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Too Beautiful to Break
By Tessa Bailey
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- Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
- ebook $8.99 $11.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 11, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Leaving Belmont Clarkson is the hardest thing Sage Alexander has ever done. From the moment they met, she knew Belmont was the one, and getting up close and personal with him on his family's epic road trip has taken her desire to a new, even hotter level. But there's no way she can go there—not without revealing secrets that could devastate them both.
Losing Sage is not an option. Belmont's heart is hers, has always been hers. He knows she's hiding something from him, but nothing will stand in his way of telling her just how much she means to him. Finding her is easy—saving her from her past could cost him everything.
People often ask me where my book ideas come from. "Everywhere," is my answer. But Belmont's story has to be the most unique case of plot bunny-itis. My grandmother has always told me stories about her older brother, Belmont. He was the strong, silent protector type. I paid attention to these stories, but one anecdote in particular floored me. Belmont was a difficult child and continually ran away. One day, my great-grandparents handcuffed him to the sink (I don't condone this in any way) to make a point. So Belmont got up a head of steam and ripped the sink out of the wall.
As soon as I heard this story, I was hooked. Needed to know everything about the man this young child became. I plotted an entire series around him—and really, Peggy, Rita, and Aaron are very important, but they orbited around Belmont, didn't they?
Weeks after I plotted the series and started writing it, I came to find out that real-life Belmont had a different father, too, just like the fictional Belmont, which was possibly where his angst came from. I never knew this fact about his parentage and it was something my grandmother hadn't spoken to me about. So I've spent the last year convinced real-life Belmont and I have a cosmic, beyond the grave connection. In Peggy's book, she describes Belmont as, "More substantial than time," and I couldn't agree more. Belmont and Sage are going to stay with me forever. I hope they do the same for you.
Thank you to my editor, Madeleine Colavita, for your expertise, time, and love of the series. It was truly a pleasure going on this journey with you.
Thank you to my grandmother for telling me the sink story and getting the juices flowing. I'm so grateful that storytelling (and good hair) runs in the family!
Thank you to my husband, Patrick, and daughter, Mackenzie (and Molly the cat), for being the most patient, loving, and understanding people on the planet. I love us.
Thank you to my friends who continue to support me. Jessie and May, the fact that you harassed me for each book in this series made me so happy. Jillian, I'll never forget you crying in the restaurant when I told you I sold this series and how the story ended. And all the Bailey's Babes who have been Belmont girls since book one—thank you.
Miriam, January 28
Belmont. Sweet Jesus, already. Lighten up.
Belmont was my first baby. But—and this is hard to explain—he never really behaved like one. Sure, in the beginning, he cried and squirmed and royally screwed my sleep schedule. Somewhere along the line, though, his eyes turned grave. I didn't try hard enough to hide my sadness during that period of my life, and thus, Belmont was born a second time.
Born into sadness.
Belmont's father was my one. I might be a French chef who believes food has a soul and tiramisu done right can inspire baby making, but I am the furthest thing from romantic one can get. And yet, I fell in love with my oldest son's father the moment we crossed shadows. I was not his one, however. I didn't know how to be his one…and still retain Miriam. Like Belmont, he was the kind of man who demanded all or nothing. With or against. Love or die.
So I chose to die a little and regenerate. But my son—my giant, beautiful, stormy, aching, ageless boy—he seemed to court the favor of sadness. It shoved him down into a well, robbed him of words and the ability to relate to people the way society dictates he should. There's a place inside him no one has ever reached and therein lies secrets. Turbulent truths. The ones he tried to express across my kitchen table with his eyes but couldn't find the right words for.
Watching my three children orbit the dark planet of Belmont gives me hope, though. Rita, Aaron, and Peggy are the smartest people I know—apart from myself, of course—and the way they cease all movement when Belmont speaks and treat his words like commandments, tells me others will one day do the same. If the demons don't get him first.
Shaking Belmont Clarkson wasn't going to be easy for Sage Alexander.
For several reasons.
One, she didn't want to.
To an outsider, the dependency Belmont had on Sage appeared to be one-sided. Over the course of the road trip from San Diego to New York, she had fielded several sympathetic looks lobbed in her direction. To the other Clarkson siblings, none of whom were left in the rattling Suburban as it lumbered down the highway, it probably seemed as if Belmont merely used Sage as a crutch for his anxiety. Every time he teetered a little too close to the edge of his comfort zone, Sage would get bundled up in Belmont's big arms and rocked until he relaxed. They didn't see Sage's need for reassurance, too. They didn't realize she stockpiled those moments in Belmont's arms like a hoarder, memorizing the sensation of being anchored, the feel of his hard chest beneath her cheek, his heart laboring in her ear.
