Title: Not Without You
Series: By Your Side #3
Author: A.P. Watson
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 7, 2019
I have one rule in life—never fall in love. Sure, I loved my father and my best friend, but being in love with someone? Out of the question . . . It just wasn’t worth the risk. I saw the agony my father went through as my mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground, and he has never fully recovered from the depths of those sorrows. I won’t put myself through the same misery. I can’t.
Instead, I lose myself in my art. As a painter, I push my emotions into the colors I paint with. I usually put my entire being into every single painting, driving my fingers past the breaking point, but lately, my creative well has run dry. For over a year, my mind has taken a creative sabbatical, locking me out of my own reprieve. But everything changed when I met him. One glance into those bright blue eyes had my hands twitching with the desire to paint again.
If I thought remaining friends with my new muse was going to be easy, I was in for one hell of a letdown, because I was falling for him—fast. Handsome as hell, funny, and kind, he was everything I didn’t need, couldn’t have. I needed to remember my philosophy—live a happy, fulfilling life without falling in love. But deep down, I’m beginning to realize such a fate isn’t possible . . . Not Without You.
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was the color that reigned supreme in places like this, places promising all
the enlightenment that follows a higher education. Frankly, I would rather be
surrounded by any other color in the crayon box. Yes, that meant puke green,
sunshine yellow, and even the bright orange screaming at us from every inch of
campus. In my opinion, anything was better than white. White was the color of a
blank canvas, a stark reminder of the creative sabbatical my soul was currently
“Why do you
look like your grandma just flipped you off?”
of Wren’s voice threw me out of my train of thought.
hate this class. Anything not related to art is a waste of my time.”
might be true, but everybody is required to take Probability & Statistics.”
“And the probability
of me passing this class is slim, so as you can see, no further instruction is
needed,” I quipped, sticking my tongue out at her.
her long copper locks over her shoulder and plopped in the seat to my left,
pulling out a spiral notebook and a green pen. She was feeling sassy today, and
that was an incredible sign. If I had to deal with everything she’d been
through the past few weeks, I would have curled up in a ball and flipped the
world the middle finger. But not Wren. She was a damn force to be reckoned
hand on her arm, I gave it a little squeeze. Instantly, her body stilled.
Although I didn’t reveal my thoughts, my gesture meant she could count on me.
It meant she wasn’t alone.
babe,” she whispered, setting her hand on my knee. “You’re the best.”
right, I could just make out the form of the hot blond guy who had been staring
at me for half the class on Tuesday. Not that I hadn’t done my fair share of
staring. My eyes had wandered in his direction more than a couple of times
since the start of the semester. After all, no harm ever came from looking. He
stepped closer, intent on occupying the empty chair next to me.
going to sit there, you’d better have a good handle on what the hell is going
on in this class,” I stated. My less-than-stellar performance on our first test
meant I needed to get my ass in gear if I had any hopes of making it through
this class with my GPA intact.
“You mean you
don’t?” he asked, humor evident in his tone. “Because you seem like the type of
person who has a handle on everything.”
up at him. Most of the time whenever a guy hit on me, I would dismiss them with
little more than a wave of my hand. But his comment had more than piqued my
interest. His shaggy blond hair and golden skin tone were so much hotter
than I remembered. “Oh,” I whispered with a smile, “you’re good.”
He sat down
next to me, sliding a pen out of the pocket of his jeans. “That’s what I hear.”
And Hottie was apparently telling the truth, because when he opened his
notebook, the first test we took slid out, landing in my lap. “Sorry.” He
leaned in my direction.
But I was
too quick for him. I grabbed the paper, completely at a loss for words, which
was really fucking rare for me. Holy hell. Hottie got a ninety-six?
“Look, we got the same grade!”
at my exclamation, trying her best to keep from laughing, since Professor Leigh
had already started passing out the attendance roster.
you reverse the numbers on your test, that’s what I got.”
