The next standalone book in my contemporary New Adult series,
LIPS CLOSE TO MINE!
I love this book so much and can’t wait to share Levi and Harper’s story with you!
This is how I picture Levi.
Gah. I am seriously in love with him!
READ CHAPTER ONE BELOW!
About the book…
I wasn’t supposed to see Levi Pierce ever again. A few months ago, he charmed the pants off me and we spent one incredible night together.
End of story.
Only it wasn’t. Pretty soon everywhere I turn, I see him. Our best friends are dating. My mother mistakenly—and happily—thinks he’s my plus-one to my cousin’s wedding. And he’s the guy I have to work with on the most important job opportunity of my life.
Here’s my problem: I like Levi. I like his killer smile and his dreamboat eyes and definitely the way he makes me feel in bed. But I’ve sworn off relationships. So when the sexual tension reaches epic proportions and we fall back into bed together, I tell myself it’s temporary. When I start to feel more, I tell myself it’s over.
Only Levi isn’t a forget-it kind of guy. When his lips are close to mine and he swears he’s always wanted me, my defenses disappear. But some things in life just aren’t meant to be.
Or are they?
**The book is told in dual points of view. Chapter One starts with Harper.
Swimming and sex.
My two favorite “S” words. In that order. Unless you count that time with…
Nope. I’m not going to think about him.
Too late, you just did.
God, I wish I could wipe Levi Pierce from my memory.
We weren’t supposed to see each other ever again, and then surprise! My best friend is dating his best friend, and he’s in my airspace way more than I’m comfortable with. Pants Charming—that’s what I call him because he could seriously charm the pants off me with only his stupid smile—is a problem I have to learn to deal with.
Ducking under the water, I push thoughts of Levi out of my head and swim another two laps across the swimming pool. I butterfly stroke this time. It’s the most fun and most exhausting, and I’m good at it. It’s not my fastest stroke, that would be freestyle, but I’m skilled at all of them. I trained in Olympic-size facilities. Raced against the best until my sixteenth birthday.
There’s never a time I’m in the water that I don’t think back on that night seven years ago when everything changed for me. I hide it, of course. I don’t want anyone’s pity or sympathy. It’s private, something I keep buried deep but that, ironically, is never far from the surface.
I lift out of the water and once again check my phone because that will make it ring, right? I’ve tried for the past few days to tell myself this isn’t a big deal. That if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. I’ll survive just fine and find another opportunity to raise awareness for swim safety. But the way my stomach is knotting tells me I’ll be devastated if I don’t get this.
I’m not used to caring so much about a job.
Unless you count camp counselor. Best first job ever, right there. No one rocks Crazy Hair Day like I do.
I palm the edge of the pool and push myself up into a sitting position, leaving my feet to dangle in the water. I’ve always worked, but giving swim lessons and lifeguarding isn’t a “job” to me. It’s my normal. My heart. My passion. And the morning hours I put in at the coffee shop are for fun and an extra way to fill my time. Although, ever since my best friend, Teague, quit serving lattes with me, it hasn’t been as enjoyable.
The August sun is almost done drying the droplets of water on my shoulders and back when my phone finally rings. I take a deep breath, note the caller ID, and pick it up.
“Hi, Mr. Halloran.” Shit. Do I sound like I’ve been sitting here waiting for his phone call?
“Hi, Harper. Please. Call me Brad.”
“Right. Hi, Brad.” It’s a little weird calling one of my swim coaches from when I was a teenager by his first name, but I am an adult now, and he’s not more than ten years older than me, so I need to make more of an effort.
“I’ve got some semi-good news,” Brad says matter-of-factly.
“Okay,” I reply, calm as a cactus, when I’m really anything but.
“The board agrees you’re an excellent ambassador candidate for the foundation and our No Swimmer Left Behind campaign, but we’re not quite ready to fully extend you the job offer. I know that’s not what you were hoping to hear.”
