Book 1: My Dirty Bucket List

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Summary

When Raven received her final divorce papers from her cheating husband Dexter Cunningham, she calls her best friend Hugh Daniels, the one person who has always been there to put her back together again. But when he came over to console her, two things happened, He kissed her like she had never been kissed before, and then he left her without explanation, shattering her for a second time that evening. So having lost her husband and her best friend Hugh all in the same night, she decided to do the only thing she could do…she marketed the hell out of it! Fast forward, more than two years later, Raven launches a sexy bucket list on her blog and old wounds are reopened when her ex-husband finds out; and old emotions for Hugh are exhumed when he flies back to NewYork to stop her...

Genre:
Romance / Erotica
Author:
GrowingVogue
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
30
Rating:
5.0 7 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Prologue

Prologue

POV: Raven

"Hugh, pick up. Please pick up, please pickup... " I repeat to myself.

Rivers of tears stream down my face onto the Manila envelope I’m strangling in my hand. The return address is Dexter's attorney's office, and the envelope's contents promise heartache and pain. I have been dreading this for the last six months. I'm calling Hugh, so I wouldn’t have to endure it alone.

When he answers the call, his soothing voice interrupts my pacing.

“Hey, baby girl. Miss me already?” I can feel him smiling through the phone. "I’m in a meeting now, so I can't talk. But are we still on for drinks when I get back to town tomorrow night, right? I can't wait to—” Hugh pauses mid-sentence when the whimpers I’ve been trying to suppress, come tumbling forward in a mutiny I can't explain or control.

“What's wrong, baby girl?” Hugh asks.

Unable to respond, I can only cry. His muffled voice excuses himself and announces that he will be back after he accepts my call.

“Breathe, Raven. Honey, inhale.” He draws deep breaths himself, encouraging me to mimic him. “Hang on, I’m heading to another room, so we can talk. Keep breathing.”

I take air into my lungs and expel it in synchrony with him, and I walk over to the couch to sit down.

“That's it sweetie, good girl,” he champions.

I hear a door close on the other end of the phone. When all the other noise deadens around him, he speaks again.

“Tell me what happened?” he demands.

“This sounds like a terrible time. I didn't mean to interrupt something significant. I can call back —

Before I can continue my blubbering apology, he interrupts me. “Sweetheart there is nothing more essential to me than you...” He pauses for a moment, giving me an opportunity to calm down and absorb the sincerity of his words. “Tell me.”

“I got the papers today,” I sniffle through my reason for calling. He curses under his breath.

I throw the envelope on the coffee table and grab the Kleenex box before placing the phone between my shoulder and my cheek. I sob, crossing my legs Indian style on the lounge.

“What can I do for you, honey, how can I make this better?”

His husky voice takes me off guard. I stiffen in surprise at my body's carnal reaction to it. The low pitch and hoarse sound of his words vibrate in-between my thighs. I squirm a little on the uttering, trying to adjust to this unfamiliar sensation. I take a few unsolicited breaths, grateful that he can't see me. Not only am I a sniveling mess, but I’m also confused why my entire body is tingling.

What is happening? Hugh is my friend. One of my best friends. There is no way there’s something more. I think to myself, concluding that this unknown emotion must be an aftershock to the finality of my relationship with Dexter. I have lost all perspective.

I shake my head into compliance. Whatever rational thinking I have left, needs to evict all impure thoughts from my subconscious. They are not welcome.

Hugh clears his throat to mask the uncomfortable silence now plaguing our conversation. "Are you still there?” he asks.

“Yes. I mean, No...” I take a deep breath, sighing my frustration. I stumble through my answers to his questions.

“Yes, I’m here, and No, there is nothing you can do. I just needed to hear your voice,” I whisper, wiping remaining tears from my eyes.

“Are you sure, sweetie? I will do anything...”

