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Hard Truth (Hard to Love #2)
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The first time I met Alexander Harding, I yelled at him for taking my parking spot. Rich and powerful, I saw him as nothing more than my new coldhearted boss. I hated him once but now…now things aren’t that simple. There’s a man beneath the beast, and the more I get to know him, the more I fall in love with him.
Though just as I’m able to envision a future together, the past comes back to haunt us both.
Six years ago, my life changed forever when I found out I was pregnant. The last thing I expected was to see Michael Cooper again, but now he’s here and is ready to make up for lost time. He wants to be involved in his daughters’ life. My life. And it’s making me question everything.
I never thought it was possible to be in love with two men at the same time. One from my past, and one I want in my future. My heart is completely torn in two, with each half going in a different direction. I’d give them each half if I could.
But then I would be left with nothing.
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“Last night of freedom, boys!” Ben puts the Jeep in park and kills the engine. He twists in his seat. “Ready to get fucked up?”
“I’m going to get me some puss-say.” Tanner unbuckles his seatbelt and holds his hands out in front of him, acting as if he’s gripping onto some invisible chick’s waist as she bounces up and down on his lap.
Allison snatches the keys out of Ben’s hand and rolls her eyes. “Why did I agree to be your DD again?”
“Because you love us.” Ben turns to his sister. “And because you know there’s a good chance that we could—”
“Don’t even say it.” Allison’s hazel eyes flash. “If you do, I’m taking you all home.”
“Don’t be a buzzkill already,” I tell her and undo my own seatbelt. “We’re not even drunk yet.”
She lets out a sigh and waves her hand in the air. “Go forth, get drunk, and have sex,” she tells the three of us. “I’m going to run to the bookstore before they close and then I’ll be back to pick your drunk asses up.”
“You’re such a loser,” Ben huffs and gets out of the car, leading the way to the frat house. His older brother goes here, and uses our upcoming deployment as more or less of a reason to throw this big party. Though with parties happening every weekend here, I don’t think they need a reason.
It’s unseasonably warm for this time of the year in Chicago, and the air is warm and sticky. The house is already alive with the sounds—and smells—of a college party. I don’t really consider myself a partier, though the last few years have made it hard to consider anything.
It’s hard enough to be who I am when darkness surrounds me.
When it’s pulling me below the surface.
Making me question everything I’ve ever known.
Stepping over a couple who’s tangled up together on the porch steps, alternating between making out and taking hits from the same joint, we make it into the house.
The lights are dimmed, the music is loud, and the scents of beer and barf fill the air. This is how Friday nights are supposed to be when you’re twenty years old.
Not holed up in your room, drinking alone.
“Ben!” Jason exclaims when he sees us. He pushes through the crowd and gives his brother a one-armed hug. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Jason, and it’s strange, really. I used to see him all the time. He pats Ben on the back and looks at me. The moment our eyes meet, his get a little misty. My heart aches, feeling like it’s going to collapse in on itself all over again.
“This is for Matt,” he says and holds up the red plastic cup in his hands. “And he’d want you to get fucked up!” Upon hearing someone yell get fucked up the people around us cheer. “You need drinks,” Jason tells us, and motions for Ben, Tanner, and me to follow. I look around, and the heat and noise of the crowd starts to feel suffocating already.
I need to get my shit together. If I can’t make it through one party, how the hell am I supposed to make it out in the desert? It’s different out there, though.
There I have a purpose. A reason. Motivation to keep going. Just like Matt did. I take the cup Jason thrusts at me and take a big drink, thinking of my brother. He would want me to get fucked up. To live it up tonight. To drink until I puke and wake up next to at least one chick whose name I can’t remember.
It’s what he would have done. He lived his life boldly, loud in all aspects. He was so vibrant, so full of life. So alive.
Until he wasn’t.
“Let’s go find us some tail.” Tanner sucks down the last of his beer and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before burping. Ben and I laugh, and a few girls walking by scoff.
“Maybe wait until they’ve caught up with you,” Ben says, looking at the empty cup in Tanner’s hand. “Or slow your roll.”
“Fuck slowing anything,” Tanner says and goes to the keg to refill his cup. “We’re leaving tomorrow to fight in a fucking war. I’m going to drink and fuck and party as much as I want!”
“Give him an hour and he’ll be passed out,” I mumble to Ben, who laughs and nods.
“It’s nice to have you out with me again.” Ben claps my back. We’ve been friends since elementary school when we bonded in solidarity over how much we hated having to get up early, being dragged to our older brothers’ football practice in the summer.
Jason and Matt became friends right around the time Ben and I did. It was perfect. Ben and I ganged up and pestered the shit out of our brothers. And Jason and Matt had two little shits to mess with. We were only two years apart—which is a lot when you’re in middle school—but the four of us all got along like one big dysfunctional band of brothers.