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Extras Category: Bonus Scenes

Bonus Scene: Distraction, a bonus PoV for Savage Vandal


Having the bed kicked to wake me up was not my favorite, particularly when I’d had less than two hours of sleep. As it was, I ignored the bullshit flying around the room and the glares they hurled at me. Fuck my life, I’d been on the go for two solid damn days and I’d had time in the ring the night before. I didn’t have time for the posturing or the egos.

“Sleeping beauty didn’t even notice she’d left her room, and he hadn’t locked the door.” Vaughn wasn’t happy.

Too bad.

I shrugged and headed for the fridge for a beer. If I had to deal with all of them this fucking early in my day, then I deserved a beer.

“Where the hell is Rome?” Jasper demanded. “Why did he leave you watching her?”

Man, Jasper never changed. I kind of hoped he never did. I smirked as I pulled out the beer. “You’re welcome that I came over to do a favor. I didn’t have to show up, you know.”

Jasper’s expression had turned thunderous, and Kestrel let out an aggrieved sigh. “Where is he, Liam?”

“I didn’t ask,” I told them and flashed a grin at the object of Rome’s obsessions. She was a lot prettier up close. A lot tougher too. Surrounded by all this angry testosterone and she didn’t flinch. Rome worried about her, to the point he’d asked me to help. A request he knew I wouldn’t refuse. “You don’t look so fragile and scared to me.”

Little vixen blew smoke in my direction and I wanted to laugh. What did Rome see that had him so concerned? Jasper, Kellan, and Vaughn were all glaring at me.

What the fuck ever. Rolling my head from side to side, I cracked the vertebrae and took a long slug of beer before saying, “I don’t know where he had to go. Just said he had something he was working on. Man, you know how he gets when he has a project. He said the squirrel didn’t do much and I just needed to be on hand until you got back. I was fucking tired, so I slept.”

The squirrel comment just rolled off her but she still flicked her gaze to me like she was trying to figure me out. Good luck with that one, princess. Oddly enough, the last appellation fit her. She was a princess, regal even while she bled down the inside of her leg.

Maybe it was being too hyped up from the fights, but you couldn’t miss the distinctive copper note in the air and I knocked back more beer. And these three hardasses were too busy glaring at me to notice.


“Vaughn…” Jasper started.

“No. I am not going to look for him. If Liam doesn’t know where he is, I’m not wasting hours hunting all over town. I have appointments booked all afternoon. I’m eating, then I’m out of here.”

Never said I didn’t know where he was. Just said I didn’t ask or where he had to go—you know later. Absolute and total semantics. They were too distracted to notice.

“Don’t look at me,” Kestrel said. “I’ve got Sparrow duty.”

“Sparrow?” I snorted. “She’s not a sparrow.” I took the opportunity to study her, openly, and maybe to tweak the rest of them a little. But she was obviously uncomfortable even if she’d done a damn good job of hiding it so far. “You’re quiet, but you’re tough. Or you wouldn’t be sitting there bleeding without an ounce of complaint.”

Jasper jerked to his feet. “What the fuck do you mean she’s bleeding?”

Kestrel yanked her chair around, and Vaughn shoved me to the side to get to her. And just like that, they forgot all about me and I settled in to watch. The guys were crazy for her and that made a certain amount of sense. In some ways, she was the missing piece.

In others, this was not the place for her. She shouldn’t even be inside this warehouse much less the clubhouse. Vaughn took off to grab Doc as Jasper and Kellan asked her questions.

She got her period. It was hardly the first time any of us saw period blood, but you’d think she’d been shot. I downed another swallow of beer as the chaos surrounding her pulled them in.

Emersyn Sharpe was a serious damn distraction. Serious enough, they forgot I was here. Serious enough that Jasper was snapping at Doc, Kellan looked like he wanted to punch Jasper, and Vaughn stared at her like she hung the moon.

Rome would die for her. All of them would.

But she was a distraction none of us could afford, least of all my brother.

And he’d asked me to be here.

Asked for my assistance. Rome never had to ask me for a damn thing. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t give him. He didn’t have to ask me for this, either. Doc, Jasper, and Emersyn headed upstairs in a happy little clutch. Yeah, that looked like about as much fun as shooting myself in the foot.

The little minx glared at me. Definitely not a squirrel. The others had forgotten me.

She hadn’t.

I dropped the empty beer bottle into the trash. The sound of the bottle clinking yanked Vaughn and Kellan’s attention toward me.

Yep. She was going to get them all killed.

None of us needed this distraction.


“Don’t say it,” I told Kellan. “I’ll grab my shit and go as long as you’re here now.”

“Yeah,” Kellan told me slowly. “Rome shouldn’t have asked you.”

I shrugged and headed out. We weren’t going to have this argument again. I had my reasons. They had theirs.

It was what it was. Snatches of conversation leaked through the door separating the princess from Kellan’s room and I shook my head. Jasper had all but peed on her to mark his territory. Doc was not one I would have suspected as falling into the orbit of her allure.

I could see why though.

I just had to make sure it didn’t happen to me.

Yeah, I’d help keep an eye on her. I’d protect her if necessary.

But I wasn’t about to let her distract me.

Distractions got you killed. 

Bonus Scene: Drunk and Disorderly, an alternate PoV for Brazen and Breathless

This bonus scene features Jake’s alternate PoV from a scene within Brazen and Breathless when he and Frankie arrive home to find Coop drunk. This scene may contain spoilers for the series if you are not up to date.


“Okay,” Frankie murmured, the compassion in her voice the kind of warm hug everyone needed when shit went sideways. “Can you drink some water for us? And maybe let me clean up your knuckles?”

He glanced at his hand and then shrugged, but he didn’t let go of her face. While Frankie didn’t flinch, Coop’s grip tightened enough to press into her cheeks. “Hands don’t even hurt. Why are parents so bad at parenting? Mom is great. Mom’s been a damn saint. So much makes sense now, and I don’t know why I didn’t see it. But fuck me, I wish I didn’t see it now.”

“Hey, bud,” I said, bumping his arm, and he eased up his tight hold on her cheeks. “Water, man. Before you puke all over Frankie then have to look her in the eye later.”

Frankie shot me a look. It wasn’t like it hadn’t happened before. Granted, not our proudest moment but…

“Dude, you puked on her the first time you got shit-faced,” Coop said with a snicker, but he took the glass of water from me, and I braced his shoulder and kept a hand on the glass so he didn’t slosh it around. Gradually, he slumped back on the sofa. “You remember that, Frankie? Threw up all over your shirt and your shoes. First time I saw you with tits for real. I mean, we’d seen them before, kind of knew they were there, but you had on that pretty pink bra.”

Shoulders shaking, I was hard-pressed not to laugh. “Do we tell him?”

Frankie shook her head. “Leave him alone. I want to know what happened.”

“His dad, apparently.” I raked a hand through my hair. Dads were just not good news around any of us it would seem.

“Course, then I threw up on you,” Coop said, his voice almost mournful. “And you said you threw that pretty pink bra away, and I felt bad.”

“It’s okay,” she murmured. “Really, there was no getting burrito and beer stains out of it.”

“Fuck, why do you even kiss us when we did shit like that?” Coop groaned.

“And there he goes.” I had a hard time containing my laughter. But in the great grand scheme of things, the memories we shared were worth a hell of a lot more than one stained, pink bra. “Dude, don’t remind her, or she might not want to kiss us.”

Then again, it had been a beautiful pink bra.

Not as pretty as the girl wearing it but…not much was.

Four Years Earlier

Drunk didn’t begin to cover it. We’d known Archie what—a week now? This asshole lived in an honest to god mansion. He had a driver bring him to school and he lived in a mansion. Not only that, he had free run of the place and the liquor cabinet.

“Not the hard liquors, Mr. Archie,” his butler—who the fuck had a butler?—informed us. “That cabinet shall remain locked. You may however, using restraint, visit the beer and wine fridges.”

Beer and wine fridge.

Frankie elbowed me so hard in the gut, I oofed and I caught her give me a hard look. I mouthed ‘what?’ I mean, I’d been minding my manners since we arrived at Castle Standish. The only thing the place was missing was a fucking moat.

“Stop glaring at Archie,” she whispered without moving her lips at all. “It’s rude.”

“I’m not glaring,” I whispered back at her, then curved an arm around her shoulders so I could press my lips closer to her ear and hide my mouth with her hair. The last thing I needed was the rich little shit getting any ideas.

“You are,” she muttered, but didn’t pull away. The fact the rich little shit in question glared at me when I hugged Frankie made me want to hug her more. Dude needed to get a grip. He was late to this party.

“Am not,” I countered in mature fashion. “You’re not the boss of us.”

Her inelegant snort pulled Bubba’s and Coop’s attention in our direction. Coop crossed his eyes and reached over to snag Frankie’s hand. I had to let her go or risk choking her when he tugged.

“We got it, Jere,” Archie was saying. “Thanks, seriously. Did you guys want to swim or hit the game room?”

“I didn’t bring a suit,” Frankie said and Archie laughed.

“We got lots of suits you can borrow…” But her face shut him up. “Tell you what, let’s split the difference! Jere, we’re gonna use the game system in the pool house. You mind setting us up with snacks out there?”

Not waiting for the response, Archie led the way outside and around the giant fucking swimming pool. They had a hot tub because of course they did and I caught Coop gaping as much as Frankie had accused me of. Only, she wasn’t yelling at him. She did make a little face as Archie pushed open the double wide french doors to the pool house.

“Wow,” she said slowly and turned around in a circle. We’d all come pretty much straight from school. The plan was to hang out and spend the night. We’d had to do some wrangling and since Frankie’s mom didn’t know Archie’s parents yet, she told her mom they were crashing at my place and my mom was away with the girls this weekend at some dance thing and I was supposed to be at Coop’s place.

