NEW RELEASE & EXCERPT: Lake & Manning by Jessica Hawkins
Manning and I have what happily-ever-after is made of . . . A home he built us on the unshakeable foundation we fought for. A life of laughter carved out of heartache and betrayal. A love story to stand the test of time. But between a trust that can’t be broken, joy that can’t be bridled, and passion that would scorch the sun, the empty spaces are becoming more and more difficult to ignore . . . Fears that keep Manning up at night as he slips from our bed. Our complicated relationship with a man he respects and one I don't know how to forgive. And a sprawling, beautiful home with one small room I'm afraid I'll never be able to fill. Manning and I have what happily-ever-after is made of . . . But I'll beg the heavens for just one thing more.
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I found Manning waiting at the base of the porch steps with Blue, looking every inch a man in jeans and fishing boots, the porch swing’s floral printed cushions under one arm. Any fears I had vanished. This was about the man I loved, a man both tough and sensitive, determined but attentive.
“Why are you wearing galoshes?” I asked, taking his outstretched hand. I started for his truck but he pulled me around the side of the house, toward the back. “And what’re the cushions for?”
“Guess,” he said.
Manning and I had explored the woods behind the house plenty of times. Usually we went back there for two reasons—to walk Blue, or to go on the lake. Neither of those seemed like great after-dark activities. “I’m stumped,” I said.
As we crossed from our backyard into the woods, Manning kept me close with an arm around my shoulders. Blue darted through the trees but always sprinted back when we whistled for her. Perhaps if I’d been anywhere except the place I called home, I might’ve been spooked by the cover of darkness. By the rustling bushes, or the haunting hoots and flapping of wings echoing around us. Instead, I snuggled into the side of the man I knew would kill to protect me or die trying.
The closer we got to the edge of the forest, the more convinced I was that Manning had lost his mind and decided to recreate the night we’d snuck out of camp, gone for a drive, and wound up in the water.
The woods spit us out into a clearing that opened up to a tiny lake we’d come to know well. It was shallow, mostly off the map, and small enough for us to drift aimlessly. Manning kept the first dinghy he’d ever made there, tied to a stake in the ground. He’d built other boats—some he’d sold, and with help, a larger one we kept at one of Big Bear Lake’s marinas—but we had this little slice of heaven all to ourselves most of the time.
“We’re going on the lake?” I asked.
“Bingo,” he replied. “Go on. Climb on over the starboard side.” Manning winked before he added, “And into my lap.” It was the same thing he’d said to me my first night at the house in Big Bear.
No matter how endearing his invitation, I stayed where I was. We’d made love in this boat. I’d laughed until my sides had ached watching Manning try and fail to catch a fish with his hands. We’d drifted around in it on hot afternoons eating orange slices as the sun had set. But we’d certainly never taken it out at night.
Blue whined, probably sensing she was about to get left behind. “Blue and I are going to need a bit of an explanation before we proceed,” I said.
He squatted to untie the boat, and I heard the smile in his voice. “What’s wrong? Don’t trust me?”
“To steer this thing in the dark?”
“The stars are out.” He gestured up at the sky. “They’ll guide us, Birdy.”
“Actually,” I said, hands on my hips, “it’s a crescent moon and particularly dark tonight.”
“I know,” he said. “I wish I could say I planned it that way, but we just got lucky.”
Warily, I climbed over the starboard side and set up both cushions. Once I was seated at the bow, he pushed the boat through the weeds and waded in after it.
“Stay,” he told Blue.
She barked once to get her point across but plopped down at the edge of the lake, watching us go as she had many times before.
“Where are we headed?” I asked once Manning had climbed in.
“To the middle.” Slowly, he rowed us out on the water. As the night spread around us, complete stillness punctuated by occasional splashes and croaks, I began to wonder if the journey was the destination. Though Manning and I had planned a fairly low-key weekend, there was no getting around the chaos that came with having friends and family in one place. It’d been days, maybe even weeks, since I’d experienced this kind of stillness and peace.
“Okay, this was a good idea,” I admitted, shutting my eyes and relaxing against the back of the boat to enjoy the warm breeze.
“We’re here,” he said.
I opened my eyes. “Where’s here?”
“Middle of the lake. Best spot to see the show.” He reached for me. “Come.”
Taking his hand, I let him guide me forward to sit between his legs.
He enveloped me, hugging my back to his chest. “Look up.”
I relaxed against him, resting my arms on his as I scanned the countless stars. In the pitch black, they shone especially bright. “They’re beautiful,” I said.
“You know I’ll always move the stars for you if need be,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”
Though I appreciated the warmth behind his words, wasn’t it possible some fates couldn’t be rearranged? The vastness of the black sky and the sheer number of stars overhead made me feel small and insignificant—but not in a bad way. Did the universe have plans for us? Or had Manning and I really defined our own destiny? And what did either of those realities mean for our future?
Manning bent his mouth to my ear. “Lake?” he asked.
“Did you hear me?”
Whatever it takes. It occurred to me as we sat under the glittering stars that Manning would do anything in his power to move them in our favor—but what would it do to him if he couldn’t?
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Meet The Author: Jessica Hawkins
Jessica Hawkins is an Amazon bestselling author known for her “emotionally gripping” and “off-the-charts hot” romance. Dubbed “queen of angst” by both peers and readers for her smart and provocative work, she’s garnered a cult-like following of fans who love to be torn apart…and put back together. She writes romance both at home in California and around the world, a coffee shop traveler who bounces from café to café with just a laptop, headphones, and coffee cup. She loves to keep in close touch with her readers, mostly via Facebook, Instagram, and her mailing list.