Breathless With Her
Book 1 in the Less Than Series
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan comes a sexy new contemporary series.
Devin Carr likes his life. He likes his job, his family, the outlook for his future. Then he meets her. Erin. As soon as he sees her, drunk and wearing a sequined dress as her world crashes down around her and she fights to put on a brave face, he knows what he’s been missing. Her.
When Erin Taborn finds her high school sweetheart and husband banging the former head cheerleader of their graduating class at their high school reunion, she tells herself she’ll be fine. She just needs to figure out what fine means. There’s only one problem. Devin. She didn’t plan on him. And for someone who thinks they have all their plans in place, that’s a problem.
One she’ll have to find an answer to if this whole friends-with-benefits thing is going to work.
If not, she’ll fail just like with everything else.
**There is a bonus epilogue exclusively in the audio and ebook editions!**
Breathless With Her
“Oh my God! You don’t look a day older than you did on graduation day!”
“Did you see her dress? Can you say ‘birthing hips?’”
“Do you remember the time that David and Jannie got busted under the bleachers right after the pep rally? No wonder the two have like twelve kids now.”
“Did you see her nose? Total nose job, right?”
“Why isn’t Becca here? She probably thinks she’s better than us.”
“I have no idea who that woman is. Is she a spouse, or did she go with us? Why don’t I remember her?”
I shook my head, holding back a smile as I stood near the punch bowl and listened to the comings and goings of people I’d gone to high school with for four years, many I’d known in middle school, and elementary before that. Time had moved on, lives had changed, and yet…it was still like walking through the hallway between classes.
A woman in a sparkly red dress waved at me, and I gestured back, but then her gaze drifted to the side. I winced. Apparently, she didn’t remember me.
Yay for ten-year high school reunions.
Why was I here again?
Oh, yeah, because my husband wanted to be here. This was Nicholas’s reunion too, so…here we were. In our best prom attire from the eighties or nineties since, apparently, there had to be a theme.
It didn’t seem to matter that we’d graduated high school in 2009. Whatever. I just went along with it, though I kind of liked my red sequined dress with the slit up one thigh. It made my breasts look like they did in my early twenties.
Some people avoided their high school reunions. Some did their best to never think of them. Others tried to remember the good old days while promising themselves they would lose those ten pounds, all while writing down lists of their accomplishments so they could show the world—aka their old, so-called friends—how much happier they were, even if that wasn’t the case.
As for me?
I hadn’t put much thought into it.
No, that probably wasn’t the best answer, but then again, I wasn’t sure many people remembered me from high school anyway. I had been a straight-A student, but I hadn’t spoken up in class too often. Jessica and Jackie spoke up the most. The J-Twins, as we called them, who had dated Robbie and Reese, the R-Twins.
I kid you not.
The two sets of siblings were now married and currently holding court on the dance floor.
“So, are their kids cousins? Siblings?” Jenny said from my side, and I laughed, looking over at one of the few people I still spoke to from high school.
I shook my head and hugged her tightly. “It’s so good to see you! And their kids are cousins, but…genetically? I don’t know if I want to do a Venn diagram.”
“I’ve always wondered if they accidentally swapped over the years.” Jenny sipped her punch, and I laughed even harder.
“We are not going to ask those questions, Jenny D.”
My old friend just rolled her eyes. “Someone needs to. And I’m Jenny S. now, thank you very much. I married Tony eight years ago.”
I grinned. “God, has it been that long?”
“Yup. You and Nicholas have been married for what? Six years now?”
I nodded, images of the time flying through my mind. “Insane, right? And here we are again, in sequins and cummerbunds.”
We clinked plastic glasses, and Jenny grinned. “I’ve never worn sequins in my life—before tonight.”
“Me either. The cheerleading and dance teams did, though. But you do look fancy,” I said, smiling.
“Aww, thanks, babe. I try. I don’t get out much these days with the four kids and church and all of the various things kids and school bring. But Tony likes to try and take me out on a date at least once a month.”
