মুখ্য Falling Away (Fall Away #3)

Falling Away (Fall Away #3)

5.0 / 5.0
এই বইটি আপনার কতটা পছন্দ?
ফাইলের মান কিরকম?
মান নির্ণয়ের জন্য বইটি ডাউনলোড করুন
ডাউনলোড করা ফাইলগুলির মান কিরকম?
Jaxon is the guy she's supposed to avoid . . .

K. C. Carter has always followed the rules - until this year, when a mistake leaves her the talk of her college campus and her carefully arranged life comes crashing to a halt. Now she's stuck in her small hometown for the summer to complete her court-ordered community service, and to make matters worse, trouble is living right next door.

K.C. is the girl he won't let get away . . .

Jaxon Trent is the worst kind of temptation and exactly what K.C. was supposed to stay away from in high school. But he never forgot her. She was the one girl who wouldn't give him the time of day and the only one to ever say no. Fate has brought K.C. back into his life - except what he thought was a great twist of luck turns out to be too close for comfort. As they grow closer, he discovers that convincing K.C. to get out from her mother's shadow is hard, but revealing the darkest parts of his soul is nearly impossible.
ISBN 13:
বইয়ের সিরিজ:
Fall Away
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dead as just downloaded all of her books in this series cannot wait to read them nervous
14 August 2021 (12:41) 

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আপনি একটি বুক রিভিউ লিখতে পারেন এবং আপনার অভিজ্ঞতা শেয়ার করতে পারেন. অন্যান্য পাঠকরা আপনার পড়া বইগুলির বিষয়ে আপনার মতামত সম্পর্কে সর্বদা আগ্রহী হবে. বইটি আপনার পছন্দ হোক বা না হোক, আপনি যদি নিজের সৎ ও বিস্তারিত চিন্তাভাবনা ব্যক্ত করেন তাহলে অন্যরা তাদের জন্য উপযুক্ত নতুন বইগুলি খুঁজে পাবে.

Falling Away

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Falling Awake

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Praise for the Fall Away series

‘I read this book in one sitting. Rival was as gripping as it was sexy!’

#1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover

‘Full of feeling and intensity that will appeal to the reader seeking an emotional rush’


‘This smoking-hot, action-packed story is a powerful addition to the edgy side of the genre, and readers will eagerly anticipate the next installment’

Publishers Weekly

‘I was really craving a book that would make me stop everything I was supposed to be doing and devour every word … and that’s exactly what Bully did!’

Smitten Book Blog

‘A unique twist on the bad boy meets good girl tale. I could not put it down!’

Aestas Book Blog

‘She did something seasoned writers haven’t been able to do – take a hero who was a complete ass and make me fall in love with him’

Scandalicious Book Reviews

Also by Penelope Douglas


Until You


Falling Away



First published in the US in 2014 by New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Piatkus

Copyright © 2015 by Penelope Douglas

Excerpt from Aflame © 2015 by Penelope Douglas

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-0-349-40584-1


An imprint of

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DY

An Hachet; te UK Company




“Again” by Alice in Chains

“Battle Born” by Five Finger Death Punch

“Better Than Me” by Hinder

“Bones” by Young Guns

“Cruel Summer” by Bananarama

“Deal with the Devil” by Pop Evil

“The Deep End” by Crossfade

“Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed

“Dragula” by Rob Zombie

“Falling Away from Me” by Korn

“Firework” by Katy Perry

“Good Man” by Devour the Day

“Heaven Knows” by the Pretty Reckless

“Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” by Fuel

“Here Without You” by 3 Doors Down

“The High Road” by Three Days Grace

“I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

“I’m Not Jesus” by Apocalyptica

“Me So Horny” by 2 Live Crew

“My Demons” by Starset

“Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy)” by Rob Zombie

“Slept So Long” by Jay Gordon

“Stupify” by Disturbed

“Take Out the Gunman” by Chevelle

“Talk Dirty to Me” by Poison

“Tired by Stone” by Stone Sour

“Torn to Pieces” by Pop Evil

“Trenches” by Pop Evil

To all the good people who had bad parents.

We’re going to be okay.


To my parents, two who taught me the right way and one who taught me the wrong way but all who loved me. I learned that honesty and trust are golden and character and integrity are prized. Thank you.