When she was growing up, those moments of solace had been nonexistent, so she'd allowed herself to accept Belmont's. Until now. Now she had to stop. Unfortunately, cutting off the growing dependency they had on each other meant welding shut Belmont's escape hatch…in order to escape herself. And ripping off this particular Band-Aid would take ten layers of skin along with it. Right down to the bones he'd invaded.
They were only five miles from the train station now. Five miles to convince Belmont to pull over and leave her there. Continue driving to New York alone, where he and his siblings would fulfill his mother's last wish by jumping into the freezing water of the Atlantic on New Year's Day. Something she desperately wanted to witness, but knew all along she wouldn't.
Sage closed her eyes and went to her happy place. Long white satin aisle runners, strewn with pink and red rose petals. Proud fathers walking their daughters toward the altar, faces freshly shaven. The joyous strains of organ music cueing the congregation to stand and marvel over the bride. If she squinted, Sage could see herself in the back hall, clipboard in hand, marking off her checklist.
No more, though. No more fairy tales and flower arrangements and flowing gowns. Had she earned the right to escape inside those things? Just beneath the polish of her new life, the real Sage, a grimy-faced girl from Louisiana, never stopped reminding her of the answer. She had a responsibility to attend back home. One she'd neglected long enough. In order to make it right, she needed Belmont gone.
Panic lifted like an elevator in her sternum, lodging against the base of her throat. Would he be all right? Would she? Ever since that first wedding she'd planned for Peggy, Sage and Belmont had fed each other's need for contact. Severing it would be like choking off a mighty oak's water supply. There was no other way, though.
If Belmont knew where she was headed—and why—he would go berserk. There would be no calming him down to explain. There would be no talking him out of helping. And she knew Belmont better than anyone. She knew the kind of help she required would kill him.
"Belmont," Sage whispered. "Can you take the next exit, please?"
As always, he'd gone on high alert the second she spoke, hands tightening on the wheel, back straightening. So intense. So much. His energy spun like spiked boomerangs around the Suburban, all of them careful to avoid her. "You're hungry," Belmont said, slowing the vehicle.
"No." She twisted handfuls of her dress in her hands, even though Belmont's eyes were sharp to catch the movement and remain there. "No, I need you to take me to the train station."
Back in Cincinnati, right before they'd left Peggy behind, she'd almost confessed everything. Almost exposed all her skeletons. But the two of them maintained a balance. He'd been too off-kilter after losing his third sibling in a matter of weeks, and hesitating to confess had bought Sage enough time to come to her senses. Thank God. But she couldn't shake the feeling Belmont had been watching, waiting, for this moment. The man saw everything.
Sage just hoped she'd prepared better than him.
Belmont's eye twitched as he pulled off the highway. "What are you doing, Sage?"
She couldn't help but take a moment to appreciate him once more, his brutally powerful silhouette outlined in the sunny driver's side window. If this was the last time she'd see Belmont, she needed an image to bring along. A perfect vision to tuck into her memory and keep safe, where no one could touch or tarnish it. The place she was headed could muddy up almost anything, but it couldn't reach into her mind. She wouldn't allow it. She never had.
Belmont was attractive. Yes. That much was made obvious by the way women got a certain look in their eyes as he passed. He evoked a chemical reaction that started in your stomach, as if he'd tucked his coarse index finger into your belly button and twisted. His height might have made him rangy, if it weren't for all the muscle, honed from hours working on his salvage boat. His skin had an all-weather texture, bashed with salt water and sunshine, but his inner glow kept it from dulling in the slightest. Dark hair skirmished around his face and collar, no style to speak of, but thick and inviting and gorgeous in its disarray. The first time she'd set eyes on Belmont, she'd thought of far-off places. Grassy moors and mist and trench coats. Things she'd never witnessed, but read about in books. He was the only one of his kind. For some reason, he'd chosen her to crowd into corners, to worry about, to beg for eye contact. And now she had to destroy their connection to keep him alive.
"I'm going home," Sage said, forcing her fingers to stop fidgeting. "There's nothing for me in New York. I want to see my family."
"I'll come with you." His voice was calm, but she knew if he turned his head, she'd get burned by the sparks coming from his eyes. "I'll find a place out of your way. You don't have to introduce me to them. I'll just be there if you need me."
