With one week to go until FRIEND (WITH BENEFITS) ZONE releases, I thought I’d have a little fun and share an excerpt! Before you get a first look at Jasmine and Devon, be sure to check out the rafflecopter for some cool prizes from yours truly! Rafflecopter ends on June 20, 2017.
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Chilly midnight wind blew my trench coat up as I stared at the fluttering note taped to my basement apartment door. I needed to get out of the freaking cold air, but I stood rooted to the spot by a sloppy handwritten letter that didn’t even mention my name.
To Whom It May Concern,
Your residency is terminated. Please collect your belongings and move out ASAP.
I’d seen one too many letters like this in my twenty-one years. Some taped to doors, others shoved underneath them, and still more sent certified mail. All back when I lived with my mother. This was the first I had managed to collect on my own.
I shouldered the door open, then used my hip to force it closed. The letter—now crumpled in my hand—landed on my wobbly kitchen table. I still hadn’t found the right combination of books to keep it level. Not that I had many books to begin with.
The wind outside stopped, but my postage-stamp-sized studio didn’t exactly come with heat. I flicked on the tiny portable heater and sat on my bed, waiting to thaw out.
I never wanted to be in this situation. Not again. Served me right for accepting a cheap Craigslist apartment. I paid my rent on time, in cash. I kept to myself. If I’d somehow created too much noise, then they needed to tell me. Deaf ears couldn’t tell.
I took in a deep breath of questionable moldy air. Thirty days. That was standard for evictions. I could work out something in thirty days.
I had to.
With a bit of warmth finally reaching my skin, I changed out of my clothes and into a baggy tee shirt, then added sweats and a sweatshirt. I had to tighten the drawstring to keep the pants up, but the extra fabric helped keep me warm. Clothes stolen from Dev, my BFF. Perks to having a guy friend. I had no clue if he knew I’d stolen his clothes or not. I didn’t care. He’d give me the shirt off his back if I asked; nothing wrong with skipping a step.
From my bed, the entire studio apartment stretched before me. Okay, so cramped was a better word than stretched. A half kitchen that consisted of a mini fridge, a sink, and a microwave, a small table, one lousy tiny window, and the bathroom that held a stall shower and just as much water pressure as heat: almost nonexistent. The only positive thing about this place was the rent, cheap enough that I could save as much money as possible. My phone vibrated, and I picked it up, welcoming the distraction.
Dev: How did the date go?
Considering I sat on my bed wearing his clothes instead of being warmed up without any clothes on at all? I sent back a thumbs-down image.
Dev: That bad?
Me: Greg was disappointed I wasn’t in my bar clothes.
Served me right for picking up a guy at the bar I worked at. He had seemed to be nice and far more of a gentleman than most of my customers. He even knew a few signs. I had hoped for a little fun, a departure from my daily life. In the end, we had nothing in common. He wanted the shot-girl image, not a real person.
Dev: That asshole. Want me to beat him up?
Me: I know you have a love affair with your punching bag, but this one requires no fists. Sorry.
Dev: You OK?
I stared up at my ceiling. The man always managed to read between the lines.
Me: I’m fine.
I scrunched my nose and tapped at my phone until his image appeared on-screen, too-long hair included. “I just had a bad date. Are you done picking on me?” I signed.
He tried to keep a straight face, but his eyes laughed at me. “I wanted to make sure you were OK.”
I held the phone farther back and let him see I was ready for bed. How much more fine could I get?
“So that’s what happened to my college sweatshirt.”
I angled the phone to the emblem on my leg. “Pants too.”
Dev laughed and shook his head. “Come over. You don’t have to stay at your crappy apartment tonight.”
“I happen to like my crappy apartment.” Okay, that was a lie. I hated this place. But I liked my privacy. And even if I stayed at Dev’s a few times a month, that didn’t mean I needed to right this second. Not when I’d be losing this place soon.
