BrookeS Stanton

I moved to Manhattan straight out of college because my sister lived there and I could crash on her couch. Six years later (after a quick jaunt in London), I moved to Los Angeles, where I wrote a lifestyle column for the website Examiner.com. When I struggled with pregnancy, I did what I always do, I turned to writing and humor, and created Vagina Vacancy, a blog about the highs and lows of IVF.

Creative writing was always my happy place, but it wasn’t until I acquired an NYC lit agent that I realized writing could be a career. Unfortunately, the agent had to step away from publishing for personal reasons and I was left in a quandary. I had a manuscript I loved, but no one to sell it. That’s when I joined my local RWA chapter and entered my manuscript into their contest. To my delight, the book received second place.

That was 2015 when indie publishing was on the rise, and my fellow romance authors told me—when done right—it could be lucrative. I was a quick writer and business-minded and it felt like something I could excel at. So I took my award-winning manuscript, hired an editor from one of the top publishing houses, and went to work. The first book was a bestseller and six years later, I’ve written and published two series and eight books with more on the way.

Award Category
Screenplay Award Category
Peyton is a bedroom bore. Jackson can’t get over his ex-wife. But when a friend’s dirty suggestion hits the G-spot, Peyton asks the devastated divorcé to tutor her in all things titillating. Will their steamy syllabus become more than just sexy time or end in heartbreak?
Unbossly Manners
My Submission

Chapter One

Chip Hanson’s head was in my crotch.

He’d been lost down there for ten minutes. I knew this because I’d been staring at the analog clock on the wall behind him almost the entire time. My roommate, Winona, found it last week on the curb with our neighbor’s trash. She cleaned it with bleach wipes, and now it was ticking away while her brother’s face was adrift below my navel.

He’d been working diligently but his efforts were doing nothing for me or my clit. Unless mild irritation counted as something.

I know what my best friend Selena would say. You’re too fucking polite, Peyton. If you don’t like it, get a vibrator and do it yourself.

She wasn’t wrong.

I shifted positions on the second-hand sofa, trying not to think about what the previous owners may have done on it. Almost everything in the apartment was second or third-hand. I couldn’t complain. None of it belonged to me. I was an interloper and Winona had been kind enough to let me stay in her spare room until I found a place.

“Eep!” My ass hit the pointy end of a pencil lodged between two cushions.

Chip glanced up with a smirk on his sweaty face, mistaking my yelp of pain for satisfaction. I smiled faintly and he dipped his face back under my skirt.

Oh God, when will this be over?

That was my first thought. The second, and more worrying one was:

What is wrong with me?

Sex and I were not friends. I’d go as far as to say, we were mortal enemies.

I’ve never had good sex. My high school boyfriend had been awkward and had no idea what he was doing. To be fair, neither did I. No shocker there. We were sixteen. It had been in his drafty basement on a bean bag chair, his French bulldog’s wet nose and sour breath an inch from my face.

That was eight years ago and things had not progressed.

In college, I fooled around with a few guys. I’d been drunk and curious; the guys, horny and eager. It never lasted long—the sex or the relationships.

In my junior year, I had a boyfriend. James O’Reilly. He was sweet. Shy. And less experienced than me. He had a funny thing against oral sex. He’d grown up Catholic, so I think that had something to do with it. I never dug too deep.

My senior year I dated a girl to see if my lack of enthusiasm was about dicks, and not the sex. The vag was even worse. I barely knew how to work my own lady bits. Bringing another one into the mix gave me a migraine.

Plus, I fantasized about guys, mainly hot actors with lots of muscles, more superheroes than real-life men. Safe men. Unattainable men.

In my last year of college, I met a Persian guy named Ari. He was sweet. But he could only have sex with the lights off. I don’t know if that was about him or me. When I asked him about it, he freaked out and pushed me off him in the middle of sex. I lost my balance, reached out, and grabbed the first hard thing—his penis. I broke it. He spent the night in the emergency room and weeks in rehab. Not sure how you rehab a broken penis.

I heard it got better, but he ghosted me after that—shocker—so I can only hope that’s true and I don’t have some weird karma thing out there and that’s why my vag is non-functioning.

Chip’s head popped up, his blond hair matted to his forehead. “Are you almost there?”

