Can two people who are totally wrong for each other ever be right?
She’s a feisty, sly marketing exec intent on hiding her small-town roots. He’s a laid-back engineer with a shaggy mutt and a pushy ex.
When Joshua asks Melina out, she asks what kind of car he drives. She’ll do drinks, not dinner. She’s always in control. But with Joshua’s easy confidence and sharp wit, Melina is soon breaking the dating rules she made for herself.
Opposites attract—but friends think Melina and Joshua can’t possibly last. When crisis throws their world off its axis, Melina must confront her childhood family, the people she’s come to care about, and the destruction of her pristine image.
Won’t Last Long is available now for Kindle or in paperback. Want a taste? Read on…
WON’T LAST LONG: CHAPTER ONE
The only thing standing between Joshua and his escape route was a curly blonde spitfire.
I’ve started over dozens of times. Why is this time so much harder?
Joshua straightened his shoulders and braced himself, but his hand froze before it touched the pale green door. On the other side, energetic music thumped beneath a melody of voices and laughter.
Joshua’s eyes darted back down the hallway toward the elevators.
Stephanie wrapped a protective arm around Joshua’s elbow as her husband Mark rapped twice on apartment 3H, twisting the knob without waiting for a response.
“You’ve got to get out,” she stage-whispered, steering him inside. “I’m not going to let you stay back at my house and sulk.”
Joshua nodded, determined to have a good time. It seemed everyone else had seized the opportunity. Strings of Christmas lights hung corner-to-corner, a nod to the holiday just a few weeks away.
“I guess any party’s better than a pity party.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Stephanie agreed. They drifted to the kitchen, where Mark accepted three bottles from a slight, darkly tanned man wearing a holiday sweater: Saint Nick and eight tiny reindeer.
Mark passed around the beer, making introductions.
“This is my best friend Joshua, who’s been staying with us for a little while,” Mark said, clinking bottles with Joshua. “Juan’s in the cubicle next to mine at work. This is his place.” Mark made a mock bow at Ugly Sweater. “And my wife thanks you for hosting the one Christmas party we actually want to go to.”
“Oh yes, I can’t wait for Mandatory Fun Night next Friday,” Stephanie snorted with good-natured sarcasm. “Maybe this year your company will get crazy and pass out two drink tickets each.”
Juan shook his head and grinned. “Don’t bet on that. Let’s hope this party makes up for it.”
Mark took a long pull on his beer and sighed. “If I can kick some butt on this new game, it will,” he agreed, and moved toward the massive video game system. A dozen people piled around a pair of low-slung leather couches, watching the widescreen intently.
“Hit him! Hit him!” a red-haired girl shouted as race cars slammed into each other, skidded along walls, and careened off ramps. She straddled one arm of the couch and leaned forward as if she were on a motorcycle. Metallic crunching noises from the game blended with the music and enthusiasm vibrating from the crowd.
Mark took a seat on the floor by the couch, folding his long legs to fit the available space, waiting for his turn.
“Pull up a chair.” Juan pointed Stephanie and Joshua to two barstools facing the kitchen island. “I’ve still got to make dip.”
Joshua eyed the gleaming, stainless-and-granite kitchen with envy. “So, how long have you lived here?”
“About a year.” Juan halved an avocado and whacked its pit with the blade of his knife, twisting to remove it. “But Eric moved in almost two years ago. He had a different roommate for a while, but that guy moved to Boston.”
Juan diced the avocado in its skin, flipped it inside out and dropped chunks of flesh into a bowl. “We lived in the same dorm in college and we both like a lot of the same stuff—movies and gaming, pretty much anything on a screen—so when we put our stuff together, we had a sweet setup.”
“It’s a great location,” Stephanie added. “This apartment building used to be one of the best in downtown Seattle—the views from the upper floors are supposed to be stellar. Joshua, you should check this place out,” she urged.
“You’re getting rid of me already?” he asked with mock hurt. She gave him a gentle shove. “I’m getting very attached to your couch.”
“If you’re looking, I’m pretty sure there are some empty units in here,” Juan offered. “And you can’t beat the location. There is something weirdly satisfying about listening to traffic reports while you’re walking to work.”
Joshua’s eyes scanned the kitchen and living room as Juan halved a lime and squeezed it with a citrus reamer.
“Do they take pets?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen some dogs in the elevators. What kind do you have?”