To my husband and daughter, both who sacrificed to see these characters live. I owe my daughter lots of trips to the park, and my husband … well, you know what I owe you, honey. And I’ll get on that. Soon. Totally soon. I promise.

To my support system at New American Library, all of whom put up with my endless questions and work hard to protect my vision for the Fall Away Series. Thank you, Kerry, Isabel, and Courtney for your trust, advice, and help.

To Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, who found me, and thank goodness for that! You’re always working, and I always feel important. Thanks to you, Miriam and Mike, for staying on top of everything and taking care of me.

To my street team, the House of PenDragon, who are a wonderful group of women—and one guy—who hold one another up and create a community of friendship and fun times. Needless to say, I laugh my butt off watching your conversations online, and I enjoy seeing how close you all have become. Bananas forever!

To Eden Butler, Lisa Pantano Kane, Ing Cruz, and Marilyn Medina, who are all available at the drop of a hat to look at a scene or provide quick emergency feedback. Thank you for walking with me through this process and being honest.

To Vibeke Courtney. Plain and simple, this is all you. If I had never met you, I might never have tried writing a book. And without you, it would never have been successful. My writing was nearly all narration before you got your hands on it, and you helped create my voice. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To the readers and reviewers, thank you for keeping my work alive and showing your love and support! Your feedback, thoughts, and ideas have been incredibly important as these stories developed, and I always write with you in mind. I hope I can continue to give you characters you want to reread over and over again!









































Three whole years.

I’d had a boyfriend for three whole years, and I still had more orgasms when I was by myself.

“Damn, baby, you feel good.” His sleepy whisper felt wet on my neck as he dragged his lazy lips over my skin.

Packing. That was what I’d forgotten to add to my to-do list for tomorrow. It wasn’t likely I’d forget to pack for college, but everything needed to go on the list so it could be checked off.

“You’re so hot.” Liam’s fish lips tickled my neck in short, slow pecks. It once made me giggle, but now it kind of made me want to bite him.

And a pharmacy run, I remembered. I wanted to stock up on my pill so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a while. Packing and the pharmacy. Packing and the pharmacy. Packing and the pharmacy. Don’t forget, K.C.

Liam thrust his hips between my legs, and I rolled my eyes.

We were still clothed, but I wasn’t sure he realized that.

If I weren’t so tired, I’d laugh. He rarely got drunk after all—tonight only because it was an end-of-summer bash. And although I’d never been overwhelmed with a desire for sex, I did love that he tried to jump my bones at every opportunity. It made me feel wanted.

But it just wasn’t happening tonight.

“Liam,” I grunted, twisting up my lips as I pushed his hand off my breast, “I think we’re done for the night, okay? Let’s lock up the car and walk to your house.”

We’d been in his car for over a half hour—me trying to indulge his fantasy of sex in risky places and him trying to … Hell, I didn’t even know what he was trying to do.

I felt guilty for not being more into it lately. I felt guilty for not helping him get into it tonight. And I felt guilty for making mental additions to my to-do list while he was trying—keyword, trying—to get it on with me.

We hadn’t made love in a long time, and I didn’t know what my problem was anymore.

His head sank into my shoulder, and I felt the weight of his hundred and eighty pounds collapse on my body.

He didn’t move, and I let out a sigh, relaxing into the passenger seat of his Camaro, my muscles burning from trying to support his body weight all this time.

He’d given up. Thank God.

But then I groaned, registering that his body had gone a little too still, except for the slow, soft rhythm of his breathing.

Great. Now he was passed out.

“Liam,” I whispered, not sure why, since we were completely alone in his car on a dark, quiet street outside my friend Tate Brandt’s house.

Arching my head up, I spoke into his ear that was nearly covered by his blond hair. “Liam, wake up!” I wheezed, since his weight was hindering my oxygen intake.

He moaned but didn’t budge.

I slammed my head back onto the headrest and ground my teeth together. What the hell was I going to do now?

We’d gone to the Loop tonight for the last race before college started next week and then Tate and her boyfriend, Jared Trent, had thrown a party at his house, which just happened to be right outside, next door to her place. I’d told my mom that I’d be sleeping over at her house when I was really planning on spending the night with my boyfriend.