Sage shook her head, cursing the red light where they were forced to stop and wait. The longer this took, the more impossible it would become to keep up a front. Already the foundation was cracking. What she wouldn't give to have Belmont come with her. God, what she wouldn't give. "I…" She barricaded herself against the rushing river of guilt. "I need some time away from you, Belmont."
The Suburban rolled forward a few inches, as if he'd lost the power to keep it braked. "I won't ask you why. I already know I've been…needing you so much lately." He said the next part to himself. "I could see it was too much."
It wasn't too much. It was exactly what she craved. Which was part of the issue. "It is. It's too much, the way you rely on me." She rolled her lips inward and tasted the bitterness of her memories, the self-hatred at hurting the man she'd fallen deeply in love with. "My father…he does the same thing to my mother. And vice versa. Depending on one another for support until they have no energy left to worry about themselves. Or desire to accomplish anything. There's no encouragement, only excuses for what is." She shook her head. "And I don't want to be like that. I'm not a stuffed animal you can pull off the shelf whenever necessary."
His face was stricken as he turned. "Sage…"
"You don't treat me like a woman," she blurted that genuine insecurity, heaping as much fuel as she could on the fire. "When men hold women, it's usually because they have romantic inclinations. But you drop me and walk away so fast, I feel like a freak sometimes."
Behind them, a car beeped and Belmont applied the gas too hard, jerking the car forward. She'd visibly shocked him, bringing up their physical relationship. Or lack thereof, rather. They must be the only two people on the planet to log hundreds of hours in each other's arms, without kissing even once. She cared about Belmont. She didn't know where his pain originated, but she respected and sympathized with it. Sometimes, she swore they shared a fractured pulse. But she was a red-blooded female and the man treated her like a fellow monk. Intentional or not, it hurt.
Stop. Stop trying to solve problems that won't exist five minutes from now. The ache in the middle of her chest intensified. "What matters is…it's wearing me out. Not knowing when you'll demand I drop everything to…be held by you. Or calm you down." She resisted the impulse to cover her face. To hide the lies. "I can't do it anymore. You're suffocating me."
By the time she'd finished speaking, Belmont's hands were shaking on the wheel. Sage turned away so he wouldn't see her misery. So she wouldn't be tempted to demand he stop driving so she could crawl into his lap and beg his forgiveness. "Once we get back to California, I'll get myself back under control. It's just all the change happening." His throat muscles shifted. "I don't do well with change."
"I'm not going back to California."
It was a good thing she'd braced herself, because Belmont slammed on the brakes, skidding the Suburban to a stop mid-avenue. Just a few blocks ahead, she could see the train station. A three-minute walk at best. She just needed to get out of this car and make sure Belmont didn't follow her. Was it even possible? "Sage," Belmont began, his impatience beginning to bleed through. She could almost see his rope fraying through the window of his eyes. "You've been scrapbooking. There's glue all over your fingers. And paper cuts. I hate the paper cuts. But I knew I was crowding you, so I didn't pull over and bandage them. Even though that's all I've wanted to do for the last two hundred miles."
Would she ever breathe again without experiencing the sharp pain in her side? "What does this have to do with anything?"
"Because you only scrapbook when something isn't right." He ignored the cars honking as they were forced to pass in the opposite lane. She barely registered them, too, because Belmont was hypnotic, his every feature imploring her, his voice resonating deep inside her mind. "Just come over here and whisper it in my ear. I'll stand between you and whatever it is. I'll make up for being so greedy with your time. I will. Nothing touches Sage while I'm around."
Don't break. Don't break yet. "There is nothing wrong. Except for your…reliance on me. I need to go somewhere I won't be smothered every minute of the day." She touched the door handle and he jolted, blue eyes fixating on that signal she'd be leaving. "Go to New York, Belmont. Meet your sisters and Aaron on the beach for New Year's Day, like your mother wanted. I'm not your worry. I never was."
"You can take yourself away from me, but you can't take away the worry." His tone was concrete, unbreakable. "Don't try. I covet my right to fear for every hair on your head."
"I never asked you to," she half sobbed, half whispered.
"You did." He reached across the console, his fingers hovering just above her thigh, branding the skin beneath her dress. "Your heart asked mine. And mine was already begging."
"Stop," Sage pushed through clenched teeth. "Just stop. Can't you see how…how confusing and forward every word out of your mouth sounds?" Acid rose in the back of her throat as she laid the final nail in the coffin. The one that would keep him sitting in the Suburban while she fled and saved his soul. "Whatever you feel, Belmont, it's not the same for me. I've tried to help you because Peggy is my best friend, and she loves you. But you're not good for me. You're stopping me from living a normal, happy life."
