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2017/2018 Kelly Elliott

One

 

 

N a s h

 

THE MOMENT I walked into Sedotto, the bar my best friend Tucker

owned, I was wishing I had opted to stay home. If it hadn’t been for my

younger sister Morgan’s birthday celebration tonight, I would have done

just that.

“Nash!”

I had barely walked into the door when I heard her call out my name.

I smiled when I saw Morgan rushing over to me.

“I was worried you wouldn’t come.”

“And miss your birthday? What kind of a brother would that make

me?”

Her smile had me returning the gesture. “Even if you had decided

to stay home, I would still say you were the best brother ever. Did you

work today?”

“I did, but I’m actually supposed to be on vacation, but Dad wasn’t

having that.”

“You deserve it and just need to take one.”

She was right. I did deserve it. After busting my ass along with my

crew, we finished Tucker and his wife Charlie’s house in four months—a

feat that would normally take nine months to a year. The damn thing

was more than nine thousand square feet. It was a miracle we got it done

when we did. It was worth the hard work to see how happy they were.

There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Tucker though. Or Charlie. Any

of my friends, for that matter. We all went to college at the University of

Texas and had remained friends since. Over the years, it had been a roller

coaster of emotions with this bunch. After years of denying their feelings

for each other, Tucker and Charlie finally tied the knot last December. Terri

and Jim, another couple from our group, had been dating for years and

were finally getting married in December. Blake, the wild one among us,

had moved to New York City but came back to Austin last year. Tucker’s

sister and my ex—Lily—was also part of the group. Of course, when she

admitted to cheating on me and getting pregnant by another guy, she

quietly stopped hanging out with us.

“Dad’s pissed I gave up a job to build Tucker and Charlie’s house, so

he’s had me busting my ass the last few months.”

Morgan rolled her eyes.

“So, who else is here?”

She glanced over her shoulder. “A few friends of mine from college

and work. Oh, and Kaelynn.”

With a frown, I replied, “Kaelynn?”

“Yeah! She’s the girl I met last year on my mission trip. I’ve talked

about her a lot. We really connected and have become good friends. She

moved here to Austin to help me with my start-up.”

My eyes widened in surprise. “She moved here to help you?”

Laughing, Morgan wrapped her arm around mine and led me toward

the private room that Tucker rented out to groups.

“Yes! It’s her job, Nash, and she loves Austin, so it was a no-brainer

for her to move here. She’s from Utah, not Mars, for crying out loud.”

“Very funny, Morgan. So she’s a consultant of sorts?”

“Sort of. She helps with start-ups, setting up foundations, scholarships,

things like that.”

“Morgan, can you afford to hire someone like that? It’s not a good

idea to get in over your head before you even make the first dollar.”

Her smile faded some, and I felt like a jackass questioning her

judgment. I didn’t want to see my sister get in over her head with this

new venture she had going on.

“I appreciate you worrying, but she isn’t charging me. She owns her

company and it’s a nonprofit organization. She mostly deals with people

who are doing something associated with veterans. So when she heard

what I was wanting to do, she offered to help. For free, as a friend.”

I frowned. “Wait, so she isn’t getting paid to be here? She’s helping

you out of the kindness of her heart? That doesn’t sound suspicious at all.”

She sighed then looked away for a moment before steeling her eyes

back on mine. “I’m not stupid, and I actually know what I’m doing. Like

I said, I’m not paying her; she owns her own company. When we talked

last year and I told her my plan, she was the one who really helped me

get things going. She has already helped me so much, Nash. I couldn’t

have gotten this far without her help and encouragement.”

My heart dropped knowing that I had made my sister think I doubted

her business acumen. Pulling her into my arms, I hugged her and spoke

against her ear over the loud music.

“I know you’ve got this, sis. I’m so proud of you for doing something

you love and making it come to life. You’re going to do great.”

She drew back, tears in her eyes as she replied, “Thank you for your

support. I know Mom and Pop want me to keep working for Barrett

Construction, and Dad never really knew why I chose the career I did,

but I can do this. I will make this a success and help people in return.”

“You will. I know it.”

Throwing herself back into my arms, she squealed. “Oh my gosh! I

can’t believe I’m going to be helping people while doing something I love!”

With a smile, I hugged her tighter. My parents had given Morgan

a hard time when she went to school to become an art therapist. She

had finally earned her master’s degree after busting her ass working for

my father and going to school full time, nearly year-round. I was proud

as hell of her. My folks were as well; they just never got why Morgan

picked the path she did. What they didn’t know was that Morgan had

fallen in love in high school, and her first love, Mike, went off and joined

the army. He was in special forces, and once he came home after serving

a few years, he had changed, Morgan said. He committed suicide at the

end of Morgan’s freshman year of college. That was the catalyst for her

to go into art therapy. It was also her way of dealing with her grief over

his death. She was determined to help veterans like Mike.

