First Chapter: The Exception

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If you are looking for a book with a strong, alpha male…..then The Exception and Cane Alexander are what you are looking for!

Have you met Cane and Jada yet? No? You must!

Chapter One – JADA

Steam billowed from the cup of coffee in front me, rising quickly before disappearing into the surrounding air. A part of me wished I could vanish with it.

Another nightmare had rocked me the night before. I had woken up in a cold sweat, scouring the room for a set of wild eyes and testing the air for the stench of whiskey. I could have sworn I heard him yelling at me like he used to.

“What in the hell do you think you’re doing? I have to bust ass and work late and I get home to this? To you lying in bed with another book, no worries in the world? You are damn lucky I put up with you.”

Bile churned in my stomach, the sound of Decker’s voice fresh in my mind. My eyes forced closed, trying to block the memories accosting me left and right. 

“You’ll be back.” 

I shivered. Those were the last words he said before I left Boston. 

He was wrong. I wouldn’t be back—not to Massachusetts and not to him. Too many years had been spent at his mercy. Years of worry, heartbreak, and agony were finally behind me.

I opened my eyes, feeling relieved to be sitting in my sister’s kitchen and 2,000 miles from my ex-husband. Kari had decorated her little house in the Phoenix suburbs a lot like our house growing up. It was cozy and warm, with a neutral palette accented with pops of turquoise and coral. Our mother would have loved it and it made me feel at home. 

The uncertainty I had lived with for so long had begun to lift in the few days I had been back in Arizona. The drive to Tempe had given me ample time to mull everything over from a safe vantage point; there wasn’t anything else to do in a car for three days but think.

I had given Decker everything I had for so long. It was time I started to focus on me. I needed to start fresh and charge into the future with a clean slate and clear head.

As I lifted the cup of coffee to my lips, I ignored the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

These things take time. Fake it ‘til you make it.

“Jada, stop this.” Kari made her way into the kitchen, tossing her light brown hair out of her eyes, bringing me out of my daze. Although a few years younger than me, Kari could have been my twin. The only real difference between us was our hair—mine was naturally much darker.  “Just watching you sit there like that makes me want to smack you.” 

“Stop what?” I smiled and feigned innocence. Kari’s question was completely rhetorical—we both knew exactly what she was talking about. 

I sighed, gazing at the bougainvillea growing outside the window. Its purple flowers were a bit of happiness in an otherwise drab desert landscape. 

That’s what I need—a pop of color in my life.

“We need to get you out of this funk, do something to shake you up.” Kari bit her lip before her green eyes lit up. “Maybe we need to go to Vegas again!” 

“Now that was a good time! Do you remember when Lara tried to climb into the fountain at the hotel? And the hot security guard had to basically restrain her?” 

“Well, I volunteered for him to restrain me! I would totally have taken that one for the team!” 

“You know, I’m pretty sure he may have taken you up on the offer, had you not vomited into the bushes right after propositioning him! You completely ruined the moment,” I recalled, throwing us into a fit of giggles.  

I wiped away the tears with the back of my hands. It had been a long time since I had felt comfortable enough to let my guard slip. Decker had kept me on alert; I was always waiting for the next argument, the next battle. I had almost given up hope of a happily-ever-after. 

Sitting with Kari, laughing at memories I hadn’t thought about in years, made me feel like I could breathe again. I felt lighter, less suffocated. Hope for a better future started to seep slowly through the crevices, exciting me but scaring me at the same time.

“See? There’s the sister I used to know!” Kari tossed a turquoise towel at me. 

“I’m trying to get there. It still hurts.”

“It only hurts because you lost a fantasy. Let’s be real for two seconds—he was never the man you thought he was.”

Her words, full of truth, pierced my heart. I braced myself for the onslaught I knew was coming. “Obviously, I know that now. But he was my husband and—”

“And if you had listened to me,” Kari began, narrowing her eyes, “I would have saved you from that mistake! I told you. Dad told you. The signs were all there.”

If she only knew the half of what I went through, she would really be lighting me up!

“I know. But don’t go there again. Not now, please.” I closed my eyes, trying to keep my emotions in control. “I thought I would be married once, you know? I did everything to make it work and look at me now! Do you think this is where I want to be?” I leaned forward, my elbows resting on the table. “I have nothing, Kari. I’m a lonely, unemployed, homeless girl living with her sister. It’s pathetic. I’m well aware. There’s no need to rehash it.”

Kari rolled her eyes. “Could you be a little more dramatic? The lonely thing is a temporary setback; you just need to meet the right guy.  You will be officially employed as soon as you get your ass to the office, so stop the whining about that. But mi casa es su casa for as long as you need.”

“I know it’s time to move on,” I sighed, feeling my shoulders dip. I wanted to move forward with the new phase of my life, but it was a little nerve wracking. I took a deep breath, remembering my mantra. Fake it ‘til you make it. “I’m going to start work tomorrow. There’s no need to wait until Monday to go in. I’ll give Dad a call and let him know I’ll be there bright and early.”

“Maybe some hottie will walk in the door and sweep you off your feet!”

“Yeah, that’s so likely.” 

“Don’t rule things out! I meet guys in the strangest places. Remember the guy from Texas I met buying a gas can? Stranger things have happened!”  

 “Only you would meet a guy like that,” I laughed. “But in all honesty, I get really nervous just thinking about meeting someone. I don’t want to be alone forever, but I’m going to be really picky this time—like crazy picky. I want to find someone that wants me and only me. I want to be someone’s priority.”

“It will happen,” Kari nodded enthusiastically, the optimist in her blazing to the surface. “Everyone has a Prince Charming out there! I just hope yours has a sexy brother!”

