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Here's a peek at what's to come with Dominic and Sophia
Growing up as the only daughter of a single father who was a career firefighter hadn’t always been the easiest. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, had decided that parenthood just wasn’t for her shortly after giving birth to me and bailed. Dad had done his best after she took off, but as the years passed, it became glaringly obvious that raising a little girl on his own was seriously uncharted territory. I loved him to death, but he didn’t know the first thing about females, and there was no denying that a lack of female influence had seriously impacted my behavior as a child.
When I got my very first period, I came home freaking out that my internal organs had ruptured and I was bleeding to death. After blanching white as a sheet and locking himself in his study for a good thirty minutes, my dad came out with a stack of printed papers, slapped them down on the kitchen table, and told me to read every page word for word. That was how I’d learned about the dreaded menstrual cycle.
When I sprouted boobs seemingly overnight, going from an almost nonexistent A-cup to a full C, he’d tried locking me in my room until I agreed to wearing a sports bra two sizes too small and duct taping those puppies down. Was his reaction slightly overboard? Yes. But I was his baby girl, and he just couldn’t deal with me growing into a woman.
And let’s not even talk about my first foray into dating. I still had nightmares about that. It was bad. And when I say that, I mean in the sense that word spread no boy in my high school would come within thirty yards of me for fear of losing a beloved appendage.
But all of that was beside the point, which was that my life would’ve been much less complicated if I’d had a woman schooling me on how to behave like a lady, or the types of boys to steer clear of once I got older.
Case in point: In elementary and middle school, I was more of a tomboy than a girly girl. The other girls in my class liked to make fun of me, but having a father who was the very definition of a man’s man had taught me a few useful skills. Instead of being hurt at the teasing and name-calling, I handled it like a guy would. Meaning I got myself suspended for a week for cutting one of Lucy Alexander’s pigtails off in retaliation.
It wasn’t until I reached high school that I really started to become interested in boys. Well, one boy in particular.
Dominic Abbatelli, the older brother of one of my best friends, and the most gorgeous man to ever walk the planet.
He was four years older than me, already out of high school by my freshman year. But that didn’t stop me from falling, and falling hard. I wanted him to look at me the same way he looked at all the other girls I saw him around town with. I wanted that passionate, sinfully heated gaze of his directed at me. I wanted to be the one he shared those secret looks that spoke of naughty things with. I wanted to catch his attention. So I enlisted the help of his sister Lola to take me from tomboy to glam. I gave up all my boyish ways—the sports bras, duct tape, and sneakers—and embraced all things girly like my life depended on it. Makeup, clothing, hair, shoes—you name it, I went all out to catch his eye.
I thought my father was going to have a heart attack the first time he saw me in a skirt.
I spent the next few years mooning after my best friend’s older brother like a lovesick puppy. I’d finally started to give up hope until one day shortly after my graduation, he finally noticed me.
It was one of the best nights of my entire life that led to a handful of blissfully happy years. That was until I surprised my boyfriend during a long weekend by returning home from Seattle. I hadn’t seen him in way too long. The separation was taking a serious toll on both of us, causing petty fights and stupid arguments, and I wanted to make things better. I was missing him like crazy, so I spent what meager savings I had on a plane ticket back to New York.
And what did I get for all my troubles?
Well, I got to walk in on the love of my life giving the business to a chick who was not me while he had her bent over the back of the couch.
It wasn’t one of my finest moments, but I was thankful some of my father’s lessons came back to me right then, because the only reason I was able to walk away from a nearly four-year relationship was because I’d left one of them with a bloody nose and the other with a huge bald spot.
After that fun little experience, I decided that it was my lot in life to save other women from a fate such as mine.
That was how my two best girlfriends and I came to be three of the most popular women in Washington and the surrounding states.
We learned from past experiences and doled out relationship advice on the top-rated talk radio show geared toward women, aptly named Girl Talk. We did our parts for the sisterhood in the hopes of saving as many broken hearts as possible.
And I discovered that it was much easier and a lot less messy to keep a handful of men on my hook as random bed partners than it was to ever get into another relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, I never judge other women based on their relationship choices, but I’d been there, done that, and gotten the cheap-ass T-shirt. I didn’t need to take that trip again.
Besides, I had great friends, a killer job, and an income that most men would envy. My life lacked for nothing.
No way in hell was I letting a man barge into my world and complicate the bliss I’d created.
I was just fine on my own.
What had I been thinking, letting Daphne and Lola talk me into doing a bachelorette auction? Sure, it was for charity, and the money would go toward a worthwhile cause, but as I stood on that stage with a bright spotlight shining down on me as the MC talked me up to potential bidders, I couldn’t help but feel like a slab of meat being picked over by hungry vultures.