“Morgan! We’re doing shots!” someone called out. My sister jumped

back and grinned from ear to ear.

She knew exactly what my raised eyebrow meant. Years of me brainwashing

her over the dangers of drinking in public must have worked

because she immediately started parroting to me the same things I’ve

told her over and over and over again.

“I’ve got a designated driver, I won’t drink too much, and yes, I will

not take any drinks from anyone.”

I kissed her on the forehead and replied, “That’s my girl. Go have

fun. I’ll be in there in a second. I saw the gang when I walked in.”

“Don’t be long!” she called out as she rushed into the private area.

As I made my way toward what was known as the boss’s friend’s

booth, I smiled when I saw everyone here. Terri, Jim, a very pregnant

Charlie, and Tucker. The only one who wasn’t there was Blake. He was

probably working, because the man was the definition of workaholic.

Or he was screwing a girl in the restroom. It was either work or sex with

Blake and was a toss-up to where he could be at this very moment.

“Hey, y’all,” I said, extending my hand to Jim and then Tucker.

“I was wondering when you were going to show up,” Tucker stated.

Sliding into the booth, I gave everyone the same smile I had been

plastering on my face the last year. The one that said everything was

perfect in my world.

It wasn’t though. Not since the day I found out the woman I loved,

Lily, cheated on me. She got herself pregnant by another man and basically

left me because my wallet wasn’t big enough. It had been hard seeing her

the few times she showed up to hang out since she was Tucker’s younger

sister and had been a part of our group since college. She had slowly

backed away from the group lately. Her life soon became cocktail parties

and high-society dinners, not hanging out at her brother’s bar.

Once I got into the booth and really looked around the table, I couldn’t

help but notice how everyone stared at me.

“What? Do I have something on my face?” I asked with a chuckle.

Tucker glanced over to Charlie, who rested her hand on her belly.

The only reason Tucker let his wife be at the bar was because there was

no smoking allowed. That, and he watched her like a hawk.

It was Charlie who cleared her throat and then took in a deep breath

before speaking.

“Lily texted and said she needed a night out and is on her way here.”

My entire body stiffened and I tried like hell not to let anyone notice.

I had gotten so used to Lily not being around, so when she showed up, it

felt like a kick in the gut.

It was Tucker’s turn to talk. “I guess she and Mark needed some

time together, and they felt like it would be good for them to go out. My

mom’s watching the baby.”

I had yet to even ask if Lily had a boy or a girl. I honestly didn’t give

two shits, but a small part of me still believed that baby should have been

mine, not some rich asshole’s.

“Maggie is adorable and plenty old enough now at five months for

Lily to be leaving her with a sitter,” Charlie added.

My chest ached slightly knowing Lily had a little girl. I knew in my

heart Lily wasn’t the one for me, my soul mate, but that didn’t mean it

still didn’t hurt. When Charlie saw my pained expression, she reached

across the table and squeezed my hand.

Charlie and Lily had been best friends since college and had remained

friends after we had broken up. Terri had tried with her, but she wasn’t as

close to Lily anymore. Even though I tried not to let it happen, our friends

sort of picked teams, with me coming out the victor. Charlie and Tucker

really were Switzerland. With Lily being Tucker’s sister and Charlie’s best

friend, they remained close to both Lily and myself. Jim and Terri, on

the other hand, made it known from the get-go they were Team Nash.

Terri was pleasant to Lily, but their friendship had been strained after Lily

cheated on me. Blake, well, let’s just say Blake hates cheaters. He has yet

to even acknowledge Lily when she’s around, which isn’t often.

“I’m glad she’s happy.”

Terri laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think she’s happy.”

“I’m going to have to agree with Terri,” Tucker said with a sigh. “My

sister seems far from happy.”

I shrugged. “Some women experience depression after the birth of a

child, and I’m sure not having your dad here plays a part in that. It would

make sense she might seem a bit sad.”

Everyone stared at me before Terri shook her head and wiggled

her finger in front of me. “See, this is what I mean. She leaves you for

a dickhead like Mark. It doesn’t make any sense. Any woman would be

lucky to have you.”

Charlie nodded. “I agree.”

“She’s unhappy because it’s called karma. Sorry, Tucker, I know it’s

your sister and all.”

He gave a halfhearted grin.

“Listen, y’all, it’s over and done with, so no sense in going down that

road. Honestly, it worked out how it was meant to. Let’s just change the

subject,” I asked of them.

“Too late,” Jim said as we all turned to see what he was looking at.

The feeling in my stomach was somewhere between sickness and

anxiety. Lily was heading toward our table. Mark was next to her, his arm

around her waist.

She looked good. You would have never known she had given birth

to a baby a few months ago. Knowing Lily, though, she probably hit the

gym right after she gave birth.

