because happily ever after doesn't exist.
Seven years earlier…
Working at a restaurant sucks sometimes. Like right now.
Why is it so slow?
Usually Friday afternoons bring in a decent lunch crowd but that’s definitely not the case today. The other host got cut an hour ago after we finished rolling two full bins of silverware. I’ve been stuck at the front alone ever since, trying to keep myself preoccupied by doodling in my notepad while desperately hoping a customer strolls in. I’d even accept the overly chatty manager from the bank across the street at this rate.
Just as I’m starting to draw another cartoon heart, the outer door swings open and a relieved sigh whooshes from me. I toss my pen aside and slide the decorated paper into my apron. When my focus returns to the person coming in, my breath stalls in my lungs.
I’d usually have a polite smile plastered across my face as I rushed forward to greet the guests but my entire body is frozen solid due to the stunning sight before me. Tingles erupt along my skin as my heart takes off in a sprint, but I still can’t move.
The most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen is only a few feet away and my stomach nervously tangles in a complicated twist. He’s tall and broad, easily over six feet, which swallows up my petite frame. Probably a few years older than me, this guy still has a hint of youth lighting up his smooth features. My pulse skyrockets as I get trapped in his swirling ocean irises that remind me of a tropical paradise. I remain suspended in my paralyzed state as he approaches the host stand with a confident stride.
Wow, he’s beautiful.
My cheeks heat with that thought and I dip my head to hide the flush covering my face. I attempt a sneaky peek by glancing up at him through my lowered lashes. When my gaze connects with his, I notice a sexy smirk lifting his lips and it tightens my chest further.
Crap, I’m totally busted.
I clear my parched throat so I can properly greet him before getting fired for gawking, but he beats me to it.
“Hey.” He pauses with an audible swallow and I watch his Adam’s apple bob. A soft chuckle rises from him as he rubs over his left pec. “Wow, you’re really beautiful. Is that weird for me to say? Shit.” His feet shuffle nervously as his gaze lowers to the floor before quickly focusing on me again. “I feel really creepy blurting it out but that’s the truth. Sorry if I’m being super awkward. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Tell me to stop talking.” He laughs again before sucking in a deep breath. “What's your name?” His voice is like melted chocolate filling my hungry stomach. His extremely good looks match the silky-smooth timbre that’s thrumming my bones. He seems anxious, which makes my heart race even faster.
As I continue silently staring at him, I determine he’s my every teenage fantasy come to life and reminds me of Ryan Gosling from The Notebook. All striking blue eyes and dark-blond hair that’s the perfect length to run your fingers through. That’s what I’m talking about.
I do my best to collect my stray thoughts before wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans. I lock my wobbling knees and stand up straight, then raise my chin to meet his burning stare.
“Umm, hello. Thanks for coming to Brack’s Box. My name is Lark and I’ll be showing you to a table. How many are in your party? Oh, I should have asked if you were dining in or carrying out. Will you be eating here?” I feel like a total idiot as my speech fumbles and bumbles. My tone is shaking worse than my trembling hands. At least he appears flustered too.
The sexy stranger moves closer until he’s hovering on the edge of my personal space. His chest seems to shudder as he reaches out and traces a jagged line from my temple to my jaw with a coarse finger. Electric shocks spark along the skin he touched and a small gasp escapes me. I’ve never had this type of reaction before and it has a hoard of love-struck butterflies taking flight in my belly.
“You’re blushing, Lark. Are you nervous too?” His whispered words rush across the small space between us and I shudder in response.
Could I be more embarrassed?
I roll my shoulders back in an effort to infuse my body with strength.
“What? No. No way. Why would you think that? That’s just silly.” I toss out a lame chuckle—as if he has no effect on me—before taking a step away from him. If my boss came out here and saw me standing so close to a customer, I’d be in serious crap.
This handsome man tilts his head and continues his slow perusal of my face. He lifts a curious brow as a mouth-watering grin stretches his pillowy lips. I’m not sure what to do with myself as his golden glow graces my presence. Everything is a scattered jumble in my brain and I’m not sure what the right move is at the moment. I settle on getting back to work and the task at hand.
“So, do you want a table or are you ordering out?” The line slips out easily enough. Awkward tension skims down my spine as he keeps up with the intense eye contact.
A loud clap of laughter booms out of him.
“Are you trying to get rid of me, Sweetheart?” His white teeth gleam in the overhead lights as a wide smile lifts his cheeks. “I can’t seem to stop thinking about how gorgeous your amber eyes are.” His breathy pause finds me lost in the kaleidoscope of blue hues that make up his enchanting stare. “My name is Rowen, but all my friends call me Row. It’s my pleasure to meet you.” He holds out a steady hand for me to shake and I immediately slip my clammy palm into his.
When our skin makes contact again, a blast of fire rushes up my arms until the heat reaches my core. I bite my tongue to trap the moan desperate to escape. His basic touch is lighting me up and shock surges through me. I’ve read about this type of reaction in romance novels, but this is actually happening.
Why does this man have such a powerful impact on my body?
He’s turning me into a giggling pile of mush with simple physical connection. My mind is lost to him as well if I’m being totally honest. His expressive gaze appears bottomless and speaks to the lonely spirit within me. The insecurities usually plaguing my mind are forgotten under his attention. My pasty legs and nonexistent curves don’t matter to him based off the frantic pulse in his neck.