It coordinated well. Since our moms didn’t talk that much these days, we’d probably be safe. Frankie set her bookbag down by the sofa inside the pool house room and my need to stare stuttered completely at the huge screen on the wall and the gaming systems.

Never one to feel uncomfortable for long, Coop leapt over the sofa and landed on it with a bounce. “What are we playing first?”

Just like that, arguments erupted over what we’d play and Archie settled it with a whistle. “Ladies first,” he offered with a sly grin at Frankie. Coop groaned and so did I.

There was only one game Frankie chose first.

“What?” Archie asked, but Frankie pinched Coop and he laughed as Bubba made room for Frankie to sit between him and Coop.

“I want to play Mario Kart,” she said at the exact same time we said, “She wants to play Mario Kart.”


Man, he’d learn.

The next two hours were fucking hilarious as we plowed through the races and tried to sabotage each other. It was hard to do five player, someone always had to rotate out, so we made the lowest score drop each time. It seemed fair and we were all so damn competitive it changed often. Not Archie though, he got in nearly every game.

Well, so did I.

Frankie stayed in far more than she fell out though neither Coop or Bubba seemed to mind. Pizza arrived and we fell on that like ravening beasts, cleaning out the two larges in record time and we were still hungry.

“Tacos?” Archie offered.

“Hmm, quesadillas,” Frankie said as she reached for a controller.

“Burritos,” Coop and I chose and Bubba went for tacos with Archie. Though when this spread arrived, there were literally trays of everything.

It was getting dark when we broke out the beer and gave it a shot. It wasn’t too bad. Ice cold it was actually really nice. We’d switched to a first person shooter which was hilariously harder than it should have been. I was damn good at these games. Frankie was kind of scary accurate at them.

Archie kept the beer coming, and twice I finished Frankie’s for her because her nose would wrinkle up if it got warm at all. I wasn’t sure when Coop caught on to what I was doing cause he snaked her next half-full one when it was room temperature.


I had to take a leak bad, but the warm haze enveloping me coupled with the fact I’d finally gotten to sit right next to Frankie made me not want to get up. Move your meat and lose your seat.

The game perspective switched and I had to squint to stay focused because fuck it was like we were drunk waddling through this level. Then Archie took me out. Asshole. But Frankie squealed with laughter. Oh, he got her too—but she threw a grenade and Coop whooped because they died at the same time and Coop won by default.

“Champion!” he shouted and we were all laughing.

Frankie pushed up to stand and glanced at me with flushed cheeks. “Come on stinky boy,” she ordered and held out her hands to me.


“No more bean burritos for you.”

I did a test sniff. “Wasn’t me. Had to have been Coop.”

“I don’t care which of you did it, you’re gagging me.”

I opened my mouth to protest that and vomited all down her shirt.

Nobody moved.

Oh shit.


“S’okay,” she said, holding up a hand like this happened all the time. “Just—someone get me a towel and a bucket.” She sounded like she’d stopped up her nose and was breathing through her mouth.

Oh fuck. I was a dick. “I’m sorry…”

“I got this.” She stripped out of the shirt with care and this time my gaping was real. Because beneath the oversized shirt she’d been wearing was the prettiest pink lace bra covering the prettiest tits I’d ever seen.

I mean. Yeah, Frankie had tits but…fuck me, Frankie had tits.

Half my drunk seemed to pass out from the hot wind blowing through me.

“Wow,” Coop said, echoing my internal dialogue. “Look at that…you have lace on your nips.”

Then he threw up on her as Archie lunged across the room and Bubba covered his face. It was like slow motion destruction.

I clapped a hand over my mouth because I didn’t want to join the puke fest but seriously, it was such a pretty bra.

And now it was pretty spectacularly ruined.

Fuck my life.

I was still thinking about that bra the next morning when I was hungover and ready to die. Frankie kept telling us to not worry about it, but holy shit. I’d always known she was a girl. Always known I liked her.

But now…now all I could see was that pretty pink bra and if I hadn’t puked on her first, I’d have punched Coop for ruining it.

Even more when I saw the bra in the trash.

We were the worst friends ever.

Could we buy her a new bra? Would that be weird?


“Shut up,” Frankie told me and stuck her tongue at me. I winked. Fuck I loved her. She had lots of pretty bras now, but she still had the prettiest fucking tits I’d ever seen. “I kiss you because you brush your teeth. You also held my hair back when I got puking drunk. You guys were doing all kinds of things for me with my broken wrist, including helping me in the bathroom.”

And we’d do it all again, no question or hesitation.

“Why do you kiss me when you’ve had to do that?”

“’Cause you’re fucking beautiful,” Coop answered promptly. Good boy. “Inside and out.”

Yes, she was.

And she was ours.

Just as long as we kept the bean burritos to a minimum.

Pretty sure we got the best end of that deal.

Bonus Scene: Restraint, a bonus PoV for Vicious Rebel

As promised, here is your bonus scene for hitting 100 reviews on Vicious Rebel. For those who have not read Vicious Rebel, this scene may contain spoilers from the first chapter. 


“Mickey—short for Michael—James.” Almost no one called me Michael. No one. In the military, I’d been James. Or medic. Mickey had been a rebellious teenager all too often getting in to scrapes because I could. Doc—Doc was who I wanted to be. The guy who helped, who fixed, who could take care of others. “Doc works, though.”

“Thank you, Mickey,” Emersyn said, the fact she exhaled my name like it was a physical touch barreled through any professional veneer I’d been trying to maintain where my fragile patient was considered. Images of healed fractures and the damage done to her bones and worse flashed through my mind. But I didn’t see a victim. I saw the survivor. The strong, fierce little bit of courage and determination who stood up for herself and held herself above the hell she’d been immersed in.

As she leaned in to press a kiss to my cheek I turned and her lips touched the corner of my mouth. The attraction I’d bullied down and stuffed into a steel container to be welded shut, burst out from the restraints. Her lips were softer than petals. Instead of pulling back, she nuzzled the kiss to my mouth and my soul ripped squarely in two. The taste of her was something I longed for and I damn well knew better. She was a kid.

Wasn’t that what I told the punks when they brought her to me? A kid with barely any tits and a lifetime’s worth of damage. She needed care, not lust. She needed affection, not passion. The flicker of disappointment in those deep, cinnamon brown eyes jerked free the last bolt as she leaned away. I clasped the nape of her neck.

A hunger I had no business feeling flooded me as she parted her lips and I dipped my tongue in for a taste. One taste. First and last. Then let her go. She deserved to go back to whatever life they’d ripped her from, especially now that the abusive fuck was dead. Need surged through me and the sample did little to ease my desire, if anything, it left me starving and I forced myself to let her go.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “And goodbye.”

The final two syllables slid like a blade right through my ribs. I stared after her as she hurried out of the truck and started across the street. I told myself a dozen times to move, to pull away. I should never have kissed her or let her kiss me, but with the taste of her still tingling on my lips, I put the truck in gear and headed away.

No matter how much my brain said keep moving, my instincts had me looking back. Then I turned the corner and headed back toward her. Just to make sure she got inside. That was what I told myself. Make sure she was safe. The kid needed protecting. Only instead of going into the hotel, she hurried away from it.


She’d chosen the hotel so why leave it? It wasn’t like she had much on her at all and it was too cold for the thin layer of clothing she wore. I jerked the wheel and turned down a side street and put the truck in park. I would probably get a ticket, but I gave less of a fuck about that than leaving Emersyn wandering around Braxton Harbor without a dime to her name.

I’d barely rounded the corner when I found some jackass lifting her off the ground, I could barely see her around him. But she was fighting even if the only sounds escaping her were muffled. Holy shit did she fight. She struck with her legs, her head, and a heated curse exploded from her assailant.

Even as I registered who the voice belonged to, I didn’t slow down. She was fighting so damn hard to get away. A split second before I reached them, she stumbled forward and Liam fucking O’Connell pivoted to face me. He was a big fucker and I’d seen him fight.

Problem for him. I’d also helped train him to fight at one point and I hit him full force going for his midsection. We hit the ground, him first and I made sure to drive an elbow in under his ribs to knock the air out of him. Liam wheezed, but it gave me all the time I needed to roll him onto his side and pin him with my legs as I locked his arm back in a brutal hold. I could break it if I had to, but Liam stopped struggling.

“You okay, Little Bit?” Her pupils were huge and her chest rose and fell rapidly with the shallow breaths she took. She’d gone ashen and if she didn’t answer me soon, I might do more than break Liam’s arm for scaring the hell out of her. She looked from me and then down at Liam. Recognition flickered across her expression and she swayed, then staggered way from both of us.

Since Liam wasn’t fighting anymore, I let him go. She clung to the side of a dumpster before she threw up. Even before I reached her, the shaking trembling her whole body was visible. “Easy Little Bit,” I warned her in a soothing voice that I was near. With care, I gave her a minute to process before I settled a hand on her back. The frantic beat of her heart was a wild tattoo of pure terror. “Easy, I’ve got you.”

“What he fuck, Doc?” Liam demanded. “You tried to break my goddamn arm.”

“Why the hell were you dragging her off the street?” I shot him a look and he had the grace to look a little sheepish. But only a little, his temper was up and he was rotating his shoulder with care. That arm lock hurt like a bitch.

“’Cause she took off on Rome’s watch. You think Jasper’s gonna get over that shit? No. So I came to see what the fuck she was doing, and don’t think I didn’t see her hook up with you.”

“You didn’t see shit,” I snarled back. The last thing I needed was him spreading that shit around. Jasper was enough of a loose cannon without Raptor around to temper him. Fuck knew, Kestrel tried but Jasper’s need to protect overwhelmed his reason and there was a very thin line between defender and monster. I dragged one of the napkins out of my pocket as Emersyn began to straighten and handed it to her. She stared up at me, not totally registering yet and the fact she was letting me hold her up said a lot more. Not that she weighed anything. “You with us, Little Bit?”