My cheeks burned hot. “Uh, yep.”

He rolled his eyes and tucked back between my legs.

Asshole.

My eyes scanned the small living room, falling on the peeling cream paint, the pipe that ran up the corner and provided heat in the winter, the dining table with the broken leg that I shoved books under to keep food from crashing to the floor. It was a far cry from the spacious house next to the Hudson in upstate New York I’d grown up in with my mom.

It was temporary and it was free and I was twenty-four and broke. It was good enough for the moment.

During our date, Chip had been funny and charming. We went rollerblading in Central Park. He thought it would be funny and retro. He’d clipped a small Bluetooth speaker to his backpack and put on a 90s playlist. He’d been patient and kind as I flailed on the road, desperate to avoid tourists on bikes, parents pushing strollers, joggers, and distracted pedestrians.

In hindsight, I wondered if he purposely suggested an activity where he would shine and I’d flounder. It certainly shifted the power dynamic toward him.

I glanced at the clock again.

Twenty minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

It was time to put us out of our misery. I tossed my head back and began my quick crescendo. Over the years, I’d become a master at faking it.

He sat back and sighed, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt.

“Finally.”

My jaw tightened at his nerve. What a fucker.

He hopped onto the cushion next to me. My underwear was around my ankles and I shimmied them up. He smacked a kiss on my cheek, unzipped his jeans, and yanked them and his boxers off.

“This is gonna be good.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

His hand circled my cheek and he kissed me gently. The attraction I’d felt during the date stirred in my belly. The kiss deepened, and the desire I’d lost while he was going down on me, reignited. My hand drew down his stomach, and over his stiff cock.

“Fuck, yeah.” He broke the kiss.

I slid my hand upward, but my long pointy nail caught the edge of his tip and he yelped.

“Ouch. Watch it, Peyton.”

“Sorry.” My belly dropped, and my confidence waned.

I kissed him again. I liked the kissing. His hands wrapped around my head and heat swirled in my gut. He held tighter to my skull and pushed my head downward until I had no choice but to sink to my knees, his protruding dick pointed at my mouth.

I could stop right now, but that just felt rude. And I needed the experience. I think I’d had three dicks in my mouth in total.

When I’d moved to the city three months ago, I carried a list of goals with me. One of them was to master sex. Or at least get a B+. My other goals—in no particular order—were to be promoted in twelve months, avoid anyone finding out who my mother was, find my own apartment, and say yes to shit that scared me.

And sex stuff scared me.

I’d hoped going out with Chip would nail two goals—mastering sex and doing something that scares me. I’d been so busy at my new job, Chip was the first guy I’d hooked up with in the city. I couldn’t just grab some rando off the street—I could but that wasn’t my style—so when my roommate’s cute brother came to stay with us for a week and asked me out, I knew exactly what I wanted from the date.

Practice.

I thought it would be fun. Gossip Girl sure made sex look amazing. I know it’s a show, but Selena acted like sex was better than piña coladas on a tropical island.

So here I was. And here I went…

His cock was on the smaller side, which was a relief—less real estate to work with. I took him in my mouth and moved back and forth swiftly.

“Whoa. Slow down.” His palm pressed against my forehead and forced me backward.

“Sorry,” I mumbled and slowed my pace.

He flicked his hips forward, shoving his dick deeper into my mouth. I jerked back and my teeth scraped his shaft.

“Watch your fucking teeth,” he yelped.

“Sorry,” I said.

My confidence plummeted to the basement, but I soldiered on because we were already in the middle of it and it would be awkward AF to stop.

I slid down his short length, and when I got to the base he bucked his hips upward again, and his tip hit my throat. I gagged on my spit, and buckled over, a coughing fit wracking my body.

When I recovered, I took a shaky breath and tried to find a way to salvage this night. I was flailing in the middle of the ocean without a life raft.

Then an idea hit me.

“Why don’t you tell me what you like,” I said. Tit-for-tat. I may not like him that much, but if this jerk taught me how to give good head, I’d be able to pleasure the next guy. A guy I actually liked.

“I’m not a fucking tutor. Now come on. I’m getting blue balls.”

I flinched, slapped by his words.

