Chapters 1-3 As Good As New

As Good As New, Something New series # 4

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CHAPTER ONE

 

Feet sore, mind weary, Penelope Watkins surveyed the crowded dance floor as one of her best friends tugged her hand and whined, “Please, come dance with me.”

Penelope turned her attention to Sophie Kincaid with a heavy sigh. Sophie looked like a rogue Disney princess in a powder-blue, spaghetti-strapped dress that set off her blond hair and big, brown, doe eyes.

Was she the only person ready for the wedding of the century to end? She scanned the room, still crowded with guests. After midnight, the music had been cranked up to concert decibels and the dance floor was packed. Apparently, she was.

Despite the three Advils she’d taken, her head still ached. Unfortunately, she had two hours and fifteen minutes until she could take another dose, at which time she hoped to be in bed, asleep. At the thought of her fluffy comforter and pillow-top mattress, she groaned. All she wanted was to slip in under the soft down, the crisp white sheets, and close her eyes. But, as a bridesmaid at Shane and Cecilia Donovan’s wedding, she had to stay until the bitter end. Not that she wasn’t ecstatic for the couple, because, of course, she was. Shane wasn’t only her boss, but one of her closest friends and the big brother she, as an only child, had never had. Penelope had also grown quite close to his new wife, Cecilia, and couldn’t be happier Shane had finally met his match. She loved them and wished them nothing but happiness. She just wanted their wedding to be over so she could go home.

Penelope shook her head, glaring at Sophie’s four-inch heels. “Aren’t your feet killing you?”

“Hell no, come on. I need you to do a slutty little dance with me. I’m trying to drive Logan mad with lust.” Sophie gripped Penelope’s hand a little tighter and peered over her shoulder at the man in question, sighing.

Penelope couldn’t blame her. Logan Buchanan was fantasy worthy. With sharp, watchful blue eyes, dark hair, and a commanding presence that filled a room, he was the kind of man a woman was supposed to get excited about.

Unfortunately, he had no effect on Penelope.

Nope, she had to be stubborn and pine away for the first boy she’d fallen in puppy love with at the age of six. If she’d had any brains at all, she would have befriended Tiffany White, who had all sisters, the first day of kindergarten. But no, she had to sit next to Maddie Donovan-Riley.

If Penelope had picked Tiffany, she’d probably be involved with a nice accountant who liked order and comfort as much as she did. She could almost picture that life where she and her fictitious significant other would discuss spreadsheets and the best task apps for their iPads over dinner. Unlike most people, she wasn’t interested in excitement.

In her opinion boring was highly underrated.

But she wasn’t involved with a nice accountant because, like the rest of the female population, she’d taken one look at Maddie’s wild, reckless, completely unsuitable youngest brother and become instantly infatuated.

Up until then, she’d had the good sense to think boys were icky.

Unable to help herself, she scanned the room for the man in question. At six-five, Evan Donovan, pro football player and womanizing scoundrel, wasn’t hard to pick out of a crowd, but he was nowhere to be found.

She took a drink of water. Good. At least she didn’t have to look at the Barbie doll he’d brought to his brother’s wedding. Penelope was still cringing at the girl with her minuscule dress, blond-mermaid-extensioned hair, and flotation-device breasts. Some football groupie, wannabe model, if Penelope had to guess.

Aka, his normal type. Otherwise known as Penelope’s exact opposite.

She shook her head. No. She would not start down that road.

She turned back to Sophie, standing there expectantly, and smiled. “If you want to drive Logan crazy, I’m not your girl. We are strictly in the friend zone.”

Besides, she wasn’t really the type to drive men mad with lust. Sure, she was attractive enough with classic bone structure and well-formed features. Tired of wearing glasses, she’d treated herself to Lasik surgery six months ago and she’d been told by numerous dates that her blue eyes were startling against her rich, dark hair. At five-seven she had a nice, trim figure she kept in shape with workouts at the gym, yoga, and running along the lakeshore. Overall, she was a pretty woman and had nothing to complain about.

Sophie puffed out her lip in a pout that would sway most people but had little effect on Penelope. “Isn’t this just my luck? Since I really wanted to cause a scene, I tried to coerce Gracie, but stupid James said no.” Sophie released her grip on Penelope’s wrist and threw her hands up in frustration. “And she listened! I mean, really, what is that? The whole world must be mad if the great Gracie Roberts has started listening to a mere man.”

Since the woman in question might be one of the sexiest people on the planet, it was a smart choice on Sophie’s part to rope her into her quest to seduce Logan. After all, Gracie had been known to bring grown men to their knees. Only Sophie hadn’t factored the middle Donovan brother’s hold on Gracie. A pairing that Penelope had never seen coming, but damned if it didn’t seem to be working. James, a mild-mannered professor of forensic anthropology, hadn’t tamed the sex goddess per se, but when he spoke, Gracie paid attention.

In sympathy, Penelope clucked her tongue. “What are you going to do? That’s new love for you.”

“Well, it’s annoying.” Sophie grabbed her hand again. “Now come dance.”

“I’ve got a headache.”

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I don’t expect you to put out after.”

Penelope laughed. God, she loved her friends. Needed them as a reminder to do something other than work. Remember how to have fun. It wasn’t that she didn’t like fun, she did.

It was only that so many other things required her attention. With her demanding work schedule and workaholic proclivities, fun wasn’t a priority. And that’s where Sophie and Maddie came in, to reset her priorities. Why, if it weren’t for the two of them, Penelope would have spent her childhood getting into no trouble at all.

Well, except for that one thing Penelope refused to think about.

As if Maddie sensed her thoughts, she ran over to them, her heavy auburn hair spilling from the topknot after the long night of dancing. The long skirts of the deep, jeweled purple bridesmaid dress that matched Penelope’s, flounced as she came to a stop. Being the groom’s sister and bride’s sister-in-law, she’d had just as long a day as Penelope, only she seemed full of energy and not at all impatient for the wedding to wind down. She grinned. “What’s up?”

Sophie huffed, jerking her thumb toward the dance floor. “Penelope won’t dance with me so I can seduce Logan.”

Maddie threw an arm around her and squeezed. “I’ll dance with you. We’ll give everyone a show.”

Sophie’s face lit with excitement. “Mitch will be jealous.”

At the mention of her husband, Mitch Riley, Maddie laughed, and said in a sly voice, “I know. I’m in the mood for dirty sex, and this is just the kind of thing that sets him off.” Maddie gave a little shudder, obviously thinking about the dirty things Mitch had apparently already done to her.

Penelope smiled at her two best friends. Okay, she needed to shake off this mood, put her headache aside, and go party it up with her girlfriends. With Maddie living in Revival, a small town hundreds of miles south of Chicago, they didn’t get this chance very often, and Penelope refused to waste it.

Headache be damned. She’d just gulp a couple cups of coffee and dance.

