Copyright © 2022 by Joslyn Westbrook
All rights reserved.
Love is even hotter the second time around in Another Shot At Forever, a steamy contemporary romance by Josly Westbrook
releasing exclusively in the Not Over You anthology for a limited time
Reed Cortez is a one hundred percent clichéd sight for sore eyes.
Especially since I thought I’d never see him again.
Back in college, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other.
We were on a whirlwind path to forever—until our career goals split us apart.
Six years later, fate has brought Mr. Lava-Hot Footballer back into my life, and he’s agreed to be my fake fiancé at my sister’s destination wedding.
When our ruse forces us to share a hotel room for a weekend, red-hot flames reignite and sizzle between the sheets.
But, come on.
I’m not real wife material.
So why is a man who could have any woman he wants determined to give us
another shot at forever?
One Month After College Graduation
Whoever said all good things must come to an end could go fuck themselves.
Giana Rossi and I were meant to be forever, until the twelfth of never, for keeps.
Apparently, fate had something else in mind.
As I stared at the blank sheet of notebook paper, ink pen in hand, realization squeezed my chest.
The love notes I’d written to Giana every day for the last four years had made her flash a breathtaking smile, laugh, and even shed a few happy tears.
But this … Wasn’t a love note.
This was goodbye.
Letting you go was never part of the plan.
I’ll miss your laugh.
Your sexy-as-sin moans.
How it feels to wake up with you in my arms.
I’ll miss you. I’ll miss us.
Maybe someday we’ll have another shot at forever.
Six Years Later
Even though heartache fucks with your mind, torches your soul, and crushes your forever-after dreams, don’t let its afterburn transform you into a salty little bitch.
I channeled the mental note-to-self, hoping it would help me gain clarity, help me ease past the eye-rolling minutes spent on the phone with Margo.
“I know it’s kinda last second,” she yapped, “but our plane takes off at midnight, babe.”
Not only did this woman babe me, but her time-sucking phone call interrupted my Friday Night Ozark Bingefest, complete with Thai takeout, wine, and buttered popcorn.
“Please?” Margo’s whimpered plea for me to spend the weekend showing her client a few homes, oozed through my speakerphone.
I didn’t want to come across as some bitter single woman who gave zero shits that Margo’s might-as-well-be-Prince-Charming boyfriend surprised her with a weekend getaway to Paris. But I must’ve been in a “if the shoe fits” kind of mood.
“Sorry, no can do.” I paused to take a sip of wine, a fleeting smirk pulling my lips. “Need to wash my hair.”
It’s worth mentioning that Margo and I weren’t friends, teammates, cohorts, or besties who vacationed in Nantucket.
For the last five years, we’d been competitors at Dynasty Realty, New York’s hottest real estate firm, which catered to celebrities and athletes.
Margo and I had our respective sites set on earning top-seller status; as such, a keep-your-enemies-close vibe swirled around us like a category five shitstorm.
And our rivalry didn’t stop at who could sell more million-dollar homes. Our one-up game was fierce, whether it be a new pair of shoes, invites to exclusive parties, or who sold what home to whom for how much.
“C’mon, Giana, I’d totally do the same for you.” Silence, just a beat, sailed by before the ever-so-anticipated passive-aggressive jab bounced out of her mouth. “I mean…if you had a boyfriend.”
I could almost see Margo, face aglow with Mean-Girl Skank cheer, getting off on her serpentine reference to my epic post-engagement breakup—which happened over a year ago, mind you—that made me the salty little bitch I am today.
“Bye, Margo.” My voice remained pacified, unbroken as I took the high road, holding back F-you with the strength of a thousand mighty warriors. “Enjoy your weekend in Paris.”
Before I could tap the red end call icon, hang up ahead of my brain exploding, Margo singsonged, “You’ll earn a full—not a split—commission if my client purchases any of the properties you show him this weekend….”
In a seller’s market that had grown wilder by the second, working as a real estate agent had more monetary ups than downs. Commission I’d earned on homes sold over the past three years yielded the cash needed to pay off student loans and Noni’s house.
Money made also allowed me, a twenty-eight-year-old nobody girl from Jersey, the opportunity to purchase a condo in desirable SoHo. The condo’s space may have only been large enough to house a fire ant, but the terrace and the fancy-as-hell doorman who greeted residents twenty-four-seven were bonus perks that made it worthwhile.
Still, if I were to ever launch a real estate firm—a goal of mine since college—my bank account needed more dough.
“Full commission?” Surely the Cutthroat Queen couldn’t have been that desperate.
“Yes, full commission.” She sighed as if the admission made her heart bleed. “The buyer has a shit-ton of wealthy connections, a long list of potential buyers. If I cancel on him, he’ll go to Empire and take those potential buyers with him.”
