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Authors: KyAnn Waters

Tags: #Romance

With or Without You

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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

 

Samhain Publishing, Ltd.

577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

Macon GA 31201

 

With or Without You

Copyright © 2008 by KyAnn Waters

ISBN: 1-60504-200-5

Edited by Jennifer Miller

Cover by Tuesday Dube

 

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

First
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
electronic publication: September 2008

www.samhainpublishing.com

With or Without You

 

 

 

KyAnn Waters

Dedication

 

To those who believe in second chances.

Chapter One

Applause.

Tessa Brooks’ heart hadn’t pounded this hard since she’d gone to the Bon Jovi rock concert when she was seventeen.

“It’s time.”

The stage tech gave Tessa the signal. She took a deep, calming breath. Then she tossed her head, loving the way her new chic haircut felt like silk against her bare shoulders. The formfitting, knee-length dress molded to her body like a second skin, clinging to all the curves she worked hard to keep from turning into rolls. She felt like a hot Hollywood starlet—sexy and proud of it.

Adrenaline surged. Blood pumped through her veins as she walked onto the stage. Her ankles wobbled on three-inch heels. Yikes, one foot in front of the other so she didn’t face-plant in front of the studio audience and millions of television fans. She was more accustomed to running shoes or Crocs because she was a single mom and operating room nurse. She didn’t have time for a social life. Hence the high heels, new haircut and slinky dress. She was
getting a life
as her daughter called it.

Cheers erupted. The glaring spotlights blinded her, although she could still see the silhouette of the audience giving her a standing ovation. Whistles and catcalls took her breath away.

Tessa spun in a circle and stopped.

Stunned.

Not only did her beautiful daughter stand a few feet away with tears streaming down her cheeks, but she saw her own reflection in the mirrors behind the host, Jade, of the Jade Star Show.

Jade endeavored to turn everyday women into glamorous celebrities for a day.

Tessa barely recognized herself. Gone were the baggy olive green hospital scrubs she wore to work every day. Although her hair still had enough length to pull back to her customary ponytail, today her dirty blonde locks glistened with golden highlights. Cornflower blue eyes sparkled and her lips turned up in a playful smile she couldn’t contain. The miracle transformation was amazing.
That’s me
. A heavy tear held to her lower lashes then dripped onto her cheek.

Tessa kissed her fingers and waved to her nineteen-year-old daughter. Brianna ran across the stage and threw her arms around her mother like she did when she was a child.

“Thank you.” Tessa laughed and hugged her tightly. She rubbed her hand over her daughter’s back. They’d been through a lot together. They grew up together. That’s what happened when you got pregnant at the end of your senior year of high school. It had been just the two of them since then, because Brianna never knew her father.

“I love you, Mom.”

“I can’t believe you did this.”

Tessa’s high school reunion was a few days away. However, this plan had been hatched weeks ago. Her daughter had called the Jade Star daytime talk show and asked for a makeover. Last night Tessa and Brianna boarded a plane in Salt Lake City bound for Los Angeles, and today she was on national television.

Her daughter was right. Maybe she
had
let herself become dated. Well not dated as in going out with a man and having dinner and light conversation in a poorly lit restaurant with the hope of finding someone with whom she could get naked. No she was
dated
. And the year she seemed stuck in was 1988. The year her life changed.

“Mom.” Brianna wiped tears from Tessa’s cheeks. “You look beautiful.”

“So do you.”

Brianna turned in a circle. The show had given her daughter a chic new makeover as well.

“Tessa,” Jade purred into her microphone.

Tessa turned her attention to the host.

“Today isn’t just about makeovers.” The host addressed the audience at the same time a prompt was given for more applause. “This is a reunion show.” She waited as the noise built to a crescendo, then she quieted the group. “Your twenty-year high school reunion is next week. And your daughter has another surprise for you.”

Tessa hesitated, and Brianna gently grasped her hand and led her to the seats in the center of the stage. Jade walked into the audience. The lights dimmed with the exception of a spotlight focused on Tessa.

“Brianna, would you like to tell your mom what the surprise is?”

Tessa pivoted to Brianna. Her heart pounded and her palms grew moist. “What else have you done?”

Brianna sandwiched her hands between her knees and pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. Not a good sign. Brianna was nervous. Tessa relied on patience as her daughter took a deep breath. Then her shoulders relaxed and a reluctant smile found her lips.

Brianna grabbed onto Tessa’s hands and held tightly. “I asked the show for a special favor.”

An uneasy feeling roiled in Tessa’s stomach. She’d never believed in premonition, but she had the distinct impression she was about to experience the reason most sane people do not go on daytime talk shows. Nothing good ever happened to people who heard a secret. At least she knew her spouse wasn’t cheating and she had the stretch marks to prove maternity.

“Your daughter asked us to reunite you with someone special from your past.”

Oh God, not a secret crush.

Jade turned to the audience. “Should we give her the first hint?”

The audience applauded. Colored strobes and flashing lights pulsed over the stage.
With or Without You
by U2 piped through the sound system. Tessa was transported back to prom night, 1988, and her heart skipped a beat. Brianna didn’t…wouldn’t…couldn’t… Oh God, if she did…

“Are you ready for your second clue?” Jade crooned.

