L.J. Shen’s newest novel is a second chance romance about love, loss, finding yourself, and getting lost in the right person, and I’ve got your exclusive sneak peek!
“Ethan?” I stilled midstep, unable to focus on another sweet story. Not that the stories weren’t riveting, but calamity was literally at my doorstep, ready to explode all over my life.
“I’m so sorry, but I think I’m a little nauseous.” Not technically a lie. “Think we can call it an early night?”
“Oh no. Do you think it was the tere siga?” Ethan frowned, giving me a puppy look that broke my heart.
Thank God he was too busy talking my ear off about his patients to notice the gigantic man standing in my doorway.
“No way. I’ve been feeling off for a few hours. I think it’s finally hitting me.” I glanced at Chase behind Ethan’s back, swallowing hard.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“Positive.” I smoothed his Scooby-Doo tie over his chest with a smile.
“I like positivity. It makes the world a better place.” Ethan’s eyes lit up. He bent down to kiss my forehead. He had dimples. Dimples were great. Ethan, also, was great. So why was I eager to bid him farewell just so I could murder my unexpected guest on the stairway to my apartment for the entire street to witness?
Oh, that was right—because Chase Black had ruined my life and left me to piece it back together, each shard of our broken relationship cutting me deep.
More on that in a second.
I just had to say goodbye to my perfect, almost-saved-me-from-a-stroke Dr. McReality.
As I walked the rest of the way to my building, my heart flapping against my sternum like a fish out of water, I fantasized about the various ways I was going to greet Chase. In all of them, I appeared blasé, five inches taller, and wearing femme fatale Louboutins as opposed to my green Babette shoes.
Funny, I don’t remember leaving the trash outside. Allow me to escort you back to the recycling bin, Mr. Black.
Oh, you want to apologize? Can you be specific as to why? The cheating part, the humiliating part where I had to take an STD test afterward, or simply for wasting my time?
Are you lost, sweetie? Would you like me to escort you to the brothel you are obviously looking for?
Suffice it to say, Chase Black did not bring out the Martyr Maddie in me.
I stopped three steps away from him. My nerves were as tattered as my peach-patterned dress, and I hated the flutter of excitement skimming through my chest. It reminded me how stupid I’d been for him. How convenient. How submissive.
“Madison.” Chase tilted his chin up, looking down his nose as he examined me. It sounded like an order more than a greeting. The patronizing pinch of his eyebrows also didn’t look too inviting.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed.
“Let me come up?” He tucked his phone into his front pocket. Straight to the point. Not can I but let me. No How have you been? Or Sorry about that time I crushed your heart to dust or even How is Daisy, the Aussiedoodle I gifted you for Christmas, even though you told me you were allergic to dogs no less than three times, and your friends now dub her Assholedoodle for her tendency to piss in people’s shoes?
I clutched the lapels of my thin summer jacket, furious at myself for the way my fingers shook. “I’d rather not. If this is about you screwing your way through New York, you’ve got the wrong address. You can checkmark my name.”
Summer heat bled from the concrete, curling over my feet like smoke. The darkness of the night did nothing to dim how hot it was. Manhattan was sticky, bloated with sweat and hormones. The street buzzing with couples and shark packs of tourists, rowdy coworkers, and college kids up to no good. I didn’t want a public scene, but I wanted him in my apartment even less. Know the expression If anyone can have it, I don’t want it? That applied to his body. After we’d broken up, it had taken me weeks to rid my bedsheets of that singular Chase Black smell. He’d followed me everywhere, like a dark cloud with a bellyful of rain. I could still feel the fat swell of tears behind my eyelids when I thought about him.
“Look, I know you’re upset,” he started, his tone guarded, like he was entering a negotiation with an undomesticated honey badger.
I cut him off shakily, surprised by my own assertiveness. “Upset? I’m upset about my laundry machine breaking down. About my puppy chewing her way through the crocheted blue poncho I bought last winter, and about waiting for the next season of The Masked Singer.”
He opened his mouth, no doubt to protest, but I held my hand up, waving it for emphasis. “What you did to me didn’t upset me, Chase. It devastated me. I don’t mind admitting it now, because I’m so over you I forgot how it even felt to be under you.” I barely took a breath before spewing more volcanic arson his way. “No, you’re not coming up. Whatever you have to say to me”—I pointed at the ground beneath me—“this is your stage.”
He ran a hand through his hair, so black and soft looking it made my chest tighten, eyeing me like I was a ticking bomb he had to diffuse. I couldn’t tell whether he was annoyed, remorseful, or exasperated. He seemed like a mixture of all three. I’d never known what he felt, even when he was deep inside me. I’d lie there, looking into his eyes, and see my own reflection staring back at me.
I crossed my arms, wondering what had prompted his visit. I hadn’t heard from him since we’d broken up six months ago. But I had heard from Sven, my boss, about the women Chase had brought back to his penthouse in the aftermath of our breakup. My boss lived in the same glitzy Park Avenue building as Chase. Apparently, the latter hadn’t been crying himself to sleep.
“Please.” The word twisted in his mouth uncomfortably, like it was made of gravel. Chase Black was not accustomed to asking for things nicely. “It is a rather personal issue. I’d appreciate not having your entire street as an audience.”
I fished for my keys in my little clutch, stomping my way up the stairs. He was still on the first step, his eyes burning a hole through my back. The one time he looked at me with anything but frost, and I was completely immune to it. I pushed the building entrance door open, ignoring his plea. Funny, I’d always thought it’d feel divine to dismiss him the way he’d dismissed me. But right now, my feelings swirled among hurt, anger, and confusion. Triumph was nowhere in sight, and glee was miles away. I was almost past the threshold when his next words gave me pause.
“Too scared to give me ten minutes of your time?” he challenged, the smirk in his voice like a stab in my back. I froze. Now I recognized him. Cold, calculated. Playfully ruthless. “If you’re so over me and not at all tempted to be under me once we get upstairs, you can go back to your blissful, Chase-free existence after I say my piece, no?”
Scared? He thought I was scared? If I were any more immune to his charms at this point, I’d actively throw up at his sight.
I swiveled, jutting my hip out, a polite smile on my lips. “Cocky much?”
“Just enough to get your attention,” he deadpanned, looking awfully like a man who didn’t want to be here. What is he doing here, anyway?
“Five minutes will do, and you better behave.”
I pointed at him with my clutch. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
He put a hand on his chest mockingly.
“At least our hopes are aligned.”