Upon first meeting several years ago, the circumstances didn’t allow Sofia and Nolan to explore the initial spark of chemistry. And as fate would have it, their chances of starting something doesn’t look too favorable the second time around either. Once they decide they can’t be anything more than friends, is there no going back, or will their unrelenting desire for each other be too strong to resist?
Warning: This book is filled with serious angst and star-crossed lovers. If you’re looking for a sexy tale with steamy love scenes, sit back and enjoy the story.
The easy-going way the dark-haired, tattooed woman caresses the strings on her blue guitar, it would seem she was born to be a musician. With her eyes closed, her powerful voice rises out in a gentle melody reminiscing of love and lifelong commitment—even citing the sacred Marine Corps motto with the lyrics “semper fi.” Tiny enough to fit in my pocket, the New York native knows her way around an instrument and can sing a ballad even better than the metal tunes she was belting out earlier. The moment her whiskey-colored eyes land on me and she grins, my dick stirs in my jeans even though my brain knows she’s off limits.
I’d first heard of Chloe Cirillo a couple years back through mutual friends in the business and witnessed her rise to fame in the local music scene. Now that she’s released her first album under rock legend Rod Vaghel’s label and recently completed a countrywide tour, I knew I was a lucky bastard when she agreed to come play at my bar in Brooklyn Heights. I’ve seen several videos of her performing, but none of them captured the sex appeal she emits in person.
After playing the last note, Chloe rides out the wild roar of applause before returning to the microphone. The shy smile she flashes the crowd is genuine and cute as shit. “Oh my god, you guys have been amazing! We’re going to take a short break to catch our breaths, and then we’ll be back to rock this place some more.”
With her departure from the stage, the atmosphere shifts as the crowd breaks out in idle chatter and Alice in Chains plays from the speakers. A hot blonde at my side nudges me with her elbow, grinning from ear-to-ear with the most genuine smile. The floral print skirt and off-the-shoulder blouse she wears, tits almost visible behind the white fabric, paired with the way her bangs are braided off to the side remind me of my best friend Sharlo’s boho chic style.
“Chloe’s awesome, right?” the blonde asks.
“I’ve never heard anything like her,” I concede.
When Sharlo told me she wouldn’t be coming up tonight, I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed. Thought I don’t have the biggest circle of friends, I can usually count on her to hang with me, making late nights at the bar less daunting. But between Chloe and this blonde, things—namely my dick—are looking up. I should probably be ashamed of myself for lusting after these women, but I’m not. A guy has needs. It doesn’t take much for me to get worked up these days.
“She wrote that song for my best friend’s wedding,” the blonde tells me.
“Impressive. Does she write all her own music?”
“You bet your ass she does. There’s a big voice and a massive heart stuffed inside that little body. When she comes back she’ll play the song she wrote for her boyfriend. It’ll knock your socks off!”
Just like that, the excited burn in my balls fizzles. It’s not like I could actually act on my attraction to Chloe anyway, but sometimes the fantasy is as good as the real thing.
“She has a bright future,” I say in response, glancing through the impressive wall of fans packed in around the small stage.
Since my grandma Leona passed ownership of the bar along to me several years back, I’ve busted my ass to keep its reputation going as one of the best in New York with a never-ending list of hot acts. Rock and roll superstar Charlie Walker has become a regular after I first hired his girlfriend at he time, and we slowly became friends over time. His presence has become a big boost for business as people tend to come more often, hoping to catch one of his random performances. Pretty fucking ironic considering I once despised the guy for hurting Evelyn when they were first dating.
But I love the hell out of this place. It’s like home. So I don’t mind putting in the extra time to ensure it continues to thrive. My childhood memories are confined to these record-clad walls and pounded copper ceilings as my father was too busy with his high-powered career and my mother was intent on enjoying the perks of a being a loaded wife to give two shits about their unplanned offspring. Grams took me under her wing and taught me how to appreciate good music, taking me to concerts on school nights and introducing me to every band to set foot inside the bar. When her memory started to lapse, it destroyed me to know it wouldn’t be long before I’d lose the closest family member I’d ever known.
