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Now or Never, страница 1

 

Now or Never
 

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Now or Never


  Praise for Now or Never

  “Just when I thought I couldn't love these characters anymore, Jamie delivers this heart-wrenchingly beautiful tale. Jamie had me from the very first word, on the very first page. Now Or Never is proof that even the most truest of loves can be tested, that sometimes faith isn't enough, and that sometimes relying on someone else isn't a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”

  -Jessica Lynn, Book Lover’s Paradise

  “Jamie has the ability to reach into your soul with her stories. Her ability to capture the rawness of the human spirit and set it to words is heart wrenching and beautiful. This talent makes her writing very connectable for us the reader. She is a gifted storyteller and I’ve enjoy reading her works of art.”

  -Author Sherry Gammon

  “Em and Jay's great love story continues in Now or Never. It is a powerful novel that will make readers realize that happy-ever-after only happens if you work on it. This novel will take a reader to the highest and lowest of emotions but at the end, it will satisfy a reader's need of a good quality read.”

  -Krishna, Journey with Books

  "Now or Never was an emotional, heart-wrenching, whirlwind of a book! Em and Jay's beautifully fragile relationship is continued on as they try to find their Happily Ever After, and I loved every minute of it! I may have enjoyed this book even more than Fight or Flight, which I can't believe I'm saying!"

  -Kendall, Book Crazy

  Now

  Or

  Never

  JamieCanosa

  Now or Never

  Jamie Canosa

  ©Jamie Canosa 2013

  Cover Design: Sarah Hansen

  Cover©Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations

  All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Exceptions are reviewers who may quote short excerpts for review.

  ISBN-13:

  ISBN-10:

  All Rights Reserved

  USA

  This series is dedicated to all those who has been caused harm—in any form—at the hands of another. Know that you are not alone, it is not your fault, and there is help available.

  Never forget, you are brave, you are strong, and you are beautiful.

  National Child Abuse Hotline

  1-800-4-A-CHILD

  RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) 1-800-656-HOPE

  http://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline

  Other books by Jamie Canosa

  Dissidence

  Vengeance

  Fight or Flight

  Sink or Swim

  Heart and Soul series:

  Temptation

  Devotion

  Deception

  Chapter One

  Jay

  No! Em, no!

  Pain radiated from his chest, his head, his gut. Hell, the pain was everywhere, but nothing hurt as badly as the sight of that son of a bitch hauling Em from the room, while he laid there, powerless to stop it.

  No. He wasn’t powerless. Not anymore. He’d never be powerless again. He promised himself that two years ago when he’d walked out of that house, and he couldn’t afford to be now. Not when the girl he loved was in trouble. Not when she was so frightened her entire body was visibly shaking and yet she still threw herself on her uncle’s mercy to protect him.

  That wasn’t how this was supposed to work. He was supposed to protect her. Keep her safe. Ignoring stabbing pains so acute that they sent white hot light lancing through his skull, Jay dragged himself up off the floor. His legs didn’t want to cooperate and he stumbled sideways into the wall. Too long. This was taking too damn long. He had to catch her. He had to stop her. He had to.

  “Em.” His harsh voice rasped through the vacant stairwell as he lowered himself precariously toward the first floor of the crack house he’d been stupid enough to bring Em into, but no one was there to hear him. “Em!”

  Time seemed to come in flashes, like the whole world rotating under a strobe light. Jay shuffled down the hall toward the front door, tripping over unconscious and prone bodies along the way. He wanted to scream at them. Tell them to get the hell out of his way, to get up, to do something, to help him. But he couldn’t do any of that. Staying upright was taking all of his concentration and continuing forward one step at a time was demanding more than he was sure he had. Still, he kept going.

  Jay shoved outside just in time to see that asshole push Em into the passenger side of a dark blue four door sedan. The street lamp was out so he couldn’t see her face in the shadows, but he heard her sob as the door slammed shut.

  “Wait! Em!” Jay lurched down the steps, no longer giving a damn about the dizzying sensation threatening to ground him. “No!”

  Feet flying across the small unkempt lot, he hit the sidewalk just as the sedan peeled away from the curb.

  Jay tore down the sidewalk after it, feet thumping against the pavement so hard it seemed to rattle his brain. “No. No! Em, no. Please. No.”

  As the taillights rounded the corner at the end of the block, the world tilted on its axis. All around him, his surroundings spun into a wild blur of color and nausea inducing pain. Jay barely registered the slap of the pavement against his cheek before everything went dark . . .

  ***

  “Useless. That girl comes out here and you take her in. Tell her you’ll keep her safe. Take care of her.” The familiar mocking of his father’s voice rang loud and clear, and seared Jay to the bone. “What did you think? Doin’ all that. Taking care of that girl would somehow make up for your mother? Stupid boy. You’re the reason she’s dead and no amount of repentance can make up for that. You’re headed straight to hell, boy. And a girl like that? She don’t belong in hell with the likes of you.”

  “Em . . .” Jay’s voice was little more than a muffled groan.

