Tue
Aug 8 2017 12:03pm

Kristen Ashley Excerpt: The Time in Between

Kristen Ashley

The Time in Between by Kristen Ashley

After a painful loss, Cady Moreland is coming to Magdalene to start the next chapter of her life. A chapter that began eighteen years ago but had a heartbreaking ending. The time in between was full of family and friendship, but Cady could never get the man she fell in love with all those years ago out of her heart.

Coert Yeager has learned to live without the girl who entered his life right when she shouldn’t and exited delivering a crippling blow he never would have suspected. The time in between was full of failing to find what he was missing…and life-altering betrayal.

But when that girl shows up in Magdalene and buys the town’s beloved lighthouse, even if Coert wants to avoid her, he can’t. A fire in town sparks a different kind of flame that won’t be ignored.

As Cady and Coert question the actions of the two young adults they once were thrown into earth-shattering circumstances, can they learn from what came in between and find each other again?

Get a sneak peek at Kristen Ashley's The Time in Between (available August 29, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of Chapter 2.

Start reading Chapter 1 at Kristen's site to get the full story!

Chapter Two

Goals

Eighteen years earlier…

I saw him the minute he walked into the backyard.

He caught my eye because he was seriously good-looking.

But I kept watching, not only because of that, but because I liked the way he walked and I couldn’t say why.

He was tall, kinda big but not huge, though the way he moved was lumbering. Like he was at a crowded party or club or concert and he was shouldering through the bodies to make his way to where he was going, even though he wasn’t.

It was cool and it was strangely hot, like no one could get in his way no matter what way he was making.

And it communicated he was going to get there and nothing was going to stop him.

But where he was going right then was to Maria’s boyfriend, my good friend, Lonnie.

Maria and Lonnie had been dating since high school and she and I had been best friends since grade school, so we’d been a pack for a long time.

Partners in crime, mostly.

We’d been pretty much inseparable since meeting, that was before Lonnie…and recently. And that attachment was because, for Maria, her mom and dad didn’t give a crap, they were so busy fighting each other, they had no time for her.

For me, it was because my parents gave too much of a crap and had a lot of time to tell me what they thought of me, even though what they thought wasn’t much.

I liked the idea that tall, dark-haired guy with his cool way of moving was a friend of Lonnie’s.

That meant I might get an introduction.

I watched from where I sat in my folding lawn chair as Lonnie greeted him with an arm slap from one hand, a shake with the other and a huge smile, indicating he was happy to see him.

That was good.

Lonnie liked him.

Lonnie liked and was liked by just about everyone. This was because he was a great guy, up for anything, there when you needed him.

But the arm slap, hand shake and smile said he liked this guy more than most.

So I watched, thinking it was kinda weird that the guy somewhat smiled in return, but in a way it wasn’t exactly a smile, and shook back.

But there was definitely something not right in that smile.

Lonnie was happy to see him.

This guy, however…

“Total drool-worthy,” Maria muttered as she threw herself in a lawn chair next to mine, spilling some of the beer in her not-quite-as-full-now plastic cup.

It wasn’t easy, but I pulled my gaze from the guy knowing exactly what she was talking about even before I saw her attention trained on her guy and that guy.

She’d never say it around Lonnie. Hell, around Lonnie she took pains not to give any indication she knew the other sex existed outside Lonnie (and she’d learned to do this in an extreme way), but around me, she’d look.

Not touch. Not talk, unless it was approved by Lonnie.

But look.

“Do you know him?” I asked.

“Yup,” she answered, moving her eyes from the guy, I knew just in case Lonnie looked over and caught her staring, even if it was in his direction too, he’d know.

And he wouldn’t like what he knew.

“Came over the other day. Name’s Tony. He’s buds with Lars,” she told me.

That sent a shiver trilling up my back.

Lonnie had introduced us to Lars a few months ago.

I didn’t like Lars.

Lars gave me the creeps.

I looked back at the guy with Lonnie thinking it was disappointing that he was buds with Lars.

