Release Date: February 29, 2016
For as long as he could remember, Sebastian had been cursed.
It began with the tragic death of his parents when he inherited the modern art gallery. It continued every day when he looked in the mirror and saw a monster where a man should be. He’d tried everything without success. Then he happened upon her, his cure, the one who could give him a second chance at life, love and happiness.
After years of repairing what her father destroyed during his drunken rampages, opening a shop for repurposed and redesigned furniture seemed a natural progression for Marisa. When Sebastian hired her, she finally had a chance to get paid to do what she’d done for years for free. It seemed like a win, until he proposed.
The moment they met, Sebastian was drawn to her. Of course, losing everything in thirty days if he didn’t marry was a huge incentive. So he asked and she refused. An experienced negotiator, he never gave up when he had his heart set on something. For Marisa, marriage wasn’t on the table and love wasn’t negotiable. Still, always quick to see the best in others, she looked at him and saw a project, her ultimate redesign. Maybe even Sebastian deserved a second chance.
Finally, I opened my eyes, lifted my fork and started to pick at the pancakes again.
“Marisa, this is…”
I held up a finger. “Shh! Stop interrupting.”
“You’re not saying anything!” Sebastian beamed even as he tried to sound exasperated.
Shifting in my chair, I turned to face him. “I’m thinking.”
Leaning forward, he murmured, “While you’re thinking, can we talk about you?”
I stiffened then shook my head. “I never talk about myself.” From the corner of my eye, I watched for a reaction.
Apparently, he had decided to ignore me, since he continued to speak. “Your father says you’re talented. You can fix anything. Is this true?”
Licking my lips, my head tilted as I studied him. “I’m opening a shop called Second Chances. What do you think?”
“Good.” He nodded then started to tug on his lower lip.
Fascinated, I watched for a moment before interrupting. “What are you thinking?”
“The insurance company will probably cut me a check today to get started on repairs and replacing things around here. I want to hire you to fix as much of what’s broken as possible.” With a hesitant smile, he asked, “What do you think?”
Silently, with narrowed eyes, I considered his offer. “I have to get ready to open my store.”
“I understand that, but you must also need money.” I watched as his jaw tightened. This was a man who didn’t like being refused.
“Yes, I do, but I also need time and there’s only so much of that.” I was determined to stick to my plan. “I still have to go find more pieces to work on…”
Sebastian leaned on the arm of the chair. “What do you need?”
With a slight grin, I responded. “I’ll know it when I see it.”
“Do I have the field trip for you.” He crossed his arms over his chest for a moment as if deep in thought. “So, if I can find you more pieces, and pay you to repair stuff around here, will you do it?”
My lips pursed as prepared to blurt out what troubled me most. “Why would you do this for me?” Determined to get an answer, I pushed my chair back from the table. “My father destroyed your gallery. You could’ve thrown him in jail, but you’re obviously paying for a program at a treatment facility instead. As if that wasn’t enough, you want to hire me to do work and supply me with pieces for my shop.” Shifting to face him, I leaned forward and balanced my arms on my thighs. “What do you want, Sebastian? People don’t just do all this and expect to get nothing in return. You could buy all new furniture. You don’t really need me. Talk to me. And don’t bother lying to me because I’ll know.”
Now it was all out in the open. I felt better, but the longer he made me wait in silence, the more my stomach twisted in turmoil. Apparently, I wasn’t suffering alone. Staring at him, I could see the sweat breaking out in tiny droplets over his brow. He tried to act all cool, but Sebastian was drying his hands on his pants and probably trying to decide what to say. My eyes honed in on his little tells. It had been a guess, but I knew I was right. He wanted something. Judging by his reaction, it had to be big.
“Well.” Sebastian swallowed hard. He started to talk once more, but instead hesitated and took an enormous swig of his hot chocolate. He wiped his mouth and dabbed at his brow. Through it all, I waited. Finally he sighed and his shoulders sank. “I…I want you to marry me.”
