Monday, December 2, 2013

BLOG TOUR: Irreversible Damage by KJ Bell


With their past behind them and a baby on the way, life for Brady and Tori is finally on track.

That is, until tragedy divides them. Unable to cope, Tori moves to Minnesota to be with her parents.

Heartbroken and alone, Brady throws himself into his music. His career takes off and Tori assumes Brady left her behind.

After a chance run in with Brady’s brother, Tug, Tori makes a decision.

One that leads to Irreversible Damage.

4.5 Star Review by Jen Hagen

This is the second book in the Irreparable series.  Brady and Tori were first featured in Irreparably Broken and this is a continuation of their story.

This book had my stomach hurting…and I loved every minute of it!!  Points of view are told by both Tori and Brady.  Adding the alternate point of view always adds an extra dimension to the story and in this case it added to my anxiety level!  This book does not disappoint in making you feel every gamut of emotion.  

Brady and Tori had overcome obstacles to find their happily ever after in the first book.  I was caught off guard when I learned there was another book featuring them.   These two people have had a lot of anguish in their young lives already and it just seemed to keep coming at them.

What misdeeds did Brady and I commit in a past life to be so brutally punished in this one?

Brady is still trying to deal with the death of his step-mother and her taking the only answers one could give into Brady’s life with her to the grave.   He still struggles with his insecurities of finding where he belongs in the family and his fear of never being good enough for somebody to love.   The one good thing is that Brady has realized that he doesn’t need to please anybody now…he can be his own person.  He never wanted to be a businessman or a lawyer.  He turned over the company to his younger brother, Tug, quit school and is now following his dream of being in a band. 

I have everything I ever wanted in my life.  My girl, a baby, and I’m finally doing something professionally that I truly enjoy.

Brady and Tori are dealt an immense tragedy that nobody should have to encounter.  Just when they are finding their way back to each other, Brady’s past now becomes his present and his future.  Brady and Tori can’t seem to get through this latest struggle and each of them continues to bear a burden of guilt.  They truly love each other, but neither of them are emotionally strong enough at this point in time and instead of being able to hold the other one up, they only succeed in bringing the other one down.

 He has no idea he’s just kicked me in gut with the truth. The truth about what I truly mean to him. I’m a distraction.

Brady’s younger brother, Tug, declared his romantic feelings for Tori in the first book.  Tori and Tug have always had a fun-loving relationship even knowing that Tug would have liked more.  Tug has always been able to bring a smile to Tori’s face and when she needs somebody to bring her up from the pit of her despair, he is there for her as he always has been.  

“I’ll take you any way I can get you, even if it’s only as my friend.”  -- Tug

Brady and Tori both have to come to terms with the way their life is heading.  Both of them have made mistakes in this tumultuous time and they need to accept it and move on if they want to have a life with each other.   Once again Tori and Brady are faced with a life-changing obstacle and this is where my stomach really started to hurt.  Prior to this it was tears and compassion flowing from me with a slight bit of anger, but now I have full-blown anxiety.   Tori may think she’s being forced to face a new journey with fear and uncertainty, but really she’s surrounded by love.

“I loved her when you didn’t.”  -- Tug

I can’t imagine my life without her it. We’ve come too far. Despite my anger, I love her more than my own life. Ours is a love that won’t be dispelled simply by ignoring it. It can’t be concealed by separation. The heart knows no distance, only misery. It will never let me forget her, and I’m a fool if I think I can. – Brady.

Tug’s POV
A scene from:
Irreversible Damage
Copyright © 2013 by KJ Bell.
All rights reserved.

Spoiler alert…You should read Irreversible Damage before reading this.

