Sweet Filthy Boy is the latest novel from Christina Lauren, the pen-name of writing duo Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. In just over a year they’ve published seven New York Times bestsellers (yes, you read that right) and their first novel Beautiful Bastard has been optioned for a movie. Sweet Filthy Boy is yet another huge success for the pair and marks the debut of their newest series, Wild Seasons. And boy, do we have a treat for you!
You’ve seen Mia’s side of the story when she wakes up in Sweet Filthy Boy after a Vegas all-nighter with a sexy, fun, Frenchman. But for the first time ever, see what transpired the morning after from Ansel’s point of view! Once you’ve finished, check out our interview with the lovely authors, who spill on everything from crafting the perfect book boyfriend to where we can find Ansel and Mia next. And remember: Book One of the Wild Seasons series, Sweet Filthy Boy, is on-sale now, and Book Two, Dirty Rowdy Thing, comes out November 4!
(Please note: some language below is slightly NSFW)
Sweet Filthy Morning After
Copyright © 2014 Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings
When I finally come to, my whole body feels slow and sticky. Sleep burns behind my eyelids and the effort it takes to roll from my stomach to my back would be comical if I were watching it happen to someone else. Maybe also if the ceiling weren’t spinning above me.
The hotel room is cool and dark, but it’s the artificial kind of darkness where the sun is choked off by heavy, insulated drapes and it’s impossible to tell what time of day it is. Even without looking around, I can tell the bed I’m in is not only in someone else’s hotel room, but it’s massive. At six foot two, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life wishing all beds were twice as large. During Bike and Build, I shared a tent with three other people, and slept on a cot where my feet hung over the edge every night for an entire year. Here, my legs are fully extended and yet I can’t feel the footboard, and there’s plenty of room on either side. I could probably stretch and starfish all over the mattress if I wanted to. But with the ceiling still blooming in and out of focus, the very idea of moving even an inch from this spot makes me want to sew my mouth shut so I can never, ever, ever drink again.
An air conditioner kicks on somewhere nearby, and floods the space with crisp, industrial air. There’s a hint of cigarette smoke, the unmistakable trace of perfume. The odor of a lot of alcohol. I wrinkle my nose; I’m fairly certain that last one is me. It feels like someone is trying to pry my scalp from my skull, and when I manage to reach down and pull something—a sock, I think—out from under my leg, I realize that I’m also very, very naked. A tiny cough sounds from somewhere to my left . . . so I’m also not alone.
It’s startling how fast something like that can sober a person up.
I bolt to my feet and regret it almost immediately. I groan, knees buckling. I squeeze my eyes shut, bracing myself against the mattress until the world rights itself again. The other side of the bed but has clearly been . . . used. The sheets are pulled loose, the comforter missing, and another sound—a soft murmuring—rises from the floor below.
I peer over the edge and the shape of a naked, sleeping woman swims in front of me.
She’s curled on her side facing me and I’m immediately overwhelmed by miles of creamy skin and legs and God, the swell of what looks like the most perfect breast I’ve ever seen. I straighten and a hand against my temple brings with it another wave of nausea. The slight pressure is enough to make me want to throw up all over the tangled white sheets and the girl who, somehow, has managed not to wake during any of this.
The muscles in my abdomen, legs and shoulders are sore from exertion and from the way every inch of my skin aches—especially in some rather delicate places—I know a lot of sex happened last night. I feel like I ran a marathon.
I force myself to lean over the bed again and focus, to take in the glossy dark hair and red lips, the long, graceful neck covered in a roadmap of what I can only guess are hickeys I gave her. She shifts in her sleep, brings an arm up and over her head and I freeze, seeing the simple glint of gold on her finger.
I freeze, panicking. Did I fool around with a married woman? I run my hand down my face, groaning at the horror of this and pause at the feel of the cool metal on my cheek. My heart practically comes to a stop when I see a matching gold band on my hand.
I can’t believe that for even a heartbeat I forgot what happened with Mia.
The first thing I’d noticed was her mouth. Full and round, lips the color of cherries and so red it was almost obscene. It sounds cliché that my first reaction was to think of sex, but, Jesus—it’s all that came to mind, looking at those lips. Sure, I had imagined them in the most predictable, visual man-ways possible—around my cock, dragging along every other inch of my body—but I also wanted to know if they tasted like cherries, too.