That was it. A girl could only handle so much dick in one night. I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t fucking want to… #metoo and all that. It was clear the only reason he’d slobbered all over me for a half-hour was to get to this point.

“Forget it.” I stood.

“You can’t just stop,” he whined.

“I can stop whenever the hell I want,” I snapped. “I’m not going down on a guy who’s yelling at me and treating me like shit.”

I went to the front door, but then I remembered I lived here. I didn’t have to leave.

But he was staying here, too.

“I took care of you, Peyton.” His eyes slid down to my skirt.

I swallowed a bitter laugh. “That was the worst head I’ve ever gotten.”

“Don’t lie because you’re mad. I know you liked it.”

“Why? Because I came? I faked it so you’d stop slobbering all over me.”

His eyes widened and he ground his jaw, assessing if I was telling the truth.

“Fuck you,” he said.

“Real mature, Chip.” I snatched my shoes from the floor where I’d kicked them off when we’d come in from our date, hot and heavy, with what seemed like a completely different person. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“Let’s just forget it,” I said. “I’m tired.”

I headed to my bedroom, but he blocked my path. He wore only his graphic tee, his flaccid penis flopping between his legs.

“You’re not staying here,” he scoffed, hands on his hips, penis waving hello.

“This is my apartment,” I said, my voice shaking.

“It’s my sister’s apartment,” he corrected. “She was going to tell you tomorrow; she’s kicking you out.”

“Bullshit. I’m tired.” The weight of the evening and the two glasses of wine drained my energy. All I wanted was to crawl into bed.

“I’m not lying. I’m gonna stay in the city for a while and she said she was tired of you freeloading.”

I barely knew Winona. She was a friend of my roommate from my freshman year in college. I hadn’t met her until I moved in. I was only meant to stay a month until I found something permanent. I’d had no idea that rent in the city was more than one months' pay at my new job. My mom had offered to help, but I’d refused. I wanted to do this on my own.

Winona had been generous to let me stay two extra months, only paying utilities. I’d been expecting this day to come, I just didn’t know it would happen this minute.

Chip’s shoulders tensed, his eyes shadowed with anger. I shook, furious, and a little scared. Even if I got inside my room and locked the door, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Not with him out here.

I snatched my purse, but when I reached inside, my phone wasn’t there. Crap. I’d left it at work in my excitement to meet Chip for the date.

“Don’t be a creep, Chip. Come on. I’m sorry.”

He crossed his arms and glared.

I had two choices.

One: Lock myself in my room and pray he wasn’t violent.

Two: Tuck my tail and leave.

I only knew one other person in the city—Selena. But she was out of the country this week, photographing a wedding in London.

“You’re the worst girl I’ve ever been with,” Chip snarled. “You should come with a warning label.”

He lay back on the couch, kicked his feet up, and closed his eyes, a smirk on his stupid face.

Rage rushed through my head so fast it overtook all thoughts. I walked to the small kitchen and turned on the tap until the water burned. My hand wrapped around a tall glass from the drying rack, and I filled it to the brim.

The glass was so hot it hurt my fingers but I didn’t care. I raised it and poured it on his exposed crotch.

“Ah!” Chip crunched over his groin. “My little man!”

I covered my mouth, resisting a laugh. There’d be no permanent damage, but I could still hear him cursing as I walked down the stairs and out of the building.

Karma be damned. I’d already wrecked one dick. What was one more?

Chapter Two

Outside the apartment building, the sidewalk was bustling with Friday night revelers, laughing and stumbling to the next bar or party. I stared at the window of my apartment and halted. With Selena out of the country, I had nowhere to go, and I briefly debated if I should go back upstairs.

Er…nope. Not after I’d bungled Chip’s dick. He’d make sure I paid for it, and I wasn’t a masochist.

Before I could do anything, I needed my phone. I hauled ass to my office to retrieve it and figure out where the hell I was going to sleep.

The elevator dinged and the door opened to a darkened hallway dimly lit by security lights. I trudged to my desk, my cheeks cherry-red with sweat dripping down my back after the twenty-block walk. It was early June and the heat and humidity of summer had fully arrived.

I worked for Dreamary, a podcast media company. The office was modern and sleek, with hammock chairs hanging from the wood beams, beer on tap, shared work tables instead of cubicles, and a small platform at the far end of the large space filled with oversized pillows that was meant to be used for various activities like yoga, live music, and workshops, but was mainly used for cat naps.

