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Excerpt 2: Blackberry Kiss

Book 1: The With Me Series

The blackberry kiss scene takes place in Chapter 2 in Stay With Me. This is from Caleb Fox’s point of view. Enjoy!


“So you meet this girl and you’re totally into her, but you don’t do anything?” Nick stops at a nearby bench and gives me a disbelieving look. “Dude, I know it’s been a while and all, but . . . seriously, you and I need to have a talk. Like how to pick up a hot chick.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.” I start jogging into the area where the Farmer’s Market takes place. It’s on the way to the house I live in with Nick and our other friends/roommates. Plus there’s one booth that always has fresh blackberries, and I’m totally going to snag a container. Everyone teases me about my addictions to blackberries—the fruit, not the cell phone type—but that fruit is totally underrated.

“Holy shit.” Nick freezes. “I think I just saw Hailey Bloom.”

My whole body goes on alert. For some reason I haven’t told Nick who the girl is. All he knows is that I ran into a gorgeous brunette. He doesn’t know the girl was Hailey. Normally I might have told him except I totally blew things last night and . . . and well . . . it was special, that connection.

Connection? God, I sound like a total tool.

Still I try to be cool and nonchalant. “I don’t know if I should be concerned that you know who Hailey is or not.”

“I’ve got sisters like you.”

One of the many things Nick and I bonded over is how we’re both the oldest of five. I have four younger sisters and Nick has twin sisters. He calls them “The Terrible Two” for, well, being terribly spoiled as they’re the babies, and his brothers “The Gremlins” as his brothers turn into monsters if they’re not fed after certain times. All said affectionately, of course. We both would kill anyone who made our siblings cry.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I had to watch that stupid movie or hear her music,” Nick says with a grimace. “Great voice, definitely, but after you listen to the same goddamned song over and over and over again . . .”

“I hear you.”

“Still, she’s totally hot, and I would do her in a second.”

“Hey, don’t talk about her like that,” I say sharply.

Nick glances over at me, clearly surprised. “What’s your deal?”

“Just don’t talk about her like that,” I say. “We don’t know her, and—”

“Something clearly crawled up your ass and died. Let me know when you shit it out because you’re acting weird.” Nick glances around at the booths. “Huh. I could’ve been wrong about seeing her.”

“Yeah. Probably.”

“I’m going to take a run and stop near that redhead over there.” Nick nods his head in the direction of the flower booth. “You can watch and see how it’s done. You know, for next time.”

“I’ll be sure to take notes on what not to do.”

Nick gives me the finger and jogs away. I turn away and walk in the opposite direction, keeping my head down. I’m still frustrated by what Nick said about Hailey. It’s almost an echo of what that dickwad Drew uttered last night. Yeah, Hailey is hot and all, but she’s not a piece of meat. And it’s also got to be hard for her—moving to a new place and not knowing anyone while everyone knows pretty much everything about her. I’m not sure how famous people live like that. It’s got to be tiring and frustrating, at times. Some might argue that’s what celebs sign up for—but just because something’s the norm doesn’t mean it should be accepted.

But leaving everything you know to go somewhere else? That takes a lot of courage. And a huge part of me wants to know why Hailey wanted to come here to Vermont. It’s not like we have paparazzi milling about—it’s quiet and private and secluded, even if Burlington is one of the bigger cities. Maybe that’s part of the allure for her. That she wouldn’t have to contend with the photographers at all and Vermont is so far away from Hollywood. Maybe she just—

I bump into something hard. Not something, I realize as my hands instinctively reach out to stop her from falling backward. And not just any her. It’s Hailey Bloom. The girl I met at the party. The girl I can’t stop thinking about.

She’s looking as gorgeous as ever in her yoga pants, white tee, and the cute pink hoodie tied around her slim waist. Her brown hair is in a ponytail, and she’s not wearing any makeup. Her blue eyes are rounded with surprise, and her mouth drops open as she takes me in. Good, I’m not the only one surprised. She winces, and I’m immediately concerned.

“Hey,” I say, running my hands up and down her arms to make sure she’s not bruised or banged up. I glance down at her feet but she doesn’t seem to be favoring any particular foot so I don’t think she’s sprained or twisted her ankle. Goose bumps appear on her arms but she has to be cold . . . and maybe she’s hurt but I’m not noticing it. “Are you okay? You didn’t get hurt, did you?”

“I’m fine,” she says and kneels down to pick up her bags.

God, I’m such an ass. I didn’t even notice she dropped her stuff. I quickly bend down to help her out, and I can’t help but notice how kissable her mouth is.

“It’s only tea,” she adds as she looks at the rapidly growing stain on her shirt.

“Still, I feel really bad.” I was so wrapped in my own thoughts I didn’t even see her coming.

“You shouldn’t. I was the one who bumped into you. Maybe I should be asking if you’re hurt.”