Who was now passed out.

Tate’s house was locked, I didn’t know how to drive Liam’s car, and the last thing I was ever going to do was call my mother for a ride.

Reaching for the handle, I swung the car door open and pulled my right leg from under Liam. I pushed against his chest, raising him off me only as much as I needed to squirm out from underneath his body and stumble out of the car. He groaned but didn’t open his eyes, and I wondered if I should be worried about how much he’d had to drink.

Leaning in, I watched his chest rise and fall in quiet, steady movements. I grabbed the keys he’d dropped on the floor and my wrist purse with my cell phone and slammed the door shut, locking the car.

Liam didn’t live too far, and even though I knew it was a lot to ask, I was going to have to wake up Tate. If Jared was even letting her get any sleep at all.

I ran my hands down my strapless white summer dress and powered quietly down the sidewalk in my rhinestone sandals. Pretty dressed up for the race track earlier, but I wanted to look nice at the party. It was the last time I was going to see some of these people. For a while, anyway.

Squeezing my little purse—small enough for my phone and some money—in my hand, I traipsed up the small incline into Jared’s yard and up the front steps of his house. No light shone from inside, but I knew there had to be some people still here, since the street was littered with a few unfamiliar cars and I heard the low beat of music still pouring out. Lyrics saying something about “down with the sickness.”

I turned the knob, stepped into the house, and peered around the corner into the living room.

And stopped. Dead. What the …?

The room was dark, not a single light showing other than the blue glow from the screen on the stereo.

Maybe there were other lights on in the house. Maybe there were other people still here. I couldn’t say.

All I could do was fucking stand there as my eyes stung, and a lump stretched my throat, at the sight of Jaxon Trent damn near naked on top of another girl.

I instantly looked away, closing my eyes.

Jax. I shook my head. No. I didn’t care about this. Why was my heart beating so fast?

Jaxon Trent was Tate’s boyfriend’s little brother. Nothing more. Just a kid.

A kid who watched me. A kid I rarely ever talked to. A kid who felt like a threat just standing next to me.

A kid who was looking less and less like one every day.

And right now he wasn’t coming up for air. I jerked my body toward the door, not wanting him—or her—to see me, but …

“Jax,” the girl gasped. “More. Please.”

And I stopped, unable to move again. Just leave, K.C. You don’t care.

I squeezed the doorknob, sucking in quick breaths, but I didn’t move. Couldn’t move.

I didn’t know why my hands shook.

Chewing my bottom lip, I inched around the corner again and saw him and the girl.

My heart pounded like a jackhammer in my chest. And it hurt.

The girl—I didn’t recognize her from school—was completely naked, lying on her stomach on the couch. Jax was sprawled on top of her from behind, and judging from his jeans pushed down below his ass and his thrusting hips, he was inside her.

He didn’t even get fully undressed to make love to a girl. He couldn’t even look her in the face. I wasn’t surprised. With the arrogance he displayed around school, Jax could do whatever he wanted, and he did.

Holding himself up with one arm, he used the other to wrap around her face and twist her chin toward him before he leaned down and covered her mouth with his.

Liam had never kissed me like that. Or I’d never kissed him like that.

The girl—long blond hair fanning around her face and spilling over her shoulders—kissed him back with full force, their jaws moving in sync as his tongue and teeth worked her.

Jax’s smooth, sculpted hips ground into her in slow, savory movements while his hand left her face to run down her back and then slide underneath her body to cup her breast. He didn’t do one thing at a time. Every part of his body was in this, and everything he did looked as if it felt good.

And why wouldn’t it? Jax was coveted by the girls in this town for a reason after all. He was suave, confident, and good-looking. Not my type, but there was no denying that he was sexy. According to Tate, he was part Native American.

His skin was like toffee—smooth, unblemished, and warm-looking. His hair was a deep brown, almost black, and it hung halfway down his back. He often braided pieces of it before tying it back into a ponytail midskull, which he did all the time. I’d never seen his hair hanging loose.

He had to be six feet tall by now and would probably be exceeding his brother in height in no time. I’d seen Jax on the lacrosse field at school and at the gym where we both worked out. The dips in his biceps and triceps flexed as he held himself above the girl and worked his body into hers. With the moonlight coming through the window, I could just make out the V in his torso as it descended to his abs and lower.

