Aug 23 2013 11:00am
Julie Greene loves flings. Loves steamy first dates, sizzling first kisses, and every now and then, that first sexy romp between the sheets. Comfy pants, sleepy Sundays, movie nights on the couch? Shudder. But when Julie gets assigned the hardest story of her career—a first-person account of that magical shift between dating and “I do”—she’ll need a man brave enough to give a total commitment-phobe a chance at more.
Normally, Mitchell Forbes would be exactly that man. A devastatingly hot workaholic who tends to stay in relationships for far too long, he should be the perfect subject for Julie’s “research.” But what Julie doesn’t know is that Mitchell is looking to cut loose for once in his life. And the leggy journalist notorious for avoiding love is exactly the type of no-strings fling he’s looking for. In other words, Mitchell is the polar opposite of what Julie needs right now. And, at the same time, he’s exactly what she wants.
Get a sneak peek of Lauren Layne's After the Kiss (available August 26, 2013) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.
At seven fifty-five on Sunday morning, Julie was sitting on a bench near Columbus Circle, trying to figure out at exactly what point she'd lost her mind.
For starters, she was up before nine on a Sunday. Everyone thought New York was the city that didn’t sleep, but it totally did. It slept on Sundays. Or at least it was supposed to.
And if one was up before noon, it should be to primp for a four-star brunch with the girls. Instead, the most exciting part of Julie’s outfit this morning was her hot pink sports bra. For a run. With a man who she wasn’t even sure liked her.
Everything about them was incompatible, and in any other situation she’d have moved on. But moving on was how she’d gotten herself into this mess in the first place. She had absolutely no experience in sticking it out, and it was time to face the music. Even if the music was of the boring, classical variety.
And then there was the not so small matter of that kiss.
That kiss might be worth the price of running. For “fun.” It's not that Julie didn't exercise. She did, for thirty minutes, five times a week. But that was solely a necessary evil to keep her thunder thighs under control. She sure as hell didn’t seek out the opportunity to do it in her spare time.
“Oh for god’s sake,” she muttered when she saw Mitchell jogging towards her. He looked obnoxiously sporty, fit and awake.
“What the hell are you wearing?” she asked, when he stopped in front of the bench where she’d been sulking. Julie's own workout gear was put together and color-coordinated. It was important to look put together to combat the inevitable sweat. But Mitchell's running gear was on a totally different level.
Everything looked slightly more high-tech than what she was wearing. His silver shoes had all sorts of reflective gray stripes that caught the sun. His shirt looked like that expensive, high-tech material that could like whisk your sweat away from your body and throw it into the nearest garbage can. The shorts, at least were normal.
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” he asked, glancing down.
“I guess I just wasn’t aware that NASA made workout gear.”
“You’re grumpy,” he said, pulling her ponytail.
“Oh yay, it’s playful Mitchell,” she muttered. “Remind me again why we're doing this?“
”Ah, Ms. Greene. Don’t tell me you've never run in Central Park.“
”Err, no. I'm more of an ‘elliptical in the air-conditioning’ kind of girl.“
He shook his head in dismay. ”You're in for a real treat.“
”Sure,“ she said, gazing up at the blazing sun. ”If by treat you mean blisters, heat stroke and shin splints.“
He glanced around at the growing number of people heading towards the park entrance. ”Well...if you want I can buy you a hot dog and leave you sitting on a bench with the rest of the inactive fatties.“
”Hey!“ she jabbed her finger at him. ”Not everyone who sits on a bench in Central Park is an inactive fatty. Some of them read.“
”I know.“ He grinned. ”I'm often one of them. Reading is my other favorite hobby, remember?“
”Not really. That little factoid was so boring that my brain had to reject it or risk falling into a coma.“
He tilted his head towards the entrance of the park. ”Come on. No more stalling.“
She trotted after him as he wove around the various ice cream vendors and rented bicycle tours. ”So how big is Central Park exactly? How far do you usually run?“
”There are a couple different paths. Just follow my lead and holler when you get tired.“
”Tired, my ass,“ she grumbled. Long-distance running might not be on the top of her bucket list, but she was still in pretty good shape. ”I'll lead,“ she snapped, as she quickened her pace to a jog and sped past him. ”Try to keep up.“
Thirty minutes later, Julie realized her mistake.
She tried to hold in a wheeze and contemplated asking a passerby if they had an inhaler. Not that she was asthmatic, but it was possible that she'd been just a wee bit over-optimistic about her fitness abilities.
Turns out she'd underestimated a few things.
And the sun.
Oh, and the fact that Mitchell apparently had a motor shoved up his ass, because the man had not slowed down.
”You okay?“ he called from where he jogged in place several feet ahead. He’d passed her about five minutes in, but had stayed within her visual range. It didn't take a genius to see that he was holding back for her.
”Oh this is great,“ she said, catching up to him and bending at the waist to put her hands on her knees as she gasped. She eyed a nearby baby's bottle. Milk was hydrating, right?
”Come on, we're only a couple miles in,“ he said, still jogging in place. Correction, he was practically jumping.
