Today is the official release of #TheLeftoverBride and I’m crossing my fingers this book of mine will make you smile (Amazon (Kindle) – Google Play – Kobo – iTunes – Scribd – Paperback is also already available for $9.99).
I don’t know if you watch Ted Lasso but if you do, you have to tell me if you see a sliver of Roy Kent in Ryan’s demeanor. Yes, I may want to go around around and yell, “My book is here. It’s here, it’s f… everywhere.”
“Funny (…) and hot romance. This was one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a while. It absolutely made me smile, and had me legit laughing.”
“It’s emotional in places, and it’s absolutely hilarious in just the right spots. It’s like a Hallmark movie, only better.”
All Sorcha O’Connor wants for Christmas is for her life to turn into a Hallmark movie—but sexier. Ryan Sawyer has a few things on his wishlist. First, he wants to stay away from Swans Cove. Second, he wants his NHL career back. And third, he wants Sorcha. Always has, always will.
- Second chance holiday rom-com
- Wedding dress designer & injured hockey player
- Viral moment gone wrong
- Funny & sexy w/ OCD & anxiety rep.
- Bucket lists, cute pets, family dynamics
Have you read the first two chapters?
Dear Diary – Day Minus 12
Dear Unknown Reader of the Future, or alien archiving information on humanity (I have so many questions for you), Christmas is in the air. Well, not Christmas per se. But melted butter, cinnamon and … Is that ginger? Yes, ginger and candied pecans. Aisling’s perfecting a new apple pie recipe with a sugary and nutty crumble on top, and she will need someone to taste it to make sure the flaky crust has enough butter and the caramelized apples melt in your mouth. And this is only one perk of having my sister, Aisling, as a roommate. She’s determined to find the perfect recipe to bring more customers to the bakery. Our parents’ bakery. Our family legacy that is close to bankruptcy. Just like me.
Because of me.
And the crappy design in front of me won’t help my non-existent career: the square neckline isn’t as original as I’d like it to be, while the glittery details on the bodice overshadow the everlasting grace of the lace. And don’t get me started on the back. The crisscross I drew thinking it would add a touch of drama sinks the entire concept. This dress is a rehearsed performance instead of timeless romance. And no matter how many times I rearrange the fabric on the mannequin standing by my sewing machine, the softness of the tulle and the smoothness of the silk under my fingers don’t refill my creative well.
I’ve lost my touch. And this “31 things to do before the 31st of December” list is the only thing propping me up. If I cross off all the items of that list, the familiar feeling of failure creeping up my throat might vanish and be replaced by inspiration.
This list I can control. Everything else is slipping through my fingers.
So, let’s do this.
Countdown: Day – 12 … Twelve days until New Year’s Eve and what should have been my first wedding anniversary.
Dear Reader, I have breaking news: I can now type “First wedding anniversary” without a seam ripper tearing apart the stitches keeping me together. Go, me. It might be because Nathan wasn’t selected as Most Coveted Bachelor in America. The Forever Love show decided to go with rockstar David Jay and, thanks to that decision, I no longer toss and turn for hours every night. Not that I don’t wish Nathan happiness, but having a video of him jilting me at the altar on repeat every week on national TV isn’t my idea of fun. And it wouldn’t have helped my designer block.
Status of the “31 Things To Do Before the 31st of December List”:Almost done.
Tomorrow I should hear from the Bridal Dreams representative about their Annapolis flagship store carrying a few O’Connor dresses, the ones I created before my reputation as a wedding dress designer got torched by social media and critics alike. And the mountain of stress building up in my chest is impossible to ignore. If Bridal Dreams backs out of our agreement, it will not only make it harder to pay the bills, it’ll be another nail in my Mamó’s dreams for me. My grandmother taught me everything I know about sewing and the magic one can create with different patterns and fabric. She also taught me to believe in love. And while the last year has proven to test that concept at every corner, tomorrow evening I’m going on my first blind date ever. Me. The Leftover Bride. On. A. Blind. Date.
