When I'm with You (Hope Town #3), Page 1Harper Sloan
When I’m With You
Copyright © 2016 by E.S. Harper
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior express, written consent of the author.
This book is intended for mature adults only.
Cover Design : Sommer Stein with Perfect Pear Creative Covers
Cover Photography : Perrywinkle Photography
Editing : Jenny Sims with www.editing4indies.com & Ellie with Lovenbooks.com
Formatting by Champagne Formats
Table of Contents
Contact Information and Other Books
When I’m with You Playlist
Contact Information and Other Books
To Contact Harper:
Email: [email protected]
Other Books by Harper Sloan:
Hope Town Series
This book is not suitable for younger readers. There is strong language and adult situations.
When I’m with You Playlist:
“Hollow” by Tori Kelly
“In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young
“Hold Back the River” by James Bay
“Ride” by SoMo
“Reverse Cowgirl” by T-Pain
“Sleep without You” by Brett Young
“Oh, Tonight” by Josh Abbott Band
“Talking Body” by Tove Lo
“Stitches” by Shawn Mendes
“T-Shirt” by Thomas Rhett
“PILLOWTALK” by Zayn
“Pony” by Ginuwine
“Wasn’t That Drunk” by Josh Abbott Band
“Anywhere” by 112
“SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake
“Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake
“Lollipop” by Framing Henley
“Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake
“History” by One Direction
To follow the When I’m with You playlist:
To Felicia Lynn.
Everyone should have a weird best friend like you in his or her lives.
Well, not you because you are mine and I don’t share.
They should also have the right to refuse cuddles when said best friend breaks the 5.2 second skin contact rule and/or that best friend has proven themselves to be quite handsie when sleeping.
(Spoiler alert : I’m talking about you, Felicia!)
I’m pretty sure no one will ever love me as fiercely as you do or support me as brilliantly as you do. I’ve been one hell of a lucky chick to have you by my side day in and day out.
Plus, no one could spend hours and hours sitting together writing, never speaking a word, and even a writing session feeling as if we had just spent every second of those hours talking about any and every thing.
Best friend. Best writing partner. Best don’t-touch-me sleeping buddy.
I love your weird ass.
Also…Nate Reid is yours.
“I LOVE YOU,” I WHISPER, my voice coming out in a weak wheeze.
Holy crap, I can’t believe I just said that. It has to be the beer. Or as my best friend, Nikki, calls it—liquid courage.
I force my hands to stop twisting the bottom of my sundress and look up at the man before me. Not a boy, no … he is all man.
His green eyes, the ones that always make me think of sunrises and dew-covered grass, are wide with shock. The thick lips I’ve spent way too much time dreaming about are parted in shock.
In all the time I’ve put into thinking about this moment, I never thought that shock would be present. I’ve built this moment up to be perfect in my head. Nothing but innocent dreams and naïve wishes clouded this moment because of course shock is what I should have expected. But no, all I’ve longed to hear when it came to me admitting my feelings for him are much deeper than ‘just friends’ is him repeating those three words right back to me.
Oh, God … what have I done? He doesn’t feel the same. I mean I was so sure … so stupidly sure that he felt the same. That he saw me as more than a friend.
Thick panic fills me, and I know before my mouth even starts moving that I’m about to nervously ramble a string of verbal vomit that I’m powerless to stop. It never fails when I’m uncomfortable; the words come and come until I’m stopped or I slam a hand over my mouth.
Sure enough, the words rush past my dry lips as I silently scream inside my head for the earth to open up and swallow me whole. You know when the voice in your head takes over so loudly that you can’t even hear the crazy nonsense that is coming out of your mouth anymore.
“I mean … I’m in love with you. You know I love you, of course, you’re like one of my best friends, but I’m in love with you. I wasn’t going to say anything; in fact, maybe I shouldn’t have. I didn’t … I mean I don’t want this to mess things up between us. I would probably die if that happened. Well, not die, die … but I would probably feel close to death emotionally. I just wanted you … no, I needed you to know how I feel.” I finally get my mouth to stop moving long enough to take a deep breath. I feel my heart speed up and force myself to continue to hold his gaze. “Please say I didn’t just screw up big time?”