I tried not to roll my eyes as the lanky guy in an ill-fitting tux spouted off my winning attributes like I was a prized show pony—most of which weren’t even correct. “The beautiful Sophia loves long walks on the beach…” Wrong. I hate sand with a passion, and seagulls can go to Hell for all I care. “… horseback riding…” The hell I do. Horses scare the shit out of me. No animal should be that tall. “… and spending her free time with family and friends.” Well at least the moron got one thing right.
I pasted a plastic smile on my face as I tried my best to see the faces in the crowd with that godforsaken spotlight blinding me “Let’s start the bidding, shall we? Can I get—”
“Ten thousand dollars,” I vaguely familiar voice called out.
“Fifteen,” someone else spoke. Just like that the bidding was off, but I was too busy trying to place the first voice to pay attention.
The man’s voice countered every bid, and I found myself squinting in the direction it came from.
As the bidding continued, I shoveled through my memory bank, trying to place where I’d heard that voice before. Obviously the dude wasn’t hurting for money, but something about his tone seemed determined.
“Fifty thousand!” another man said.
“One hundred thousand dollars!”
What in the sweet hell?
Gasps rang out through the room as my skin started to prickle.
“Going once… going twice… sold! Sir, why don’t you join us up here on the stage? Let’s give this charitable gentleman a round of applause!” the MC cried into the microphone. Everyone clapped at the guy who’d just won a date with me for a whopping hundred grand while my insides began to knot and the tiny hairs on my arms stood on end.
Then it dawned on me. All I could think as the guy with a familiar voice got closer was nononononono… because I knew, I just knew who that voice belonged to. But it wasn’t possible. Was it? I mean, Lola would’ve said something.
The second his foot hit the first step, the spotlight shifted off me and on to him. My entire body froze, my lungs seized, and all the blood drained from my face.
The MC’s voice sounded like it was coming from deep inside a tunnel as he asked for his name. His response echoed inside my head like a gong.
Fuck. My. Life.
“Well, congratulations, Dominic! Thanks to your generosity, you’ll be going on a date with this beautiful woman right here!”
All of a sudden, the MC’s jubilance grated on my every nerve. I wanted to punch him in the throat as his hand hit the center of my back and pushed me off to the side with Dominic in order to continue the auction.
The plastic smile remained on my face as I allowed Dom to lead me down the stairs. The only reason I let him was because my legs were so shaky I feared I’d fall if left to walk on my own.
Once I was on the ground at the side of the stage, I quickly put distance between us, shaking off his touch like it burned me. “What the hell are you doing here?” I hissed out of the side of my mouth.
“Careful, butterfly. Pull back your claws. People are still watching.”
Emotions were a funny thing, really. I never would’ve thought I’d want to cause someone bodily harm at the exact time I wanted to burst into a deluge of tears. But there I was, clenching my fists to keep from throttling my ex while my eyes stung at the sound of my nickname on his tongue.
I hadn’t heard that name in years. I should’ve been over it, but hearing him call me “butterfly” again after almost a decade still caused a lump to form in my throat. Memories were fickle like that. They’d sat stagnant in the back of my mind for so long I’d nearly forgotten about them, but with just that one word, they were shoved to the forefront of my brain. It played like a video clip in my head: me standing in Dominic’s bathroom, leaned over the sink as I brushed mascara on my lashes; him leaning against the doorjamb with a content smile on his face as he watched.
“Why don’t we just stay in tonight?” he asked, his eyes hungrily skating along my body clad only in panties and a bra.
“Because we’re going out! You promised to take me dancing. I want to see those famous Abbatelli moves,” I teased, blowing him a kiss in the mirror.
“My little butterfly,” he said softly, coming to stand directly behind me. “Always flitting around, never content to stay in one place for long.”
His arms wrapped around me, and I shoved the mascara wand inside the tube and turned to place my hands on his shoulders. “That’s just not true.”
“Nope.” I shook my head, standing on my tiptoes to place a kiss on his lips. “I’ll always be content wherever I am as long as you’re there with me.”
God, I hated that nickname even while another part of me treasured it. He crowded my space, forcing me to keep moving. I gave a sidelong look at Lola’s table, hoping to burn her alive with my eyes, but she wasn’t there.
Not surprising, really. She’d been having an on-again, off-again relationship with a man named Grayson Lockhart, a guy who just so happened to be our boss’s boss, for the past several weeks. She’d been falling for him even though she denied it every step of the way, but seeing as she’d just stood up on that exact same stage minutes before and professed her love to him, the two of them were probably getting it on in a coat closet or something at that very moment. I was going to murder her so dead the next time I saw her. The least she could’ve done was warn me that her big brother had crashed the charity event our station sponsored every single year.
