sp; Never leaving.
A Hearts of Vegas Novel, Book One
Copyright (c) 2018 by E.S. Harper
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior express, written consent of the author.
This book is intended for mature adults only.
Cover Design by Sommer Stein with Perfect Pear Creative Covers
Cover Photography by Reggie Deanching of RplusMphoto.com
Model: Michael Joseph
Editing by Jenny Sims with Editing4Indies
Proof edits: Georgette Geras and Michelle Trelford
Formatting by Champagne Book Design
Table of Contents
Unconscious Hearts Playlist
After the Happily Ever After--Bonus
To Contact Harper
This one is for my Alpha Babes.
To each and every amazing member of that group.
Your support and love has been one of the greatest gifts and blessings.
A massive shout-out to two specific Alpha Babes: Melissa Massabni and Meggie McIntosh. You two are a big reason that this new world has a heartbeat that is so strong. What started as a simple contest in the group to name the two businesses in this world, quickly became a huge part of pulse to this series.
Thank you for your help in giving two incredible men the future they needed to find in life with The Alibi and Barcode.
I hope I did you proud with what your names brought to not just this novel, but any that follow.
ps ... Happy Birthday, Virginia Carey! Thank you, for every year of your friendship. It means the world to me.
Other Books by Harper Sloan:
Corps Security Series:
Hope Town Series:
When I'm with You
Drunk on You
Loaded Replay Series:
Coming Home Series:
Kiss My Boots
This book is not suitable for younger readers due to strong language and adult situations.
You Don't Do It for Me Anymore by Demi Lovato I Think I'm in Love by Kat Dahlia Perfect Symphony by Ed Sheeran & Andrea Bocelli Make Me by Britney Spears All of Me by John Legend Code Blue by The Dream
Supermarket Flowers by Ed Sheeran Bridge Over Troubled Water by Artists for Grenfell Torn by Natalie Imbruglia Kiss Me by Sixpence None The Richer Beautiful Trauma by P!nk Gravity Happens by Kate Voegele Soldier by Gavin DeGraw
You Gotta Be by Des'ree
If You Ever Want to Be in Love by James Bay I Have Nothing by Whitney Houston
Find the playlist on Spotify
adjective & adverb
having no one else present; on one's own.
no person; not a single person.
It's funny, the words that seem to come so easy, meaning nothing at the time they're whispered or spoken, hold all the weight of the world when you realize they're meant for you.
I spent years saying those words. Years hearing those words. Over and over. They became almost meaningless to me. Not in the sense that I didn't feel compassion for those that they did mean something to, but it never felt relatable to me.
My story didn't start sad. It wasn't always a woe-is-me dance. I once felt that overwhelming happiness that comes with pure and wondrous love. I didn't know what it felt like to force a smile because they all came naturally. There wasn't a jaded speck in my vision. My parents were the best. My sister was my best friend. I was about to graduate med school with my boyfriend smiling by my side as we started a new chapter of our lives together.
Only, that chapter hit a major plot twist that not many of us saw coming, and there was nothing left but the backspace key--erasing each and every carefully constructed dream I had woven in the stars.
And the day it all was swept away--the day I found out what those words truly meant--I realized that, while I might still have people in my life, I was well and truly alone ... with no one to blame but myself.
After all, who bases their entire future on the dreams they created while they had their head in the clouds?
Not ever again.
I'll stick to being alone ... with no one.
Aye aye, boss
My hands, shaking uncontrollably, reach forward and press the disconnect button on my office phone. The words left on my voicemail are just another reminder that I seem to always have eyes on me--the devil riding in the wind behind me, constantly on alert, ready, and waiting to tear me down the second I show a sliver of happiness.
I'm not allowed to move on with my life.
I'm in a purgatory of my own weakness.
Crippled by the fear my memories refuse to let me forget.
Keeping it bottled in and hiding it all from the one person the devil didn't rip from my life--my best friend.
Hiding my loneliness from even my own heart, I'm left to warm myself with empty daydreams of faceless men I'll never be allowed to have.
I can't even remember the last time I was able to go longer than a few months without a reminder slapping me back down.
Always returning, invading my thoughts at the most inappropriate times, slashing me so deep it's pure luck I've been able to hide my pain.