After, I’ll have five items left to cross off my list, which is totally feasible. Do you remember my post about the 10k walk on the Bay Bridge? How high that bridge is? How long and hard it felt? (That’s what she said.)
Last Google search (related to The List): Has Ryan Sawyer ever been on a blind date? Apparently, yes. Once. One of his teammates set him up and he ended up dating her for three months after. And yes, I also checked out his team’s social media. But for only five seconds. He didn’t play most of last season after getting into a brawl that worsened his knee injury, and his argument with the team’s owner still has the hockey world buzzing, but he’s hanging on to their roster. Reconnecting with Ryan has been on my list ever since he rushed into the Pacific Ocean to save a little girl. When he got swallowed in by the waves, my heart came to a standstill—until he reemerged, sputtering with the little girl in his arms. After watching that video more than a hundred times, the dread cascading down my chest only subsided when I added Reconnecting With Ryan to my list. This is all about mending bridges. This has nothing to do with my heart and my mind not agreeing on the concept of letting Ryan Sawyer go.
Why did I add a blind date to my list? Good question, past Sorcha. No matter what happened, I want to believe in Happily Ever After. Plus, blind dates can be fun. Right? Rom-com and Hallmark movies have taught me that blind dates can lead to epic love stories.
If I check on IMDb’s website, it will show you … oh no.
One of the top movies on IMDb’s “Most Popular Blind Date Movies and TV Shows” is the 2007 movie Zodiac … about the Zodiac Killer.
How? Why? Wait … does that mean I shouldn’t go on that blind date?
Deep breath, Sorcha, deep breath.
Tomorrow: Let’s do this.
The Blind Date. Not the Zodiac Killer movie.
CHAPTER 1 – SORCHA
When Tiramisu the Cat yowled inches from my face way before my alarm rang, his I-devoured-my-wet-food breath wasn’t the only reason I groaned. A thunder of panic rumbled in the back of my mind and after staring up at the ceiling fan for what seemed like an eternity, I gave up on sleep. Even my favorite cup of piping hot coffee mixed with sweet Italian cream didn’t settle the anxiety churning in my stomach. Still, I settled at my computer to work before sunrise and plowed away at my daily to-do list. Between updating a database for a real estate agency in Connecticut, fixing one of my niece’s favorite shirts and doing research for a true-crime podcast that started two months ago, I barely had time to grab lunch and definitely didn’t have time to rework the design I messed up yesterday.
Throughout the day, the sense of impending doom lingered, but I ignored all the signs: Tiramisu coughing up a hairball on my favorite tulle fabric; my sister messing up a chocolate soufflé, leaving a burned smell in the entire building; the hot water in our shower stopping to work halfway through washing my hair.
There’s no way I’m ignoring the signs now. Not after receiving that email from Bridal Dreams.
There’s no way I’m going on that blind date.
Nope. Not happening.
Instead, I’ll immerse myself into the Zodiac movie while sipping chianti. That sounds like the perfect way to end this crappy day.
As Tiramisu leaps on my drawing desk, I extend my hand toward him. “Come here, Tiramisu. Psstt … Come here.” Despite using my Tiramisu-voice, all high-pitch and cajoling, my cat doesn’t even throw a pity glance my way but struts toward the sign hanging over my sewing machine. After sniffing it, his mood switches and he attacks the pink ribbon, holding the sign with his teeth. Is the logo of my bankrupted store giving him nightmares, too?
The blue wooden sign with the words “Happily Ever After” should be in the dictionary next to “crushed dreams.” One day, you believe in fairytales. And the next day, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, your only hope at salvaging your business refuses to carry your designs in the new spring line of their flagship store. Bridal Dreams used to praise my intricate use of French lace in my dresses—now they deem a collaboration with me “detrimental to their image.”
A sharp needle sews a thread of defeat around my throat, once, twice. Take a deep breath, Sorcha. You’ll figure something out. Don’t cry. But my tears don’t pay attention to my pep talk. I wipe them away with a swift gesture, leaving a smudge of black mascara and eyeliner on my hand.
Fuck. Fuckidy. Fuck.