I bring Tori to the restaurant in my hotel for diner. She laughs as I talk about business. It’s a nervous laugh that alerts me to the fact she thinks I’m heartless. I guess bragging about takeovers and mergers to expand the Gibson brand globally makes me seem cold and disconnected. Occasionally, she sucks in a shocked breath. I hate the look of fear in her soft blue eyes. I know I’m detached from my customers and my clients. I have to be. I don’t get emotionally involved when I’m taking a company out from under someone. I learned from my mother that trusting people is useless and weak. I should talk about something else, but I’m trying my hardest to steer clear of discussing Brady. Mostly, because I’m afraid she’ll admit she still loves him.
As we share dessert, I spot a smidge of chocolate on the corner of Tori’s mouth. I reach under the table and shift my crotch as I imagine licking the chocolate from her face just before I kiss her. It’s wrong. She and Brady may not be together, but they’re far from over each other. As I talk, she laughs. It’s a sound I haven’t heard in months. She’s beautiful. I’ve missed her so much it’s painful. She’d be angry if she knew the only reason I’m in Minnesota is for a chance to make her mine. I hate that I lied to her, but I had to try.
We’re different people now. Our experiences have hardened both of us, but I love that I’m still capable of making her laugh. I may not be the same guy, but one look from her makes me feel as though I haven’t changed at all, that I’m still me.
After dinner, I reluctantly offer to take Tori home. As much as I want her, I don’t want to rush things and send her running.  To my surprise, she suggests a few drinks at the bar. I agree instantly, delighted by her obvious desire to spend more time with me. When we sit at the bar, I orders two shots of Blue Sapphire. I lift a brow and smirk at her. “Gin’ll make you sin.”
Her cheeks flush as her eyes grow big. I know she thinks I’m flirting, and I let her squirm for a moment, thinking about it. Her lips part to say something.
I laugh and interrupt her. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Tor. It was a joke.”
Her shoulders relax and she smiles. I was joking, but if our night leads to sin, I won’t stop it either. The bartender sets the shots down in front of us. I pick one of the shots up and hold it in the air. Tori shoots me a puzzled look and picks her glass up from the bar. I smile and say, “Here’s to new beginnings for you. I hope you find the happiness you’re looking for.”
She looks like she wants to add something, but doesn’t. Her head falls back as she swallows down the shot. She looks adorable as she grimaces from the taste. I order two more shots and tell the bartender to leave the bottle. She grabs one of the shots, holds it in the air, and says, “Here’s to friendship.” She swallows the shot down and waits for me.
I smile, but I’m crushed. Why can’t she see it? We’re more than friends and tonight I intend to prove it. I toss the shot back and slam the glass onto the bar. I have to get her alone. Tori gives me an uncomfortable smile and turns her head.
I pull my money clip from my pocket and throw a hundred on the bar before picking up the bottle of gin. With my free hand, I grab hers and pull her from the stool. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” She giggles as I drag her behind me. We can’t get to my room fast enough. I have to touch her.
I keep walking and answer, “To my room.”
She stops abruptly, but I keep pulling. When I spin to face her, she practically falls over.
“What?” She shouts. I hear the worry in her voice. She thinks I’m taking her to my room for more than friendly conversation. I smile, knowing that’s exactly what I’m doing. I can’t let her know that though. I watch her intently. Her mind is working overtime trying to determine if she has given me the wrong impression. I have an idea how to ease her concerns. “I’ve been practicing.”
I smile, watching her face scrunch together as she tries to figure out what I’m up to. She shakes her head and I realize what I said came out all wrong. Every time we’ve ever played poker, Tori kicks my ass. As of late, I’ve been playing frequently. I thought a friendly game would be a good excuse to get her up to my room.  
I burst out laughing and release her hand. “Oh, shit!” I point at her. “You thought I meant sex.” I attempt to reassure her that wasn’t what I meant, but I can’t stop laughing. Tori joins me and starts laughing hysterically. My face flames red while I try to restrain my laughter.