“Nothing yet, but I’m getting a dog. I’ve always wanted a dog.” Joshua took a gulp of beer, jarred by the admission that for the first time in twenty-eight years, untethered from his old life, he could do anything he pleased.
Joshua moved back to neutral territory. “Nice knife skills, man. Where’d you get them?”
“I worked in restaurants during college. That work is thankless and hot as hell—totally makes me appreciate my cubicle. Now about the only time I sweat is when I work out.”
“I can make a curry that’s worth the sweat,” Joshua warned. “Stephanie sweats just thinking about it.”
“No more vindaloo for me—I’m hot enough already.” She huffed on her nails and pretended to shine them on her shirt. “I think it took a month for my taste buds to grow back.”
Joshua laughed and felt more at ease as he told Juan about his cooking background. No matter where his father’s military orders took their family, the kitchen was Joshua’s constant. He carried recipes the way others carried souvenirs—secret formulas to create smells and tastes that brought back memories with greater intensity than a teaspoon or snow globe.
As Juan finished the guacamole, a woman entered the apartment. In calf-hugging boots, designer jeans and a chunky, après-ski sweater, she looked completely in control. Pale hair framed sharp eyes and apricot lips; she was polished to perfection, radiating like an ornament on a high shelf.
“Ow!” Joshua flinched as Stephanie kicked his shin under the bar.
“Close your mouth,” Stephanie hissed. “She’s not all that.”
Stephanie arched an eyebrow in the woman’s direction as Juan’s roommate Eric rose from his place on the couch to greet her. Joshua felt a pang of envy as he guessed that they were probably together.
The woman lightly embraced Eric, air-kissed his cheek, and perched on one arm of the couch. It wasn’t a together kiss, Joshua noted.
He heard her tinkling laugh, like ice cubes in a glass, and watched as she leaned into Eric to tell him something privately, showing off her denim- and leather-clad legs.
This could be an interesting night.
“That’s Melina,” Juan said. “She works with Eric over at Pursuit Marketing—he’s a graphic designer and she’s an account manager.”
Juan leaned across the counter, dropping his voice an octave. “She’s pushy—that’s why she’s good—and so she kind of invited herself tonight because she wants Eric to help her get on another account.”
Stephanie shot Joshua a meaningful look that he tried to ignore. Since his breakup with Crystal, he had far too many conversations with Stephanie about what makes the “right” girl.
In Joshua’s mind, she had to be opinionated, but not in-your-face political. She had to be independent, but not militant. She had to be natural, but not a hemp-wearing-vegan-eating-prayer-flag-flying-activist.
Basically, she had to be different than Crystal.
But the “right girl” conversation was wearing on him—Stephanie offered a tidal wave of opinion and advice. Mark focused on a girl’s legs, breasts, and sense of humor, in that order. Both sidestepped the heartbreak of single life by marrying soon after college, and Joshua suspected they vicariously enjoyed the dating war stories of their friends.
When Mark lured Stephanie away from the kitchen bar with a video game challenge, Joshua grabbed the opportunity to approach Melina, despite Stephanie’s snap judgment.
“So how long have you worked with Eric?” Joshua asked, immediately kicking himself for the line. I might as well have said, “Do you come here often?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets and offered a tentative smile as brown hair flopped forward on his forehead.
“Eric started a couple of years ago, but I’ve been with Pursuit Marketing for seven. Are you one of his … friends?” She appraised him with ice-blue eyes.
“Oh, no, we’re not.” Joshua stuttered, feeling his skin heat. That sounded wrong. “I mean, not yet. We just met. I’m, uh, a friend of a friend. Actually, a friend of a friend of a friend.”
He was nervous. He sounded nervous sputtering short, halting phrases. “I know Steph and Mark, and Mark knows Juan, and Juan lives here. And—well, you probably knew that. So I don’t know Eric, really. But I’m thinking about living here. I mean, not here, but in this building.”
“I see,” Melina said, a sly smile playing on her lips. “And, you don’t know Eric or Juan. So basically, you’re crashing this party. How dastardly.”
Joshua felt an electric current race up his arms as Melina’s dark lashes flicked up to him, channeling a movie villainess. Her statement felt like a challenge: Catch me if you can.
But Joshua was still stuck on her mouth, shaping her last word slowly.
“Melina! You’re up!” Eric announced, breaking the spell as he thrust a video game control into her hand. Melina rolled her eyes but took the controller, her lips curling in a smile as she turned away from Joshua.
Transfixed, he watched her go.