Home > Only Rivals (Only You #1)

Only Rivals (Only You #1)
Author: Charity Ferrell

 

Chapter One

 

 

Amelia

 

 

“Why are you sleeping in your laundry room?”

I open my eyes to find my best friend, Ava, staring down at me like I’m a teenager, tardy for school.

Her question is valid, given I live alone in a two-bedroom townhome—both bedrooms fully furnished.

Alone.

That’s the part I’m struggling to get past.

I managed to keep my sleeping arrangements a secret for months but should’ve known it wouldn’t last forever.

Sunlight streams through the skylight window, and I yawn while rising. I scoot across the floor, my sleeping bag still wrapped around me, and settle my back against the dryer.

“I fell asleep,” I answer around another yawn, stretching my arms.

“You fell asleep?” Ava slowly asks and gestures to the sleeping bag. “You’ve literally turned this into some frat-house bedroom.”

I shut my eyes, remembering the first time I slept in the cramped laundry room. It was three in the morning, and sleep-deprived, I lay down on the Alexa, Do My Laundry rug. It worked. I finally slept longer than three hours.

Since that night’s success, I’ve added to my makeshift bedroom—a sleeping bag, two pillows, and even a candle.

“It’s comfortable,” I say, staring down at the porcelain Spanish tiles and running my finger along the grout before turning my sore neck from side to side.

Porcelain tile is as comfortable as sleeping on an airplane.

“It’s comfortable?” she repeats in the same tone as her last question. “Five hundred dollars that your bed is comfier.”

Comfier? Yes.

Peaceful? No.

In need of a subject change, I ask, “What’s up with the surprise visit?”

“I’ve been calling you for hours.”

“I’ve been sleeping.”

“Yes, sleeping with fabric softener and dirty panties.” She bends down to grab a pair of black lace panties from the basket of clean clothes and holds them up. “Cute. I never took you as a bondage kind of girl.”

I nearly face-plant out of the sleeping bag when I rise to snatch them from her. “Stay away from my panties, you freak.”

“Get up then.” She snaps her fingers. “I’m taking you to breakfast.”

“I don’t want breakfast.”

“Well, I do, and I’m here. It’s only polite for you to feed your guests.”

I stay quiet and chew on my lower lip.

“Fine,” she groans. “I’ll order breakfast, and while we wait, you can explain why you’re sleeping in here.”

Oh, hell no.

I unzip my sleeping bag and roll out of it.

I’d rather suffer through sixteen breakfasts and have my fingernails removed than tell her I’m sleeping in the laundry room because being in my bed makes my skin crawl. I tried to sleep in every other room—hell, even the bathrooms—but nothing worked. Before resorting to the front porch, the laundry room was my last option. Thankfully, it worked.

It worked because there are no memories of Christopher in the laundry room. I never trusted that man to do laundry. He said separating the colors from the whites was unnecessary since they all got washed anyway.

I grab a clean change of clothes from the basket without a word, and on my way to the master bathroom, I pass my unmade bed. It’s been that way since he left me. I sniffle at the faint smell of him. With each passing day, it’s weakening, and I dread the day it vanishes completely.

After brushing my hair and teeth, I get dressed and meet Ava in the living room as she’s looking through her phone.

She slides her phone into her crossbody bag. “We’re going to Shirley’s.”

“We are going through a drive-through,” I correct, grabbing my sneakers and slipping them on.

“When was the last time you sat down somewhere and ate?”

“Gee, I don’t know. I must’ve forgotten to write it in my planner.”

“We’re going to Shirley’s and having a kick-ass breakfast.” She catches my hand in hers. “As your bestie, it’s my job to help you. Step one is breakfast in a public place.”

“We have a problem with step one. I hate public places.”

I was the opposite once. No one would’ve labeled me a homebody. If you wanted to have dinner, see a movie, or go for drinks, I was the friend for you. Now, my stomach churns at the thought of being around any more people than necessary.

“Ah, but public places love your beautiful face, babe.”

 

 

Shirley’s Diner has the best breakfasts.

Since I moved to Blue Beech, Iowa, when I was fifteen years old, it’s been my go-to. My father, Silas, brought me here every Sunday morning for strawberry pancakes and cookies-and-cream hot chocolate. As I got older, Christopher started taking me instead. Sometimes, my parents would join us. They loved Christopher.

The chime above the door announces our arrival, and people gawk at me as soon as we walk in. My eyes scan the diner, not meeting anyone else’s, and I take in the crowd. Nearly every booth and table is occupied with diners.

“Hi, ladies!” Margo, Shirley’s granddaughter, greets, menus clutched in her hand. “Just the two of you?”

I nod while Ava says, “Yeah.”

“Ryan is cleaning a booth, and then we’ll get you seated.” Her smile meets her eyes before she wipes her hands on her apron and scurries away when a waiter calls her over.

“I’m going to take a restroom break,” Ava says. “Be right back.” She walks away, strolling through the aisle between booths, and heads toward the back of the diner.

“Motherfucker. What a way to ruin my morning.”

My back straightens, and shivers run up my spine at his voice.

I’ll know who that voice belongs to until the day I die.

It’s distinctive—masculine and as smooth as the coffee the people around us are drinking. There’s a chill to it though, a hint of calculation, as if he could ruin you with the snap of his fingers.

Jax Bridges.

My deceased fiancé’s best friend and the man I’ve hated for over two decades.

I keep my back to him and say, “The same goes for you. I was here first, so you can see yourself out.”

Jax doesn’t deserve to witness the effect his words have on me. Once, so many years ago, that voice—albeit not as deep—put me at ease. Now, all it does is make my chest ache and deepen the wounds already there.

“Don’t you think it’s time you moved?” he continues with a hateful sneer. “No one wants your ass here.”

My breathing heightens, and I clench my fists, my half-painted nails digging into my palms. “Don’t you think it’s time to stop fucking talking to me?” Unlike him, I keep my voice low, so only he hears me.

“Aw, listen to sweet Millie, throwing out the F-bomb.” He releases a cruel laugh. “I’m glad you’re finally showing your true colors and how much of a terrible person you are.”

Terrible person?

Maybe it’s the sore muscles from sleeping on the floor.

Or the headache from dodging the stares coming in our direction.

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