“Girl, you need a refill,” Maria told me, and I looked away from him, not only thinking it was disappointing Tony was buds with Lars, but the fact this was more disappointing because I even liked the way he stood.

He was paying attention, and a lot of it, to whatever Lonnie was saying. His intensity, the alert way he carried himself was awesome.

Crazy awesome.

But maybe understandable since he was friends with Lars, and I was suspecting Lars wasn’t that good of a guy and the people he knew had to be alert for a variety of reasons.

I saw my plastic cup was mostly the dregs, backwash of beer not being my favorite thing.

Still.

“I drove here,” I told Maria.

“So?” she asked.

I lifted my gaze to her but then turned it almost immediately away.

I loved her. Loved her. She was fun and she was funny. She was loyal as all hell. She was crazy and wild and I felt free around her. Free to be who I was (not who my parents expected me to be). Free to act how I wanted (not how my parents demanded I act). Free to do whatever I damn well wanted to do (which was not what my parents wanted me to do).

We’d had a lot of good times. She’d taken my back in a lot of bad times.

But sometimes, little things like that, like her thinking it was totally okay to get a buzz on then drive yourself home, bugged me.

She’d do it without blinking.

Lonnie’d do it, and he’d be high too and not give a crap.

But I kinda wanted to get home in one piece and not take anyone out along the way.

Maria had a way with peer pressure though, even if we were now twenty-three, so I knew how to play the game.

That was get up, get a beer and then sip at it or ignore it altogether, “spill” some in the grass, nurse it for an hour, and that way do my own thing without having to put up with her pushing.

Which meant I hefted myself out of the chair to head to the keg.

“Grab a coupla Jell-O shots while you’re at it,” she called as I moved away.

The real reason she wanted me to go get a beer.

But shit.

Jell-O shots were harder to put off.

My only choice was to take half an hour (at least) to get back to her. Another skill I’d honed in over a decade of friendship with Maria.

I hit the keg, poured out the dregs of my cup in the grass beside it and grabbed the nozzle.

I was just finishing pumping some into my cup when I heard a deep voice say, “I’ll take that after you.”

I raised my eyes and looked into hazel ones that, since the second my eyes hit his I arrested, I realized were more of a light brown with some green to make them so interesting, I couldn’t move or speak.

“Hey,” he said.

I stared.

Hey,” he said more urgently and leaned into me.

When he did, it felt like a spasm hit my body, originating somewhere very private and snaking up my spine, the back of my neck and all over my scalp.

I felt his fingers brush mine, vaguely felt the spigot pulled away and heard him murmur, “Wastin’ beer.”

I jerked my head down, saw my over-full cup, beer having flooded over my fingers that I didn’t even feel, then I jerked my head up to see him examining me.

He didn’t do it long before he turned to the table next to the keg that had a variety of detritus—spent cups, spent bottles, spent cans, an overflowing ashtray, a huge red bong—and he nabbed a cup from an upside down stack of fresh ones.

I didn’t have it in me to say anything before my beer sloshed all over my fingers again. This time because, all of a sudden, Lonnie had an arm tight around my neck and he was yanking me forcefully into his body, back (mine) to front (his).

“See you met my girl,” he declared.

I wanted to scream.

I hated when Lonnie did this. It totally meant I never got asked out.

But this time?

I hated it.

“Or, my other girl,” Lonnie clarified as the guy named Tony gave us his attention.

One of his brows went up in a way that was a shade too fascinating.

Then he asked, “You a threesome?” And I suddenly found nothing fascinating and further could think of nothing but the flames that I felt hit my cheeks.

Tony looked at them, and the instant he did, miraculously I wasn’t thinking about the fact I had to be very obviously blushing and how completely embarrassing that was.

This was because his expression changed. In a there-and-gone I nevertheless caught, there was a hint of surprise and a definite softening of his features that was so beautiful, words had not been invented to describe its beauty.

“I wish, Cady’s a prude,” Lonnie shared jovially.

In a contradiction that I no longer found surprising, although Lonnie went ballistic if Maria even looked at another guy, Lonnie openly flirted…with me.

