The downside of love, p.1
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       The Downside of Love, p.1

           Meghan Quinn
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The Downside of Love


  Copyright

  Published by Hot-Lanta Publishing, LLC

  Copyright 2018

  Cover Design By: RBA Designs

  Cover Model: Travis Fisk and Alexa Intong

  Photo Credit: Charmaine Quinn

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at [email protected]

  All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

  www.authormeghanquinn.com

  Copyright © 2018 Meghan Quinn

  All rights reserved.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  This isn’t a story about a love triangle. There is no triangle involved.

  This isn’t a story about an accidental pregnancy. Although having a baby with her . . . I would.

  This isn’t a story about lies and deception, even though at times I’ve lied to myself.

  No, this is my story.

  A story about sacrifice.

  A story about a man who fell in love with the wrong girl.

  A story I wish I never had to tell.

  This is a story about the true meaning of the downside of love.

  STRYDER

  My feet sink into the wet grass, the dreary Colorado day fitting the mood of all gathered. Today we bury one of the best men I’ve ever known, and I want to be anywhere but here. But I’m here for another man. For the man who deserves more in life than he’s been given. For the man who achieved every one of his dreams.

  I watch the sea of black and dress blues surrounding him, poised and ready to salute.

  Three airmen stand alongside him offering silent support. That should have been me. A pilot.

  Still his best friend.

  A friend who mourns with him.

  For his dad.

  His stepdad’s cruelty.

  For the loss of the woman he loved.

  For Gramps.

  As I watch the officer walk toward him, holding the folded flag in the shape of a triangle, I swallow the rising pain. God, the look on his face. He’s . . . a shell. He looks even more taciturn than when I met him. The flag is handed over; the officer salutes him and then marches away as guns fire.

  One.

  Two.

  Three.

  Three shots in unison into the air.

  In the distance, the silence is broken as “Taps” adds to the sorrowful atmosphere.

  And that’s the moment he looks up, scans the crowd, and finds me.

  Fuck, I’ve been a gutless excuse of a man since graduation. I left him a pitiful note wishing him luck with flight school, and that was it. Had Hardie not called me yesterday, I probably wouldn’t have known about Gramps and come today to the funeral. He probably doesn’t want me here.

  The rest of the ceremony goes by in a blur, and before I know what’s happening, he’s on his way over to me. Fuck. I need to talk to him, but I can’t do that now.

  Not today.

  Not here.

  When he reaches me, all I can see is the broken, hardened boy I met five and a half years ago. I pull him into a hug and clasp him on the back.

  And that one gesture—the familiarity of my former best friend, someone who mattered, whom I respected—brings me to my damn knees.

  “I’m so sorry, man,” I say gruffly. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”

  Although, I know my sorry is for more than the loss of Gramps. It’s for so much more.

  He lost a friend.

  He lost a brother.

  And now he’s lost a great man, his greatest advocate.

  “Thank you,” he whispers. “Thank you for coming today.”

  I adjust my cover and say, “He was my hero as well. Even though you two were obviously closer, I still looked up to Gramps and tried to do right by him.”

  “And are you?” he asks.

  I nod. “I am. He would hopefully be proud.” Lies, all fucking lies, but I can’t tell him the truth here, on the soil where one of the greatest men I ever knew is being buried. So I lie through my teeth, speaking highly of the person I’ve become even though just under the surface I feel like a hollow man.

  “Good.” He looks toward the guys waiting for him, and says, “I’m heading over to the reception where they’re going to pass Gramps’s medals to me for safe keeping. Would you like to come? It’s at the funeral home.”

  I pull on the back of my neck. This is uncomfortable. Maybe I shouldn’t have come. “Fuck, I wish I could, but I have to get into work. I barely got this time off.” Most of that is the truth.

  “I understand,” he says, looking around, anywhere but my eyes. “I’m going to be in town for a few months. I’m on TDY here in the Springs. Could we get a drink? Catch up?”

  I’ve been telling myself this was what was going to happen. That he was going to want to catch up at some point now that he’s in town, and it’s one of the reasons I came today, because there is something I can’t keep from him anymore.

  He needs to know.

  “Yeah. I think we should.” Not a conversation I want to have, but one that needs to be had.

  “Okay, I’ll text you. Same number?”

  “Same number.” I pull him into a hug one last time, salute him, and then walk away. I hate feeling this thick tension between us. But it’s time he knew the truth.

  Chapter One

  STRYDER

  Two years ago . . .

  This is exactly what I need.

  To let loose.

