Monday February 20, 2023
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Never Have I Ever was the second of three books I wrote for Loose Id's "Three for the Holidays" series for which authors were asked to pick any three winter holidays and write interconnected novellas set around each one.
My original plan was to pick Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day, but life got in the way and I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to finish them in time for the stories to be released on those dates. So I moved things around--made some serious CHANGES to the overall storyline--and ended up with Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras and St Patrick's Day--which, I know, I know, is something of a stretch in terms of WINTER. But it ended up working.
These were stories that had been kicking around in my head for some time and I loved how they came together. In fact, I loved the setting so much that, last year, I started writing/publishing a whole new set of Atlas Beach stories. Including a FREEBIE that you can download here: https://www.tinyurl.com/Just-Another-Day
With Valentine's Day last week, and Mardi Gras falling on this coming Tuesday, I figured now was a good time to re-explore this series with a small excerpt. Enjoy!
Had it really been ten years ago?
[Luke had] been a senior in high school at the time, and Kristy had been a junior, so he guessed it had to have been. It was shortly after Thanksgiving—something else he remembered clearly because it was just a few days after he’d gotten back from spending the holiday weekend in Atlas Beach.
His family had moved to Bergen County, in the northern part of the state, four years earlier, when his mother had gotten a teaching position at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Technically, it was still New Jersey, but culturally it was almost a different planet. Or so it had felt at the time.
He remembered he’d been surprised when Kristy called him. Not because she never did; their phone conversations over the previous four years had helped him through several rough patches as he’d adjusted to his new community. No, what had surprised him was the timing. He’d only seen her a few days earlier.
“There’s this dance coming up at school,” Kristy said, in a tone that seemed to veer between nervous and annoyed. “Did I mention it last week?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay, well, it’s the junior class’s semiformal.”
“Yes. And it’s scheduled for the Saturday before Christmas.”
“Uh-huh,” Luke replied unenthusiastically. Maybe, if he didn’t express much interest, she’d take the hint and stop talking about it. At the best of times, he didn’t like hearing about events he was missing in what he still considered his hometown. He especially didn’t want to hear about some dance she’d be attending without him.
As Kristy continued talking, Luke opened his desk drawer and took out the folder of sketches he kept hidden from his mother—pictures of naked women, tied up or in chains. He picked up a pencil, and as he half listened to Kristy talk, he added details to a half-finished picture.
“It’s going to be at the hotel. So I thought maybe someone there might have said something about it to you?”
“Nope.” Maybe they had, but if so, he hadn’t been listening then either.
“Okay, well, I’m on the decorating committee, and I think it’s gonna be really cool, you know?”
“Uh-huh,” he repeated, wondering why they were still on this subject. For that matter, why did she sound so weird, so…nervous, almost? Did she realize how much he hated this conversation? Nah, couldn’t be. Kristy was nicer than he was. If she knew she was making him unhappy, she’d stop. He added a gag to the picture.
“So, the thing is, it’s the kind of thing where the girls have to ask the boys.”
Luke’s pencil stilled. “Uh-huh.” What the fuck? She couldn’t be asking him out…could she? It had been her idea that they just stay friends. Did this mean she’d changed her mind? Or was she going to ask his advice on which of their friends she should go with instead? Maybe it was neither. Maybe she just wanted to talk. He sure hoped that was all it was.
“And, well, you know my father!” Kristy’s frustrated sigh vibrated through the phone, leaving Luke guiltily aware of the fact that he’d missed a critical part of the conversation.
“Sorry, I missed that. What did you say?”
The phone went silent. “What part did you miss?” Kristy asked in cautious tones.
Luke winced. “Everything after ‘the girls have to ask the boys,’” he admitted, steeling himself for Kristy’s reaction.
Kristy sighed. “I said, ‘my father will only let me go with someone he approves of.’”
“Well, that sucks,” Luke said, even though he was secretly—and selfishly—relieved.
“Yeah, so will you?”
“Will I what?”
“Will you go with me to the dance?” Kristy replied, then quickly added, “I mean, you don’t have to. It’s okay if you don’t want to. I just…well, it kinda sucks, that’s all, to put in all that work and not even see how it all turns out…”
“Wait. Didn’t you just… Are you saying your father approves of me?” Luke asked in disbelief. That couldn’t be right.
