BOOK THREE:

Outrageously

     in Love

Coming late 2021

What if you could reinvent yourself?

 

I’m in serious trouble. The one time I do something outrageous and it blows up in my face. 

But that sexy stranger on the plane was too hot to resist, and it’s not like I planned to lie to Luke about myself.

 

Now I’m stuck in New York with him, organizing my sister’s wedding and praying like hell everything doesn’t come crashing down around me. This is exactly why I prefer to read about adventures rather than have them.

Except… it turns out I quite like doing crazy things. I’ve discovered a side of myself I didn’t know I had and I’m not sure I can go back to life the way it was before.


With my time in New York running out, I now have to decide if I can take the biggest leap of all—and risk my heart.

 

Outrageously in Love Excerpt

Chapter One

“What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?”


The question is simple enough, and my first response is to grin wickedly, as if I do indeed have something outrageous to share. But the longer I sit there, scanning the depths of my mind for crazy, wild stories, the more I start to realize I’ve done nothing outrageous in my life at all.


Nothing.


Not one, tiny, outrageous thing.


You’d think, in my twenty-eight years, I could have done something outrageous to dazzle them all. I’ve never even had a one night stand, for Christ’s sake.


I shrink back into my chair and pretend to busy myself with the drinks menu. These aren’t even my friends, anyway. Surely they won’t expect me to answer.


“Ooh, I know!” Cassidy, a brunette from Steph’s work, exclaims. Everyone looks at her eagerly and she pauses for effect, drinking in the attention. “I once had sex with a guy in the middle of a rugby field.”


Bloody hell.


“It was like midnight and there was no one around,” she clarifies. As if we’d all been picturing her straddling some guy during the second half of the World Cup match while a ball whizzed past her head, or something.


But still. It doesn’t exactly sound fun.


“Okay, I’ve got one,” Steph—my flatmate—says, her eyes sparkling.


I’ve always loved Steph. She’s not just my flatmate, she’s been my bestie since high school. She knows me better than anyone, and, God love her, she’s always trying to push me out of my comfort zone. If it weren’t for her I’d probably spend all my time at home surrounded by mountains of books. And I’d be perfectly happy with that, by the way, but she insists I “need to get out sometimes”. That’s why I’m here at this bar, drinking, on a Tuesday night.


“I gave a guy a hand job down an alleyway,” Steph says with a giggle.


I try not to groan. This is such a typical Steph story. She’s a lot more, shall we say, sexually adventurous than me. She’s always encouraging me to “get out there and spread my legs”—ick, I know—but she’s calmed down a bit recently, since meeting her boyfriend of three months.


“Alright, your turn,” Cassidy says, gesturing to Heather, beside me. It seems we are going around the circle, and I can only hope I’m not next.


I push my glasses up my nose and fix my eyes back on the drinks menu, trying to extricate myself from this whole thing. I’m never coming out with Steph again.


“Okay.” Heather flicks a wave of blonde hair over her shoulder. “I once had sex with a married guy.”


A married man? I bury my face in the menu to hide the frown I can feel tugging at my brow. I’m all for sexual freedom or whatever, but something about sleeping with a married guy seems… over the line.


And what even was the question again? Why is everything sex-related; is that the only thing that qualifies for outrageous? Has nobody, I don’t know, gone skinny-dipping, or gotten a tattoo spontaneously, or danced drunk on top of a bar? Not that I’ve done any of those things, of course. I can’t even send back food at a restaurant. I mean, I hardly ever go to restaurants, so that example is more hypothetical than literal, but you get what I’m saying.


“Your turn, Harriet.”


My pulse quickens at the mention of my name and I pretend I haven’t heard them, all my energy focused on selecting another drink. Mm, the cocktails sound nice. Or maybe a bunch of tequila shots, to—


“Harriet?”


Heat creeps up my neck as I look up, meeting Cassidy’s gaze. I glance at Steph in a silent plea for help, but she’s engrossed in something on her phone. Swallowing, I mentally scan for something to get them off my back. But my mind is blank.
“C’mon,” Heather presses, “what’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?”


Steph looks up from her phone now, her face breaking into a grin. “You’re asking the wrong person, there,” she says with a good-natured chuckle. Despite the fact that she’s speaking the absolute truth, I feel my cheeks grow hot.


“What?” Cassidy giggles in my direction. “Surely you’ve done something crazy!”