  To shake off the orderly and demanding life I’ve been living for the past twenty-one years. Since birth, it’s been the military life for me. From moving around from base to base, to early morning inspections by my father, to being held at a higher standard than the rest of the kids my age. It’s been drilled into me—who I’m supposed to be, and what I’m supposed to do.

  And I need a fucking break. I need this week off with my friends to relax and have a good fucking time. Maybe meet someone and release some of the tension that’s been building up at the base of my spine.

  “Not bad, huh?” I say, taking a sip of my beer. “This place is dope. I wonder how many bedrooms it has.”

  Colby stands stiffly next to me, his shoulders just about touching his ears, he’s so tense, and his movements are rigid and aw
kward. He’s so out of his element. I knew it would be a long shot getting him here, but I didn’t think about what it would be like once I actually got him to the party.

  It’s going to take a lot more to coax him into having a good time. That’s for damn sure.

  “Not sure, but I bet they’ll be full tonight.” His eyes scan the living room, his gaze taking in our opulent surroundings. I know what he’s doing. He’s checking all the exits, making sure there are multiple ways to leave in case of an emergency. It’s what he does in every space we’re in.

  Trying to loosen him up, I nudge him with my elbow. “Think you’ll be one of them?”

  “No. No distractions,” he answers curtly, sipping his beer. Talk about a good time, this guy is already primed to tamp down any fun that comes our way.

  “Jesus, dude, might do you some good to occupy one of those damn rooms. Come on.” I nod toward the balcony. “Let’s check outside.”

  We make our way past a sectional full of people and out to an expansive deck that looks toward the dark and peaceful forest, the party a disturbance to the naturally serene setting. To the left there is a sitting area full of people and to the right, a pool table.

  Pool on a deck. You don’t see that very often. Working our way to the back, I push past a few people just as I hear a roar of laughter by the pool table. Looking over my shoulder, I take in the scene behind me.

  Two women I can’t quite make out stand with their backs toward me, and two guys holding pool sticks look like they either lost or are about to lose, based on their irritated expressions. Situating myself against the rail of the deck, I take a sip of my beer while eyeing the game, interested in the outcome.

  And that’s when I see her.

  Turning around, her hair floats down over her shoulders in a wave of brown, luscious and plump lips grace her face, and she wears a smile that would bring any man to his knees. She’s fucking gorgeous.

  Standing a little taller, I keep my eyes trained on her, watching her every movement. Studying her. The way she jokes with her friend, the subtle push of her hair behind her ear, the sparkle in her eye when she smiles. She’s someone you know can change your entire life with a bat of an eyelash.

  I need to know who she is.

  Bending at the waist, she leans over the pool table and lines up a shot. Her little tongue peeks out past her lips, eyes narrowing in total concentration. With a light push forward, her stick hits the cue ball and narrowly misses. Smiling brightly, she snaps her finger in disappointment, looking cute as fuck. Retreating to her cup, she takes a sip and jokes around some more with her friend, as the other team tries to make their next shot. Not paying attention to the men, I keep my gaze fixed on her, on the way she tilts her head back when she laughs, or the way she wraps her arm around her friend’s waist, trying to get the other team to mess up with their loud antics.

  She’s fun.

  She’s a good time.

  She’s so goddamn beautiful.

  And there is no way in hell I’ll be leaving this party without her number programmed into my phone.

  Wanting to stake my claim, I nudge Colby in the arm, drawing his attention toward the pool table. He glances at me briefly before turning his attention toward the pool table. I’m about to point out the brunette when I see his gaze latch on, completely and utterly directed where mine was on the brown-haired beauty a few feet away.

  Shit.

  Looking back and forth between them, I watch Colby’s face change. His hard-cut features soften, his shoulders relax, and for the first time, I see vulnerability in his eyes when he looks at her.

  My breath catches in my chest, and the grip on my cup tightens as I realize we’re interested in the same fucking girl.

  There is no denying it, especially with the way his entire expression morphed the minute he laid eyes on her.

  But maybe . . .

  Maybe we’re not looking at the same girl. Maybe there’s an off chance he’s looking at someone else. Maybe one of the guys?

  Who am I fucking kidding?

  Needing to clarify exactly who he’s looking at, I say, “Hey, check out those girls playing pool over there.”

  The blonde is on the far right lining up a shot while the brunette takes a sip from her drink off to the left. Following Colby’s gaze, I confirm that he’s solely focused on the brunette and her every movement.

  Fuck.

  He’s interested, infatuated almost, and fuck if I can do anything about it.

