Title: You Deserve Better
Author: A.P. Watson
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Cover Designer: Regina Wamba of Mae I Design
Editor: Tamara Beard of Wrapped in Writing
Publication Date: April 11th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amberâs PR
A.P. Watson is a contemporary and paranormal romance author. She is an avid reader, pole fitness enthusiast, and registered nurse currently residing in Johnson City, Tennessee with her adorable pup, Elle.
Goodreads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16102410.A_P_Watson
I Know Better: http://amzn.to/2Eot12k
You Deserve Better: https://amzn.to/2qlq385
Chapter One: Putting Up Walls
A single stream of light filtered into my room through a gap in the curtains. I stared at it, my mind trying to comprehend its foreignness. How long had it been since the last time I existed in daylight? I racked my brain, trying to recall a day, an hour, or even a few minutes, but my search proved futile. My existence solely depended on the light of the moon. It was the way I functioned while stripping, and as much as I tried to deny the thought, it really was the only way I knew.
I was still in bed, even though it was almost five. Itâd almost been four months since the night my world collapsed. The ruined existence I now maintained in the wake of that night wasnât a lifeâit was survival. I worked as much as I could, and when I wasnât working, I danced. This time, I didnât need the money from dancing, I needed the escape. Work and dance were the distraction I had sought after Liam, and the same held true for Jacks as well.
The sound of a knock on my door disrupted my train of thought.
âItâs me. Can I come in?â Ter asked.
Ter slowly eased the door open and slid inside my room, barely making a sound. To her, I was like a wild animal, and the slightest disturbance would cause me to flee. She laid on the bed beside me, wrapping her arms around my waist. âI ordered takeout from Wongâs.â
âThat sounds good.â
âAre you working tonight?â
âNo,â I answered, sighing heavily.
âOkay, good. Weâre going to pamper ourselves then.â
âI certainly need some pampering.â
âI invited Nate too. I hope thatâs okay.â
âYeah, of course. You know how much I love my work hubby.â
Her fingers delicately combed through my hair as she played with the long locks. âI thought itâd be fun for the three of us to hang out.â
âYeah, I think so too. Besides, I need to leave my fucking room.â
âI wasnât going to push you, but I think that would be a good idea.â
I laughed slightly. âIâm sorry you have to take care of me again.â
âYou know I donât mind, and you helped me when everything was a mess with Ryan.â
âTrue.â I moved so my head was now resting on her lap. âHas Ryan left yet?â Ryan was heading to New York for the weekend. He had to visit Jacks for work, not that I cared.
âNot yet. Heâs finishing packing up right now.â
Not a minute later, there was another tap at my door. âItâs me,â Ryan said through the door.
âCome on in.â
He stepped inside my room, moving to sit on the foot of my bed. âHey.â
âYouâre heading out to New York?â I asked.
âYep. Iâm all packed. I just requested an Uber to take me to the airport. There is no way Iâm paying to park my car there.â
I nodded in agreement. âYeah, I donât blame you.â
âI havenât seen Harlow parked outside in the past week,â he stated.
âI left her in the parking garage at Namelessâs place.â
I sat up, moving across Terayn as I hopped off the bed. âWhich reminds me. Can you give these to Nameless? Theyâre the keys to Harlow and his motherâs emerald necklace.â I picked up two small boxes and stacked them in Ryanâs hand.
âIâll pass these along,â he replied, clutching the boxes tightly.
Ter scooted over on the bed, making room for me again. âSo, youâre not going to keep Harlow?â she asked.
