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Chapter One


Heidi



I pin my hair up on top of my head and give it a quick spray. I pull the illuminating powder and contour brush out of my makeup bag. I add some to my forehead and above my cheekbones. I grab Greta’s setting spray and quickly use it on my face.

“You look hot, girl,” Greta says from behind me. She grabs my lipstick and quickly dabs it on my lips before stepping back. “There, perfection.”

Out of the Collins kids, I’m the baby in the family. Greta is a year and a half older than me, but she’s my best friend and roommate. I turn back toward the mirror. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, you know I wouldn’t tell you, you looked great unless I meant it. I went through your closet and found the perfect outfit.” My sister is a fashionista and has a good eye for style.

She disappears out of the bathroom, and I follow her into my bedroom. On my bed are my black low rider wide-leg tuxedo pants and a silver top that hugs my breasts, making them look bigger. Lord knows I could use all the help I can get.

Since I’m the youngest, the boobs were all taken up by the time I came along. I take off my robe and pull on some pink satin panties and a matching bra. I grab my perfume, spray some in front of me, and walk through it.

I get dressed and slip on a pair of black stiletto sling backs. Looking in the mirror, I feel confident and sexy. My plan is to pick up some hot football player and have some much-needed fun.

That’s what I need, to have fun. Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent most of my time building my clientele at the studio and proving to my sisters that I deserved my spot there.

I head into the living room and find Greta standing in front of the mirror, fiddling with her hair. I love my sister, but I can totally admit that I’m jealous of her. She’s tall, lean, has gorgeous long, wavy brown hair, and is beautiful inside and out.

Her dress is a mixture of pinks, creams, and browns. It’s a long, flowy maxi dress with long sleeves and a slit in the front. She’s wearing brown thick-heeled sandals, which compliment her Boho chic style.

She smiles when she sees me. “Damn, I knew that outfit would look great. I ordered our Uber, so we should probably head downstairs.”

We grab our purses, lock up, and head downstairs. Tonight is a party for Nick’s arena football team. He invited us so we could hang with our sister, Sierra, I’m sure.

When we reach Blaze, a man in an all-black suit opens the door for us and holds out his hand, helping each of us out. We step inside and head up a beautiful staircase to the space where the party is at.

We grab some champagne before searching out our family.

“Look at all these hot men,” Greta leans down and whispers in my ear.

I cover my mouth as I giggle, but then I sober up. The one and only serious boyfriend I ever had was a football player, a quarterback, and that asshole broke my heart.

Greta moves to stand in front of me. “What’s that look for?” She tips her head to the side, looking closely at me.

I give her my best fake smile. “Nothing, just admiring the view.” Yes, these men are all hot, but I have no desire to hook up with a football player. “Let’s go find everyone.” I take a sip of my champagne and thread my arm through hers, and we walk through the crowd, looking for our family.

The party is in full swing, and I glance around the room. There truly are hot guys everywhere. The players we’ve met have been nice. Several of them have been vying for Greta’s attention, but of course they would because she’s a babe. I haven’t decided if there are any men that I want to speak to yet. Nick calls someone named Colton over, and my stomach pitches, which is stupid because there are a lot of guys out there named Colton.

I turn toward Nick, and that’s when my heart stops, and my stomach drops. Colton Winters is standing in front of me for the first time in five years. “Heidi.” Just hearing my name on his lips has me turning and running down the stairs.

Outside, I run down the street with Colton calling my name, but all I can hear are the words he spoke to me five years ago. “Heidi, I just don’t love you anymore. This is over.” I stop, panting for breath and holding my side due to a stitch.

Colton stops in front of me, but I don’t think—I just react, slapping him across the face. “Stay away from me,” I grit out. “I just don’t love you anymore.” I throw those words back at him and flag down a cab, climbing inside when it pulls up to the curb before he can follow me.

It’s not until I’m safely back in my apartment that I finally fall apart. I lock myself in my bedroom and grab a box from the back of my closet. Peeling the lid off, I feel the tears fill my eyes.

The first picture was from our eighth-grade graduation. Colton was behind me with his arms around me—both of us smiling widely at the camera. God, we were just babies, and I still had braces.

No one thought we’d last back then, but we proved them wrong, over and over, with each passing year. I wanted to marry him—I wanted to have his children, and I almost did until that slipped away as well.

In a matter of two months I lost him, and then I lost the baby I was carrying. I never told anyone about the second, and I never will. I honestly don’t know what it is about us Collins women, but three of us have found ourselves at one point knocked-up and single. Well, Sierra isn’t single; she may say she is, but Nick follows her around like a lovesick fool. I can’t wait to see it when she realizes she loves him too.

I focus on the pictures. Shit, I took so many. Our whole relationship is in this box in the form of pictures. My favorite is one that was taken right before Colton broke up with me—the night I’m sure our child was conceived.

“How many people are going with you?” Mom asks as I carry my sleeping bag and backpack downstairs.

I shrug. “I don’t know. Maybe three or four. Colton’s the one who set this up.” Ugh … I hate lying to my mom, but with graduation getting close, we’re going to be so busy. Colton and I just want one night alone.

We love camping, so we’re going, just the two of us, for a romantic getaway, sleeping under the stars.

Mom gets close, lowering her voice. “I know you’re having sex, but promise me you’re being careful.”

I roll my eyes. “I am. We are; I promise.”

My parents found out we were having sex when we were sixteen. One night when they were out, Colton was over, and things were getting very physical between us. Miles had come home to surprise us, and surprise us he did. Poor Colton got chased out of the house, naked, by my overprotective big brother.

