BOOK THREE:

Outrageously

     in Love

Coming September 2021

What's the most outrageous thing you've ever done?

 

I keep my nose stuck in a book where things are safe. But after a night out with friends, it becomes painfully obvious that while I've lived a million lives between the pages, I’ve never had an adventure of my own. 

 

So when my sister asks me to fly to New York for her wedding, I decide to become Harriet 2.0: a bold, outgoing version of myself. Who knew this little experiment would initiate me into the mile high club?

 

Except, Luke isn't just the tall, sexy stranger in the middle seat with a devastating smile and gorgeous forearms. He's here in New York, and he’s totally off-limits.

 

When I learn that he’s a gamer who gets all my nerdy references, I can’t stay away—even if it might jeopardize my sister’s wedding. With my time in New York running out, I find myself wanting to do the most outrageous thing of all: take a chance on love.

 

Outrageously in Love Excerpt

Chapter One

“What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever done?” My flatmate, Steph, leans across the sticky table in our local bar, one eyebrow arched as we all consider her words.


The question is simple enough, and my first response is to grin wickedly, as if I have something juicy to share. But the longer I sit there, scanning the depths of my mind for crazy, wild stories, the more I 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 on this planet, I could have done something shocking. I’ve never even had a one night stand for Christ’s sake.


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


“Ooh, I know!” Cassidy, a redhead with big teeth, 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 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 Final while a ball whizzed past her head.


But still. It doesn’t exactly sound fun.


“Okay, I’ve got one,” Steph says, running a hand through her short, brunette bob. 


I’ve always loved Steph. We met about ten years ago, at the cafe where I work in Baxterton, New Zealand. She worked there part-time while studying, and even though she left after graduation, we kept in touch and became flatmates a few years later. She puts up with 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 spend all my time at home surrounded by mountains of books. 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 with her workmates, drinking on a Tuesday night. She’s trying to turn me to the dark side.


Steph giggles. “I gave a guy a handjob in the alley behind this bar.”


I try not to groan. This is such a typical Steph story. She’s a lot more, shall we say, sexually adventurous than me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I haven’t had the occasional fantasy of doing something like that. It’s just that the opportunity has never presented itself, and I’ve yet to meet a guy so irresistible that I feel compelled to tear his clothes off on the spot.


“Alright, your turn,” Cassidy says, gesturing beside me to Heather. It seems we’re going around the circle, and there’s a pinch in my belly at the realization that I’m next.


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


Heather grins and flicks a wave of blond 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 tugging at my brow. I’m all for sexual freedom, or whatever, but something about sleeping with a married guy seems over the line.


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 dyed their hair a wacky color, or sunk every cent of their savings into some crazy dream? Not that I’ve done any of those things, of course. I can’t even send back food at a restaurant. Well, 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 and I pretend I haven’t heard them, directing my attention towards selecting another drink. Mm, the cocktails sound nice, or maybe a bunch of tequila shots, to—


“Harriet?”


Heat creeps up my neck as I meet Cassidy’s gaze. I glance at Steph with a silent plea for help, but she’s engrossed in something on her phone. The other two watch expectantly and I swallow, my tongue feeling like sandpaper. I mentally search for something to get them off my back, but my mind is blank.


“C’mon,” Heather presses. “What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?”


Steph looks up from her phone and her face breaks into a grin. “You’re asking the wrong person,” she says, with a good-natured chuckle. My cheeks grow warm, despite the fact that she’s speaking the absolute truth.


“What?” Cassidy laughs in my direction. “Surely you’ve done something?”


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. Her hero is Hermione Granger.” 


She flicks me an affectionate smile and I roll my eyes. After I was taunted mercilessly in high school, she’s the only one I let tease me like this, because I know it comes from a place of love.


“Harriet prefers to read about adventures, not have them.”


Her words sting. Is that really what she thinks? I might not have sex on a rugby field but I wouldn’t say I don’t do anything exciting.


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


I shoot Steph a look of annoyance, but she doesn’t notice. I know she’s being silly, 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?


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


What’s so wrong with that?


Cassidy looks flabbergasted. “So you’ve never, like, jumped in the sack with a hot guy you just met?”


“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. Are there only two options? You leap 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. I don’t know what Steph is carrying on about, because each was more disappointing than the last. I didn’t, shall we say, reach completion. Although, I’ve never done that on my own, either, so perhaps that’s not on them. It didn’t help when my last boyfriend told me he’d been with much more attractive women. After that I didn’t feel like having sex with him at all.


“Anyway,” Steph says, slinging an arm around my shoulder, “Harri might play it safe, but she’s always been there for me. She’s the best friend anyone could ask for.” She squeezes me. “Besides, I’m working on her.”


“Thanks, Steph,” I mumble, and down the rest of my drink. “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 howls with laughter, as if she’s said the funniest thing in the world.