âNope. Iâve saved up some money, so Iâll start looking at cars in a few months. I just donât want the reminder.â
âBut you love your car.â
âThere are quite a few things I loved.â
Ryan stood and made his way back to the door. âYou know, every time I talk to him on the phone, he sounds miserable.â
âGood.â I sighed loudly, tucking my feet underneath me. âIâm sure anyone who would have to live with a bitch like Elise would be miserable.â
Ryan glanced at me over his shoulder as he placed his hand on the doorknob. âThey never lived together, and from what he told me, they barely speak, even while working.â
Ter slid her arm around my shoulders. âWrenââ
âLook, I know you guys have listened to his explanation, but honestly, Iâm all out of fucks to give. Whenever we have to start planning stuff for the wedding, Iâll be polite and courteous, but that will be the extent of my niceties. Otherwise, I donât care what he has to say, I donât care how his life is, and I sure as hell donât want to have anything to do with him.â
I watched as Ryanâs mouth straightened into a grim line. He nodded once. âZero-tolerance policy.â
A faint honk sounded from outside. Terayn pushed my curtains out of the way and glanced at the street outside the townhouse. âYour car is here, babe.â
âBe safe while traveling, Ryan. Weâll miss you.â
âIâll miss both of you too.â Ryan bent to kiss my forehead before turning his attention to his fiancÃ©. Despite everything I went through with Jacks, I was still ecstatic that my two best friends were getting married. Their love was an inspiration. Even though I would never have a bond remotely close to theirs, it certainly was beautiful to witness.
âIâll call you when I get settled.â He kissed Terayn again before sweeping out of my room.
âWhen is Nate coming over?â
âHe should be here in the next thirty minutes or so,â she answered.
âAlright, sounds good.â I planted my feet on the floor and stretched as I stood. âIâm going to take a shower real quick. What kind of pampering are we doing?â
âNails of course,â she replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
âHair conditioning treatments, mud masks, and paraffin wax treatments for our hands and feet.â
âThat sounds really nice.â I smiled at her. âAnd what movie are we going to watch while we do all this?â
âOur go to chick flick.â
âPlease say Miss Congeniality.â
âDing, ding, ding. We have a winner.â she shouted.
âYes!â I followed Terayn into the hall. âYou know how much I love that movie.â
âExactly why I picked it, babe.â
âMisty keeps asking me about her husbandâs friend Kenneth. Apparently, he stopped by the intensive care unit one night with Mistyâs husband and saw me. Ever since then, Misty says heâs been pestering her to set us up.â
âWhat are you going to say?â
âI told her yes,â I answered hesitantly.
âThat is so awesome!â
âItâs definitely time, and heâs pretty cute too. And since heâs a pharmaceutical sales rep, itâs not like we wonât have anything to talk about.â
âYeah, thatâs a good point.â
âYou really think itâs a good idea?â I questioned uncertainly. I was afraid of jumping back into the dating ring too soon and becoming a disaster.
âYes! So, when are yâall going out?â
âHas he said where yâall are going?â
âWeâve been communicating through Misty, but weâre going to a Cuban restaurant with a rum bar.â
âSounds yummy. Youâre not getting drunk, are you?â
âNo. I learned my lesson with that one.â I made my way to the bathroom and started the shower, waiting for the water to heat up. My body and hair were washed within a matter of minutes, and after shaving my legs, I shut the water off. The doorbell rang while I was drying off. Rushing back to my room, I changed into a pair of purple pajama shorts and a matching tank top. After my hair was brushed and I applied a little makeup, I joined Ter in the living room.
Takeout containers lined the countertop of the bar, and Terayn pulled two bottles of wine from the fridge. Apparently, Ter had the same idea I did. because she donned a set of matching pajamas as well.
âWe almost match!â She filled three glasses with wine and handed one to me.
âI was just thinking the same thing!â I took a sip, savoring the taste. âIs this blackberry wine?â I asked.
I took another sip and rounded the bar to help Ter. We pulled out three plates and three forks, setting everything beside the takeout boxes. No sooner had we finished than the doorbell rang again.
I handed off my wine glass, rushing toward the door. âComing.â I called out.
