New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo is back with a new steamy, emotional and angsty love story you don’t want to miss! Get your copy of SAVAGE LOVE today!
When I walked into the bar across from the hospital, all I wanted was a drink to help me forget the worst day of my life. What I got was sexy, mysterious Jake Maxwell and the most amazing one-night stand of my life.
Months later, he seeks me out with an unconventional offer: He’d like to take me and my dog for a walk.
My lazy dog could use the exercise, and I could use something to distract me from the pain of my sister’s death. Jake’s bad puns, gorgeous smile, and protective nature turn out to be the perfect medicine for my injured soul.
But just like the day we met, that one date turns into so much more. And as Jake and I grow closer, it becomes difficult to separate his pain from my own.
All I want is to share the burden of his secret. But some truths are too savage to be spoken.
Savage Love is a new steamy, emotional stand-alone romance from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo. This book deals with sensitive subject matter. Due to graphic scenes and strong language, reader discretion is advised.
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Read an excerpt from SAVAGE LOVE
When we’ve finished lathering Gary, I let the water out of the tub and pass the handheld shower-head to Jake, so he can do the rinsing. Twice, Gary tries to shake the water off before Jake is done, soaking our shirts with soapy, gray bathwater. Eventually, I remember that this is supposed to be a lesson. So I show Jake how to stop him from shaking off the water by placing his hand on Gary’s head.
Afterward, I give Jake the large orange bath sheet I’ve designated for Gary, and he drapes it over him. He spends a few minutes towel-drying him, then he wraps the bath sheet around his damp body, lifts him out of the tub, and cradles my boy in his arms like a baby.
He nuzzles Gary’s wet nose, and my dog takes this as an invitation to settle his snout into the crook of Jake’s solid neck. “You were a very good boy,” Jake coos. “Yes, you were.”
I stare at him as my heart turns to mush. “Sorry about your shirt.”
He laughs as Gary licks his neck.
“I don’t mind,” he says, glancing at my chest. “But you might want to change yours.”
I look down and gasp. My nipples are showing through the light-pink top I’m wearing.
Jake follows me out of the bathroom with Gary still cradled in his arms. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
I tug open the second drawer of my dresser and pull out a purple UW T-shirt. When I turn around, I find Jake and Gary lying on my bed, smiling at each other as he continues to towel-dry him. What the fuck is going on here?
“Am I getting swooped by a Golden Retriever?” I say as I unfold the T-shirt.
“Excuse me, but we’re trying to have a moment here,” Jake says, scratching Gary’s belly as Gary attempts to make himself comfortable on my pillow.
“Well, can you close your eyes for a moment, so I can change my shirt?”
He looks at me with obvious confusion. “Are you serious?”
I roll my eyes and briskly remove my top, revealing that I’m not wearing a bra.
“Happy now?” I say as I pull on the clean T-shirt.
He stops scratching Gary’s belly and reaches down to adjust the crotch of his jeans as his gaze zeroes in on my chest.
“I should get going.” He springs up from the bed, giving Gary a mild startle. “Sorry, buddy.”
“I thought this was nothing you hadn’t seen before?” I say, grinning at the effect my body has on him.
He shakes his head. “Yeah, but that’s like when an alcoholic tells you they’ll be fine having just one beer. Never believe that shit.”
I finish pulling my hair out of the back of my T-shirt. “So, you’re the alcoholic and I’m the beer in this analogy, right?”
Now that I’m fully clothed, he allows his gaze to wander the length of my body from my bare feet all the way upward until his eyes meet mine.
“I’d say you’re more of a bourbon straight up, but yes. You’re dangerous,” he says, maintaining a safe distance between us.
My brow furrows at the word dangerous. “Do you mean that in general? Or am I only dangerous to you? ’Cause, honestly, I think I’m pretty boring.”
He shakes his head as I make my way toward him. “Trust me, boring is not a word I’d use to describe you.”
I stop a few feet away from him to respect his personal space. “Speaking of drinking, are you thirsty? Can I interest you in a glass of the finest tap water in America?”
The change of subject seems to put him at ease.
“Actually, I’ve answered a lot of your questions today. But there’s one question you haven’t answered for me yet.”
He flashes me a charming smile, and it definitely looks like he’s been dying to get something off his chest. “I already answered this question for you, so it’s my turn to ask it… Have you thought of me since that night?”