She had some serious explaining to do. And a whole lot of groveling.
“Oh no. No way. Huh-uh.” I shook my head and attempted to dig my heels in when I caught sight of where he was leading us. The French doors loomed ominously before me, leading out to a terrace far from the rest of the party. No way was I allowing myself to be trapped on an empty, dark terrace, with nothing but the romantic view of the lake glowing in the moonlight as stars filled the sky. Nope. That chick-flick romance bullshit was not happening.
“Keep walking, butterfly,” he whispered in my ear, sending a spark of electricity across my skin. “I won’t hesitate to throw you over my shoulder and carry you if I have to.”
The son of a bitch wasn’t lying either. I could hear it in his voice. And if that wasn’t enough to make me comply, the fact that he’d done the very thing he’d just threatened more than once during our relationship would have.
I let out an aggrieved huff and crossed my arms over my chest as we came to the doors. Dominic kept a hand firmly on my back as he swung one of them open and pushed me through. He followed behind me and closed us away from the rest of the partygoers. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he stood with his legs planted slightly apart between the glass doors and me like a goddamned security guard, making it impossible for me to get away.
A shiver from the chilly night wind worked its way through my body as Dominic and I engaged in a sort of standoff with one another. Eventually, the way he regarded me with those deep amber eyes I’d once loved so much became too much to bear, and I had to look away. I focused on the stone facing of the wall just over his shoulder while I rubbed my arms to ward off the cold.
“Why are you still here?” I finally found the courage to ask, even if I wasn’t strong enough to voice my question while looking at him. He’d come to Seattle to visit Lola, but his vacation didn’t seem to have an end date anywhere in sight. “Shouldn’t you be back in New York by now?”
Dominic scratched at his stubble-covered jawline before moving to the railing and leaning down to rest his elbows on the metal surface. The move brought him closer to me and allowed the moonlight to highlight his stupidly handsome face. My heart rate kicked up as his square, solid features came into better view. Stupid heart.
“I’ve been reevaluating my life lately,” he said in a quiet voice. “Figured it would be best if I stuck around while I worked through some things.”
The ominous statement did little to alleviate my nerves. “Best for whom, exactly? Because I don’t think your sister’s going to be thrilled with having you crash at her place for an indefinite amount of time.”
He stood tall and turned his head in my direction. Those intense eyes hit me once again, only this time the swirling storm of emotion inside of them stole my breath. “I’m not going back to Manhattan.”
“What are you talking about?” I whispered as panic began twisting at my insides.
“I’m staying here. In Seattle.”
My head jerked back like I’d just been hit. “Are you kidding me?” I whispered venomously. Hadn’t he already caused me enough pain? He’d already broken my heart once before. It had taken me years and thousands of miles of distance to get myself back on my feet, and now he was telling me that I no longer had the comfort of a continent between us to keep me safe? “You’re such a bastard!” I snapped, dropping my arms to my sides. My entire body went rigid as I began to seethe. “This is my city, Dominic! Mine! Your life’s supposed to be on the other side of the country, far away from me!”
“I’m staying for you!” he barked, moving close and getting in my face.
I reared back on one heel, the spike teetering precariously as my eyes went round. “What?” I screeched incredulously. Then the shock quickly gave way to laughter of disbelief. “How can you possibly be staying for me? Oh my God, Dom! I don’t want you here! Don’t you get it? I stayed in Seattle to get the hell away from you!”
“I fucked up,” he ground out, his tone so ragged it sounded like he’d swallowed glass. “I fucked up and I lost you.” He surprised me by reaching up and taking my face gently between both hands. I was so stunned by the action that I couldn’t move. “But I’ll make it right, butterfly—”
“Don’t call me that,” I bit out, forcing down the swell of tears in my throat. “Don’t.” I tried to pull away but his fingers tangled in my hair, keeping me in place.
“I’ll make it right,” he repeated. “I’m going to win you back if it’s the last fucking thing I do.”
“Have you lost your mind?” I yelled into the quiet night. “There’s no making it right! I caught you fucking another woman, Dom! It’ll be a cold day in Hell before you win me back!”
“You broke up with me!” he shouted, throwing his hands in the air.
It was the exact same fight we’d had countless times after that night. And just like all those years ago, hearing him say that made me murderous. “It was a fight,” I growled, my teeth clenched painfully tight. “We got into a fight!”
“Yeah, a fight that ended with you saying that maybe we shouldn’t be together before hanging up on me.”