âGood! Itâs more frigid out here than the inside of Marionâs vagina,â Nate said from outside. âAnd God do I hate working with that bitch.â
I unlocked the door and practically pulled him inside. âHey!â I wrapped my arms around his neck.
âHi, wifey.â He glanced at Terayn over my shoulder. âAnd second wifey.â
âHey,â she replied enthusiastically.
âSo, what are my best bitches up to?â he asked.
âAbout to dig in to some takeout,â I answered.
He shrugged out of his coat and hung it on a coatrack next to the door. Snowflakes melted in his blue-streaked hair. Nate followed me to the kitchen, accepting the glass of wine I offered. We each filled our plates with food and took a seat on the couch. Ter had arranged three blankets and plenty of pillows for us. Once we had our drinks and plates of food, Ter started Miss Congeniality.
Over the course of three movies, we finished both bottles of blackberry wine and were now on to the beauty portion of the evening. I grabbed Nateâs leg, giving me better access to his toes.
âCan I see it yet?â he asked, straining his neck to watch my progress.
I laughed, lightly blowing on the fresh polish. âNot yet.â
âI just want to see what color you picked!â
I painted the last three nails on his right foot before starting on the left. âIâm almost done, Nate. Donât get your panties in a wad.â
I had already finished painting my toes a deep plum, and Terayn was working on hers. The nail polish she picked was pink and glittery. I had just finished the last toe on Nateâs left foot when Terâs phone started ringing. She answered it on the second ring.
âHey, babe. Youâre on speaker phone,â Terayn announced. She waved her hands over her toenails, trying to dry them. âDid you have a good flight?â
âYeah. Iâm getting settled in my room right now.â
âGood. Iâm glad you made it okay!â
âMe too. What have you been up to?â Ryan asked.
Ready to answer his question, I shouted. âWe ate takeout from Wongâs and watched three movies. And now we are painting our toenails!â
âIâm sad I missed that. You guys know how much I love having my toenails painted.â
âDonât worry, Ryan. Iâm taking your place tonight.â
Ryanâs laughter sounded through Terâs phone. âIs that Nate?â
âIn the flesh,â Nate shouted.
âIâm not even gone a few hours and Iâm replaced by another man!â The three of us burst into a fit of laughter at Ryanâs exclamation. âHold on a sec. Iâm putting you guys on speaker while I change.â
âYou can put it on FaceTime if you want!â
Ryanâs laughter emanated through the phone. âNice try, Nate, but Iâm not as dumb as I look.â
âHey, you canât blame me for trying,â Nate countered.
âI suppose not.â
âWhat time will you be back?â
âSunday night.â Ryan answered my question just before the phone cut off. Two seconds later, another call came through. Ter clicked to accept the FaceTime call, and Ryanâs face filled the screen. âHi, again.â
âHey.â I waved at the phone as Ter propped it up against a wine bottle.
âHey again, babe!â
âHi. Itâs nice to see my girls again so soon. What movies did you watch?â
âMiss Congeniality, Bridesmaids, and Dirty Dancing,â Ter answered, picking up a bottle of clear nail polish to seal the paint on her toes.
âNice. Those are all great movies.â
âHey, Ryan. Will you pick me up a souvenir while youâre in New York?â I asked.
âOf course. Is there anything in particular you want?â
âNah, surprise me.â
âWill do,â Ryan said with a grin.
âI want one too,â Ter cried.
âI can make that happen, babe. What about you, Nate?â
âIf the wifeys are getting souvenirs, then you know I want one too.â
Ryan nodded and picked up his phone. The camera followed him as he walked around. âAlright, three souvenirs it is.â
âOh and when you get back, I think itâs time we try making a Baked Alaska.â I finished painting another coat on Nateâs toes, shifting my focus back to Ryan. âIt looks super tricky, but I think we can do it!â
âYes! Iâve been wanting to make that one for forever.â
âYou know I call dibs on eating it,â Ter called out, clearly elated at the prospect of eating cake.