“What the fuck is wrong with the little hellspawn?”

Before I could punch his rude ass little mouth, Emersyn laughed and it sounded more like a choked sob.

“Ignore the prick, Emersyn.” I advised, then touched her cheek lightly. There was an imprint from Liam’s hand on her face, reddened skin. I didn’t think it would bruise, but for fuck’s sake. “How fucking hard did you grip her?”

“She was fighting,” Liam answered, all cocky defiance. “Why don’t you ask if she’s had her shots since she bit me.”

That got her attention. “You followed me. Why?”

I wanted an answer to that myself. I should have paid closer attention, but I hadn’t noticed him following either. That wouldn’t happen again.

“Why?” Liam parroted. “How about we get the hell back to the clubhouse with her before the guys realize she left?”

There was no ‘we’ in this argument. “She wanted out,” I informed him and curled an arm around her. I didn’t know if her shivering was from the shock or the cold, either way, I had no problems giving her support.

“I don’t care.” The disdain in Liam’s voice covered for a lot of deeper worries. “Jasper will put another hole in Rome if he thinks he let her go.”

“He can’t do anything about her escaping,” I told patiently. And as hot-headed as Jasper was, Rome was a brother to him even if Jasper’s tolerance for Liam had been sorely tested. He might get ticked, but he wouldn’t hurt him. “The obligation of the prisoner is to escape.”

“Let me repeat,” Liam said, arms falling to his side as he took a step toward us like he was a threat. “I. Don’t. Care. They want her there, Rome was left to look after her, she’s going back… She already got him stabbed once. I’m not letting it happen a second time.”

“Wait.” Emersyn’s tone warbled a little as she pushed away and stood straight. No matter how much I wanted to drag her back against met, I kept that impulse in check. “What do you mean I got him stabbed?”

Liam cut a look at her.

“He was hurt.”

“Yes, princ—”

Transforming from trembling, fragile and lost waif to fierce warrior, Emersyn sprang forward and she popped Liam right in the face before I’d even registered her motion. Blood sprayed from the hit and I almost wanted to applaud. Someone, somewhere, had taught her how to make a hit.

“You cunt,” Liam snapped as he put a hand up to his nose. Hell, it was hardly the first time he’d taken a blow but I tugged Emersyn back to me anyway.

“Watch your mouth,” I scolded. It was an old habit, I didn’t think it would go away no matter how old the boys got. They were still the boys to me. Probably always would be.

“I don’t care if he calls me cunt,” Emersyn snapped. “I told you, don’t call me princess. You do it again, and it’ll be your balls I smash.”

“Noted, Hellspawn.” He spit out blood, then touched his nose carefully before glaring at her. “Hellspawn fits better anyway.” But the heat in his eyes had nothing to do with anger. No, there was interest there.

I wasn’t going to play this game. “Look,” I told her. “Let’s get you out of here and back to the hotel.” It was the original plan after all.

“No,” she said almost too swiftly. “Not the hotel.”

The ashen color of her cheeks went even whiter and she sank to the ground. The swollen pupils of hers were blown and this time I knew it was shock. Crouching with her, I rubbed the back of her neck gently as she put her head down to her knees.

“She’s crazy,” Liam murmured with more worry than malice.

“She’s traumatized, you overbearing little shit. Stop freaking out about your brother for thirty seconds and look at this girl. She hasn’t done a damn thing to any of you, and yet you’re treating her like she’s a damn possession.” What the fuck was wrong with these boys? They’d come close to that razor edge of the line between criminals and criminal behavior before, but taking this kid? Putting her through all this?

She lifted her head and instead of Liam, she focused on me. “You’re hurt.”

It was barely a cut and I didn’t give a damn. Except her touch was so gentle as she tried to dab the blood on my cheek.

“I’m fine, Little Bit. Trust me, a cut like that isn’t going to hurt me.” But no way in hell was I leaving her here in this condition. Shock did strange things to a body. I rose and pulled her to her feet. “Can you focus on me a second?”

She stared up at me and I wasn’t sure how much of what we were saying registered. Not really. The ferocious fighter had vanished back into the fragile shell.

“You’re in shock.” It might be news to her, but this was a profound change from when she’d slipped out of my truck. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing,” she answered in a slow, almost rote voice. As if she’d practiced the answer a hundred times. “I just—”

After the profound hesitation, I nodded. “You won’t go to the hotel?” That was obvious.

She shook her head.

“I’m guessing you don’t want to go with Liam.” It wasn’t a question. Rome’s twin glared at her, but it wasn’t hate in his eyes.There was want in there, too. Want and worry. Boy he was fucked, but I didn’t have time to worry about him right now.

“I—I don’t know,” Emersyn said slowly. “I need to think.”

She rubbed a hand over her face and winced. There was a bit of blood at the corner of her mouth. I’d bet she bit the inside of her cheek.

“Will Jasper really hurt Rome?”

“Fuck, I don’t know,” Liam said, shocking me. “If he could pin it on me and shoot me, he’d probably leave Rome alone. But they’re turning the city upside down looking for fucking Freddie, and all he wanted was for Rome to make sure you were safe.”

Where the hell was Freddie, now?

“They haven’t found him yet?” Worry filtered into the emptiness and loss in her voice.

Liam stared at her, eyebrows up. “I have no clue. I’ve been following you for the last couple of hours. Then your boyfriend.” The barest hint of a smirk was there to irk me, not her.

“Shut the fuck up,” I ground out. “Don’t even joke about that.”

“Hey, Doc, just calling it like I see it. I saw her kissing you before she got out of the truck, and you sure pulled up conveniently when she was out there walking.”

“Wait,” Emersyn cut in. “You followed me? I didn’t see you.” It wasn’t the first time she commented on that. I wasn’t sure how much of this she was processing. 

“You weren’t supposed to.” Liam smirked.

“I walked for a long time and you just let me go? I thought you were worried about your brother.”

“Yeah,” I murmured. “If you were that interested in protecting Rome, why let her get that far at all?” I had my suspicions.

“I just wanted to see where you were going,” Liam lied.


He leaned over and spat blood onto the pavement. “And I debated just letting you go. Fine? Is that what you want to hear, Pr—Hellspawn?”

“Why did you change your mind?” Good question, one I wanted the answer to as well.

“Fuck if I know.” Liam glared at her, then at me. “You know what? This shit is not worth it. My nose fucking hurts—nice hit, by the way. You ever want to work on that southpaw, you let me know. You take her back, and I’m getting out of here. This side of town gives me hives.”

“Hey, Mockingbird,” I called before Liam even made it halfway down the alley. “You’re trying too hard.”

The other man flipped me off, and then he was gone. I shook my head. He could lie to himself all he wanted, I just hoped he didn’t pull that shit with his brother. If I could see through it, Rome damn well could.

“Where do you want to go, Emersyn?” Because no way in hell was I leaving her in this alley or anywhere, alone.

Not anymore.

So much for restraint. I was as bad as those boys, but I would let her go when the time came. No matter how much it cut me. That was what you did when the broken birds healed. You set them free.

© 2021 Heather Long

Bonus Scene: Paternity and Prerogatives, a bonus PoV for Brazen and Breathless


The door slamming just after the sound of tires squealing to a halt that surely painted black stripes of rubber on the drive alerted me to young master Archie’s mood before he burst into the kitchen. The day before had been Valentine’s and he had plans with Miss Frankie.

Plans that seemed to have not gone well.

“Mr. Archie,” I greeted him calmly before turning on the kettle. I hadn’t planned on tea, but the act of making it would give me something to focus on while we sorted out the latest twist in the path of romantic travails Mr. Archie had experienced since he’d finally admitted his feelings for Miss Frankie to Miss Frankie.

“Jere…I need your help.”

Four words he rarely ever spoke. I pivoted to face him. “Tell me.” It allowed me a great inspection of his state from the disheveled hair to the wrinkled shirt he’d probably slept in if he hadn’t just dragged it back on after leaving it on the floor all night. The sleeves were rolled up and he was missing a coat. Though somehow I doubted that bothered him.

If we were in some mad farcical comedy, I believed steam might legitimately pour out of his ears.

“Your mother or your father?”

He clenched both fists and his teeth ground together. Definitely one of them. Ms. Muriel was in New York, she’d moved the bulk of her things from the house and what she’d left behind I’d packed and had stored. The cold snap between mother and son showed no signs of warming.

His relationship with Mr. Edward was far worse and had grown increasingly frosty over the last year to the point that they seemed to exist either in the middle of volcanic dispute or a Siberian wasteland of contact.

“Fucking Edward told Frankie that he’s her father.” The words exploded out of him, each one fired like a bullet from a gun. Of all the issues I could have imagined bringing him to this state…

“I’m sorry,” I said slowly. “Could you repeat that?”

“Sounds unfuckingbelievable, right? But no—apparently he and Maddy have been tight for years and he managed to knock her up while Muriel was knocked up. That whole, they had to get married for me thing broke up an epic love story for the ages.”

The sarcasm dripping from his tone threatened to stain the tile.

“She looks nothing like him.” That was my first thought, but Archie just stared at me.

“Jere—the bastard cornered her last night and told her she was his daughter. She’s completely devastated and has no idea what to believe because if it’s true…”

“If,” I said sternly. “That’s a very large if, Mr. Archie and, personally, I do not see it. Mr. Edward may believe he is her father, but without actual proof…”

“There are paternity tests.”

“Tests as in multiple?”

“Shocking that her mother wasn’t sure, right?”

