Book: Tough and Tender (Bad Boy Romance Box Set)





The bustling town of Seaside is busier than I expected. It has been years since I’d ridden through the pastel-colored town, and it surprises me to see throngs of tourists filling the sidewalks and crosswalks.

Instead of bikers, most of the tourists are wealthy, sunburned families with children, all dragging umbrellas and towels from their rented houses over to the public beach. I don’t envy them since they look hot, tired, and cranky.

For some reason, they all seem to be irritated at me. After we receive several hateful glares, I realize the loud muffler on my motorcycle might have something to do with it.

Too bad.

They can just fucking deal.

“What do you think about Seaside?” I yell to Trish over my shoulder.

“I love it,” she says back. “The colors of the buildings are so pretty. A picture perfect town. I wonder what it would be like to live in a place like this.”

“Probably nice in the winter,” I reply. “The spring and summer months would be a bitch with all these tourists walking around. The locals must hate it.”

“I bet they like the money the tourists bring in.”

“You’ve got a point there.”

Trish spots an art festival going on in the village green space located in the middle of the town.

“Do we have time to stop and look around?” she asks. “I need to stretch my legs for a minute. They’re going numb.”

“Sure,” I say, glad for any opportunity to get to know her better.

The bike ride seemed like a good idea at first, but then I realized we weren’t getting much of a chance to talk. It’s hard to have a deep, meaningful conversation when every word has to be yelled to the person behind you.

After parking the bike, I take her hand in mine and we follow the other tourists to where the white tents for the art festival are set up. The area between the tents is congested with lots of people milling around.

When Trish’s purse bangs my side, I realize this might be the best opportunity to steal her cell phone without her noticing. I had been enjoying the day so much that I almost forgot my mission.

She slows down as we move past a booth selling handmade jewelry. I notice her eyes go to a pair of silver earrings. She reaches down to pick them up for a closer look then changes her mind.

“Do you like those?” I ask.

“They’re beautiful,” she says. “Unfortunately, with my current financial situation, I can’t afford to be looking at jewelry.”

Reaching for the earrings, I hold them up to her ear. “I think these earrings will look fantastic on you.” I lean down to whisper into her ear where the elderly lady working the booth can’t hear. “The earrings and nothing else.”

Trish ducks her head. I love her shyness, both inside the bed and out.

“We’ll take them,” I tell the clerk.

“Do you need a box?” the lady asks after I hand over the money.

I turn to Trish for her answer.

“No, if it’s okay, I’ll put them on now,” she says.

She deftly slips one earring on and then the other.

“How do they look?” she asks, smiling up at me as if she doesn’t have a care in the world.

Like we are a normal couple on vacation doing ordinary things; walking around an art festival and looking at jewelry. Buying drippy ice cream cones or strolling along the beach.

I look at her and for a moment, my heart actually hurts. She’s breathtakingly beautiful when she’s happy.

If only we had more time.

I know I could keep her happy if we had a real chance.

My mind turns to how much I hate the Liberators. If it’s not bad enough that they took important things from my past, now they’re taking away my future as well.

Gathering her close, I lean down and kiss her softly on the lips. The embarrassed clerk clears her throat and looks away.

“I think you’re the prettiest gal I’ve ever seen,” I say truthfully, brushing a wisp of hair back from her face that has sprung loose from the ponytail. “The earrings look absolutely stunning on you.”

While one hand presses against her back, the other slides into her open purse. In a split second, I palm her cell phone and slip it into my pocket.

I’m going straight to hell.

In my life, I’ve done plenty of bad things, some that I’ve regretted, and other worse things that I didn’t feel a tingle of remorse about.

Right now, stealing Trish’s cell phone when she’s looking up at me with those big innocent eyes is at the top of my list of things I’ll need to repent for some day at the pearly gates.

“Thank you so much for the earrings, Jesse,” she says, reaching up to touch my cheek. “I love them.”

I feel like a big stinking pile of dog shit.