Tiramisu’s claws get stuck in the sign and he pulls on it so hard it clatters on my sewing machine, but doesn’t fall. After giving the wooden sign one last disdainful sniff, Tiramisu whirls away and jumps on my bed.
My eyes dart from the wooden plank to the window, and the urge to hurl it out roars within me. Who knows? It could land on a handsome stranger from New York who got lost in our little town. I’d convince him to quit his corporate job and we’d open a vintage dress shop together. Every year on Christmas Eve, we would tell our epic love story to our grandkids: Once upon a time, Grandma, who was drowning in debt, threw the sign you see above the fireplace. Instead of suing her for compensation, Grandpa took her out for a mulled wine. And the rest is history.
But in my case, the sign would crack the handsome stranger’s skull and after a visit to the ER, he would sue me. Influencers, journalists, and people around the world would splatter the news over the internet: #TheLeftoverBride sentenced for attacking lawyer with two-ton plank.
I’d have to file for bankruptcy. Again.
To not tempt fate, I straighten the sign back and slide to the floor between gowns that will never become a fond memory or a family heirloom, never grace the pages of a wedding album or get their own hashtags.
It all started with a hashtag …
My own digital fairytale.
Once upon a hashtag, the digital princess had all her dreams come true.
“Sorcha?” Aisling knocks at my door, left ajar when I snuck into the kitchen to steal some dough. “Did you decide on what you…?” Her mouth doesn’t gape open at the chaos that is my bedroom because she’s seen worse, but she does a double-take around the room to my hiding spot. Three mugs are balancing on my nightstand—the result of working overtime and a tendency to be messy when I’m under deadlines. Fabric hangs all over the place and crumpled papers full of bad-to-worse drawings are scattered around, forgotten like my career as a wedding dress designer. “What’s going on?” Her hand waves toward where I’m plopped down on the ground.
“I’m not going.” I lift my chin, peeking from in-between the dresses. “Not going.” My voice wavers and my fingers brush against my favorite dress: cream lace with a scoop neck and an open back. The one I thought I’d wear on my wedding day with Mamó’s veil. Instead, I designed another dress, even as Sophie—my best friend and wedding planner—questioned my reasoning. She told me I needed to look deep within. I told her to mind the canapés and the color scheme. And then apologized for snapping at her.
It was going to be the wedding of the year.
I should have worn Vera Wang. If my almost-husband Nathan had run off while I was wearing a Vera Wang, no one would have batted an eyelash.
That video wouldn’t have gone viral. I’d still have a life.
A thousand tiny needles coat my throat, preventing me from swallowing. Aisling marches into the room, flour in her auburn hair and a juice box in her hand. One of Ava’s, my niece. “You’re going. You can’t let Roisin down.” Oh, the family pull. Because, of course, you don’t let the family down. The O’Connor motto.
“I don’t want to.” I whine like a three-year-old who missed nap time, but I don’t give a flying organza gauze.
“You can’t cancel now. The guy’s probably on his way and Roisin is counting on your feedback before rolling out the app to more users.” Aisling pushes her glasses up her nose and shoots me one of the looks she’s been practicing for years. The one that tells me she’s right.
“Not going,” I repeat, even though uncertainty laces my tone.
Aisling’s gaze softens, and she holds her hand out. After helping me up, she points to the paper on the side. “It’s on your list. You wrote it. You laminated it. And you’re writing in your diary about it.” My sister got me there.
Even though Aisling isn’t taller than me, she’s towering over me—with that big-sister-I-know-better vibe. “I’m sorry Bridal Dreams canceled, but you sold most of your dresses online before.” It’s true. People loved my Artful shop—they’d send in their measurements for one of my ballerina-dresses and we’d work on each step together. If their measurements ended up changing before their wedding for whatever reason, they could send the dresses back to me for alterations. If there was no time, I helped them find an alteration specialist close to them and worked with that specialist via video chat, unlike many other online stores. All of that attention to detail didn’t change what happened to my store.
“Yes, but …”
Aisling doesn’t let me finish. “You could rebuild a clientele online, too.”