“Not shocking so much as suspect.” I turned the idea over. My job was to look after Mr. Archie, the home and the family generally in that order. It wasn’t on me to judge any of them their choices or weigh in on their personal affairs. “If she suspected Mr. Edward was the father, I find it improbable she would have waited this long.”

Archie groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face before he slumped down onto one of the stools. “Apparently she told him months ago. They were going to spring this on Frankie last September. I’ve never been so fucking glad I butted in where I wasn’t wanted.”

The fact he’d taken a seat was a good sign. He was thinking again. I resumed pouring the hot water into a pot then gathered the loose leaf tea into a ball that I could set inside the water before closing the lid for it to steep.

“How conclusive were the tests?”

“They clearly list one of the four as her father, but instead of names, there are only ID numbers.”

Of course. Privacy laws and such.

“Then we’ll make arrangements to do our own tests.”

“She’s not my sister, Jere,” Archie said but it held far more of a question and hope than it did of determination and conviction.

“Agreed,” I said, then poured the tea into each cup. Despite his preference coffee, the last thing Mr. Archie needed right now was more caffeine. This blend was more soothing than pick me up. After adding a touch of honey and lemon, I stirred it before sliding the cup across to him.

“Tests are going to take time…and I’d really rather not deal with Edward if I don’t have to. I’ll probably hit him.” He picked up the cup then added, “Again.”

“We don’t need Mr. Edward for the tests. You and Miss Frankie can submit DNA samples and we can send it to a vetted laboratory where discreet tests can be made. Then you’ll have your proof.”

“Muriel can confirm some of this bullshit.”

“She could,” I agreed with him. “But do you really feel the need to take on this battle on two fronts?”

Because this was a war he’d been caught between for so long, I rather suspected he didn’t know how to not fight it.

“I need answers.” He sipped the tea and then wrinkled his nose as he looked at it, but he took another swallow. “I deserve them and so does she.”

“Then we will get those answers. Calm down, shower, change your clothes. I’ll make some calls…”

“I want to go to New York. She’s there right?”

“I’ll take care of it.”

The front door opened and Mr. Archie glanced over his shoulder. “That would be…”

“Yo,” Mr. Jake’s voice carried. “You drive like a fucking maniac man, do not break every speed law in the city just to get here.”

“I don’t drive like an old man,” Mr. Archie corrected and then, at my look of reproval, he mouthed “sorry.” “Come have tea with Jere, I’m gonna grab a shower. Then we can do some digging here while Jere books a flight for me.”

Mr. Jake walked into the kitchen and paused. “Where are we going?”

I smiled and nodded to the young man. I wouldn’t torture him with tea, but I could start the coffee. This late in the day I doubted either would sleep and they would want a flight in sooner rather than later.

Once I took care of that, I would reach out to Mr. Wittaker. We would disentangle this messy knot. Mr. Archie needed Miss Frankie. The agony in his eyes left me angry with Mr. Edward. While it was not my place to judge or to interfere in their personal matters, I was quite certain, like Mr. Archie, I might find myself compelled to punch the man if I were to see him.

Mr. Archie, after all, came first in the list of my duties and it was my prerogative to look after him. If that mean dealing with Mr. Edward, then I would very much handle that matter as well.


Bonus Scene: Detachment, a bonus Kellan PoV for Vicious Rebel


The first time, I’d been heading down for coffee. It was early and I had a long day at the shop. Someone had brought in a car with a bad transmission. If I had to rebuild it, I’d be there until late. Work like that was good. It helped keep my mind focused and detached from obsessing about a certain someone. The door between her room and mine had been open, so I half-expected that she was already down here and in the dance studio or in the kitchen with…

The smell of smoke pumped adrenaline into my system and I raced for the kitchen. The ventilation in the clubhouse was decent, but only if we turned on the big fans. The one drawback to the construction that we hadn’t quite gotten around to fixing.

Fortunately, I could flip one of the master switches on my way in. Freddie probably stuffed pizza in the damn toaster again. Why had he done it the first time? “Well, I wanted to see what would happen? Crispy pizza sounded good.”

It might have been funny, if he hadn’t been strung out at the time and bouncing back and forth between hyper and depressed. The smoking pouring out of the kitchen was white, thankfully and not black. So something was burning, just not likely to burn the clubhouse down even if it asphyxiated us.

The scene waiting for me was not one I could have prepared myself for.

Emersyn stood in front of the stove with an oven mitt on one hand and spatula in the other. Batter had spilled on the counter and over onto the stove top, spreading to the burners where it was burning and bubbling along with…

“Sparrow, what are you doing?” Okay. Tact was my strong suit. Not entirely sure where mine fled but I was hard pressed not to laugh my ass off when she jerked around to look at me. There was dusting of white powder over her face and definitely a splotch of batter on her nose. Wisps of hair escaped from her pony tail and the t-shirt she had on was slipping off one shoulder.

The blackened remains of the substance formerly known as a pancake stuck to the bottom of the skillet. But one glance back up to the tears in her eyes and every bit of my humor dried up.

“I’m sorry…” she began and I swore the sound of a sob catching in the back of her throat made me homicidal.

“It’s fine, Sparrow.” Damage control mode engaged, I reached around her to brace her gloved hand on the pan and we took it off the heat. “Not a problem. I’m guessing you haven’t done this before.” And lest she think I was mocking her, I added, “Trust me, the first time I tried cooking, I was pretty sure my foster mom at the time couldn’t figure out whether to laugh or yell at me.”

We got the pan to the sink and I flipped on the water.

“Let it soak.” I gave her arm a gentle squeeze then retreated to turn off the burner.

“I made a horrible mess…”

“Well, I’m pretty damn sure you didn’t fly up into those silks the first time you did it. That probably took a lot of practice.”

Burner off, I got most of the batter cleaned up. The bits that had burnt to the top would have to wait until that was cooler. I checked the time, but fuck it. If I had to work late, I’d work late. If Sparrow wanted to learn how to make pancakes, then she was going to have a successful experience to base her next attempt on.

She swiped away the tears before they could spill—thank fuck.

“Let’s clean this up and start from scratch. I’ll walk you through every step and then we’ll make some fluffy pancakes.”

“The whole point was I was going to do it for you guys,” she admitted, so damn crestfallen it was adorable.

“Well, on the upside, you didn’t scorch the wall.” I gestured to the backsplash on the stove.

Her eyes rounded. “You?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, kind of proud. “I was grilling hot dogs on these wooden sticks, didn’t think I’d have any trouble cooking them over the open flame and then boom. The sticks caught on fire, so I kind of threw them.”

Emersyn clapped a hand over her mouth, but her eyes danced with merriment instead of misery.

“See, you’re already doing better than my first time.”

Between us, we made short work of the mess. Now she’d followed the instructions on the box, but I told her the secret, I always add a little bit more of the water than what the recipe suggested. Otherwise the batter was too thick and the pancakes too dense.

New pan out, I sprayed it down with some of the cooking spray and she frowned.

“I did that.”

“I believe you,” I soothed again. “Now, we preheat the pan.”

Her brows drew together and her concentration was so intense, I swore she memorized every step I was taking.

“We start the temperature on the pan at high, then turn it down.” I had her adjust the flames, then moving behind her, I paused. “Is this all right?”

“Yes,” she murmured and I took her hand holding the spatula and she relaxed her muscles so I could stir with her hand, stir, fold, stir, fold until the batter was a hint close to runny.

“Now,” I instructed. “We could use a measuring cup so you can learn how much to pour out, but I always do it by eye.” Together we turned to the pan, carrying the bowl and she moved with me. It kind of rattled me how easily she moved under my guidance like all I had to do was shift my weight and her body followed mine.

My dick perked up at that thought, but I steadfastly ignored it as I poured the batter. “Count with me, one, two—”

“—three,” she finished and we stopped pouring there was a perfect four inch diameter pancake in the pan. It would be easier to make a mess of them on the griddle, but one at a time would do it.

“Watch for the air bubbles,” I told her and this close there was no way to miss the sweet way she smelled or how those wisps of hair tickled me.

“There,” she said with growing excitement. Grinning, I grabbed the spatula and then wrapped her fingers around the end, together, we slid it under and flipped it.

One golden face up at us.

“It doesn’t take long to cook at all!”

“Nope,” I said as I reached over to flip open a cabinet and pulled out a plate. “We can make a whole stack of them real quick if you’re up for it.”

She cast those dark eyes up at me and every bit of the oxygen in my lungs evacuated faster than the smoke had with the ceiling fans. “You don’t mind? I mean I was going to make this for all of you.”

“Then we’ll make it for us,” I suggested, thank fuck my voice did not crack. I swore, I felt thirteen and hitting puberty all over again.

“What about everyone else?”

“They can make their own.” I bopped her nose and she grinned. With her attention on taking the finished pancake out of the pan, I could breathe again.


That was what I had been going for. Staying detached. Keeping us all even. Getting us through this mess to the other side.

She held out her hand for me to take it, it was time to pour another pancake.

Yeah, detachment my ass. She was too damn adorable. We made nearly a dozen pancakes and she was just as excited about the twelfth as she had been about the first.

They were the best damn pancakes I’d had in a while.

I was also hella late to get to the shop, but I really didn’t give a fuck. I wouldn’t have traded that hour alone with her for anything else. When I got back that night, she popped out of her room and into mine.

“Can you show me how to make eggs tomorrow?”

“Yeah, Sparrow…I can show you anything you want.”

©2021 Heather Long 

Bonus Scene: Intoxicated, a bonus scene for Vicious Rebel

Here is your THIRD bonus scene for Vicious Rebel. Remember, if you haven’t read Vicious Rebel, this definitely contains spoilers. This is some unseen moments between Jasper and Emersyn from their date.


Homes didn’t always mean happy.

