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Jules Barnard Books

Never Date Your Ex: Never Date Book 3

Never Date Your Ex: Never Date Book 3

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Main Tropes

  • Second-chance
  • Enemies-to-lovers
  • First love
  • New adult
  • Humor
  • Touch of suspense

Synopsis

She’s the one woman I’d give anything to forget—and now I’m stuck living with her.

I’m making a fresh start in Lake Tahoe, until my stubborn sister decides to move Mira into our cabin. I’ll be damned if I move out on Mira’s account.

Nothing has changed in the years since I last saw Mira. Her tempting body and smart mouth taunt me daily. The only hope I have at keeping my sanity is the knowledge that Mira is hiding something.

Sooner or later I’ll discover her secret, and knowing her, it’ll be damning.

But first, I have to ignore the urge to kiss and touch and make Mira mine again.

Chapter 1 Look Inside

Mira 

A light breeze whips a lock of dark hair straight into my eye, because that’s how my day is going. 

I rub the sting and glance with my uninjured eye at the trees on the right, then the ones on the left.

Am I lost? The trunks all look the same. Your basic Tahoe forest range: miles of tall, straight pines, the reddish-brown bark, fissured like puzzle pieces, nearly black in the twilight. It’s getting dark and the overgrown road is sketchy under the best of conditions.

The cabin my mom lives in is located in the densest forest that’s relatively easy to get to. Which means I have to abandon my beater mini-truck and hike for forty-five minutes along a paved road too overgrown to navigate with a car.

So tired of this. I should listen to Lewis and stop helping my mom, but I haven’t wanted to lose the last shred of family I have. Now that I’m out here on another fool’s errand to give her money for what I fear might be drugs—though she says no—I regret not doing something sooner about the situation.

I flick off a bright green worm that landed on my jacket and rub my temples. My mom has done this before—squatting while she “picks up her life.” She never remains clean for long. I’m aware of it, but it’s difficult to let go. Lewis is pulling away now that he has a girlfriend, which is what I feared and why I’ve held on so tightly. I lose everyone eventually.

My mom abandoned me a long time ago. I don’t know why I see space from her and the dangerous lifestyle she lives as another loss. You can’t lose the same person twice, can you?

Glancing around, I recognize a tree split down the middle. It’s supposed to be way off to the right. Definitely should have turned left back there. This would go more smoothly if I didn’t get lost.

I joke with Lewis and Zach that I know the Tahoe Basin like the back of my hand, given I’m full-blooded Washoe while they’re only half, but I totally don’t. Our native knowledge died a few generations ago when burly frontiersmen kicked us off our land. It doesn’t stop me from rubbing it in that both my parents are Washoe.

And that’s all I have to brag about when it comes to my parents. I never knew my dad, and the Sallees took me in after Lewis and his father found me by myself at the age of three, living off stale cereal and water in my mom’s cinderblock house on the reservation.

I sigh loudly. If I cut through the bushes to the left, it should get me back to that fork.

I walk around a boulder and squeeze through the bushes, but since this is a fool’s errand and I’ve messed it up thus far, I immediately trip over a random root and catch myself before I faceplant.

I dust off the pant knee that sports a new dime-sized hole.

Dammit, these were my good jeans. Pines have deep roots. This one—the one in the middle of my path—decides to reach for the stars? It belongs in the ground.

A whistle sounds in the distance.

What the hell is going on around here? I’m lost. I nearly ate it over a tree root. And now someone’s whistling in an isolated forest?

Long ago, my mom used to call me in from playing in the yard by whistling. It’s one of the few memories I have of living with her as a young child.

Am I closer to her cabin than I thought? Is she worried about me? My mother’s more focused on getting her money than anything else these days, but I was supposed to be there an hour ago…

Huh, maybe she is concerned. She said she was off drugs. And it’s not like cell phones work in the woods, even if she owned one.

Strange warmth blooms in my chest. I shouldn’t get my hopes up. Shouldn’t still want my mother’s love. And yet I jog to make up the lost time.

Another whistle sounds, halting me in my tracks.

Okay, both whistles can’t be from her. They came from opposite directions.

A cold sensation sweeps my spine. It’s getting darker and I’ve never come across anyone out here.

Well—except for him.

Of course I ran into Tyler Morgan in the middle of nowhere. As if everything weren’t going downhill in my life, I run into the one guy I never got over. Just to spear the knife in my chest a little deeper, and wiggle it around for good measure.

I didn’t intend to have a relationship with Tyler after Holly’s party, but leaving him that night was torture. For a few days, I imagined we could make it work. Even after I returned home from the party, and Lewis’s parents told me my mother was in the hospital with a cocaine overdose.

I lived in a nice house with Lewis and his parents, but my mom and the druggie friends she treated like family were a part of my life too. I didn’t call Tyler back that weekend because I was afraid he’d learn the truth. I couldn’t handle the rejection. Not from him.

When Tyler showed up at my locker that Monday, he looked so hopeful. For a moment, my hope grew too. But then Holly showed up and Tyler believed her lies. I allowed him to think I had slept around, because it was easier than watching him leave me.

