Below are the first three chapters of If I Had You, a standalone novel.
When I first spot him in the bookstore, I’m not sure it’s him.
I know that even if the guy I see is him, I shouldn’t bother to make sure, and I definitely shouldn’t approach him. Turning around and walking away, perhaps even leaving the store, is better than him seeing me.
Ten years since we’ve laid eyes on one another.
Since what might’ve been never came to be.
Since he told me how much his seventeen-year-old self hated me and the decision I made.
Little did he know I hated myself and the pain I caused him.
I never wanted to make him hurt, or make the decisions I did but hadn’t felt as if I’d had a real choice.
But he hadn’t cared, and he disappeared.
Ten years, though.
What are the chances he’d live in the same city I do now, thousands of miles from where we last were in the same place?
I have to look.
My feet start moving at the thought.
The man stands in one of the aisles, his stare intense where it’s focused on the back of the book in his hand, and I’m suddenly short of breath as I take in his profile.
His dirty blond hair, which used to be to his chin and irritated the shit out of his father, is now cropped short and spiky. He might be another inch or two taller than what he was at seventeen, but he’s definitely more broad-shouldered and built. It’s been so long I can’t be sure if it’s really him, not without staring him straight in the face, but when he starts to turn toward me, I dart into the next aisle.
After a few moments he strides past, and I follow him as quietly as I can.
From behind him at a safe distance, I wonder how I’ll be able to tell if it’s him or not. Maybe he’ll stop and talk to someone, and I can see from another side or something.
I just want to know and then I’ll walk away. Well, that’s what I tell myself at least.
Because it means he’s alive and well, I have wondered about him through the years. More in the years following his departure, but less as the years have passed. You know, since at some point, you have to let go.
Or so my therapist has told me repeatedly.
Lost in my thoughts, I don’t realize I’ve lost him until I turn a corner, and he’s not there.
Looking around, perhaps more frantically than is appropriate, I’m ready to give up until I see the restrooms straight ahead. Figuring that’s where he went, I head toward them, and right as I’m about to open the women’s door, a hand covers my mouth from behind.
I’m propelled forward through the door, and released once inside as the door shuts and locks, an all too familiar voice barking, “Why the fuck are you following me?”
Frozen in shock as memories and recognition flow through me, I’m not able to turn around, and I quickly realize he doesn’t know who I am.
“Is Erica having you follow me to get dirt?” After I don’t answer, all while wondering who the hell Erica is, he growls, “Turn around and fucking look at me. Or do you only engage in shady shit?”
Now that I know it’s him, I don’t want him to see who I am. Refusing to turn around, I stare at the ugly yellow tiled wall as I say, “I—I don’t know anyone named Erica.”
“No? Why the hell are you following me then?”
I blatantly lie in hopes the fact he doesn’t seem to recognize my voice will work to my advantage. “I wasn’t.”
“I hate people who lie to me. I know you were following me, so out with it, before I have the store call security.”
Taking a deep breath, my eyes slam shut as I say, “I thought you were somebody I knew. You’re not. I’m sorry. Please just go.”
“I will when you turn around.” After a moment, I shiver as he steps closer to me, his warmth heating my back. “Right now.”
Compressing my lips to quell the sob wanting to burst forth, I give him what he wants because he won’t go away until I do, slowly turning around and lifting my teary gaze until it meets his annoyed one.
I know I look different from how I did at sixteen — my dark red hair is now shoulder-length, my glasses have been replaced with contacts, and my freckles are lighter — but it doesn’t take long for his beautiful blue gaze to turn irate.
“Darcy fucking Bechel,” he snarls, taking a quick step back as his gaze swipes me from head to toe. “Of all the people in the world, fucking really?”
“Hello Zachary,” I whisper, my green eyes dropping away from his to stare at the floor, and my hands clasping in front of me. “I…I…”
“Don’t speak.” His command is harsh, his words harsh as his right hand touches my chin and he forces me to look at him. “Nothing except lies came out of your mouth then, and it doesn’t appear as if that’s changed any.”
I grit my teeth at that, and flat out ignore him, frowning as I ask, “Who is Erica and why would someone follow you?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” he replies as he steps closer until I’m backed against a wall. “But Erica is my wife, and she always thinks I’m cheating on her.”