“I need to get going. Morgan is waiting on me,” I said, sliding out

of the booth.

“Nash, dude, you don’t have to go just because . . .” Tucker’s voice

trailed off when Lily and Mark came to a stop.

“You’re not leaving because of me, are you?” Lily asked, giving me

a smile that said she really hoped I was leaving. No one wanted that

awkward feeling that would surely be thick in the air if I stuck around.

“No, Morgan is having a birthday party and I need to get to it.”

Her smile faltered some. Turning my attention to Mark, I reached

out my hand for his. For a quick second, he debated shaking my hand.

Dickhead.

“Nash, it’s good seeing you.” He shook my hand firmly. Probably

under other circumstances, I might have actually liked the guy.

“Yeah, congratulations on the baby. If you’ll excuse me.”

With a quick glance over to Tucker, I asked, “Is it okay if I use your

office to make a quick call?”

“Sure, of course. You know the code.”

I nodded, then moved my way around Lily and Mark. The faster I

got away from them, the better.

It wasn’t two seconds before my phone buzzed in my hand.

 

Lily: Can we talk?

Letting out a scoff, I replied to her.

Me: We don’t have anything to talk about.

Lily: Nash, please.

 

Not looking at where I was going, I ran right into someone. My

phone dropped and I bent down to pick it up, only to see two phones on

the floor. I picked them both up.

“Damn, I’m sorry about that!” I shouted over the loud music. The

band Tucker hired had started playing right at that moment. When I stood

up, I handed the person back their phone.

When the most exquisite hazel eyes captured mine, I froze. Then she

spoke and it felt like the ground had rippled underneath me.

“Oh gosh, thank you. I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going!

I guess that’s why they say no texting and walking.”

She let out the cutest giggle, and I actually felt my stomach drop.

What in the hell? That feeling hasn’t happened in a long time.

When I was finally able to find my voice, I chuckled and said, “Looks

like we would both be fined then. I’m guilty of the same thing.”

Her teeth bit into her lower lip, and I couldn’t help but let my gaze

move down to her mouth. Jesus, this woman was beautiful. Her long

brown hair was pulled back into a low ponytail and she wore a T-shirt

that said No cheesy pick-up lines . . . I’m taken.

Pointing to her shirt, I asked, “Boyfriend buy you that?”

For a second, she didn’t move. Her gaze was locked on mine until

finally she replied.

“What? No! No . . . I, um . . . I don’t have a boyfriend . . . um . . . it

was a bet. I lost.”

Lifting my brow, I asked, “Why would you bet to not wear this T-shirt?

Seems like it would keep the creeps away.”

Her mouth turned up into the cutest, crooked grin. Then she held

up her finger in a wait for it moment and turned around.

The back read, Just kidding. Tell me your best pick-up line. I’m horny as

fuck.

I laughed, you know the kind that you almost choke because that

wasn’t what you were expecting kind of laughter, as she faced forward

again. “See! That’s why I didn’t want to wear it. I just went to the restroom

to put it on.”

My eyes scanned her quickly. Her curvy body fit her jeans and showed

off her figure, while the tight T-shirt showed off her upper body. Her

ample upper body.

“Explains why the shirt is so . . .”

“Tight? Yeah, my boobs are suffocating.”

This time I laughed harder. I couldn’t remember the last time I actually

laughed. It felt good. Really fucking good. I even had to bend over

to catch my breath because I laughed so hard.

She tilted her head and regarded me as I let it all out. It hadn’t been

that funny, but I clearly had needed the release.

“Thank you! I needed that laugh.”

Her cheeks blushed and she glanced down to the floor, a shy smile

playing across her face.

When she looked back up at me, her mouth parted slightly, as if she

wanted to say something else.

“Am I interrupting?”

The sound of Lily’s voice made my smile fall.

The woman looked over my shoulder, and deep lines appeared on

her forehead before she glanced back up at me and spoke. “Well, it was

nice talking to you. Enjoy your evening.” She walked around me and

headed down the long hallway.

For the first time in months, my body actually felt something when

a woman talked to me, looked at me. I’d had a few one-night stands,

nothing that meant anything. Just enough to keep the edge off and keep

me from making my dick raw from my hand.

My gaze followed her down the hallway, not paying any attention

to Lily standing there.

“Jesus, could you stare at her any harder?” Lily spat out.

Turning away, I made my way to Tucker’s office. Unlocking the door,

I walked in, Lily right on my heels.

“Lily, what do you want?” I asked in an annoyed tone as I turned

around to face her.

Before I could even process anything, she wrapped her arms around

my neck, kissing me. It took me all of two seconds to realize what in the

hell was happening.

Lifting my hands, I pulled her arms from around my neck and pushed

her gently away.