There were three women settled into a booth on the other side of the dance floor. The tall redhead was telling some story, clearly trying to shout above the music and gesticulating wildly with her hands. The brunette next to her was laughing like it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen, but the one with the darkest hair and the mouth was just sitting there smiling, grinning like watching her friend laugh was the highlight of her entire night. And that was infectious.
Je n’ai jamais vu quelque chose d’aussi beau.
I realized I was staring and tried to look away. Several times. Finn and Oliver were pointing out some girl dancing on a table across the bar, but I’d tuned them out long ago, unable to hear a word they were saying anyway. Music poured through the club with a beat that swallowed every conversation until the only way to communicate was with hips and hands and sneaky or downright overt glances. Which is exactly what I was doing, my eyes crossing the room to settle on her over and over.
Up until this point she hadn’t noticed. I wordlessly accepted Oliver’s offer of another drink and searched through the sea of undulating bodies, debating whether I should cross the dance floor to get her name. She lifted her chin just as the crowd moved, and her table came into view again.
Green eyes met mine and there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to be able to pull my feet from where they seemed to be bolted to the floor, let alone remember my own name. I’d seen a hundred girls look at me like that from across a room, but it had never felt like that, like the air had ignited in the space between us and the breath had been knocked from my lungs. I didn’t blink, didn’t breathe, didn’t hear a decibel of the pounding bass or the drunken shouts of the people around me. I’d been reduced to butterflies in my stomach and the growing weight of my own smile as it stretched across my face.
She didn’t look away, just continued to hold my gaze until her tongue peeked out to lick her bottom lip and she mouthed the word “Hi.”
I was obliterated by a single syllable.
I returned it and couldn’t help but look away, downing the rest of my drink in a single shot.
“You okay, mate?” Oliver shouted, concerned. Blood pumped through my veins and my cheeks were hot. I felt a lot like I did at the start of a bike ride, that quick burst of adrenaline as you look down the road and have no idea what’s at the end.
“Je . . . j’ai vu . . .”
He laughed. “In English, Ansel.”
I nodded numbly, tracing the rim of my empty glass and saying, “I saw . . .” before turning back to her.
They were gone.
I’m twenty-eight and just woke in a hotel in Las Vegas, married. The fact that I’m not completely freaking out or searching for the easiest, most accessible exit makes absolutely no sense. Instead I’m just . . . calm.
Ignoring the pain in my head, I collapse into a chair and watch Mia sleep. I’d find my own behavior creepy in any other situation, but through the haze of my hangover and not nearly enough sleep, I realize I’m still too drunk for any real introspection . . . other than knowing I want her.
The room looks like it’s been hit by a tornado. A set of pink luggage is propped up in the corner, the contents spilling out across the floor. A dark duffel is tucked next to an armoire and an expensive but simple brown suitcase rests next to it. There are shoes lined up beneath a window and I find myself wondering exactly how many people are staying here. I count seventeen pairs, ranging from brightly colored flats to heels I’m pretty sure would give even the most well-seasoned stripper a moment of pause.
I remember first seeing Mia and her friends Saturday night at Haze. We smiled, flirted quietly from across the club and then she was gone. I remember seeing her in the hall, wanting her to come inside with me. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t know what came next in our story. I just knew if I didn’t see her again, I was going to feel like I’d left a precious, golden thread loose when I went back to France.
But I found her again, got her talking, and in a way I can’t explain, I feel like I made her mine. As it all comes back to me—in stuttering, jarring flashes of words and lips and skin and laughter, the sounds of her moans and little choked-off begs, the feel of her hands all over me and her eyes holding onto mine as I moved over her—I know more fully that I’m hers.
That, at her insistence, I promised not to annul our marriage.
That she told me things last night I know she’d never told another soul.
That she starts school in the fall, that a horrific injury ruined her dance career, that she’ll never love doing anything as much as she loved to dance but it almost feels like she’s giving up on trying.
That there’s a strength beneath her vulnerability that carved out some unknown, tender place inside me, and I have no desire to take this ring off my finger.
