My Next Play
Book 3 in the On My Own Series
What happens when you fall for your best friend, but they fall in love with someone else? Nothing is what it seems in this unrequited love, new adult romance.
Miles knew Nessa never had eyes for him. Only when someone new tries to hurt her, he knows he can’t stand back any longer. It’s time she finds out the man he is behind the glasses and beneath the shell he wrapped himself in.
But now he has to hope that once she sees the real him, she’ll stay. Because he doesn’t want to let go, even if someone else tries to make that choice for them both.
My Next Play
Music pulsated around me, and I rubbed my temples, trying to pretend that everything wasn’t falling apart, and I wasn’t once again falling behind. Only, that was the very epitome of who I was as a person. Someone stressed out about everything coming at them these days. Had I always been this way? I didn’t know. That’s what happened when the world went to hell because I thought I wanted something, only to realize it wasn’t mine.
I sipped my beer and smiled down at the cup after the first taste. It was my favorite. A blonde that Pacey had most likely picked because he was good at choosing his beer. There would be no cheap, warm brews that tasted like crap at this house party. At one of the other college row houses, we’d deal with whatever Keystone Light equivalents abounded. But here, there was always variety. Most of it was light beer—not enough to get somebody drunk—and not too many IPAs for people to highbrow and discuss their favorite beers while looking down on others. Pacey was good at picking his favorites, and this one happened to be mine.
Now that I thought about it, maybe that was because Pacey had been the one to introduce me to it. I needed to get over myself. And over him. Over the idea that I was in love with my best friend. I wasn’t, not anymore. I’d been wrong. It’d been a crush—such an intense crush that’d crashed and burned and twisted up Pacey and Mackenzie in the process.
I’d messed up with my roommates. My best friend, my friend. And Pacey’s girlfriend. I didn’t need to think about the fact that the beer Pacey had chosen happened to be a favorite of mine, as well. It was a good beer. However, I needed a little more of it if my mind kept going around in this loop and had been for hours.
“I thought I’d find you over here.” Mackenzie walked over with a smile on her face. She studied mine, and I knew she was looking for any anger or resentment. But there wouldn’t be. I liked Mackenzie. I respected her. And I thought she was beautiful and brilliant. And, honestly, the perfect match for Pacey—the fact that I’d had a crush on him without telling him until one of the most awkward times of my life, notwithstanding. It hadn’t been her fault. And I had no hard feelings when it came to her. I just was embarrassed.
Things were awkward—at least, for me. As long as I didn’t drink too much and act like a fool as I had that one night I would never talk about again, most people wouldn’t notice.
Mackenzie wasn’t most people.
“Sorry, just woolgathering.” I took a sip of my beer. “The place is hopping tonight.”
Mackenzie stood on my side in the alcove and looked around, a red Solo cup of wine in her hand. “Yes, though I didn’t think the guys were expecting such a big turnout tonight. We don’t have classes tomorrow, but we do have our first exams coming up, don’t we?”
“Only those on a four-exam schedule,” I answered, grateful we had an easy subject to talk about. “Some people only have three exams each semester or a single midterm and final. Then there are the seniors, who don’t care anymore and have all perfected the skill of studying while drunk. Or are they called fourth years? What do you call college that isn’t in some Ivy League and imaginary boarding school?”
Mackenzie snorted. “Have you been reading that fairy college book again?”
I blushed. “It’s good. I can’t help it.”
“It is. That’s why I told you to read it. I rarely have time to read anymore, but the audiobook was fantastic.”
“I bought the hardcover. I couldn’t help it. They have painted edges,” I said, practically sighing.
“I saw and am a little jealous. I only have time to read while working out or driving or cooking or doing things that aren’t thinking about math.”
Considering that Mackenzie was a math major, that wasn’t very often. Pacey’s minor was in math, too. That was how the two of them had started spending so much time together—and they ended up falling in love.
I seriously loved them as a couple and still couldn’t believe that I’d thought I loved Pacey the way Mackenzie did. Didn’t make any sense to me. Apparently, I had latched onto the one person in my life who acted as a book boyfriend but was only the best friend.
He was a British dreamboat, but I had swooned for the wrong person.
