Authors: Cassie Strickland
Books by Cassie Strickland
The Armstrong Securities Series
Second Chance Sunshine
The Bliss Series
Digital Edition, License Notes
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
, by Cassie Strickland
Copyright 2015 by Cassie Strickland
First eBook edition: June 15, 2016
Cover Design: Cassie Strickland
Author’s Photo: Larissa Parsons
To my grandmother, Eva.
I miss every day.
Thank you for sharing your passion for reading with me.
Table of Contents
I sipped my
Dr. Pepper and stared at the travelers passing by, my Kindle long forgotten. I wondered what they were thinking, where they were going. Were they going to visit loved ones? Were they heading to a rendezvous with a secret lover? Was this the beginning of a grand adventure like it was for me, or had they experienced it already?
I was excited and a bit nervous, I guess you could say. Last year for Christmas, my brother gifted me with a vacation to London. I had the option of taking someone with me, but I decided against it. My family thought I’d lost my mind when I told them.
I needed a break from my norm, though. For a little while, I wanted to exist in a place where no one knew me or where I lived. Where no one knew that I was Brad and Emma Raiden’s only daughter. No one knew that I had a brother, Grey – Bliss’s good ol’ boy and the best man I’d ever known – nor did they know that I was single, depressingly single. Where they had no idea that I had my heart trampled on a few years ago when I’d found out that my boyfriend, one that I’d had since high school, got married in Vegas to a girl he didn’t know.
I wanted to be an insignificant stranger in the crowd.
I didn’t know much about London. I researched the different sights and exhibits so that I knew where to go and what to see. However, once I did this, I realized that I wanted to experience the country, the people. If I was going to spend two weeks in England, I was damn sure going to see all of England. Plus, it just so happened that the beginning of May was a beautiful time there.
“Boarding call for flight 259 to London. First class passengers, please approach gate 15,” I heard, breaking me from my thoughts. “Again, boarding call for first class passengers, flight 259.”
That was another good thing about Grey’s gift – I was traveling first class all the way.
I packed my Kindle back into my backpack and chucked my empty cup in the trashcan. I approached the gate, offering the lady my ticket and passport.
“Good evening” – she looked at my boarding pass for my name – “Miss Raiden. Thank you for traveling with us today.” She tore off the stub and handed it back to me with my passport. “Enjoy your flight.”
I smiled my thanks and passed her, walking down the long jetway leading to the airplane.
This was it; the moment I’d been waiting for, for the last six months.
I glanced at my ticket, checking my seat number again to make sure I had a window seat. I hated not being able to stare out the window when I flew. In my opinion, it was the best part, though it would be nighttime most of the flight.
“Good evening. Thank you for flying American Airlines,” an attractive, raven-haired flight attendant said as I stepped inside the behemoth of a plane.
“Thanks,” I murmured as I passed her and headed down the aisle, examining the cabin.
The first class cabin consisted of three sections of seating, each one containing eight rows of two seats. The seats were massive and reclined so far they were beds almost. There were already a few people on board – it was a connecting flight from Phoenix – that were lounging, asleep or relaxing while they waited for the passengers to board.
This just keeps getting better.
My seat was on the far left side of the plane, so I walked down the small aisle at the front of the cabin. As I did, I located my seat, but I realized someone was already sitting in the aisle seat next to mine.
A man’s head was down, so I couldn’t see his face, only his hair. It was dark, almost black, short on the sides but a couple of inches long up top, and slicked back. There was something about him that caught my attention, though, a vitality of some sort, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him.
“Uh um,” I cleared my voice as I approached the man. If it were any other passenger, I would have been able to walk by without squeezing through, but this man’s frame was large. His t-shirt stretched across an impressively chiseled chest, and his thighs seemed rock solid in his jeans. Even though he was sitting, he was almost as tall as me, and his legs stretched out in front of him, blocking my path. “May I get by?”
“Oh, sorry,” the man murmured as he stood, towering over me – he was a good foot taller. “I didn’t see you standing there.”
I stared up at him, intoxicated, completely drunk on him. I couldn’t find my tongue or my breath. He was gorgeous in that bad-boy, I’ll-eat-you-up-and-spit-you-out sort of way, with a strong brow, prominent jaw and cheekbones, and the most delectable set of lips. The top one was slightly smaller than the bottom, but they were puffy, like little pillows. I’d always been told that I had great lips – I had to agree because they happened to look like Angelina Jolie’s – but he had me beat. And his eyes…
. They were blue-violet –
I didn’t know such a color exists!
– and the light danced off of them in a way that added to their vibrancy.
“Hello?” he drawled, his lips twitching as he gestured at my seat.
“What?” I asked, still dazed by him.
A smile curled those luscious lips, flashing white, straight teeth. “Are you gonna take your seat?”
My gaze pinged between the seat and him, realization crashing over me. I blushed to my ears – I never blushed – and stammered, “Oh…oh, yeah. Sorry.”
What was that?!
Rushing, I sat and got situated, buckling myself in. I unzipped my backpack, pulled my Kindle out, and then stowed it under the seat in front of me, trying to ignore the man, but his magnetism was irresistible. I watched from the corner of my eye as he shook his head and sat down, his smile never dying.
How am I supposed to sit next to
for the next eight to nine hours and not make a fool out of myself?
The man grabbed his IPad and started reading. I decided to do the same – after all, my Kindle was in my hands – but after ten minutes, I knew that it was impossible. I was fidgety and couldn’t get comfortable, even though the seats were ridiculously comfy. I had a small inkling that he knew what he was doing to me because his smile hadn’t dimmed.
We continued to ignore each other as the last of the passengers boarded the plane, through the Captain and flight attendant’s spiels, and throughout the departure. I used this time to figure out why I had such a visceral reaction to this man.
