This is actually two chapters that I pulled from what could have been the start to Playing At Love. I cut them so that I could get more quickly to the crux of Conor's journey of trying to find some way to repair his relationship with Gavin, the friend he betrayed. But I still enjoy looking back at these scenes where Conor rushes blindly down the wrong road, stubbornly trying to convince himself that Colette is the one he should be with, the one who will help him fix his mistakes. It also illuminates how it is that he backed into a second engagement with Colette. Hope you enjoy this extra bit from the Rogue Series Novels!

* * * 

The thrust of it was out there now. Conor Quinn, book smart but love dumb had made his confession to his ex, certain on the surface of things that it was the way to start anew. It would take him longer than he’d like to admit to realize the whole exercise had been a continuation of what he had done all his life: let his reckless heart lead the way.

When Colette’s lack of a response stretched out, he rushed to sum up. “So, it happened once,” he said. “Just once. And there’s nothing more there.”

Then he dropped his eyes from hers and looked down at his hands. The irritation on the thumb of his fret hand was beginning to turn into a callous. With the band on indefinite hiatus, there wasn’t much else to do besides work on new music by himself.

“I don’t think I understand,” she said slowly. “How did this happen? When?”

Conor took a deep breath and held it as he watched a pigeon flit by outside the living room window. The bird held its own as it trailed a bicyclist down Barrow Street. He watched both until they slid by and out of sight. The afternoon light had faded into twilight and shadows blanketed the room, but she hadn’t made a move to turn on a lamp.

Finally, he let out his breath and answered, “A couple months ago, after we broke up—”

“You mean, after you ended our engagement.”

“I, em . . . yeah.”

She nodded sharply at the validation. “Go ahead. Explain.”

He nodded, opened his mouth, and then shut it. After two months of stewing over the mess he had made of things, he had concocted this grand gesture of showing up unannounced at Colette’s New York City apartment to win her back.

“Well? Speak. That’s what you came here for, right?”

He forced himself to meet her eyes. “Yes. So, the explanation is this: I stopped by to see Gavin but he was in LA and Sophie was at a loss for what to do about their marriage, what with him lost to cocaine and MIA in general. We . . . it just happened.”

Colette narrowed her eyes at him. “Why are you telling me?”

Because it’s gonna come out one way or another. Because I need you on my side as I try to fix all this. And I don’t want to lose you for not saying anything at the start.

“Listen,” he said instead. He pulled his sunglasses off his head and shifted in his seat on the red fabric sofa they shared. “I want you back. I want to make a real go of it, with nothing in our way this time. You always thought Sophie and I had a history. I thought you deserved to know all that it amounted to. It was a one-time thing that is one hundred percent over and will never happen again.”

“Because?” When he hesitated too long, she added, “Here’s where you say because you love me, not her.”

Fuck. This wasn’t going exactly as he’d envisioned. He had lost control of things almost immediately. At thirty-one, he had spent the last fifteen years taking care and control over his image. He was in excellent physical condition due to a merciless dedication to running and weights, forcing himself to maintain a strict schedule despite any rock star indulgences. He consciously chose a casual style that was never too trendy but still left an impression that he was well put together. And he always sported a clean-shaven face with meticulously trimmed and styled hair, all the better to showcase his high cheekbones and square jaw. Years of passion-fueled hard work had afforded him the ability to manipulate the guitar as if it was a toy instrument, and he knew that his stage presence had become iconic in the rock world. These were the things he could control. And that control gave him pleasure and comfort.

The thing he had never been able to control, the thing that had wreaked such havoc in his life, was his heart. Sophie had suggested more than once that he was attracted to her precisely because it was reckless. That as much as he wanted to control everything else in his life, he was drawn to crossing the line with her to get a taste of what it felt like to let go. She would tease him over it and he would let her indulge in the partially accurate theory, while inwardly basking in the attention she gave him.

The inability to wrangle his heart was evident in the way his thoughts still wandered to Sophie, even as he sat begging Colette to give him another chance. Jesus, what was his problem?

He had come here, convinced that if he could move forward with Colette, it would mitigate the damage he had done and bring order back to his life. The idea was to consciously manipulate his heart for once, instead of the other way around. And Colette was the key. Being both stubborn and a master at compartmentalization, he hadn’t allowed himself to think of the reasons why this plan was inherently flawed.

Before he could formulate an appropriate response to Colette’s last remark, she stood up and went to the dollhouse-sized kitchen. She slapped at the wall switch, turning on pendant lights over the breakfast bar. Pulling down a glass from the cabinet, she gave herself a generous pour from the already uncorked bottle of Burgundy on the counter. She did not offer him a glass.

