Series: Star Crossed Love #1
Cover Design: Lori Jackson Designs
Photo: Wander Aguiar
Model: Tristan Elgart
I thought he was my Prince Charming, even though Grayson was tall, brooding, and from the wrong side of the tracks…
At fifteen, he swept me off my feet.
At twenty, he shattered my heart.
When I finally dried my tears, I became a new person.
Hardened. Untouchable. Impenetrable.
Until one day, like magic, Grayson reappears. All my old scars start to ache.
He’s different, too: haunted. Brooding. Damaged.
We’re both scarred by our past and yearning to escape our present.
He protests my presence even as he kisses me under the starry sky, but it’s no use.
I’m not falling for that again – not for his glances that make me weak in the knees, not for his smoldering touches that make me tingle with need.
He’ll just disappear again, leaving me broken and alone.
That’s why I have to guard my heart – and never, ever fall for Grayson again.
Even though he’s wildly tempting. I can’t forget the way his touch felt, the heat of his lips against my skin.
And I know what we could be together… if he doesn’t shatter my heart again.
Grayson and I are star crossed. Our lives are chartered for two separate courses.
And yet even the stars fall sometimes…
I’m soon out of breath and sweating. I pause and peel my cotton t-shirt off, taking a second for a little water from my canteen. Then I go at it again, venting my rage and regret and my heartfelt sadness, watching it wash away as I continue to sweat.
By midday, I am all but boneless, both mentally and physically exhausted. I throw my shirt over my shoulder and head back down to the base camp. It’s hard to think, which is just the way I like it.
I am rounding one of the last bends before I get into camp when I run smack into Rachel. I hit her hard, sending her sprawling across the ground. She looks up at me and her breathing hitches. Her eyes wander down to my chest, which is still bare from my exertions and damp from perspiration.
For the barest second, a note of desire rises in the air between us, unbidden. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around anybody that looks at me this way. Mostly I keep to myself up here, that’s what’s so wonderful about this job.
But for a moment, I remember what it used to be like. Being wanted by women. Being ogled by them. Being the object of a woman’s desire.
Of Rachel’s desire.
I forgot how amazing that could be.
With the next breath she ruins it, though. Her expression turns sour as she picks herself up off of the ground. “You should really be more careful where you’re going.”
Just like that, the brief moment is over, the bubble popped. I roll my eyes.
“It’s not my fault. You ran into me,” I point out. “And then you bounced off me and fell, because you are a tiny person.”
Her jaw tightens. “I am a normal size for a woman.”
Rachel is pissed now and I can’t help but goad her. “Yeah. A tiny woman.”
When she dusts herself off and crosses her arms, I get a little pleasure out of knowing I’ve really annoyed her. “You are impossible. You didn’t used to be so… so…”
She makes a strangled noise deep in her throat. My eyes narrow.
“Did you want something or were you just going to fling accusations about how I used to be at me?”
She pulls a face. “You’re supposed to go through wilderness first aid with me. It’s the last class I have.”
I check my watch, trying not to roll my eyes again. “Alright. How about you meet me at the same little cabin as we were at yesterday in fifteen minutes?”
“Okay.” She shrugs.
I leave her there and hustle through cleaning myself up. Smelling my t-shirts to find the least sweated-on of the bunch, I make a note to do another load of laundry before I head out on the trail with Rachel.
Because heaven forbid she might know that I stink sometimes. I roll my eyes at myself. Still, I put on another coat of deodorant just for good measure.
Not for Rachel. Just for everyone’s sake. At least that’s what I tell myself.
When I finally walk down to the little cabin, pine needles crunching beneath my feet, she is already inside. Ducking in the too-small cabin, I start to feel a prickling sense of unease as soon as I’m inside the cabin. The walls are so close, giving me the sensation of being squeezed. At least that is how my lungs feel.
I look at how little space I’ve been given in this little room and my throat starts to close.
“Are you okay?” Rachel asks, her brow furrowing.
I nod even though the answer is clearly no. “I just…” I pause and suck in a breath. “We should study outside.”
Grabbing two of the Red Cross handbooks and Whiskey Bend’s additional addendums, I am out the door before she even has a chance to respond. Rachel trails after me as I stalk over to the nearby picnic tables.
Clearing a table of the ever-present pine needles, I motion for her to sit. She does, although she looks wary of me. Like I’m a ticking time bomb and she’s trying not to set me off sooner than planned, I guess.
Out here though at least I can breathe a lot better. Because the picnic tables weren’t designed for someone of my stature, I sit on the actual table and hand her a copy of each handbook.
“Okay.” I open the first aid handbook to the first chapter. “Here we go. Systematic Approach to Assessing, Recognizing and Caring for Adults.”
Her eyes are on me, watching. But I try to focus on the material. Letting my attention drift to her means I would wonder about her.
Whether she still has that cluster of freckles on her lower back that looks just like the Lyra constellation. Whether she still gets that intense look of concentration when she’s about to come, a breathless expression of pure want.
Those thoughts could lead to naming all the things I regret in this life. And selfishly, I just can’t afford that today.
But deep in the back of my mind, those thoughts still swirl around and around. And Rachel is finally done, when she’s taken the test and qualified for official park purposes, the thoughts are still there.
“You passed the test.” I glance at her from where I’m sitting, my guard up all the way.
Her lips lift in the ghost of a smile. She obviously wasn’t worried about not passing.
“I guess that means we are going on this trip, then.”
My heart thuds a little too loudly. I swallow and clear my throat. “Yep.”
For a second, her gaze locks with mine and it’s like she can see right through me. Before her beautiful brown eyes, I am without pretense or preamble, naked and bare for her inspection. Her lips quirk as if she is going to say something.
Then at the last second she shakes her head instead. Pushing up from the picnic table, she turns away, calling over her shoulder.
“See you, Gray.”
I feel the word is an arrow, going straight into my heart.
It’s been five years since anyone has called me that.
I stare at her walking away, swinging that pert ass of hers.
I am so, so very fucked if she keeps calling me that.
Vivian’s lasting motto in romance is a quote from a favorite song: “Soulmates never die.”
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