*Book 6 in The Beautiful Series or Standalone*
All Blake Johnson knows is the life of a Marine. After serving his country for eight years, he returns to his family for some rest and rehabilitation. Fighting an internal war, he battles sleepless nights as images of his former military days haunt him.
From the moment Audrey Hampton walks into his life, he is drawn to her. Her beauty leaves him breathless and weak in the knees. She kindles a spark of hope deep within his soul, igniting a part of himself he feared was missing. Her never-ending compassion for others opens his heart in a way he never dreamed.
But Audrey is hiding wounds of her own. Returning to Lake Tahoe to care for her ill mother triggers painful childhood memories of her parents’ loveless marriage, reminding her there is no such thing as true love.
Will Blake’s resolve be powerful enough to open Audrey’s sealed heart? Or will Audrey fear the past and risk losing the man who could give her life a newfound purpose?
Can two wounded souls become one?
I let Blake lead the rest of the distance to the dance floor as I regarded each of my friends wrapped in her man’s arms. Before I could process the way that made me feel, Blake suddenly twirled me under his arm and spun me in a small circle. A smile filled my face as he caught my lower back and pulled me into him, maintaining direct eye contact the whole time.
Blake held my frame with a blend of strength and softness that left my mind reeling. From the very first step, he astounded me. He took control and stepped into me, which forced me to take a backward one. Then, he sidestepped to my left, shifting our weight before moving us again. Each step took a full beat of the lovely music filling the room.
His stride never hesitated or faltered. They were all taken with confidence and consistency. I picked up his rhythm, and my steps were gracefully flowing with him.
He repositioned himself slightly, dropped his right hand to my lower back, stepped outward, and effortlessly guided me into a spin. By the time I returned his hold, his face was alight and focused solely on me.
Determination filled his features. “Have dinner with me tomorrow night, Audrey,” he said softly so that only I could hear, still keeping his steps in rhythm.
My steps hesitated, but Blake caught me, and we continued to move.
“I can’t,” I responded, shaking my head adamantly.
He led me into an unfamiliar step and tipped me back. His hands supported my back as it arched. He slightly bent toward me as the song neared its end.
His unbelievably blue eyes were inquisitive. “Can’t or won’t?”
“Both,” I rasped unevenly, praying for strength to resist this kindhearted man who deserved so much more than what I had to offer him.
He leaned in further, close enough to where I thought he was going to kiss me. My breathing deepened as my body became achingly aware of him. My subconscious begged for him to close that tiny gap between us, so I could know what his lips felt like.
It was his turn to shake his head. “So, you’re telling me that if I kissed you right now…”
He paused as though letting my anticipation heighten or giving me a chance to tell him no. It was a nerve-racking mere seconds as my mind and body went to war. He gracefully slid one hand up to the middle of my back, resting it in between my shoulder blades to support my upper body.
“It wouldn’t feel the same to you as it would to me?” He brushed his lips over my own. “And you wouldn’t kiss me back?”
The connection between us fogged my mind and judgment. I was not sure if what he’d asked was really a question or a challenge, but my lips longed for him, and they won the heady battle, sealing themselves over his.
Bystanders be damned, I kissed him. The first few seconds, he let me explore his mouth tentatively. His full lips were exquisitely soft, curving and molding around mine. Then, as though his resolve broke free, he took over our embrace, controlling it and kissing me ardently, like he needed me to breathe. His hands kept hold of me, supporting my weight, while his mouth captured and tasted, as if he could not stand any space between us, until he and I were gasping for air.
Somewhere along the way, the previous song had ended, and a new one was already in full swing. As Blake righted our position, I noticed that Gail, Abbey, and Lily were all watching us with astonished yet dreamy wide eyes.
“Now, that was a kiss!” Gail whooped out loud with a smirk, throwing her fist in the air.
Alicia Rae is a Contemporary Romance Author who lives in Dekalb, Illinois, with her husband and three beautiful boys. Alicia has a passion for reading all types of romance, writing to bring a story to life, and photography.
Thank you to my dear sister, Kels, who showed me a few years ago how much I truly missed reading. And to my loving husband, for not throwing away my Nook, and planting the seed of writing in my mind. I am forever grateful. Xo
Readers, words cannot thank you enough for supporting me along this incredible journey. I hope you enjoy my novels as much as I do writing them. I thank each and every one of you.
Believe in yourself and follow your dreams...