The Worthy Series, Book Two
Bienvenidos a Miami! Welcome to the hottest party scene in the U.S. Where beneath all the glitter, hard bodies and sexy drinks, the lives of the hard-partying residents of the 305 are not as they seem.
Daniel Ross is getting his life in Miami back on track. Common lore says once an addict, always an addict, but Danny’s out to prove lore is a moron. After a tough, celibate year of getting sober, a rental room in the home of his sister’s best friend Amy is only a stop on his journey to better things. But the best thing in Danny’s life may be right in front of him–the sweet, curvaceous Amy. When they tumble into bed, he discovers a new addiction to her smokin’ lips and body.
When Amy Stern agrees to let Danny move in, it’s out of compassion. Her new tenant isn’t supposed to fill her thoughts, and star in her sexy dreams. He’s definitely not meant to interfere with her budding relationship with a steady, sweet lawyer. If Amy were smart, she’d design clothes for her plus-sized women’s boutique, date her lawyer, and suppress her longing for Danny. And she’d definitely never touch him. Because once she does, his kisses and his embrace set off an explosive craving neither of them can control.
Now Amy’s caught in a love triangle, and she has a secret that she’s going to have to share with both men, the sooner the better. Which one of them is worthy of her trust, and her commitment?
Release date: January 11, 2017
Excerpt: CHAPTER ONE IN FULL
After more than a year of celibacy, Danny Ross was going to blow if his roommate leaned over the steering wheel one more time in her tight cleavage-revealing top. It was as if there’d been a massive sale on low-cut shirts, and Amy had rounded up and purchased every last one in Miami.
The woman owned a clothing boutique. You’d think she could get a shirt that covered more than it revealed. Then again, given the tits on her, it would’ve been a crime to cover her breasts, and Amy Stern was a law-abiding citizen.
Exhibit A. He was sitting in the passenger seat of Amy’s car rather than driving his own car home from a family Christmas gathering. Not his family’s gathering, his sister, Cat’s boyfriend—whoops—fiancé’s family. He’d have to get used to that new title. Anyway, they’d invited both him and Amy for Christmas and she’d had to drive. His driver’s license was long gone. Taken after his third DWI. The saving grace was that he’d managed not to kill or maim anyone.
“That was nice, wasn’t it?” Amy glanced away from the road to look at him. He averted his gaze from her breasts in time not to get caught.
“Christmas, the family getting together, Cat and Ian getting engaged.”
He grunted in response. Nice. Asshole. Way to look like a Scrooge on Christmas.
“You’re not happy about it? The engagement?” Amy asked.
If he answered, he’d get drawn into conversation, and every time he spoke to his roommate, it was one more rung up the ladder of chances that he would blurt out his desire for her. Unfortunately, if he remained silent, she’d think he wasn’t happy about the engagement and that news would get back to his sister, seeing as how his sister worked at Amy’s store and the two were quickly becoming glued at the hip. “It’s cool.”
Amy slowed for a stop sign and gave him a sideways glance. “‘It’s cool?’ That’s your feeling?”
He shifted in his seat, allowed himself one glance at her cleavage, and then met her gaze. “It’s really fucking cool. My sister and my best friend are getting married after wanting each other since we were kids, so yeah, I’m happy.” As he said the word happy, he realized it was a word too often thrown about. The truth was, he didn’t know what happy was anymore.
On occasion there were fleeting glances at moments that were better than others, like when Amy forgot she had a male roommate and walked out of her room in only a towel. But mainly, he lived in a numb existence. Probably a side effect of five years of hard-core drug use. His body might’ve survived intact (mostly), but his brain was fifty ways of fucked up. Like that old commercial of a fried egg being a brain on drugs. Yeah, that was him.
“Thanks again for the picture frame,” she said as she pulled into the driveway of the house they shared. “I know money is tight for you, and you didn’t have to get me a gift.”
He watched her ass as she exited her car and stayed in his seat another second before joining her on the walk up the driveway to their front door. If he pretended every single fucking thing about his life was different, he could almost pretend this moment was real. Like, he could pretend he and Amy were in a romantic relationship and had spent Christmas together because they wanted to, and not because neither had anyplace better to go. “I wanted to get you a gift,” he finally answered, watching her pretty hands as they turned the key in the lock.
She opened the front door and turned to face him. “Well, thank you. It was appreciated.”
“Wasn’t the only thing,” he blurted. Shit. He hadn’t meant to share.
“Huh?” Amy’s cute nose wrinkled. “What wasn’t the only thing?”
“The picture frame,” he said, watching the swirls of ink on her lickable skin undulate gently as she breathed. “There’s a photo for it too.”