“He thinks you’re a good influence.”
“He does? Does he even know who I am?”
“Yes, Luke. He knows who you are. He knows your family. I guess he figures because you and Rocco are friends that you’re…I dunno. Safe, maybe?”
“Or something, I guess.”
“He oughta talk to my mom.” Luke thought about that for a moment. “On second thought, no, he shouldn’t.”
Luke bit back a sigh. She didn’t want him as a boyfriend, but she didn’t mind using him as a sort of pretend boyfriend when she needed a date. Being there, surrounded by real couples, was going to suck. He had every right to be angry, every right to tell her no. But then she’d be disappointed. She’d have to stay home, or she’d find some other loser to go with—maybe someone every bit as “safe” as him. There was no way he was going to let that happen.
“What time do you want me to pick you up?” he asked, giving in to the inevitable.
“Really? You mean it?” Kristy practically squealed with happiness, which made Luke feel even more confused. Much as he liked being her hero, he kind of wished he’d been able to tease her a little more first. To drag it out. To make her beg. Maybe next time.
He sighed. “That’s what friends are for, right?”
The phone went silent once again. “I guess,” Kristy said, sounding suddenly more subdued. “I just, um…thank you.”
That was how, two weeks later, Luke found himself standing at her side, gazing around the dining room of the Wild Geese Inn. If he hadn’t known where he was, he’d have had a hard time figuring it out. Which was no small feat, given how much time he’d spent here over the years. Tonight it had been transformed into something resembling an ice cave—or maybe an ice palace; that was surely a more romantic interpretation—thanks to yards and yards of iridescent cellophane, frosted white balloons, glittering icicles, blue and white twinkle lights, and shimmery white-and-silver place settings. Not to mention piles of fake snow—on the floor, on the tables, pretty much everywhere.
“Well?” Kristy gazed at him expectantly. “What do you think?”
She sounded so excited, so eager for his approval, he didn’t have the heart to tell her what he was really thinking: that he hoped like hell he wouldn’t get roped into having to stay and help return the room to its normal appearance. Just sweeping up would be a bitch all on its own. “It must have taken hours to do all this,” he said instead.
“Oh, it did. We were working on it all day. I almost didn’t have time to get home and get dressed before you got there to pick me up.”
Luke nodded absently. He had not needed to hear that. He’d already been blown away earlier tonight by the sight of Kristy DiLuca all dressed up in a slinky black dress with swirls of silver he wanted to trace—with his finger, with a piece of ice, perhaps with his tongue, or a dripping candle, or maybe a Wartenberg wheel. He’d already been struggling to remember that they were here tonight as nothing more than friends—that her father approved of him, for fuck’s sake. That none of those other things could ever happen.
Now all he could think about was what she must have looked like before she’d gotten dressed. That was her fault. That was all on her for having mentioned it. But he knew—he fucking knew—that later on tonight he’d be jerking off to the completely unrealistic fantasy she’d just inspired, one in which he’d arrived at her house to find her home alone, naked and wet, just stepping out of the shower. One in which he’d gotten to punish her for not being ready, for making them late, for keeping him waiting…
“Where’d you go?” Kristy asked softly. “You seem like you’re miles away all of a sudden.”
“Sorry.” Luke grasped for the first lie he could think of. “I was just, uh…just thinking of all the stuff I have to do when I get back up north.”
“Oh.” Kristy looked suddenly crestfallen. Her lips rolled in, and she turned her head away from him. “I guess you’re really busy, huh? Sorry. I didn’t mean to drag you away from anything important.”
“Stop it.” Luke took hold of her chin and forced her to meet his gaze. “That’s not what I meant. I’m happy to be here. And I’m glad you called me. All right?” That was at least partially true. He was glad she’d called him rather than someone else. “Now, c’mon. Let’s go have some fun.”
Games We Play
A quirky, family-owned resort on the Jersey Shore is the setting for this erotic, lightly paranormal series. Cousins Brenda, Luke and Gwyn are determined to turn their failing hotel business around. They have no time for love. They're in no mood for games. But it's not going to matter. Not when they're up against a handful of ghosts, a mischievous boggart, a family curse, and destinies written in stone.
The Games We Play trilogy. Three books that prove that holiday fun doesn't begin or end in December!
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