Bubbly: An erotic contemporary romance for New Years
By Anne Holly
Beth’s had the best of everything and the worst of everything. From the outside, a poor little rich girl, hounded by the press, but, on the inside, bruised by dark memories. When she seeks escape from her suffocating world on New Years Eve, she accidentally gets a taste for how the other half lives. Rough bartender Tig Riley offers her a whole new outlook on life in his arms and maybe even a brand new future, if only she can trust him. Can he really help her heal herself?
(Caution: sexuality, mature subject matter and adult language.)
“Oh crap,” he groaned suddenly, lifting his head from where it had been leaning against hers. She was seated in the tub between his legs and resting back against his chest and belly, lazily dozing as she watched their fingers entwine. “It must be past midnight by now!”
“Do you have to go, or something?” she asked, feeling her heart speed up uncomfortably in her chest.
“No, no,” he said. “It’s just that I didn’t kiss you and wish you a Happy New Year when the clock struck. I was kind of busy at the time, I guess.”
“You likely were kissing me,” she reminded him with a soft chuckle, relaxing against him again. “And you can still wish me a Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year,” he said, pressing a kiss to her temple.
“Happy New Year,” she replied, feeling wistful. All of this felt like a dream, one that she hadn’t even let herself contemplate for so long. Could this be a man she could trust, a companion to pass sleepless nights with, and a passionate lover? So many things Beth had given up on, dreams that Neal had stolen, now were sitting right next to her. It seemed almost too good to be true.
“Are you chilly?” he asked, wrapping his arms around her tighter in response to the shiver that ran through her.
“Do you need to get some sleep?”
“I suppose we should,” Beth said, hesitating. Aside from the languid restfulness settling in her soul, she was quite awake from her nap earlier. She remembered how men liked to sleep after sex, so she didn’t want to keep him up.
“Should I go?” Tig asked, showing the first look of uncertainly since they retreated to her bedroom.
“I’d like it if you stayed,” she confessed.
“Good. Me, too,” he kissed her again, and then eased her up so he could exit the large, sunken whirlpool tub. He grabbed a fluffy bath sheet and swaddled her into it as she stood, and she gloried in the feeling of being taken care of. Beth couldn’t remember a time in her life when someone had treated her this sweetly.
“I wonder if they’re done downstairs,” he thought aloud.
“Probably not,” she said with a shrug. “They won’t leave until tomorrow, some of them. Suze will have to shepherd them through brunch before they find their heads enough to leave.”
“She’s a real handy girl to have around,” Tig remarked.
Beth agreed as she retied her hair.
“Your neck is so slender,” he said, kissing her at the nape and then watching her in the mirror. “You suppose Neal needs throwing out yet?” he asked, his face darkened uncharacteristically. His eyes bore into hers through the reflection, and he flexed his hands on her waist. “Sorry, I just...When I think about what that bastard likely did to you, I want to pulverize him.”
“Believe me,” she whispered, “I understand.” Tig’s reaction pleased a part of her, happy to have someone share her outrage. But another part of her regretted the fact that any man she was with would be confronted by her degradation against their will, just by looking at her. Neal had always been careful never to leave a permanent visible mark, but she wanted to cry over the stigma he left her with. It saddened her that even Tig, as happy and casual as he was, would likely never be able to set it aside and see her as just Beth. Beth and not ‘Neal’s victim’.
“I guess I could never fit into this crowd,” he said, bitterness edging his voice. “Too damned sophisticated for me, if they let rapists wander around their homes. I mean, doesn’t it bother you that we’re up here and he’s down there? That little shit!”
“Tig, just don’t think about it.”
“I know,” he said, raking a hand through his hair, as if it was some sort of substitute for going down there and beating the snot out of Neal. “You asked me not to cause a scene. I get it.”
“You just don’t realize how things are done here.”
“You know, maybe I understand better than you do. You don’t think I see a clearer picture of this glittery, screwed up social circle standing behind that bar six nights a week than you see from inside it?” He was growing frustrated, and the words were spilling out of him now. “I see wives come back from the bathroom after dessert, having clearly thrown up the hundred-dollar a-plate meal in order to stay skinny forever. I see their husbands off in the kids’ playroom dry humping the mistress of their boss. It’s like fucking Babylon at these things half the time, and everyone’s wearing great big diamonds on their hands, and great big fucking holes where their hearts should be.”
“Now, not everyone is like that,” Beth tried in vain to defend her lifestyle.
“No,” he agreed, his eyes flashing indignity. “There’s decent, kind, happy people in every world, but they aren’t the ones I see filling your house right now. For God’s sake, Beth, why do you let these people in?”
“You don’t know what it’s like,” she sobbed, hating his condemnation, and hating the way he saw everything. “All of my life, I had to live a certain way, be a certain way, live the way they all expected me to! You think I like it? I don’t. But that’s the way it is!”
“Not for everyone. The decent people don’t live like this,” Tig said, a bit more calmly.
“You just don’t understand,” she snapped, stiffening against the truth of it all. “People like you, no one expects anything from you.”
As soon as she said it, she wanted to take it back, but it was too late. She saw the flinch hit his face like a slap, and his eyes turn cold.
“People like me,” he muttered.
Turning on his heel, he left her, not stopping when she asked him to.
Released December 3, 2011 on Nook, Kindle, epub, Adobe and more!
For more information, check out my Seasonal Tales website.