She looked at her friends, wearing twin expressions filled with the same reckless, excited anticipation that had convinced her to ditch seventh period and hang out at the forest preserve with a bunch of bad boys from the public school. She smiled. “You guys go. I need to run to the ladies’ room and then I’ll come find you on the dance floor.”

Maddie rocked on her heels. “Promise?”

“Yep. Cross my heart.” Repeating the sacred promise of their youth.

Sophie winked and skipped off with Maddie, the two of them holding hands and laughing. A surefire sign they were up to no good, and Penelope had no doubt she’d return to find them gyrating on the dance floor causing quite the scene. If Logan would notice was anyone’s guess, but Maddie’s husband was bound to enjoy himself.

Penelope weaved through the crowd, pausing a few times to talk to a coworker, before she finally reached the hallway. Instead of heading to the bathroom, she veered right and headed toward the balcony, needing to clear her head.

She pushed open the door and the cool spring air brushed her cheeks and ruffled the tendrils of hair that had fallen from her twist. She breathed in deep, her pounding temples instantly easing with the music now only a distant, muffled beat. Small clusters of people filled the expanse of the balcony, enjoying the first hints of warm weather after a long, frigid Chicago winter.

Penelope searched the area for a secluded spot where she could be alone. She didn’t want to talk. She wanted quiet. To stand by herself and let the night air and skyline soothe her aching mind. It took some searching, but she finally found what she was looking for: tucked into the corner, a concrete structure partially obstructed the view, which left it deserted. She walked over to it and slipped into the tiny alcove, resting her elbows on the rails. She closed her eyes, and as a breeze blew over her skin, sighed in relief. Finally, some quiet.

And that’s when she heard a female giggle, followed by a distinct male chuckle.

Oh god, please don’t let it be him. Anyone but him. Penelope’s shoulders stiffened and she craned her neck, dread already pooling in the pit of her stomach. When her gaze locked with Evan’s, she wasn’t the least bit surprised.

Even in the dim glow of the lights, she could see his vivid green eyes boring into hers. His tux jacket was undone, along with his shirt, exposing the cords of his neck and barest hint of his strong chest. With dark hair and strong, chiseled features he was so sinfully gorgeous it was nauseating. He was also wild and reckless. He didn’t care about anything but football and screwing as many women as possible. Not her type at all.

The girl he’d brought was on her knees, working at his belt buckle. She peered over at Penelope and smiled with glossy, over-collagened lips. “Oops, busted.”

Evan’s attention didn’t leave Penelope’s and his lips curled into something that resembled a half sneer. “Hey, little Penny.”

She wanted to scream. She hated when he called her that. She clenched her hands and thought about committing acts of violence. She wanted to kick him, throw a drink in his face, or maybe grab the girl hovering at his crotch by the hair and scalp her.

But that wasn’t the role she played. No, she was a calm, rational, logical person. She swallowed her emotions and turned, keeping her expression cool and impassive. She flicked a dismissive glance at the woman who didn’t have the decency to get off her knees, and smirked. “Evan. I see your girlfriend’s mom let her out past curfew.”

This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes Penelope wondered if he did it on purpose. Just to hurt her. Although, in fairness, that probably gave him too much credit. Penelope doubted he thought that deeply.

The girl rose and plastered her hands on spandex-encased hips. “I’m twenty-two.”

Penelope laughed, and let her eyes go wide. “Wow, twenty-two, you’re practically ancient.”

“Who is this woman?” the girl asked, her voice filled with scorn.

Penelope shifted her attention back to Evan. “I’m nobody.”

“Evan?” his date asked, before slithering alongside him.

His expression flickered. “She’s my sister’s best friend.”

“Nobody you need to concern yourself with,” Penelope said.

“I didn’t think so.” The girl flipped her hair, but her eyes were wary behind her overly mascaraed lashes. The girl might be young, but she was no fool, and she sensed the undercurrents lacing the air. She looked at Evan, who still watched Penelope as though searching for something. The girl’s lips curled. “You’re hardly his type.”

True. Since his current age cutoff for dating seemed to be around twenty-five, she was long past her prime. Penelope gave the child her sweetest smile. “Of course not, I’m an adult.”

The girl opened her mouth to say something, but Evan shook his head and encircled her wrist. “Go wait for me inside, babe.”

Penelope stifled the gasp and resisted the urge to react. What was he doing? They were never alone together. Those were the rules.

The girl pouted. “But, Evan.”

“Go. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Penelope didn’t know what he was up to, but she wouldn’t stand for it. She held up her hands. “No, don’t let me bother you. I’m leaving.”

He looked like he was about to say something, but then he stopped, and shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

The girl curled into Evan, draping her perfect, Playboy body all over him, and giving Penelope a smug smile. “You didn’t forget your walker, did you?”

Evan’s jaw tightened, and for a fraction of a second Penelope thought he’d be decent and put the girl in her place, but then his expression smoothed into impassive.

His refusal to defend her stuck like a thorn in her side, reminding her just how much she didn’t like him. She shifted her attention back to the twenty-two-year-old. “By the way, he doesn’t know your name.”

The girl’s smugness fell away. “Um, yeah, he does.”

Penelope shook her head. “Nope. Sorry. He always calls you girls ‘babe’ when he doesn’t remember.” She flicked a glance at Evan. “Have fun.”

Then, before she could get caught up in any more of his crap, she turned and walked away.

Last thing she heard was “babe” asking Evan what her name was, but Penelope didn’t have to stick around to wait for the answer. She knew Evan and he had no idea.

Of course, as a famous, bad-boy football player who was notoriously reported as insatiable and wild, Penelope knew it wouldn’t matter. Evan would get his blow job, and probably a hundred other things, before the night was through.

Little things like names didn’t matter in the NFL.

Penelope slipped inside and hurried down the hallway, searching for a place to collect herself. When she found a tiny recess at the end of a corridor, she rested against the wall, squeezing her lids tight.

For a smart woman, she sure was stupid.

She had everything she could want from life. A great home, respect, friends, and a family who loved her. She had an MBA from Northwestern, and was admired by her colleagues for her logical, analytical brain that could solve even the toughest of problems. Shane had recently promoted her to chief operating officer of the Donovan Corporation, with a huge salary and even bigger bonus.

She’d done everything right. She’d walked the straight and narrow. Made no big mistakes. She’d achieved success beyond her wildest imagination.

And what was she doing with all these brains of hers? Still pining for Evan Donovan.

It was so ridiculous and frustrating. Crushes that began at six were supposed to end. They weren’t supposed to plague her at thirty-one.

She rubbed at her temples. She’d tried countless times over the years to talk herself out of him, but it hadn’t worked. Ironically, her heart seemed to be the only impetuous, self-destructive thing about her.

And she’d tried. God knew how hard she’d tried. She’d dated plenty of men. Good men who appreciated her and treated her the way she deserved. And still she couldn’t forget Evan, or the past that meant more to her than to him. He lingered in the back of her mind, always present.