“I cannot believe you have four kids.” I shook my head.
“I thought you wanted kids. I’m surprised you don’t have any.” Jenny’s eyes widened, and she set down her glass. “Oh, my God. I’m sorry. That was the worst thing I could have said.”
I shook my head, setting down my own glass so I could hold her hand. “It’s fine. We decided to wait until my business was up and running, and when we were at a place where it felt right.”
“Still. What if you were trying and couldn’t or something? I was crass and a bitch. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. Not with me.” And I knew Jenny wouldn’t make the mistake again with anyone else. Talking about the lack of children wasn’t easy, and while I didn’t have any for my own reasons, everyone was different.
“Jenny!” Tony called out from the dance floor. “Come dance, baby.” He shook his hips, and Jenny blushed.
“I’ve been beckoned. It was good to see you, Erin. We should catch up again. I hate that we live in the same state and never see each other.”
I hugged her tightly again, closing my eyes. “We’ll make it happen. Promise. Now, go show off your moves.”
“I’ve got the moves for sure.” She winked and headed off to her husband. I kept smiling. It was good to see that people were happy now, some probably more so than they had been in school. I was, that was for sure. I loved my job, my husband, and my life. I was happy. Speaking of my husband, I should probably go find him. I hadn’t seen him in a bit. He’d said he was going to talk with some guys he hadn’t seen in years.
I waved at someone who recognized me and then headed out of the gym towards another part of the building where some other people were congregated. I passed the trophy case and touched the tips of my fingers to the glass, doing my best not to leave any smudges. There were a few football, basketball, and volleyball trophies inside.
As well as the largest cheerleading trophy in the history of the world. Becca and her girls had won state three years in a row and made sure the rest of the school knew it. They’d worked their asses off, and I’d always been proud of them—even Becca, who openly despised me for dating Nicholas.
I didn’t hate her back, but we hadn’t been friends either. Teenagers. I sighed.
I looked closer at the trophy case. I’d been on the swim team, but I’d been firmly on the B-relay. Nicholas had been on the A-relay, but that was only because we hadn’t had enough seniors to actually have a B-relay that wasn’t just freshman who couldn’t attend state.
I’d had friends, but they’d had other sets of friends who were each part of cliques of their own. I’d had a place to sit at lunch—right next to Nicholas—but we hadn’t been the so-called cool table. We weren’t jocks, or the drama club, or any other label that had been prominent in the day.
I’d just been…there.
I’d graduated and gone off to college with Nicholas, my equally average but decent boyfriend. Time had moved on. I’d finished university with him, and we ended up married. We loved each other, dealt with each other like any other couple who had been together since the age of fourteen. Maybe even ten if you counted when we actually met. But all in all, I was happy.
I just needed to find where Nicholas had gone off to so I could enjoy myself a bit more at this event.
“Hey, Erin! Did your sister come with you?” a voice asked from behind me. I turned on my heel, frowning. I narrowed my eyes, trying to remember who the familiar voice and face belonged to before I smiled.
“Hi, Shawnie. No, she didn’t come. Jennifer was a few years ahead of us, remember? I brought my husband, though.”
Shawnie came over and gave me a big hug. I winced at how tight it was. Shawnie had been a big guy back in high school—wide yet completely built considering his position on the football field. He was even bigger now, yet still totally in shape. Back in the day, he had been part of the team that had gone to the state championship, which was a pretty big deal, since I was pretty sure our high school hadn’t done it since. I hugged him back hard and then pulled away to study his face.
Shawnie had aged quite nicely. He didn’t look like he’d aged the full ten years at all. His dark skin was clear of lines except for two tiny ones at the corners of his eyes—the man just loved to smile. He always had, and it made me happy that he was still smiling as hard as he was today. That meant that maybe things had been good for him. He deserved it.
“You’re looking good, Erin,” Shawnie said.
“Thank you for that.”
“I’m just sorry your sister isn’t here,” he said, waggling his brows. I snorted, shaking my head.
“You always had such a crush on her.”