  “Couldn’t even do that right, though, could you? Never could take care of no one. She’s better off without you.”

  “No.” He was wrong. “Em.”

  “She don’t need you.”

  “Em.” Even if that was true. Even if she didn’t need him. He needed her. “Em.”

  Chapter Two

  Em

  Em jerked awake, scanning the darkened room. She was safe. She was in her home. In her bed. Not out there on the streets. Not back with him. She was safe. A deep breath started to bring her racing pulse back under control.

  “Em . . . No . . . Em . . .”Jay’s haunted mumblings had her brain clawing its way out of the muddled fuzziness of waking so abruptly.

  “Jay?”

  The pain in his face eased at the sound of her voice and he rolled toward it, eyes still shut tight.

  “No. Em. Em.” His head rocked on the pillow and Em’s heart clenched painfully.

  Another nightmare. He didn’t have them often—or at least he hid them well from her—but when he did, it hurt her to see him in that kind of pain even if it wasn’t real.

  “Jay, baby, wake up. It’s me. It’s Em. Wake up, baby.”

  He groaned and shook his head. The nightmare wasn’t letting him go.

  “Jay!” This time she shook him gently. “Jay!”

  Jay shot straight up in the bed, gasping for breath and scanning the room much like she had just done. She knew too well what that split second felt like. That moment each and every time you woke up and didn’t know where you were, still thought you were in danger, before reality settled in.

  “It’s okay.” Em wrapped her arms around Jay from behind and laid her head on his heaving back. His heart beat frantically beneath her cheek. “It’ okay. I’m here.”

  She felt him swallow and then his whole body tensed for a moment before he shifted in her arms
so that he was facing her, and pulled her into him. Pressed against his chest almost too tight to breath, she could feel his body slowly relaxing. His muscles eased, his grip loosened. Still, he shook.

  “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He whispered the words into her hair.

  Not knowing what he was apologizing for, Em decided it was probably best to simply accept it. “It’s okay. Everything’s all right now.” And, unlike many of the times they’d said those words to one another in the past, this time they were true.

  Things weren’t perfect. The third dinner of Ramen noodles that week sitting like a cold lump in her stomach could attest to that, but it was food. They had a solid roof over their heads, a warm, safe place to sleep, and above all, they had each other. Em would never dream to ask for anything more.

  “Did I wake you?”

  “No.”

  Jay leaned back just far enough to study her face. “Nightmare?”

  Em nodded. Nightmares had become her constant companion. Being free of the danger didn’t erase the memories that plagued her unconscious mind nearly every time she shut her eyes. Most times, she couldn’t remember them upon waking, but when she came to, suddenly, in the middle of the night with a pounding heart and eyes stinging from unshed tears, it wasn’t hard to figure out what caused it.

  “It’s all right, Em.” A pair of strong arms wrapped around her, gently guiding her head to a well-muscled chest. Jay had been hitting the gym a lot lately and it was starting to show in all the right ways. Em assumed it was his way of never feeling weak and helpless again. It worked for her. She just wished she could find a way to do the same. “I’ve got you.”

  Slowly, he lowered them both back down to the mattress with Em still tucked close. When Jay’s lips brushed over her forehead, Em shut her eyes. She loved nothing more than the feel of his lips . . . except maybe the taste. Luckily, he wasn’t done yet.

  Equally as desperate to avoid returning to the horrors that awaited them both on just the other side of consciousness, Jay covered her hair and face with tiny, feather light kisses until she could hardly catch her breath. When his tongue finally tangled with hers, heat raced through Em’s veins like some kind of igniter fluid. She couldn’t have stopped the gasp that escaped her lips if she tried, and when she felt Jay smile against her mouth, she was glad she hadn’t.

  His talented lips continued their trail downward, along her neck, and Em tipped her chin up to give him better access as Jay’s fingers toyed with the hem of her shirt. He lifted it up an inch and stopped, waiting on her go-ahead before taking things any further, as always. When she arched her back and began tugging at the shirt herself, Jay took the hint and finished the job.

  They’d been this far before—more than once—but it still made Em’s pulse race. Mostly with excitement and anticipation, but there was always that ever present fear lingering in the back of her mind, a small nagging presence that kept things from ever going any further. For months, Jay had been infinitely patient with her, never pushing, never even asking, but could she really expect him to wait around for her forever?

  The coarse scruff on his jaw rubbed against the delicate skin just below her ear, setting her body on fire. Christ, she loved when he did that. His delicious scent surrounded her. She bathed in the smell of him, the touch, the taste. A small moan escaped her lips before she even knew it was coming. He just felt so . . . good.

  Propped up on one elbow, Jay trailed his mouth back down her torso, along the curve of her neck, down her collar bone, over the swell of her breast, and continued downward. Teeth scraped her sensitive flesh, causing waves of heat to wash over her. When he reached her bellybutton, his warm, wet tongue dipped inside.