She didn’t even like the man he’d become. He wasn’t a real man by her definition. More like an overgrown frat boy. The grown-up version of Evan, she could get over.

Only her memories wouldn’t allow that.

No matter how many times she’d told herself that boy was a figment of her imagination, her heart refused to believe. And thus, like every bad country song ever written, she pined for a man who would never love her in return.

She hated it, but didn’t know how to stop it from being true.

The one saving grace was that nobody knew. Not her friends. Not her parents. Not even a stranger on the street. No one. She refused to even write his name in her journal for fear someone would discover the truth.

She hid her feelings well. She never reacted. Always played it cool. And no one had ever guessed. In the long list of humiliations she’d suffered at the hands of Evan Donovan, this wouldn’t be one of them.

This secret would follow her to the grave.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Six months later

 

The expansive, messy desk separated Penelope from her boss and friend, and as he talked on the phone, she sat and tapped her high heel on the carpet, her one concession to fidgeting when what she really wanted was to pace around his office like a madwoman. Her brow creased in concern as she listened to Shane talk to his mom.

Things were bad. These conversations were becoming a daily occurrence.

While he talked, Penelope carried on a mental conversation to remind herself that this crisis was none of her business. That it had nothing to do with her. That, despite her closeness to the Donovans, she was not, in fact, family.

“I’ve tried,” Shane said, tone beyond frustrated as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know what else to do, Mom.”

Penelope fiddled with the cover of her iPad and tried to distance herself, but it was impossible. Not when the subject matter was the man she couldn’t forget. Or the deep depression that seemed to have taken ahold of Evan, and wouldn’t let go.

Four months ago, he’d taken a hard hit that ended in a severe concussion.

It had been a home game against Minnesota. Penelope had watched, horrified, as he’d gone down. It happened so quickly. One second his body had arched, stretched gracefully into the air as he caught the ball for the winning touchdown, the next he’d been tackled midair by an overzealous rookie. When the play had been called, Evan hadn’t gotten up. An unnatural hush fell over the stadium as the team doctors attempted to revive him. Penelope had sat glued to her screen, her heart in her throat, as he’d been wheeled off the field unconscious.

When he’d come to, he’d been told his days of playing football were over. That he couldn’t risk one more bad hit.

Those first couple of nights had been rough, for everyone. While Penelope fought the urge to sneak into the hospital to see him, she’d soothed her need to take action by caring for the rest of the Donovans the best she could.

She’d handled everything for Shane, managing and rearranging his schedule, talking to clients, and handing out tasks to the executive team so he could focus on his family. She’d offered Maddie a shoulder to cry on and told her everything was going to be all right. She’d made Mrs. Donovan chicken noodle soup, and had a service go clean her house. Privately, though, she’d been distressed right along with them as Evan sank deeper and deeper into his depression.

“Okay, I’ll try again,” Shane said, pulling Penelope from her thoughts. “I will.” Pause. “I’ll do my best.” Longer pause. “He’s an adult, Mom, I can’t force him.”

Penelope had overheard many of these conversations between Shane and members of his family and she felt horrible for all of them, but Shane in particular. This was one problem he couldn’t fix and it was eating him up inside.

“Yeah, Mom, I know.” Shane looked at her with pleading eyes, but there was nothing Penelope could do. “I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to him again and let you know.”

Shane hung up the phone and blew out a breath. “Fuck.”

Penelope stood, walking over to the cabinet to pull out the emergency bottle of Advil, she made sure his admin kept stocked his office. She shook out three, poured a glass of water, and returned to Shane with an outstretched palm. “Here, take these.”

He didn’t argue, popping the pills and downing them with a large gulp.

When she’d graduated from college she’d known she wanted to work at the Donovan Corporation, which, at the time, was a fledgling company. Shane wouldn’t hear of it, but she’d hounded him until he finally relented, attempting to scare her off by giving her the job as his assistant.

It hadn’t worked.

She’d labored tirelessly to prove herself until her position had grown in both scope and responsibility. Now as COO she truly was his right-hand man. She ran all the operations of the company, but she’d never gotten out of the habit of looking after him. After all these years together, he trusted her more than anyone else, and they were more friends than boss and employee. He took care of everyone, and she took care of him.

He put down the water glass. “Thanks.”

Penelope sat back down. Don’t ask. She asked anyway. She needed information. “Evan?”

Shane nodded, his green eyes bloodshot after the long day. “I don’t know what they want me to do, Pen.”

In sympathy, Penelope frowned. “You saved them once, they want you to save them again.”

After his father’s death, Shane had worked his ass off to make ends meet and save his family from financial ruin. He’d worked tirelessly until he’d built his company into one of the largest commercial real estate firms in Chicago. Now he was rich and powerful, with a connected wife and influence all over the city, but he was powerless to help his brother.

And Shane didn’t do well with powerless.

“I’ve tried everything I can think of.” Shane shook his head. “I’ve tried being nice, tried kicking his ass, brought therapists to him, but nothing penetrates.”

“How long has it been since he’s left his apartment?” Penelope understood what the game meant to Evan. Once upon a time they’d talked extensively, and she knew football was the only thing in this world he cared about. It was his one true love.

And now that it was over, he couldn’t handle it.

“Don’t know,” Shane said. “A while. Last three times I saw him he was dead drunk. I don’t know what to do. It’s killing my mom.”

Penelope nodded. “It’s tearing up Maddie too. She hoped to make progress when she came down last weekend, but it didn’t work.”

“James has tried too, and you know if anyone can take care of business it’s him, but it fell on deaf ears.” Shane sighed. “I’m at a loss. When my dad died Evan was still underage. I had some control over what he did. Although he sure as shit doesn’t act like it, he’s a grown adult, and it’s out of my hands.” He pointed at the phone. “But they won’t accept that.”

“You can’t save Evan,” she said, stating what he already knew, but it was important for him to understand. “You can only hope he sees the light.”

Shane swiveled in his chair. “I could handle rage. But he’s just despondent and unresponsive. When you talk to him, it’s like he’s staring right through you. It’s scary as hell.”

“I’m sure he’ll come through this.” The words rang as hollow as she felt. The truth was, she didn’t know. If he chose to give up, there wasn’t anything anyone could do. He had money and resources, so there was no reason he couldn’t hole up in his condo and refuse to come out. He didn’t have to worry about paying his bills or putting food on the table to propel him out of bed in the morning.

Penelope understood him well enough to know that was part of the problem. Evan needed purpose; he just believed football was the only way he could achieve that.

The intercom rang and Shane glared at it. “My five o’clock. You take off. Enjoy the sunshine. And that’s an order.”

Penelope smiled, and jumped up. “You don’t have to ask me twice.”

Shane laughed and she returned to her office, at least partially appeased that she’d lightened his mood, if only for a brief minute. She sat down at her desk and opened her e-mail to return any messages that couldn’t wait until tomorrow, but her eyes glazed over as soon as she started reading, unable to stop thinking about Evan.