“Poker, pretty girl,” I finally manage to tell her before grabbing her hand and walking toward the elevators. “I think I can finally beat you.”
She relaxes. I think about how ridiculous “practicing” would be.  I stop and turn to face her. She doesn’t notice and smacks right into my chest. I breathe in her lavender scent. My dick shifts in my slacks as fire crawls up my neck. If I was braver, I shove her into the elevator and take her. I wouldn’t allow her to object. She’d be mine. When she looks up, I narrow my eyes. She’s afraid of the attraction she feels for me. The fear glows in her eyes. I suck in a ragged breath and say, “When it comes to sex, I’m an expert.”
I watch her shiver and she struggles to walk. I turn and stroll toward the elevator letting those words linger with her. I know she’s shocked. She doesn’t know me anymore. I’m not the same guy I used to me. I don’t want to be. That guy is weak. The day my mother shot herself, I realized the world is a shitty place to live. You can never truly trust anyone, so you might as well take what you want. Well, I want Tori. It’s wrong, and if push comes to shove, I might not be able to go through with it. She’s the one person in my life that makes me feel good about myself. I can’t hurt her.
We enter my hotel suite. I lean against the wall with my arms over my chest watching Tori stroll around the room. I wonder what she’s thinking. Does she regret coming out with me tonight? After several minutes, she turns to face me. 
“Are you staying here with other people?”
I lift an eyebrow and smile. “Nope…just me.” I stroll over and stand next to her. The energy between us hums in my ears. Her shoulders tense immediately.
“Why do you need such a big room?”
I shrug. I didn’t bring her up her to discuss the size of my hotel room. “Tax write-off.”
“Shut up!” She smacks me on the arm and sways a little. She’s clearly feeling the effects of the gin. I feel worse for bringing her up here. I won’t have sex with her tonight. She needs to be clear headed if she chooses to be with me.
“Come!” I order her before walking over to the windows.
“You’ve become quite bossy, you know that?” I laugh as she follows me.
I spin to face her. I’m beyond bossy. I’m downright ruthless. After learning about my mother, I will never lose control of my life, or allow someone to push me around. The only way to avoid deceit is to dominate those around you. I glare at her, watching her lips press flat as I lean in close to her.
“You have no idea, pretty girl. Now sit!”
She laughs and it’s sexy as hell. I think she likes my pushiness.
We sit down on the floor and I set the bottle of gin and two shot glasses next to us.
“Okay.” My eyebrows lift as I grin. She smiles and locks eyes with me. “Here’s the rules.” I line up the shot glasses and fill each of them with gin. “I lose the hand, I drink. You lose, and you drink.”
“Are you sure?” She pokes me in the chest. I reach down quickly and grab her finger. I pull her hand to my lips, intending to suck on her finger, but change my mind. I bite down gently on her finger before pushing her hand away. She laughs. “You do remember that you’ve never beaten me?”
“Oh, I’m sure.” I grin. Tonight’s stakes are higher than any I’ve ever played for and I don’t intend to lose.
I hand her a shot and pick one up for myself. We throw them back together. She visibly relaxes as she looks out the window. As I deal the cards, she’s suddenly a million miles away. Brady taught Tori to play poker. He taught all of us and stole our money in the process. She’s remembering too, and if I don’t say something soon, she’s going to realize she shouldn’t be here and bolt.
I smile and say, “Oh, pretty girl. You ready to lose your ass?”
Tori laughs and picks up her cards. She flashes a sassy smile before pulling the cards to her face. She glances over the top of her cards. Her eyes smile. I hold all five cards in the air confidently. “You’re keeping yours?” she asks, studying my face. She’s looking for a tell. She won’t find one. The days of tipping my hand are long gone, in poker and in life. Tonight is the biggest bluff of all, and so far she hasn’t seen through it.
“Oh, yeah!” I nod with a smile. I have her beat.
“All right. Me ,too.” She winks and sticks her tongue out at me. “What do you have?”
“Three queens.” I announce, gloating.