  Panting, Em fisted one hand in the sheets and the other in Jay’s hair. So good. So good. He groaned against her lower belly and she felt the tingles all the way to her toes. As Jay made his way, slowly, up her body again, Em’s eager hands slid over his toned shoulders and down his back, gliding right over the numerous puckered scars she hardly even noticed anymore. To her they were beautiful. He was beautiful, everything about him, including his past. Even if parts of it were unbearably ugly, it had made him who he was—the man she loved.

  His muscles rippled under her caress and his breath quickened. Tiny puffs of air fanned her face as his chest slid over hers and she could feel his heart pounding an almost violent rhythm against her own. So distracted by the way she affected him, Em didn’t notice his hands moving until they hooked behind her knees, dragging her legs up and around his waist.

  Jay’s full weight pressed her down deep into the mattress. Holding her. Pinning her. Trapping her. Sweat broke out across Em’s skin and her heart started racing for an entirely different reason. Lost in his affections, Jay didn’t notice when her breaths turned to gasps.

  He gently nibbled on her shoulder as he lowered his hips to hers. Hardness and heat pressed against her through their pajama bottoms and Em fought for control of herself. This was Jay. Not him. It was Jay. She could do this for him.

  Em held perfectly still as his hands slipped down her sides. She stopped breathing entirely as they trailed across her hips. But, when his fingers tangled in the drawstring to her pants, she couldn’t stop the quiet whimper from escaping.

  Jay froze. For a long moment he laid over her, lips still pressed against her throat, fingers still knotted in the drawstring, before rolling onto his back beside her and staring up at the ceiling. His face was a blank mask as his chest heaved. It took several minutes, but finally both of their breathing evened out.

  “I’m sorry.” Jay didn’t look at her, but his hand reached out to hold hers. “I’m so sorry, Em. I got carried away. I—”

  “It’s okay.” If anyone should feel guilty, it was her. It wasn’t the first time she’d gotten him all worked up and then shut him down. She was a tease. A slut. The world’s worst girlfriend. She didn’t understand why he even put up with her.

  “It is not okay. I know your limits, Em. I understand them. I respect them. And I pushed you too far.” His voice dropped to a rough whisper. “I scared you.”

  “You didn’t—”

  “I did. I heard you, Em.” He rolled onto his side to face her. “I never, ever want you to be afraid of me. Tell me no, push me away, kick me out of the damn bed, but don’t ever let me scare you.”

  His hand cupped her cheek and she nuzzled into its warmth. How could she explain to him that it wasn’t him she was afraid of? That she could never be afraid of him? That he was the only thing in her whole life that ever made her feel safe and strong?

  “I’m sorry, Jay.”

  “Don’t, baby. You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing. I love you.” Jay pressed a lingering kiss to her temple before pulling back and extricating himself from the bed.

  “Where are you going?”

  “To take a shower.” A cold one no doubt.

  Light spilled into the room from the bathroom across the hall just long enough for her eyes to adjust and the bedroom to be bathed in a deeper darkness when Jay shut the door behind him. The clock on the nightstand read five-fifty. The lazy winter sun wouldn’t rise for at least another hour, but she needed to be at the restaurant long before then. Em hated opening shifts, which is why she almost solely worked the dinner rush, but Sahara had begged and pleaded for nearly a week. Finally, Em had given in and agreed to cover her shift. Now, she was regretting that decision.

  Chapter Three

  Jay

  Ice cold water streamed over his face and down his body. Rivulets ran around each of his muscles, coiled tight in frustration and anger. He was not that douchebag uncle of hers. He swore to himself that he would never do anything like that to her. Never push too far or too fast. But that’s exactly what he’d done. Even if she never asked him to stop—never said anything at all—he knew her. Knew what she could handle. And, more importantly, what she couldn’t. He should have known better. Controlled himself better.

  She was just so damn beauti
ful. Intoxicating. Perfect. The thought alone of her lying there beneath him—dark hair fanned out across the pillow, soft, pale skin glowing in the moonlight, dark lashes framing bottomless blue eyes. She was stunning, and it was undoing all of the painfully hard work the cold shower had done.

  Then he heard that noise again. That frightened sound coming from those sweet lips, pulled tight with anxiety. He’d done that to her. Made her look that way, sound that way, feel that way. Just like him. The last of his pent-up frustration spiraled down the drain as he shut the shower off and groped behind the curtain for a towel.

  Dried and dressed in sweats and a hoodie, Jay padded down the hallway. The hardwood flooring was cold under his bare feet, but they couldn’t afford to turn the heat up any higher. They were already pushing it as it was.

  Light poured from the small eat-in kitchen where he found Em sitting at the table sipping coffee from her favorite cracked mug. Not long after they’d officially moved in together, he’d spotted it at a local flea market. The corny heart-shaped handle made him think of Em, so he’d brought it home for her. Not long after, when he’d accidentally dropped it while doing the dishes, she’d insisted on gluing it back together. He’d offered to buy her a new mug, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Three months later and it was still the only one she’d use.

 
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