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The prequel to 'Bring Me Back'. Download the eBook for free!
I’m Karen, a Midwestern girl transplanted in the South, raised on 80s music, Judy Blume, and the films of John Hughes. An early preoccupation with Rock ‘n’ Roll led me to spend my twenties working my way from intern to executive in the music industry. Now I’m a married mom of two, and instead of staying up late in rock clubs, I get up before dawn and write sexy contemporary romance featuring hot heroes, served fresh.
by Karen Booth
You’re cute and everything, but I need my space.
Heather stared at the two-week-old atrocity on her phone. She should’ve deleted it, definitely should’ve stopped compulsively looking at it every day, but she was trying to comfort herself with the knowledge that she’d dodged a bullet. No decent guy breaks up with a girl with a text. And what in the hell did cute have to do with anything? That part really grated on her nerves, even more than the chicken-shit mode of delivery.
The woman who’d checked her in for the video shoot gathered a stack of index cards from her desk. “I’ll bring everyone a number in a few moments and then we’ll call you in.”
Heather stuffed her phone into her purse and collected herself. When she’d skeptically answered the ad, it seemed odd that someone would pay her money to kiss a stranger in front of a camera. She wouldn’t have looked into it at all if she didn’t need the fifty bucks to help pay for books this semester. Nursing school was way more expensive than she’d bargained on.
The recently departed boyfriend had even given his stamp of approval for the on-camera stranger-kiss. Now she had to wonder if he’d been planning to dump her all along. Regardless, she’d been single for two weeks and her body was ready to let loose on one of these guys like she’d just spent the summer at a camp for wayward girls. Hopefully her brain would let her do it.
She scanned the room. The offerings were surprisingly easy on the eye, not a bad one among the dozen or so who were there. Pretty boy with long lashes and pouty lips. Nice. Geeky dude with thick hair and chocolatey brown eyes. Beyond nice. Boy-next-door with the jeans that were apparently constructed around his perfect ass. I’d kiss him, too.
And then there was Rock guy. He was tall and lanky, definitely her preferred body type, but he was leaning against the wall and stand-offish as if he didn’t want to be there. She knew guys like him. They never liked her. Ever. Especially not when she liked them.
She had a weakness for long hair, but Rock guy’s was ridiculously long and pulled back in a messy bun. Not the most manly hairstyle. The black t-shirt and beat-up jean jacket he wore were passable. So were the black Chucks. She reminded herself that this wasn’t Whole Foods for Single Guys. She didn’t get to squeeze the tomatoes to find the ripest one. She would get what she got and there was nothing to do about that.
Index card woman doled out numbers. Heather was given “3”. A din of mumbling rose as everyone milled about to find their match. She hadn’t scoped out the girls, but now she found herself knee-deep in the bloodsport of worrying how she measured up. Was there even one guy here who hoped he’d get her? Her stomach wobbled at the thought.
She caught sight of Pretty boy’s card, a “2”. Oh well. Boy-next-door was already chatting up his stunning, giggly match. Damn. Geeky guy had a “7”. Figures. Her heart hammered the way it had when teams were picked in PE class. Stop it. Her match was here somewhere, she just had to find him.
She turned and nearly planted her nose in the center of Rock guy’s chest.
He flapped his “3” at her. “Hiya.”
“Oh. Hi.” Holy shit. His voice. Deep. Dark. Irish?
“We need everyone in the studio now, please,” Index card woman announced.
Heather was still staring up at male number “3”, struggling for a good reason to close her gaping mouth. He sported several days of scraggly dark-brown facial hair, a stark contrast to his impeccable pink lips. His eyebrows were thick and a little crazy, his hazel eyes deep and almost sad, cheekbones high and flushed. She’d always been a good girl and made do with safe guys. Gazing into his eyes, the words “that was really fucking stupid of me” sprang to mind.
Heather and her guy were pulled into the mass of strangers filing through the studio doors. She was keenly aware of him behind her, so close that she wondered if that was his heartbeat thundering in her chest.
