Kiss Me Ever After
Prologue - last summer
“Remind me why we’re doing this again?” I winced as a woman literally stuck a pin into me.
“We’re saving my mum’s skin,” declared Amber, my best friend.
Which was why I stood in a freezing cold corridor in a thin satin slip dress, having the bodice altered to make it fit properly.
“Keep still,” hissed the woman through a mouthful of pins. “I don’t want to get blood on this dress.”
I did as I was told, trying not to shiver and inadvertently get pricked.
Amber had roped me into modelling at the Ealynn Sands Annual Summer Fashion Pageant. Her mother worked in the hotel which hosted it, and two girls they’d lined up to model had dropped out at the last minute. So Sonya had spoken to Amber, who’d spoken to me, and before long we were trying on outfits and now being made up to within an inch of our lives.
While I enjoyed fashion, my interests lay on the other side of the industry in marketing and PR. This week, I’d got the news I’d been accepted for an internship next summer with a prestigious consultancy in New York. It was everything I wanted… Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Central Park and yellow cabs…you name it, I was ready. Anything to do with the Big Apple and I wanted it. When I’d told her, Amber had been excited for me, even though it meant missing out on our usual summer plans. Selfishly, I didn’t care. One summer away from here wouldn’t hurt anyone, well, except maybe Amber. She would miss me.
“Excuse me, ladies,” a male voice cut through the excited chatter in the corridor, “coming through!”
My gaze fell on the waiter pushing through the hallway with a tray full of empty plates and dirty cutlery.
Dark curly hair, brown and gold eyes, and a muscled body clad in the regulation uniform of black jeans with a black and white horizontal striped t-shirt. I practically drooled.
For years, he and I had danced around each other every summer.
Almost getting together.
Almost, but not quite.
He brushed past me, his arm skimming my nipples, which tightened enough in response that he noticed and paused. The corner of his mouth quirked, his eyes catching mine.
“Sorry,” he murmured.
The low octave of his voice sent waves down my spine. I shivered involuntarily.
“Seriously, Lennon, stop fidgeting.” The woman tugged the bodice of the dress tighter around my breasts, emphasising my already obvious cleavage.
Justin’s gaze fell to my chest. “Don’t stop on my account,” he murmured, low enough for only me to hear.
Heat flooded through me, pooling between my legs.
In the distance, someone called his name, and he dragged his attention away from me.
“Good luck for the show,” he said, louder this time.
Before he moved on, he dragged his gaze down the full length of my body. My breath hitched, wanting him to touch me again. But he left me hanging.
“Hey, earth to Lennon.” Amber nudged my shoulder. “Are you lusting over Justin again? You know he’s just started going out with Candace Barkley?”
If anything could bring me back to reality with a bump, it was the mention of Candace’s name. She and I had never clicked, never become friends, even after all these years.
“Ugh.” I made a face. “Poor Justin.”
Amber laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
The woman with the pins finally appeared satisfied with her handiwork and made me spin around, so she could check everything looked okay. “Beautiful!” she declared. “You’ll knock ‘em dead.”
If Justin’s reaction was anything to go by, I think I’d already done that.
Fuck, Lennon Cole looked absolutely breath-taking in that dress.
If I wasn’t working, I’d… wait, I wouldn’t do anything because I had a girlfriend.
Didn’t stop me looking though.
My mind wandered as I walked into the kitchen and dumped my tray.
There had been plenty of times in the past where we’d almost got together. I always knew nothing would ever come of it though, because Lennon only ever came to Ealynn Sands for a few weeks here and there.
Snapping myself out of it, I came to my senses.
Candace would kill me. She’d been on my radar for a while, but we’d only been going out a few weeks.
She was more than a handful. Jealous didn’t even begin to cover it. Sometimes I wondered what the hell I’d got myself into. At least she wasn’t here today with her green eyes all over Lennon.
I managed to keep my mind off Lennon until the show started. From my station at the bar, I watched all the models sashay down the makeshift catwalk. Models of all ages, shapes and sizes from the town—we weren’t talking Gigi Hadid here. Lennon stood out from the rest. I couldn’t take my eyes off the way her hips swung as she twirled around in the dress I’d seen her in earlier.
