Series: Salvation #1
Book 1 of 2 in the Belonging Duet
That single word is all I’ve ever wanted to be. Enough for someone to stay for. Enough for someone to love and cherish, but I’ve been burned every time.
Except at my job.
I thrive there. In my office, I have the ability to fix things and command situations.
Until my new client walks in.
It shouldn’t matter that he fills out a suit better than any man I’ve ever seen. His dimples and blue-green eyes shouldn’t call to me on every level. I know men like him and they’re dangerous to trust.
But Jackson Cole is irresistible.
The pain of the past disappears when he’s around. With him, I’m more than enough, and I break every rule about dating a client.
I fall desperately in love with him—only to realize I should’ve trusted my instincts because I’m no one’s beloved …
“Cat?” Gretchen jumps up when she sees me walk in with Ashton.
“Hi, Gretch!” I rush over, throwing my arms around her.
God, I’ve missed hanging out with my friends. No matter how many years or miles there are between the three of us, we’ve always been constant. When everything went down with Neil, they both rallied behind me and took care of cancelling everything. I, on the other hand, have been a shitty friend. When I’m not at work, I’m at home, so I see Ashton all the time. But I always find a way to get out of any parties or anything requiring me to leave the house.
“Hello to you too!” Ashton feigns being hurt.
“Oh Ashton, always the drama queen.” Gretchen giggles and pulls her into a giant hug. “Both my girls are here! Tonight’s already a great night.”
It’s so easy to make her happy. She’s a lawyer in one of the most affluent firms in New York City, and she’s aiming for partner within the next two years. There was a time we didn’t see her more than a few times a year because she was inundated with work, but I always understood. Work is something the three of us thrive on, always have. I’m a publicist for one of the premier companies in Manhattan, and Ashton works as an embryologist. Who would’ve thought the three of us would each find a career we love and excel at?
I look around the restaurant, taking in the unique design. I’m instantly in love with the old-world charm and kind of Tuscan feel it’s got going on. Judging from the interior, you’d never guess it was located right in the middle of the West Village.
“Any new clients, Cat?” Gretchen asks while sipping her beer.
“I have a meeting on Tuesday with a possible new client. We’re pitching against Boyce PR for this one. It’s a cosmetics company looking to expand their brand. I’m really excited. If I can land it, I think I’d be up for promotion.”
“That’s great! I’m sure you’ll get it,” Gretchen says, smiling.
We laugh, catching up on work and any good gossip about people from back home.
Ashton and Gretchen are babbling on about some movie they’re both dying to see, so I glance around the room and take in the crowd. When I hear a boisterous laugh, I turn, searching for the source of the sound. When I see him my breath catches. He’s sitting at a table to my left with a few guys. There’s something about him that’s mesmerizing, something that prevents me from tearing my eyes away. His entire presence pulses with energy, demanding my attention without saying a word. He has dark hair, styled—or maybe not—in sexy disarray. His strong jaw is covered in stubble, only adding to his attraction. Though I can’t see his eyes clearly from here, I can imagine the virility within them. But it’s not just his looks, which are more than any man should be allowed to have. There’s more …
He’s commanding even in a relaxed state: confident bordering on arrogant. Every part of him is captivating.
“Earth to Catherine!” Ashton waves her hands in front of me, breaking my trance on the sexy stranger across the room.
“Sorry … too much wine.” I laugh and grab my glass, trying to keep my attention off him.
We finish our dinner and polish off another bottle. It’s been a wonderful night, filled with laughter and tons of memories of our crazy childhood. I’m glad we could spend this time together.
Gretchen clears her throat. “So … I got a call from Piper the other day. She called the office asking if we could talk. She said she needed legal advice.”
I was about to take a sip but freeze midway. My heart accelerates at the sound of her name. We all became friends with Piper during college. She was in my marketing class and also in one of Ashton’s labs. Over the years, we grew apart, but until three months ago we all considered her a friend. After what happened though, no one has spoken to her again. If hateful is what I feel toward Neil, murderous is what I feel toward Piper. What she did to me is reprehensible. No woman should ever go after someone else’s man. Which brings us to the burning question: Why, after three months, has she decided she needs legal advice from Gretchen?
Ashton chimes in quickly, “I hope you told her to take her fake-ass bullshit and shove it, and the only thing you’d represent is a case against her.”
