OLIVIA CHRISTAKOS AND HER SECOND FIRST TIME (NA contemporary romance)
~~~Available now through Carina Press/Harlequin, wherever you buy ebooks!!!~~~
An Excerpt of the book is below! *keep scrolling!*
“Irons’ new adult debut is thought-provoking, funny and will teach readers a lesson about second chances.”
–RT Book Reviews
My perfect life…
True, I’m in the hospital waking up from a coma, but my loving parents and adorable boyfriend, Wyatt, are here by my side. It’s weird that I don’t remember them—thanks, amnesia! Wyatt’s an amazing person. He’s a Big Brother, volunteers at soup kitchens, delivers food to the hungry—your basic angel. Your basic filled-out-in-all-the-right-places, naughty-thoughts-inducing angel, that is.
Might be the perfect lie…
In fact, the more I get to know Wyatt the harder it is to believe he’s my boyfriend. The more I find out about my life before the accident, the more I don’t like who I used to be. I can’t understand what a guy like that—kind, considerate, generous—would see in a girl like me.
I don’t know what’s worse, living in the darkness of amnesia or discovering the despicable person I once was. But I’ve got to figure out if I have what it takes to be the person Wyatt truly deserves—before I lose my heart as well as my memories.
I’ve also made a soundtrack to the book. Fun, right? Check it out here: Olivia’s Soundtrack
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Three vodka swigs ago I slipped from adoringly tipsy and landed into total, unadulterated drunkenness. I have a run in my hose, a broken heel and boob sweat, and I can feel the drunken snarl growing on my face—the one my friends describe as Elvis lip meets bulldog—and I haven’t even stepped foot into the club yet.
I wobble on my one good shoe, steadying myself against the brick wall of Pink Dollars while holding on to my superglued heel. If Ava hadn’t kept glue in her car’s emergency kit for just these occasions, I might’ve broken the other heel so at least I matched, because my plan must go off without a hitch.
I must find James. Tonight is the last night that I’ll be able to fix everything. And I have to fix everything.
Part one of my master plan tonight is to look hot. And I do. I’m wearing a pink, low-cut top, a black skirt and my best lacy black bra that you can see through my shirt just enough. Part two of my plan is to get James’s attention, and it’ll be like, fish: meet your bait. Part three will be the most fun. Sleep with him and get him to reconsider his relationship with his new girlfriend before the end of the night. If I don’t succeed, we’ll be apart all summer and he’ll forget me forever.
I wobble again and Chloe catches me. “I can’t believe you went and got yourself this inebriated,” she says. I can tell she’s trying to use the proper word but she ends up sounding like she’s trying too hard, as usual. She pushes me back up when I slide forward on the wall. “And you’re kind of falling out of your top, sweetie.” She adjusts it.
“I am not inebriated,” I say with irritation, noticing I accidently dropped the i, saying ’nebriated. I try again. “’Nebriated implies drunkenness to the point of excitement or exhilaration. I might be tight or well-oiled, but definitely not pissed or blotto.” I stagger on my bad heel, steadying myself again so I can slip it back into place. A smarter person would take off the shoe and use both hands to hold it together, but I don’t want my foot to touch the pissed-on, puked-on, cigarette-littered sidewalk.
“We’re so not in the mood for one of your goddamn vocabulary lessons,” Mia says, replacing wayward black hair to its proper asymmetrical position. She taps her clutch against her thigh impatiently. “How long does that shit take to dry?”
Ava squints at the back of the bottle, reading. “It says to wait an hour?” Everything she says is a question. It’s a quirk that reflects her insecure personality.
“Fuuuuuck,” Mia says, rolling her head back along with her eyes. She keeps shifting her weight like she desperately has to pee.
“Have a little patience,” I say with very little patience. “Technically, we’re still early.”
Mia’s lips twitch. She doesn’t like to be told what to do, but I’m the only person in the world who can get her to listen; I have more pull than the rest of our friends. But she’s meaner. If it weren’t for Chloe, who keeps me in check, I could out-bitch Mia any day.
Pink Dollars is insanely busy tonight. People are pouring into the club and hanging in small circles outside of it—girls dressed in low-cut, metallic tops and bikini bottoms, guys sporting tight shirts and too much cologne. All of them seem to fit this L.A. scene, like they fell out of a movie. I feel like an outsider among them, but I’m the type to fake it ’til I make it.
“It’s been twenty fucking minutes,” Mia whines, actually stomping her knee-high boot. “Can we just meet you in there?”
I nearly call her a name and tell her to deal with it, but I manage to curb the bitchiness at the last second. “Fine,” I say, “but you’ll owe me a drink.”