Sebastian breathed into my hair. He seemed saddened by my words. I wanted to explain, to make him feel better. I’d die right now if he felt sorry for me. Instead, he beat me to it. “I was going to try to convince you to stay,” he whispered.
“I’ll stay.” A smile spread across my face, and I squeezed him even tighter.
“You can’t stay like that.” He shook his head. “You basically just admitted you’re a virgin.”
“Wait. Does staying mean we have to have sex?” I leaned back and stared up at his face, my brow furrowed. “Maybe I’m not ready to stay. No need to have all my firsts in one night, right?”
The side of Sebastian’s mouth quirked. “Right. Maybe just one more though…for both of us.”
There was something in the way he stared down at me, the intensity of it, like he was seeing straight into my soul. I couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to. Still, my mouth opened slightly as he swooped down and matched his lips to mine in another searing kiss. The heat between us had me going up in flames and awakened a need in me, the same way the sun stirred seeds to life in the spring. The way our tongues danced in a rhythm I somehow knew, despite never being taught. I wanted more, so much more. For the first time, I wanted everything. Sharing my secrets with him wasn’t enough. Now I wanted to share my body, give myself to him, heart and soul. Sebastian didn’t even have to ask, I’d offer, if only to make the aching cease.
It was as if he knew because he suddenly stopped, pulled back, and pressed his forehead to mine. My eyes shot open and I discovered his were still closed, an unfamiliar look on his face as he bit hard on his lower lip. Acting entirely on instinct, I moved, trying to secure one more kiss, missing our newfound closeness already. “More,” I murmured as I pressed my body to his.
To my disappointment and surprise, Sebastian shook his head. “No way, sunshine.” Exhaling slowly, he scooped me up in his arms and walked me through the condo until he deposited me on his bed in a seated position.
Though I had no idea what we were going to do now, I had no desire to argue. Reaching around behind me, I grabbed at my zipper and yanked it down. Soon the dress began to slip down my shoulders while I stared him in the eyes.
“Marisa, we can’t. Not tonight. I’m not stealing your v-card after one mediocre date.” He smiled shyly as he climbed onto the bed beside me. “If and when we take that step, we’ll both be completely sober and deeply in love.” Cupping the back of my head, Sebastian pressed his lips to my cheek and pulled the dress onto my shoulders.
“But you said one more first. You carried me to your room.” The confusion made me self-conscious. If I had more experience, maybe I’d understand. Instead, I wanted to cry, hot tears of embarrassment already prickling my eyes.
He nodded. “Would you like to spend the night here, in my arms?” Sebastian drew me close. “I’ve never done that before, never simply slept with any girl for the whole night…or at all for that matter.” Then he ducked his head so we were eye to eye. “But you have to wear clothes to bed. I’m not that strong and you’re practically impossible to resist. Okay?”
Immediately, I brightened. “So, I’m kinda irresistible?” There was no hiding my grin.
“Yes, sunshine. You’re so damn desirable, I have no idea how I’m going to keep my word.” My smile must’ve faltered some then. “Don’t worry. I will. I promise, you’re safe with me.”
Sebastian released me then, moved from the bed to the closet and returned with a t-shirt for me to wear. I snatched it from his hands and rushed to the open bathroom door I’d spied while he carried me in here. It only took a few minutes for me to change. When I returned, he was already wearing his own t-shirt and pajama pants. As I walked toward him, he pulled back the covers. “Climb in, Marisa. I’m going to hold you while you fall asleep.”
His words were all the invitation I needed. With all the restraint of a toddler and with the skills of a gazelle, I bounced into bed, struggling to hide the giggles bubbling in my throat.
“Let it out. Then come here.” He grinned and opened his arms to me.
Seconds later, I had positioned myself nicely. I thought. Only then I hadn’t. I shifted again and some more. Nope, my arm started hurting. Finally, without saying a word, Sebastian moved me onto my side, facing away from him. “But,” I argued, my voice barely louder than a whimper.
