Wild Love | Melissa Schroeder

Wild Love

Book 1 in the Juniper Springs Series

Part of the Camos and Cupcakes World

I’m not the kind of girl who expects happily ever after. In fact, I prefer my partners don’t get too clingy. Don’t get me wrong. I like a good night of loving, but beyond that, I’m happy to see them leave in the morning, without my phone number.

Then I met him. 

Quinn is a big bear of a man, with massive hands and amazing…staying power. Like all night long and the next morning kind of staying power. So when he asks me to spend the next day with him, I do. The only reason I give him my number is because he makes me laugh. And, okay, so I might have met up with him once or twice.

That doesn’t mean I need him. Because I am Everly Freaking Spencer, and I don’t need anyone (other than my bestie), and definitely not a man.

Only…

He shows up by chance at my store, which totally freaks me out. Finding out he’s my favorite author doesn’t help either.

And the surprise that’s dropped in our laps later that day?

Major. Freak. Out.

But, like I said, I don’t need anyone.

Right?

If I keep repeating that, I might just believe it.

Author warning: Get ready for a trip into the hippiest little town in Texas. There’s gossipy little old ladies (LOLs), an app that every teenager hates, trips to Denver and Cali, a woman who is convinced true love doesn’t exist, and  man who aims to prove her wrong by doing things to her that should embarrass the author. And she was. (Not really). Along the way readers get to spend time with the gorgeous Hawthorne brothers and gay ducks. SERIOUSLY. GAY. DUCKS. Just get the book already because you know you want to know about them. Also, there’s a happily ever after fit for a woman with commitment issues and man who just doesn’t know when to give up. 

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Everly

 

I’m almost thirty years old, and I have been in the comic book industry for close to a decade. My experiences have taught me one truth about the world: Some shit goblins just deserve to be dick punched.

Case and point, Jacob Warren, the shit goblin presently smirking at me. He stands surrounded by all his other man boys—aka fan boys, but of the manly sort who hate women for being strong—his condescending smile telling me that he thinks he put me in my place. And why would he do that? Because he’s a man and I’m a woman. That’s it.

I’m a lot of things.  A sister, definitely a fighter, a best friend, and lover of all things dark and caffeinated. I’m definitely not someone who keeps her feelings to herself.

Ever.

“Excuse me?” I ask, my voice quiet and dark. It’s what my brother Mason calls my death voice.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a few of the other convention attendees take a step back—especially the men. They’ve dealt with me before and know better than to say stupid shit like this shit goblin is spouting. And yes, I know I used the word shit twice in a sentence and I have used the term shit goblin multiple times, but these are desperate times. This is a professional conference, and I can’t hit a man for being an asshole or I won’t be invited back. At least, that’s what they said last time I did it.

“I said you’re successful because of the oddity. You know there aren’t a lot of women in this business, so people show up for the weirdness of it.”

He owns a little—and I mean very little—bookstore in the Dallas area. This is not the first time I’ve had to deal with him and definitely not the first time I have had to deal with the attitude. Women are not always accepted in the world of comics and graphic novels.

I feel my fingers curl into my palms, as my anger soars. Once lit, my temper can burn anyone in my path to the ground. The need to dick punch him almost overwhelms me from head to toe. But I hear my brother Wyatt’s voice rumble through my mind.

Use your words, Evie, not your fists. It takes me a few seconds to battle back the rage, but I accomplish it.

“Actually, Jakey,” I say, loving the way his lips curl into a snarl at my use of a nickname. “My partner Becca and I have found out that we’re not that much of an oddity.” I see a few women in the audience of onlookers nod their heads. “Yes, we’re a minority in the industry, but we aren’t an oddity. If I remember correctly, you told my partner Becca we would fail in the first year when you tried to convince her to dump me and work for you.”

His nostrils flare. He’s always been an asshole. Average height with dull brown hair, little beady eyes, and the most ridiculous soul patch. He’s a hipster through and through and has the overpowering cologne to prove it. And he doesn’t have to make a living at this. It’s his hobby, since his family is big in the oil industry and has been for generations. He knows next to nothing about how to run a business, but he never fails to tell me what’s wrong with mine. See, he is a shit goblin who mansplains, and I think we can both agree that they are the worst kinds of shit goblins.

“Is that what she told you?”

I laugh. “Oh, yeah, but the best part was listening to you beg her.”

“I did not.”

“Yeah, when you started in on her, Becca started recording the interaction.” One thing about my bestie and business partner Becca Gold: People think she’s flighty. She is, but she’s sharp when it comes to our shop, and both of us have learned how to handle men in the business. Also, she didn’t really record it, but she did tell me about it. He doesn’t need to know that.

“Becca is—”

I see the malice in his eyes. My smile fades as I step closer. “Be very careful. I’ve controlled my temper before now, but you say something about Becca, I will not hesitate to make you cry in front of your man boys.”

