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Temporary Groom by J.S. Scott (1)

PROLOGUE

Lia

Seven Years Ago…

“I love you.”

The words had just fallen out of my mouth. I hadn’t stopped to think about them, nor was I worried about how my best friend, Zeke Conner, would interpret the statement.

In my more than slightly inebriated state, I just didn’t care about anything.

And it had suddenly become of the utmost importance that Zeke knew how I really felt about him.

Maybe because I would have never said those words had I not been two sheets to the wind because it was my twenty-first birthday, and I’d spent the entire night getting drunk for the first time.

“I love you too, my little drunken friend,” Zeke answered with a grunt as he hoisted me onto my bed.

Okay, maybe I needed to try again so he’d really understand what I meant. “I want to have sex with you,” I confessed, my words sounding a little slurred. But he ought to get what I meant this time.

He grinned as he straightened up. “Everybody wants to have sex when they’re drunk.”

I frowned at him. Here I was, spilling my guts to him, and he wasn’t taking me seriously.

It wasn’t just the alcohol at work. Sure, I’d drunk a lot, and I wasn’t in complete control of my words, but I really did love Zeke. I’d been crazy about him for years. But I’d never had the guts to admit it.

Now, I was ready to spill the fact that every wet dream I had revolved around him.

And he wasn’t going to take me seriously.

“Where are you going?” I called to his retreating figure as I flopped back against my pillow.

“I’ll be back,” he hollered from the kitchen.

I tried to decide if the bed was really spinning as I listened to him rummage around in the kitchen.

My new apartment was tiny, but I loved it. I’d just moved out of my grandmother’s house a few weeks ago because I’d gotten promoted to manager at the coffee shop I worked in.

Someday, I wanted to open my own place, but in the meantime, I was learning everything I could about the business of all things coffee.

I sighed as Zeke walked back into the room. He was so hot. And it wasn’t easy having a best friend like him. Especially not when I wanted to be so much more than just his friend.

“Drink some water, and take these,” he insisted as he sat on the bed and handed me a bottle of water. He put a few more bottles on the bedside table.

I held my hand out unsteadily, and he took it and tucked the aspirin into the palm of my hand.

I took the pills because he seemed to be waiting for me to do it, and then took some healthy slugs out of the water bottle he handed me.

“Drink water as long as you’re awake. Lots of it. I’ll be back in the morning with some food,” he said gruffly.

Sometimes, Zeke could be a man of few words, but he got me. I was pretty sure he was the only person in the world who really did.

He’d spent the evening barhopping with me to celebrate my birthday, but he hadn’t had more than one drink himself. As usual, he considered himself my protector, and it was his obligation to see me through my coming of age drinking spree.

He’d probably had better things to do than watch me get drunk, but it had been his idea to go on this mission while he was here on Thanksgiving break from college.

I sat up and carefully put the water down as I said, “Did you even hear me say I wanted to have sex with you?”

“I heard you,” he said with humor in his tone. “But I know it’s the alcohol talking.”

“It’s not,” I argued, and wrapped my arms around his neck. “I really want it.”

I felt his shoulders tense. We were suddenly face-to-face, so close that all I had to do was close the minimal distance between us and I’d finally have his mouth on mine.

I felt his warm breath on my face, and my body shuddered.

Wanting Zeke had become a habit I couldn’t break, and a dream I couldn’t seem to stop coveting.

His blue eyes turned stormy and turbulent as he stared at me. “It’s not happening, Lia. I wanted to take you out to the bars so that I could watch out for you on your birthday. I don’t want this, and neither do you. Being drunk makes everything look different. You won’t feel the same way in the morning. Trust me.”

I closed my eyes as he leaned forward and kissed my forehead, my disappointment flooding through me in waves.

I wasn’t going to feel differently in the morning. I’d wanted my best friend for a long time, so I knew it was something that wasn’t just going to go away.

He gently pulled my arms away from him and stood as he grumbled, “Call me if you need me.”

I already needed him, but he’d just firmly and soundly pushed me away. “Okay,” I answered, feeling dejected.

He didn’t say another word as he exited the bedroom. I heard the apartment door open and close a few moments later.

I had no doubt he’d locked up since he had a key, and Zeke was nothing if not thorough in his desire to make sure I was safe.

I flopped back on the pillow again, regretting the abrupt motion because it made me dizzy.

My emotions were running rampant, and tears leaked from my eyes as I realized that I’d just been soundly rejected by the man I wanted most in the world.

He doesn’t want me back.

I let out a strangled sob, and then another, until I finally cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, Zeke did come back as promised. I was hung over, but I felt better once I’d eaten breakfast.

Just like he’d warned, I was mortified that I’d confessed my feelings for him, and even more embarrassed because he’d firmly let me know he didn’t feel the same way.

I think he assumed I didn’t remember, and I certainly didn’t bring it up.

Zeke and I were friends. Good friends. And the line I’d crossed the night before was horrifying.

I stuffed the adolescent emotions back inside me, so deep that I knew I’d never bring up the subject again. Hell, those feelings would never even see the light of day.

I had Zeke’s friendship, and because he wanted nothing to do with a more intimate relationship, that was always going to have to be enough.