”What the hell are you so excited about?“ she asked around pants. ”We're running in a big circle, right? It's not like Santa's Sleigh is at the end of the run.“
He gave her a sympathetic look. ”We can just walk for a while if you want. I probably set the pace too fast. I'm so used to running with Evelyn, I forget not all women are cut out for it.“
Something red and dangerous flashed before Julie's eyes and she forgot all about the fact that her throat felt like sawdust and the sweat between her boobs could have filled Lake Superior.
He had not just thrown the ex-girlfriend at her.
”Let's go,“ she said, faking energy she absolutely did not have. ”I'll follow.“
He shot her a happy grin, and as Julie forced her screaming calves to chug after him, she had the sneaking suspicion that she'd just been played. Again. He’d known that the mention of an ex-girlfriend would spur her on.
Then she forgot about everything except putting one foot in front of the other. Mitchell had disappeared around a corner. She wouldn’t be surprised if he was already on a second loop ready to lap her.
Surely she wouldn’t die here. Would she? Was this the way she was meant to go? Collapsing and falling in the middle of Central Park, where some Minnesotan tourists would find her body and take pictures with their big-lensed camera? And then what if they decided to sell the pictures, and then Stiletto would probably be forced to print an obituary featuring an image of her with a sweat-stained crotch.
Just when she was about to cry, she saw Mitchell just a few feet ahead. Well it looked like a few feet. It felt more like a mile or five.
She told her body to kick into high gear for those last steps with her head held high, but who was she kidding? If there had been a wagon nearby, she'd have fallen into it and begged a homeless man to push her to the nearest hospital.
Julie finally reached him in all of his shiny, reflective gear and slumped onto the bench beside him. He handed her a water bottle and a hot dog.
She took several long swallows of the icy water before ripping open the foil and digging into the dog. He'd put relish on it, which she hated, but at this point he could have put maple syrup on the damned thing and she’d eat it.
”Nothing has ever tasted this good. Never,“ she said with a full mouth. ”How many calories do you think I burned? Two thousand?“
Mitchell nodded towards an elderly couple sitting on the bench across from them. ”Seeing as they passed you about a half mile back, I'd say you burned around fifty?”
She guffawed, not caring that the tiniest bit of hot dog bun sputtered out. She was long past being her best around Mitchell Forbes. “They did not. That woman has a walker.”
“Well see, maybe we should get you one of those,” he said, patting her knee. “Or perhaps we could get you a big dog and roller blades and you can hitch a ride that way.”
She swallowed the last bite of her hot dog and eyed his remaining half greedily. He caught her glance and deliberately took a huge bite.
Julie sighed and settled for the water. Her breathing had slowed slightly, although now she felt vaguely sick. Come to think of it, none of her fitness magazines ever suggested that scarfing a hot dog within seconds of almost dying of heat stroke was a good idea.
“You’re not wearing your glasses,” she said, noticing for the first time.
He shook his head and dusted hot dog bun crumbs off his fingers. “I don’t like to run with them on.”
“So what, you run blind? Surely we could find you a nice pair of goggles to go with the rest of your space suit.”
“I have contacts.”
“Why don’t you wear them all the time?”
He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “I find the ladies like the glasses.”
“It’s not the glasses they like,” she replied distractedly. “It’s the eyes.”
His smile faltered, and she blushed as she realized what she’d said. “Don’t get too excited. It’s about the only thing you have going for you.”
He grinned and looked away.
“So,” Mitchell said, crumpling up his foil and plucking hers out of her hand. “Wanna do it again next weekend? I was thinking that we could start a little earlier and get a long run in.”
A long run? What the hell did he think they'd just endured?
“You know what I think,” she purred. “I think you should run with someone more your own speed. Say...maybe the American Olympic track team?”
“Oh come on. You didn't enjoy it even a little bit? All this fresh air, and the burn and the endorphins?”
Julie rolled her eyes for his benefit, but to tell the truth, now that she was halfway convinced she wasn't going to die, she did feel...good. And the park was beautiful—no matter how many times she came up to the park, which wasn’t often enough, she never failed to marvel at the peaceful green oasis in the middle of the hectic city. Of course, usually she preferred walking through it.
“So you and Evelyn,” she heard herself saying. ”You guys did the whole Sunday jog and hot dog routine too?“
Mitchell snorted. “Evvy wouldn't touch a hot dog. But we did run together every weekend. Although she wouldn't be sitting here afterwards. Said she didn't like lounging in her own sweat.”
Julie sat up slightly. She hadn't given thought to how awful she must look right now. Her once perky ponytail was now completely damp with sweat, and she didn't even want to think about how red and shiny her face must be.
But Mitchell didn't seem to notice. Unsurprising. He didn't seem to notice anything about her.
Except for that kiss. Which he had started. And then walked away from.
Julie let out the smallest of sighs. This relationship business was exhausting.
“What about you?” he asked.
“What about me? Do I like lounging in my own sweat? Yeah, I'm totally digging it. I can't decide what I like more, the slick feeling of fresh sweat, or the gritty feeling as it starts to dry.”
Mitchell let out a small laugh. “No, I mean what about you and ex-boyfriends on weekends. What did you do? Not running, I take it.”