Her face twist and she suppresses a smile. Does she have me beat? I can’t tell for sure until she starts to lay her cards down.
“Four kings.” She lays each card down one at time, reveling in her victory.
“Gah, woman!  How do you do that?”
She shrugs and giggles before ordering me to drink.
Over the next few hands, we alternate victories. The subtle changes in her laughter and speech tell me she’s enjoying our game, and hanging out with me. My plan is coming together as smoothly as I’d hoped. I couldn’t me more thrilled with the direction our night is headed. There’s a chance she wants to be with me too. I feel it.
“Okay, new game, Tuggy.” Her words slur a little and I laugh. Only Tori could get away with calling me by such a ridiculous nickname. I raise an eyebrow at her and wait.  “To make this interesting, I say loser drinks and removes a piece of clothing.”
I respond instantly. “Deal!”
She laughs as I deal out the cards.
It takes everything in me to hold back a laugh when she loses the first hand. Her face turns a bright shade of red as she tosses the drink back. She nearly chokes as the reality of her situation sets in. She clearly didn’t consider what she was wearing when she came up with this little game. She has on a skirt, blouse, and I assume at least a bra and panties, though I’d be thrilled if she was commando underneath her clothing. I stare at her smugly and watch her fidget. My eyes roam over her breasts and notice the outline of a bra under her blouse. My breathing grows heavy thinking about seeing her in something soft and lace. 
“You made up the game, sweet girl.” I motion to her shirt with my index finger. “Off.”
I’m enjoying this more than I should be, but I’m not about to stop her. She smirks, stands up and shimmies out of her skirt. I’m disappointed, but it’s doesn’t last long as my eyes travel along the defined muscle of her thighs and down to her calves. I run my eyes back up her legs, pausing briefly on the skin peeking out between the top of her panties and the bottom of her blouse before continuing to her mouth. I shift and adjust my crotch before looking away.
“Sit,” I order her before dealing the next hand.
She smiles and sits. I can tell by the look on her face, she’s enjoying the effect she has on me. I wonder how far she’s willing to go and if I should let her. I know I said I wouldn’t have sex with her tonight, but my resolve is slowly dissipating.
After Tori wins the next three hands, I laugh at her disgusted face. Given I had a suit on this evening, I’m still completely clothed. I’ve removed two socks and my suit jacket.
Tori looks disappointed with her next hand. She immediately tries to hide it with a large grin. “Oh, say goodbye to your shirt, smug Tug.”
I arch a brow. “We’ll see.” I’m more than confident with the high pair in my hands. If she had anything, she wouldn’t have boasted so proudly.
I have her beat, which means she’s about to lose her blouse.
We lay our cards down at the same time. Her tens loose to my pair of jacks.
I laugh loudly as I press my finger into her cards and move them in circles on the carpet. When I look up at her, she smiles. “Who’s losing their shirt?”
It’s that or her panties and I know she’s not brave enough to remove those. She starts to remove her shirt. My heart feels like it’s about to explode. I yank on the hem of her shirt. I need a minute to decide if I can go through with this. “Not yet. Drink first.”
She sends me an annoyed look and I smile before glancing at her my mouth. I want to shove my tongue down her throat and kiss her in a way that marks her as mine forever. I want to feel what it’s like to love her. I can’t do it. I’m about to tell her she should leave when she downs the shot and rips her blouse over her head. My eyes go wide as I suck in a strangled breath. My eyes fall to her chest, moving between each perfect breast. My lips part and I struggle to swallow. Tori blushes as the look in her eyes shifts to something longing. Her tongue sweeps across her bottom lip and I nearly pounce on her.
I inhale a deep breath before clearing my throat and sitting up straight. She has to leave now, or we’re going to do something stupid. “I think you should put your clothes on. I’ll call you a cab.”
