An all-new brother’s best friend, single dad romance is releasing later this week from authors M. Mabie and Aly Martinez, and you can read the whole Prologue right here.
I blew every red light on the way to her parents’ house.
Dread souring in my gut.
I’d been driving around town, searching for her for over an hour, and was now making the loop a second time. My phone was blowing up with texts and calls from her family, but with nothing new to report, I ignored them.
I was running out of time.
He was running out of time, and she didn’t even know it yet.
He couldn’t die. For fuck’s sake, I’d talked to Brenden just that morning. We’d made plans to meet up with the rest of our crew and grab a burger for dinner. It was rare when Lauren and I were able to get out at the same time now that we had Jack, but damn if Brenden wasn’t relentless.
Lex loved it when we were all together.
He just liked when she was happy.
It didn’t seem fair. Not for him. Not for her. He was twenty-two, already at the top of his career, and had a woman who adored him. The same woman I was about to destroy with the news of his accident.
I dialed her number for what felt like the thousandth time and lifted my phone to my ear. Straight to voicemail. Even if she had picked up, I had no idea what I would have said. This wasn’t news you shared over the phone, and I sure as hell didn’t want her behind the wheel of a car while clinging to the edge of panic.
I’d known Alexis Lawson for over a decade, but I was nowhere near qualified to deliver this kind of devastation. But if not me, then who?
His friend who had found his lifeless body still trapped beneath the four-wheeler?
The cop who had been the first on the scene and requested every medical resource available when he couldn’t find a pulse?
The EMT who had tirelessly performed CPR until the helicopter finally arrived to transport him to the hospital?
Her parents were at their beach house, and her brother Cal was a six-hour flight away at a medical conference. All of them would no doubt race home after hearing the news.
I was the only one there out of our makeshift family. It was my duty to break her heart even though the very thought of it felt like I was burning at the stake.
The world flew past me in a blur as I sped down the busy road, weaving through traffic and laying on the horn, but my mind barely registered any of it.
How was I going to do this to her?
“It doesn’t look good. You need to find her and prepare her to say goodbye.” Those were the words Brenden’s father had barely been able to utter, his voice cracking with grief as he’d explained to me when he couldn’t get Lex on the phone.
What were the syllables required to prepare someone to say goodbye? I could have read straight from every dictionary in existence and never strung together the right thing to say.
He was my friend too, and I couldn’t fathom losing him.
But he was the love of her life—there was no recovering from that kind of loss.
Maybe he’d pull through. Maybe by this time next week, we’d be having that burger, swapping stories about the day he’d almost died.
Or maybe I’d still be trapped inside this fucking truck on an endless road, unable to save him or protect her.
A wave of relief punched me in the gut as I turned into her parents’ driveway and finally saw her car. Adrenaline exploded in my veins, but it was quickly iced by the reality of what was to come.
I needed to get my shit together and be there for her during one of the hardest moments she would ever face. God forbid, if the tables were turned, Lex would have been the first person standing at my door, ready to rage against the universe, if for no other reason than to make sure I wasn’t alone. We shared no blood, but we were a family just the same.
As I threw my truck into park and then bolted up their massive front steps, my throat was so thick it felt like I was drowning. Though I had to push that aside to be her life raft.
None of this made sense.
Brenden had spent the majority of his life on two wheels. I’d never forget the first time Lex had dragged us to one of his races. I wasn’t the one on the track, but the thrill still hit me as we watched him speed around, navigating steep jumps and obstacles with pinpoint precision. Dirt bikes had never been my thing, but it was easy to see why he got off on Motocross.
He lived on the edge, but it was fucking fishing at his own pond and a four-wheeler that had shoved him over it.
My heart sank as I opened the front door, the sounds of her off-pitch singing filled the entryway.
“Lex!” I yelled, marching toward her voice.
With a watering can in one hand, she stood in the kitchen, barefoot with her wild red hair piled on the top of her head, surrounded by her mother’s menagerie of prized succulents.
“Hey, Hud. What are you doing here?” She smiled so innocently that it felt like razor blades to my heart.
I took a second to memorize it before being forced to wipe it away, maybe forever. “Where the hell have you been?” I snapped too roughly given the situation, but my nerves were shot. “I’ve spent the last hour searching the entire city for you.”
Oblivious, she grinned. “I broke Mom’s cactus, so I had to hit the nursery and find an exact cacti-match so she didn’t cut me out of the will. What’s up? Why were you looking for me?” She propped a hand on her hip and teased, “Can’t find anyone else to insult you properly?”
“Why weren’t you answering your phone?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Uh, it’s dead.”
My chest ached as I stared at her. She had no idea what was coming. That was literally the last moment before I was forced to ruin her life. “We gotta go, Kid.”
Her smile melted as she placed the watering can on the table and took a slow step toward me. “What’s wrong?”
Shit, this was going to hurt.
