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Jake and Rebecca’s First Kiss --
The Unpublished Prologue to
Liana’s Award-Winning Contemporary Romance
When he knocked on the doorframe of her bedroom, she looked up from her desk, her frown of concentration softening into surprise, then the warm smile of welcome he’d come to secretly count on. Suddenly unwilling to meet her eyes, Jake focused on the dark wood of her desk. Or what passed for a desk, since she’d salvaged the ugly, bulky thing from the Warner junkyard herself.
“I thought you’d be out celebrating tonight,” she said, obviously pleased he wasn’t. He knew she didn’t care for the company he kept. He didn’t blame her, but neither was she his keeper. Unlike his old man, Mickey, Jake had reasons for doing the things he did.
“I’m on my way,” he said, thinking of the mayor’s daughter, waiting for him in her daddy’s new Caddy up on Holton Hill. He wouldn’t exactly call what he had planned for tonight a celebration, more of a stick-it-in-your-eye gesture to the good citizens of Warner, but…
“How about you?” he asked, stalling. “Got any plans?” After all, it was her sixteenth birthday.
She gave her textbook a dry look. “Plans? You’re looking at them. Test tomorrow.”
“You’re spending your birthday studying?” Jacob Donovan had never met anyone more responsible than Rebecca Reed. He wondered where she got it from. Definitely not her mother. God only knew who her father was. “What is it? Algebra?”
Rebecca wrinkled her nose. “Quadratic equations.”
Which Jake would bet a week’s pay from Feeney’s Service Station she knew inside and out. The girl was smart. It was one of the reasons he’d tried to put some distance between them since his stint in juvie last year. Rebecca was going places.
And suddenly, so was he.
“So what happened today?” she asked. “At the hearing.”
He avoided the question, not yet ready to tell her. “I got you something,” he said instead, stepping into her room. He’d been in there dozens of times over the years, but not lately unless he could help it. Somehow it just didn’t feel right anymore. Made him think about things better left alone. “For your birthday.”
He reached into the pocket of his thrift shop black leather bomber jacket. It was a little too loose-fitting, but it was butter soft, real leather, and last year’s Christmas gift from Rebecca. Jake planned to wear it until the day he died. “It’s not much, but…”
He held out a small square box. Meeting Rebecca’s stunned gaze, Jake could have strangled her good-for-nothing mother. How much trouble would it have been for Chloe to pick up a card? A book, for God’s sake? Rebecca loved books.
“Go ahead. Open it.”
She did, her cornflower blue eyes misting over at the silver heart-shaped necklace inside.
He felt like a dog, knowing he’d bought the necklace in part to soften her up for what he had to tell her. The way she was acting, you’d think it was twenty-four-carat gold. But silver was all he could afford. Fixing cars at Feeney’s didn’t exactly bring in the bucks.
“C’mon. I’ll help you put it on.”
She rose and went to stand in front of an ancient dresser, its mirror speckled with brown spots. Another yard sale relic he’d helped her haul up the narrow wood stairs to the garage apartment she shared with her mother. The apartment that overlooked his back yard. Her fingers trembled as she pulled the twenty-dollar necklace from its cardboard box.
“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered. “And it’s new.”
Jake wanted to hit something. “I wasn’t about to get you something somebody else wore,” he growled, then remembered his jacket and hoped he hadn’t hurt her feelings.
She smiled a shaky little smile and he lifted the necklace from her fingers, then moved to stand behind her. Her eyes met his in the mirror, and her smile wobbled big time. Suddenly Jake regretted every stupid thing he’d ever done. But it was too late now. Judge Oates had given him one night to pack his things and say his goodbyes.
Rebecca lifted her long strawberry-blonde hair to the side, and Jake smelled…strawberries. He smiled to himself. What else would it be? She loved the darned things. She must have come across a bottle of cheap cologne at one of her garage sales. He fastened the clasp, his scarred knuckles brushing the soft curve of her neck. The contact gave him an unexpected jolt. Startled, he looked up to find Rebecca still watching him in the mirror. Closely.
“Something’s happened, hasn’t it?”