Something had to push him out of his apathy. It was killing his family. And it was killing him.

Penelope nibbled on her bottom lip, an impossible idea stirring in her mind.

He needed a push, and she knew him, in some ways better than anyone. Could she help? Once she would have been certain of her power to persuade him, but that had been a long time ago.

It wasn’t her business. He wouldn’t welcome the intrusion. Hell, he’d probably throw her out.

But the Donovans needed a long shot and maybe she was it.

 

Evan Donovan punched the end button on his phone and wished for the old days when he could slam the receiver into the cradle.

It had been his mom again. Crying. Again.

God, he was such an asshole. He didn’t want to make her cry, but they wouldn’t stop calling. And all he wanted was for them to fucking stop. His so-called friends had gotten the hint and left him alone; why couldn’t they do the same? It was the downfall of having a close-knit family; they were relentless in their attempts to pull him from a depression he only wanted to sink into.

Having given up drinking from a glass a couple of days ago, he took a long pull off his bottle of whiskey.

They didn’t understand. Nobody understood. To them, it was just a game. If he couldn’t play, nobody died. Nobody got hurt. In fact, he’d already been replaced by the rookie who had nipped at his heels all season. His career was over and the game had gone on without him.

The world hadn’t come to an end for anyone but him.

He had no idea what to do now. Football was all he’d ever been good at.

He wasn’t smart like James. Didn’t have killer instincts like Shane. He wasn’t a survivor like Maddie. The only thing he did in life was play ball. It had defined him for so long he had no clue who he was without it.

When his dad died, football had been the grounding force of his life. It had become his distraction. His drug of choice. It was how he’d medicated through his father’s death, his sister’s coma, and his family’s desperation. It was how he’d numbed the pain and fixed everything that was fucked up and broken about him. The game had been his salvation, his religion.

And now it was gone.

The worst part was, he’d known the hit would be a bad one. Had seen the blood in the overzealous player’s eyes, as he’d come barreling toward him. Evan had a choice, and he’d chosen the touchdown.

It had been a mistake. And now his entire life had been fucked because of it. So, like any good addict, he’d turned to a new drug. Whiskey.

His new religion.

He sat in his apartment, got drunk, played video games and passed out. It kept him numb and mean, and pushed everyone away, which was exactly what he wanted.

Only his family refused to leave him be. They just kept coming, forcing him to deal with the outside world and his lack of a place in it.

The door buzzer rang and he growled. He hit the button on his phone to quell the insistent noise, too shrill in his head. “I don’t want visitors, Carl.”

A refined, disembodied voice came over the line. The doorman’s inflection never changed, no matter how surly Evan became. “It’s a delivery, sir. From Mr. Shane Donovan.”

He snarled. His oldest brother had appointed himself as Evan’s father figure when their dad died, and had been riding his ass ever since. “They can leave it at the desk, I’ll get it later.”

Shane—or maybe his wife, Cecilia—had taken to sending over food for fear he’d starve.

There was a long pause before Carl came back over the line. “The woman says you have to sign for it.”

“Sign my name,” Evan said and hung up.

A second later the phone rang again. “Apologies, Mr. Donovan, but the signature must be yours.”

Evan sighed. If he didn’t live in a high-rise penthouse he wouldn’t have to deal with a doorman. Maybe he should move someplace nobody knew him. “Send them up, the door’s open.”

He grumbled, shifting in the chair that now had a permanent imprint of his ass and taking a swig from the bottle. Maybe he’d disappear for a while to some remote place in upper Wisconsin or Michigan, where no one would bother him. While he contemplated his options as a recluse, the door pushed open and Penelope Watkins stood in front of him.

Fucking hell.

His worst nightmare come to life.

Framed in his doorway, her dark, glossy hair curved over her shoulders in a gentle wave as those killer blue eyes of hers zeroed in on him, her mouth pursed in disapproval. In a black pencil skirt with a wide black belt, high heels, and a white button-down, she managed to look both proper and lethal.

As a teenager she’d been sweet and adorable, but with age she’d grown into her looks. There was no longer anything cute about her. In fact, she was quite beautiful. A fact she seemed oblivious to. Or maybe she, unlike the women he dated, didn’t care about those kinds of superficialities.

Since the day she’d started high school, when he’d been a junior, she’d been making his cock hard, and despite the alcohol numbing his system, he stirred to life.

She was the last person on earth he wanted to see and he had no qualms about letting her know it. He pointed the bottle at the door. “Get out.”

“Hello to you too,” she said in that no-nonsense voice of hers that held the barest hint of rasp.

A rasp he knew just how to coax out.

She stepped in and closed the door.

He went from stirring to hard, and he wanted to punch a hole in the wall. Figured. His cock always had a mind of its own when it came to her. It was what had gotten him into trouble with her in the first place all those years ago.

He needed her gone. Yesterday. She was the last person he wanted in his house, witnessing the wreck he’d become. “I mean it, Penelope. Fuck. Off.”

She entered the living room and crossed her arms over her chest. “Nice language.”

Why the hell did she have to look so damn perfect?

He took a sip from the bottle and swallowed with a hiss. He was drunk as hell, and twice as mean, so he didn’t think twice about breaking the unspoken rules they’d established long ago. In his muddled brain she’d crossed the boundary, now she had to pay. “You didn’t mind my language when I was making you come.”

She hit him with that dead-on stare of hers. “Really? You’re going to go there? Not even a hello first?”

It was wrong that she looked so perfect while he sat here wrecked. He needed to ruffle all that damn composure of hers. He smirked. “I still remember the way my knuckles moved under those white cotton panties of yours while I got you off.”

Her expression didn’t even flicker as she kicked aside a bottle on the floor, before reaching down and picking up a shirt and tossing it on the couch. “Are you trying to shock me?”

He’d fired his cleaning service and the place had gone to hell. He didn’t want to be around people, and he sure as hell didn’t want to be around Penelope, who’d never had a disorganized day in her life. He sneered. “After all the things I’ve done to you, can you still get shocked?”

“That was a long time ago, Evan.”

Not so long he didn’t remember every detail. She might talk a good game, and she was very convincing in her indifference, but she didn’t fool him. She remembered. It had been too good between them. So good, all the supermodels in the world couldn’t erase the imprint she had left behind. He’d screwed some of the most beautiful women in the world in an effort to forget her, but late at night, alone, Penelope was the woman he thought of.

She picked up a pile of magazines and put them on the table next to the glass.

“Stop fucking cleaning!” he yelled. Why, after all this time, was she here?

His booming voice didn’t rattle her, and with her customary poise she came to stand in front of him. “Are you done with your temper tantrum?”

He leveled her with his meanest, trash-talking sneer. “You haven’t even begun to see my temper, little Penny.”

She scoffed, shaking her head. “There’s not much you can do to me, is there?”

