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       Virtually Impossible (Once and Forever #2), p.1

           Lauren Stewart
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Virtually Impossible (Once and Forever #2)


  Virtually Impossible

  Once and Forever #2

  Lauren Stewart

  Contents

  Copyright

  Also by Lauren Stewart

  Dedication

  Once Upon a Time…

  1. Andi

  2. Andi

  3. Andi

  4. Hayden

  5. Andi

  6. Andi

  7. Hayden

  8. Hayden

  9. Andi

  10. Hayden

  11. Hayden

  12. Andi

  13. Hayden

  14. Andi

  15. Hayden

  16. Hayden

  17. Hayden

  18. Andi

  19. Hayden

  20. Andi

  21. Hayden

  22. Andi

  23. Andi

  24. Andi

  25. Hayden

  26. Andi

  27. Hayden

  28. Andi

  29. Hayden

  30. Hayden

  31. Andi

  32. Hayden

  33. Andi

  34. Hayden

  35. Hayden

  36. Andi

  37. Andi

  38. Hayden

  39. Andi

  40. Hayden

  Once Upon a Time…

  Afterword

  Coming next in this series!

  Also by Lauren Stewart

  Acknowledgments

  A Note from the Author

  About the Author

  Copyright © 2016 Lauren Stewart

  Off the Hook Publishing

  ISBN: 978-0-9903340-5-7

  All Rights Reserved.

  Cover design

  Pixel Mischief Design

  Adian Editing

  Literally Addicted to Detail

  Hourglass Editing

  The Hyde series

  Hyde, an urban fantasy

  Jekyll

  Strange Case

  The Heights

  Unseen

  Unearthed

  Into the Light

  Once and Forever

  Darker Water

  Virtually Impossible

  No Experience Required

  Second Bite

  Stick around to find out how to sign up for Lauren’s mailing list and get exclusive extras from the Once and Forever series.

  Or click here to get started right away

  For the people whose support and encouragement reminded me that life isn’t about being perfect—it’s about being who we really are. Thank you from the bottom of my flawed and crazy heart.

  there was a woman who made the mistake of trusting the wrong man. And that mistake led to another. And another and another, each more damaging than the last. But the woman was as ignorant of her mistakes as she was of the damage they caused. Until she was punished for them. But because all knew she'd acted out of youth and naiveté, imagined love and true stupidity, her punishment was not grave.

  However, the woman believed she had not paid enough for what she'd done and how stupid she had been. So the punishment she gave herself was far, far more severe.

  She locked herself behind glass, only coming out from behind it when she was forced to, which wasn't often. And the longer she stayed behind the glass, the safer she felt until she didn't see it as a prison at all. Until she loved it for its beauty and depended on it for its clarity.

  For, you see, her cage was made from one-way glass, and the mirror faced out, so the woman never had to look at her own reflection. And when she saw the world beyond the glass, things were clear and simple and fair, for she was not part of the world, but separate from it. And from behind the wall, there was nothing hidden from her and everything to hide behind.

  Day after day she toiled, working hard to repay the wrong she'd unwittingly done and the people she'd unwittingly hurt. And thus, she became so focused she didn't feel how the glass pressed in on her, how hard it became for her to breathe. And when she finally did realize, it didn't matter anymore, for she believed the tiny box was what she justly deserved for believing the lies told to her. So of her own volition, she remained behind the glass, knowing that one day she would have no more mistakes to make, no one left to hurt, no more sins to pay for, and no more air to breathe.

  1

  Andi

  “He fired me, Andi. That fucking foot-freak fired me.”

  “Who? Wait, what?” I picked up my cell phone, took it off speaker, and held it to my ear. “When did we start speaking in alliteration?”

  “Never. That’d be weird.” Sara sighed. “Can you believe that bastard?”

  “Well…” Honestly, it wasn’t a huge surprise she’d gotten fired by— “A fucking foot-what?”

  “The foot-fetishist,” she grumbled. “Jon-Jon. Who names their kid Jon-Jon when their last name is Johnson, anyway?”

  “Maybe his parents wanted him to go into politics.” Or die in a tragic airplane crash. Man, they must have been so disappointed when their little Jon-Jon turned his kinky fetish into a very successful, high-end women’s footwear company.

  “I thought he was your favorite client.” The virtual assistant agency we worked for was doing really well, but little Jon-Jon had been her biggest account. The problem: Sara was all kinds of wonderful things, but neither ‘hard worker’ nor ‘normal’ had made it into the mix. She claimed it was due to size constraints—she was tiny and weighed practically nothing. I’d always believed it was because she came from an obscenely wealthy family and never had to pray our boss would forget it was July and give out Christmas bonuses early. Since I weighed a lot more than nothing, came from nothing, and prayed for Christmas every day, I’d had to make up for it in hard work. I’d given up on being normal years ago.

  “He was. Right up until the moment he fired me.” She paused. “I hope he doesn’t expect me to give back all those shoes.”

  “He gave you shoes?” Eww. “Tell me you didn’t send him pictures of your feet or anything.”

  “Gross. No.”

  Thank goodness—I wasn’t sure Sara actually knew what ‘boundaries’ were. “So what happened?”