The bitchy chick who always wore
a red headband turned around to glare at me. “Shh,” she spat, holding her
finger over her lips.
up. It’s not like we’re going to use this fucking bullshit in everyday life.”
My retort either offended or shocked her, because she scoffed at me before
spinning back around. God, I hated that fucking headband.
annoys the shit out of me,” Wren mumbled.
just pissed because she got the second-best grade in the class,” Hottie said.
is yours for the rest of the semester if you want it.”
“I may hold
you to that. And my name is Ryan Evanston, by the way.” He held out his hand
for me to shake. Crystal blue eyes met mine—the color so pure and pristine my
fingers twitched with the need to recreate it.
people, sexual dry spells ruled their existence. For me, my artistic dry spell
was worse than being stranded in the Sahara without a canteen. Sure, I’d been
creating art projects for school, but my desire to paint—to let the world fall
away and just create—had been non-existent. Wren believed I was uninspired, and
she was probably right. But here, at this moment, all I wanted to do was paint
I slid my hand into his, noting the warmth radiating from his flesh. “Terayn
he asked, leaning toward Wren.
Williams,” she answered.
meet both of you.”
I muttered for both of us.
droned on for what felt like an eternity. So the guy had his passions, and they
all happened to lie within statistics, but that still didn’t warrant the need
for him to subject each of us to said passions. Alas, the board of this higher
education establishment somehow feels we will benefit from taking a statistics
course. And it was a load of freaking bull too.
I tried to
concentrate on the sound of Leigh’s voice, but my brain was only capable of
withstanding so much torture. I copied down a few notes from the lecture, but
my willpower was obliterated by the color periwinkle. My hand had been
twitching since I caught sight of those blue eyes. Pulling a few colored pens
from my purse, I decided to let my fingers do their bidding.
after line flowed together, forming a perfect representation of the human eye.
That iris and the multitude of colors it possessed were astounding. I used not
one but three different blues in order to capture the intricacy of the hue. And
I still wasn’t done. Something about his expression when he had looked at me
caught my interest. It needed to be captured too. Now, the drawing had a set of
eyebrows to accompany those eyes.
elbow to my side pulled my attention from the growing portrait in front of me.
keep at it, you’re going to wind up drawing a full portrait,” Wren whispered in
might want to stop before you get to Hottie’s body.”
muttered, the momentary enchantment his eyes had cast over me finally breaking.
to cover the drawing that had now taken up over three-fourths of my notebook
paper, but my efforts were too late. Hottie had already caught sight of my
sudden artistic breakthrough.
to my drawing. “You’re really talented.”
Art major, so I have a bad habit of doodling all the time.”
I swept a
strand of hair behind my ear and glanced at the clock. Thank God, this hell pit
of a class was nearly over. I was in the middle of straightening my papers when
a page full of notes landed right on top of my stack.
to my right, staring at Hottie, or rather, Ryan. “What’s this?”
need these?” I asked.
really. This class is almost fun for me. I’m double majoring in corporate
finance and business.”
turning that blue gaze on me. “That’s one way to put it.”
for the notes.”
To my left,
I could just make out Wren’s body stiffening. Her phone was clutched in her
hands, and she squeezed the plastic case dangerously.
couldn’t be good. I glanced at her and the phone. A text from Liam lit up the
all the shit he had pulled on her birthday, he was still trying to fuck with
her life. I was just about to throw my arm around her when she stood and bolted
from the class. I grabbed my stuff and flew after her, ignoring the astonished
stares of our fellow classmates. The moment I reached the doorway, my head
turned in either direction. Wren was at the end of the hall, clearly fighting
back tears. The girl didn’t cry. In fact, the only time I’d seen her cry—other
than at my mother’s funeral—was on her birthday last week when she caught Liam
fucking his ex.
approached her with caution. “Hey, babe. Talk to me about it?”
She shook her
head, water shining in her brown eyes. “I am so over him and all his bullshit!