The color drained right out of his face. "I'm sorry, Sage." Slowly, he removed his hand, stealing back the blessed warmth along with it. "Go. You have to go."
Now of course, she couldn't manage so much as a blink, fear over being parted from Belmont stabbing her in the back. "Okay. I'm going."
"Will you…" His voice had gone from robust to deadened. "Check in with Peggy, please. At least check in with Peggy. And bandage those cuts."
"Yes," Sage breathed, scrambling to get out of the car. She saw nothing, heard only the wind rushing in her ears as she staggered to the back door. Retrieving her luggage was the easy part. It was passing the front window again without glancing inside that presented the challenge. In the end, she couldn't manage it.
So the final time she saw Belmont, a war was taking place behind his eyes. And both sides were losing.
"You're doing the right thing." Her breath hitched, suitcase wheels catching on a sidewalk crack. "You're doing the right thing."
Sometimes the right thing was the most painful. Sometimes it gutted you and ruined you forever, so a single second wouldn't pass without a reminder.
Sage knew that lesson all too well.
Belmont was being torn in half. Those halves were not equal, however, or he would already have gone after Sage. One side was the staunch belief that she was hiding something. He'd picked up on the subtle changes in her somewhere between Hurley and Iowa, although anything subtle with Sage hit him like a tidal wave. So he'd been aware. Conscious that a packed punch was coming…but he'd still been unprepared.
The larger half of his torn being represented horror. That horror kept him rooted to the driver's seat, unable to move his paralyzed limbs, as he watched Sage's form grow smaller and smaller as it moved down the sidewalk. Jesus Christ. He'd crushed her. Wrapped himself around her, molded their bodies together, spoken gibberish into her hair one too many times. Or maybe the first time had been bad enough and her kindness, her relationship to Peggy, had forced her to try and ease his anxiety.
Anxiety. That was one way to describe the slab of asphalt pushing down on his windpipe, the waves of dizziness, the premonition that something bad would happen to his loved ones. To Sage. But she hadn't signed on to be his loved one, he'd simply…commandeered her in the name of survival. Her breath on his skin was the only thing that had ever made him feel normal.
That wasn't fair to anyone. He'd known it wasn't. But he'd gotten the sense Sage…benefited, too. Well, he'd been dead wrong. She was practically sprinting toward the train station to be free of his company, and God, he didn't blame her. Of course he didn't.
She was going home? Belmont didn't even know the location. Never once had she spoken about her parents, schooling, old friends. In this one sense, he'd given her space. If anyone knew about keeping the past at bay, it was Belmont. Now his silence had bought him the ultimate slide into agony. Not knowing where his Sage was going. Or how she would be welcomed. If she'd be safe, warm, happy, fed properly. Made to laugh. Made to cry.
Belmont's forehead rebounded off the steering wheel before he even registered his own movement. Lights danced in front of his eyes, accompanied by a symphony of car horns. But the action caused something else to shake loose. You don't treat me like a woman.
His sandbagged eyelids lifted just in time to catch Sage disappearing into the train station. Vanishing right out of his reach and making his fists clench helplessly. Explosions were detonating on the minefield inside his head, but he struggled through the smoke to focus on that remark from Sage. I didn't treat her like a woman.
If there had been anyone remaining in the Suburban, they would have been scared of the laugh that drifted from Belmont's mouth. It was a pitch-black sound, dense and fearsome. Not a big brotherly laugh or that of an honest, hardworking salvage boat captain. If Sage had any idea the obscene visions he entertained, she would have caught an earlier train. On Belmont's best day, he could only block the thoughts of Sage's naked body out so long, before they returned and ruled him. Sick. He was sick to think of a gentle, loving soul like Sage in such a manner. To imagine her clutching at the sheets beneath him, sweating, screaming…coming.
His head banged off the steering wheel a second time. Had she…wanted him to make an advance all this time? Had he been too mired in his own muck to notice? If she'd given him the slightest hint that she wanted to be touched by his hands in ways he'd only ever envisioned, stopping would have been impossible. She was so soft and taut. She fit against him like God had taken a mold of his body and created a woman who would correspond to every jut and angle of him. Belmont would have scoffed at the notion that God had nothing better to do than create him a woman. But if there was one truth in this world, it was that God had taken extra time on Sage Alexander. Her divinity was what kept Belmont's hands cherishing, instead of predatory. The possibility that she'd been waiting for him to provide pleasure and he'd missed the signals…it was insufferable. It was unacceptable.
