Sean Willis knows the difference between right and wrong. Sure, the bass player of Three Ugly Guys has made his share of mistakes, but when push comes to shove, Sean always chooses the high road. Now, even when things are unraveling with the band, he’s the voice of reason.
She’s the only thing he’s ever wanted and couldn’t have. Not only is she his new roommate, but her boyfriend is the newest addition to 3UG. She’s more than off limits, she’s a temptress with her unaltered beauty and gentle spirit.
Jessica Moore has never been the center of anyone’s world. In fact, she’s familiar with being forgotten. Not too tall, not too pretty, not too smart; she’s just Jess. No stranger to scraping by for survival, she finds shelter in Coy Wright, a musician with dreams bigger than life. But when Coy skyrockets to stardom, Jess is thrust into a world in which she doesn’t belong.
That is, until she discovers an unexpected friendship. Sean treats Jess as someone special, important, and worthy of love. The feelings and desires he stirs within are dangerous, because despite Sean’s kindness and affection, she’s forever loyal to Coy.
What happens when doing the wrong thing feels right?
Jess and Sean’s friendship is put to the test, along with alliances in the band. Is love enough to derail their best laid plans, or will selfishness throw everyone’s success off track?
Falling for his bandmate’s girl is a bad idea, but when it comes to Jess, he can’t help how he feels.
“Sean, don’t.” She drops her gaze as if it pains her to hear. As if it doesn’t hurt me to say it.
“Don’t what? Remind you how good it was? How you fell apart at my fingers. With my mouth.”
Her chin lifts and gaze narrows. “It can’t happen again.”
“Jess, it can. That’s why I’m here. We could be together. We can. I’ll take care of you. If you would only—”
She steps back, one step and then another until the gap between us feels miles wide. “Don’t ask me—”
“Leave him.” If there’s a way to beg, plead, and demand everything with those two words, I give it my all.
Her scowl falls to one of pity. “Sean . . .”
“No, don’t say my name like that.”
“Like you feel sorry for me. I know you feel more. I know we’re good together. I want you, Jess, but not as some dirty little secret.”
Her lower lip trembles from where her teeth bite against it and her gaze drops. “I can’t.”
It’s not the response I want and I bristle at her words. “Why?” I need to know.
“I just can’t okay?”
“Help me. Tell me.” I close the space between us and take her hands. “Explain to me why that son of bitch gets to be with the most precious woman on Earth and treat her like garbage. Why I have to stand by and watch?”
“I’m not . . .” She tries to tug her hands back but I don’t let her. “You don’t understand. You never could.”
“Try me. Please, Jess. Explain it to me and I’ll leave you alone. I’ll let you live your life however you want, but just tell me why you’re with Coy.”
I don’t know if she will. I can almost see the war inside her. “You think I’m good but I’m not.”
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I have a dead heart.
Okay, so it beats just fine. But I’m never going to be that girl. The woman who swoons over a cocky smirk and flirty pickup line. The best leading men in my life are of the fictional variety. How could any real man live up to that fantasy? Simple answer. He can’t.
But then Matt Haywood crashes into my world. He’s the fallen fighter I don’t want to root for, but find myself anyway. He’s wrestling his way much closer to my thoughts, hopes, and dreams than anyone before him ever dared.
There’s more to Matt than I first assumed, but we’re too different for this to work. Aren’t we? Then again, he’s fearless and brave and real. Maybe I’m not so cold after all.
Maybe Matt holds the antidote to my undead heart.
Some girls love flowers. I prefer them dead. Cards and candy? Only if they’re covered in blood and guts. Fake of course. I’m not an animal.
Most women love dates that include romantic candlelit meals, fancy clothes, dessert and wine, followed by a leisurely stroll along the moonlit shore. Blah! How completely boring and stereotypical. I’d rather go have a shootout, of the paintball variety, and grab take-out for a movie marathon at home. The wine part though, that can stay.
I’m not your average thirty-four-year-old single woman. I mean sure, I live alone in my overpriced Chicago apartment because the extra rent means the building’s safer, right? And I have a cat because don’t all mentally healthy people own a pet? At least, that was my intent when I adopted Rick Grimes from the rescue shelter. He came with the name Midnight or Smokey or Mr. Whiskers—some generic crap like that, but my new companion serves a higher purpose. Now, when my co-workers ask me a question like, “What’d you do last night, Mia?” I’m able to answer, “Rick Grimes and I had dinner, watched a movie, and then he snuck into my bed. Such a snuggle bug, that Rick Grimes.”