I thought I’d never see Tyler after he moved away to attend some fancy college. He should be off earning his white-collar salary and settling down with the girl who would someday give him two-point-three kids. Only there he was a couple of weeks ago, riding his mountain bike through the woods past my mom’s squatter’s cabin, while I sat on the porch, my mouth open so wide I’m surprised a fly didn’t take up residence.

I convinced myself I was holding on to something by leaving Tyler first, but I was wrong. I simply lost one more person I cared about.

A branch snaps in front of me. A tall, wide man in a denim jacket steps out from behind one of the trees, startling me.

Where the hell did this guy come from? He looks like he walked in off the street.

Fear lances through me, my heart racing. I’m mixed up with shady people right now. Maybe I shouldn’t be here either.

I speed-walk in the opposite direction toward my truck, looking over my shoulder every few seconds. The man watches me wordlessly, but he doesn’t follow.

I’m outta here. I’ll return later. Or I’ll make my mom come to me if she needs something so desperately.

Another man rises from behind the thicket in front of me. My footsteps falter, skidding in the dirt. Was he crouched? Waiting?

I sprint in a wide loop toward the road I came in on, praying my sense of direction is better on the way back. Terror courses through me, making my mouth dry, my mind racing as fast as my feet. I have no weapons. There’s no one out here besides me and these men. How could I be so stupid? I should have been more careful.

I’m dodging trees, darting in front of thick trunks to hide my retreat. No shouts for me to stop come from behind. The only noise louder than my heartbeat is my feet crunching through the brush.

My legs burn as I stumble over logs, scraping my jacket on prickly bushes. The sun has set and it’s getting darker. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re not here for me—

Branches snap behind me and an enormous weight slams into my back, knocking me off my feet. My hands and elbows scrape across the brittle forest floor as I’m pinned to the ground, whatever breath I have left rushing from my lungs.

I gasp for air, the scent of pine needles and dirt filling my nose. I buck to free myself, fear gripping me so tight no sound escapes, not even to scream.

I am unceremoniously rolled over, the guy in the denim jacket who appeared from behind the tree leering down.

I thrust my hand up to shove his face away, scratch, claw—whatever—to get him the hell off me. He catches my wrist and binds both my arms to my sides.

“Let me go.” My voice comes out high and panicked. I hate showing fear. But sometimes the emotion chokes, oozes from pores, until the body rattles with the force of it.

The second man slows to a stop a couple of feet away. “You owe our boss money, little girl.”

The guy pinning me scoots further up my body, his hip digging into my thigh. I groan at the sharp pain. I have the cash I brought for my mom, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what I owe. He shifts and grips both my wrists with one hand, raising them above my head—a biting hold I can’t break, no matter how hard I pull.

He runs a callused finger over my cheekbone, down my throat, snagging my top and lowering it to the edge of my bra. “She’s not like the others. Pretty,” he says absently, his dark, heavy-lidded gaze moving to my face.

My throat dries to a sticky consistency, sweat beading between my shoulder blades. Would he hurt me—like that—because I’m late on my payments to his boss?

“I think we need to teach her a lesson in responsibility,” the one above says, his features shadowed.

“Help me! Someone help me!” I scream, squirming to get free, my voice going hoarse from the strain.

The guy in the denim jacket has a biggish nose, black eyes. He’s all bulbous features, an image straight from the funhouse wavy mirror. “We could teach her a thing or two.” He cups my breast. “What’s your name, beautiful?”

My heart is racing, I can’t breathe, can’t move. “Get off me, get off me…” I screech.

Denim Jacket leans down. “Mira, is it?”

I wiggle my arm loose and grab the first object I find, a rock no bigger than my hand. I slam it into his head, but my angle is off and I barely catch the back of his skull.

He stabs my arm with his elbow, digging in the muscle until I drop the rock. I cry out in pain. “Bitch—” His meaty hand cracks across my face.

Stars flitter in my vision. I moan, rolling my head to the side.

Hot fetid breaths steam my ear. “Got a message for you, Mira. Pay. Up.” He shoves my chin, the hulking burden suddenly lifting.

I move to turn over, but the tip of a boot strikes my middle and knocks the air from my lungs. I cradle my stomach, gasping, curling into a protective ball. Another blow lands on my thigh and I cry out.

The tempo of kicks comes faster. I can’t catch my breath. A booted foot hammers my back as though stomping out a fire. A final crack to the side of my head makes what’s left of the evening light wink out. For a second, I can’t see anything, not even shapes.

“That’s enough,” one of them says. “Let’s go.”

My body is patted down, the envelope with the two hundred dollars—the only cash I have—torn from my jacket pocket.

The men’s footfalls recede and fade. My head and the rest of my body intermittently burn and pulse in pain.

I allowed my mom to manipulate me. I borrowed money for her. That was my decision, and now these men are after me.

I’m no stargazing tree root with dreams of reaching the sky. I belong right where I am, in the dirt like the rest of my family.

I should have known I’d end up here.

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