“What in the hell are you doing?” I asked, wiping my mouth.

“I missed you.”

“Your fucking husband and the father of your kid is out there, Lily.”

She rolled her eyes. “Mark hasn’t acted much like a husband the last

few months. He’s hardly even touched me.”

I screwed up my face and stared at her. Terri was right; Lily was

most likely getting served her full dose of karma, and why she thought

I would care baffled me.

“What’s wrong, Lil? Things not going so great with your knight in

shining armor? I often wondered what happens with a cheater . . . I mean,

do they stop after only one time, or once they get bored do they find their

next target? I guess I got my answer.”

She pressed her lips together.

“This was what you wanted, wasn’t it? Him. Not me. So now things

aren’t going so well and you think you can just show up and kiss me? Like

get a redo on your fuck-up?”

“We were in love once, Nash.”

“Yeah, once. You cheated on me. You gave up what we had. Ironically,

that has a way of making you fall out of love really quick.”

“I thought Mark was what I needed, but he isn’t. It’s you, Nash. I

need you. Please. Please forgive me.”

Closing my eyes, I took in a deep breath and slowly let it out before

focusing on Lily.

“You know, it took me a long time to forgive you, Lily. I can’t even

begin to explain to you how much you hurt me.”

Her eyes filled with tears. “I know, baby. I’m so sorry. I’m ready to

be a real couple now. You and me.”

I shook my head. “I forgave you, Lily, but I’ll never forget what you

did. Ever. For months I’ve been walking around with a hole in my damn

heart, so fucking afraid to let anyone in or even dare to let myself be

happy. Why? Because I trusted you, and you stole that trust from me.

You never cared enough to even be honest with me. I wasn’t enough for

you then. I know now that I will never be enough, and I won’t make that

same mistake twice.”

She went to reach for my hand, but I backed away.

“Let me make it up to you, Nash. I know now what I had in you. I was

stupid and young, and I thought I needed a bit of excitement in my life.”

I bellowed out and stared at her in disbelief. She wasn’t getting it.

Any of it.

“I know how to make you happy.”

“No, Lily, you don’t. You never did. All those months I spent hiding

because I was afraid to let someone too close to me after your betrayal.

Then something happened tonight. That shit got knocked right out of

me, literally. I’m sorry you’re not happy with your husband, I really am.

But you made your bed, sweetheart. Lie in it.”

I walked around her and she grabbed my arm.

“No! Don’t do this, Nash. Don’t walk away from what we had.”

Withdrawing my arm from her grip, I smiled as I looked down at

her defeated face. The last bit of anger I held toward her felt as if it was

finally fading away. I felt sorry for her.

“Just a reminder, you were the one who walked away, Lily. And finally,

I’ve seen it was the best damn thing to ever happen to me.”

As I made my way to the door, I heard her start crying. I balled my

fists and did my best to ignore it as I pulled the office door open and

walked out. I’d go make my call somewhere less crowded.

For the first time in months, it felt like the dark cloud that had been

over me was gone. And the girl I had ran into was the reason. When I

got back out to the bar, I scanned the place looking for her. I had no idea

what caused the instant spark I had felt when she smiled at me. Or the way

her voice made my body feel warm and in need of something I hadn’t let

myself want in months. But I needed to find her, to see if the connection

we had was a fluke. I had to know.

Damn it. She’s gone.

“Who you looking for?” Charlie asked as she walked up to me.

“I don’t know. Someone I ran into a few minutes ago. Lily interrupted

us and I didn’t have a chance to get her information.”

Charlie laughed. “Figures Lily would cock-block you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right?” I replied with a chuckle. “Well, if it’s

meant to be, I’ll see her again. I better get to the party.”

“And I better get to the ladies’ room before this baby makes me pee

all over the floor.”

Lifting my hands, I moved out of her way as she made her way

past me. It was hard to believe Charlie was the CEO of a billion-dollar

consulting firm in Austin. Her parents had died in a car accident a year

ago, and she had been thrown into the position and had to fight to keep

herself in the position.

The bar was packed, so it took me a minute or so to get across and

back to the private room Morgan’s party was in.

Stepping into the room, I felt an instant change. A surge of electricity

felt like it made every single nerve ending in my body come to life. What

the hell is happening with me tonight?

Sweeping my eyes across the room as I looked for Morgan. I stopped

searching when her gaze caught mine from the far back corner.

A slow smile spread over my face when her cheeks blushed. Did she

feel the connection between us? I needed to find out who she was, even if

that old familiar feeling of fear—or maybe it was excitement, it had been

so long that I couldn’t distinguish between the two—had begun to creep in.

Forgetting everything that had happened with Lily, I made the decision

that it was time for me to move on. It was time to trust again and let

down the wall I had built up around my heart. The woman who currently

held my attention was the cause of that decision.