“Em,” he starts before clearing his throat. His voice is thick and deeper than normal. The plangent tones vibrating from his chest wrap around my se
nses, and I shiver. “Ember, where is this coming from?”
I blink. Actually, I’m pretty sure if there were such a thing as slow-motion blinking, I would be doing that right now.
How could I have been so wrong?
“It’s just … I’m making a huge mess of things, aren’t I? God, I’m so stupid.”
I’m not normally a crier. Then again, I’m also not normally a drinker. I’ve had a few mixed drinks with Nikki this past summer, but for some reason, I decided I needed to take up the art of drinking for courage. Of course, with my luck, I would end up being one of those people who get overemotional when drinking. My sister, Maddi, warned me about those annoying girls when she brought the beer over tonight.
My nose prickles with what feels like a thousand needles being pushed through the bridge. I can feel that thick bubble of emotion crawling and scraping up my throat, and I know I’m just seconds away from my eyes tearing up. I take a huge gulp of air, and it rushes out in a wobbled wave of emotion.
His normally carefree expression is nowhere to be seen. His eyes look troubled and his mouth pursed, making his lips look like two thin lines. When he moves from where he had been leaning against the porch railing, my gaze follows him closely as he takes a seat next to me on the swing. He lifts his arm and places it on my shoulders, pulling me into his stronghold. I go willingly, but I stiffen when my body encounters the heat of his.
The hardness of his muscles starts a slow burn in my gut. I couldn’t explain the feeling, but I’ve felt it for the last four months.
It started with a crush from afar. Then my crush turned into a pact with Nikki to try to get him to notice me. It was time. So I did what I needed to do, and for the last few months, he’s been helping me get my stupid calculus grade up.
We’ve always been ‘friends.’ With a makeshift family like we have, it would have been impossible not to be. But I’ve always been the baby of the group and getting the man I’ve crushed on to notice me always seemed impossible. That is until he started coming around twice a week, every week, for the last few months. During that time, our friendship grew stronger, naturally, because we had more time with just the two of us. Well, I guess we were never alone since we could always hear my parents from where we studied in the basement.
Many people don’t take Nate seriously. Mainly due to his carefree, jokester persona, but also because he has never flaunted the fact he’s insanely smart. Which he probably should—maybe then I wouldn’t have had to convince my dad he was the best person to help me get my grades up.
Regardless of how it happened, my crush bloomed like a well-watered flower. During my tutoring, we shared lots of laughter and teasing moments. A few times, I even caught him just looking at me in silence. Little things added up in my head until I was sure this moment was worth the leap.
Clearly, I was mistaken. I thought things would be different, that this would be different, for us. But this something different is nothing like I had dreamed it would be.
“Em,” he says softly, breaking me from my thoughts. “You know I love you, but I don’t love you like that. We’ve known each other forever, and you know I would do anything for you, but I love you as a friend. What you’re saying, suggesting, would change a lot more than our friendship.”
Oh, God. There it is.
“I’m sorry.” I sigh, feeling every second of those mistaken dreams about some big love between us crumble around me.
“There’s no need to be sorry, firecracker.” I close my eyes when he says the nickname he had given me. “We’ve spent a lot of time together lately; it’s normal to get some wires crossed when you’re around someone so often. Maybe when you’re a little older, you’ll understand better.”
My eyes pop open, and I turn sharply. My body jerks, and I’m seconds away from jumping from the bench seat and pacing. His arm falls off my shoulders and hits the back of the swing. “When I’m a little older?”
His brow furrows; clearly, my Jekyll and Hyde move has confused him. I went from sullen to pissed off in two point five seconds. Like a firecracker. He always said my temper would light up and take off like an out of control firecracker, thus the reason for the nickname.
“Uh … yeah?”
“I’m eighteen. I’m not a two-year-old who doesn’t know right from wrong.”
He nods. “I know how old you are, Emberlyn.”
“I’m old enough to know my own feelings, Nathaniel.” He’s never liked being called his full name—but neither have I—something we both are clearly using against each other in the heat of the moment.
“Jesus,” he mumbles.
His eyes leave mine when he stands and starts to pace in front of me on the porch. The music I hadn’t even noticed being so loud before vibrates through the wall of my parents’ house, but thankfully, the large group of my friends and other random kids from our graduating class have stayed inside during this conversation.