They stood only inches apart, and if he leaned down, his lips would press against hers. Seeing as one hundred percent of his willpower of every damn day was used to stop him from finding his dealer and getting high, he didn’t know where he found the power not to lean down and kiss her.
It had been like this for the past month. It had taken nearly a year, but finally the worst of his addiction withdrawal was over, and his body was back to some semblance of normal. Now that it was, his body remembered it was male, and his dick wanted to come out and play.
At first he’d thought it was a reaction to a long stretch of celibacy and he’d react to any woman, but no, he saw women a lot at his job. No reaction. One of his clients had invited him into the house for a cold drink and more the other day. Zero interest. But the moment he got home. Bam. One look at Amy, one hint of her earthy perfume, and he wanted sex. Bad.
“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll go grab your other present.” He turned and practically sprinted off to his room to grab an old, wrinkled manila envelope from his nightstand. He spun back to find that Amy hadn’t obeyed his orders to stay in the living room, but instead had followed him and was standing a foot away.
* * *
She needed a map, or one of those giant clear boards like on a detective show that had string lines connecting data points. Amy didn’t understand what was happening between her and Danny. He’d gone from being the most popular boy in high school, and her the shy art-club geek, to him a drug addict loser sleeping on her couch, and her a moderately successful small business owner. And now…she didn’t know who either of them was.
Back when Danny was a total mess, it had been easy to keep him at arm’s distance. Once he got clean, she’d believed he’d defy all expectations and magically morph from college dropout addict to the outgoing success he was always meant to be. And then he’d keep her at arm’s distance. Somehow neither had happened.
Danny, the teenager, had been president of the student council, star athlete, and honor roll student, always surrounded by a loud fun group of friends. Danny, the adult recovering addict, was quiet, introspective, and alone.
When his sister, Cat, had moved out of her house, Amy had generously made the offer of the room to Danny figuring it was the least she could do to help him get back on his feet. At least outsiders had told her it was generous. They didn’t know that she’d known Danny before he was an addict and she’d harbored a crush on him back in high school. If she could help even a tiny bit in getting him back to the Danny she’d crushed on, then the world would be a better place.
Living together for the first few months had been easy. Their paths rarely crossed since Amy was building a business and Danny was working and proving to his boss that he could be trusted.
It had all changed a month ago when she’d noticed that his pale, wasted, drug addled body had shifted into the suntanned body of a strong man who spent his days doing manual labor in Miami’s wealthy yards.
High school crush back into action? Check. She’d tried not to drool, especially when he came home from work, threw his sweaty T-shirt off and walked shirtless to his room. So yeah, when he’d told her to stay in the living room waiting for her gift, her legs hadn’t listened.
He half smiled and held the tattered envelope to his chest, almost embarrassed, as if he didn’t want to give her the gift, whatever it was. Odd, since he’d been the one to bring it up and make the offer.
“I thought I told you to stay in the living room,” he said.
She shrugged. “I’ve never been good at following orders,” she said.
“I bet,” he muttered.
“May I have it?” She held out her hand for the envelope, and Danny allowed her to take it from his grip as if it contained a bomb. He watched her silently open the envelope. A single black-and-white photograph was enclosed. Amy slid it out with instant recognition. “This…”
“Is the picture I took of you in art class.” He ran a hand through his overly long, dark-blond hair. “Yeah.”
“How?” She fell silent examining the picture and remembering both the day it’d been taken and the day when it had been shared in class. “I didn’t think you had anything left from before.” She didn’t elaborate, and she didn’t need to. There was one pivotal event in the Ross siblings’ lives. Before their parents were killed. And after. The picture she held was from before. Weeks before, if memory served.
“My aunt had it.”
She looked up at Danny. “The aunt you hate?” She knew from Cat that their aunt through marriage had stepped in after their parent’s death, but hadn’t been much of a loving aunt.
“Yeah. When she kicked us out, I left a box of a few things there, figuring her kicking us out was only temporary. And then…I forgot about it. I finally went back for it.” His pause, if put into words, would’ve detailed his five-year slide into poverty and drugs.
She found it astounding that of all the things Danny Ross had saved from high school, the photo he’d taken of her was among the treasured memories. They’d both taken a photography course, him to fulfill an art requirement before graduation, and her because she was a freshman who loved art. One class assignment had paired the class off and required them to take portraits of each other. Danny and Amy had been assigned together.
