Excerpt from Love Me Harder

*Note: This is taken from an unedited draft and may contain typos or grammatical errors!  

Light filtered into the dim room from around the edges of the drapes, one scattered beam in particular focusing its taunt on Juliet’s left eye, making it twitch and water. A death metal band played a pounding rhythm in her head, while the stale taste of whiskey lingered in the desert which had replaced her mouth sometime while she slept. She turned her face into the pillow, that small motion turning the pounding to jackhammering. Only Jack made her feel this way. Hadn’t she sworn off Jack? What the hell happened last night?

Her recollection was hazy, but at least she wasn’t chained to a radiator in some maniac’s lair, thank God. Everything was as it should be.

Except — this didn’t feel like her pillow. Sunlight didn’t stream through the windows on this side of her bedroom. And there typically wasn’t a strange arm draped across her waist when she woke in the morning.

Oh, Jules, what did you do? Her inner bitch, dressed as an old schoolmarm, tsked at her.

Juliet’s body stiffened, her senses an army of soldiers standing at attention. She slowly turned her head and opened first one eye, then the other. The woolen drapes, the muted pastel watercolor on the wall — clues she was in a hotel room. Not hers because she hadn’t checked into a hotel. She’d only come for the bar.

She slowly rolled to her back under the muscled arm, its weight grounding her to the bed as if to keep her from floating away. Her gaze roamed a path from the unfamiliar appendage to its owner and she gulped at what, or rather who, she discovered attached to it. A living, breathing Adonis, eyes closed in peaceful slumber, golden lashes skimming full cheeks that would have given him a boyish appearance if not for the reddish stubble on his square jaw.

The deep cleft in his chin brought back last night. The flowing whiskey, the slow dancing, his lips against hers, hands mapping out the curves and contours of her body. She’d been emboldened with liquid courage and driven by loneliness. This was why after the last time she’d let whiskey make her decisions, when her friends had to peel her off a Coast Guard cadet at Griff’s, she refused to drown her sorrows in anything stronger than wine unless she was with her girls. That was over a year and a half ago.

Last night the girls hadn’t been with her. She’d been with her chef brigade from Élan, toasting the departure of their beloved owners and friends, Philippe and Claire. They had said goodbye to the Renaults yesterday morning and then gathered for a night out in downtown New London before they were to meet the new owner today.

Shit. Today. Where was the frickin’ clock? No matter. She had to leave. Now. Before the handsome stranger woke up and she’d have to endure the awful awkwardness of post-coital regret.

Although, considering what she remembered and the delicious soreness between her thighs, there wasn’t much to this encounter she’d regret, except perhaps not getting his name. Roy? Roger? Some sort of cowboy name. “Cookie” was stuck in her head, but this chiseled specimen of male perfection could be called “Cookie” as likely as she with her buxom boobs and ample ass could be named “Willow”.

Carefully, she skirted out from under his grasp and off the bed, landing silently on the shag carpet. The motion caused a hank of thick, wavy russet hair to fall across his tanned forehead, but the hunk continued his soft sonata of snores. She tiptoed to the bathroom, collecting her abandoned clothing along the way.

What a sight. She inspected the mess reflecting back at her. Her new chin-length bob stuck up from her head at all angles and her smoky-eye look was less seductive and more deranged raccoon after last night’s activities. A wet washcloth, dab of hotel soap, and furious scrubbing left her tawny amber skin a little red and raw, but clean. She pulled her jeans on and thanked the Lord she wouldn’t have an obvious walk of shame back to her car. At least it was in the parking garage below the hotel.

She couldn’t be late for this meeting. There was no reason to believe her job was at risk — Juliet was Élan. But still, showing up late and hungover was not the first impression one wanted to make. She picked up a bottle of aftershave on the counter and unscrewed the top to breathe in the spicy scent of sage, her eyes fluttering closed. This was what she’d first noticed about him.

Everyone else had left and she was settling their tab at the bar when he had swaggered over. Cowboy hat perched low on his head, his eyes dark, molten like the inside of a chocolate lava cake and full of just as many pleasurable promises. Then he spoke, his drawling voice a caramel ribbon, syrupy and succulent and sinful.

“Can I buy you a drink, darlin’?” She’d nodded and he’d ordered her what he was drinking. Jack and Coke.

The taste in her mouth was unpleasant, to say the least. She replaced the bottle and picked up a tube of toothpaste, perfectly flattened from the bottom on up. Hot cowboy was a little anal retentive. She took delight in squeezing a dab of paste on her finger, pinching the tube from middle. Unleash the messy. That was her motto. She finger-brushed her teeth best she could. Gordie had been anal about these things and the last thing she wanted to be, wanted to see anyone be, was like her ex.

Freshened up and dressed, she gingerly stepped out of the bathroom. Her purse was hanging off the door knob, phone inside, and the strappy red heels she’d borrowed from Lainie lay in a heap in the corner. She groaned. Those fuckers hurt. She stared down at her feet and shook her head. No way she could torture her poor tootsies again.

She bent to grab them, but a noise from the bed froze her in place. She peeked over her shoulder. Hot cowboy stirred. The covers fell away revealing him in all his naked glory.

 

And oh, how glorious!

Juliet gulped and tried unsuccessfully to force her stare away from the frickin’ tree trunk pointing skyward from between his legs. She hadn’t gotten a good look at it last night. Her eyes flitted to the nightstand littered with condom wrappers. Did they make protection big enough for — for — that? They must. Still, better safe than sorry. She’d get tested as soon as she got back.

He rustled in the sheets again, drawing her eyes to his broad shoulders and the scarlet flower and horse tattoo inked above his heart. She let her gaze traipse down the rest of his tanned and sinewy body, drinking in the the six-pack abs and the vee directing her like a neon sign to his impressive length.

Romeo. That was the name he’d given, surely not his real one. Romeo and Juliet, ha ha, never heard that one before. Okay, so he knew her first name. But she hadn’t told him anything else. She wasn’t into giving pointless repeat performances. One-night stands were called that for a reason. No matter how beautiful or big her partner might be—

She inhaled deeply, sage and spice filling her senses again. Mmm. She’d take these memories with her to bed on those lonely nights, when she allowed herself to yearn for what all her friends had — love, companionship. She’ll have to upgrade her vibrator, though.

Hot cowboy moaned and reached his arm out toward the now-empty side of the bed. She darted to the door and hustled out of there, halfway down the hall to the elevator before she realized she was still barefoot. She wasn’t going back for those torture devices, no matter how expensive they were. She’d just have to replace them before Lainie wanted them back.

“C’mon, c’mon,” she muttered, furiously punching the down button. She looked over her shoulder, but by the time the doors slid open and she rushed into the elevator car, the cowboy still hadn’t emerged from the room in pursuit. She’d made it. Relief was tempered with a pinch of regret, though. She’d probably never see the hot cowboy again.

 

Love Me Harder, Available October 1, 2018 – Preorder Now

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(c) 2018 Cate Tayler. All Rights Reserved. No Portion of this Excerpt May Be Transmitted or Copied Without Prior Permission.