To rebuild a clientele, I’d need to have new designs. But talking about the block that has been preventing me to draw dresses worth sewing is impossible through the lump in my throat.
Plus, that’s not the only reason I can’t build a clientele online.
Aisling knows it as well as I do, and yet she continues, “You could restart from scratch.” She waves to all the dresses waiting to be worn.
“Not with the curse.” My eyes dart around, expecting all the brides who claim my dresses destroyed their weddings and subsequent marriages to appear and scream at me with pitchforks in their hands.
“Your dresses are not cursed.” Aisling’s tone could be convincing if I didn’t know better.
I stare at the picture I haven’t brought myself to throw out, just in case it’s the catalyst for more bad luck. “Tell that to Esperanza.”
Aisling settles the apple juice on my overcrowded nightstand and puts her hands on her waist, looking at me with the patience she usually only gives her daughter Ava. “Esperanza married a guy she’d known for five minutes. Their annulment five days later wasn’t all that surprising.”
“How about the bride who tripped on her dress, broke her arm, and threatened a lawsuit?”
“She didn’t trip on her dress. She was running after the ring bearer and tripped on the stairs. Your dress is not responsible. She didn’t have a case,” Aisling retorts, like she’s heard it all before, which she has many times. I have an entire list of “mishaps” featuring my designs and she has an answer for all of them.
Or almost all of them.
I remind her of what happened only a month ago. “Tell that to the brides whose dresses both caught fire as they were saying their vows. They wished they had changed their minds about wearing dresses they bought more than a year ago.”
Aisling doesn’t miss a beat. “Wind and too many candles. Not your fault.” She pauses to grab her apple juice again, takes another sip, and then adds, “I didn’t wear one of your designs when Rob and I eloped. And we aren’t together anymore. With your logic, we should be blissfully happy.”
“How about what happened to me?” I hate how small my voice sounds. Mainly because it’s not about Nathan leaving me. It’s about his timing. If we had gotten through our vows, all the perfect wedding dresses in the world wouldn’t have changed the fact that we were more mismatched than all the socks I’ve ever lost in the dryer.
But him sprinting away from me as I was sauntering to the altar in one of my designs cemented my dresses’ bad luck reputation. Plus, Nathan not only dashed away. Oh no, no, no. After racing past me, he jumped on his horse, who was supposed to carry us to the reception, as if he had been hired as an extra in The Runaway Bride movie that was filmed less than an hour away from here. Following that spectacular exit, there was no stopping the urban legend that if you wear a Sorcha O’Connor design at your wedding, you won’t get a happily ever after.
There are Reddit threads about my dresses. YouTube videos. TikTok trends. People dedicated Instagram accounts to the so-called curse. The sleuths claim they want to ensure I am not tricking clients online under a pseudonym. Even if I wanted to or still had talent … I couldn’t sell my designs online. I can’t even get a job as a seamstress for any of the wedding dress shops around the area.
“It sucks. But you added going on a blind date on your list for a reason. All you do is work.” Aisling’s tone isn’t accusatory. It’s gentle, too gentle. I can argue until I run out of breath, but I’m not sure how to deal with gentleness.
That’s why I stick my tongue out. “All you do is work.”
“Nice comeback.” She rolls her eyes and we’re back on less dangerous territory: the sister bickering territory.
After letting out a long sigh, I put the laminated list on my desk. Right next to the picture of me with designer extraordinaire Christian Giovanni. Sophie took it right after getting the news I had gotten through the audition process and was going to be a contestant on Christian’s TV show: I Dream Of A Dress. The perfect mix of Say Yes To The Dress and Project Runway.
A lifetime ago.
On the wall, another picture catches my attention: Aisling and Ava bursting out laughing with ice cream on their noses. I turn back to my sister, hope knocking at my chest. “How about you? You could help Roisin. You could go instead of me.” I give her my best puppy eyes. “Ava and I can have a pajama party tonight. She’d love that.”
