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Excerpt of BETWEEN BREATHS by Alexa Padgett
I stared into those beautiful blue eyes. The tightness eased. Breathing wasn’t a chore. “I’m not saying tomorrow will be better.”
Her lips flipped up in a sardonic smile. “It’s possible tomorrow will be worse. This is hospice after all.”
“I’m expecting worse.” I tilted my head back and groaned. “I don’t want my mum’s death to drag out. Too many people are counting on me.”
“You’ll do the best you can.”
“Doesn’t feel good enough.”
“Welcome to the club. Speaking of, my sister doesn’t believe I met you, Mr. World Famous Rock Star.”
I raised my eyebrow. I cradled her shoulders. I liked holding Briar. Wasn’t a briar some kind of rose? Sweet but with enough defenses to bloom. I liked that—she’d fight for her chances.
“We’ll have to take a selfie. For digital proof.”
“Thought you didn’t like digital proof and journos, as you call them.”
“Reckon I don’t. But . . . I’m making an exception.”
Her lips curved up and her eyes sparkled. The weight from my chest eased a little and I could draw a full breath. “I’d like that. Ready to go?”
I grabbed her phone and positioned us together before snapping a few photos. “For posterity or whatever.”
She smiled again and the world shone brighter. I didn’t want to turn around and look at the building again.
“I know just the place to go.”
She snagged my hand, her cool fingers sliding between mine, our palms fusing softly. Something in me clicked, like I’d just latched into a safety belt. I followed behind her as she pulled me toward her car again. After she unlocked it, I opened her door and waited for her to slide in. Instead, she stepped in closer, her body heat mingling with mine.
“I’ve done a lot of soul-searching these past few months, Hayden. But today, with Ken’s comments, my purpose became clear.” She closed her eyes, reliving something. “I’m tired of closing off, pushing people away,” she whispered. “It’s all I’ve done for years.” She opened her eyes, filled with the fire of new determination. “So I mean it when I say I’ll be here with you. Through this. As your friend.”
I ran my knuckle down her cheek, marveling at the smooth, firm texture of her skin. “I don’t know how I got so lucky in the friend department, but I’m chuffed you’re here. And such a gorgeous lady at that.”
She rolled her eyes, and I winked. Walking around the car, I curled my fingers tight to hold in the fading heat from her skin. I glanced up at the building. Whatever my mum needed to tell me, I needed to hear. I could process her reasons and come to terms with her years of rejection later, but for now, she wanted me to know her side of the story. And I’d listen.
As I eased into the car, Briar’s floral scent wrapped around me, cradling me almost as well as her arms had just moments before.