A subtle reminder he’d already inflicted enough damage, not that he’d ever forget. It’s why he stayed as far away from her as possible. And why she stayed away from him. Unspoken rules they’d agreed to long ago. If he was smart, he’d let her have her say so she’d leave, but right now common sense had no effect on him. He raised a brow. “You ever tell anyone, Pen? About all the dirty things I used to do to you?”

“Nope,” she said, her voice flippant. “Hardly seemed worth the mention.”

“Liar.” He shifted in his seat, adjusting his balls that now felt full and heavy.

Her gaze dipped, lingering where his hand rested, before flicking back up to look into his eyes. As usual, her sharp, direct gaze cut right through him, reminding him he’d never lived up to the expectations she’d set. And how the fuck could he? Once she’d acted like he was a god, when in reality he was a mere mortal. A flawed mortal who couldn’t even take a proper hit to the head without it sidelining him for good.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t come here to discuss the past.”

He took another drink, his eyes making their way leisurely over her body, remembering all too clearly how she’d felt under his hands. Way back when he was supposed to leave her alone. He’d managed to keep his hands to himself until she was sixteen. She’d been good and pure and all wrong for him, and in the end he hadn’t been able to help himself. Now, his palms practically itched to touch her again. Which was why he needed to get rid of her. “I don’t care why you’re here, I just want you to get out.”

“I’m not leaving until I’ve said my piece.”

That had always been her downfall; she had no sense of self-preservation when it came to him. “And what’s that?”

“We need to talk about your life.” Her voice calm and steady, at complete odds with his inner chaos.

“My life,” he said, anger and defensiveness fighting their way through the numbness of his brain, “is none of your concern.”

She shrugged. “True, but you’re going to listen to me anyway.”

“And why should I?”

As she walked toward him, he opened his legs. To his surprise, she stepped between them. “Because you owe me.”

Desire roared inside him, mixing with the alcohol and making him stupid. She was so close. She felt like everything he needed. She made him remember what it felt like to feel human. Invincible. And he needed that right now.

Unable to resist, he did something he’d sworn he’d never do again, and reached for her. His hands splayed wide over her hips and he tugged her forward, running his hands along the curve of her body. She felt achingly familiar and so good he leaned his head against her stomach and closed his eyes.

A second later her fingers threaded in his hair. She didn’t push him away. Why, he didn’t know, but he was grateful.

They’d been teenagers. She’d been his sister’s best friend. He’d been the star of the school and she’d been nobody. She hadn’t been flashy, or popular, or a cheerleader, like the girls he’d dated, but whenever she’d come over he couldn’t help noticing her. She hadn’t been someone the guys he hung out with talked about. At school Evan pretended like she wasn’t even alive, but secretly, he couldn’t stop looking at her in her neatly pressed, Catholic school uniform. He’d been strangely fascinated by her prim and proper demeanor, but he’d never planned on seducing her.

That had just sort of happened.

One night when she’d slept over and been unable to sleep, and not wanting to disturb Maddie, she made her way down to the basement rec room to watch TV. He’d been there, watching game tapes. She’d tried to leave, but he’d insisted she stay. He’d wanted her alone, to be with her even though he’d convinced himself he thought of her platonically.

That night they’d ended up talking for hours.

Somehow their late-night meetings had become ritual, and whenever she’d slept over they’d meet downstairs. They’d never discussed or planned it, but as soon as his sister went to sleep that’s where they’d be.

The more they talked, the more he found himself telling her things he’d never told anyone. She didn’t seem impressed with his football stats. He didn’t have to play a role. With her, he hadn’t had to be anything but who he really was.

It hadn’t taken him long to figure out she liked him, which hadn’t surprised him. Lots of girls liked him; what surprised him was how much he liked her. Not just the stirring of hormones he experienced when watching her, but her. Soon he had more fun sitting on that old couch than he had hanging out with his buddies.

When he’d started canceling plans for a chance to be with her, it made him nervous. When he started fantasizing about corrupting her, he’d promised himself he’d never touch her.

A vow he’d kept for six long months before he’d finally given in to temptation and kissed her.

At the time he’d been going out with Kim Rossi, a girl who would let him do anything he wanted. But the sex hadn’t compared to what he’d been doing with Penelope, who held nothing back when he touched her. She’d been so sweet he couldn’t resist. Having broken his own rules, he’d revised his vow, making a new promise to leave her virginity intact. Anything else was fair game as long as he didn’t seduce her into sex. They’d spent endless hours fooling around. Evan could still recall every moment of sheer madness.

The feel of her questing hands and hot, hungry mouth.

Now she was here, and it seemed imperative he remind her how it had been between them. He ran his hands over her back, and kissed her flat stomach.

She sucked in a breath and her body shuddered. “Evan.”

He bit at the button on her blouse, tugging it with his teeth. “Do you remember, Penelope? How hot it used to be?”

Her fingers tightened in his hair.

“You made me so damn crazy.” He gripped her waist, and when he found an opening between the buttons, he licked her bare skin. She tasted even better than he remembered.

She gasped, a tiny moan escaping a mouth he needed to possess.

He popped the button, exposing a tiny strip of flesh, and he pressed a hot, openmouthed kiss to her belly. “How many times did you ride my cock with nothing but thin cotton separating us?”

Hard, insatiable lust roared inside him, blocking out the buzz in his head, reminding him how powerful she’d made him feel. He ran his tongue over her belly button. “How many times?”

“Countless.” Her voice breathless, that turned-on rasp of hers undeniable.

He raised his head to take in the blaze of her blue eyes, the soft, wet pout of her lips. “Do you remember the first time we kissed?”

Her nails dug into his neck. “I remember.”

 

His lips on her stomach, his tongue trailing over her skin was like coming home. She didn’t know why she let him touch her. Maybe it had been too long. Maybe it was because she wanted to feel his mouth on her skin and big hands on her body.

Or maybe he was drunk and she gambled he wouldn’t remember, so she indulged herself.

Regardless of her messed-up reasons, she needed to stop.

This wasn’t why she’d come. But, as it had always been, the second she was alone with him, common sense eluded her. He’d always been her Achilles’ heel. He’d been the one person who could make her take wild, reckless actions.

It’s why she stayed far away from him.

And why she didn’t push him away now.

His hands slid down her legs and under the hem of her skirt.

She should stop him.

She put her hands on his shoulders with the intention of pushing him away, but then his hands moved up her thighs, and her knees weakened. Somehow, through sheer will, she found the words she needed to say. “You need to stop this.”

He lifted his chin and his green eyes bore into her. “Do you remember how you were always so damn greedy? Like you were going to crawl into me.”

She gritted her teeth. She remembered. Everything. In vivid Technicolor.

His fingers climbed higher on her thigh.

Hot breath across her skin. Another lick across her belly.

Her mind went fuzzy with the desire she’d suppressed for years.

“God, you used to drive me so crazy.” The words whispered in that same sinful voice in both her fantasies and nightmares.