The old Corp nickname jerks me back to reality. When I spin back around, I’m face-to-face with one of my Recon brothers. Theo Roberts hasn’t changed much in the time since we finished our tour except for the non-military length of his dark hair. It’s no surprise to find a leggy brunette tucked under his arm since gorgeous women always flocked to the guy like flies on shit.
Theo didn’t fall into the same category as guys like me who initially signed up to get the fuck away from their families. He was born for the military, knowing most his life he wanted to enlist and checking off every box of a stereotypical Jarhead—thick with muscle, ballsy and determined, courageous, dirty-minded, and filled with the highest morale.
The Corp was good to me for the most part. I forged many unbreakable bonds with the guys and gained some valuable life experiences. Some of the shit we saw and the things that happened while stationed in Afghanistan, however, turned into endless nightmares that kept me awake at night for years to follow. When I’m struck with a sickening flash of fucked-up memories by looking into Theo’s eyes, I’m reminded why I’ve purposefully kept my distance from the guys in my unit.
“Jesus Christ, Big Rob!” I step forward as he releases the girl and we clap each other on the back in the biggest bro-hug known to man. “Where the hell have you been hiding, brother? Did you go back to the Bronx?”
“We just bought a place in the Upper East Side.” He steps back to wrap an arm around the attractive woman. “Kel, this is Nolan Zimmerman. We did a tour in the Corp together. You won’t meet a crazier fucker than this one. Son of a bitch is lucky to still have his nuts intact.”
Grinning, the woman offers a small wave of her hand. “Hi, I’m Kelly.”
“My wife,” Theo adds, beaming with pride.
My mouth lags open for a second before I have the presence of mind to snap it back shut. Theo was once the biggest player I knew, so it’s a mind-fuck to hear he’s settled down.
“Good on you, man,” I say, crossing my arms over my chest and smirking at the wife. This one is attractive and has a sophisticated aura unlike some of the shallow bimbos he hooked up with the short time we were training in Honolulu. Oorah.
“This place is great.” Theo takes a sweeping glance around the place before his eyes settle on the stage. “When Chloe told me she was playing at Leona’s, I forgot it was your grandma’s bar.”
“Actually it’s mine now,” I say with a shrug, hoping he’ll drop the subject before I have to explain her ailing condition. “So you’re friends with Chloe too, huh?” I tip my head in the direction of the hot blonde still lingering behind Theo and Kelly, giggling with a small group of women. “Do you know her too?”
“That’s my bestie, Jewels,” Kelly tells me with a wave of her finger. “And you can wipe that hopeful look off your face because she’s taken in every sense of the word. Married, kid on the way, the whole nine yards. Don’t worry, you’re not the first guy to ask about her.”
“Aren’t you married?” Theo asks, cocking one eyebrow. “Between that pretty-boy mug of yours and your family’s money, I figured you’d always be the first in the unit to bite the bullet.”
I lift one shoulder and shake my head in response. Thank Christ, I’m far from it. “I’ve dated a few girls. Just haven’t found the right one.”
“‘Bite the bullet’?” Kelly repeats, crossing her arms over her impressive rack and glaring at her husband playfully. “Really?”
Theo pulls her into his thick embrace, chuckling. “Relax, Cavenaugh, you know I’d take a bullet for you any day.”
When she turns into him and he buries his face in her thick hair to whisper something, I look away. I’ve had my share of women over the years, but the closest I’ve had to a meaningful relationship is with Sharlo, and she chose to be with someone else without ever giving me the chance to be something more. The thing is, she’s the only woman who seems to have zero interest in my inheritance since she also came from money and is mostly unimpressed by wealth. And most women who hit on me have the kind of shallow personalities that make me cringe. Sharlo’s the only woman I genuinely enjoy being around. In a city populated by millions, why is it so fucking hard to find another good one?
As if the mere thought of Sharlo conjured her, I spot the top half of her blonde head making its way through the crowd toward the bar. If I weren’t so jealous that she’s starting a family, I’d bust a gut laughing at the way she waddles now that she’s far into the third trimester of her pregnancy.
