PRAISE FOR RACHEL VAN DYKEN
“The Consequence of Loving Colton is a must-read friends-to-lovers story that’s as passionate and sexy as it is hilarious!”
—Melissa Foster, New York Times bestselling author
“Just when you think Van Dyken can’t possibly get any better, she goes and delivers The Consequence of Loving Colton. Full of longing and breathless moments, this is what romance is about.”
—Lauren Layne, USA Today bestselling author
“The tension between Milo and Colton made this story impossible to put down. Quick, sexy, witty—easily one of my favorite books from Rachel Van Dyken.”
—R.S. Grey, USA Today bestselling author
“Hot, funny . . . will leave you wishing you could get marked by one of the immortals!”
—Molly McAdams, New York Times bestselling author, on The Dark Ones
“Laugh-out-loud fun! Rachel Van Dyken is on my auto-buy list.”
—Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author, on The Wager
“The Dare is a laugh-out-loud read that I could not put down. Brilliant. Just brilliant.”
—Cathryn Fox, New York Times bestselling author
ALSO BY #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR RACHEL VAN DYKEN
The Players Game Series
The Consequence Series
The Consequence of Loving Colton
The Consequence of Revenge
The Consequence of Seduction
The Consequence of Rejection
The Wingmen Inc. Series
The Matchmaker’s Playbook
The Matchmaker’s Replacement
Curious Liaisons Series
The Bet Series
The Ruin Series
The Eagle Elite Series
The Seaside Series
The Renwick House Series
The Ugly Duckling Debutante
The Seduction of Sebastian St. James
An Unlikely Alliance
The Redemption of Lord Rawlings
The Devil Duke Takes a Bride
The London Fairy Tales Series
Upon a Midnight Dream
The Wolf’s Pursuit
When Ash Falls
The Seasons of Paleo Series
The Wallflower Series (with Leah Sanders)
Waltzing with the Wallflower
The Dark Ones Saga
The Dark Ones
Hurt: A Collection (with Kristin Vayden and Elyse Faber)
Every Girl Does It
The Parting Gift (with Leah Sanders)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2018 by Rachel Van Dyken
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Skyscape, New York
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Skyscape are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Letitia Hasser
To Red Bull—the green can—without you, this book would not be possible. And to anyone who’s ever been cheated on and imagined your own special kind of revenge—this one’s for you!
Chapter Thirty B
About the Author
This was not how I pictured my life going.
Not even a little bit.
A rat scurried by.
I held my breath and closed my eyes.
The smell of sewer burned my nostrils and made me cringe when I thought about how much money I’d spent on my lululemon yoga pants. Yeah, these stains weren’t coming out any time soon.
I was the adult version of Dora the Explorer, crawling through the sewers of downtown LA like I was searching for fabled alligators.
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a princess, so like I said, not how I pictured my life.
I tried to stop myself from gagging as something that looked like dirty toilet paper floated past. I grunted and kept stumbling through the dark tunnel.
I hadn’t been close to my parents.
Their deaths left this giant gaping hole in my heart where I knew something was supposed to fit, but nothing ever did. My brother poured himself into sports—and I poured myself into this idyllic little fantasy that I would be the mom I never had.
It seemed like a good idea. Marry well. Be the mom I’d been denied. The mom I’d always wanted. One who’d make casseroles on Mondays, pot roast on Sundays, have a white picket fence—that was the dream. Or maybe the dream was just to be loved.
The sound of cars above me had me panicking, one earthquake and I’d go splat beneath a semi hauling fish.
Because that was the type of luck I had.
I checked the text message again and used the flashlight on my phone to peer up at the ladder le
Isla: Downtown. Eleven p.m. Shaggy’s Steakhouse. Alleyway
“Bingo,” I whispered and quickly plugged in my fiber-optic camera. God bless iPhones and all the little gadgets that come with them. As quietly as possible, I climbed the ladder and shoved the camera up through the gritty metal hole.
“Come to Mama,” I whispered as my adrenaline spiked.
