Excerpt: Unconditionally by Erin Lyon

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In a world where marriage doesn’t exist—only seven-year contracts—you don’t marry, you sign. You don’t divorce, you breach. And sometimes, you just expire.

In this hilarious conclusion to Erin Lyon’s I Love You Subject to the Following Terms and Conditions, Kate has accepted a job practicing signing law, the one type of law she swore she’d never do – especially since what she thought was her very own happily ever after turned into just another expired contract. But between Kate’s embarrassing penchant for running into exes in court, clients determined to use her as their very own therapist, and a couple having a knock-down, drag-out over the custody of the family guinea pig, at least the job’s never boring.

But while Kate finally has a handle on her career, her love life is still, well, complicated. The former love of her life, Jonathan, wants her back. Her current main squeeze, Dave, wants to take things to the next level, but she still can’t shake her wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing vibe about him. And then there’s Adam, her mad crush who really wants to be her friend. So, to sum up, one questionable ex, one player with a capital “P,” and one guy who’s kind of stolen her heart even though she’s in the friend zone. This should be a piece of cake.

Unconditionally will be available January 9th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter 1

Move-in day. A new beginning. I looked out the window at my new rental and got a rush of excitement at the thought that I finally had my own place again. My parents are amazing, but moving home with Mom and Dad at thirty-four, after an unexpected breakup, is definitely less amazing.

Dave and I pulled up in front of my new apartment with his truck loaded with my belongings and my parents parked at the curb behind us in Dad’s truck packed with the other half of my stuff.

Dave and I hadn’t really talked since he picked me up at the bar last night. You know, after my irrational and unexpected little bout of jealousy sent me running at the thought of Adam’s (potential) hookup with another woman. When I’d met Adam, he pursued me because I was unavailable. And when I suddenly became available? I no longer fit his criteria—no attachment—but he still wanted us to be friends.

At first, sure, Adam was beautiful, but he didn’t really get to me. Until we became friends and I was treated to a whole new, amazing Adam that I seemed to find slightly irresistible.

So I left with Dave last night, leaving Adam standing on the sidewalk, watching me climb into Dave’s truck. And he just let me go.

So I woke up this morning with a new resolve to do the same.

I looked over at Dave with a big, silly grin and danced around a little in my car seat.

Dave chuckled. His blond hair was perfectly styled, as usual, but he had some sandy-blond scruff on his face like he’d skipped his morning shave. He smiled at my excitement, displaying his overly perfect teeth (which, Dave had clarified, were necessitated by his brief foray into youth hockey and not by the vanity that came with being a well-known local news sportscaster, as I had first suspected). He was very all-American-boy handsome today, which always made me think of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Jury was still out on that one.

A Mercedes belonging to my landlady, Sandy, was already parked on the opposite side of the street. Sandy was standing on the front steps, managing to look crisp and vintage even when she was in jeans. She had on a white blouse with the wide cuffs turned back and she was wearing brown loafers that were just old enough to look classic rather than dowdy. Her dark hair with its streaks of gray was pulled back from her face with a headband. The distinctive combination of dark hair and light-green eyes made it hard to forget that she was Adam’s mother. Damn.

I walked up to her and she wrapped me in a big hug. My parents followed me up the walk and I made introductions.

Sandy unlocked the front door and we all trailed in behind her and stood in the foyer. I had a foyer now. A teeny, tiny foyer, but it was mine.

“Oh, Kate,” Mom said. “This is perfect.”

I smiled at her and draped an arm across her shoulders. “I know!” I said, not masking my excitement. She wrapped an arm around my waist and smiled back at me with her matching light-blue eyes. As much as Adam and Sandy were definitely mother and son, I was my mother’s doppelgänger. Sure, I was a little taller and leaner, but our brown hair and light-blue eyes made our link unmistakable.

We headed back out and started unloading the truck with the big items first. Dad and Dave went back inside with my mattress, heading straight upstairs. I grabbed the closest box marked “Kitchen” and figured I could start getting the boxes to the right rooms while the guys lifted the heavy furniture. I walked inside, holding the big box a little awkwardly.

I smiled to myself as I headed for the kitchen. Life was good.