I didn’t sign that. My problem. I’d handle it. I’d learned a long time ago to never let a wannabe social worker get involved unless I wanted to give up control. Dev had no boundaries when it came to helping others.
“Are you seriously begging me to come over at midnight?”
Dev had the decency to shrug.
“Tomorrow. Come to the bar. For now, I have a date with my pillow.” Sure, the pillow was flat as a pancake, but I wanted alone time.
“Fine. If you change your mind, come on over.”
I nodded and ended the call. I had his spare key, but we both knew I wouldn’t use it.
My eyes traveled over the room once again. The cracks in the walls, the cracks in the cement floor. I had snagged the place for one reason and one reason only: to save money and buy my own bar.
Like my father had. I wondered if he’d recommend it or if he’d try to convince me to choose a different career. Maybe we would have worked side by side, handling customers and drinks. In truth, I’d never know what might have been.
I pulled out my notebook, the one with the pale blue cover on which I had penned Jas’s Bar. Here I planned out everything I could for owning my own bar. From rules and regulations, to which brands I wanted, to recipes and other ideas. I mapped out my finances, what I’d need to make this a reality.
I wasn’t there yet. Hence the cheap apartment and meager living.
Maybe I should have crashed at Dev’s. A little comfort went a long way when life spiraled out of control. I knew I was young and I had time. But I wanted my happy. I’d paid my dues; I deserved my dream.
I was still staring at my notebook when a light flashed by my tiny window. Outside someone stood with a flashlight, shining it into my apartment. I didn’t need to adjust to the light to know who that someone was with the one, two, three blinking pattern.
It took five steps to stomp over to the door. Dev came in once I wedged it open. He pushed the door closed.
“You can’t have your clothes back,” I signed, even as I was grateful to see him. When Dev was around, even this place sorta felt like a home.
“I don’t want my clothes back. Not now, at least. I wanted to make sure you were OK.”
I held out my hands, showing that I was fine. Even if I did scan my coffee table and breathe in relief that the eviction letter was facedown in a crumpled mess.
He studied me, searching for all my little tics that spelled I was in trouble, tics only he knew. I blanked my face; otherwise he would latch onto there being a problem. A big one. Dev shoved a hand through his hair, those wavy locks rioting into one massive sexy-as-hell bedhead. I missed the days when he was a spindly little thing, before he grew into this hunk I could never unfriendzone. He meant too much to rock the boat, and I didn’t dare risk losing him. He scratched at a day’s worth of scruff, the black stubble contrasting with his pale skin. Then he kicked off his shoes, tossed his coat on the back of a chair, and plopped down on my bed in a way that had to have a spring or two digging into his back.
He didn’t budge.
I wanted to laugh. Forget me time—neither one of us had given the other the right to be alone since we first met. Still, I couldn’t let go of our usual bickering match. “Go home.”
He folded his hands behind his head, not moving. I crossed my arms. A few seconds later he sat up, grabbed my laptop off the floor, and flipped it open. “We’ll watch a movie.”
“My laptop can’t handle Netflix. You know that.”
He closed the laptop. “Right. Forgot.” He unlocked his phone and placed it on the bed.
“Tiny viewing tonight?”
“You refused to come to my place.” Underlining meaning: we could have watched on a large flat-screen TV.
Since there was no budging him now that he had settled in, I climbed onto the bed with him. He picked up the phone so we could watch, and I settled my head on his chest.
I didn’t pay much attention to the action flick he put on. Most days I loved the intensity of those movies. Tonight, those explosions felt too close for comfort. Instead I made a mental list of my options. Had to before Dev found out. He’d want me to stay with him. And being cuddled up with him, I had to admit, had potential. More so when I placed my hand on his firm stomach and took in a deep breath of the ocean scent of his soap. Problem was, I needed to be on my own two feet. The last person to take care of me—my mother—had failed. I couldn’t trust anyone else.
Not even Dev.