DONE WITH LOVE
Once upon a time… Bridal boutique owner Alexis Gorecki used to believe in happily-ever-afters—until Prince Charming turned into a toad. When it seems her evil almost-in-laws will stop at nothing to ruin her professional reputation Lexie wages war. Which sounded so much better in her head.
Her strawberries and cream personality really isn’t cut out for taser guns and blackmail.
To complicate matters, her first love is back in town—and pushing all the right buttons. Her heart still remembers the first time he broke it, but she can’t deny the way her body responds to his touch. Leo Moss has always been her weakness. Can he convince Lexie she’s not quite done with love?
Ok Lexie is well…she is crazy! Never fear though because when her twin and crazier BFF come to cheer her up the fun really starts. It’s a good thing her Sex on legs special forces ex boyfriend, the beast, is around to keep Lexie out of trouble. Well at least help her get out of trouble that the BFF, Roxanna drags her into. This book has some of everything. Laughs, love, friendship, and just enough sexy to make you breath a little faster and there are some very sweet moments too. I loved being able to have the old friends from Another Shot at Love come in but the story really is Lexie and Leo’s and they are perfect for each other. The only thing I didn’t like was that it had to end. I Loved it! It’s a great read to lift your spirits and make you laugh.
When I was seven, I fell in love with fairytales. Breathless first kisses, white weddings, and tiaras—every little girl’s fantasy. Not any fairytale would do, either. I, Alexis Anne Gorecki, had my sights set on becoming the next Sleeping Beauty. When I was ten, I auditioned for the part of the princess in our school play.
It hadn’t mattered that my Little Golden Book edition was earmarked on every page or that I’d watched the cartoon a hundred times and could recite the movie almost by heart, it still wasn’t enough for me to land the part. While I cried my eyes out, my twin sister Gen consoled me by drawing ridiculous caricatures of Mrs. Nelson, the play director, and of Whitney Delaney, the snotty-pants who’d been cast as Princess Aurora. Whitney’s idea of being a good sport was to rub her victory in my face for the rest of the year.
I eventually got over it, but I never got over longing for “the fairytale.” For as long as I could remember, I’d wanted those magical memories ending with a happily-ever-after. So, I’d been planning my dream wedding even before prince charming had a face in my fantasies.
It wasn’t until this very moment, minutes before I would say “I do” in real life, it hit me, hard—none of those fairytale stories ever mentioned what happened after the marriage vows.
“Did you really think Jeremy would walk away from his inheritance for puppy love?” Deborah studied me as if I were a slow child whose ignorance was nothing more than an annoyance. My future mother-in-law, prim and perfect in an expensive and conservative ivory cap-sleeved jacket dress, fingered the pearls around her neck while she studied me with bemusement.
I bristled, straightening in the beige upholstered chair identical to the one on which Deborah sat. We were in the bride’s dressing room, separated by a short hallway from the cathedral already full of wedding guests. I couldn’t believe Deborah’s nerve.
“I would hardly call this puppy love,” I said, working hard to keep my rising frustration under control. “We’re getting married.”
“Simple, simple girl.” She shook her head. “Jeremy’s pedigree comes with a price—a girl like you just won’t do.”
As stunned as I was, anger stabbed at me, piercing my skin to awaken my sluggish brain. “Jeremy loves me, Deborah. You need to let it go.”
Her blue eyes narrowed to annoyed slits. “If you two hadn’t flaunted that damn ring around town before I could quash the engagement, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” The disgust dripped from her mauve painted lips.
“Except, here we are,” I said through clenched teeth. There was so much more I wanted to say, but calling my future mother-in-law a stuck up bitch wasn’t a good idea, no matter how true it was or how much I wanted to. “It’s too late. We’re in a church.” I gestured my satin gloved hands down at my ivory wedding dress. “This wedding is happening.”
“I agree, just as soon as you sign this contract.” She held up the cream bond paper, neatly tri-folded to fit in her clutch.