At the mention of him being married, I stiffen and move to flatten my palms on the wall to steady myself as I ask the obvious while his eyes sear into mine. “Are you?”
Something in his answer causes my heart to race, and I slam my eyes shut. “You should let me go.”
“Yeah?” When I manage to nod, he chuckles, its wicked intensity matching the heat of his form as he traps me completely and brings his mouth close to mine. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you, if I just let you go. But I’m not going to.”
One of his hands cups my cheek, the other sliding to grope my ass as he grinds his lower body into me, and a whimper slips through my barely parted lips at his touch.
“What we’re going to do,” he murmurs after pressing a soft kiss on my mouth, “is leave this room, quietly exit the store, and get into my car. Then, you’re going to give me directions to your place, and once there, we’re going to have an overdue chat. Got it?”
Anxious words fall from my tingling lips even as I keep my eyes closed. “I’m sorry I followed you. Walk away, pretend you never saw me and I’ll pretend I never saw you. Please.”
“I can’t.” He sounds tortured, his words hoarse as the hand on my ass falls to my side, and he grips my hand in his. “Let’s go.”
It’s wrong, even as he steps away, unlocking the door and opening it, tugging me along behind him as we leave the bathroom, and through the store.
I know I should run as his clasp on my hand tightens while we head across the parking lot, and as we reach a sleek black car.
He opens the passenger door, and I get in.
Wrong. So wrong.
I give him my address like he asks as he gets in on his side and starts up the car.
Nothing is said between us as he drives to my place.
And once we’re there, a confrontation ten years in the making smashes open old wounds I never thought I’d need to deal with again.
“Nice place,” Zachary says, walking around the apartment as if he owns it, and gives a low whistle of appreciation. “You sure do enjoy the finer things in life, don’t you?”
We’ve only been here a few moments, but I’m already dreading the conversation his statement will lead to. I’m not sure what I can say that won’t make him angrier, so I stay silent, standing by the entryway with my arms crossed over my chest.
He stops in front of the windows, looking out at the lake which graces the view, and spreads his arms wide until one palm lays on either side of the frame.
All I’m able to think as I look at him is how magnificent he is.
It is evident life hasn’t been kind to him over the years, something I’m sure started with me and our relationship.
He’s angry, and he has every right to be. I won’t deny what we both know.
I’m just not sure what he wants with me, why he won’t just pretend we hadn’t seen each other, and simply walk away.
He stands there, silent and guarded, making me more anxious as time passes.
I look down at my watch and see it’s only three hours before my fiancé gets home. I don’t want to explain Zachary; I’ve never had to, and I don’t plan to start now.
I’m about to take a step forward when he turns to face me and speaks.
“You destroyed my life.” The words have some fire in them, but not his face, which is only tired as he stares at me with disgust. “I warned you what would happen if I did anything my parents didn’t like before I turned eighteen. I had six months to go when they found out, and they would never have let me shirk my responsibilities toward you, but you just couldn’t give me the chance to take care of us, could you?”
“I was sixteen,” I say as gently as possible, hating the pain radiating from his voice and his stance. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“You took the easy way out,” he shouts, swiping an angry hand through the air to make it clear he doesn’t want to hear my excuses or reasons. “You got an abortion, you took away my choices, and you know what they did? They fucking sent me away to military school. And once I was there, I had to stay there because unlike you, I had no money. No family to hang onto. No anything. They wouldn’t let me come back home even after I graduated. You fucked me over.”
There’s no point in me yelling back. I merely shake my head as I say, “It wasn’t easy for me.”
He goes on as if I hadn’t even spoken. “I would’ve done anything to take care of you and our child. But you just couldn’t deal, could you? They threatened to cut you off, to leave you as poor as I was, and the idea alone sent you running to do as they told you to. I was good enough to fuck for the lying little rich girl, but not good enough to have a family with. That’s what I learned.” He waves a hand in the air to indicate the room around him, his sudden laughter not filled with humor at all, but derisive sarcasm. “Was this all worth it?”
“It’s not mine.” When he quirks a brow and smirks, I clarify. “I…this is where I live with my fiancé. I…my parents cut me off anyway when I hit eighteen.”