âOf course you do.â Ryan let out a long yawn. âWell, Iâm going to let you guys go. Weâre going to watch a movie and then sleep. Night everyone. I love you, babe.â
âI love you too.â
âBye!â Nate waved goodbye as I leaned forward to snatch up the phone.
âReally, Ryan, I donât get any love?â
I could see shadows behind him changing as he started walking again. âForgive me, dear lady.â He cleared his throat and stared at me. âWren, you know I have nothing but love and friendship for you in my heart.â
I couldnât help but chuckle at how over the top and serious he was being. âDitto, Ryan.â
âRyan?â In the background, I heard another personâs voice. âAre you talking to Wren?â Shock stilled the breath in my lungs. I recognized that voice better than any other sound in the world. The sound of it emanated through Teraynâs phone, its familiarity gently caressing my ears. âWren?â
Jacksâs voice was growing louder, and I had no desire to see him over FaceTime. The way he called out my name was filled with desperation, and I wouldnât put it past him to attempt wrestling the phone out of Ryanâs hand.
âBye, Ryan. Weâll talk to you tomorrow.â I ended the call and set Terâs phone back on the table. âI didnât realize Ryan would be staying withââ
âHe didnât tell you because he didnât want to upset you,â Terayn added quickly.
I contorted my face into the best smile I could muster. âIâm not upset.â
âWren, you donât have to be so tough all the time.â Terâs arm slid around my waist as she set her head on my shoulder.
âYeah, you can be a mortal weakling like Terayn and me.â Nate mirrored Ter, resting his head on my left shoulder.
âDo you really?â she asked.
âMaybe,â I answered, sighing.
âHey! I just realized you matched my toes to the blue streaks in my hair.â Nate bent over to look at his feet and examine the color Iâd selected.
I grinned at him, thankful for the obvious distraction he provided. âBet your ass I did.â
The thee of us stayed up until dawn before eventually calling it a night and passing out.
A searing pain in my head forced my eyelids open. âTer, why did you pull out that third bottle of wine?â
âHuh?â She rolled over, flinging one of her legs over Nateâs body while mumbling incoherently.
The tips of my fingers massaged my temples as I assessed my surroundings. The three of us had fallen asleep on Ter and Ryanâs bed. âDoes anyone else have a raging migraine?â I asked, my voice croaking.
Nate sat up beside me, his arms stretching over his head. âOh my God. This is the first time Iâve woken up in bed with two women. I need to FaceTime my mother!â
âWeâre all wearing clothes. Wouldnât she notice that?â
He shot me a glare. âDamnit, Wren.â
âI mean, Ter and I can take off our tops if you want. Might make it seem more plausible.â
âMy mother knew I was gay before I did. She wouldnât believe it even if she saw you straddling me in the nude.â
âWho are we straddling naked?â Terayn bolted upright, combing dark strands of hair from her eyes.
Nate scooted backward, resting his back against the padded headboard. âAnd Snow White awakens.â
Ter blew Nate and me a kiss. âMorning, babes.â
âWait, which Disney princess am I?â I asked.
Ter stared at me and then rolled her eyes in a slow circle. âReally? You mean you donât know?â
âGirl, youâre too sassy to be Ariel. Youâve got Megara written all over you.â
I clapped my hands together in excitement. âI always did love her.â
âTerâs right. Meg is a sassy man-hater. That fits you perfectly.â
âYou got me there.â
Ter jumped off the bed, stretching her arms and legs. âAlright, who wants to shower first?â
âNot me. I have to eat before I can take a shower.â Nate rubbed his belly as he turned to me with the most pitiful expression on his face.
âOkay, okay. Iâll cook us some breakfast.â
âGood. I get first shower then,â Ter yelled.
âSo, what is the plan for today?â I glanced between Nate and Ter, patiently waiting for them to answer my question.
âIâm meeting Eric this afternoon and then weâre going to dinner,â Nate answered.