Steph shakes her head and speaks again before I can answer. “Harriet? Are you kidding? She spends all of her time with her nose in a book. She prefers to read about adventures, not have them.”


I feel a sting at her words. Is that really what she thinks of me? I might not be having sex in the middle of a rugby field but I wouldn’t say I don’t do anything exciting.


“Her idea of doing something crazy,” Steph continues as if I’m not even here, “would be returning a library book after the due date.” She shoves me playfully in the arm and the other girls dissolve into giggles.


I shoot Steph a look of annoyance, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She’s just being silly, I know that, but her words hurt a little. I mean, for one, I never return books late. And two, well, I’m not that boring.


Am I?


“Doing something outrageous requires spontaneity, and that’s not really Harriet’s strength,” Steph adds.


What’s so wrong with that?


“So you’ve never, like, jumped in the sack with a hot guy you just met?” Cassidy asks, flabbergasted.
Steph gives me an affectionate pat on the arm. “She’s not really the jumping type.”


“Wait,” Heather interjects, her Kohl-rimmed eyes widening as she leans closer to me. “Are you a virgin, Harriet?”


My face burns. “No,” I say, exasperated. Honestly, are there only two options—you jump into bed with random men you’ve just met, or you’re a virgin?


I’ve had sex with my fair share of men, don’t you worry. I just don’t go around broadcasting it, like this lot. You don’t get to twenty-eight with Steph as your bestie without getting it on with a few guys. And I’ve had loads.


Okay. To be more specific, I’ve had sex with three men. And, quite frankly, they were each more disappointing than the last. I don’t know what Steph is always carrying on about. Maybe I’m missing the horny gene or something. I know my sister got it, that’s for sure; she wrote a romance novel that was really steamy. I can’t even bring myself to tell her I’ve read it.


“Anyway,” Steph says, “don’t worry about Harriet. I’m working on her.”


I roll my eyes, downing the rest of my drink. “Thanks Steph,” I mumble. “But I’m quite happy with my life.”


“I know, but it wouldn’t hurt you to get out there a bit more. Have a little fun, let your hair down.”


“Literally,” Cassidy adds, then howls with laughter as if she’s just said the funniest thing in the world.


I raise a hand self-consciously to my hair, pulled up into a tidy bun on the top of my head—the way I always wear it. What does my hair have to do with anything?


“But seriously, when did you last have sex? I had sex this morning.” Cassidy beams with pride.


“In a bed?” I mutter.


“What?” She leans across the table and I shake my head.


“Nothing.”


“Maybe you should talk to a guy now, get a number,” Heather suggests, her eyes swiveling around the bar. “Ooh what about him?” She jabs a manicured finger towards a tall guy with ruffled blond hair, a leather jacket and ripped jeans, a motorcycle helmet sitting on the bar in front of him. He’s exactly the type of “bad boy” that most women would love.


“Erm, no thanks.” He might be every woman’s type but he’s not mine. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if I even have a type, because most of the time I hardly even think about men.


And before you ask—no, I don’t think about women. My mother assumes since I’m not desperately trying to find a bloke that I must be a lesbian. That’s why I’ve been avoiding her so much lately; I can’t stand another conversation where she tells me she “just wants me to be happy” and she’ll “love me no matter what kind of lifestyle I choose.”


My phone buzzes on the table in front of me and I lunge on it, relieved for the distraction. I hit the talk button as I stand and slip outside the bar, relieved to be away from that racket. “Hello?”


“Hey, Harri. How are you?” It’s my sister Alex—the romance writer—calling from New York.


“Hey! Not bad,” I say, pushing the conversation in the bar from my mind. “How are things?”


“Okay. Just busy with work and wedding stuff, lots to do.”


“Mm,” I say distractedly, eying a couple across the parking lot making out against the side of a Honda. Ugh.


“Yeah, it’s full on,” Alex mumbles. She moved out to New York a year ago and met some older guy called Michael and they’ve been inseparable ever since. Now she’s getting married in a few weeks and I’m her maid of honor—which means flying to New York for the big day.


I’m not looking forward to going all the way over there, if I’m honest. I’ve never been to New York—hell, I’ve never been to America. It scares the bejesus out of me.


Alex sighs heavily on the other end of the phone.


“Everything okay?” I ask.


“Not really. I just got a call from my editor and it turns out she needs the draft of this novel much sooner than I thought. I thought she needed it two months after the wedding, but it’s due in three weeks. Which is like, two days after the wedding.”
“Shit.”


