She’s the ‘other woman’ we all hated in Broken Play, he’s the man she wronged all those years ago, and now Lorelai and Noah are finally getting their second chance at a happily ever after. But brace yourselves for a very bumpy and very emotional ride. This was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, as well as the one I was most nervous to read, and it ended up being one of best books I’ve come across in a very long time. It’s a redemption story that I honestly thought was impossible to write. Yet Alison Rhymes somehow manages to not only make us love a ‘villain’ in the end—I wanted to scorch the earth beneath the feet of anyone who ever dared to hurt her. I’m recommending this book unreservedly, and I am honoured to share the first chapter with you.
My mother once told me I listen to my heart with impetuous violence. I was only seven, and I had no way of understanding what she meant. She wasn’t right about much in life, but this was something she got right.
Mistakes are made every day.
Not like mine.
Surely, not with such regularity and severity.
Simply stated, I’m a fuckup. In the most epic sense.
It was a mistake having an affair with a married man. It wasn’t my first mistake. Certainly, it won’t be my last.
I once thought Drew McKenna was my future. Not as a husband. I always knew he’d never be that to me. But something else; a friend, a security I’d never had before, never dreamed of having before. Because of that belief, I betrayed people.
Delusions drove me to spitefulness.
Fear drove me to my delusions.
Abuse drove me to fear.
None of that excuses my behavior. It doesn’t absolve me of my sins. Nor did it get me any closer to my goal. Only further away.
I’ve never been great at following where my head takes me. My emotions reign over me. I’m rash, impulsive, and nearly always regretful. Though that never seems to stop me.
This time… this time I’ve really fucked up.
I feel it the second I see Drew across the room of Noah Anders’ Super Bowl party. It’s a big party, exclusive, I had to sneak in. Noah would never dream of allowing me entrance, the woman who broke his heart all those years ago. The woman who had an affair with his co-host’s husband this past year.
Noah fulfilled his dream of the NFL, as I always knew he would. Unfortunately, he was only able to play a few years before an injury took him out of the league. He moved back to his home state of Louisiana and works for the New Orleans’ Saints as some sort of consultant, I think.
He’s also recently taken on a position with ESPN co-hosting a show with Drew’s wife, June.
June is up on stage singing some ridiculous karaoke pop song. If I let myself admit it, June’s an amazing woman. She’s stronger than I gave her credit for, much more forgiving, too.
So, I don’t let myself think about it. At all. I can live with the choices I’ve made if I attempt to see her an obstacle in my way. Even if it’s not at all true. She’s nothing more than an innocent woman who didn’t deserve any of this.
Drew’s all dreamy eyes and cheesy smiles while he watches her, unbeknownst that I move through the maze of bodies between him and me. A quick scan tells me half the damn room is having the same reaction to June. The other half is gaga for June’s blonde friend.
Leighton is her name. I’ve followed Drew and June’s lives enough to know they’ve been close for years, even if I didn’t have vague memories of her tagging along with June to several of Drew’s college games. Their friendship is just one more thing for me to be jealous of. I’ve never had a girlfriend like that. In college, I had fellow cheerleaders that I occasionally hung out with.
Except they came along with all the petty bullshit you’d expect. I had little in common with them, and absolutely no patience for them. I tried once; I really did. It was complete carnage.
Much like the scene I know I’m about to cause, the one I seem helpless to stop. All it would take is for me to turn around and leave. Except I have nowhere to go.
Desperation is the devil, and it fuels my every step.
June’s brother is the first to see my approach. His wide smile fades and mouths a name in warning.
I’m on him, swinging my arms around him before he has the chance to turn and cut off the interaction. Altercation? Probably, altercation.
“Hey, Drew,” I purr in his ear with nothing left to lose. Tension sets in the muscles under my arms and I fight the instinct my body has to it. It tells me to run and hide. It doesn’t understand that there is nowhere to go and no money to do it with.
I have little left in the way of options, with few funds and fewer friends. Any reputation I had is obliterated now that I’ve been publicly branded as a homewrecker. That wasn’t something I set out to be. Truth be told, I’m ashamed of it. Of course, I don’t tell that to anyone but myself.