I grinned. “Exactly! I need to go for the Prince Charming’s of the world. No more bad boys for me.”

“But they’re so fun!” Kari laughed before catching herself and pointing a manicured finger at me. “No, I get it. You are right. Some people, namely you, aren’t capable of just having sex. You have to go fall in love, so it would behoove you to play things carefully.”

“Behoove me?” 

“Hush.” 

The sound of the doorbell rang loudly through the house. Kari jumped in her chair, her eyes widening for a split second.

My eyebrows furrowed as I cast a curious look in her direction.  “Are you expecting someone?” 

“No, not really.” Kari stood up and cleared her throat. “It’s probably just Max.”

“Max?” 

She turned towards the door with a coy smile on her lips.  “Yeah, Max. Just a guy I’ve been seeing for a little while.” 

“Seeing him? Want to go into detail because I’m getting the impression you’re downplaying something.”

“I’m seeing him in the loosest sense possible.”  Kari laughed over her shoulder as she made her way towards the front of the house.

The door opened and closed. A deep male voice drifted into the kitchen, whetting my curiosity.

Kari had been a loner since getting her heart broken by a surfer from Australia. Since then, she refused to even consider settling down with one man. She operated on the premise of keeping men as close as necessary for maximum sexual pleasure—until said pleasure ran its course. Then she simply found another eager participant and it didn’t take long for a replacement to show up.

The fact that Max was dropping by and Kari was fine with that spoke volumes. I was a little shocked.

The voices coming down the hallway grew louder and I ran my fingers through my hair, hoping that I didn’t look as much of a mess as I felt. I patted beneath my eyes, feeling the puffiness beneath my dark green orbs from a lack of sleep. 

I took a sip of my coffee as Kari appeared in the doorway, a man next to her that I presumed to Max. He was tall, towering over Kari. I guessed him to be well over six feet. He had a chiseled face, golden tan, and jet-black hair. His eyes were a bright green and they held my gaze. 

He quirked a brow, seemingly surprised to see Kari have company.

That makes two of us.

“Jada,” Kari started, her voice shaking ever-so-slightly, “this is Max. Max, this is my sister Jada.”

I smiled hesitantly at the man looming large in the doorway. “Hi, Max. It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too.” His voice was deep and smooth, with just a touch of a southern drawl. It was the type of voice that made women swoon. 

“Do you want a drink?” Kari motioned for Max to take a seat at the table.  

“No, thanks. I didn’t realize your sister was here already. I can always come back.” 

Kari walked around the table, pulled out her chair, and took her seat. “You aren’t interrupting anything. We were just reminiscing a little.”

Max placed his large hands on the back of the wooden chair across from me. He watched my sister intently, his features softening as she fiddled with her cross necklace.  His tall, dark, and mysterious appearance would generally have me on edge; he was quite imposing. But there was just something about him that put me at ease. It was a complete paradox. 

“If y’all are sure. I know you haven’t seen each other in a while.” He looked at Kari and pulled a chair out as she nodded. He sat down and looked at me, tilting his head to the side with a small smile on his handsome face. “It’s nice to finally meet Kari’s sister.” 

“It’s nice to finally meet Kari’s boyfriend.” I pointedly ignored the look Kari gave me and continued watching Max’s reaction. 

He seemed entertained by my synopsis of their relationship. “Oh, I am not Kari’s boyfriend.” He glanced at my sister who was giving me a death stare, his grin growing wider. “Isn’t that right?”

Kari kept her eyes on me, refusing to look at Max. 

“Oh, okay. So you are just friends then. Got it,” I said.

“Nah, I wouldn’t say we were just friends either. That would imply she liked me.” He strummed his fingertips against the table, a smile creeping slowly across his face. “We fuck.” 

“Max!” Kari shrieked, her jaw dropping in disbelief. “Seriously?”

Max chuckled and shook his head, amused by her reaction. “Did I misrepresent something, sweetheart?”

“Well, no, but …” Kari looked between the two of us, her face reddening by the second.

“My point. You just want me around to deliver the goods. We may as well call it like it is, right?”

“Okay,” I said with a small laugh. “I think that was more than I needed to know.”

Max and Kari exchanged a smile as they seemed to come to some sort of nonverbal agreement; I felt like I was intruding on a conversation I couldn’t hear. 

“Now that you know about me, I think you should tell me something about you.” Max turned in his chair to face me.

“I have nothing that shocking to share,” I promised, trying to think of a way to change the direction of the conversation. I knew nothing about him. I didn’t know he even existed until five minutes before. I was at a complete disadvantage.

“I didn’t say it had to be shocking,” Max said.

We were interrupted by my cell phone buzzing. I snatched it up quickly, breathing a sigh of relief—until I looked at the screen. My heart tumbled to the floor in a spectacular fashion, its beat increasing rapidly. 

Decker’s number was flashing across the front, sending a jolt of anxiety through me with each pulse. 

I didn’t want to talk to him. That was the last thing I wanted. But if Decker was in a mood or had been drinking, there was a good chance he would call over and over until I answered or he fell asleep. If I turned it off, Kari would know something was up. I really had no choice, given the situation.

“I need to take this,” I said, standing up. “It was nice to meet you, Max.”

“Who is that?” Kari’s face twisted in suspicion.  

I shook my head dismissively. “It’s no one, just a friend from Chicago. You remember Heather? She has my résumé and was planning on sending it around up there. I was expecting her to call.” I pushed in my chair and headed for the door.

She nodded, but I knew she was not buying what I was selling.

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