She purses her lips. “Whatever. Come on, Ava.” She stalks up the sidewalk and, after tossing the superglue bottle into the ditch, Ava follows her like the stereotypical sidekick that she is.
“God, total bitches,” I say before they’re completely out of range. The word bitches comes out bishes, but my point is made. I know they hear me, but they don’t turn around.
“Heeeey,” Chloe coos. “Don’t start with them. It’s our last night together. After today, they’ll be in Europe. I’ll be in Santa Barbara and you…have you decided on what you’re doing yet?”
“That all depends,” I say, thinking of James. If I fix things, I’ll go wherever he’s going. After a quick wet kiss to Chloe’s cheek, I add, “You’re my best friend. And you look hot tonight.”
“You too!” she says, letting me dodge the question. She knows if she presses me, I might fall apart again. “That skirt looks amazing on you. Is it real leather?”
I shrug, but I know it isn’t. Fifty-nine bucks at Marshalls. It was all I could afford. Chloe pulls a cigarette from her bag and we share it as we wait for the shoe to dry some more. She holds the cigarette up to my lips for me.
A boy riding a bike stops in front of us on the sidewalk. His dark blue collared shirt is ripped in the front, his yellow neckerchief’s askew, and his Cub Scouts cap is pulled on backward.
“Got any money I could borrow, ladies?” he asks with evident swagger and a wide smile. “I…uh…I’m hungry.” He looks about eight, the same age as my little sister, and thinking about her tugs on my heartstrings. I haven’t seen her in months.
“Where are your parents?” Chloe asks, shaking her head mother-hen style. “You should be in bed.”
Instead of answering, he plucks the dollar out of my hand and rides off again. “Wow. He can’t be much older than Natalie,” Chloe says, echoing my thoughts.
“Yeah, but with my parents, no way she’d be out here begging for money. That place is worse than prison.” Even though my words are harsh, I hear the undercurrent of homesickness. I hope Chloe doesn’t notice.
“But you got out of it.” She drops the cigarette on the sidewalk and presses the point of her ballet flat to snuff it out. I’ve told her those shoes aren’t exactly club style, but she says that guys don’t care about shoes, anyway. It’s the other stuff they pay attention to and she’s got that covered—or should I say uncovered? Her denim hot pants and tube top cement her position. She continues to look the way the Cub Scout has gone, shaking her head, but he’s disappeared. “You’re a nice person.”
I make an unbelieving face at her. If I was a nice person, I would’ve had more feelings about what I did in March. I would feel worse about stealing thousands from my parents’ business and getting credit cards in their names. But I feel little to nothing. I’m not even close to being a good person. “How do you figure?”
“What you did with the kid just now. Giving him money.”
I roll my eyes. “It was a dollar, Chloe. Anyone would have done it.”
“Mia wouldn’t have. For sure.” She glances over her shoulder at the club. “How’s the shoe?”
I test it, grabbing Chloe’s shoulder for support. “I think it’s good.” As I step away from the wall, my mind races with one word: JamesJamesJamesJamesJamesJames. I need to find him.
The line at Pink Dollars is longer than usual, partly because this particular bouncer will let people in if they vaguely look twenty-one, and partly because we invited everyone we know to come out tonight. Pink Dollars is a gay club that leans towards drag, which is perfect for us—we don’t have to worry about being hit on every five seconds. But what Mia, Ava and even Chloe don’t know is that I’ve invited James and his friend Tyler to casually and inconspicuously “bump into” us later. I know Chloe wouldn’t approve. She was there the last time I broke down into tears (again) over James.
He still has my phone from our last hookup and promised to return it tonight, so unless he plans on keeping my phone all summer, he’ll be here. Thinking about seeing him sets my heart on fire. I need to talk to him, to get him to understand how I feel.
We cut to the front of the line and the bouncer immediately waves us in. On my way over the threshold, I pat his shoulder. “Thanks, Pete.”
“Remember the rules, ladies,” he says, but it comes out halfheartedly. A veteran police officer reading the Miranda Rights. We aren’t supposed to drink—not for another year—but Pete knows we do and turns a blind eye.
Inside the club, I feel better. Maybe not sober better, but like I’m among drunk friends and it doesn’t matter that I’ve had too many. Everyone else has too. They’re all drunk in solidarity, dancing and pulsing with the music and the purple and blue spotlights sweeping over the crowd.
The place is so full of people that I have to elbow some of them just to get around. I don’t have time to catch entire faces—just a nose here, a mop of blond hair there. It’s going to be impossible to find James.
