"She wasn’t what I expected yet everything I wanted." - Dave
Separated from her infant brother, Millie’s bounced from one shady foster home to another until fate guided her to the Mayers family. They opened its doors to their home, accepted her as their own and helped her to leave her gleam past behind.
Dave’s had a soft spot for Millie since high school. With a father working as a police officer, he protected her from thugs, jerks and bullies. The rebellious girl who captured his heart finally had the second chance she needed.
Growing up in the same home, Millie and Dave’s undeniable attraction brings them closer and sparks begin to fly. As Millie’s long lost secrets finally surface, her life is flipped upside-down again and she is faced with an unforgivable decision which buries her broken heart deep inside her chest.
Fighting for his best friend and lover, Dave follows in his father’s footsteps to enforce the law while helping Millie to find her way back to him. Can the couple fight through the pasts and tare down the obstacles placed before them to find a path to each other?
Read about their road to romance filled with angst, drama, twists and turns, in Perfectly Loved.
Note: Intended for mature audience only.
★★★★★ “Lacey gives us suspense, drama and passion that will melt your heart over and over again. Because Dave not only gave his heart to a girl when he was a young kid, he never wants her to give it back. She is his life and how can he live without it? So if he has to fight her for her to continue to hold it then fight her he will. Perfect. Perfectly Loved!” ~ The Book Fairy Reviews, Reviewer
“Momma, why do we have to leave again?”
“There’s no time to explain, baby. We need to be quick.”
My momma stuffed the few clothes we had into one suitcase. ‘We need to be quick’ meant I had to grab Casper as fast as possible — otherwise he’d get left behind. He got left behind once before, and I cried a lot. Then Momma made me another Casper from her last white scarf. It wasn’t the same, but since he was my only toy, I loved him. I found a safety pin in one of Mamma’s little boxes she carried, along with a spool of thread and a needle. She attached it to my sweater for me so I would never forget him again. That part was easy; in wintertime I always wore that sweater, day and night, sun or snow, because it was always cold where we lived.
“Don’t forget your jewelry, Momma.”
“Thank you, baby.” She eyed the square box and a funny look came over her. I was too young at that point to recognize her regret and disappointment.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the trailer. I wondered how long we’d stay at the new place Momma would take us to – for me, home was never a constant.
Red and blue lights flashed in my rearview mirror. With fear coursing through my veins more quickly than what my speedometer registered, I kept my foot on the pedal. My heart was pounding and eyes overflowing. The siren wailed and I jumped, gripping the steering wheel tighter. I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I had to get away. At least as far as the last few drops in my gas tank would let me. Each time I fueled up, I felt guilty for leaving a larger carbon footprint and stopped, releasing the pump at five bucks. Hence, the nearly empty tank I usually drove on.
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. They stung from my running mascara. Ahead lay darkness as I passed the city borders. Behind me, pain; and now, an annoyingly bright disco light.
As I planned my escape to a new city, a new neighborhood, and a new apartment, far away from Charleston, a ringing sounded through the radio, and I pressed my finger to the screen to pick up the call.
“Millie, is that you speeding?” I heard Dave’s voice in my car and realized when I left the city that I’d forgotten to invite Lady Luck along with me.
“Millie, you’re going to get yourself killed. Pull over, now!”
What were the odds that my ex-boyfriend, Dave – actually the only man I’d ever loved – would be the cop to catch me speeding? It wasn’t the first time, either. If Fate was trying to send me some sort of a signal, she had a funny sense of humor. Or was she trying to punish me for ignoring her?
“I… I can’t.”
“Millie? Please listen to me. If any other cop sees you, you’ll go to jail. You’re forty over!”
Was he telling me that he wouldn’t arrest me? Shit! What if I wanted to be arrested? Maybe staying behind bars was safer than living in the same world as… Jesus, I couldn’t even think his name without feeling the goosebumps swarm over my arms.
“If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me.”
For him? How dare he ask me a favor, after what he’d put me through? Dave was the reason my life had been flipped upside-down in the first place. I had never told him why I left him, but I couldn’t.
“I’ll volunteer at the shelter,” he bribed. How did he know that two weeks ago I began routinely going to the animal shelter to help clean the crates, feed the dogs, and give them their medications? My head hurt so much. I was so tired. My life was so messed up that if anything else went wrong today, I’d implode.