“Did you get to the final book?” Mackenzie asked.
I looked over at her. “Not yet. I have a paper due, so I had to put down fictional fairies at college boarding schools. Which doesn’t make sense because they’re just training to be warriors anyway.” I could go on about the book’s plot and how much I loved it despite its flaws, but I held back.
Mackenzie cringed. “I have a paper coming up, as well, but it has nothing to do with math. And I kind of hate myself for letting this class wait until my final year.”
“At least you didn’t wait till the final semester. I still have a couple of gen-ed classes that I waited to fill in until this year. The thought being that I wouldn’t be doing all of my difficult courses at once. Sadly, I feel like it backfired and caused me not to focus on what I want to.”
“Reading can be part of your focus.” Mackenzie smiled. “English majors write. And they read. I don’t get to have fun in fiction these days.”
I shrugged. “This semester is more about creating than reading. And it’s sometimes a little daunting.” I couldn’t believe I had said that out loud, but I couldn’t blame my words on drinking since I’d only had the one.
“If you need anything this semester, you know you only have to ask,” Mackenzie said after a moment.
I nodded at her. “I know. I know all of you would. Seriously, though, thank you.”
“Always. Now, I need to go find Pacey because he promised he would play a certain song, and I haven’t heard it yet tonight.” She winked.
I shook my head. “Go get him. I know Sasha’s here tonight, so he’s probably hanging out with her and reminiscing about his time across the pond.”
Mackenzie rolled her eyes. “Seriously. I can’t believe him sometimes. Hey, did he tell you that we might be going to London for Christmas?” She practically bounced on her toes.
I blinked. “Really?” I asked, trying not to let my voice squeak—I think I failed.
Mackenzie was too excited to notice. “Yes, his dad and his girlfriend—or Pacey’s new stepmom, I guess—went back to London, and I know Pacey is trying to work things out. By Christmastime, there’ll be a new baby. Pacey was thinking of heading over there for the holidays and asked me to go with him.”
“That’s a huge deal, and that’s awesome,” I said, meaning it.
“I know. Somehow, his father invited my parents. Now, it’s a whole thing,” Mackenzie said with a wince.
That was a whole thing, but it sounded nice. Like a real family. “Interesting.” I held back a laugh at the look on my friend’s face.
“We’re trying to make it work. I don’t know. But I get to see London. And Big Ben and all of that. I’m just excited. As long as I get to spend the holidays with Pacey, I’m happy.”
“It’ll be fantastic. Just pack me away in your luggage where you can.” I nearly winced at the awkwardness.
“You know, I’m sure…” Mackenzie began.
I shook my head. “No. There’s no way I can afford it, nor will I let anyone pay for me,” I countered quickly before she could add anything. “And don’t worry. I’m probably going to have tons of other things to work on. Plus, the bookstore still has holiday hours during that time.”
“Okay, sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it,” she said. “I’m such a dork.”
I shook my head. “It’s fine. I’m fine. Now, go find Pacey. Get that song. I am going to get another beer. And then maybe I’ll head home and work on that paper.”
She raised her brow. “Working while drinking? That’s not normally like you.”
“I’d say I’m turning over a new leaf, but that would probably be an issue if it were true. I need to think about what I want to write. Since it’s not coming to me, I’m going to enjoy myself. It’s not as if the paper is due tomorrow.”
She studied my face and then nodded. “Okay, I guess I’m going to go.”
“Go,” I said, hating the tension. It wasn’t Mackenzie’s fault. It was mine. My friend smiled softly before heading to Pacey, and I let out a breath, telling myself to cut out the bullshit and be happy.
I looked down at my empty cup and figured I needed another beer. Or four. I could probably sleep on someone’s couch. Or, one of my other roommates—Natalie or Elise—could get me home. Of course, Elise and Mackenzie were probably spending the night here since they were dating people who lived in the house. I’d have to find Natalie and make sure she got me home safely if I drank too much. Or I could Uber it, I guessed. It didn’t matter. I could take care of myself. I always had, and I always would.
I turned the corner and ran into a very hard chest, looking up to see Miles. He had his glasses on, making his face look far hotter than I’d let myself notice before, and I blinked up at him.
