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Jessilyn Marie Granger would never be what society considered pretty. Oh, she had beautiful hair and a gorgeous face and a great personality, but she was a curvy girl, and unfortunately, she believed what her not so sainted mother had drilled into her, "Nobody wants a fat girl."
Zeth Driver, BMOC, nerd, stud, and one of the most stunning guys on the campus, to say nothing of one of the nicest, to boot, had never heard of such a thing. He liked all women, and the rounder ones were definitely at the top of his list.
But getting Jessi to believe it wasn't easy, although he discovered a secret about the way to her heart—and other parts—that he wasn't at all afraid to use in order to get close to her.
Unfortunately, Zeth made a very bad decision and lost Jessi's love forever.
Or did he?
Publisher's Note: Forgiveness is a second chance love story, containing graphic sexual scenes and the disciplining of an adult woman. If this offends you in any way, please do not buy the book.
*** Currently available exclusively at Amazon ***
He took the call when he wouldn't have taken any other—just seeing her number pop up on his phone had his mouth dry and his dick hard. Ignoring the mountains of work that were piled around him on his desk, he held the phone to his ear and put his head down on the desk, deliberately thinking of nothing but her—how she sounded, her tone, the words she used and how she said them.
Oh, and imagining how she might look—bra? No bra? Did she bother to get dressed today or was she still in her pajamas? That glorious hair of hers, was it up or down? Brushed or messy?
Nipples peaked or not?
Shaking his head, trying to clear it of those highly improper images, he chided himself. He was a truly sick fuck.
But despite the fact that she was always incredulous that he could possibly find her attractive, there was very little about her—physically or otherwise—that he didn't truly like. She was a bit rounder than most women, but that was a plus to him, and he'd never seen it as anything else. Her face was gorgeous, with big green eyes fringed with dark lashes and shoulder length gold blonde hair that was wavy when it was long and curly when it wasn't. She sometimes pulled it back into a bun which—to him—made him think of a sexy librarian, not that he'd told her that, though.
She didn't want to hear that kind of thing from him, as he well knew.
Her breasts and hips were wonderfully full, and he well remembered the feel of them in his hands as he ground himself into her or the slight wobble it gave when he cracked the flat of his hand across her ample behind.
Trying again to jettison his dirty thoughts and knowing deep down that he was never going to have any success of it, he picked up the phone and punched the green "accept" button.
"There's Trouble!" he teased, the sound of her soft chuckle swelling his heart and his genitals with the same fierce strength.
"Someday you're going to stop calling me that all on your own. Either that or I'm going to beat you to a pulp if you say it one more time."
Upbeat—or was that annoyed—enough to threaten bodily harm. She was in rare form.
"How's our boy doing today? Good day? Bad day?" he asked, not expecting to hear anything new or different—or even, frankly, anything he really wanted to hear since it was more likely to be bad news than not—but knowing it was important to her that he ask.
"What are you hoping to hear one day—that he's opened his eyes and is fully recovered?" she asked, almost accusingly.
That was too much of a loaded question—that he didn't really think she wanted to hear his honest answer to, either—so he remained quiet.
Her soft, "I'm sorry," was heartfelt, he knew, but no real balm to his bruised feelings. "The answer is what it always is: S.S., D.D."
He could hear how exhausted she was, wishing he was there, wishing he could share more of the burden—although he knew she didn't think of it that way at all—with her. He just wanted to make things as easy for her as possible, but the realities of life always managed to get in the way, and he was much less of a help to her than he sincerely wanted to be, he knew.
Running a startup company on your own would do that to you, especially one that had been conceived and designed by two of you, one of whom was now completely incapacitated. And now you were carrying on its legacy—whatever that would become—for the both of you. And the woman who was the other guy's wife. Any time he spent away from it, he lived to regret. He'd been working eighty hour weeks for so long that he couldn't remember the last time he'd taken a day off.
And then his mind proceeded to prove him wrong, of course, because, oh yes, he could. It was the last time Greg had been rushed to the hospital, when he'd gotten yet another tearful call from her that struck him like a thunderbolt as it always did and made sure that nothing—not even the company, which was his baby—could have kept him away from her.
"I'm sorry, honey," he crooned, turning his chair away from his desk, so that he could sit in the small office he could barely afford and look out on the small city before him—not that he actually saw it—and just listen to the sound of her voice. "What can I do to help?"
