We’d like to send out a HUGE thank you to all our readers for taking a chance on us with Cruel and Beautiful. Never did we dream our novel would shoot to the top the way it did and it was only because of you, dear readers. When the requests for more books began pouring in we knew we had to tell Ben’s story. Although we didn’t go through the cases of tissues as we did in C&B—translate, we still cried—it wasn’t nearly as ugly. So again, we’d like to thank you and hope we continue to fill you with our heartwarming novels.
There is a group of people who deserve our deep gratitude, namely our beta readers. Their patience with us during this project is deeply appreciated and without their input, this book would not be what it is. So here’s one big squishy-huggy thank you to the following people: Jill Patten, Andrea Stafford, Kristie Wittenberg, Kat Grimes, and Nina Grinstead. You ladies ROCK!
We’re also blasting a hearty THANKS out in shouty caps to Nina Grinstead at Social Butterfly PR for pulling together an AHH-Mazing marketing plan that included lots of punch, bells, and whistles (and maybe some alcohol, too). She worked her ass off and did one bad ass job. Nina—you are the bomb! And thanks for putting up with me (Terri) and my many back and forth messages, lol <3 ~ Terri ;)
We’d also like to thank to Rick, Julie, Mary Beth, Terrie, and Amy at Red Coat PR for all their behind the scenes action, too. GO RCPR!
Finally, we want to thank Lisa Christman of Adept Edits. This lady was not only fun to work with but polished up our manuscript like gold. Thanks for the Sam-isms!
This book is dedicated to all the readers of Cruel and Beautiful who asked for Ben’s story.
There is finality to the sound of the door closing behind her. A sort of tormenting peace knowing the end has come. It’s not like I should have expected things to go on this way for long. How could they? The few people I let into my inner circle have dropped out of my life or let me down.
One evil word has taken on the role of judge, jury, and executioner to those closest to me. Why should this be any different?
My hand presses against my forehead to ease the crushing headache insisting on making its presence known. It’s only a matter of time before everything will splinter—like the exterior of my empty heart.
I stare holes in the walls as if I can still see her, the one I let in. The sun rises and sets with her inner and outer beauty, blinding me with something I don’t dare name because it scares me in ways that bring me hope—hope I’ve never had before. Every time I’m with her, I know dawn will come. Now that she’s gone, darkness has blocked the sunlight seeking entrance through my window.
Sweeter than peach cobbler, she hardly has a bad thing to say about anybody—until now. Her parting description of me, beginning with ass and ending with hole, reverberates through my hollow heart, as I stand here entrenched in my spot. I’m not even shocked, as this isn’t the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of that sentiment. I’m only surprised because I don’t think I’ve ever heard her so much as mutter a single curse word before. And the first time I do, it’s aimed squarely at me.
My hands tighten around a tumbler filled with amber liquid before I toss back its contents hoping for oblivion or something close to it. This road is so familiar. Only this time is different. I never cared like I do now. She means more to me than a quick fuck. Hadn’t I been about to tell her just that? How could things have gone wrong so fast?
Her parting condemnation of my character mocks me as it slashes across my chest drawing blood, as was its intent. My heartbeat slows and echoes from the other side of the chasm created between us when she unknowingly ripped my heart out of my chest and left with it.
Yet the door between us continues to dare me to cross over its threshold and make things right. Something seemingly so simple, yet the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As if that weren’t enough, my best friend disapprovingly glowers at me from beyond the grave making me miss his presence more than ever before. He’d been my compass, my right hand man, my voice of reason when it came to situations like this.
Inexorably alone, I watch my life implode into a wasteland from my bad decisions. I can fix this. The letter he wrote in his final days itches to be in my hand. The worn lines of the paper I’ve unfolded and refolded so often are in a drawer next to my bed. But I’m not strong enough to go get it. It doesn’t matter. How many times have I read the damn thing? A hundred? A thousand? His poignant thoughts and advice are tattooed on my brain, as deeply as the image of his dying face as he took his last breath.
When the fuck will I get that picture out of my head? And when will I stop needing him to talk me off the ledge, goddammit? How the hell am I supposed to fix this thing between her and me without him? “Why the fuck did you have to die? Friends aren’t supposed to die on each other. And you know I suck at this shit!”
The words echo off the walls as I continue to grow roots into the floor like an unwanted weed.
I can practically hear him shouting, “Get off your ass and stop her, you idiot!”
But I can’t. I’ve died a million deaths since the day he left this earth.
“If you were still here, I wouldn’t be in this shit storm,” I choke out as if his memory were tangible.
What I wouldn’t give for him to be here now. Anything. Because if he were, I’d know anything is possible. Especially everything I want to have with her. His death is only a reminder that dreams don’t come true.
Don’t be a dumbass. You can still fix this.
Although I cling to his memory like the air I need to breathe, I choose to ignore his unspoken advice. Instead, I stubbornly stay embedded to my spot because nothing can change the outcome. It’s a truth she and I know will haunt me until my last breath. And it’s created a wall between us I’m unable to climb … even if you gave me a damn ladder.
I’ve never been much of a risk-taker when it comes to matters of the heart. I can fill a bank account to a number with many zeros behind it from my astute choices in the market. But I can’t be a man a woman stays with. Hadn’t I warned her about that too?
Unable to see past my own shitty existence, I long for her to come back. I want to believe it’s all been some kind of mistake and I can forget what I know to be true. As the seconds continue to tick by, the inevitability that things are really over sinks in. My window of opportunity quickly closes as fast as her car door slams and the engine fires to life.