An all-new, sexy best-friends-to-lovers romance in Shayla Black’s More Than Words / Reed Family Reckoning series is out this week, and I have an excerpt for you.
From the corner of my eye, I catch Echo pull back from Graham’s brotherly embrace. Then her stare falls on me. It’s so automatic to hold out my arms and for her to fall into them.
Something good settles into my chest as I hug her. “You did it, shortcake.”
She smiles up at me, teary. “I did. I wish Ella and Eryn could be here. My education was only possible because they sacrificed theirs for me.”
“I’m sure they wanted to come. But since we’re leaving tomorrow, you wouldn’t have had much time to spend with them.”
“That’s why we’re planning our great, big sisters’ adventure later this summer.”
I nod. “So do you feel all accomplished now?”
But not entirely?
“Hey, I have to get back to work,” Graham says with a wave.
Kella follows him. “Me, too. Sorry. Have a great time in Hawaii! We’ll have a graduation blow-out when you get back. And Maryam should be over the plague by then.”
“Sounds great,” I call.
“See ya!” X waves.
Echo smiles and blows them kisses.
Then the three of us are standing alone, Xavian and I both staring at Echo. An awkward silence falls.
“Lunch?” my buddy asks.
Normally, I would say yes—I’m starved—but if I can get him to fuck off, I’ll have that chat with Echo I didn’t get last night.
“Don’t you have a mountain of work to finish before we take off?” I send Xavian a pointed glare.
“Yep. I do. I guess…I’ll get to it. We’ll party in paradise. See you two at the airport tomorrow.”
“’K. See you then.” Echo leaves my arms—and walks straight into Xavian’s. “I’m proud of us.”
He cups her face, and I don’t like the way he looks at her. I clear my throat meaningfully.
“Fuck, yeah.” He backs away and weirdly high-fives her, breaking the moment. “First in our families to graduate.”
Echo laughs. “Right? We need to really celebrate next week.”
Is that code for I want to have sex with you?
“We will.” Then I turn to Xavian. “I’ll see you at the office, buddy. I’ll just be a few minutes.”
X takes my not-so-subtle hint. “See you there.”
When he’s gone, I turn to my bestie. “Need a ride back to your place?”
We can talk there.
Echo unzips her graduation gown and steps out, draping it over her arm. Her dress beneath stops my breath. It’s not her usual shapeless, ankle-length sack in earthy brown or mustard, decorated with old-fashioned flowers and floppy ruffles. Nope, this is a rich wine color, trimmed in matching lace that somehow makes her golden skin glow. It’s also short. Really short. Like, she better hope there’s not a stiff wind short. But wow, I’ve never noticed her tanned legs before. They seem miles long.
“I’m good. I rode my bike.”
When she turns to point at the rack, I catch a glimpse of her mostly bare back, minus two straps hugging her shoulder blades and a delicate tassel dangling in between.
Holy shit. Is she trying to attract attention? Granted, it’s another hot day, but lately her long skirts and combat boots, braids, beanies, and plaids have been replaced by stuff that’s a lot sexier.
I look away because I shouldn’t be staring at my best friend like that. “Cool. Um, I want to talk to you. Why don’t you feel totally accomplished? Your major wasn’t easy, but you made amazing grades, despite having to work to help with tuition and pay rent. You have lots of friends, the respect of your professors, tons of prospects…”
“I know. And I’m proud of all that.” Then Echo looks away, sinking her slightly crooked front teeth into her puffy pink lip. “I just wanted to make today about my new life. I woke up feeling like the usual me. I’m an adult, but in my head I’m still a kid since I haven’t done all the grown-up things like start a career, make car payments, worry about taxes…and other stuff.”
Like have sex?
“I wanted to finish the day totally embracing the life I’m going to have. Graduation was a big part of that, for sure. I had a plan to work on some of the other stuff. I even have an interview at three o’clock with a firm I think could be a great fit for me, so I’m excited…” Echo shrugs. “But the rest of my plan fell through. It can wait a few days, I guess.”
Yes, she means having sex. Clearly, she’s not going to tell me—I have a few theories about why—and I can’t confront her with what I know.
I have to tread carefully.
“There’s no rush on anything, Echo. You are an adult. It’s clear you’re a woman and—”
“Is it? Really?” She thrusts a hand on her hip.
I don’t think she means to, but her pose shows off her curves and makes it abundantly clear that she’s all woman.
Seriously, I have to stop looking at her like that.