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Blind Date
Author: Bella Jewel

PROLOGUE


“I miss you, Ray.” I see her lips mouth a touching tribute to her husband as she places a bright bunch of flowers by his headstone.

My eyes zone in on her—small but strong, kneeling near a puddle of water as she runs her fingers over the stone. Her mousy brown hair is tucked neatly at the nape of her neck, pinned with a black clip. I wonder if she did that herself? Maybe her friend did, the one standing to her left, staring down at her with a soft look on her face.

My heart flickers.

But it isn’t out of pity for the girl. No, it’s pure joy. She’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, unlike anything I’ve ever had experience with. I’ve been watching her for a while. All the rest—their situations were different. But this one … she’s strong willed. I can see it in the way she clenches her fists, stopping herself from breaking down. She isn’t the kind to fall to her knees and scream. She’s stronger than that. It’s written all over her, right down to the hard set of her jaw as she holds herself back from crying.

No. She’s not like the weak-willed women I’ve played with in the past.

I can feel it in my chest—she is the one. She is the goal, the ultimate prize. I can’t rush with her. No, I have to take this slow; break her into tiny little pieces before I attack. I need to do my research and get this right. She isn’t going to be easy, but she’s going to be worth it. She is going to be the one I remember forever; I can feel it right down into my bones.

Yes. She’s what I’ve practiced so hard for.

I’ll have to change up my game. I can’t do this the way I’ve done it with all the other women. This one is special and deserves special treatment. She’s going to get everything that I’ve got bottled up inside for all this time. I’m going to play this one differently and make this girl my trophy. I’m going to swoop into her life like a hurricane, only she won’t be able to see me. She’ll feel me though.

I’ll be back for her.

She’ll never know what hit her.

Hartley Watson.

I’m coming for you.

 

 

ONE

Hartley

“C’mon, Hart, it’s been four years. You can’t keep hiding away, avoiding the world.”

I glance at Taylor, my best friend and a royal pain in my ass, and grimace. “Maybe so, but going on a blind date hardly seems like the ideal situation to get back out there. I’ve read about those—they never end well.”

Taylor raises a pretty blonde brow; even giving me a sarcastic expression she looks gorgeous. Blonde, tall, lean, and fit. She doesn’t need to worry about finding a date—she has them lining up. “How would you know? You’ve never been on one. You were with Raymond for ten years. When was the last time you even knew what it was like to meet a new person?”

The mention of my husband’s name has my chest constricting, though it’s not as bad as it used to be. During those first few years after I lost him in a car accident, there was a stabbing pain every living, breathing moment. I don’t think I went a day without that pain cutting through me. But over time, it turned into a slow ache—some days bad, some days barely there, but always a constant, in one way or another. A continuous reminder that he’s gone, and that I’m still here without him. At least I can wake up without tears running down my cheeks now. That was a big step.

That was when I first felt like I was finally healing. That was six months ago.

“I don’t want to meet any new people.” I shrug. “Not by forcing it, anyway. It seems wrong…”

Taylor keeps that eyebrow raised, and crosses her arms, causing the purple blouse she’s wearing to crumple up at the front. “Look, honey, I know you might not want to be ready, or even want to think about it, but it can’t hurt to go on a date. It’s not like you have to marry the guy. You have a few drinks and if you don’t like him, you leave and never have to see him again.”

I study her for a moment. She’s stubborn. She doesn’t budge when she gets an idea in her head. Those hazel eyes hold mine without hesitation, without even flickering in a different direction. She won’t back down, and I damn well know it. When Taylor is in one of her life-changing moods, nobody can tell her no. Nobody.

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” I mumble, turning my attention away and squinting as I try to feed a piece of thread through a needle so I can sew a button onto my favorite green blouse, which I’ve probably far outworn but can’t part with. It’s comfortable, so incredibly comfortable. And it was the last thing I wore when Raymond was alive. The last thing he touched. The last thing he saw me in.

Taylor makes a little sound in her throat, bringing my full attention back. “Hart, you’re young and you could be out there, getting all the love you deserve. Can you just do this for me? Please? Go on a few dates, and if you hate them I swear I’ll never ever mention it again. I’ll leave you to sew buttons and stay huddled up in this apartment for another four years, wasting away.”

I give her a foul look, and she blinks innocently at me.

Damn her. She’s good. She knows how to push my buttons and get beneath the surface to stir me up and get what she wants. We’ve known each other too long—that’s the problem. She might as well be my sister, my other half, basically a part of me. And she can read me like a damned book.

“One,” I say, looking back down to feed the needle through the button and then through the material of my blouse. “One date, and that’s it.”

“Five.”

I snort. “One.”

“Four dates. C’mon, Hartley.”

She puts her hands together in a pleading gesture, those big eyelashes batting as she looks at me like some sort of desperate kitten.

I narrow my eyes at her. “Two.”

“Three and we’ll call it even.”

I sigh. “I don’t know why I have to go out with three men. Can’t I just go out on one date and be done with it? I’m not interested in seeing anyone. I’m not sure I’ll ever be interested in dating anyone again. Honestly.”

She’s already smiling way too big, because she knows she’s won. She knows it and she’s thrilled with it. “You don’t know until you try, and hey, you might even just find a friend out of it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend at the very least?”

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