“If I said yes, would you kiss it and make it better?”

The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. I kind of want to hit myself because it was such a lame line. Maybe I do need to listen to Nick’s so-called dating advice, but then I see color rising on Hailey’s cheeks and her gaze darting away.

I smile. All hope isn’t lost.

Hailey keeps putting stuff into her bags. Pretty soon it’s obvious she’s doing so because she’s flustered, and I find that quality kind of endearing about her. I made her blush, and she throws me off my “game.”

“Hey,” I say again, this time more softly. I don’t want to scare her off or mess this up. I think she’s pretty and I want to know more about her. “I’m only teasing you.”

Hailey’s gaze shoots to mine, her eyebrows arching up in inquiry.

“About the kissing,” I add.

Something like dismay flickers across her face. Wait . . . did she want me to kiss her? Because if I could press rewind and have a do over, I so would. I’m completely screwing things up, and I need to fix them.

“It was—” I stop, not knowing what to say to make things better. I drag my hand through my hair and decide to settle on the truth. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t upset me,” she says sharply.

Aw, crap, just keeping inserting that foot in your mouth, why don’t you?

Hailey gets up, dusting off her pants. “I’m fine. I’m perfectly fine.”

She reaches for the bags but I already have them. And then I spot the container of blackberries. A girl after my own heart.

“I saw fresh blackberries. Those are my fave.” I give her a hopeful look. You know, the kind that says, you should give me a blackberry or two or five.

“You are not poaching my blackberries.”

Possessive. I like. “Not even one?”

“Not even a nibble.” She tries to take her bags from me, but I’m so not letting them go. She places her hands on her hips. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“Working out. I went for a run today. Not my usual thing, but that’s what Nick wanted.”

“Who’s Nick?”

“That guy.” I spot Nick hitting on the redhead by the flower stand. Typical. “Obviously he got detained.”


My smile disappears when I look at her shirt again. That has to be uncomfortable, and I’m partially to blame. I want to make it better. And my house is nearby. “Hailey, I live right around the corner. You can come over, and I’ll get you a shirt so you’re not soaked. And then I can give you a ride home so you don’t have to walk back with these bags.”

She hesitates. “I don’t know.”

“Seriously, it’s right there.” I point to a bright yellow house down the street. “In and out. It won’t take more than five minutes.”

She studies me for a long moment. I’m positive she’s going to say no.

“I think you’re just trying to steal my blackberries,” she finally says.

I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding and cover it up with my usual sarcasm. “What? Me? Nah. I’d never do that.”

A laugh escapes her, the sound of it delighting me.

“Sure, you wouldn’t,” she teases me.

Man, I really like her. And I don’t want to be like every other guy she’s met. I don’t want her to ever think I’m only into her because of who she is. I could give two shits that she’s famous.

“The offer is open for a ride home and a clean shirt,” I say.

Her cheeks turn red and then she shakes her head and straightens herself. She’s going to say no this time. She’s going to walk away. I totally blew it.

“Okay, that’d be great,” she says.

Warmth spreads through me, but I try to keep it cool and not smile too wide. “Let’s go then.”

“What about your friend?”

I look back at Nick; he’s still talking to the flower girl. “I somehow think he’ll manage.”

We walk to the house, and I notice that Hailey’s body is getting tenser and tenser. I don’t want her to be on guard around me at all. I know that stuff takes time, but—

Oh. Crap. I almost forgot. Shit, shit, shit.

I stop in my tracks and look over at Hailey. “Are you afraid of dogs? Or allergic to them?”

“No . . . and no.”

“What about ferrets?”



“Is it a shark?”

“No. But his name is Jaws.”

“What about the dog?”

“Goliath is the dog. And Spartacus is the ferret.” It doesn’t seem like Hailey is afraid of animals, which is a good thing since we seem to have acquired a small menagerie. But I definitely need to prepare her for the mayhem. “Goliath is mine. He’s friendly. A little too friendly.”


I unlock the front door and we step inside. As usual, Goliath scampers into the hallway with his surprisingly deep bark. He’s such a little guy that you would think he would have a high-pitched yip.

I quickly step in front of Hailey so she doesn’t get knocked to the ground by my dog. It’s bad enough I almost caused her to fall.

“Goliath, be nice.”

A choked sound escapes Hailey. “That’s Goliath?”

Goliath is a tiny Yorkshire terrier I got from the animal shelter. Once I saw that face, I couldn’t say no.

“Yes, the fearsome Goliath who likes to steal baseball hats and socks.”

“I was expecting something . . . bigger.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to make a joke, but I think twice about it and decide against it. Instead I get Hailey to pet Goliath and a few minutes later we’re in the kitchen so she can set down her bags. She asks me a few questions about the house, and I run upstairs to grab a shirt after she declines something to eat or drink. Before I head to my room at the end of the hall, I check in on Spartacus in Nick’s room. As expected, Spartacus is sleeping away in his hammock. My other two roommates aren’t in the house. Griff is working at his brother’s mechanic shop and Jamie is most likely still sleeping somewhere else. I rummage through my drawers and find a shirt for Hailey.