“Of course, I did. Your sister was hot.”
“Thank you for making sure I feel like chopped liver,” I said, shaking my head.
Shawnie put his hands over his heart and took a staggering step back. “How dare you think that I don’t find you attractive, as well. But you were always so attached to Nicky, no one else stood a chance with you.” I could tell he’d held back a sneer at the name Nicky.
“You know he hates the name Nicky,” I said, cringing.
“I think that’s pretty much why we all called him that. He was such a douche about it.”
“Well, that douche is now my husband,” I said, grinning this time.
Shawnie had the grace to look a little embarrassed, but he just shook his head, another smile spreading across his lips. “Oops.”
“Yeah, oops. But he’s still my Nicholas. I’m actually looking for him. Have you seen him around?”
“No, or I probably wouldn’t have called him a douche right to your face. Sorry about that, hon.”
“No worries.” Nicholas had been called that before, but he was still a sweet man. I was sure I’d been called worse over the years myself. Probably. “So, what have you been up to?”
“Oh, the usual. Played ball in college, though I didn’t enter the draft like some people thought I would.” He shrugged, and I frowned.
“I wondered about that. I didn’t really follow everybody from high school. Too hard to do with the size of our class, but I did wonder.”
“Never really my thing. Oh, football was always my thing. But I was good. I wasn’t great.”
“That’s not what I remember.” I was pretty sure someone had mentioned that Shawnie’s running yards were still the record here.
“Well, I also wanted school to get my degree, start my own business. Then I met Tomi, and we had our three babies. I’d rather have that than just do okay in professional sports for a couple of years before my knees gave out.”
“You’re married? And you have babies?” I smiled widely. He sounded so proud of those babies and his wife. And when he talked ball, it was more like he was done with it rather than like he missed it. That was good. Holding onto the past wasn’t always the best thing.
“Tomi was the love of my life. Lost her two years back to cancer. But I have my baby girls, all three of them. And they are ridiculously cute. Here, I have photos.”
Shawnie didn’t give me time to offer condolences or even think about what to say in response to him losing his wife at such a young age. Even though he had been teasing about thinking my sister was hot, he was hurting, and I’d missed it. I didn’t know what to say, but I squeezed his arm, trying to give any form of comfort I could.
I didn’t know what I would do if I lost Nicholas and, honestly, I didn’t want to think about it.
Instead, I looked down at the three sweet faces grinning up from the photo and just smiled wide in turn. “Those are some adorable babies, Shawnie.”
“That’s all Tomi.”
“Hey, you’re not too ugly,” I teased. He threw back his head and laughed. “I’m sorry, Shawnie.” I whispered the words, and he just smiled at me, sadness in his gaze. But there was strength there, too.
“Thanks for that. Wish she was here so I could show her off to everybody. But life doesn’t always work the way you want it to. Anyway, I should get back, it was good to see you, Erin.”
“It was good to see you, too, Shawnie.”
“And if I see Nicky, I’ll send him your way.” He winked, and I pushed at his shoulder, waving him away as I turned to go look for my husband. I hadn’t seen him for at least thirty minutes, and it was starting to worry me. We weren’t always attached at the hip, but this was getting a little ridiculous. I pulled out my phone and texted him again, but there was no response. I called, no answer.
“Well, then,” I whispered.
I kept walking down the hallway and spotted the bathroom, figuring I might as well do my business while I was waiting and searching for my damn spouse.
As soon as I put my hand on the door, I heard something. I didn’t know what it was, but it felt off. I shrugged and pushed at the door and then froze at what I saw.
No, this wasn’t a dream. This wasn’t the end of a world, just the end of my world. This wasn’t a horror show, it was just pure horror.
I wasn’t standing in gray-scale, trying to keep my feet on the ground as if I were flying. This wasn’t a dream.
This was real life. There was no going back from this point, no going anywhere except to watch exactly what was right in front of me.
