Home > Free to Love

Free to Love
Author: Kennedy Ryan



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All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of the book.

This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.



Cover Design:

Enchanting Romance Designs



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Kadarius Seegars



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Reach Kennedy




Free to Love



“I’m divorcing my fiancé.”

My best friend Kiera meets this grim assertion with the “teeth-sucking, shaking-my head” playful scorn it deserves.

“Shawna, I’m pretty sure you can’t divorce someone you haven’t married yet,” she says, folding long legs beneath her on the couch in our living room. “But may I ask why Markus is getting kicked to the curb?”

“For one, he’s allowed his mother to add like twenty people to the guest list.”

Comfortably attired in shorts and T-shirt, I flop onto the couch beside her, cover my eyes with one arm and release a weary sigh. Dramatic, I know, but the situation almost merits histrionics. With our wedding only a few weeks away, Markus’s family keeps showing out, as relatives often do when nuptials are involved. Instead of trying to make this as easy as possible for the prospective bride and groom, these folks keep adding to an already bloated guest list, changing their steak to seafood, swapping their meat for vegan and requesting special seating arrangements left and right, with complete disregard for the seating chart that by now resembles a metabolic map.

“If I have to hear one more time that Markus’s Uncle Jasper can’t stand Aunt Jessa Mae.” I lift my arm to peer at Kiera. “His wife, by the way, and must be seated on the opposite side of the room, I’ll pull my hair out.”

“Ten of ten recommend,” Keira says with a grin, running a hand over her smooth brown pate, bald as a newborn’s. “Hair is one less thing to worry about. It’s very liberating.”

“Everybody can’t pull that look off so beautifully, and if I ever shave my head, it probably won’t be this close to my wedding.”

“You’ve got a great veil if the bald goes bad.”

We exchange a look and a grin. I haul myself up and over to lay my head in her lap. She knows the drill and pushes the hair away from my face, massaging my temples. We’ve been together since college freshman year, and if there’s anyone who knows how to soothe my savage beast, it’s Kiera.

“I should marry you instead.” I smile up at her dreamily. “We could run away together.”

“If you liked pussy as much as you like dick, I’d take you up on it.” She wags her tongue at me and laughs, tugging one of my blonde dreadlocks. “But since you don’t, that honeymoon would be hella awkward.”

“If Markus don’t act right, it’s not off the table.” I close my eyes, but open one to squint at her and wag my tongue back. “By the way, I’m a quick learner.”

“If we haven’t hooked up by now, after all these years, honey, it ain’t happening.”

I manage a laugh, no more than a grunt and a huff of air through my nose. My bones are tired. My plasma aches. My cells refuse to regenerate.

“Them kids wore you out in summer school?” she asks, knowing fingers seeking and finding the knots of tension along my neck.

“Yeah, but it was worth it.” My lips soften into a smile. “Shyla looked me right in the eye and said my name today. I almost shed thug tears right there in front of the whole class. She barely said a word at the beginning of the year, and her vocabulary just keeps growing. She’s an amazing kid. They all are.”

“You guys are angels,” Kiera says. “Special needs teachers. So much patience.”

“When you have to fight that hard for every word, it means even more when you get them. If I wasn’t doing this for a living, I’d find a way to volunteer. I’m getting paid to do something I used to for free when I was a kid.”

A lunch buddies program in high school paired “typical” students up with kids on the spectrum who were sometimes in self-contained classrooms. This was years ago, and there are more inclusive settings now. The administration thought we would be modeling something for them, improving their social skills, but I got so much more from it than I gave. Penny, my buddy, quickly became one of my best friends, and showed me that when we disregard people, render them invisible and excluded, we’re the ones who miss out. I’d always wanted to be a nurse to help people, but after Penny, I knew teaching would be my path.

“You and Markus both help so much,” Kiera says. “It’s why you make a perfect pair.”

“Yeah, except he gets paid a lot more for his help. I told him I’m marrying him for his money.”

“He’d make an excellent sugar daddy. Must be nice being an athletic trainer for an NBA team. When’s he getting us tickets to a San Diego Waves game? They’re in the playoffs this year.”

“I guess whenever we want. You know I’m not really into basketball.”

“Yeah, I don’t have to be into basketball to want to meet that fine August West.”

“You also aren’t into men, so . . .” I scrunch my face up at her. “I’m confused. Plus he’s notoriously happy with his wife Iris.”

“Their kids are adorable. She posted a family pic on insta the other day. Even my ovaries twitched, and you know damn well I have no intention of putting those things to use.”

A low chuckle shakes my shoulders in her lap. I reach up and grab her hand, overwhelmed with deep affection for my ace boom.

“Thank you for taking my edge off,” I tell her. “Weddings should not be this hard.”

“You’ve obviously never gotten married.”

“Last I checked, neither had you.”

“But I’ve been a bridesmaid for two sisters, four cousins and a gajillion friends. Everybody gets so turned up. Brides, mamas, wedding planners. It can become such a production.”

“I really just wanted something intimate and small, but Markus’s mama keeps stretching this thing like Laffy Taffy. Adding guests, a fancy photographer, this expensive caterer. Spending so much money. Left to me, the wedding would have been in my Mama’s back yard. We’d have been done with it, but Markus’s family insisted on footing the bill.”

“They that high society Negro crew,” Kiera says, pursing her lips into a moue to convey disdain. “Hello, dahling. I’m so boujee. Bad and boujee to be precise. Scurry along now. Fetch me some escargots.”

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