Aisling raises her gaze to the ceiling like she used to do when I was twelve and begged her and my older brother to let me tag along. “I’m baking.” At those words, my shoulders slump. Nothing—except Ava—is more important than baking for Aisling. The entire apartment smells like fresh-baked cookies, covering the chocolate soufflé disaster from this morning. And those cookies are my favorite ones: they crumble in your mouth, full of morsels of chocolate and butterscotch. Another reason to stay home.
But Aisling looks me up and down and adds, “Granted, you need to redo your makeup. You’ve got eyeliner and mascara all over. But if you didn’t want to go, why did you change?”
She’s right. Of course, she’s right.
My heavy wool vintage dress is dark blue and comfy with pockets. A design copied from a picture I saw of our grandma. Maybe I should change. What if wearing this dress means this date will be awful? But what if changing into a different outfit means I will never again sell any of my dresses?
Not focusing on the OCD-induced non-ending questions, I roll my shoulders, but the tension lodged in my spine doesn’t loosen. “I swear if that guy created a hashtag for this date, I will never, ever listen to Roisin or you again.”
Aisling pets Tiramisu, who purrs for her. Traitor. “And if he’s a jerk, you don’t have to stay.” She finishes the apple juice. “You can come home. Ava is excited about trying on her swan costume. She raved about it to all friends, gushing how amazing her aunt is.”
“Anything for my favorite niece.” I crack a smile, thankful that my niece asked me to help her with her costume. This is the proudest I am of a design I created in the past twelve months.
“She’s your only niece,” Aisling points out before squishing the apple juice box. “Text me if you decide to stay out all night.” Her attempt to sound light and playful almost works, but then her tone turns more serious. “And for Bridal Dreams, I’m really sorry. It sucks. I’ve said it before but let me say it again: you should contact Christian.”
As if contacting Christian would do me any good when my signature ballerina designs are all pale copies of my previous work. “I’ll figure something out.” Doubts fill Aisling’s eyes and my mind. When the tulle hit the fan, Christian distanced himself from me, too. But if I go down that bleak rabbit hole now, even my favorite cookies won’t cheer me up. Plus, crossing another item off my list is bound to send some much-needed endorphins my way. “You make the best dessert ever while I meet …” I pause. “Um. Wait.” I pull up the app to double-check. “Trevor, his name is.” True to the legend that I either never answer my phone or that it’s off, my phone’s battery is at 25%. It has been draining faster than usual.
“Go have fun. I’d hug you but I’d ruin your outfit with flour.” She does a happy dance as she strolls back out of my room.
After adding a charger to my purse, I do damage control on my make-up and as I use a waterproof mascara, the neon yellow post-it with the words “You got this” I added to the mirror during my Let’s-be-positive phase twirls to the ground. Is it another sign I should stay home? I stick it back up but it falls again and the churning in my stomach intensifies. Even taking a deep, calming breath doesn’t help. So, I do the next best thing: I run my fingers through my shoulder-length, curly red hair. Not auburn, like Aisling’s. Not copper like Roisin or Liam. Red. Anne of Green Gables Red. Like Mámo. And right now, it’s behaving the way I want it to.
As I put on boots over my tights and shimmy inside my oversized coat, I give myself another pep talk: The post-it is right, Sorcha. You can do this. Your next adventure awaits.
There. That’s the spirit.
The parking lot behind my parents’ bakery is all decked up with Christmas lights. This time, when I inhale deeply, the crisp air fills my lungs and my jittery nerves quiet down. This guy, um … I really should remember his name. Trevor. That’s it. Could Trevor be The One? The One for Now or The One for Forever? Since the only way to find out is to get moving, I square my shoulders and stride toward my car.
My right foot slides on a patch of ice.
“Shit!” I yelp as I fall on my ass. The snow soaks through my coat and my dress. In one of the romance novels my best friend Sophie and I devour, the hero would have chosen this exact moment to appear and sneak his powerful arms around my waist to prevent me from falling.
No such luck.
“You okay there, Swan?” A baritone voice that used to be the soundtrack of my dreams asks in an amused yet slightly concerned tone.
My stomach flutters in a way I thought long forgotten, buried deep under years of missed chances and pillows soaked with tears.
Only one person calls me “Swan.”
