Hidden Scars by Amanda K. Byrne
(Hidden Scars, #1)
Publication date: September 22nd 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
(Hidden Scars, #1)
Publication date: September 22nd 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Sara’s number one rule of dating: closed off, secretive men need not apply. Years of therapy helped her move past the damage done by her emotionally abusive boyfriend, and she’s ready to date again. Someone funny, laid back, and easy to talk to. All things her coworker Taylor isn’t.
Taylor’s quiet. Too quiet. He operates in permanent stealth mode, and he hides his secrets as well as Sara does. She doesn’t want to be attracted to him, but after a night spent in a hotel room together, trapped by a blizzard, she can’t deny there’s a fire-hot connection between them, waiting to ignite. Their working relationship inches closer and closer to friendship, until one day she gathers her courage and kisses him.
It’s the match Taylor was waiting for.
What starts as a sweet, fumbling friendship quickly becomes a passionate and intense affair. Just when Sara’s starting to feel safe in Taylor’s arms, his secrets come out, and she wonders if she’ll ever be able to stop looking over her shoulder.
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Drawing her brown hair into a ponytail, she washed her face, then pulled on her sleep gear. After one last check in the mirror showed she’d gotten rid of the mascara rings under her eyes, she opened the door.
“Taylor, did you—” She stepped out and the words dammed up in her mouth.
The tattoo covering his back was more than ink. It was art. It belonged on full display, where it could be admired, studied, envied.
Black shaded to grey, the edges of the frame bleeding out rather than squaring off. A lone figure was stretched along his spine, and she could feel the pain of the needles as they worked over the thin skin, so close to bone. Stuck in the middle of a desolate wasteland, it conveyed a bitter, suffocating loneliness, the figure hunched over as it walked.
His muscles rippled, and she balled her hands into fists, shocked at the impulses twitching under her skin. She wanted to trace every line with her fingertips, then do it all over again with her tongue. It was a slim back, broader at the shoulder, tapered at the waist, fit and lean. A back that would hide well under a tailored suit.
It had her considering Taylor Smith in a whole new light. The unassuming sales executive with his quiet good looks took on a sleek and sensuous edge.
Her mouth snapped shut when he glanced over his shoulder. “Um. Blankets? Were there any?” Swallowing became very difficult as she watched him walk to the closet, muscles bunching as he reached up.
He tossed the blanket on the bed. “Thanks.” She grabbed the pillow nearest to her and hugged it to her chest. There were scars. Faint ones, thick ones, running over the ridges of his abdomen, up on his biceps, and a long, jagged one trailing down his sternum. There had to be a story behind those, too, and the questions whispered in the back her mind. She wasn’t staring. She just couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze. She shifted it to the floor, the pillow falling from her hands.
Her head snapped up.
He reminded her of a hunting cat, all patience and stealth. His expression gave nothing away, although he had to be annoyed by her staring. If her scars were visible, she’d be annoyed, too. She brushed the guilty thought aside. “Yes?”
“Room service? We didn’t get a chance to eat.” He handed her a paper menu. “You done in the bathroom?”
She nodded absently, studying the menu. Better to study the menu than the man in front of her.
When the bathroom door clicked shut, air rushed from her lungs. She had to get a handle on this. This was Taylor. Boring old Taylor. Who cared if his body made him a little more interesting? Under it, he was still the same person who ignored her unless he needed something for work. It was probably her mind’s way of telling her she was ready to take the next step. There were other men out there if she wanted an entanglement. Men who talked. Unlike Taylor.
She hesitated in the middle of the room, and he kept going, walking to one of the small booths toward the back. He slid onto the bench with a view of the entrance, watching as Sara made herself comfortable on the opposite side of the table. A server came over immediately, and he ordered without thinking. “Jameson’s and water.”
“Bombay and tonic.”
Then they sat there, staring at each other, the muted sounds of the bar filling the space between them.
