Unexpected Changeup by Harley Burke

Chapter 1 - Clair

to my brother's modest house, I had to take a moment to breathe. Moving to Tampa was a big step for me. This was the start of something new and a bit frightening.

Sam and I had successfully attempted a long-distance relationship over the last few months. Everything was going surprisingly well, so when Sam suggested I move down to Tampa, I had to consider it. I couldn’t help but wonder if he might be the one man in this universe whom I dared envision spending the rest of my life with. It was a happy thought that also stirred up a deep-seated fear within me.

I know it's ridiculous, but it felt like fate kept washing us onto the same shore, and I was the one who kept running back into the water without Sam. Over the years, we jumped in and out of each other's lives, first in high school, then again in college, and finally at the baseball game with Austin and Jenna.

I will forever be grateful to my best friend Jenna and her incredible fiancé, Austin, for getting Sam and me back together. Jenna’s own pursuit of happiness and her decision to open her heart to love again when she moved down to Tampa Bay a few months ago inspired me to give my relationship with Sam another chance. Thanks to her, I took the courageous steps toward my own happiness.

With Jenna’s unwavering support, I decided to take the leap. I wanted to see what might happen if I didn't run from Sam. I wanted to see what would happen if I stayed, even though my instincts told me to escape while I still had the chance.

When Sam asked me to move in with him, I couldn't bring myself to give up my freedom just yet. It was too soon to surrender my independence and rely on someone entirely after merely four months of dating. Don’t get me wrong; Sam was a great guy, the perfect guy, but there was something in me still hesitant to trust Sam with my whole heart. I admit that my past relationships played a part in my distrust. Still, I couldn't help fearing commitment after all I had been through.

After a long and tearful conversation about my reservations, Sam gave up on trying to convince me. He resigned to let me make my own decision, calling me stubborn and willfully independent, echoing the exact words I recalled my parents using during my rebellious teenage years.

I settled on moving in with my baby brother Liam. Sam had a hard time with my decision. I didn't go into much detail about why I was hesitant, but he respected my choice. His kindhearted and understanding nature made it easy to love him.

Reality hit me like a wave crashing upon the shore as I sat outside Liam's house. I lived all over the country, but the thought of uprooting my life for a man shook me to my core. I was never the type of woman to stay with anyone for longer than a year, yet I was willing to see where things might go with Sam. I was ready to face my fear of commitment and fight for the chance at everlasting love.

A knock on the passenger side window startled me, pulling my attention from my anxious thoughts. A short scream escaped my lips before I realized who was knocking. Sam smiled back at me and gestured for me to unlock the door. I did so, and Sam wrenched the door open.

"Hello, my sweet. How was your drive?" Sam asked, climbing across the passenger seat and kissing my cheek.

I tried to shake my nerves away, my voice carrying a tinge of melancholy that I hadn’t intended. "It was good. No traffic at all."

Sam's smile dropped as he looked me over with concern and suspicion behind his eyes. "Not having second thoughts about this, are you? About moving here, I mean."

I shook my head. "Oh no. I'm just a little tired from all the chaos of the last couple of weeks. I'll be right as rain after I'm all settled in."

The smile returned to Sam's face as he said, "Well, then, we better get moving." Sam closed the passenger door, leaving no room for further conversation, and made his way to the back of the moving truck.

I stepped out into the humid Florida air and met Sam at the back with the keys. We unlocked the large door and forcefully swung it open, unveiling the remnants of my belongings.

Sam's eyes widened in astonishment as he surveyed the meager contents of the truck, his voice tinged with disbelief, "Is this all?"

I nodded. "Whenever I move, I sell anything I can't carry myself. It's a habit I picked up when I was a kid."

Moving from army base to army base with my parents and Liam taught me not to be too sentimental when it came to my belongings. It was easier to leave things behind than carting them around the world with me.

Sam shook his head. "I wish you would have told me you needed help moving down. I will always drop everything for you, Clair."

A blush managed to heat my cheeks. "It's no big deal, Sam. I gave most of it to my neighbors. I wouldn't have had any room to put it in Liam's bachelor pad anyways."

Sam's words were a soft hum. "It's a real shame you didn't want to move in with me. I would have made room for your stuff."

