Author: Karina Halle
Publisher by: Independent
Published on: TBA
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Add It: Visit on Goodreads
*The Pact is a standalone, contemporary adult romance*
It all started with a pinky swear…
Linden McGregor is tall, rugged, and gunslinger handsome; a helicopter pilot with a Scottish brogue and charm to spare. He’s also one of Stephanie Robson’s best friends and has fit into that box for as long as she’s known him.
Beautiful, funny and an ambitious businesswoman (with one hell of an ass), Stephanie Robson is one of Linden McGregor’s best friends and has fit into that box for as long as he’s known her.
But some relationships can’t be boxed, can’t be classified, can’t be tamed.
Back in their mid-twenties and tired of the competitive hit-or-miss dating scene of San Francisco, Steph and Linden made a pact to marry each other if neither one of them are in a serious relationship by the time they hit thirty.
It sounds like fun and games but as the years to thirty tick past and lovers come and go out of their lives, the pact becomes larger than life.
Sex is inevitable. Friendships are tested. Hearts are on the line.
The pact is about to change everything.
Prologue – Unedited
*Please note: this prologue is unedited, and subject to change.*
“So, do you want to get married?’”
I’m so wrapped up in in what went wrong with my date tonight that I barely hear what Linden is saying. And that’s saying a lot because he usually has my rapt attention no matter what’s going on. I guess tonight’s dinner with Mr. Assface was just too much for me. I mean, what kind of guy wears an ascot and picks his nose in front of you?
“Steph,” he repeats in his light Scottish brogue and I finally tear my eyes off the bubbles in my beer to look at him. Sometimes he makes me wonder why I even bother looking at anyone else, he’s just that fucking handsome.
He’s also my best friend. And I’m pretty sure he just asked me to marry him.
“What?” I ask, trying to make sure I heard him right.
He grins at me. I wish he wouldn’t. Sometimes his smile rips the air from lungs. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s messy, violent and abrupt and I wish it wouldn’t happen because, fuck it, I like breathing.
“I said, do you want to get married?” he says and I’m realizing that perhaps some extremely important conversation has gone on without me knowing about it. Also, Linden…marriage…these things don’t exactly gel together.
“Uh,” I say, and I wish I didn’t feel the heat creep onto my cheeks. “Get married? To you?”
He shrugs and takes a sip of his beer in his easy-going fashion. The bar is dead quiet at this time of night except the music, Faith No More’s aggressive King for a Day that James always puts on when the night is over and he wants people to leave.
James, the owner of The Burgundy Lion, my ex-boyfriend and Linden’s best friend, is puttering about, cleaning up the tables and shooting passive-aggressive looks at the group of four who is gathered in the corner, the only other people left in the bar at ten minutes to closing.
“Yeah, to me,” Linden eventually says, casually, as if we are deciding which movies to see this weekend. “But I also meant in general.”
I stare at him for a few beats. He looks self-assured as always, rubbing his fingers along the length of his beard as he stares at me right back. Linden and I are close – as close as you can be for a purely platonic man and woman scenario. But even so, we’d never really discussed topics like this. Our shitty dating lives, yes. But marriage and the future, what we really wanted from life? No.
“Let me get this straight,” I say but I can’t find the words to continue. I take in a deep breath. “You’re asking me to marry you?”
He sighs and sits back in his chair, one strong forearm hung over the back, his fingers toying with the ends of my newly dyed jet-black hair.
“Baby Blue,” he says, his own personal nickname for me stemming from the fact that when we first met, I had blue hair the color of Caribbean waters. “Tell me about your date again.”
I give him a look. “I’d rather not, cowboy.” My nickname for him since he has the chiseled looks and furrowed brow of a young Clint Eastwood. Also, sometimes he’s a bit of a chauvinistic asshole as most stereotypical gunslingers can be.
“Right. And I’d rather not get into why the last five dates of mine ended with me jerking it in the shower.”