He started during my Twilight phase. Not only because I was accident-prone like Bella Swan or because I inhaled all the books one after the other, barely coming back up for air. But it’s also during that time that I devoted hours to drawing swans everywhere.
That Halloween, he even dressed as a vampire and told me that, unlike Edward, he would bite me with no hesitation.
I raise my gaze, and there he is, leaning against my car. A car that used to be his.
And the fluttering turns into a confused dance.
He shouldn’t be here. He moved to the West Coast right after high school. The first chance he got to leave our little town? He grabbed it with both hands and never skated back here.
And now what? He shows up unannounced in my parking lot?
In snow boots, jeans that hug his strong thighs, and a parka that doesn’t hide his muscular frame.
Everywhere he goes, Ryan Sawyer always looks like he owns the place.
Like he owns a piece of my heart. And goddamn him, he does.
CHAPTER 2 – RYAN
I can’t believe I’m back in Swans Cove. The town that’s filled with some of my best memories … and some of my worst.
My plan was to go straight to my parents’ house, but I had to stop at the bakery. After all, Mom loves their lemon pie. And what son who hasn’t come home in over ten years would pass on surprising his mom with her favorite dessert? Nothing to do with the breathtaking redhead staring up at me like I stomped all over her heart. My jaw clenches with years of regrets, remorse, and fucked-up chances.
“Are you okay?” I repeat, this time without using the nickname she used to love. Based on the way she scowls when she glances up again, she hates it now or hates me.
She probably hates me.
I can’t blame her.
Still, I hold out my hand to her—like she did to me on my very first day at Swans Cove Elementary School. Back then Pops, who’d been raising me since I was two, was my hero. Not only did he know what to say when I woke up terrified of a nightmare, he carved out time in his busy schedule to take me fishing and to teach me how to throw a ball. Too young to fully understand that Pops’ injuries meant his professional baseball career was over, I definitely didn’t understand the pills he relied on to ease the pain would be the beginning of an on-again, off-again relationship with addiction.
That morning, Pops stumbled into the bushes right by the bus stop.
I called his name—not too loudly because I didn’t want people to see him like this. Pops’ exaggerated laughter boomed, as if falling into the bushes was the funniest thing ever. Part of me was ashamed of him, and for a very long time I’ve hated that part of myself. Hours of therapy helped me with coming to terms with those memories.
I wanted him to get up, to disappear, to be okay.
As he stared up at me, his eyes widened and his laughing turned into a whimper. The look on his face was a mixture of I’m sorry and Nothing to see and when he crawled out of sight, I overheard a mom saying, “Be nice to Ryan. He looks like he’s about to cry.” Unsure of what to do with the embarrassment and worry, I clenched my fists, but before I could totally lose it, Sorcha slid next to me and talked to me like a friend.
“I’m Sorcha. I came to your house with my mom, my sisters, and my brother yesterday. You were playing with Ms. Locelli’s dog. I want a dog. Mom said I might get one soon. I would name him Muffins.” The words were tumbling out of her mouth. “My mom and your mom are friends and my mom said we might become friends, too.” Then she lowered her gaze to the ground, her face flaming, and she muttered something to herself before lifting her eyes back to me. “If you don’t want to be my friend, that’s okay.” She opened her lunch box. “My dad made me snickerdoodles. Do you want one?” And she gave me a homemade snickerdoodle cookie, standing by my side until the bus arrived. When we climbed onto the bus, a kid pointed at my dad staggering back home, mocking him, and tears burned the back of my throat, until Sorcha pulled me down to a seat next to hers and held my hand until we got to school.
She’s not holding my hand right now. She’s not even looking at it.
“You … you didn’t even text.” Her voice breaks, sucker-punching me. And the way she purses her lips tells me she’s erecting a shield to protect herself. “Whatever.” Her brown-green eyes turn icier than any arena I’ve ever skated in and regret slithers in my gut, knowing I let her down despite my promise to always be there for her. “Whatever,” she repeats louder. “It doesn’t matter.” Her tone is flat now and she doesn’t spare me another glance as she scrambles to get back up. When her foot slides again, her hand grabs my upper arm and we end up holding on to one another to not fall on our asses. My knee doesn’t fail me this time, but I lose my balance in more ways than one and my other arm tightens around her waist. Feeling her fingers on me and getting a whiff of her coconut-scented shampoo reignites an uncontrolled wildfire through me that I had thought long under-control.
