Release Day! Never Have I Ever

It's release day for Never Have I Ever, the second book in my Games We Play trilogy.

It's also Mardi Gras! So here's a Mardi Gras themed  (well, sort of) excerpt. Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Mardi Gras…

By Tuesday evening, Kristy was back to barely speaking to Luke. And Luke was back to wanting to kick himself up and down the street a couple of times for having let that happen. He’d meant to upset the status quo—sure. But in the opposite direction. He guessed he could blame the boggart for that. And maybe his cousin for putting stupid ideas in his head.

He hadn’t been scheduled to work the day before, but he’d shown up at the bar anyway, intending to give Kristy a break so she could get some dinner. Kristy was busy when he’d arrived, and Luke was surprised to see that the ladder Cam had been using to hang up the decorations, and which Luke had watched him put away the previous day, had reappeared—right in the middle of the fucking galley.

 “What’s this doing here?” he asked, annoyed at Cam for leaving it there and at Kristy for not moving it out of the way. Unless it was there for some other reason. Had something else gone wrong, some new problem that no one had thought to mention to him? In that case, he was still annoyed with Cam and Kristy—and with the boggart, for causing trouble, and with whoever had taken it into their own hands to solve the problem without involving him.

When Kristy didn’t respond to his query, Luke raised his voice to ask again. “Hey, DiLuca! What’s with the ladder?”

Kristy started. She turned in his direction and frowned. “Oh, I don’t know. D’you want help moving it?”

Luke shook his head. “No, that’s okay. I got it.”

It wasn’t until he’d taken hold of the ladder to close it that Luke noticed the plastic bucket that had been perched on the top shelf and which was already tipping and raining down five gallons of water and ice chips on his head.

What the fucking fuck?

It was all Luke could do to keep from cursing out loud, especially when laughter broke out all along the bar from patrons who’d obviously enjoyed the show he’d just put on. He fought through the shock and the anger and was still trying to put a self-deprecating smile on his face when Kristy scurried over, nearly skidding to a stop at the sight of him.

“Luke…what happened? Are you all right?”

Luke nodded. “Yeah, it’s just this bucket…” He snagged it off the floor, ignoring the impulse to kick the offending object across the room with enough force to put it into orbit. Or at least through the front window. More breakage was the last thing they needed right now.

“Oh, so that’s where it went,” Kristy said in surprise.

Luke stared at her. “What?”

“The bucket. I couldn’t remember where I put it.”

“Wait…you did this? You put a bucket of water on top of a ladder?”

“No, of course not. It was filled with ice.”


“I guess it must’ve melted.”

Luke stared at her. Maybe Gwyn was right. Maybe Kristy was behind at least some of the pranks. “Are you saying you wanted to dump a bucket of ice on my head? Seriously? What are we, twelve?”
If she wanted to play games, he had a good one for her. A little temperature play, a little restraint. He could trap her up against the bar and run a couple of those ice chips over her nipples till she begged for him to warm her back up again with his tongue.

“Luke, of course I didn’t.”

“Clearly, you did.”

She leaned in close. “Have you lost your mind? You’re making a scene.”

“Trust me; this isn’t me making a scene. Me putting you over my knee, on the other hand—that’d be a scene.”

Kristy reared back like he’d struck her. The look in her eyes was more than just surprised—and nowhere close to being interested. She looked stricken, betrayed. Luke could only stare at her in dismay. Obviously he’d said the wrong thing.

“I’m going on my break now,” Kristy announced. She grabbed her things from beneath the bar and fled, leaving Luke, already cold and uncomfortable in his wet clothes, to deal with everything else.

By the time she returned, he was too angry to say anything else to her. He went home to change, and when the time came to head back to the bar to help with the cleanup, he stayed right where he was. 

He reasoned that Monday night was slow, that it wouldn’t hurt her to close by herself for a change, that a little space, at this point, was the best thing for both of them. But the truth was that he was just too frustrated to deal with her sanely.

He told himself that he didn’t want to make things worse, but almost twenty-four hours later, he had to admit that he might have chosen the wrong tactic.

He was still trying to figure out how to get back in her good graces when his cousin Brenda stopped by the bar, accompanied by a red-headed guy who looked vaguely familiar, though he couldn’t place him.

“Hey, Luke,” she said. “How’s it going? It looks like we’ve got a good crowd in here tonight.”

“Yeah, it’s good.” They were busy as fuck, which would have been great, except that it only made Kristy’s rigid, cold, distant politeness all the more annoying. He was too busy, too rushed, and too annoyed to tease her out of her bad mood—in part because he was forced to ask her for everything he couldn’t immediately put his hands on because she refused to anticipate his needs, refused to do anything more than the bare minimum. He hadn’t even realized until now how much she did, what a very good team they made, how effortlessly they worked together, and how they balanced each other out.