I swallow the bulging lump in my throat. It’s not what I wanted, no, but it sounds like I haven’t lost the job yet, either. “What are you offering?”
“As I mentioned when we met, we want to shoot a series of PSAs to kick off the campaign, and we’d like to use you, if you’re up for it. Afterward, we’ll talk about the future. Sound fair enough?”
“It does.” I want this job. I need this job. If I kick ass with the public service announcements, hopefully the board will give me the full-time honor. Sometimes it takes baby steps to reach your destination.
“Can you come in next week to go over logistics and meet the team?”
“Great. I’ll see you soon.”
“Thank you so much. I’m excited.” Excited to prove to everyone I should be the face of the Make A Splash Foundation.
“We are, too.”
I disconnect the call, place my phone back on the towel, and jump to my feet to shake off the nerves pinching behind my knees and inside my elbows. When Brad started MASF, I immediately donated my time and money. The charity is still growing, but I’m passionate about teaching swimming so no one ever drowns again. If I can make my mission official through MASF, I know it will bring me the satisfaction that has been missing from my life and get my dad off my back.
My father is adamant I come work for him, but he’s graciously given me time to “figure my life out” before I come to my senses and join him and my brothers in his bajillion-dollar media conglomerate. It’s the very last thing I want to do. I’m a swimsuit, not a business suit, kind of girl. I need fresh air, sunshine, and chlorine to breathe. He thinks I need him, which is the complete opposite of true, yet he’s losing patience with me. I love my dad, but if we were to have a professional relationship, I’d end up hating him.
It’s bad enough that whenever he gets the opportunity, he hovers over me like I don’t have a mind of my own. Last week alone he came into the coffee shop and proceeded to walk me through making his latte, step by step. I’ve worked there for seven months! I damn well know how to make his drink.
His controlling interest in my life is driving me nuts, leaving me super motivated to land this job with MASF.
The water glistens in the afternoon light, calling to me, so I run over to the deep end and jump in, hugging my knees to my chest. “Cannonball!” I shout even though no one is around to hear me. Underwater somersaults, handstands, and floating on my back follow until my lesson shows up a couple of minutes before one o’clock.
“Hey, Spider-Man!” I say to Josh. He has a thing for the superhero; his swim trunks, T-shirt, sandals, and towel always decorated with the popular Avenger.
“Hi, Hawper,” he says in the cutest four-year-old voice ever. I love this kid.
For the next five hours, I give back-to-back swim lessons. The time flies by. I’m toweling off when Teague comes bounding around the corner. “Tell me, tell me, tell me,” she says, full of her sweet, bubbly enthusiasm.
“I didn’t get the job. Yet.” I tell her what Brad told me.
“Harp!” She wraps me in a hug, not caring that my bathing suit is still wet. “You will so kick some PSA butt, and they will hire you officially, and you’ll help make a huge difference. Congratulations!”
“Thanks. Fingers and toes crossed, right?” Teague’s delight and optimism are hard to ignore, and I smile.
“Right!” she says, grinning back. “And one day soon you’re going to be the best ambassador ever. Come on. I’m making you dinner to celebrate.”
I hang my towel over a lounge chair, and we walk toward the guesthouse we rent from my aunt and uncle. They live in the massive Beverly Hills house a few hundred feet away, and as far as landlords go, they’re the coolest.
“Are your special grilled cheese sandwiches what’s for dinner?” I ask. I make Teague my exceptional mac and cheese. She makes me her outstanding grilled cheese. We’re total opposites, but our love of cheese formed the first bonds of best-friendship during our freshman year at the University of Oregon.
“Of course,” she says cheerfully.
“Are you sure you have time? When is Mateo picking you up?”
Teague opens our front door and heads straight into the kitchen. Her shoulders do a little wiggle, one that tells me the mere mention of her hot-as-fuck boyfriend turns her on. They’re ridiculously in love, and I couldn’t be happier for her.
