Exclusive First Chapter: You Forever by Melanie Jayne
Today author Melanie Jayne has stopped over to give you an exclusive here on Night Owl Romance! You get to read the first chapter of YOU FOREVER.
You Forever (November 9th, 2018)
They told themselves theirs was a casual affair… until a positive pregnancy test proved them wrong.
Ashley Needham’s life is finally on track. She has a great job at Cameron Farms, good friends, and is months away from college graduation.
Matt Weiss was convinced he didn’t know how to love until the day a she strutted into his office spitting fire. He fell hard, but to protect his heart and hers, he made no promises.
All that was before the positive test changed their relationship forever. Can casual lovers truly become a couple and forge a bond strong enough to last?
EXCLUSIVE FIRST CHAPTER
Ashley Needham took a deep breath and held it for the count of ten. She slowly scanned the room and knew that all thirty of the invitees were there. Hale and Finn had offered to host a practice for her team’s presentation in preparation for the prestigious Arthur Keifer Contest. For students studying Business, this competition was very important for their resumes. She and the other five members of her team from I.U. Southeast would do their fifteen-minute performance, and the attendees were to write their comments and critiques on the score sheets Hale and Moe had created. While the team’s sponsors, Mr. Higgins and Mrs. Greenleaf, went over the sheets, the team and the guests could enjoy the refreshments Maria, the housekeeper, had prepared.
“Don’t worry. These are your friends. They’re here to help.” Mr. Higgins patted her on her shoulder. He was the team’s cheerleader, the nurturer.
“I know.” She bit her lip. “I just want to do a good job and not embarrass myself.” She was working so hard to make this team a success. As a group, they met three times a week, and then she met weekly with each individual member, either in person or via the internet.
“You’ll do great.” He glanced at his clipboard. “Remember not to rush your words. Pacing is key. Plus, if you start rushing, the others will do the same.”
She smoothed the skirt on her new business suit. This was a new look for her. Typically, she was a T-shirt and jeans kind of girl. However, she was the team leader, and it was important that she look and act the part. The navy suit had two gold buttons on the front of the jacket. The skirt was to the middle of her knees. Hale had recommended the conservative length when they’d shopped. Her boss and good friend would know best. She was an accountant and had worked for a big-time firm in Tampa before returning to her family’s Indiana farm.
As the moments ticked down to the start time, she again glanced around the room, memorizing where each guest sat. She tried to ignore Matt Weiss, the Director of Communications for the town’s mayor. What he was doing in a small community in the middle of Indiana was a mystery to everyone. Like Finn, the current mayor, Matt had a law degree from Northwestern. He could be working anywhere, but tonight he was in the formal living room at Cameron Farms to help out his...
She didn’t know how to label their relationship, but she did know Matt managed to share her bed most nights.
She quickly looked away from the handsome man. It shouldn’t hurt so much that moments ago, he’d been flirting with Madeline, one of her team members.
The newly christened redhead had flipped her hair as she’d smiled up at him, an invitation clear in her eyes. Apparently, Maddie wasn’t a follower of the “Girl Code.”
Ashley did an internal shake of her head. Don’t go there. Focus on your speech. She had so much to be thankful for, and if Matt wanted to act like a dick…well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Taking in another deep breath and holding it, she couldn’t help but reminisce. Man, this room brought back memories. The day she’d interviewed to become the personal assistant to the heir to Cameron Farms, Hale had conducted the very casual interview while sitting on the settee in the corner.
April seventh. She would always hold a secret celebration, because that day her life had changed. She had a new job and a trailer to live in, all by herself, for as long as she was in Cameron Farms’ employ. No more sharing a dingy apartment with four other people, hiding her valuables or keeping them with her at all times, so they wouldn’t come up missing or borrowed. Hale gave her a steady paycheck and even more importantly—friendship and family.
She’d met Matt when Hale and Finn had decided to marry. What an insanely crazy time that had been. Hale had thrown a huge New Year’s Eve party and had invited the entire town. So, they’d wanted to have a surprise ceremony, only giving their friends four weeks to plan. She’d had to talk to Matt daily to make sure Finn would be available for appointments. She’d found her wedding-planner counterpart to be sarcastic and superior, but somehow during that time they’d found reasons to talk two or three times a day. She’d discovered that she liked Matt. After the wedding, he’d pulled her into the back hallway and kissed her. Thank God, she’d been spending the night in one of Hale’s guestrooms or they might have fucked in the back hallway.
