Take the Fall
Take the Fall # 1
Take the Fall # 1
By: Marquita Valentine
Releasing July 21, 2015
Fans of Abbi Glines and Katy Evans will adore Take the Fall, the first spinoff novel from Marquita Valentine’s New York Times bestselling Boys of the South series. In this emotional new romance, passions run hot as a rugged, brooding Marine rekindles an old flame.
As a teenager, Seth O’Connor went to jail for a crime he had nothing to do with. He took the fall to protect the girl he loved, but the cruel realities of prison hardened him. After doing his time, Seth shuts her out and enlists in the Marines—until his grandmother’s funeral forces him to come home and face Rowan Simmons once again. The woman she’s become puts all his high-school memories to shame, and Seth wants her more than ever. Can he be honest about why he denied her for so long?
After Seth pushed her away, Rowan swore that no man would ever hurt her again. But the boy who broke her heart has become a sexy Marine, capable of fulfilling her every desire—and now that he’s back in town, old feelings are simmering to a boil. Rowan wants to stay strong, even as her body surrenders to his expert touch. She only hopes that by taking him back, she can finally help heal the wounds that drove them apart.
Nothing but death could make Seth O’Connor come home and face the girl he left behind. He had made that completely clear with seven months of ignored letters and care packages I sent him. But that wasn’t what hurt the most—oh, no.
The deepest cut came a year and a half later, when he’d returned to the States from a deployment and arranged for his grandmother to visit him in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at Camp Lejeune instead of coming home to Forrestville. Naively, I had thought that time in the Marines would make him see what he missed; that even though he’d hurt I couldn’t completely cut him out of my life. I don’t think my heart ever stopped racing at news reports of fallen Marines.
But in the end, and once again, none of that mattered. When he got home from yet another mission, he finally came to town, visited his grandmother . . . and left before I knew it, like some kind of asshole ninja.
So, I let him go.
Instead of pining over Seth, I forced myself to go out with a couple of guys, and although I had fun, it wasn’t special. But I’m living my life. I’ve been making a life without him.
Over the years, I convinced myself that I was over him. That I didn’t need him. That this hole in my heart could be filled with other things. It worked.
Liar, liar, a voice whispers in my head, but I ignore it.
A part of me wants to thank Seth for what he did. He reminded me of something I had forgotten, that no matter how much a man said he loved you, in the end, he would abandon you. Just like my dad. Just like my brother.
Although it’s not exactly fair to put Jase in the same category. Prison makes it impossible for my brother to have a normal relationship with anyone.
The only person I’ve ever been able to count on is Miss Myrtle, and now she’s gone, too. But now that Seth’s back, I feel as though time has stopped and rewound. I’m sixteen all over again, and in love with Seth O’Connor while hoping like hell he feels the same way about me.
I sniff, but I refuse to cry—I’m not sixteen anymore or hoping for anything from him. My heart aches like hell and it feels as though someone’s rammed me in the stomach a million times, but I refuse to let the hurt show. I can’t let see me weak, but missing a woman like Miss Myrtle isn’t easy to hide. She was fun, caring, smart, and made her house a home for me.
I lift my eyes, and my gaze collides with Seth’s. The sight of raw pain residing in those dark depths makes me suck in a breath. He’s hurting, just like me. Maybe worse, since he wasn’t here when his grandmother passed.
He’d missed seeing her alive by seven hours. I hadn’t been at the hospital at the time, but from the gossip, Seth had nearly gone insane when he finally arrived. Then he’d left before I returned—just like always.
I allow myself a longer look. This is the first time in years I’ve seen him in person. He’s wearing black head to toe. His hair is cut short and his shoulders are broader than ever. When he left Forrestville, he hadn’t been so tall and wide shouldered. He hadn’t been so . . . manly looking.
His full lips flatten into a thin line, like he’s displeased at me staring at him.
Fat chance I’ll stop now.
Boldly, I let my gaze travel over his sexy face. At this moment, my pride and anger are overshadowing my grief, so I could give a damn what anyone would think about me checking him out at his grandmother’s funeral.
He looks older and harder than in the pictures he’d mailed Miss Myrtle. The man in the picture smiled and sometimes posed with a dog in his lap, all the while wearing a uniform and a gun strapped to his thigh. Other times, he would be playfully serious, with his battle buddy and as he called them in his letters to her. But the man standing across from me looks ready to destroy anyone in his path.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the preacher murmurs as he closes the Bible. He glances up at the mourners, his expression serene. Calm. Just like you’d expect a pastor to be. But I don’t feel serene or calm. I’m a jittery mess inside. “The Gardner family would like to thank you for coming today.” The crowd begins to thin out, whispering condolences to Seth and me as they go.
