Shameless With Him
Book 3 in the Less Than Series
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan completes a sexy contemporary series with an unrequited crush on the bad boy next door.
Caleb Carr might have once been ready for commitment, but when the unexpected slams into him with the force of a two-ton truck, he knows he has to run away from anything that might be important. Zoey might well be his final temptation, but to keep her whole, he’ll walk away.
Zoey Wager has loved Caleb since they were eight. And has had her heart broken from afar repeatedly ever since. It doesn’t help that every time she sees him—even when she’s running away halfway across the world—he’s with another woman. She’s watched him fall in lust her entire life. Now, she’s ready to watch him fall in love. With her.
**There is a bonus epilogue exclusively in the audio and ebook editions!**
Shameless With Him
Zoey & Caleb – Age 8
Hawaii was everything. I mean, where else on Earth could you wear a grass skirt and go to a pig roast, where they gave you pretty flowers to wear? I loved it here, and I never wanted to go home.
We’d been in Hawaii for four days, and I knew we needed to go to the airport tomorrow. I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was play in the sand and the waves today, and my mom was finally letting me do it. We’d had to stay away from the beach for most of the trip because Lacey hadn’t been feeling well, even though the doctors said the cancer was gone.
I rubbed my hip, remembering the big needle that had made me throw up. My mom said I wouldn’t have a scar from giving my little sister my bone marrow, and I didn’t know if she’d lied to me or not. She lied to me lots of times, though. Like when she said it wouldn’t hurt. And that Lacey would get all better because I had to go through the procedure, too.
It had taken Lacey forever to get better, and my mom still watched her every move and wouldn’t let me do fun things because she was afraid I’d get hurt, too. Sometimes, I thought Mom only cared about me because I could help Lacey, then I remembered the times it was just our time and no one else’s. When we’d plant flowers and then put together pretty vases with the flowers we cut later.
Mom was up in the room with Lacey now. Today was all about me and Dad. We wouldn’t stay long since I didn’t want them to be sad they weren’t outside, but for now, I got to play in the waves. Finally.
Sand tickled my feet, and I looked over at Daddy.
“Having fun, Z-baby?”
I smiled wide. I wasn’t a baby, Lacey was the baby. Though I liked being Daddy’s baby sometimes. “I love it. Thank you.”
He looked sad for a moment, then he smiled back at me before he turned and jumped into a wave. I laughed. I loved swimming and followed him into the ocean, letting the waves slap into my back, trying not to drink too much salty water.
There were other kids around us, all of them laughing and playing with each other rather than their families. I wanted this time with Daddy.
Then someone slammed into my back, and I slipped. Sand smacked into my face, and water surrounded me. I twisted and turned, trying to get up. I couldn’t find the top of the water. My heart beat fast, and I tried to put my feet on the ground. I didn’t know where it was.
Before I could scream or think about anything other than the burn in my eyes, hands were on my shoulders, lifting me up. I coughed and sputtered, trying to wipe at my face. Another wave hit me, but the hands never let go.
“Are you okay? Wait. Zoey?”
I blinked away the saltwater and looked into the eyes of Caleb Carr. Caleb? “What are you doing here?” I blurted.
“Rescuing you, of course. I didn’t know your family was going to be in Hawaii, too.”
Caleb went to school with me, and I loved him. Not that I’d ever say that out loud. I totally loved him and knew that one day I would marry him. He was everything I loved in a boy. With that sweet smile, big, blue eyes, and hair he always flipped back that made him look so cool. Once, he’d even shaved the sides to make a kind of mohawk. The teachers weren’t happy, though Caleb and his family hadn’t cared. I’d loved it, because I’d loved him then, too.
Now, this was officially the most perfect vacation ever. I had the ocean, sand, and Caleb Carr.
“We came because Lacey isn’t sick anymore.”
Caleb’s mouth turned down a bit in a frown, and I wanted to kick myself for bringing up Lacey. No one liked talking about sick kids, even if you were a kid. Caleb let go of my shoulders as the waves slapped into our sides.
“I’m glad.” He paused. “Anyway, sorry that Laura almost drowned you. She screamed when she saw a fish and hit you.”
He nodded towards the shore, and I looked over at the girl in the pretty pink bathing suit currently staring at me and Caleb like I was evil.
“She’s here on vacation, too. She’s from England.” Caleb’s mouth tipped up in a little smile that I hated.