Their “get-togethers” continued, and within two weeks, he was spending the night regularly. Growing up as the daughter of the town’s drunk, she wondered many times why he was interested in her. Early on, he’d made it clear he wasn’t a relationship kind of guy, but now, eight months later, he was still around. In moments of weakness, she would admit to herself she cared for the complicated man. He was easy to look at, with light brown hair, hazel eyes, and the body of a line-backer, but it was his brain that intrigued her. He knew so much about so many things. She could listen to him for hours, and yet, she didn’t have the courage to bring up their status. She didn’t want to do anything to drive him away.
She chastised herself. You got yourself into this. So, she could be hurt and jealous, but it was her own fault. She was in a causal relationship and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do anything about it.
Well, she could, but she would never purposely pull her friends into this...this thing they had. That would be playing dirty, and she worked very hard to be a good person. Their mutual friends, Izzy and Jasmine Benton, along with Hale and Finn, would have quite a bit to say if they’d noticed Matt’s flirting. Jasmine and Hale had been best friends since they were toddlers, and they’d included Ashley in their circle. They were protective and would have no problem putting Matt in his place. She didn’t even want to think about the men and what they would do.
Jasmine’s husband, Izzy, and Hale’s Finn treated her as if she were their younger sister, and Izzy’s father, Moe, was like a grandfather. The image of the three men surrounding a seated Matt, inquiring about his intentions, made her snort in hilarity. She shook her head. Matt was fucked.
The flirtation was his way of retaliating for her telling him not to come over the last few nights. Sometimes, she felt like she knew him better than he knew himself. It didn’t really matter if you grew up in a trashy apartment or a mansion with a river view, the need to hurt others when you were hurting was a common response. She tried to push his actions from her head. Typically, Matt would yell and ignore her for a few days when he was pissed, but this was the first time she’d ever considered he might be with or attempt to be with other women.
Bury it. This was not the time to think about how much it hurt. As she cleared her throat, she attempted to shrug off the pain. If he wanted to continue seeing her, he would show up. If he didn’t... Well, she’d continue on. She’d survived worse.
“Focus, Ash.” She moved her lips but didn’t say the words out loud.
“I think we’re ready to start.” Mrs. Greenleaf was now standing beside her.
Ashley had been so wrapped up in her thoughts she hadn’t noticed. Adrenaline spiked, but it felt good, energizing not overpowering. “Okay, I’m ready. We’re ready.” She met the accounting professor’s serious look with one of her own.
I will rock this.
“All right, then.” The older woman walked to the makeshift stage area. “Hello, everyone. I’m Anna Greenleaf, and I’m a sponsor of this team. On behalf of our members and Mr. Higgins, we’d like to thank you for helping us this evening. We welcome your feedback. We’d also like to thank Mr. Webber and Ms. Cameron for allowing us to do this run-through. We appreciate their hospitality.” She nodded in the direction of where their hosts sat. “Tonight, we ask that you listen, and then list any critiques and comments about each member’s subject matter, elocution, and appearance. Hale has volunteered to be our timekeeper and will announce the three minutes to go, and then the one minute to go marks. Now, I’d like to introduce the members of the I.U. Southeast team.”
Ashley walked confidently to the front of the room. She noted that Clay Payne sat dead center of the second row right next to the new bank president and Mr. Maples, the high school principal. Hale and Moe had gone over the guest list multiple times. Moe had explained that this event wasn’t just about the competition but a building block for Ashley’s future. She felt her heart miss a beat. They’d put all of this together for her. Somehow, she’d gained a family along with a job. A great family—generous, supportive, and loving.
She smiled confidently and began. The nervousness was there as she went into the well-rehearsed intro, but her voice didn’t shake. A part of her brain checked her pacing and reminded her to stand up straight and make eye contact with the audience members.
Half an hour later, she was sipping a glass of chardonnay and had taken off the jacket to her suit. She’d made sure both the front and the back of her rose-colored blouse were tucked neatly into the waistband of her skirt. Hale had taught her that if she kept her jacket on, she could leave the back untucked.
“Ashley, I’m impressed.” Cecily Newton, the president of the town council, approached, extending her hand and giving a firm handshake.