“Good,” he spits out, not even blinking at the mention of my fiancé as he stalks forward until I’m backed against a door, grabbing my arms and locking them above my head as he repeats himself. “Was it worth it?”
I can’t even meet his eyes, staring at his chest which is heaving with his angry breathing, and I shake my head at how much crap I’ve dealt with over the last ten years. “No. No, it wasn’t. If I had known—”
The rest of my words are cut off as his free hand comes up to my chin and forces me to look up at him, followed a second later by his mouth descending on mine. With a little pressure, he shoves his tongue into my mouth, making me whimper at the instant pleasure it sends throughout my body. His hand drops to my side, gliding down as he continues to assault my mouth, and my brain starts screaming the moment his fingertips reach the edge of my skirt.
Wrong as his hand makes quick work of lifting my skirt all around until I’m bared to the surrounding air.
More wrong as the same hand lifts my legs so they are around his hips, before he slips it between my legs and beneath my panties to touch me.
As he slides one finger, then another inside my pussy, he groans into my mouth, and I reciprocate with a moan of my own.
I hate myself for not pulling my mouth away and telling him to stop, which I am easily able to do. I hate myself as he curls his fingers into my g-spot and I buck into his hand, wanting him to do it faster, harder.
He manipulates me with his touch, the fingers on the inside working their magic as his thumb plays with my clit, and I loathe him even more when his expertise has me coming so hard and fast I scream into his mouth.
My mind is blank, my body shuddering with the power of my orgasm. I vaguely register him freeing his cock from his pants, and it’s only when he’s poised to enter me that he rips his mouth away and says against my lips, “You got exactly what you deserved when they cut you off. I hope you suffered as much as I did. I loved you, and you threw it in my face. I don’t love you anymore, but I do want to fuck you, just one last time. I’m going to use you and throw you away just like you did to me. Maybe then it won’t fucking hurt anymore.”
Tears slip from my eyes as he releases my wrists, commanding harshly, “Keep them right fucking there. I don’t want you touching me.”
Gripping my ass in his hands, he thrusts up and into me so hard my back slams against the door, and I bite down on my lip to keep from crying out. He pulls to the edge and plunges back in, over and over, relentless as he rubs against me just right, making me orgasm again.
“Fuck yes,” he says on a groan as my body trembles around him, his face dropping to my shoulder where he bites me, sinking his teeth in enough to make it sting and no doubt leave a mark.
My arms tire to the point I can’t hold them up anymore, and as he drives into me again my hands drop to his shoulders. He freezes and tenses up, still deep inside me, his breathing rough and guttural.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, apologizing for touching him and everything else, the tears coming faster now. “I’m so sorry.”
He moves, pulling to the edge before thrusting hard enough my back slams against the door as he says, “I bet you never think about what our lives might’ve been like, but I do.”
I want to tell him he’s wrong because he is, but I know he doesn’t care what I have to say or what I think. This is about him, not about me, even as he plays my body as if he remembers every inch of it. Even if for all he’s rough, his hold is still gentle, an underlying tenderness beneath his words giving away the fact he cares way more than he wants to.
Way more than I ever thought he would after my decision.
He pumps hard and fast, and my nails dig into his shoulders through his shirt as tears stream down my cheeks. Just when I’m about to yell stop because I can’t take it anymore, he pauses with a low groan for just an instant before pulling out. I feel his cum splash hot between my legs as he pins me hard to the wall, saying roughly, “Don’t want to give you a reason to do what you did before.”
His insult is the last straw.
Before he can move away, I lift a hand and slap him across the face, a red mark instantly bursting to life on his cheek as I hiss at him. “Fuck you.”
He drops me as he steps away. I hit the floor, yelping from the sudden contact while he shoves his dick back into his pants and snarls, “No, Darcy. Fuck you. Because no matter what might’ve happened between us if you had kept the baby, anything — fucking anything — would’ve been better than this.”
Staring up at him from the floor, I hear the crack in his voice, but before I can react, he steps forward and hauls me off the floor. Then, without another word or glance at me, he turns to the side, sets me on my feet, and storms out the door, slamming it behind him.
It’s all I can manage to go to the bathroom and clean up before I climb into my bed and cry myself to sleep.
“You’re an asshole.”