A low hum yanks me back to reality and I realize Rowen is the one making that delicious noise. Before I can react, he pulls me into his hard body and murmurs close to my ear, “Do you believe in destiny? What about soul mates?”
I can only nod since my mouth feels like desert sand. Could Rowen possibly understand the chaos buzzing in my blood?
His jaw works back and forth. “It seems like I was meant to come in here today. Does that sound crazy, Lark? I don’t know how to describe what’s happening to me but you’re mixing me all up. This was supposed to be a quick stop but now I never want to leave. Can we sit down, Sweetheart? Maybe eat lunch?”
When a little squeak pushes past my lips and puffs against his neck, a rumble shakes his wide chest that has me leaning further into him.
Unfiltered excitement and overwhelming joy causes my entire body to bloom with intoxicating warmth. This beautiful guy wants to know more about me. Shockwaves travel down my spine as my brain whirls in contemplation. I settle on being ambitious and impulsive as my body sways along his.
Screw the consequences.
Rowen’s grip tightens slightly and I swear his hands wobble. “I knew you could feel it. Let’s go outside where we’ll get some privacy.” His tone soaks into my thirsty heart but when his request registers into my foggy brain, it seems like a cold bucket of water has been dumped over my head.
What am I doing?!
I suddenly remember where we are, which effectively snaps me out of my romantic haze. I can’t believe I’m behaving this way at work. This is definitely not normal—let alone acceptable—and the significant hold this guy already has on me is becoming more obvious.
Breaking contact with him is like ripping off a layer of flesh but it’s necessary for now. I’m at my freaking job and need to start acting like it. Once I’ve placed a few feet between us, air finally travels freely through my lungs and brings fresh clarity to this crazy situation.
The chemistry between us is so powerful that my soul already seems bonded to him, which makes me sound like a whacky person. My fingers comb through my messy brown hair while I try to get a freaking grip on my sanity.
“Alright, pump the brakes for a moment. I can’t go anywhere with you now because I’m working. If I don’t get back to my job, I won’t have one for much longer and I really need the money. How about I find you a nice table outside to eat your lunch and I’ll join you once my shift is over. Deal?” I try my best to inject my voice with confidence but I can hear the quiver.
If Rowen notices my fumbling, he’s kind enough not to point it out. There is a moment of silence as his stunning ocean eyes sweep along my body from head to toe. Color rises on his flawless face and his fingers fidget nervously.
When his gaze returns to my face, my legs tremble at the raw hunger that’s being directed at me. What sounds like a groan pushes past his clenched jaw before he seems to regain control and realizes I’m waiting for confirmation.
“Whatever works for you, Lark. I’ll patiently wait hours for even a moment of your time.” Rowen sweeps his arm toward the patio door before saying, “Ladies first.” I quickly move ahead of him after grabbing a menu.
Once I have him seated and comfortable, I turn to leave but look back for another glimpse at all his yummy sexiness. Rowen shoots me a wink that has me second guessing the devotion to my job.
I’ll be off soon enough.
I make my way back inside with an extra spring in my step. Happiness churns in my stomach like gooey caramel. I’m sure this guy is the one I’ve been waiting for, my rapid heartbeat and clinging urges tell me so. It’s never, ever been this way. I might be desperate for love but I’m not going to fall for just anyone. Rowen seems to understand too. His sweeping stare reflected something that reminds me of forever and I’m ready to get lost in his blue waves. He didn’t want to leave and I’m sure he never will. I can’t wait to share my deepest desires with him.
After a dreadfully dull thirty minutes crawl by, I manage to make my way toward the patio to check on Rowen. As I pass the glass doors and find his table empty, I assume he’s in the bathroom or left to grab something real quick.
When a few minutes blend into fifteen and he’s still gone, dread begins to spread throughout me like a poison and a weight settles onto my chest.
I try to remain positive and convince myself of his eventual return. Tears blur my vision as a lump forms in my throat but I don't let the sorrow drag me down. At least not yet.
Rowen will be back.
He said there was something special between us.
We’re meant to be together.
But we really aren’t anything at all.
I never saw Rowen again and the longer he stayed away, the further my fragile heart cracked, until one day there was nothing left to salvage.
Destiny is bogus and fate is fake.
Everything happens for a reason?
I gave up on my fairy tale years ago.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not settling for less.
All my energy gets poured into a job I love rather than dead end relationships.
Men aren't even a blip on my radar these days.
Who needs them?
Except to scratch the occasional itch, I'm not interested in anything they have to offer.
If so-called Cupid ever comes knocking on my door, I'll be waiting with my flying pig because happily ever after doesn't exist.
I've become a jaded disbeliever and my main reason just sauntered into the bar.
Rowen Sworr is the only arrow that pierced my heart, and dammit, he stuck.
His random reappearance is a complicated twist from that meddling matchmaker I didn't see coming…
Forget You Not is the second standalone in the Reclusive Novel Series.
ONLY $0.99 & FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!
Harloe has been in love with romance since she was a little girl reading fairy tales. The dream is to find the perfect person that completes your life, right? Novels have a way of bringing fantasy to reality and she's always up for an unforgettable adventure.
I Facebook I Facebook Fan Group I Twitter I Instagram I Amazon I GoodReads I Website I Newsletter I BookBub I