His words are so full of promise. My heart bangs against my chest, and the butterflies in my stomach dance. Hugh always knows how to make me feel better, how to take my mind off things. He’s been my rock during the arduous times in my marriage. And even afterwards when Dexter and I got a divorce. Whenever I felt down or alone, pizza and a case of beer was the cure. We would sit for hours and talk until I fell asleep in his arms. I wouldn’t have made it through this without him.

“Yes, I’m sure. Stay in Los Angeles and finish up your business. I should be able to survive today on my own”.

I try sounding convincing. If he knew how much I needed him, he would take the first flight back because that is who he is, but I don't need that. He loves conquering the world and making deals, and I don't wish to interfere with that.

Hugh takes a minute to respond. “Promise me you will call your sister and have her stay with you.”

I roll my eyes when he mentions Vivian because all she will do is tell me I’m better off without Dexter, I can hear her condescending voice now. “You shouldn't have married that prick anyway... and you better not be crying over his ungrateful ass either!” I smile a little thinking about her undying loyalty, however, that is the last thing that I need today.

“Maybe I will call Lola instead,” I lie. Although my best friend Lola is the only other person in my life that can cheer me up, I would much rather be at home alone drinking a glass of wine with my heartache.

He laughs. “I understand... I just don't want you to be alone.”

“I know Hugh, but I guess alone is my new reality... “I will have to get used to it,” I respond, looking at the divorce papers on the coffee table.

“As long as I’m alive you will never be alone, Raven. I've got you, baby girl.” Strong and controllable emotions saturate his response.

“I love the way you take care of me, Hugh. In fact, you’ve already made me feel a little better.” I smile.

He sighs in relief. “Really?”

“Yes. I will be cool, I promise. Finish up there and I will see you tomorrow night.”

My heart hurts with my deception because I am nowhere near fine, but I don't want him to worry.

“Okay...” He consents before taking a staggered breath. “And Raven?”

“Yes, Hugh?”

“You are an extraordinary woman and any man would be lucky to have you.... it's his loss.”

With those words, fresh tears fall because his validation means everything. “If you were here, Hugh Daniels, I would give you a big fat kiss,” I whisper through my teardrops.

“Hmm.... huh. Well now, that’s something to hope for,” He responds in a soft, confident tone.

Before I question his last statement, I hear a hushed voice on his end, reminding him he has people waiting.

He clears his throat. “Duty calls, baby girl. I will call you soon.”

“See you tomorrow, Hugh... and stop calling me baby girl!” I giggle, before hanging up the phone.

I spend the rest of my day with my attorney, going over the papers again before signing on the dotted line. And just like that, all the time that Dexter and I spent together, and all the dreams we shared are dissolved into a pile of nothingness... all with the stroke of a pen.

After I leave my attorney’s office, I stand on the corner of Madison Avenue feeling lost, and dare I say it? All alone. I pull out my phone and call Lola, because despite my bold thoughts earlier about being by myself, the last event I want right now is to be drinking solo in my apartment tonight. So, if I can't have Hugh, Lola is the next best option.

***********

Hours Later...

Lola is bent over, looking through my refrigerator, shaking her brain in unbelief at the scarcity of food inside.

“I swear, Raven, you live just like a bachelor.”

The minute the words leave her mouth, she freezes and lowers her head. “I didn't mean to say that...”

“It is okay, Lola...” I sigh, closing my eyes in pain as she reminds me of what I have been trying to forget about all day. She closes the refrigerator door and walks over to sit next to me.

“Dexter Cunningham is a fool. You were the best thing that ever happened to him,” she replies as tears stream down my face.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie.” She grabs me, pulling me into a tight hug as I cry on her shoulder for what seems like forever.

“That Bastard!” I respond, before leaning away from her.

She smiles in agreement. “I have an idea,” she declares. “Let's forget about Dexter, the divorce and everything else, and only think about hamburgers, french fries, milk shakes and cake!”

Lola's eyes light up at her suggestions, and she jumps off the couch to rush back to the gallery to get her phone from the table.

“I will call Uber Eats and order something sinful!”

