In 2012, thanks to romance author Stacy Gail, I participated in my first WriMo (basically, it’s where an author writes a 50,000 word novel in 30 days). It was called BuNoWriMo (run by The Burrow), and I also made another close author friend, Hart Johnson. It wound up taking me over a month to finish that novel, because it ended up with way more than 50,000 words, but I wrote what I considered to be my best book up to that point (I sometimes feel that way with new books!).
That book was Everything But, Tangled Web 2.
I considered for a while having it traditionally published, but I’d been indie publishing for a year by that point and loved the freedom going indie had given me. The thought of going back to writing query letters and synopses and then sending those off to publishers and agents and then waiting and waiting and waiting for a response before doing it all over again made me realize that I never wanted to do that again.
So I didn’t. Once I’d made up my mind to keep moving forward, I published the book a few weeks later. That book was the first one to gain me a little attention. I actually appeared on several of Amazon’s (at the time) new author rank lists—little ol’ me! That was exciting, and it only fueled the fire for the books that followed.
Anyway, Everything But is bad boy Riley’s story, and I loved it, because he was the guy you loved to hate from Tangled Web. What I love doing as a writer is showing you that sometimes, from a different angle, things might not have been exactly what they seemed. You know the old saying that “there’s your side and there’s my side, and then there’s the truth”? I love playing with perspective as a writer, because I can show that sometimes the bad guy isn’t the bad guy—sometimes he’s just misunderstood.
High school English teacher Erin Lancaster is stuck with the unwelcome job of filling in for the injured cheerleading coach, but she wants to back out when she discovers she has to be auctioned as a date during the annual spring fundraiser. She’s horrified to find her rock star crush Riley Schultz will be playing emcee for the event, but she’s even more shocked when he also happens to be the highest bidder for her affections, and sparks fly when she discovers that maybe their attraction is mutual. Will one week together be enough for them to quell the flames, to enjoy everything but?
Oh! This excerpt is 18+!
Chapter Five from Everything But
SO IT HAD been an asshole move. Riley was good at that kind of shit. But he knew it would get that gorgeous blonde’s attention. Erin Lancaster…that’s what they’d said her name was. He’d decided the only way to really catch her eye would be to drop a wad of cash on her, more than any of her little cheerleader girls had pulled in. If it wouldn’t have seemed decadent, he would’ve bid a thousand on her. As it was, it had worked.
He could see the expression on her face when she first walked up on the stage. That was a good sign. In a million years, he never would have guessed a high school English teacher would show the slightest interest in a guy like him, but he saw something there. She looked almost disappointed that he wasn’t the one auctioning her off.
And that’s when he knew he had a good plan.
Sure as shit, when he bid the five-hundred, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. He could tell she was trying to control herself, but apparently the Riley charm had no limits. High school English teachers, religious grandmothers, and teenage girls—they all loved him. She was shocked until she saw it was him and then her jaw literally fucking dropped. Classic.
He couldn’t help it. The cocky rock star expression he’d seen himself wearing in dozens of magazines slid over his face as he continued walking closer. And, of course, no one overbid him. He’d made sure of that. And even if they had, he would’ve kept bidding till he’d won. Until he’d seen her expression and knew she was interested, he might’ve allowed himself to be overbid, but not now.
And he got lucky. The jocks closed the whole shindig, allowing him to hang close to the stage until she walked toward the edge. When she approached the stairs, he held out his hand. Her knees were almost at his eye level and he was glad her dress barely covered them with its wispy, uneven, flowing hem. She had nice legs.
She smiled and took his hand, allowing him to escort her to the floor. She said, “I suppose I should thank you on behalf of the cheerleading squad. That was a lot of money to spend on this auction.”
He sneered. “Nothin’ but a thing. Happy to help.” He hated letting go of that tiny hand.
She acted uncomfortable, as though her car was sitting in the parking lot, ready to change into a pumpkin. “Do I call you Riley?”
He couldn’t help the grin that crossed his face. It sounded nice coming out of her mouth. “That’s my name.” But he couldn’t help the attitude, could he? “And…it’s Erin, right?”
