Tessa lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and young daughter. When she isn't writing or reading romance, Tessa enjoys a good argument and thirty-minute recipes.
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Reed and Julie Do New Years
Watching Julie flutter from group to group at various parties was still hell, but it was a hell Reed had gotten used to. In fact, he’d even started to enjoy the hour that followed one of Julie’s soirees or galas or whatever chick term she used to describe them. When the door closed behind the last guest and she finally let him take over. She called it “fussing” but he adamantly rejected that word, right along with “soiree” and “gala.” No, he fixed. He made her sit down and eat fancy catered food while he cleaned up, which had started as a pain in the ass until he realized watching him clean turned her on. She’d literally ruined two of his best dress shirts – ripped them clean off – over dusting, of all things. No bullshit.
Right now wasn’t the best time to think about what had followed because Julie’s father sat to his left, shaking his head as they both watched the man’s daughter – Reed’s fiancé – Julie, seamlessly mesh two groups into one with an introduction one needed to be southern to understand. It was New Year’s Eve and of course, she’d volunteered to host the gathering at her parents’ home in Savannah. Although “gathering” was putting it mildly, since he’d counted around two hundred guests.
“The girl never takes a breath,” Julie’s father marveled. “I never really gave a second thought to how hard she works until now.”
Reed sighed as Julie pressed a drink into an older woman’s hand and made a plate from the buffet with the other. His hopes were dashed that Julie might finally eat something when she handed the plate to a passing teenager. “Why are you giving it a second thought tonight?” Reed asked Julie’s father.
“Because, son, you look about ready to snap that champagne glass in two.” Humor not unlike his daughter’s made his eyes dance. “You’re scaring the guests.”
Recognizing the truth to the other man’s words, Reed set down the still-full glass of fizzy nonsense on the coffee table. “It’s either I scare the guests or carry her out of here kicking and screaming.”
“You don’t hold back around your future father-in-law, I see.”
“I take responsibility for this.” The older man looked pensive, maybe a little sad. “When her sister left us, Julie’s mother and I checked out right when Julie needed us most. The first time I saw her like this was after Serena’s funeral. We had visitors for weeks and I don’t think Julie sat down once.” He took a sip from his glass of whiskey. “That was our opportunity to tell her she was perfect the way she’d always been. We didn’t take it. I sorely regret that.”
Something prickly expanded in Reed’s throat, refusing to be dislodged. His gaze found Julie across the room and as if he’d shouted her name, she turned from her conversation and sent him a small, reassuring smile. And oh God, she was so fucking beautiful tonight in her silver party dress, her hair down the way he loved it. But Reed didn’t find himself the least bit reassured. He found himself imagining his woman sick with grief and feeling inadequate at the same time – in this very room – and he wanted to smash everything within reaching distance.
Fix it. He had to fix it. How? Cleaning up the after-party mess and drawing her a bath didn’t feel like enough this time. Not when she’d saved him, made him feel like a man of worth. The same needed to be done for her. Every minute of every day.
Jesus Christ. He was actually going to make a speech. Reed snatched the champagne off the coffee table and stood, cursing under his breath. Small talk was painful for him, let alone addressing a room full of people. Now, if the men had all been wearing SWAT gear instead of tuxedos, it might have been easier, but this? The final circle of party hell.
Reed lifted his glass, removed his pocket knife and used it to tap the crystal. Slowly, everyone turned and gave Reed their surprised attention. When Julie’s mouth dropped open, Reed gave her a wry smile. The things I do for you, Pixie.
“I’ll let my future wife be the one to thank you for coming tonight. That’s not really my thing and I’ve never understood why she thanks you for showing up to eat.” Behind him, Julie’s father chuckled. “Instead, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the woman who will become my wife. My Julie. She—” He cleared his throat. “She shines so bright and I can’t sit by quietly while no one talks about it. So, I’ll ask that you raise your hand if Julie has done something nice for you recently. Hell, tonight, even.”
Low murmurings broke out as nearly every hand in the room went up. Reed lifted the hand not holding his champagne, keeping his eyes locked on Julie. She pressed both hands to her cheeks and shook her head at him. Reed almost stopped right there because there were tears in her eyes and he didn’t deal well with those. But he’d come this far and hell, it was fucking New Year’s. Maybe it was time he learned how to behave at a party. God knew he’d be attending them the rest of his life.
“I tell her I love her all the time, because it’s the damn truth. It’s my truth.” He lifted his glass higher. “But I don’t thank her enough for everything she does. Julie, you turn an empty room into a place where people know they’ll be welcomed and made happy. You make it look easy – and it’s not. Especially when someone like me shows up. So, thank you, Pixie. For everything.”
“To Julie,” her father said, standing now to Reed’s right.
“To Julie,” the room echoed, before everyone applauded.
Reed’s instinct was to take his seat again and get back to brooding in Julie’s direction until the party ended, but he could see she needed one of those hugs. The kind he hadn’t known how to accept from her when they first met, but now craved them as much as she did. So he tossed back the champagne – hell, it wasn’t so bad – and cut through the crowd to drag her into his arms.
“I’m hugging you. Now stop crying.”
Julie released a watery laugh into his shoulder. “You’re full of surprises, Mr. Lawson.” She ran her fingertips down his back. “And neither one of us is cleaning up tonight.”
Yeah, they’d be doing something else, all right. A whole lot of something else. “Will you come sit with me and eat something, please?” he muttered into her hair.
“My anti-social fiancé just lead a beautiful toast on his very first try.” Julie eased away and slid her hand into his grip. “I can do just about anything for that man.”
Reed didn’t quite manage to squelch his smile over hearing he hadn’t done half-bad. “If that was all it took to make you relax, I would have done it ten times by now.”
“Just the once was enough. Way more than enough,” she whispered, bringing his hand to her mouth, brushing her lips over his wrist. “It’s almost midnight. Find a quiet place to kiss me and never stop.”
He scooped her up and cradled her against his chest, ignoring the gasps and laughter around them. “I thought you’d never ask.”
One more game. And this time, there are no rules…
After a life of pool hustling and living on the wrong side of the law, Ruby Elliott is living on the straight and narrow with sexy-as-all-hell NYPD detective, Troy Bennett. Now the only trouble Ruby has with the law is the naughty kind, pinned against the wall by Troy's strict and spectacularly hard body. Obeying his every command. Both of them losing themselves in a lust that borders on obsession...
But then her father returns with an offer she can’t refuse: one last hustle in exchange for information. Information she’d die to have. As the pieces and the players of the game reveal themselves, Troy feels the fine edges of his control slipping—control he can’t channel without hurting Ruby. The stakes are high, and the risk higher. Because losing this final game could cost more than Ruby’s heart…it might cost her life.
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