He didn’t break pace as he whispered in her ear, and as if she were given an order, she dropped her foot to the floor, bent her knee, and arched her back.

Jax let his head fall back and bared his teeth as he sank deeper into her, and I stared, absently tracing the scar on the inside of my wrist.

I wanted it to be like that for me. I wanted to be breathless like her. Gasping and desperate. Passionate and hungry.

Liam had made me happy once, and when he messed up, I took him back, because I thought the relationship was worth it.

But now, seeing this … I knew we were missing something.

I didn’t know when the tear spilled over, but I felt it drop onto my dress, and I blinked rapidly, wiping my face.

And then my eye caught something, and I blinked again, noticing someone else in the room. Another girl, nearly naked in her bra and panties.

I swallowed a gasp, sucked in air, and then swallowed again.

What the hell?

She walked across the room—she must’ve been over by the windows, because I hadn’t seen her until now—and leaned down, kissing Jax hard.

Acid bile crept up my throat.

“Ugh!” I growled, and stumbled backward, hitting the opposite wall in the entryway. Scrambling, I yanked open the front door and flew outside without looking back.

Jumping the steps, I had hit the grass running when a deep voice commanded behind me, “Stop!”

I didn’t.

Screw him. Screw Jaxon Trent. I didn’t know why I was mad, and who the hell cared?

Running across the lawn, I bolted for the sidewalk, wishing I’d worn sneakers instead of sandals that flopped around on my feet.

“Stop, or I will take you to the ground, K.C.!” Jax’s loud bellow threatened behind me, and I brought myself to a sudden halt.

Shit. My eyes darted from left to right, searching for an escape. He wouldn’t really do that, would he?

I inched around slowly, watching as he stepped off the stairs and walked toward me. He was wearing pants, thank God. But I guess that was easy, since he never really took them off. The dark-washed jeans hung off his hips, and I got a damn clear look at the muscles framing his abs. He had a swimmer’s body, but I wasn’t sure if he was actually a swimmer. From the way the top of his jeans barely hung just above his hairline, I guessed he wasn’t wearing boxers … or anything under the jeans. I thought of what was just beneath his pants, and heat warmed my belly. I clenched my thighs together.

I shot my eyes down to the ground, wondering how I could stand the sight of him. He was just a kid. Did he do things like that with a lot of girls?

He came up to stand in front of me, hovering down, since he was nearly a half foot taller. “What are you doing here?” he accused.

I locked my mouth shut and scowled at the air around him, still avoiding eye contact.

“You left with your dipshit boyfriend an hour ago,” he pointed out.

I kept my hot eyes averted.

“K.C.!” He shoved his hand in my face, snapping his fingers a few times. “Let’s process what you just saw in there. You entered my house uninvited in the middle of the night and witnessed me having sex with a girl in the privacy of my own home. Now let’s move on. Why are you roaming around in the dark alone?”

I finally looked up and sneered. I always had to do that to cover up the way my face felt on fire at the sight of his blue eyes. For someone so dark and wild, his eyes were completely out of place but never seemed wrong. They were the color of a tropical sea. The color of the sky right before storm clouds rolled in. Tate called them azure. I called them hell.

Crossing my arms over my chest, I took a deep breath. “Liam’s too drunk to drive, all right?” I bit out. “He passed out in the car.”

He looked down the street to where Liam’s car sat and narrowed his eyes before scowling back down at me. “So why can’t you drive him home?” he asked.

“I can’t drive a clutch.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. Running his hand through his hair, he stopped and fisted it midstroke. “Your boyfriend is a fucking idiot,” he snarled, and then dropped his hand, looking exasperated.

I sighed, not wanting to get into it. He and Liam never got along, and while I didn’t know why, I did know it was mostly Jax’s fault.

I’d known him for almost a year, and even though I knew small details—he was into computers, his real parents weren’t around, and he thought of his brother’s mother as his own—he was still a mystery to me. All I knew was that he looked at me sometimes, and lately, it was with disdain. As if he was disappointed.