  “His wife happened.”

  “Oh shit, Sara.” I guess in Sara’s world, kinky pictures of feet crossed a line that intercourse didn’t. “What did you do?”

  “He told me he was divorced! I should’ve looked him up. I should’ve.” No, she shouldn’t have slept with a client at all, or even met him face-to-face…or whatever-part-of-hers met whatever-part-of-his.

  Damn it, that was not the kind of visual I wanted before my fourth cup of coffee or, you know, ever.

  “What does it say about me that every guy I’ve ever slept with more than once has been a total dick?” she whined.

  “That you should seriously consider abstinence?” The chance of her considering it was only slightly higher than the chance she’d actually try it. But I had to mention it, seeing how well it was working for me and how amazing my life was. Oh wait, my life sucked. Right.

  “Take heart, Sara, I’m sure the men you only sleep with once are assholes, too.”

  “Gee, thanks, Andi. I’m such a fan of your pep talks.”

  “Don’t worry about losing one asshole. Emilia will assign you another one right away.” A good friend tells you what you need to hear. A great friend tells you the truth, whether you need to hear it or not. “Just, you know, try not to sleep with him.”

  I shoved my chair back from my desk and spun around, blinking to get rid of the afterglow of the computer screen. I realize it’s not actually called ‘afterglow,’ but it’s the closest thing to it that I’ve experienced in a really long time.

>   And I’ll say it again: My life sucks. But only for the last…say…twenty-three years of it or so.

  If I’d known how it was all going to turn out, I would’ve never left the womb.

  “Honestly, we should be celebrating that you’re rid of him.”

  “I hate men,” she said. “I’m going back to one-night-only status. Updating my Facebook profile as we speak.” Thankfully, that wasn’t an option…I don’t think.

  “Why don’t you wait to make an official announcement? Tonight I’m taking you out to find a couple hot guys who will fawn all over us and ply us with liquor like we deserve. Then we can tell them we’re purity club recruiters, and ask them if they’d like to join. Do you still have your ring?”

  “Unfortunately, no. I gave it to Jon-Jon to use as a cock ring—it fit perfectly.” She laughed. “Do you really want to go out drinking? You said you weren’t doing that anymore.”

  “When did I say that?”

  “Last Friday night.”

  “Was I drunk?” I asked, knowing full well I’d said it. I was tired of tagging along, pretending to have a good time. “Because there’s no way I would say that on a Friday. Monday maybe, sure. Wednesday, probably. Saturday’s fifty-fifty. But no way would I ever say that on a Friday.” The truth was, I hadn’t been drunk in public in eight months and four days, but not even Sara knew that. It’s easy to convince a drunk you’re drunk—just laugh at their terrible jokes and say, ‘I’m never drinking again’ every once in a while. “Plus, when a friend needs to celebrate getting rid of a loser, who am I to not support her?”

  “Best. Friend. Ever.”

  That wasn’t even a little bit true, but it did no good to correct her. If I were the best friend ever, I wouldn’t be using her name to avoid getting arrested. Again.

  I brushed another lock of disobedient hair out of my eyes, wishing I’d grabbed a stronger clip before I left the house, or maybe a hacksaw. Naturally curly hair is a misnomer—no naturally occurring substance on earth can restrain it. Mine could only be controlled with industrial-strength anti-frizz, leave-in-forever conditioner made from totally unnatural chemicals. The kind that didn’t come cheap, which was why I almost always wrapped a hardware store rubber band around a messy ponytail and pretended it didn’t exist. Damn, how I envied Sara’s long, straight, well-behaved locks. While she, naively, wished she had mine.

  About a year ago, she’d tried dying her hair the same auburn color mine is. Since I wasn’t willing to saw off a lock she could bring to her hairstylist, and a picture wouldn’t have shown what Sara referred to as my ‘subtle lowlights’ or something equally bizarre, she’d dragged me to the salon with her, promising to pick up the tab for both of us to get prettied up. It was an experience best forgotten, since the stylist, who had obviously never dealt with hair like mine before, was faster with her scissors than I was at screaming, ‘No, please, no!’ Thankfully, the bangs she’d chopped had now grown out just long enough to be annoying.

  “You should wear that dress more often,” Sara said to me while holding onto the arm of the guy who’d handed her a new drink. “You look hot.”

  “I am hot.” And grumpy. And tired of pretending to be enjoying this. I can’t believe I ever actually liked these kinds of places. Although, ‘like’ might be too strong a word. ‘Used these places to forget how much I hate my life?’ Yep, much better. Far more accurate.

  Nowadays, I preferred to stay safe and sober in public and drink myself to sleep at home. Even if I did have to pay for my own booze, I was never nervous I’d slip a roofie into my glass or have meaningless sex with myself, and—

  Well, the meaningless sex with myself happened, booze or no booze, but I’d never do drugs. I already had too many problems.

  “Come to the bathroom with me,” she slurred.

  “No way. I’m not going through that crowd again. Go. I’ll be here, finishing my drink.”

  I wondered if Sara would ever notice that, in the two years we’d known each other, I’d gone to the bathroom with her twice. Minus the times I knew she’d need someone to hold her hair back for her—the true sign of a great friend.

