Last Goodbyes Chapter 1
This short story sequence is a series of deleted scenes of Megan and Justin that didn’t make it into the final book, I am Girl Power, because it swayed the book to a contemporary romance, and that wasn’t in line with the vision I had for it.
But no reason we can’t do that now!
The reason I’ve given the short story sequence to you here is because it’s separate from their story for now—and some future books that I may write for them. Assume that we’re back at Adventura before the summer ends, when the tension between Justin and Meg is at its highest.
I think you’re going to love this side of Justin.
The sound of bumper plates knocking into each other filled the air around me as I slid a ten pound plate off my bar and replaced it with a fifteen. Dust and pine needles brushed against my feet as I stood in front of it. JJ and Mark didn’t have a dedicated gym this far into the woods, so I worked out in the trees.
I’d never go back to a gym again.
“Why do you like it so much?” a voice asked.
I whirled around to see Justin standing there. My heart leapt into my throat. He started pulling a shirt off a laundry line stretched between two trees. The muscles across his back rippled as he yanked the shirt down his torso. That stubble sure wasn’t doing me any favors today.
There was absolutely no reason to be that ruggedly attractive.
My lips quirked up in a half smile as I turned back to the bar, prepared to squat with it. At least that would take my mind off his perfect shoulders.
“It’s the challenge,” I said. “Knowing that I’m strong and can do hard things.”
“Girl power,” he said quietly.
The radio buzzed with white noise before JJ came on, calling for Mark somewhere near the climbing tower. Justin turned his back to me and spoke into the radio. Once I finished my squats, I dropped the bar, stretched, and enjoyed the warm pull of tired muscle through my core.
“Gladiator,” JJ said through the radio. “You have company at the office. Mark, I’ll be there in ten.”
I peeked around a tree to see a slender, well-dressed woman with a bun at the nape of her neck. She stood near a perfectly sensible car, glancing around uneasily. Her brow wrinkled.
That’s when she locked eyes with me.
The svelte woman brightened and headed my way. Justin glanced up, saw her, and paled.
“Someone you know?” I asked, tossing my fingerless gloves aside.
An irrational rush of jealousy swept through me. Was this a girlfriend? If so, I’d pegged him at the totally wrong type. This woman screamed professional business and C-suite level executive.
Stop it, I told myself. They’re probably just friends.
Well, they couldn’t be too good of friends if he looked like he was going to vomit when she showed up. The high from weightlifting suddenly faded. The hairs on my neck seemed to rise, although nothing about the situation was dangerous. Something had me on edge all the same.
The woman closed the distance between us. When Justin came into view, she stopped. Her hair shone in the light. The defined line on her jaw was so straight and thin Lexie would have had a heart attack.
Neither of them spoke at first, leaving a burdened silence.
“Welcome to Adventura,” I said. “May I help you?”
I wiped the palms of my hands on my black capris, suddenly self conscious about my sweat-stained shirt and sloppy ponytail. A few tendrils had fallen into my eyes and pasted to the side of my face.
She nodded, then shook her head. “Sorry, no, but thank you. I need to speak with Justin.”
“Jessica,” he said. “I . . . I certainly never expected you here.”
He stepped forward, his eyes narrowed on her. I analyzed his expression carefully, worried I’d find admiration. Instead, his beautiful eyes shadowed over like clouds building for a summer storm.
“I know,” she said.
“You came all this way?”
She nodded. Common courtesy would dictate for me to give them privacy, but my feet had grown roots. I couldn’t move an inch. Who was this girl? What could she have to do with the gladiator?
“Then let’s . . . talk over here,” he said. His face looked taut and lips compressed. I couldn’t read this strange expression in my usually affable and easygoing friend. Whatever Jessica was doing here, it wasn’t wanted.
White static buzzed on the radio while Justin led her to his tent. They didn’t touch, but moved closer. The low murmur of their voices as they moved away set my teeth on edge.
What exactly was going on here?
Far cry from a sweaty girl in the woods that hasn’t even worn makeup in a few weeks, I thought, imagining her sleek black heels. As soon as the thought came into my mind, I banished it. Even if I had a teensy—okay, rampant—crush on Justin, acting insecure wouldn’t help anything.
Hadn’t I taught Lexie that? Why couldn’t I practice what I preached?
Grief, but I needed a shower.
Sweaty and unpolished and streaked with dirt. I straightened my shoulders. I am girl power, I reminded myself. I could do this. She obviously wasn’t an active girlfriend, at any rate.
They disappeared into his cabin. The door closed with a light bang, leaving Atticus to curl up in the dirt outside and wait.