“Definitely not,” she said. “I actually haven't spent much time with ex-boyfriends on weekend days. Saturdays and Sundays are my time, ya know? Laundry, girlfriends, yoga...”
Mitchell shifted on the bench to face her. “Come on, you never do weekend activities with a guy? Never? What about the more serious boyfriends?
She tilted her head up at the sun. ”Never really had one. Not like that. Not that I'd want to go darting around the park getting all sweaty with.“
He was watching her with an unreadable expression. “But you've been in love?”
“Oh yes,” Julie said with a smile. “It's a gift of mine, falling in love fast. Just so long as they leave me alone on my weekends.”
She felt him studying her again, but she didn't care. She knew what he was thinking. That it hadn't ever been real love. That love couldn't happen after a couple dates and subsist on Friday and Saturday nights. But it could. Maybe not the forever kind of love, just the quick and easy kind. It was still love. At least she was pretty sure.
“There was one guy,” Julie found herself confiding. “Loonnng time ago, right after I first moved to the city. Adrian. He lived next door, and he and I would sometimes spend all Sunday drinking mimosas and listening to indie music.”
“Sounds nice,” he murmured.
She cut him a glance. “Please. You don't think it sounds nice at all. You'd rather be yachting or reading Shakespeare.”
He made a face. “You have me all wrong. When I said I liked to read and run, I didn't mean that's all I liked to do. I can relax and veg out with the best of them.”
“Yah, okay, Wall Street. Twenty bucks says you don’t own anything older than two years old to ’lounge around in,’ and I bet you don’t watch movies that didn’t debut at the Cannes Film Festival.”
Mitchell ignored her. ”So what happened with Adrian? Did you realize that cheap champagne and crappy music did not true love make?“
”He moved away. I was sad for about two days. Then I met Alessandro.“ She frowned. “You know, I’d forgotten all about those two guys until just now.”
“I bet they didn't forget you so easily.”
Julie raised an eyebrow in his direction. “Are you flirting, Forbes?”
He smiled. “What can I say, sweat-soaked women with hot-dog breath really do it for me.”
“Yeah,” she said, stretching her arms above her head, displaying all her mussed, sweaty glory. “I get that a lot.”
Julie caught Mitchell looking at her boobs. Apparently he didn’t mind the sweat. She hid a grin.
“So no serious relationships,” he said, dragging his eyes back to hers. “Just a string of casual nobodies. Who was the most recent?”
Julie screwed up her face as she tried to remember. There had been David, but that barely counted. And before that, Aaron...Crap. There was really nobody worth remembering.
”Nothing serious for a while,“ she replied. ”Just dating here and there.“
”What about sex?“
Julie froze. ”That's personal.”
“Oh come on. Surely you've covered this in your articles. You’ve never written about your personal life?”
Julie’s instincts went on high alert. This was dangerous territory. The last thing she needed was him trying to determine how much of her personal life went into a story.
He definitely wouldn’t like the answer.
“Well sure,” she said cautiously. “But...writing about personal stuff is different than talking about it. It keeps it at a distance.”
“So let's bring it in close,” he said with a charming smile. “How long since you’ve had sex?”
Too long, she thought.
Her expression must have betrayed her because his smile slipped and his expression heated considerably. ”Same here,“ he muttered.
Julie’s throat went dry. It was just like him to try to get her all hot and bothered in a public place when they couldn’t do anything about it. And she was sick of him calling the shots.
”So what now?“ Julie asked, hopping to her feet. ”Jumping jacks? Pilates?“
Mitchell stood and began walking east. ”Hey, where are you going?”
“Is that where you live?”
“No, I live on Lex. But there’s better shopping on Fifth.”
“Shopping? I am not going shopping like this,” she said, looking down at her damp tank top and muddy legs. “Especially not Fifth Ave shopping.”
“Relax, we're not headed to Saks.”
He named a generic women’s apparel store and she wrinkled her nose. She may look ratty now, but she did have some standards. This was Manhattan, not Milwaukee.
“Don’t give me that snotty look, I'm not trying to dowdy you up,” he said. “You'll only have to wear them one day.”
“Today,” he said, sounding exasperated.
“Oh no. No way. I’m not going to change into anything until I get a shower.”
Mitchell stopped so quickly that she ran into his back. He turned and reached up a hand to flick something off her cheek. Probably dirt. Awesome.
“Me too,” he said huskily.
“Me too what?”
“I want to take a shower too,” he said patiently.
“Okay,” she said, trying to keep up. “So...why don't we just part ways and meet up later? I don't need the crappy clothes.”
She didn’t question the fact that they’d be seeing each other later. That’s what couples did, right?
Mitchell's hand slid around to the back of her neck. “I think you misunderstood me again. When I said I wanted to shower...I meant together.”
Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Layne.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of After the Kiss by Lauren Layne before the August 26 release:
Lauren Layne graduated from Santa Clara University with a B.S. in political science that she has yet to put to good use. After dabbling in an e-commerce career in Seattle and Southern California, Layne moved to New York City, where she now writes full-time. She lives with her husband and their plus-size pomeranian in a tiny Manhattan studio.