He felt like he was back on his first date when he was fourteen. Tammy Clare had finally agreed to go out with him, and he’d taken her to Joe’s, the neighborhood diner. It had been awkward. His tongue had been tied in knots, and most of the meal passed sans conversation, which he’d since learned was necessary for a date. Conversation. He needed a topic, something innocuous. Something that wouldn’t bore him to death. Unfortunately, everything he wanted to know about her ventured into the get the fuck away from me, I’m not telling you anything category.
Sara blinked first. “Why are we here?”
He almost sighed with relief. “Here, specifically? I was just following you.”
She made a face, and he relaxed another fraction. That was the Sara he’d seen around the office. “Don’t be an ass. You practically wear a neon sign that says do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. I’d be surprised if you didn’t tell me to go directly to jail.”
Something uncoiled inside him, and he chuckled. He relaxed even more at her surprised look. So his smile, his first genuine smile in what felt like days, stayed in place. “Honestly? I don’t know. I got used to you popping in every other day or so and when you didn’t, it felt weird.”
“And what, you followed your instincts?”
He shrugged. “Pretty much.”
One brow shot up, mouth pursing as she studied him. “Huh.” She glanced up as their drinks arrived. “Could I get an order of sweet potato fries?”
“No problem.” The server bounced off to fill the order, and she stared after him. “God, he can’t possibly be old enough to serve liquor. And no one should be that cheerful, working in a bar. It’s unnatural.” She sipped her drink, keeping her gaze on the table.
French fries. Again. She’d ordered fries with her sandwich, that night in the hotel. The movie she’d been watching. It was as good a topic as any. “LA Confidential. You said it was one of your favorites. Got any others?”
Her drink sloshed as her hand jerked around it. “Oh. Um. Memento. Chinatown. The Lives of Others.”
She drank deeply before answering. The level of liquid in her glass was below the halfway point when the glass came back down. Her cheeks were flushed, eyes bright and animated. “It’s the story. It has to have a good story, otherwise why would I want to spend two hours or more sitting in the dark? They…make me think. They let me into someone else’s world, a believable world, not one populated by morons who think shit jokes are funny.”
Her fries arrived, and she worked her way through the basket, the pauses in the conversation growing less awkward as she told him about her favorite movies, moving on to books and reading, her preferred hobby. There was an entire wall in her dining room, she said, lined with boxes of books. She was thinking built-in shelves, once she got around to painting the damn place.
She sipped her drink and sat back, nudging the basket toward the middle of the table. “God, I’m awful. I swear I’m not normally this self-centered.” She waved a hand at the fries. “Help yourself.” Propping her chin on her hand, she looked at him, the wariness and reserve finally gone from her expression. “Now you know what I do with my free time. What about you?”
“Spend a lot of time outdoors. There’s plenty of hiking around here. Skiing, too.” He reached for a fry. “Haven’t caved to peer pressure yet and gotten a bike, but I’m thinking about it.”
“Do you hike with a group? My friends aren’t all that into nature, so the most they’ll do is walk one of the trails out at Forest Park. Trying to talk one of them into anything more strenuous requires bribes.”
He shook his head. “A buddy of mine sometimes goes with me, but I go alone a lot of the time.” He told her about some of his favorite trails, and she pulled out her phone to note a couple he mentioned that were fairly easy hikes that would have a good number of hikers in decent weather if she went by herself. Hiking. Something they could do together. He made a mental note to ask her in the spring, when the weather improved.
She tucked the phone back in her purse. “Hate to say it, but I need to get home.” She signaled to the server for the check, then slid her gaze to Taylor. “Thanks,” she said quietly. “This was fun.”
She let the conversation lapse, mechanically eating most of the basket of fries. She was going to kiss him. It was the one step she could take. Maybe it was ahead of schedule, but they didn’t have one, did they? No written directive proclaiming the kiss had to come after so many more weeks of denying she really wanted to know what this man looked like naked.
Nerves resurfaced with her resolution. She excused herself and hurried to the restroom. The warm water ran over her hands as she soaped them, ridding her skin of the last of the salt. Taylor had already paid their tab by the time she returned, no steadier than when she’d left. Heart beating at a rapid pace, she brushed past him when he held the door open for her. Jittery excitement rose with each step toward the street her bus stop was on. If she was going to do this before she could talk herself out of it, she’d have to spring it on him. Trying not to telegraph her intent, she gave him a quick smile and turned to walk off, toward her bus stop. Then she spun around and kissed him. He didn’t respond. His lips remained immobile against hers, and a flush worked its way up her neck to the tips of her ears. Dropping onto her heels, she offered him another tight smile and headed off to her bus stop.
Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid to attempt something with a man who had only recently given her any indication he might be interested in something more. Her heels clicked over the sidewalk as she hurried toward the bus shelter, away from Taylor. The best, or worst, part of all of it was he’d probably act like nothing had happened.
Best. Best thing. It would mean they could continue to work together without awkwardness.
The part of her brain that wasn’t working overtime to rationalize the situation registered the sound of footsteps coming up behind her. Her shriek of surprise was muffled by a hot, firm mouth, lips molding to hers, begging her to respond. Taylor’s hands slid down, over her hips, gripping and yanking her to him, and her arms wound around his neck as she opened for him. His tongue tangled with hers, giving her exactly what she needed, lust and heat and a kind of claiming that crushed her doubts to a million tiny pieces.
She kissed him back, licking into his mouth, giving him more than he’d asked for, bound and determined to make him remember this one kiss, as if it was the only one they’d ever share.
The kiss was all demands. There was no softness, no gentle exploration. The need that had flared to life as his mouth continued to assault hers ratcheted higher, and she forgot they were on a crowded sidewalk during rush hour. She wanted that mouth all over her. On her neck. Her breasts. Over her belly. Between her thighs. Especially there, stoking the fire until it flamed out of control.
The kiss broke, the two of them panting, his eyes cloudy with desire. “Sara.” His hands were in her hair, and she dimly wondered where the pins holding it up had gone. He kissed her forehead. “You should go home,” he murmured.
Yes. Going home would be good. He should come with her so they could continue this with far less clothing. “Stay safe.”
His lips brushed over hers, and then he was gone.
She took in the living room as she shrugged out of her coat, then faced him, her nerves still evident, but mixed with something else. A couple of something elses. Desire. Determination. She stepped into him and slid her hands up his chest, tipping her head back. “Taylor?”
He splayed his hands across her back, the warm silk of her hair tickling his skin. “Yeah?”
She dropped her gaze to his mouth, flicked it back up to his eyes. “I don’t want to go slow.”
Jesus. He’d known it would happen. He honestly didn’t believe it would be tonight, not even after the kisses they’d shared in her office. He glided a hand up to cup the back of her head. “Sara—”
She rose on her toes and cut off his protest with her mouth. “I want this,” she whispered against his lips. “I don’t want to go slow. Not anymore.”
It’d be easy to take her at her word. But she’d been cautious for so long, he had to be certain. “We can wait. Just dinner, remember?”
She kissed him again, harder, hotter, her tongue darting out to probe at the seam of his lips. Before he could respond, she broke the kiss on a pant. “Now. I want you now. I’m not going to break, so don’t you dare hold back on me.”
The way she was vibrating against him, her mouth teasing and seeking, stretched his control to the limits. If she wanted this, he’d give it to her. He crushed his mouth to hers, her taste ripping through him as he plunged his tongue into her mouth. Hot and tart and quintessentially Sara. He traced her curves with his hands as she met him kiss for kiss, the sinful heat of them clouding his brain. Her body was fantastic. Full, high breasts he wanted to see uncovered. A slightly rounded belly, the curve of her waist flaring out. His hands continued their journey, skimming down to her hips, cupping her ass. She needed to get out of the skirt. He vaguely remembered it hampering her movements earlier, sitting on the edge of her desk. Sliding his hands over the thin material, he found the zipper and drew it down, groaning as her tongue completed a particularly clever maneuver. He was going to take his time. He was greedy, wanting to know what would make her sigh. What would make her scream.
The skirt slipped down her legs, and as soon as she’d stepped out of it, he grabbed her hips and picked her up, bracing her against the wall. She met heat with heat, need with a towering one of her own, her mouth working over his jaw and up to his ear as her fingers plucked at the buttons on his shirt. She lifted her head, lips swollen from his, and smiled darkly. Her hands slid over his shoulders and pushed the shirt down his arms.