She nodded. “Yep.” She started inching away from the stage. “So…I’ll see you here tomorrow night, right?”
“I kinda thought maybe I could pick you up. Make it like a real date. Unless, of course, that’s against the rules.”
She laughed then, and Riley could see her letting go of some of the nervousness. “No rules, at least not for grownups.”
He pretended to shudder. “That’s a bad word in my business.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
He cleared his throat. “Can I walk you out to your car and get your phone number, address…?”
She inhaled a deep breath. “Yeah…about that. Actually, I have a small meeting here once the crowd has filtered out. Last minute stuff.” She shook her head, closing her eyes and breathing in once more, as though she had to force out the garbage up there. God, that was cute. When she opened her green eyes, she said, “Oh, but I can give you my info right now if you want it.”
He squinted his left eye, throwing the cocky façade back up, his defense when his confidence waned. “You sure?”
Her cheeks turned a slight shade of pink, so slight he almost missed it. But she rattled off her address and phone number when he whipped out his cell phone. What more could he have asked for? Well, he would’ve liked a kiss on the cheek or a hug, but he supposed that was asking a little too much this early on. After all, she wasn’t one of his screaming, adoring fans…and maybe that was a good thing. So he said goodbye, holding her eye’s attention for a few seconds, and then braced himself for the throng of girls he knew were standing just outside the door. He grabbed the sunglasses from their resting place and slid them on his face, prepared to play rock star again.
* * *
Holy shit. That was all Erin could think as she watched Riley Schultz walk away from her out into the lobby area outside the gym. She’d been holding her hands together in front of her the whole time so they would stop shaking. Yeah, she’d thought he was a good-looking guy but there was no chance anything would come of it.
Hell, she couldn’t let anything come of it. She’d been in far too many damaging relationships over the last three years, and she knew a rock star—especially a cocksure guy like Riley Schultz—would probably make those heartaches a walk in the park.
But. How many women would be able to talk about going on a real date with a rock star? No one she knew, at any rate. For years from now, she was sure, kids would want to take her classes so they could meet the teacher who’d won money for the school by dating a heavy metal frontman.
No, now she knew she was just playing around in fantasyland. She managed to make it through the impromptu meeting afterward with Ron and the football coach, where they discussed last-minute details about the dinner. Gill gave Erin the final total—well over two-thousand earned. She was glad because she’d forgotten that they still had to pay for the actual food. Even though a local restaurant gave them a discount because it was for a good cause, the squad still had to pay for actual cost. And it was also tradition that a group of football players were the waiters, and for that gesture, the cheerleading squad had always given the football team a chunk of their earnings. She thought Ron had said they usually gave the team ten percent, but her brain was not fully functioning. She’d have to deal with the money stuff on Monday, when she could actually talk with the principal. For now, though, she felt overloaded and just wanted a warm bubble bath…and time to plan what the hell she should wear tomorrow night.
Ron told her he would shut off the lights and the football coach promised they’d be ready for everyone by seven the following night. Erin had never been to one of these auction dinners, so she had no idea what to expect. She only knew they wouldn’t be serving wine…and that was a damn shame.
So she started walking out of the gym. Oh, shit. Riley was still there, three or four girls around him. He was over to the side so she could maybe pretend she didn’t see him. That might seem bitchy, but she didn’t trust herself to not become like those teenage girls were…salivating, giggling airheads. So what the hell should she do? She also didn’t want to seem pathetic by forcing his attention away from his little fan club either.
So, pathetic or not, she fished her cell phone from out of her purse and decided to check for messages as she walked out. She wouldn’t actually text anyone unless she did have a message, but she thought it might be enough to get her through the lobby and out the doors without the dilemma of do-I-or-don’t-I make eye contact?
She was halfway through the lobby and fully done checking her zero messages when she heard Riley tell the girls, “Nice chatting with you, but if you’ll excuse me…” And that’s when Erin knew he was heading her way.
