Riley's Love Connection

A Mossy Oak Reader-made romance

chapter 4

Tears blind my vision as I hurry out of the mansion, nearly getting lost before I find my way outside. Considering Josh brought me out here on his motorcycle, I’m not sure how I’m getting home. Mossy Oak is a small town. There isn’t a thriving Uber business like there had been in Charlotte. 

I’m digging my phone out of my pocket, hoping I can find a taxi when I spot Sloane. She’s wobbling in her high heels, struggling with the weight of a tall box and heading straight towards me. 

For a split second, I want to hide. It’s embarrassing. Crying in public is something I would never do if I could help it. But I can’t stop my tears, and Sloane sees me before I can suck them up.

“Hey!” She sets the box down and approaches me with caution. “What’s wrong? Didn’t find what you were looking for?”

Tears stream down my cheeks. “I found more than I bargained for.”

Her lips press together. “What does that mean?”

“Josh.” 

She balls her hands into fists, ready to fight for me even though we barely know each other. “What did he do?”

I shake my head. “He’s saying all the right things.” 

Sloane’s brows pull together. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

I wish I could believe him, but I know there’s no way a man like Josh is interested in me. I’m not the kind of woman who attracts a handsome firefighter. I’m lucky to get attention from the grocery store clerk when I’m trying to find the ripe avocados. I’m invisible. “He doesn’t mean it. Any of it.”

Sloane puts a hand on my shoulder and bends her head to mine. “Don’t look now, but he’s coming out now.”

I turn my head automatically and see him striding out of the castle doors. He looks adorable even when he is confused. All the dark hair, mussed from his helmet, makes me want to run my fingers through it. His broad shoulders fill out his leather jacket, and his powerful thighs stretch his fitted jeans. My heart thuds in my chest, beating hard, just like it does every time I see him. A sigh escapes my mouth. 

“I told you not to look,” Sloane says. “My God, he’s gorgeous.” Her sigh mingles with mine. “Do you want to talk to him? Because I will handle this for you if you want me to.” 

From the way her fists are balled at her sides, I think she means business. I glance back at Josh, and my stomach flutters. I wish I could trust him, but he is too good to be true. He never knew I was alive before and now he’s filling me with false hope and antique books. “I don’t know.”

“Make up your mind, Riley. He’s coming fast.” Her eyes meet mine, concern drawing fine lines around her eyes. “I know he’s beautiful, but if he’s being an asshole, I will sock him right in that pretty-boy mouth.”

My gaze strays from Sloane’s narrowed eyes to Josh, and the time for debate is up because his long strides have eaten up the ground between us. His brown eyes locked on mine, so full of uncertainty it makes my chest ache.

“Are you okay?” He reaches for my hand, his warm palm engulfing mine. “You forgot your book.”

My heart melts. He’s wooing me with Nancy Drew. What more could I want in a man? “You bought it for me?”

“Of course.” His chin dips towards me, and the masculine scent of his aftershave invades my senses. “That’s what took me so long to get out here. I had to cut in line in front of a granny and she hit me with her cane.” He rubs his shoulder. “What happened, Riley? Did I say something wrong?”

Sloane clears her throat. “I’ll be on my way.” Her gaze pierces mine. “Unless you need me?”

Even in her three-inch heels, Sloane is barely taller than me, but I’ll bet she packs a punch. Josh glances at me and Sloane, waiting. The decision is up to me. I smile weakly, wishing I could trust Josh, wishing I could shut down the voice in my head that tells me I don’t deserve a man like him. “I’m fine.”

Sloane gives Josh a warning glance. “You’ll be careful with her on that thing?” She gestures at his motorcycle. “Don’t go too fast.”

Josh tugs me closer. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of her.”

My heartbeat quickens at his declaration, and a tingle of hope washes over me.

Sloane nods and heads for her car. “I’ll see you at Book Club.”

When Sloane is out of sight, Josh presses the book he bought for me into my hand. “Talk to me. Why did you run out?”

When Josh is so close, I can’t think straight. I’m awkward incarnate. I swallow the thick lump in my throat and blurt out what I’m thinking. “Are you setting me up to break my heart?”

He does a double take, blinking slowly at me as if I’ve suddenly sprouted another head. “What are you talking about?”

I take a step back, away from the heat of his body, the enticing scent of his cologne. Anger and frustration war inside me. “You say you came back to Mossy Oak for me, but I know it isn’t true. It can’t be.”

Josh’s mouth falls open. “Are you calling me a liar?” 

He seems offended, and I realize I’m being a jerk. “No. Yes. I don’t know what to think.”

“But you don’t believe me?” His voice has a hard edge I’ve never heard before.

“Look at you, Josh. You’re perfect. You can’t possibly be interested in me.”