“Pizza.... Hugh always bought pizza,” I whisper to myself, leaning back on the sofa,

“What was that, Raven?” Lola yells from the kitchen, just as a soft knock on the door interrupts our gluttonous plans. “Are you expecting anyone?” Lola looks at me, before walking over to the doorway with her phone in hand.

I sit up, shrugging my shoulders before shaking my head. “Nope. Not unless its Dexter with a hammer and another nail for my coffin,” I respond as she twists her lips.

“Ha, Ha, Ha, funny,” she says before peeking through the peephole.“Oh My God! No way!” she squeals before pulling the door wide open. “Hugh Daniels. Get your ass in here.” Lola smiles, taking a pizza box and beer from his hands to place on the table next to the entry, before hugging him. “How the hell have you been? And what is all of this?”

“Good to see you too Lola. All of this is Raven's survival kit… where is she?”

My eyes grow wide as I smooth my hair down before easing off the couch. My eyes find his and tears flowed again. “Hugh. What are you doing here?”

His eyes pierce into me with a look that I don't recognize, holding me hostage with its intensity. A lazy smile forms on his face while Lola still holds the rest of his body prisoner in an extended hug.

“My girl needed me so here I am.” He kisses Lola on her cheek, signaling to her that the hug is over. When she releases him, her cheeks are a bright red.

He walks to me, holding out his arms, “Come here.”

I rush to him, and he swoops me into a tight embrace. “You came...” I sob as he picks me up and carries me back to the sofa.

“I did... always.” He says, whispering into my hair.

I squeeze his neck tighter, before pulling away to look into his eyes.

Lola clears her throat and grabs her purse. “That's my cue. I’m retiring now because It looks like you are in excellent hands.” She smirks. “I will steal a slice, take a beer and see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks for everything Lola.” I smile, never taking my eyes off Hugh. He sits on the sofa with me perched on his lap as Lola walks out the front door.

“You didn't have to do this, Hugh. I wanted you to stay in Los Angeles and finish your business.”

“But I couldn't... because I couldn't get you out of my mind. So, I asked myself, I said, Self, what good is it being rich if I can't do what the hell I want to do? So, I hopped on my private jet. I had to be here,” he says, wiping tears from my eyes as I giggle at his response. “Don't you know how much you mean to me? I couldn't let you go through this by yourself.”

“How did Dexter take it when you told him you were coming?”

“My best friend might be many things, but my father he’s not. Contrary to what he might think, I don't answer to Dexter Cunningham. He’s lucky I’m still speaking to his ass after everything—” he clenches his jaw shut and I feel his hand ball up against my back as he struggles to remain calm.

“I didn't come all this way to talk about him, I’m here to be with you.” He leans in to kiss me on my nose. “Are you hungry?”

“Just hold me for a little while longer...”

He smiles and pulls me closer to him. We stay intertwined on the sofa for about thirty minutes before he releases me to warm up the pizza and bring the beers to the living room. We talk for hours about our college days, about how his businesses are doing and about what I will do next, before we fall asleep in the couch.

**************

I wake up to Hugh's soft kisses in my hair as I lay on top of him.

“I have to go sweetie... I have an early meeting in the morning,” he whispers as I stir.

“Why wasn't I enough, Hugh?” I mumble against his heart as drops of salty liquid escapes my eyes. “Was I not attractive enough or desirable enough for him? Why did he treat me like he did? What's wrong with me?” My tears are coming quicker now as Hugh becomes still underneath me.

“Raven—”

I twist my hair along his chest, sobbing, afraid to glance into his eyes because of what his answer might be.

“Dammit, look at me!” he whispers as I raise my head in obedience.

When my eyes meet his, he’s staring down at me with such fury that it sends a blaze of emotion through my entire construct. He brings his thumb to my mouth, brushing my bottom lip, before letting his thumb slide down my chin causing another surge of excitement to travel to my center.

He puts his hands underneath my arms, sliding my frame against his, so we are facing each other. Hugh leans in, so that his lips are touching my ear, whispering his answer, like a confession of guilt about a crime he has committed.