And then it happened—one of those pure Wile E. Coyote moments. One minute my feet were under me, and the next, I could see them straight out in front of me. It’s awesome the way time slows down when you start to fall . . . because you would hate to miss a moment of this. I seemed to have ample time both to admire the air I’d managed to achieve and to ponder how much it would hurt when I crashed to the wood floor.

It hurt a lot. Thankfully, I had the foresight to push the box aside so that it didn’t land on top of me. Whoosh. The wind was completely knocked out of me and I could see little gray spots in my field of vision. And I just lay there, stunned.

The first thing I saw was Sandy dropping down to kneel over me, her green eyes wide and shocked.

“Oh my god! Kate! Are you okay?”

Kate can’t come to the phone right now—you’ll have to leave a message.

Then it was Mom, Dad, and Dave, freaking out, talking about calling an ambulance. Say something, Kate. Before someone tries to give you CPR.

“I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Perfect. Why say something once when you can say it three times?

Dad was looking down into my face, his bushy eyebrows lowered over his gray eyes. “Are you sure?”

Mom put her hand on my dad’s shoulder. “Maybe we should still call the ambulance, Jeff.”

Shit. Time to nip this hysterical little situation in the bud. I took a deep breath and lifted my head off the ground. So far, so good. When I got my shoulders off the floor, Dad and Sandy reached arms under me and helped me to a sitting position. Dave was positioned by my feet and reached out and took one of my hands, once I was sitting up. He was frowning, his lips pursed tight.

“I’m okay,” I repeated.

“Are you sure?” Sandy asked, sounding on the verge of tears. “I think you should go get checked out.”

I shook my head—and wished I hadn’t. I had a quick throbbing in the back of my head and a few more spots danced in front of my eyes.

“Really,” I said. “I’m fine. I’m just a klutz.”

“I am so sorry, Kate. The housecleaners must have used some kind of wax on the floor. I’m so sorry.”

I grasped her hand and smiled. “It was my fault.” I wiggled my well-worn Chuck Taylors. “These shoes are so old, they are worn completely smooth on the bottom. I should have worn different shoes.”

Sandy shook her head, unconvinced.

“Maybe we should take you to the hospital,” Dave said. “You could have a concussion.”

“I don’t have a concussion,” I said, although I was careful not to shake my head this time.

Dad waved Mom down to his side. “Deanna, sit here with her. Dave, let’s go get the sofa so she has somewhere to sit and we can get her off the floor.”

“I’ll give you my homeowner’s insurance information,” Sandy said.

“Sandy, please don’t blame yourself. I am totally accident prone.”

“She really is,” Mom chimed in.

Sandy reached out and gently brushed my hair back from my forehead and looked into my face intensely. The act was so sweet and maternal, I had a complete Awww moment, and I tipped my head at her, smiling. She finally smiled back.

The guys brought the sofa in, and apparently all four of them were determined to help my sorry ass off the floor.

“You guys. I really am okay,” I repeated, feeling like a broken record.

Mom settled a pillow behind my back when I sat down, and Dave picked my feet up and put them on the couch so I was semi-reclined. I think I would have fought it more if I didn’t feel a little queasy all of a sudden.

“Knock knock,” Logek, my best friend, chirped from the doorway. Her long blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she was wearing a plain pink T-shirt and jeans with holes in both knees. She walked in and saw me stretched out on the sofa and her eyebrows went up. “What did I miss?”

“Kate took a bad fall,” Dad said.

“It wasn’t that bad,” I said.

In response, my mother turned to Logek and nodded agreement with my father.

“You know I can see you, right?” I asked her.

Mom shrugged.

Logek looked down at me and down to my feet. “I told you to throw out those Chuck’s, Kitty Kat. They’re like ice skates.”

Since apparently this crowd was going to need some hard proof, I put my feet down on the floor in front of me and sat upright. My fingertips were still a little tingly, but I definitely was fully functional. I didn’t want to stand up just yet, since I felt like there might be a fifty-fifty chance I’d swan dive to the floor. That’s okay, though. They seemed satisfied with me sitting up, looking alert and cheerful.

Everyone seemed to be feeling better, except for Dave. He was still frowning at me, thoughtfully.

“You could have a concussion,” he repeated.

“I don’t have a concussion.”

He shrugged but still didn’t look happy. Tough shit. The emergency room was so not happening today.