“You’re wearing your glasses,” I blurted. I could have rightly kicked myself.
His lips quirked into a smile, and I did my best not to look at them directly. I remembered the last time I had been up close and personal with Miles’ mouth. Only no one knew I’d been so close to those particular lips. And no one ever would. I did my best to pretend I didn’t remember, and he hadn’t mentioned it. I had been drunk—oh, so fucking drunk—and had made one stupid decision after another.
I’d felt poorly about myself; like I couldn’t do anything right. It hadn’t helped that my life had changed instantly, and it had nothing to do with school and everything to do with what I had been hiding from even myself.
I’d had too many drinks that night. Had nearly gotten into a very compromising situation with a guy whose name I still didn’t remember and ended up practically falling on the floor in front of Miles. He had tucked me into bed and kept me safe. And when I had wanted to change everything, to prove that I was fine—even though I hadn’t been anywhere close—I had kissed him. Right on the mouth. Sweet and hot and so wrong. A horrible mistake that I wouldn’t make again.
Miles was nice. He was a nice guy without being the token nice guy who believed he needed and deserved every girl he was nice to. He was just a good guy. And maybe that was a better descriptor for him. He was a good guy. A good person and a good man.
I would pretend I had never kissed him because it was already awkward as hell. Why shouldn’t I continue being uncomfortable?
“It was a high pollen day, and I didn’t feel like putting in my contacts. I do wear glasses. You’ve seen them,” he said, his voice low.
The other roommates, Dillon and Tanner, always said that Miles was the nerdy one, mostly because Miles was their nerdy roommate and had given himself the label. His glasses and maybe his hobbies were the only nerdy things about him, though. He was tall, built, broad with muscle, and hard…everywhere.
That thought just made me blush harder, and I did my best not to think about exactly what was hard and where it was on him. I would not think about that. That would send me down a path to destruction and make me feel as if I were losing my damn mind. I had already fallen down the rabbit hole of falling for someone I shouldn’t.
I did not need to make it a problem again, where I fell for someone who just so happened to be nice to me.
I wasn’t that pathetic.
Yet, those glasses? They did things. Warm things.
Perhaps one beer was enough, after all.
“Oh, I like them. Anyway, thanks for catching me since I probably would’ve tripped over my feet turning the corner so quickly.”
He swallowed hard, and I did not look at how his neck moved. I did not. “I ran into you, too. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It’s your house.”
“It is my house. That means I get to just run into everybody?” His cute brows furrowed.
Cute? How could brows be attractive? Was I placing my crush from Pacey onto Miles? That was the only explanation. And…I was an idiot. A pathetic loser idiot who needed to go home and write her paper and pretend that I had my life under control.
That would make much more sense.
“I guess I’m going to head home.” I hadn’t meant to say that aloud.
“Did I hurt you?” He pushed up his glasses as he studied his face.
Why was I watching his forearms as he pushed up his glasses? What was in that beer?
“No, I just have a lot on my mind. And homework. And I should probably stop at one beer.” Not a lie.
“I thought you were on your way to the kitchen to get more. You don’t need to leave because I ran into you.”
“It’s not about you. I promise.”
His cheeks blushed, and I wanted to kick myself. Why was I such an idiot? Every word that came out of my mouth felt as if I was kicking him. I didn’t know why. “I didn’t think that. I should go.”
I reached out and gripped his forearm. His thick forearm. All muscle. The muscle I wasn’t going to think about. “Sorry, I’m having an off night.”
Or an off life at this point.
“I can see that. I’m having one, too. I am sorry that I ran into you.”
“You don’t have to be sorry, and not just because you live here. We were going around blind corners. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Anyway, it was nice to see you, Miles,” I said, very proud of how I sounded—like an adult without issues plaguing them.
He let out a breath. “Have a good night.”
“You, too, Miles,” I said, feeling his gaze.
I couldn’t let on that I knew. That I remembered kissing him.
I didn’t know if he’d kissed me back. Though perhaps I didn’t want to know. I needed to stop thinking about dating within the house pool. I needed someone new. Somebody who made me smile and laugh and didn’t live at the same address as Pacey, Dillon, Miles, or Tanner.