Pleeeeeease don’t make me think of you jerking it in the shower, I think, or things are going to get really inappropriate, really fast. At least in my head. Then again, my head is usually always inappropriate. It’s like a Pintrest page of hot, barely dressed men 24/7 up in there.
“And so,” he goes on, forcing my attention back his words and not naughty images, “don’t you start wondering if this is going to get any easier? You’re beautiful, smart, I’m beautiful, smart,” he pauses and smiles to himself, “obviously. We’re turning twenty-five this year…what if we have to keep dealing with this? All this shit, never going anywhere.”
I raise a brow, not really sure what to do with this side of him. Is he pulling my leg or being genuine? He always has that dickish smirk not matter what kind of shit he’s saying and he’s pulled the rug out from under me more than a few times.
“Well, I like to think my life might take more of an optimistic path,” I tell him.
He smiles and nods. “And it should. It really should, I mean look at you.”
Look at me? I think, wondering what exactly he sees.
“But what if the planet is full of fucking morons? Then what…” he trails off and looks around the bar before he leans in and only then do I look close into his dark blue eyes and see that he’s drunk. “We’re good for each other. You know this makes perfect sense.”
I don’t know what I think. “You’re drunk, Linden.”
“I’m a man with a plan.”
“Since when have your life plans ever involved marriage?”
He shrugs and runs a hand through his thick, mahogany hair. “You may be one of my best friends, Baby Blue, but you don’t know everything about me.”
His mouth quirks up into a half-smile. “But when we’re married there will be plenty of time for that. Also, sex.”
Okay, now I can see this is kind of a joke for him, as most things in life are. “What if I never want to get married?” I point out, putting the image of us having hot, sweaty sex out of my mind.
“When have I ever waxed on about marriage or babies or life plans?”
“Never,” he admits. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t think about it. Why else would you always be dating?”
“Because I like to get laid.”
He laughs. “Another reason why we’re a perfect match.”
I purse my lips, staring at him. I think I need another drink.
Linden reads my mind. He gets up off the bar stool and walks behind the bar. James isn’t paying attention and even if he was, he wouldn’t say anything. Linden and I were twenty-one, James twenty-three, when the three of us first started working at The Burgundy Lion. Linden and I eventually went on to bigger and hopefully better things, while James ended up buying the place. There’s still a bit of an employee mentality for us – I don’t think James has ever charged us for a drink.
Linden takes two bottles of Anchor Steam out of the fridge and slides them to me. It’s our annual autumn heatwave in San Francisco and Linden has the sleeves of his rumpled grey dress shirt rolled up, showcasing his strong, tanned forearms and the Charles Bukowski quotes he has tattooed on the insides. He’s wearing a pair of khaki knee-length shorts that highlight his toned ass. On his feet are his worn black Keds that I think he’s had ever since we first met, but it suits him.
If it’s wrong to occasionally ogle your best friend, I don’t want to be right.
“So what do you say?” he asks as he sits back down beside me.
“You’re actually serious?”
He nods and nudges the beer towards me. “Drink up and then maybe you’ll say yes. I have to say, you’re bruising my ego a little bit here.”
“That’s not a bad thing,” I tell him and I mean it. Linden McGregor is funny, kind, smart, handsome and ambitious. He’s got a BA in business and is almost done getting his helicopter pilot’s license. He’s one hot package that any girl would be lucky to snatch up.
But he’s also egotistical, cocky, arrogant and a player. It’s hard to get any real emotion out of him other than intensity – he’s got this way of looking at you, at life, like he’s trying to spear you alive. He lives his life on the selfish side, can be passionate about something (or someone) one minute, then indifferent the next. He’s a complicated guy and one that I am honored to call my best friend.
Yet, marriage – hell, a relationship – is a whole new ballgame when it comes to him and not one I’m ready or willing to play. Yes, I think he’s gorgeous, yes the way he looks at me sometimes does foolish things to my stomach, yes I have often thought about sleeping with him.
I mean, more than I should.
But this kind of agreement wouldn’t work.