To Amy, a freshman who was a full three sizes larger than her classmates, getting paired off with popular senior Danny Ross had been nightmarish. She’d been sure he’d blow her off or be incredibly obnoxious. Instead, he’d called her to set up a time, and then been funny and charming during the hours spent together. She’d walked away from the assignment with more than a little crush on Danny, and some gorgeous photographs of one of the hottest guys in the school.
“You said you didn’t remember me,” Amy said, looking straight into Danny’s face. “Last year, when Cat first moved in.”
“I didn’t,” he said. “If you’ll recall, I was more than a little messed up.” Understatement. “Now that I’m coming back to me, I’m remembering more.” He gave a self-deprecating shrug. “Certain things are clearer than others.” He pointed to the photo in her trembling hands. “The photography class I remembered.”
But did he remember what happened when he’d handed the photo in to the teacher? She searched his expression intently trying to see what he recalled. Did he remember what came after? Because God knew she’d been reliving it at least weekly since he’d been living in her home.
“I don’t remember a lot about the photo, but it’s surrounded by good memories,” he said. “Unfortunately they’re hazy, but I remembered that I’d taken the class in high school and had saved my best work.” He jerked his chin to the photo and smiled. “It’s pretty crazy that—”
She never got to hear what he thought was crazy. Instead, she launched herself at him, letting the photograph fall onto the nightstand. He caught her with a surprised oomph and then bent his head to meet her lips. So long…she’d been waiting and wanting this moment so long. Ever since she’d leaned against the tree in Dante Fascell Park and posed for Danny’s camera.
Fifteen-year-old Amy had giggled and dreamed of kissing the tall, strong senior behind the camera but never dared. Her twenty-six-year-old self went for it.
It was only a matter of time before Danny became healthy enough to leave his self-imposed isolation and rejoin his life as he’d been meant to live it. He’d make new friends, or find his old ones. He’d go on dates, and then he’d find his one special woman, and that woman would never be a fat, quirky clothing designer whose idea of a wild night was walking three blocks into town for a frozen yogurt.
She only had now, so she’d grab it.
Grab it, she did. Her hands caressed every inch of skin she could reach, while her lips plastered tiny wet kisses on his neck, rough cheeks and lips. She had a searing flash of shock that she and Daniel Ross were kissing, but then her brain got taken over by lust and there was no more thinking.
There was only doing.
He had her plastered up against his body, where she could feel his muscular abdominal muscles against her curves. Her ample breasts flattened against him, but then he slipped his hand under her shirt and cupped her breast. She gasped.
“Been dreaming about these,” he murmured against her ear.
“You have the greatest fucking tits in Miami. Every time I turn around, they’re in my face.”
“Because they’re huge,” she pointed out.
“Not complaining,” he said, giving them a squeeze that bordered the line between pain and pleasure.
“Want to see them?”
He stepped back and looked at her with almost wild eyes. “Hell yes.” He pointed to her top. “Off.” Then he seized his own plain grey T-shirt and tore it over his head.
They’d been dressed nicely for the holiday, so it took Amy a little longer to undo the hidden zipper at her side and carefully pull the silky blouse off. She made a little ritual of folding the shirt and laying it carefully on the bed, needing the time to gather courage for Danny’s reaction to her body.
He’d always been fit, and then the drugs had wasted him to nothing. He was healthy again, and his ripped body was the stuff of dreams. Her body, not so much. Most women’s nightmares.
Except when she braved looking at him while standing in front of him topless, he didn’t look scared off. More like the opposite. There was sheer reverence on his face.
“Jesus, Amy. Seriously. Best tits in Miami. No, all of Florida.”
“You’re insane,” she said.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he stepped forward, grabbed her, and bent his head to plant kisses over her bra. She wasn’t wearing one of her pretty bras, having opted for function, but Danny didn’t seem to mind or notice. She’d never expected that today would end with him seeing her lingerie.
With deft hands, he unfastened the clasps at her back and pulled the bra forward and off her skin. She moaned in relief and pleasure. “Feel free to go braless anytime,” he said.
“Mmhmm,” she murmured, holding his head in her hands as he bent to apply his tongue to her nipples. She held on for the ride, and it was a ride that took them to lying down on the bed, him holding his body over hers.
Using her heel, she hooked a leg around his hip and pulled him down so all their best parts were pressed tightly together.
“More?” he asked, pushing forward with his hips and eliciting a gasp. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Yes to everything,” she said.
He grinned down at her.
Quickly they struggled out of their clothes and then returned to their previous position. Her eyes closed tightly as their mouths met for a wild kiss. The skin on his back was rough under her palms, and it was as if the heat from the sun he worked under each day radiated out from his skin.
“Do you have a condom?” she whispered.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Her eyes opened. “Of course you need to wear a condom. I’m not on the Pill or anything.”
