Read Crushed (Crystal Brook Billionaires) Online
Authors: Jessica Blake
Tags: #healing a broken heart, #steamy sex, #small town romance hometown, #hot guys, #north carolina, #bad boy, #alpha billionaire
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FREE BONUS NOVEL - “B
Tormented by guilt and desire, will Claire make the right decision in order to find the happiness she deserves?
Everything in Claire Lawrence's life has finally fallen into place. She has independence, a great job, and a new boyfriend — one who makes her believe, for the first time ever, in things like soulmates and love at first sight. But tragedy strikes, leaving Claire shattered, shaken, and trying to make sense of the world. In despair, she returns to Crystal Brook and her childhood home, hoping to heal her crushed soul.
When sexy Owen Burke knocks on her door, she feels like her heart might beat again. But guilt makes her force him away, keep him at arm’s length, even when everything inside her wants to pull him close. Makes her want to believe in love again.
Only if grief, that tricky bitch, doesn’t crush everything in its wake.
Who will win? Claire? Owen? Or the grave?
This is a full-sized STANDALONE novel with an HEA and NO CLIFFHANGERS! Also included in this copy is my standalone novel,
Behind the Scenes,
as a free bonus for a limited time!
You may also enjoy the other standalone novels in the Crystal Brook world:
eople say that when you’re facing death, your life flashes before your eyes. I guess this happens whether you make it out of the situation alive or not. One thing I do think I know is those who cheat death and come back from such experiences usually have a new appreciation for the world around them. They talk about seeing things more clearly, about having gained a more loving outlook on everything and everyone.
But what about when the life flashing in front of your eyes isn’t your own? What about when it belongs to someone else? And, on top of that, the life in mention keeps flashing on and on, following you through every minute and every day as you try to go on in the world. A world that is now nothing like you always knew it to be because the person you thought would be standing next to you isn’t there anymore?
All of the things you looked forward to, from small to large — like taking that trip to the beach the next weekend or maybe even moving in together in a year — are gone like a wisp of smoke.
And it’s not fair. Because it was their life. It was, in a way by extension, your life, and it wasn’t a mere wisp of smoke waiting to be blown away by the breeze.
It was everything.
But still, it doesn’t change the truth of that old saying…
In the blink of an eye, everything can change.
Morning sunlight struck the side of my face, but I didn’t open my eyes. The heaviness I’d gone to sleep with was still there, lodged in my chest like a rock. Even the forgetful state of unconsciousness had done nothing to lessen its weight.
Already, the same old movie was playing. Familiar pictures and thoughts flashed through my mind. They were the same ones from the day before and the day before that, and before that…
The first time I saw Peter, he was smiling. Sitting around a fire and underneath the colorful paper lanterns in my friend Mackenzie’s tiny backyard in Brooklyn, he’d been cracking up over something one of the girls sitting near him said. And when he turned to look in my direction, our gazes immediately caught. Something sparked deep in his eyes and that same something pulsed in the middle of my chest. The smile hadn’t flickered on his face. Instead, it only stretched, jumping the length of the yard to land on my own lips.
From there, the memories only went on and on, getting better and worse all at the same time.
I knew how this would go. The images would flicker behind my eyeballs all day long. Sometimes I could find a small amount of solace in short distracted moments, but the horror film was always still there — grainy, sure, but persistent.
I turned and flopped onto my stomach, burrowing my face into the bed and welcoming the darkness of the cool pillowcase.
Soon, it became evident that the bedroom was heating up. I kicked the blanket off and tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. Easing up to sitting, I looked around at my old room. Long and with wooden floors, it was usually one of the coolest places in my parents’ house. I’d forgotten to pull the curtains closed the night before though, and the morning sun was slanted right across the bed.
I sighed and just sat there, the weight in my limbs so intense that even swinging out of bed seemed impossible. Unfortunately, it was also inevitable. I’d have to get up sooner or later. And I’d have to move on with my life.
That last thought was too painful to bear.
“Shower,” I said out loud. “That’s all I have to do.”
After that, there would be breakfast. Two very simple tasks. Getting through them would be easy enough. All I had to do was take each of them one minute at a time.
My toiletry bag sat on top of the black suitcase, right where I’d tossed it the night before. It was my second day in Crystal Brook, and I had no intentions of unpacking the bag and putting my clothes away in my childhood dresser. My stay in North Carolina, after all, would hopefully be short.
I had work to go back to. The New York offices of the realty company I worked for wouldn’t run themselves. That was my job.
Or it had been my job. Perhaps going back to work would be even worse than it was when I tried it last week. I’d only lasted three days before having a breakdown. Suppose the next time I couldn’t manage anything more than stepping through the office doors?
A shudder went through me as I thought of New York. Only a couple weeks ago it had seemed like a dreamland. The best place in the whole world to be. That’s what I’d thought of it then.
But when I left it yesterday morning, all I could see was its grime. The trash piled in the gutters. The homeless, dejected and forgotten, sleeping in the doorways. A city filled with people who barely looked at each other.
Going back to New York seemed just as painful as staying in North Carolina.
But, I had to face it. No matter where I went on the planet, I would be wearing my pain like a heavy cloak. Scrambling with shaking fingers as I tried to unclasp it from my throat, I’d always be doing just that — trying.
Grief is a tricky bitch. She doesn’t leave just because you tell her to get the hell out.
I grabbed the toiletry bag then fumbled and dropped it. Cursing, I picked it back up and trudged into the hallway. At the other end of the hall, a door shut. It was my mother coming out of her bedroom, her short blonde hair freshly curled and her sweater vest pressed, despite it being Sunday. Yes, she was one of those mothers — she could have stood in for the mom on any classic fifties family show. Just take your pick.
Her eyes widened slightly when she saw me. I cringed.
Please don’t ask me how I’m doing. Please don’t ask me if I need anything. Please don’t give me your sympathetic smile.
The day before had been filled with nothing but those things. I had one of the best families on Earth, and I knew they were there for me no matter what.
Sometimes, though, you just wanted to trudge through the swamp on your own. It could be better that way.
“Well, the air conditioner is broken,” Mom announced by way of greeting. “I’ll have to call someone out here.”
“Ah.” I leaned my shoulder against the wall. “That explains why it’s so hot in here.”
She waved her hand in front of her face. “And in April too. Remember how cold it was last year?”
I murmured an acknowledgment, though I couldn’t remember whether I’d visited home at all last April. I bet the answer was no.
Her eyes traveled down to the bag in my hand. “Were you about to take a shower?”
She smiled slightly. “Okay. How about I make you some breakfast? I’ll have eggs and bacon ready by the time you get out.”
“No,” I quickly said. “Thanks, Mom, but I can do it myself. You need to call a repairman.”
“It’s fine.” Her smile had become forced.
I swallowed hard. She’d always had a tendency to dote on others — especially when those others were my two siblings and me — but she’d really kicked it up a notch in the last twenty-four hours.
I hated that her sympathies made me feel even worse, but I couldn’t keep turning them down. After all, even if I wasn’t about to feel better any time soon, I could at least let my mom think her efforts were doing some good.
“All right,” I agreed, my voice coming out hollow, just like it had each day for the last two weeks. “That sounds nice. Thanks, Mom.”
Her smile brightened. “Take your time. Would you like some pancakes too?”
“Sure. Sounds good.” I turned and headed into the bathroom across the hall before the conversation could go any further.
The dark bathroom was at least a few degrees cooler than the bedroom had been. I flipped on the light and stared into the mirror at my disheveled blonde hair and eyes with dark bags underneath them. I looked like I hadn’t combed my hair or slept in days.