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Reclaim (Under My Skin #3)
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Ever since high school, Elijah and Kamnan have always had each other’s backs. So when Kam suffers a freak accident and is laid up for a few weeks, it’s only natural that Elijah steps in to help him through his recuperation.
But they soon discover that the occasional meet-up to throw back a few drinks is very different from being cooped up together in Kam’s condo day in and day out. In fact, the more time they spend together, the more Elijah sees Kam in a completely new light—one that surprises and scares him. After a tender moment turns into a passionate exchange, Kam first chalks it up to the building tension of the routine they’ve fallen into. But everything feels more intimate, and time apart feels empty.
As Kam regains his independence, the real world begins to encroach on the sanctuary they’ve built for themselves. Elijah’s still getting over a bad breakup, and Kam has his own plate full of responsibilities—his Spin Cycle business and joint custody of his five-year-old daughter. A relationship is the last thing either of them is prepared for, but will trying anyway end in heartbreak, or will resisting be the wedge that tears their friendship apart?
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I tucked my head against my knees, my stomach churning as much as my thoughts. Tonight my grief had slammed into me like a physical illness through the fog of my half-drunk brain.
“Shhhhhh,” my friend Kam murmured in my ear. “You’ll be fine. Trust me.”
He would know. He’d been through a bad breakup of his own and had become a solace to me ever since I called it quits with Stewart. I didn’t exactly deserve it, since I’d urged him to move on way too soon.
“When?” I asked, swiping at my tears. I knew I was being overly emotional. “When will it not hurt or be so damn confusing?”
Even two months out it still stung when I saw my ex around town or in a club. Like tonight. He let some guy put his hands all over him just to show me a thing or two.
He sighed. “I don’t know. Everyone’s different. I was pathetic for a long time.”
“Truth.” I smirked, and he chuckled.
It was the first smile I’d cracked in hours, and it felt good. Plus, it was nice hearing Kam laugh too; he’d been too hyperfocused on his business lately. But the lightness didn’t last before the cloying feeling was back in my throat and choking off my airway.
I doubled over, dry-heaving into the garbage can Kam had left on the side of his bed. Tequila always did a number on me, and even though Kam warned me not to do too many shots, I didn’t listen. He was always the picture of restraint, the exact opposite of me.
I was relieved that Kam had taken me to his place instead of my empty apartment; he had the uncanny ability to understand what I needed. My roommate, West, was more than likely at work or at Tristan’s place, where he always was these days. I didn’t blame him; they were deliriously happy. It was just hard to be around that perfection right now.
Besides, even though my friends never said it aloud, I didn’t want to hear an I told you so.
They all knew Stewart and I were heading in a direction that could only end in a train wreck. They would throw each other looks, and a couple of times Brin cautioned me about continuing to hook up with Stewart, but I didn’t want to hear it. I knew it was wrong, but I was actively ignoring my own intuition.
Stewart would more than likely show up at my place tonight. He liked to bulldoze his way into my life, and even though I’d been the one to call it off, I’d taken him back in my bed several times since. It was the only place we didn’t fight. When his cock was inside me, I could pretend everything was okay between us. Until reality came crashing back in.
But I needed to cut that shit out because it was no better than the exact thing I had accused my mother of years ago. She’d taken my abusive father back for years, even though he made our lives a living hell. And even after they were finally done, she’d only move on to find the next asshole. Wasn’t I only repeating the pattern? My track record was no better.
The most screwed up part was that someone like Stewart felt comfortable to me. I’d grown accustomed to that knot in my stomach, to that constant apprehension that he’d be mad about something I said or did.
At first I thought it was exciting to have somebody need me that much. To only want to be with me. But then it became suffocating and wholly frustrating. Like I wasn’t my own person anymore. He played with my feelings, and I absolutely allowed it to happen.
But not anymore, damn it. At least that was the narrative I was feeding myself.
Kam leaned over to rub my back as I smashed my head in the pillow and groaned. My cheeks flushed with mortification that I was half-drunk in my friend’s bed. I had always admired him, how he held his head high and took things in stride even though life had thrown him some curveballs. He might’ve been a bit too tightly wound, but it worked for him. No question he was way more accomplished than me.
The other unquestionable thing was that I was going to have a killer headache in the morning.
Kam’s fingers were soothing as he rubbed circles on my spine, and eventually it helped me relax. He was good at this comforting thing, and he certainly should be—he was a father to a five-year-old girl named Olivia, who stayed with him a couple of weekends a month.
“Sure you’re cool with me crashing here tonight?” I mumbled.
“Do you even need to ask?” Reaching over me, he clicked off the light on the nightstand and patted my shoulder. “Just aim for the floor.”