She shakes her head softly as she crawls over the cards until our faces touch. Her lips rest ever so slightly on mine. “I don’t want to get dressed.” She utters the words in a whispered breath. “And I’m not leaving.” She closes her eyes, waiting for me to kiss her. God, I want to. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life, but she’s in no condition to go through with this without regret.
“Jesus, Tori.” I jump to my feet and offer her a hand. “Put your goddamn clothes on.”
She takes my hand and stands up. Fire shoots up my arm. Her nearly naked chest presses against my body. I’m losing control.
Tori starts unbuttoning my shirt from the top. Her hands slide under the shirt and her palms heat my chest. The air becomes thick as I struggle to keep my breathing calm. She plants kisses on my chest. My erection throbs to the point of being painful. Her fingers go to work on unbuttoning the rest of my shirt.  “I want you.”
I’ve wanted to hear those words from her mouth for as long as I can remember, but I need her to understand this is not a game. I’m in love with her.
I cover her hands with my own, stopping her from releasing any more buttons.  I squeeze hard as I study her expression for any signs of regret. “Tori. We’re not kids anymore.” I move one of my hands to her lower back and draw her close to me. Her breath hitches as my erection pushes into her stomach. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.” I growl against her cheek.
I expect her to bow out and run. Instead her hands lower to my belt buckle. I nearly come when she covers the length of me with her warm palm. “You want me. I know you do.” 
I groan. “I do, but this is careless.”
“I don’t care,” She whispers as she drags her tongue over my earlobe. “I feel dead. It should have been me.”
I grip her face tightly in my hands forcing her to look into my eyes. I hate that she feels responsible for Mona’s death. “Don’t say that!” My thumbs stroke gently over her cheekbones. “Don’t you ever fucking say that!”
“Make me feel alive again.” Her tongue reaches out to slowly lick my bottom lip. It’s my undoing. My self control all but disintegrates. “I want to feel again. Please.”
My hands leave her face to grip both of her arms just above the elbows. I have to be very clear with her. “Tori, you have to stop, because I can’t.” I shaker her gently. “I’m not the guy I used to be.” I breathe in deep through my nose inhaling her scent. “If you push this, I won’t stop it. I will fuck you.”
“I’m pushing.” Her challenge comes without hesitation as she continues to stroke my dick through my slacks. Short of throwing her out, there’s nothing more I can do to stop her. I’m a complete son-of-a-bitch for letting it get this far, but I’ve been in love with Tori my entire life. This is my chance. As a kid, it was just a crush. In our teens, it was infatuation, but at some point in our adult life, my feelings turned into love, around the same time I realized Brady loved her too.  He had his chance to prove he deserved her. I stepped back and let them try, but Brady fucked up. He gave up on her when she needed him most, or maybe that’s what I’m telling myself to ease the guilt deep inside. I can make her happy.
“Fuck!” I slide my lips softly over hers and sigh. As destructive and wrong as this is, I’m going through with it, and so is she. “You smell incredible.” My eyes travel over her skin as my hands slide up her arms, circling her shoulders. “You have the most beautiful skin.”
A moan escapes her as she goes to work undoing the remaining buttons on my shirt. She pushed the shirt over my shoulders and down my arms. It falls to the floor. Her lips plant soft kisses on my chest as she peers up at me. I cup her face in my hands. Our eyes lock for a second before I crash my mouth into hers. I growl as I force her backward until she slams up against the wall. My hand dips into her panties. She whimpers as I shove them down her legs. She wiggles free from them and kicks them aside. I grip her thigh, wrapping her leg around my waist. Her fingers lower to the button on my slacks. She tears it free before lowering the zipper. I shove my pants and boxers to the ground before lifting her up and pressing my lips to hers in a heated kiss. When she wraps me up in her legs my hands dig into her hips. I lower her onto my cock with a roar as I slide into her with ease before slamming her hard into the wall. The sensation of being inside of her is mind blowing. I thrust my hips into her repeatedly and fuck her, like I promised. Between my emotions, and the noises she’s making, I won’t last long. It’s raw and primal, and not exactly what I thought our first time would be like, but it’s perfect. Everything is right in my screwed up life because the very girl I would die for has finally chosen me. I feel her tense as she tightens around my cock and climax causes her body to tremble. I groan loudly before driving forward one last time and erupting inside of her with a growl. Just as I finish, I think I hear her cry.