  Colby is my boy, the guy who’s spent his four years at the Academy watching over me, making sure I made my classes and didn’t fuck around too much. He’s helped me study, spent hours tutoring me, training me so I made all my marks, so I didn’t experience the wrath of my father.

  Because Colby knows what it’s like to feel another man’s anger, to be on the receiving end of their indignation. It’s ugly, and it’s not something you want to be wrapped up in, especially when you’re young. But even as a twenty-one-year-old, I want nothing to do with the constant badgering my father throws my way.

  Colby has shown me what true brotherhood is all about, and I would do anything for him.

  I mean anything.

  Even step aside and let him go after the girl neither of us can keep our eyes off.

  Hell, I’ll even encourage the bastard no matter how painful it might be, because if anyone needs an escape from reality, it’s him.

  It might kill me, but I’ll step aside.

  Even if I saw her first.

  For my boy.

  From my position perched on the rail, I make eye contact with the blonde, who has no shame in eye-fucking me, wetting her lips, and sending me unspoken promises of what our night could be like if I took her up on the opportunity.

  I could get into that.

  Maybe.

  She’s hot.

  Unlike the brunette, she’s a little more forthright with her intentions. I watch the way she bends over, sticking her pert ass in the air, the way she rakes her hungry eyes over my body, pausing at my crotch, making it known exactly what she’s thinking about.

  The game finishes up and wasting no time, the girls walk toward us, the blonde’s eyes trained on me, the brunette more shy, stealing glances at Colby, causing a pang of jealousy to rip through me.

  Because the feeling is mutual. She wants him.

  What I wouldn’t give for her to give me a second of her attention, to glance my way, to see me, rather than Colby who’s avoiding all eye contact with the approaching bombshells.

  “Stryder Sheppard, right?” the blonde asks, stepping up, a jut to her hip, confidence pouring out of her.

  “Yeah,” I say, taking her in, showing her that I’m interested, even though with each passing glance from her friend, I lean further and further away from the possibility of being with the blonde. But not wanting to be a dick, I ask, “Do I know you?”

  Sticking her hand out, she says, “Ryan Collier. You came to our prom with Dani, senior year.”

  Dani . . . Dani . . . oh fuck, the girl with the big tits who asked me to go to her prom with her. I didn’t know her too well, but when she asked me at a hot-tub party, topless, fawning all over me, how could I say no? Her fucking nipples scraped against my chest, her hand grazing up my thigh. I would have said yes to anyone at that point.

  “Ah, Dani.” I nod my head knowingly. “She’s going to school up in Idaho, isn’t she?” I’m friends with her on Snapchat and watch her shit on occasion, when I’m bored. Still likes to talk to guys with her top off.

  “I believe so. Studying hotel management.”

  I nod my head in agreement. “Good for her.” Nodding to the brunette, I ask, “Who’s your friend?”

  The brunette takes a step forward, her hair flowing with the breeze, the off-the-shoulder sweater she’s wearing making me all kinds of crazy, her soft skin enticing me under the moonlight on this cold November night. The blonde says, “This is Rory. Rory, you remember Stryder, right?”

&nb
sp; I wait with bated breath as she parts her lips, her voice so fucking sweet when she speaks. “How could I forget the infamous Stryder Sheppard who led the senior and junior class in an epic rendition of YMCA? You were a legend that night.”

  Her voice.

  Her scent.

  Her fucking breathtaking eyes.

  Shit, my heart skips a goddamn beat as I swallow hard, trying to gather myself.

  And fuck do I wish I knew who she was in high school, because instead of hanging all over Dani, I would have been asking Rory for her number.

  “That’s my jam. What can I say, I was feeling the beat,” I say, giving Rory a subtle once-over.

  “Who’s your friend?” Ryan asks, nodding toward the ever-silent Colby.

  Casually, Colby peeks up, his attention never once going to Ryan, but trained completely on Rory. I’m so fucked.

  Despite the war raging inside me, telling me to take Rory for myself, to sweep her away with my charm, to push Colby right over the rail of the deck, I introduce Colby. “This is Colby, my best friend and right-hand man.”

  Lifting her eyes up, those black, long lashes fluttering, she smiles one hell of a fucking smile and says, “Hi.”

  It’s simple, but fuck does it pack a punch . . . right to my chest.

  Finding his voice, not because he’s shy or anti-social, but because he’s a man of few words most of the time, he says, “Nice to meet you.” He follows the greeting with a chug of his drink, leaving his greeting at that. I wouldn’t expect anything else from him.

  “What are you two doing?” Ryan asks, snapping us back into the conversation.

 
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