“Oh my God!” I breathed with a touch of hysteria as I ran my hands through my hair. “I’m not doing this. I’m not having this same fucking argument with you again. It didn’t matter ten years ago, and it matters even less today. This is over.”
I moved to sidestep him and get the hell out of there when he clasped my elbow and jerked me back with such force I spun around and landed against his rock-solid chest. Before I could utter a word, his mouth came down on mine in a kiss so unexpected, so consuming that my body, heart, and mind had no choice but to reciprocate. By the time he pulled back, my lips felt swollen and bruised. I could barely catch my breath, and the ground seemed shaky beneath my feet.
I couldn’t form a single coherent thought as he trailed his fingertips along my hairline down to my jaw.
“That was just the beginning,” he said softly.
Then, just like that, he disappeared back into the ballroom, leaving my world completely shaken and turned upside down.
I seethed as I tossed my vibrator to the side. My chest rose and fell with exertion, but despite the self-induced orgasm I’d just had, my body still wasn’t satisfied.
And it was all that bastard’s fault!
If he hadn’t kissed me like his life depended on it—like my life depended on it—I wouldn’t have been in such a state.
“Ugh!” I shouted into the darkness of my bedroom. I balled my fists and gave my mattress a few punches for good measure, but it was pointless. I knew better. There was no cure for the frustration—sexual and otherwise—that was coursing in my blood. I called it the Dom Effect. It was what happened any time I was subjected to Dominic Abbatelli’s presence.
Which was why I’d spent the better part of a decade far, far away from him.
Knowing sleep was useless, I climbed from my bed, readjusted my PJs, and stomped to the kitchen for a much-needed glass of wine. When all else failed I could always count on getting stupid drunk.
I’d just taken my first sip when my cell phone started to ring. I plunked my glass down and walked over to where I had it plugged in on the kitchen counter, glaring at the name on the screen.
I accepted the call but didn’t get a word out before Lola started in. “On a scale from one to low-fat ice cream, how much do you hate me right now?”
“My anger doesn’t even register on that scale,” I answered menacingly. “You’ve got a lot of nerve calling me after the stunt you pulled tonight.”
“I’m sorry!” Lola cried through the line. “I’m so, so sorry, honey. I didn’t know he was going to be there until he showed up. I swear! Then Fiona wanted to talk and my dad showed and the auction,” she rambled. “It was just one big clusterfuck of an evening.”
“Well it seemed to have ended well enough for you,” I deadpanned. “You got the man and I got blindsided.”
She sighed heavily in my ear. “You’re right. None of that’s an excuse. I should’ve told you he was there.”
That was the thing with my relationship with Lola—no matter what she did, I couldn’t stay mad at her. The woman didn’t have a conniving bone in her body when it came to her friends, so I knew she hadn’t truly meant any harm.
I blew out a loud puff of air as I headed back to my wine. “I forgive you,” I grumbled sullenly. “But I’m still mad. Your brother is just the worst!”
“I know,” Lola said in an appeasing, yet slightly sarcastic tone. “He’s terrible. We should totally stone him or key his car or something.”
I let out a very unladylike snort. “Don’t make me laugh when I’m mad at you.”
“Sorry,” she replied, not sounding the least bit sorry. “So, are we good?”
I could hear the relief in her voice when she continued. “Good. And it’s just a while longer. Soon he’ll be back in New York and you can go back to pretending he doesn’t exist.”
I paused with the wineglass halfway to my mouth. “But he said he’s moving here.”
“What?” she shrieked so loud I had to pull the phone from my ear with a wince. “When the hell did he say that?”
“He told me tonight.”
“What else did he tell you?”
I was suddenly bone-tired at the thought of relaying the events of the evening. I let out a weary sigh and sat my glass down, only half-finished. “Can we talk about this tomorrow? I really don’t want to get into it again tonight. And don’t you have a new hottie boyfriend you’re supposed to be riding like a cowgirl anyway?”
She let out a loud laugh. “I’m calling between rounds. Grayson had to replenish his fluids.”
“’Lalalalalala!” I shouted, twisting my face in disgust even though she couldn’t see me. “I don’t need to hear that!” Especially considering how my traitorous body had been behaving since that stupid kiss. “I’m hanging up now.”
“All right, but we’re talking tomorrow. I want to know everything.”
We said our goodbyes and I disconnected, setting the phone next to my discarded glass of wine and trudging back to my bedroom. Exhaustion from the night’s events had officially worn my body out. Unfortunately my mind refused to shut off, and I spent the next several hours tossing and turning.
When I finally did drift to sleep, my dreams were plagued with all things Dominic.
The man was like a virus—there was just no getting rid of him.
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