My happiness dissolves.
She didn’t choose me.
She regrets what just happened.
Tonight was a mistake.
I’m terrified to look at her, but I need to see if she’s okay, so I pull back slightly. When I get a good look at her face, I want to die. “Jesus, are you crying?”
She nods and sucks back a sob. I hate knowing she’s ashamed.
“Fuck! I knew this was a bad idea.” I don’t mean to sound angry, but I’m pissed at myself for not being stronger. I knew she wasn’t ready. “Goddamn it!”
I lift Tori off of me and set her on her feet. After picking up her panties from the floor, I lift her up in my arms again. She lays her head on my shoulder as I walk to the bedroom. Her body trembles. Why did I let this happen? I should say something. Words won’t do anything to ease her guilt and I can’t turn back time. We’re both so messed up. We proved that tonight and now there’s no going back. I set her on the bed before opening a dresser drawer and pulling out a white T-shirt. 
She feeds her arms through the T-shirt as I slip it over her head. Her lip quivers and she keeps biting down on it. “Stand up.” She does as I ask, and I hold her panties out for her. She steps into them and I pull them up before kissing her on top of the head. The small sob that leaves her lips nearly brings me to my knees. I’ve hurt her and I’ve destroyed our friendship. We’ll never spend another carefree moment together. I pull back the covers on the bed and tell her to get in. When her head hits the pillow, I bring the duvet up to her shoulders and slide in next to her. I roll to my side and nestle in close to her as I stroke the side of her head. I sigh as I think about what I should say, but I can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound as desperate as I feel.
“Are you upset with me?” Her voice cracks.
I shake my head as I squeeze my eyes closed so I won’t cry. I’m not upset with her. I’m furious with myself. What I let happen tonight makes me pathetic loser.  “Sleep, sweet, girl.”
Although I know she wants me to say more, I can’t. Everything has changed between us and tomorrow we’ll have to face it.
Early the next morning, I stop at the desk to arrange breakfast for Tori before I hit the streets for a run. As my feet pound into the pavement, I think about how foolish we both behaved last night. Despite that, there’s a small flicker of hope burning deep down inside of me that thinks we have a chance. As I jog toward the lake, her tear stained face flashes through my brain and that little flicker goes out completely, leaving a black stain on my heart. She’ll never love me the way she loves Brady. I increase my pace to a dead run and continue until my lungs burn. I keep going until my legs give out and my knees begin to buckle. I steady myself and reach my arms above by head before screaming to the sky. People stare, but I keep yelling until my throat closes up before I turn and walk back to the hotel to take Tori home and let her go for good.
I inhale a courageous breath before turning the knob and opening the door. Tori turns toward me and continues to tap a pen against the desk where she’s sitting
“Hi,” she says softly, tapping the pen more aggressively.
“Good morning.” I smile and glace at the table of food.  “I see you got breakfast.”
“Thank you.” I hate the uncertainty in her voice. “Tug, we need to talk.”
I nod. “Yes, we do. I’m just going to grab a quick shower.” I start to walk to the bathroom. Teasing her is the best way to ease the tension. It always has been, so I turn with a grin and say, “That’s a two-hundred-dollar pen you’re about to break.” I laugh, thoroughly amused with my efforts and the smile she gives me.
As the water beats down on me, I consider what I should say, and how I should act. I wish she could see how much I love her. I’d take care of her. I know she wants my friendship, but after last night, I’m not sure I can give it to her.
I dry off and open the door. Tori is still at the desk, having a conversation with herself.
 “Nutty Buddy…what have I told you about talking to yourself?”