Most of the people in the club are men, some adorned in heavy drag, some in tight T-shirts and skinny jeans. A bunch of my school friends have come and are sitting at a table on the other side of the room. Mia and Ava are with them, talking animatedly, drinks in their hands. I’m not in the mood to head over there yet. “Drinks?” I ask Chloe, scanning the crowd for James.
She nods. “Then, we annihilate the dance floor.”
I lead the way to the bar while simultaneously elbowing the crowd out of the way, order two tequilas with fresh lime juice, and beeline to the dance floor with the drinks still in hand. We dance to some dubstep versions of Lady Gaga, Pink, and FUN, the crowd pressing into us from all sides. I whip my hair around, shake my hips and try to get lost in the music, but my one-track mind keeps me from completely enjoying myself.
My hair’s sticking to my face, and when Chloe suggests we freshen up, we make a pit stop at the bathroom before returning to the bar.
“It’s so unfair,” I say into the mirror. “I must have the worst genes ever. I don’t know anyone who sweats as much as I do.”
“If that’s the only downside to being gorgeous,” Chloe says to her own reflection, “I’ll take that problem in a heartbeat.”
Chloe and I have this ritual of doing each other’s hair before we go out. I spent an hour and a half curling hers. It has an unbelievable coarseness that’s wild and frizzy in the morning, but holds a curl better than any hair I’ve ever seen. Chloe looks like a mermaid that has put her tail into a light socket. Only, in an endearing way.
After washing our hands and cleaning up our makeup, we fluff our hair and slip into separate stalls. Seconds later, the door of the bathroom creaks open as other girls push their way in.
“I’m actually not the one babysitting tonight?” One of the voices asks.
“Yeah,” agrees a second voice over a sudden stream of water from the faucet. “The last time I got stuck with that fucking job, I had to carry her skanky, naked ass from the hot tub on Halloween.”
I freeze, my body tense. I know who those voices belong to and who they’re talking about. A tight feeling of betrayal squeezes my heart. I picture them reapplying their lipstick and fixing their hair as they talk.
“Whose idea was it that she and James dress up like Adam and Eve?”
“Probably hers. Because as soon as she got into the hot tub, James went inside and got dressed.” Mia chuckles. “Left her passed out in that fucking thing.”
My first reaction is to burst out of the stall and call Mia and Ava on the shit talking, but them gossiping this way behind my back makes me shrink inside. Like I’m not the big bad Liv that I fake.
“Isn’t she ridiculous? Don’t they deserve each other?” Ava continues. “Oh,” she adds with a gasp, “did you see he and Tyler showed up?”
“Yeah. And you know she invited him. Fucking pathetic.” Their laughter bounces over the white tile in the bathroom and then floats out the door. They’re gone.
I can’t remember a time when I felt more heavy and pitiful. I fumble out of the stall, Chloe following moments later, and I refuse to meet her gaze. I know she heard them too. Does she agree with them? About how pathetic I am? Chloe stays quiet, so it’s hard to tell.
We dance some more after another round of drinks. Part of me wants to go look for James, but the other part feels it would look too pathetic, especially after Mia and Ava’s comments. Another part of me wants to get falling down drunk and pass out in a dark corner. Instead, I keep dancing, letting my eyes graze the writhing bodies every few minutes. I don’t see James even after a dozen songs. Maybe he left. Or maybe he’s outside. He’s not sitting at the table, where Mia and Ava are still laughing and drinking with their other friends. Watching them makes the sadness in my heart grow.
Being with James will make me feel better. Being naked and vulnerable and wrapped up in his arms. I can forget Mia and Ava and their opinion of me. I can get lost in his kisses and his blue eyes and maybe even take a couple of hits of his weed. The idea of being high and in James’s bed cheers me up and suddenly the urgency to find him grows stronger.
“Let’s go smoke,” I say, leaning into Chloe’s ear. He could be outside.
She nods and shakes the ice in her cup. “I need a refill,” she shouts over some rap version of “Sweet Home Alabama.” We topple towards the bar, jostling the crowd around, like some whacked-out game of pinball.
When we’re off the dance floor and I go to take a step up towards the bar, my glued heel gives out and my ankle twists. I can feel myself falling to the floor, falling down to the handful of carpeted stairs below me, a sharp pain radiating up my leg. Someone from the nearby crowd grabs my elbow, steadying me.
I glance up and spot an old childhood face—only slimmed down and sharper than it used to be. But he still has that same messy mop of dark brown curls.
Seeing him in Pink Dollars is like finding a Barbie doll next to your thongs in your underwear drawer. We grew up in Santa Barbara and I can think of zero reasons he has to be in L.A. Because the music is so loud, he has to lean down to my ear to speak. “Whoa. Are you all right, Olivia?” His expression doesn’t match the surprise I’m feeling. Maybe he already noticed I was here.