If she ever spoke to him again, he’d have to be sure she knew how he felt.

“Okay, well, that’s good,” Brenda said, her voice hesitant.

Luke sighed. “Yeah. It is. Sorry. We’ve just been swamped. Can I get you something?”

“I’ll have a limeade. Thanks.” Brenda turned to her companion. “Max? You want anything?”

“Uh…sure. How about a Guinness?”

“A man after my own heart,” Luke said as he grabbed a pint glass. For some reason, Max’s drink choice was also ringing a bell somewhere in the back of his mind, but he had neither the time nor the inclination to track it down.

“Max is a writer,” Brenda told him, still sounding ill-at-ease—something else he had no time tonight to think too much about. “He’s researching hotels and bars and…and whatever…for a book he’s going to write.”

“Very cool,” Luke replied politely. In reality, he couldn’t care less.

“Yeah, so, if he has any questions about anything, you think maybe you can help him out?”

“Sure thing.” He slid Max’s glass across the bar to him, then went to work on his cousin’s drink. He mixed lime juice and sugar in a glass, then realized there were no lime wedges on his station. He picked up the soda gun and called to Kristy, “Hey, can I get some limes over here?”

“Here you go,” she said as she brought them over.

“Thanks, hon.” He smiled at her, trying to warm her up, and was relieved when a little of the haunted look left her eyes. But even as the first hint of a smile curved her lips, he pressed the trigger and then gasped in shock as seltzer sprayed everywhere, soaking Kristy’s face, her hair, her shirt. “Uhhh…”Shit.

Laughter erupted along the bar. Tears appeared in her beautiful eyes. The need to fix things, to make her smile again, to erase the hurt expression on her face overrode Luke’s common sense. “Wet T-shirt contest anyone?” he joked lamely, wincing as color flared on her face and the tears spilled over. It occurred to him that he’d just made things worse.

Kristy ran from the bar, and Luke would have followed if Brenda hadn’t stepped in his path.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” she whispered fiercely. “I understand you two are supposed to be friends, but why do you always have to be such a dick to that girl?”

“I—” What the fuck? “I am not!”

“Luke, you embarrassed her in front of the whole bar! Did she just quit?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. She probably just went to change into some dry clothes.”

“Well, I hope that’s all it is. I swear, I don’t know why she puts up with you. We’ll be lucky if we don’t get hit with a harassment suit or something.”

“It was an accident,” he insisted. “And stop overreacting. We’re fine. She dumped a bucket of ice water on my head just yesterday. You don’t see me freaking out, do you?”

“She did what?” Brenda’s eyes widened. “Here in the bar? So you thought you’d retaliate? What the fuck, Luke? I don’t know what either of you are thinking. And I don’t understand why you think Gwyn and I should put up with this nonsense either. This is a business. Not a…not a frat house.”

And you’d know about those, wouldn’t you? Luke thought as he glared at his cousin. For once, he managed to rein in his wayward tongue. “It was an accident,” he repeated coldly. “Now, go away. I’m busy.”

Luke walked away from his cousin and concentrated his attention on the far end of the bar for the next few minutes, until Brenda and her friend had left the bar. He loved his cousin, but she took bossiness to a whole new level. And she absolutely was overreacting.

An hour later, however, Kristy still hadn’t returned, and Luke was starting to wonder if Brenda hadn’t been right after all. Could Kristy have quit? She wasn’t answering her phone—that much was certain. Or maybe she just wasn’t taking his calls? When Gwyn appeared a half hour later, looking concerned and asking, “What the hell did you do to Brenda?” Luke was in no mood to make conversation.
“Cover the bar for me,” he said as he all but pushed Gwyn into the galley. “I’ll be right back.”

* * * * *

After having been friend-zoned by Kristy when they were kids, Luke has mostly resigned himself to being "just friends" with her, but working together, night after night, is shredding his self control.
Kristy loves Luke but if anything was clear to her back when they were kids, it was that gawky, awkward, tomboys didn’t stand a chance with the king of the schoolyard. She watched her older brothers set their caps for Luke’s glamorous cousins, and get shot down. So she did what she had to in order to salvage her friendship with Luke. She hid her true feelings and her need for him to take control.

Luke wants Kristy in the worst way--actually, in all the worst ways: tied up, held down, bitten, whipped. But he can either keep her as a friend, or take her to bed and lose her forever. His biggest mistake--so far--was in hiring her to work alongside him in the bar he and his cousins inherited from their grandmother. He knows Kristy needs the money and the job, but Luke’s self-control can’t take the constant contact with the girl he wants to dominate--both in and out of the bedroom. Something has to give--and soon!

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