Home > Never with Me(2)

Never with Me(2)
Author: Kaylee Ryan

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” I grumble.

“Because it’s going to be fun. You’ll see.”

“Fun? Palmer, I’m about to walk out of this room and have a blind-date photo shoot. That does not sound like a fun time.” The idea of going in there and posing with a man I don’t know has my stomach churning. Let’s just say that my past has left me a little jaded with the opposite sex.

“Trust me. I’ve got you.” My eyes are closed, but I don’t need to look at my best friend to hear the sincerity in her voice.

“That’s what worries me.” I don’t bother hiding my smile. “But for real, Palmer, you know I get super nervous around men,” I say softly.

“Hey.” She drops her hand that she was using to apply my mascara and waits for me to look at her. “I know that. I know about your past, and I promise you I know him. He’s one of the good ones. He would never hurt you.”

“I don’t date,” I remind her.

“I know, and you know that I have been begging you to get back out there. Don’t let the hands of one man, or in your case, two men, keep you from the loving touch of another.” Her voice is gentle. “Besides, I have a good feeling about this.”

I ignore her “good feeling” comment. “They’re all the same.” I know that she means well. I also know this is a big marketing campaign for her and her new photography business, but I’m nervous as hell to walk out there and have to face a man I don’t know and spend time with him. The only reason I agreed is because Palmer will be there the entire time taking pictures.

“Not true, and you know it.” She points her index finger at me.

“Fine. I know, but I just… I’m better off on my own. I’ve worked hard to get where I am the last two years. I’m good with where I am in life.”

“Are you not lonely?” she asks.

“I have you and the boys,” I say, referring to my cousins. My aunt Carol is a mom to nine rowdy boys. Nine! Crazy, right? They opened their arms for me just as Aunt Carol and Uncle Raymond did. They’re more like my nine brothers instead of my nine cousins. They’re all protective of me, even the three who are younger. Hell, they might be younger, but they’re all taller than I am, and they’re all built. I’m not sure what Aunt Carol fed them growing up, but damn. Yes, they’re my family, but I can admit that they’re all gorgeous.

“Come on, Ramsey. You know what I mean.”

“I don’t let myself get lonely. I work too many jobs. If I allow loneliness to creep in, that gives me time to think, and I just don’t want to go back there, Palmer. I’m my own person and living on my terms. Coming from my background, there’s nothing more freeing.”

“I love you, Ramsey.” She leans in and gives me a hug. “You are so strong. I promise today is going to be fun- just a photo shoot. I’ll be there with you the entire time, and I swear to you he’s a good guy. I would never ask you to do this otherwise.”

“I trust you.” I do trust Palmer. She and I became fast friends working at the catering company, At Your Service. That was my first job after moving to Willow River. I was reserved and trying to just keep my head down, but Palmer wouldn’t have it. She pulled me out of my shell, and after a night of drinking at her place, I confided in her about my past. She’s been by my side from that moment. I never knew it was possible to have a friend like her. Someone to lean on when the hard days roll around, and someone to celebrate with when the hard days are in hiding. So, yeah, I trust Palmer. That’s the only reason I’m here.

“Good.” She takes a step back and smiles. “He’s going to lose his shit.” She grins.

“Can you give me a hint?” I ask, my anxiety rearing its ugly head again.

“No. I can’t give you a hint. That would ruin the entire point of the blind-date photo shoot.” She huffs out a breath.

“Fine. Can we get this over with?”

“That we can do.” She reaches into her bag and pulls out a black blindfold. “This is for you. He’s going to be wearing one as well.”

“You spent all that time on my hair and makeup, and now you’re making me wear a blindfold?”

“Yep.” She grins.

“You owe me, Palmer.”

“Come on. We’re going to be late.”

“He’s meeting us at the park?” I confirm.

“Yes. When we get there, you’ll stay in the car. I told him where to meet us. I’ll get my equipment ready and make sure he’s in position with his blindfold on, and then I’ll lead you to him.”

“Does he know anything about me?” I ask, even though I already know the answer to the question. This is a blind date, which means neither of us knows a single thing about the other.

“Nope.” Palmer beams.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying torturing me.”

“Funny, he said the same thing.”

“That’s shockingly reassuring,” I admit.

“I had to beg him even harder than I had to beg you. He’s a workaholic that never takes time for himself.”

I rack my brain trying to remember any conversations I’ve had with her about male friends who are workaholics, and I’m coming up empty. “There is nothing wrong with focusing on your career. It sounds like me and this guy might have something in common after all.”

“You have three jobs. You’re twenty-two and working your life away.”

“I’m saving for my future. I refuse to fail like they said that I would.” “They” being my father and my ex.

“I know you are, but I hate to watch you working your life away. It’s not healthy to be all work and no play.”

“I just… I never want to go back to that. I refuse to ever live that way again. I won’t depend on anyone. I’m the only one who is going to support and look out for me.”

“That’s not true, Rams. You have me and your aunt and uncle and that gaggle of gorgeous Kincaid cousins of yours.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. I admire you for standing up for yourself. I’m damn proud of you for all that you have accomplished and for doing it all on your own, but you also need to enjoy life. You’re going to get burnt out fast. Do you really still need all three jobs?”

“No,” I confess. “However, I only fill in at the cleaning job when they’re short-staffed or to cover time off. And I’m only doing two days a week with the catering company.”

“And the bar?” she asks.

“Five shifts per week.”

“See.” She glances over at me before turning her eyes back to the road. “You work too damn much. I know for a fact you have a nice nest egg saved up because you never go anywhere. You lived with your aunt and uncle for six months and saved every penny.”

“I do, but I never want to be in a position where I can’t afford what I need. I know it’s hard for you to understand, Palmer. But, when you have money and status, and material things held over your head. When you are abused and pushed around, and your every move is dictated, getting away from that is freedom. Freedom, I had to walk away from my parents to obtain. I have no regrets, and I’m going to make damn sure that I never will. I don’t need them, and I want to know that no matter what life throws at me, I don’t need their money or their connections to succeed.”

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