“It’s Liv now,” Chloe yells from behind me, but I don’t correct him.
“Tartar Sauce!” I shout with a smile, using the nickname someone pegged him with in elementary school. Besides the sour expression that’s materialized on his face, he looks good—better than I remember. His acne has finally cleared up and someone has apparently, mercifully, taken over his wardrobe. He’s wearing a black button-down shirt, dark jeans and his brown curls actually have some product in it. Much better than the thrift-store boy I grew up with.
He helps me stand. “Did you hurt yourself?” He glances down my leg to my twisted foot. It pulses with pain.
“I’m fiiiiine,” I say. The word comes out drawn-out and drunkenly and I hate the way I can’t seem to control my speech. The sharp pain in my ankle fades to a dull ache thanks to the alcohol, but I bet it’ll scream tomorrow.
“Do you want to sit down or something?” Wyatt asks.
I shake my head.
“That’s a good idea,” Chloe hollers. “You sit with Wyatt, I’ll get the next round, and we’ll see if your ankle feels better after a few minutes.” There are no empty seats in the entire place, much less one close by. Chloe leaves me anyway. I try to stand on my own and release myself from his grip—I’m so not the damsel-in-distress type—but he’s stronger than my liquored-up muscles. I don’t have time to waste on being injured. I have someone I need to find. “I’m fine,” I repeat, trying to yank my arm away. But he must not hear me over the music.
Wyatt notices the lack of tables too. I prop myself against the wall and don’t need his assistance anymore, but he keeps his cool hand on my arm. Even in my drunkenness, I know it’s awkward. I stare at him, wondering how much he’s had to drink. He blinks back at me. He still has those boyish brown eyes. I can’t tell if he’s drunk, though. He seems totally sober. Plus, gauging someone’s drunkenness when I myself am toward the end of the sober spectrum probably isn’t entirely accurate.
Wyatt licks his lips after I stare at him longer than necessary. He only does that when he’s nervous, and the movement makes me smile. I should say something to him.
Chloe returns then, handing me a pink drink. She sips at hers and her eyes scan the room, obviously forgetting my injury.
My eyebrows scrunch together while I continue to stare at Wyatt, not confused but remembering. “You…you used to wear He-Man underwear.” I can’t believe, out of all the memories collected over the years we spent growing up together flitting through my brain, this is what pops out of my mouth.
Chloe chuckles and waggles her eyebrows. “Wow, Tartar Sauce, I never knew.”
“Don’t call him that,” I snap, even though I did just moments before. I know she’s only teasing—she’s the type to catch and release a house spider—but still. I put my old Defending Wyatt Rosen hat on. It’s been a long time since I’ve worn it and it makes me feel like my night has been filled with new purpose. “He doesn’t smell like fish anymore. And, he’s my…friend.” I have no idea why that word has come out of my mouth. Damn pink drinks.
Wyatt’s eyebrows raise, but he says nothing.
“You were a complete bitch to him growing up and I can’t tease him a little?” She bends to remove my shoes, suddenly remembering why Wyatt is still holding onto me. I glare at her and she sighs. “You’re looking good, by the way.” She directs this comment to Wyatt, trying to make up for her bitchy behavior. She does this thing where if she thinks she’s offended you, she’ll throw in a compliment to tip the scales back her way.
Wyatt says nothing during this exchange, just watches us like we’re a couple of dying butterflies trapped in a glass jar. I’m sure I look a mess. But why should I even care? It’s only Wyatt. Little Wyatt Rosen with his He-Man underwear. But he obviously isn’t the same boy—he has an unfamiliar confident air about him—and looking at him makes me self-conscious.
Subtly, I bend my head down to my armpit and sniff. Wyatt’s eyes narrow just the slightest and I straighten. I know I’m sweating, but I can still only smell the perfume Chloe practically spilled on me earlier. Thank God.
Chloe’s done with her task and my feet feel much better without any shoes.
I realize I’m leaning into Wyatt while Chloe, now holding my heels, chats up a guy in an orange long-sleeved T-shirt, manpris and sandals who’s playing pool nearby. My mind screams at me to move away from him like, what the frick are you doing? Go find James! But being around Wyatt subdues the homesickness feeling that I had earlier. He was a backdrop to my childhood.
I don’t know what else to say to him and I don’t think I’ve made a great impression so far because he isn’t saying anything either. He’s just standing there, watching people dance, gripping his phone like he was in the middle of texting someone before I practically fell on him.
I grab the phone and tap on the camera app. “Let’s take a pic together,” I say, slurring in his ear. Before he can protest, I lean my cheek into his lightly stubbly one, smile widely, and tap the button.