Why can’t he just leave me the fuck alone?”
voice garnered a few curious stares. Not thinking, I grabbed her hand and
pulled her into what I thought would be an empty room. Instead, we were met
with a wall of urinals. Oh well, it would do.
apologize. As if I would even take his lying, cheating ass back.”
of that fucker.”
is the men’s restroom!” A guy I’d never seen before held the door open, staring
at us in shock.
“Ask me if
I care,” I replied, glaring at him with nothing but hatred in my eyes.
another restroom. This one is occupied.” Hottie from our statistics class
loomed over the guy. All right, he wasn’t just another pretty face. He had some
nicely muscled arms to back up his threat.
mistake.” The guy scurried away a second later.
questioned in a soft voice.
really,” she replied, her fingers twisting around a long strand of her hair.
Her eyes were glued to the floor, but the faint trace of tears still lingered
on the curves of her cheeks.
“I see.” He
nodded, looking thoughtful as he shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“You guys hungry?”
“My Jeep is
parked right outside this building. Why don’t I take you guys to get something
I looked to
Wren so she would know this was her call.
He held the
door open for us while Wren and I filed out of the men’s restroom. The three of
us exited the building, stepping out into the overcast day. Yesterday was
nearly seventy degrees. Today, it was barely above fifty. I really wished
Tennessee would decide what the hell it wanted to do with the weather.
drove us to a diner not far from campus. I’d always been told not to get in the
car with a stranger, but Ryan put off nothing but good vibes. He had opened and
closed the car doors for Wren and I, and he even held open the door to the
diner. Everything in my gut informed me he was a nice guy.
into an empty booth just as our waiter arrived. He handed each of us a menu and
a glass of water before he scurried away, stating he’d be back in a minute to
take our order. I sipped on my water, watching Wren out of the corner of my
have any more classes today?” I asked Ryan.
free. What about you two?”
art history tonight at seven but that’s it.”
too,” Wren stated.
an art major. What about you, Wren?”
I’m still getting a few requirements in now, though.”
you?” she asked. She’d been too distracted by Liam’s earlier message to hear
Ryan’s answer in class.
majoring in corporate finance and business.”
Guess that explains the A you got on the first statistics exam.”
of you need help in that class, just ask. I really don’t mind.”
I’m the only one who really needs the help,” I added.
nudging me with her shoulder. “Numbers so aren’t your thing.”
than the words left my mouth, and our waiter popped up out of nowhere to take
What can I get y’all to eat?” He turned in my direction first, awaiting my
a burger with a side of onion rings.”
down my order. “And for you?”
two pancakes and a double side of bacon.”
stopped serving breakfast at noon.”
expression dropped at his words. It was only two in the afternoon. I figured
this place served breakfast all day, and she must have too. She picked the menu
back up, scanning through the lunch dishes.
whatever she wants,” Ryan ordered, pulling out his wallet.
“I wish I
could, but we stopped serving breakfast two hours ago.”
Ryan set a
fifty-dollar bill on top of the guy’s order pad. “Surely a few pancakes and two
sides of bacon won’t be too much trouble, right?”
I’ll just order something else,” Wren said.
want pancakes and bacon, and you’ll get it.” Ryan’s voice wasn’t angry, but it
did err on the side of being extremely dominant. And I kind of liked it.
pancakes and two sides of bacon it is,” the waiter agreed, scribbling on his
appreciate you being so accommodating,” Ryan stated.
you?” the waiter asked.
with a side of fries and a strawberry milkshake.
have that out to you as soon as possible.”
you,” Ryan answered, collecting all the menus to hand back to the waiter.
so much for what you did, but you didn’t need to do it,” Wren said once our
waiter was out of earshot.
shrugged, acting like it wasn’t a big deal. “You seemed like you weren’t having
the best day, so it’s the least I can do.”
you,” I added, staring into those sapphire eyes.
do appreciate it,” Wren replied.
help. Besides, what kind of diner doesn’t serve breakfast all day?”
thinking the same thing!”
