Exclusive Chapter: February Stars - Wilder Irish Book 2 by Mari Carr
“No show, no contest, nothing. Nothing is more important to me than you.”
Ailis Adams couldn’t be more dissimilar from Hunter Maxwell. Quiet to his loud, calm to his frantic, bookish to his street smart…they have no common ground. Except for the fact that Ailis’s boyfriend just ran away with Hunter’s fiancée. So no one is more surprised than Ailis when a friendship flourishes. Pat’s Pub’s resident wallflower discovers she actually enjoys spending time with the bar’s gregarious, attention-seeking musician.
When Hunter lands a spot in February Stars, his big shot at breaking into the music scene, who better to guide him than his new bestie? She’s a sharp businesswoman who grew up on her famous parents’ tour bus. Ailis isn’t keen to leave her quiet life in Baltimore, but she knows the ins and outs of the biz, and even she grudgingly admits no one will have Hunter’s back better than a friend.
However, with one impulsive kiss, everything changes. Ailis’s friendly feelings toward Hunter turn to serious lust…and more. But falling for a musician isn’t a good idea. Fame comes with a price, one Ailis isn’t sure she’s willing to pay. She’s already left behind a life on the road once before, in favor of planting roots close to her family and their beloved pub. Though, her family will always be there…and four walls can’t love her back…
So is home really a place? Or is it where her heart resides…with her gorgeous bad boy rock star?
Author: Mari Carr
Tags: * Contemporary
Publisher: Independently Published
Exclusive First Chapter: February Stars by Mari Carr
Ailis sat on the couch and stared at the wall in front of her. She had no idea how much time had passed since she’d gotten home, found the letter and assumed this zombie-like pose. Minutes? Hours? Days?
Her gaze dropped slightly, catching sight of the letter on the coffee table. She closed her eyes rapidly before any of the words formed in her brain. When she opened them again, she made certain she was looking up. At the wall. Only the wall. The wall was safe.
Part of her was waiting for tears. That was the natural response, the one most women would have succumbed to.
She’d just been dumped. Big time. In a horrible fucking letter.
However, instead of crying her heart out, screaming curses into the empty room, beating her fists against the couch cushions, all she could manage was this numb silence.
Typical. Even alone with her broken heart, she couldn’t find a way to express the pain with any semblance of noise or passion.
No wonder Paul had left.
The thought of his name worked. Triggered an emotion. Though it wasn’t sadness. It was resignation. She was an intelligent woman. If she looked back on the last six years reasonably, with a detached eye, she would have seen that they were a mismatch. It was obvious now.
Paul was driven, a climber. He was never going to be happy until he’d achieved every single goal he had set for himself. She knew that because she’d been there as he’d knocked a few off his list. He’d graduated top of his class at University of Maryland, where they’d met. He’d been accepted to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Then he’d gotten his residency at Hopkins, his dream job.
Ailis had been there beside him, either as a friend or a girlfriend, for nearly every part of that. She had been the perfect match for him during the college years because she’d enjoyed learning, and even though she wasn’t studying medicine, she’d helped Paul with his coursework. She was a stronger student, something Paul took advantage of as she basically co-wrote all his papers and helped him memorize countless facts about the body and diseases. The two of them joked that she had a medical degree without the diploma.
He craved attention, the limelight. When he was in the room, his sheer dominant presence ensured that all eyes were on him as he discussed politics or offered medical advice or told some funny story about the antics of the doctors at the hospital. He’d been president of every club he had ever joined.
And she’d been lingering in the background like some creepy shadow. He’d referred to her as his silent rock on more than one occasion. Like a stupid fool, she had considered that a compliment, thinking he needed her somehow.
Probably because the political and social views he espoused were the ones she’d discussed with him. She was the one watching the news, reading the papers, forming opinions. They’d talk at length about countless topics when they were alone at night. Then, in social settings, he’d use her lines, her comments, professing them as his own, and his equally shallow friends would be totally impressed by his insight.
Before tonight, she’d actually bragged about how lucky she was to find a man whose personal beliefs aligned so closely to hers.
Now, the blinders were off. And she didn’t like what she saw. She’d been a doormat.
Six years they’d been together. Eight, if she counted the two years prior to dating when they had simply been friends, hanging out in similar circles.
That name fired its own shots in her brain, evoked a different but just as powerful emotion. Rhonda had been her best friend since their freshman year of college when they’d been placed together as roommates in the dorm. That friendship had persevered and continued as they’d shared the same major and then, after graduation, been hired at the same marketing firm.