He, of course, called our parents, who then came home and chewed us out before calling Colton’s mom and dad. There was a lot of yelling, some crying, and then talking.

Colton shows up as I reach the bottom of the stairs. He knocks and then comes right in. “Hey, babe.” He leans down to kiss me.

God, he is so hot, but he’s so much more than that too. He’s kind, loving, funny, and so freaking smart it’s scary.

Bam, bam, bam… “Heidi are you okay?” Greta asks from outside my door, pulling me from my trip down memory lane. “Honey, open the door.”

“G-go away, Greta. I’m fine. I just want to be left alone.” I sit quietly and pray that she goes away.

“Are you sure?” She’s quiet for a minute. “Was that the first time you’ve seen Colton since you broke up?”

Does she mean when he broke up with me, shattering my heart into unfixable pieces? I don’t answer her because I’m afraid of what might come out of my mouth.

I can hear her sigh from the other side of the door. “I’ll leave you alone for now, but I love you, and I’m here for you.”

I quickly grab my pillow from my bed, bury my face in it, and sob.


***


I cringe when I look in the mirror. My eyes are bloodshot, and the bluish-purple hue under my eyes is in stark contrast to my pale skin.

After brushing my teeth, I climb into the shower and let the hot water run over my tired, sore body. I fell asleep the night before on the floor next to the box of pictures. The trip down memory lane stirred up a lot of shit I didn’t want to deal with, and now it’s plaguing my mind.

My soapy hand slides down my body and stops on my lower abdomen. I wanted our baby so bad, and even though Colton had left, he left me with a part of him that I had planned to love forever. Hell, I still love our baby even though I’d just barely found out I was pregnant when I miscarried.

Climbing out after I rinse off, I wrap a towel around my body. I spray some leave-in conditioner in my hair and then run my comb through it. Back in my room, I get dressed in sweat shorts and a Pearl Jam concert tee.

I blow dry my hair and throw it into a ponytail. I pass by Greta’s open door and see she’s still asleep. Quickly sticking my feet into a pair of flip flops, I grab my purse and head outside, locking the door behind me.

I drive around for a while, ignoring my ringing cell phone. I’m sure it’s one of my sisters, but I’m not ready to talk yet—especially about Colton.

God, he’s aged well. Gone was the boy with a softness to his face, and in front of me was the man he is now, all chiseled gorgeousness. His dark blond hair was cut short on the sides and a little longer on top. It still has that wave to it. I’d spend hours running my fingers through his hair.

He reminds me of a blond-haired, brown-eyed Tom Brady. He has that tall, lean body and the dimple in his fucking chin. I whip into the parking lot of the local coffee shop and climb out of my car.

Inside, I order an Earl Gray tea and a chocolate croissant. I grab a seat in front of the fireplace since it’s chilly outside, and I forgot a jacket. The barista brings my stuff to me and places it on the table next to the chair.

I thank her and then put a little Splenda and cream in my tea. Taking a sip, I sigh happily as the warm liquid runs down my throat. Staring blindly at the flickering flames, I can’t help but wonder where Colton’s been these past five years.

Nope, not going to go there. I pick my croissant, moaning as I bite into the sweet, flaky pastry. I won’t lie—I eat the entire thing in about three huge bites. After I finish my tea, I head out.

I have no destination in mind, but after a while I pull up in front of our old high school. In the last five years, they’ve added a performing arts wing and updated the football field. I spent a lot of time on the bleachers watching Colton practice and then watching him play every Friday night. When I ran track, he was always there on the sidelines cheering me on.

The cheerleaders used to hit on him all of the time, but he only had eyes for me. I put my car in drive, leaving those memories behind. A thought occurs to me—does he have a girlfriend? Is he married, a Dad?

My eyes burn, and it feels like someone is sitting on my chest. “Nope, I don’t care about any of that,” I whisper to myself because now I’m crazy.

I realize that I’m by the studio, so I pull into the parking lot and park. I pull my keys out and head inside. After turning the alarm off, I lock the front door.

My flip flops slap against the tile floor as I head back to the office. I stop in front of the mirror and pull down my t-shirt until the tattoo my sisters all tried to talk me out of comes into view. I got it about six months after he left. “Love doesn’t live here anymore.” It’s in a swirly design right over my heart.

I needed that daily reminder to not fall in love. I’ve dated some in the past five years. I’ve even had sex, but it’s always been mediocre. Colton and I had years and years to learn about each other and what the other liked. We may have been teenagers, but the sex was always mind-blowing.

“Ugh … stop thinking about him, idiot.” Great, now I’m talking to myself. I flop down on the loveseat and pull my phone out of my purse. I have several missed calls and texts.

Greta: Where are you? Are you okay?

Greta: If you don’t answer me, I’m calling in the cavalry.

Fuck, she did it too.

Mona: Sweetie, please check in. Are you okay? Greta told us last night that you were home and locked in your room. He came back to the party and looked really sad.

Sierra: Where are you? Please check in.

Miles: Do I need to kick his ass? I’ll do it.

I smile because I do love my family even though they drive me nuts. You’d think it would be hard working together, day in and day out, but thankfully we’re close. Although sometimes Mona will try to mother me—you know, with her being the oldest she has always taken it upon herself to watch out for me.

I type out a quick group text.

Heidi: Guys, I’m okay; I promise. I just need some alone time to think. I love you all.

Mona: Love you too, sweetheart

Sierra: What she said ;) Love you, babe.

Miles: I’ll still kick his ass if you want.

Greta: Love you.

I tuck my phone into my bag and lay on my back with my legs hanging over the arm of the loveseat.





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