Isla said she’d lure him out of the restaurant with the promise of a quickie, and the cheating idiot—the one who really needed to learn how to shop in his own garage, if you get my meaning—was clearly all over it. What was it with men who thought that money made up for their overactive sweat glands and jowls the size of my ass?
“God, you’re a beautiful woman,” the lying, cheating bastard crooned in a gravelly voice that reminded me of those antismoking commercials. My face twisted with disgust while I recorded. The angle was perfect, and the streetlights may as well have been spotlights on his eager face.
“Awww.” My best friend and business partner shrugged a shoulder and forced a laugh. She tugged down the front of her dress, and the cheater took one look at her breasts and made a choking noise. Apparently he had an overactive salivary gland too. “You’re such a nice guy. How are you not married?”
“Just haven’t found the right woman, I suppose.” He toyed with the black material near her right nipple, flicking it with his swollen and heavily ringed pointer finger. I kept myself from throwing up.
“Is that so?” She leaned in. “How is that even possible?”
“No idea.” He leaned in.
Oh, honey, I appreciate the dedication but he probably tastes like an ashtray. Don’t do it, don’t do it. I briefly contemplated closing my eyes so I wouldn’t have to witness any forthcoming kiss. Only a best friend would notice the slight grimace Isla made before backing up and sliding a manila envelope out of her bag and shoving it into his chest.
“What’s this?” He chuckled at the envelope while she made a gagging noise and wiped her mouth. The guy hadn’t even kissed her, yet her body was in distress, poor thing.
“You got it?” She looked down at the sewer cover.
I moved the fiber-optic cable up and down in an affirmative motion.
She smirked at him. “You’ve just been served. You’re also on camera, so say hi to your wife and the rest of the Dirty Exes, our live Facebook group. And while you’re at it, you may as well say good-bye to half of everything you own, according to the prenup you signed three years ago. But you know what? Half doesn’t seem nearly enough to put up with your shit.”
His phone buzzed.
“Better answer that, I’m pretty sure that’s your soon-to-be-ex-wife just making sure you’re aware that she saw the live video.” She smiled triumphantly. “Oh, and nice doing business with you.”
With great effort, I removed the sewer lid then heaved myself up the rest of the way. The cover felt like it weighed twenty-five pounds, and I nearly smashed my fingers in the name of catching another cheater. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“You smell.” Isla scrunched up her nose when she waltzed over to me. “But you’re dedicated, I like it.”
“It was the only way to get close enough,” I grumbled and made an effort to dust off my damp clothes even though I knew it was in vain. When she’d texted she’d be meeting the target, I’d been headed back to my apartment, so I was ill prepared for sewer sightseeing even though I knew it was a possibility, considering the location. Can one ever be completely prepared to do something like that? The answer is no. Just. No.
“You bitches!” The Cheater ran toward both of us—lips curled in disgust, his eyes beady, angry little lasers, hand raised—like he was seconds away from attacking us with his cell phone.
Instinctively, I reared back and let my fist fly. Knuckles connected with flesh, and he whimpered and went down like the loser he was.
“Blaire!” Isla groaned. “You can’t just punch our clients’ husbands.”
“I slipped,” I lied. “Besides, it was self-defense! He’s twice my size and he made a threat!”
Isla just shook her head at me.
“He charged us! With his phone! That’s not normal behavior, plus it looked like he intended to use it as a weapon.”
I may have anger issues.
“Who the hell are you people?” Cheater was on the ground, covering his face with his hands. Oh hell, was he crying?
I stepped over his sad, pathetic body and grinned. “The Exes.”
Isla looped her arm through mine and then dropped our black-and-white calling card on the ground. It was our final punch to the gut. Not only did it serve to warn our targets that we were watching . . . always watching, future clients who randomly found our cards called us based on curiosity alone. We grew our social media presence by being selective and only taking high-profile clients. Business was booming.
“Have a good night.” I waved and shoved my phone back in my pocket.
Isla sucked in a breath. “So, pizza?”
“Fries,” I countered.
“Pizza.” She narrowed her eyes like she was thinking.
“Wine,” we said in unison.
“Oh, looky here.” She pulled a bottle out of her giant Mary Poppins purse and waved it in front of my face like it was totally legal to drink while walking down the street.