I shook my head. “I’ve already signed a prenup—I’m not interested in taking Jeremy’s money, whether you believe that or not.” I clenched my fists together to keep from slapping her. “I’m not signing this ridiculous contract agreeing to an annulment. Our marriage isn’t a business arrangement. I love Jeremy, and I want to stay married to him. You are insane.”
“You will sign it,” she insisted, leaning forward with a triumphant smile on her lips, “because Jeremy already has.”
I jerked my head as if she’d slapped me. No, he wouldn’t. He’d never do something like this behind my back. Never.
Her smug expression told me otherwise.
“You forced him to sign it.” There was no question behind my words, only profound alarm.
“I didn’t have to force anything, and neither did his father. We merely explained to him the consequences of not signing it. He enjoys his lavish lifestyle.” She set the contract in my lap. “It’s not as simple as the money, Alexis. You don’t belong in our family.”
The beautiful grandfather clock across the room tick, tick, ticked, shouting there was no time for this. And hadn’t that been Deborah’s plan all along? To spring this unconscionable ultimatum on me so there’d be no time to back out, not with a church full of people who’d come to see a wedding.
“Get out of my dressing room.” Fury scorched through me, shooting straight to my hands, clenched on the arms of the chair.
“You will sign this contract. Because if you don’t, we will disinherit Jeremy and freeze all of his assets. None of it’s his, as you know. And he knows it, too. Which is why he signed it.” She flipped to the last page and raised it for my inspection. The blue ink he’d signed his name in jumped off the paper.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” I whispered, more to myself than to her.
A flash of movement from behind her caught my eye. Gen had disappeared into the adjoining room to look for a bobby pin just before Deborah knocked on the door. Gen gave me a wide-eyed stare from the doorway, but I kept my attention on Deborah.
She produced a pen from her clutch. “The terms are simple—a couple of weeks of married bliss, and after Gerard wins a seat on the Senate, you and Jeremy will get an annulment and go your separate ways.”
I scowled. “And if Gerard doesn’t win the election?”
“Of course he’ll win. Jeremy’s engagement to you has done wonders for Gerard’s campaign. Everyone loves a big, beautiful wedding. So you’ll put on a smile, go out there and give them a show. It’s very simple. The media’s here to gobble it right up. It’ll be all over the news by tomorrow.”
I couldn’t even comprehend the amount of rage pulsing through my body, couldn’t believe this evil, black hearted woman sat speaking these words. “I would rather walk out of this church right now than sign that contract and let you and your family use me. Get out of my dressing room.”
“If you refuse, you will regret it. Do you understand, Alexis?” Her lips pressed into a hard line, and I leaned back in my chair, away from the frigid cold emanating from her empty, icicle heart. “I’ll ruin your reputation in this city. You’ll lose your clients, you’ll lose your business, and once that’s gone, I’ll ruin your father’s little…tool shop. Do you really want to be the reason he has to file bankruptcy? Maybe even lose his home and all because you were selfish?”
Blackmail. She was crazy, but I believed she meant every word. I pictured Jeremy on his knee in our favorite restaurant, his vow to love me forever if I honored him by accepting his proposal. His blue eyes glistening with tears as he claimed he would never hurt me, how the thought of growing old with me made him the happiest man in the world. Lies.
In that moment, the love I’d thought Jeremy felt for me whooshed away to nothing, and I was empty. There was no point in fighting—Jeremy had already given us up.
She pressed the pen into my hand and smiled. All I could see were her black, soulless eyes. The evil queen. The pen shook in my gelatin-weak grip, but I signed below Jeremy’s signature. I blinked, and a tear fell from my eye.
I thrust the contract and pen to her chest. “There.”
“You really shouldn’t cry on your wedding day,” Deborah cooed, and I fought the urge to snatch back the pen so I could stab her in the eye with it. She stood, tucking the contract into her clutch. As she pressed the clasp together, she said, “As the contract states, you’ll be rewarded for your trouble.” She bared her teeth in a smile. “We’re grateful for the part you and the wedding have played in Gerard’s campaign. People just love a big happy family event like this.” She sing-songed the words. “I don’t understand this generation’s obsession with fairytales. It’s ridiculous.”
