SHELBY (Second Chance Novels Book 4)

CONTENTS

Title Page

Digital Edition

Disclaimers

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

KEMMIE MICHAELS

Copyright © 2015 Kemmie Michaels

All rights reserved.

Digital Edition

ISBN-13:
9781940463278

Published by Bruce Street Publications, LLC

This is a work of fiction and does not in any way advocate irresponsible behavior. This book contains content that is not suitable for readers 17 and under. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

Names, characters, places, brands, products, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and ownership of any location names or products mentioned in this book. The author received no compensation for any mention of said trademarks.

Cover images licensed through iStockPhoto, Shutterstock, and Dreamstime; designed by Robin Ludwig Designs, Inc.

Thank you for downloading this ebook. Please be aware that this ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be reproduced, uploaded to share on websites, emailed, or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the author at
[email protected]
, or within the sharing guidelines at a legitimate library or bookseller.

To Kaprii. Shelby wouldn't be Shelby without you.

CHAPTER ONE

Months earlier than CALLEN's conclusion…

I show up to Second Chance tonight, ready to plaster on my smile and pretend I'm ok with watching Mason and Sofia together. All those weeks ago, I promised him no drama. I'm keeping my promise…which makes being here that much harder. Choking back my emotions gets more difficult every time. Loving Mason stabs me. Watching him love Sofia twists the knife.

He may not be who he pretended to be, but I remain in love with every side of him. His hidden self made no difference. I believe he is a genuinely good man regardless…and I wasn't enough for him. Yet here I sit, smiling with a group of friends I barely feel connected to anymore. Sadly, this is the only group of friends I have left. The few other people I used to hang out with at the bar drifted from my world when I was with Mason. I dedicated myself to him, which left little time for anyone else.
 

I'm such a damn fool.
 

I force my smile.
 

Still, I'm thankful for Jackson. He's the other lone star in the group. As pathetic as it may seem, sometimes I think of him as my date. My fifth-wheel status is eased when he's the sixth wheel. We complement each other that way, balancing the equation of this group. I've never been attracted to him, and I doubt I ever will be, but I appreciate him nonetheless. He's my pair in this group of duos.

"My new bar opens next week," Ledger announces with a genuine smile. Cam is watching him in pure adoration, as always. He returns her gaze with equal depth. Most of me remains thrilled for my friend, but part of me wants to vomit.
 

"Congrats," Mason grins.

I turn toward the bar again, and I notice Jackson is absent. Most likely he's in the back, retrieving a replacement bottle of something, but I realize that my position in this group has moved from fifth wheel to seventh since Callen and Quinn got together, even though they don't come here often. Everyone is paired off, and though none of them treats me as anything other than another person in a circle of friends, there are three definitive couples here…and me. Alone. I keep a sigh from escaping my chest as I try to find an 'in' for myself in conversation. No such luck.

"How are things going?" is the best I could come up with, and that allowed little room for participation.

And so continues the conversation, seemingly without me. All of them were in on the investigation Mason and Sofia ran to eliminate corruption in the city's ranks, also without me. Mason helped Callen eliminate mutual enemies. What drew them all together only served to squeeze me out. The bitterness is taking over, and I hate giving in, but I can't seem to stop myself. Each of them is moving on happily toward a bright future with the person they love, and I'm in my same job, living in an otherwise empty house, losing my connection with these people one tiny increment at a time. Thank God I at least have Jacks I can pretend to have as a match.

Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me.
 

Jacks wasn't in the back to restock the bar, he was welcoming
her
into the bar from the service entrance…the entrance I used when Mason worked here…when we were together. I don't know who this new
her
is, but the dopey smile on Jackson's face tells me all I need to know. My pretend-other-half has paired off without me, moving me to my place as ninth wheel on this relationship bus.
 

"This is Emily," he introduces his woman with that easy-going smile of his like this isn't any big deal. Her presence here is a big deal though, and everyone knows it. She is Jackson's girlfriend, is so simply-pretty, and complements his relaxed attitude perfectly. If I weren't the angry, frustrated woman I've become, I'd be thrilled for him. His happy body language meets her sweet smile, demonstrating their obvious love. He's never mentioned Emily before, which isn't much of a surprise because he rarely talks about himself at all. His previous silence makes no difference. The fact that he brought her here tells me exactly how serious they are. I'm fighting back tears, and suddenly I hate this entire bar.
 