He nipped at her shoulder. “I meant are you sure you want to have sex with me?”
What woman in her right mind wouldn’t want to have sex with him? “Yes,” she whispered.
“Thank God,” she thought she heard him mutter as he leaned over and pulled a condom out of the nightstand drawer. She wondered who else he’d been sleeping with that he had protection at the ready.
“I think Cat left these here,” he said, “and let that be the very last time I ever say my sister’s name during sex.”
She laughed, both at his words and at the sudden lightness of knowledge that these weren’t his condoms.
“You’re the first woman I’ve wanted since…”
He didn’t need to complete his sentence. She knew he meant she was the first woman he’d been with since being sober. She didn’t respond, but instead helped him get into position over her and guided him in.
She was always on edge when he was near her, and it hadn’t taken much foreplay to get her aroused to the point that he slid in easily. They both moaned, her at the fullness.
“God, that’s good,” he said, resting his forehead against hers. She waited, getting used to his invasion.
When he didn’t move for a long minute, she tapped his shoulder. “Uh, Danny, I know it’s been a while for you, but I think moving is the next step.”
He laughed, thrust, and then groaned. “Better?”
She shifted her hips under him, adjusting the angle so he’d hit her right. “Much.” There wasn’t much talking after that, only kissing and the sound of the mattress moving under them as he pushed into her harder and faster.
She felt her orgasm building, near enough to taste. “I’m close,” she gasped.
“Take it,” he said and did something with his hips that made her vision blur and her body melt. The orgasm tore through her, lasting forever and not nearly long enough.
She held still as Danny finished with a groan, and held stiller as he pulled out of her.
They lay snuggled together, her head on his bare chest. His fingertips trailed patterns over the inked flowers on her shoulders. Silence reigned for a long time until Danny broke it. “Tell me the rest,” he said gently.
She cocked her head slightly to see he was looking at her. “The rest of what?”
“The story behind the picture. The story of why it sometimes feels as if you’re holding a grudge.”
Her breath caught. She hadn’t realized he’d noticed. “It’s nothing,” she murmured and planted a tiny kiss to his pectoral.
His hand tightened on her shoulder. “Tell me.”
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply savoring the feel of lying skin to skin with Danny, treasuring the moment and capturing it for a future colder, lonelier day. “Mr. McMauro assigned partners,” she said, eyes still closed, taking a moment to brush her lips against him, tasting the salt on his skin. “You got me.” She paused, and she must’ve tensed, because he scooched down enough to cup her cheeks in his larger callused palms.
“I remember that part. And what else? Tell me, Amy, or I’ll ask Cat.”
“She doesn’t know. No one does. Except you and me.”
“But I don’t remember.”
She struggled out of his arms and sat up, leaning against the pillow and taking the comforter with her to cover her breasts. “It’s humiliating. Can’t we let it die?”
He sat up, no shyness, body fully exposed. “Did I hurt you?”
She looked him in the eye and nodded slowly.
“What did I do? It can’t have been that bad or I’d remember? Right?”
It was the fact that he looked devastated that he might’ve hurt her more than ten years ago that gave her the courage to continue. “You were amazing,” she said. “You were the most popular senior, student body president—” It was obvious by his expression that he didn’t care for the reminder of how far he’d fallen, so she skipped ahead. “I thought working with you would be awful, but instead you were nice to me and funny and made me feel comfortable posing for you.”
“At Dante Fascell Park, right?”
“You do remember?”
“Vaguely. What went wrong?”
“I had a total crush on you after the assignment. I considered you a friend, but…” Pause for air. “The day we handed the photos in, you were outside the classroom chatting with your friends. I was about to leave the room when I heard one of your friends make a comment about me. I thought you’d defend me, but no. You agreed and laughed.” Another breath. One would think that the hurts from teenage boys made long ago would fade, but they were like tiny arrow points living under her skin, breaking the flesh when prodded.
“What’d we say?”
“Does it matter?” she asked.
His arms wrapped tighter around her. “Seeing as how we’re lying here naked together, yeah, I’d say it matters.”
Good point. If memory served, he’d also been captain of the debate team. “One of your friends said that it sucked you got paired with me. And then another laughed at the photo and asked how you were able to tell me apart from the naked lady statue at the park when I was fat. You laughed.” She tried to roll away from him, but he held on tight and buried his lips in her hair.
The naked lady statue was one of the more iconic Miami sites. It was a giant stone voluptuous woman used as climbing equipment, and hundreds of Miami children measured their developmental milestones by her body. Was this the year they could reach her belly button? Her breasts? Her shoulders?