  I’m not a go-to-the-bathroom-in-a-herd kind of girl, I guess. I’m more of a totally-not-a-surprise-I-only-have-two-friends kind of girl.

  Which meant those two friends were extremely important to me. Now that one of my two friends was at home, happily married and boring, it meant my protectiveness was focused solely on Sara. Especially near the end of the night, after she’d picked out the guy she was going home with.

  So when my friend decided to drown her intelligence in liquid courage, it became my responsibility to make sure her lapse in judgment didn’t end with her in the wrong guy’s lap.

  Sara leaned in. Probably to whisper, but I cringed at the volume of her voice and her boozy breath. “Watch him for me, Andi. Don’t let him get away.”

  I sloppily saluted her and nodded. “I’m on it.”

  “But not him.”

  Big sigh. “No, Sara, not him.”

  As soon as the crowd had sucked her in and I couldn’t see her anymore, I turned toward her new playdate and dropped my mask of drunkenness. “I’m going to need to see a picture ID and a major credit card.”

  He squinted and leaned closer. “What?”

  “She’s not a whore, so you can stop looking at me like that.” No, she was much cheaper than that—she was going to do him for free. “But I still need to see your ID and credit card.”

  “Why?”

  “Because I’m not going to let my friend go somewhere I don’t know with a guy she doesn’t know.” He stared at me, not comprehending that I was totally serious. “I’m not here to judge anyone, but I need to know she’s safe. So if you’re planning to screw with her, I want to know who you are and where you live.” I was always surprised by how many men would hand over their credit cards. Sadly, it might be a direct reflection of Sara's taste in men, but I didn’t judge that either. All I wanted was to know my friend wasn’t walking off with a guy who was a serial killer, or a rapist, or had thirty cats—Sara was allergic to all of the above.

  Once I’d made it clear to a guy that I could—and would—find him if he decided to cause any trouble, and if he was still standing there when Sara got back from the bathroom, I knew my friend would be okay. The major credit card was just a joke. A bad one, considering I was the one making it, but if you can’t laugh at your own felony, whose can you laugh at?

  I typed his name into my phone, did a quick search through a few databases, and then held it up to show him.

  “You’re supposed to update your address with voter registration every time you move, Matthew Hadley. Did you know that?” I clicked a few more times. “Who’s Rebecca Holt? She doesn’t like you very much, does she, Matthew? Seriously, she wrote an entire blog post about you last November.” I tsked. “Bad breakup, huh?”

  His jaw dropped as I quickly scrolled through all the information a suspicious computer geek could find in 3.6 seconds. Nothing too terrible—besides breaking up with Rebecca by text, of course. But since Sara probably wouldn’t even give him her phone number, that jerk-move could be overlooked for the evening.

  When Sara came back, I pulled her to the edge of the dance floor and pretended to dance, which was basically step-touch, step-touch. Seriously, my version of ‘dance like no one is watching’ isn’t for the squeamish.

  “You sure about him?” I yelled at her.

  “Yes, Mom. I’ll be fine.”

  I loved the girl, but I worried. She hadn’t always been like this. It was a fairly new thing, actually—sometime in the last year anyway. We’d never talked about it, but I didn’t need an advanced degree to know she was using booze and sex to cope with something...badly. Whatever it was had changed my behavior, too—I’d added her to my list of things to be paranoid about.

  “I’m meeting Emilia for breakfast at Morning Grill,” I said. “You’ll need food, so meet us there.”

  “Okay.
Are you staying here for a while?”

  “No. I think I’ve had enough.” We walked back to her suitor of the night. I gave him a warning glare but spoke to Sara. “I’ll be calling you first thing in the morning to see how you are. You better answer your phone. Have fun!”

  I took a cab home. Alone. Then I made myself a drink and had wild, meaningless sex with myself all night long.

  2

  Andi

  Morning Grill was packed by the time I got there the next morning. All I could make out was a dramatic wave and Emilia yelling my name from a table in the back.

  I slid into the seat across from her and patted Sara on the shoulder. “Have you guys been here long?”

  “Not too long. I had to wait for a table to open up.” Emilia adjusted her ponytail and nodded toward Sara. “And Grumpy got here just before you did.”

  “Water,” Sara groaned without lifting her head. “Orange juice. And more aspirin.”

  “When are you going to realize you’re not eighteen anymore, Sara?” Emilia set her enormous purse on her lap and fished through it until she found a small pill case that she handed across the table. Leave it to our boss-slash-bestie to come prepared.

  Sara grunted.

  “Did that mean ‘thank you’ or ‘screw you?’” I asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Ok-ay.” When the server came over, I scoured the menu for side dishes. I’d budgeted exactly three dollars for breakfast out with the girls, which meant bread and water on this side of town. “An English muffin. Lots of butter. And I’m fine with just water.”

  “Please ignore my friend—she hasn’t had her coffee yet,” Emilia said. “She wants a latte and an omelet. The um…Spanish or Florentine, Andi?”

  “Em,” I hissed in warning.

  Emilia excelled at many things, one of which was ignoring me. “Spanish or Florentine?”

 

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