The Beautiful Series are standalone romances, each with their own HEA. They can be read in order or on their own.
New Adult romance, for 18+ only due to sexual content and adult themes
It's never easy to go back. That's something chef, Bradley Rae is sweating bullets about as the date of his kayaking team’s reunion draws near. When his old school friend and teammate, Elliot Roberts, convinces him to go, he thinks he'll be fine going back there. After all, chances are, she won't be there at all. It’s been almost ten years. Maybe she she’s moved away. Maybe he won’t see her at all...
Dakota Morgan is a girl with many regrets, and Bradley Rae is on top of that list. You see, she did something - she didn't wait five minutes, and that tiny amount of impatience changed the course of her life forever.
When her father sets up a fundraising reunion for their family owned kayaking club, her heart beats out of control when she sees Brad's name on that list. Part of her wants to refuse to go so she doesn't have to face him. But a larger part of her needs to see him, even if it's just a window into what might have been...
When Brad and Dakota meet again, will sparks fly, or will the past remain firmly in the past? And what about secrets? Can they survive the reality of what that one split decision, made all those years ago, has done? Or will they let it all go again?
“He's not here,” Stacey says quietly, as I nervously scan the room. I can't seem to stop fidgeting, and it's giving my nerves away.
“What if he doesn't come? What if he does? What happens if he won't talk to me? And worse still, what happens if he does want to talk to me?”
She places her hands on my shoulders, and her blue eyes look into my brown eyes. “Calm the fuck down. OK? Freaking out doesn't help anyone, and you’re making yourself sweat. And that's not hot.”
I close my eyes and take a breath. “I just don't know what I'm going to say.”
“How about you get out there and mingle with the people who are here? Have a glass of wine and calm the hell down. You’re no good to anyone if you’re all worked up.”
I let out my breath and nod. “OK, you’re right. I’m freaking out, and that isn’t helping.” I smooth my hand down the front of my dress. I’d tried on so many different styles and colours, that it took almost an entire day shopping to decide on the right one. The entire time, I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t doing it to try and look good for him. I tried to convince myself, when I chose an emerald green dress that hugged my curves and flared out when I spun around, that I hadn’t chosen that colour because I knew he liked it. But I did. Of course I did. Despite all the years and everything that has happened in between, I’ve still thought about him every day.
Maybe I should tell him…
Running my hand over the stubble on my face, I wonder whether I should shave or go as I am. If I’m freshly shaven, will I look like I’m trying too hard, or will leaving the stubble make me appear as though I don’t care, or trying too hard to look like I don’t care?
I let out my breath slowly. I’m making this way too complicated. But then, things between Dakota and me always were complicated. There was the age gap, and the continued tension between us despite that age gap. There was the guilt I held inside because I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and the fact her father had entrusted me of all people to keep an eye on her. I’d often wondered if he was purposely trying to torture me.
There’s also the fact that I broke that trust, and when I thought he was keeping her away from me, I confronted him. He was infuriatingly calm as he worked on repairs on the engine to his speedboat. He simply told me to go home and calm down. I did go home. I also never went back. Tonight will be the first time since that day.
After showering and shaving, I dress in a pair of black pants with burgundy braces and a white button down shirt that I roll up at the sleeves, revealing all the tattoos over my forearms. I pause and look at them, the colourful images representing life and death, reminding me of all I’ve lost, my only family, my only love. Aunt Sara died of old age but my mother left simply because she wasn’t interested in raising a child. Then Dakota left too, although that was for reasons that are unknown to me.
As I nervously drive out to Lane Cove, I wonder if I should just let it all go. What happened between us was over seven years ago now. Surely she’s with someone else, and she’s probably forgotten all about me, just like my mother did. So when I pull into the parking lot, I’ve decided that I’ll say hello to her and treat her the same as everyone else. I won’t go in there looking for answers, there probably aren’t any that I haven’t already thought of myself. At the end of the day, she probably regretted her decision to come to my house that afternoon, because she left, and she never came back. Elliot is right, I really need to move on.
Even though my brain has made its decision, my body seems to be acting on its own. And I spend some time sitting my BMW, gripping the steering wheel as I try to work up the courage to go in there.
I’m being ridiculous. I know I am. People see their exes all the time, and they manage just fine. I mean, I haven’t seen Dakota since I was nineteen, and she was sixteen. It’s been years and so much has happened in between. This shouldn’t matter now–we’re adults. We can be civil, and we don’t even have to rehash the past.
“Just move forward,” I say to myself, as I open the car door and head toward the kayaking club. I can smell the damp earth of the water’s edge, as the gravel crunches under my feet.
In the distance, the sun is setting, and as I approach the club’s entrance, I can hear the music and the pinging sound of poker machines from inside. I drag my hand through my dark hair, feeling strange coming back here after so long. For three years, my world was cooking and kayaking–they aren’t the most cohesive of couplings, but it worked for me. I was happy back then because my life was filled with everything I loved.
As I step through the door, there’s a sign that instructs me to go to the ‘White Water Function Room’. I look around, seeing that everything is the same, but different because of the renovations. My unsettled feeling grows.
“Are you lost?” a young girl of barely eighteen asks me when I continue to stand in the foyer.
“Ah…um… I’m here for the fundraiser.”
She smiles at me and points down the hall. “It’s right down there.”
I thank her, even though I knew where it was. The White Water Room was here when I was. It’s the room we had award nights in, and where all previous fundraisers have been held. Although, back then I was one of the kayakers.