My fingers raise up automatically, like a play that’s so ingrained you don’t need to think to set your target and put the biscuit in the basket.
Sorcha’s eyes widen slightly, but she doesn’t move. Instead, her lips part and she lets out the softest exhale. Because she knows what I’m about to do. I raise an eyebrow. Not a challenge, but a question. And she raises hers in response. Not a question, but a challenge. And then she gives me the signal I’m waiting for: her head makes a slight, quick downward movement and tilts to the side to give me better access. My fingers brush against her skin and slowly trace the heart-shaped tattoo on her neck, hidden behind the thick red curls.
When the Fashion Institute rejected her, we snuck away to Ocean City. There was a tattoo shop that didn’t look at IDs too closely on Saturday mornings if you came in before opening. So, we stayed in a condo on Friday night. One of my teammates’ mother managed several rentals and he had gotten the code for one of them. It was the first time I skipped practice, but it wasn’t our first time sneaking away without our families knowing.
That night, I kissed her. Not for the first time and not for the last time. But when she kissed me back, her hands roamed under my shirt and then one of them slipped in my boxers, while she whispered about how much she wanted me. Her coconut shampoo hung in the air, mixed with the salty smell of the ocean outside our windows. Are you sure? I asked her and when she nodded without a word, I asked her again. As she murmured, “yes,” and then her lips nibbled my lower one, my heart sprinted out of my chest.
And then my hands cupped her face and I kissed her again, more deeply. We didn’t stop kissing when my fingers trailed down and traced the scar she got on her knee when she jumped from the swing at the highest point and fell on gravel. We didn’t stop kissing when the curves I had dreamed about for years pressed against my chest. We didn’t stop kissing when my fingers tugged under her shirt and danced over her waist, discovering her soft skin and she giggled under my breath.
Then I ran my lips over her jaw, down her throat to the pulse hammering in harmony with mine and she fumbled with unbuttoning my jeans. And while I had dreamed about her moaning my name, there was a lot more laughter than screams of pleasure during our first time together. And our second time.
I never laughed that way with anyone else.
Her lips part again. Maybe she remembers it, too. I remember every fucking detail of what happened next: the waves crashing on the sand and the tiny birthmark on her shoulder I loved to kiss and the sound she made when she came. After laughing and getting lost in one another and laughing some more, I asked her to show me what I could do. Her eyes widened and she bit her lower lip for a second, before dropping a kiss on my neck and laying on that blue sheet again. And there had never been anything hotter than Sorcha O’Connor pleasuring herself with the ocean in the background.
Tethered to her reactions, my fingers trace the path from her tattoo to her collarbone and as her lips form a small smile, my heart does a victory lap. But when I inch forward, needing to be even closer, her smile vanishes and the trip down memory lane screeches to a halt. My hand drops to my side and I take a half-step back, a gust of wind howling between us.
Another scent hangs in the air. Not her coconut-shampoo and not the sort of flowery perfume she used to wear that always reminded me of summer. A touch of vanilla? Like those cupcakes she used to love. I want to ask her when she changed her perfume and what else has changed and if she still invents stories in her mind and if she’s okay. And if she got other tattoos. The heart-shaped tattoo on her neck was a reminder that she loved designing—even if it wasn’t at the school she’d been yearning to go to. And she whispered before the tattoo artist started, “It’s a reminder of this weekend, too. Of us.” A nervous energy full of urgency hums through me, fanning the fire.
Where is the TARDIS? I need to turn back time to that day.
But with the way her eyes shoot needles my way, I’m not even sure turning back time would solve our issues. With my fingers burning with the memory of her skin, I give her even more space by stepping away from her car. That used to mine.
Sorcha opens the door. “I have to go. I have a date.” Instead of sliding in, she spins back around. “Please tell me, Aisling, Roisin, and Sophie didn’t make this up.” She groans. “Please tell me the date isn’t with you.”