I jump, my knees slamming into the underside of my desk, when Piper's voice breaks through. It's as if my thoughts alone conjured up the one person I still have in my life, and that's because she's been by my side since we were soggy diapered toddlers. It's a miracle I've been able to keep her from seeing the magnitude of my deep-rooted loneliness. If anyone would understand, she would, seeing that the state of her own love life is cracking with its own pain.
"Hey. I thought you weren't coming in until later?" I greet, proud of myself for the practiced ease with which I push my issues back and swat the devil from where he's hanging over my shoulder.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not walking around in a constant state of depression. I still have fun. I love my job. I love my best friend. I love my cat--even if he is a jerk. I may be broken, but I'm not shattered. My life is what it is, and I've accepted that, but it doesn't mean I don't feel it cut to the quick from time to time.
I shift aside some of the inventory spreadsheets that have been giving me a headache for the past half-hour, then lean back and plaster a smile on my face. I can see, just by her expression, that she wants to call me out on what she walked in on--but, just like every other time before, she doesn't ask. Instead, she does what she always does, proving to me that I'm not completely alone by just being there for me and with me. It's easy to forget that loneliness when your best friend is determined to love you enough that you know you'll never be without her at your side.
She walks into my office and takes a seat on the couch opposite my desk, pushed against the wall. "Matt and I had another fight last night. I couldn't get out of the house quick enough this morning. Worst part, I'm starting to think all I have to do is wake up to set him off."
"Oh, Pipe." I sigh. Everything else forgotten, I place my pen down and push my chair away from the desk. "What was it this time?" I ask, while making my way over to the couch. Taking a seat next to her, I grab her hand, holding it tight and offering my support.
She lifts her free hand and waves it in the air. "Oh, you know, the normal. I'm not willing to quit my job. I don't wear the right 'sophisticated' clothing to all his fancy functions--even if the ones I wear cost more than what most people make in a month. My hair should be straight, not left in a 'disorganized bunch of curls that a toddler would favor.' How he can't see me ever being mature enough for children--not to mention the fact that I don't want to have children anytime soon. Just a normal day, so take your pick."
Anger swirls in my gut. I hate Piper's fiance. If there was a stronger emotional response to someone other than hate, that is how I would feel about Matthew Scott. However, hate or not, he's the man she's chosen to spend her life with, and I learned my lesson when the one and only time I tried to talk her out of it went terribly.
"Pipe," I start, but just sigh when she shakes her head.
"I know. I know. It's just not that easy, Ari. I've been with him for almost fifteen years. I don't think I know how to start over."
"You guys started dating when you were too young to understand what a relationship should be about, babe. It might be fifteen years, but a big part of those were when you guys were just teens. You know I'll support you either way, but do you really think that staying with him just because it's what you've always known is the right answer?"
"No. I know it isn't. I just, I've got no one else."
"You have me."
Her worry lines relax slightly, and she gives me a small twist of her lips. It's not a full smile, but I'll take it.
"You're always there for me when I need you, Pipe. You always have been. What on earth would make you think I wouldn't do the same for you? Just think about it. Even if you just stay with me for a little while to get your head clear and straight. Maybe a break is all you two need to get back on the right path."
Okay, so I'm stretching it thin here--but I'll do just about anything to get her away from him.
"I'll think about it, okay?"
"That's all you can do, babe."
"Enough about my problems. Let me get out there and get to work." She doesn't wait for me to say anything else on the subject before she plasters a smile on her face and walks out of my office.
That is just like Piper to effectively get what was bothering her out, and then return to business as usual. Only, I know my best friend, and behind the perfectly put together blond bombshell dressed head to toe in designer wear--even if it isn't ever perfect enough for her man--she can still be just as broken and lost as I am.
Enough of this, Ari. It's time. You've let yourself be dragged down enough.
With a shake of my head, I stand from the couch and walk over to my office doorway. Located in the very back of my store, it gives me a perfect view of the large space before me. My eyes go directly to the massive glass jewelry case situated in the farthest corner from my office by the front door, where Piper is standing to get the computer turned on and the accounting program we use up and running before we open for the day. You would never know by looking at her right now that her personal life is a mess. Not my Pipe. She's smiling to herself, clearly aware that anyone inclined to do a little window shopping before store hours will be able to see her through the glass storefront, and everyone knows first impressions are everything in life.
