One would think that after reading an author’s body of work so extensively and so thoroughly, there would inevitably come a time when the magic would ebb or, at least, flicker somewhat, but when it comes to Kristen Ashley’s extraordinary style of storytelling, my infatuation with it only seems to grow, and every new book of hers promptly becomes a new favourite of mine. With an underlying message of true love being able to heal all wounds, Ashley delivers a stunning tale of loss and hope, of two heartbroken souls seizing a second chance at love, and of life’s greatest gifts often coming to us when we least expect them. This is one of those books I simply adored cover to cover, every scene striking a chord with me and making me love these characters more and more, proving once more that when Kristen Ashley sets to tell a truly unforgettable love story, she always delivers in spades.
I’d had my first hookup, which wasn’t going to be a one-night stand. That soothed the inherent good girl in me but ravaged the dreamer I wouldn’t ever let myself be.
When thirty-one-year-old Eliza ‘Izzy’ Forrester wakes up in a stranger’s bed and realises she just had the best sex of her life with a man she only met the night before, she cannot help but feel hopeful that their night of unbridled passion could be the start of something great. But regardless of how strong their connection appears to be in and out of the bedroom, she soon discovers that she is alone in her hope for something more than the occasional hookup between them. Taught from a young age to handle disappointment with grace and dignity, and to make the most of every situation, Izzy fools herself into believing that she could push her hopes and dreams aside for any chance at all of keeping this man in her life—a man who makes her feel sexual and desirable for the first time in her life—until she discovers just how closed off his heart truly is.
“Izzy, this guy is not a normal guy. This guy is a guy ruined for all other women by a knockout of a redhead with long legs and big boobs who was almost as sweet as your sugar… A redhead who he’ll be hung up on forever, even when nature calls and forces him to settle down in order to procreate. The next one will be numero dos. Runner up. Second best.”
All Johnny Gamble ever dreamed of was to find the great love of his life and build a family with her, and for a while, he thought his dream had begun to come true. When he meets Izzy, as intense as their connection is right from the start, he is still hung up on a woman he thinks had been the one and only love of his life. He believes he could never give his whole self to anyone else again, and that a woman like Izzy deserves nothing less than that, but when the moment comes to watch her walk away from him, Johnny realises that his heart has other plans.
This was it. This was all he was ever going to have. Izzy. Her body. Her pussy. Her hair. Her neck. Her breasts. Her scent. Her taste. Her belly would swell with the babies he’d plant there. Her skin would wrinkle. Her hair would gray. He would mourn her when she was gone and there wouldn’t be another for him. Or he would leave this earth knowing she’d do the same. That was it. The rest of his life. Simple. And unbelievably fucking beautiful.
And when his past’s sudden return serves to awaken insecurities in a woman who is used to being let down by men in her life, Johnny must show her what kind of man he is, and just how committed he is to all that she brings into his life.
“…if it takes until you die, baby, and if it takes every dime I have, I’ll do everything I can so you die knowing just how fucking amazing you are and that’s worth anything and everything.”
A heartfelt, delightful tale of new beginnings and the healing power of love, sprinkled with just the right balance of heart-prickling angst and suspense, and beautifully told, as always—the story of Eliza and Johnny filled my heart to the brim with emotion and awe, and I only wish I would have savoured it for much much longer.
“I dreamed of winning a pretty woman and making her love only me. I dreamed of living with her at this mill and filling it with babies. I dreamed of keeping those garages strong for my sons to take over when it was their time. I dreamed of living my life knowing things would come and go. My children would be born, my woman and I would raise them and love them, and then they’d move on to live their own lives and be happy. But that pretty woman, my pretty woman, would always be with me. Now tell me, spätzchen, how does a man sleep when he’s living his dreams?”
The Code to His Phone
It was me that switched it up.
It was me who made him let me take over.
I didn’t know why I did it. I didn’t know that I had it in me to do it. I didn’t even think about any of this stuff.
I just did it.