A woman with dark-framed glasses scrutinized them all as they entered the room, squeezing her lower lip and seeming deep in thought. “You.” She pointed at Heather’s guy. “We’ll start with you.” Heather had assumed they’d go in numerical order, but apparently that wasn’t the case.
Her guy leaned down, his mouth hovering above Heather’s ear. “That’s us, darling.” Again, that voice—thick and sultry and making her want to climb inside his jean jacket. Naked. He took her hand as if he was claiming his birthright. Possessive men perturbed her more independent sensibilities, but her body couldn’t stem the white-hot rush of electricity his fingers produced when he clamped them around hers.
Heather followed him to their marks in front of the camera. They were immediately separated by a bossy man with a clipboard. Dutifully distanced by a scant twelve inches, the futility was laughable. Clipboard man had pulled apart a magnet and a steel plate. No way she and her guy weren’t erasing all space between them as soon as they had their chance.
Her guy spoke to her without a word. At least it felt that way, his penetrating gaze asking questions, leaving her exposed. It was surprisingly freeing, not scary.
The woman with the glasses gave instructions, something about being natural and listening for a beep that would warn them when time was up. It was mostly a lot of noise. Heather couldn’t have cared less, but she definitely took notice when the woman uttered the word she’d been longing to hear.
They drifted into each other, stopping toe-to-toe. He cracked the faintest smile, but immediately corrected himself and refocused his intensity on her. He was serious. In charge. He reached back and pulled the tie from his hair, never breaking eye contact. Thick waves of chestnut brown hair collapsed onto his shoulders. If she’d been able to speak, she would’ve said, “Fuck, yes.”
The room went impossibly still. Breathing seemed disruptive, so she held her breath, feeding off the raw energy that radiated from him. Everything in his eyes said one thing: “You. Are. Mine.”
He dropped his head, resting his forehead against hers, his hair creating a sliver of privacy amidst their public display. Blood rushed to the surface of her skin. Every part of her wanted to be closer to him. The tips of their noses brushed. Her heart galloped. His firm hands cupped her shoulders, trailed up the sides of her neck. His thumbs caressed her cheeks while his fingers stroked the baby-fine hair at her nape. Every atom in her body buzzed and hummed as if a man had never touched her before, never looked at her twice. Her eyelids fluttered, weak under his spell.
“You’re trembling,” he said, with a hint of sweet surprise in his brogue.
“I can’t help it.” His voice made her want to do stupid, reckless things. She arched her back, flattened her stomach against his, wrapped her arms around his waist, tugging him into her. She needed to know as much of his body as possible.
He kissed her temple, her cheek, and then he finally planted the gentlest tease of a kiss. She raised her chin, needing more. His lips were even softer than she’d imagined, skating over hers, but they didn’t have time for hesitancy and toying, however much she loved it. Their moment was now and it was fleeting and if she didn’t squeeze everything from it, it would be gone forever. She had way too many regrets in her life. This would not be one of them.
She threaded her hands under the jean jacket and slipped them beneath his t-shirt, committing his lower back to memory, wishing she could see his bare skin. Their lips smashed together, tongues found each other, winding and tangling. A groan rumbled from the depths of his throat and he dug his hands into her hair, making a splendid mess. Somebody in the room exclaimed, “Yeah.” Heather and her guy laughed, but only for an instant. They were readily seduced back into the natural, extraordinary rhythm of their kiss.
The distant, dreaded beep told them they were to do the unthinkable and stop. Although lips were no longer touching, Heather and her guy leaned into each other, the conversation between their bodies continuing. Chests heaved, breaths came short, eyes slowly opened to greet each other again.
“I need a second take,” he declared, pressing his lips to her forehead.
“Sorry. One try. You two did great. Next,” Clipboard man said.
Heather’s guy shot him a dirty look. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the other #FirstKiss stories from this week! You can find the complete list at Audra North’s website.