* * *
Sometimes, she wished he wouldn't be so goddamned fucking nice. It was hard enough to keep going without him sounding as if he'd be perfectly happy to ride into her life and take her away—he was a natural for the part of a knight on a white charger, rescuing the princess from rabid Ewoks or droids with hemorrhoids or whatever.
He was just beginning to experience a small modicum of success from all of those years of backbreaking work, but she knew that he wouldn't hesitate to blow it all on her, if he thought she needed him.
And what was worse was that she knew that he would do so without so much as another thought about it. If she just said to him, "I can't do this anymore"—which she honestly wanted to do a thousand times a day but somehow managed not to—she knew he'd have her out of there before she finished the sentence and ensconced in his cozy little home—or, more accurately, in his enormous bed.
Just the thought of it had her blushing—that was still all it took to bring her entire body to yearning, pulsating attention.
But she didn't want him to.
Not really, anyway.
What she hated the most about his ever-present offer of help was that the emotion she knew prompted it in him always brought the hot, painful tears she'd been fighting back for so long that she could barely remember a day when they weren't just under the surface, into eyes that were practically crossed from lack of sleep, and thus, weaker and less able to fight their insidious onset than normal.
Although nothing had really been normal for her in quite some time.
Her new normal—for the past three years or so—was the daily care of her beloved husband, Greg, who was dying, slowly but surely, wasting away more and more with each passing day. She could barely remember the last time he moved on his own, or since she had heard his voice, longer still for when she'd seen him walk.
She'd absolutely meant her use of the phrase "same shit, different day" because all of her days had melted into one—weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas—they all followed the same rigid schedule. They had to. Things had to be done to keep him alive, and she was the only one there who was going to do it, consistently, day in, day out. Oh, she had a little help—a nurse, Genevieve, was it now, or Kevin—that came in several times a week for a couple hours each day? But after years of experiencing the revolving door that was the state of what passed for in-home care these days, she never left him alone with them. She'd done that at first, naively thinking that they'd take as good, careful care of her husband as she would.
She learned quickly that wasn't so with ninety-nine percent of them—she'd had enough of being called to meet the ambulance at the hospital whenever she'd had the audacity to leave him alone with them.
Now, she just…didn't leave him. And she had a very narrow definition of what that meant—leaving him—to her, it meant being in the living room or the kitchen, and even then, she had an iPad pointed at him at all times, through which she monitored him when she wasn't in the same room with him. It didn't replace her presence in the room with him—she only used it as a tool when she absolutely had to. She was almost obsessive about her need to be with him at all times, and the makeshift monitor gave her a bit of peace of mind when she had to be away from him at all.
Zeth was pretty much her only outlet. When it had first happened, she'd had tons of help—friends, relatives, co-workers of both of theirs volunteered to do shifts taking care of him, but this was three years later. They had long since fallen by the wayside, and she wasn't angry about it—they had their own lives to lead.
Everyone had begged off—except Zeth.
Frankly, he was the only other person on the planet she trusted him with. She knew that he loved her husband at least as much as she did.
Perhaps more, and that was another layer of her shame.
Even when she knew he really couldn't afford to take the time away from building his computer empire—the one he and Greg had begun together—he came anyway, arriving on her doorstep at least once a week with her favorite dish from the local Chinese food place, a couple of chick flicks under his arm and something decadent and chocolate in a grocery bag—or, if she was lucky, from the amazing bakery across town, depending on how pressed for time he always was.
At first, he'd brought beer or wine or liquor, too, but she'd refused to drink it, not wanting to be incapacitated when Greg's life depended on her mental acuity. Now, he still brought it, but only enough for himself.
One time, he arrived on her doorstep with a couple of bags of popcorn he'd actually bought at the Cineplex the next town over, along with other movie fare—bad, cheap nachos, hot dogs, jujubes for him and peanut M&Ms for her, and they'd watched some movie she'd had her heart set on seeing but no real hopes of doing so—she couldn't remember now what it even was.
And he came—and stayed—even when it was one of those days when she didn't feel she could leave his side at all, taking the second, much less comfortable chair and folding his big frame into it after having said hello to his friend, and spending the entire time he was with her doing his best to try to make her laugh—and what's more, he usually managed to achieve his goal.
When he wasn't there, he deliberately emailed her terrible jokes, kitten pictures, and chain emails, as well as things he knew would actually amuse her, like misnomers and incidents of bad grammar/autocorrect errors and misheard lyrics he found on the Internet that he knew would get her laughing, even on the worst days, with the caveat that she had to call him and laugh with him about it, which she always did.