That made her nervous all over again. But at least her ploy had kept the moment from being awkward. She felt his presence beside her and she looked up, throwing the phone back in her purse. “Long time, no see.”
“Can I walk you to your car?”
She couldn’t help the smile that crossed her face. “If you really want to.”
Riley dropped his voice as he pushed the door open for her. “Yeah, I do, but I also need an excuse to get away, if you catch my drift.”
She nodded. Well, that didn’t do much for her ego, but she couldn’t fault him for honesty. “So…do you ever get used to that?”
“What? The girls?”
“Well, yeah, but also the attention.”
“Yes and no.” She started walking down the stairs in front of the school and he followed suit. “I mean…at first, it was cool. Crowds of people surrounding us, and, yeah, mostly girls. And I got more of the attention than the other guys, because I was the face for the band, if you know what I mean. But after a while, you realize you have no privacy anymore, and people don’t respect your need for it. They figure you’re famous; you deserve the attention you get. And sometimes I’m cool with that. It comes with the territory. But a lot of times it’s unwanted. Sorry, but if I’m buying my niece an ice cream cone, I don’t want someone with a camera snapping pictures of it, and I sure as hell don’t want a bunch of girls screaming and pawing at me when I need to keep my eye on a four-year-old child who’s trusting me to take care of her.”
Erin nodded. “Understandable.”
They continued walking across the parking lot. It was dark out, but there were plenty of lights in the parking lot to guide their way. It was a little cool out but not too chilly, and Erin knew hot days were just around the corner. This time of year it was pleasant, reminding her of one of the reasons she’d wanted to remain in Colorado. Cool, crisp air in the spring and fall, surrounded by the extreme weather that made her appreciate the in-between seasons even more. “But, hell. You didn’t want to hear me whine about how my life sucks.”
Erin laughed. “I asked.”
Riley’s head moved up and down slowly. “True. You did. But what about you, Ms. Erin Lancaster? What’s your life like?”
She shook her head, glancing his way but afraid to get sucked in by those piercing brown eyes. She looked back in front of her. She saw her tame car just across the way, because there weren’t many cars left in the lot. Her car was a small white sedan, very teacherly, and the only reason she’d ever bought it was because it was conservative. She needed a reliable car and she didn’t need to blow money on something just because it was pretty or sporty, even if she wanted to deep down. “Oh, probably pretty much what you think it is. I teach a bunch of high school kids throughout the year and usually find a part-time job during the summers to keep myself busy. I also do a little academic writing during my breaks, writing literary analysis for journals…just for the fun of it. But…uh…I do a little camping and go to concerts during the summer, and—”
“I thought so.”
“You acted like you recognized me.” They reached her car and stood beside it.
“You could tell?” She felt her face grow warm.
“Well…it was a guess. A good one, apparently.” She felt her lips twitch into a smile but she was afraid to say much more. Riley cleared his throat and she allowed herself to drown in his gaze. Oh, shit. That was dangerous, because now being the only thing in his eyesight made her feel captive. Her heartbeat kicked up a notch and she felt her mouth start to water. And the seconds dragged on and she started to feel more nervous. Part of her just wanted to kiss him, famous rock star or not. She’d seen his picture a thousand times, but it couldn’t do justice to the real Riley Schultz. He was magnetic and…hot. She felt her extremities begin to tingle as her brain tried to figure out something to say. She found that her back was almost pressed up against her car door and she saw him lean slightly forward. His eyes had taken on a dreamy, sleepy look and she thought he really was going to take her in a passionate embrace. She knew then that she wouldn’t have protested. But he said, his voice low, “So what am I supposed to wear to this thing tomorrow night?”
She swallowed, regaining her composure. “You know, I’m really not sure. I’ve never done this before. I’m just filling in for the real cheerleading coach, and so I’ve never been to one of these.” She took a deep breath. “If I had to guess, it’d be like a real date.”
He nodded and he looked pure rock star again, cocky and oh-so-self-sure. “So…like this?” He waved his hand in a semi-circular motion, indicating himself from head to toe.