“Listen to me, baby girl, because I will only say this once: When you walk into a room, it is like the sun rising on the horizon. Your smile warms me and fills my soul, making me want to be a better man. Your beautiful heart and your kindness take my breath away every single time. It radiates hope, hopes of new beginnings and second chances. You have a body that is a deadly weapon. I often fantasize about the things I wish I could do to you when I know that I shouldn't, because you don't belong to me. But if you did, you would never doubt how wonderful and desirable you are. I would make love to you every minute of every fucking day—”

I’m breathing heavily with his declaration, not prepared for his admission. With every breath that I take, my nipples harden against his muscular chest, and he moans in response. His stare drops to my mouth before elevating to my eyes again.

“Hugh,” I murmur, closing my eyelids and swallowing hard, because instead of my voice coming off stern like I intended, it is breathy, husky... and full of need. “What are you claiming?”

“I’m saying that there’s not a goddamn thing wrong with you baby girl, you are perfect.” His lips linger close to mine as he tangles my hair into his hands.

I don't know if it’s because of his confession, or because of all the years of put downs from Dexter, or because he has just made me feel like the most desired woman on earth that makes me say it. But the next sounds that come out of my mouth are concepts that I never thought I would utter.

“Kiss me, Hugh.”

He looks at me with fiery desire shooting through his eyes, with apprehension hiding there too, like he’s tormented by a critical choice he has to make. He’s searching my eyes for the right thing to do... for verification... for consent. Hugh seems desperate to make sure I know what I’m asking him to do.

“Please, Hugh...” I beg as tears fall.

He lets out a tortured breath before closing his eyelids, tightening his hold on my hair. When he opens his eyes and licks his lips, I know that he has decided. “Fuck it!”

He pulls me into him so roughly that my lips crash into his. When our mouths first touch, it feels like a flow of electricity moving through my body heating every part of me. I struggle against him, pulling away because the intensity and the surge of desire that is coursing through me is foreign, dangerous, alluring and overwhelming all at the same time. I’m frightened of it, surprised by it, because I have never felt this way before.... not even with Dexter. I am panting, searching his eyes for an explanation, for security...

He understands what is happening. “I know baby girl, I feel it too.” He waits, breathing hard.

“More,” I demand as my appetite for him becomes covetous. All I want is a greater portion of him.

A wicked smile spreads across his face, before pulling me back to him as we explore one another for the first time. He thrust his tongue hungering into my mouth, causing me to move my hips against his erection.

I grind against him as he curses against my lips, before he separates his lips from our kiss.

“What the hell am I doing?” he asks himself, trying to catch his breath before bringing his forehead to mine. “I’m so sorry, Raven, I don't know what I was thinking.”

He lifts me up off him and stands up before running his fingers through his hair. “I have to go.”

“Hugh?!”

I’m still trembling from our kiss as I watch him walk to the exit without looking back at me once.

“Hugh! Don't take off like this.”

He stops at the doorway just as he’s about to leave. He leans his forehead against the opened door and mumbles something inaudible under his breath. Hugh settles there, turned away from me, breathing rapidly before he stands up straight, squaring his shoulders.

“Please,” I whimper, to no avail, because there is a finality about his conversations, like he’s saying goodbye.

“I will call you when I get back to Los Angeles.” And with those comments, he walks out and slams the door.

The sound of the portal closing was a declarative statement... it came like punctuation at the end of a sentence, like an ending to an unwritten story.

Before the door shut, I had hope. A belief that I wouldn't have to be alone because Hugh helped me discover the passion missing in all of my years with Dexter. But after it closed, I realized that I had nothing.

The noise crackled through my apartment like a loud thunderbolt, stinging my insides, leaving me dying with no visible evidence... because all the scaring was internal.

I ball up in a fetal position on the couch and fall apart, crying... mourning the loss of my friend and my husband in one night, not understanding what the hell just happened.

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