but I’m kind of wondering when I’m actually going to feel like a grown up. It so hasn’t happened yet.
Our lovely hostess here at ALBTALBS invited me to post an excerpt of whatever I’m working on…which is silly because I have about twenty works-in-progress right now. And all of them are dusty and neglected because I’ve been focusing on editing since I joined the Entangled Publishing team as editorial director of the Scandalous line. But you know what happened when I opened them up? I started itching to write again. This means my birthday wish this year is…MORE HOURS IN THE DAY.
I hope you enjoy the excerpt from Stone in Love, a contemporary novella that I hope to finish soon. We join Jacob Stone and Becky McDonald at the Detroit airport where they’ve both been stranded due to weather. The reunited childhood sweethearts haven’t seen each other in two years…not since Jacob went on the run for a crime he didn’t commit, but he’s neglected to tell Becky that part. Just before the chapter starts, Becky has invited him to her hotel room to wait out the storm. He know he should leave her alone—everything he’s done has been to protect her—but she is a pretty powerful temptation…
Stone in Love © Gwen Hayes 2011
Ten years ago
BECKY SMOOTHED THE fabric of her cargo pants and listened to the rustle of something in a bush that she hoped wasn’t planning on attacking her.
She was only sixteen. She had too much to live for still.
The night was cooler than she’d thought it would be. Spring was like that sometimes. All day she’d been hot, now she had goose bumps.
Maybe she was just nervous. What if he didn’t show? No, she thought, rubbing her arms briskly, he’d show. He’d be too curious not to.
Becky changed positions, shifting from one hip to the other on the blanket, trying to look as nonchalant as possible, but wanting him to see the moonlight glinting off her hair. Or something. Anything. God. Why couldn’t he just notice her?
She’d briefly considered trying to be more like the girls she’d seen him around with sometimes. She thought she’d look pretty ridiculous which meant he would think so too. Her hips were too slim and her boobs fairly non-existent. Probably she’d need both to pull off some of those mini-dresses. Late blooming sucked.
No, she wouldn’t get Jacob Stone by pretending to be someone else. As much as he tried to deny it, he liked her. Cared about her. Could probably even love her if he let himself. She could fill the night sky with all the stars she’d wished on for him to love her. The whole sky.
Footsteps. Her heart inched up her throat. This was it. He’d come. She squeezed her eyes shut, unable to stop herself, until the footsteps stopped directly in front of her.
“Wanna tell me what is going on here?” Jacob asked.
Becky forced her eyes open. God, he was beautiful. Maybe boys weren’t supposed to be, but he was to her. He was a little too skinny, whether that was from growing too fast or lack of quality food in his home, she had her suspicions.
She inhaled the night air before responding so her voice wouldn’t squeak. Hopefully. “It’s a picnic.”
He sent her the look. The look he always had for her. Equal parts dumfounded and annoyed. He’d perfected it over the years, since that first kiss on the tire swing still hanging on the tree behind her.
“It’s ten o’clock at night. A little late for a picnic. Besides, shouldn’t you be in bed, little girl?”
The words and the tone were supposed to fluster her. She’d probably have fumbled if they hadn’t been paired with the deer in the headlights look in his eye. He was nervous, too. He could beat up three boys at once and fix anything with engine parts, but a “little girl” made him nervous.
Jacob stood ready for battle in a wide stance, his jeans tightened nicely in a way that made her tummy tighten, too. As always, that stupid Metallica t-shirt stretched over his chest under his jean jacket. He looked like every dream she ever had and at the same time, sort of ridiculous.
Becky patted the blanket. “Ten o’clock at night is a perfect time for a picnic.”
He stuffed his hands into the pocket of his coat. “Your note said it was important.”
“It is. Want a cookie?” She opened the basket and pulled out a bag of cookies and thermos of hot chocolate. “I made your favorite kind.”
The breeze picked up, rustling the tree leaves and chilling her while she pretended not to be cold. Jacob said something under his breath before he ripped off his coat and knelt on the blanket in front of her to put it around her shoulders.