Jake’s heart sank, then picked up speed. Something inside him shifted, and it suddenly hit home that after today, his life would never be the same. This was it for him and Rebecca. Sayonara time. Inside his leather jacket he began to sweat, but he managed a rough smile.
“Lookin’ good, Becca. Happy sixteenth.”
She dropped her hair. The tangy scent of strawberries exploded all around him like invisible bubbles in the air. He kind of liked it. At least on Rebecca.
She turned to face him, her expression intent. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? What’s going on, Jake? What happened at that hearing today?”
Jake tore his thoughts away from imaginary bubbles and swallowed, knowing he was sunk. “I joined the Army.”
The fiery mixture of shock, disappointment, and anger in Rebecca’s voice startled him. Jake wasn’t used to anger or recriminations from Rebecca. “I didn’t have a choice, Becca! With my juvie record it was either that or do some time.”
“You said there was nothing to worry about. You said you were innocent. You said you had nothing to do with starting that brawl at Tim’s Tavern.”
Where he’d gone to collect the old man and ended up in the middle of a free for all while Mickey laughed his troublemaking butt off on the sidelines. “Of course I said that. I didn’t want you worrying, or worse, missing school because of me.” The truth was he didn’t want Rebecca anywhere near that part of his life. Certainly not on her birthday. What if he’d been sent up the road again thanks to Mickey’s idea of fun? Just the thought of Rebecca seeing him in handcuffs, the disappointment in those big blue eyes, was too much to bear. He’d rather--
“When are you going to stop treating me like a little kid, Jake?”
She’d planted her fists on her hips, looking so un-Rebecca-like it threw him. “Huh?”
“You think I don’t know what you are? You think I care?”
“Rebecca, what are you talking--?”
“When are you leaving?”
Jake was grateful to get the conversation back on track. “Tomorrow.”
She looked at him, hard, then seemed to come to some sort of decision. As she lowered her arms and straightened to her full five foot three, warning bells went off in his mind, but for the life of him Jake couldn’t move. The transformation from angry friend to something a lot more soft and feminine was too mesmerizing.
“Kiss me, Jake.”
His jaw nearly dropped. “What?”
“Kiss me, Jake. Now.”
“You’ve got to be kidding, right?”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life.”
He believed her. He could see it in her steady blue eyes, her calm, cool resolve. “This is crazy, Rebecca. All I came by for was to let you know I’m leaving in the morning.”
“You’ve done that, Jake. Now kiss me.”
His stomach churned. His hands went clammy. God knew he wanted to. Had wanted to for what felt like forever. But this was Rebecca. His buddy. His pal. The only truly good thing in his messed up life. He didn’t want to mess that up, too.
“Why not? You’ve kissed nearly every other girl in town.”
That stung. “The hell I have. You know that’s more talk than—” What was she doing, anyway? Rebecca never passed judgment on him, or he her. It was the foundation of their six-year friendship.
“Why not?” he started over, collecting himself, “for starters you’re only—”
“Sixteen years old, Jake, and I’ve never been kissed.”
“Never?” Jake couldn’t believe it. Not with her looks. What was wrong with those boys at school? Then again, Jake would have ripped any one of them who laid a hand on her apart with his bare hands, and they all knew it. He’d never forget the day he’d come across a group of bullies behind the school, backing her up against a brick wall. Taunting her about her mother, the town sleaze. Asking Rebecca when she planned to follow in her busy mama’s footsteps. Rebecca had been about twelve at the time, just starting to fill out. He’d nearly gone wild with rage at the sight of her terror. To the best of his knowledge, no one had ever touched her again.
“Never,” Rebecca said quietly.
Damn it. He should have left the minute he’d handed over the necklace. Told her he’d enlisted and walked out. Sent her a post card from boot camp and hoped she’d forgiven him by then.
He ran a shaky hand through his hair. She’d been having that effect on him a lot lately. Way too often for comfort. But all she did right now was look at him in that direct way she had of getting to the heart of things.
“All right,” he finally snapped. “But just one kiss, okay? I’ve already got a date.” He scowled, making sure she understood she was holding him up.
“I know you do, and I know who she is.” Rebecca looked back at him, her gaze steady, her determination unnerving. “I also know why you’re seeing here and that she’ll keep.”