And even though I’m only beginning to remember every word she told me last night, I want her to wake up and say them to me now, again. I also realize the chances of this are slim; I know her, I do. It’s more likely Mia will wake up and remember what we’ve done, freak out, and I’ll never see her again. Or worse, maybe she won’t remember at all. We’d both had a lot to drink—it’s entirely possible she’ll have no recollection of what happened and assume I took advantage of her in some way. The thought alone is enough make my stomach drop into my feet.
I look over to see she’s definitely still asleep, and has rolled to her side, tucking the comforter up under her chin. I scrub my hands over my face and am acutely aware of how absolutely disgusting I am. I reek of booze and the club and there’s something sticky that smells like cinnamon smeared across my ribs. Taking stock of myself, I look down and realize a condom wrapper is stuck to my arm. Classy, mon ami.
With the curtains still drawn the room is shadowed and cool. I stand and walk to the bathroom mirror, wincing as I flip on the light. My eyes are puffy, my hair standing up on one side and there’s a trail of red lipstick that begins at my neck and moves downward, across my chest and lower. There is no way I can talk to her like this. This will scare the shit out of her.
I find my pants thrown across a chair in the living room; my boxers are draped over a red, pleated lamp in the corner of the bedroom. One shoe is lodged between the desk and the wall and I have no idea where the other is. Fuck, my clothes smell worse than I do. With another check on Mia, I decide to dress and run to my room to shower. With any luck I can find the guys, clean up, and get back before she’s even awake.
I’m almost out the door when it occurs to me to leave a note. Once I leave the room I’ll have no way to get back in, so we’ll have to meet at the restaurant in the casino downstairs. I know her first name and her last, where she lives and practically every detail about her family, but I can’t quell the panic that she’ll wake up, and flee. We’re married, I remind myself. There’s no way she can just leave without talking to me first . . . I think.
I check my back pockets and then my front, frowning when I find a piece of paper already tucked there. I pull out the envelope, turn it over and run a finger along the hastily scribbled words.
Ansel: give to me in the morning. Don’t read. – Mia
I can remember her handing me this. We’d gone up to the room and she’d excused herself to the bathroom, staying in there for at least fifteen minutes. I didn’t know what sort of conclusion she’d come to while in there, but when she stepped out, she had a newly resolved look about her. A confidence in the line of her shoulders, the angle of her chin. She’d walked over to me, tucked the envelope into my palm with her instructions. Then she attacked me.
I run my thumb along the seal, feel the weight of the paper and everything hidden inside. With a deep breath, I tuck it back in my pocket.
A small notepad sits on the desk and I cross the room, willing my hand to steady as I jot down a short note and place it on the pillow on the bed. I straighten; taking a moment to look down at the floor where she lies, to study each line of the face I grew to know so well last night.
I find myself noting how absolutely beautiful she is. She was a blur of red lips and fidgety hands, fingers that constantly moved to swipe her hair dark hair from her forehead. It was a practiced move, one I wasn’t even sure she was aware of: a small shake of her head, the slightest touch to smooth her bangs to the side. Her eyes were hazel and fringed with long lashes, the kind you couldn’t help but be mesmerized by with every blink. Some might describe Mia as pale, but milky is much more accurate. Her skin is clear and perfect, almost porcelain-like, and I found myself wanting to pull her closer, push her shirt off her shoulders and search for even a single freckle. She was several inches shorter than me, with long, willowy limbs and a kind of grace you’d only find in someone who’d spent their entire life telling stories with their body.
Carefully, I slide one arm beneath and around her knees and the other beneath her shoulders, gently lifting her from the chaos on the floor. Her skin is so soft, and despite the wildness of our night, she smells just like I remember: a little like a flower, a little like a woman. Beneath it all, is the smell of sex; it makes my blood stir, my lips warm at the thought of pressing a kiss to her neck, just a single kiss. As I do it, I hold my breath, wanting her to wake so I can see some recognition in her eyes, but also wanting her to sleep until I can be more presentable.
The realization rocks me: I want the best shot I have with her. I don’t want her to see me like this: filthy, sticky, hungover and raw. As slowly as I can, I place her in the middle of the mattress, and move my note so it sits just beside her.