Empire Real Estate, Dynasty’s only rival, was run by the Vetari family—real estate mob bosses who pounced at the chance to snag buyers whenever the time seemed ripe.
“Where are you scheduled to show homes?” It was a mere question, not a commitment to step in for her and forgo my weekend “hair washing” plans.
Margo’s two-worded reply sounded more like a mic drop, a crafty move from a poker player who slapped a winning card on the table.
Commission, minus broker fees, on a home sold in the Hamptons would’ve been enough to make my dwindling bank account do cartwheels. And while the coastal community for the rich and famous harbored broken memories that set my heart ablaze, I decided to take one for the team.
“Fine.” My snappy it’s-whatever-like comeback deserved an Oscar. “I’ll do it.”
I turned up my middle finger at babe and endured the forever-long minutes it took Margo to provide detailed next steps.
By the end of her spiel, she promised to email me her client’s file, the seven home listings scheduled for our tour, and text me the lockbox code to Dynasty’s corporate estate. Apparently, showing homes in the Hamptons was a weekend event packed with tours and entertainment. And because the seaside community was three hours from New York City, agents were provided overnight accommodations at the firm’s six-bedroom waterfront property, which I’d never been to.
“He’ll meet you at the estate at ten tomorrow morning,” she babbled, “so I’ll order a car to arrive at your place around 6 a.m.”
Ugh. An early pickup meant I’d have to kiss my Friday Night Ozark Bingefest goodbye. “Have fun in Paris, Margo.”
* * *
Who knows what jolted me awake?
Exhaustion must’ve lured me to sleep. After staying up for hours packing, I nodded off during the entire three-hour ride into the Hamptons.
Falling asleep meant I failed to peruse the client’s file, didn’t study which home amenities appealed to him most, or learn what he could be swayed on even if the price ran over budget.
At least Margo’s eye-stabbing spiel disclosed that the potential buyer once played professional football, loved to cook, and wanted a luxurious refuge far from New York City’s hustle and bustle. I prayed I’d score a favorably commissioned sale from the seven homes we were to tour this weekend.
Nico, my driver, slowed to the posted fifteen-mile-per-hour speed limit, then politely told me we were almost there.
Lampposts lined the narrow street, and a smile curved my lips as we drove past a rustic blue Welcome To East Hampton sign.
The coastal city was quaint. Lively. It was a little past 9 a.m., yet, women, men, and families were already scattered about, all outfitted in swimsuits and summery garments, cheer igniting their faces.
With the push of a button, I lowered the sedan’s dark tinted window.
Crisp air kissed my cheeks, sunlight beaming through the cloudless sky. I breathed in the briny sea air, my face hanging out the window like Rover on a family road trip.
My gaze flicked past trendy shops and fresh seafood restaurants I had frequented with my ex-fiancé Chad. The Hamptons had been where we’d spend our holidays, relaxing and unwinding. Every year, I looked forward to those memorable nuggets in time until he, and his new fiancée, ripped my heart out and hammered it into a trillion unrepairable pieces.
Blowing out a breath, I steeled myself and swiped off those useless waterworks. Noni once said I should save my tears for a guy who’d be there to wipe them away.
I should be so lucky.
Nico turned onto Waterloo Street, then slowed the car to a near crawl, coasting up a long, narrow driveway before parking alongside a beachfront property.
I took in the elegant, white, two-story home with blue trim, which looked more beautiful than I’d imagined.
A flutter bloomed in my chest when I stepped out of the car. Knowing I’d get to hang out here this weekend made me feel as giddy as a five-year-old on Christmas morning.
“Would you like help with your bag, Ms. Rossi?” Nico’s voice sliced through a chorus of seagulls cawing as he wheeled my luggage over to me.
“No, thanks.” I bit down on my lower lip, giving his offer more consideration—as if one suitcase wouldn’t have been easy for me to handle. “I’ll be okay.”
After I assured him I’d be fine on my own, that the buyer was bringing his own car to get us around East Hampton, Nico reminded me he’d pick me up Sunday night for a ride back into the city.
I watched him drive away, then wheeled my suitcase up the walkway, and once at the front door, entered the lockbox code Margo had shared via text.
As I ventured inside, a soft gasp escaped me.
With its sandy-colored walls accented by nautical decor and shiny Maplewood floors, the open space was jaw-dropping with a rich blend of a dining room, an amazeballs kitchen, and a roomy yet cozy living room.
But the true star of this corporate abode: a ginormous window that unveiled a view of effervescent water crawling toward the shore. I stood, mesmerized by resplendent streams of light sashaying across cerulean-blue swells.