Outwardly, I embrace my monikers.
Villain. Clinger. Trash. Whore.
“Get the fuck off me, Lorelai,” Drew growls.
“Oh, come on. I thought we were friends.”
All I want is a chance to explain. When you only have one friend in the world, even if that friendship is built on a fragile foundation of lies, you hold on to it with everything you have. I wasn’t trying to betray him, or make things worse for June, when I went to the tabloids about
Drew and my affair.
It wasn’t about that. It was about survival. Drew’s never been unreasonable, I think he’d understand, if he’d only hear me out.
“Fucking hell,” Reed, June’s brother, mutters as he glances up, probably looking for his sister who’s no longer on stage.
“Were. We’re nothing anymore.”
“Can we talk, please? I just want the opportunity to explain.”
“What the fuck are you thinking?” He seethes.
“You wouldn’t answer my calls. What was I supposed to do, Drew?”
“You were supposed to fuck all the way off. I’m sure I’ve told you this already,” June butts in now that she’s found her way back through the crowd. I barely grant her a glance. Mostly because she looks gorgeous, glowing with new confidence, the likes I once possessed myself.
“I’m not here to talk to you, June,” I throw back at her.
“Oh honey, I don’t care what your intentions are. You need to leave.”
“Lorelai, just go,” Drew pleads.
“Not until you let me explain why I did it, please?”
“Nobody wants to hear it. Leave.” June is quite comfortable, no longer letting Drew do all the speaking for her. She used to remind me of a slight, spineless creature, always cowering behind Drew or Reed. She’s not that same woman. I noticed the spark of it when I confronted her all those months ago. That spark is a bonfire in her now.
The straighter her spine grows, the brighter the fire in her eyes… the more I feel the volatile pit stir inside me. I don’t see June in front of me. She morphs into another figure all together. One I don’t know how to react to in any way except one.
Anger. Fight back. Survive, survive, survive.
Red bleeds over my vision and I no longer know where I am, what I’m doing. Most especially what the hell I’m saying. There is no thought, just action. Or reaction, more like. I feel the words as they flutter out of my throat with a stinging speed. I don’t know what I say, but they burn and burn.
But then it isn’t them burning me any longer. It’s something new as a small, yet strong, fist takes me by surprise. I stagger back, unable to keep upright in the stupidly high heels I have on.
The ones that make my feet look elegant, my legs long and sleek. The ones I kept on the last time Drew fucked me into a mindless stupor after he spanked my ass to a pretty beet red.
I’m not sane in this moment. At least I know that much.
The fight instantly drains out of me. Easily, since I never truly wanted it, anyway. I don’t stand, even as I feel the trickling blood. The heat of embarrassment keeps me low, right where I belong, I suppose. Down here on the floor, sticky from spilled booze, and dirty from trampled feet. Maybe it suits someone like me just fine.
Shoes shuffle in front of me, Drew’s come into view as he lifts June back. Removing her from my radius. Maybe he’s afraid I’ll infect her with whatever disease lives inside me that makes me this way.
It’s not Drew’s feet that concern me, though. It’s the new set that step up beside me. Perfectly polished and pristine, they can only belong to Noah Anders.
I hitch a breath and try to control the trembling that wants to shake me wholly. I’m afraid to let it, scared of what might escape with it. My ego has already left, all my self-confidence gone.
What else can I afford to lose?
As hard as it is being reduced like this in front of this crowd, Drew, and June; it’s infinitely worse with Noah here.
I start to stand, ready to flee fast and far, when his voice hits me like a whip.
“What is she doing here?” The disgust so clear in his voice makes me wince more than the split in my lip when I try to lick away the blood.
Once upon a time, I thought I loved Noah.
That’s a lie. I knew then that I loved him. That was a long time ago, back when I still had some goodness in me. Like everything else, I fucked that up. It makes what I did to him even more horrible. Much more unforgivable. Facing Noah… well, that’s one thing I’d hoped to avoid tonight. Or forever.