Nicholas—Nicky—my husband, the man who had been in my life since we were ten. The one who had been part of my love life, my only love life, for so long. He had his pants around his ankles, his hands around the thighs of Becca, the head cheerleader, as he slid in and out of her. He grunted and panted, something he had never done with me. At least, not in years. He was always sweet with me, always gentle as if I were porcelain and he didn’t want to bruise me.
He was definitely going to leave bruises on Becca’s thighs.
He pushed in and out of her, his butt flexing as he grunted, and then lowered his head so he could sniff the white powder off Becca’s exposed breasts.
My husband, the love and light of my life, was snorting coke off the boobs of the head cheerleader from our high school while pounding his cock inside of her.
What fresh hell was this?
I must have made a sound. I didn’t know what it was, probably a gasp, maybe I had said all of that out loud. Regardless, the two of them turned to me at once. Nicky’s eyes went wide, and Becca grinned like a cat that got the cream. Or the canary. Or maybe some other metaphor that actually had to do with sex that I really didn’t want to think about or try to remember.
Because my husband was cheating on me, and he was doing drugs.
And I had no idea what to say to any of that.
Were there words for this? Was there a fucking Hallmark card? There had to be. We’re so sorry your husband is doing coke and playing with his cock in the cheerleader. Maybe if I put enough C’s in the card, it’d be all alliterated and shit.
“Fuck, Erin. What are you doing here?”
He was still inside of her, his hips still thrusting slightly. Apparently, he didn’t even realize he was doing it. He wiped the powder off his nose, and I just blinked.
“That’s the question you’re going to ask me? What am I doing here?” Dear God.
“You’re supposed to be at the party,” he stuttered.
“Yes, darling, you were supposed to be at the party,” Becca sing-songed.
“I cannot believe I’ve become a cliché,” I said, looking at the two of them as I shook my head. “A goddamn cliché.” My heart should have hurt, it should have felt like it was splitting in two. Instead, all I could do was try to catch my breath. Try to fight through the numbness. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even cry, scream, or throw anything. There was nothing.
I was nothing.
I turned on my heel and walked out of the bathroom, the tapping of my shoes against the tile of the hallway echoing in the emptiness.
There weren’t shouts, no screams from me. I didn’t hear the sound of footsteps behind me. I didn’t hear anyone following me. Because there wasn’t. He wasn’t going to come after me.
He would probably finish inside her, make sure he got every last line of coke.
I needed a fucking drink.
I pushed past people, and I was pretty sure they weren’t even aware I was there. They were too busy paying attention to their own lives, which might not be perfect but had to be better than mine and what I had just witnessed.
My hands were shaking, and I knew I probably looked ill, maybe even a little angry, but I didn’t care.
I walked out of the school, got into my car, started the engine, and found the nearest bar.
The fact that it was only five minutes away might have worried me for the school itself, but I didn’t care. I just needed a goddamned drink.
It didn’t occur to me until I opened the door that I was still in a sequined dress from the eighties, my hair likely in disarray. I probably looked like I was just on this side of a psychotic break.
But I didn’t care. I ignored the looks, the whispers. I stomped my way to an empty barstool and took a seat next to a man with broad shoulders wearing a tight Henley.
He looked at me and frowned. I ignored him. Instead, I raised my chin and waited for the bartender to see me.
I froze, knowing that voice. Remembering that voice.
I turned and saw Devin Carr. A friend from school—or at least he had been my sister, Jennifer’s, friend. They had dated for a bit, not that I remembered too much about it or knew any of the details.
I just shook my head. Of course.
“I take it the high school reunion didn’t go well?” he said dryly. “Amelia, my sister, mentioned it.”
“Does watching your husband screwing the head cheerleader while doing drugs count as well?” I asked, surprised that I had even said the words aloud.
As I blinked, trying to collect my thoughts, he gave me a tight nod and glanced over at the bartender. “We’re going to need two shots of your best tequila.”
“I take it one’s for you?” I asked.
“Nope, I had my beer. Both are for you. Figured you needed it.”
And right then and there, I knew Devin Carr was going to be my best friend.
At least, for tonight.
Breathless With Her
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