She jumps and spins in the chair. After her eyes narrow, the pen she was holding flies in my direction. I duck and the pen bounces off the wall behind me. I laugh and it feels good. When I look up, I notice her eyes traveling over me admiringly. I hold two fingers in the air and point them at her eyes, and then at mine. Her cheeks color and her eyes go wide. She’s busted.
“You suck,” she tells me through an awkward laugh.
“That’s not what you said last night.” Her mouth falls open and hits the floor. Shocking her is always so much fun. I can’t resist.  “It was more like, ‘Oh, yes. God, you’re so good.’”
She laughs and shakes her head once. “Your ego is much too big for one person.”
I shrug and press my lips together before I ask, “Are we friends?”
She nods weakly. “We are, but we still need to talk about it.”
I run my hands through my hair, filtering through all of the things I want to say to make things right between us. It’s so much easier when I can crack a few jokes to smooth things over, but that’s not going to work this time. “What’s there to talk about? We made a mistake. We’re still friends. It’s all good.”
She scoffs. “It’s not all good. How do we know it was a mistake?”
I shake my head.  “I know.”
She huffs and throws her heads up. “What makes you so sure?”
I let out a heavy sigh as I walk over to her. She’s trembles slightly as I place both of my hands on her shoulders and scowl down at her. “Can you look me in the eyes and tell me that would have happened if we were sober?”
Her eyes instantly dart to the floor as her fingers toy with the fabric of her shirt. “No.” She frowns.
“I didn’t think so.” I cross the room and sit on the bed, looking over at her confidently, although, I feel anything but. “Forget about it, okay? I don’t want this to affect our friendship.”
I know it already has, but I prefer to pretend otherwise. She gets up from the chair and I keep my eyes on her as she comes close to me. She’s looks beautiful as she drops to her knees in front of me. My body goes erect because all I want to do is throw her on the bed and have her again. I nearly lose it when she puts her hands on my thighs and looks up at me.  “Is that what you want…to be friends?”
Hell no! I want way more than friendship. My lips turn to a frown as I slowly shake my head and whisper, “No.”
Her hurt expression meets mine and in a calm voice she asks, “What do you want from me?”
I should lie, because the truth is torture for both of us, but I won’t lie about how I feel any longer. I sigh and lean down until our faces nearly touch. “I want you to choose me.”
She lets out a rush of air before sitting back on her heels. Her eyes don’t leave the carpet as her hands tangle in her lap. Finally, she breathes in deep and says, “I can’t.”
My hands reach out and cup the bottom of her chin, tipping her head back. I smile. “I know.”
Her fingers curl around my wrists. She moves my hand to her cheek and leans into my palm. I yank my hand away before I kiss her. It slips into my hair. I start to tell her we can make this work, but stop. She doesn’t want to be with me.
“Tug…I’m so confused. I don’t want to lose you. I need your friendship.”
I nod and look directly at her and although it kills me, I say, “You got it.”  My smile’s fake and I’m forcing it. “What now?”
She stands and sits next to me on the bed. “I have no idea. Do you think we should tell Brady?”
I groan as the muscles in my jaw tighten, and I lean forward, resting my forearms on my thighs. I don’t give a fuck if we tell Brady. Maybe if he knows, he’ll treat her right, and quit focusing on all the wrong things. I don’t know what to say. “Do you want to tell Brady?”
Her gaze falls to the floor and she sighs softly.  “I don’t know.”
I reach over and gently stroke her knee. “I’ll do whatever you want, sweet girl.”
She sighs again and silence falls between us briefly before she looks over at me. “Then I say we don’t tell him. He’s moved on anyway.”
Is that why last night happened? She thinks Brady’s moved on. “His music takes up a lot of his time, but I don’t think it compensates for losing you.”
A strangled noise emanates from her throat before she huffs. “No, but Annabelle obviously does.”
“What are you talking about?”
Does she think Brady is involved with Annabelle?
 “Oh, come on, Tug. Have you seen the photos of the two of them together?”
I try to hide my irritation and say, “So she tags along with him. She’s there for Andrew.” Her head falls to my shoulder when I pull her close. “You should know better than to assume anything based on paparazzi photos.”