Only me.

It was a friends thing, teasing and sometimes sweet.

But even if I was used to it, I thought it was weird.

And I wasn’t a prude. It was just, if Lonnie was around, he made it impossible for me to find any action.

“Right,” Tony muttered, losing interest in us and turning his attention to the tap in order to pour himself his beer.

I pushed off Lonnie, this effort making more beer slosh on my hand (which was good, less of it I’d have to pretend to drink), and turned to him.

“Your real woman wants a Jell-O shot,” I informed him.

“The bitch’s got legs, she can get herself one.”

This was not my favorite side of Lonnie, how he could be around other dudes. He was sweet as pie when it was just Maria (she told me, but I believed her because he was that way to her, and me, a lot of the time when I was around).

It was just when he had to be a man, this being when he thought there was someone who might size him up (and this being another man).

Like being sweet to your girlfriend made your dick shrink.

“Probably get yourself some if you got her one,” I stated, mostly in an effort to make it known to someone who was within hearing distance that I was not a prude.

Lonnie grinned at me and it reminded me why Maria put up with him.

He wasn’t as handsome and cool as this new guy, but he was all kinds of cute with his messy brown hair and sparkling blue eyes.

“I’ll get myself some even if I don’t get her one,” he retorted.

He was probably right. I spent a lot of time with them, got toasted at their place, passed out on their couch so I wouldn’t have to drive home. I’d heard it.

Often.

“Whatever,” I said to him and his grin got bigger. I turned from him back toward Tony to see he’d filled his beer because he was lifting it to very fine looking lips and taking a sip as he gazed off in a different direction. “I’m Cady,” I announced boldly.

Just his eyes slid to me, and I felt another spasm because that was cool and hot.

He took his sip, swallowed it and lowered his beer. “Tony.”

I shot him a smile. “Nice to meet you.”

He looked to my mouth and another expression chased across his face before he blanked it.

And I liked that one too.

“Best be gettin’ Maria that shot,” Lonnie chimed in.

I don’t want her to sleep with me when I get home,” I quipped at the same time I tried to make a point.

Lonnie looked to Tony. “I wish on that too. Totally watch that. Sell tickets.”

I felt the heat flame in my cheeks again, and in front of this guy, this tall, dark stranger with beautiful eyes and a way about him that was interesting and crazy appealing, I was fed up with Lonnie’s shit.

“Don’t be a dick,” I snapped.

This was not a good move.

Lonnie’s good nature flew out the window as he narrowed angry eyes at me and asked in a soft, disturbing voice, “What did you just say?”

I had a choice to make and had to make a split second decision.

Rub up against Lonnie in a not-good way and face consequences that could range from relatively benign (a freeze out or a verbal setting down) to him screaming his head off and even lunging, but only to give the thrill of danger.

He’d never hurt me physically, but he didn’t mind threatening it.

My other choice was to have a backbone, just to have one for once with the added incentive of saving face in front of the gorgeous Tony.

I might never see Tony again (which would suck but I’d never seen him before, and even if evidence was suggesting he was part of the crew Lonnie was guiding us to, not seeing him again was still a possibility).

I practically lived with Lonnie and Maria (because my pad was crap and I hated being there, but I loved being with them…or I used to, this was sadly and weirdly fading).

Before I could make the decision that would make me look like a weak loser in front of Tony, Tony waded in.

“She said don’t be a dick. And I’ll add to that, don’t be a fuckin’ dick.”

Lonnie’s gaze flew to Tony.

Even if I felt a weird warmth steal over me that Tony had taken my back, I took a mini-step away.

Then I watched with a goodly amount of interest as Lonnie sent Tony a scowl that lasted all of half a second before he backed down.

God.

I couldn’t believe it.

Lonnie was scared of this guy.

Though, I could see why.

He was a couple of inches taller, and although Lonnie was relatively built, he was on the lean side. This guy wasn’t a powerhouse, but there didn’t appear to be an ounce of fat on him, his shoulders were broad, his forearms brawny and veined, and his thighs were thick.

