Author: Karlee Winters
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: November 1, 2016
To outsiders, Ashlynn Summers has it all: she’s the star of her own TV cooking show, respected by her community, and a devoted wife. Until she discovers something that shakes her rock-solid world. Now, all she wants is to focus on getting her life back on track. Volunteering at a homeless shelter renews her sense of purpose, but when she meets the insolent Luke Brault, Ashlynn can’t help but think there’s more to him than meets the eye. Although Luke keeps to himself, his daughter is his sole priority. Guilt surrounding his single father status has eaten away at him, leaving a gaping hole. He and Ashlynn become friends, yet Luke fears his past will destroy the bond they’ve created. When they discover their pasts are intertwined and unimaginable secrets are revealed, Ashlynn and Luke find themselves on shaky ground in the aftermath. Suddenly, building something solid on a hollow foundation seems impossible. Can they find a way to repair the damage of the past, or is it too heavy for them to bear?
Despite having lived in my new duplex for over two weeks, I still had yet to unpack most of my things, or get my own furniture. A couple nights before, in an attempt to tire myself out, I had picked three boxes to unpack. One of the boxes was filled with photographs, and the other two contained various vestiges from my life when my family was whole: porcelain figurines Mama had picked out on our various trips to Disneyland, doo-wop and standards recorded on vinyl, and assorted signage and décor from my parent’s restaurant. I’d also found a couple Barbie dolls still in their boxes from when I was younger. I had never hopped on the Barbie doll train, but I knew a certain five-year-old who might have, so I had put the records and the Barbies in a bag and placed them in my office, intending on giving them to Luke the next time I saw him. I thought they might like them. What I didn’t expect was the hostile look he was giving me. He took three quick strides toward me. “Let me make something perfectly clear to you, Duchess. Lily and I are not some charity case. We don’t need you donating your unwanted things because you feel sorry for us.” He shoved the bag into my arms. “You think I’m giving these to you because I feel sorry for you?” “Yeah, and we don’t need your pity.” I threw the bag down on the desk. “You know what, Luke? You’re a real asshole sometimes.” “Just calling a spade a spade.” “Well, I’m just calling an asshole an asshole.” We stared at each other with our faces just inches apart and I swallowed hard. His chest heaved and when his eyes dipped to my mouth, I wet my lips with my tongue, suddenly feeling like I’d been chewing on sandpaper. His arms were braced along the edge of the desk, caging me in, and I could smell the sweet hint of mint on his breath. “I don’t want your things. There’s a reason I live the way I do, so just leave it the fuck alone.” He turned to leave, but I reached out, my fingers touching his forearm, begging him to wait. “I-I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I was just trying to be nice. I just wanted to do something nice for you and Lily.” His head was bowed and his back remained turned toward me, but I knew my words had dented his armor, even if for only a moment. “Why?” “What do you mean why?” He whirled around and pinned me with a glare. “I mean, why bother? Since I’ve met you, I’ve given you no indication that I want to be your friend or get to know you better, and yet, you keep trying.” He took a step toward me. “Why?” The air was thick with tension and I could feel it like static, rousing every cell in my body. His deep grey irises seared through my soul as he searched my face for an answer. “Because,” I said quietly, “I know what it’s like. I know how grief can consume you until there’s nothing left. I know what it feels like to push everyone away because it’s easier than allowing people in and risking losing them, too, but I was lucky in that I had people who stuck by me even when I was a complete nightmare to be around. They pushed me to talk to them, even when I had nothing to say.” I paused, my heart thrashing violently in my chest. “But you? From what I can tell, Luke, you don’t have that, and that’s a damn shame because as much as you try to only show people what you want to show them, I see past that. I see the man you really are when you hold your little girl in your arms. I see the kindness buried deep in your heart. You didn’t have to offer to help me with Mama, but you did. So yeah, I keep trying, and that’s not going to change because you may not feel like you’re worth it, but I—” He cut me off with a kiss. His right hand reached out and wrapped around my waist, jerking me toward him until I was pressed hard against his body. His mouth came down on mine with such intensity, I could feel every ounce of pain, grief, and desire he’d kept locked tight within him. A low rumble in his throat urged my lips open and when his tongue swept along my bottom lip, a soft moan escaped me. I placed one hand to the back of his neck, pressing myself into him, needing to be closer. He gripped me tighter as the heat of our kiss deepened, making me dizzy with need. In that moment, I could feel him opening his heart to me. His left hand moved to my cheek and he used his thumb to tilt my head back. He controlled the moment. He controlled every movement. He was the puppeteer and I was his marionette, bending and twisting to his will. And I let him. Maybe it was because he had spent so much time feeling out of control and he needed just one second where he didn’t feel so lost. Maybe I let him because for a brief instant in time I remembered what desire felt like. Maybe this was what we both needed, two broken people yearning for a respite from our pain and finding it in each other. He alternated between letting his tongue tease me with long languid strokes and nipping at my bottom lip with his teeth, sending a heady ripple of lust all the way through my core. My hands slipped beneath the edge of his shirt, touching the hard ridges of his stomach. His eyes shot open and he tore himself away from me. Our chests heaved synchronously to the beat of our wounded hearts, and his eyes were filled with fear. “Ashlynn,” he said quietly. “Yes,” I responded, already knowing what he was about to say. “I’m sorry. This was a terrible mistake.” He ran his hand over his jaw and walked out the door, leaving me with nothing but the sweet taste of him on my lips.