The Crush by Penelope Ward



Prologue



* * *





Life can change in a flash—even in what, at first, seem like the most routine of circumstances.

It was one of those busy days at work where the time seemed to go by faster than usual. The Japanese restaurant where I waitressed was packed—the side with hibachi tables and the regular dining section. I bounced back and forth between the two.

“I’m gonna need you to take over table six as well,” my manager told me.

“Sure, no problem,” I answered, taking an order of sukiyaki off the counter.

I’d been waitressing at Mayaka to help make ends meet while paying for school. At twenty-four, I’d gotten a late start on my college education after a few rough years, but I was finally getting my shit together.

Today I’d picked up an earlier shift. That turned out to be a very bad idea, because taking over table six forever changed my day—and perhaps my life.

“Can I start you off with some…” I lost my words. My heart nearly stopped as I looked into a familiar but long-lost face—a face I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again.

His eyes widened.

My notepad fell to the floor.

Jace.

Oh my God.

A woman sat across from him.

Who is that?

My throat closed.

The only thing that felt right was running—so I did.

“Excuse me.” I shook my head and turned around swiftly, making my way to the other side of the restaurant, past the shooting flames of the hibachi tables.

Bursting through the swinging doors, I entered the kitchen. “I have an emergency, Mae. I need to get home. I’m sorry to leave during a busy time, but I really need to go.”

“Is everything alright?” she asked.

My words were rushed. “I hope so. Can’t get into it now. I have to head out. I’m so sorry.”

I bolted out of the kitchen. The sun blinded me as I opened the front door of the restaurant and raced through the parking lot to the sidewalk by the main road. Was leaving work a cowardly thing to do? Absolutely. Had I risked my job? Possibly. But no way was I ready to face him. The last time I’d seen Jace was three years ago, and he’d broken my heart into smithereens. Up until that moment, my heart had only ever belonged to him—since the time I was practically a child.

What was he even doing back in Florida? I’d thought he was gone for good. From the look on his face, he hadn’t been expecting to see me working at Mayaka. Who was that woman with him? Why did he have to look even better than I remembered?

My heart felt heavy as I continued to pound the pavement. Of course I’d decided to walk to work today for exercise. A car would’ve been much better when it came to fleeing my past.

I was just about to cross the busy street when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Jesus, Farrah. Slow the fuck down.”

I flinched, my heart nearly pounding out of my chest.

When I turned around, his steely blue eyes pierced through me, and I wondered how I’d ever thought I could escape having to face him.

Jace forced a sad smile. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were running away from me.”

We both panted. I flashed a nervous grin, not sure whether to laugh or cry.

His question was ironic.

Jace had been gone for three years, and he had the nerve to say I’d run from him? He was the one who’d run away.





Chapter 1



* * *





Farrah



Three-and-a-Half Years Earlier



“Whoa. Where are you going dressed like that?” Jace’s deep voice stopped me in my tracks.

Bingo.

He noticed.

A chill traveled down my spine as I answered, “The Iguana.”

“A bar. Interesting. I thought people wore clothes there.” Jace smirked, opening a pistachio. He popped the nut into his mouth before throwing the shell aside.

I looked down at the crop top that showcased my stomach. I’d worn it specifically to flaunt my new belly ring. My jean shorts barely covered my butt.

Pretending to be peeved, I said, “Last I checked, what I wear isn’t any of your business, Jace.”

“It is my business if I have to go beat some guy’s ass because he gets too drunk and puts his hands where they don’t belong.”

Jace was protective of me, which I both loved and hated. It would’ve been better if he didn’t look at me like a little sister, though. His attitude came from an innocent place. That’s the opposite of what I wanted. None of my feelings for this man were brotherly. But that was my little secret, I supposed.