“I needed the money,” I say softly, no longer able to keep the tears at bay. “I need the money.”
“Enough, Lorelai,” Noah clips. His brutish words affect me more than I would have guessed they could. “Apologize.”
This isn’t the Noah I knew. Noah was soft-spoken and kind. He treated me gently, raised me on a pedestal that he held up with kid gloves. Now he’s hard, commanding, his words too reminiscent of my father.
“No,” I say, in denial of the image playing out in my head. I blink hard to clear the confusion. I’m not responding to Noah’s order, but he doesn’t see what I see and takes my words as a refusal to his demand.
“Noah,” June says, her pity putting me farther in my place.
The last thing I want from her is fucking sympathy.
When Noah snaps at me again, I can’t get the words out fast enough.
“I’m so sorry,” stammering before turning to leave. I need out of here; need air and a quiet space to numb the humiliation and scattered thoughts.
With my first step towards the stairs, I stumble slightly. Noah’s large hands reach for my waist.
At first, I’m shocked he would even try to stabilize me instead of just watching me fall again, this time without the help of June’s right hook. But then he bends at the knees, just enough to ram a shoulder into my abdomen and easily lift me off my feet.
There’s no point in fighting him, he’s twice my size. I don’t protest or scream for him to stop; nobody here will help me, anyway. Resigning myself to be escorted out and dumped on the street is all I have going for me right now.
My view is full of Noah’s ass encased in perfectly tailored black suit pants. In any other circumstance, I’d be impressed, probably even turned on. That would get me exactly nowhere.
If I’ve been successful at anything tonight, it was making myself the most unappealingly lowest creature in the building.
Nobody would want me, least of all Noah, proud man that he is. Why would he? I was unfathomably cruel to him all those years ago. Deceiving his as I did. Even if it was to benefit him.
In another desperate move, I had asked Noah to spank me. I didn’t explain why, instead I taunted him into doing it. The aftermath of that experience I used as a catalyst to end our relationship. That, too, wasn’t something I explained to him. There’s a bigger story there and I’ve never admitted it to anyone.
A few wayward tears stream out of my eyes and run down to my hairline while I bounce on Noah’s shoulder as he takes the stairs down. They’re surprising, the tears. I’m not a crier. But I can’t blame myself for them. My life hasn’t been easy. If anyone deserves some tears… well, maybe I don’t.
The noise of the crowd and the music quiets the farther he walks, the light that penetrates my watery sight dims and dims.
He carries me through a doorway and kicks the door shut behind us. The room is still, silent, and pitch black for a second. Foreboding settles over me, causing me to shiver uncomfortably.
Being in situations I can’t predict freaks me out. Takes me back to a time I would rather never revisit.
Back to when my raging bull temper wasn’t something I possessed. All I had was self-preservation, and a fit of any kind would only cause me more trouble. Which, I suppose, all things considered, is still true.
Fuck, I just don’t learn.
Noah unceremoniously dumps me into a hard chair, I slump in it as the blood rushes back to all the places it’s supposed to be. Hair hangs as a curtain around me. I don’t bother pushing it out of my face. It will only allow witness to whatever hard expression Noah is wearing. I don’t need to see it to know it’s there; I feel it. He’s moving around the room like a storm waiting for the perfect place to strike down its thunder.
His tension fuels the worst parts of me. The ire starts in my stomach, then creeps through me, blotting out anything calm, anything remorseful. I want to rage as my fists clench and my neck tightens so much; I stretch it–pop my shoulder back until I hear a crack.
“Stop,” he barks, and I shiver for another reason now. “Relax. Eyes to me.”
Relaxing isn’t exactly an option. But I lift my head just enough to see the shape of him through the waterfall of my white hair, still making no effort to brush it away.
I’ve never seen clearly. Why start now?
Dragging another chair in front of me, Noah sits close enough to touch me, but far enough that he isn’t in any danger of being tainted by my presence. At least, that’s how I take it. I don’t presume to know Noah these days, but his disapproval of me is clear enough.
