Title: Breathless #bk1
Series: Players to Men
Genre: A Contemporary Romance
COVER ARTIST: Montana Jade
Release Date: December 20th 2016
When the fairy tale life you believed in falls apart, there is nothing else left…
Or so I thought, until Trouble, wrapped in one hunky body and a sinful smile promising untold pleasure of the carnal kind, lands on my doorstep. Despite what my body demands or the fact that I’m irresistibly drawn to him, I’d been burned too deeply to dare try again. Besides, Max Meade-Sinclair is my younger sister’s best friend—and totally off-limits.
Ila Logan’s coolly dismissive manner captures and challenges me from the moment our paths cross. What I want, I usually get. A little thing like age isn’t going to stop me. Neither are the men who disappear into her secluded room. However, she proves a difficult opponent who leaves me falling for her a little more at each encounter.
This tempestuous woman is mine, but to win her, I must dig deeper, and show her that beneath my brawling, player facade exists a man who would go to the ends of the earth to make her happy.
But surviving my own dark past may just destroy the fragile bond growing between us…
“G.L Hunter has entered new territory with her first New Adult contemporary romance, and has proven that she can capture hearts with just about anything she writes. A bad-boy hero with heart, an artsy heroine you can’t help but root for, and supporting characters you will want to take home with you, Breathless tugs at the heart strings and carries you on a journey of discovery, ending with a happily ever after I think we all secretly dream of.” ~LITERAL ADDICTION
Bile crept up my throat as pain churned in my head. Yet it didn’t stop me from chugging back more of my beer, searching for oblivion. Unfortunately, it wasn’t at the bottom of the bottle. The din of the place grew, competing with the pounding in my skull. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Lights off!” someone shouted.
Christ. I winced, the yell reverberating in my head as total darkness enclosed me in its stifling hold. Slouching lower in the armchair, I opened my eyes and squinted at the tiny, flickering flames casting an eerie glow over several grinning faces.
Damn idiots! Just how many candles had they stuck on the cake? Because it sure looked like it could light up a small town.
“Happy twenty-first, Max!”
My head protested the loud chorus viciously. Twenty-one, and I felt a hundred. As if I’d lived a lifetime.
“Blow ‘em out. Make a wish.” Jack, the bastard—and my best friend since the crib—gave me a crooked grin. Near him, War, our other buddy, lifted his beer in cheers, then guzzled the thing down.
Jack just had to use my birthday as a reason to party and celebrate my return to civilization after my hiatus in the “wilds” as he called Peru.
Feeling as if my body weighed a ton, I pushed to my feet and crossed to the table in the dining room of the house I shared with Jack, each step jarring my throbbing head. I blew the candles once, twice…three friggin’ times before the flames hissed out.
The noise in the room ratcheted up with whoops and cheers. Slaps resounded, pelting my back, accompanied by well wishes as I headed to where I’d dropped my tote near the front door when I’d walked in a few hours earlier. I needed the relief it held. A blonde lunged at me, and I hit the wall like a bumbling drunk.
“Happy birthday, Max.” She hiccupped, her hands wandering over my chest. Her mouth slid over mine. She tasted of liquor and pizza.
My stomach revolted violently. The beer I’d swallowed backtracked up my throat. “Get off me—”
She flashed me a drunken grin. I shoved away before I hurled on her and lurched in the opposite direction toward the bathroom. I slammed inside, just in time to embrace the porcelain god for several long minutes.
Feeling as if I’d puked my guts, along with the contents of my stomach, I collapsed against the wall, mouth vile and my brain looking for ways to escape the pressure in my skull. I rubbed my temples and prayed for nothingness.
Christ, I hated these fucking headaches.
“Damn, Max, I didn’t realize you were so shit-faced.” Jack’s voice came from a distance. I ignored him, didn’t care what he thought or bother to correct him, really wishing I were drunk.
“Come on, man, let’s get you out of here.” He grabbed me. I was no lightweight. At six foot three, I stood an inch taller than him, but he hauled me up with little effort.
I pushed him away and shuffled for the basin, rinsed my mouth, and caught a glimpse of my reflection. Red-rimmed eyes, waxy-looking skin, and a bisected left eyebrow, the scar giving me a sinister air. For the rest of my life, the latter would serve as a reminder of the horror I was responsible for, the blood on my hands.
My fingers clenched the basin. Before my fist could meet the mirror, Jack dragged me out into the corridor.
“Let us, Jack.” Two giggling girls blocked us. “We’ll take good care of him,” one of them said. “We know ways guaranteed to make him feel heaps better. He’ll regret leaving San Francisco for so many months.”
Jack laughed. “You up for it, bro?”
Not so long ago, headache or not, I’d have taken them both upstairs, their warm bodies the only thing that could give me a moment of reprieve. Now? My dick didn’t even stir at the promise of sex.
Jack peered at me, then his brow creased in understanding. Wanting to avoid another one of his little talks—those ice-gray eyes, too damn perceptive at times—I made for the living room.
