Until I Found You by Brooke O'Brien
Coming February 15th
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“Woah, we're half-way there,” I sing, as I furiously massage the conditioner into my hair. “Woah, livin' on a prayer.”
I’m not quite sure why I’m singing this song, but it’s fitting for this morning. I’m the type of person who sings when I’m trying to focus or when I’m in a hurry. Although I can’t sing when I’m trying to read a street sign. I’m one of those people who turns down the radio to see what’s fifteen feet in front of me. That’s neither here nor there right now.
The point is, I’m running late, and I need all the help I can get. It would come to the surprise of no one that I’m running behind schedule. In fact, if there’s one thing you could ever count on, it’s that I’m usually two or ten steps behind everyone else.
I get distracted easily, get caught up staring off at whatever shiny object has stolen my attention, like right now. Which is why I’m singing to myself as I stand in the shower, rushing through the process of washing my hair.
I have twenty minutes in which to make it to the Hopeful’s Bridal Boutique on the other side of our small town of Arbor Creek. Today is a big day for Ellie, one of my best friends, as she’ll hopefully find the dress she’s been searching for.
In all honesty, it’s not Ellie I’m worried about who will be ticked at me for arriving fifteen minutes past the time I was supposed to be there. No, not at all. It’s my roommate and other best friend, Kinsley. She’s the yin to my yang. It’s what makes our friendship balance out—everything I’m not, she makes up for by pushing me to be.
Kinsley would never be caught dead arriving late for anything. It’s more likely she would arrive fifteen to twenty minutes early, with a checklist of everything she needs to do. I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I don’t have much of my life planned out. I don’t even know what I’m going to wear today, let alone have I thought ahead on where I see myself in five years.
I keep Kinsley young and she reminds me to never take life too seriously because, let’s face it, we’re all going to end up at the same place. I can’t take any of this shit with me anyway. I just hope I arrive late when I go too.
Leaning my head back, I let the suds wash away before I run my hand over my long hair, wringing out the water before reaching down to turn off the faucet.
Reaching outside the shower, I blindly pat around for the towel I set on the rack. Grabbing it, I pull it toward me and use it to pat dry my face as the sound of hard knocking pounds against the door.
“Shit. Shit,” I groan to myself, realizing I had spent far too much time in the shower. Along with Ellie and Kinsley, our good friend, Brea, who rounds out our little biker gang of badassery is joining us for today. Brea’s dating the brother of Ellie’s fiancé, so really, she’s her sister-in-law for all intents and purposes.
There’s a pounding at the door that comes for a second time, spurring me into action. Brea was supposed to be here any minute now, so we could ride together.
Wrapping the towel around my body, I tiptoe my way out of the bathroom and down the hallway. I can imagine the look Kinsley would have on her face if she were to witness this moment, knowing I’m leaving drops of water on the hardwood floor behind me.
This is why we’re friends. She needs to learn not to sweat the little things, like water on your floor. It will dry on its own.
Clutching the towel to my chest, I don’t bother even looking out the window as I swing the door open and turn back around.
“Hey Brea,” I call out over my shoulder, “give me just a second to get dressed, and we’ll head out.”
Moving quickly, I’m mindful to step around my little puddles of water, careful not to slip and fall, as I head back down the hall toward my bedroom when the sound of his deep voice hits me.
We’re usually not prepared for the moments that change our lives. I didn’t see it coming the day Graham Shaw broke my heart, shattering it into a million pieces. I thought he was going to be in my life forever, but it turns out forever came sooner than I had expected.
Which brings me to this moment. For a second, I question if this is a cruel version of déjà vu, only now I don’t want to believe my ears. Jolting myself into place, I squeeze my eyes shut hoping that what I just heard was all in my head and not at all what I thought it was.
“Do you always open the door to strangers and invite them in, without even checking to see who it is?”
Turning slowly, I wish I would’ve prepared myself better for what, or rather whom, I was about to see.
My eyes narrow and it takes me a second to collect myself, getting over the shock of seeing Graham Shaw standing before me in all his handsome glory.
“I didn’t realize you were a stranger,” I bite back, realizing the way he had left me with so many unanswered questions still hits like a hard slap to the face, even after all this time.
My eyes stare intently, as I hold the towel wrapped around me tight. It feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room and of me, reflecting on how much weight is carried in one sentence alone.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there was a look of guilt that passes over his face, but before I can analyze it further, it’s gone. His jaw flexes, as his eyebrows furrow, looking back at me.
I never had expected to be a stranger to Graham, yet now it seems like that’s who we are.
It’s a weird feeling staring back at the man you loved more than anything. Remembering all the things you knew about him, like the way he used to bite his lip when he was deep in thought or how he’d crack his knuckles when he was nervous.
Looking at the man in front of me, I can’t help but feel as though I don’t know anything about him. It was hard to get through every day after he left. It almost feels like a lifetime since I last saw him.
Damn, he looks good though. I used to love running my hand over his pecs down to his abs. He always worked out, but when he was younger, he was lean despite years of football and lifting weights. He’s filled out more and it pains me to say it, but time was so good to him.
