Meet Finn & Winter in the newest addition to the Woodlands Series!
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Winter Donovan loves two things: her sister and her sister’s ex boyfriend. She’s spent her whole life doing the right thing except that one time, that night when Finn O’Malley looked hollowed out by his father’s death. Then she did something very wrong that felt terribly right.
Finn can’t stop thinking about Winter and the night and he’ll do anything to make her a permanent part of his life, even if it means separating Winter from the only family she has.
Their love was supposed to be unrequited but one grief stricken guy and one girl with too big of a heart results in disastrous consequences.
I didn’t know which one of us looked more surprised when Finn O’Malley walked into the Riverside Café at about ten minutes before midnight. The café was experiencing a lull in the post-late night, pre-bar closings time period, and there were only two customers: myself and a man in his fifties over by the counter.
And now Finn.
“Winter,” he said, his tone a cross between disappointment and disbelief which I understood immediately. He’d come to this run down café—far from where he lived and worked—to…well, I wasn’t sure what he’d want other than get away from anyone who might know him.
And there I sat. The girl who’d had an enormous, unrequited crush on her older sister’s high school boyfriend. And said older sister might have been the worst girlfriend he’d ever had. If my speeding heart was any indication, my crush was far from dead.
“Finn. Good to see you.” He looked terrible—or as terrible as Finn could ever look. Tall with dark hair set against ivory skin and the lean, muscular build of someone who did manual labor for a living. Finn would never look bad.
But grief had hollowed out his cheeks, and his shocking blue eyes were bloodshot. His inky black hair stood in clumps around his head as if he’d run his fingers through it multiple times. He wore a gray T-shirt that hugged his strong frame but had dirt smudges all over it. His worn jeans displayed dust and grime.
He worked in construction—or more accurately, he flipped houses, the last I’d heard. Not that I kept up on the doings of Finn O’Malley that much.
His eyes shifted around the restaurant, as he probably wondered how he could take a seat away from me and not appear too rude. I solved his dilemma by grabbing my purse and library book and sliding out of the booth.
“I was just going,” I said.
He licked his upper lip and I about died on the spot. But I was an adult now. All of twenty-two years. Crushes might have made my heart squeeze and my knees shake, but they didn’t paralyze me. Giving him a tight smile, I walked toward the door. He didn’t move, and unless I was going to walk around a table or two, I’d have to brush by him.
So I did.
And smelled him.
And suddenly I couldn’t leave.
The sour, sweet stench of alcohol was so strong I wondered if he’d poured a bottle of vodka over his head. It was a familiar fragrance because my sister had been wearing it regularly for the past ten years. Her alcohol addiction, among other things, was a reason Finn and she were exes when many people had thought they’d get married out of high school.
I backed up. “Did you drive here?”
The side of his mouth quirked up—not quite a smile, more of a wry acknowledgment of my thought process. “I’m not drunk,” he said. “I…it’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time.” I started back toward the booth. “Come sit with me. My book was boring anyway.”
Good manners drove him to follow even if he didn’t want to. He dropped into the opposite bench, and I pushed my water glass toward him.
“Thanks.” He drained it in three gulps. I was way too fascinated with the motion of his throat and the way that his Adam’s apple signaled every gulp. He set the glass down carefully as if almost surprised by his own sudden thirstiness.
Due to his long arms, his folded hands reached halfway across the table. I kept my arms locked by my side so I wouldn’t accidentally on purpose touch him.
My role was friend, not girlfriend, no matter how many inappropriate fantasies I’d dreamed up when I was a girl.
The waitress came out and delivered another glass of water and refilled my now empty one.
“I’ll have a burger. Plain. Order of fries,” Finn rattled off without looking at the menu. He pointed at me. “You want anything?”
I shook my head. “I’m good.”
The waitress left, and Finn stretched his long legs out and leaned back into the booth, looking completely wiped. If I moved my legs, even a little, I’d brush against him. I stayed still because I wasn’t sure what I would do if I touched him. Something embarrassing, no doubt.
“What are you doing here?”