A shattering of glass exploded around me. I froze. Unable to breathe, to move, feeling as if a tanker had landed on my chest. I stared at the broken beer bottle lying in a wet, bubbling mess on the floor. The sounds yanked me by the throat to another place, another time…
Slashing rain, glass splintering, crunching metal…screams…
Jack grabbed my arm, hauling me back to the present. “It’s okay, it’s just a bottle.”
“Okay?” I rasped. “How can anything ever be okay?” Breathing hard, I wrenched free. “I have to get outta here.” I headed for the front, grabbed my tote lying near the door.
“Dammit, Max, you’re not fit to go anywhere!” Jack came after me.
“And I can’t be here. Sorry about the party.” Jerking open the front door, I stumbled out into the pelting rain. Pain bleeding into me, I tore down the street and cut through a gloomy thoroughfare, trying to escape the whirlpool of darkness closing in on me.
Finally, running out of steam, I slowed down and leaned against the wall of a shadowy building. My tote fell to the sidewalk with a thud. Panting harshly, I rubbed my eyes, banged my head against the hard surface behind me, trying to dislodge the screams from my mind. I might have run to Peru to escape, but I couldn’t outrun my nightmares, the accident, or my fucking faulty memory, with its holes the size of the Grand Canyon.
The blast of my cell cut through the drumming rain, piercing through the pained haze I was trapped in. I retrieved it from my jeans pocket.
“Maxwell?” A girl’s breathy voice filled my ear.
Shit, not now. “How did you get this number?”
“Don’t be mad. It’s Anabel. I told Jack I had a special birthday present for you, so he gave it to me. Why did you leave your own birthday party?” Her scolding tone grated on my already raw nerves. “It’s barely seven. Where are you? I’ll come over, and we can celebrate together. We had such a wonderful time before you took off for Peru.”
I had no idea who the hell she was. Or cared. At this point, the women all blurred together. I slept with them, took what their bodies offered—a brief moment of forgetfulness.
And they wanted a piece of me, of who I was, heir to a dynasty of pain and death. The fact that it was backed by money made it more appealing. Added to my temper more unpredictable than the fault lines of San Francisco, and my penchant for getting into fights. Yeah, I was the ultimate dangerous draw.
I could hang up. Bottom line? She wouldn’t give up now that she had my number. Jack was so fucking dead.
“I don’t date, don’t do relationships. I fuck and leave—”
“Damn you, Max,” she shrieked as if I’d broken her heart. I disconnected the call. They knew the rules when they hooked up with me. Still, they tried for more. Every time.
With my head buzzing from sleep deprivation, I moved like a robot on autopilot and continued down the street. Had no idea where I was going, just hoping for something to pull me back from the nightmare that wouldn’t quit. Longing for an end. For silence.
Scrubbing a hand over my burning eyes, and wet to the bone, I slowed, stopping beneath the awning of a darkened shop. Cars swished by on the busy street. Buildings loomed. I had no idea where I was, probably somewhere deeper in the city. The bright lights streaming out of the huge windows of a laundromat opposite me drew my attention. The ebb and flow of people as they came and went, none lingering beyond the job… the way I wished my life would be.
My cell beeped. About to switch it off, I hesitated at the abridged message. Hey, Maximus—you okay?
It took a moment to make sense of the text. Ray. She was the only one who persisted in calling me that name. Said I reminded her of a horse from some Disney movie. Stubborn and aloof but with a marshmallow heart.
True. Except for the latter. Yeah, I had one, all right. It simply didn’t function any longer.
Ignoring the text, I reclaimed my lighter and a half-smoked cigarette from a squashed pack in my jeans pocket, put the thing between my lips, and lit it. My gaze returned to the bright lights on the opposite side of the street. Leaning against the darkened windows of the tailoring shop behind me, I blew smoke skyward.
The few people in the laundromat cleared out after a while, and as the last woman left, another walked into the brightly lit place. The girl dropped her bag on top of the machine, then picked up something from the floor. A small, navy t-shirt. She dashed outside, looked left and right, then took off after the woman. “Hey? Excuse me,” she yelled. “I think this is yours!”
I didn’t know what the hell it was, her voice—her—but everything inside me stilled. Quieted. Before starting up again. My heart pounded hard like it was minutes from escaping its cage just so it could be with her.
A car droned by, and the rain continued in a rustle, drowning out her conversation with the other woman. I didn’t care. Mesmerized, I watched her as she handed over the shirt. And with no idea of the upheaval she’d caused inside me, she calmly headed back, pulling out white earbuds from her pocket and popping them into her ears.
In the shelter of the laundromat, she peeled off her jacket and tossed it on an orange chair there, revealing a tank top and dark yoga pants riding low on her hips. Moments later, her laundry sorted, she dumped them into two machines. The chore done, she stepped back, rolling her neck and shoulders, the movements sliding down her spine. With liquid grace, she undulated, moving her hips to whatever song played in her ears. And I stared, held captive.
As she danced, something inside me loosened and eased, as if she soothed the part of me that remained in constant pain and turmoil. She spun around once more and halted just as quickly, casting a wary look around, then she smiled wryly. She radiated like a glowing light bulb.
If I walked over, would she let me into some of the light burning so brightly within her? Because the cold seeping into my soul, one no jacket could ever warm, was slowly killing me. Even my messed-up brain understood that.
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