Fans of Abbi Glines and Katy Evans will adore Take the Fall, the first spinoff novel from Marquita Valentine’s New York Times bestselling Boys of the South series. In this emotional new romance, passions run hot as a rugged, brooding Marine rekindles an old flame.As a teenager, Seth O’Connor went to jail for a crime he had nothing to do with. He took the fall to protect the girl he loved, but the cruel realities of prison hardened him. After doing his time, Seth shuts her out and enlists in the Marines—until his grandmother’s funeral forces him to come home and face Rowan Simmons once again. The woman she’s become puts all his high-school memories to shame, and Seth wants her more than ever. Can he be honest about why he denied her for so long?After Seth pushed her away, Rowan swore that no man would ever hurt her again. But the boy who broke her heart has become a sexy Marine, capable of fulfilling her every desire—and now that he’s back in town, old feelings are simmering to a boil. Rowan wants to stay strong, even as her body surrenders to his expert touch. She only hopes that by taking him back, she can finally help heal the wounds that drove them apart
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I’m sitting in the holding cell with Seth. He’s wearing a standard orange jumpsuit. His face is swollen on one side, the skin around his eye on his good side is mottled purple and green, and his lip is busted. Every last injury is due to a paperwork error that had put him in the general population. The stupid guard took great pleasure in telling me how much a pretty boy like Seth caused a ruckus.
Bile rises and I force it down, taking a deep breath. I can’t imagine the horror he’s been through, or how he must feel right now. Only, while his feelings matter to me, the rest . . . I don’t view him any differently.
He’s still the guy I love. The guy I want to take home with me. The guy I gave my virginity to, and the guy I want to spend the rest of my life with.
“How are you?” I ask and immediately want to smack myself. How do you think he is, Rowan? He’s in prison!
“How do you think I’ve been?” he says, his gaze sharp.
I shrink back a little. “I’m sorry—I didn’t think.” Taking another breath, I try again. “I miss you.” Since he’s been here, my life has gone to crap. And Jase . . . Jase is here at Western Prison, too—serving time for attempted murder.
God, if I could go back and shoot Tony Johnson myself, I would. The two men I love the most are behind bars because neither of them would listen to me.
Neither of them would let me take the fall.
Guilt overwhelms me, so my gaze lowers and I stare at the table, then the floor . . . anywhere but at the man sitting across from me. He doesn’t look at me like he used to. . . . In fact, I think he hates me.
A full five minutes of silence pass before I finally speak again. “Why won’t you talk to me?”
“What do you want me to say? Thanks for making me go down for you and your brother?”
“That’s unfair, Seth. Jase has to serve seven years. That’s a hell of a lot longer than nine months,” I snap and then take a breath. This hasn’t been easy on Seth; he’s not like Jase. I have to remember that.
When Seth was sentenced, it was like the boy I knew faded away. He wouldn’t talk to anyone, including me, afterward. He let the guards handcuff him and lead him away, without looking back.
“But he didn’t get the shit beat out of him, did he, the first night and every night for a week until a paperwork mistake was corrected?” Seth blows out an angry breath. I bite the inside of my cheek so hard that blood spills into my mouth. “He doesn’t have to join the fucking Marines and get sent off to war to reduce his jail sentence, does he?”
“You could always get your lawyer to contest it,” I say softly. “Everyone knows Judge Smith gives creative judgments.” But because he’s been on the bench so long and has accumulated so many friends in high places, no one dares to question him.
“Yeah, right, Rowan. Keep dreaming.”
“I’m only trying to—”
He pounds his fist on the table and I jump. “Quit trying to do anything but listen to me. I got a death sentence from some crackpot judge who wanted to make sure I never pulled something like this again. I’ve never been in trouble in my entire life, Rowan. Who’s going to take care of my grandmother now? You?”
Miserable and helpless, I nod as tears spring to my eyes. “Yes. I’ll take care of her. I’m already living with her. Miss Myrtle took me in after . . . everything,” I say quietly.
“Good.” The fierce look on his face fades a little, and I ache to take him in my arms. I want to make him feel better. I want to assure him that everything will be okay. “Promise me you’ll take care of her,” he says.
I reach out, grab his hand, and squeeze it tight, but it’s entirely one-sided. “I promise. I swear I’ll take care of her, Seth.”
Finally, finally, his hands cover mine as he lifts them to his lips. He breathes in, eyes closing. “Promise me one more thing, sweetheart.”
“Anything.” I mean it. I’ll do anything for him if it means he’ll keep loving me. If it means he’ll stop being this guy I don’t recognize.
His eyes open and my breath catches. They’re like obsidian. Hard and cold. “Don’t ever come see me again.”
A cry escapes my mouth before I can stop it while the rest of me is frozen and hard, like a statue. Only on the inside, I’m crumbling. I’m dying.
“Please don’t be this way,” I whisper brokenly. “Please. I’ve already lost Jase. I can’t lose you, too.”
He rises to his feet. “You already have.”
I watch as he calls for the guard to come get him, as he’s handcuffed once more and led away.
Jumping up, I run after him, but another guard puts out his hand.
“Don’t you fucking touch her,” Seth barks, jerking back and putting himself between the guard and me. Hope springs in my chest. If he didn’t care about me, why would he bother to say that? “Unless you like going to prison for a crime you didn’t commit.”
Stunned, I stare up at him. Seth’s dark eyes search my face, like he’s trying to memorize it. This isn’t the boy I love, but he’s in there. I know it. Finding my nerve once more, I take a step toward him. “Seth, I—”
The guard clears his throat. “You can’t go with him, Miss.”
My lips tremble as Seth turns away without another word and walks out the door. “I love you, Seth,” I cry, right before the door closes.
My knees give, and I crumple to the floor, sobbing. This isn’t over, I silently vow. I’m not giving up on us.
If Seth won’t let me visit him in prison, then I’ll find another way to keep in contact and let him know how much I care. I won’t let his change in attitude toward me drive us apart.
All I have to do is remember who Seth really is. Who he’s been since we were children. Who he’s been since he first told me he loved me.
Wiping my tears away, I stand and then grab my purse. When I leave Western Prison, it’s with a sense of purpose.
I’ll get Seth back, no matter what.
Marquita Valentine is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Holland Springs and Boys of the South series, having sold more than a quarter of a million books around the world. She’s been called “one of the best new voices in romance” (Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews) and her books have been praised as “sexy, fun, and slightly addicting” (The Book Queen). When she’s not writing sexy heroes who adore their sassy heroines, she enjoys shopping, reading, and spending time with her family and friends. Married to her high-school sweetheart, Marquita Valentine lives in a seriously small town in the south with her husband, two kids, and a dog.
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