Rhonda was everything Ailis was not. Vivacious, lively, pretty. The life of every party. The fun one. She had been a solid C student, but she had the personality to overcome what she lacked in intelligence. How many times had she listened to friends and colleagues tease the two of them about opposites attracting? As loud and bubbly as Rhonda was, Ailis was the polar opposite. Quiet, introspective, calm.
People thought she was shy, but Ailis had never considered herself timid. In truth, she just didn’t feel the need to be the center of attention. She was perfectly capable of carrying on conversations one-on-one with strangers and business clients. But in larger social settings, she preferred to find a quiet corner to observe and analyze. People-watching was one of her favorite things to do. She always felt like she learned more about people by watching them than she did by talking to them.
Obviously, she’d been watching the wrong people. Or, perhaps, she’d been observing the right people, but interpreting what she’d seen incorrectly.
Because Paul hadn’t just left her. He’d left her for Rhonda.
Somewhere over the past few years, her boyfriend had fallen for her best friend. And she’d missed the signs. Completely.
That thought sent her gaze back to the letter. This time she forced herself to look at it. To let some of the words sink in.
You have no idea how difficult it is for me to write this letter to you, Ailis.
Yeah. Well. He should try it from her perspective. Because she was pretty sure reading it was way harder.
She glanced away again, taking in the living room of the apartment she shared with Paul. His departure had been deliberate, planned, well thought out. There were things missing. A lot of things. Though she hadn’t looked, she was willing to bet she would discover his dresser drawers and his half of the closet empty, his toiletries gone.
He’d been a very busy boy today while she was at work. Paul had quickly and efficiently erased himself from her life. In less than ten hours.
She resumed her study of the wall in front of her, too tired to think about this right now. Maybe she’d pull that bottle of wine out of the fridge and drink her way into oblivion. She could figure out the rest of her life tomorrow.
Unfortunately, standing up and walking to the kitchen required more energy than she could muster.
Then the silence was interrupted viciously by a loud banging on the front door. Ailis jerked at the unexpected sound, her heart racing at the sudden noise. “Shit,” she muttered, placing her trembling hand on her chest.
“Open the fucking door, Paul! Come out here, you goddamn prick!”
Ailis leaned back against the couch with a long sigh. Her day sucked enough. Adding Hunter Maxwell to it was like tossing salt into a gaping wound.
She didn’t move to answer the door. Maybe he’d think no one was home and go away.
“You have five seconds to open this door before I kick the motherfucker in, you son of a bitch!”
Ailis groaned as she rose. She didn’t doubt for a second he’d do exactly as he threatened. Which meant she’d be trying to figure out how to repair a doorframe at—she glanced at the clock—nine o’clock at night.
She’d been on the couch for three hours.
She unlocked the door and opened it, only just managing to step out of the path of the raging bull who didn’t wait for an invitation to come in.
“He’s not here,” she said simply, hoping that would be enough to send Hunter packing.
Hunter stormed down the hallway, looking in every room, muttering every foul name in the book, and a few she’d never heard.
Finally, satisfied Paul wasn’t there, he returned to the living room and, for the first time, he looked at her.
“What the fuck?!” His tone was complete bewilderment, mingled with absolute fury.
She shrugged, uncertain how to reply. It occurred to her, Hunter was actually the only other person on the planet who understood exactly how she felt at the moment. Because he’d been blindsided and taken down too.
That struck her as slightly funny in its irony. Primarily because she and Hunter had absolutely nothing else in common.
He reached into his jacket pocket and held out an envelope. “I found this when I got home.”
Ailis recognized Rhonda’s handwriting. Hunter had gotten a letter too. Been dumped exactly the same way she had.
He opened the envelope and pulled out an engagement ring. The one he’d given Rhonda only a few weeks ago, over the holidays. The one Rhonda had accepted with an excited squeal at their Friendsgiving celebration, everyone present, everyone thrilled as they offered their congratulations.
At the time, Ailis had been jealous of Rhonda, silently hoping that Paul took a page from Hunter’s book, surprising her with a ring at Christmas.
He hadn’t. Instead, he’d given her a cashmere sweater and a first-edition book of poetry she mentioned liking. Oh, and a freaking Starbucks gift card. As though he were her uncle rather than her boyfriend.
Ailis gestured toward the coffee table. “I got a letter too.”
She hadn’t intended her words as an invitation, but Hunter took them as such. He walked over, grabbed her letter and sank down into a chair to read it.
Part of her wanted to snatch it from his hands. It was personal, her own private hell.
But she understood as he read the words, his hands fisting the paper so tightly she thought it would tear, it wasn’t just her pain.
