The perfect husband. Colin Cassidy—the incredibly talented, extremely gorgeous, and unbelievably humble star NFL quarterback.
The perfect marriage. Our bond was unbreakable. His support unwavering.
The perfect career. As the recently-appointed executive director for the Boston chapter of Mending Hearts, a child abuse prevention and treatment program, my daily reward was helping to keep vulnerable, innocent children from being preyed upon and destroyed. It’s all I’d wanted to do since I was a teenager.
Perfect city. Perfect car. Perfect house with the perfect view.
From the outside looking in, it was impossible to find a single flaw in my life. I had it all. Everything I’d ever wanted.
But that kind of perfection came at a price. Demanded the ultimate sacrifice.
What happened when I discovered what I’d been missing all along? When I began to question if the lies were worth protecting?
What if suddenly the last thing I wanted was to be perfect?
“What in the world is all this?” I asked with a chuckle, hovering under the archway that separated the living room and kitchen. “Did you invite the offensive line over for breakfast or something?”
Colin, still dressed in his pajama pants and a plain white t-shirt, whisked something feverishly at the stove while I gaped at the steaming, mouth-watering spread on the butcher-block kitchen island. Buttery scrambled eggs. Waffles. French toast. Crispy bacon. Sausage. Hash browns. Flaky buttermilk biscuits. And fresh strawberries with homemade whipped cream to top it all off. I’m pretty sure I gained five pounds just looking at it all. So much for that workout.
“I’d need a lot more food than this, if that was the case,” he contended as he shot me a teasing smile. Momentarily abandoning the baked beans in the saucepan, he set the wooden spoon down on the counter, turned the heat down to low, and closed the distance between us to kiss my forehead. “Morning, gorgeous. I’d give you a proper hug, but my hands are all greasy. How was your workout?”
I scrunched my nose up and gave a sharp shake of my head. “It sucked.”
His chest shook with laughter as he bent down to rub the tip of his nose against mine. An Eskimo kiss, it was called, according to Colin. My mom wasn’t big on any kind of kisses, hugs, or demonstrations of love for anyone other than her current boyfriend or husband, and since I’d never had a boyfriend before him, it took me some time after Colin and I started dating to get used to his open displays of affection—both public and private—but soon…soon I began to love them. To live for them. They were my drug. He was my drug. All I needed to keep my perfect world balanced and me grounded.
“You knew better when you took that final glass of wine last night. I saw the hesitation in your eyes,” he half-scolded, returning to the food I still contended was not a breakfast food at all, despite his and his parents’ claim otherwise. I didn’t care that Google backed them up, maintaining beans were common in breakfasts throughout many countries that were once a part of the British Empire. The only way I was eating them at nine in the morning was if I was camping, or it was the apocalypse. Otherwise, they were a lunch or dinner-only menu item.
“Yeah, I did.” Sighing, I shuffled inside the gourmet kitchen and plopped down on one of the four bar stools situated around the island, where we ate ninety-nine percent of our meals. It was my seat while we were in this room, which was more often than not if we were home. When we originally bought the house after Colin was drafted by his hometown team, the first thing we did was have the entire thing gutted and redesigned to our liking.
The kitchen was my husband’s pet project, as he claimed it would be the heart of our home. He personally selected everything from the mahogany cabinets and black-and-tan marble countertops, to the natural wood accessories and the toaster that had more settings than a spaceship. Warm, cheery butterscotch walls. Restaurant-quality stainless steel appliances. Ornate hardware on all of the drawers and cupboards. It didn’t make sense to me then, but as we settled into our life together, I soon discovered that if we weren’t in our bedrooms, chances were we were in the kitchen—either comparing our daily schedules over coffee and a healthy breakfast in the mornings or catching up at night at night over dinner. It was ourplace. Just like this was my stool. Unfortunately, our already-busy schedules only seemed to be growing more and more hectic over the previous few months, and we’d been missing each other more frequently than I’d have liked.
“You never told me what this is all for,” I reminded him before I snuck a piece of bacon and shoved it in my mouth.