I raise a hand 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?


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


“Maybe you should talk to a guy now and get a number,” Heather suggests, her gaze 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 sits on the bar in front of him. He’s exactly the type of “bad boy” that women love—for whatever reason.


“Erm, no thanks.” My phone buzzes on the table and I lunge to grab it, relieved for the distraction. I glance at the screen as I stand and slip outside. It’s my sister, Alex, calling from New York. She moved there a year ago and met some guy called Michael and they’ve been inseparable ever since. They’re getting married in a few weeks, which I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about. She asked me to fly across for the big day and be her maid of honor, but I came up with an excuse about having to work. The truth is, I can’t imagine flying there. I’ve never been to a huge, foreign city like that. The crowds, the traffic, the possibility of being mugged—it scares the bejesus out of me.


“Hey, Harri,” she says when I accept the call. “How are you?” 


“Not bad.” I push the conversation in the bar from my mind. “How are things?”


“Busy with writing and wedding stuff.” 


Sometimes I have trouble keeping up with all the things Alex does. She writes for an online magazine called Bliss Edition, she works part-time at a bookstore, and when she’s not doing those things, she writes romance novels. Now, of course, she’s planning a wedding too.


“It’s pretty full on,” she adds. 


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


She sighs at the other end of the phone.


“Everything okay?” I ask.


“It’s Mum.”


I nod, even though she can’t see me. I know 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. She keeps asking me if I’m sure I’m doing the right thing.”


“Yeah,” I murmur. “I know.”


“I just got off the phone with her. This time it was, ‘I’d hate to see you make a huge mistake.’”


I grimace. “Shit. That sucks.” Silence stretches between us and she sniffles. It’s hard being a million miles away.


“Sorry. I just needed to talk to someone who understands what a nightmare Mum can be. Do you think you could have a word with her?”


“Absolutely,” I say. It’s the least I can do.


“Thanks.” She sighs again. “I wish you were coming to the wedding. We’ll miss you, but I know you’re busy.”


The guilt that’s been gnawing at me for the past few months carves a hole through my chest. Alex has been so understanding since I gave my bullshit excuses about why I couldn’t come, but after everything Steph and her friends just said, I’m suddenly questioning that knee-jerk reaction. I never for one second considered that I actually could go all the way to New York; I’d ruled it out as too far and too scary. Unlike Alex, who jumped on the first flight she could after breaking up with a guy. The thought of doing something like that makes me feel nauseous. 


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’m mostly 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. While I don’t mind the odd romance novel—and I’ve read hers out of curiosity—I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Not just the novels; the whole lot of it.


That’s another difference between Alex and I: she’s always dated, always been looking to meet “the one.” I’ve seen her lose her head over a guy a hundred times and I’ve never once felt like that with a bloke. I’ve never been in love, never felt completely overcome by needing to have someone, and—as sad as it might be to admit this—the men in real life have never quite measured up to the men in the books I love.


Maybe I’m missing the horny gene, or something. Alex certainly got it. Her romance novel is so steamy I can’t bring myself to tell her I’ve read it.


“Anyway, I’ll let you go,” she says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your evening. What are you reading tonight?”


I blink, focusing back on her words. “What am I reading?”


“Yeah. You’re usually halfway through some epic fantasy novel when I call at this time.”


She prefers to read about adventures, not have them


Steph’s words run through my mind and my heart sinks. It’s not just Steph and her friends who think I’m dull; even Alex believes I can’t possibly be anywhere other than at home, doing something unremarkable. For the first time, when I think about heading home for the evening, I’m not comforted in the same way I usually am. I find myself wanting to prove them all wrong, wanting to show them that I can do something spontaneous.


“I’ll come to the wedding.” The words are out of my mouth before I can even stop to think.


“What? Are you serious?”


My pulse ticks up a notch. “I… yes.”


“Oh my God!” Alex shrieks so loudly I have to pull the phone away from my ear. “Harriet! I’m so happy! I can’t believe it!”


I force myself to take a deep breath and stop my clammy hands from trembling. A strange sense of nervous excitement ripples through me, 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.


Ha! I want to yell at everyone in the bar. Look who’s outrageous now!


“When can you come?” Alex asks in a rush. “I’d love it if you could come soon, then we’d have a couple of weeks to go sightseeing and explore the city! I’ll send you some ticket options.”


The words sightseeing and explore make my stomach tilt. “Okay, but—”


“Will you be my maid of honor, then?”


In spite of my nerves, I smile, touched that she still wants me to do that after everything. “Of course.”


“Harri, you have no idea how much this means to me.” My heart squeezes at the joy in her voice. “New York is amazing. We’re going to have so much fun.”


I take another deep breath, willing myself to stay calm. “We are,” I say, but I’m not entirely sure if I believe it.

© 2021 Jen Morris

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