“So you keep telling me,” I retort in a tired voice, having barely stepped inside the house when Erica starts running her mouth. “What did I do this time?”
“It’s not what you did,” she says with an exaggerated roll of her dark brown eyes and a toss of her equally dark brown hair before glaring at me. “It’s all the things you don’t do.”
“Sign the divorce papers.” Pointing to the envelope on the table, I shrug at her and release a forceful, exhausted sigh. “Then what I do and don’t do won’t bother you so much anymore.”
“No!” She steps close and pokes me in the chest with one perfectly manicured fingernail. “They’re unfair, and you know it. You want me to walk away with almost nothing.”
“Keep your damn hands off me,” I snarl, snatching her finger in my hand and flicking it away, hard enough she stumbles a bit before righting her body. “You haven’t done anything this whole marriage except bitch and spend all the money I was dumb enough to give you access to. I don’t owe you shit, and you’ve got more than enough money of your own.”
Erica continues to look daggers at me with her hands on her hips. “And our daughter? You think you’re the one to have full custody of her?”
Straightening my back, my scowl matches hers at the mention of the child I love more than anything else, including my life. “She’s mine. We both know you got pregnant against my explicit fucking wishes, something you knew I didn’t want since before we got married, all because I took you at your word that you were taking your pills. You didn’t want her, you wanted to lock me to you, but that’s not gonna work. You aren’t a mom to her, and we both know it, so I’m keeping her.”
“You’re the one who didn’t want children!”
“No!” The word is a roar, a warning as I shove an angry hand through my hair. “I wanted a child who was planned and desired by my partner and me at the same fucking time. We started having problems, and you just went on and got pregnant without my consent.” She goes to open her mouth and I point my finger at her with pure fury. “The fucking moment I knew about your pregnancy, yeah, I was pissed, but I loved our child every minute since. You thought it would keep us together, though, and it won’t. I don’t want to be with someone who would be that devious and you’ve been fighting me for a fucking year now.”
Stalking over to the table, I pick up the papers and a pen, slamming them down again in front of her on the counter. “Fucking sign them and get the hell out, or we’ll go to court, and you’ll get nothing.”
“You don’t know—”
“Yeah, I damned well do know.” Lifting the pen and holding it out to her with an expectant look, my mouth’s in a grim line as I modify my tone to something a bit nicer. “Sign so this hell is over, Erica. Stop fighting me. Please.”
Watching the woman I married the day after my twenty-first birthday, the indecision evident on her face. We never should’ve gotten married as I hadn’t loved her at all during our time together. But, I had been sick of being alone, and she had been my friend for two years before I asked her out on a date. Within a year of that first date, we were married, and for the first time since Darcy’s betrayal, I had trusted a woman enough to let my guard down.
When we started having trouble, she stopped taking her pills thinking a baby would fix everything, and now a little two-and-a-half-year-old girl named Rose is in the middle of it all.
I put in the effort after our daughter’s birth, but I just don’t trust Erica anymore, and since I don’t love her either, I believe we both deserve better. She isn’t taking my little girl from me, though; she’s what keeps me going most of the time.
As I stare at Erica in complete silence, she finally breaks, tears trickling down her cheeks as she steps forward and takes the pen from my hand. She signs page after page while I watch, occasionally swiping at her face to get rid of the tears, and once done she sets the pen down with a hard tap.
Then, standing up straight, she squares her shoulders and glares at me while saying in a small voice, “I’ll be out by the end of the evening if that’s okay with you.”
“Of course.” As she goes to walk away from the table, I softly add, “Thank you.”
She stops and glances over at me with a sad smile. “I know I’ve angered you, but I didn’t think you were serious about this. Whatever, though. You win. No more fighting from me. I just want to keep things civil for our daughter’s sake.”
I acknowledge her statement with a nod while gathering up the papers. “Absolutely.”
After staring at me for another moment, she lets out a heavy sigh and leaves the room. Taking the papers and heading upstairs, I drop them off on my desk inside my home office, and then head to get a quick shower before my daughter returns with the nanny.
Moments later, while standing under the pounding hot water, a tiny bit of shame at how I treated Darcy makes me want to go back over and apologize. Not only for the way I acted but because she no doubt thinks I’m a cheating dirtbag. And to blatantly ignore the fact she said she has a fiancé? I’m an asshole and know it.