The picture is awful. I’m red and sweaty, obviously drunk. I press the trash button, but before I can confirm it, he snatches the phone from my hand and stuffs it into his jeans pocket.
I raise my eyebrows at him.
“It’s a good picture,” he says with a shrug.
“Yeah, maybe of you,” I tease, poking him in the ribs. Then I realize that I didn’t even check to see what he looked like in the photo. Either way, I’m flattered that he wants to keep my picture. Maybe he’s feeling nostalgic too. “What’re you doing in L.A. anyway?” I ask. “Are you going to school here too?”
“Um, no,” he says, licking his lips some more. “I came here with some friends.” He gestures behind him where two boys are kissing against a wall. One of them might be Steven Marcon, Wyatt’s school friend, but it’s hard to tell with a boy dangling from his lips. “I’m the third wheel. I’m kind of glad you fell at my feet.” He blushes, then must realize what he’s said because he starts to stammer. “I—I didn’t mean—”
Chloe tugs on me, done with her conversation with Manpris Man. “Let’s go smoke,” she slurs, her eyelids heavy. “I spent all that time talking to the guy and he’s here with some other dude. That sucks. We should go to a straight bar next time. I mean, I know we didn’t want to get hit on tonight, but dammit…” she keeps blabbing while tugging me off the wall.
Wyatt’s grip on my arm resists for an infinitesimal second and then releases. My skin feels cold in the wake of his touch. Before we’re too far away, the drinks take over my brain and I want to say something to him. To my horror, what comes out is “By the power of Grayskull!”
Chloe giggles, yanking on me.
“Do you think he’s gay?” I ask Chloe, who has a pink lighter at the ready. She doesn’t hear me, which is good. I shouldn’t want to know the answer to that question. I have James.
We’re to the door and already I’m scanning for his Bronco or Tyler’s Jeep. On the way out, I bump into the bouncer. “Sorry, Pete!” I shout and giggle at how loud I am now that I’m outside.
But Pete doesn’t seem bothered. “Are you behaving, ladies?”
“Don’t we always?” I say with a little laugh, lifting a cigarette to my mouth. Chloe lights it for me. I take a pull.
My bare feet are cool against the sidewalk—the one that I wouldn’t touch earlier, before all the tequila—and the cool, summer night air is welcoming on my sweating body. I lean into the side of the building, my head spinning. But I feel good and the heaviness from earlier—when I’d overheard my “friends” in the bathroom talking, hurting my ankle, and embarrassing myself in front of Wyatt—floats away in an imaginary balloon. Chloe slips the cigarette from my fingers.
“Hey!” she says, elbowing me. “Isn’t that James and Tyler?” She points a manicured finger toward an approaching vehicle.
My insides tighten. “Are they leaving already?” I step away from the wall, staggering a little and squint down the road to where Chloe is looking. James drives a white Bronco, but the vehicle coming down the road looks sleeker, like a minivan or something. Doesn’t look like Tyler’s Jeep, either. It’s barreling down the street, faster than it should be. Most of the traffic on this street comes from the two bars, especially this late at night—Pink Dollars, and its sister bar across the street, Blue Coins. Whoever is behind the wheel is probably drunk.
Just then, the Cub Scout from earlier whizzes toward us on his bike. He swerves to miss me and ends up in the street. He crashes hard on his elbow, the bike on top of him, in front of the oncoming car.
Some drunk guy on the other side of the street shouts something too slurred to understand completely, something like get off the street, man or something and the girl he’s with squeals, “Ohmygod!”
My hands go reflexively to my belly, to the memory there. The boy struggles to stand. His shoelace is caught in his bike chain.
Without another thought, I drop my bag and, ignoring my hurt ankle, jump out into the road. Someone yells from behind me, maybe Chloe, and a man’s voice says something comforting in return. I rip the lace from the chain, push the bike off the boy and shove him out of the way of the car to the other side of the street. The boy, confused, stumbles over the curb and falls onto his butt on the sidewalk.
A man in a black jacket runs over to him, bending down to assess his injuries. A few ladies follow, shrieking and cooing.
The minivan doesn’t honk, doesn’t swerve to miss me, and my brain freezes—shocked into stillness. I can’t move or breathe. Whoever the driver is isn’t looking at me. He’s peering down at something in his lap or his hand. Or maybe he’s passed out.
As the headlights press closer, bathing me in light, my brain restarts. I turn, take a step, and my world goes black.
WHAT ELSE I’M WORKING ON:
OPEN (NA contemporary romance)
DRAFTING! A girl experiments with an open relationship after a bad breakup.