He had to touch her. Had to have her skin heating under his hands. Capturing her mouth, feeding off her moans, he stumbled down the hall and into the bedroom, lowering her to the bed. Then he yanked her up, whipped her sweater off, and urged her down again, pinning her to the bed.She felt so damn good under him. Soft and curvy and warm, the spicy scent of her perfume surrounding him, her body fitting to his in all the right places. Her arms and legs locked around him as her hips tilted up. It shoved him onto the edge, his dick aching, and he had to drop his head to her shoulder to keep from tearing the rest of his clothes off and plunging into her right then.
FAVORITE ROMANTIC MOVIES
There’s something about seeing romance on the big screen that just makes you feel all mooshy inside (in a good way!) In Hidden Scars, Sara’s a bit of a movie snob, and, well, so am I. It takes a lot for a romantic movie to land on my favorites list. These ones all hit the mark and then some.
Before Sunrise/Before Sunset - Jesse and Celine meet on a train to Venice in Before Sunrise and, unable to afford a hotel room for the night, spend the hours walking around the darkened city, talking about everything under the sun. Before they go their separate ways the next day, they make a desperate and heart wrenching promise to meet again in six months – without exchanging contact information. In Before Sunset, they meet again years later completely by chance, and find what drew them together all those years ago is still there, and still strong. Before Sunset has one of my favorite endings ever: Jesse’s only in town for a day, and as they’re sitting in Celine’s apartment, she says, “Baby, you’re gonna miss that plane.” And Jesse just smiles and says, “I know.” Swoon. I love these movies. This is love at first sight done right, in my opinion.
(500) Days of Summer - Confession time: I have a bit of a thing for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Tom falls for Summer, a girl who doesn’t believe true love exists. This movie was all the things: cute, smart, genuinely funny (I particularly like the scene where Tom is breaking all the plates he owns by throwing them on the floor), sexy. Tom’s both a goof and a serious dude, and the way their relationship plays out made me sigh. Plus, it’s got a great tagline – This is not a love story. This is a story about love.
Anne of Green Gables - So it’s not actually a movie. But this miniseries (and its sequel) would stop me and my girlfriends from changing the channel every time PBS reran. You might think Anne of Green Gables is the story of how Anne works her way into the hearts and minds of the town of Avonlea, but there’s an epic romance at its heart: Gilbert and Anne. From the moment he calls her Carrots to the day she agrees to marry him, theirs is one that will burn itself into your brain, and I promise, if he’s not already, Gil will be your new movie boyfriend.
North and South - Two words: Richard Armitage. Wait, you need more? Seriously? Again, a miniseries, not a movie, but the way that Thornton looks at Margaret is just…no words. I have no words. And the ending. OMG that ending! Go. Go watch this now. You can thank me later.
Simply Irresistible - Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Amanda, a chef saddled with a failing restaurant when she meets a Tom, adepartment store executive (Sean Patrick Flannery). It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it’s fun, and it’s really fun watching Tom fall for Amanda despite everything he does to prevent it. Also? Sara Michelle Gellar’s wardrobe in this movie was pretty awesome.
What are some of your favorite romantic movies?
GUILTY PLEASURE GUEST POST
You know these. The things where you dart furtive glances around, making sure no one can see you indulging in your…
I’m pretty up front about my likes and dislikes, but I’ve got a few that I’m not all that keen on revealing for the teasing and/or lectures it might get me.
Like movie theater popcorn. This stuff is sooooo bad for you, with its fake butter and double count of your daily ration of salt, but sometimes I just have to have it.
Or Thirty Seconds to Mars. The band has plenty of eager and vocal fans, but I’ve kept my fandom under wraps (until now). Why? My friends are music snobs. I’m kind of a music snob. And the BF is one of the biggest music snobs I know, but at least for him, it makes sense (he’s a classically trained musician). The sound of Thirty Seconds to Mars is too slick and overproduced for me to really take them seriously, but I like them anyway.