Occasionally, a small bouquet of flowers—or chocolates—or balloons would arrive at her door, usually when he was travelling and couldn't bring them himself.
And he never, ever forgot to say a very heartfelt "thank you" for everything she was doing.
"Was Betty there to relieve you?"
"Betty is now Juan, I think, but there's no way you would know that. And yes, he came."
"Did you get some rest?" It was his single biggest worry about her—she'd been functioning severely sleep deprived for much too long. She slept in the same room as Greg—their bedroom—just in case, but their queen-sized bed had long since been replaced by an actual hospital bed, and there really wasn't enough room for another one of any size, so she'd been sleeping in an old recliner. And he knew that sleeping was a misnomer, considering how often she had to get up during the night to see to him.
There was a guest room, but she wouldn't consider it, just like she wouldn't consider a nursing home facility or respite care. They wouldn't take care of him the way she did.
And the horrible thing was that she was dead right.
"Yes," she lied. Juan was new to the rotation, and she watched him like a hawk.
Just like she watched the ones who were old to the rotation, too.
He clicked his tongue at her, scolding, "You have so many spankings piled up for lying, girl."
He knew what she was going to say in response before she said it. "No—don't. Don't talk to me like that, please."
He didn't push, as much as he wanted to. She'd gotten furiously angry at him once—early on, when things were still so raw for all of them, but mostly her—for doing so, in the beginning, and had refused to see him, or even talk to him, via phone or text, for nearly two months.
It had practically killed him—not being able to see her, to communicate with her in any way—until she'd finally forgiven him—for that terrible transgression, anyway—and he was determined not to do that to either of them again.
"I'm sorry." He wasn't sorry for saying it, he was sorry that it upset her.
On the spur of the moment, as he surveyed the work piled on his desk, which he was quite sure was multiplying any time he wasn't staring directly at it, he offered, "Want me to come over tonight?"
He heard her long sigh. "Oh, Zeth, honey, I wouldn't be any kind of company."
"And when, Jessilyn Marie Granger, has that ever stopped me?"
She was too tired to even give him the hearty raspberry he so richly deserved for his subtle insult. And she didn't—by any means—miss how he said it, either, in that low rasp of his that he knew sparked every nerve she owned into throbbing life, which, no matter how hard she tried, she could never quite seem to quite extinguish. And every time he did it, every time he used that particular tone with her, sounding like an unbearably sexy combination of Sam Elliot and Don LaFontaine, added coals to a fire she'd kept banked for much too long, one she knew she should want to die out, but one she had no doubt that, instead, was eventually going to flare out of control.
And when that happened, it was quite likely to completely consume her, and she was going to thoroughly regret getting involved with him.
It had happened before.
"It sounds like you've had a particularly bad day—what say I bring over a carrot cake from La Patisserie and we both drown our sorrows in inch thick cream cheese frosting while watching the last season of Downton Abbey so we can get ready for it when the season starts up again? That's in early January, isn't it?"
Her laugh—a real, throaty one that was still always on the edge of a giggle—the way she used to laugh all the time—flowed over him as if her hands were on him instead. Cascading from his ears down his neck, over his shoulders and down arms whose muscles tightened automatically at the tingling sensation, past nipples that were already peaked with it, and following his happy trail below his belt, making that raging hardness he always sported any time he so much as thought of her just that much more unbearable.
"As much as you deserve it, sometimes, I couldn't be quite that sadistic and force you to endure all of that."
"Sherlock, then?" he suggested, much too cheerily, making her think he was up to something. "Doesn't that start again shortly, too?"
"Just a Christmas special mid-January, to which I might well subject you when the time comes."
Ignoring that considerable threat, he concentrated on the fact that she hadn't said no yet, so he was going to take that—oversight though it might be—as a yes.
"Well, it'll be your choice, anyway. You know I'll watch anything."
Jessi snorted. "Oh, you'll watch it, all right, but you'll spend the entire time whispering all of its faults into my ear."