But in that moment when it came to my attention, it came speeding to my attention that it was more.

This was not a guy you messed with. He said that with his gait. He said it with the alert manner he held his body. He said it with the intensity of his gaze.

In a faceoff with him, you backed down or he’d mess you up.

He didn’t need to act like a man in front of a man.

He was just a man.

And now I had to make another decision and this decision was how I was going to help my friend save face in this tense situation.

I did this by declaring, “Anyway, Maria’s not my type seeing as she doesn’t have a penis.”

Lonnie looked to me and Tony looked to his boots.

Lonnie’s attention went back to Tony and I felt him relax at the same time I noticed Tony was grinning at his boots.

It wasn’t even aimed at me, and since this grin appeared genuine, it was still one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

“Now I’m going to move away from the testosterone before I start growing a beard,” I announced, and immediately, even though it took me from Tony’s sphere, I did just that.

I did it walking away from them, away from Maria and into the house.

I could pretend I needed to use the john and take that time to get my head together (and pour out a little more of my beer, not to mention, have an excuse for “forgetting” the Jell-O shots).

When I got to the bathroom, I used it because I was there (and wished I didn’t have to because our new “friends” who lived at this house weren’t fond of cleaning).

I then walked to the sink to wash my hands and pour out some beer.

While there, I looked in the mirror.

Auburn hair my mom gave me.

Freckles on my nose.

Green eyes I got from my grandmother, Dad’s mom.

The hair was thick and could be unruly, but since I’d spent hours and hours over years and years learning how to tame it, I thought it was pretty awesome.

The freckles across my nose, although not prominent and fading the older I got, kinda stunk.

I wasn’t short, as such, though I hit a shade under average height. And I’d always been curvy.

I could actually take or leave anything (except the hair, I’d miss my hair).

But I’d fall to my knees in gratitude in front of God for giving me my eyes.

They weren’t a hazy green, a yellow green, a brownish green, a bluish green.

They were green.

A shock of emerald so pure, they were like jewels in my face (ringed, I’ll admit, with a thin line of smoky blue but that only served to make the green stand out more).

I loved my eyes. I’d spent hours of my life praying to God that, if He let me give my eyes to my children, I’d be a good girl until the day I died (I often went back on this but did it knowing God was forgiving and I was never that bad).

But looking at my eyes in that mirror in that house with that man outside, I thought, just one of my kids, I’d let them have Tony’s eyes if he was the man who helped me make that kid.

And truthfully, it wouldn’t suck if we had a passel of kids and they all got Tony’s eyes.

It was then I was freaking out in realizing I was totally falling in love with a guy I totally didn’t know named Tony, who was a friend of Lars.

“Time to go home,” I told my reflection.

I poured out the rest of the beer, threw the cup toward the bathroom bin without remorse, seeing as it was overflowing in a way that it’d clearly been doing that before the party, and I walked out.

I was heading down the hall toward the kitchen to go out back, thinking of excuses I could make to Maria that I had to leave, when Tony filled the mouth of the hall in front of me.

It wasn’t a wide hall, and even if he wasn’t a huge guy it was going to be a tight squeeze, so I stopped and stepped to the side, putting my back to the wall.

I skidded my eyes through him, suddenly shy, what with being alone with him in a hall, and I muttered, “Hey.”

He kept coming at me but stopped too, still filling the hall, and he replied, “Hey.”

When his shoulder (which was what I was focusing on) didn’t move, I raised my eyes to his and shared, “Bathroom’s free.”

“Cool,” he stated but still didn’t move, and this would be explained when he asked, “You okay?”

This question was unexpected, so I answered, “Yeah. Why?”

“Lonnie’s an open book, one that explodes, and what it spewed out just now spewed all over you.”

I stared up at him, speechless, mostly because I didn’t know what he was talking about.

I found my voice and said, “Sorry?”

“He’s got a thing for you. Big. Figure he’s into his girl and that’s why he doesn’t wanna hurt her, makin’ a move on you to be his side piece or movin’ from her to take on you. Still, even though he can’t do shit about it, doesn’t mean he wants anyone gettin’ in there, and he makes that clear. It’s gotta suck for you.”