“I don’t want anything from you.” I rose to my feet and strode to the door to fling it open wide. The hallway was empty—everyone was seated in the cathedral except for the bride’s wedding party, who waited for me so they could walk down the aisle and lead me to my fiancé already standing at the altar.
“Don’t be stupid,” Deborah said. “We’re not unreasonable people. The amount of money we’re paying you will keep your little bridal boutique in business for many, many years. You could open three boutiques, if you wish.”
She shrugged and swept across the threshold. She turned, her lips parted as if she meant to say something more, but I slammed the door in her face. Dragging in a deep breath, I turned and leaned with my back against the door, my eyes closed. I willed my heartbeat to slow, smoothing the skirt of my dress as if it might calm me.
So much for my dream wedding. The thought made me snicker at the absurdity of it all. She was right about one thing—fairytales, how ridiculous.
“What in the hell was that?” Gen snapped. When I opened my eyes, she stood before me, her hands clasped in tight fists at her side. “You signed it!”
There was nothing to say. I had no energy left. This morning I’d awoken excited, the picture of a blushing bride. Now all I wanted to do was go back to my apartment and sleep.
Maybe… I pinched myself then winced. No. This wasn’t a pre-wedding-jitters nightmare. This was real.
“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “I had to sign it.”
“Like hell you did.” She took my bare shoulders in her hands and gave me a small shake.
I shook from her grasp and went to the table to pick up my bouquet. The thing had cost a fortune, the flowers fresh, some of them driven in on a van and placed in an ice water bath so they wouldn’t bloom until today. The Buchanan’s estate was filled with the same flowers for the reception—no expense had been spared. The photographs would look like something out of a bridal magazine. And it’s all just a campaign gimmick.
I wondered how long Jeremy had known about this. When had he signed the contract, agreeing to leave me after his dad won the election? How long had he been lying to me? He’d said nothing at the rehearsal dinner, acted as if everything was fine. As if he loved me. Liar.
The music changed. The beautiful melody drifted in to us through the crack under the door like a countdown, mocking me.
That’s when the shaking that had seized my hands ebbed out to the rest of my body, and the world shifted under my beautiful Gucci heels. I shook so hard, I worried my bones would break. Or maybe that was me—broken. Gen wrapped her arms around me. I fought to catch my breath with my face smashed against her bare shoulder.
But I didn’t cry. I can’t ruin my makeup. I blinked back the tears, but they spilled anyway.
“Come on, let’s get out of here.” Gen rubbed the bare skin of my back just above the laces.
“I can’t.” I shook my head. “You heard what she said—she’ll ruin dad’s business.” I sucked in a panicked breath. “It’s too late.”
“Jeremy is a rat,” Gen seethed.
“I can’t believe he did this to us.” The betrayal stormed through me and centered in my chest where my heart thrummed with bewilderment. I fanned my neck with my hands and sucked in a breath, the corset under the heavy bodice unbearable. “This thing is so tight.”
“We’re going to slip out the back. Right. Now.” Gen yanked the door open. “She’s sick. Jeremy’s sick. That whole family is sick.”
“I can’t just leave. All those people. They’re here for my wedding. And the media…We hired a string quartet.” I sounded hysterical, because I was.
Gen gave my shoulders a gentle shake. “Lexie, you can’t wig out right now.”
“I forgot to eat something today,” I muttered as I stepped over the threshold into the hall. “I should have eaten.”
“Lexie,” Gen pleaded.
“It really will be the prettiest wedding,” I rambled as my shaky legs carried me down the hall. Glancing over at Gen, I smiled. Her face was pale under the bright hall lights. “Did you see the cathedral? All those ribbons and flowers.”
Earlier when I’d gone to peek at what the decorators had done, all the stress of the last few months lifted away on the scent of gardenias and honeysuckle. My engagement had been a rollercoaster, but I’d finally made it to my wedding day. I’d thought it was something to celebrate. How wrong I’d been.
My head was so fuzzy with disappointment and confusion, I couldn’t think straight.
“Lexie, we need to talk about this,” Gen begged.