I snatched my phone from the work table and hurried back to the elevator only to remember I had no destination.

SOS! Can I crash at yours? Worst. Date. Ever.

I texted Selena, but it was the middle of the night in London, and she often rented her place on Airbnb when she was out of town for work to make extra cash.

I dragged my feet across the blond wood flooring and sat on the stage, glaring at my phone.

It didn’t matter how much my mind knew Chip was the jerk-off (probably what he was doing right now), mortification wrapped around me like an iron vise.

You should come with a warning label.

I shook away his words, and heard a creaking of metal across the room. The noise came again. A squeaking and then a kind of mewling. I crept down the side hallway toward the two recording studios. The door of studio A was cracked, and I looked through the long slit.

The oval table holding soundboards, and microphones, carried an additional burden in the form of two people in a state of half-undress.

The new intern—Brody—leaned over the table, his body spread long across a man who wore dark jeans and Merrell boots.

I knew who he was instantly. Isaac Pillon, one of the owners and creators of Dreamary. He always wore the same style of boots. I bet his closet floor was lined with them.

Brody shifted and the soft overhead lighting reflected off Isaac’s pale shaft.

I threw myself against the wall outside the door, covering my mouth, suppressing a shocked laugh.

Holy shit. I’d just seen my boss's dick.

I rested against the wall, too stunned to move. The table creaked and there was a loud groan.

Fuck. That was not an image I wanted seared in my brain. The company had a relaxed view of inter-office affairs but everything had to be reported to HR, especially if there was a power discrepancy between the parties.

I pushed off the wall, but my watch scraped the metal doorjamb, and the sound vibrated loudly in the quiet space. I froze. Brody’s head swung in my direction, and his eyes locked with mine.

My world tilt-a-whirled, twisting with my earlier encounter with Chip. Kissing, groping, sucking, humiliation.

I scurried away.

I’ll deal with it tomorrow. I’ll make sure Brody wasn’t coerced and that he tells HR.

I jabbed the elevator button, my palms clammy, sweat prickling over my skin despite my crop top and mini-skirt. I yanked at the flimsy fabric. My happy place was in loose joggers and t-shirts, but when I first met Selena she schooled me in fashion and I’ve been sporting tiny tops and pointy nails ever since.

I glanced behind me; Brody hadn’t chased me down. He’d been in a precarious situation. He probably didn’t think running after me with his pants around his ankles would’ve been a practical choice and I was glad for it. I’d seen way too many dicks for one night.

I stared at my phone, willing Selena to text me back. I calculated the time in London. She wouldn’t be up for at least four more hours.

Where could I go? A hotel, but that would be a week’s salary. It was peak season, the middle of summer. There was a sofa in the lounge room but I couldn’t do that with Brody and Isaac here. And what if I got fired for using the office as a lounge? I was still new here. I couldn’t push the boundaries like that.

The screen blurred in front of my tear-filled vision just as the elevator chimed. I stepped forward and slammed into something hard. My heel caught on the space between the elevator and the floor and I stumbled backward, my shoulder slamming into the wall.

“Oomph.”

My fragile state was shaken to the core, and tears dripped down my cheeks as I spiraled into self-loathing.

Can I do nothing fucking right tonight?

“Shit. Are you okay?”

The body I’d slammed into hovered above me, but I kept my chin down, hiding my blotchy face. Pain shot down my arm, and I whimpered. What a clusterfuck this night had turned into.

“I’m fine,” I mumbled, rubbing my shoulder.

My hand came away slick with blood. The skin over my shoulder blade had split open.

“You’re hurt,” a deep male voice said. His hand reached out but I slapped it away.

“I don’t need help.” I shoved past him, but my shoulder screamed in pain and I doubled over, cradling it.

Large hands caught my good arm and steadied me.

“Stop being an idiot and let me help you.”

I snapped my head up in surprise.

Jackson Rhodes was staring at me; his body clad in spandex from head to toe. His brown hair was disheveled and falling over his forehead, his light eyes shining with annoyance and concern. I didn’t know much about him, except that he was the company lawyer and friends with the owners, Isaac Pillon and Derrick Jacques. They’d created the company together two years ago after Isaac and Derrick’s podcast, Missing Girls, exploded.