The sweet length of her back was visible in the firelight. We’d fucked. We’d talked. We’d fucked some more. We drank beer. We fucked. We had a snack and talked. Then we fucked again. My cock was already struggling valiantly to come back to life. I wanted to fuck every inch of her skin. I wanted to feel her come around me again and again.

Twice she’d tried to go down on me with her mouth, but I was in no way prepared to be gentle with her yet. While she kept telling me she didn’t need gentle, I wasn’t going to choke her with my cock because I couldn’t control how badly I wanted her. Fuck, just the image alone had my dick stirring.

I traced my fingers down the smoothness of her shoulder and along the length of her back. She was so deeply asleep, she didn’t even react to my touch. The level of trust alone humbled me. Swan was such a complicated mixture of vulnerable and fierce. Determination filled every inch of her fragile little body and as fragile as she seemed, she wasn’t.

Maybe I hadn’t wanted to see it before, but it was unmistakable now. The world had beaten her over and over. Tried to subdue her. Threatened to break her. But she never conceded the fight. She kept moving. One foot in front of the other.

Even that bastard Eric. Fuck, if I could kill him all over again, I would. The months of injuries we’d put him through until he was so broken he’d never have recovered would have to suffice. Cutting his dick off and shoving it down his throat after he admitted he’d raped her was the very least we could have done.

It was better than the alternative.

Those words haunted me. That she was safer on the road. So what did that mean at home? That money was useful, but it didn’t make up for time lost with people who really cared.

More—with people you could trust.

That word carried the weight of the world.

The weight closed in on me when she’d said she trusted me. All these months of the ferocious way she fought back against us. Pushed to find a way out. Demanded to know why we’d kidnapped her and all I’d been able to say was we took her to protect her.

“What—what was your plan then?” she’d asked not an hour ago. “You took me because I was hurt. But then what?”

Hating the fact I couldn’t tell her the exact why, I had to admit, “I didn’t have a plan. I just had to protect you. To keep you safe. To heal all those wounds you had.” I brushed the hair from her face as I spoke and the corners of her lips turned up. Her flushed skin looked almost rosy in the firelight and the puffiness of her lips just made me hungry to kiss her again. This was how she should always look and feel. Replete. Happy. Free to ask for whatever she wanted.

And fuck, I’d give her everything.

I’d meant it when I said I hadn’t brought her here for sex. Sure, I’d thought about it. But after she had that moment before, I was determined to take my time.

“That doesn’t seem like you,” she murmured and then tapped my nose. “You like being in charge.”

“No,” I admitted. “I really don’t. I like getting things done. But I’m more of a kick in the door kind of guy. I see the short-term gains, the defenses, the offense. The bigger picture, the long-term? That isn’t my specialty.”

“And yet you are so determined to protect the others. You plan for them.”

“I do my best,” I told her. Even when my best wasn’t enough. I’d pressed my forehead to hers. “Are you still mad at me for taking you?” Because she had every right.

“No.” Her nose brushed mine. “I still don’t understand it fully. Like how you guys were all working the show and how Kestrel was my driver. I know you took me because Eric hurt me.”

Fuck I never wanted that asshole’s name on her lips again and I’d kissed her then. The desire to erase him from her mind and her past was so intense, I didn’t even finish that part of the discussion. When I rolled onto my back and slid her down onto my cock, it was everything.

More when she threw her head back and braced her hands on my shoulders as she controlled the pace, I would have given her everything. I surged up to meet the downward thrust of her hips, captivated by the way her nipples tensed and tightened. The drowsy look of pleasure suffusing her eyes as she tipped her head down had me straining upward until I could suck on one of those nipples.

It took an hour of lazy thrusts combined with sudden manic action, but she came four more times before I let go. We lay in a sweaty heap together and I’d cradled her to my chest until she’d climbed off to make use of the bathroom.

The fact my cum ran down her legs as she walked filled me with such possessiveness that I had to admit it—even if she asked me to let her go now—I’d follow her. No matter where she went. I had to be there. I’d prefer if she stayed.

Even if it meant sharing her with Vaughn.

Anger flooded through me and I clenched my fists. The moment my knuckles began to whiten, I took my hands away from her. I would never touch her in anger. I would never be my father. If she needed Vaughn, then she could have him. Rome made her smile. Freddie made her laugh. Kellan guided her and in their unguarded moments, there was no denying the connection growing there.

She fit us.

All of us.

Rolling onto my back, I stared up at the ceiling. Kel was right. We had to tell her. Tell her and tell Raptor. But I wanted to talk to him first. He’d kept his distance for a reason and I’d dragged her back into our world for a reason, too.

Turning the ideas over in my head, I couldn’t find an easy solution to all of this. Raptor would be furious. She might not believe us. Then again—she seemed happier, maybe? In the last few weeks. Happier than I’d seen her at all during the show.

The smiles reached her eyes.

The ease with which she moved around the clubhouse.

Even the threats, she’d taken them in stride.


Those were still out there. Someone had cut her silks. Someone had tried to run her and Kestrel over in the parking garage. Then Eric assaulted her. I didn’t think the third had anything to do with the first two. We’d removed her from the situation, but new threats had popped up.

The guys at the body shop had come for her specifically. Someone knew we had her or someone suspected.

The question was…

Movement next to me pulled all my attention to the present. Emersyn rolled over to face me and I moved to my side to face her.

“Hi,” she whispered.

“Hey,” I answered in the same quiet tone.

When she traced her finger over my forehead then down my cheek to my chin, I studied her. The stroke of her fingers against my beard made me smile.

“There you are…”


“You looked so angry. I worried I’d done something wrong.”

Guilt hit me like a fist. “Swan, you could never do anything to make me angry at you.”

“Hmm.” She wrinkled her nose, clearly skeptical. “Somehow, I bet I could. You’re very hard headed and stubborn. Despite what you said earlier, you do like being in charge.”  

A startled laugh escaped, but I didn’t try to haul it back. “That I do…and I suppose if you really worked at it, you could make me angry. But I will never hold it against you and I swear, I will never hurt you.”

An image of my father burst through my mind and the violence he could deal out. I shoved it away. That ugliness would never touch her.

Nothing would.

Not as long as I was breathing.

“There it is again,” she whispered, this time so close to me her breath teased my lips. “Stop thinking about whatever that is or tell me, so we can get rid of it together.”

“I’ll stop.” Because telling her would let that ugliness into her world and when she brushed her lips to mine, I slid my fingers into her hair to keep her there. Long, slow, drugging kisses were just what I needed.

Emersyn Sharpe was in my blood.

My addiction.

My intoxication.

I never wanted to be cured.

© 2021 Heather Long

Bonus Scene: Caring and Conflict, a bonus Ian scene for Changes and Chocolates

As promised, here is your bonus scene for reaching 200 reviews on Changes and Chocolates. Because there was such a pivotal scene at the very end of the book for all of our characters, I decided to rewrite it from Ian’s point of view both to take you on the journey of what was going through his head that morning as well as to wish Elisabeth the very happiest of birthdays. She’s never given up on Ian. Not once. Please note that if you have not read Rules and Roses or Changes and Chocolates, this bonus scene will contain spoilers.


For Elisabeth.Chaos Coordinator. Wonderful friend. Champion cheerleader. Fabulous alpha reader. Sweetest person.  Happy birthday. xoxo Heather



Frankie spent most of the first movie curled up next to me. As worried about her as I was, I couldn’t help but soak in her presence. The last few days had been hell. The dinner with her mother and Archie’s father had only served to shine a light on just how ugly and complicated this whole situation had become. 

Even when she shifted to curl up with Coop, her head on his stomach. Jake started giving her a foot rub and what little oomph she’d had left after her brutal day just melted away. I barely paid attention to the film when so much of my attention lingered on her. 

It lingered on the growing sadness in her eyes. The signs of loss as she worried at her lip. The long, deepening sighs as the world around her shifted. Some of those sighs were our fault. Directly. Indirectly. But the blame lay squarely on all of us.

Frankie had never responded to our flirting beyond friendship. Her friendship was worth more than any date I’d ever had. Yet at the same time, we’d assumed her lack of interest in directly or indirectly meant she didn’t want anyone.

Mistake number one. 

Then we set the terms for who could or could not date her. If we couldn’t then no one could. As much as I wanted to tell myself it had everything to do with her happiness and her safety, a part of me couldn’t help but feel that it was also very much about our possessiveness. Even if we couldn’t be the ones to have her, we wouldn’t let her be anyone else’s. 

She was our girl.

She always had been. 


I cut a look at Archie. He leaned back against the chair, legs stretched out in front of him and his face turned toward the movie but his gaze was a thousand miles away. His father and Frankie’s mom. The whole thing was a convoluted and complicated mess. One made more so because Archie had taken the very first opportunity presented to stake his claim. 

I hated it. Hated the fact I didn’t like the idea he’d made that choice for her even if I knew damn good and well, if Frankie had said no, he would have stopped. Yes, jealousy factored into that some and so did envy, but below all of that was an undercurrent of worry. 

As excited as I was that she’d suddenly noticed us—noticed me—I couldn’t escape the very real feeling we were going to do her irreparable harm. Look what had happened already? She was getting hell from the girls and that was so fucking on us it wasn’t funny. It was also pissing me off that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Throw in the complication that Jake had his hat in the ring and her bed and we were going to take far too much advantage of the situation.

Fuck. I rubbed my eyes. The conversation I’d had with my father kept replaying over and over in my head. I needed to not hear him right now. When the movie was over, Coop scooped Frankie up before Jake could and then we were all piling into her room. 

They snagged the bed, tucking her in between them, and she was so out she didn’t even wake up. Archie and I made good with the floor and one by one their breathing all evened out around me and I was left staring at the ceiling. 

Staring at all the possibilities of what could go wrong if we mishandled this situation. Frankie wanted to date. She wanted all the “benefits’ of high school we’d been indulging in but she’d somehow missed out on. Dating. Sex. Parties. Fun. 