“Thank you, Ms. Newton. I appreciate that you came to help the team.” She smiled graciously.
“When I was at LSU,” Cecily continued, “I knew some students who tried to make our Keifer team. It’s an honor to make the cut. It says a lot about you that you not only made the team but were chosen the leader.”
“She was shy in school but always a good student,” Mr. Maples, the vice principal at the high school, said, joining the conversation.
“If I wanted to do something with my life, I had to do good in school,” Ashley said. Tonight, she wasn’t ashamed of her upbringing. She was proud of her achievements.
Cecily touched her arm. “When you have time, I’d like to talk to you about a program I’ve been thinking about. Perhaps for junior-high-age girls, a mentoring program or speeches by successful women. You know, talking about how much work they put in and what they had to give up.”
“Sure, I’d like to help.” Ashley felt her chest puff up a little at being included with successful women.
Mrs. Greenleaf tapped on a glass with her fork. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you would return to your seats, we’ve gone over your comments, and we’d like to hold a short discussion.”
Ashley returned to the front of the room. She stood next to Jeremy, who was their numbers man. He was shy, except when he spoke about math. Then he came alive.
She tried not to shift, but her feet were killing her. Note to self: Spend more time in these heels. So far, the comments had been helpful. Mr. Higgins read from the sheet and then the commenter elaborated on his or her thoughts, if they needed to expound. So far, it was agreed that the middle, the numbers segment, was a little draggy. Jeremy needed to cut back on the explanation of the math behind his findings. He had performed better in rehearsals, especially the day that Mrs. Greenleaf had challenged one of his conclusions.
Jasmine Benton raised her arm and pointed. “The redhead. Yes, you,” she said, after Maddie pointed to her chest. “You need to put your hair up or stop playing with it. I mean, you aren’t a Kardashian.”
Ashley could hear a little tinge of sarcasm in Jasmine’s tone and pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. Yup, her friend had noticed Madeline and Matt flirting.
“I just got extensions, so I’m not used to them,” Madeline said to the room with a cat-like smile.
“Well, all that fiddling was annoying and kept me from listening to your portion. I would think you’d want all of the attention on your words and not your clip-on hair.”
Whoa. Jasmine was in Mamma Bear mode.
“Although your hands do look nice,” Matt murmured, smirking.
Ashley shot him an unhappy look before she could stop herself. That comment was unnecessary.
“Ahem.” Mrs. Greenleaf drew back their attention. “Along those lines... Ashley and Sabrina, you both need to practice walking in your heels.” She put two comment sheets onto the tall stack.
Ashley nodded. She knew that was true.
“I can’t believe nobody said Ashley should wear a shorter skirt,” Matt said, his voice booming in the quiet room.
Her face went hot. What the fuck was he doing?
“I mean if you’ve got it, you should use it. Legs like those should be displayed,” he finished with a loud guffaw.
Was he drunk? She looked directly at him as he sat with a self-satisfied smile on his face and his arms crossed over his thick chest. Like the fucking King of the World.
Mr. Higgins cleared his throat, disapproval in his expression. “Moving on...”
“Sorry to interrupt, but Matt, I need to see you in the hall.” Hale was standing at the end of his row of chairs. “Now.” Her face was hard, and even if the folks in the room hadn’t already known her well, it was obvious she was infuriated.
Matt complied without any further comment and followed Hale from the room.
I live on a grain farm southeast of Indianapolis, Indiana with my very patient husband of twenty-five years and our two English Mastiffs, Buster Brown and Ginger. I graduated from Indiana University when it was the #1 party school in the country and I took great pride in helping the school achieve that ranking.
I haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I change careers every decade. I have worked in retail, a federal courtroom, travelled across the state closing loans, and behind the scenes in a casino.
I've always had an active imagination so when a good friend suggested that I try writing a book, I thought why not, it should be fun. It has, but I have had to work very hard to learn how to do it. I am so lucky for the outpouring of advice and education from so many in the industry, plus the hand-holding and cheerleading from My Gurls. I also have an incredible Ad-man-istrative Assistant, who tries to keep me under control. He rolls his eyes so much that I worry about a permanent condition.
When I ‘m not working or writing type stuff, I sleep, watch courtroom TV shows, and sports. I was a competitive pro-am ballroom dancer for ten years and I read as many books as I can.
I love to attend Author-Reader Conventions and look forward to meeting you.