Nudging Theo’s arm, I say, “I’ll be right back. Stick around and I’ll buy you and your friends a round of drinks while we catch up some more.”
“Alright, brother,” Theo answers, knocking his knuckles against my raised fist.
As I close in on Sharlo, now perched on one of the bar stools, I stop dead in my tracks. Sofia Kendall stands wedged in-between a few guys waiting to put their orders in with one of the waitresses. Navy wool coat draped over her arm, she glances around the bar, her gaze relaxed and curious. With her pale blonde hair swept into a neat knot low on the back of her head, the delicate features of her neck and chin are on clear display. She’s a total knockout.
Not only that, but the woman knows how to dress to impress in a tasteful sapphire dress that showcases her curvy body without being tacky and showing off too much of her tits. In her no-nonsense attitude alone it seems she made the right career choice by becoming an attorney. Her bright blue eyes are as intimidating as the way she carries herself, shoulders taut and chin high, but it seems something about her has changed since I had the pleasure of seeing her last.
Two summers ago, I met Sofia just moments after she arrived at Evelyn and Charlie’s beach house in the Hamptons. We didn’t have the best introduction—not only did I knock her into the bushes, but she insinuated that I was a playboy and gave me a cold shoulder. It was hardly an hour later when Sharlo was struck down by some psychotic driver with a grudge against her father. Sofia was there to witness it happen and somehow took on the burden of the accident, saying it was her fault. I never got all the details even though we spent countless hours together in the ER, waiting for Sharlo to wake from a coma.
Sofia leaned on me both literally and emotionally, but there wasn’t time for any meaningful conversation and it was shit timing to make any kind of move. Her internship forced her to leave before I had the chance to grow a pair and see if there was something between us worth exploring. Of course I would meet someone with potential who lived way the hell down in Texas. Bright, beautiful, no-nonsense, sophisticated, driven, she has the potential to be everything I could want in a woman.
The low burn in my balls from earlier returns when I take another sweeping glance at her figure. How the fuck did I forget that Sharlo told me she’d be coming to visit for the baby shower? But isn’t that in a few weeks? Hell, I don’t know dates without looking at my phone.
Scolding myself to man-up, I finish the distance between myself and the women, stopping to scratch my fingertips inside Sharlo’s thick hair.
“Surprised to see you here,” I say.
“Merely because I’m as unsightly as a blowfish in heat doesn’t mean I’m unable to show my future sister-in-law a good time. But trust me when I say you don’t want to know what I’d do for a shot of whiskey at this point.” My friend turns to me with a sideways smirk before kissing my cheek. With a glow to her cobalt eyes, she taps Sofia on the shoulder. “Love, you remember my mate, Nolan?”
Even though I keep the bar’s lighting dim enough to help everyone relax and unwind, I swear I see a flush fill Sofia’s cheeks when she looks over her shoulder from a few feet away. Not the kind of reaction I’d expect from the hard-nosed law student I met once upon a time.
Fuck. I forgot how irresistible I found her. Her body felt so soft and delicate against mine as she slept in a hospital chair at my side, her silky hair draped over my arm and her jasmine scent driving me wild. It was like having a fucking steak dangled in front of my face. And not just any steak—a filet mignon aged to perfection.
“Yes, of course.” She recovers with a graceful smile. “How are you, Nolan?”
For a split second I consider throwing her the line, “better now that you’re here,” but think better of it. Someone as polished as Sofia Kendall wouldn’t appreciate the lame attempt at humor. She may be the only woman I’ve met who’s completely out of my league for countless reasons.
“I’m doing well,” I answer with a solid smile, jamming my fingers inside my jeans pockets when it’s clear she won’t be offering her hand any time soon. “Welcome back to the city.”
I wave a hand over my head to grab Hope’s attention from behind the bar and point at Sofia, signaling her drink will be on the house. Hope, the bar’s manager Grams hired right before her memory started to fail, wiggles her eyebrows suggestively before dipping her chin with understanding.
I look away, grumbling to myself. It never fucking fails. Whenever there’s a good-looking woman in my presence, I have to endure constant shit from my staff.