His little soul patch quivers. “I’d expect nothing less from someone of your background.”

Someone gasps and I want to laugh again.

“That’s fine, Jakey. I might come from a working-class background, but Becca and I are still kicking your ass in sales. Oh, and writers and artists like us more than you. I mean, did Stan Lee travel to your store?”

I know he didn’t, but Lee wanted to see our store not too long after we opened. We proudly have a picture of the three of us in the store.

Warren opens his mouth to argue, but nothing comes out. For what seems like a lifetime, he stands there, his mouth hanging open, his eyes narrowed and threatening, but still, he says nothing.

Finally, he snaps his mouth shut. With a huff, he turns on his heel and stomps off. Good god, what an idiot. His man boys following in his wake, but I have noticed that the number of his man boys has been decreasing from year to year so that’s at least something.

There is a smattering of applause and I take a bow. “Thank you.”

As people come up to talk to me, a tickle forms in the back of my throat. I don’t mind the crowds, but I don’t like the attention. I can wade through packed streets, but once more than one person wants to talk to me, I clam up.

“Well, this has been fun, but I have to call my business partner.”

A few people try to gain my attention, but I hurry off to the bank of elevators as I avoid making eye contact with anyone. Sweat is already gathering at the base of my neck, a sure sign I’m nervous. It takes less than five minutes before I’m in my hotel room and I’m tossing my bra on the bed like every woman does the moment she gets a chance.

The sigh that escapes fills the silence in the room. That alone blankets my soul, even as my body is still reacting to the interaction downstairs.  My mind is still racing, my heart feels as if it is ready to escape through my throat. Panic attacks aren’t always normal for me. I know I’m a weirdo because confronting Warren was less stressful than the people who wanted to talk to me after he ran away. It’s just the way I am, and I no longer apologize for it.

Okay, I will be honest. I’ve never apologized for myself, at least since I turned eighteen. Still, I sometimes wish I was different. I wish I was like Becca, who had no problem with talking to a room full of strangers. Life would probably be easier for me if I was, although I know that my bestie has her own issues.

Grabbing my tablet, I call her. I know she should be home by now, since we close our shop Nerdvana early during the cooler months. Our hometown is a small touristy kind of small town outside of San Antonio. These months are kind of slow, so we cut our hours.

Becca’s face comes on the screen complete with a big smile. From the looks of her hair and the Tardis headband she’s wearing, it’s Doctor Who day for her. She dresses as if she is going to a comic book convention every day. She’s been like that since I met her.  I instantly feel the rest of my anxiety leave my system. We’ve been friends for so long, I don’t know what it’s like to not have her to calm me down. Between her and my brother Wyatt, I’ve learned to control my issues.

Her smile fades. “What happened?”

I sigh, knowing I can’t lie. Becca can always figure out when I’m not being truthful.

“Warren.”

She rolls her eyes. “Tell me you didn’t hit him again.”

“I did not. I threatened to, but I did not.”

She claps. “Good for you.”

This is where I have to explain something about my BFF. Raised for the first third of her life by a single mother who was also an artist, she views the world with hippie rose gold-colored glasses. Where I’m doom and gloom, she’s rainbows and unicorns. Seriously. She sported rainbow hair years before it was the cool thing to do.

Happiness pours out of her soul and brightens the world around her. Yeah, this is definitely a best friends who are total opposites kind of situation. But she believes in positive reinforcement. She gets that from her mother. The two of them are always the brightest people in any room.

“It was hard because he deserved the dick punch. He said that our success is due to our tits.”

She gasps in true Becca fashion. “Not true. Quite the opposite.”

In the comic book retail industry, women are still not taken that seriously. We’re seen as fakes or that we want to do it as a hobby. Worse, some artists and writers see us as groupies. In other words, we’re looking to hook up with them just because of what they do. Becca learned that the hard way a few years ago.

“I pointed that out. Then I pointed out we kicked his ass in sales and Stan Lee came to our store and not his.”

“Good. Although, next time, maybe I will just dick punch him.”

I chuckle because it will never happen. Becca isn’t a pushover, but she’s sweet. Her mother raised her to be a pacifist, which is interesting since her stepbrother is in the military.

“I wish he would just go find another hobby. I also wish you could be here.”

She nods. “Yeah, but with Flint heading back to California tomorrow, I couldn’t go.”

“I know.”

Her oldest stepbrother is a SEAL who has to return back to his base. Knowing that he could be deployed at any time, it was understandable that Becca wanted to say goodbye.

“I’m still so proud of you.”

“Thank you.”

Then she frowns. “I should be there with you.”

“What?”

“I should be there. I spent a lot of time with Flint, and he would understand.”

“No. You are spending time with Flint. We both know how important family is.”

Each of us had missed out on a normal childhood thanks to our situations.

“I know, but you’re family too.”

“Who will be back in a few days. You won’t see Flint for several months. That’s more important.”

