So excited to share an excerpt from BACK TO THE START with you! Release day is right around the corner (June 19th)!!!
Stand up straight. Stare dead ahead. Smile at your sister.
Jake McGinnis watched his sister, Carina, sway to the music. Her fiancé of only five minutes brushed a lock of hair behind her ear and wiped away the tears from her still-flushed cheeks. But they were happy tears. Which meant Josh Graham was a lucky man. As long as Carina’s fiancé kept a smile on her face, he was allowed to live.
“Look how happy your sister is, Jake. I’ve never seen her so in love,” his mom said.
Though Jake towered over Lucrezia McGinnis by at least eight inches, he would always be her little boy. It wasn’t like he was a momma’s boy or starved for her approval. She had always encouraged him to make his own choices and follow his dreams. Even when he was five and he declared that he was going to be an NFL quarterback, she didn’t shoo him away or tell him to have a plan B when that dream didn’t materialize. Instead, she had told him that he would have to work hard to make it to the pros, and then when he thought he couldn’t take anymore, he would need to work even harder. He leaned into his mom and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Lord knows Carina deserves it.”
“And so does that young man. He too deserves to be happy and in a family who loves him,” his mom said, nodding at the couple on the dance floor. “Josh is a good boy.”
His mom had moved to the States over forty years ago, but her Italian accent was still incredibly thick. Jake loved the sound of her voice, how comforting it was. So much so that it almost made him let his guard down. Almost. Jake returned his attention to his sister and the scene behind her. The Avalon Yacht Club’s floor to ceiling windows allowed him to see the sun setting over the bay, giving the large reception room a golden hue.
Josh took Carina’s hand and kissed her ring finger. The diamond sparkled. His sister’s smile took over her entire face. Jake had to admit that the man had class. Just last week, Josh had driven to his future in-laws’ house and asked for their daughter’s hand. After he received their blessing, Josh called each of Carina’s siblings and her best friend and her mom and invited them to come witness what turned out to be one hell of a proposal.
At first Jake had thought it was strange that Josh wanted to pop the question at his best friend’s wedding reception. Jake wasn’t an expert at weddings and etiquette, but he had wondered if proposing at someone else’s reception was some sort of party foul. But then he had seen the bride’s face, how happy she was when Josh dropped to his knee and told Carina and over a hundred and fifty guests that he wanted her to be his wife. There hadn’t been a dry eye in the place. Even Jake had gotten a little choked up.
But the moment had passed. And now it was taking everything he had to keep his shit together. Because just twenty feet away stood the reason that he felt like he was going to crawl out of his skin and put his fist through the wall behind him.
Deep breath. Straighten your tie. Unclench your hands. Don’t look at her.
He fucking looked.
And regretted it the second he laid eyes on her.
He had prayed to feel indifference. That the sight of Morgan Kelley wouldn’t invoke anything in him. But pain hit him harder than any linebacker ever could and the anger…it made his blood boil.
It was the anger he clung to. It was the safest choice and an emotion that he was well acquainted with. Anger had driven him these past eight years. Every time he had pictured her face, he would sprint a little harder. Each moment he had allowed himself to think of how she tasted, how she had melted into him the first and only time they were together, Jake would hit the weight room and lift until his arms were about to give out or his coach told him to fucking stop, whichever came first.
It was anger, not lust, not love, that had prompted him to fulfil his desires with many women over the years. At first, he had chosen women who resembled her. It wasn’t intentional; it was his subconscious that ached to be with her again, to look into her dark blue eyes and get lost in them, to touch every freckle that sprinkled her nose, and to fist her long, blonde hair. When it had finally hit him that he was seeking these women out for one reason and one reason only, he changed his requirements. From that moment on, the women he fucked had to be different from Morgan Kelley in every way. He didn’t want to see her face when he made a woman’s back arch with pleasure. He didn’t want Morgan’s eyes looking back at him, destroying what was left of his heart.
“May I have this dance?” Patrick McGinnis asked. His dad’s voice made Jake snap to attention. He forced a smile and tried to pretend that he wasn’t falling apart. Jake took his mom’s hand and placed it in her husband’s.
“Of course,” she said. His mom gave Jake a kiss on the cheek and whispered, “Now, are you going to ask her to dance or are you content with just staring at her from across the room?” His mom winked at him and made her way onto the dance floor with her husband.
Jake had no intention of asking Morgan to dance. It was tough enough to be in the same room as her. On the drive here, Jake had sworn to himself that he wouldn’t speak to her. Or look at her. Or imagine what her life had been like these past eight years…without him. His stomach twisted into knots, which pissed him the hell off.
Morgan glanced in his direction and then turned her back on him. He watched her signal the bartender. Memories of that day she had broken up with him came flooding back.
Her wincing, as if in pain.
Her saying the words he would never forget.
“We need to…break up, Jake. I can’t do this anymore.”
No. She wasn’t going to dismiss him again. In an instant he was at the bar, standing directly behind her and wondering what the fuck he was doing.