âI have my appointment at Mignonette Bridal this afternoon. Iâm picking up my dress, because they finished the alterations on it.â
âOh, thatâs right! I canât wait to see it again.â
âYouâre going to be the most beautiful bride, Ter,â Nate added.
âI agree; youâre going to look like a damn princess.â
âWe can only hope!â Ter grinned at us, practically skipping to the bathroom.
I slid out of bed, pulling my hair into a tight bun. âAlright, well, Iâm going to make breakfast.â
Nate slid off the bed. âIâll come provide moral support.â
âWhat do you want?â
âPancakes and bacon?â I asked, shrugging my shoulders.
I headed to the kitchen and pulled out all the ingredients to make pancakes. After downing two Tylenol pills with half a bottle of water, I finally felt ready to stand over a hot skillet. While the bacon cooked, I mixed up the pancake batter and poured a little bit into a buttered pan. As the pancake browned, I searched the living room for my phone. My search proved fruitful because it was hidden beneath one of the couch cushions. I straightened up the couch and returned to the stove.
âNate, do you want coffee?â
âIs that a real question?â
I stuck my tongue out at him and set up a pot of coffee to brew. Nate scurried around the living room, cleaning up our wine glasses and takeout boxes from the night before. I flipped the pancake, letting the other side cook.
My phone laid on the counter beside the stove. I focused on the dark screen, wishing I had the resolve to deny my curiosity. I hadnât heard Jacksâs voice in months, and yet, my initial thought was how wonderful it sounded. Once he realized Ryan was talking to me, his tone held so much longing. Was he as miserable as I was? Ryan seemed convinced. He even sympathized with Jacksâs plight. But why? Ryan cares for me. He doesnât want to see me in pain, so why would he demonstrate any kind of friendship toward Jacks?
I turned the bacon over and poured more pancake batter into the freshly buttered pan. Picking up my phone, I unlocked the home screen. Iâd probably regret this decision, but at least my questions would be answered. I quickly typed out a message to Ryan.
Me: How is he?
Part of me hoped Ryan was still asleep or that he was ignoring his phone, but within seconds of receiving my text, he typed up a reply.
Ryan: Not good. Jackson is miserable. Heâs lost about ten pounds, he hardly sleeps, and he looks exhausted all the time.
Iâd be lying if I said Ryanâs words didnât strike a chord within me. Did I want Jacks to suffer? Yes. But did I want his torture to become some interminable cycle? No, not really.
Ryan: He drinks a lot.
Me: That makes two of us then.
Ryan: Yeah, I know.
Me: Why are you still his friend? Why do you sympathize with him?
Ryan: Because I canât even begin to imagine what itâs like to lose the love of your life.
Me: Jacks didnât love me.
Ryan: You know he did.
I removed another finished pancake and added more batter to the skillet. The bacon would only need a few more minutes to finish browning. My eyes darted all around. Terayn was still getting ready and Nate was lying on the couch. His eyes were closed, and it looked like he had fallen back asleep.
I tapped on the screen of my phone and called Ryan.
âIs everything you said true?â
âYou know I wouldnât lie to you.â
âI know.â What the hell was I even doing? You reap what you sow. Jacks broke my heart, and now he was dealing with the repercussions of his actions. I wanted to be heartless, I wanted to hate him, but more often than not, I was simply brokenhearted. He understood me on such an intimate level, I doubted it could ever be replicated. When I told him about my past, he didnât blink an eye. He admired my tenacity and understood the choices I made in order to survive. And Jacks was no stranger to making hard decisions either. âPut him on the phone.â
âAre you sure?â
âYes,â I answered with more confidence than I felt.
I tried to call him so many times, his number was seared into my memory. Sometimes Iâd simply stare at the numbers, my mind desperate for some semblance of familiarity. The hole someone leaves in your life after they are gone was the part which hurt so much. And no matter how hard you tried to fill the gap, things could never go back to the way they were.