Erin took the invitation and looked him over from top to bottom…not that she hadn’t done that already, but how could she resist? And where the hell had this boldness come from? But she did it just the same…took in his reddish-brown mussed-up hair and…fuck…he had a few cute little freckles on his cheeks that she’d never noticed from media pictures or CD covers. And his facial hair was gone, all but the sexy soul patch just underneath his lip that she’d love to feel brushing her chin. He had a noticeable Adam’s apple that was right about eye level and, sure enough, he was wearing his dog tags. She’d have to get a closer look at those tomorrow if he’d let her. She made a note to herself that it could be a conversation piece when they had a lull. He was wearing a plain black t-shirt but up close she could see the definition underneath…not that it mattered. She knew exactly what his torso looked like, having seen pictures of him shirtless at concerts, sweaty and… She gulped. She was getting distracted again. She forced her eyes to continue down farther. Faded Levi’s, not too snug but not baggy. Black sneakers. She couldn’t tell if they were Converse or something else, but she knew she’d better drag her eyes back up pretty quickly.
When she met his eyes again, his lips spread into a grin. Shit. He knew what she was thinking. He had to. But maybe she could play it off. “Well, uh…where you come from, that might be acceptable date attire, and, I suppose, the teens wouldn’t mind, but I’d guess you might want to be a little more conservative. Maybe a button-down shirt at least?”
He nodded. “Got it.” He moved his head forward a little again, and she felt her breath catch in her throat. She began to doubt she’d ever be able to breathe normally again. But he stopped, his lips close enough, his breath warm on her cheek, his arm braced on her car, and said, “What are you planning to wear on our date, Ms. Erin?”
She swallowed again, well aware of the powerful effect he was having on her. She didn’t know if it was just part of his personality or if it was because he was the big, bad rock star. It didn’t matter really. He was having that effect and analyzing why wouldn’t change it. “Uh…I’m not sure yet. Like I said, this was kind of a last-minute thing for me.”
“Well, yeah, I have to wear a dress.”
His lips turned up into a half-grin. “You don’t have to, Erin. That’s a societal expectation, and you forget…my job’s all about rebelling against expectations. You wanna wear a bikini tomorrow night, I wouldn’t object.”
She wasn’t quite sure how to take his statement, but she was pretty sure he was fucking with her, just like he had all the young women onstage tonight. Maybe he thought he was so clever, she’d never notice. Needless to say, the smoldering feelings she’d had just moments earlier iced up. “I’m sure you wouldn’t, Mr. Schultz, but I can assure you I’ll wear something date appropriate.”
He raised his eyebrows, a look of amusement causing a twinkle in his eye. “Mister? Fuck…that’s the second time I’ve been called that tonight. What the hell?”
Erin turned in the tight space between Riley and her car, but as she moved back to open the car door, she backed into Riley. “Apparently, I and others are trying to show you the respect we expect in return.” She turned her head slightly to the right to catch his eye.
His left arm wrapped around her waist and held her up against his body. She could feel his strength and it made her feel instantly weak. The coldness she’d felt? Gone in a second, replaced by furious desire. But she couldn’t let it show. She refused to play the helpless victim in his cat-and-mouse game. Still…he was proving to be irresistible. “Oh, I respect you.” She felt his breath on her neck and then he said in her ear, “I just think maybe we could have a little fun together too.”
She felt her nipples tighten and was relieved he wouldn’t be able to see it. He couldn’t know the effect he was having on her. She cleared her throat and prayed she sounded stronger than she felt. “If your idea of fun is seeing me in a bikini at something like this, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed.” She pulled away, relieved he released her, and sat in her car seat. She took a deep breath. “There’s a Hooters in Colorado Springs if that’s more your cup of tea. Otherwise, see you tomorrow.”
He smiled and shook his head. “It was just a joke, you know.”
She arched her eyebrows and reached for the door handle. Before pulling it closed, she said, “I wasn’t joking.” She forced herself to start her car and not look back at the mysterious Riley Schultz before driving out of the parking lot.