Luckily, I know Linden is just joking around.
I take a long sip of my beer, making him sweat it out a little bit, push my thumb into that bruise on his ego, before I nod and say, “Fine.”
“Are you serious?”
“I guess so?”
He smiles broadly enough for those secret dimples to pop up. “You’ve made me a very lucky man, Stephanie Robson.”
I roll my eyes. “We’ll see about that. With any luck, we’ll both be in serious relationships by age thirty and I won’t have to entertain the thought of doing your laundry for the rest of my life.”
“Or doing me,” he adds with a wink which only prompts another eye roll from me. “Pinky swear on it. You know I don’t break those.”
And it’s true, he doesn’t. Maybe he’s more serious about this than I thought.
I swallow and hold out my pinky finger. He swiftly wraps his around mine, his skin hot and soft to touch.
“If neither of us are in a serious relationship by the time we are both thirty,” he says, looking me so dead in the eye that I can’t help but hold my breath, “then we agree to marry each other. Agree?”
I find my voice. “Agree.”
He then pulls my hand toward his mouth and kisses the top of it. Even more air is taken from my lungs.
“I think I just made the best back-up plan ever,” he says, his lips moving against my skin before he lets go of my hand and picks up his beer instead, clinking it against mine. “To us.”
I mouth the words but they don’t come out.
“Damn, it took them forever to leave,” James says as he comes over to us. “How many times can I say ‘we’re closing soon’ before they get the hint.”
“Maybe you oughta start pulling a gun out,” Linden says. “Or better yet, start singing.”
“Shut up,” James tell him. “I sing back-up once and I never live it down.” Linden and James used to be in a local band together, with Linden on vocals and lead guitar and James on bass but although they were good, they weren’t really good enough to keep going. San Francisco has a pretty competitive indie scene.
“Oh guess what?” Linden says, his eyes sparkling.
“Do I dare?” James asks with a sigh as he moves behind the bar to start wiping down the counter for the millionth time.
“Steph and I are getting married,” he says brightly.
James pausing and looks up at me to gauge Linden’s validity. “It’s true,” I say, though it doesn’t sound sincere.
“What?” he asks, now looking at the both of us. I want to say there isn’t a hint of hurt threading his brow but I can’t be sure. Sometimes I forget that we used to be lovers, which is kind of ridiculous. It was only a few days after I started working at The Burgundy Lion, when James and I hit it off and ended up dating for a year. Linden was his best friend and that’s how I got to know him.
Obviously the break-up was fairly amicable because James and I are still good friends, but when it came down to it, I broke up with him and though he acted like it was more or less mutual, I always wondered if I’d hurt him more than I thought.
“You know I like my back-up plans,” Linden goes on. “So we made a pact. If neither one of us are in a serious relationship when we hit thirty, we get married.”
James blinks at us before tucking a strand of his shaggy black hair behind his ears. “This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard of.”
Linden raises his chin. “Aw, don’t be jealous, man.”
James scoffs. “I’m not jealous. The two of you in a marriage? World’s pickiest woman with the world’s biggest manwhore? Yeah, have fun with that.”
“Hey,” I say indignantly. I’m not that picky.
But Linden takes no offence. “Oh we will. So why don’t you pop open some champagne to celebrate with us?”
James gives him a pointed look. “Are you the one buying?”
He shrugs. “It’s our pre-engagement present from you.”
James sighs heavily, like he has some weight on his shoulders, but concedes. He always concedes to Linden. “Fine,” he says, and brings out a bottle of sparkling wine from the fridge. It pops open with a flourish and he pours it into mason jar glasses.
We cheers to the pact once again and then lapse into our normal conversation about the latest bands, movies, TV shows, hockey (James and Linden are huge fans of the San Jose Sharks).
I sip my drink and can’t help but feel the slightest bit relieved. In five years, all the dating and the strife could be over. In five years, there’s the tiniest possibility that I could marry my best friend.
I wonder if five years is long enough to change my mind.