“I have no clue what you’re talking about.” And my voice doesn’t sound half as thunderstruck as I thought it would. Because seeing her, feeling her skin, wanting to press pause and rewind to change how we ended things is precisely what I thought was going to happen, but I thought the next time we’d see each other, she’d be married and happy and successful. I didn’t think she’d look as sad as I probably did that day she gave me that snickerdoodle.
The way she angles her head to the side is a clear sign she’s assessing whether I’m telling the truth. Years ago, she could tell by the pitch of my voice or by the way I crossed my arms over my chest if I was lying. She should know I’m not lying right now. But she blinks rapidly and seems to be doubting herself, and there’s a sour taste in my mouth.
“I swear, if it’s you, Sawyer…” Her tone is the one I’ve learned long ago not to mess with.
I wish she was going on a date with me. But let’s face it: I’m pretty sure her sisters Aisling and Roisin and her best friend Sophie would cut off my balls if they saw me right now. Her older brother Liam would join the fun, too. The entire O’Connor clan would happily slice my balls into tiny pieces and I wince at the pain that’d cause. I like my balls. I want to keep them. I glance around, almost expecting Aisling to jump out of the shadows with a cake knife. And I breathe easier when no one else shows up in the parking lot.
“Hello?” She sounds concerned, but then she laughs, not her happy, carefree laugh, but a laugh I’ve never heard before. And not knowing she changed perfume is one thing. But not recognizing her laugh is proof I stayed away far too fucking long. Not from Swans Cove, but from her. “Of course, it’s you. I’m going to kill them.”
“It’s not me. I’m not the lucky guy.”
There’s a flash of something in her eyes. Disappointment? Or is that my wishful thinking? After blinking a few more times, she slides into Thunder, further away from me, not giving me any more time to analyze what may be happening in her mind.
“How is Thunder even still on the road?” I call out in one more attempt to reconnect with her, knowing she won’t pass an occasion to defend Thunder.
“She’s nine years old.” Her tone is protective. “She’s still got some miles in her.” She pats the steering wheel of my old Honda tenderly, and for a split second, I’m jealous of a car. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date to go to. See you probably never. Your glamorous life is waiting for you back in Washington.” She pauses. Looks down. Looks back up. “Aren’t you supposed to be with your team right now? You can’t play. But aren’t you supposed to be with them? Your team is playing the Boston Bruins tonight.”
The way she presses her lips together tells me she didn’t mean to ask so many questions and also shows she must have read one article about me or at least didn’t tune out someone talking about my injury. Could she still care? At least a little. I’m tempted to crack a smile.
But my knee injury isn’t the only issue. The problem is that my shoulder’s been problematic, too. And in the past year, I got caught on video again bitching about the team owner, Stevens, and how he’s handling the team. Articles after articles have been written about arguments in the locker room with the team’s coach and my legendary feisty attitude. That problematic attitude was confirmed when I shoved my asshole sperm donor, known in the hockey world as Sergei The Great, into a table full of cocktail shrimp and champagne at a black-tie event. And right before getting benched due to my knee injury, I got involved in a fight that resulted in several players facing playoff disqualification.
My agent Tom and the team’s publicist Bria are working overtime to clean up my mess.
“Where do I start?” I sound as worn out as Mom after she and Pops threw my asshole sperm donor out of the house when he demanded I stop reaching out to him. Yet, a sliver of hope sneaks into my tone at the possibility that Sorcha doesn’t completely hate my guts.
“Nowhere. Not my business.” And her voice should come with a warning: stay the fuck away. She clears her throat. “But I’m glad you’re here for your mom’s birthday. Your dad … they must be happy to see you.”
She slams Thunder’s door, and I swear I hear her apologize to the car before carefully driving out of the parking lot.
The chuckle I can’t hold back is full of memories. Because, of course, Sorcha’s still talking to Thunder. She’s friendlier to the car than she is to me, but she’s not wrong. That car probably never let her down.
Thank you so much for reading!
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