His fingers dug into his eye sockets and moved in ruthless circles. Confusion swam through the middle of a vision of Sage beckoning him from a mess of sheets and pillows. You're suffocating me. Which was it? How could she want him to treat her like a woman, but also wish him away? Not just for a break, but for forever.
Oh Christ, he was going to be sick.
Belmont tilted back his head and breathed through his nose. In, out, in, out. Right now Sage was buying a train ticket to somewhere he might not find her. That was her choice. He had to let her make that decision, even if it hobbled his well-being. She deserved to be happy, and if that happiness lay as far away from him as possible? Well, he'd always suspected that would be the case one day. Hadn't he?
You don't treat me like a woman. His eyes opened, stillness settling over him, head to toe. She might want to divert their paths, but hell would freeze over before he let Sage walk away without knowing. Knowing all about the constant burn in his gut to taste her, to bring their mouths together and let reality fade as they kissed. She'd remember him. If she wanted to leave, she would walk away remembering that he'd spent every minute of their time together aching.
Belmont pushed open the driver's side door and stepped out into traffic. A motorist tapped his horn, but held up both hands, palms out, when Belmont glanced over. The two-way flow of cars crammed together on the road to accommodate the Suburban occupying a full lane, but as Belmont walked toward the train station—determination no doubt etched in every inch of his body—drivers eased their vehicles to the side to give him room, parting traffic as he strode down the double yellow line.
When he reached the train station, alarm slithered up his spine. Eight tracks. There were eight tracks in a town this small? Would he have time to check them all? Urgency gripping him by the throat, Belmont surveyed the closest two tracks and found them empty, save a handful of passengers waiting with luggage at their feet. Spying an aboveground walkway, he made his way there and paused in the middle, scanning the tracks from above.
There. There was Sage. His knees almost gave out, fingers curling into the metal fence until his bones creaked. He only took enough time to catalog the way Sage stood, clutching her suitcase to her chest like a shield, before he was off. His legs felt like rubber as he descended the stairs, two at a time. Reaching the bottom, he was surprised to find a drizzle had started, pattering on the concrete walkway around him, making his footsteps sound padded. Distant. Warm rain on a cold morning created a sizzling combination where the heated moisture hit the cold tracks. The sudden humidity was cloying, but he gulped it down anyway, having no choice but to breathe if he wanted to make it to Sage.
He almost stopped when Sage's head whipped around, her suitcase crashing down at her feet. Dear God, she looked as if she might run from him. If she did, his heart would stop beating. Don't. Don't. Don't. Only a few yards away from Sage and he took in every detail about her in one sweep, just in case she'd changed since the last time he'd seen her. Beads of moisture hung in her hair, her freckles standing out in the paleness of her face. But it was her mouth Belmont focused on, out of pure necessity. If he tried to dissect her thoughts or what she'd said to him back in the Suburban, he would never make this one thing right. All he had left was correcting the error he'd made, before the world could continue spinning.
"You are a woman, Sage. You're the only woman," Belmont breathed in a rush as he reached Sage, hauling her off the ground with both arms and up against his body—
And then their lips touched for the first time.
Something parted in Belmont's mind, like clouds after a storm, and so much light shined through, it would have blinded him. Would have, if his eyes had the ability to remain open against the onslaught of euphoria. Need, too. There was always the need, but with his mouth finally pressing against Sage's, desire grew huge and demanding. Going against every rule he'd given himself, Belmont tilted his hips and let her feel it.
- “Tessa disarms you with a laugh, heats things up past boiling, and then puts a squeeze inside your heart. The tenderness, vulnerability and heat I am always guaranteed with a Tessa Bailey book are the reasons she is one of my all-time favorite authors.”—Sally Thorne, bestselling author of The Hating Game
- “Her voice feels as fresh and contemporary as a Netflix rom-com... Bailey writes banter and rom-com scenarios with aplomb, but for those who like their romance on the spicier side, she’s also the Michelangelo of dirty talk.”—Entertainment Weekly
- “Bailey crafts an entertainingly spicy tale, with humor and palpable sexual tension.”—Publishers Weekly
- “Tessa Bailey writes pure magic!”—Alexis Daria, bestselling author of You Had Me at Hola
- “When you read a book by Bailey, there are two things you can always count on: sexy, rapid-fire dialogue and scorching love scenes...”—BookPage
- A “singular talent for writing romantic chemistry that is both sparkling sweet and explosively sexy… one of the genre’s very best.”—Kate Clayborn, author of Love at First
- On Sale
- Oct 11, 2022
- Page Count
- 320 pages