“We’re celebrating.” Peering over his shoulder, he smirked as he watched me chew the heart-attack inducing deliciousness. “And get your grubby little fingers out of the bacon until it’s time to make our plates.”
I moaned as I swallowed. I couldn’t help it. It was that good. Bacon was my weakness; I could never have a pet pig.
Once I’d finished climaxing with Wilbur’s belly, I realized my husband was still staring at me, his expression unreadable. “I hope you don’t do that in public, Roe. That sound would give a hundred-year-old man on his deathbed a woody.”
My right eyebrow arched high up into my forehead, a combination of confusion over the celebration comment and a where-in-the-hell-did-he-come-up-with-some-of-this-stuff look. I opted to ignore the old-guy-with-a-boner explanation and found out when I could have more bacon. “What are we celebrating?”
He twisted back around to stir the beans, even though I could see the burner was off and they were clearly ready and didn’t need stirring. The only time Colin didn’t face me when he was talking was when he was nervous. And only one subject made Colin nervous.
“Well, the success of the gala, of course. I know I said it last night, but I was so impressed with everything. You kicked ass, babe.” He paused briefly to exhale loudly then continued on. “This is also my last Sunday home before the season starts. After this, we won’t get to do our Funday Sundays until after playoffs next February, and I knew you were going to meet with Allison later, so I wanted breakfast to be awesome.” Another pause. Longer this time. Two deep breaths. “And after we got home last night—”
“This incredible guy showed up,” a familiar male voice that belonged to Colin’s childhood next-door neighbor and best friend finished the sentence from behind me.
I quickly spun around to find Seth Andrews closing in on where I sat, wearing only a pair of loose athletic shorts and with his brown hair all a bedhead mess. He scooped me up off the seat and twirled me in the air as he covered both sides of my cheeks with kisses. I squealed with delight.
“Roe, baby girl, you were amazing last night!” he exclaimed as he eventually lowered me back on the cushion then parked himself two stools away from me. His spot. “Not only did you look absolutely stunning, your speech was fuckin’ killah. Those snooty assholes were eating out of the palms of your hands.”
“You do know you’re one of those snooty assholes, right?” Colin scoffed from the refrigerator while pulling out the milk and orange juice. “And watch your language in my house, especially around Monroe.”
Seth rolled his eyes and snatched two pieces of bacon from the platter, giving one to me and keeping the other for himself. I giggled as Colin flared his nostrils when he caught us. “Roe doesn’t care if I curse. She works with teenagers. Kids these days throw fuck around like it’s an everyday word. I bet Oscar the Grouch teaches them how to spell it on Sesame Street now or some shit.”
I wanted to agree that he probably wasn’t far off, but instead of riling up Colin even more and forcing him to get out the swear jar, I redirected the conversation. “I was wondering if I was gonna see you here this morning,” I said to Seth, “but when you weren’t around at the end of the gala, I thought maybe you had to take Effie home and didn’t feel like driving back into town.”
“Nah,” he shook his head as he grabbed a strawberry, “she wanted to go meet some of her friends at a bar, and I didn’t want her on the streets by herself, especially considering the fancy shit she was wearing. So I escorted her there and hand-delivered her to a girl I somewhat trust. Then, I ran into a guy I knew from school, so I stayed and had a couple beers while I waited for you two to get home.”
“You must’ve been quiet when you got here. Or I was so tired that I just passed out, oblivious to the world around me.” I shrugged my shoulders, not surprised.
Erin Noelle is a Texas native, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters. While earning her degree in History at the University of Houston, she rediscovered her love for reading that was first instilled by her grandmother when she was a young child.
A lover of happily-ever-afters, both historical and current, Erin is an avid reader of all romance novels.
Her titles published include the Book Boyfriend Series, the Dusk ‘Til Dawn Series, the Luminous Duet, Conspire — co-authored with SE Hall, Surviving Us, MILF: Wrong Kind of Love, Spark and Flame.
Her books have been a part of the USA Today Bestselling list and the Amazon and Barnes & Noble overall Top 100.