The Choice

By: Shayla Black


Thursday, March 21

“Excuse me. Can you repeat that?” Across his small living room, River Kendall stared at her as if she’d lost her damn mind.

Heavenly Young feared she had.

Nerves twisting her stomach in a fierce knot, she drew in a deep breath and tried again. “Would you be willing—I-I mean, if it’s not too much trouble—to, um…take me to bed?”

“That’s what I thought you said.” River shook his head with slack-jawed shock. “You’re kidding, right?”

She fidgeted. In her imagination, this conversation had been much easier—and less awkward. River had proven he would do any halfway-decent-looking woman. She hadn’t expected him to suddenly need a reason.

Maybe coming here and risking their burgeoning friendship had been a mistake.

“Of course I am.” Heavenly stood. “I’ll take my bad jokes and go.”

“Sit down.” He waited, brow raised, until she complied on shaking legs. “What the hell is going on?”

She refused to burden him with the ugly truth that she’d far rather have sex with a friend than the odious and inevitable alternative. This “favor” was already asking a lot. “Nothing.”

“If that were the case, those words would never have come out of your mouth. Why do you want to have sex with me? I’m assuming that’s what you meant since you didn’t mention a nice tucking in with hot cocoa and a bedtime story.”

Yes, River probably saw her as a kid, far more like a little sister than a lover.

She felt guilty for compounding an impossible request with a lie, but her options had dwindled to almost none. While convincing him to help her wouldn’t solve all her problems, it might make one of them more bearable. “I was feeling lonely and thought we could…you know…”

He leaned forward on his elbows and peered at her. “Are you attracted to me, Heavenly?”

How did she answer that without insulting him? “I like talking to you. We enjoy some of the same TV shows. You’re nice.”

“Nice? I’m not hot for you, either, by the way.”

Even better. “Well, I’m only asking for a one-time thing. Since you’re popular with the ladies, I thought maybe I was missing out.”

“No. Hell no.” He jerked his head. “Double fucking no.”

In truth, she hadn’t been looking forward to the actual deed with him, just in knowing it was done. But he’d turned her down, so it was time to make her exit.

She stood again and headed for the door. “Okay. Sorry to have bothered you. Have a good day.”

River wrapped his hand around her elbow and hauled her back to the sofa. “Don’t Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm me. You don’t get to ask me for sex, wave toodle-loo, then walk out without a damn explanation. I thought we were friends. Are you in trouble? Do you need help?”

Heavenly was tempted to confess her situation to River. He would lend a hand if he could. Neither her conscience nor her pride would let her take more from him than an erection.

“Not at all,” she lied with a smile. “I just thought it would be nice to have some no-strings fun. But you’re not interested, so forget it.”

His snort told her that wasn’t going to happen. “Let’s set aside the fact that we’re not attracted to each other and that you’re putting me in a really awkward position. I’ll just ask the obvious question: If you want sex, why not go to Beck or Seth? If they aren’t scratching your itch, I’m sure they’d be more than happy to.”

Yes, but it didn’t matter now. Unfortunately, hearing dreamy Dr. Beckman’s and seductive PI Seth’s names in the same sentence with sex started fires she couldn’t put out. Before she’d met them, Heavenly never imagined burning with need for one man. But these two enemies who had pursued her relentlessly both set her ablaze. Her feelings for them dazzled her, confused her…conflicted her.

She couldn’t tell either of them she was on the verge of starvation and homelessness, especially now.

Instead, she’d chosen to ask River for this favor because he was safe. But he was also right. Her proposition would put him at odds with Beck and Seth, who were both his friends. She didn’t want that.