“He’ll be here at eight,” she says in a breathy tone that further confirms her love sickness.
That’s right. Love is a sickness, and I have no intention of catching it.
I pick up the T-shirt I left draped over the back of the couch and slip it on. Our place has an open floor plan with a bright polka-dot–accented kitchen, an office nook, and a comfortable but stylish living room. A hallway leads to our bedrooms on the right and a guest bathroom on the left.
“And I always have time for you,” she adds.
Lately, that hasn’t been the case, but I don’t mention it. It’s stupid and selfish that I feel lonely. Teague’s new career as a honeymoon planner is taking off. Mateo’s new travel job for NPR is, too, and together they’re planning trips all over the world. When they’re home, they’re inseparable. I know my best friend, and while she and Mateo have only been officially together for a few weeks, he’s it for her, the guy she wants to marry. And knowing guys like I do, he’s equally taken with her. A good thing, because if he wasn’t, I’d kick his ass. She’s the best.
Speaking of getting married… “Guess who’s pregnant?” I say as I take a seat at the kitchen table and push the sudden and unwanted thoughts of Mateo’s roommate out of my head. Damn Levi Pierce and his connection to my best friend. Lately, keeping him at arm’s length is proving harder than I’d like. Despite my animosity toward him, he smiles in response to my scowl, or he keeps a door open for me. I hate that he makes me feel things I don’t want to. Things I’ve been able to keep at bay until now.
Teague doesn’t miss a grilled cheese-making beat, plopping a square of butter onto the frying pan. “Who?”
“Your cousin is pregnant?” Teague asks with surprise, turning away from the stove to look at me.
“Knocked up and due in March.”
“Her wedding is in March.”
“Not anymore. It’s moved to next month. She wants to be married before she’s a mom—and fit into the wedding dress she’s already bought—so everything is going at warp speed now.” I’d like to propel myself out of bridesmaid duty, not because I don’t love my cousin but because with the new time frame, I’m worried about my commitment to MASF, too. I have to start off on the best foot with them, which means they get my time whenever they need it.
And then there’s my mother.
She wants to know when I’m getting married. Or at the very least acquiring a boyfriend.
The frying pan sizzles, drawing Teague’s attention. She starts cooking our sandwiches. “Holy cow, how is your aunt planning to pull this off so fast?”
“The wedding is going to be here in the backyard. You should probably book a work trip during that week so you can avoid the insanity. Aunt Betsy walked me around this morning to share the details.”
“I’m afraid to ask.”
“She’s covering my pool.”
Teague shoots me a sympathetic, yet unapologetic frown.
“Okay, she’s covering her pool. But I have to cancel two days’ worth of lessons while everything is set up, on top of my Saturday ones. I hate doing that to my students.”
“Change of subject,” Teague says, sliding our sandwiches onto plates. She pulls each gooey, cheesy one apart and adds ranch dressing, sprouts, and already-cooked bacon inside before closing them up. Best. Sandwich. Ever. “Did I tell you my best friend is one step closer to being an ambassador, and I’m really proud of her?”
“Your best friend is a badass?” I misconstrue, because “ambassador” sounds so grown-up and weird and it’s not official yet.
“She’s that, too.” Teague gives me a soft look as she puts our food on the table. “I’m sorry I’m leaving town tonight, but when you get the job, we’re going out to celebrate properly.”
“Make it not so proper, and it’s a date.”
Teague rolls her eyes. She’s the good and proper one. Me? Not so much. I mean, I don’t do anything illegal or hurtful, but I follow my own rules.
“Have anything fun planned this weekend?” she asks.
Ugh. This weekend. I have to go bridesmaid dress shopping. I’ll definitely need some fun after that. I take a bite of my grilled cheese. “Just wedding stuff with Colleen. This is terrible by the way,” I tease with my mouth full. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m really happy and excited for you, Harp.”
I’m really grateful for the girl sitting across from me enjoying her sandwich like it’s the best one ever. She’s been through thick and thin with me. She’s my person, and we’re more than best friends. We’re sisters.