Clearing my throat, I managed to form a coherent answer. “I just got off work. Closed tonight.”
Surprised, his eyebrows shot into his forehead. “What are you doing that has you working until midnight?”
“I work at Atra, the ink shop two doors down.”
“Oh,” he started and then stopped. “I thought you were working at a marketing firm.”
A tendril of pleasure sprang to life at the idea of Finn keeping track of me. We may have been friends once, but my sister was the connecting thread. And when she’d snapped their tie, Finn and I had drifted apart like florets from a blown dandelion.
He’d floated one way and I’d floated another. We’d lived in the same city going on three years now—since he got back from attending an out of town university—but the first time I’d seen him since he and Ivy had broken up had been at his father’s funeral a month ago.
“No, I was downsized but I still do freelance design work for them and a couple other companies, but my primary job is commissioned artwork at Atra. I also help around the shop, doing bookings and stuff. Tonight I had a late consultation with a friend of Tucker’s. He owns the shop,” I explained and then shut up, not wanting to ramble.
Finn nodded as if he found this interesting. “Sounds like you are putting your talent to good use. I always thought your work was tremendous.”
“Thanks. So what brings you here?”
He looked around. The man hunched over his coffee at the counter hadn’t moved. “I just got off work too.”
“I thought you were flipping houses?”
“Like you, I had a change in jobs.” His voice was grim. It didn’t take a genius to guess the change wasn’t a good one like mine was. Or maybe he was just angry about life right now, which he had every right to be.
“I know this sounds like a stupid Hallmark card, but it does get better.” I couldn’t hold myself back any longer. I placed my hand over his folded ones. “I promise.”
He tilted his head back, and his eyes fluttered closed, his ridiculously long lashes feathering across the top of his cheeks. Was he shutting out the pain or me? Or everything?
After long moments of silence, so long and so quiet that I could hear the hum of the refrigeration unit that held bottles of soda and beer behind the cash register, he spoke. “When I was thirteen, my dog Hunter died. Dad and I had bought him when I was four. He’d developed some kind of doggy liver disease, and we had to put him down. That was the worst kind of pain, I thought. But that was like a pin prick, while Dad’s death is like a dull knife dragging itself across my body one painful inch at a time.”
I bit down on my lip so I didn’t cry in front of him. I remembered that pain, and hated that someone I cared about had to suffer it too. “I’m not going to say it’s easy to get over a loss like that; only that it does happen—eventually.”
He snorted, a rough and unhappy sound. “I have been drinking. Not going to lie about that.” His eyes opened halfway, which was probably for the best. The piercing blue came off as too beautiful to be real and too mesmerizing to look away. “But not tonight. Tonight I decided to throw my bottles against the wall instead of drinking them, and because I’m a stupid fuck, I failed to realize I was standing in the splash zone.”
The food arrived before I could respond. He pulled a napkin from the tabletop dispenser and shoved half his fries onto it. “Eat or I won’t be able to.”
Obediently I put a fry into my mouth and watched him dig in. Grief or no grief, he was still eating, which was a good sign. And he didn’t seem drunk. No slurred words, no inappropriate comments.
“Sorry I jumped to conclusions,” I said after polishing off another fry.
“Don’t be. With your past, I can see why you’d be concerned,” he said between bites. My past. He was referring to dealing with my sister’s addictions, which had spiraled out of control after our parents died when she was nineteen.
“She’s better now,” I said. “If you were wondering.”
“Really?” Disbelief was clear in every long drawn-out letter.
“Really. She hit a bad place shortly after her release, but she’s been clean for…” I counted in my head, “almost thirty days.”
“That’s good. Good for her and for you.” He popped the rest of the burger into his mouth and washed it down with the entire glass of water.
“Did you chew that or inhale it?” I laughed, remembering the days he’d linger in our kitchen eating anything and everything Mom would cook.
“I haven’t eaten since noon so if I could have just pressed it into my face and absorbed it via osmosis, I would have.” We shared a laugh, just a small one, but I was breathless by the end. His smile was too much for me, and it was the first one I’d seen from him for so long. It lit up his eyes and revealed the deep creases on the corners of his mouth and his even, perfect white teeth.