“I saw them together.” She lets it out slowly. I don’t react and she continues. “That’s why I left. I walked in on them.”
I know from spending time with Brady and Annabelle that nothing is or was going on between them. As much as I’d like to lead Tori to believe it has, and reap the benefits, I can’t let her think Brady betrayed her. I turn to face her. She stares at her lap. “I don’t know what you think you saw, but Brady isn’t with Annabelle. He hasn’t been with anyone.”
Genuine shock descends over her expression. She clearly doesn’t believe me. “Maybe it was only the one night, but it happened.”
There’s no way Brady was with Annabelle. He’d never be able to hide it from me. “I think you’re wrong.”
I need her to believe me. I want her to be with me, but I won’t allow it to happen simply because she thinks Brady moved on and she’s angry. I’d rather not have her at all than be second best to Brady again.  My heart hurts.
She still looks doubtful. “Whatever!” She sounds like a child, a hurt and vulnerable child. “He’s hasn’t made any effort to contact me, and he signed the annulment papers immediately. It’s over.”
She’s pissed and obviously wants ne to quit defending Brady. I hold my hands up defensively. “Hey, I’m not going to argue with you.”
Her shoulders relax. “Thanks, Tug.” She smiles.
I smile back and pat her knee. “Are we good?”
She nods.
I get up from the bed and grab my keys. “Should I take you home now?”
I watch as her face twist into total panic. “Relax, sweet girl.” I drop a reassuring kiss on the side of her head. “I called your mom and told her that we had wine with dinner and I thought it best to wait until morning to bring you home.”
She smiles, stretches up onto her tiptoes, and kisses me on the cheek. My heart splinters in two. It’s a friendship kiss. “Thanks, Tuggy. You’re too good to me.”
I look down, directly into her eyes. “I just want you to be happy.” My voice falters a little, knowing her happiness should be with me. Things between us are changed forever.
Her eyes dart away from mine and she looks at her feet. She’s as miserable as I am, and although our reasons are different, we’re both to stubborn to admit it.
I go to the door and open it. “Let’s get you home.”
“I told you, we’re good.” I’m annoyed and start to walk through the door.
She marches to me. “It wasn’t a mistake.” I sigh heavily. “I mean it. Yes, maybe it wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t drinking, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it, too. I care about you.”
“But you’re still in love with Brady.” I remind her.
We’ve been here before, me wanting more than she can ever give me because she loves Brady more.  It sucks.
“I love you, too.” She’s holding off tears. I know she loves us both, and I don’t want her to cry. “It’s different, but I do.”
“I love you, too, sweet girl.”
I pull her close for a hug. She squeezes hard. I don’t want to let go because when I do, I’ll never see her again. I’m letting go of her and my feelings.  
Though it’s a lie, I say, “I’ll take you any way I can get you, even if it’s only as my friend.”
She leans back and peers up at me. “Promise me that won’t change. That we’ll always be friends.”
I continue the lie because I don’t want to face how I actually feel. “I promise.”
She returns my smile and grabs my hand to leave. It burns. “Good, because I’d rather streak naked through town than lose you.”
I laugh loudly and pull her though the door.
She thinks we’re good, but we’re far from it. I have to put distance between us. I meant what I said earlier. I don’t want to be friends. It’s too painful.

Author Bio:
I’m a mother of three. When I’m not writing, I’m usually carting around my three children to their various activities. Actually, only two have activities, the three year old is forced to tag along. In the summer months, I spend more hours on baseball and soccer fields than I do in my own home.

For some mindboggling reason, I live in Massachusetts. I dislike the snow, the humidity and the bugs. So basically, this is the last place on earth I should live. Fall is beautiful here and almost makes me forget, almost.

I love music and reading and I’m equally addicted to both. 

Meeting new people rocks, so friend request me. 

Author Links: 

Twitter: @authorkjbell

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