The night before, Johnny had dragged, pulled, shifted, hauled and anything else he wanted to do to get me where he wanted me to be. On my back. On my knees. On his face.
That morning, it started out the same way. It started out like it had continued after the first time the night before.
The first time being fast and hungry and urgent and spectacular.
The rest of it was slow and hot and unhurried and spectacular.
That morning, it was the second kind.
Until I switched it up.
Until I took over.
It was when I was naked and he was naked.
It was when I was sopping wet and he was rock hard.
It was when every inch of me buzzed, and that buzz shimmered deeper from anything he did—a touch, a kiss, a lick, a nip—but also just looking at him, the harshness of sex set in his face, the dilation of his black eyes taking them from bright to blazing.
It was then I pushed him to his back, and at first he allowed it since I could tell he wanted it, because he was willing, for that moment, to go with my flow in order to move me into his new flow.
But when I held his shoulders down, straddled him, feeling his hard cock graze the damp curls between my legs, and I looked into his face, he stilled.
I did not.
I bent to him, sweeping my lips from his neck down to his collarbone up to his shoulder, thrilling in the warm silken skin over hard muscle my lips encountered.
I found his hand, laced my fingers in his and pulled it away from his body. After that, I trailed my lips down his arm, stopping to kiss the bulge of his biceps, moving on to lightly nip the skin at the inside juncture of his elbow.
Then I sat up abruptly, taking his hand with me.
I unlaced our fingers so I could flatten his hand against my chest, my eyes locked to his. Slowly, I drew his hand down my chest, between my breasts, over my belly.
And he held my eyes.
He didn’t look at his hand. My body.
He looked into my eyes.
God, I loved it that he kept looking into my eyes.
At my final destination, I twisted our hands, curled them in. My middle finger over his, both of them I took inside.
My head fell back.
His hips jerked.
“Izzy,” he growled.
My eyes were closed and I didn’t open them when his other hand curved around my breast, his calloused thumb rough as he dragged it across my nipple.
I started panting, feeling his finger move both of ours inside me, lifting my other hand to cover his at my breast to feel his movements there as he engaged his finger with his thumb and started rolling.
“God,” I breathed, rocking into our fingers, feeling the back of my hand slide over the underside of his hard cock.
“Look at me,” he ordered gruffly.
I didn’t look at him.
It felt so good, everything, I arched into his hand at my breast as I rode his finger inside me.
He stopped rolling with one, thrusting with the other, and I heard, “Eliza, look at me.”
I tipped my head down and slowly opened my eyes.
“I’m inside you, Iz, any way I can be inside you, you look at me,” he demanded thickly.
“Okay, Johnny,” I forced out.
“Ride it,” he commanded. “Show me.”
I rode it. I showed him. I helped him fuck me with his finger and tug at my nipple until the beauty it was causing had me whimpering, my movements desperate, my eyes floating closed.
He drove deep with our fingers, planted them there, and my eyes shot open.
“Eyes on me,” he growled.
“Yes,” I whispered, swaying into him when his finger moved again, the desperation turning to violence, urging him to fuck me brutally with our fingers, something he did, slamming my clit into the apple of his hand.
“Christ, sweet, shy Izzy, skittish as a cat, hides the wild of a sex kitten,” he murmured.
“I’m a prude,” I pushed out nonsensically.
I was barely able (but I did it, mostly because each and every one of them were exactly that good) to catch the flash of the white of his now seriously sexy smile before he replied, “Remind me of that so I can laugh when my dick’s not about to explode watching you take yourself there on my finger.”
I caught that too, just barely, not nearly enough to be embarrassed by it because I’d taken myself there on his finger.
I arched. I cried out. I ground into our fingers panting and whimpering.
In the middle of it, I lost them and was on my back in the bed.
I heard a drawer open, the wrinkling of foil, then I got him back.
Not his fingers.
The first time the night before had been fast and hungry and urgent and spectacular.
This time we had started out slow and hot and unhurried and spectacular.
