Author: B.L. Mooney
Series: Striving #3
Release Date: December 26, 2014
Genre: New Adult
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon US
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
Purchase: Amazon UK
We all want to feel accepted, but sometimes we do unacceptable things. When we push it too far and do the unforgivable, are we still allowed to hope for that acceptance?
Or are we doomed to accept a life of loneliness?
My current bed friend is someone who’s struggling to find his own acceptance. His big crime? He’s following his dreams. His father can’t accept the fact he no longer wants to follow in his footsteps. Should he be shut out because he quit the family business? I don’t think so. But if he should, I’ve got bigger problems.
I cheated on my husband and then killed the man I cheated with. Would you still accept me?
“Could you hand me another clay pot, please?” I was crouched down, getting the displays ready for opening day. Never mind it was still three weeks away. I needed to keep busy.
The pot appeared before me and I grabbed it. “Thanks.”
I turned my head to the male voice and was inches from a bulge I’d gotten used to having in my face. I hadn’t seen what the bulge was made of yet, but he sure liked thrusting it in my face every chance he could.
I snipped the shears I had in my hand. “You’re very brave to come that close.” He backed up. “That’s what I thought.”
I stood and looked at him. His curly blond hair needed a cut, as usual, and the smirk on his face needed to be smacked off. I tilted my head to the side and wondered what he would look like without the scruff he tried to pass off as a beard. Why should I care what he would look like? I shook my head.
“What do you need, Mick? I’m busy.”
“I just thought I’d see if you needed help.”
“As I’ve told you the other fifty times you’ve come over, no. I’ve got everything under control.”
He rocked back on his heels and looked around. “It does look good.”
My sister, Rachael, came from the back and smiled. We were complete opposites. She had long, wavy blonde hair while my hair was black and cut short. You might have been able to tell we were from the same gene pool if I showed my body off the way she did, but I liked to keep things a little more under wraps compared to her curve-hugging style. Besides, I’d always been the more casual type and she was all about the latest styles. It looked good on her, but I’ve got better things to worry about than clothes.
The other thing which set us apart was the fact she was friendly. I wasn’t. “Hey, Mick, what brings you over?”
“Just being neighborly.”
I rolled my eyes and turned to work on another display. “We’ve got it. Thanks for stopping by.”
Rachael waited until he left. “You’re not very nice to him.”
“He isn’t someone I want to be nice to.”
“I think you could be very nice to each other.” She smiled. “I’ve tried to get Carl to grow some scruff like that. It’s sexy. The least you could do is play nice with him and tell me if it—”
“Look, he’s the lease-holder. I don’t need to be caught up in that. Plus, he’s a little rude, always pushing his cock in my face.”
Her hands fell to her sides. “Excuse me?”
“Yes, it’s always there.”
She smiled. “Maybe you’re just always looking.”
“Don’t you have to pick up Amy?”
“Shit.” She looked at her watch. “I really do, but this conversation isn’t over.”
I mumbled, “It is for me.”
I had just finished wiping down the counter even though I’d already cleaned it a dozen times. I wasn’t ready to go home. I wanted to make sure it was perfect for opening day.
There was a small tap on the door. “Let me in already!” Mick yelled.
I rolled my eyes and walked over to the door. “It’s unlocked. Just open—” I opened it to see him balancing two plates and two glasses of wine. He walked past without an invitation. “What are you doing?”
“Come over and help me.”
Curiosity got the better of me. I walked over and watched as he turned his ass to me. “Take out the tablecloth, will you? It’s a little big, but if you keep it folded in half, it should fit the counter.”
I took the tablecloth from his back pocket and laid it out as he said to. “What are you doing?”
“Dinner.” He set the plates and glasses down. “You never leave for dinner or have anything ordered in.” He looked me over. “You’re too thin.”
I placed my hands on my hips. “Excuse me?”
“You need to keep your strength up if you’re going to run a company by yourself. You need to take care of yourself or you have no business taking care of anything else.”
He handed me a napkin with a fork and knife and pointed to the plate. I watched him grab a couple of stools for us. “Eat.” He sat on his stool and dug in. “Are you going to tell me you don’t like steak?”
I shook my head. I sat down and looked at the steak, baked potato, and green beans. “I’m just trying to figure out what your motive is.”
I looked up. “You want me to pay you for this.”
“No, I want you to pay for your lease, and you can’t do that if you run yourself down.” He took another bite and pointed at my plate. “Eat.”
I could live with that answer. It was honest and impersonal, so I liked it. I started eating. “This is really good.”
“How did you keep it warm?”
“I don’t live far.”
We sat in silence and finished our meal. It wasn’t uncomfortable. The sounds of the utensils against the plates filled the air and before I knew it, I had cleaned the plate.
“See, you feel better now, don’t you?”
I allowed a small smile. “I do. Thank you.”
He nodded and looked around. “It’s remarkable how good this place looks. You’ve done a great job.”
“Thanks. Thank you for dinner, too.”
He turned back to me and smiled. “You’re welcome.”
A police car with lights and sirens went by and I started shaking. He noticed. “I’m going to take the plates to the back and rinse them off for you, but I don’t have any detergent to clean them.”
He held my hand and stopped me from taking his plate. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, it just startled me, is all. I’ll be right back.”
He allowed me to go to the back with the dishes. I set them in the sink and took a deep breath while I hung my head and leaned on the counter. I wondered if Al was available. It made it easier after I moved into Rachael’s apartment to see her neighbor down the hall, but it also made it more difficult to avoid him. I needed to forget life for a while and he always helped me with that, but he had started to want too much. I just wanted sex.