Hated it because it wasn’t for me.
No, it was for some girl named Laura.
“Zoey? Are you okay? Damn it, Zoey, don’t go off with strangers.” Daddy pulled me towards him and away from Caleb, and it was all I could do to keep from blushing. As Laura waved at Caleb from the shore, and he nodded at me before going to her, I told myself I was okay. Just fine.
Because today was only the first time Caleb Carr would fall for someone who wasn’t me. I knew it deep down in my heart, I knew this wouldn’t be the last.
Zoey & Caleb – Age 15
I wasn’t sure I was a fan of camping. However, I was a fan of s’mores. I bit into the chocolatey gooey mess and moaned around the graham cracker.
“Good?” Dad asked.
I nodded, taking my final bite before going about licking my fingers one by one. There was no point in wasting the goodness with a napkin just yet.
I shook my head before taking a sip of my soda so I could wash down the deliciousness. “I’m good. Any more sugar, and I’ll probably end up having to roll myself down to the lake later for the show.”
“There’s going to be music, right? I love music.” Lacey leaned into my shoulder, and I shifted so she could have more room. She wiggled a bit and sighed as she nuzzled into my side.
“That’s what the director said when we checked into the campsite,” Mom answered, looking down at her folder that never seemed to leave her side, not even when we were hiking in the woods for most of the day. If there was something to plan, schedule, or fix, my mom would have it color-coded within the hour. Dad said she’d always been that way but had gotten even more so when Lacey was sick.
Now, my sister was better—I crossed my fingers even as the thought flitted across my mind—and Mom was just as detail-oriented as ever. The fact that she was doing her best to use those skills to help me get into the best colleges even though I was only a sophomore might be nice, except it also stressed me out, so I wasn’t going to think about it too much.
We watched the flames for a bit longer, then after Dad had doused the campfire, we headed down for the show as a family. It was nice for it to be the four of us since, most of the time, we didn’t have the time to hang out and just be.
“Mom, can we sit over there?” Lacey asked, tugging on Mom’s sleeve and stepping in front of me at the same time. I didn’t mind since I had my eyes on something—no, someone—in the distance.
“Sure, honey,” Mom said, looking over at me, though I couldn’t really focus on her words. “Zoey?”
I blinked, tearing my gaze from the shadowy figure across the way near the lake, the one that couldn’t be real because I couldn’t be that unlucky.
“I’m going down there, okay? I think I see someone from school.”
“Mom,” Lacey whined, clearly tired from the day. I didn’t blame her. We’d been going full-speed all day, and she didn’t have the best stamina. “We’re going to miss those seats and the best view.”
“Okay, okay.” Mom looked at me. “Be safe, and only ten minutes, all right? You understand me?”
I nodded, a little surprised that she was letting me go off alone. Of course, there were adults all around, and this particular campsite was filled with people from our neighborhood since this was a planned trip. Mom knew practically everyone here, so I was sure she felt confident that there would always be eagle eyes on me.
I kept going to where I had seen the shadow, my heart racing. I did my best to discreetly wipe my mouth, hoping I didn’t have chocolate on my face.
“Zoey-girl?” Caleb Carr asked, coming out of the shadows. He had a wide grin on his face, and his eyes were dark. That lock of his hair that always fell over his eyes did wonderful things to my stomach.
Every time I was near Caleb, I lost the ability to speak. I couldn’t help it. He just did things to me. Plus, he called me Zoey-girl. It wasn’t too original. Nevertheless, it was a nickname. That meant he knew me. He saw me. It totally counted as everything. Right?
“Hi, Caleb. I didn’t know your family was here.”
He nodded. “Dimitri is even here somewhere. Drinking beer since he’s allowed to now.”
“Really?” I asked, trying to keep my heart in check.
“Yep. He turned twenty-one and is lording it over us.” Caleb just shrugged. “Well, mostly Devin since he’s closer to that age. You know?”
“At least you’ll reach that before Amelia does,” I said, mentioning his younger sister.
“She’ll be last at everything. Though she’ll always gripe about it.” He shrugged. “How’s Lacey doing?”
He asked the question because he knew what we’d gone through. He didn’t have pity in his voice like so many others, though. And that was just one more reason I loved him.
“She’s doing great. She’s here.” I gestured vaguely over my shoulder to where my family was. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him, though, so I hoped I was facing the right way.