I smiled brightly for everyone. “Okay. Enough slacking. Let’s get me moved in.”

I got a couple of chuckles, some smiles, and everyone started moving with a purpose again.

Logek walked over to the box I’d lobbed away for my well-being. It was on its side and it was a little lopsided now. She righted it, broke the tape, and opened the box. She looked inside and made one of those inward sighs where you suck air in through your teeth.

“Do I want to know what was in there?”

“Nope.”

Wonderful. I raised my eyebrows at her. “Hit me with it. I can take it.”

She pulled some newspaper off the top and laid it out flat next to the box . . . undoubtedly for whatever broken pieces would be laid out on it. I sighed.

She held up a large piece of glass that it took me a moment to identify. Part of my wineglass. My favorite wineglass. The goblet with the giraffe spots on it. So cute. Damn.

She continued plucking out pieces of broken wineglass until we’d counted five broken out of my set of six. Her face lit up then. She pulled lucky number six unscathed from the box. I guess I didn’t pack them well enough. Then again, I hadn’t really expected to be chucking the box six feet in the air.

“We have a survivor,” I said, as Logek twirled the stem of the wineglass between her fingers.

“Oh no!” Sandy said, when she realized we were inventorying the damage from my fall.

“No biggie,” I said. “I got them at Pottery Barn. Not exactly fine china.”

“You must be Sandy,” Logek exclaimed, jumping up to shake her hand. “I’m Logek, Kate’s best friend.”

“Very nice to meet you,” Sandy said.

“So, I understand you are Adam’s mother.”

Shit. I was kind of hoping to make it through the day without hearing his name. I guess I sort of assumed Logek would come to that conclusion, given that she knew I bailed at the bar last night after seeing Adam in “contract killer” mode. I had another flash of the petite hottie that had her arm around Adam’s waist, a token dangling from her bracelet announcing her signed status. I really needed to work on that letting him go thing.

“Yes,” Sandy said, smiling like a proud mama. “You know Adam, too?”

“Just through Kate, but yes.”

“I wonder where he is,” Sandy said, with a glance toward the front door. “I told him I wanted him to help with the move.”

Logek must have (finally) caught the chilly look in my eyes, because she quickly replied, “I’m sure he was just busy today. But it looks like we have plenty of help.”

Sandy sort of shrugged. Adam was so going to get it later. Mama was not happy that he was a no-show.

“Well, I guess I should start helping,” Logek said.

“Me, too,” I said, about to push myself to my feet.

“Oh no you don’t,” Sandy said.

“You do still look a little pale. Just sit a bit longer and see how you feel,” Logek said.

So I leaned back on the sofa and watched the bustling activity as everyone (but me) put my little apartment together. My furniture fit perfectly. The decor looked like I’d bought it specifically for this apartment. My tastes were much like Sandy’s, apparently. My things were a blend of vintage and rustic, which went perfectly with the wood floors and old-school appliances in the kitchen. No wonder this was Sandy’s favorite of her rentals. It was her—classic, lovely, and perfectly stylish. I had a moment of disbelief that this was really my apartment. And I don’t think it was falling on my head that gave me the disbelief, thankfully.

Dad and Dave came down from upstairs. “Done with the furniture up there,” Dad said. “Logek is putting your clothes away. I assume that’s okay?”

I laughed. Silly question. Logek knew my clothes as well as her own and had been familiar with my closet for twenty years. You pick up a lot about someone’s organizational techniques in twenty years. Dad winked at me, and he and Dave disappeared outside again.

I’d stopped leaning my head against the back of the sofa, since I was pretty sure I was developing a pretty good goose egg on the back of my head. My phone was sitting next to me on the couch, and it buzzed.

I heard you fell and might have a concussion?

Adam. I ignored the butterflies in my stomach since they had no business being there.

I don’t have a concussion.

You sure?

No. Yep. I’m fine.

I leave you alone for a day and you practically split your head open.

Pretty sure I still would have managed to fall on my ass even if you had been here.

That’s comforting.

Who told you?

Mom.

She feels so bad. Totally not her fault. Tell her.

I did. I told her you’re one of the clumsiest people I know.

Thanks?

Lol. Well, you did trip on the rug on your way out of the bar last night.

Wow. Really? We’re talking about my hasty (and inept) departure last night? I stared at my phone. I can’t do this. I can’t talk about last night.