She and Rhonda had been tight since college, but Paul and Hunter had been the best of friends since elementary school. They’d grown up as neighbors and they were closer than brothers. She’d always wondered how that friendship had stuck whenever she studied the two of them together. Hunter was faded jeans, hoodies and a scruffy beard, a hippie with shaggy auburn hair and pale blue eyes, while Paul was starched collars and clean-shaven, preppy, the classical tall, dark and handsome. Hunter was takeout and horror movies. Paul was fancy restaurants and the theater. Yet somehow, for the past twenty-plus years, they’d found a common ground—their love of the same sports teams—that kept them connected. That and a shared history.
“What the fuck?” he muttered again as he put her letter back on the coffee table. He bent his head, his elbows resting on his knees.
Ailis walked over and resumed her spot on the couch. She wasn’t sure what to say. She and Hunter weren’t friends. It was closer to say they merely tolerated each other’s existence because they had to.
Hunter was the equivalent of a twenty-seven-year-old frat boy, despite the fact he’d never gone to college. He claimed high school had been more than enough for him. He partied too hard, laughed too loud, cussed like a sailor, and constantly teased her about being so quiet, calling her mouse, a nickname that annoyed her to no end. His idea of reading was flipping through magazines to look at the pictures. On more than one occasion, he’d seen her with a nose in a book and wondered aloud how she could waste so much time on something so boring. In his estimation, if a book was any good at all, they’d make it into a movie and he’d just watch that instead.
They had nothing in common except Paul and Rhonda.
And now, their broken hearts.
“You didn’t see it coming?” she asked, probably because that was what was bugging her the most. She considered herself astute. The idea that Paul had hidden his true feelings for Rhonda from her so well was driving her insane.
He shook his head. “No. I thought she was happy.” He looked up, his eyes dark with rage. “I’m going to fucking kill him.”
While she was stuck in this weird state of numb devastation, Hunter’s reaction was completely different, of course. He was in a murderous rage, and for the first time since reading Paul’s letter, she was glad to know her former boyfriend was out of the state at the moment. It was probably the only thing saving his life.
Not that she took any pleasure in knowing he and Rhonda had gone full-on cliché and run away to Vegas together.
She’d been annoyed when Rhonda had called in sick today, knowing they were expected to give a very important presentation to potential clients at ten. Ailis had been stuck doing the whole thing on her own, which was nerve-racking as hell. Typically, Rhonda did the talking. Somehow she’d managed to get through it and they won the account.
There was no way she could continue working with Rhonda. Some of Hunter’s anger started to awaken in her.
“Fine. Kill him. I’m going to take care of the faithless, lying, bleach blonde bitch.” The viciousness of her words, the heat behind them, sounded completely foreign even to her.
And apparently to Hunter too. She didn’t lose her temper very often. His eyes widened, then approval set in. “I’ll be your alibi if you’ll be mine.”
She grinned. “Deal.”
For a second, they were able to smile, but the reprieve was brief when Hunter’s eyes returned to her letter. It had been Paul’s idea to set Rhonda and Hunter up on a blind date three years earlier. Ailis had predicted it would be a mistake, thinking them too much alike to get along. She’d been proven wrong.
“I don’t get it. She said yes. She was excited about the engagement. Why? Why would they do this?”
Ailis shrugged. Paul had never proposed to her, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t discussed the future. They’d made plans, dreamed of a big wedding and buying a house, having kids, saving for retirement. She hadn’t built up those expectations out of thin air. They’d been real…at least to her.
“I don’t know why.” She didn’t. She’d been sitting here for three hours, trying to wade through it all, searching for something that made sense. Nothing did.
“What am I supposed to do now?” His voice was laced with the pain she was searching for, trying to feel. Now that she thought about it, maybe she was in shock.
He slouched back in the chair and sighed heavily. “What now?” he repeated, more to himself than her.
It was a fair question. One she was sorry he didn’t have an answer for. That meant she couldn’t follow his lead. “I guess we…just…move on.”
He looked at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. “Just like that? You’re not going to fight for him?”
Fighting for him had never occurred to her. Not once. “No.”
“So you’re giving up?” He rolled his eyes and the same mockery he usually reserved for her returned. “Typical mouse move. Not sure why I’m surprised.”
She narrowed her eyes, her anger finally blooming full force, finding a much more convenient recipient. “I’m not giving up. I’m just not settling.”
“Why would I beg someone to come back who doesn’t want me? Why would I want someone so cruel, so cowardly, that he had to break up with me in a letter? He’s an immature child, a selfish asshole, somebody who doesn’t deem me worthy of any respect, any kindness or compassion. He couldn’t stick around and face me. After six years, Hunter, I think I deserved a lot better than this.”