There were many guys at school. They existed; I knew they did. I didn’t need to think about Pacey. Or now Miles, it seemed.
Miles looked at me again. “Sure.” Then he headed over to a group of people I knew shared his major. Since we were all starting our senior years, most of us ended up in groups of people we studied with.
English majors were a little different because there were enough of us, like the business majors, who ended up in our own little worlds, usually alone. I had my roommates. I didn’t need anyone else.
I ignored my earlier thought about another beer and once again considered going home, but then I would just be running, wouldn’t I? Also, I didn’t want to be a liar.
My phone buzzed, and I pulled it out of my crossbody bag and frowned.
Dad: Just checking in on you.
My eyes burned, but I didn’t cry. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have a lot of feelings left. Or maybe the problem was that I had too many.
Me: Everything’s good. I love you, Dad.
Dad: I love you too. Just miss you.
Tears nearly fell again. I blinked them back. I did not need to think about my home life. I didn’t need to think about anything beyond school.
It was just Dad and me now. Cancer had finally taken Mom after a hard and painful fight. It was only the two of us left. He was the man I needed in my life—no one else.
He was alone tonight, and so was I—even surrounded by people.
Me: I love you. I’ll call you tomorrow?
Dad: I’d like that. Stay safe, buttercup.
I snorted at the nickname and then smiled.
I put my phone back into my purse, grateful I hadn’t cried in the middle of the party. Tanner was off in a corner, his harem of people around him. I didn’t know if he was in a relationship or not since the triad he had been in had blown up because of cheating—though not by Tanner. He had rules. And if you broke them, you were out of his life.
He met my gaze over the throng of people and raised a brow. I shrugged, threw a little wave, and headed towards the door. Natalie and Elise were off in another corner with Dillon and a couple of people I didn’t recognize, but they didn’t notice me walk by. They were all having an animated conversation. I kept moving, not wanting to intrude, especially with the dark cloud above my head.
I didn’t know where Pacey or Mackenzie had gone, and I did my best not to look for them. I would text everyone that I was headed home so they wouldn’t worry.
Even if I felt alone in a crowd of people, my roommates and the guys would always make sure I was safe. I had them in my corner, and I had to remember that.
Closer to the door, I ran into another person. My shoulder ached, and I winced. Tonight was so not my night.
I looked up at the man with blue eyes, blond hair that curled over his shoulder, and a smile that had two dimples peeking out of his cheeks.
Okay, then. Swoon.
A nice guy. One smiling at me and giving me a very come-hither look. And he did not live at this address.
“I’m sorry,” he said, smiling down at me. “I didn’t mean to bump into you.”
I smiled back. “I’m sorry, too. I seem to be clumsy today.”
“You, clumsy? Oh, I don’t think so. Maybe it was just meant to be that I knocked into you.” He winced. “Wow, that was possibly the worst line I’ve ever used. I could have said something about, ‘Did it hurt when you fell?’ but that would be going too far.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “I’m glad you didn’t start with that.”
“Are you heading out?” he asked. “I hope not.”
“Another line? A little smoother this time, at least. As for leaving, I’m not sure yet.”
“I’m Xander. You should come and have a drink with me. To say sorry for knocking into you.”
“I’m Nessa. You know what? Maybe a drink is okay.”
“I like the sound of that, Nessa.” Xander held out his arm. I linked mine with his and laughed.
Tonight had not gone exactly as I’d wanted it to, but Xander seemed nice. At least for a beer and a laugh.
He didn’t live with Pacey, he wasn’t Pacey, and he wasn’t a guy with glasses that I seemed to have imprinted myself on, one I had kissed when I was at my lowest. A guy who’d been so sweet to me, I was afraid that I would hurt him unintentionally by being myself.
I pushed thoughts of Miles out of my mind and had a beer with Xander.
This year was supposed to be about being a new Nessa. About new beginnings and trying to pull myself from the ashes of before.
Somehow, I’d find a way to make that happen.
Even if I wasn’t sure if the embers had thoroughly doused themselves along the way.
My Next Play
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Parental Death, Childhood trauma, physical assault, grief