She’d been into it, though, and she hadn’t stopped me. I would’ve if she’d said something, but fuck, I’d just wanted to be close to her. The moment I saw her face, my heart started pounding, and even now it continues to beat hard and fast as it hasn’t in years.
Not to mention she’s even more beautiful than she’d been at sixteen. God, being inside her felt so fucking amazing. And damn, how badly I want to fuck her again, a fact which pisses me off because getting close to her was insane.
I should’ve walked away the moment I knew who she was, but the look in her eyes gave me pause. The softness mixed with the guilt and pain had made me want to know why, even though a small part of me was thrilled her life hurt as much mine has for so long.
I might’ve been young ten years ago, but I hadn’t been stupid. We’d been friends for years, something neither of our parents liked even though they tolerated it, until one day everything changed.
Isn’t that how it always goes?
I shut off the shower and step out, drying off while reminiscing about the first time I kissed her, setting in motion our transition from friends to more.
I had been sixteen and she, fifteen. We were both at a New Year’s Eve party, supposed to be supervised by our friend’s parents, but they hadn’t actually paid attention. All twenty kids had been in the basement, drinking soda, eating a bunch of junk food, and basically just socializing. I hadn’t been invited, but Darcy had, and she brought me with her even though her friends didn’t like me and never had.
That night, though, no one said anything, and everyone had even been kind to him. Little did I know at the time she told her friends she wanted to date me, and they better start being nicer to him for her sake. In her group, she was the queen, and I can’t say becoming part of the popular crowd because of her had been a bad thing because it hadn’t been. Nobody fucked with me after that night, and he had always been grateful for that simple fact.
And the kiss which started it all, fuck. Even after all this time, with tonight as a refresher, our first kiss is clear in my mind. I’d been with one girl before Darcy, but that girl nor the women I’d been with since came close to how things were with her. She was my first love.
Dancing that night in their own little corner of the room, she’d wrapped her arms around my neck soft and sweet during a slow dance with a little giggle. Resting her head on my chest, we’d swayed back and forth until she’d suddenly stood on her tiptoes.
“I like you,” she’d whispered into my ear before pecking me quickly on the neck and hiding her beautifully freckled face in the crook of my shoulder as if the admission embarrassed her.
I had laughed softly, hugging her closer, appreciating her warmth and the light scent of the lavender and lily perfume I bought her for Christmas days before. “I know.”
“No.” She had shaken her head, not moving from her position even as she continued with, “I like like you, Zach.”
My body had reacted instantly to her words, and for the first time since we’d met, I hadn’t had to hide how attractive I found her. However, the way she felt was unexpected, and she lifted her head as I had pulled back to stare down at her with my mouth agape.
But like the forward, get everything she wants girl she was, Darcy had smiled bright and happy while looking up at me. “Kiss me before I start thinking you don’t want me like I want you.”
As if she planned it with perfect timing, the lights went off right then, the kids counting down loud and clear as midnight approached. But I hadn’t waited until the clock struck midnight. I held her close, slid one hand to cup the back of her neck, and locked my lips tightly on hers.
The touch of her lips against mine had sent thrills of pleasure through me, and when she opened her mouth to let me in, I’d followed without question. It hadn’t lasted forever, but long enough we kissed right through the New Year arriving, and when we finally parted at the hoots and hollers around us, we hadn’t stopped smiling for the rest of the evening.
Really, for the next year, everything had seemed so perfect until it wasn’t.
Scowling at the thought, I hang up my towel after drying my hair, and get dressed. Moments later I open the bathroom door to find Erica passing by with her luggage.
She stops, tossing me a tired glance over her shoulder as she says, “That’s the last of it. I’ll call you later.”
I would ask why she isn’t waiting for Rose to get back with the nanny so she can say goodbye, but as we both know, she’s never been much of a mother. She loves our daughter, but spending time with her isn’t something she’s ever really done. Rose doesn’t even call her ‘mommy’ which in this matter I’m glad for as it will likely be less traumatic when Erica doesn’t see her much.
She walks away without another word, and I head to my office to wait on Rose to return.
And when the doorbell rings a half hour later, nothing is more surprising than finding Darcy standing on the doorstep glaring at me.