The engine made a coughing sound. “No, not now!” I hit the steering wheel with my fist. My knuckles cracked, and I probably bruised my fingers.
After another exasperated sound, the car died.
“Traitor!” I screamed at the dashboard before rolling the old Jetta to the side of the road. I leaned my head back against the rest, patiently waiting for that promised implosion. The knock on my window, though gentle, startled me. Dave motioned with his hand for me to roll it down, and I did. Cool autumn wind filled the car, clearing the stale air I’d been breathing for the past three hours.
“Hi.” The fear slid out in my voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was going that fast.”
“Millie, you were forty over.”
“Are you calling me a liar? If I said I didn’t know, then I didn’t know.” I decided on the direct stab in the heart approach to push Dave away. I just wanted to be alone. I had to move and disappear. Surviving on my own wasn’t a new concept to me; in fact, it was one of my best skills. That way no one could hurt me. Accusing Dave was the quickest way to get what I wanted, even if it meant being a total bitch. And at this moment, I wanted to be as far away from the city as possible. I knew he still felt guilty about what had happened last winter. Worst of all, he didn’t even know why I’d broken up with him — again. I was officially the shittiest girlfriend ever. Well, at least we had a good two months before my life flowed down the drain — again.
I tried to bat my lashes, but they stuck together. Did I have glue in my tear ducts?
Dave had that not this again look on his face. His jaw twitched and hardened. As a strong cop, he didn’t take bullshit from anybody… except me. No matter what I did, he never argued. He protected me, and he’d always forgiven me. It was a promise he’d made and kept a long time ago.
“Are you going to write me up?” I asked.
“Why were you speeding?”
A car slowed down as it passed us by, and I felt chills running up my arms. I tried to maneuver and see the person behind the wheel, but Dave was blocking the way with his oversized muscles.
“Ahm, my foot felt heavy. I think it’s the shoes.”
“Okay, sugarplum. Get out of the car.”
“Why? Are you really going to arrest me?”
“No, I’m not going to arrest you, but given that you ran out of fuel again, I don’t think this car will get you very far.”
He was right, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. He’d always been the more responsible of the two of us. When my gaze connected with his, I noticed that his eyes were sadder than the last time I’d seen him. He looked tired. His eyes, shadowed with dark circles, were sunk into his skull. The bright aura he usually had around him was gone. This was all my fault.
Dave pulled on the handle and opened the door for me, but I remained seated.
“You’re quite far away from the city. What the heck are you doing out here? It’s late.” He double-checked his watch. Maybe Dave wouldn’t have questioned eleven o’clock on a weekend. But on a Wednesday, when I was expected to be at work the next morning, anything after ten was late, even for me. I’d been driving around the city, first trying to get lost, then ending up on the road out, and hadn’t noticed when three hours had passed. I just wanted to get away, and I didn’t know where to go. I wanted to disappear and guarantee that I would never see that man in the store, ever again. He’d done enough damage to my life.
Another car passed us, slower than the first. This time I leaned to the right and looked from behind Dave. The driver was a blonde woman with a teenage son.
Dave’s eyes narrowed. “Come on, sweet pea, let’s get you in the cruiser.”
“I’m not leaving you in the middle of nowhere on your own. I’ll drive you home.”
“Yes, I promise. My shift is almost over anyway. Justin can pick up your car and get it to you before work in the morning.”
Justin was Dave’s fraternal twin brother. He was a cop himself, who tended to be even more overprotective than Dave. Perhaps I did have some luck tonight because Justin hadn’t been the one to pull me over.
“Okay. Thank you.”
I crawled into the front seat of Dave’s cruiser, somewhat aware that I was crouching as I walked, hiding behind the body of the car. Dave called into the station, and we drove back to the city. I closed my eyes. The more time that passed, the closer I leaned to Dave’s seat.
Hold on, Millie. You’re safe.
If I stopped the pep talk in my mind, I was afraid that I’d open the car door, jump out, and run the other way. Half an hour later, Dave pulled into the driveway of his modest two-story house.
“I thought you were going to drive me home.”
“I never said which home.”