Meaning Rebecca understood how little Mimi Modano meant to him. Ashamed of himself for taking his frustration out on her, Jake placed his work-roughened hands gently, platonically, on her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Becca. It’s been…”
“A rough day?” She lifted a slender hand to his cheek. “I imagine it has.”
It took every ounce of pride and willpower Jake had not to sink into her soft touch. Not to haul her against him and hold on for dear life. God knew he needed some comfort and reassurance right about now. He was scared spitless about what was going to happen to him.
But this wasn’t about him. It was about Rebecca. She needed him to make her day special, and if it was the last thing he did for her, somehow he’d manage to keep his sorry self out of it.
With the fantasy of friendship firmly in mind, Jake lowered his head to kiss her—and suddenly felt more clumsy than he could remember feeling, including the night he’d lost his virginity to the Chloe clone his old man had set him up with as a joke five years ago. Just another example of Mickey’s idea of fun. Gently Jake touched his lips to Rebecca’s, determined to give her as chaste a kiss as an eighteen-year-old grease monkey with a wild reputation could.
Their mouths met, melded softly. She tasted, not surprisingly, of sun-kissed strawberries. Warm and sweet and ripe. Enchanted, Jake took a few seconds to explore, to taste first one side of her mouth, then the other. At her whimper of pleasure, he moved his hands from her shoulders to stroke her cheekbones with his thumbs. Nipping lightly on her lower lip, he tilted his head and coaxed her into opening up for him…just a little.
When he touched his tongue to hers, she moaned and lifted her arms, welcoming him fully into her innocent heat. Groaning, Jake slid his hands down her sides, grazing her wonderfully soft breasts before lacing his fingers behind her waist. Drawing her into the cove of his thighs, he all but drowned in the sweetest, most sensual kiss he’d ever experienced.
Everything about it felt right. For the first time in memory, Jake forgot where he was. Forgot who he was. Forgot to look over his shoulder for life’s next crippling blow. For the space of a few mind-bending moments he forgot everything but the delicious heat building inside him as the girl in his arms melted against him like hot wax.
He smiled as his hands slid down to cup her softly rounded behind, to pull her against him more firmly, more tightly. “Jeez, Rebecca, I never would have guessed you were so hot for—Rebecca?”
Swearing sharply, Jake released her as if she’d scalded him. She swayed and he caught her elbows reflexively. “Rebecca, what the…?”
He stared down at her in horror, taking in her soft, swollen lips, her high color, the unmistakable haze of desire in her eyes. Her sixteen-year-old eyes.
She reached for him then, his closest friend, his worst nightmare come true. A shy, sweet, vulnerable small-town girl blindly reaching for womanhood. Wanting him to take her there.
He shook her. Hard. “Rebecca. No.”
She blinked in confusion, then met his eyes, hers still dazed and vulnerable with need. He waited until she recognized the fury in his.
“Don’t ever,” he said, gritting his teeth against the frustration in his body, in his soul, “lie to me like that again. If you’ve never been kissed, I’m the town saint.” He glared at her, his blood hammering with the need to haul her back into his arms, to tumble her onto her pristine twin bed and bury himself in inside her, the consequences be damned.
“I love you, Jake.”
Releasing her abruptly, he stepped back. “No you don’t,” he bit out. “You can’t.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Becca. You’re just a kid.”
Her eyes widened sharply. Swearing under his breath, Jake turned away. He felt as if he’d been stabbed clean through the heart. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t move. You’ve got to get out of here, Donovan, before you do something you’ll really regret.
Not to mention totally illegal.
Rebecca touched his arm. The concern in her voice, in her touch, was almost his undoing. Here he was, this close to ruining the best thing that ever happened to him, and she was worried about him.
He shook off her arm and held up a hand. “Forget it, Rebecca. I was just messing with you. You asked, I gave.”
“That’s not true and you know it.”
He froze, knowing it was do or die time. Behind him, Rebecca waited for him to make everything right between them again.
He shrugged and straightened, not turning around. “I gotta go. Mimi’s waiting—and she’s eighteen.”
With that, he left Rebecca and the apartment behind, letting the screen door slam behind him.