Conor placed his sunglasses on the coffee table and joined her. “You are the one I love. That’s why I’m here. Let me show you I mean it.”

He watched as she stared contemplatively into her glass, swirling the liquid before taking a large swallow.

“Let me see if I get the timeline of all this. You slept with your best friend’s wife—my friend—after we broke up. While she and Gavin were separated?”

Conor thought about this for a lengthy moment before responding with a simple “yes.” Though, had Gavin and Sophie been officially separated? He wasn’t certain of that. It had been a complicated situation. But he knew it would do Colette no good to hear him say that.

“And it never happened before that? Not when you two stayed here together in my apartment, not any of the other times the tabloids put you together?”

Shaking his head, Conor looked her in the eyes wearily. “No, as I said, it was just the once.”

“Why only once, Connie? You must have been so happy to be with her after all that time waiting.”

“Colette, I was never waiting for her.” He washed his hands over his face as his patience began to wear thin. “And don’t fucking call me Connie. You know how much I hate it.”

“Don’t fookin’ call me Connie,” she said, mocking his Irish accent.

“Really?” He raised his eyebrows as he watched her.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I don’t know the best way to respond when my ex-fiancé shows up from out of nowhere to tell me he fucked another woman.”

“I realize you’re not overjoyed to hear this, but please remember that we weren’t together at the time.”

“You’ll have to forgive my lack of decorum,” she said flatly.

She was angry he had decided to tell her everything, and he couldn’t blame her. But at the same time, he was beginning to reach his own limits of how far he would chase her.

“She and Gavin aren’t together anymore, though?” she continued.

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Honey, Gavin and I aren’t even on speaking terms. And if we were, it would be strictly about music.”

The feeling of utter loss for this man’s friendship was nearly all consuming.  

”We certainly wouldn’t talk about Sophie,” he added with distraction.

“I’m trying to understand why you aren’t with her now.”

“She’s not the one for me,” he said, picking at the callous on his hand.

“Am I to be your consolation prize? Is that what this is?”

“No,” he said firmly and met her eyes. “You are my love, the one who challenges and excites me. No one else gives me what you give me. I don’t want to be without you.”

It was clear his declaration wasn’t enough to win her over. He saw the indecision map its way through her dark brown eyes as she appeared to waver between wanting to give in and rejecting him outright. He decided to risk going on the offense.

“Listen, I’m not terribly happy about you sleeping with Jackson.”

“That’s—“

“He is—was—a friend,” he interrupted, “And it felt like shite when I found out. But I’m able to put it in perspective.” He paused. “Because, ultimately, I know we weren’t together at the time so you were free to do . . . whatever.”

“You’re damn right I was,” she said, raising her chin in a show of defiance.

He inclined his head slightly to acquiesce.

In the moment of silence that followed, he could see she understood what he was offering. He would ignore her indiscretion if she ignored his. And more importantly, he was done with his mea culpa.

“Honey, listen. You know I’m not one for romantic gestures. So, I want you to understand that I’ve made this effort to be here because I want to make things right and start again. Give us one more chance.”

To press his point, Conor closed the distance between them and stood so their bodies grazed. He put his finger under her chin, guiding her head up slightly so that he could look into her eyes and dismiss her doubts.

She held his gaze but he didn’t see the give he wanted from her.

He slid his other hand up the nape of her neck, and she shivered against him before he closed his fingers around a fistful of her hair, tugging gently as he kissed her.

There was only a moment’s hesitation before she kissed him hard in return.

He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her tightly to him, holding her face with his other hand. As they kissed he could feel her body relax. Then she tried to take control in her typical fashion. She wrapped her arms around his neck, teased her breasts against his chest, and rubbed her thigh against his crotch, leaving him no doubt as to what was going to happen next.

Both to indulge her love of drama, and to wrest some power back from her, he broke away from their kiss. Before she could respond, he leaned down and pulled her by the hips over his shoulder, carrying her to the bedroom as she laughed and kicked her legs with delight.

They had always enjoyed a fierceness with their lovemaking, and now it was raised to a new level as she bit his lips, earlobes, and neck in between kisses and dug her nails into his back. She was expert at reading his level of excitement and liked to tease him to the brink before pulling away. Normally, he enjoyed playing along as this heightened his ultimate release, but now she took it to tortuous lengths. She wanted him to beg. But that wasn’t going to happen.