Argh! I should have known he would try to pull something while my mind was preoccupied.
“Millie, you look like hell.”
“Thanks,” I said, sarcasm trailing on my voice.
“Actually, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” He gave me a knowing look. My panic attacks didn’t happen often, but when they did, all hell broke loose.
“Stay the night, get proper sleep, and tomorrow will give you a better outlook. I promise to behave.”
Was that true? Had Dave really given up on us? I knew I’d pushed him away enough times to make him want to keep his distance for a thousand years. But he was still my friend. His offer was friendly, wasn’t it?
“You just want me to spend the night with you.”
He lifted his hands up in the air saying, “I promise, no ulterior motive other than the fact that I’m worried about you. Stay here, Millie.”
I nodded. I was too tired to argue. Besides, Dave had a gun, and I was sure he’d use it if I were threatened.
I followed him inside. Dave didn’t stay close to me, nor did he try to make a move, the way he usually did when we were alone. He made me chamomile tea and let me have the shower first. We said our good nights, and I took the bedroom next to his. I knew this house inside out. After all, I used to live here before all the shit hit the fan.
Exhausted, I lay down on the mattress and pressed my face into the pillow. I breathed in his familiar scent and felt my body relax. It had a tranquillizing effect on me. God, how I missed him! For the first time in hours, finally feeling the first signs of calmness and safety, I snuggled into the sheets, pulled the covers up to my neck and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
The smell of coffee pried my eyelids open. Lazing in the bed, stretching my arms, I looked at my watch.
I jumped out, put on my clothes like a superwoman, and ran downstairs, stomping, almost falling flat on my face at the bottom, cursing at Dave for not waking me. It was nine o’clock, and I was late for work.
And just like that, I froze at the bottom of the staircase when a petite blonde held a cup of coffee toward me.
“Good morning,” she chirped.
Whoa! Did I wake up in the wrong house?
I looked around just to be sure. “Ah, hi,” I said warily.
“I’m Gwen.” She reached out her hand. “Dave said you like your coffee organic.”
“Ahm, thank you?” I took the cup and stepped nervously from one foot to another.
“He’s in the shower, but he should be out soon. I gotta get to the office.”
That’s when I noticed that Gwen was wearing a pressed suit, her hair was neatly brushed out yet still kept that sexy look, and her makeup was perfect. I touched the nest on my head and felt a little unprepared to be meeting a woman at Dave’s house. “He also said not to hurry. Mr. Mayers gave you a day off.”
She knew Dave’s father? My boss? How did I not know about her?
I watched her grab her purse, smooth out a wrinkle on her suit, and leave. She was so full at the front I wondered how she managed to stand up that straight. Had she ever lost balance carrying those two? Gwen left me standing in that same spot, and for the first time in my life, I felt uncomfortable at Dave’s house. Once she left, I lowered the mug on the counter and finally exhaled. The surface was spotless. There were no dirty cups in the sink, and a bowl of diced fruit had been placed in the middle of the table.
How long has this been going on?
A pang of jealousy hit my chest, and I opened one of the cupboards. Instead of the mismatched dishes I remembered, the plates were stacked according to size, style, and color. Crap. I wanted to hate her, but the organizational skills brought a smile to my face. There was no way Dave had done that. I sat down at the counter and looked around the home I hadn’t been to in almost eight months. It was different. It felt different. I didn’t belong here. My throat tightened.
Keep it cool, Millie.
Dave and I were not a couple. We were friends, and we’d remain that way forever. It was for the best, no matter how hard that lump in my chest was beating and arguing against me. But Dave was the reason my life had taken a turn for the worse. I’d given him a second chance last Christmas, and two months later, it all fell apart. The one night when I’d wished he wasn’t there to protect me, he appeared out of nowhere and changed my life forever.
I shook my head. Now that my life couldn’t be screwed over any more, I thought I had eased into the monotonous days and nights quite well. Except for last night. That was just a step backward, wasn’t it? And if it was, then for the first time, Dave had nothing to do with my fate. In fact, he helped me.