âHow are you?â he asked.
âIâm fine. And you?â
âYou know my theory on whatâs about to happen when a woman says sheâs fine.â
âGood . . . thatâs good.â
âIâm planning an engagement party for Ter and Ryan,â I announced.
âI can help you. Iâve been wanting to do something nice for them.â
âOkay, it would be a relief to have some help.â
âJust tell me what you need me to do.â
âIâll let you know.â
He only uttered two words; yet, the swell of emotion behind his apology was almost overwhelming. I couldnât help but wonder how long heâd been wanting to express his regret. The last time we spoke, I never wanted to see him again. And now? Was I still bitter or was it just a faÃ§ade to hide the truth?
âOkay,â I said, swallowing thickly. How could such a simple reply require so much resolve to speak?
âI just wanted you to know.â
âWell, I have to go because Iâm in the middle of something, but Iâll contact you about the engagement party.â
âAlright . . . bye.â
âTake care of yourself. We still have a wedding coming up, okay?â
âOkay,â I whispered.
The moment I hung up, a strangled breath forced its way through my airway. What the hell was I thinking? I could barely manage speaking to him, so how were we supposed to plan an engagement party together?
Ter chose that exact moment to reappear. âYay, you made coffee!â
She set the mug sheâd just grabbed on the counter and turned toward me. âWhatâs up?â
I tried to meet her gaze, but my eyes stared past her. âI talked to him.â
âI called Ryan and told him to put Jacks on the phone. I donât know why, I justââ
âNeeded to hear his voice?â
âSomething like that.â
âRyan told me something just before he left for New York yesterday.â
âHe told you that he flew to New York for business, but heâs really helping Jackson pack so he can move back here.â
âWhat?â My heart seized inside my chest. At any moment, the sucker would become epileptic.
âApparently, he put in to transfer back here as soon as he started working in New York. His boss there made him find a replacement and train them before heâd let him leave.â
âSo, heâll be here?â I hadnât intended to ask my question so slowly, but my mind was in a state of shock and I desperately needed clarification.
âYeah, I know Ryan told you that he never sold his apartment.â
âI just thought that was because he could afford it.â
âHe can, but by tomorrow night, heâll be back.â
âWhy did he want to leave as soon as he got there?â
âWhy the hell do you think?â She filled her mug with coffee and turned off the stove. âHe knows he made a huge mistake, Wren. Thatâs why heâs coming back here.â
I removed the skillets from the stove. âTo make things right?â
âTo sure as hell try.â
I caught my lip between my teeth, chewing on the fleshy tissue. âI was afraid youâd say that.â
âBecause you miss him?â
âBecause I miss what we meant to each other.â
âDo you think you can ever be friends again?â Ter pulled three plates from the cabinet while I grabbed the same number of forks. I placed two pancakes and a few slices of bacon on each plate.
âI donât know.â I opened the fridge to find the syrup. âWhat do you think I should do?â
âWhatever makes you happy.â
I contemplated her words for a moment while I filled two mugs with coffee and creamer. âHe understood me. I just miss my friend.â
âI have it on good authority he feels the same way.â
I swallowed audibly and attempted to smile. âSome things canât be mended.â
âWell, youâll never know unless you give it a try.â
I didnât know what to say so I nodded instead. Nate, on the other hand, was still asleep on the couch. For someone who wanted breakfast so badly, he sure wasnât showing it. âNate!â
In a flash, he was sitting upright, his eyes open wide. âIâm up!â
âCome get some breakfast.â
âOh, thank God.â He accepted the cup of coffee I handed him, immediately sitting in front of one of the plates Ter and I arranged on the bar. âI swear, Wren, you are a saint.â
I shook my head, staring at him sarcastically. âEat your damn breakfast.â
Nate glanced at Ter, who shrugged her shoulders. âBetter just do it, babe.â