But right then, it was burning and rough and savage and totally uncontrolled.
Circling my wrists with his hands and yanking them straight over my head, pinning them to the bed with his weight to hold me down at the same time giving himself leverage, Johnny hammered into me. Drilled into me. Crashing the base of his cock into my clit, pushing me over the edge yet again so I had no choice but to clutch him with everything I had available, hold on for dear life, and chant his name at the same time begging him not to stop, never to stop.
And I did this while my orgasm carried on and on, until it completely overwhelmed me and I couldn’t speak at all. I could just hold on and feel the magnificence of the climax engulfing me—us—as he groaned into my neck and powered through the jolts of his final thrusts.
When mine was waning and his was done, he collapsed on me, all his weight, his fingers manacles on my wrists, still pinning them to the bed.
And I didn’t mind.
I took his weight, his heat, his captivity because he was a man who had a great smile. Who had a way with interior design that was masculine and confident, interesting and cool. Who had a water wheel. Who opened the door on his truck to let me in and closed me in after. Who didn’t look at pretty girls who passed our barstools while he listened to me. Who made me feel sexy. Who made me feel pretty. Who made me feel so unencumbered by all the weight I carried that I’d be moved to take over, to slide his finger inside me and ride it while he watched. Who let me take over and draw him inside and ride him while he watched. And who got off on that so intensely, he’d been moved to take me rough, pinning me to his bed.
I was that girl with him.
That girl who could flirt with a handsome man and set him to scoring through four condoms. That girl he couldn’t even let her take a sip of coffee before he had to kiss her and whisk her back to his bed.
I was free and I was easy and I was sexual and I was desirable and I was funny and I was worth something.
I wasn’t Eliza Forrester, the straitlaced daughter of a hippie, the prim and proper and responsible older sister of a wild child.
I was Izzy Forrester, free and easy and sexual and desirable, who could hook up with a handsome man with a fabulous house in the woods who couldn’t get enough of her, and after one night chatting in a bar over margaritas and beer, they were starting something.
As I gloried in all of this, it slowly became clear that he wasn’t moving.
This was strange, and in a flash of panic I thought it was just my luck that I would kill the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen, much less slept with, after intense, amazing, pounding sex.
Did I give him a heart attack?
“Johnny?” I called tentatively, and a little wispily, seeing as I was accommodating his weight.
Instantly, he moved. Not letting go of my wrists but shifting them down so my elbows were bent, the position more comfortable, at the same time taking his weight out of his hands and also miraculously some of it off me.
His face was in my neck but he moved his lips to my ear where he asked, “You okay?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
He finally lifted his head and I liked that the harshness of sex was gone, the laziness of satisfaction had taken its place, but he still had an expression of concern.
“Rode you hard, baby,” he murmured.
“Yes,” I agreed.
His gaze scanned my face.
“I’m good,” I said quietly and then gave him a small smile at the same time I gave him a hug the only way I could, tightening my legs where I had them wrapped around his thighs.
I didn’t know him, at all—well, biblically, one could say I knew him relatively well—but otherwise I didn’t know him. Still, I could swear I saw the flash of unease in his eyes before he muttered, “Gonna take care of this condom.”
After that, he slid out, let go of my wrists, disengaged, and with no further ado, got off me, out of the bed and walked naked toward the hall.
No tender caresses and soft murmurs.
I lay in bed staring after him and continuing to stare after he disappeared into the bathroom feeling a hint of frost come. It came like in the movies, when the bad things come and the chill comes with them, at first invading a corner of a window, starting slow but then moving quickly, covering and crackling over the window, the whole house.
Except this frost swept over my body.
It took but seconds to realize that I might not have tons of experience but I did have enough to know it didn’t take years for a man to dispose of a condom.
And for this reason, I shot to sitting in bed, searching for something to cover me.
I saw my panties on one side of the bed, on the other his T-shirt, sweats, and the rest of our clothes from last night.
