A new standalone romance about love, loss and forgiveness, Hold My Breath is releasing on 18 Nov 2016, and I have a fabulous new excerpt for you. Enjoy!
I step away from the table while the girls do shots, and I eventually find my way to the line of orange trees near the dance floor outside. I step between two of them and walk along the irrigation trough until I get to the sidewalk. They’ve added lights and a few benches near the walkways, which is probably a good idea. I smirk at a couple in the distance making out on a bench. The deterrent of a spotlight can only do so much.
I walk around for a few minutes, noticing everything that’s the same, and all of the things that are different. When the memories start to hit me too hard, I cut back to the tables near the outdoor bar. A band has started playing, and the dance floor is filling up with girls in denim skirts, boots, and tank tops that are too tight and hang too low. I smile thinking about how that used to mean heaven to me.
“Still a boob man, I see,” Maddy says behind me.
I chuckle and lean my head to the side, turning enough to face her. She has a beer in her hand, which probably means she’s going to vomit later. I tap it and raise one brow, and she shrugs before taking a drink.
“I told you I was getting drunk,” she says, turning back to face the dance floor. I watch her tilt the bottle back again, swallowing. Her eyes are smoky, and some of her hair has started to fall away from the twist, grazing the back of her neck.
“To be honest with you, I’ve never really been much of a boob man,” I say, my eyes still mesmerized by her perfect profile. She laughs, and I love the way it makes her move.
“Bullshit,” she says.
I don’t answer, and eventually she turns to look at me, squinting.
I cross my heart, and she purses her lips, leaning her head in doubt.
“Swear to god,” I say. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like them,” I say through a guilty smile, chuckling. She nods like she’s caught me in a lie, then glances back out on the dance floor. I watch her for a few more quiet seconds, and then I do something completely stupid.
“Your hair does this thing when you wear it like that. It sort of tickles the curve of your neck, right…here,” I say, reaching up and drawing my finger lightly along the few inches of skin from her jaw down to the strap of her dress. My eyes move to hers, and I catch her looking at my finger against her skin a second before her eyes flit to mine. I breathe in slowly and pull my hand away, pushing both palms in my pockets again. “Anyway…just…I notice other things. That’s all.”
I can feel Maddy staring at me long after I turn my attention back to the people on the dance floor. When the band finishes a song, I hear her take a deep breath, like she’s about to speak, but we both startle when Holly jams herself between us, slinging an arm around both of our shoulders.
“I didn’t come here to stand, kids. I had a guy throw up on me at the hospital yesterday and am spending tomorrow cramming out a paper. Tonight, we dance!” She lets go of us and reaches between us toward Amber, who shimmies forward in her high heels, laughing and drunk already.
“You better take it easy on her. She’ll be passed out within the hour if you keep going at this rate,” I laugh.
Maddy takes a long swig from her beer, then reaches over to set it on an empty table.
“Yeah, probably. Sucks to be the rookie,” she laughs, looking at me for a brief second, her smile falling when she looks back out to her two carefree friends on the dance floor.
Couples are starting to form, and the fact that Maddy and I are standing close to the dance floor begins to feel weird. She points over her shoulder, toward our table, and I nod, but when she turns, I reach out to grab her arm, stopping her.
“Actually…” My head tips down, my eyes at her waist. I glance up into her surprised expression and shrug, letting my hand slide from her arm until I’m holding an open palm in front of her. “Whataya say? I don’t think I ever actually got to dance with you.”
Her brow bunches and she looks out at the people dancing under the strings of lights. She cups the back of her neck, and her eyes come to me again.
“You…dance?” she asks.
I close one eye, and wrinkle my other brow.
“I mean, not in a while, but yeah. I can handle the two-step,” I say, starting to feel silly holding my hand out for her to take. She looks at it again, then back up to me, finally taking my palm and smiling on one side of her mouth.
Her fingers are tiny in my grasp. I don’t know how they’re so lethal in the water, and I’m careful with them as I turn and lead her to an open area on the outdoor patio. My pulse quickens when I realize I have to turn and face her, and my other hand needs to hold her close. I thread my fingers through hers, our hands held at shoulder height between us while my other hand moves nervously to the curve of her waist.
I sway forward and back in rhythm with the rushing fiddles and guitar, and I concentrate on keeping this exact, arbitrary amount of space between our bodies for the entirety of the song. I don’t realize how rigid my muscles are or how long I’ve been holding my breath until the song ends and the couples around us all break away from each other to clap. I let go of her hand and turn to the side, clapping loudly, my palms sweaty and my chest working to catch up on air.