Moments after Gwen left, Dave walked downstairs, wearing a fresh t-shirt and jeans. Wet strands of disheveled hair stuck to his forehead, and his fly was open. He seemed to be in a hurry; most likely afraid I’d run into Gwen and bite her head off. Which I probably would have if I hadn’t been so shocked by her taking on the role of the lady of the house. Plus, I sort of liked her. I wouldn’t tell him that, of course.
He stopped in the same spot I had when I came down, looking at me like a lost puppy. A second of vulnerability flashed behind his eyes, and then just as quickly it was gone.
“So, when were you going to introduce me to Gwen?”
He sighed and walked over to the kitchen counter where his cup of java waited. “Millie, I haven’t seen you in over a month.”
Has it been that long?
“Well, you know, life happens.”
Life – as in a long row of days and nights that pass by pointlessly.
“Exactly. Gwen’s just… Gwen.”
“How long has it been?”
“A couple of months.”
“And she’s already moved in?”
“Spending a night here doesn’t mean she moved in. Why all these questions about Gwen?”
“Just curious, you know. I thought we were friends.”
“We were never friends, Millie. Lovers, soul mates, kindred spirits, sometimes fuck buddies” – the corner of his mouth lifted for a split second, then disappeared – “but not friends.”
“You’re wrong.” I frowned, trying to ignore his foul-mouthed definition, which gave my heart palpitations. “We have to be friends because, well, Parker is our godson.”
Parker was Dave’s nephew; and April, Dave’s sister, was my best friend. As Parker’s godparents, we were sort of tied together as a family for the rest of our lives. Sometimes I wondered whether April had asked us both for the honor to keep us together.
“That’s not a good enough reason. For someone who believes in the universe and Fate, I’m surprised it’s that easy for you to dismiss the connection we’ll always have.”
“Your fly is open.”
He zipped up and took a sip of his coffee. Dave was right, as always. He had these values and virtues that totally didn’t make sense in this beat up world. He always told the truth and did the right thing — even when it would be better to ignore it. He stuck to his promises no matter what the repercussions were, and was too good at everything — especially his job. And that was the root of my problems.
“Friends help each other, and you were there for me last night.”
“I was there for you because I didn’t want you to get killed in the middle of nowhere. I would have done it for anyone.”
“Liar. If I were someone else, you would have given them a ticket, and if their gas ran out, you would have taken them to the station or called a cab, not taken them to your house.”
“Fine, have it your way,” he said, completely disheartened.
What the heck was wrong with him?
“So we’re friends?”
“Sure.” And then he got that wicked look in his eyes. Oh, no! He was about to come up with something good — something I couldn’t argue my way out of. He leaned forward, and with a sly smile on his face, said, “But as your friend, I’m telling you that a friend shouldn’t want to bang his friend all the time. A friend shouldn’t be thinking about her when he’s with another woman in ways that will get him hard. So if that makes me an asshole friend, then so be it.”
Okay, so that went well. Not!
“Well, if you’re not a friend to me, then what are you?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to live without you, but I’m trying. I really am.”
I sighed. Whatever. Our ‘friend’ relationship was complicated enough, and this morning I had no strength to argue with him.
“So, you got me a day off?”
Working as a secretary for his father and sister had its perks, and this was certainly one of them.
“I thought you could use it. Who were you running from?”
“Come on, Millie. You’re forgetting that I know you better than anyone. What did you do? Slash a biker’s tires? Moon a group of seniors to brighten up their day? What was it this time?”
Was that how low his opinion of me had sunk? Seriously? After all these years?
“Whatever, Dave. I don’t owe you an explanation. You didn’t know shit eight months ago, and you don’t know shit now, so you can take your pretty ass—”
In two long strides, he was at my side.
“Then tell me all about the shit I don’t know. I’ve been wanting to get into that head of yours for years, and you won’t let me. What the fuck did I do, Millie? Tell me, so that I don’t fuck up again.”
My eyes welled up. He was upset and had every right to be. It didn’t help that I was pretty sure I was too weak to hold it all in for much longer.
“Who were you running from yesterday?” He regarded me from above, lifting my chin with his finger to meet his gaze. I saw that spark of understanding click in his eyes, and I knew that he knew. “It was him, wasn’t it? He wasn’t supposed to get out until next year.”
I simply lowered my head to the counter, set it atop my arms, and let the tears fall on their own.