Title: Slow Grind
Author: Eva Spencer
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
Only the good die young.
It’s a phrase I wish never existed.
Best mates shouldn’t get cancer, especially terminal at twenty-seven.
And experimental treatments shouldn’t cost a hundred grand. But sometimes life just effing sucked.
Then I got an idea to raise the cash. If a woman could strip her way through uni, we could strip our way to a cure, right? We were attractive Aussie guys, and with the help of Max’s kid sister, we could nail the choreography.
I hadn’t seen Aubrey since she was twelve. She’d gone from a pig-tailed, freckled, tom-boy into the sexiest chick I think I’d ever met. I made a promise to Max to steer clear, but when she was choreographing our routines …
The Men of Mornington were going to heat things up, and things just got a whole lot hotter.
Eva Spencer, a combination of Ashley Suzanne and Missy Johnson. Independently, we have over 30 novels, and have decided to write our co-written works under one pen name to make it easier for all of you to follow!!! We love new readers and can't wait to chat with you!
Ashley lives in Michigan with her husband and children. By day, she practices real estate and by night, she’s still practicing real estate while writing her next romance novel.
Missy lives in Australia with her husband and daughter. If she’s not birthing puppies, she’s probably chasing after her toddler and wanting to write until the wee hours of the morning.
Ten Years Earlier
As soon as I reach my favourite tree, in the park near my house, I sit and rummage through my sack for my journal. It’s kind of like my diary, but diaries are for kids and I’m almost a teenager. I smile as I finger the pale pink roses embroidered on the leather-bound cover. This book knows more about me than anyone. All my secrets are inside—even some I don’t tell Emma or Max. I flip to a blank page so I can write about something—I’m not sure what yet, but that urge has the pen ready to fly across the paper. As the point touches down, Andrew’s name scribbles out, over and over again. Biting down on my lip, I will away the tears threatening to spill as sadness washes over me.
I might be in love with him, but he’s never going to be in love with me.
Andrew’s my big brother’s best friend.
He’s already eighteen and has girls lining up to date him. Girls with pretty hair and long, tanned legs which seem to go on forever. Girls with boobs and everything. I glance down at my flat chest and frown. It’s not fair. I should have some boobs by now; Emma does, but not me. Not even tiny ones I could pretend were bigger with the right bra like my mum does. Not that it matters, anyway. His best mate is my brother, and I’m pretty sure Max would kick his butt if Andrew did love me. Not to mention Emma would be angry if she knew I how I felt. I keep telling myself the age difference is too much right now, but when we’re grownups—well, when I’m a grownup—it’ll be different. He’ll be a man, and I’ll finally be a woman.
The pen continues to dance on the paper—leaving his name, heart doodles and other random things—when I hear Max scream out from across the park.
“You’re dead!” Max hollers, and I look up, trying to see what’s going on. Andrew. Of course he’s here. And he’s got Max hung up in the tree … by his pants.
I quickly toss the book aside and sprint over to where Max is yelling while Andrew stands there laughing. Anger fills me and I strike Andrew right in the chest, leaving a sting behind on my hand to remind me what I’d just done.
“Hey, watch it, killer,” he teases, baiting me into chasing him.
“You better watch out, Andrew. When I catch you, I’m gonna punch you right in the eye,” I threaten, running after him. His other so-called friends stand there and laugh; nobody bothers to help Max.
I don’t know how Max can hang out with these boys. Nearly all the time they’re just a bunch of jerks. Especially Andrew. He’s the biggest jerk of them all. Max is big, but Andrew’s bigger, and he knows everyone is scared of him. He’s always picking on Max and Sam, one of their other friends. One day, someone’s going to bash him up so bad, and I’m just going to sit back and laugh. I don’t understand how I can love someone who can be so mean. I just don’t get it. Is there something wrong with me?
“Go home, Aubs,” Andrew says, ruffling my hair. I duck out of the way and scowl at him. “Better yet, why don’t you go play with Emma?”
“I’ll go home when you get Max out of that tree, you bully. Why’d you put him up there, anyway?”
“Because it’s funny.”
“It’s not funny!” Max yells, struggling to break free. “My arse is hanging out! Get him, Aubs. Punch him in the balls for me.”
I chase Andrew around a little while longer until I succumb to the realization he’s just too fast for me. Frustrated tears fill my eyes, and I’m about to lose it when Andrew saunters over to me with his “I’m cooler than you” attitude.
“I’ll get him down in a second, kid. Don’t get so worked up. This is just what guys do,” he offers, but it doesn’t satisfy me.
“I wouldn’t hang Emma upside down in a tree,” I state defensively. Emma would kill me if I even tried to think about putting her in a tree. She’d bring me back to life and kill me again if her arse was hanging out for the whole neighbourhood to see.
“Do you know why he’s in the tree?” Andrew asks gently. I shake my head. “Last night, Max and Sam decided to put unwrapped condoms all over my car. I didn’t get them cleaned off quickly enough, and now the paint is wrecked. It’s going to cost a few hundred dollars to fix it. Instead of making Max pay for it, I strung him up in a tree.” He shrugs as if it makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t. I’m even more confused now.
“Why did Max do that to your car?”
“Because that’s what guys do. We prank each other. It’s our job.”
“It’s stupid.” I cross my arms over my chest. “And he just got over being sick. What if that’s making the cancer come back?” I ask, pointing at Max, worry settling heavy in my gut.