“It appears this Chloe has drawn a brilliant crowd,” Sharlo comments, scanning the sea of people. Then her humored expression swings to me as she quirks one brow. “Did you acquire her number?”
One of the biggest problems with having a woman as a best friend? Sharlo doesn’t forget a single fucking thing. When I first caught word of Chloe a while back and looked her up on social media, I had mentioned in so many words I thought she was hot.
Grinding my teeth together, I say, “You know that’s not an option.”
Sofia turns with a martini in hand, beautiful blue eyes wide. “Don’t tell me you’re still single.”
I bristle, not ready to tell her the truth. I’m not even sure I know the fucking truth at this point.
Another dark flush fills Sofia’s face. “I didn’t intend for that to come out as snarky. I simply meant…”
Biting down on my lips, I hold back a chuckle. Even though she irritated me with the single comment, it’s still sexy to see her vulnerable side come out.
“No worries, love,” Sharlo intervenes with a smirk. She leans back on the stool to stroke her swollen belly. “You’re not the first to question how such a handsome bloke has flown under radar for so long without snagging a bird in his undercarriage.” Though I’m subtly warning her with a glance to stop, she continues on. “This bar has become his mistress of sorts. He merely fails to understand that life can exist beyond these four walls.”
Sharlo’s like the little sister I would’ve had if my parents had created yet another inconvenient screw-up, but times like this I wish she’d think before opening her mouth. Resisting the urge to chew her a new one with the familiar “Team Nolan” speech, I stab my thumb over my shoulder.
“I need to head back to the stage before Chloe starts up again,” I tell them. “I was catching up with an old buddy from my Recon unit and said I’d only be a minute.” I offer a friendly smile to Sofia. “It was good to see you again. I hope the city treats you well while you’re here.”
Wow, that was slick. What am I, the fucking ambassador for New York? All I know is the way Sofia looks at me with those sparkling blue eyes does things to my head that I don’t have time for when she’s only in town for a short while. Besides, I have no business thinking about her that way. I need to get the fuck outta here before I say something really asinine that will bite me in the ass later.
“I’m staying in New York,” she blurts. “I mean…permanently.”
When I frown and shake my head, waiting for her to clarify, she simply stares back at me, clearing her throat. I could stand back and watch her squirm all day. Something tells me it doesn’t happen that often, and it’s fucking hilarious.
“Sofia has accepted a transfer with Anisten and Behr to their office in Manhattan,” Sharlo cuts in. “New York just acquired the country’s best up-and-coming corporate lawyer.”
“I was under the impression you had an aversion to this city,” I tease Sofia with a quirked eyebrow, hoping she can’t see the excitement I’m trying like hell to contain. “Last time I saw you, it seemed you couldn’t blow out of here soon enough.”
With a coy smile that lights her eyes, she tells me, “I decided there’s no use fighting it. First Evelyn moves here, then James…seems everyone in my family is destined to live in The Big Apple.”
Sharlo throws me a predictable—nonetheless still incredibly annoying—wink. “She’s staying with us until she finds a rental. Perhaps you could help her find something reasonable in your neighborhood. Tribeca is quite lovely. I imagine you’d fancy taking a break one day this week to provide her with a proper tour.”
Hell yes I’d like to give her a tour. The idea of spending time alone with Sofia has me so adrenalized that I stutter on a reply. “I can—I mean, I could—”
“You don’t have to,” Sofia insists, holding one hand up as her shoulders square. She’s so damn sure of herself that it’s easy to envision her taking charge in the courtroom…and in bed. “The firm hired a realtor to assist me. I’ll do just fine on my own.”
“Shar’s right, I could use a break,” I say. “I’ve spent my entire life in Manhattan. If you want someone to show you around the city, I’m your man.”
All at once, slender fingers wrap around my wrist and I’m met with the familiar, peppery perfume that I swear to god I’ve formed an allergy to. I flinch when thin lips press to my cheek. Why did she have to fucking kiss me in front of Sofia?
“Correction, you’re my man,” Avery says possessively. Her intense green eyes immediately narrow on Sofia. “Who’s this?”