Soon, he had wrapped himself around me, pressed his groin against my ass, and had his face buried in my neck. After he planted a few lingering kisses there, Sebastian murmured, “Sleep well, Marisa.”
The mansion had an abandoned feel to it. If it weren’t for the furniture, I’d have doubted anyone lived there. Our shoes echoed on the marble floors given the high ceilings. While I fought an urge to explore the place, I waited for Sebastian’s lead.
“We need to hurry. I want to have the pieces picked before the movers arrive in approximately fifteen minutes. Then we’ll see how much time we have before my uncle returns.” He pointed toward the huge winding staircase.
“Is he coming back today?” Suddenly I shivered.
“Probably. He never leaves this place unattended for too long.” Sebastian laughed. “My guess is he feared I’d actually take some of what’s mine.”
At the top of the stairs, we took a right and walked down a musty smelling corridor. “Where are we going?” I glanced around at the walls covered in paintings. The place felt like a museum.
“My rooms were down here. And the room…” He stopped in the middle of the hall, turned and held my upper arms. “I lost my temper a lot after my parents died. My uncle would goad me and I’d fall for it every time. Please. I need you to understand.” His brow furrowed. I’d never seen him look so vulnerable.
Slowly, I nodded. Of course he worried I’d think he was like my father. “Don’t worry. I get it.”
With my reassurance, he released me and we walked solemnly toward a door at the very end of the hall. Opening it, he turned on the light and stared a moment before stepping aside to give me access. “You’ll find what you need in here.” He head dropped until his chin nearly touched his chest.
As soon as I moved into the room, I paused. Everywhere I looked there was broken furniture, including countless broken mirrors. Why would he keep them? There was a desk, a vanity table and stool, several bedroom suites stacked about. There was an old table, a couple of benches, and many doors that seemed to have been ripped from their hinges. I only had two questions. “Did you do all of this?” Tears formed in my eyes while glanced about.
“Yes,” he whispered. “I was sober, of course. Not sure if it makes it better or worse.”
“Better.” I nodded and sniffled. Funny how I could understand his hurt and his pain so easily, but my father…I had yet to forgive. Ready to move on, I asked my next question. “What can I take?”
Sebastian’s hand swooped to encompass all the contents of the room. “Whatever you want. You earned it. You deserve it.” His shoulders relaxed some. “I think you’re the only person who can fix it.”
“Fix the furniture?” I made a face. “Please. Anyone can fix this.”
In two steps, he was in front of me, tilting my chin until our eyes locked. “No. Fix me.”
Before I could respond his lips were on mine, not simply kissing, but possessing me. When I opened my mouth to his tongue, I could almost taste his fear, and feel his pain. Then, at the end, there was something else, some spark. Hope. Sebastian pulled me impossibly close until he very nearly lifted me off my feet. I would’ve let him too. The emotions his kiss had awakened distracted me from everything else, until his phone began to chime insistently.
Slowly, he drew back. Then with his forehead pressed against mine, he peeked at his phone, still in his hand. “The movers.” Standing upright, he answered their call and spoke to them while I marveled over the kiss. “They’ll be here in just a minute. So what would you like?”
My eyes never left his face as I responded. “Everything.” I spoke with certainty and willed him to understand. It wasn’t just the furniture I desired.
meet emma nichols
What made her decide to be a romance author?
How else was she going to parlay her two favorite past times into a career?
Emma is single and loving it. Like her first character, Alysin, Sin for short, she doesn’t believe in settling or in settling down. She loves to indulge in her passions whenever the mood strikes and enjoys keeping all of life’s cliché moments spicy.
Known for her sense of humor, Emma surrounds herself with friends whose antics often become the source of book fodder. Her ideal situation would be to explore the Caribbean while writing. She pursues that dream daily.
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