I tipped my chin up and kept my tone flat. “I knew Tate was staying with Jared tonight, and I didn’t want to wake up her dad to let me in the house to crash. I need her to help me get Liam home and to let me in her house. Is she up?” I asked.

He shook his head, and I wasn’t sure if that meant “no” or “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Digging in his jeans pocket, he pulled out keys. “I’ll drive you home.”

“No,” I rushed. “My mom thinks I’m staying at Tate’s tonight.”

His eyes narrowed on me, and I felt judged. Yeah, I was lying to my mother to spend the night with my boyfriend. And, yes, I was eighteen years old and still not allowed the freedom of an adult. Stop looking at me like that.

“Don’t move,” he ordered, and then turned around, walking back to his house.

After less than a minute he walked back out and started across the lawn to Tate’s, jerking his chin at me to follow. I assumed he had a key, so I jogged up to his side as he climbed the porch steps.

“What about Liam?” I couldn’t leave my boyfriend sleeping in his car all night. What if something happened to him? Or he got sick? And Tate’s dad would have a fit if I tried to bring him inside.

He unlocked the front door—I wasn’t sure if he had Tate’s or Jared’s keys—and stepped inside the darkened foyer. Turning to me, he waved his hand in a big show, inviting me in.

“I’ll get Jared to follow me in his car while I drive Dick-wad home in his, okay?” He hooded his eyes, looking bored.

“Don’t hurt him,” I warned, crossing the threshold and walking past him.

“I won’t, but he deserves it.”

I swung back around to face him, arching an eyebrow. “Oh, you think you’re so much better, Jax?” I smiled. “Do you even know those skanks’ names in there?”

His mouth instantly tightened. “They’re not skanks, K.C. They’re friends. And I’d make damn sure any girlfriend of mine knew how to drive a manual, and I wouldn’t have gotten so drunk that I couldn’t keep her safe.”

His quick temper threw me, and I immediately dropped my eyes, hating the rush of guilt that prickled my skin.

Why was I trying to cut him up? Jax definitely got under my skin, but he wasn’t a bad guy. His behavior at school was certainly better than his brother’s had been in the past. And Jax was respectful to teachers and friendly to everyone.

Almost everyone.

I took a deep breath and straightened my shoulders, ready to swallow a mouthful of pride. “Thank you. Thank you for driving Liam home,” I offered, handing him the keys. “But what about your …” I gestured with my hand, trying to find the right word. “Your … dates?”

“They’ll wait.” He smirked.

I rolled my eyes. Oooookay.

Reaching up, I worked my messy bun loose, pulling my mahogany hair down around my shoulders. But then I shot my eyes back up when I noticed Jax approaching me.

His voice was low and strong, without even a hint of humor. “Unless you want me to send them home, K.C.,” he suggested, stepping closer, his chest nearly brushing mine.

Send them home?

I shook my head, blowing off his flirtation. It was the same way I’d reacted last fall the first time I met him, and every time after that when he made a suggestive remark. It was my safe, patented response, because I couldn’t allow myself to react any other way.

But this time he wasn’t smiling or being cocky. He might’ve been serious. If I told him to send the girls away, would he?

And as he reached out with a slow, soft finger and grazed my collarbone, I let time stop as I entertained the idea.

Jax’s hot breath on my neck, my hair a tangled mess around my body, my clothes ripped apart on the floor as he bit my lips and made me sweat.

Oh, Jesus. I sucked in a breath and looked away, narrowing my eyes to get my damn head under control. What the hell?

But then Jax laughed.

Not a sympathetic laugh. Not a laugh that said he was just kidding. No, it was a laugh that told me I was the joke.

“Don’t worry, K.C.” He smiled, looking down on me as if I was pathetic. “I’m well aware your pussy is too precious for me, okay?”

Excuse me?

I knocked his hand away from my collarbone. “You know what?” I shot out, my fingers fisting. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you actually make Jared look like a gentleman.”

And the little shit grinned. “I love my brother, but get one thing straight.” He leaned in. “He and I are nothing alike.”

Yeah. My heart didn’t pound around Jared. The hair on my arms didn’t stand on end around him, either. I wasn’t conscious of where he was and what he was doing every second that we were in the same room together. Jax and Jared were very different.

“Tattoos,” I muttered.