“You have glasses in there too?” I laughed, poking my head in her giant bag.
She was already pulling them out.
Always prepared, Isla was.
“And a screw top.” I pointed. “Best date of my life.”
“Isn’t it though?”
“She’ll get more than half.” I nodded as Isla poured my red Solo cup to the rim. “You know you didn’t have to seduce him, he was well on his way to dropping trou near the dumpster.”
“Our clients expect dedication. Yours was the sewer, mine was his mouth and body.” She scrunched up her nose. “Same thing, different locations.”
I shuddered. “So true.”
Isla stopped walking and lifted her cup in the air. “To another successful divorce.”
I clinked my cup with hers. “Men. Women. People of LA, you’ve been warned: the Exes are here, so keep it in your pants—”
“Or panties!” Isla giggled.
I tilted my head and continued. “Or get it chopped off.” I scrunched up my nose. “Too far?”
She hesitated and then tilted her head. “I was thinking more along the lines of running all male penises over with a car, but most are so small I was having trouble figuring out the specifics.”
I doubled over in laughter. “Yeah, I’ll drink to that. And don’t worry, I’m sure the longer we do this the more creative your imagination will get.”
A couple passed us by. As I watched them kiss, I ignored the pang in my heart.
Just like I ignored the longing that came with it.
“You’re happy, right?” Isla asked. She was my other half. If the other half oozed sexuality and confidence. Most days I was lucky I even put on mascara and remembered to wash my hair. I was so focused on retribution, on not focusing on the past, that I was barely staying sane. I wanted to be that woman, the one who told the world where to stick it—I just didn’t know how to do it without acknowledging all the parts of myself that were still broken, still hurting. Because that meant I had to actually admit it happened, it was real, and I was alone.
An impasse, that’s where I was at.
“Of course!” I said loudly, realizing she was waiting for my response, and like an idiot I was peering into my wine cup like it was a Magic 8 Ball that would give me all of life’s secrets if I just stared hard enough. Her eyebrow arched, and I could tell she wasn’t convinced. I took a deep breath, forced a soft smile, and said it again. “I’m really, really happy.”
I just had to repeat it.
And then add in two reallys.
And that was it.
Except it wasn’t.
Because a part of me was still thinking about that couple, about the look in her eyes when he kissed her, and about the way it felt to be kissed.
A really good kiss.
One that stunned you into silence. One that stole your breath and made you swear that if you died in that minute, it would be okay. A kiss that made you believe that maybe, just maybe, the world wasn’t all bad.
That maybe love existed.
It was that kind of kiss.
And I realized in that moment, with a jarring sense of insecurity, that I’d only ever been kissed like that once in my entire life.
And it wasn’t my ex-husband who had done it.
I kicked my sewer-stained Nikes across the hardwood floor of my apartment and cringed as the sound of silence wrapped itself around me like an unwelcome hug. Silence had a buzzing, unhappy sound, like the fridge coming on, or the noise the light bulb in my bedroom would make. It was cold and unwelcoming.
It was just . . . empty.
I would have done anything to have silence that last year of my marriage, what with all the arguing. Especially on the day I walked in on my husband’s moans. Now sometimes I thought I would trade all the silence in the world for someone to come home to. And on my weakest days that even included my lying, cheating bastard of an ex.
I wish I could say I didn’t see signs, that my heart hadn’t been well aware of his wandering eyes. I was the woman others judged when they whispered about trying to keep a husband happy . . . but how long can you do that before you lose yourself? I’d already lost so much.
So. Damn. Much.
We’d met when I was at my lowest, and he made me laugh. He was easy to talk to, and there was something nonthreatening about him. He reminded me of one of those loyal yellow labs, happy and easy, with absolutely no flight risk. He didn’t challenge me in a way that pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’d been so lost, so sad, that I clung to him like a well-worn sweater and told myself that that nice warm feeling was love. So when the sweater unraveled, when the strings pulled apart, I was left naked, exposed, and completely lost all over again.
My heart cracked even more as memories flooded. Memories of him, memories of the little bundle in my arms. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t truly mine, or the circumstances surrounding his arrival.