“You can get all ‘A’s in school, but can’t manage to remember a jacket?” The night stood still. He didn’t let go of the lapels. It was like he was stuck looking at her. She wanted to thank him, but she was afraid a single word would break the spell.
He squeezed the coat tighter around her and his glance lowered to her lips. Either the lantern was throwing off strange shadows or he was looking at her like her like a man in love. Like they do in the movies before a kiss.
One wrong move and he’d be gone. How long had they been doing this dance? Two steps forward, one step back, never touching but never out of each other’s sight. She ached with all the tender feelings she’d stored up over the years.
“It’s late. I should go.” His voice a rumble she felt in her own chest.
She clutched his arms. “Don’t. Don’t say all the stupid things you’re about to, Jacob. Just don’t.”
“I know my heart. And I know yours. I always have. One of these days you’re going to have to just accept that and let me be your girlfriend. I’ve been wanting to for so long.”
He turned his cheek to her. He’d be gathering up all his reasons now, getting them ready to lob them one after the other at her, like dodge balls. But not this time.
“I don’t want to hear it. Not one more time. I know we come from different kinds of families. I know you don’t like school or rules or pretty much anything this town has offered you. Except me, Jacob. You like me. You can put on a show for the rest of them, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change it. You like me. You need me. You want me.”
His head snapped back, a fire in his eyes. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, little girl.”
He probably had more to say, but she didn’t intend to hear it. With more enthusiasm than skill, she reached for his ears and pulled him down to her kiss. It was certainly not like the first one on the tire swing, but neither was it magical like the ones in every dream her young heart had forged.
That is, until he groaned and returned the kiss.
The coat had slipped off her shoulders, but Becky was the farthest thing from cold. Jacob’s strong arms banded around her and his body was hot like a furnace. He held her head still for a moment while his lips did a magical plundering thing that made her toes curl up with a new sweet pleasure she’d never encountered before.
It didn’t take long until she understood the rhythm of his kiss, and gave back what she got. His hands moved down then, cupping her bottom and roaming her back. She twined her arms around him, desperate to get closer, to feel him everywhere.
He pulled away, putting distance between them with one strong arm. “No,” he said between ragged breaths.
Becky sat back on her haunches, her triumph not dimming even a little bit.
“I mean it, Becks. It’s never going to happen for us. We don’t make sense. Not even in a crazy world. You should be—”
“I love you.”
He blinked. “No.”
His fingers clenched and unclench at his sides. “Why would you say something like that? Look, I know you have a crush. I’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to know it. You walk around with your heart on your sleeve because nobody’s ever broken yours…and I’ve done everything I can to let you down easy because you are a nice girl and I don’t want to hurt your feelings or be the one that makes you hide that heart back in your chest. But you don’t love me, Becky. You don’t even know me.”
She tilted her face to his, searching his eyes. With a feather light touch, in case he moved away, she used the pad of her finger to smooth over the divot on his cheek left from a scar. “This one is from the time you jumped in front of a snowball meant for me. It had rocks in it.” He looked away so she grabbed his arm and traced the blemishes there that hurt more on the inside than they ever did on the surface. “These are from your dad. When he burned you with a cigarette. I put salve on them every day at lunch for a week.”
He yanked his arm away. “That doesn’t mean…”
“It means you know what hurting is, but you still took a snowball for me. It means we’ve been taking care of each other since we were kids. It means that you’re scared that if you trust me with your heart, I’ll break it. But I’m brave enough for the both of us because I trust you with mine. You can walk away from me tonight, but it won’t change anything.”
Jacob slumped over, lacing his fingers behind his neck and curling into himself. “It will never work. People won’t let you take up with the likes of me. You know they won’t.”
“Since when do you care about what other people think?”
“Then love me back.”
The words seemed to hover in the air between them. Like something tangible, something real. Because he didn’t deny them.
Please, God, just let him love me back.
