Serena has learned to live with her past, locking her secrets and nightmares deep inside her. But when her boyfriend of six years abruptly leaves her, she’s catapulted back into pain, nursing a broken heart. When indulging in mountains of chocolate doesn’t work, Serena decides the best way to deal with her shattered heart is to indulge in something else. A rebound . . .
The night she swaps her usual Sprite for tequila, she meets James. The encounter is breathtaking.
And best not repeated.
James is a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. A man who has amassed a fortune by taking risks. A man who has shunned commitment completely, and still does. He’s the exact opposite of Serena. But sometimes opposites attract. Sometimes they give in to burning passion. Sometimes opposites are perfect for each other.
James is everything her damaged soul could want. His kisses are intoxicating, his touch out of this world. He makes her forget. He grants her peace from her pain. But as they grow closer, Serena discovers she isn’t the only one with a past. James carries the scars of a past much darker than hers. One that has left him damaged, hurt, and wary of love. A past that gives him the power to shatter her.
Now James and Serena must find a way to mend one another. Or risk losing each other forever.
There are three reasons tequila is my new favorite drink.
One: my ex-boyfriend hates it.
Two: downing a shot looks way sexier than sipping my usual Sprite.
Three: it might give me the courage to do something my ex-boyfriend would hate even more than tequila—getting myself a rebound.
“You need someone hot, hot, hot,” my best friend Jess says, plunking her glass on the sleek counter and beckoning the bartender to prepare another round.
I grimace as the last drops of liquor burn my throat. “Define hot.”
“Tall, tan, six-pack.” She spins on her bar stool, turning toward the buzzing room.
“Every polo player at Stanford fits that description,” I say.
She bursts into a torrent of giggles that makes me wonder if I shouldn’t accidentally-on-purpose knock over the fresh round of shots the bartender sets in front of me, or my big night might just end up with me carrying an incoherent Jess to our apartment, as usual.
“Stanford’s entire team is here. Have your pick, Serena.”
I twirl around, facing a sea of people. Of course the entire team is here. Almost every Stanford student is here tonight. Who would miss the first bash of the summer term? For Jess and me, it’s the last first bash ever, since we are graduating in a few months. I push my chest forward, the way Jess does it, fully aware that I won’t have nearly the same effect she has. My black tank top, which she insisted I wear, doesn’t do me justice, revealing far too much of my barely-there cleavage, despite the definitely-there Victoria’s Secret push-up bra.
Jess twirls a blonde strand of her hair between her fingers, looking around with a confidence that can be neither replicated nor simulated. I take a deep breath and push the curtain of my black hair behind my shoulder. One look at the polo team and I know this was a bad, bad idea. The prospect of talking to one of those over-tanned giants, let alone flirting, has me hyperventilating. I don’t know how to flirt. Last time I did it I was a high school junior, and I sucked at it. Also, I thought I would never have to do it again. But six years later, Michael decided his Australian coworker’s seemingly endless legs were not to be resisted anymore, so here I am, a college senior, facing my most daunting exam yet.
I better not fail.
Yet as the number of mind-blowing, gorgeous girls floating around the players increases by the second, all vying for their attention, I dearly wish I could escape and cuddle in my bed, surrounded by mountains of Toblerone chocolate, watching The Lord of the Rings extended edition for the seventh time in three weeks.
I do a quick mental assessment of the probability of escaping without Jess catching on. It’s not good. Besides, she will need me to carry her home, so I’d better not leave her alone. I almost start designing a plan to convince her to bolt together, when someone catches my attention.
He’s tall, with dark, messy hair. Judging by the lavish gazes that the blonde at the next table and the redhead on his right throw him, I’m not imaging his perfectly toned chest and arms. On a hotness scale from one to ten, I’d put him between fifteen and sixteen.
I lean in to Jess and say in a low voice, “I bet he fits your hotness requirements.”
She follows my gaze and starts giggling again. “James Cohen?”
“You know him?” Please don’t say you dated him. Please don’t.
“I’ve read an article about him. He looks hotter than the feature’s picture. You of all people must have heard of him, too,” she teases.
“The name does sound familiar,” I admit, trying to hide my relief. I wrack my brain for a few seconds. And then it hits me. “Oh yeah, Stanford’s golden boy. Every professor in my economics classes mentions him at least once a month. The poster child for successful serial entrepreneurs.”
“Serial womanizers more likely,” Jess smirks as he bends to the redhead, whispering something in her ear, sliding his hand playfully down her back. For some reason, the sight of them erases any desire to keep looking for potential prey, so I swirl on my stool back to the bar.
“He graduated a few years ago. What’s he doing in a student bar?” I ask.
“Alumni sometimes come to semester opening parties,” Jess says with a shrug. “Right. I need to pee.” She springs from her stool, swaying when her feet reach the floor.