Kate?

Nope.

Dave walked through the door carrying my coffee table. He set it down in front of the sofa and sat down next to me.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he said, and he leaned in and kissed me. Nothing indecent, since my parents were walking around the apartment, so he just pressed his soft lips to mine and held them there a moment. When he pulled back, I glanced into the kitchen and saw Sandy watching us. She looked bummed, so maybe Adam was right when he said she’d had hopes of matchmaking the two of us. She may be in for a lot of disappointment if she thinks she’s ever going to be successful on matching Adam with anyone.

Logek came bounding down the stairs with a spring in her step and sat down on the coffee table, facing Dave and me.

“Your closet is organized, my lady,” she said, with a slight bow of her head.

“Much appreciated.”

“Next time I have to move, I am totally spraining my ankle,” she said with a decisive nod.

“Yes, my humiliating fall was all part of my master plan to avoid my own move.”

She chuckled. Then looked at Dave. “So, Dave, how’s it going?”

“Good.” He checked his watch. “I’ve got to head to the station pretty quick.”

“It was nice of you to help,” she told him.

He tipped his head toward me. “I spend so much time pissing her off—I have to do something to stay in her good graces.” And he kissed the top of my head, like he frequently does, I’ve realized, when he’s trying to be sweet. And pacify me.

Logek laughed. “Maybe try pissing her off less and you won’t have to work so hard.”

“Now there’s a thought.” Dave looked at me, then back at Logek. “Don’t you think we’d make a great couple, though?” he asked her, putting his arm around my shoulders.

When I met Dave, two weeks ago, he struck me as an unrepentant playboy who likely bedded women like it was an Olympic sport. But once I caught on to his BS (and called him on it), we ended up kind of liking the unfettered honesty that we were left with. So we sorta started seeing each other. And despite things kicking off with his open declaration of having the goal of getting me into bed, he did an about-face a week ago and now claims to want an exclusive relationship, which is wrong in more ways than I can count. Not the least of which is that I’m not totally sold on his sincerity. I can’t help but wonder if it’s part of his game. So, at his mention of the relationship thing again, my eyes rolled back in my head.

Logek smiled. “Wow. You really are good at pissing her off.”

Dave quickly looked back at me to catch the spectacular glare I was giving him. Then he made matters worse by going all sweet and sensitive (and yes, probably totally fake) and saying quietly, “I just want to be with you. I don’t know why that’s a problem.” All his sweet gesture did was unleash a flood of contradictions in me, making me somehow flattered and suspicious at the same time.

He pulled me against him, kissing me again, but with added enthusiasm this time. Before he could get too carried away, I leaned away, tipping my head to Logek, who was just sitting in front of us with an amused look on her face. After I pulled back, he released me and stood up.

“I have to get going, baby. Logek,” he said, leaning over and giving her a quick hug, “always nice to see you.”

“You, too,” she said, with a somewhat speculative smile.

I heard Dave kissing ass—I mean saying good-bye—to my parents and Sandy and, with a final wave, he headed out the door.

My parents had left, along with Sandy, hours ago. Logek and I were sitting in my kitchen with a glass of wine.

“Congratulations, big girl,” she said, with a quick look around my new home.

I grinned. “Thank you very much.”

“How’s the head?”

“A little sore. Tell me the truth. Did my parents tell you to stay with me tonight and keep me awake in case I have a concussion?”

“That is one possibility.”

“I figured. Did you have plans tonight?”

She played with her wineglass . . . part of my mismatched set, now that my one complete giraffe set was busted all to hell. And her evasiveness meant one thing: Derek. Derek, as in the once love of her life, turned heartbreaker, Derek. Derek who breached their contract by sleeping with another woman Derek. And now he was back, full of sincere apologies and regret. And it seemed he was still Logek’s kryptonite.

“Logek. I’m not going to judge.”

“I know,” she said with a sigh. “I’m judging myself.”

“Don’t. Old habits die hard.”

“And that’s why I’m still in love with him?”

Well, shit. I nodded.

“It feels like more than habit.”

“Did anything happen last night?”

“A kiss. One kiss, and I didn’t return any of Daniel’s texts today.”