“I’m not an idiot,” I snapped. “And I don’t need to be saved.”

“Suit yourself.” And he walked away.

Chapter Three

My eyes flared, and my mind almost exploded. He was leaving me there?

I did basically tell him to fuck off, but what jerk actually did that?

“Hey,” I hollered. Not sure why, since I’d told him to back off.

Jackson halted and turned back to me. He raised one eyebrow, the corner of his mouth twitching. Blood trickled down my arm and I put my palm over the cut to stop the bleeding.

“Do you want help or not?” he asked.

I scowled, making it clear I was not happy about it but nodded.

“Follow me,” he said.

I trailed after him, seething. Why did it have to be him? Everyone else in the office was courteous and kind to me. I’d barely had one conversation with Jackson. He walked straight to his office in the mornings, no hellos or chit-chat with me or anyone else. All business. He wasn’t offensive, but he wasn’t warm or inviting. 

The only personal thing I knew about him was that he was married with a kid. He’d never said it, but he wore a wedding ring, and he had a picture of his daughter on his desk, which I’d seen when dropping off a document in his office.

“What exactly are you wearing?” I asked.

His lean muscles danced under the skin-tight fabric as we walked, not an ounce of fat to be seen.

“Cycling kit.”

“Huh?”

“I was training on my bike tonight.”

“Oh, right. Like Lance whatever. The guy they caught doping?”

“Yeah. Like that.” He frowned.

I had a vague recollection of packs of cyclists riding along the river in the mornings, but I’d never seen one in the wild.

Jackson’s office was bright—white walls, white desk, white leather office chair—with a bank of windows along one side of the room. A royal blue velvet sofa sat against the far wall across from two cream cushioned chairs and a low coffee table. The wall behind the sofa was a long built-in bookshelf filled to the brim with law books, files, and knick-knacks.

“Sit,” he said.

His office door swung shut and he shoved a doorstop under it to keep it open. He pulled out Neosporin, cotton pads, Band-Aids, and something that looked like… lubricant from a drawer in his desk.

“I have a kid,” he said in way of explanation for his first-aid supplies. His eyes caught my concerned gaze at the fourth item. “And a cycling obsession.”

“So your butt and balls don’t chaff.” The statement popped out of my mouth, and Jackson barked out a laugh.

“Do you ride?” he asked, assessing my injury, but not touching me.

“I tried a Citibike once and ended up on Canal Street, which doesn’t have a bike lane, during Friday rush hour. That was the end of me biking in the city.”

Jackson handed me the first-aid items. “You’ll want to clean that up.”

He went back to his desk as I dabbed at the injury, sliding the ointment over the shallow cut. When it was clean, I placed two bandages over it.

“Band-Aids are racist.” My hand ran over the beige-colored fabric, which was close to the shade of my light skin.

“Huh?” Jackson’s eyebrows raised.

I’m not sure why I made this observation now, but the realization popped into my head and suddenly it seemed egregious.

“They’re meant to be flesh colored, right? But who’s flesh? Only Caucasian.”

Jackson, whose skin was tan, but everything about his features pointed to him being Caucasian, folded his arms over his chest. “That’s an excellent observation. It’s amazing how even those small things reflect the ugly parts of our culture.”

Huh. I wondered if he thought about that stuff too?

“Thanks for all this.” I gathered the scraps and put them in the trash can. When I turned around, a dizzy spell overtook me and I grasped the corner of the desk.

“Rest a minute.” He put his hand out in front of his chair.

I sank into his office chair. He handed me a bottle of Smart Water from a mini-fridge next to the desk, then sat on the desk’s edge, crossing his ankles.

I gulped the cool water, draining the bottle.

“Was there an incident in the office that upset you tonight?” His tone was detached. Like a… well, like a lawyer. “You were distraught when you ran into me.”

“It was nothing.” My voice cracked, and I cleared my throat, hoping he hadn’t noticed.

Getting me the first-aid items and water was nice, but I’d never call Jackson amiable. Intimidating and serious, yes. With an air of disinterest.