I chuckle at the insinuation that I could somehow forget the best and worst day of my life. “You’re kidding, right?”
He looks pleased with my response. “Is that a yes?”
“Uh… that’s a big yes. I mean…” My voice trails off as memories of that day flash in my mind: his arms carrying me, his solid chest pressing me against the shower wall, the way he knew exactly how I wanted to be kissed, the way he effortlessly slipped into the role of friend-slash-lover-slash-caregiver, then just as easily slipped away into the night. “You’re not exactly easy to forget.”
His smile is tempered by this disclosure. “I do aim to please.”
The response feels hollow, almost as if he’s uncomfortable being thought of as unforgettable. Some people are naturally bad at accepting praise. Dahlia would say this kind of behavior is a trauma response.
Maybe it makes him uneasy to picture me thinking about him every day. Was he hoping I’d say he barely crossed my mind? Was he being hyperbolic last night when he claimed he thought of me every day?
Maybe I’m just overthinking this.
“Do you have to get going?” I ask as he takes his phone out of his pocket to glance at the screen.
“Yeah, I have a meeting in the morning with—well, it’s about tips.”
My eyebrows pinch together as I feel a little confused. “You’re having a meeting about bar tips?”
My question makes him laugh. “No, not bar tips. T-I-P-S is the acronym for the software project. I just call it tips. It’s easier.”
I cast a sideways glance in his direction. “Are you allowed to tell me what T-I-P-S stands for?”
“No, but don’t worry. It’s not very interesting. Unlike you.”
I smile at his uncanny ability to always bring the subject back to me.
“Okay,” I say, accepting his inability to discuss the project.
I try not to let my disappointment show, but the secretiveness surrounding his work feels like one more roadblock to getting to know Jake. And now that he’s leaving so soon after I basically flashed my breasts at him, I question whether I’ve misread him.
His expression becomes serious as he holds my gaze for a long moment.
“I’m not leaving because I want to,” he clarifies, and his tone is urgent with the need for me to believe him. “I’m leaving because I don’t want to mess this up again. Okay?”
My body tingles as I’m flooded with feel-good chemicals. “Okay.”
I remind myself of Dahlia’s warning to not get caught up questioning whether Jake likes me. So, instead, I take her advice and ask myself, do I like Jake?
Of course, I like him. And now that I think about it, it’s ridiculous to question if he feels the same. The question isn’t whether we like each other. The real question is, are we right for each other?
And there’s only one way to find out.
As I lead him to the door, the feel-good chemicals slowly dissipate as I worry this is the last time I’m going to see him. But as I place my hand on the door handle, I freeze when I feel his body pressed softly against my back.
“You smell really fucking good,” he murmurs as he gently turns me around so we’re facing each other.
I swallow hard as his gaze lands on my mouth. “So do you.”
The corner of his mouth curves upward.
“Is this okay?” he whispers, brushing the backs of his fingers over my cheek.
I nod. “Yes.”
His hand moves down slowly, grazing my jaw as he reaches around to clasp the back of my neck.
I nod again as his fingers slip under the hair at my nape, gently closing around it.
“How about this?” he says, leaning forward to lay a soft kiss on my cheek.
The sensation of his scruff and his lips against my skin sends a jolt of pleasure coursing through me. I nod slowly to let him know what he’s doing is very okay, and he responds by tightening his grip ever so slightly on my hair. The throbbing between my legs transforms into a painful ache as my need to kiss him becomes unbearable.
He softly brushes his lips down my cheek and places a tender kiss on the corner of my mouth.
“I’ve been dreaming of having you for months,” he murmurs as the enormous bulge in his jeans presses against my belly. “But this time, I’m going to be patient and take my time with you.”
I reach up to grab fistfuls of his T-shirt for support as my knees get weak.
“Being patient isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” I whisper as I struggle to catch my breath. “I mean, patience has gotten us Game of Thrones fans nowhere.”
He takes my face in his hands and looks me in the eye. “There will be a next time. I promise.”
I want to point out that he said something similar before he skipped out on me in the middle of the night, but I remind myself that we’d only known each other for a few hours then. And we didn’t have sex today, so it’s not like he used me so he could take my dog for a walk. For now, his promise is enough to assuage my worries about him disappearing again.