Hailey is playing with Goliath when I enter the kitchen. I hold up my shirt. “This will be huge on you.”

“Thank you,” she says gratefully. “I’m sure it’ll fit. I like big things.”

She immediately turns bright red, and she can’t even look me in the eye. I try really hard not to laugh, but it’s just so damn funny with what she said and how she said it.

“The bathroom is down the hall,” I manage.

She grabs the shirt from me and makes her escape. Only when I’m beyond sure she’s locked herself in the bathroom do I let out the laughter I’d been holding in. I never expected her to be . . . well, so real. Stupid, I know. But the Hailey Bloom I’ve seen onscreen and heard is not the same Hailey who I met last night and ran into today. There’s this public Hailey who can charm and is America’s Sweetheart and everyone just loves, and then there’s the real Hailey, the one I’m only seeing glimpses of. The real Hailey is shy and funny and sweet, and I . . . I just want to get to know her.

I sound so cheesy, but I can’t help it. My father always said that when he first met my mother that it was like lightning had struck. He just knew. And for the longest time, I thought that was just incredibly cheesy and lame. Because how can you know something like that?

But now I do. I just know. I want to be with her. And as much as that feels incredibly right, it also scares me. I’ve never felt like this with any girl before. Maybe it’s just lust . . . It could be just lust.

I stare down at the counter and adjust one of her bags so it doesn’t topple over. And then I walk away and wait for Hailey. I’m not waiting long. She comes back in and the shirt is huge on her. She’s done her best to make it fit by knotting it up on one side. She still looks gorgeous.

She checks her bags and nods in satisfaction at finding the blackberries intact.

“So suspicious,” I say.

She gives me a disbelieving look. “I’m surprised you didn’t sneak a few. You did say you liked them after all.”

“Nah.” I walk toward her as she takes out a container of blackberries to set them on the counter. “Besides, I still hold out hope you’ll give me one of your own free will.”

Hailey slowly removes the Saran Wrap and takes out one blackberry. “Like this one?”

“Just like that. A blackberry for a shirt. Sounds fair to me.” I’m teasing her but am pleasantly surprised when she drops the blackberry into my hand. Then Hailey grabs another one and pops it into her mouth. The juice from the fruit stains her lips, and . . . now I’m looking at her mouth and I’m wanting to taste her.

“Not eating yours?”

“No, it’s . . .” I take a deep breath, fighting for control. But my eyes keep going back to that sweet mouth of hers. “It’s just, you have something right there.”

Her blue eyes widen, and she licks her mouth. “All gone?”

“No, you’re missing it.” I step closer to her and her sweet scent envelops me. Her breath catches, and it’s suddenly getting harder for me to find my own. I’m only focused on her. “Here. Let me.”

I dab my thumb at the corner of her soft, pink mouth, and her gaze darkens. I’m looking into her eyes when I say, “I think I got it all.”

I don’t move my thumb away from her mouth. She doesn’t ask me to. This is crazy, right? One of us will pull away soon, right? But she’s not moving, and I’m certainly not moving. Except then I am moving—I’m stepping closer to her. My legs touch hers, my body brushing lightly against hers, and I hear her gasp.

I want to capture that gasp with my mouth. I want to hear her sigh my name. I want to taste her lips and know if she’s as sweet as she looks. I want her with every fiber in my being.

“You still haven’t eaten yours,” Hailey softly says, gesturing to the uneaten blackberry still in my hand.

I glance down at it and have an idea. There’s more than one way to eat a blackberry.

“I haven’t.” I place the tip of the fruit against her mouth. “Bite.”

She takes a small one and juice once again stains her lips. I swipe my thumb over her mouth, smearing the juice onto them even more. I press the rest of the blackberry against her, not saying a word. I can’t say anything. She takes the fruit into her mouth, and her lips catch over the tip of my index finger. I can’t breathe. I can’t even think.

Somehow I find some words. “You’ve got berry on you.”

“That’s because you did it.” Her voice is soft and full of want. Full of desire. For me. For this.

“I did,” I admit easily. “I should take if off then.”

Her breath hitches as I slide my other arm around her wait and pull her against me. She feels so right. Fits perfectly in my arms. I don’t want to let her go.

“This might take a while,” I say. I want to make this good for her—for us. I want her to never look at blackberries again without thinking about me. I want this kiss to be the start of something.

Hailey heaves out an exaggerated sigh that’s ruined when she shivers as I gather the material of the t-shirt in my fingers. “I guess I’ll just have to close my eyes and suffer through it.”

“No suffering,” I promise.