He unfurled then, and hope serpentined its way through her chest as he stared at her. Something changed, in his eyes, in his face. Like his insides finally caught up with his outside strength and now he was heart-strong too. Maybe someone who didn’t know him like she did wouldn’t have noticed, maybe they all thought he was as tough as he pretended to be. But in that moment, he looked like he could conquer the world.
Had she done that? Made him feel bigger and stronger? Just by loving him?
He focused his ice blue eyes on her. “You sure do like causing me trouble, Rebecca McDonald.” He leaned across the blanket and kissed the tip of her nose. A chaste kiss that nearly shattered her heart until he said, “We’ll see if you can take it as well as you dish it out. I’m tired of fighting you.”
She heard what he said, but it took a second to comprehend his meaning.
She threw her arms around him, swearing to never let go. “You’ll see. I promise. Nobody is ever going to love you like I do, Jacob Stone.”
Jacob was really standing outside her door. And he just asked her something and Becky had no idea what he’d said.
He took up the whole doorway. All muscle and mass. Imposing. You didn’t want to cross Jacob Stone. But Becky remembered running her hands over his chest just the way he liked, soft like butterfly wings. Big, bad Jacob used to tremble beneath her touch. She always felt like the most powerful woman alive when she could make him beg.
And now he’d taken her invitation, but she read the doubt in his eyes and was sure she matched him uncertainty for uncertainty. The pulse point of his throat drew her attention. God she loved kissing him there.
“Becks?” he asked.
“I asked if that was my Metallica t-shirt.”
Becky blinked hard to pull herself out of the altered state he’d put her in again, as if no time had passed. Her body recognized him as her lover, even though her mind tried to remember he wasn’t.
She looked down at the shirt. “It might be yours,” she lied. “I’ve had it a long time.”
The stern mask he’d worn cracked a little as the corners of his mouth lifted. “Might be mine?”
She shrugged. “Do you want to come in or are we going to talk about Metallica in the hallway all night?”
The panic lit his eyes again. “I want to come in, Becky, I just shouldn’t. Nothing changes. Tomorrow will only be harder.”
Oh, her heart. It hurt as it plummeted. Down. Down. Down. “I think that if you don’t come in, we’ll both regret it for the rest of our lives, Jacob. It’s just tonight. I understand that. Come in, we’ll talk, have a beer…who knows, I may make you sleep on the floor.”
Jacob blinked slowly, disagreeing with her with a knowing look that made her tingle under her skin. He was still the bad boy that jumpstarted good girls’ hearts. Some things don’t change. He’d always known the power he wielded over women, and he never thought twice about using it to get what he wanted. And for a long time, what he’d wanted was Becky.
She stepped aside, allowing him to pass, the earthy smell of his leather following him. She was sixteen again, falling in love with the wrong boy. They’d all told her so.
Becky, you have your pick of boys.
Becky, don’t sell yourself short. You should date someone with a future.
Becky, you deserve someone who’ll treat you right. He’s just a thug.
And he was. He’d had no use for school, he hung out with the troublemakers, and he had no ambition outside of hustling pool at Smitty’s, who inexplicably served him beer when everyone knew he was only seventeen. He didn’t do or say the right things, and more, he didn’t care.
And God, neither did she back then.
She rested her back heavily against the door after she closed it. Part of her wanted to throw him on the bed, but part of her just wanted to erase that haunted look in his eyes. She wondered if she still had the power to do that for him, the way she used to do the nights his father had used his fists on his perfect face.
Becky crossed the room to the small mini-bar. “If you want to shower, there are plenty of towels. I can’t stand travel dirt. First thing I do when I get to a hotel is shower.” She pulled out a beer and held it out to him. “And, I’m rambling.”
“Thanks.” He took the beer but his eyes never left hers. Suddenly, she was very self-conscious of her lack of pajama bottoms. “Why Cancun?”
She missed the real hue of his eyes, the brown was all wrong. “Conference for work.”
She laughed. “I won the raffle or believe me, I couldn’t have afforded it.” She realized he’d need an opener for his beer. “I’m sorry. I forgot they weren’t twist off.” She turned to find the gadget, when he grabbed her wrist, stilling her.