Tessa didn’t need another clue. Only two men had been with her the night that song played.
Please, please, please,
she privately prayed.
Be bachelor number one
. Stan Yarrow owned and operated the local pharmacy back home. She and Stan had been friends and he’d taken her to the prom, but the real dance hadn’t taken place until much later…with bachelor number two…Matt Toler.

She swiveled around, eyes darting about searching for a face she’d prayed she’d never see again but also lingered in her thoughts more than she cared to admit. How could he not? They’d shared an incredible night…one stupid, irresponsible, romantic encounter that had changed her life.

Bright lights flashed above the audience.

Jade stood next to Tessa. “Here is your second clue.”

The voice that had haunted her dreams for the last twenty years blended with the music. Just as he sounded in 1988, Matt Toler said hello. Oh crap, it was him! He was here…somewhere. She glanced around the stage, over the audience, to the ceiling where the detached voice echoed.

Suddenly her skin grew clammy. Her attention shifted to Brianna. What in the hell had they told him to get him to come on the show? Did he remember her too? She might not feel this ribbon of panic tightening around her neck if Matt Toler had known her before April 23, 1988…or had ever spoken to her one single time
after
Sunday, April 24.

 

Matt stood on the other side of a silk screen. He couldn’t believe he actually agreed to come on a daytime television show to rekindle a romance with a high school sweetheart. The muted melody from the theme song of his senior prom blended with
ohs
and
ahs
from the studio audience.

He’d received the call a week ago. The producer from the Jade Star daytime talk show told him someone from his high school days wanted to reconnect. They hadn’t been specific, but the message had been clear. The show was reuniting lost lovers.

Matt had dated girls, but there had only been one who would call a daytime talk show for a second chance hook-up.

Heather Krump. Cheerleader, class vice president, she’d dated him off and on for most of their senior year. They’d had some crazy times. Then he’d left for college right after high school and she’d become a cheerleader for a professional basketball team back East.

The stage tech snapped his fingers and pointed to the side entrance leading to the studio set.

More applause sounded. His stomach tightened. Lately he’d lacked excitement in his life. This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind when seeking adventure, but who was he to balk at opportunity knocking? He and Heather had history…mostly good history.

He couldn’t wait to see what she looked like now. In high school she’d been lean muscle, long dark hair, and had an enticing ass that molded to his palms. He took a deep breath and settled the flash of sexual awareness heating his blood. The last thing he needed was to walk across the stage with a blatant erection.

His hands formed fists at his sides. Tension pulled at his forehead. He relaxed his face into a smile, unclenched his hands and walked into the bright lights.

Confusion crept into his mind. He vaguely recognized the woman on the stage and there was something familiar in the younger woman with her. The younger woman smiled wide with straight white teeth glinting under the bright stage lights. He couldn’t say the same thing for the older woman. Her mouth narrowed into a thin-lipped line. Her eyes widened when she looked at him.

Oh hell, she was clearly not Heather. This woman had blonde hair that moved softly around her shoulders when she looked from him to the woman at her side. Subtle makeup, incredible figure, he supposed it could be Heather. He didn’t remember Heather being so petite, but hell, twenty years could dull anyone’s memory.

Finally the hum of voices around him drilled through the confusion. He turned to Jade Star.

“Matt, are you surprised?” Jade put her arm around the older woman.

Uneasiness squirmed around in his gut. How could he pluck the name out of Jade and not look like he’d forgotten the woman? Not the woman, he was sure he knew her from high school. But what was her name? Perhaps if he wasn’t a bit jetlagged and hadn’t just completed a heavy week at the hospital, he could remember. Doctors tended to have great memories. Two years could pass and he remembered a patient’s name, but come on, twenty years? He wished Jade would put him out of his misery rather than continuing to stand there and stare at him as if he’d grown a third eye and uni-brow.

Hell. He’d done it often enough, he’d bullshit his way through. Opening his arms, he smiled big and bright for the host, the television audience, millions of viewers at home and the almost-stranger in front of him. Then he pulled the blonde woman into his arms and gave her a hug.

Interesting, he felt her breath catch. Beneath the silk of her dress she trembled. Not intending a lustful embrace, but with his hands sliding against the smooth feminine contours of her back, detailing her ribs, he pulled her a bit tighter.

She responded. The audience erupted in cheers and applause.

“I’m sorry.” Her lips brushed the shell of his ear when she whispered.

Chills broke across his skin at the seductive tone to her voice. She could make millions as a phone sex provider. Two little words had his cock hardening and images of this hug taking place with less clothing. Male lust, sure, but he didn’t consider himself a letch. He worked with nurses, had female patients. Imagining a woman naked thirty seconds after he met her was definitely off-par for him. In fact, he could really only remember one other time when lust had sucker-punched him in the gut.

Tessa Brooks.

Chapter Two

After Jade pumped them for words on what they were feeling, it was time to leave the stage so she could bring out the next makeover. A stagehand directed Brianna to sit with the studio audience and then led Matt and Tessa to a cozy loveseat where they could talk privately. Privately with a camera directed at their faces and a microphone still clipped to her dress so Jade could check in with them.

Tessa sat on the loveseat next to Matt. Her left knee jiggled a nervous tempo and, of course, he noticed. He covered her knee with his palm. The weight and warmth of his hand seared her flesh. Butterflies flitted about in her stomach. Her eyes locked on his hand.

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