Hunter stared at her, speechless for several moments. She was fairly certain that was the most she’d ever said to him, and it was obvious he hadn’t realized she had a voice. Then he sat up in the chair. His posture didn’t look nearly as defeated as it had a few minutes earlier.
“You’re right. Fuck ’em.”
That wasn’t what she’d said. Exactly. Though it did sum it up pretty nicely.
“I’m not a mouse, Hunter. I’m just…” Her words faded. She didn’t have a clue what she was anymore. For so many years, she’d been defined by her relationship with Paul. Paul’s study partner, his girlfriend, his better half. His silent fucking rock.
Hunter was still studying her, and it felt as if it was the first time he’d ever really seen her. They’d been in each other’s lives for years and their first impressions had stuck. She had put him in the man-child box. He’d put her in the mouse box. Neither of them had ever bothered to look beyond that.
“You’re not crying,” he said at last. “Most chicks would be bawling their eyes out right now. Instead, you’re sitting here being all logical and shit.”
While he didn’t say it, she went ahead and finished his opinion in her head. The part about her not being normal. Ailis was used to feeling like the odd guy out. She definitely lacked the passion, the stubbornness, the heart-on-her-sleeve emotions that ran through the rest of her family so strongly. Hunter would have made a better Collins, now that she considered it.
She had always attributed her calm, quiet nature to the fact she hadn’t grown up around her rambunctious cousins, or aunts and uncles, or Pop Pop. Her time with them as a child had been limited to occasional visits. And even though she’d moved back to Baltimore after college, she still didn’t see them as much as she could have. She’d remained apart, always too busy with work or Paul.
She’d never felt that distance until now.
Now, she missed them, wanted to be surrounded by their craziness, their loud voices all talking at once and their unconditional love.
She wanted to be a part of that…to go home. Home to a place she’d never lived.
“I’m moving out of this apartment.”
Hunter frowned, confused by her random pronouncement. “Okay. Where are you going to go?”
She smiled and used the phrase coined by her aunt Riley. “The Collins Dorm.”
“I have no idea what that is.”
“The apartment over my family’s Irish pub. A lot of my cousins live there now.”
“Cool. I’m keeping my place. Rhonda obviously isn’t planning to come back. She packed up all her shit.”
“What about your job? You and Rhonda work together.”
She’d avoided thinking about that, but there was no denying she couldn’t return to the marketing firm. In truth, the job had never felt like the right fit for her anyway. Just another place where she was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. “I’m going to quit.”
“Damn. That’s pretty rash, don’t you think?”
She shook her head. “No. I can’t work in the same building as…her.”
“I get that.”
“I’m pretty sure I can get a job waiting tables at the pub until I find something else.”
“I guess I’m lucky. There’s no danger of me running into either of them at the hotel.” Hunter helped run a local inn with his aunt and uncle. His parents had died in a car crash when he was a teenager, and his great-aunt and uncle, older and childless, had taken him in, loved him as their own.
“Baltimore is a big enough city that we can probably avoid them forever.” She knew that was a pipe dream, but right now, the idea of seeing Paul and Rhonda together was too painful to think about.
“I might start my band back up. Rhonda made me drop it. Said she hated how much it took me away from her. I was stupid to give up on it. I really miss playing my guitar in front of a crowd.”
“I forgot about your band.” Paul had dragged Ailis to more than a handful of Hunter’s performances when they’d first started dating. He wasn’t bad. Actually, he was very good. The rest of the musicians performing with him, however, had been mediocre at best.
He gave her a sad grin. “Yeah. Sounds stupid, but I always used to dream I’d make it big in music. Write some Grammy-winning song and travel the world performing.” He winked as he added, “Sleep with a different groupie every night.”
“I lived that life. It’s not as awesome as it sounds.”
“Really? Never pegged you as the groupie type.”
She rolled her eyes, hung up on the idea that Hunter actually wrote music. That tidbit surprised her. “I grew up on the road. You know, it’s not all glitz and glamour.”
“Some of it must be cool.”
She nodded, recalling that there was actually a lot about it that was terrific. She’d pushed memories of those parts away, mainly because of Paul’s disdain for the musician’s lifestyle. He’d turned his nose up the few times they’d been on her parents’ bus, claiming he’d go mad in such a small space. For some stupid reason, she would back up his assertions rather than fight them.
“Yeah,” she admitted. “Some of it is really fun.”
“Sometimes I forget who your parents are. You never talk about them much.”