The quiet hum of waves had a way of laying life’s problems to rest, even if for a moment in time. Comfy pajamas, a cup of tea, and a hunky hottie’s strong arms—tattooed, please and thank you—snaked around my waist would have been icing on this salty little bitch’s cake.
I freshened up and poked my nose in at least four of the six bedrooms before finding my way back downstairs and into the kitchen. When Margo texted me the lockbox code, she mentioned asking our office assistant to ensure the fridge and cupboards were fully stocked. Sure enough, I discovered pasta, sauce, fresh produce, pastries, coffee, creamer, a case of Pellegrino sparkling water, and wine. Evidently, Margo had planned to bring Prince Charming along for a weekend shack-up until he surprised her with Paris.
Ignoring the burn in my throat, I swallowed the rancid realization that, apart from showing houses, I’d be spending the weekend here alone.
Ugh, I hope I remembered to pack my vibrator.
As I set out two Pellegrinos onto the kitchen-island countertop, a knock at the door made me jump.
A quick glance at my watch showed it was already 10 o’clock. “Right on time.”
I padded to the foyer, smoothed down my dress, and took a deep breath. Since joining Dynasty Realty a year after college, I’d sold several houses, more than I’d expected—more than they’d expected me to. Yet, for some reason, the pressure to sell just one this weekend felt like I had something to prove.
You’ve got this, Giana.
Nerves back to their semi-normal state, I opened the door, and…my heart stopped.
Standing before me was Reed Cortez, hot-as-fire pro-footballer turned celebrity chef.
Cosmopolitan Magazine once called him a walking wet dream.
And I once called him my college sweetheart.
He was a one hundred percent clichéd sight for sore eyes.
I silently begged the manic thumps in my chest to slow their roll, implored my eyes not to dry-hump every tall, dark, and delicious inch of him. It was the first time I’d seen Mr. Lava-Hot Baller in a suit—a custom muscle-hugging one to boot.
We flashed wide-ass grins, both likely wondering the same thing: What are you doing here?
Part of me wanted to leap forward, wrap my arms around him for a few lingering beats. Instead, I held back, speaking the first thing that popped to mind. “Reed.”
It had been damn near forever—two thousand-plus days—since I’d seen the man my dumb ass let slip away, and all I managed to whisper was his freaking name? Fabulous, Giana. You’ve just made this a fucktastic facepalm moment.
Reed brandished a lip tilt that could’ve warmed the chill out of Antarctica. “Gigi.”
Tingles, actual tingles, zipped down my spine at the sound of his voice—still as gruff, husky, and downright sexy as I remembered—when Gigi floated from his mouth. He’d given me that nickname while we were in college, back when he was my absolute world.
We met at a keg party during Freshman Year.
He had saved me from falling into a swimming pool after one of his drunken jock buddies tried to push me in. I swear Reed was the epitome of sex on a stick.
A football tight end with a tight end.
He asked me out, and because I refused to end up butt-hurt over a jock with a playboy reputation, I kept tossing him a thanks but no thanks response. When his persistence rebounded from annoying to adorable, I finally agreed to meet him for coffee.
Seven coffee dates later, we became inseparable, over-the-moon in love, cruising down a road destined for forever. Friends, even Insta followers, called our whirlwind romance “relationship goals.”
Until it fell apart.
Feigning nonchalance, I leaned against the doorframe, convinced he could hear my damn heart, its beats like a marching-band drum. “I guess this means you’re Margo’s client.”
Reed ran his thumb along his bottom lip, cocoa-eyed gaze honed down on mine. “And you’re the agent taking her place this weekend.”
I bit down on my lip, holding back a giggle.
Six years apart, and we’d become a set of Captain Obvious twins.
A pause lingered before our faces cracked a smile, and when I opened my mouth to speak, Reed pulled me into his arms. “Good to see you, Gigi.”
My belly flipped as I sank into his embrace, a whiff of cologne whirling around me.
The musky notes and the feel of Reed’s body against mine, his hands sliding up and down my back, shook comatose memories to life, memories I thought I’d pulled the plug on years ago. “Good to see you too.”
Time didn’t budge while we stood in each other’s arms. Seconds turned to what felt like minutes, as though we wanted to bask in a moment too surreal for words. The chance that Reed Cortez would’ve ended up being the client I’d agreed to show million-dollar homes to was ridiculously slim, even in a world so small.
Blinking away tears, I broke our hug and motioned for Reed to step inside. Regardless of our past affiliation, he was a client now.
I needed to keep things between us professional, force myself to ignore that he’d become a thousand times more eye-pleasing than he’d been in college, and, most of all, forget how at home I felt in his arms.