“I think it’s something.” His voice was gentle, and his concern thawed my defenses unwittingly. This was not a man I wanted to fall apart in front of, but I was hungry and tired and emotionally spent.

My chin wobbled, and tears pricked my eyes.

“I’m overreacting,” I said, grinding my eyes with my fists, smudging my mascara. “It’s stupid. Nothing happened. Not really.”

“Look.” He exhaled loudly. “You don’t know me. But I have a teenage daughter, and if you feel comfortable, I’m a good listener. Her world is always falling apart—in teenage terms—and she talks to me.”

My guard dropped a few more inches. I spun the chair in a circle then stopped it abruptly with my toes.

“This guy, Chip—my roommate’s brother—took me out tonight. It was going fine, but then he…” I ground my teeth until I had control of my emotions. The urge to get this off my chest was strong, but saying it out loud made it that much more real. “He ended up being horrible.”

Jackson’s fingers tightened around the edge of the desk. “Did he mistreat you?”

My mind shot back to my face between Chip’s legs, his hands pressing my head down, his nasty words.

Fresh tears spilled, but I wiped at them fiercely. “We were fooling around and he just said some shitty things. That’s all.”

I rolled the chair backwards until it hit the wall of windows. I twisted the chair around and looked at the twinkling lights, not feeling any of the magic I usually felt when I looked at the cityscape at night.

I was humiliated and furious, and it was all on raw display in front of this near-stranger.

“I need to get out of here,” I said, planting my feet on the ground.

“Wait.” Jackson took a half dozen hurried steps to me. He was taller than me, and I was no slouch at five-eight. “Is this guy—your roommate’s brother—staying at your apartment?”

“Forget about it. It’s not as bad as I’m making it sound. He didn’t force himself on me or anything. I went willingly. Very willingly.” I cringed thinking about how I threw myself at him after the date.

“Verbal abuse is still abuse.”

I laughed sardonically. “It wasn’t abuse.”

There was a light knocking on the doorframe. A petite, brunette woman stood there, her tawny-brown skin had a light glow as if she’d recently been in the sun. Jackson stepped away from me, guilt flashing across his face.

“I’m fucking beat.” The woman announced charging in. When she caught sight of me, her bright amber eyes sparkled with curiosity.

“Hi,” she said, with a wide smile.

“Hi.” I walked around the chair and pushed it behind the desk. “I’m Peyton, a colleague of Jackson’s. He was giving me bandages for my cut.”

I shrugged my injured shoulder.

“You look a mess. Are you okay?” Her gaze spilled over my injured arm, messy hair, and red splotchy face.

“Bad date.”

“There’s more to that story.” She glanced at Jackson and he nodded once confirming her suspicions.

I blinked, unprepared for this spitfire of a woman challenging me.

“This is my wife, Katrina—”

“Ex,” the woman interrupted Jackson.

“Right. Ex-wife.” His jaw tensed.

My eyes widened, intrigued. Jackson wore his wedding ring, and his ex-wife’s hands were bare, suggesting it was not a mutual decision.

“I literally ran into Peyton when I got off the elevator,” Jackson continued.

Katrina crossed the room and kissed Jackson on the lips. A quick peck, but Jackson’s eyes lingered on her mouth.

“An amicable divorce. Shocking in this city, right?” Katrina smiled disarmingly. “Call me Kat. I’m a psychologist if you want to unload on me about this bad date. I can send Jackson out of the room.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I was just leaving.”

“Where will you go?” Jackson stepped forward.

An idea struck me.

“There’s a church down the road. They have a shelter I volunteered at once—beds for women in bad situations. I can sleep—”

“Oh, hell no,” Kat piped up. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re not staying at some shelter. Stay at my place. I’m leaving for a month soon anyway. I came by to give Jackson the spare keys.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can.” Kat put her palms out in front of her, stopping any further disagreements.

All the fight left me—exhaustion winning—and when she cradled my elbow and led me out, I let her.

It was already a weird night, why not make it weirder.

“I promise I don’t bite.” Kat jammed her finger into the elevator button. “Except for that phase I went through—”

“Kat,” Jackson cut her off, but he sounded more amused than angry.

“Come on.” Kat put her arm around me. “You can Google us on the way to my place and see if we’re psychos.”

Unbossly Manners cover