He would think about—and feel—the psychology of this love making for days afterward. He had assumed he wouldn’t get out of this confession unscathed, but he didn’t realize the damage would be so physical.

#

Steam followed Conor out of the bathroom as he pulled a towel around his hips. The bed was empty. He could hear sounds coming from the kitchen. He dressed quickly in jeans and tee-shirt and then laced up his boots, fully expecting Colette would soon be showing him the door. He ran his hand through his short black hair, trying to tame it into some sort of order.

Though they had spent several very satisfying hours having sex, she had never said she would give him what he asked for, another chance. And then she woke him at four in the morning with an alarming question.

“Was the baby yours?”

It had taken him a moment to orient himself. He was lying naked under a pale blue sheet in Colette’s bed.

She stirred beside him, propping herself up on an elbow to better watch him. The drapes had been hastily pulled closed, allowing moonlight to fill the room.

“You say something?” He folded his arm under his head and stretched out his legs.

“Was the baby yours?” she asked again.

“Jesus, you’re not serious at this hour, are you?” he said and sat up. When Sophie had told him she was pregnant, the thought that he might be the father had, of course, rushed to mind. For the briefest of moments, he had let the idea of it warm him from the inside out.

Colette sat up with him, pulling the sheet against her bare breasts in an uncharacteristically self-conscious move.

“While you slept so soundly, I was lying here thinking about your confession. Then I realized you could have fathered the baby that Sophie lost.”

“No, it wasn’t mine,” he said and turned to put his feet on the floor.

“You’re sure of that?” She watched the defined muscles of his back tense.

“I’m sure.” He had been relieved when Sophie made it clear that the baby was Gavin’s. As much as he loved her and wanted her, the warmth of the idea of being a parent with her had drained quickly in favor of cold fear. He had always had an affinity for kids—he was godfather to the band’s bassist’s three kids—and had long known he wanted a family someday. But having a child with Sophie would have irrevocably changed everything for all of them. Talk about losing control.

He got up without another word and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. It was clear he hadn’t thought through all the ramifications of his attempt at a clean-slate confession. Of course she would know about Sophie’s miscarriage—it had been tabloid fodder. Questioning whether he had been the father was reasonable, but yet another thing he hadn’t anticipated.

He leaned over the sink, looking at his tired face in the mirror.

All he had wanted was to put the past behind him. When he had alighted on the idea of giving Colette and their relationship a real chance, he hoped it would also be the way to set things right and regain some control over his life.

Now he had to wonder if he was just compounding one mistake with another by drawing Colette into the mess he had made.

No answers came to him in the moments that followed. He pounded his fist on the countertop and muttered, “Fuck me."

#

The aroma of coffee brewing met Conor as he approached the kitchen. The incongruity of Colette making coffee disoriented him for a moment. He had never seen her use the fancy machine on her counter. Not once.

She had thrown on a modest slip nightgown and pulled her hair into a messy twist.

“What’s this?” he asked, letting his amusement show.

“Don’t laugh. I read the instructions on the coffee maker and I think I can figure out how to make some toast,” she said with a small smile.

Conor sat at the breakfast bar and watched as she dug a bag of frostbitten bread out of her freezer. Like him, she was rarely home so creature comforts were hard to come by. This made the efforts she was going to all the more intriguing.

After a few minutes, she presented him with a cup of hot black coffee and toast spread with butter. She took a seat opposite him with the same food and drink.

“I don’t know if I should ask this,” he said, “but . . . what are you thinking?”

She laughed. “No, it’s a good question.” She took a deep breath and said, “I was thinking that we need to put an end to this Sophie stuff and move forward.”

“Really?”

“I do have some questions before I can let it go, though.”

“Ah,” he said. He straightened up and away from her.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask after—“

“No, you’re right. Absolutely. Fire away.” He took a tentative sip of his coffee, bracing for it to be terrible. But it surprised him by being more than decent.

“Okay, first, I suppose now you’ll admit she was the ‘unavailable’ woman you were in love with?”

Early in their relationship, he had confessed to having only been in love once—with someone who was “unavailable” to him. Apparently Colette had tucked that information away for safekeeping. He knew that his answers here would spell out their future.     

“The truth is, I spent a long time deluding myself into thinking I was in love with her, but what I was really doing was making sure I didn’t give anyone—not even you—a real chance. It was just a kind of immaturity, I guess.”