Except my cat is a total dick. Really ruined my fantasy for pet ownership, and now my answer is more along the lines of, “Oh, you know, the usual. Had dinner, watched a movie, and then I had to scrub off the shit Rick left on my LA Comic Con 2014 sweatshirt. He loves me, but he likes to keep me on my toes. Idiot was at it again with the toilet paper roll after I went to bed! I guess that was my fault for leaving the bathroom door open again.”
Has me half tempted to rename him Negan.
But that’s okay. My asshole cat can’t sway my love for Rick. Or Daryl, or Tallahassee. No, because if you haven’t already guessed, I am hopelessly addicted to everything Walking Dead, Zombieland, and Shaun of the Dead. It’s not only shows and movies, either. My infatuation extends to comics and books. If it contains a dead heart, I’m in.
It’s most definitely my impetus for pursuing a career in video game design. That, and my childhood gaming obsession. My friends think it’s awesome that I do what I’m passionate about for a living, but to my mother I’m a disappointment. She’d rather I settle down with a nice man, and foresees nothing but spinsterhood on my horizon. She’s not exactly wrong. The only difference is that while she sees it as a death sentence, I see it as living the dream. My career, my apartment, my free time spent doing what I want . . . I can’t imagine it gets any better. I don’t have to share my food, or pretend to care about someone else’s day, or shush a guy when my favorite show is on.
Sure, there was a time when I expected more. A companion to share my passion, my love, my life. Maybe I’m just not that girl anymore. Hell, it’s clear there isn’t a man out there for me, not unless I lower my standards and become a woman I don’t recognize or am proud of. But I won’t do that.
You’d think in my line of work the sausage-fest of single, intelligent gamers would manage to provide me a match made in virtual heaven, but let me tell you something. Nerds are assholes, too.
Yeah, I tried opening myself up and that only got me bitten in the ass. So instead, I’ll stay true to myself and enjoy the good life. Sure, I’m a little cold. But it works for me, and anyone who doesn’t like it can move along. Besides, I’ve always despised cuddling.
I shake my head, knocking away the random thoughts spinning through my brain, and focus on the screens that occupy half my cubicle. This project, which some egghead creatively coined Project X, is my current obsession. I don’t even care about the insane hours it’ll take to meet the deadline. It basically combines all of my favorite television shows. Violence and zombies of top notch graphic design, epic storytelling and witty humor, and when we launch this baby in six months, our company’s reputation as one of the top fantasy game producers will be solidified.
“Mia!” Jared leans over the plastic divider that separates our work spaces. His eyes, brighter than the blue dye in his faux hawk, dance with excitement as he drops his voice. “We’re calling out Friday.”
I merely lift my brow. I don’t anticipate flip-my-world-upside-down kind of news coming out of his mouth. Jared’s one to get excited every time Beyoncé drops a new album.
“The Walking Dead!” he whisper shouts.
Now, that grabs my attention. I minimize the windows on my monitors and move to stand so our gazes meet over the partition that divides us. The desk digs into my belly, but I can’t help leaning forward even further at the promise of something Walking Dead.
“They’re holding an exclusive taping for walkers at Navy Pier. We have to go. This is fucking epic, Mia!”
“But how can that be? They wrapped up this season in LA last week? Are you sure this isn’t some joke or pyramid scheme?”
“Mia, this is Walking Dead. They’re not selling vacation rentals.”
“They’re really coming to Chicago for this?”
He pinches his lips together and folds his arms across the Superman logo of his tee. “They’re stopping through on their way to Walker Stalker in Philly. It’s real, Mia. It’s fucking real.”
Jared’s news sinks in, and as much as I hate it, I almost squeal at the prospect of being on my favorite show. “What do we have to do? What’s the plan?”
He claps his hands and bounces on his soles. “Rae’s friend’s boyfriend’s friend owns some bar within walking distance.” He rolls his eyes, because although his sister Rae is cool, we can’t stand any of her bitchy friends. They’re all pretentious fashionistas. “We’ll take the train, meet there, and stand in line for hours. It’ll be like Backstreet Boys all over again.”
