Hi! Here's the promised Chapter One for Always. I'm really excited for you to read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing (and writing about) how Ash and Brenna's romance unfolded. I love these two together. I think you will, too 🙂 .
Could you also scroll to the very end as I have a request at bottom of this post?
But first, here's the beginning of Always.
ALWAYS CHAPTER ONE
Ah, to be happy and in love.
Brenna Ward sighed enviously as she watched Amanda Payne, her newly engaged best friend, take a romantic stroll on the sands of Sydney’s Bondi Beach with Connor Reid. On this sunny, early spring day, Connor had just very publicly proposed to Amanda in the middle of Australia’s famous beach. But while Brenna was genuinely happy for the couple, it triggered her discontent over her lacklustre love life.
She walked behind them as they made their way to Connor’s beachfront apartment, and she wondered when the time would come for her. Three of her best friends—Amanda, Sarah Daley and Rebecca Andrews—were now in permanent relationships, over-fulfilling the group New Year’s resolution they’d made last year.
Her gaze wandered over to Sarah, who was a few steps ahead, walking hand in hand with her fiancé, Jeff Carmichael, one of Connor’s childhood friends. Yesterday, Jeff’s older brother, Zach, married Rebecca.
Out of the five best friends, only Brenna and Gemma Aldwyn were yet to fulfil their New Year’s resolution: to make time for love this year so by next New Year’s Eve, they’d each be lip-locking with a potential happily-ever-after guy at the stroke of midnight.
Gemma had come up with the idea, all in the name of being brave enough to make the first move on a guy who interested them, and not letting past hurt get in the way of their future happiness.
Well, it was already September and Brenna was kind of on track with the pact. She was going out with Lance, a nice, soft-spoken and considerate guy who was always prompt for their dates. She was comfortable with him. Problem was, that was all she felt—comfortable. They’d been dating for two months now, and quite honestly, she was starting to feel bored. Although she liked Lance, she wouldn’t really describe her relationship with him as being “rock her world” type. From the beginning it had always been… well… only average. Was it nasty to say she could take it or leave it? Because if she were to be completely honest with herself, that was where she was with Lance.
She’d told herself she should still continue to see him, though. She was not the type to give up on relationships easily. Who knew what could happen if they'd both put in more effort?
She shook her head at herself, acknowledging that while holding on could be considered a good trait, it had its negatives.
Lance was the first man she’d considered a boyfriend since she’d broken up with Darren two years ago. Darren had been her ‘first love’ and they were together for six years. Admittedly, the second half of their relationship was more the on-again, off-again kind, until they'd both finally realised they were wasting their time with each other.
It had been devastating to let go of something she’d invested in for so long. But looking back, she knew she’d stayed with Darren for more or less the same reason she was still with Lance: it had been comfortable and familiar. She felt safe with comfortable and familiar.
Unfortunately, none of the guys she'd gone out with after breaking up with Darren had tickled her heart—not even Lance.
Well, actually, that was a lie. There was one guy who had, and still did. But—
Brenna gave her earlobe a sharp tug in addition to telling herself to stop. It was her ritual to arrest the wayward thought which had been repeatedly sprouting in the last year or so.
Funnily enough, the ritual had always worked. She again managed to push the crazy notion back into the hidden closet in her heart. She simply couldn’t allow herself to entertain the thought that Ash Payne, Amanda’s older brother, could be anything more than her best male friend.
“So, Brenna, are you next to get engaged?” Greg Carmichael asked, pulling her out of her musing.
She raised her eyebrows at Zach and Jeff’s younger brother, who was among the friends invited by Connor to witness his proposal. “Me? What makes you think that?” she asked.
“Well, you took your boyfriend to Zach and Rebecca’s wedding yesterday. I’m assuming you guys must be serious,” Greg said.
She chuckled. “No, no. We’re not serious and I’m far from getting engaged.”
“Well, thank God for that,” Ash muttered.
Brenna hid her sigh. Somewhere along the line, Ash’s overprotectiveness for his sister had extended to all four of Amanda’s best friends.
She’d known Ash since she was eight years old, when she first became close to Amanda. Being five years older, Ash had acted big-brotherly from the beginning.
Now, twenty years later, Ash still had a habit of sticking his nose in the women’s businesses. None of them minded it, though. They were used to it. But lately for Brenna, it had turned bittersweet.
Having no siblings herself, and with parents who had constantly left her in the care of different relatives due to their jobs as political journalists, she’d embraced her best friends’ families as her own. And Ash was the closest thing to a brother she’d ever had. Since she very much valued that relationship, she didn't welcome the growing attraction she felt for him.
Exactly when she’d started crushing on Ash, she couldn’t tell. It had simply crept up on her, getting stronger in the last few months.