He was careful to maintain eye contact as Colette watched him for a long moment, to assure her she could believe what he was saying. It was partly true. He had spent the last dozen years taking full advantage of his rock star status by bedding a wide variety of beautiful women, happy to be single and uncommitted on the surface of things. But he had lost his heart to Sophie at the same time, resigning himself to loving her from a distance and pursuing other pleasures.

“Tell me, what would happen if Sophie called you and said she wanted you?”

“I’m not a fan of hypotheticals.”

“What would you do?” she asked slowly, firmly.

 “You understand, don’t you, that my allegiance is to Gavin? To our band. There is no other option.”

“Sounds so noble,” she said.

Conor bit his tongue as he considered her response. How had she not registered the fact that he hadn’t said he would choose her over Sophie? His self-serving instinct had been to say he chose Gavin and the band and that hadn’t seemed to faze her.

“Except for the fact that you cast all that aside as soon as Sophie let you between her legs,” she continued.

Ah, so here was her anger. Granted, it was justified. But how deep was her well of resentment? He didn’t expect he would find the answer to that in this conversation.

He scrambled to think what he could do to salvage things. He had to turn this around so that not only he, but Colette too, could save face.

“Yeah, I slept with her,” he finally said. “And then I walked away. Remember that. I walked away.” He imagined he did a passable job of sounding like the choice had been his. “And I’m here now with you.”

It was obvious Colette took this in with a measure of satisfaction, though he had to give her credit as she did her best to conceal a victorious smile by feigning a sudden interest in the toast that had gone cold on her plate. She rearranged the slices for a moment until she could regain a straight face.

“This would be our last chance,” she told him.

“That’s all I’m asking. A chance.”

She studied him for a moment. “I need to know you’re serious.”

“I am serious.”

“We were planning to be married before you broke it off last time.”

“Yes,” he agreed.  

He had changed everything in their casual but committed relationship when he asked her to marry him that first time. He had proposed to her in reaction to a fight with Gavin that had begun over his cocaine use and how it affected Sophie. The fight ended when he said in a knee-jerk moment that he should have been the one to marry Sophie. He had asked Colette to marry him that same night, willing himself to move on from Sophie and prove to his friend that he hadn’t meant what he said.

Before long, he realized it had been a mistake. It had been one thing to date and chase Colette, but another thing to get married when he knew his heart belonged to Sophie. Breaking it off had been the right thing to do.

But now he found himself here with Colette again, heading straight for the path he had recklessly gone down before.

“I don’t suppose your surprise visit includes a ring?” she asked.

He hadn’t gotten to the buying and presenting of an engagement ring the last time around. There had been nothing for her to give back when he broke it off. Or keep, as he suspected was more likely.

“Em, no. I hadn’t planned a proposal of that sort. I just want to be with you, honey.”

She looked away from him to the living area windows, focusing on the hint of sunlight beginning to break through as dawn approached.

“It’s not enough,” she said softly.

“What’s that?”

She made eye contact with him. “If I’m to let all of this Sophie stuff go and be with you again, I need a commitment from you in return.”

“You’re the only one I want. I’m committed to you.”

“I need you,” she said slowly, “to follow through on your original proposal.”

Though he hadn’t seen it coming, the ultimatum somehow didn’t surprise him. It was actually something he should have thought of prior to coming here. This was the way she could get out of this feeling triumphant. She would take him back despite the messy confession he had made, but only if he made a spectacle of the fact that he had chosen her.  

Conor knew how to prevaricate. He had spent years skirting around the truth when trying to avoid admitting how he felt about Sophie, both to himself and to others. He could have pushed Colette’s suggestion into something less than that kind of commitment, but the momentum of his desire to move forward with his life carried him along. He took her hand into both of his and the words tumbled out of his mouth.

“Yes, let’s get married.”

She gave him a winning smile, her eyes shining not with tears but with excitement.

“I promise you, honey, I’ll love you like you deserve.” He reached out and caressed her cheek. The whole thing was reckless, but he convinced himself in that moment that they could have a long engagement while they sorted out what it was they had. “Will you marry me, then?”

She caught her breath and then released it slowly. “Yes, but—“

“But?” he asked with an incredulous laugh.

Her brow creased as she admitted, “I have to break up with my boyfriend first.”

He shook his head with a bemused smile. “Fuck, I should have known you’d have someone.”

“You’re who I want, mon cher.

“You love me?” he asked as he pulled her into his arms.

“I do.” She kissed him. “I’ll love you even more when you get me the ring I want.”

“How much is that going to cost me?” he asked with a smirk.

“Let’s just say I hope the next album is a smash hit,” she said as she led him back to the bedroom.

© Lara Ward Cosio