The Benefits of Love
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Series: As I Am

Book: 2

Couple: Laura and Zach

Release Date: June 13, 2022

 

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Blurb:

Laura
My wedding photography business is everything to me.
I’m the heart of it all—no freelancers, no assistants. It’s just me.
But when it comes to taking care of my personal business, I call Zach.
Zach, my friend with lots of benefits.
Zach who’d never want a relationship. Same as me.
Or at least I thought I didn’t want a relationship. Back before I got to know him.
Before I noticed how my heart beats twice as fast when he’s around.
But what will happen to my life’s work if I go after what my heart wants?


Zach
Every new client I sign, every successful negotiation, every f#cking contract I close, speaks to my success. It’s proof that the hours I put into starting my law firm paid off.
Even at the expense of having a relationship.
Not that I need one. Not when I have Laura.
All she wants from me is a quick screw and an even quicker goodbye.
The only problem is…I don’t want quick from her. Not anymore.
I want long days and nights. I want forever.
But is it even possible to have love and keep up with the demands of my career?

 

The Benefits of Love, book 2 in the As I Am series, is an fun, steamy and emotional contemporary romance that can be read as a standalone. Their unconventional relationship may start all wrong, but sooner or later they’ll realize the most important thing...that love is always in the right. Happily ever after guaranteed. Download today and get ready to fall in love with your next favorite book boyfriend.

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CHAPTER ONE

Laura

 

“Again? Seriously?” I glared at my phone, pissed off.

Pissed off, but not surprised.

Erin, my best friend from college and a new momma of twins, texted me to apologize for having to cancel last minute. Their babysitter had the flu, Erin’s mom lived halfway across the country, Thomas’s parents were at the theater, and this was a Saturday night.

No chance in hell for a replacement.

Fuck my life.

I didn’t mind the other times she’d blown me off. I loved her to death and I totally understood that sometimes your babysitters were sick, or had a family emergency, or any other excuse. It wasn’t her fault.

What made that day oh so very special was the timing.

Because instead of being home to receive her text, I was already at Gwendoline’s, the bistro where we were set to meet, being led by the hostess toward our table. I could’ve turned around and left, if not for Zach, Thomas’s childhood friend, waving me over. Exasperated, I dragged my feet to our table, where the four of us were supposed to have dinner together.

His light blue eyes glinted with amusement, and he gestured from his phone to me. “The perks of having friends with babies, am I right?”

While I used to find every word that came out of his mouth hilarious, today there was nothing there. Over the last couple years, actually, nothing he said struck me as funny. “Yes, Zach, you’re right.”

“Think they did it on purpose.” His grin widened. I tried not to scowl harder.

The idea of us dating was something I wanted long ago, and having it brought up as a joke hit a soft spot for me. Especially from him. Especially since once upon a time when I was young and impressionable at twenty-three years of age, Erin and Thomas played matchmaker with us. It was the beginning of their relationship, and I wanted what they had. I also wanted Zach. I thought he wanted me too.

Until he didn’t. Whatever had been boiling between us for the first year we knew each other came to an abrupt halt when Erin and Thomas had their three-week break and I stood by her side, juggling her and my growing photography business. Instead of flirty texts, we went to Is Erin okay? Asking for a friend to me answering She’ll be fine or something like that.

We talked like friends did. Good friends, even. So friendly, actually, that when he dated other women, he shared it with me. It ticked me off, but then again, we never made it to a first date, and I couldn’t blame him for looking for a relationship when I was emotionally unavailable. And as much as I tried to stay this cool guy’s friend, the little organ in my chest couldn’t.

From that point on, our friendship had dwindled to our meetings at Erin and Thomas’s and recently being godparents to their twins and not much else. It made sitting with him in that bistro alone extra weird. Unavoidable, but weird.

“What I think this couple needs is a more reliable babysitter agency,” I answered as I typed Erin a message, telling her not to worry about it.

“My eyes are up here,” he said in a teasing voice.

My head snapped up after hitting the send button, not in the mood to be teased. “Yes, Zach, they are. And my work is at home, and Erin isn’t here. I know all of that.”

I placed my phone back in my bag and stood up, ready to head to my apartment.

“Hey, Laura, wait a minute.” He jumped out of his chair, hands in the air in surrender. “I’m sorry if I said anything out of line. Please stay.”