His fingers brush away at the strands still covering my face, and the touch makes me flinch. I don’t fear that he’ll hurt me. But I don’t want his physical contact all the same. Though I allow him his firm grip of my chin, tilting my head up farther, I close my eyes before his face comes into view.
“You really fucked up this time, Lorelai.” My name on his lips is as cold as the piece of damp cloth he presses to my mouth. It stings as he cleans up the damage June inflicted, but I take it. I deserve it. We both know it.
“I’ll get you cleaned up and get you back to wherever you’re staying,” he continues, and that does make me wince.
“I don’t have,” I begin, but quickly retreat. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
“I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about how much more damage you’ll cause,” he says.
“Seeing you safely put away is the best thing for the wellbeing of all my guests.”
Put away. Like I’m a feral dog.
“I’ll leave. I won’t come back,” I say, sounding more dejected than I’d like.
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe a single word out of your vicious mouth.”
Forcing myself to look at him, I open my eyes. As I expected, the gaze staring back at me is hard, chilled, focused on the cut he’s still tending. When he meets my eyes, there’s something else there, too. It’s quick, just a flash of an emotion, as if I startled him just by looking back.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen him in the flesh. Since I’ve been this close to him. My heart screams that we’re home. Even my damaged brain knows better.
Noah has always been very good looking. In college, every girl I knew crushed on him in some capacity. He’s turned from an attractive all-American boy to a downright handsome man. He’s broader than the guy I knew and infinitely sleeker in a suit that was obviously made for him. His once dirty blonde hair has darkened a few shades, parted just off center in perfectly styled waves. Neatly trimmed facial hair blankets his powerful jaw. And those damned eyes of his.
Wolfish, that’s what I’d always thought of the gold flecks that brighten them as they pierce into me… his current prey.
“I don’t want your help.”
“I don’t care. Where are you staying?”
“Noah, stop,” I plead. I don’t want him to know what a bind I’m in. My money is so limited, even if it wasn’t Super Bowl weekend in New Orleans, I’d have a hard time finding a safe spot to afford.
“It’s not up for fucking discussion, Lorelai. Where are you staying?” Noah leans forward slightly, impressing his will and determination, his dominance, on me. The tendons in his neck tighten, and I focus on them instead of his stern expression.
“I… I don’t,” I fumble over the words as the last bit of my pride clogs up my throat.
Noah leans back again, removing his hand from the ministrations of my injury. He’s quiet for a moment and I use that time to bolster myself for what comes next.
“Hell, you don’t have anywhere to go.” It’s not a question, it’s a surprised admonishment.
I shake my head in silent agreement, glad that I didn’t have to say the words myself.
“Did I miss you being this stupid all those years ago, or is this something you’ve learned since college?”
“Fuck you, Noah,” I hiss. Yes, I mess up. A lot, recently. But I’m not dumb and I hate the accusation. Maybe it’s my fault that he sees me as too stupid to live, but I’ve been living with the ‘dumb blonde’ stigma my entire life and I’m anything but that. He knows it just as well as he knows how much the insult stings me.
“There she is,” he mumbles with a sly half smile I know can’t be trusted. This may not be the man I used to know, but some things never change. That smugness he carries so easily, being one of them.
We study each other for a few hundred heartbeats. Me glaring and tight-lipped. Him, relaxed and almost amused, which only fires me up more.
Finally, he rises, tosses the used cleansing pads into the trash before gesturing towards the door.
“When is your flight home?”
I balk a little because I don’t have that either. There is no home, so there isn’t a need to return to Seattle.
“You’re joking, right?” Noah asks with a grimace, cluing into my reaction.
“No, Noah. None of this is a joke. None of it is funny! This entire situation is hard enough without your bullshit. Just let me leave.” I stand, but Noah reaches an arm out to block my escape.
“You stop,” I protest with no small amount of petulance.
“Let’s go,” he says, laughing at my expense, “I have a place you can stay, you toddler.”
“Where?” I ask wearily.
“Follow me. I’ll fill you in on your new ground rules on our way home.”
What the actual fuck have I gotten myself into now?