“Yeah.”


Silence stretches between us and I hear her sniffle. My heart squeezes. It’s hard being a million miles away.


“And Mum…” Alex continues, heaving another sigh.


I nod, even though she can’t see me. I know exactly what she’s going to say because I’ve heard Mum go on and on about this since Alex announced her engagement.


“She’s beside herself that I’m marrying an American and not coming home.”


“Yeah,” I murmur. “I know.”


“And then there’s the government…”


I rub my forehead. “What? What do they have to do with anything?”


“We have to convince them that this isn’t a green card marriage, because it’s so quick.”


“Fuck,” I say helplessly. No wonder she’s stressed and in tears.


“I don’t suppose… look, Harri, I have a favor to ask you. It’s a lot to ask, so if you have to say no, that’s totally fine.”


I swallow, anxiety spiking inside me. “Er, what is it?”


“Is there any chance you could come over a little earlier? I know you were coming in two weeks, but maybe you could come sooner? There’s just so much to do and I’m really freaking out.”


“Um…”


“Mum wants to come early. She’s insistent that she can help. But the thought of her being here is freaking me out even more. And I was thinking, if I could tell her you were coming, then she might back off.”


I exhale slowly, turning this over in my mind. Go to New York early? I’ve been planning everything so I’ll be ready to go in a couple weeks, not now. As Steph pointed out, I’m not impulsive; not the sort of person to just leap on an international flight at a moment’s notice. Not like Alex, who booked a flight and moved across the globe five minutes after breaking up with a guy. The thought of doing something like that makes me feel sick.


But then, we’ve always been different. Alex is three years older than me and we’ve never been especially close. She likes to go out, meet guys, go shopping—do all those “girly” things which I am, at best, indifferent to. The one thing we do have in common is our love of reading, but whereas I love fantasy and sci-fi, she loves romance. And while I don’t mind the odd romance novel—and I’ve read hers out of curiosity—I can’t say I really get what all the fuss is about with romance. Not just the novels; the whole lot of it.


And that’s another difference between Alex and I: she was always dating, always looking to meet “the one”. She’s such a romantic. But I’ve never really understood the whole thing. I’ve seen her lose her head over a guy a hundred times and I’ve never once felt like that with a bloke.


Look, it’s not as though I can’t appreciate a nice-looking guy, because I can. But I’ve never been in love, never felt completely overcome by just wanting to be with someone, just needing to have them. And—as sad as it might be to admit this—the men in my real life have never quite measured up to the men in the books I love.


So mostly I just don’t give it a lot of thought. Much to Steph’s dismay—and, well, I’ve already mentioned my mother.


“What do you say?” Alex asks, bringing my mind back to the task at hand. She never asks for my help, so this must be big. I know Mum is being a pain in the ass, and this is supposed to be the most important day of Alex’s life. Thinking of saying no to her and leaving her alone in her time of need makes my stomach churn.


And I was already going anyway, I reason, so everything is pretty much already organized. I’d just need to change my flight. And ask my boss, Paula, for more time off.


Steph’s words from only a few moments ago play through my mind: she prefers to read about adventures, not have them. My heart sinks just thinking about how lame she must think I am. Perhaps I should go to New York. I mean, what’s more spontaneous than just flitting off on an international flight? That would show her.


A strange sense of nervous excitement ripples through me at the thought of dashing off to New York, and it takes me a second to realize that I kind of want to go—to throw caution to the wind for once and do something crazy.


“Okay,” I hear myself say. “I’ll come.”


“Really? Oh, you’re the best.” The relief is evident in her voice and I smile, pleased to hear her relax. “Just let me know if you have to spend any more on changing your ticket, and I’ll transfer you some money.”


“I’m sure it will be fine,” I say. One of the good things about having next to no social life over the past decade is that I’ve accumulated a very healthy savings account. I know Alex and Michael will already be spending a small fortune on their wedding. I can at least take care of this.


“Thank you so much. You’re a lifesaver.”


We end the call and I turn back into the bar, excited to announce my travel plans to the others. Because this is pretty outrageous—jumping on a flight to New York at the drop of a hat. It might not be jumping into bed (or onto a rugby field) with a strange man, but it’s a big deal for me.


By the time I get back to the table, the conversation has turned to the latest episode of The Bachelor, but I don’t care. I slip back into my seat and order another drink, smiling a secret little smile to myself.

© 2021 Jen Morris

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