Remembering the day we ditched school in tenth grade and waited hours for the chance for one glimpse from our favorite boy band fills me with amusement, and laughter escapes my mouth. We never even saw the backs of their talented heads when the bus arrived at the arena and security rushed the singers inside amidst the throng of screaming teens. But this time will be different. I can feel it. “I could kiss you right now.”
Jared’s face twists with disgust. “Ew. Please don’t.”
“Fuck.” I begin mentally picking out the outfit I’ll wear, along with stage makeup I need to stock up on before Friday, and sigh with delight. “I hope Rick shoves a stake through my skull.”
“I’d like him to shove his gun somewhere a little lower.” Jared’s dreamy smile pulls wider and we both giggle.
Yeah, we both have the hots for a fictional character and the actor who plays him. It’s one of the many reasons we’ve stayed best friends all these years. Similar tastes in eye candy.
“So, which of us gets to break the news to Stanton?” I ask. Jared winces with a shake of his head. Rolling my eyes, I realize he’s going to make me take the hit. “Come on, Jared. This was your idea!”
“I’m planning to have a horribly infectious cough with body aches in about forty-eight hours. I don’t know what your excuse is.”
“We can’t do that. Not with Project X looming over us.” As much as I want to be there for the taping, I can’t sacrifice this game.
“Fine. We’ll be honest.” Jared rolls his eyes. “And probably have to work fourteen-hour days to make up for it.”
“Worth it, Jared. Totally worth it.” I plop back into my seat and spin my chair in a circle before stopping the motion with my feet. Hand back on my mouse, I glance over to my friend.
He blows an exaggerated breath from his pouted lips. “Fine. I better get this over with while he still has coffee in his system.” He makes a show of stomping past the opening of my cubical on the way to our boss, taking extra slow steps in hopes I’ll call him back and offer to take his place. I follow his every movement and barely refrain from rolling my eyes at his theatrics. As he passes the opening to my cubical he steps back, drops his shoulders, and frowns. “I don’t wanna . . .”
“Put on the big girl panties, Jared.”
He eyes our boss’s office door. “But I go commando.”
I’m tired of his whining, and I need to get back to work if we’re really gonna skip out on Friday. “Jared, just pull it off like a Band-Aid!”
He straightens his spine but he can’t resist one final complaint. “Easy for you to say. This is gonna hurt me more than it does you.” He struts away.
“Don’t forget to use lube!” I shout after him, drawing a few chuckles from our co-workers.
He holds his middle finger high in the air without a look back.
“Jared being a little bitch again?” Nick from accounting pops his head over my wall of computer screens. Nick the dick. My daily reminder that all men are jerks, and co-workers aren’t for dating. Or casual hookups. Or drunken escapades after community building days.
I form a thin line with my lips and concentrate my gaze fully on my work before I answer. “Don’t you have a spreadsheet to format? Accounts to balance?”
“Just trying to be friendly.” He huffs, and I don’t need to glance up to know he’s still there. Hanging around. Like a leach. Or a fly that won’t buzz off even though you sealed shut the jelly jar. Months ago.
I let my gaze snap up to glare a beat. “How ’bout you don’t. Now, if you’ll excuse me, they don’t pay me to be cordial.” With that, I’m overcome with inspiration for a new scum of the earth villain for level sixteen, and I let my fingers fly over the keyboard. Giant head, tiny dick, and puss leaking from his eyeballs. I shall call him Nick. I can barely contain my smile as a chuckle tries to escape my mouth.
Oh, the ways I entertain myself.
Nick finally bugs off. Back to his desk, his feet dragging with dejection, and I hear him mutter, “You’d be fired if they did.” Was I rude? Sure. But only because this dumb ass can’t take a hint. Or rather, he lives in a world in which it’s acceptable to hook up with a co-worker, tell everyone about it, and then bring his girlfriend of two years that no one even knew about into the office the next week. Yeah, he’s a dick of the worst variety. And I’m the idiot who fell for his quirky smile, dry wit, and fucking killer retro pinball machine collection.
I’m good with my cold heart for one.