“Good. I’m glad you guys are all here. I know you haven’t been able to do this every year with the rest of the neighborhood.”
I warmed all over, my mouth ready to say something, anything. Only as soon as I parted my lips, another voice filled the air.
“Caleb.” A giggle. Then an arm slid around Caleb’s trim waist, and a slender hand slipped into his front pocket. He looked down. Amber, the gorgeous honor roll student in our class with the perfect body, the sweet attitude, and now…the ideal guy.
My guy. At least in my imagination.
I could feel myself deflate like a balloon, even as Caleb wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close, his hand resting on her hip as if they’d done this a thousand times before. And maybe they had.
“Hey, babe. You know Zoey, right?”
Amber’s eyes brightened. “Mrs. Tanner’s chemistry class, right? You sat near the front, I think.”
I swallowed hard, my fingers playing with the edge of my shorts. “That’s me. Hi, Amber.”
“It’s great to see you, Zoey. We’re headed to our spot on the shore to watch the show. Want to join us?”
I really wanted to hate her. Really wanted to hate myself for continually having this crush on a guy who had a different girl every time I saw him. In every place I saw him, even if we weren’t anywhere near school. I couldn’t do any of that. So, instead, I shook my head, only looking at Amber and keeping my gaze off Caleb. I didn’t want him to see. I never wanted him to see.
“I have to get back to my parents, but I just wanted to say hi.” Another pause. “So, hi.”
Though I didn’t see pity on Amber’s face—she knew. She knew about my crush. It had to be written all over my face. Only she didn’t lay her claim on Caleb. Didn’t act as if she were catty and mean and wanted me away. She just held him like she always could. And, maybe, for however long she had Caleb, she could.
She didn’t make me feel small. Unseen.
That was all on me.
And Caleb Carr.
Because even at eight and fifteen, I couldn’t get out of the way of my crush. And every time I saw him, he was with another girl.
I really needed to get over my feelings for Caleb.
No matter what my gooey heart said.
Zoey & Caleb – Age 19
My fake ID had worked, and as my head swam and my friends giggled into their drinks, I knew I wasn’t going to use it ever again.
My fingers were numb, and my ankles hurt from my high heels.
I didn’t like being drunk, and I didn’t know why I’d let myself get this way at all. It was Kyla’s birthday, and we were celebrating. Only now, Kyla and Kayti were off with two guys they’d met, and I was standing by the bar, my shoes too tight, and the third guy of that trio with his hands on my butt.
“I should go home,” I tried to say, only it sounded garbled like I couldn’t speak as I should. How many shots had the guys bought us? Damn it. This was stupid. I knew this was stupid, but my head hurt, and I just wanted to go to bed.
“I’ll get you home, baby,” the guy whispered, his breath on my neck. Bile slid up my throat, and I pushed the guy off. Matt? Yes, Matt was his name.
“I’m okay. I’m going to get a cab.” I got my purse and tried to walk to my friends, who were currently in the booth making out with their guys.
“They’re busy, baby. I’ll get you home.”
I ignored him. “Kyla?”
“Hey, girl,” Kyla said, giggling. “Happy birthday to me! Are you going home with Matt?” She wasn’t whispering, though everyone in the bar was dancing and drunk, so no one cared what she said.
“No, I’m going home. Are you okay?”
She nodded. “We’re fine. You should go home with Matt.”
I held back a shudder. I didn’t like being drunk, and I wasn’t sure I liked drunk Kyla either. Maybe it was just the booze in my system.
“I’m going home.”
“Okay, doll. See you Monday!” Then she went back to kissing Chad, and I shook my head, turning on my too-high heels to head out to get a cab. Matt’s hands were on my hips as soon as I turned, and I pulled away.
“Thanks for the drinks, but I need to go home.”
“I’ll get you outside, baby,” he said. I never hated being called baby before. And yet, with him, I really didn’t want to hear it again. Every time he said the word, it sounded sickly sweet and made me want to take a shower.
I just needed to get away from him and this night.
“I’m okay. Thanks, though.” I made my way through the bar, trying to stay on my heels as people bumped into me. Tonight was so stupid. I shouldn’t have used my fake ID. I shouldn’t have had a drink—or four.
It was going to be okay. I would get home.
I made my way to the curb where the cabs usually came since this was the strip of my college town where all the bars were, when Matt grabbed my hips again.