I slide my hand up her back, my fingers skating along her neck. My whole body is yearning to hurry this along, to kiss her now, but I hold back. I want to make this kiss better than good.

Then Hailey grabs my shirt and yanks me to her. “Caleb,” she demands in a throaty whisper.

Hell. I can’t resist her. I don’t even want to.

I lower my head to hers, and Hailey’s eyelids flutter closed. She leans toward me, her whole body soft and open, and it’s like time slows down. It’s like I have all the time in the world to kiss her. I don’t need to rush. I don’t need to hurry. I don’t need to do anything but kiss her.

I swipe my finger gently over her mouth, tracing it softly, memorizing the shape of her. I dip into the tender plumpness of her lower lip, and Hailey spreads her hands out on my chest. She’s pressed to me so tightly that she’s only able to run her hands up and grasp my shoulders. Her fingernails bite into my shoulders, urging me to kiss her.

I press my lips lightly against the corner of her mouth, where I removed the berry stain a few moments ago. She stills at the touch, almost like she can’t believe I’m kissing her. I remove my hand from her neck and place it at the small of her back, slowly relaxing her. I’m rewarded with a gasp. I flutter another kiss at the corner and another and another. Soft, brief kisses that are meant to entice her . . . meant to make her want more. My body is straining from keeping it so tightly leashed; all I want to do is ravish her mouth and take her deep and fast. To lose control. But no, this is too important. A first kiss can never be redone.

I touch my mouth fully to hers. Finally. I don’t stake my claim. I don’t demand. I don’t do anything but give her kisses. Her mouth is soft and gentle under mine, and I find myself softening in ways I never have before. All that matters right now is her.

My teeth catch her lower lip, lightly tugging, and she opens her mouth slightly. I dip my tongue inside, tasting her sweetness. I want her. I want to know her.

And I don’t think this is a matter of simple lust. Not at all. It’s something more. I’m not going to mess this up with her. She matters to me.

I want her. I want her now.

My kiss turns hotter, deeper, wetter. And I’m lifting her up onto the counter, stepping into the small space between her legs. I rock against her, and she moans, pressing herself closer to me. It feels so damn good. So perfect. I rock into her again and lift my mouth from hers to press hard, hot kisses over her jaw line to her ear.

“I want you,” I finally say out loud.

She opens her mouth to say something, but just then the front door slams shut. Shit. Fuck. We both jerk away from each other at the same time. She jumps down off the island and clears her throat, and I turn hastily away, willing my erection to go down. Yeah, like that’ll happen any time soon. I hope whoever it is doesn’t come in here. It seems luck is on my side because footsteps head upstairs. I run a hand through my hair as I meet Hailey’s now shuttered gaze. Whatever moment we had is gone. Damn.

And now I’m thinking I moved way too fast. I need to take things slow.

“I’m sorry about that,” I say.

Hailey doesn’t say anything.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” I add.

Still nothing. Great, she regrets the kiss. And now she’s going to avoid me, and any chance I had is permanently gone.

“Let’s get you home,” I finally say after a long moment of silence.

Hailey snaps out of it and backs away. “You know, I think I can manage on my own. It’s not that far away.”

Before I can say anything or do anything, Hailey grabs her bags and runs out the front door.

Yup. I totally blew it.

I run to the front door but Hailey’s long gone. I’m not going to act completely stupid and chase after her and scare her permanently. I’m such an idiot. Why did I kiss her? Why didn’t I move slower? Why didn’t I—

“So,” Nick says as he walks downstairs. “Why didn’t you tell me the girl you like is Hailey Bloom?”

Well, shit. This day couldn’t get any worse.

“Now I know why you acted like you did,” Nick continues. “You’re totally into her. But, dude, hate to break it to you. If a girl runs out on you like that after you kiss her? Bad news for you.”

I glare at my supposed best friend. “I know.”

“You know what I’m going to say, right?”

“Get drunk and forget about her.”


“Can’t,” I say. “I like her too much.”

Nick winces. “Sorry. I know how that can be.”

I look at him, surprised. “You do? Who do you like?”

“Me? Like someone? Hahahaha. There’s too many women in the world for me to be tied down.” Nick stares at the front door for a long moment. “So, you’re going to keep pursuing her?”

“I don’t think she wants anything to do with me.”

Nick looks at me. “Think she’ll give me a shot then?”

“Funny,” I say. “Even think it, and I’ll—”

“I know, I know. You’ll cut my balls off.”

“I would have to find them first.”

“Ouch, man. That’s cold. Really cold.”

I smile but my attention is still on Hailey. On what happened. On how I screwed it up so much. On what I can do to fix it. On how I can win her—which seems impossible with how things have gone so far.

Well, I’m not going to give up. There is something there worth fighting for, and I’m going to fight for it. Fight for her—no matter what it takes.

Excerpt 2: Blackberry Kiss