In my head, I recite word for word what my mother is going to say to me when I walk into the bridal store on Wilshire Boulevard ten minutes late.
“Harper, sweetie, how many times do I have to tell you to wash off the chlorine smell before you leave the house?”
Oops. I forgot the “sweetie.” “Hi, Mom. How are you?” I kiss her cheek before turning to face my aunt, cousin, and three other bridesmaids. The five of them are standing in a line, eyes trained on me like I swam here from Hawaii, which makes no fucking sense, since then I’d smell like saltwater. “Sorry I’m late,” I say.
So I didn’t have time to shower before I rushed over here. What’s the big deal? I’m clean. I’m dressed appropriately in a sundress that falls to the tops of my knees and covers my entire chest. My long, dark hair is mostly dry.
Colleen steps forward and gives me a hug. “Thanks for coming on such short notice.” My cousin is two years older than me, and since we grew up the only girls in the family, we loved and hated each other, depending on the day. Mostly loved, though.
“Of course,” I say. That’s going to be my standard answer for the next month. If I plan on it, then I won’t accidentally say something to disrupt the happy wedding vibe. Like the time I had to speak up when Colleen’s college boyfriend came home with her for Thanksgiving weekend, and at brunch he asked my aunt to “please pass the milf” instead of “milk.”
Aunt Betsy is hot for her age.
Colleen had glared at me the entire day, and the boyfriend didn’t make it back for any more family gatherings.
“I’ve got the dress already picked out,” Colleen says now. “Come see.”
I follow her and the other bridesmaids to the dressing area with a silent prayer the dress is anything but green and ruffled.
My wish dies painfully when Colleen presents me with a strapless, full-length dress with a sweetheart neckline, shirred bust, empire waist, and front-and-center ruffle from rib cage to floor. In emerald green. The dress is pretty. It doesn’t look anything like my sweet-sixteen dress, but the color and frill are enough to remind me.
“What do you think?” Colleen asks. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” No one but me remembers what I wore the night of my party.
“It is,” I say, forcing a smile. “I can’t wait to try it on.” Liar, liar, pants on fire.
I will not rain on Colleen’s enthusiasm. This is her special time, and if I have to suck up my discomfort, then that’s what I’ll do. Better that than draw unwanted attention to my feelings. I know the dress is a small detail in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes it’s the little things we remember most.
As I step behind the fancy champagne-colored curtain to change out of my sundress, I obliterate my runaway thoughts about that horrible night by thinking about puppies. English bulldog puppies. Their wrinkly, tubby cuteness is a shot of happy endorphins straight to my brain.
I’m the smallest bridesmaid, and when the seamstress pins the ribbing at my back for sizing, the dress pushes up my boobs in a really nice way. Two of George’s—that’s Colleen’s fiancé—groomsmen are single, so I’m happy to give them something to stare at. One, in particular, I may let do more than stare.
Who am I kidding? I absolutely will get naked with him.
My cousin’s smile reflects back at me in the full-length mirror. “You look stunning.”
“Thanks.” I gather my hair and tie it in a knot on top of my head. “Up-do?”
“Definitely,” Colleen says.
Maggie McKinney, mom of three, Serious McSnooper, and all-around good person even when annoyingly in my business, crosses a hand over her heart and says, “I’m going to cry. You look so beautiful.”
I turn so I can speak to her and not her reflection in the mirror. “Please don’t cry, Mom. If you cry, then Aunt Betsy will cry and then Colleen will cry and then I might cry, and I do not cry.” Crying is contagious, like yawning, or something like that. And seriously? Isn’t she only supposed to cry when looking at the bride?
“Fine.” She straightens her back. “I’ll stay composed.”
Once the fittings are done, we leave the tulle and chiffon behind and step into the California sunshine to walk to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for lunch.