If only I wasn’t with Candace.
“Justin, can you check whether the kitchen has the glasses ready for the reception? They’ll finish the final catwalk shortly.” My boss’s request pulled me from my thoughts.
“Yeah, sure.” Reluctantly, I went down the corridor, disappointed to miss out on Lennon’s encore.
It didn’t take too long to check. Everything was ready and waiting for our signal. I backed out of the kitchen and into the corridor. In such a rush to get to the bar and see the rest of the show, I literally bumped straight into someone.
“God, I’m so sorry!” I span around to come face to face with Lennon.
She still wore the slip dress but was clutching a small bag. My gaze fell to her nipples, clearly visible through the thin material. My dick twitched.
We were alone in the hotel corridor.
We could have been caught at any moment.
I couldn’t have cared less.
“See if things were different, I reckon you and me could be good together. You’re pretty hot, Lennon, you know that?” I leaned in and wound a strand of her long, blonde hair around my finger, the action pulling her closer to me. Her breath tickled my cheek.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” she replied, biting her lower lip.
My thumb traced the outline of her mouth as I leaned in closer, inches away from kissing those plump, luscious pillows.
So close… yet…
Abruptly, I drew back as I heard my boss calling from the bar. “I have to go. Duty calls.”
“Wait… can we, um, maybe… ?”
I knew exactly what she was getting at.
“Give me your phone.”
She scrambled in her tiny handbag for the device, unlocked it and handed it to me. I hesitated for a moment before deciding to put in my real phone number. I wasn’t that much of a prick. Giving her phone back, I gave her a slow, lazy smile before straightening my t-shirt and headed off towards the bar.
“See you around,” I called over my shoulder.
In the few days which followed, I waited eagerly for Justin to get in touch. Every time my phone pinged with a notification I jumped excitedly onto the device, only to be disappointed. On more than one occasion, I’d started a message to him, then deleted it straight away because I didn’t know what to say.
I hadn’t told Amber about our almost kiss, even though it was killing me not to. We used to talk about everything to do with guys, including, most recently, her getting together with Curtis Porter, one of Justin’s best friends.
That evening, we were heading out to the Old Dock, one of the pubs in the next town over, as a pre-birthday celebration for Amber.
Justin had to be there, and I hoped I’d get the chance to spend some time with him.
Every hope I had shattered into a million pieces when we arrived. Sitting so close she was practically climbing in his lap was Candace Barkley. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Amber had told me they were together.
Why I ever thought there could be something between Justin and me, I had no idea. We should have stuck to our near misses and been done with it. I didn’t know why seeing him with Candace hurt so much.
And as that would be the case, I wanted to have the last word.
“I wondered why I hadn’t heard from you after the other night.” There seemed no point in beating around the bush, even though the evidence was staring me right in the face. “You know, after we kissed at the fashion show.” I embellished the actual events. Justin needed to hurt as much as I did right now. “I didn’t realise you were… involved with someone.” I dismissed Candace with a stare.
“What’s she talking about, Justin?” Candace asked, her grey eyes wide and shining with what looked like unshed tears.
Justin’s head snapped between me and Candace, a little like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Even without him saying a word, I knew exactly what was coming next.
“She’s lying, Candace,” he said, his tone soothing. “Totally misunderstood what I said.”
My eyes narrowed. “Said or did? How can I misunderstand you being millimetres away from kissing me?”
“Why would I want to get with you, Lennon? A privileged princess who gives us her presence whenever she feels like it?” Justin’s glare met mine. “We have nothing in common, nothing!”
“I don’t know what I even saw in you.”
“Nor me you.”
Our gaze locked, his brown and gold eyes reflecting something I didn’t quite understand. Regret? Disappointment?
The intensity of his stare burned me through to the core.
“Then thank God I’m never coming back to Ealynn Sands!” I yelled in his face.
At least I wouldn’t have to see him again next summer.