“Hey.” Mick came into the back, scaring me. I jumped, dropping the knife in the sink. “I’m sorry. You were just back here a little longer than I thought it would take to rinse plates.”
“I must be tired.” I grabbed a hand towel and dried the plates. “They still need soap, but at least you won’t get anything dirty.”
“Thanks.” He looked back out to the front. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No. There’s nothing to talk about.” I walked around him and took the plates to the counter. He had already folded the tablecloth.
“Okay, but I’m a pretty good listener.”
“I’m not good at talking. Just ask my sister.”
He smiled. “I’m not, either. I think that’s what makes me a good listener.” He looked around. “Well, I think I’ll get out of your way and let you go home. You need to rest up for your big day.”
I laughed. “That’s a lot of resting. It’s still a few weeks out.” What I needed wasn’t rest. I checked my watch. Al went to bed early, and I needed to catch him before he went to sleep.
He pointed to my watch. “Do you have somewhere you need to be?”
“Not exactly. I wanted to catch a friend before he went to sleep.”
“I’m allowed to have male friends.”
“I never said you couldn’t.”
“It was implied.”
He raised an eyebrow. “From one word?”
“It was the tone.”
He tilted his head forward. “The tone was surprise that you liked the male species.”
“I’m a lot closer.”
He stepped up to me but didn’t touch me. “For what you need your friend for.”
We stood there staring at each other. He was probably wondering if I was going to take him up on his offer, and I was wondering if he was serious. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t get involved and risk losing the shop, no matter how promising the bulge he constantly put in front of me was.
“You have no idea what I need my friend for.”
He walked me backwards until I hit the counter. “You want him to take care of your needs. Needs you suddenly have ever since that cop car went blaring by. You need him to help you forget life for a while, to make you feel good, and protected.” He leaned in and whispered in my ear. “Deny it.”
I swallowed as he leaned in more, pressing his body to mine and reaching behind me to grab the dishes. I closed my eyes when he walked away. The breath I had been holding was finally released. Al better not have gone to sleep yet.
I unlocked my door and threw my purse on the chair. I wanted to take a shower before I went to Al’s. He didn’t care if I came over dirty from working in the shop, but I cared. Before I got to the bathroom, there was a knock on my door. I smiled; only one person knocked like that. He could shower with me.
I opened the door and smiled even wider. “Hey, I was just going to jump in the shower and head over, but you can come in with me. My back needs washing.”
He stepped in, but didn’t look happy. “Deb, we need to talk.”
I lowered my head and shut the door. I was dreading this day, the day he demanded more than sex. I turned and looked at the guy I’d spent the last several months with but knew very little about. That was how I wanted to keep it.
He was blond, dumb, and a great fuck. That’s all I needed to know and all I wanted to know. I was going to miss the orgasms he could give me. Fuck. “Al, we’ve talked about this.”
“No, actually.” He looked at the package in his hands. “I met someone.”
I took a step back. I hadn’t expected that. “You did?”
“Yeah, and I want to be exclusive with her.” He handed me the package.
“A goodbye gift.” He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Don’t open it until I leave, but I feel bad about this.”
I put the box on the side table and hugged him. “Do not feel bad at all. I’m very happy for you.”
He hugged me back. “You are?”
“Of course.” I backed up and patted his chest. “You have a big heart in there and have wanted to give it to someone for a long time. I’m glad you’ve found someone to give it to.” I looked at the gift. “You really didn’t have to.”
He smiled. “Yes, I did.” He checked his watch. “She’s coming over any minute, so I should get back to my apartment. Thanks for being cool with this. I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m not going anywhere, champ. We’ll still see each other. We’ll just see each other with our clothes on.”
He smiled and nodded as he walked out. I locked the door behind him and turned to the package. I should’ve given it back to him. He didn’t need to give me anything. What I received from our time together was the only thing I’d wanted from him. I opened the package and smiled. I guess he wanted to make sure I still had my orgasms.
I took it out and looked at the deluxe model vibrator he had given me. I wasn’t much into vibrators and didn’t have the need for them with him next door. I shrugged and took it to the bedroom. I didn’t have him anymore, so no need for his money to go to waste.
Normal. It’s a relative term, or so I thought. It wasn’t until I got caught up with a man who stripped me of my confidence, dignity, and trust that I realized I was no longer normal. I did things and became part of things I never thought I would have.
I was content in my shell, living what life I allowed myself to live. Both my best friend and therapist had different ideas. They wanted more for me and saw to it that I wanted more, too. When life started to open new possibilities I thought I no longer deserved, it also brought back old ones I thought would never return.
How do I move on from a past that won’t let me go or move into a future I’m not sure I’m ready for? Am I strong enough to go after what I want and say no to those things that try to pull me in again? More importantly, will I ever be at peace with myself as I’m Striving for Normal?
Perfection is a gimmick.
It’s something they use to sell you shit you don’t need. The perfect home. The perfect family. The perfect marriage. Photos of that perfect life are all around us, but none of it exists.
I know better because I take those photos. It’s all a ruse to make us think that’s what we want. Behind closed doors, the house is a mess, the family is fighting, and that loving couple hates each other. I prefer a different city every week, laughing friends, and a variety of lovers.
Until Carl. I’m not sure what I want when he’s around.
Perfection is an illusion.
It’s something used to make you forget all the bad shit that happens in this world. It’s an unattainable dream not worth the effort.
I had the perfect home. The perfect family. The perfect marriage. Or so I thought. That illusion died with my wife and slammed me into reality. Aside from my daughter, business deals and making money is where my heart is now.
Until Rachael. I’m not sure what I feel when she’s around.