She doesn’t stir.
A proper look around shows me the room is truly a disaster. I find myself trying to reposition the furniture, straighten the blankets and pillows and right the end table that has somehow ended up on its side. There are some rather impressive smudges on the mirror that hangs by the door, as if someone’s naked body was pressed against it, a set of hand prints visible on either side of their head. I hesitate for only a moment before lifting my arm, letting my palm hover over the mark. It’s the same size. I spend more than a few minutes trying to connect the pieces, remembering the way I’d lifted her, pressed her against the wall as I slid into her, blind to everything but her soft sounds and needy words.
My finger traces idly over the gold band around my finger and I draw in a ragged breath; we really need to talk. But first, a shower, some water and, if there’s a God in heaven, some ibuprofen.
With one last look over my shoulder I open the door, and let it close softly behind me.
One hot shower and two Motrin later, I’m feeling as close to human as I suspect I’ll get today. I stare at my warped reflection in the elevator doors. The brass doors are smudged around the edges where the two pieces meet in the center, the finish dulled by hundreds of tiny grubby hands from children who I know feel the need to touch everything. I resist the urge to buff them out with my sleeve as my mother’s words ring in my ears, just like they always have: Don’t touch things other people have to clean up.
This is one of Oliver’s favorite things to tease me about. My constant need to immediately wipe down any surface I’ve left a fingerprint on, a watermark. The fact that I always pick up my flat before the maid comes. My tendency to tidy when I get home, even after working fourteen hours. My mother earned a living as a housekeeper when she first arrived in France, and she would skin me alive if she thought I left a mess in my wake this weekend. She would fall over dead at the sight of Mia’s hotel room.
The elevator stops on the sixteenth floor and the only other passenger steps out. When the doors close again I watch the floors tick down on the dial overhead.
According to their text, Oliver and Finn are in the hotel restaurant having breakfast and are apparently as fucked up this morning as I am.
My hand moves to the back pocket of my jeans, finding the note I placed there after I dressed. There’s a part of me that’s certain I could read it and Mia would never know, but there’s a bigger part that wants to earn her trust.
I know the way she was last night, I remember the things she said—the things we did. Will she? We’re married, it seems there are only two roads we can take from here: stay together, or break apart. It’s actually a bit disorienting how sour the second thought feels.
The lift stops and I step out into the casino and see the guys immediately. They meet my eyes and greet me with a slow lift of their chin. Neither of them looks any better off than I do. I take the seat across from Finn and directly across from the elevators, intentionally. If Mia wakes and comes to find me, I want it to be easy. I don’t want any fear or hesitation to get in the way.
Finn has his head in his hands, his thumbs moving in slow circles over his temples. Oliver is just looking down at his plate of bacon and eggs, as if staring at them long enough will make them disappear. There are two gold bands on the table between us.
I reach out, pick up one of them. “What a night, hmm?”
Finn straightens in his chair, takes a deep breath. “Looks that way.”
I nod and we sit in silence for a moment. “You lot remember anything?” Oliver asks.
“A lot of drinking,” I say. Nearly an hour away from waking up confused, and now I remember it all. Every word. Every touch. Every one of Mia’s little fidgets, smiles, and quiet, aching sounds. “And then you four split off while Mia and I talked. I think around one or two we told you we were getting married and you all decided, what the hell, you’d come along, too.”
“I remember a lot of drinking, and a lot more fucking,” Finn jokes and we all laugh and then groan in unison. “I talked to Harlow this morning,” he continues. “We’re going to meet in the lobby as soon as everyone’s up. Undo all this.”
Oliver nods in agreement rather forcefully. I sit there quietly because again, the idea of ending things with Mia sounds worse each time I imagine it. They continue to talk between themselves while I completely zone out, lost in my thoughts.
“What if,” I start, slowly spinning the drink in front of me, “what if I didn’t?”
As predicted, this snaps them out of their zombie state and each of them blinks up at me. They consider me for a moment, the table silent as people continue to laugh and talk all around us, before Finn clears his throat.
But it’s Oliver who speaks first. “Didn’t what?”