“Do you want me to stay here with you?” my best friend asks, her hand slipping into mine. Piper Ross, the epitome of proper southern manners and my lifesaver since the day the two men who had mattered most to me were sentenced to jail. Her hand feels like it’s on fire, or, rather, mine feels like ice. Either way, I need the support right now.
“Or I can go to your house and handle visitors so you can have some time for yourself,” she adds.
The thought of dealing with anyone right now makes my stomach roil. “Thanks,” I whisper gratefully as another lump forms in my throat. I’ve known of only one other person as sweet and kind as Piper, and that’s my other best friend, Brooklyn Reeves. She’s Brooklyn Morgan now.
As if she’s reading my mind, Piper continues talking. “Brooklyn would probably do a better job, but you’re stuck with me,” she says seriously. If we weren’t at a funeral, I’d punch her in the arm right now. We’ve been working on her self-esteem issues for years, but her mother has a way of undoing any progress Piper makes with a single withering glare.
Like she’s doing now. Mrs. Ross’s dark eyes narrow and her mouth pinches. Heck, she probably thinks we’re being rude for talking, even though the ceremony is over. Okay, so she probably thinks rude for talking, and I’m corrupting Piper in the process.
Much to Mrs. Ross’s obvious displeasure, Piper and I have been best friends for years, but it’s a weird friendship. She’s quiet. I’m loud. She’s proper while I have no clue if the fork I’m using is the right one.
But I love her to death because she’s never backed down from being friends with me, even after Jase went to jail and everyone else at school looked at me like I was contagious.
I fight the urge to stick my tongue out at the woman, if only because I don’t want to embarrass Piper. And . . . I want to make Miss Myrtle proud. She to teach me to be a lady. It’s the least I can do to act like one at her funeral.
“I’m never stuck with you.” Turning to Piper, I see the tears running down her cheeks. Taking a deep breath, I force myself to be strong. “Besides, pregnant women are moody as all get out. And so are their overprotective husbands who won’t let them fly clear across the country because of their stupid due date.”
Actually, I had been relieved Brooklyn’s doctor had put her on travel restrictions. As much as I love the girl, she isn’t a part of my past. She didn’t know me before everything went down. She only knows the tough woman I’ve become. The same one who’d hired her to help me manage Gardner’s.
Swallowing around that lump in my throat, I manage to say, “Could you go deal with everyone?”
Piper smiles and squeezes my hand. “Take your time.”
I don’t want to take my time. I want everything to fast-forward and be over with already. I want it to be next week. A year from now. Any length of time that would put distance between me and death . . . and Seth.
“Thanks,” I whisper before she walks away. Turning my attention back to the grave, I struggle to maintain my composure. The workers are already at graveside and pulling away the blanket of Astroturf covering the mound of dirt beside it.
The world seems to shrink. The thought of all that dirt falling in on her . . . I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and then open them again, only to find Seth’s gaze on me.
My feet start moving before I can stop them. His eyes widen slightly, and my chin goes up. I can be the bigger person. I can talk to him like it’s no big deal he’s here after being gone for so long. That it’s no big deal he cut me out of his life without a real explanation.
My hands clench into fists, and I stuff them into the pockets of my winter coat before he sees them. “I’m sorry for your loss,” I say, inwardly relieved at how controlled my voice sounds.
“Thanks,” he replies in a gruff voice I’ve never heard before. I want to cry at the sound of it. I want to slap him, too. I want to know why and what the hell’s his problem. Most of all I want his stupid, muscular arms around me while he whispers, .
He starts to leave, but I stop him by stepping slightly in front of him. “How long are you staying?” The question comes out more sharply than I intend.
Seth gives me a look and runs the side of his thumb right under his bottom lip, just like he did when we were together. “I’m not sure.”
I cross my arms over my chest, trying to hold myself together. If I don’t, my heart is liable to fall out and onto his feet, where he can grind it into the ground once more. “What do you mean you’re not sure?”
Marquita Valentine is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Holland Springs and Boys of the South series, having sold more than a quarter of a million books around the world. She’s been called “one of the best new voices in romance” (Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews) and her books have been praised as “sexy, fun, and slightly addicting” (The Book Queen). When she’s not writing sexy heroes who adore their sassy heroines, she enjoys shopping, reading, and spending time with her family and friends. Married to her high-school sweetheart, Marquita Valentine lives in a seriously small town in the south with her husband, two kids, and a dog.