She needed to get this back under control or she’d do something she’d regret.

She steeled her spine. “Let’s get back on topic.”

“What’s the topic?” His mouth brushed over her abdomen, making the muscles there quiver.

“Your life. You need to pull it together, Evan.” Good, her voice sounded reasonably calm. Like she was in complete control and not affected by him. “You need to sober up, take a shower, and stop making your mom cry.”

He gripped her legs and pulled her forward. “Come sit on my lap.”

“No.” Her tone was certain, but she hadn’t stepped back to a safe distance. She’d always been a glutton for punishment where he was concerned.

“I miss you in my lap.” His fingers brushed the hem of her panties at the curve of her ass. “I think you miss it too.”

She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of his hands on her flesh for one last moment. His palms were so big and warm, and even as a teenager he’d known just how to touch her. The way no other man had touched her since, regardless of how bad she’d wanted it to be true.

Which was why she needed to stop.

She took a deep breath.

Time to put an end to this and get to the heart of her visit. She snapped her lids open and put a hand on his arm. “You’ve had plenty of women warming your lap over the years. Call one of them.”

“I don’t want them, I want you.”

“Bullshit.” She pulled back. His fingers tightened on her body before they fell away. She felt the loss, the coldness of her skin where the heat of his palms had branded her. She stepped out of touching distance and put on her best poker face. The one she wore when negotiations weren’t going well and she didn’t want to show her hand. “You’re drunk. You’re lonely. And I’m available. It’s the same damn story, only we’re adults instead of teenagers.”

The desire slid from his face. He leaned back in his chair, his expression turning once again into the smug, entitled playboy. “You were always good for an ego stroke, Penny. Always so needy and willing.”

“Fuck you.” She slapped him hard across the face, then reared back, stunned. Her hand tingled with the force of her blow.

He rubbed his jaw and that cruel smile curled his lips. “What? You want me to pretend it meant something?”

That was the thing about him. He’d been so damn good at making her believe. It was why she’d given him all of her firsts to begin with. Yes, he’d ignored her existence outside in the real world, but down in that basement, he’d made her believe. She’d been young and stupid. She’d deluded herself into thinking she was special.

She’d been wrong. She’d never make the same mistake again.

No longer a shy kid, she leaned forward and looked him dead in the eye. “I don’t believe a single thing that comes out of your mouth. I know you’re not capable of loving anyone or anything but yourself. I know you used me. I know it didn’t mean anything. I know I was just some little girl who worshiped you and you took advantage of that.”

She straightened, on a roll now, releasing all the pent-up emotion she carried around with her. “But you know what? That’s on you. Not me. I was honest and I was pure. I gave you my heart and you threw it in my face.” She jabbed a finger in his chest. “That’s on you, and you’re the one who has to look at yourself in the mirror, which you obviously can’t or else you wouldn’t be drunk half the day.”

He just stared at her, his eyes burning with what she could only define as rage. But she was past caring, and continued on, ruthless in her attack. “If it was up to me you could rot, but I’m not here for you. I’m here for them. For the family that you’re hurting with your selfish self-destruction.”

“Are you through?” Tone cold, his green eyes flat.

“No.” Her voice snapped through the air like a whip.

His gaze never left hers as he took another long drink from the bottle. She wanted to snatch it from him and fling it across the room until it shattered, but that wasn’t her decision to make.

He had to make the choice. Not her.

She felt sick but continued. She crossed her arms over her chest. “You lost your career. I’m sorry. I know football was the only thing in your life you actually cared about. It sucks. I get it. But do the math, Evan: You’re thirty-three. You only really had a couple years left anyway. Football is a young man’s game and you were almost past your prime.”

“That’s bullshit.” The words exploded, vibrating through the air. “I was at the top of my game.”

She hated to do this, but there was no other way. “You had three more years, tops. The average age of retirement is thirty-five. In the scheme of things you lost two to three years. It’s not the end of the world.”

“Get out,” he spat, leaving behind no traces of the man who’d touched her.

Ruthless, she stepped forward and put her hands on the chair, bending so she was eye level with him. “Let me put this in words your football brain will understand. Stop being a pussy. Man up and get your shit together.”

“Get out or I’ll throw you out myself.” His fingers drew so tight around the bottle she was surprised it didn’t crack under the force.

She straightened. “I’ll show myself to the door.”

She’d said what she’d needed to. The rest was up to him.

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

Evan woke, face planted in his couch, with the worst hangover of his life.

Everything ached. His head pounded against his skull like a jackhammer and it felt like his stomach was being eaten from the inside out by battery acid. Slowly, carefully, he sat up, his joints creaking on the way. Vision swimming, he rested his elbows on his knees, praying for a swift, sudden death. He scrubbed a hand over his jaw, before pressing his thumbs into his eye sockets, hoping to clear the cobwebs from his brain.

What in the hell happened last night? All he remembered was the bottle of whiskey, Call of Duty, and darkness.

A flash of memory. Of Penelope. He frowned.

Had she been here? Or had it been a dream? He still dreamed of her sometimes, but usually he dreamed of her the way she’d been back then, her glossy hair spread out over his chest, her blue eyes flirting up at him.

The image in his head this miserable morning was of her in one of her pencil skirts and a white blouse. The current version of her that looked at him with cold eyes, lips curved in distain.

Why would she come here? She never came to him. Not even when he’d been in the hospital.

He blinked gritty lids and tried to piece together the dull memories of the night before. He remembered he’d started drinking at four when Maddie had called, full of pleading tears.

He’d caught a buzz by the time James called and tried to reason with him.

He squinted. Remembering the endless hours of whiskey and gaming.

His mom called. He’d yelled and made her cry. He’d felt like shit. Worse than shit.

He’d drunk more.

The door.

Penelope. Yes, she had been there. Standing in his house, making him confront things he wanted to bury.

His encounter with her came flooding back, and for a moment he thought he was going to be sick. After all these years she’d come to him, and he’d been a total bastard. Had he really said those things to her? Touched her? Been cruel?

He rubbed his cheek. She’d slapped him and he’d deserved it. Had he really told her she was good for an ego stroke? That she hadn’t meant anything to him?

Jesus, he was an asshole.

She was right; he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror.

She’d been nothing but good, which is why he’d set her free that morning after the car accident that killed his father and left his sister in a coma, when he’d been out of his mind with grief. As a teenager he’d had no willpower when it came to her, and with his life in ruins and college on the horizon, he was sure there was no place for her. So he’d done the only thing he’d known would work, and broken her heart. Between his father’s sudden death, his sister’s life hanging on by a thread, and the cruel way he’d treated Penelope, it had been the worst day of his life.

After he’d shattered everything that had been good between them, he’d never let his guard down around her again.

She was too dangerous.

At seventeen he’d assumed she’d fade out of his life, but that never happened. She’d stuck. When he saw her he played his role and she played hers. They never discussed their past. Hell, they made sure to never be alone. But he found ways to remind her. Because he was a selfish prick, and he never wanted her to forget.