“Becky,” he said simply.
His voice warmed her blood and she turned around, aware that just his fingers encircling her wrist was more erotically charged than any of the few dates she’d been on since he’d gone. How would she survive the rest of the night if touching her wrist and saying her name was all it took to melt her instantly?
The staccato of her heart beat a wild and crazy rhythm. “Jacob,” she answered quietly.
He looked struck by all the things he wanted to say, but she could tell when he’d decided not to say them. He dropped her wrist. “I’m going to take you up on that shower.”
“If you change your mind, I’ll understand.”
“Change my mind?” she asked.
“If you come to your senses, while I’m in the bathroom, and decide you want me to go. It’s okay. I’ll understand.” He took a step closer, palming her shoulders and forcing her to look all the way up. “But if you want me to stay, know that I won’t be sleeping on the floor.”
His warning buzzed around her head while he showered, warring with the images she couldn’t stop thinking about. Jacob standing under the hot stream of water, soap glistening and rolling down his chest…Becky opened his beer and chugged a third of it down to cool herself off.
This was crazy. She shouldn’t be this on fire for him after all this time. She shouldn’t be, but she sure as hell was. Need clawed through her, stark and painful, ripping to shreds anything that would stand in its way of going to bed with Jacob tonight. Logic, fear, common sense…none of it mattered. She wasn’t going to change her mind tonight, though she didn’t doubt she was going to lose it.
She dimmed the lights and sat on her knees in the center of the bed and waited for him, anticipation building in waves. When he stepped out of the bathroom, finally, she laughed. “You’re a little overdressed.”
Jacob had dressed completely, coat and shoes and all. “I didn’t want to assume.” He dropped his duffel on a chair. “I offered you an out.” He walked towards the end of the bed and eyed the mostly empty bottle in her hand. “Is that my beer?”
Becky tipped it sideways. “It was. There’s more in the fridge. Are you hungry?”
“God, yes.” Her stomach pitched as low as it could go at the desperate tone of his voice.
She set the beer on the end table, aware that he watched the hem of her t-shirt very carefully. “I didn’t think I would ever see you again.”
He shrugged his jacket off. “If we were smart, we would have pretended we didn’t know each other in the airport.”
She walked on her knees to the end of the bed and put her hands on his firm chest. His t-shirt was stretched tautly over the muscles there, taunting her. “I don’t especially care to be smart tonight.” He’d left his contacts out, his baby blues searching hers for a last minute reprieve. No way out, Jacob, not tonight. “I want you,” she said, her voice huskier than she’d ever heard it. “I need you.”
Jacob clenched his jaw tightly and she watched him jerk as if he was restraining himself. Why was he restraining himself? Suddenly, a cold rush swept through her. Did he not want her? Had she misread him so completely—?
“Don’t?” she choked. The unbearable undertow of loneliness threatened to pull her under. She’d pined for him as long as she could remember. That she’d set herself up for rejection, done this to herself nearly killed her. “Don’t?” she repeated. He may as well tell her don’t breathe.
He cupped one hand behind her neck. “Don’t doubt my intentions. Don’t doubt for one second that I want you. I’m trying really hard not to throw you down and take you.”
She shivered. In a good way. In a really, really good way. “Why?”
“Why do I want to throw you down?”
“No, why are you trying not to?” Desire pooled low in her body while she waited for his answer.
Jacob shook his head instead of answering and rested his forehead rest against hers. “Last chance, Becks.”
She knew she had a million reasons to say no, but only one to say yes, and it was the most dangerous of all—she still loved him. “Make me forget why this is a bad idea, Jacob.”
“Gladly,” and his mouth was on her and nothing mattered but the heat.
About Gwen: Gwen Hayes lives in the Pacific Northwest with her real life hero and family. She writes romance and young adult romance, and edits for Entangled Publishing and Fresh Eyes Critique. For more information about Gwen, please visit her website.
So what’d you think of the excerpt? 😀 We love our exclusives here at ALBTALBS. And remember to wish Gwen a very happy birthday! <3