completely in agreement with Wren. “I thought it did too. Kind of weird that it
“I suppose next
time we eat out, it’ll have to be at Street City Grill. They serve breakfast
should always be served all day.”
wholeheartedly.” Ryan smiled at her. “So, how long have the two of you been
were six,” Wren and I answered in unison.
nodded. “I can tell.”
copper-haired beauty is my number one babe.” I slid my arm around her neck and
“What the hell
would I want one of those for?”
mean to put down my own gender, but you’re probably better off without one,”
kidding,” Wren agreed.
not one to pry, but if you want to talk about whatever has been making your day
so shitty, feel free to get it off your chest.”
appreciate the thought.”
either about relationship or family troubles. And while I’m well-versed with
the latter, I’m also a good listener if you ever need to vent about it.”
him a slight smile. “Thank you. I’ll definitely keep your offer in mind. It
might be nice to have a guy’s perspective on everything.”
trouble then,” Ryan muttered more to himself than to Wren and me.
that?” I asked.
figured it was guy trouble, but I didn’t want to pry.”
breathed. “Yeah, it is.”
Men are dicks most of the time.”
“Oh, so you’re
gay?” I questioned. The way Ryan had been staring at me in class led me to
believe he fell to the charms of the female population, so I couldn’t help but
eyebrows pinched together as he quickly shifted his attention from Wren to me.
“I’m not gay.”
are, we don’t care. Actually, it will probably make us like you more.”
burst your bubble, but I like pussy.”
His reply caught
me off guard. Those periwinkle irises held my gaze for a second before tearing
through me like a damn power drill. “Um, I-I . . .” What the
hell was I even going to say? I was not the type of woman to be at a loss for
words, so this development was pretty strange for me. And Hottie’s looks were
into a fit of laughter beside me. “Oh my God! You made her blush! Jesus Christ,
Ter, I don’t think you’ve blushed since ninth grade.” She leaned across the
table and held out her hand, giving Ryan a high five. “You are crass and
awesome! We can be friends.”
his lips and grinned like the freaking Cheshire cat. “Happy to have your
my embarrassing moment was cut short by the arrival of our food. Our waiter
placed a plate in front of each of us before scurrying away.
Wren bounced happily as she shoved a strip of crispy goodness into her mouth.
world of Wren, bacon makes everything better,” I explained.
“I can see
that. And in the world of Terayn, what makes everything better?”
that answer was painting and Wren’s mom making me a chicken pot pie. But with
my creative hiatus seeping into every part of my being, I was going to have to
settle for baked goods. “Wren’s mom makes the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever
had in my life.”
makes everything in your life better?”
I shrugged my shoulders and shoved an onion ring in my mouth as I watched Ryan
devour his burger. “And what makes everything in your life better?”
A burger and fries. Not foodwise, I guess hitting the gym. It’s a good way to
burn off steam.”
snickered beside me, quickly shoving a bite of pancake into her mouth.
meant as a comment or a question?” I asked Ryan.
the rest of our food, and I couldn’t help but be thankful for the distraction
Ryan had given Wren. Her life had been turned upside down, so any excuse to
forget the shit storm Liam had brought on her? I was all for it.
the part of my brain continuously stressing about my future career as an artist
was thankful for the distraction as well.
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A.P. Watson is a contemporary and paranormal romance author
who discovered her love for reading at a very young age due to her rural
upbringing. She enjoys a variety of genres and authors, from Jane Austen
to Charlaine Harris. When she isn’t reading or writing, she loves to
dance. A.P. has been an avid pole dancer for several years and thoroughly
enjoys the challenging nature of the sport and the thrill of performing
onstage. Professionally, she has worked as a registered nurse for several
years, and she graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing in 2019. Her goal
is to combine her love for aesthetics and skincare by utilizing her Family
Nurse Practitioner certification in the field of dermatology. A.P. currently
resides in Johnson City, Tennessee, with her adorable rescue pup, Elle.
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