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Advance Search

Could Have Been

Published by: eXtasy Books

Author : V.J. Allison

ISBN :978-1-4874-4164-7

Page :103

Word Count :31565

Publication Date :2024-05-03

Series : The Feathered Tartan#4

Heat Level :

Available Formats : Could Have Been (prc) , Could Have Been (pdf) , Could Have Been (mobi) , Could Have Been (epub)

Category : Mainstream Fiction , Contemporary , What's New

  • Product Code: 978-1-4874-4164-7

What happens on vacation stays on vacation… Or does it?

Fighting regret and grief over his wife’s death, Joshua Campbell is sent to a resort in the Bahamas by his brothers as a way to recharge and unwind. All he expects to do is relax and maybe play a few games with his fellow vacationers. The last thing he wants is to hook up with anyone while memories of his late wife still haunt him. 

Newly single Lauren Richardson’s ex-husband’s betrayal was enough to call an end to anything commitment-wise for a while. Relaxing on a tropical beach is a great way to rebuild her flagging confidence. She doesn’t want any more ties, especially with a sexy Siksika man she runs into on a secluded part of the beach.

Joshua gives Lauren a fake name to hide his background, and a spark ignites that sets their libidos on fire. A few more encounters lead to a night of erotic pleasure, forging a bond that makes them wonder if their fun could go beyond their excitement in the sun. Tragedy strikes, ripping them apart, sending Joshua into a deeper sense of despair, and leaving Lauren wondering if she’ll ever see the father of her child again.

Two Months Ago

Campbell Home, Bedford, Nova Scotia, Canada

The stench of tobacco burned Ewan Campbell’s nostrils, the soft breeze carrying the smoke toward the back door. Mosquitoes buzzed around the bug zapper at the corner of the house. One hit it with a loud snap, echoing in the silence of the backyard. 

His cousin Joshua sat in the Adirondack chair to the right, facing the swing set that was hiding in the shadows. He plopped a cigarette butt into the can on the glass table to his left, a hiss penetrating the air, pulled something out of his pocket and a moment later, the flare of a lighter flashed a moment before an ember appeared. 

Ewan frowned. He hated cigarette smoke. It reeked worse than rotten seaweed, and always made him feel sick. He didn’t want to inhale any of that shit, nor did he want Marti or the kids getting it into their lungs. Thankfully Joshua was only at the house during the daytime, and smoked outside, using an apple juice can as an ashtray. 

He took three steps, flopped down on the matching chair beside Joshua, and put his can of iced tea on the wooden deck beside his feet. “Didn’t you just put one out?” He leaned back in his chair, crossed his ankles, and shot his cousin a pointed frown to indicate his disgust. 

Joshua narrowed his eyes in the shadows, and his jaw tightened. “I’m not in the house, and I’m using the can you gave me.” There was a lot of snark in his tone, enough that it made Ewan’s eyebrows shoot up.

There was also a layer of hurt underneath the defensive attitude. 

Ewan easily recognized it as the memories of Miranda hauling him into her office and rightfully giving him hell for his actions a long time ago. He used the same tone with her, until she pleaded with him to listen and offered the one thing he desperately needed—a helping hand, one he was going to offer Joshua, once his cousin let go of the defensive attitude and admitted he had more than one problem. 

Ewan wondered if the guilt from not taking Sybil to the emergency room was eating Joshua from the inside out. Going by the way his cousin was chain-smoking, the way his hands were shaking, and how much he guzzled alcohol at Dana’s wedding reception, Ewan guessed Joshua’s internal hurricane of agony and remorse was driving him to the brink, making him more apt to smoke and be snippy with others.

Ewan would bet his entire savings that Joshua’s self-loathing was overtaking his entire being, just like his had in the years after Marti left him.

He guessed Joshua’s hate for himself was keeping him from moving forward, like his own had back then. It was like an open, festering wound that would continue to eat Joshua alive if he didn’t snap out of it, soon.

“Fine. Get lung cancer. See if we care,” he shot back, slapping a lot of disgust into his voice to hide the concern that was building in his chest. 

Joshua glanced his way and dropped the half-smoked cigarette into the can, sending a plume of water vapor and a fizzle into the air.

Silence lapsed into the evening. Ewan let his cousin stew while he stole the occasional glance at the other man. 

There were lines of exhaustion and agony on Joshua’s ashen face, his long black hair unkempt, stubble on his cheeks and chin, and his hands trembled every time he moved. His cheeks looked hollow, like he hadn’t been eating properly, and his clothing hung off of him. It was a long way from the man who ran ten miles a day, every day, whether it was around the Campbell complex in Langdon, or on a treadmill during the cold and wet days. 

Ewan inwardly cringed. He had seen the exact same thing in the mirror at one point. It hadn’t made him stop punishing himself for everything, though. A person could continue to spiral downward if they wanted to, even if help was offered. 

Concern rose higher in his chest. Joshua wasn’t just his cousin. He loved the man like a brother. They were three years apart, but were closer than twins, or they had been, until Sybil’s death a year ago. Once he let out his initial agony, Joshua had pulled away from Ewan and Dana, putting up walls topped with razor wire. 

Having his cousin pull away from him hurt, and Ewan was sick of being rebuffed. Despite everything, it didn’t stop him from wanting to help Joshua.

He could guess what was flowing through his cousin’s mind. The urge to smash his head against a brick wall was there, but so was the need to stop the guilt and agony from burning their way into the brain, and to numb the torture, somehow―all to make it from one minute to the next.

Ewan wondered if the chain-smoking was part of Joshua’s coping mechanism. His cousin had smoked for a few years, but quit when he started dating Sybil thirteen years ago. It wasn’t surprising that Joshua’s addiction to tobacco had reared its head again. Quitting nicotine was almost as bad as withdrawing from heroin, or so he’d heard. It was also easy to fall back upon in times of stress, like losing your soulmate forever.

Alcohol wasn’t an easy thing to leave behind, either. Ewan knew that firsthand. The first week or so after he stopped drinking was pure hell. He puked for three days, shook that entire time, and felt like he was being punched repeatedly from the inside out. The migraines had him in bed when he wasn’t hugging the toilet or lying on the bathroom floor, wishing he would die.

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Tags: Love story, mainstream, Contemporary