Shit! Did I just say that out loud?

“Um … ,” I choked out, staring wide-eyed in front of me, which just happened to be at his bare chest. “Tattoos. Jared has them. You don’t. How come?” I asked, finally looking up.

His eyebrows inched together, but he didn’t look angry. It was more … befuddled.

Jared’s back, shoulder, arm, and part of his torso were covered with tattoos. Even Jared and Jax’s best friend, Madoc Caruthers, had one. You would think with those influences, Jax would’ve gotten at least one by now. But he hadn’t. His long torso and arms were unmarked.

I waited as he stared at me and then licked his lips. “I have tattoos,” he whispered, looking lost in thought. “Too many.”

I didn’t know what I saw in his eyes at that moment, but I knew I’d never seen it before.

Backing away, he wouldn’t meet my gaze as he turned and left the house. He closed the door, locked it, and walked down the porch steps quietly.

Moments later, I heard Jared’s Boss and Liam’s Camaro fire up and speed down the dark street.

And an hour later, I was still lying awake in Tate’s bed, running my finger over the spot he’d touched on my collarbone and wondering about the Jaxon Trent I never got to know.



Two years later

Shelburne Falls was an average-size town in northern Illinois. Not too small but barely big enough to have its own mall. To the naked eye, it was picturesque. Sweet in its “no two homes are alike” originality and welcoming in its “can I help you carry your groceries to the car?” kind of way.

Secrets were kept behind closed doors, and there were always too many prying eyes, but the sky was blue, the leaves rustling in the wind sounded like music, and kids still played outside rather than zoned out on video games all the time.

I loved it here. But I also hated who I was here.

When I left for college two years ago, I had made a promise to spend every day trying to be better than I was. I was going to be an attentive girlfriend, a trustworthy friend, and a perfect daughter.

I rarely came home, choosing to spend last summer counseling at a summer camp in Oregon and visiting my college roommate, Nik, at her home in San Diego. My mother got to brag about my busy lifestyle, and my old friends really didn’t seem to miss me, so it all worked out.

Shelburne Falls wasn’t a bad place. It was perfect, actually. But I was less than perfect here, and I didn’t want to come home until I could show all of them that I was stronger, tougher, and smarter.

But that shit blew up in my face. Big-time.

Not only did I breeze back into town much sooner than I’d wanted, but my arrival was on the heels of a court order. Awesome impression, K.C.

My phone rang, and I blinked as I came out of my thoughts. Adjusting the covers, I sat up in bed and slid the screen on my Galaxy.

“Tate, hi.” I smiled, not even bothering to say hello. “You’re up early.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.” Her cheerful voice was a relief.

“You didn’t.” I swung my legs out of bed and stood up, stretching. “I was just getting up.”

Tate had been my best friend all through high school. She still was, I guess. During senior year, though, I’d changed our friendship. I wasn’t there when she needed me, and now she kept about two feet of personal space when I was around. I didn’t blame her. I messed up, and I hadn’t manned up to talk about it. Or apologize.

And despite my mother’s oft-repeated words of “wisdom,” I should have. “Apologizing is lowering yourself, K.C. Nothing is really a mistake until you admit you’re sorry for it. Until then, it’s just a difference of opinion. Don’t ever apologize. It weakens you in front of others.”

But Tate rolled with it. I guess she figured that I needed her friendship more than she needed me to say I was sorry.

But all in all, I was positive of two things. She loved me, but she didn’t trust me.

She was chewing something as she spoke, and I heard a refrigerator door shut in the background. “I just wanted to make sure you got settled in okay and that you’re comfortable.”

I pulled my white cami back down over my stomach as I walked to the French doors. “Tate, thank you so much to you and your dad for letting me crash here. I feel like a burden.”

“Are you kidding?” she burst out, her voice high-pitched in surprise. “You’re always welcome, and you’ll stay for as long as you need.”

After I’d gotten in to Shelburne Falls last night—by plane and then by cab—I’d made quick work of unpacking all my clothes in Tate’s old room, showering, and inventorying the cabinets for any food I might need. Turned out I needed nothing. The cabinets and the refrigerator were crammed full of fresh food, which was weird, considering that Tate’s dad had been in Japan since May and would be there until fall.