“No burgers on the west side of the city?” I joked to disguise my growing and uncomfortable desire for him. Now was not the time nor the place. He was not ever to be mine.
His grin grew wider. “Why do you think I’m here? Trying to avoid being seen by my roommates. I don’t know if you met them at the funeral?” I shook my head. I’d only had eyes for Finn. “I live with four of them. Adam Rees is one.” Adam was a friend of Finn’s from high school. He had a famous father. That was about all I remembered, but I nodded anyway, and he continued. “Their idea of helping me cope is to get me involved in increasingly dangerous activities.”
“What have your roommates made you do?”
“What haven’t they made me do is the question. I’ve been to strip clubs, paintballing, ATVing, a firing range, rock climbing, fishing.” Finn tapped a finger on the table to punctuate each activity. “I’ve got two former Marines living with me, and I think they’re planning to push me out of an airplane. So I can’t go home.”
“You can stay with me,” I said with a nonchalant shrug.
His eyes drifted around my face, lingering on my lips and then dropping lower. I could feel my unbound breasts tighten under the cotton of my T-shirt. I hated bras and was small and perky enough I could get away without wearing them. The only problem was I had fat, eraser-sized nipples, and right now they were pointing directly at Finn. He stared at them for what seemed like an eternity.
“Is that right?” His voice was husky.
The air in the room disappeared, and I barely had enough breath to croak out, “No, Ivy’s there. She and I live together now. Have for—” I paused, not wanting to bring up her recent incarceration, “—for a couple of months,” I finished awkwardly.
He made a noise in the back of his throat, one I couldn’t decipher. “So have you been seeing anyone?”
I didn’t know what to make of that. Why was he at all remotely interested in my love life?
“No, not recently. Not since—”—” I broke off again.
“Not since Ivy got out of prison,” he said dryly.
“I heard.” He was done with the subject of Ivy and that was okay with me. It made me uncomfortable to talk about her while I was perving on her ex-boyfriend.
Anxious to change the subject, I asked, “What about you?”
“I don’t think what I’ve been doing constitutes as seeing anyone. Not since my dad died. Not feeling it.” His blue gaze pinned me against the booth. I heard what he wasn’t saying out loud. He had been sleeping around and from the interested way he was eyeing me, the suggestion was I could be next. “I’ve been trying not to feel for a while but tonight? Maybe tonight should be different.”
It wasn’t a question; it was an invitation. And all the teenage feelings of longing and lust rushed over me until I was dry mouthed and full of want.
He looked out the window, considering something, and then back toward me. “You had a crush on me for a long time. Am I taking advantage of you?”
I didn’t pretend I was confused about what he was asking, even though it was a bit mortifying to be confronted by my unreciprocated feelings. I shook my head. “No. I think it’s the other way around.”
“It’s not. Why don’t we get out of this place?” He stood and threw two twenties on the table and waited for me to lead the way out.
I was acutely aware of his large frame behind me as I walked carefully across the tiled floor to the entrance. The heat of his body nearly burned me as he pressed against my back to reach around me with a large, work-roughened hand to push the glass door open.
He placed a hand on my lower back and guided me to his truck. It was a monster of a thing with big black tires and a menacing silver grill.
“You really expect me to climb into this thing?”
He opened the door and in one swift motion lifted me onto the seat. “I forgot what a bitty thing you are.”
“I’m not small. You’re just very tall. With a very large truck.”
His hands didn’t release my waist; instead, he moved closer. I opened my legs to make space for him.
“Don’t worry, Winter. Everything’s going to fit fine.” With a firm hand on my neck, he drew my face down to his. I heard his lips part before I felt them press against mine.
A thousand thoughts tumbled in my head. Would Ivy be okay with this? Should I really be taking advantage of a grief-stricken man? How were his lips soft and firm at the same time? Could I have an orgasm from just kissing? Was this what love felt like?