“He didn’t seem too sick when he was trashing my car.” He grins, his face softening. “Aubs, I’m not hurting him, I promise. Just relax, okay? Go be a kid. You’re growing up before you need to.”
Leaning down, he bumps his shoulder into mine and a familiar warmth floods my body. He and Max had been running around all school holidays; I haven’t seen them much. They’ll be heading off to Uni soon—well, Max will be. Andrew says he’s not going; he’d rather start a job and make some money.
Without Max around all the time, it’s safe to say Andrew won’t be here, either. And with all the problems my parents are having, I think my dad will take the job in America. If he does, I’m going with him. I can’t stay here. Mum doesn’t want me; I’m just in her way. I’ll miss Emma, but sometimes I feel like I’m just in her way, too. Sometimes, I don’t know where I belong.
“I’d better go. Emma and I are going for ice cream with the money she got for her good report. You wanna come?” I ask, praying he says yes.
“Nah, sorry, kid. Gotta get your brother down and take Sam and Cam home before their mum has a heart attack. I’ll catch you around, though.” He smiles a signature Andrew grin at me, stands up from the grass and walks to the tree to get Max.
I trudge back to where I was sitting to get my notebook. Halfway there, I can just make out Emma hunched over and reading something. As I get closer, I realise it’s my notebook.
“That’s not yours to read,” I cry, snatching it off her. But from the gleam in her eyes, I know it’s too late. She knows. My heart races as I shove the notebook back into my backpack, wrapping my arms around it protectively.
“Cat’s out of the bag, Aubriella,” she sings, using the nickname she’d given me when we were ten. I hate that name. “Is this why you’re always insisting sleepovers be at my house?”
“Please don’t say anything,” I beg her, my lip trembling. Please don’t cry.
“I don’t know…” Emma giggles. “I don’t keep secrets from my brother.”
“You do too,” I retort angrily. “You’re always doing things behind his back.”
“You’re right,” she laughs. “Okay, how about this. So long as you address me as Emmerson, as I’ve requested before, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“You’re being stupid. This is serious, Emma. Just promise me you won’t tell him,” I plead again.
“Emmerson,” she reiterates. I stamp my foot, annoyed that I have a best friend who is so weird. Whatever. If it keeps her quiet, I’ll call her whatever she wants.
“Fine,” I huff. “Emmerson. Can we go get ice cream now? I have dance at five. If I’m late, Madame Manohar is going to whack me.”
“Sure. Maybe we can plan your wedding and your big ballet debut while we eat.” She giggles and my eyes roll as I blush. It’s bad enough having to deal with a one-sided love affair, but to have someone else know about it…
This is going to be torture.
“Where the hell have you been all week?” I demand. I throw myself down on the sofa, shocked that he actually answered for once. “God forbid your sister wants to call and winge about life and whatnot,” I joke. The worst thing about living over here in the States is not being able to catch up with my brother. All the phone calls and emails in the world don’t make up for not being able to see him face to face. Especially when he goes AWOL, like he has this past week.
“Sorry, I did mean to call you back, but I’ve been so busy,” Max says. “Got a big account lined up with Coles. Can you believe they want me to do their new branding?”
“Yes, Max, I can,” I say, rolling my eyes. “You’re the best and everyone knows it.”
Max, or Maxwell as he’s known in the professional circuit, is the best damn graphic designer Melbourne has ever seen. His eye for detail is impeccable and second to none. I’m not surprised in the least that one of the largest retail chains wants him.
“You’re just saying that because you’re my sister, and you’re genetically programmed to love me.”
“No, remember, I’m dead inside,” I quip. “I have no emotions and love nobody. You just happen to be excellent at what you do, that’s all.”
“You’re still dead inside?” Max chuckles. My ability to give no fucks is a running joke between the two of us. “You haven’t fallen head over heels with that boyfriend of yours, yet?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I retort. “And I’m not in love with anyone. You and dad are the only men in my life, and I’m okay with it. Nate, on the other hand, isn’t okay with it. He’s always talking about feelings and emotions, and I’m just over here like ‘can’t we just hang out, eat pizza and watch movies?’”
“You’re a heartbreaker, Aubs,” he laughs fondly. “I knew it from the second I saw you.”
“When you were six?” I scoff. “Bullshit. You were too busy thinking up ways to annoy your new little sister. Anyway, back to the fact that you’ve been avoiding me. Work doesn’t consume every hour of your day, so why haven’t you called me back?”
“I haven’t been avoiding you, I just have some stuff going on. Don’t worry about it, everything is fine,” he reassures me. Immediately, my guard is up. Whenever Max says to not worry, it’s usually a good time to start.
“If something was wrong, you’d tell me, right?” I ask. “Because I’m your favourite person in the entire world?”
“You are my absolute favourite person, but if I don’t get back to this design, they might fire me before I get a chance to cash in on this.” He’s avoiding my question, but I let it go. “You know how I hate working for free,” he adds with a snicker.
“Fine. Call me later this week? I’ve got back to back classes but should be free on Saturday. Unless Jacey drags me to the beach. Did I mention I love summer? You’re just coming up to winter, aren’t you?” I tease, knowing he hates the cold as much as I do.
“Shut up or I won’t call you,” he replies. “Love you, Aubs.”
I smile into the phone. “Love you, my big baby brother.”