A bead of condensation slips along the glass. I watch it pool on the Formica top before I meet their eyes again. “Get an annulment.”
When Oliver shakes his head and laughs, I know exactly where this conversation is going. He sits back in the booth and tosses his napkin to the table. “Here we go.”
“What?” I ask.
“You always do this, Ansel,” Finn says.
“I always get married in Vegas and decide not to have it annulled?”
“No,” Finn says. “You have this way of getting attached to every person you meet. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but, fuck, this is not the time to be a romantic. You’re married. To someone you just met. You go home to France in two days. Do you get the implications of that?”
Bordel de merde!
I sigh, sitting back and pushing the hair off my forehead. It’s the same thing I’ve heard my entire life, almost the exact conversation my mother had with me when my last relationship ended. And it’s not that they’re entirely off the mark, but my affections sound fleeting and superficial when put that way. It’s never been my intent.
Putain. Je suis sur le point de rendre les choses mille fois plus compliquées.
“What did you say?” Finn asks, leaning forward.
I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud. “Nothing. Just that I know I’m going to make things a million times more complicated but . . .”
Mia and I didn’t meet so much as collide. At least, that’s how it feels when I remember it, the instant shift in the air, the way she changed my life in the sum of twelve hours.
When I don’t answer right away, Finn leans forward, resting his elbows on the table. “So what are you saying, you have feelings for her? It was just sex, Ans—”
“It’s not,” I say. I’m not in love with Mia, we’ve only just met and I’m not foolish enough to think that something that strong could happen overnight. But there’s a connection between us, something I’m not ready to give up yet. “I . . . like her.”
“Ansel,” Finn says, exasperated. He tears into a packet of sugar, dumping it into his coffee before adding another. “You’ve got to stop thinking with your dick, man. It’s gotten you in enough trou—”
I hold up my hand, cutting him off when I see the elevator doors open, and Mia step out. They both turn and follow my gaze, groaning when they see her.
“Just don’t be an idiot,” Finn says, before pushing back his chair.
She’s had a shower and changed, and she looks just as beautiful to me as she did the first time I saw her. Her dark hair is cut at an angle just at her chin, it’s glossy and straight, and for a moment I’m reminded of what it felt like slipping through my fingers, bunched in my fist. The way the strands brushed along the skin of my stomach, and my thighs. She’s wearing a gray top, the neck loose so that it hangs off her right shoulder. The sleeves are too long and I feel myself smile when she reaches up, smoothes the hair off her face.
She hasn’t seen us yet, and continues to look out over the casino. I’m tired and nauseous, more nervous than I can ever remember being. She’s tired, dark circles smudge the skin beneath her eyes and she looks pale. Definitely hung over. Her face is free of makeup, lips bitten and red and even more perfect than I remember.
Our eyes meet and my heart stops.
VH1: You’ve been on a writing whirlwind since Beautiful Bastard came out last year. Have you had a second to enjoy and process your success?
Christina Lauren: It sounds cliché but we really do appreciate and enjoy it every single day. Even when deadlines loom or we’re trying to juggle multiple projects, we can always step back and tell ourselves, “This is a sweet gig. Enjoy the ride.” We both wonder when it will stop feeling surreal? Only six months ago Lo was still doing research and Christina was still working at the school. It doesn’t feel that long ago either that we were writing our first book together (a YA novel) and getting ready to query. Now we have seven books out, twelve written, and are loving every second of it. Truly, we are the luckiest.
VH1: Sweet Filthy Boy is the first in a new series. Were you nervous about venturing into new territory? Was it difficult telling the story all from Mia’s POV? Did this make it trickier to make Ansel come alive?
CL: When we were drafting Sweet Filthy Boy, Beautiful Player had just come out and was getting a lot of praise (which was wonderful) and selling fantastically (which was wonderful) and . . . it terrified us. We were worried that readers wouldn’t come along for the new series, or that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off with new characters. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to make every book better than the one before it, and since we still felt Player so immediately in our minds, the idea of writing someone readers would love as much as they loved Will Sumner was daunting. Add to that our realization, about six chapters in, that we couldn’t have Ansel’s POV and it was even trickier. Readers really love that dual POV, and it’s so fun to write. The issue is that Ansel had to keep a secret from Mia, and to make that moment pop in the book, he would also have to keep it from the reader. That would have made Ansel pretty disingenuous and hard to forgive if his POV made up half of the book. But one of the reasons we have the female POV first in our books is that the readers want to see the hero from the heroine’s POV. So, we were able to make Ansel come alive through Mia’s eyes only. It was unbelievably satisfying to see this book come together.