Those words weren’t anathema to a girl like her, but they were a cry for help. 

A cry I don’t think we’d all heard in the same ways. Frankie had drive like no other person I’d ever met. Her focus was unshakeable and her determination unwavering. When you earned her loyalty, she’d have your back to hell and back. 

We’d all had her loyalty. We’d had her affection. Hell, we’d had her encouragement, zeal, and passion for what we wanted to do. I had it. She was one of the only people I played for. The only people I let hear my music. More, she was the only person who always encouraged me and seemed far more confident than I was that I could even do it. 

Again, a wild benefit to her friendship—an utter and total belief in me that was so intense, it made me believe in myself. What had I given her in return?

Doubt. Loneliness. Exhaustion. And now—terror. Because the girls were going to keep on terrorizing her. They were angry that we’d finally admitted what we felt, but none of them should pretend we hadn’t felt this way the whole time.

I’d pretended. I’d tried with Sharon. Really tried, but the fact it took effort at all when being with Frankie was so effortless should have been my first clue.


We were going to fuck this up. We made up those rules, but it wasn’t enough. The ride toward loving her was something we’d all been on for years, only the crowded access and the fact she seemed oblivious to our feelings beyond friendship, had kept us in check.


Now we were all in a race to win her affection and cement our place. It was like some game of immortals. There could be only one. What happened when our jockeying for her attention pulled her apart?

Or worse, what else had we missed all those times we’d shut down other guys looking at her? What would we continue to cost her?

The very idea of hurting her was repulsive. But how were we not going to end up hurting her? Sure she could date all of us, but what if she only wanted one? Or worse—what if she ended up wanting none of us?

What if…

What if we all lost her? What if the cost of all of this dating was the destruction of years of friendship. This was the single concern she’d brought up over and over. She didn’t want to lose us

Already what made all of us, us, was shifting. The very last thing I wanted to see happen was for Frankie to be hurt ever again.

More hurt was coming.

Her mother.

The girls.


Now us.

Something had to give.

I didn’t sleep all night as I wrestled with what to do. I could talk to the guys but I already knew their responses. Archie wouldn’t back off. Not when she’d already welcomed him into her bed and more, they were allying against their parents. 

Jake? I loved him like a brother, but he charged ahead nearly as forcefully as Archie and Frankie was his dream come true. 

Coop? He’d been here long before the rest of us and I had a feeling long after. That said, he went with the flow and that flow took him to Frankie. Why would he want to challenge that?

By the time I dragged myself out of the room and away from where she slept so soundly between the guys, I’d already admitted to myself that I knew the answer.

I’d known the answer for the last week but I didn’t want to admit it. She needed to be protected. She needed to be cherished. She needed to have her needs looked after. It would be difficult even for a lover with so much going on, but with a lover in competition with the others? I couldn’t afford to let my own possessiveness overwhelm what was good for her.

So if anyone took a step back, it needed to be me. She didn’t want to lose our friendships, then I had to fight to preserve them and if that cost me my shot with her but at the same time provided her with a safety net, then that was exactly what I would do.

Even knowing it was the right thing didn’t make it the easy one. 

I didn’t want to walk away from her.

I didn’t want to lose the chance at being the one she picked.

At the same time, she needed us to look after her. Or maybe she just needed me. Fuck if her mother had ever bothered. I kind of understood why Coop hated her now. Still, it didn’t make it any easier when Frankie walked out, all rumpled and warm from sleep.

It grew almost impossible when she kissed me and wrapped her arms around me. I wanted so much to just soak her in and keep her there. I could win this race. I had…

No. It didn’t matter which of us won, in the end Frankie would be the one to lose and I couldn’t do that. Protecting her even if it hurt me was worth it. 

Dad—Dad hadn’t been wrong when he said Frankie had been damaged by her mother. Probably damaged in ways we couldn’t see yet and that we could easily overwhelm her. 

Sex didn’t always equal love. Sex definitely complicated things.

Didn’t mean I didn’t want to have it. But right now, I wanted her to have stability more than anything else. 

When I left, it wasn’t easy and my heart burned with all the things I hadn’t said. There’d been confusion in her eyes and I needed to find a way to explain so she would understand. No matter what happened between us or didn’t, I was always going to be here for her. 


The last thing I expected was to say it so badly or miscommunicate in any way. Yet that was exactly what I had done.

The day she officially broke up with me because she didn’t want the push and pull—it was already too late to repair my mistake. 

Didn’t make me love her or want to fight for her any less. It just meant now I had a whole new battle to wage. 

She was still my angel.

That was a hill I’d die on if necessary. 

Maybe she’d forgive me some day.

Maybe then I could forgive myself.

Caring and concern should never hurt the one you loved. That need to protect her just grew even more fierce. More desperate. 

We could fix this. 

We would.

We had to.

Bonus Scene: Rhyme and Reasons, a bonus scene for Graduation and Gifts

As promised, your bonus scene for Graduation and Gifts.


When Dad retired to private practice and a civilian life, I’d actually been looking forward to getting away from living on bases while also soaking up stability of maintaining the same address as well as school for more than two years at a shot.

With his degree and specialities, Dad had often pulled overseas duty assignments. I’d enjoyed seeing the world, but I missed the normalcy of America. Hamburgers. Coke that tasted like coke. The right ratio of onions to burger and the vital ingredient to all of life’s pleasures—ketchup

Right, I was a simple guy and I liked simple things. We’d only finished our move the week before once we’d gotten back to the States, done the house-hunting, then pulled everything out of storage in San Antonio. The new place was located in a much smaller town, but I kind of liked it. The open roads. The huge fields. The lakes.

And tons of places to go hiking or fishing when the air wasn’t so hot it could cook you in place. Add to that they’d gotten a pool with the house and I was in heaven. Still, enrolling at the junior high so late meant I’d missed out on the pick of the classes and had to stick with whatever was left. I didn’t care, honestly, I was kind of looking forward to that “all-American” experience even if it meant homework.

First period was language arts and I found the classroom right before the bell. There was only one desk open. Second row right behind a gorgeous blonde. I’d only gotten a quick look at her as I passed by. She had a book open on her desk and her whole attention seemed focused on it.

I ignored the glances tossed in my direction. Being an unknown wasn’t a new experience for me. I’d learned to shrug those glances off a long time ago. Still, I kind of wished she’d glanced up or at least around at me so I could get a better look at her.

The guy on her left reached over to grip it and she smacked his hand without looking up. It was hard not to laugh. The class flew by. Actual textbooks were assigned along with our first visit to the library to get authorized to check out books from there. Independent reading lists and the syllabus for the first six weeks of assignments were also handed out.

Before I realized it, she’d vanished in the library and there just wasn’t time to track her down before the bell rang and I had to hurry. My next class was a PE training class. Weights, since all the tryouts for the various teams had happened over the summer, was clear on the other side of the school. I had gym clothes in my bag, but the teacher waved us in without having us get changed. There was a note on the door for the same thing.

“Let’s go, I want to go over all the safety rules and expectations before you guys even touch the weights…”

Right, I knew how to use all the visible equipment and had been training with Dad pretty regularly for the last three years. Still, I focused on what he was saying right up until I caught sight of a familiar face. Locking gazes with Jake Benton had me grinning stupidly.

Of all the people to be in one of my classes was someone I actually knew from going to school with him before. Only then, we’d been in Germany and not the U.S. Our parents had also been friends, our dads at least, which meant Jake and I had hung out quite a bit before he’d returned stateside with his mom.

We didn’t get much of a chance to talk before the end of class when the teacher—coach—finished going over everything from safety protocols to dress code to expectations. This would be a weight lifting class, we would have reading and tests on major muscle groups as well as understanding how to train them. We would be working out on different muscle groups daily and we had to partner or triple up

Jake and I were in lockstep almost immediately. When we were told to get to know each other and work out our goal sheets, I headed straight for him and dumped my bag to the side. “Man, it’s good to see you.”

“Same,” Jake said, shaking my hand. “Mom told me she’d heard from your dad and that you guys were planning to move here, but I didn’t know you’d already made it.”

“Barely. We got in like five days ago, and it’s been all running to get everything set up. Mom already has shifts at the hospital and Dad will be starting at his job this week or next.”

“This is so cool that you’re here,” Jake said with a grin. “You gotta try out for football.”

“Didn’t I already miss the tryouts? And the summer practices?”

“Kinda but, I know a guy.” He shoulder checked me. “C’mon.”

Our weights teacher, the coach, turned out to be the coach for the junior high’s football squad. He gave me a once over and then told me to show up after school to run some drills. No guarantees, but maybe I could get some time to fill in until he saw whether I was a good fit or not.

“Catch me at lunch,” Jake said when we separated for classes. The gorgeous blonde was in my third period math class but she was up front and the only seat left for me was in the back. Damn, she vanished as soon as the bell rang. I swore she could move.

But this time I had a name.

I’d ask Jake about her. When the lunch bell rang, my brain already ached from the sheer number of “introduction” and “first of the year” speeches I’d received. It was nice that Jake was waiting for me right outside the lunchroom.

“Hold up,” he told me when I would have gone on inside. “Waiting on some friends.”

“Sure.” I’d just leaned back against the wall next to him when I spotted the blonde again. She was strolling in our direction, talking animatedly to a tall, lanky guy next to her. His response made her laugh and I swore it was like being dropped inside of a bell as a gong sounded.

The vibration went straight through me. She was still smiling, laughter in her eyes, when our gazes locked. The lyrics to Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You,” made absolute sense to me.

“Bubba, this is Frankie and Coop,” Jake said and it was like all the sound rushed back in at once. “Guys, this is Bubba. Friend of mine from Germany. He’s new.”