Maddy leans into me.
“You barely know your way around a dance floor,” she says. I wince and look at her. “It’s okay. Your brother never danced either.”
My lungs grow tight, and my heart stops for a second. The light in her eyes dims.
“Let’s take this next one nice and slow,” the lead singer says into the mic.
Maddy shrugs and turns to leave the dance floor, and I do something stupid…again.
“One more chance,” I say, reaching down and wrapping my fingers around her wrist. She turns into me, and I catch her, this time holding her close enough to feel her gasp. I swallow away my nerves, our foreheads so close they almost touch. She peers up at me through her lashes as I reach down, grabbing her other hand, before dragging them both up to my shoulders. “I’m not a bad dancer. I was just nervous.”
I clench my fists, hidden from her view, before forcing myself to run my fingertips along her hips, wrapping them around the small of her back, bringing our bodies even closer. With nowhere else to go, Maddy’s head falls against my chest, a perfect fit under my chin—and the last hold on her hair slips loose. I bring my hand up to sweep her hair over her shoulder, and I feel her take a sharp breath again when I do, so I stop, moving my touch back to her waist.
I can feel her relax with every step we take, her body resting against mine, depending more on me, until the singer reaches the chorus and I’m finally holding her like she’s where she’s meant to be. I look around at the world from this view. Her friends have each found partners, and strangers enter and exit the dance floor. Nothing has changed, yet somehow, just by holding her, everything feels different. My heart is slow, the storm inside calm. It’s time to be brave again.
“Evan never took you dancing?” I ask.
Her shoulders tense, and I let my eyes fall closed. There is no room for us unless we can find a way to live with talking about my brother.
“He didn’t like the attention, he said. We’d go out, but usually we’d sit at the bar, or maybe shoot pool,” she says. I notice the way her cheek feels against me when she talks. I breathe in deep—a blend of citrus and coconut radiating from her skin. I swallow hard, and I know she feels it. Her shoulders grow even more tense.
“I bet you kicked his ass at pool,” I say, opening my eyes and scanning at our surroundings. It was a pool game that lead to me breaking open their secret. Evan and I were playing here, and Maddy was hanging out near our table with a few of our old friends from high school. Evan lost the game, and I played the winner. Maddy disappeared, and a few minutes later, he followed her. I probably already knew, but I just had to see it for myself. I let the guy playing me win, and I went for a walk. I found them in the dark, and after embarrassment faded, I pretended I was happy they were together.
I adjust my hold, and the feel of her strong back under my fingertips forces my eyes closed again. Without even thinking, I let my lips fall forward against the top of her head. I don’t kiss her, but I want to. She must feel me, because she shifts against me, turning her head to the other side, gaining distance between my mouth and her body. I suck my top lip in and bite it hard.
The song breaks for a guitar solo, and I count the seconds, knowing that she’s going to slip away the moment everyone in here begins to clap. I won’t ask her to dance again. I won’t torture myself or push my luck. But I’ll remember this. As bad of an idea as it is, I’m glad I did it. So many painful memories woven into this place, I needed this one good one. It might just be the best memory I have out of everything in my life.
I feel her shift in my arms, and when I pull away slightly, Maddy’s chin pushes into the center of my chest, her eyes blinking slowly while she looks up at me. Two shots and a beer are about to talk to me right now. I smile softly and nod.
“That was a much better dance,” she says.
I chuckle, tilting my head back to laugh before bringing it forward slowly, resting my brow against hers. My eyes look down at the curve of her lips, lower at the line of her jaw, and even lower at the swell of her breast under the soft black cotton of her dress. A heavy breath escapes me.
“I make you nervous?” she asks.
I don’t answer right away, instead closing my eyes and swallowing again. I don’t even care if she can feel it. I drag my hands up her body to her neck until I’m cradling her head in my palms, my fingertips flirting with her hair along her neck and my thumbs caressing her jawline.
“That’s what you said…before. You said you didn’t dance well because I make you nervous,” she says, her words coming out slow and sleepy.
My mouth smiles against the top of her head, and I give in, opening it enough to press a kiss against her, hoping only the strangers are our witness.
“Yes, Maddy. That’s right,” I say. “You make me incredibly nervous.”