I force myself to watch him. His large body moves in choppy agitation and annoyed steps, so different from his normal fluid movements. He’s always moved in a way that looked almost like he floated. His large body always moves with a graceful silence that reminded me of a ballet dancer. Which in turn would cause me to giggle uncontrollably because just thinking of the manly man in front of me in tights is too much to imagine.
“You just turned eighteen, Em. Just. Turned. You might not understand what I’m saying, but dammit, you don’t even understand what you’re saying. It’s a crush. That’s it. All I’m saying is that you’re going to be able to make sense of that better when you’re older. Not to mention, I’m six years older than you are. Six years is a huge deal. Not just to everyone else, but our families would shit themselves. Not to mention, what your dad would do? Do you even have any idea what people would say?”
“I’m not a baby,” I snap, at a loss of what else to say, as I ease back down onto the swing’s seat.
He stops his pacing and turns to face me. One hand pushes through his thick dark hair in frustration. I watch in fascination as his overly long hair moves in a thick wave before falling back into the mess it’s always been since he decided to start growing it out. When he stops, his hand rests at the base of his skull and the end of his hair falls over a few fingers.
Finally, his words reach my lust-filled brain and a new burst of anger fills me. Making me feel even more the fool.
“I’m not a baby!” I repeat on a yell into the still night, my voice shrill, and I cringe at the emotional hit his words cause me.
“I didn’t say you were. You just don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“I assure you, I do.”
He shakes his head, his hand still resting on the back of his neck. I notice briefly that his grip has tightened to the point of his fingertips turning white. When he starts to move forward, closing the distance from where he’s standing and where I’m perched at the edge of the swing’s seat, I jerk back, making the chains holding the swing up rattle loudly. He narrows his eyes and lets out a long breath. Dropping to his knees in front of me, he pulls my hands from their death grip on the wood next to my bare thighs. He doesn’t speak for the longest time, and I foolishly let that flicker of hope light, thinking he must have realized he’s wrong.
“I’m sorry, Em, but I don’t feel that way toward you. I don’t want to hurt you or lose your friendship. You might hate me for it, but we just can’t be what you’re saying. You loving me would do nothing but cause your heart ruin.”
“You’re wrong.” I force the words past that damned lump in my throat.
“I’m not,” he says softly, a sad smile ghosting over his lips, gone just as quickly as it appeared. “We’re friends and always will be. One day, you’ll see that.”
Pulling my hands from his, I instantly miss the warmth of his skin as I stand and move around him. He doesn’t move from his crouched position, nor does he turn to look when I move around him.
“I know what I feel, and you’re going to be the on
e who has some grand understanding one day when you realize what you’re denying. Sure, I might be young, but I’m not a baby and I know what I feel. I also know that you’re using our families as an excuse. Especially my father because he also knows that I’m smart enough to know my own feelings and follow my heart. I thought you were someone different, Nate, I really did. I …” I sigh deeply, the one sound full of so much emotion. “You know what? Just forget I even said anything. We can chalk it up to me having some foolish, childish, drunk admission. After all, I’m just a kid … what do I know?”
It takes every ounce of strength I can muster to turn and walk away from him. Leaving pieces of my heart smashed on the deck at his feet while he just sits there and lets me go. The tiny sliver of my heart that had held on praying he would change his mind and stop me dies and joins the rest of the pieces on the ground.
Unfortunately for me, I’m so lost in my own pity party that I miss it. I walk away without knowing that the second my back was turned, he had silently moved, jumping to his feet. One arm started to reach out to me, only to drop heavily at his side after I moved out of his reach. I was so blinded by my own heart breaking that I missed the visible pain on his face as he felt the same pain with each step I took away from him.
Had I looked back, even stopped for just one second, maybe I would have heard his whisper, but instead, his words just floated away with my dying hope.
“I love you, too, Ember.”
I PRESS MY FOREHEAD AGAINST the wall, ignoring the bite against my fevered skin. My lips dance across the shoulder held captive between the hard surface and my body, as my head spins faster from the amount of alcohol I consumed tonight. With each pass my hands make over the silky smooth skin underneath my fingertips, I trail more wet kisses and bites across her neck. The rasped breath that escapes from the mouth pressed close to my ear only fuels the desire raging through my body.
Fuck. Have I ever been this powerless against the need to take someone?