“You’re still staying a couple extra days?”

I nod. We had planned on taking the time for a mini vacation but life intruded. “I need to blow off some steam.”

“Of course,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “How can we forget about your vajacations?”

Our town is tiny, a speck of dust on the giant Texas map. I learned not to have affairs in town. There’s no way to avoid the guy no matter what. Our store sits on Main Street, so everyone stops by, even if they aren’t into comics or manga. Can you imagine having a one-night stand and then having to deal with seeing the guy constantly? No thank you. Plus, the small-town life is definitely ripe for gossip. I usually don’t care, because I live my life on my own terms, but I don’t like answering questions. Or dealing with messy emotions.

So, I take vajacations—vacations for my vagina. I had wanted to call them fuckations, but Becca said that would offend people.  I don’t care as long as I get laid and since I’m in Denver at a comic bookseller’s convention, I feel the need to mingle hitting me. I mean, not to talk to people.  Just sex. With one dude, not a bunch of people. That sounds like a nightmare to me.

“Are you ever going to get sick of one-night stands?”

“Never.” Although I say it with more conviction than I feel. Lately, my trips and the men I hook up with are getting a little…tedious. I would never say that out loud, because if I’m getting bored, I have no idea what that means. I haven’t wanted to get involved with a dude since college and that debacle.

I push all thoughts of Trent the Asshole out of my brain.

“So, tell me what the Golds are doing tonight?”

“We’re going to The Mason Jar. Flint claims he can’t find good Texas BBQ outside of the state.”

I make a note to text my youngest brother—the Mason of The Mason Jar— to tell him I’ll cover the bill. It’s the least I can do.

“Well, I need to shower the scum of this convention off my skin, and then I’m going out. I vote we stop coming to these things.”

She frowns. “I should have come with you.” I know she’s worried about me, but I need to make sure she understands what I mean.

I shake my head. “You need to spend time with Flint. I just don’t know what these things do for the business. When we first started out, they really helped us. But now…”

“Yeah, I think we might need to look at presenting at some of them.”

And just like that, a rush of spiders dance down my spine. People sitting in the audience and all their eyeballs on me? “Wait, what?”

She smiles into the camera, her aquamarine eyes sparkling. “Don’t panic. I’ll handle the panels, but it would give us more exposure.”

“Eh, not sure that’s important.”

“Everly LuluBelle Spencer.”

“That is not my middle name.”

She knows, but she comes up with insane middle names for everyone.

“You’re the numbers bitch of the two of us and you know that it will help us.”

You know the worst thing about Becca? She’s smart and she has no problem telling me that I’m wrong. And I know she’s right. The more exposure we get the better, especially in the day of digital books. “Fine, but I will not be the one doing the panels.”

“Fine.”

There is a small beat of silence where we stare each other, then we both start laughing. Yeah, that’s as bad as we fight.

“Tell Flint to be careful,” I say.

She nods. “Love you and text me when you are safe and sound.”

“Will do. Love you.”

Once we click off, I flop back onto the mattress. I want to forget about that conversation, but I have one of those brains that zeroes in on my insecurities. I’ve gotten better in the last few years, but it’s still there, and the idea of being one of the presenters is enough to make me break out in hives.

Yes, Becca would do the presentation, but everyone knows we’re a team. That means people will want to talk to me about the business. And sometimes, I can do it, but when people are looking at me like I know what I’m doing—it’s enough to make me want to freak out. I do know what I’m doing. I kick ass, but I have a fear of failure.

I close my eyes and do my relaxation exercises. Thanks to therapy, along with yoga instruction, I’ve gotten much better dealing with my anxiety. I have nothing else scheduled for the rest of my trip. I have tonight, and all day tomorrow, then my flight is noon the next day. The relaxation is important.

So, I take my time getting ready. The shower is long and steamy, so hot I almost scald my skin. But I need it. This has been a long three days of meetings, panels, and discussions. The Comic and Graphic Books Convention is one of the bigger ones and located in Denver. I love this town, so I’m always up for coming for a visit.

An hour later, I’m slipping on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt that reads Looking for Trouble? Look no Further, and my favorite pair of Chuck’s. I apply an extra topping of lip gloss and inspect myself in the mirror. Not bad, Everly.

I glance at the full sleeve that covers my right arm. The color explosion there represents the important things in my life. Nerdvana, Becca, my brothers. Captain Marvel’s shield…along with Thor’s hammer. I know I need to start on the other arm, but I haven’t figured out what to do there. Part of me wants to put Elliot Danvers the anti-hero of Glass Edges, the futuristic graphic novel series by Q. Hawthorne. But for some reason, I haven’t been able to come up with a definitive idea, so I wait.

With one last look in the mirror, I grab my phone and head out for the night. Convention time is over and it’s time to find a man to use for the night.

 

End of Excerpt

Wild Love

is available digitally exclusively from Amazon

Harmless Publishing

May 27, 2021