“Ashton, are you getting all big-brotherly on me again?” she asked, masking her inner turmoil with a term that reminded her how things really were between her and Ash.
“That man’s not good for you, Bren,” Ash said. “He seems like a cold fish.”
“Hey, that’s harsh, Ash. He’s just shy,” she said, defending Lance. Funny, though, how a big part of her agreed with Ash’s sentiment.
Ash shook his head. “I should dunk you in the ocean to wake you up.”
Brenna snorted. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I wouldn’t?” he asked ominously.
“No-o,” she said, her earlier confidence evaporating at Ash’s tone.
With fast movements she didn’t expect, Ash lifted her in his arms and headed for the water.
“Ash! Put me down!” she shrieked.
“You know better than to dare me, Brenna Ward.”
“It’s cold, Ash,” she said pleadingly. While it was a sunny day, the early spring weather was still too cool for her to want to go in the water.
“Even better. That would wake you up even more, wouldn’t it?”
“No!” she exclaimed, giggles bubbling out of her.
A gentle wave rolled up to them. “Oh, damn. It is cold,” Ash said as the water hit his legs, followed by a gust of cool sea breeze.
Her body shook as she tried to contain her mirth. Why she was finding this funny, she didn’t know. “See? Put me down,” she demanded.
“Your wish is my command,” Ash said with a grin, swinging his arms as if he was going to throw her.
“Ash! No! Don’t drop me please,” she said, her laughter ringing out with her words.
“But you just asked me to put you down,” Ash teased.
“Not in the water!”
“Well, since my legs are already wet, we might as well go all in,” Ash said, wading almost waist-deep. Any deeper and she too would get wet.
“Ash, don’t be silly! We don’t have a change of clothes!”
Ash lowered his right arm, which was supporting her legs, just enough so her feet touched the water.
She shrieked, extending her legs up and clinging to him like he was her lifeline, her arms tightly wound around his neck. She was giggling harder and she couldn’t stop herself.
Ash pressed her closer to him.
Frankly, the feel of Ash’s muscular chest, his strong arms carrying her and the nice smell of his short, dark hair was driving her to near hysteria. Apart from hello and goodbye hugs, she hadn’t been this physically close to Ash for this length of time before. And damn, it was making her… swoon. She’d always had a thing for hunky men and Ash most definitely was one. Even with his busy schedule, he didn’t miss his time at the gym.
She was getting warm and tingly. And her gaze focused on Ash’s lips. They weren’t far away from hers…
Panic surged through her. What the hell was she thinking? This was Ash, the guy who treated her like he treated his sister!
Stop, Brenna! And tug your earlobe!
Instead, she squirmed, trying to get out of his arms.
“Brenna, quit moving or I might drop you,” Ash admonished, turning and heading back for the shore. “It’s cold.”
“You’re a silly goose, Ash. What are you gonna do now? Borrow a pair of Connor’s jeans?”
“You should. You wouldn’t want to catch a cold. Your patients wouldn’t want you coughing and spluttering all over the place while you operate on them,” she teased, knowing getting ill was the last thing Ash wanted. As a sought-after ophthalmologist, Ash had often mentioned he didn’t have time to get sick.
“Since I was nice enough not to dunk you in the cold water, maybe I could give you an eye operation which would make you see better instead.”
“My eyesight’s not that bad yet, Doc,” she answered.
“It could be much better,” Ash quipped.
She giggled, burying her head in the crook of his neck. Goodness, could she at least stop acting like a teenager with a crush? Seriously.
She sighed as Ash set her down on dry sand. Her hand slid down his muscular chest before she pulled it away, realising what she was doing.
“So tell me,” Ash said. “Why are you still with him?”
“Lance?” she asked, trying to ignore the fact that she felt bereft from no longer being in his arms. “Well, he’s nice and his family’s great. We just haven’t spent enough time together lately because he’s got too much pressure at work. Which is also why you thought he was a cold fish from your first meeting at the wedding yesterday. Apart from being the shy type, he was simply not in full party mode.”
“You’ve met his family? But you said you two are not serious.”
“So you’re expecting to be serious with him at some point?” Ash prodded.
“I guess.” No, she wasn’t sure at all if she would want a long-term future with Lance. But she wasn’t really thinking now. She was too busy mentally stopping herself from jumping back into Ash’s arms and making an utter fool of herself. Crazy.
She glanced up sharply at the brusqueness in his tone. Hmm. He was probably feeling the cold.
Ash forced himself to act nonchalant as he and Brenna trudged on the sand to rejoin the others. What the hell had gotten into him to do what he did? Holding Brenna that close for that long felt so good that it was bad. Very bad.
And, of course, he was stupid enough to ask the question that confirmed she did like Lance enough to expect something serious down the line. Heck, she was probably falling in love with the man already.