“There’s been an accident. And we need to get to the hospital as quickly as we can. So I need you to grab your shoes and purse and get in my truck.”
She stood there blinking at me, her lashes fluttering as if they could bat away the words that hung in the air. Then, all at once, she burst into action, rushing past me to the sink to dump the watering can. With an edge of panic lacing her voice, she asked, “Is Jack okay?”
Life wasn’t fucking fair.
I was about to drop the weight of the world on her and she was worried about my son.
“Jack’s fine.” I rumbled, and my throat filled with shards of broken glass. “It’s…Brenden.”
Her face paled, and her lips tipped into a paper-thin smile. “Shut up. What are you talking about?”
If I had any chance of getting her to that hospital in time to see Brenden while he was still alive, I needed her to get in the damn truck. “He flipped the four-wheeler, Kid. I got a call from his dad when they couldn’t reach you.”
She shook her head, her green eyes filling with tears even as she fell into a pit of denial. “Is this a joke? Did he put you up to this? He’s such a shit. This is probably payback for me telling him to release anything he caught. We just don’t have the freezer space anymore.”
I closed the distance between us, hooking my arm through hers. “I’m not fucking around. Please just get in the truck.”
She peered up at me for a long beat, her chin quivering as she tried to make sense of the unfathomable.
Then I lost her.
Lex snatched her arm away and spun all at once. She was a tornado touching down with deafening lulls and violent whirls.
“Where’s my phone?!” she shrieked at a soul-crushing octave. “Where’s my fucking phone! I’ll call him. I’ll prove he’s fine.” With wild eyes, she darted around her parents’ kitchen, looking for a phone that she’d told me only minutes ago was dead.
I followed after her, my heart in my throat, the seconds on the clock ticking away at an agonizing speed. “We gotta go, Lex.”
With trembling hands, she found her purse on the island and dumped it out, the contents rolling off the counter, crashing to the floor right along with her heart. “This is bullshit. He knows how to ride a four-wheeler, Hudson. He wouldn’t fucking flip it.”
She pushed past me, but I caught her by the arm. It would be years before I forgave myself for the way I jerked her against me and shouted, “I wouldn’t lie about this! Please, fuck, we need to go.” It was louder than I’d intended, but it momentarily snapped her out of it.
Her head tipped up, her life-altering green eyes pleading with me long before her words did. “How bad?” When I didn’t immediately respond, she yelled, “How fucking bad, Hudson?”
I could have lived a thousand years and I’d never forget the complete and utter devastation on her face. I fought the urge to squeeze my eyes shut to block out the searing pain of reality. But if I did, she’d be forced to live this hell alone.
Holding her gaze, I whispered, “Bad.”
With that one single syllable, she flew away from me as though I were her mortal enemy. In that second, I guess in a lot of ways, I was.
When her back hit the wall, she managed to rasp, “Is…is he alive?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed, jumping on the only good news I had to offer her. It was one tiny morsel of hope, and I prayed it was enough. “The four-wheeler flipped on his way back from the pond. They life-flighted him out, but…” Fuck. Fuck! I moved into her, stopping only inches away. Careful not to touch her again, but close enough to catch her if her knees buckled. “It’s bad, Lex. Like really fucking bad. But Brenden’s a fighter, and the sooner we get there, the sooner we can get answers.”
She was frozen in place, her hands in midair as though she were about to reach for my biceps, tears dripping from the corners of her eyes as she searched my face. “So he’s okay?”
He wasn’t. Not even close.
But the spark of hope that lit her eyes turned that rock in my stomach into a boulder, and I knew there was no way I would get her out of the house in one piece if I told her the absolute truth.
So, even though I prided myself in being honest to a fault, I swallowed my pride and told the biggest lie of my entire life. Staring into the terrified face of a woman I would burn down the world to protect, I forced a nod. “Yeah, Kid. He’s gonna be fine.”
She sprang back into action, her emotions spinning so fast her legs couldn’t keep up and she nearly tripped. After a few eternally long seconds of searching for her shoes, I told her to forget them.
I carried her from the house that day, barefoot, sobbing, and tearing apart at the seams.
Held her hand on the way to the hospital.
Stood behind her as she sat at his bedside—a million tubes and wires making him unrecognizable—begging the only man she had ever loved not to leave her.
I slept in a chair in the waiting room for a week when she refused to go home.
And I held her, wrapped in my arms, her tears soaking my chest, agony ravaging her, the day Brenden’s body finally gave out.
Cal, Lauren, and I did everything we could to ease Lex’s pain. But it was an impossible job.
I couldn’t fix it for her, but I never stopped trying.
Not when she fell into the depths of depression.
Not when the darkness closed in.
Especially not when the simple task of breathing became too much.
Looking back, I was so damn thankful I’d taken the second to memorize her face before I shattered her dreams, because it took years before I saw another genuine smile grace her face again.