The color drains from his face. “I’m not perfect. I’m a disappointment to my family. The black sheep.”

“But you rescue people for a living.” I squint up at him, trying to fit the pieces together. “You’re a hero.”

“That’s nice of you to say.” He takes a step closer. “You’re the one who’s perfect. You’re smart and beautiful and so damn sweet. Everyone in Mossy Oak loves you. And I’ve wanted you for years. I was just too shy to do anything about it.”

The idea of Josh Killian being shy is laughable. He’s far too gorgeous to be shy. A giggle escapes my mouth, and he cocks a dark eyebrow at me. “I’m serious. The reason I became a firefighter was to overcome my shyness. My parents told me I could never do it, so I made it my mission to prove them wrong.” He takes my hand and brings it to his lips. “And now I’m going to prove you wrong. I have something to show you. Will you come with me?”

My blood warms at the touch of his mouth on my hand. The chemistry between us is sizzling. I remember the kiss he laid on me at my house, and I wonder if maybe he does feel something for me. Maybe this isn’t just a cruel joke on the nerdy librarian. “Where?” 

“To my place. I have something I want you to see.”

This is dangerous territory. I’m putting my heart on the line. But what if Josh is telling the truth? I’ll regret it forever if I don’t find out. My pulse quickens, and I pull in a shaky breath. “Okay.”

A smile blooms on Josh’s face, and he steers me over to his motorcycle in a hurry. He hands me the helmet and we climb on. Once my arms are around him and we are zooming down the lane towards the mountain road leading back to Mossy Oak, a prickle of excitement races down my spine. My thighs hug his, and I cling to his muscular back. The warmth of his body is under my hands, and I’m dying to believe him.

The kiss we shared replays in my mind. There’s no denying the buzz of attraction between us. But I don’t get it. Josh could have any woman he wants. Why would he want me? I’m so ordinary, it’s almost laughable. I’m not even average. I’m short and nerdy. My hair is mousy brown, and my eyes are boring blue, hidden behind glasses. I’ve not worth a second glance, but when Josh kissed me, I felt it all the way from the roots of my hair to the tips of my toes.

We turn onto Main Street, where the town council has been busy decorating for Valentine’s Day. Red hearts hang from the lampposts, and lights twinkle in the trees. The store fronts display cupid’s arrows, and the charming benches are perfect for photo opportunities.

Josh pulls onto a side street and parks his motorcycle in a parking garage. He cuts the engine and helps me off the bike. “My apartment is a mess,” he says, leading the way to the elevator. “I wasn’t expecting company.” 

He punches the button to the third floor, and we ride in silence. Josh stuffs his hands in his pockets, looking as shy as he claimed to be minutes earlier. When the elevator stops, he ushers me out into a hallway, fishing his keys from his pocket.

I’m nervous and excited, all rolled up into one. I don’t care if Josh has the messiest apartment in Mossy Oak. I want to see what his personal space looks like. I’m so curious about what he has to show me, I nearly trip over my own feet. 

He unlocks the door, and we enter his apartment. It is pretty messy, but it’s clear Josh spends a lot of time here. There’s a coffee cup on the end table and a book spreads over the overstuffed arm of the ancient recliner. 

“In here.” He leads me down a hall and into his bedroom.

My heart is doing gymnastics in my chest as I glance at his king-sized bed, unmade and strewn with pillows. I imagine Josh sleeping there in nothing but a pair of boxer briefs, and a hot pulse of desire thrums between my thighs. There are more books on the nightstand, but no other personal effects. No framed photos or keepsakes line the walls, and the only items on the dresser are an old record player and a stack of albums. 

Josh tells me to wait while he goes into his walk-in closet. A moment later, he comes out with both hands behind his back and a sheepish smile on his face. “This is embarrassing.” 

“What is it?”

“You’re gonna think I’m so weird, but it’s the only way I can think to show you how much you’ve meant to me for as long as I can remember. I’ve never forgotten you, Riley. And I really did move back to Mossy Oak for a chance with you. Here’s your proof.”

He pulls a brown stuffed animal from behind his back. It’s a teddy bear wearing a classic black tuxedo. My mouth falls open, and all the breath leaves my lungs as I recognize the bear. I gave it to Josh in pre-school when the bully stole his stuffed penguin. He’s kept it all these years. 

See how the readers voted

Does Josh Go After Riley?

Yes: 92%

No: 8%

pov

Josh: 37%

Riley: 63%

Riley's biggest Fear:

Being unloveable: 56%

Being viewed as helpless: 30%

Feeling unsafe: 14%

Being viewed as a bad person: 0%

Do Josh's parents approve of him being a firefighter?

Yes: 37%

No: 63%

Vote for chapter 5