She never took it though. She always hit back. As she should. She’d hit hard last night, and he’d deserved it.

Unlike his family, who treated him with kid gloves, Penelope had laid it right on the line, confronting him with the cold, hard truth. Everything she’d said was right.

He was mourning a career that was almost over.

He was spoiled.

Entitled.

He had no idea how to go about filling the void. So like a pussy, he’d folded.

He looked around his wreck of an apartment.

His dad would be so disappointed. He’d never have let him get away with this shit.

Evan took a deep breath and picked up the phone. First things first. He pushed the button and called his mom. She answered on the second ring. “Evan, please tell me you’re okay.”

Her desperate, concerned voice made his chest squeeze.

He squinted at bottles, empty cups, and dirty dishes lining the coffee table and tried to clear the tightness from his throat. “I’m sorry about last night.”

“It’s okay,” she said, her motherly tone far too forgiving.

“No, it’s not.” He dragged his hand through his hair, grown too long now. “I’m sorry I made you cry.”

“You were upset.”

“It’s not a good excuse.”

“We’re so worried about you.” Her voice cracked and he felt like the worst kind of asshole.

“Please, Mom, don’t cry.” How had he let it get this far?

She sniffed and he could just picture her, holding up a tissue under her lashes. He’d always hated to see her cry.

“I don’t know what to do to help you,” she said.

Penelope’s words came back to him, that his behavior was on him, and him alone. To her, there was a right way to act and a wrong way. Unlike him, she had the strength to put her money where her mouth was. She was like Shane that way, steel spines and gritty dispositions that would not quit in the face of adversity. “There’s nothing you can do. I’ve got to figure this out on my own.”

“It’s hard, as a mother. I want to fix it and make it all better.”

“You can’t fix my head or me, and you can’t let me treat you like shit because of it.” It was a start, a small one, but it would have to do.

“Language, young man,” she said, reprimanding him like the good old days.

A smile ghosted his lips and it made him realize just how long it had been. “I’ll find a way to pull it together.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

Happiness seemed too insurmountable of a goal right now, but there was one promise he could make and keep. “I won’t make you cry again. Deal?”

“Deal. I love you, baby boy. Let us help you. We’re your family.”

His throat tightened again and he nodded. “I’ll try. Love you too, Mom.”

He hung up and looked around his apartment. It was a fucking disaster. The easy thing to do was call his service and have them take care of the place, but he wasn’t going to do that. He’d made the mess; he’d clean it up.

It was time to get his shit together. Time to make amends.

 

Penelope curled up on her couch with a glass of wine and a book in her lap. It had been a long, exhausting day. She opened it with every intention of reading, only to promptly zone out, thinking about Evan. She’d been busy enough to put the scene from her mind, but now that she finally had a chance to relax, it rushed back to last night.

She ran her hand over the printed words. Had she done the right thing? She’d broken that unspoken barrier between them and called him out.

There would be consequences.

Or maybe there wouldn’t.

Since the morning after his father died, Evan had put a wall between them that years had only strengthened. He’d shut her down cruelly and absolutely, and until last night she’d never stepped over the line.

She only hoped it was worth it, because with her visit she’d revealed that she still cared.

That he affected her.

She trembled, remembering his hands on her thighs, his mouth on her skin. The sound of his voice when he’d said he missed her in his lap.

That stupid part of her had wanted nothing more than to sink into him. But it had been the alcohol talking, not him. Right? One brush of his mouth across her skin did not negate his actions over all these years. The dismissive way he treated her. The supermodels he’d flaunted in front of her.

Those actions spoke volumes, and she refused to believe the desperation in his voice or the feel of his hands on her body. That had always been her downfall with him, believing the small moments in time instead of the big picture. She shook her head, clearing it of the destructive thoughts. It was that exact thinking that had gotten her into this mess in the first place.

She could still recall every detail of the first time she’d ever seen Evan. She’d been in kindergarten and he’d been in the second grade. She’d met Maddie in line before school and they’d been instant friends. The first time she’d gone over to Maddie’s house had been a revelation.

Penelope was a late-in-life baby, born to parents who believed they’d never have children. They were older than the other parents, more tired. They loved her, but growing up had been a quiet, staid affair. The second she’d stepped into the Donovan household had been like every family comedy on television. Like everything she thought a family should be, with its chaos and mayhem. A stark contrast to her own careful family life, she’d loved being there.

Maddie and Penelope had been going up the stairs to play Barbies in her room when Shane had come barreling down the stairs, followed by Evan seconds later. She’d watched in wonder as he seemed to fly through the air and tackle Shane to the floor. The two of them broke out into a wrestling match as they fought about who-knew-what.

Mrs. Donovan had come rushing in from the kitchen to pull the two boys apart. Maddie complained Evan had pushed Penelope down, and their mom demanded he apologize. Evan had looked up at her, brown hair flopping over one eye, grinned, and uttered an insincere apology.

Penelope had looked at him and thought—I’m going to marry him one day.

A silly, childish notion.

With older parents, Penelope had spent as much time as she could at the Donovans’. When Penelope went to grade school her mom was in her early fifties. Her dad, ten years older than his wife, had been recently diagnosed with MS. Rightly so, her mother had focused on his care, and Penelope had focused on being a model child. She’d been self-sufficient, well behaved, and excelled in school. And she’d been lonely. That’s where the Donovans had come in.

Maddie was the best friend a girl could ask for. Penelope had loved her spontaneous recklessness, so different from her own quiet, organized world. She used to pretend she was part of their family, and it hadn’t been hard; they were warm, inviting, and didn’t seem to mind that she spent far too much time there. As an added bonus Penelope had soaked up any interaction she had with Evan, and fed her puppy-dog crush.

Of course, he was one of the cool, popular kids, and she was considered a good girl in her perfect uniform, shining shoes, and glasses. Always smart, she’d been in honors classes, and while her friendship with Maddie kept her from being a total social pariah, she’d never been the kind of girl boys liked. She’d been too prim and proper. She’d never flirted or wore makeup. Had never rolled up the waistband of her uniform to get boys to notice her. She never cared either, since the only boy she’d been interested in was the one boy she couldn’t have.

Evan was the king of their school. He was the best looking, tallest, and the star football player. He’d walk through the halls and everyone wanted a piece of him. After all, it was clear he was destined for greatness. When he started getting scouted earlier than most kids, his legendary status only grew. Every girl wanted him, would fight to be with him, but he only dated cheerleaders, which Penelope was not. Other than being his kid sister’s friend, Evan hadn’t known she was alive.

That was, until she started meeting him in the basement. At first, they’d been completely platonic. They’d talked, played cards, laughed, and watched TV. Slowly, over time, he’d started touching her. Soft, innocent touches that would mess with her mind and body.

A brush across her knee. A fingertip down her arm. A glance over her back.