“Let me get you home, baby. We can finish our night.”
I pushed at him, fear gnawing at my belly. I had my phone in my hand, only I wasn’t thinking clearly, and couldn’t move out of his grasp.
“No. I want to go home. Alone.”
“She said no,” a deep voice said from our side, and Matt’s grip tightened painfully on my hips.
“Get the fuck out of here, bro. No one asked you.”
I raised my knee hard, and Matt grunted, pushing me back so I stumbled into the thick pole behind me.
“Get your hands off her.”
I tripped over my heels, and then soft hands were on me. I flinched and looked into green eyes that were unfamiliar but kind.
“Sorry, sorry. Are you okay? I’m Heather. Caleb is taking care of that guy. Are you all right? Should we call someone?”
I blinked, suddenly far too sober. I tore my gaze away from Heather and looked at the man I knew. The one who had always been part of my dreams.
Of course, it was Caleb Carr. Here. Miles from home. Still here when I needed him—and when I didn’t want to see him. It only made sense. This was the way of things with us.
Caleb punched Matt in the face, and people started to gather around, talking to each other and shouting. It was too much, and I knew I was going to throw up. I shouldn’t be here. Caleb shouldn’t be here.
“I’m…I’m fine. I just want to go home.”
Caleb turned at the sound of my voice, his eyes dark even under the streetlights. “Zoey-girl. You okay?”
“I’m fine. I…I’m getting a cab. Don’t hurt him.”
His brows rose as he looked down at Matt on the ground, who currently clutched his head and groaned.
“I just want to go home.”
“We’ll take you home,” Caleb growled.
I shook my head and almost threw up from the dizziness the movement caused. “I’m fine.”
“We’re taking you home. Heather, get the cab.”
“Sure thing, hon. We’ll get your friend home.” She squeezed my arms in affection, even as Caleb stepped over Matt’s prone body, and the crowd began to disburse.
“I just want to go home,” I whispered, not sure anyone could hear me.
Caleb’s gaze never left mine as he slipped off his leather jacket and wrapped it around my shoulders. “We’ll get you there, Zoey-girl. Trust me. I’ve got you.”
Tears slid down my cheeks, and my body started to shake as I dug my fingers into the warm leather. Caleb didn’t hold me. Didn’t tell me everything would be okay.
No one touched me.
No one talked.
Because there was nothing to say. My so-called friends hadn’t been there. The boy—no, the man—from my past had been there.
Zoey & Caleb – Age 25
I hated the cold. Okay, sure, I lived in Colorado and was used to it, but it had nothing on the cold of Alaska. Why Amy had to get married to her soulmate in the so-called Alaskan wilderness for a full-on glamping wedding at a log cabin suite in the woods was beyond me. However, she was my friend and had invited me to the wedding. So, here I was, cold, in a dress I hated, and ready to take off my shoes.
I’d met Amy while working at a flower shop in Denver. I would miss her when she made her final move up to Alaska. She’d met a bush pilot who had come to Denver for work and had fallen in love quickly. Now, she was uprooting her life and moving to the wilderness. I loved Amy and wished her the best. But I missed home.
I’d moved around enough for college and my first real job. Now, I was back in Denver and about to open my own shop if things went well over the next few months. I wanted to settle. I wanted to find love and heart and start my life.
I just wanted to be happy.
As if I’d conjured him from thin air, a voice from my past echoed behind me, and I turned to see the one person I always wanted to see yet never wanted to.
“Caleb,” I whispered, then cleared my throat. “Why on earth are you in Alaska?” I blurted.
Caleb flashed that grin that always did things to my insides. “Zoey-girl. I should ask you the same damn thing.” He opened his arms, and I went into them quickly. It was almost as if we always did this. As if it hadn’t been years since we’d seen each other.
We never talked about that night at the bar. Never needed to. I was fine, and he’d been there. My knight in shining armor. One who wasn’t mine at all.
He smelled of soap and that candle I loved so much that everyone said scented of man. He reminded me of home. And at that thought, I pulled away quickly and ran my hands down my brown velvet dress.
“Seriously. I didn’t know you knew Amy.”
“I don’t. I’m friends with Don. He’s flown me a few places for work.” At my blank look, he continued. “I’m a boilermaker. Sometimes, I work on the oil line. Depends on the season.”