It makes me even more angry to think about all the women he’s attracted since then.
“I know you better than you know yourself, Halle. Don’t be fooled. I don’t understand why the hell you’d open the door and let someone in, not realizing who’s on the other side. It’s not safe. I could’ve been anyone.”
“First of all, it’s been five years. You knew who I was then, but I’m not that girl anymore, Graham. You don’t know me at all. Second, if you weren’t paying attention when I answered the door, I thought you were my friend, Brea. I didn’t think you were just anyone.”
His eyebrows raise higher and I realize then if he hadn’t felt guilty before, he does now. Maybe even a little shocked too.
“You always were a pain in my ass,” he mutters to himself, running a hand over his face and down over his jaw.
In doing so, I watch as he stares back at me and for the first time since walking into my apartment, he lets his eyes roam over my face to my neck and down over the rest of my body. When he finds his way back up, I meet his stare with my eyes narrowed into slits. His stare is so blatant, his eyes burning into every inch of me.
“You used to love that about me,” I retort.
A small smile curves at his lips. The mention of the past and what we used to be stings, like a zap to the heart. I had closed all roads to my heart where Graham was concerned a long time ago.
I’m not going down this same road with him again. Not anymore. He had his chance.
“Well, listen, this little reunion has been fun and all, but I have to get going. My friend is gonna be here any minute. So, if you don’t mind telling me what the hell you’re doing here, that’d be great. That way I can send you back on your way.”
The curve of Graham’s smile grows, and I want to roll my eyes and demand him to leave. “Mm, there’s the fire,” he smirks.
I kid you not, the fucker has the gall to smirk at me. He always loved getting me riled up. I want to smack him upside the head, he makes me so angry.
“Tick, tock. I don’t have all day.”
“Are you talking back to me right now, Halle?”
“Yes, Graham, that’s how conversations with me work. Now get to the point.”
Chuckling, he crosses his arms, which leaves me momentarily distracted as my eyes roam over him, taking in the way his muscles bulge when he flexes.
“Kinsley sent me here. Something about helping her roommate load up some things for her for Callum and Ellie’s wedding. Do you know anything about that?”
“Kinsley.” I pause, feeling the edge of irritation seep into my tone. “I’m sorry, you said Kinsley sent you over here?”
Of course, she did. If there’s anyone in my life who hoped Graham and I would end up together, it was Kinsley. In fact, she had our whole wedding planned out for us, knowing exactly every detail we’d want for our big day.
She really missed her calling as an event planner because I swear, the woman is as organized as she is frustrating right now.
“Yeah, I was down at the salon a little bit ago. She helped get me in for a haircut under short notice, so I was doing her this favor in return.”
I want to ask him what he’s even doing here. Why he’s in Arbor Creek when he made it clear when he left that he was never going to return, at least not this soon. As much as it’s killing me to ask, I leave it alone.
It’s a dead end road and, quite frankly, I don’t have it in me to care anymore.
“That’s funny, considering Kinsley helped me load everything up last night,” I deadpan, looking at Graham unamused.
“Is that right?” He laughs, just as my phone pings with a text message.
Turning on my heel, I continue down the hallway toward my bedroom to grab my phone.
Brea: I’m stuck in traffic on the highway. I’m sorry, I’ll have to meet you there.
Ugh! Locking my phone, I toss it absentmindedly somewhere on my bed. Opening my drawer to my dresser, I grab my black lace bra and matching panties. Dropping my towel, I make quick work of putting them on while sauntering across my room toward my closet to figure out what to wear.
Looking in the corner mirror, I see Graham eyeing me from where he still stands rooted in place in our entryway. There’s a fire in his gaze, one that’s been a long time since I’ve seen, but remember from all those years ago.
I let him drink me in standing before him, reminding him of everything he let go of when he chose to run away rather than face his problems head on.
It’s terrible of me to say, knowing the series of events which led him to leaving, but it doesn’t change the fact he hurt me when he did.
Seeing him look at me the same way he did all those years ago lights something within me that’s been burned out, withering away for a long time. I’ve tried to move on, used meaningless relationships with nameless guys as a way of burying my feelings for him.
Staring back at him, I wonder if he’s having the same thoughts I am, about how time and distance has changed things between us but the connection between us is still there.
I feel confident and sexy, watching the way his eyes eat up every inch of my body, down to my painted red toes back up over my chest and to my face.
“If that’s all, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Graham. Travel safe when you head back to Chicago,” I say, opening the closet to search for something to wear.
Peeking my head out from behind the door, I spot Graham reaching down to adjust himself. Biting my lip, I clear my throat as his eyes dart over meeting mine.
“Oh, and do me a favor, will ya?” I smile, loving how wound up he looks, waiting for what I’m about to say.
My smile widens, knowing I have him right where I want him. “Lock the door for me when you go. I wouldn’t want anymore strangers showing up at my door and inviting themselves inside.”
Leaving him with a wink, I force myself to focus on what I’m doing. I’m glad he can’t see me now because my cover would be blown.
I’m so spaced out, thinking about the way he looked at me, that I can’t even think straight.