Yeah, he was hot. Okay, better than hot.
However, he was gorgeous enough that he had to know his effect on women. In a way, I couldn’t fault him for it, but I’d never date or sleep with him. A conceited or vain man just wasn’t my thing – and it would be too good to be true if this man was humble in any way, shape, or form. Moreover, he had barely spoken a word to me.
Why am I so ensnared by him?
Since my ex and I had broken up, I hadn’t dated or had any interest in the opposite sex. You wouldn’t either if you’d found out your boyfriend of ten years married a Vegas stripper thanks to Facebook.
Patrick went to Vegas for his brother's bachelor party one weekend. I wasn't stupid about what went on there. Hell, I told him to have fun because I knew he would stay faithful to me. Did I want him to go to strip clubs to watch a bunch of naked women dance around or give him lap dances? No. Nevertheless, I was confident in us that it would be okay, that he’d know better than to throw away what we had.
That was until I opened the Facebook app on my phone that fateful Sunday morning and scrolled through my news feed. Patrick was tagged in some woman’s status that said
‘my new husband!’
and there was a picture of him standing at the altar with Elvis, absolutely and obviously drunk off his ass, his arms around a scantily dressed woman with the biggest, fakest tits I’d ever seen.
I’d given Patrick the benefit of the doubt. I called him, asking for an explanation. I was even stupid enough to believe he’d merely done something highly idiotic in his intoxicated state and was expecting a wholehearted apology.
Oh, the naivety!
He broke my heart by telling me that this was what he wanted. He met Candy – yes, her name was Candy – and
that they were meant to be. He moved to Vegas so she could continue her career as a stripper, hoping to one day make it big as a showgirl.
I haven’t heard a word from him since that phone call. I deleted my Facebook account and threw all of his belongings – and yes, we were even living together at the time – in the front yard. From what I heard around town, Vanity was a showgirl now, and they were thriving.
It had been the most mortifying thing I'd ever experienced. Patrick and I were together since we were sixteen. We were each other's firsts in everything – and I did mean
. I wasn’t delusional about the whole high-school-sweetheart scenario, but the way we were together worked in a big way. I thought we would last, that he was the other half of my soul.
I’d been man-hating ever since.
Well, the only men I did like were my dad and my brother, Grey, which I adored. Adam, my brother’s best friend, was another guy I could trust wholeheartedly, but he was a man-whore. I despised that about him. He was an Adonis, with unruly dark hair, crystal blue eyes, and that body… Yeah, he was hot…until he opened his mouth. The man lived to torment me. If it weren’t for that, and the fact that he was like a brother to me, I would’ve considered going for it.
Last year, I contemplated retiring my man-hating ways after watching my brother meet and fall in love with his fiancé, Clara. It reminded me of what I was missing, and I became insanely jealous of what they had. But then we discovered that our friend Justin, who’d been married to our other friend Chelsea for five wonderful, love-filled years, was stepping out on her and had impregnated another woman. Once we found out, and before we could tell Chelsea, he cleaned her out, not leaving a cent in their accounts, and disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again – no one could find him.
That was it for me. If someone like Justin, a man I loved, respected and thought was amazing and so good to Chelsea could do that, I was done. I wasn’t going to risk my heart and trust a man again, hence continuing the man-hating.
I hadn’t met a single guy in the two years since Patrick that I was interested in, so this hadn’t been an issue. But now Mr. Hot-Steamy-and-Bad was sitting next to me, and I could practically feel myself salivating for a mere taste of him.
It was crazy and so unlike me.
Especially the bad part.
If I were going for a guy, he’d be like my brother and Dad – a good ol’ boy with a heart of gold, one that I knew wouldn’t let me down or hurt me.
The man next to me shifted, snagging my attention again. He leaned in his chair more, his shoulder brushing mine slightly. His scent tickled my nose, and I swear, my eyes nearly rolled into the back of my head. He smelled of cinnamon and something musky. It was manly and oh so appetizing.
I needed to keep myself busy, or I’d drool all over him.
I grabbed my backpack from underneath the chair and rooted around for the snacks I’d bought at the airport. I was a nervous eater…and I was definitely nervous. The man studied me – I still hadn’t looked directly at him and was watching him in my peripheral – as I found a bag of cashews and shoved my backpack back under the seat. My nervousness spiked when he chuckled under his breath.
He so knew what he was doing to me. I blamed that on what happened next.
I tore open the bag of cashews, but I was too forceful – they went flying and spilling all over the place. I closed my eyes in mortification and hung my head, whispering, “Fuck my life.”
The man laughed, saying, “Easy there, tiger.”
Even his voice was beautiful, full-bodied and rumbly.
I took a deep breath and turned my gaze towards his. “Sorry ’bout that.”
God, those eyes are pretty.
He picked up a cashew from his lap and tossed it into his mouth. “No worries.” He winked at me.
“Nervous about the flight? You seem like you’re afraid of flying – you haven’t been able to sit still.”
Observant as well as sexy.
But now I had an excuse for my behavior.
I started picking up the cashews from my lap and lied through my teeth. “Yep. Afraid of flyin’. Always have been.”
“It’ll be fine. Don’t worry,” he assured me.
I stared down at the mess I made, wondering how I was going to clean it up and keep my dignity intact. Only a few cashews landed on the floor, making most of them all over me and between my legs. I wasn’t about to stick my hand in my crotch in front of this god of a man, though.
Suddenly, a large hand loomed over my lap. “Here, hand them over. I think my hands are a bit bigger than yours.”
I looked between him and his rather impressively large hand, smiling a small smile. “Appreciate that. We can see if the flight attendant will throw them away,” I replied, instead of making a dirty comment about large hands.
“Nah, I needed a snack.”