The prickling feeling of rejection from years ago whispered I had nothing in common with this man, no reason to stay, no reason to be nice. The sincere look he had in his eyes though… Dear grudge, go fuck yourself.

“Apology accepted.” I smiled, reassuring him as well as myself. “I really have to go though.”

“All I’m asking for is one beer. What’s the harm?”

I twisted my lips to the side, calculating when the last time was that I had gone out and had fun. It’d been a while, and Zach could be fun, if I let him.

“One drink,” I warned him playfully.

“Make it two.”

“Zach…” I sighed. This guy was a master exasperator.

I used to stay out and drink for hours, and while I thought these years would last forever, I had to put a stop to them. At twenty-six, my one-woman business demanded I stay on top of things, so drunken nights and hungover mornings were tucked away as fond memories. 

“I’m joking again. Stay for half an hour, an hour, ten minutes—totally up to you.”

“Ugh, sorry. Life has been stressful for, what, four years since I started my business?” I slumped back in the chair, giving him a partial excuse. The rest of it, meaning me working on getting over his rejection, that I kept to myself.

“Yeah.” He signaled to the waitress as we both sat down. “Owning a business does that to a person.”

“Seriously, today I’ve been up since five in the morning, catching up on my deadlines to make it in time to see Erin.” I flopped my head on the table and mumbled, “And she’s not even here.”

The waitress came and took our drink orders from Zach. I felt her hovering over me after he finished.

Eventually she asked in a slightly French accent, “Hey, everything okay?”

I raised my head, plastering a smile on my haggard face that was supposed to soothe the young blonde who bore a very serious expression. “Yeah, thanks. Just tired.” I gave her two thumbs-up and nearly broke my jaw with the widest grin you’d ever seen.

She scrunched her nose, but left anyway.

Zach choked on a laugh. “You were saying?”

“Ugh, never mind.”

He cleared his throat, mustering a somber expression. “No, please continue.”

“Nothing, I just…” My hands dropped from the table to my lap. “I have a ton of work to do.”

“And you’re stuck with me instead.” He said the statement as a fact more than an accusation.

“It’s not like I’m suffering.” I inhaled, thinking of something nice to say that wouldn’t send even the slightest message that I was still interested. “And you’re not bad company.”

“Thanks, Laur. You’re not bad either, but yeah, I feel you.” He placed his forearms on the table, leaning forward. “When I’m not in the office or answering emails or calls on my phone, I’m still working up here.” He tapped on his forehead. I shared the sentiment, sometimes even too well.

At the changed tone of his voice, to resigned and very un-Zach-like, I looked at him for the first time today. Not the quick glance I gave him, but a real, hard one, and I realized that despite his jokes, despite his carefully ironed white polo shirt and pressed navy-blue pants, he looked just like me, deflated. His short, dark hair was a mess, the bags under his eyes were prominent, and a light stubble was covering his normally shaved jaw.

I missed all of it while I’d been busy being upset with him. 

His lips twitched. “Get a good look?”

He startled me out of my perusal, and I returned my focus up to his eyes. “You’re tired.”

“Feels like looking in the mirror, doesn’t it?” The drinks arrived, and he raised his beer to mine. “To the glamorous life of a business owner.”

We clinked our glasses, and I took a big gulp of my wine. It tasted delicious and I hoped the rest of the evening would be as soothing as the effect it had on me.

Zach had other plans. “Are you seeing anyone?”

Opting for the mildly honest answer, without sharing the debacle that was my romantic life, I said, “No, I barely have time to see myself, let alone another person.”

“That’s a good one. I’m going to use it.”

I took another sip from my glass and shrugged. “Be my guest.”

His eyes squinted as he surveyed me. “You sure that being busy is the only reason?”

“You’re calling me a liar?” My eyes narrowed.

“Not at all,” he corrected himself, still smiling though. “You’re gorgeous, intelligent, and run your own business. I can’t see anyone with half a brain not wanting to date you.”

Oh, really?

He continued, “And even you must have some time in your busy schedule to see someone.”

The waitress refilled my glass and I sipped more of the red liquid. It made me feel brave. Too brave, in retrospect. “I do, but what’s the use? They date me, then they dump me.”

His head reared back, genuinely surprised.

“Men have serious issues with me working. At least that’s what the ones who were gracious enough to tell me why they were leaving said to my face.” The wine lowered the barricades that kept the grudges at bay, as well as my common sense. I wanted to take it back as soon as I said it.