I didn’t have time to fully dress so I rolled toward the clothes, grabbing up his T-shirt and tugging it on at the same time dashing around the bed to snatch up my panties.
I was settling them on my hips when Johnny appeared back in the hall.
He went right to his sweats, and I tried to take it as good he glanced at me as he did, not avoiding me, my presence or even eye contact.
He nabbed them and yanked them up as he asked, “You like eggs and bacon?”
“My mother was a vegan.”
He stopped in the process of tying the drawstring under his navel and stared at me.
His hair was even messier now, falling over his forehead and nearly into his eyes.
It made him look disheveled and more handsome than ever, especially my firsthand knowledge of and participation in how it got that way.
“I’m not,” I went on.
He kept staring at me.
“A vegan that is,” I shared. “I tried. About seven times. Even vegetarianism didn’t stick. So uh…yes. I like eggs and bacon.”
He slowly finished tying the drawstring on his sweats as he asked, “There a story behind all that information?”
“No, just, my mother wasn’t a vegan. She was a militant vegan,” I told him.
“Ah,” was all he said in reply, but he did it lifting his chin.
“And my sister was a vegetarian for years and years, until she met a guy who thought that was stupid and he introduced her to cheeseburgers.” I shrugged. “The rest is history. I had long since been a lost cause, but my mother never got over that.”
I was blathering and doing it mostly because I was beside myself with relief that he asked me if I liked bacon and eggs, which meant whatever strangeness I felt after we finished didn’t mean he was going to ask me to take off his shirt and put on my clothes so he could take me back to town and be rid of me.
“Not sure there’s a vegetable in this house, unless you count a bag of frozen corn,” he said.
I couldn’t stop myself from looking alarmed.
Johnny of course didn’t miss it and any of the cold I had left at the strangeness of how he left me in bed melted away when he burst out laughing.
I’d heard him chuckle. It was throaty and rich and lovely.
His laughter was that times a thousand.
But still, there was something about it that sounded…
“I’ll get the mugs,” I said in order not to do something stupid, like watch him laugh like a besotted teenager seeing her first boyband crush in concert.
I turned to the doors but turned back when he called, “Iz.”
My eyes met his.
“You eat a lot of vegetables?” he asked.
“Three quarters of your plate should be vegetables,” I answered.
“She eats a lot of vegetables,” he murmured through a white smile.
“I really need coffee,” I blurted.
“Then get our mugs, babe. I’ll get cracking on breakfast.”
He moved toward the kitchen.
I moved toward the deck.
I came back with the mugs and he was at the stove, but I knew he heard me enter when he ordered toward the stove, “Dump that out, we’ll get fresh.”
His cup maybe only had one last mouthful in it. I hadn’t even taken a sip.
“I’ll nuke mine,” I told him.
“Dump it out,” he returned.
“It’s okay. I nuke coffee all the time.”
And I did. I nuked coffee. I found creative ways to use leftovers. I slammed my lotion bottles on countertops to force down the last dregs.
What I didn’t do was waste, and I didn’t waste partially because I was an environmentalist but mostly because I grew up with government cheese in the refrigerator. When you didn’t have a lot, you not ever wasted what you had.
“It’s been sitting outside for almost an hour,” he stated.
“It’s still good,” I replied.
I made it to the kitchen, seeing he had a fancy drawer microwave in his island.
I was heading there when I stopped because I was divested of the mugs in my hands.
I watched Johnny go to the sink and dump both cups. He rinsed them, shook them out and then went to the coffeemaker.
“How do you take yours?” he asked.
“Little, lots or in between?” he asked.
“Little,” I answered.
He poured coffee while I watched. He then turned and put both cups by the stove. After that, he turned again, came to me, put his hands to my waist and shifted me around, then backward. Finally, I had to bite back a surprised cry when he lifted me up (without even a grunt of effort) and planted my behind on the counter next to the mugs, but removed from the stove where there was already a clump of strips of bacon cooking in a skillet.
Once he had me settled, he nabbed my cup and handed it to me.