Yesterday, when Brenna had cut his heart to pieces by bringing a date to Rebecca and Zach’s wedding, he’d made another promise to himself that he’d finally move on. For Brenna to bring a boyfriend to an occasion as important as her best friend’s wedding was a big deal.
But when he’d heard her say a while ago that she and Lance weren’t serious, he’d stupidly let hope flare in his heart again.
Carrying her in his arms had been an impromptu decision, like his plan to try one more time to give her strong hints about his feelings for her. But just like before, his intentions were foiled by her words and actions.
There had been plenty of times in the past when he’d tried to tell her that she was someone very special to him. Problem was, no matter what he’d said and done, Brenna had only ever taken his words and actions as friendly, or even worse, brotherly—which had always stung like hell and had him retreating. If she’d shown even a single ounce of interest, he would have pushed through. But, nope, nothing in Brenna’s responses had indicated she had any romantic notions about him—not even a tiny bit.
If Brenna weren’t such an old and close friend, he would have wooed her hard ages ago. But their friendship was a gift as well as a curse. The fear of it being broken, or even threatened, had him holding back from expressing his true feelings. That, and the knowledge that if he did fully confess, he’d only end up hurting the both of them. He knew Brenna wouldn’t want to hurt him with her rejection, and he didn’t want to force her hand. What was more, there were his sister and their other best friends to worry about. Whatever happened between him and Brenna would most certainly affect them too.
Why, oh why, did he have to fall in love with this woman? There was nothing he could do but to keep trying to move on. Every day he wished that he’d finally meet the one person who’d make him forget about Brenna. So far, he hadn’t found her.
But he had to remain optimistic. If he wasn’t meant to be with Brenna, then there must be someone else out there for him, right?
He had to think like that. It was the only thing that enabled him to keep going—and stopped him from doing something stupid, like prostrating at Brenna’s feet and begging her to give him a chance.
Fortunately, he wasn’t exactly short on females propositioning him for dates. In fact, he’d started seeing a new one—a hairdressing salon owner he’d recently met at a colleague’s birthday party. Sophie had explicitly stated she didn’t want a serious relationship, that she was only after a fuck buddy. It suited him just fine, so they got together.
“Is the water cold, Ash?” Amanda called from a few metres away, dragging him out of his musing.
“I’ll lend you some dry clothes, bro,” Connor said, which earned the man an adoring look from Amanda.
Ash smiled. At least his sister had found herself a great guy.
“So did you manage to wake Brenna up, Ash?” Gemma asked with a grin.
He shrugged. “My mistake. She was already very much awake,” he said lightly, following the others as they resumed walking.
It was really him who needed to wake up. Brenna was dreaming of a future, and it involved another man—not him. It was never him.
So why shouldn’t today be the day he did himself a huge favour? To accept once and for all that Brenna simply wasn’t interested in him? He was sure that the moment he fully embraced that fact—no matter how much it hurt—was the moment he’d start healing, and perhaps open his heart to someone else.
Yes, the time had come. It was now.
He took a deep breath and glanced surreptitiously at Brenna. God, she was beautiful. The breeze was whipping her long black hair around her face. And from where he was standing, he could fully admire those beautiful lashes that framed her gorgeous brown eyes. It was a pity she wasn’t his. And today, he finally got it. She’d never be his.
Silently, he said goodbye.
His heart squeezed and heavy sadness hit him as he mentally let go of the woman he’d loved for years. They’d still be friends. They’d always be friends. And he’d always be there for her if she needed him. Always.
But from now on, he’d keep his distance.
“I think I should head home,” he said casually to the group, not wanting his melancholy to be noticed by anyone.
“Why?” Amanda asked. “Connor’s clothes should fit you.”
“Uh.” Damn. He couldn’t think of a good enough reason.
Amanda linked her arm with his. “You have to stay, Ash. We’re all here—well, except for Bec and Zach—so we could celebrate my engagement.”
He gave his sister a fake bright smile and dutifully walked with the group to Connor and Amanda’s apartment. Unfortunately, he had no choice.
Nothing different from how you usually deal with it, Ash. Pretend Brenna’s just another one of your “adopted” sisters.
Yes, he was an expert in that particular pretense. Hopefully it would be much easier from here on in. Because from now on, there would be no more hoping. Years of hoping was tiring, and his heart was tired.
***End of Chapter One***
Tomorrow, I'll be back with Chapter Two 🙂 .
If you've already pre-ordered your copy of Always, many, many thanks! If you haven't yet, consider getting it early as it's currently on a special pre-order price of $2.99USD. About two days after release date on October 22nd, the price will go up to $3.99. Click here for the links to the stores where you can pre-order your copy.
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Thanks so much!
Stay tuned for Chapter Two.
Lots of love,