Fortunately, it flew right over Zach. “If it’s any consolation, I haven’t had much luck with women either.”

“It doesn’t console me in any way to hear your girlfriends left you.” I sighed. “Like I said, you’re a great guy.”

“Thanks. I misspoke though.” He scratched the back of his head. “They don’t leave me; it’s the other way around.”

Holding on to a straight face while being humiliated was hard.

“For the same reasons that yours never work out.”

Real hard.

“No one liked the long hours, the meetings, emails, endless phone calls.” He slouched back in his chair.

“I thought you said you were the one leaving?”

“Curious, huh?” His lips quirked to the side. “They liked me, for some reason, and tried to talk me into changing. I wouldn’t, especially since I had set these boundaries early on, for these reasons. I couldn’t stand the arguments either, so it always ended the same, with me having to break up with them.”

“You? Change?” I laugh-snorted.

He sipped from his beer. “Takes one to know one.”

“Yes, it does,” I said boldly, not feeling an ounce of shame for sticking to my decision. “That’s why I’m done with relationships for the foreseeable future.”

“What do you mean done?” His clever eyes examined me with curiosity.

“Done.” I eyed my wine, thinking it would be best to put it aside if I wanted my change of subject to sound nonchalant and not end up with me slurring the words. “Anyway, how’s work? Land any big clients recently?”

“Work’s fine, nothing interesting.” He dragged his chair and sat close to me, his stark blue gaze probing me, looking for something. “Not as interesting as you are. I want to make you an offer.”

Too little, too late, buddy, my mind thought, while my lady parts perked up and listened.

“What if there was a man who liked you just the way you are.” The perpetual smile he had disappeared, his expression turning somber. “Who would never, not once, give you shit about your work hours, and would fuck you senseless when it suited the both of you?”

“Are you offering what I think you’re offering?” I raised an eyebrow, my voice stern. I demanded a clear answer since honestly, with what had happened three years ago, this man had given me big trust issues. Trusting myself most of all, since I’d read him wrong so epically.

Zach brought his chair even closer, so I’d hear him when he said, “Exactly that. You’re hot, I’m hot, we’re both adults…”

“You’re an old adult.” I smirked, not missing a chance to take a jab at him.

He slipped out his tongue to lick his bottom lip, the sexual nature of it wiping out my smirk. “I’m thirty-six, not ninety-six, so rest assured everything down there works just fine.” He tilted his head. “Look, Laura, I meant what I said. We’re at a point in our lives when we’re somewhat stuck in the relationship department, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun together. So, yes, what I’m talking about is being friends with benefits, to be your boy toy within a booty call’s distance.”

His smoldering stare pinned me in place. He didn’t lay a hand on me, yet I felt the electricity pouring off of him and enveloping me, sending sparks from my head down to my toes. His words made sense, and I was actually considering what he suggested we do.

It wasn’t like he’d offered me a date, to which I would’ve refused on the spot. Fool me once and all that jazz. This wasn’t a date, and I was kind of stuck, not just in the relationship department, in the hookups as well. The last one that occurred months ago disgusted me and was the final straw.

All things considered then, fucking a hot, funny, and overall kind Zach didn’t sound like the worst idea.

“Okay, but this stays between us. You can never tell anyone, much less Thomas,” I harsh-whispered, assuring he took me seriously.

“I wouldn’t have it otherwise.” Only when the consent left my lips did he place his hand on my knee, rubbing small circles on it. I clenched my teeth to quiet down a gasp. “Can we have code names then?”

“We can.” I shook my head. Even his nonsense had a sexy edge to it when he said it like that. “What do you want to be called?”

“I would have gone for the most fitting, Iron Man, but the double entendre is too obvious.”

I wanted to be sarcastic, to say anything at all, but then he grabbed the sensitive area under my knee and my vocal cords surrendered to humming instead.

“Instead, we can choose another Avenger, maybe Thor?”

He removed his hand, giving me some room to breathe. “Why not Odin, ruler of Asgard, while we’re at it?”

“Nah, Thor and his big, heavy hammer are it for me. And you, dearest Laura, would be called…” He tapped his fingertips on the table, scouring the room until his eyes located the vase on the table. He plucked a flower from it and turned it in his hand. “This one’s beautiful. What’s it called?”

“Tulip,” I answered simply, ignoring his compliment.

He put it back in place without averting his gaze from me. “Tulip it is.”