I flash him a warm smile to let him know I believe him. Mercifully, he takes my gesture as permission to kiss me.
His mouth lands softly over mine. His kiss just feels so right. Even with the rasp of his new facial hair abrading my lips, it’s as perfect as it was that night; as if he’s the first and only man I’ve ever kissed. Like we invented the kiss and everyone else just copied us.
When he pulls away, my head feels heavy, my thoughts fuzzy, as if I’ve downed a few cocktails. But I know it’s just the intoxicating effects of Jake’s touch.
The corner of his mouth pulls upward as he seems to recognize the effect he has on me. “I’ll text you later.”
He places one last kiss on the tip of my nose before he opens the door to leave. I stand partially in the doorway, holding the door slightly ajar as he heads toward the stairs. He glances back a couple of times with that sexy grin that makes me want to straddle him. The sight elicits a sigh from deep in my chest.
But my mind snaps back to reality when the door across the hallway opens, and my creepy neighbor emerges. As if they can sense something is wrong, Gary is suddenly prodding the backs of my legs, and Jake looks over his shoulder one last time before he descends the stairs. When he glimpses the man in the hallway, his gaze locks on him with an intensity I’ve seen in his eyes before, but never really understood.
I glance at my neighbor, but Jake’s presence gives me the courage not to smile this time. When I turn back to Jake, he’s stopped at the top of the stairs, watching and waiting, as if he can sense my uneasiness from thirty feet away.
“Hey,” my creepy neighbor says, glancing at my legs as Gary pushes his snout through my thighs, trying desperately to get past me.
I don’t respond to him, and he laughs.
“Is something funny?” I ask, reaching down to grab Gary’s collar as he’s now trying to squeeze past me through the gap between my leg and the doorframe.
My creepy neighbor stops in the corridor and turns his body halfway toward me. “I’m just trying to be friendly, but you seem to think you’re too good to say hi to me. So, yeah, I think it’s funny that you think I give a shit.”
My eyes widen as my pulse races. “You think I don’t say hi to you because I think I’m too good for you?”
But before he can answer, Jake arrives and positions himself between us.
“Is something wrong?” Jake asks me as he shoots the guy a deadly glare.
“No, it’s just neighbor stuff,” I reply, but I immediately regret downplaying the way this guy puts me so on edge.
I don’t want to get in a feud with my neighbor, but I also don’t want to feel threatened by this man’s aggressive insecurities every time I open my front door.
Unsatisfied with my answer, Jake turns to my neighbor. “Is there a problem?”
They’re both about the same height, but I’m certain that if this became physical, Jake would rip my skinny neighbor to shreds. And I wouldn’t want Jake to get in trouble for something like that.
My neighbor casts an unfriendly glance in my direction. “I don’t got any problems, man.”
Maintaining my grip on Gary’s collar, I venture into the hallway, letting the door close behind me so I can position myself and my dog between Jake and the creepy guy. But this only excites Gary and, as if he too is emboldened by Jake’s presence, my docile old man begins barking.
My neighbor doesn’t appreciate it, sneering at Gary the way he usually does.
“He’s supposed to be on a leash,” he remarks, then he turns around and heads toward the stairs.
“How about you mind your fucking business?” Jake calls after him.
Jake’s voice is calm, almost playful, as if he’s daring him to say or try something.
My neighbor stops in the middle of the corridor and turns around. “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”
Jake closes the distance between them in a few strides and my neighbor appears afraid as he takes a few steps back, bumping into the wall behind him.
“We’ll see about what?” Jake says, getting in his face. “Is that a threat? Are you threatening her?”
My heart is pounding out of my chest as I’m frozen in place.
“I’m not threatening her, but she needs to keep that dog on a leash. It’s the building rules,” my neighbor says, his words tumbling out fast as he repeatedly glances in my direction, as if he’s silently pleading with me to intervene.
My body breaks out of freeze-mode and moves into fight-mode as I open the door and push Gary inside.
“You know I never have Gary off-leash,” I say to my neighbor, then I make my way to Jake and carefully place a hand on his arm. “He can’t actually make a complaint.”
Jake’s chest rises and falls heavily as he continues to stare at my neighbor. “Are you going to leave her alone?”
“I won’t make a complaint.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Jake says, his tone low and deadly now. “I asked if you’re going to leave her alone.”
My neighbor glances at me and nods.