Slowly, they started sitting a little bit closer. His hand would graze her hair, and then move away. Over time he started sifting the strands through his fingers, twirling the locks, as she sat ramrod straight, terrified one wrong move would make him stop. Tension grew like a wild thing between them, until all their interactions were heavy with portent. He’d been dating the head cheerleader at the time, but Penelope hadn’t cared about that. All she’d cared about was the magical time they spent in that basement, where he’d talked to her about nothing and anything and touched her like she mattered to him.

One night, they’d been watching The Howling. They’d been sitting close, their thighs brushing, his hand in her hair, which he seemed to spend hours stroking. She’d felt him look at her and she tilted her head up in question. His gaze dipped to her mouth and he asked, “Have you ever kissed a boy, Pen?”

Her breath had caught and she’d shaken her head. It never occurred to her to lie. She’d just turned sixteen, and most girls her age had kissed boys before, but she’d wanted it to be someone special.

Someone like Evan.

He squeezed the back of her neck, his face inching down. “I want to be the first.”

And she’d let him.

The next morning at breakfast they’d said nothing to each other, and other than his flickering glance at her too-swollen lips, she’d have thought it happened only in her imagination.

The phone rang, starting her from her memory.

The ringtone indicated it was Maddie, and she picked up. “Hello?”

“Hey, you sound breathless. Did I catch you at a bad time?” Maddie asked.

Penelope cleared her throat. Slightly dismayed that, after all this time, remembering her first kiss with Evan could still make her ache. “Nope, not at all. I was settling in to read. How are you?”

“I’d be great if it wasn’t for Evan,” Maddie said, her voice filled with concern. “Everyone is really worried. I don’t know how to get him out of his funk.”

Penelope’s heart sank. Maybe her visit hadn’t made an impact. “I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”

She’d tried, but she’d failed.

Maddie sighed, the sound heavy. “We’ll be in Chicago soon for the fund-raiser Shane and Cecilia are having, so maybe we can talk some sense into him then.”

One of Shane’s friends from high school had a daughter who had been struck down with a rare blood disorder and the medical bills were killing the family. Shane tried to pay for the treatment, but Bobby wouldn’t hear of it. He had, however, agreed to a fund-raiser. Penelope knew full well Shane would match or exceed any money they raised, but it allowed Bobby to feel like he wasn’t taking a handout directly from a friend who once upon a time was his financial equal. That kind of pride Shane understood, so he was pulling out all the stops. Penelope and Cecilia had planned the event, and it was sold out. The family would get everything they needed.

“I hope so,” Penelope said, giving up on her book and tossing it on the coffee table. “What can I do?”

“You listening is enough,” Maddie said, sniffing a little. “You’re the best friend ever. I love you, Pen.”

“I love you too.” Other than Evan ruining her for any other man for the rest of her life, Penelope couldn’t be anything but grateful for the Donovans. After she’d graduated from college her parents had moved to Florida, and while she made sure to talk to them once a week, the Donovans were more like home. And it was her duty to cheer up her best friend. “Let’s talk about something fun.”

Maddie laughed. “Okay, who are you bringing to the event?”

Penelope rolled her eyes. “Not this again. I’m starting to feel like a singleton from Bridget Jones.”

“Ack! I know. I’m horrible. I don’t know what’s happened to me. I used to be so anti-relationship and now I’m obnoxiously trying to pair everyone off.”

“Well, you’ve found happiness and want everyone to feel the same way.”

“But still, I shouldn’t foist it on you.” There was a long pause over the line. “But seriously, who are you bringing?”

Penelope couldn’t help but smile. “No one. Sorry.”

“Sophie keeps telling me about some environmental lawyer she wants to set you up with.”

Penelope snorted. “If he’s so great, why doesn’t she want him for herself?”

“I asked her the same question, and she claims he’s more your type,” Maddie said, her voice considerably lighter.

Since he wasn’t a badass, troubled football player, Penelope doubted the lawyer was her type. Of course, her friends didn’t know that. Her friends believed her dating preferences were sensible, successful corporate types, like her.

In theory, they were, only no matter how good a time she had with them, or how much she enjoyed talking to them, or even sex with them, they didn’t hit that secret place inside her. Didn’t flip that switch that turned her from composed to depraved.

Maybe a person only got that once in their lives. A person wasn’t supposed to have that right off the bat. It set unreasonable expectations for the men who followed.

Penelope wrinkled her nose. “I’ll pass on the lawyer. I’m busy with work and don’t have time to date right now.”

Maddie sighed. “I’m going to have to talk to that brother of mine about working you too hard.”

“No, you most certainly will not. My job is my business and just because Shane is your brother, it doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Penelope loved her career and was completely dedicated. Since the early days, it had always been her and Shane and that was the way she liked it. Yes, she was a bit of a workaholic, but she was the type of person who needed to stay busy.

Maddie huffed. “Oh, all right. But still, maybe you should reconsider. Sophie is positive you’ll be a love match.”

“I love Sophie, but every blind date she’s ever set me up on has been a disaster.”

“Maybe the eleventh time is the charm. You never know until you try.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Good,” Maddie said. “I’ll talk to you in a couple days.”

Penelope hung up, and her mind immediately returned to Evan. He’d be at the benefit, probably with some Playboy bunny on his arm. With the memory of his hands on her body so fresh, the thought caused an unwelcome twist of a dull knife.

It wouldn’t hurt to have a date.

On impulse she grabbed her iPad and Googled the environmental lawyer Sophie wanted to set her up with, clicking on the images she found. A nice-looking businessman, with brown hair and eyes. He appeared harmless, like he helped old ladies across the street on a daily basis. Hmmm . . . No, he wouldn’t work at all.

But perhaps there was someone else who would.

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek!

Jennifer

 

 

 

As Good As New

As Good As New

Series: Something New #4

Published by Kensington

Release Date: March 29, 2016

Genre: adult, contemporary romance

Goodreads

Average rating on Goodreads: 3.86 stars

Number of Reviews: 117 (on Goodreads)

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He was the high school hottie. She was the teacher’s pet. But in private, none of that mattered...

At the tender age of six, Penelope Watkins fell for her best friend’s brother, Evan Donovan, future hunk. By the time they were teenagers, they were having heart-to-hearts…and hot and heavy top secret make-out sessions. All that changed when Evan’s father suddenly died. Abruptly, Penelope lost him to grief—and to his true love: football. But now an injury had ended Evan's NFL career. The notorious bad boy was in a depression no one could penetrate, except maybe the one woman who still knew him best—and still wanted him most…

Penelope is the last person Evan wants to witness the wreck he’s become. So when she shows up at his door he’s less than welcoming—even though the sight of her brings back the same old rush of desire. As a teenager, the emotions overwhelmed him. Now, when he wanted to be overwhelmed, Penelope wasn’t playing. She was telling the golden boy it was time to man up. It may have taken a concussion for Evan to realize it, but that’s exactly what he wants to do—starting with her