She waved her bouquet at me. The stem of hers and the other bridesmaids’ bouquets were wrapped with both plum and ivory ribbon. Even my wedding colors had been determined based upon the Buchanans changing what Jeremy and I had planned as a spring wedding next year to a fall wedding this year. Purple was my favorite color, and I’d chosen a beautiful, shimmering lilac for the spring. As an October wedding, the accent color was plum—dark, like the fog Jeremy’s family had thrown over what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life.
“There’s no time.” Choking back a sob, I kept walking. “The bridesmaids are waiting. Dad’s waiting.”
I had always wanted the kind of love my parents had for each other, to go home every day to laughter and warmth. To know even when times were tough, even though life knocked you down, you would have each other, no matter what. Growing up, money was tight, and our home crowded and loud with us three girls, but we’d been happy. My parents were happy. I’d always imagined having a relationship like theirs one day, with a man as devoted to me as I was to him.
I’d wanted all of it with Jeremy, who loved me so little he’d given me up without a fight. My heart hurt so much, I couldn’t stifle the soft moan that slipped past my lips; it was lost in the whispers of my bridesmaids as they shuffled into order. Gen sent me one last troubled glance before wrapping both hands around her bouquet and stepping into the cathedral.
“You look beautiful, Lex,” Roxanna said, wiping a tear from her eye. I held back a sob——Roxanna never cried. We’d met back in grade school when she ran Gen and me off the sidewalk with her pink scooter. She’d been our best friend ever since. She exhaled with a smile and kissed me on the cheek. “Next time we talk you’ll be Mrs. Buchanan.”
Then she swept over the threshold and into the cathedral, behind Catherine, my older sister. The last bridesmaid, Jeremy’s cousin whom I barely knew, followed behind. Pachabel’s Cannon filled the church, and the guests rose with a whoosh. I froze. My legs wouldn’t move, even when my dad gave my arm a gentle squeeze to ease me toward the door where the guests waited for a glimpse of the bride.
“Sweetie? You okay?” My dad was so handsome, all six foot four of him tucked into a pressed black tux, his dark brown hair trimmed close to his head, parted to the side and combed down, just as he’d always worn it. There was a touch of grey at the temples.
I didn’t trust my voice, so I nodded in answer. The wrinkles around his brown eyes deepened with his frown. I took a step forward, and he followed suit.
Every eye in the cathedral was on us, and I struggled to suck in short, ragged breaths. Why is this corset so tight?! I was lightheaded, deprived of oxygen. I squeezed the bouquet and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.
Maybe I would faint. I prayed for it, willed myself to pass out. I concentrated so hard on giving in to the fuzziness clouding my brain that my knees grew weak. It’s too soon! I need time to think!
My step faltered, and my dad’s grip on my arm tightened.
“Lexie?” he whispered, his tone distressed. If only I could stop time right now and tell him everything…
But I couldn’t. If I did, he’d confront Jeremy’s family and the end result would be disastrous—I felt it in my bones. Deborah would ruin his business, and it would be my fault. Keep walking. It’ll be over soon.
“I’m okay.” My whisper was so soft, I wasn’t sure he heard. His gait was rigid in contrast to my weak steps.
At the end of the aisle stood Jeremy in his expensive suit, his groomsmen lined up beside him. Instead of looking at his bride, his gaze was on his shoes. No one else in the room noticed, they were all focused on the bride.
Coward, that’s what he was. Deborah was evil, sure, but Jeremy? He had no excuse. The day he put the ring on my finger he’d made a promise to us both. The anger tore and clawed at every inch of me, shattering my image of the happy ending I’d imagined for us.
Another step. I caught a flash of red in the sea of suits. Turning to glance at the bright color so out of place, my eyes locked on Leonardo Moss, and electricity zapped through me. He was still the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen. His expression was unreadable, but his gaze was so intense, I blinked in rapid succession behind my veil.
Leo. My first love. My first broken heart. Why is he here? His family had been invited, but I hadn’t expected Leo to be among the guests. I tore my gaze from his, and an absurd thought crossed my mind—Leo had worn jeans and a t-shirt to my wedding.