I could not believe what he was saying.

“Lonnie doesn’t have a thing for me.”

His attention was to me but I could feel it increase after I said those words.

“Right,” he eventually grunted. “’Kay. Don’t know the guy well. Maybe reading it wrong.” He moved to pass, muttering, “Later.”

But I caught his forearm.

He stopped and looked down at me.

“Do you…? Is that why he’s always…?” I gave my head a little shake and then whispered, my gaze turning dazed. “Holy crap. Lonnie’s got a thing for me.”

“Probably shouldn’t have pointed it out,” he remarked, and I focused on him again.

“No. No. Absolutely no. You definitely should have pointed it out.”

I let him go and lifted that hand to pull my hair away from my face, noting but freaking out so bad, not letting it filter through how his eyes watched my hand move.

And then my hair when my hand dropped.

“Now what do I do?” I hissed, wanting to be quiet but I did it loudly.

He turned fully toward me and took a step into me, something I absolutely let filter through me because I felt my eyes get wide and my heart start to race when he did it because that put him close.

“You’re not into him. You don’t give off any vibe except that he’s your guy in the sense that he’s your friend. He keeps getting that vibe, he’ll get his shit together eventually.”

I leaned in and up and whispered, weirded out, so it was also loud, “I’ve known him since high school.”

He grinned.

I fell into it like it was the desired destination it absolutely was.

He then spoke.

“And how long’s that been? What, you graduate last year?”

Ouch.

That stung.

I either looked young or acted it and neither was good when you were twenty-three, on your own, making your way in the world.

Sure, I was doing it poorly.

But I had a plan.

I didn’t know how old he was but I did know he gave off the vibe of being older than Lonnie, who was twenty-five.

I’d put Tony at twenty-six, low end, thirty, high.

Which, at twenty-three, was the same as if I was fifteen and he was eighteen. Or I was seventeen and he was twenty.

In other words, it was miles apart.

I was still mostly a kid no matter that I was making my way (albeit poorly).

And he was past that.

When you hit the twenty-five zone, that was when you hit the adult zone and the age gap could be whatever it was.

But now, to him, I was still just a kid.

I rocked back to my heels and again looked at his shoulder. “No, like, five years ago.”

“A whole five?”

It sounded like a tease so I chanced looking at him to see it absolutely was a tease if the twinkle in his eye was anything to go by.

That looked good on him. It was awesome.

I was still nursing the sting.

“I’m gonna work in retail,” I told him, and his head jerked a bit with surprise at my change in subject. This did not deter me and I carried on, “I’m gonna work my way up to buyer.”

“That’s cool,” he said slowly. “What are you doin’ now?”

“I work at Sip and Save.”

I said it proudly, because it was a job. I was gainfully employed. I had been (for once at the same place) for some time. I didn’t show late. I didn’t call off. I did my job as boring and menial as it was like it meant what it meant—rent paid and food on the table, both important.

But even so, I watched his eyes close down.

That was how my parents reacted to me working at a convenience store.

“The manager totally bailed last week so the assistant manager is gonna get promoted then I’m gonna get promoted to assistant manager and I’ve been there eight months. That’s job loyalty. I stay awhile, get managerial experience, I can get a job at the mall and start my plan in action.”

“It’s good to have goals.”

It wasn’t said dismissively.

But I still thought it was dismissive.

“My second choice was being the president but politicians always wear red and I look crap in red,” I shot back, preparing to slide away from him and give him a “later.”

“Cady,” he called, halting me before I even began, and I looked up at him again. “I was being serious. It is good to have goals.”

I wanted to know what his goals were, being in this house, drinking beer from that keg, being someone Lonnie was excited to see, knowing Lars.

I didn’t ask.

I said, “I need to get going.”

And I did. Away from him and his association with Lars. Away from Lonnie and what Tony had told me about him. Away from Maria pressuring me to get shitfaced so I’d have no choice but to find someplace in that filthy house to pass out and sober up.