I rolled my eyes. "I appreciate that, but living with Liam is what I'm comfortable with."

Sam winked. "I know, beautiful." He jumped down from the truck and gripped me around the waist. "I just have to make sure that you feel wanted." He kissed my cheek. "Needed." He pushed my hair back from my ear, whispering his final words. "And adored. Because it's my job as your lover and boyfriend."

A shy smile spread across my face, and a quiet giggle rolled through me as he sweetly kissed my lips. Sam always managed to surprise me with his sweet words and kind actions. He was a nice guy, a gentleman, and just the biggest teddy bear I had ever known, nothing like the men I dated in the past. He made every moment easy, safe, and comfortable.

I pulled back from him a bit, Sam's hands still wrapped around my waist and his hips pressed into mine. "Come on, handsome. We should get moving."

Sam nodded. "I will release you on one condition." He nibbled at my neck and spoke against the corner of my jaw. "You stay the night at my place?"

I giggled. "I have to unpack tonight! The sooner I get it done, the sooner we can start having sleepovers."

Sam groaned, a playful tone lacing his voice. "Can I at least hang out with you while you unpack? I've missed you, Clair."

"I would love that." I planted a tender kiss on his cheek before he released me.

Sam and I grabbed the first few boxes from the truck and walked up the front path to the door. Sam had never been to Liam's place before, so he was a bit taken aback when he saw the massive amounts of hockey memorabilia littering every inch of the house.

"Wow, your brother really likes hockey," he said, looking around the living room.

"Yeah, Liam has been collecting hockey stuff since we were kids. He's proud of the collection he's put together. Come on; my room is this way."

Sam followed me down the short hall to Liam's spare bedroom. It was a decent size space with green walls and light wood flooring. Above the bed hung a pair of crossed hockey sticks that Liam refused to take down. The rest of the walls were bare because I requested that my room be a hockey-free zone. Liam protested, so I compromised on leaving the hockey sticks up.

I walked over to the closet and set my boxes inside. Sam placed his boxes next to the long white dresser across the room. I watched him examine my new living space. He inspected my bathroom, the closet, and finally, under my bed.

As he meticulously combed through every nook and cranny of my room, a playful laugh escaped me, bubbling up from deep within. With a twinkle in my eye, I posed the question, "Up to your standards?" My laughter lingered in the air, carrying a mix of anticipation and gentle teasing as we reveled in the shared moment of lightheartedness.

He smiled. "It's a nice enough place, though not as nice as mine."

Giggling, I took his hand and said, "Come on, there’s still lots more to do."

Sam and I managed to get all my boxes into the house in under an hour. The sun beat down on us as we unloaded the remainder of the boxes and locked the moving truck. After we dropped the boxes in my room, I left Sam to grab us a couple of beers. When I returned, Sam stood shirtless, his damp shirt casually slung over his shoulders.

His features were a sharp contrast to his kind personality. He was tall, strong, and exceptionally muscular. From his short-cropped dark hair to his glistening abs, Sam reminded me of a chiseled Greek statue.

He turned away from the framed hockey puck hanging on the wall and met my eyes. "See something you like, angel?"

A sly grin danced in the corner of my lips as the heat began to throb between my legs. I nodded and took another sip of my beer.

"If you keep looking at me like that, I'm going to come over there, strip you naked, and take you right here on the couch. Is that what you want, Clair?" Sam asked in a low growl. The light behind his hazel eyes turned cold, predatory, and dangerous. This was the side of Sam I loved most. The darker side of him lit me up like the fourth of July, making it impossible for me to resist him.

I bit my lip and looked down at my watch; it read 4:46 p.m. Liam's expected arrival time was 5:30, providing me ample opportunity to succumb to the overwhelming desires that now consumed me.

I raised my eyes to meet Sam's gaze and took a slow sip of my beer as I let the tension build between us. A knowing glimmer danced in Sam's eyes; he recognized the deliberate game I was playing. He held my gaze with his piercing hazel eyes as he took the beer from my hand and placed it on the shelf behind me.

We stood there, breathing the same air as Sam's gaze turned predatory. I loved when he got that look in his eyes. He was like a wolf watching his prey. That look turned the heat between my legs into a river of desire. I wanted him, and I wanted him now.