“Oh honey, I told her that and a whole lot more. I still can’t believe she was so devious about everything. I always knew she was jealous of you and Neil, Cat, but I never believed she was capable of being so disgusting.”
Air … I need air. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom. Be right back.”
“Cat,” Ashton calls out, empathy swimming in her eyes.
“It’s fine. I’m okay.” I smile and pat her arm before heading toward the bathroom.
As I’m sliding through the tiny aisle, a chair juts out and slams into me, throwing me backward. My arms shoot out in an effort to brace myself from the inevitable fall, but two arms wrap around my torso, saving me from hitting the ground. However, I’m now sitting in a stranger’s lap.
“You okay?” a deep, throaty voice asks from behind me.
The sound of his rasp stills me, awakening all of my senses as it reverberates through my body. “Yes, thank you,” I say, trying to calm my heart rate.
“Glad I caught you.” Before I can move, his large hands grasp my hips to lift me up. His fingers wrapping around my waist may as well be flipping an internal switch inside of me. My heart kicks up, beating erratically from the warmth of his hands on my body.
I stand and turn, locking eyes with the most hypnotizing blue-green eyes I’ve ever seen. If I thought he was handsome from across the room, up close he redefines the word. He’s rendered me speechless. My eyes devour him, my mind cataloging every feature. A dimple on his left cheek, a square jaw, and an angular nose give him a rugged, almost beautiful face. Everything about him screams masculinity.
I start to wobble on my heels and he stands, placing his hands on my shoulders to steady me. I take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of crisp linen and cologne—his scent. It fills my mind, practically overwhelming me, as I commit it to memory.
“I’m so sorry,” I murmur, barely able to form words.
“No need to apologize. That asshole should’ve been more careful. Can’t say I minded, though.” His eyes crinkle in amusement.
Is he flirting with me? How sad that I don’t know for sure.
“Well …” I give a shy smile. “Thank you again for catching me.”
He stares at me, looking me up and down. Something about his gaze makes me feel naked, exposed. Here I am, standing before him, fully dressed but completely bare.
“So since I saved you from a rather embarrassing moment, how about you tell me your name?” the drop-dead gorgeous man asks in that low rasp of his.
And though every part of me feels inexplicably drawn to him, something in the back of my mind, the part that knows how off-kilter he’s knocked me, is telling me not to give it to him. I have no reason in the world to want this man, but I do and I can’t explain it, which means it’s time to walk away.
Trying to find an excuse, I look over at Gretchen and Ashton. “Sorry. I have friends waiting.” I shrug.
“Well tell them to come join us.”
I smile, looking at the two guys who keep volleying their eyes between him and me. “I’ll let you boys get back to your dinner.”
I start to walk away, but he grips my arm. His touch sends shockwaves through my system, momentarily stunning me again. “Wait. Sit. Have a drink with us. This is Nathan, that’s Garrett, and I’m Jackson.”
Even his name is sexy. I’m in so much trouble. I need to get away from him and quick, before I say or do something stupid. Oh wait. I already did. As much as I would love nothing more than to sit, I’m not ready. I know exactly where this will end up—I’ll be hurt and he’ll be leaving.
“It was nice meeting you, Jackson, but I have a table waiting.”
“Don’t you think you owe me your name at least?” Jackson asks, his eyes bright with mischief.
I look down, spotting the ring on my finger. It gives me the perfect excuse to run and avoid this bizarre encounter. “I’m getting married, but thanks again for catching me.” I show Jackson my ring finger and shrug. “Sorry, I have to go,” I say and turn to leave. Who knew Neil would be good for something?
“Lucky guy,” I hear him say as I’m walking away.
I walk back to the table, forgoing the bathroom. There’s no way I’m walking past him again. Thankfully, Ashton and Gretchen are oblivious to what happened or they’d both be grilling me. My heart is racing and my body is tingling everywhere he touched. I slouch in the seat, feeling as though I’ve run a marathon. It’s been so long since a man sparked any emotion or arousal within me. I feel unmistakably alive, which scares the hell out of me.
“You okay?” Ashton asks.
“Yeah, do you think we could head out? I’m not feeling so good.”
I want to get away from this place and get myself under control. Unease is running through my veins. Foolishly, I look over and catch him smiling in my direction.
Deciding I’m not waiting for Ashton, I grab my bag and run out the door, away from a man who reminds me how easy it would be to fall all over again—only this time I don’t think I’d survive.
Military scenes/memories. Cheating (not by the hero or heroine), Grief/Loss.