Away from all of this that was proving my parents right.

That Lonnie and Maria weren’t the awesome-cool friends I thought they were, not anymore. That with this entry into a world that creeped me out at best, scared me at worst, Lonnie’s goals were highly suspect and Maria had no goals except finding whatever good time or adventure and going gung ho into it.

It had all been fun and games when there wasn’t rent to be paid and food to put on a table and that had been a blast.

But eventually, everyone had to grow up.

Even Lonnie and Maria.

And me.

So I didn’t need to get caught up with a guy like Tony (not that he wanted me).

I needed to prove my parents wrong.

So I worked at a convenience store and lived in a crappy-ass studio apartment where I practically slept in the shower, it was so little (so little it didn’t even have a tub)

It was mine. I worked to pay the rent. I volunteered for overtime whenever it was available (which was a lot) in order to have a little extra to sock away to get a nicer place, a nicer car, nicer things.

I had a plan.

I had goals.

And a guy like Tony would probably derail those goals, because I knew just looking into those eyes in that face on that body that I’d forget my determination to prove my parents wrong, and I’d slide even deeper into the denial I was living in with Maria and Lonnie just to stay tied to him.

It wasn’t because he was hot.

It wasn’t because I liked the way he moved and he was a guy you didn’t mess with.

It was because, when I called Lonnie a dick, he’d backed that play.

I didn’t see a lot of that with guys and chicks of my acquaintance.

And it was crazy awesome.

“Probably a good idea. The Jell-O shots started getting passed around while you were gone so I’m thinkin’ it’ll be about fifteen minutes before that backyard isn’t a place a girl like you’d want to be.”

I took a mental step away from common sense and self-awareness and slid closer to denial at knowing he thought I was a girl like that.

But I’d said I had to go and he was there probably to hit the bathroom, so I’d look like a moron if I didn’t make a move.

“Right then, perfect timing,” I replied.

“Yeah,” he agreed.

“See you around?” I asked, pleased with myself that it sounded curious rather than hopeful.

“Not sure,” he answered, making me even more hopeful than it was healthy to be and only because that “not sure” I decided to read as him not being sure he was part of this crew. “Maybe.”

“Oh,” I mumbled.

“Oh.” He grinned then ordered, “Go, Cady. Get home safe. You good to drive?”

I was and for the first time that night wished I wasn’t.

But I totally loved that he asked that.

I nodded.

“Good. ’Kay. Later,” he said, turning from me, lifting a hand not very high at his side in a careless wave, and he trudged down the empty hall like he was clearing it for a celebrity.

“Later,” I called to his back.

He turned the corner and disappeared without glancing back at me.

And suddenly I said a new prayer to God with a promise of being a good girl until I died (and this one I might keep).

That just seeing Tony disappear did not mean Tony had disappeared.

After I said that prayer, I went to the backyard and made my excuses to extricate myself from a party that had grown in my short absence, and grown an astonishing amount more rowdy.

Fortunately, Lonnie and Maria were engaged in making out so my effort was not as prolonged as normal.

I wanted to wait until Tony reappeared.

But with Lonnie and Maria all about each other, I figured it would seem to Tony when he came back that I was waiting for him to reappear.

So I took off.

And I did it repeating my prayer.

Even if I worried doing it actually made me the bad girl I promised I wasn’t going to be.

***
Copyright © 2017 by Kristen Ashley.
***
Learn more about or order a copy of The Time in Between by Kristen Ashley, available August 29, 2017:

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Kristen Ashley grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana but has lived in Denver, Colorado and the West Country of England. Thus she has been blessed to have friends and family around the globe. Her posse is loopy (to say the least) but loopy is good when you want to write. Kristen was raised in a house with a large and multi-generational family. They lived on a very small farm in a small town in the heartland and existed amongst the strains of Glenn Miller, The Everly Brothers, REO Speedwagon and Whitesnake (and the wardrobes that matched). Needless to say, growing up in a house full of music, clothes and love was a good way to grow up. And as she keeps growing up, it keeps getting better.

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