He then grabbed his, took a sip and set it back down on the countertop. He went to a drawer, took out a fork and moved to the skillet in order to separate and straighten the bacon.
I guessed I was drinking fresh coffee.
And I guessed I was doing it sitting on the counter while he cooked, keeping him company.
“You put your panties back on,” he noted while I was swallowing my first sip.
“Uh…” I mumbled, not saying anything more.
His mouth hitched in the direction of the skillet before he put the fork down and went to the fridge.
I took another sip of coffee and looked around his room.
It was then I noticed that the massive TV hanging on the wall hung on the wall opposite the bed, but the couch, oblong coffee table and two flanking armchairs had their backs to the TV.
I guessed he watched TV in bed.
Or not much at all, considering the number of books practically falling out the many bookshelves and covering the table by the chair in the corner with the fabulous tripod floor lamp beside it.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked.
The utter silence this question received made my shoulders instantly tense and my gaze move directly to Johnny.
He had eggs out and was taking down a bowl from some shelves over where he was working.
What it appeared he wasn’t going to do was answer what I thought was a non-intrusive question.
It then came to mind our conversation last night at the bar.
A conversation that I hadn’t noticed until right then, thinking back on it, was one-sided.
I was new to town. I had to move there for reasons I didn’t like to think about. But I’d moved there because Deanna was there, she’d moved there years before, right after she married Charlie, and she was always talking about how fabulous it was. How friendly. How community minded. Added to that, property values were way cheaper than in the city. You could get so much more for so much less.
The one downside was that the commute was long and could be horrific if traffic got backed up. But I’d learned in the two months I’d been there that it was worth an hour’s (and often longer) commute every day.
That said, Deanna and Charlie were the only people I knew in town and I’d decided, with spring turning to summer, it was time to be more social, get to know my neighbors.
So I went to the one and only local bar, On My Way Home, known as Home. It was a drinking establishment like any other, with a rectangular bar in the middle, tables around, TVs all over the place. I’d heard they sometimes had bands but most times it was just a quiet place to catch a game or meet up with friends, have a chat and throw some back.
I’d actually seen Johnny pulling into the lot at the back when I’d finished parking. I’d glimpsed his magnificence through the cab of his truck. I’d even heard his car door close as I was walking in the back door of the bar.
And I’d barely sat down when Johnny had come up beside me.
He didn’t look at me, just slid into the space between me and the stool beside me.
He’d received instant attention from the female bartender whereupon he’d said, “Usual, Sally, and whatever she’s having.”
It was not the most original pick up line ever.
But it was the best one ever used on me, only because Johnny used it.
Thus ensued him sitting next to me and asking my name.
“Eliza. I’m Eliza Forrester. But everyone calls me Iz or Izzy.”
Sharing that got me my first grin.
And for the next couple of hours, I shared a lot.
Johnny had asked questions as I did. But when I’d done the same with him, he deflected them, bringing the conversation back to me.
Sitting on his counter in his kitchen after having sex with him four times in eleven hours, it occurred to me very belatedly I didn’t know a thing about him but his name, he drove a truck, he lived in a house with a water wheel in the middle of some woods and he was an exceptional lover.
Uncomfortably, I sipped my coffee, casting my mind frantically out for a conversational gambit that might actually work.
In the midst of failing at that, he answered, “Three years.”
I looked to him not because he answered but because it sounded torn from him.
“It’s a great place, Johnny,” I said quietly.
“Been in the family generations,” he shared, cracking eggs into the bowl. “Dad kept it up so folks who came to visit us had their own space. Wasn’t like this though. When I moved in, cleaned it up, fixed it up, updated some shit. Now it’s home.”
“It’s very attractive,” I told him. “And peaceful.”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“The water wheel is cool,” I remarked.
“Yeah,” he repeated.
“Is it still being used for something?” I asked.
“Place was a gristmill. Now it’s not,” he answered in a way that was that and there would be no more.
Time to try something else.
“You don’t have pets,” I noted.
And that was that too.