Reruns of The Hills falls on the list, too. When it was still on MTV, I was much, much better about going to the gym. I’d climb on the elliptical machine and stay there until the episode was over, and I got deeply invested in the pseudo-relationship between Lauren and Brody. Like, I was really disappointed when they couldn’t work it out and get back together.
This last one is going to make me sound like a total snob, but I can’t help it. I am a film snob. I have a membership to the Seattle International Film Festival, and I go every year. Foreign films are my jam. And while I’ll happily watch good action movies (you know, the ones with an intricate plot, fast pace, and preferably starring Andy Lau), I sometimes need to watch a particularly bad action movie. Ones with unnecessary explosions, fight scenes that go on forever, and ridiculous, over-the-top plots that are so far off the plausibility scale it’s laughable.
Are you game to admit your guilty pleasure?
THE GAMMA HERO
We’re all familiar with the alpha hero – the badass who doesn’t take crap from anyone, who never hesitates in the face of danger, who’s overbearing and bossy and uber-protective of the heroine. And we know beta heroes, too. They’re the sweethearts, the nice guys, the ones who make you laugh and make you feel treasured, who are kind and smart and basically the one you’d take home to your parents.
When I wrote the first draft of Hidden Scars almost three years ago, most of the heroes I’d written to date (or the ones I liked the most, anyway) were beta heroes. There’s something about alphas that just turn me off, and while I’d written one or two before, they weren’t my favorites.
Then came Taylor.
Taylor sort of defied classification. He was quiet. That was his thing. He understood the value of silence, and he understood Sara’s need to come to him. So he couldn’t be an alpha. But he also had this fierce need to protect not just her, but his family, and he had no qualms about taking decisions out of her hands if he thought it was best for her. Those aren’t exactly beta qualities.
Enter the gamma hero. He’s a mythical combination of alpha and beta, and sometimes, if you’re really lucky, he’s got the best characteristics of both. And Taylor certainly qualifies. There’s no doubt he’ll take charge when he has to, but the most important thing to him is giving his woman what she needs. If that’s standing aside so she can fight her demons on her own, he will. If it means taking care of her, he’s all over it. And if it means telling her how much she means to him, well, he’s not afraid to do so.
What’s your favorite type of hero?
THEME SONG GUEST POST
Music plays a big part in my writing process. I love creating playlists for my stories, and while I can’t actually listen to them while I’m writing (I have a tendency to sing along whenever I’m listening to, well, anything), I’ll play one when I’m gearing up to dive back into my latest work in progress.
So it’s a little strange that I didn’t create one for Hidden Scars. It happens; sometimes I don’t need the musical inspiration, and that’s what happened with Hidden Scars. The story just poured out, and by the time I even thought of putting together a playlist, I was more than halfway through and barreling toward The End.
I’ve been thinking about theme songs lately, though. Books deserve theme songs, yeah? A song that whenever you hear it, you automatically think of a particular book. Like Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” Whenever I hear that song, I think of Leisa Rayven’s Bad Romeo. Or my debut, One Night in Buenos Aires. I hear Neon Trees’ “Sleeping With A Friend” and I automatically think of Drea and Joe.
Finding a suitable song for Hidden Scars was a bit of a challenge. There’s plenty of musical references in the book itself – Sara listens to metal and “angry music” to help calm her down. Think Rage Against the Machine, Lostprophets, Sevendust, Royal Blood. But anger didn’t fit the tone of the story. I needed something a little angsty (because ANGST) and a little sad.
You might have heard X Ambassador’s lead single, “Renegades”, but it was another song from their debut that struck the right note, so to speak. “Unsteady” might be about about family and the struggle to keep it together, but it resonates just as deeply with Sara and Taylor’s story. They’re both a little unsteady, but as long as they’ve got each other, they can face anything thrown at them.
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When she’s not plotting ways to sneak her latest shoe purchase past her partner, Amanda writes sexy, snarky romance and urban fantasy. She likes her heroines smart and unafraid to make mistakes, and her heroes strong enough to take them on.
If she’s not writing, she’s reading, drinking hot chocolate, and trying not to destroy her house with her newest DIY project. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and no, it really doesn’t rain that much.