“Jesus, Amy, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Teenage boys are assholes.”
“I know that,” she said on a slight hiccup. “It was more that you were an asshole. I didn’t expect you to sell me out, especially because I stupidly thought we were friends. I knew I was fat. Mirrors have been around for centuries.”
He cupped her chin in his hand and forced her to meet his stare. “First of all, your body is gorgeous. You need a new mirror. Second, you were not stupid. I was the stupid one, because out of everyone who heard that conversation that day, how many am I still friends with? One,” he said, when she didn’t answer. “You.”
“We’re friends?” she asked.
He slid a palm down to cup one of her naked butt cheeks and pulled her snug against his thighs. “God, I hope so.”
She laughed, but then stopped because there was nothing funny about the way his fingers were exploring her backside. “Again?” she asked, not daring to believe.
“Hell yes. Have you seen your tits?” he asked. “I defy any man to be within touching distance and not have a boner.”
“Danny.” She giggled, loving his earthiness and frankness. Then she stopped him because there was something he’d said that needed clarity. “Hang on.” She stopped his wandering hands as they wandered from her back to her breasts. “You said I need a new mirror, but I don’t. I know I’m pretty, and I know that my body is not the typical Miami body. I know that now. Back when I was fifteen and the coolest boys in school called me fat like it was worse than calling me a terrorist—well, that was awful.”
“Amy,” he said on an inhalation, kissing her nose gently, then moving down to touch her lips so slightly a paper could’ve slid between them. His tongue darted out, tasting her lower lip, beguiling her to taste him back.
The flavor of diet soda lingered on his tongue along with something saltier and more elusive. Her, she realized. She pushed him to his back and leaned over him, almost rough with her desire.
“Jesus,” he moaned, and she looked down, worried she was smothering him, but saw that her breasts hung in his face, and he was happily braced on his elbows to take first one nipple in his mouth then the other.
Each warm touch of his mouth sent wild ribbons of pleasure to other points of her body, namely between her legs. She was still buzzing from the orgasm they’d shared earlier, and it didn’t take much to get her going again. Climbing up Danny’s body, she settled her thighs on either side of him and ground against his erection.
His hard penis rubbed through her wetness. He groaned, then held her still. “I’m too heavy for you. You take the top,” she said.
“Stop with the fat. You’re perfect right where you are. Too perfect. If you keep rubbing against me like that, I’m going to come.”
“And?” she practically purred, his words giving her license to undulate against him one more time. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m a drug addict, Amy.”
“I know,” she murmured, still in an aroused haze.
“Which means I could have diseases,” he finished.
“Oh.” The least sexy words ever uttered in a bed. With a muffled thump, she unstraddled him and kneeled beside him. “Never needles, though, right?”
“No.” He lay against the pillows, his muscular, scarred arms folded across his wide chest. “Thank God, I never sank that low. But I wasn’t having safe sex. I was dirty, Amy, and I don’t want any of that to touch you. In fact, we should probably end this before it becomes something more. I’m finding myself after five years of being lost.”
Lost. That was one way of putting it. She’d often wondered if he regretted his decisions that turned him from prospective Princeton student and National Merit Scholar to lawn boy. She was reminded of that Robert Frost poem about the road not taken. In life, you were given choices and whichever path you chose, dictated your future. A lot of people might’ve chosen the same path as Danny if they’d lost their parents in one awful moment and been thrust into the role of breadwinner and guardian for a younger sibling.
She swallowed, needing a second to gather composure lest she cry while speaking. “And you think that sleeping with me, getting involved with me might force you to get lost again?”
A look she could only describe as anguish passed over his face. “I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. All I know is that when you’re in a room I can’t stop looking at you, waiting for your laugh, wanting to hear your voice. I can’t concentrate on anything else. If that’s not getting lost…”
She stared at him, shocked. She’d had no clue—none—that he’d felt that way. Crazy, considering she felt the same about him. Should she tell him? Would it help the indecision and uncertainty etched on his expression? Or would she complicate the situation, because while she wanted Danny sexually, rationally she knew he was a terrible bet. His chances of staying clean and off the drugs were almost nil. Financially he was insolvent, and owed his future brother-in-law money that he’d be paying off until retirement. Yeah, sleeping with her roommate was a direct path to heartbreak and complication.
Hastily she gathered up her clothes and slipped out of the bed. Holding everything to her ample chest, she looked down at him. “You’re right. This was a bad idea. Too complicated.” She made it to the door before turning around, dashing back to the nightstand and gathering the old photograph between her two free fingers. “Merry Christmas.”