The rest of the wedding march was a blur—my dad giving me away, placing my hand in Jeremy’s. The contact sent a wave of revulsion through me. Just as we’d rehearsed, we stood before the priest, and Jeremy’s gaze skittered everywhere but at me, which was fine. I didn’t want to look at him either.
From the corner of my eye, my mom wiped at her eyes and sniffled as the priest spoke about the blessing of marriage. What blessing? There was nothing blessed about this union. My lips trembled, and I worried I would break into ugly sobs. You can’t cry. Don’t cry.
The priest’s words were an unintelligible hum. As empty as the vows I would soon repeat. This marriage was a sham. A joke for Jeremy’s parents to gloat about. All this money wasted.
The money meant nothing to Jeremy’s family, but my parents weren’t rich. Every penny they’d given me for this wedding had come from years of hard work and savings. Dipping into my own savings hadn’t seemed like a gamble at the time either, but now I regretted every penny I’d thrown away. The entire situation sickened me; I snickered with disgust. The priest blinked in surprise, and I was hit hard by guilt.
This is a lie. I was lying in church. To my priest. To God. My parents would be so disappointed. This is wrong.
My head was a jumbled mess. I almost reached up to bang my palm against my temple, but I was too off-balance to do even that. I swayed, and Gen’s hand grasped my waist. This is it, I thought, I really am going to faint.
I sucked in a breath at the same time she whispered in my ear, “Run, Lex.”
Run. She was right. I had to. I couldn’t stand here another second longer, not with Jeremy. I lifted my skirts in one swift but shaky motion. Out of the corner of my eye, Gen dropped her flowers and scooped up the train of my wedding gown.
And then we ran like the devil himself chased. Except the devil was a woman, and her name was Deborah.
I wouldn’t put it past her to chase me down and force me to go through with the wedding, so I picked up my pace. My ears thundered with my heartbeat, and I imagined I could hear the shock rolling like waves over the guests as realization dawned—the bride was on the run. With every step I took in my ivory heels, a little more weight lifted from my chest.
In the blur of the crowd, a pair of pale green eyes caught hold of mine and wouldn’t let go. Those eyes had lived in my dreams since I was twelve, had lived in my fantasies for just as long. I barely had time to register the smile tugging at the corners of Leo’s lips before I rushed past, straight for the doors and freedom.
Finally, we were outside. Roxanna had run with us, and I was so relieved she had. I needed them both, needed their strength. The three of us shivered in the dreary cold, the sky grey and overcast with the promise of rain. Roxanna raised her fingers to her mouth and whistled at a cab parked down the block.
“Thank God,” Gen said, her gaze on the cab.
We all raised our hands and waved, and I was frantic he might not see us in time. When the cab pulled up to the curb, I almost cried with relief. We rushed the yellow sedan before it made a complete stop. I threw open the back door, scrambling to get inside. Gen and Roxanna both grabbed fistfuls of my gown’s train to shove it inside, then jumped in after me. The three of us breathed heavily, crammed together like sardines in our glittering gowns. The cab smelled of perfume and flowers.
“Go!” Gen yelled at the cab driver, who floored it, throwing us back against the seat.
Once the cab was safely around the corner, I turned my wide-eyed gaze to the women in the cab with me.
“Oh my God,” I whispered. Dread sank into my bones, leaving me colder than Mother Nature ever could.
“Holy crap,” Roxanna breathed in astonishment, “that just happened.”
Gen took my hand and squeezed it, and we all leaned into each other, bumping shoulders, as the cab careened around the corner.
“We were so lucky the cab was here.” I couldn’t stop trembling.
“I called him when Deborah was talking to you in the dressing room.” Gen blinked at my questioning gaze. “I knew you wouldn’t go through with it—you couldn’t.”
“Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” Roxanna asked, her brown eyes searching ours. She still gripped her bridesmaid’s bouquet in one hand, and the other had a fistful of her bridesmaid’s skirt. “That was crazy in there!”
“I’ll fill you in when we get to my place,” Gen said. “Shit just got serious.”