“I have no idea what that is,” I said, laughing.
“Not many people do.”
“Caleb?” A woman with a red dress and even redder lips came up to his side and slid her hand around his waist. “You left me all alone.” She patted his chest with her perfectly manicured fingers, and I curled my hands so she couldn’t see the nicks and scrapes that came with my work. My hands would never be pretty, and I was fine with that. Though seeing Caleb’s date in all her perfect glory just made me want to hide.
I hated that.
“Sorry, babe, just saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Charlene, this is Zoey. We went to school together.”
“What a small world,” Charlene purred, giving me a little wave before putting her hands back on Caleb. I didn’t blame her one bit. “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said quickly. “I should get going. Wedding party duties.”
“Good to see you, Zoey-girl.”
Charlene’s grasp tightened, and I stepped back. “You, too. Sometime, we’ll have to meet in Denver again, and not other places around the world.”
“Sometime,” he repeated, and then I was off, needing my space, needing to breathe. Seeing Caleb again was like a hit to the chest, and I couldn’t focus.
I didn’t know if I still had my crush. I didn’t think about him daily anymore, but as soon as I saw him, it had tried to come back full-force.
I reminded myself that he was once again with a date. Once again with a woman who wasn’t me.
And I was just fine with that.
I had to be.
Because Caleb wasn’t mine.
He never would be.
Zoey & Caleb – Age 28
Home. This was my home. I finally owned my florist shop in truth. I was my own boss and only answered to the bank. This was mine.
I got to play and work with flowers every day. This would be my future. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty—and probably bloody, thorns were the worst!—again.
I needed to go home and get to bed, but I didn’t think I would be able to sleep. I already had orders waiting and would meet with a couple of wedding planners tomorrow. For tonight, though, it was all mine.
A tap on the glass pulled a scream from my throat. I turned to the window at the front of my shop, my hand on my phone, the other on my heart.
“Caleb?” I gasped, and he gave me that damn grin of his. I really hated it, even while I loved it.
“Open up,” he mouthed, and I quickly went to the door.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were still in Alaska.”
He shook his head. I couldn’t read his eyes in the dark to tell what he was thinking. “I’m back.”
I swallowed hard, trying to get my bearings. I hated that he did this to me. After two decades of it, you’d think I should be used to it by now.
“Amelia didn’t tell me. Welcome back.”
He shrugged. “She doesn’t know.”
My eyes widened.
“Don’t worry, Zoey-girl. She’ll know tomorrow. Wanted to surprise her and the others. Saw you working here and figured I’d check out your new place.”
I blinked, trying to catch up. “Oh, well, I was just heading home, and it’s dark. Maybe tomorrow?” When I could breathe.
“I can do that.” He put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “Need me to walk you to your car?”
I saw it then, the worry in his gaze. “I’m fine. Have been since that night. Thank you. Again.” There. I’d mentioned it. Now, I didn’t need to bring it up again. I didn’t have nightmares or anything. I was safe. But I was still embarrassed.
“Don’t thank me, Zoey-girl. And good.”
Of course. At this point, it was inevitable. A woman with beautiful brown skin and killer hair walked towards us. She grinned at the two of us and slid her hand into his.
I mean, why not, right?
“Renita, this is Zoey, the girl I told you about.”
He’d talked about me? No, I wasn’t going there.
“Oh, hi!” Renita leaned forward and kissed my cheek, surprising me. “My sister is getting married soon, and she’s looking for a florist. Hence Caleb mentioning you.” She went on and on about the wedding, and I tried to tune in, but I was tired, and every time I was near Caleb, my brain did horrible things. Like not pay attention. “Anyway, I used to work with Caleb up in Alaska. Now, he’s working down here in Denver again. It’s fate, right?”
I didn’t look over at Caleb, I couldn’t. I kept my gaze on Renita, and she grinned, the most beautiful soul shining through her eyes.
“Fate, that sounds about right,” I said, knowing it was the truth.
Because Caleb being home was fate. It had to be.
It just couldn’t be mine.
Zoey & Caleb – Age 30
I’d watched Caleb Carr fall into lust countless times throughout my life. In every corner of the world, fate brought him across my path. And yet it wasn’t the right time.
Now, it had to be.
Because I wasn’t going to watch any longer. I was going to be a part of it. I was ready for Caleb Carr to fall in love.