Walking down the hall, I push the door open, and a girl with a clipboard asks my name and hands me a name tag. She says something else to me as well, but my eyes are too busy scanning the room. Then I find her, and that whole pep talk I just gave myself means absolutely nothing. I feel like I’m sixteen all over again, and I want answers.
“Cody?” I turn to the sound of a male voice, and when I turn, it takes me a moment to recognise him.
“Elliot?” I confirm, as I take in his cropped hair, his broad shoulders, and his massive height. I’m smiling because while I know it’s him – he still has those iridescent blue eyes - but, I can hardly believe it at the same time. He’s about twice the size I remember him, although it’s all muscle. He looks amazing.
He smiles and gives me a friendly hug. “It’s been a long time. This is my wife, Paige.”
The obviously pregnant woman at his side gives me a beautiful smile and holds her hand out to shake mine. She’s a little taller than I am at five foot, eight, and she has beautiful brown curly hair and interesting amber coloured eyes which gives her an otherworldly quality. They’re a stunning couple and I feel as though I’m staring, but I can’t stop.
“It’s lovely to meet you. Elliot’s been telling me all about his time here. Sounds like you all had a lot of fun,” Paige says when she withdraws her hand from mine.
“We did,” I confirm then have a brief conversation with them to catch up on the last seven years of Elliot’s life. “Sounds like you’ve been really busy. Have you kept in contact with anyone else from your squad?” I try to slip the question in there naturally.
He smiles knowingly. “I still talk to Brad. He should be here soon. He just had a few things to do at “Oh, I didn’t mean…” He pats me on the shoulder.
“He wants to see you too.”
The blush creeps up my cheeks before I can stop it.
“Elliot!” Paige reprimands. “You’ve gone and embarrassed the girl.”
I shake my head. “It’s fine, really. And he’s right. I am asking about Brad. I don’t know how much you know, but it’s been a long time and things didn’t exactly end well. I’ve been worried he might still be angry and wouldn’t want to speak to me.”
“It was a long time ago,” Elliot says, kindly. Then another male voice speaks up from behind me.
“It feels like yesterday being back here though.”
I freeze at the sound of his voice and stay that way as he greets Elliot and Paige before turning to me. He smiles. I can’t breathe. He still looks the same but the lip and brow rings are both gone. There’s a small scar in his right eyebrow where the ring was torn out.
That scar is my fault I think, as my eyes graze over it, noticing all of the tattoos covering his forearms. One side is new. He didn’t have both sides done before. The realisation of missing out on so much of his life hits me in the chest and twists like a knife. I wish things were different, I really do…
“Dakota,” he says, and my name rolls off his lips like a fine piece of music. I long for him to call me Cody like he did back then.
“It’s so good to see you. How have you been?” I ask breathlessly. My heart beats in my ears, and I feel incredibly warm and a little shaky.
He drops his gaze to the floor for a moment and slides his hands into his pockets. “I don’t want to do small talk with you, Dakota.”
I’m a little taken aback. “You don’t?”
He shakes his head. “No. Will you walk with me?”
I have to force myself to swallow as a fear grips my heart. If I tell him now, he’ll go away forever. I just got him back. I want to keep him for a moment…just a moment. Then I’ll let him go.
“But…but there’s dinner… and… and…”
He holds out his hand. “I don’t want to wait any longer than I already have.”
Apprehensively, I slide my hand in his, knowing that mine will feel warm and clammy to him. How is he acting so calm?
As his hand closes around mine, I close my eyes, taking a brief moment to acknowledge that it feels like home. It feels right. It feels the same.
He escorts me out to the balcony then down the stairs that lead to the pontoon. He releases my hand at the bottom and slips his hands back in his pockets again. Before I was feeling warm–now I’m suddenly cold.
“I guess you brought me out here for some sort of an explanation,” I state, as we walk along in silence for a few moments.
“Well, it is the great mystery of my life. It’s supposed to be the guy who ditches and runs, not the girl.”work before he could come.”
It’s his attempt at a joke, but neither one of us laughs. I think we’re both caught in the same memory. The last time we were together before he asked me to wait for him and I didn’t…
“Are you OK?” he asked, lying beside me, as he held a warm compress between my thighs.
I nodded and lightly ran my hand down the side of his face, my finger touching the ring in his brow and ending at the ring in his lip. He was so beautiful. He was everything I had wanted or even hoped for. He turned slightly and kissed my fingertips.
“I’m perfect,” I whispered.
He smiled, leaning down to lightly kiss my lips. “Yes. You are.”
“I love you,” I told him.
“I love you,” he whispered in return, taking my mouth in his…
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I say, trying to blink away the tears that sting my eyes when I remember what we lost.
“How about you just tell me what happened?”
I take a deep breath, thinking back to that day, and wanting to tell him–even if I just tell him that I didn’t leave him. I was forced away…
I look at him, my mouth opens to speak but all I manage is “I…I…”
“You what?” he presses, and I clamp my mouth shut before shaking my head.
“Cody,” Stacey interrupts, holding out my phone. “It's Riley. He's saying he needs you to go home.” I wince because Brad doesn't know about Riley. She glances over at Brad. “Oh, uh…hi, Brad, I didn't know you were here.”
He looks from me to her, and there's a ticking in the side of his jaw. “Actually, I was just leaving.”
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