Everyone, including me, offers some sort of "nice to meet you" greeting, welcoming her into the fold. Just like that, Emily has taken my pretend place, and leaves me hanging. I don't blame her, but I'm angry at her, irrationally so. I'm spiraling down and there's no one reaching out to keep me from falling. Honestly, I'm angry at all of them, and I'm not sure which is more pathetic: sulking in my bitterness, or begging them to notice my pain.
 

My bottom line rests on the desire
not
to bring any of them down. Each of them is moving forward, and I won't be the acid eroding their happiness. I sit in awkward, false-smiling silence, and forge the determination to find a new place and make new friends. I don't need this bar to have my own second chance. Part of me wonders if they'll even notice. I suppose I'll come back on occasion if for no other reason than to see Cam, but I need other people in my life, as well. Staying with this group as my only source of social interaction will do nothing but push me further down. I'm not sure if I can survive much more of this.
 

"Hey, everybody," I start with false levity, not caring I interrupted their conversation. I have to get out before I break down. "I have some code to finish before I go to work tomorrow. I'll see you all later."

"Another Sunday?" Mason asks. Like he fucking cares.

"Yep," I answer simply.

"Good luck" and "Hope you get some sleep" jumble with several forms of "Goodbye" as I grab my purse and settle my tab with my ex-never-was-my-boyfriend Jackson. One final wave precedes my solo walk to the door, the view of my back hiding the tear already pushing itself from my eye. By the time I'm in my car, sadness is streaming down my face steadily. When I finally walk into my house, an ugly sob wracks my body painfully. I drop to my couch and give in to the heartache, wrapping myself in a blanket, wishing Mason's arms were wrapped around me instead.
 

I cry myself to sleep for the first time since Mason left me.

When sunlight has the nerve to shine in my eyes after my night spent on the couch, I wake up stiff and bleary. I sigh before finding my way to the bathroom to splash cold water on my puffy face. The icy blast does little to refresh me.
 

"You look like hell," I tell my reflection which glowers back at me.
 

I don't understand why I can't figure myself out. Part of me thinks I'm full of anger. Most of me thinks I'm full of sadness…which isn't possible. I'm not full. I'm empty. Is there such a thing as
empty of sadness
? More accurately I'm
consumed
by sadness, swallowed whole and drowning. The loss of my parents guts me, and the support I need to get through it has disappeared. Callen became lost in his own world, and my happy-ever-after found his happiness somewhere else. I'm not sure how to recover from all this. Based on my inability to deal, I genuinely believe there is something lacking from within.
 

The drowning sadness gels into a heavier form, pushing painfully on my chest from the inside. The luxury of breath leaves me for a moment and a single tear leaves a dull shimmer on my cheek…and again all I want is Mason to comfort me, or even Callen. His physical rejection hurt, too. Yeah, there's something very wrong with me.
 

I wondered a long time ago if I was somehow inadequate, and the first moment of that sick question happened right there in Second Chance, back when Cam was still living with Garrett. I happened into that bar on the recommendation of some friends and I fell in love with the place instantly. One glance at the sexy bartender and I was hooked without question. I flirted with Ledger that first night, as did another girl. He had a pleasant smile for both of us, of course, but never showed any interest.
 

His aloof behavior didn't bother me, really. I flirt all the time without instant connections. However, when I brought Cam in for the first time, he fell in love. Instantly. Anyone in the bar could see it. Even though I'm happy for both, I look back and wonder why not me? Now that I see everyone so dedicated to the one they love, I can't help but debate with myself the various reasons I wasn't chosen.
 

Insecurity is added to my list of faults when I think that way, though bitterness still tops the list.
 

I pull my laptop off the coffee table and decide to drown myself in one of the few aspects of my life which still makes sense: computer code. Binary numbers, calculations, lack of emotion, and total escape occupy my brain for a while, easing the hurt. Thank God for my computer. Even when I was with Mason, I spent a lot of time honing my skills, including scripting decipher-algorithms and writing complex programs.

My current personal challenge revolves around hacking into a government banking system. I've been working on this one for quite a while, and I can't wait to see if I can pull it off. I won't do anything once I get in, but I could. This is not about anything but proving my skill to myself. I'm careful not to get caught, too. Felony charges aren't on my bucket list.

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