Ailis didn’t bother to point out that this was, hands down, the longest conversation she’d ever had with Hunter. But he was right. She didn’t discuss her famous parents very often. Not because she wasn’t incredibly proud of them. Truth was she adored her mom and dad, and there were very few days that went by where she didn’t see or speak to one of them on the phone.
However, she had learned at a very young age that some of the friendships she thought she’d made weren’t built on anything more than kids wanting to get close to her so they’d have access to rock stars. Her silence in regards to her parents was based on self-preservation. It allowed her to not have to wonder if people liked her for her, and not Sky Mitchell and Teagan Collins. She had been friends with Paul nearly a year before he figured out who her folks were. It helped that her folks had elected to give her and her sister, Fiona, her dad’s real last name, instead of Mitchell.
“Yeah,” Hunter said, more to himself than her. “I’m going back to music.”
It was a weird conversation, but for some strange reason, Ailis felt almost comforted by it. She’d come up with a plan and she’d talked it out with someone. Why that suddenly made everything seem more bearable was a mystery. But it did.
“We’re going to be okay.”
Hunter looked at her as if he wanted to believe her, but couldn’t quite grasp it yet. “I guess we’re not the first people on the planet to get the shit kicked out of us. And we won’t be the last.”
“No. We’re not. What are you going to do tonight?”
He shrugged. “Go home, fall into a bottle of bourbon, feel sorry for myself, probably send Rhonda a hundred texts I’ll regret in the morning.”
Ailis giggled. God, she really must be teetering on the edge of insanity if anything coming out of Hunter’s mouth amused her. “Give me your phone.”
Hunter handed his cell over without question or complaint. Ailis put her number in under Rhonda’s name as he watched, his grin growing.
“Drink enough bourbon and you’ll forget about that switch. This way, the texts will come to me and you won’t have to regret anything tomorrow. I’ll delete them without reading them. Promise.”
“I’d appreciate that. What about you? You want my number in Paul’s place?”
She shook her head. “No. That’s not going to be a problem. You know me. I’m going the silent-treatment route.”
“I think you should text him. Tell him off. Not good to keep all that bottled up.”
“Maybe I will,” she lied, knowing she’d never do it. She avoided confrontation like the plague.
“You going to be alright?”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah. I’m going to crawl into bed and have a good long cry. Then tomorrow, I’ll pack up my stuff, move home and cry on my cousins’ shoulders. And at some point, I’ll stop crying.”
“Very logical of you.” Hunter stood up and she followed suit, walking behind him as he headed toward the door. He opened it, and then turned to face her. “Thanks, Ailis.”
It was the first time he’d ever called her by her real name instead of mouse. And she didn’t care for the formality of it. Too much had already changed tonight. She wanted to hold on to just one thing. Even if it was something stupid and annoying.
“Mouse,” she corrected.
He chuckled. “You’re the fiercest mouse I’ve ever met. And I think you might have saved me tonight.”
She sniffled as the first of the tears decided to make their appearance, his kindness doing her in. “No problem,” she said, hating the thickness of her voice. He’d helped her too. More than he’d ever know.
“Take care of yourself, mouse.”
“You too,” she whispered, even though he’d already left. She closed the door, locked it and gave up the fight, letting the tears fall.
MORE IN THE SERIES
January Girl - Wilder Irish Book 1
Author: Mari Carr
Tags: * Contemporary, #FirstInaSeries
Publisher: Independently Published
The wildly popular Wild Irish series by New York Times bestselling author, Mari Carr, is back and hotter than before!
She's sleeping with the enemy...
After a nasty breakup, Caitlyn Wallace is giving her love life an extended break to focus on her career. The hiatus suits her just fine, until she comes face-to-face with a cutthroat businessman who’s used to getting everything he wants. Now he wants Pat’s Pub—and he’s not taking no for an answer. Caitlyn should despise the arrogant man for threatening her beloved family’s business, but there’s something about Lucas’s dominant nature that has the hidden submissive inside her trembling…and in the sexiest way possible.
What should be a run-of-the-mill real estate acquisition goes off the rails quickly when Lucas Whiting meets the beautiful granddaughter of pub owner Patrick Collins. Lucas never mixes business with pleasure, but that rule is broken the moment he meets Cait. One date turns into two, and soon the couple is thrust into a steamy, life-altering affair for which neither is prepared. One that will ultimately force them to choose between family loyalty and love.
Writing a book was number one on Mari Carr’s bucket list and on her thirty-fourth birthday, she set out to see that goal achieved. Now her computer is jammed full of stories — novels, novellas, short stories and dead-ends. A New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller as well as winner of the Passionate Plume, Mari finds time for writing by squeezing it into the hours between 3 a.m. and daybreak when her family is asleep and the house is quiet.