“Wait,” Coop said with smirk. “You have friends outside of us?” He wrapped his arm around Frankie’s shoulder and I had the sudden desire to break it. “Well, what do you know?”

“Fuck you,” Jake said, laughing as he dragged the door open. Frankie elbowed Coop, then stuck her hand out to me.

“Welcome,” she greeted me as she shook my hand, but the eye contact didn’t last anywhere near as long as I would have liked. Instead, she glanced past me to Jake. “You’re really growing in your old age. Developing new people skills. Welcoming friends to our circle. I’m so proud.”

She mimed wiping away a tear and I cracked up as Jake made a face at her and then shook his head. “Bubba doesn’t count as new. So he’s in. Deal with it.”

I was? Fine by me. I hadn’t realized how hard I was staring or how obvious it was as she and Jake led the way toward the line picking on each other or how Jake pretty much body blocked anyone from running into her.

“She has that effect on people,” Coop said as he bumped my shoulder with his. At my glance, he touched the corner of his mouth. “You have a little drool right here..”

The flash of teasing in his eyes helped and I shook my head before giving him a little shove away. “Shut up.”

He was still laughing when we caught up and she glanced back at us, a question in her eyes.

“Bubba just had something on his face,” Coop said without an ounce of apology. “Don’t worry, I fixed it.”

At her raised brow inquiry in my direction, I found myself thanking Coop mentally. “I don’t see anything,” she murmured. “All good now.”

Yeah. Yeah it was.

Seeing her had captured my attention. Hearing her laugh had snared my heart. But the fact she smiled at me and then talked to me.

All I could think of was soulmate. What a stupid fucking word it was, but at the same time it fit. Clearly, I kept those thoughts to myself. But I ate lunch with them every single day and it wasn’t long before I had her number and we were hanging out.

Maybe all the last minute rushing and not being able to pick classes was worth it. Sure, I sat on the bench for half the year in football, but I got my times to shine. I found an old friend and new friends all on the same day.

Even better, I met Frankie.

I had no idea why all of that went through my head as we sat on the bus heading for graduation, but it did. Six, almost seven years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how this worked out. Hell, at the beginning of the school year I’d thought we’d doomed it before it could really start.

Yet here we were, beyond rhyme and reason. 

All because I met Frankie and she was the best damn thing to ever happen to me. 

© Heather Long 2021

Bonus Scene: Unadorned and Undiluted, a bonus Rachel PoV for Rules and Roses

Thank you for getting Rules and Roses to 300 reviews!!! You guys rock.


“He said he’s going to wear red, who wears a red tie?” Sharon smirked in the mirror as she checked her eyelashes, but Patty gave her a shove that nearly had her poking her own eye with the mascara. “Watch it.”

“Then don’t be rude about Archie. He looks damn good in red.”

“But he drives an orange Ferrari, it’s going to clash.” In Sharon’s world that probably registered somewhere between laughable and apocalyptic.

Maybe both.

I rolled my eyes.

“Who cares if it clashes,” Patty said, her voice all breathy. I used to think that was attractive, now I just wanted to offer her an inhaler. “He drives a Ferrari and he definitely knows what to do with a stick.”

“Oh you didn’t,” Maria said with a snort as she joined them.

“Of course, I did,” Patty told her with a playful pout. “What’s a matter, Jake still not giving it up for you?”

“I wouldn’t tell you even if he was.” Well, at least discretion and Maria appeared to be acquainted.

“That means no,” Sharon said as though confirming that in other news, water was wet. “Poor Maria, you just have to distract him. Maybe do something with your hair.”

“Like what…”

Was that bitch really going there?

“Dye it blonde,” Patty finished. “You’d make a great blonde.”

“Then throw in green contacts,” Sharon added with the worst kind of laugh.

Bitch was supposed to be her friend.

I flushed the toilet. I’d been done for a while, I just hoped the boob crew would move their tight little asses, slimmed down by starving-themselves diets, the fuck out of the bathroom before I had to deal with them.

“You know, you really suck sometimes.” Maria told her as she pulled down some paper towels to dry her hands.

“That’s what Bubba says,” Patty said with another laugh that actually got Sharon to glare. Which wasn’t true. The guys might talk to each other, but they sure as shit didn’t spread it around who was giving it up for them.


All three of them turned as I let myself out of the stall. A flash of fear in Patty’s eyes followed by a guilty flush on Maria’s face amused the fuck out of me. For one split-second, they had forgotten someone else was in here. Not Sharon, no, she just looked disappointed.

I’d like to boob punch her right back into training bras not that the B cup she sported was anything to brag about.

“We gotta go,” Maria announced as if I cared. Sharon and Patty followed her with Sharon asking, “If he’s wearing red, are you going to wear red? With your hair?”

Bile coated the back of my throat. I fucking hated the idea of those bitches talking about her like that. Worse, I hated that they weren’t wrong. The shitheads waved off anyone who even looked in Frankie’s direction. If the rumor was right, Jake damn near put a senior in the hospital three weeks earlier because he announced that he was going to nail Frankie at the dance.

I appreciated the effort, but goddamn, they were all asking girls out and getting laid. Why the hell couldn’t she? It pissed me off.

It was still pissing me off two hours later as the last bell of the day rang and I watched the girl who’d become something of my own personal obsession gather up her things. She was talking to math whiz Jane about helping her study for her lit test. Frankie had been tutoring her on and off when she wasn’t working at Mason’s or hanging out with the guys

Jane was cool. Nerdy. Smart. Totally my type and yet it was like trying to appreciate a rare gem while the brightest diamond in the world kept pulling all the light and refracting it back out. Frankie outshone them all and was so damn oblivious to it, she hurt my fucking heart.

Maybe that was why when Jane waved goodbye and shot me a shy smile, I winked at her.

And maybe that was why I packed my shit slowly because Frankie was staring down at her phone and texting furiously. Not with any kind of smile or bounce, but with a look of such profound disappointment it burned. Probably one of the asshats scaring everyone off from asking her out.


She startled with a jerk like she’d forgotten I was even in the room. Yeah, that would probably sting more if I was actively trying to get her to notice me, but bless this girl’s beautiful eyes and brains, but she wouldn’t see someone interested in her if they walked up to her and hit her over the head like some caveman.

Fuck, it would probably take something like that.

“Hey,” she said, shooting me an apologetic grin. “Sorry! Didn’t realize anyone else was still in here.”

For all of two seconds, I debated ripping the Band-Aid off. Not everyone wanted the blinders removed. Sometimes, we were a lot happier in ignorance. But if it were me and my best friends were cunt-blocking me at every turn, I’d sure as fuck hope someone would tell me.

I’d hope someone would break the little conspiracy of silence they’d wrapped around her. No one crossed those boys.

But I was about to because fuck them and their goddamn double standard.

“No problem, you got a sec?”

“Sure.” With a wary look I probably deserved, she tucked her phone into her pocket and then slid her backpack on. “What’s up?”

“Look, we’re not besties or anything. But you’re basically a cool chick.”

“Thank you?”

“You’re welcome. We don’t always get along, but I’ve never lied to you.” Well, lied by omission but this wasn’t about me goddammit and I sure as shit wasn’t cock blocking her.

“Rachel, is something wrong?”

“As matter of fact, there is. You’re not going to believe me, probably not at first and you won’t want to hear this but I promise—it’s the unadorned and undiluted truth.”

“Okay.” Arms folded, she met my stare. Goddamn if she wasn’t gorgeous doing it, shoulders squared, feet slightly apart and her lips pressed closed but not clamped. Defiant. Defensive. Delightful.

Right. Not a pussy call. I was going to give it to her straight and walk away. Maybe then she could get out from under the shadow they cast. She deserved to shine and not be hidden away like some damn possession.

“You don’t have a date for the spring dance.”

“So?” Aww, sweetheart, don’t look at me like that. I’d take you in a heartbeat if I thought you might go for it but you don’t even pick up on the most straightforward clues. “What does that have to do with anything?”

It was the hurt lurking there in her voice that pushed me the last two steps I needed to make.

“It has to do with those so-called friends of yours. You know, your four Musketeers? Or maybe I should call them Stooges—look it doesn’t matter. You don’t have a date because there isn’t a guy in this school they haven’t warned off either with verbal threats or beating the shit out of them. No one is going to ask you. Ever.”

It was like kicking a puppy. Before she could hide it, the hurt in her voice reflected in her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the fact they made you untouchable, girl. It’s about damn time someone told you. They are so busy sticking their dicks in anything that moves, but if a guy so much as glances in your direction—they are taking their lives in their hands.”

“The guys wouldn’t…”

Yeah, I thought she wouldn’t believe me, so I opened one of the multitude of chats that I’d managed to get looped into over the years. I lurked in a lot of them. I swore these guys never checked to see who was also in the chat when they started talking. 

I just handed her the phone and she read the messages. The thread had been started by the senior Jake beat the crap out of. He wanted to know what the hell was up with the untouchable girl. The explanations ranged from the blunt to the crude, the same thread was present in all of them.

You didn’t want Archie, Bubba, Coop, or Jake coming after you. Especially Jake. Though Archie could probably pay someone to destroy his foes. They were merciless and relentless in their protection of Frankie.

You’d have better chances of breathing if you hit on one of their girlfriends than on her.

Cheryl had appeared in the doorway. Fuck, I forgot I was supposed to give her a ride. Frankie glanced from the phone to the door and back again. “They wouldn’t. I could walk out there and ask someone right now.”

God, the denial hurt me.  “Good luck with that. The guys know you’re untouchable. No guy is going to risk it and ask you out, so go by yourself or don’t go at all.” 