I guess we've really both perfected that mask over the years--for different reasons--but we wear it well. I consider myself thankful for the fact we were able to hone that skill from an early age. It was our norm growing up as the daughters of very well-off families to often find ourselves in social settings that required a certain air of perfection. It's ingrained inside us to always put our best foot forward when in public. Of course, we also broke that rule and marched to our own beat--but it's true what they say, old habits die hard.
"Hey, Pipe?" I call out, and I wait for her to look over at me before I continue. "What do you say we head over to Barcode tonight for some drinks? It's been one of those days, and I think it's the best way to close out the week."
She doesn't answer for so long, I would have thought she didn't hear me if she hadn't been looking right at me. I was fully prepared for her to shoot me down, but with a nod that I'm sure is more to convince herself, she agrees.
"We can leave our cars here and Uber over if that's okay. That way we can enjoy ourselves without worrying about how we're going to get home."
"Yeah, sounds good, Ari," she answers. The hesitant sadness is not as dominant in her eyes as it was when she sat on my couch.
"I'm going to finish up payroll, then I'll be in the back cataloging and tagging some new items. I think Lily is coming in a little early today, but Hannah will be in at her normal time. Just yell if you need me, okay?"
"Aye aye, boss," she jests, looking back at the screen with her hand clicking away at the mouse.
It doesn't take me long to get through payroll. My store isn't huge, but six girls work with us in the store and another eight handle the online store and orders, so it takes me long enough to remember why I hate this part of owning my own business. It's hardly a career that makes a difference in someone else's life--but it's the hand I was dealt, and I wouldn't dream of not giving it my all. Even if it wasn't so profitable that I could essentially hire someone to do all this for me and just sit at home, I would still find a way to keep it growing.
When Trend first opened back in the early 90s, it was just a hobby of my mother's that she built with my father's help as a staunch businessman. She came from a very well-off family, and when her parents passed away, being an only child, she ended up with so much designer brand items, she could never have kept them all--not to mention more money than she knew what to do with. So she created Trend around just that, reselling designer items.
Over the years, her pet project turned into a thriving business that no one could stop. B
efore she died, Trend was turning a profit that guaranteed the rest of our family's lives would be spent breathing easy and breathing well.
She didn't have to work. My father had his fingers in so many pies there wasn't much he touched that didn't turn to gold, which is why I always thought Trend became so successful. But it was all her and her love for the store she created. People could tell when you were doing something you loved rather than doing it because you needed the money. She loved this place, and I loved my mother, so it wasn't a shock when she passed away that she gave Trend to me and not my sister--who never showed any interest in the business anyway. Knowing I didn't just share her love for luxury, but I loved and trusted her enough to take the gift she had given me, she wouldn't have done it without knowing down to her bones it was what I needed. Even if she hadn't left it to me, I would have fought tooth and nail to get Trend after the loss of my parents. This might not have been the future I originally saw for myself, but it's the only place I feel like I can still be near her. Plus, the only reason my sister wanted it was for the only thing she knew how to love--the money.
I stop walking when I get to the closed door in the back corner of Trend. Clearing my mind, I swipe my key pass and enter my code on the electronic keypad, then wait for it to signal the next step in our security process before placing my palm on the screen. The door clicks, and I reach down to the handle to open the large steel door that takes me into the cage--what we lovingly call the back storage room, which is really just a hallway made out of thick steel and concrete walls that take me to the warehouse behind Trend--where the magic is stored.
We had three huge consignment drop-offs yesterday, so I know I have a long day ahead of me in the back of the store, tagging and organizing what will go to the store or be loaded onto our online boutique. It's a long process, running both the physical store and the website, but ever since I made the move to the internet, our profits have been through the roof.
Trend only carries high-end designer items, so our security is so over the top, it would take a tanker to get into the cage area. What isn't out in the showroom is kept back here on shelving units organized by item and designer. Smaller vault style units for jewelry. Larger ones for clothes, and a mixture of the two for purses and shoes. It's a good thing that Trend is so profitable; otherwise, the cost of the security system and the night guard alone would put me out of business in mere days. Heck, maybe minutes.