Jake’s fists are clenched at his sides as he steps back and nods toward the stairs. “Leave.”
My neighbor wastes no time disappearing down the stairwell. When I can no longer hear his footsteps, I look up at Jake. His eyes are fixed on the stairwell as the rise and fall of his chest slows. After a moment, he turns to me and his face is a mixture of emotions, some of which I can’t discern. But I definitely recognize regret and anger.
“I hope I didn’t scare you. It just pisses me off when guys try to intimidate women for just existing.”
“That’s a pretty accurate description of my relationship with that neighbor.”
He looks concerned now. “How long has he been harassing you?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it harassment, but—”
“It’s harassment. That guy has creeper written all over his fucking face.”
I pause as I consider whether I should downplay how much I agree with his assessment. “It’s only been a couple of times that he’s made me feel uncomfortable. But I’m sure he’ll think twice about it now.”
“A couple of times is twice too many. If he says or does anything again, you need to come to me.”
“I’ll just tell management about it.”
Jake shakes his head, and his eyes are filled with a blazing need for me to understand him. “No, you don’t understand. They won’t do anything. He pays rent just like you, and they always give these creeps the benefit of the doubt. You come to me. You understand?”
I nod, almost afraid to disagree with him. “I do. And I will. I’ll tell you if he does anything else.”
He heaves a deep sigh of relief. “Fuck. I should get going. But I’m definitely going to text you later.”
He grabs my face and kisses my forehead before pulling me into a tight hug. I bury my face in his chest as I wrap my arms around his waist.
“I don’t want you to be scared,” he says, kissing the top of my head before he lets go of me.
“I’m not,” I assure him.
He nods, but he doesn’t seem convinced.
“Lock your door,” he says, flashing me a guarded smile as he turns to leave.
As he descends the stairs, I wonder why that entire encounter felt strange to me. It isn’t until I’m back inside, and running the dog brush through Gary’s fur, that I’m finally able to put my finger on it.
Jake seems to feel my neighbor presents more of a danger to me than I do. Is this because men are better able to sense another man’s ill intentions? Or is Jake one of those volatile guys who can never resist the opportunity for a confrontation?
I shake my head at this thought as Gary rolls onto his back to discourage me from brushing his fur.
I recall how Jake helped me with Gary today. I don’t think he’s the type of guy who goes looking for a fight. He seems more like the guy who goes looking for someone to save. But this could be because his father was a literal hero who flew around in a helicopter rescuing people.
Whatever it is, I think what matters most is that I feel safe with him. Whether I know him enough to justify those feelings is a chance every woman—and man—takes when starting a new relationship. I hope this safe feeling lasts.
After I’m done grooming Gary, and I’ve settled down into bed around midnight, my phone buzzes on my nightstand.
Jake: Are you safe in bed?
I reply with a selfie of just my face and the covers tucked under my chin.
Jake: What do you have on underneath those blankets?
I hesitate as I consider sending him a picture of my black panties and bare breasts, but I decide against it as I remember his comment about patience.
Me: Just a T-shirt and panties.
Jake: What kind of T-shirt?
Me: Actually, I’m not wearing a shirt.
Jake: And you sent me a pic of your covers pulled up to your chin?
Me: I didn’t want to get you too excited.
Jake: Good call. Just the thought of it has me dangerously close to hopping in my truck and heading straight over there.
Me: In that case, I lied about the underwear too.
Jake: I want you to touch yourself tonight. And I want you to imagine it’s my mouth on you while you do it.
Me: Okay. Anything else you want me to do?
Jake: I want you to come to the bar this weekend and meet my friends.
I stare wide-eyed at the text message as I try to think of a response.
Me: Are you sure?
Jake: I’m positive. I’ll pick you up Saturday at 9:30. Cool?
I bite my lip as a million questions mingle in my mind. Is this too fast? Is this a test? Do I actually want to do this?
My muscles warm as I remind myself I have a gorgeous man who wants to protect me and support me. And he’s considering making me a part of his life.
My body relaxes into the mattress and an uncontrollable grin spreads across my face. The cocktail of emotions I’m feeling right now is exactly what I needed when I walked into Jake’s bar four months ago. It took him a few tries, but he finally got it right.
Jake: Goodnight, baby.
Me: Goodnight, 007.
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Catastrophe. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.
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