VH1: Let’s talk about the “book boyfriends” you’ve created. They’re all so different but still incredibly sexy and, unlike many other men on the page – flawed and human. How do you create each one? Is there a formula? Do real–life people inspire you? Celebrities? Most importantly: how do you make them feel like real people?
CL: We don’t have a formula, no, and we don’t base them on celebrities (not even for appearance), but we do make a point when we begin outlining every book that every character needs to feel distinct. In fact, right now we are writing Beautiful Secret, the fourth full-length Beautiful novel where the Wild Seasons and the Beautiful Series intersect, and the main male character, Niall (the younger brother of Max Stella, from Beautiful Stranger) is such different personality for us . . . he’s a little hard to figure out. That process of teasing the magic out of a new character is challenging, but a lot of fun.
We want readers to see something in everyday life and be able to think, “That is totally something Hanna would do,” or “Wow, that sounds like something Ansel would say.” No one picks our books up off the shelf wanting to read about perfect people behaving themselves. And maybe we take that to the extreme sometimes (Bennett and Chloe are total idiots, let’s be real), but these books aren’t meant to shift the way readers think about life and love and the universe. They’re meant to transport readers for a few hours after work, or on the beach. They’re meant to be fun. We want our characters to be the ones readers want to spend their free time with.
VH1: Are you able to pick a favorite when it comes to your male characters? Who is the sexiest? Is there one you wouldn’t date? Why?
CL: This question is so hard because we try to create male characters that are each sexy and loveable in their own way. Bennett is a jackass, but he’s sexy and strong and, above all, loyal to the end of time. Max is all sugar. Will is sex on a stick (a very large stick). Ansel is goofy and playful but he’ll bring it when the lights go out. Finn is all rough edges and definitely a man of few words, but when he finds the girl for him, he’s done. That’s it. So, it’s about choosing between all that, you know? How is that even possible? Max would probably be too laid back for Lo, and Bennett would probably be too bossy for Christina, but let’s just buy an island, bring them all, and take turns.
VH1: You’re offering VH1.com readers a chance to read something from Ansel’s POV. Was it fun writing in his voice? Is this something you did while writing the book (to get inside his head, perhaps?) or after?
CL: This is such an awesome opportunity, we are so thrilled. We wrote this originally intending it to be in the book. And then we both sat back and said, “Wait. Duh. We can’t have his POV.” When this was written, the book was still in the early stages and so this outtake required some editing to fit how the book unfolded in its final version, but it was fun to go back and read this, back before we knew Ansel as well as we do now.
VH1: Will we be able to read more of Mia and Ansel’s story in the future?
CL: For now we don’t have plans to write any more specifically about Ansel and Mia, but they appear in all of the Wild Seasons books. In fact, Ansel is a bit of a scene stealer in Dirty Rowdy Thing.
VH1: Give us a peek into what’s next with the Wild Seasons series and Sublime.
CL: Sublime is our ghost story, out October 15th from S&S Books for Young Readers. It’s a mature YA novel, and one that is very close to our hearts! The story is about Colin (a daredevil senior at a boarding school) and Lucy (a ghost who finds herself trapped on campus), and follows the two as Colin grows obsessed with hypothermia as an extreme sport as a way to have near-death experiences and be with Lucy.
On the adult side, Finn and Harlow’s story is up next in Dirty Rowdy Thing, out November 4th. After that is Beautiful Beloved, a Max/Sara novella, followed by Beautiful Secret, as we mentioned above, with Niall Stella and Ruby, a character from the Wild Seasons series. The Wild Seasons then continues with Dark Wild Night, (Oliver and Lola’s book) out September 2015, and then Wicked Sexy Liar (Luke & London’s book) out February 2016! Books books books!
[This interview has been edited]
[Photo: Alyssa Michelle]