Daniel was a new guy she’d recently started seeing, who was apparently about to further the stereotype that nice guys finish last. I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m a terrible person,” she said matter-of-factly.

“No,” I said.

“Yes. I’m going to break Daniel’s heart. For no good reason.”

“Come on. How serious could you really have been about Daniel if you were this ready to push him aside? Maybe it’s for the best that you figured this out now rather than stringing him along for another six months. And besides, maybe Derek is different.”

“He seems different. But we know I’ve never been a good judge of character when it came to him.”

“So take it slow. Text. Talk on the phone. Try not to jump back into a physical relationship with him. See how dedicated he seems.”

She took a long drink of wine and her blue eyes were shiny. I reached out and grabbed her hand.

“Why are you crying? The love of your life just waltzed back into your life and wants to be with you. It could work.” I wished I believed that. Prove me wrong, Derek. Please, please, please.

She sniffed. “It could.” I could hear it in her voice. She didn’t believe it any more than I did. Yet she accepted that she would get drawn back in, as though he were a hurricane she might not survive—brutal, dangerous, and beyond her control. Love sucks.

Her phone buzzed and she checked the screen. She tapped in a reply and looked up at me. She smiled. “I told him I’m on concussion watch.”

“I’m glad my clumsiness could be there to save you from yourself tonight.”

“Yeah, so what’s planned for tomorrow?”

I laughed. “We’ll think of something.”

“You know, I could ask you the same question. The love of your life wants to be with you. What’s holding you back?”

The love of my life, Jonathan, had turned my world upside down a month ago by informing me that he didn’t want to re-up our contract at the end of our seven years, which I’d foolishly taken as a given. I hadn’t even considered life without him. Apparently, he’d somehow convinced himself that I’d be willing to take a break from our contract for a few years and then reunite and grow old together, or something like that.

After a couple weeks of nursing my broken heart and planning for my new single-girl life, he threw me for another loop when he declared that he’d made a huge mistake and asked if I would sign with him again.

I looked at Logek and shrugged. “I have no answer to that. Having trouble letting go of the hurt and disillusionment, I guess.”

“I have no idea what that would be like,” she said, heavy on the sarcasm.

“Yeah,” I said with a grimace. “Sorry. Your breakup totally wins. Or loses. Whatever. So how are you over it?”

“Derek is my crack. Terrible for my health but irresistible. And I’m not over it.”

“But you’re still willing to give him another shot?”

“Did you miss my ‘crack’ metaphor?”

* * *

Since I’d taken my spill at about 9:30 a.m., by 2:00 a.m. Logek and I figured I was safe from any concussion side effects and she went home (happy that I was now only five minutes away from her place instead of forty).

I climbed the stairs of my new apartment and went into my room. My bed was set up exactly where I would have put it, and all my trinkets were already perfectly arranged on my dressers. I’m not saying people should try to get a concussion at the start of moving day . . . I’m just saying, it’s crazy the way everything gets done perfectly with zero help from you.

After brushing my teeth, I climbed into my crisply made-up bed. Occasionally, I could hear the sound of a car passing down my street. Welcome to the city. No after-hours traffic in the suburbs where my parents live, that was for sure. But I wasn’t in the ’burbs anymore. And there was something exciting about that—about being back in the city.

Of course, that excitement contributed to me staring at the ceiling (and the clock) at 3:00 a.m. It was about 20 percent new-apartment insomnia, 30 percent work related, and 50 percent what – to – do – about – boys. And I missed Jonathan. In my own bed in my new apartment and I missed him more acutely than I had in the month we’d been apart. Whenever I was confused, he was always the one thing that just made sense.

I picked up my phone from the nightstand and stared at it, debating. Screw it. He won’t see it till morning anyway. No harm.

I started typing a text to Jonathan, then the phone buzzed in my hand with an incoming text (and it may have scared me enough to drop the phone—so sue me).

It was Dave. Naturally.

Hey beautiful. Can’t sleep tonight. Got home from the basketball game I was covering, worked out, watched some TV, thought about you. I know you’re probably asleep and won’t see this till morning, but just wanted to say I wish you were here. I think if I could wrap my arms around you right now, I’d be able to fall right to sleep.

I lay there in the dark, looking at that text, trying to make sense of things. Obviously sleep found me before any sense did.

Copyright © 2018 Erin Lyon

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