Looping her arm through Frankie’s, Cheryl gave me a look like what was I thinking? I yeah I was thinking I was tired of the damn double standard.“She’s not lying. I mean, I know she sounds like a bitch, but Archie and the guys? They made it clear. No one touches you; no one dates you. There was a guy last year who was gonna ask. I’m pretty sure he got a black eye and busted lip from Jake because he’d been looking at your ass when he said he was going to ask you out.”

Ahh, Kent. On that one I totally agreed with Jake. Dude was a damn douche. He was all about tapping it and leaving it. Pretty sure at least three girls in our classes had STDs because of him. 

“Don’t believe us? Try asking out a guy. See what happens.” 

Always a hugger, Cheryl gave her a quick one. “It’s sweet, how they want to look after you.” Not in my opinion, but whatever. “Also, Rach, I gotta stay later than I thought so I’ll just get Mitch to pick me up after practice.”

“Sounds good.” Fortunately, Cheryl didn’t stick around. Sweet girl. Too sweet sometimes. 

Licking her lips slowly, Frankie handed me back my phone. “Why are you telling me this?”

“You need to know.”

“Today?” She sniffed and turned but not before she swiped a hand against her eyes. “I needed to know today?”

“Yeah,” I said with a sigh. “Today. If I’d told you yesterday it wouldn’t be any better and if I waited until tomorrow—it could get worse.”

“Right.” She shook her head and headed for the door.


Without looking back, she paused, “What?”

“I’m sorry.”

“No,” she said with a snort. “You’re not.”

“Well, I want to be sorry.”

“Yeah well, I want you to be wrong.”

I guess we were both doomed to disappointment. She didn’t look back as she left and I sighed.

God I hated high school. 

Bonus Scene: Fools and Fixation, a bonus PoV for Trials and Tiaras

The following bonus scene contains massive spoilers for the series post Brazen and Breathless. While I usually do a bonus scene for the book that hit the review goal, I did something a little different. This scene takes us back to Trials and Tiaras. So, if you have not read anything after B&B, I’d stop right here and not open this until you have. Thanks for reading! Xoxo Heather


“Too little too late, old man. As for Frankie, you don’t need to have anything to do with her life. You’re not her sperm donor.”

The moment the door closed behind the kids, I stared at Maddy. The day she walked back into my life, I’d counted it as the happiest. A second chance. A real chance to make up for the fools we’d been when we were the kids.

“Every word that comes out of your mouth is a lie. Every story you’ve ever told me. Every piece of garbage you try to sell about the life you lead or the life we lead has been a lie. I’m tired of it.”

Her mutinous expression. The stubborn tilt of her chin. The way her eyes could flash from fire to ice then back to fire. They all captivated me. I loved the fight in her. The refusal to bow to her parents wishes. She’d held strong when I’d caved.

“She was supposed to be yours.”

The agony cutting through me might have echoed what she experienced all those years ago. But when I slept with Muriel, I hadn’t intended to get her pregnant. I hadn’t even thought about it. A careless decision one careless night. I’d wanted to hide from my own pain and maybe inflict some back for what Maddy had done to me. Once again, here we were, slashing and cutting at each other. I’d promised Archie I would handle this.

Handle her.

“Will you now? Like you’ve been handling everything else so well. She played you. She has been playing you, and she used her daughter to manipulate you.”



I kept my hands in my pockets as I turned away from her. If I took them out, I worried I might throttle her. The vindication in Archie’s eyes—I deserved it. I deserved every ounce of his scorn and disdain. Just like I deserved Frankie’s. I’d wanted to be her father so badly. I’d wanted it because it meant…

“Eddie…” She was right behind me sliding her arms around me. “You have to believe me.”


Her hands stilled against me. I gave it to the count of three. She didn’t disappoint as she shoved away from me. “You believe them. Of course you do. You believe anyone that isn’t me whether your father is demanding you marry that slut…”

It never changed. From sweet to sour then back to sweet and Archie was right. She played me. I let her vent, but I wasn’t listening anymore. One part of me desperately wanted to fix this for her. To make right the years I’d taken away because I’d let my need for power and control—no, I’d let my fear make the decision for me. For us.

That was the day I’d lost her.

“You’re not even listening to me.” The snap in her tone and the viciousness beneath it all scraped against my skin. When confronted by a snarling dog, I needed to remind myself that it was about self preservation. Maddy always attacked when she thought she was on the cusp of losing.

“I should have seen it.” Each word cut the inside of my mouth like so many slivers of glass. “I should have known the moment you spoke to her like that at dinner—”

“Like what? Like she’s an ungrateful…”

“Shut up, Maddy,” I exhaled the words because I’d been a fool. A fool for so damn long. “Don’t disparage her that way. She certainly doesn’t deserve it.”

“Oh, so you’re still taking her side,” Maddy challenged, folding her arms as she glared at me. Yes, direct that attack at me. Come at me. “Even if she isn’t yours when she should have been?”

“Of course I’m taking their side. You made me complicit in the pain they’ve both been put through and I might have been a shit father…something my own has been trying to drum into my head for years and now I see it. That it took me so fucking long is on me. But this…what we did to them because you wanted to punish me and own me at the same time?”

I could wrap my hands around her neck and squeeze. I could literally see myself doing it and yet I couldn’t. For all her flaws and as twisted as it was, I loved her. I’d always loved her.

There was no way I could let this one go.

Not now. Not when I’d finally seen past my own misery and selfishness. I’d lost so much with my son. Pissed it away.

“I didn’t do a damn thing that didn’t need to be done.” She raised her chin as if daring me to deny it. “Frankie should have been your child. That should have been our life.”

“It was going to be,” I told her. “But you weaponized sex to punish me. You wanted what you wanted, when you wanted it. Once upon a time, you were worth it. Even if I took a lover every time you did. I never wanted them the way I wanted you. I would have given them all up—just to have you. But there isn’t a loyal bone in your body and I’m not your lapdog. Not anymore. I ruined a marriage, stole years from Muriel and Archie? I’ll never be able to give him back what should have been his. Fine—I accept that, that’s on me.”

“Well, good for you. I’m sure Muriel will be so eager to take you back from my bed…” She sauntered toward me all sex appeal and desire. My cock hardened at her nearness. Still, I caught her wrists before she could touch me and surprise burst through the cloud of seduction she wore like second skin. “Eddie…”

“Don’t. The apartment is yours. You can keep it. The car as well. I’ll make sure everything is in your name and I’ll add a tidy sum to cover your expenses until you find another job.” She’d quit hers and I’d agreed at the time. She was a brilliant marketing executive, but leaving her job meant she’d been with me full time and I’d been the stupid, selfish bastard who craved that. “Your credentials here will be revoked. Don’t call me. Don’t text me. Don’t look for me.”


“You heard me. You and me? We’re done.” It was like cutting my own heart out with a spoon. I should have scooped it out long before the cancer devoured it.

“But—we’re partners. What about us?”

“There is no us. There’s never been an us. I was just—too blinded to see it. I wanted to see you—my beautiful Madeleine. The gorgeous girl who took my virginity and introduced me to a world of pleasure. The girl I wanted to marry five minutes after we said hello. That girl has held me in her sway for decades. The problem is…that girl died a long time ago. Frankie is everything I thought you were, the way she looks at Archie? It was how I’d always wanted you to look at me. But seeing what they have? It’s a burning light on what we don’t.”

Releasing her wrists, I took a step back as she gaped me.

“Get out of my office, out of my building, and out of my life. Don’t come back.”

Her hand flew through the air and I took the full brunt of her open palmed smack. “You can’t just abandon me.”

The discussion was over, so I just stared at her a beat before I walked over to the phone and lifted the handset. Two buttons gave me security. “I need you to escort Ms. Curtis from the building and revoke her security clearance.”

Now tears welled in her eyes as if right on cue. “Eddie…please don’t do this. I…”

I tuned her out, arms folded, I waited. She went from sobs to shrieking and back again by the time security walked into the conference room. I watched with as much dispassion as I could muster, but it was all a front. I could still hear her strident tone in the elevator as the doors closed.

Alone, finally, I pulled out the chair and sank down in it. The DNA tests were still on the table. Regret was the bitterest of companions. I’d wanted Frankie to be my daughter so I could make up for all the ways I’d failed Archie.

Dragging my phone out, I stared at the blank screen a moment, then paged through to the photos. There were dozens of Archie on there. As a baby, a toddler, even a precocious child when he’d already mastered that disdainful coolness he held for me. A six year old should not ever have had to feel that.

I failed him in so many ways.

Never again.

Then I did the one thing I’d never expected to do again, I called my father. We had been on bad terms for years but after Mother died, it was like the chasm between us turned into a frozen tundra. That was my fault, too.

“Eddie?” Dad answered. The surprise in his voice was so profound it drove home my own selfishness.

“Dad.” I hadn’t really called him that in years. Father if I was pushed, Ted at most business meetings, then nothing at all if I could help it. “I screwed up. I’ve been screwing up for a long time.” I pinched the bridge of my nose to try and drive back the pain throbbing so deep in my soul it echoed everywhere. My heart broke a long time ago, but today it finally admitted that it would never heal. Not the same way. “I’m sorry.”

A long sigh greeted my words. “Eddie, it’s going to be alright,” my father said in a gentle tone I didn’t deserve. “Where are you?”

“The office—in Texas.” Because we really did have offices everywhere.

“I can be there in a couple of hours. Or you can come and meet me.”

“After everything I’ve done?” After how badly I’d messed things up and kept messing them up?

“You’re my son,” he said, as straightforward and simple as breathing. “You’ll always be my son. That’s what family is. A chance at forgiveness even if we don’t think we deserve it. Now—are you coming to me or am I coming to you?”

“I’ll come to you. I need to get away and break some ties here…”

I didn’t have to explain, but I needed to. I needed to explore the depth of my own stupidity. Dad said nothing throughout the whole thing and at the end, he said, “Then we’ll take care of it. Now come home.”