His mouth took mine in a firm possession—no hesitation. He wanted this if not me. And I took what he gave me because when did a girl ever get to kiss the boy she’d crushed over for years? Hardly ever.
Only in the movies.
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and dug my hands into his hair, giving into every desperate desire I’d always tried to stomp down.
He groaned and pulled me tighter to him, the seat somehow perfectly situated at groin level so I felt the strong, heated evidence of his desire through our jeans. He rubbed his tongue along the edges of mine. He outlined my lips and then stroked the flat of his tongue against the roof of my mouth.
Even if I hadn’t had a crush on him, I would have been weak-kneed. Finn O’Malley knew how to kiss. He wasn’t just thrusting his tongue into me, he was exploring me, learning me, tasting me.
A large hand cupped one breast and squeezed it tightly. I cried out, part in pleasure and part in surprise at how the slight pain felt so good.
“Too rough?” he asked, pulling away.
I shook my head. He gave a half smile and yanked down the vee of my T-shirt until my bare breast popped out. The overhead light had gone off in the truck, but there was enough moonlight that anyone coming out of the café could probably see what we were doing.
But any concern I had ended when he placed his mouth over my ripe nipple. With the same lavish care he took kissing me, he explored every inch of my breast. The top received a dozen wet kisses and tiny nips. The areola he licked thoroughly, and the nipple was sucked on so hard and with such long draws that I felt as if a string connected my nipples to my pussy. A string I hadn’t known existed.
While he sucked, he made low growls of delight that fueled my lust. I squeezed my legs around his hips, drawing him closer, drawing him inside where only he could relieve the painful ache between my legs.
“Fuck,” he rasped, breaking our connection and backing away. The cool spring air made my taut nipple tighten even more. “Not here.” He gently straightened my T-shirt and then tucked me inside the truck.
We drove a short distance to a chain link fence that opened upon a press of a remote.
“What is this place?” I tried to catch my breath. Peering out the window into the dimly lit night, there appeared to be nothing but bare land filled with machinery and surrounded by fences. Beyond it was the river.
“My new job. Left to me courtesy of Mr. Sean O’Malley.” There was a faint twinge of bitterness. “Dad wanted to stamp his signature on the city and chose this downtown revitalization project. But then he died and left it to me, so I don’t know whether to love or hate him.”
“It’s okay to feel both. Love and hate,” I clarified unnecessarily.
“I suppose you’re right.” He stopped the truck in front of a trailer.
“You can cry you know. I did a lot of that.”
“I like to have my emotional release come a different way.”
He shifted in the truck seat to look at me. His hand reached out to cup my face. “You’ve grown into a very beautiful woman. I’d very much like to take you inside the trailer and fuck you against the wall.”
“That’s kind of a coarse invitation.”
His thumb ran over my lower lip, using some of the moisture of my mouth to wet my lip. I shivered, and a grim but knowing smile spread across his face.
“It’s the only kind I’ve got in me. All the tender emotion has been eaten up by my dad’s death. I want to lose myself in you, Winter.”
He got out of the truck and opened my door, giving me an expectant look. Was I in or out?
I knew what he was saying. It wasn’t that he loved me, wanted to date me, or wanted me to be his girlfriend. He’d probably be disappointed if he saw me next to him tomorrow morning. He’d lie awake wondering if he had to chew off his own arm to escape. He was offering a hard fuck in his trailer, not lovemaking in his bed.
I knew all of this and still wanted him.
Maybe the sex would burn away his mystery, and I wouldn’t internally sigh when I heard his name. Maybe it wouldn’t. But it was a risk worth taking, and I planned to get my money’s worth.
“How many condoms do you have?” I answered boldly.
His eyes glittered in the moonlight. “How many do I need?”
“Depends on your stamina and recovery time.”
“Honey, you’re going to have a hard time walking out of the trailer when we’re done.”
My heart ached at his words, but I took his hand and followed him inside.
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Jen Frederick lives with her husband, child, and one rambunctious dog. She’s been reading stories all her life but never imagined writing one of her own. Jen loves to hear from readers so drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.