“Do you want me to come with you?” I ask at once.
“No, no, I’m fine,” she chortles. “I guess I shouldn’t have drunk those cocktails before you arrived.”
“That’s right, you shouldn’t have.”
“But the guy buying them was so cute,” she calls over her shoulder. I grimace as she stumbles into a couple on her way to the restroom.
I turn my attention to the two tequila shots in front of me, and open my mouth to tell the bartender we won’t be having them after all, when a voice says, “I’d recommend you try it with orange slices and cinnamon.”
I look sideways and almost fall of my seat. It’s him. And up close, it’s obvious I gave him far too few points. His striking blue eyes and full lips, curled in a deliciously conceited smile, earn him at least a twenty on that hotness scale.
“Tequila,” he points at the two glasses. “It tastes much better with orange and cinnamon than lemon and salt.”
“Thanks for the tip.” I flash my teeth in the hope they’ll detract his attention from my plunging neckline, though I never heard of teeth trumping boobs.
“Have we met?”
“Umm… ” I’m one hundred percent sure we haven’t or I would remember, but I’m perfectly willing to pretend we have met if it means he’ll linger here a little longer.
“We have,” he says, recognition lighting up his face. “You were a mentor for the national math contest last year, weren’t you?”
Damn. Of the myriad of rules Jess recited to me concerning flirting and dating, one in particular stands out: never show my nerdy side. And there are very few things nerdier than being a mentor in a math contest. Especially since only previous winners are allowed to mentor. In my defense, he was the one who brought it up. I make a mental note not to mention my part-time bookkeeping job. No need to add the boring tag, in addition to the nerd one.
“I’m James, by the way.”
“I know. I mean… I’ve heard of you,” I mumble, suddenly feeling very hot.
He seems completely unsurprised.
“I’m Serena McLewis.”
“So, Serena…” he pronounces my name slowly, as if the three syllables would hide some kind of secret he’s hoping to uncover. My name in his mouth gives me goose bumps all over my arms. I hope he doesn’t notice them. “Let me guess, you’re a math major?”
“Nope. Economics and computer science.”
“Perfect combination. I had the same.” He winks. “I could use someone smart like you in my company.”
Just my luck. Other girls get a free drink, or a one-night stand. I get a job offer. Pity that’s the last thing I want from him.
“Sorry, not interested,” I say, hoping I don’t sound too disappointed.
He leans forward, and his hand accidentally brushes mine. Gently, passing. But it’s enough to send a torrent of shivers down my spine. Hot ones. Cold ones. Then hot ones again, and I fear I might have had one too many tequilas.
“And why is that?”
I try hard to come up with something, anything, but his warm breath on my cheeks wipes any thought other than the fact that his lips are far closer to me than they should be. His delicious scent—ocean and musk—makes my task so much harder.
He takes pity on me and leans back, his smirk more pronounced than ever as he scans me from head to foot.
“Are you doing anything tomorrow?” he asks.
A burning sensation starts forming in my chest and I don’t know if it’s panic or excitement, but I try to play cool, the way Jess always said I should.
“Of course, it’s Saturday.”
“Can you get out of it?”
I sound braver than I feel when I answer, “Depends on what you have in mind.”
“Where do you live?” he muses.
Normally, a stranger asking for my address would not elicit any reaction from me except running in the opposite direction, while seriously considering calling the police. On second thought, I might add a punch for good measure before bolting. Yet as I stand here before him, watching his eyes trace the contour of my lips, all I can think is that I’m sorry I haven’t had one more tequila because then I might have enough courage to give him a kiss. As it is, I’ll have to be content with giving him my address. I become conscious that I’m biting my lower lip and stop immediately. I lean over the bar and grab a napkin, then rummage in the tiny bag Jess lent me for a pen. I write my address on the napkin.
He glances at it once, picks it up and tucks it in the pocket of his jeans. “I know where that is. I’ll have someone pick you up tomorrow at three.”
“To go where?”
“What fun would that be if I told you?” he teases.
“You want me to get in a car with a stranger and trust him to take me to some place I don’t know?”
He narrows his eyes. “Not very adventurous, are you?”
I would dismiss this as a poor attempt to provoke me, if Jess wouldn’t tell me the same thing at least twice a day. Someone else used to tell me that as well. I never thought he really meant it until he announced that not only was he leaving me for the Aussie blonde but that he’d quit his job and was going backpacking with her through Europe and living life one day at a time.
I put on what I hope is a very pro-adventure smile. “How am I supposed to know how to dress if I don’t know where I’m going?”
He bites his lip and leans in whispering, “I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a job interview.”
I fell in love with books when I was nine years old, and my love affair with stories continues even now, many years later.
I write romantic stories and can’t wait to share them with the world.
And I drink coffee. Lots of it, in case the photo didn’t make it obvious enough.
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