Zeth knew exactly to which show in particular she was referring. "Well, honey, you have to admit that those zombies are conveniently either loud or mute, fast or slow, smart or dumb according to the plot. I mean, c'mon. And that band of survivors? How stupid could they be? The world's ended, there's only a few people left, and they can't think to collect all of the military vehicles they possibly can and take over a Costco or a Sam's Club, where they'd have enough food & gas for a million years? And all the cars that are just lying around and yet one guy—the sexiest of the bunch, of course—is parading around on a motorcycle like meals on wheels and the rest of them are just walking around down the road, where they're conveniently vulnerable—"
She was laughing again, and although it was the same rant he went into any time she made him watch that show, the vehemence with which he pointed out the plot holes always got her chuckling.
So, he'd always say it, always perfectly happy to play the mindless fool, just to hear her laugh.
"So carrot cake?" he prompted when her laughter had died down. "Why, it's practically health food—it's got vegetables in it, for crying out loud! Cake with veggies—it's the perfect food."
"Oh, all right," she said, somewhat ungraciously and unapologetic about it. "You've sold me, although I don't know how long I'm going to last—"
"Honey," Zeth interrupted. "You know you could fall asleep five seconds after I got there and it would be perfectly fine with me."
"Yeah, because we have a bigger screen TV than you have and all of the sports channels, and you'll change it over to Monday night football."
He chuckled. "Well, I never said I was a saint."
"Damned good thing! See you shortly."
* * *
She'd just finished feeding Greg through his tube when she heard his unmistakable knock at the door, less than an hour later. Again, it triggered a debate in her head as to whether or not she should just give him a key, but her mind had always veered away from that idea for some reason, although it was probably the smart thing to do, on several levels.
Jessi washed her hands and gave Greg the once over—that one practiced glance, taking in everything about him without missing a detail, before she was satisfied enough with his condition to go to the door.
He was standing there with a lot more than carrot cake in his hands—he was so overloaded that she had to relieve him of some of the bags, the handles of which were held between those shiny white teeth.
"Thank you!" he breathed gratefully as he stepped inside and headed for the kitchen.
"What's all this—I thought you were just bringing cake?" she asked incredulously as she began to unpack the bounty he had brought with him. "Ice cream? Funny bones! How did you know I liked these? I haven't even seen one since college."
He stopped in the act of taking off his big shearling coat that made him look just that much more formidable, adding to his already considerable size.
"I remember things about you," he confessed, watching her stiffen at his tone, which made the statement much more intimate than he had intended.
"Five Guys!" she crowed as he began to unpack bags of the heart attack causing treasures.
"Well," he said defensively. "You need fattening up."
She snorted unbecomingly. "I don't think my doctor would agree with you on that score."
He ignored her, tilting his head back, as if contemplating the ceiling. "Let me see if I got it right—third pound burger, American cheese, grilled onions and barbeque sauce, cooked medium, with fries." Zeth looked at her. "How'd I do?"
"Perfect! Thank you—but you didn't have to do all of this for me."
"I know," he said. He always went overboard on her, and she was always dutifully grateful, which was not at all why he did it.
They ate while sitting companionably on her sofa, with Amazon tuned to season five of the period drama, episode one. It was liberally interrupted when he or she paused it to say something of sometimes dubious significance, but when either wanted the other's undivided attention—as when imparting the latest, juiciest bit of town gossip, which he always fed to her, since at this point he was much more a part of the community than she was—along with a meal she probably shouldn't have been eating.
"Fred and Lacy Meyers are getting divorced," he said, punching the pause button on the remote and watching her face avidly.
"You liar!" she accused, shocked to her core. "They're the most perfect couple in Danby! They've been married seven thousand years—happily, supposedly. They have four obnoxious children they are always bragging about—what happened?"
"Well, apparently, Fred's secretary happened. In cheap motels all up and down the state and for the past few years, at least. Word around town is she's having his fifth, and Lacy found out because old Dr. Bork's office sent the secretary's sonogram of the baby accidentally to her."
Through her utter disbelief and her guilty feelings at how wonderful it felt to hear of the demise of even a truly heinous couple, Jessi caught herself looking at Zeth. The very sight of him, even just as he wiped a dab of mustard that had collected at the corner of those sensual lips of his, and a wave of love and lust—inseparably comingled—rippled through her.
She'd asked herself the question a million times—why couldn't things have been different—but no answer had ever revealed itself. Things were the way they were, and it was no use railing—publically or privately—against them.
And even when the situation resolved itself—naturally—she couldn't see them getting together.
He'd hurt her too badly—it might have been years ago, but the pain was still just as acute as it had always been.
She'd have to be crazy to let herself in for that kind of pain again.
Unfortunately—or fortunately—she never claimed to be anything but.