“I almost forgot to tell you congratulations,” my mom says, linking our arms as we follow the rest of the group. “Your dad told me about the offer from Make A Splash Foundation. I’m so happy you’re a step closer to getting something you really want.”
She says this with love and sincerity, but there’s a hint of disappointment in her voice, too. This is because I’ve yet to give my mom what she really wants—me in a relationship. As her only daughter, I’m constantly being set up on dates with anyone who has a penis and a pulse, and she’s always reminding me that all work and no love isn’t the way to live. (Um, hello? I’m only twenty-three.) It’s a bone of contention between her and my dad, who, despite setting me up with a trust fund, insists I focus on a career while in my twenties. (Thank you, Dad.)
This work mentality goes back years. My brothers and I busted our asses off around the house to get our allowance when we were young. I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten.
“Oh! And I also forgot to tell you I had lunch with Marin the other day, and Chad is back in town. He asked her about you.”
Marin is my mom’s best friend, and for the past few years the two of them have schemed to get their children together. But Chad Buckley has zero chance of scoring with me. He’s selfish, too serious, and in seventh grade, when I asked him to rank his favorite dog breeds, bulldogs weren’t even on the list.
“That’s nice,” I say to keep the peace.
I wrinkle my nose. Just because my mom met my dad when she was twenty and fell madly in love does not make it hereditary. “I—”
“He’d be the perfect wedding date, don’t you think?”
It’s moments like these that I need a teleporter. Or laryngitis. Or a flight to Paris I’m running late for. There is no way in hell I’m taking a date to my cousin’s wedding. I think this. I know this. But somehow my mouth doesn’t get the memo, because I say, “I already have a date.”
I’m not proud of my lie, but bringing someone to a family wedding is a top-level serious date, and my mom will start planning Chad’s and my wedding this instant. If I fake bringing someone she doesn’t know, she’ll have to chill.
Or not. Because her entire body shakes with excitement, and her megawatt smile is blinding. She steeples her hands like all her prayers have been answered. “Is it serious?”
Fuck. Those five words I vomited, and which left a nauseating taste in my mouth, have ruined me for the next month. Here’s the thing, though. I could have a real date. He—whoever he is—just doesn’t know it yet.
“It’s—” I’m saved from having to come up with an answer when my phone rings. I quickly grab it from the outside pocket of my purse. “It’s Dad,” I say. More like I sing it, I’m so grateful for the interruption. Or I am until he talks on and on about the reason for his call. Then I wish I hadn’t answered.
“It’s the perfect job for you,” my dad continues. “Gets you on my payroll, but not in my building. Yet.”
I wave off my mom with the rest of the group, mouthing I’ll be a minute as I tug at my earlobe. Dad knows how I feel about us working together, and while it may seem like the perfect offer, it’s not. I want the job with MASF. “Dad, I don’t think—”
“Don’t give me an answer now. Let me know in the next couple of weeks.”
“I have no idea if I’ll know about the ambassador job that fast.”
“I’ve got a sure thing for you, honey. Think about that.”
His sure thing is some blockbuster movie where they need a swim consultant. My dad has invested in films before, but this one is the most commercial. It’s Jaws meets Pretty Woman.
“I know you’ve got your hopes pinned on MASF, but I’ve got mine pinned on you. Think of all the different projects you can work on with me, okay?”
His voice is considerate yet firm, and I hate the thought of letting him down. Again. It took some negotiating to get him off my back immediately after I graduated with my bachelor degree in business. “Okay,” I say.
“I love you and only want what’s best for you. You know that, right?”
“I know. Love you, too.”
“Enjoy lunch. Have the lamb burger. It’s the best thing on the menu.” I roll my eyes. “And don’t let your mother order anything with cheese. She’s—”
“Bye, Dad.” I disconnect and drag my feet toward lunch. He’s got my head filled with what-ifs and worries about disappointing him—but worse, myself.
My dad has no idea what’s best for me. How could he, when I don’t have a clue?