“Thanks,” I offered, dropping my head. I felt guilty at her generosity. “My mom may warm up as the summer progresses.”

“What’s her problem?” Her honest question threw me.

I let out a bitter laugh as I opened up her white French doors to let the fragrant summer breeze in. “My police record doesn’t match her lily-white living room. That’s her problem, Tate.”

My mother only lived a few blocks away, so it was funny that she actually thought she’d escape gossip by not letting me stay at home while I completed my community service. Those Rotary Club bitches were going to be on her case either way.

That wasn’t funny. I shouldn’t laugh.

“Your ‘police record,’ ” Tate mimicked. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

“Don’t tease me, please.”

“I’m not,” she assured me. “I’m proud of you.”


“Not for breaking the law,” she was quick to add. “But for standing up for yourself. Everyone knows I’d probably have a police record if not for Jared and Madoc tossing their weight around. You make mistakes like everyone else, but if you ask me, that asshole Liam got exactly what he deserved. So, yes. I’m proud of you.”

I stayed quiet, knowing she was trying to make me feel better about dumping my boyfriend—kind of violently—after a five-year relationship.

But then I shook my head as I inhaled the clean morning air. Everyone may make mistakes, but not everyone gets arrested.

I could do better. A lot better. And I would.

Straightening my back, I held the phone with one hand and inspected the fingernails of the other.

“So, when will you be home?” I asked.

“Not for a couple of weeks. Madoc and Fallon left for a vacation yesterday to Mexico, and Jared’s at ‘Commando Camp’ until late June. I’m going to visit my father soon, but for now, I’m taking the opportunity while Jared is away to pretty up the apartment.”

“Ah,” I mused, staring absently through the trees to the house next door. “Here come the scented candles and throw pillows,” I teased.

“Don’t forget the frilly toilet seat covers and accent lamps.”

We laughed, but mine was forced. I didn’t like hearing about their lives that I hadn’t been a part of. Jared and Tate were going to college and living together in Chicago. He was in ROTC or something and was off on a training session in Florida. His best friend, Madoc—a fellow classmate of mine from high school—was married already and going to college in Chicago with Jared, Tate, and his wife, Fallon, whom I barely knew.

They were all some sort of little gang that I wasn’t a part of anymore, and suddenly a heavy weight settled on my heart. I missed my friends.

“Anyway,” she continued, “everyone will be home soon. We’re thinking of a camping trip for the Fourth of July, so do yourself a favor. Get ready. Be wild. Don’t shower today. Wear a mismatched bra and panty set. Go get a hot bikini. Be. Wild. Got it?”

Hot bikini. Camping. Tate, Fallon, Jared, and Madoc and their wild ways. Two couples and me the fifth wheel.


I looked across at the darkened house next door, where Tate’s boyfriend had once lived. His brother, Jax, used to live there, too, and all of a sudden I wanted to ask Tate about him.


I shook my head, tears pooling in my eyes.

Tate. Jared. Fallon. Madoc.

All wild.

Jaxon Trent, and all the chances he gave me that I never took. Wild.

The silent tears dropped, but I stayed silent.

“K.C.?” Tate prompted when I said nothing. “The world has plans for you, baby. Whether you’re ready or not. You can be either a driver or a passenger. Now get yourself a hot bikini for the camping trip. Got it?”

I swallowed the Brillo Pad in my throat and nodded. “Got it.”

“Now go open the top drawer of my dresser. I left two presents in there when I was home this past weekend.”

My eyebrows pinched together as I walked. “You were just home?”

I wished I hadn’t missed her. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year and a half.

“Well, I wanted to make sure it was clean,” she answered as I headed to the opposite wall to her dresser, “and that you had food. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay to greet you, though.”

Yanking open the drawer, I immediately froze. My breathing halted, and my eyes went round.

“Tate?” My voice squeaked like a mouse’s.

“You like?” she taunted, the smirk on her face practically visible through the phone. “It’s waterproof.”

I reached in with a shaky hand and took out the purple “Jack Rabbit” vibrator still in its clear plastic packaging.

Oh, my God.

“It’s huge!” I burst out, dropping both the phone and the vibrator. “Shit!”

Scrambling, I snatched the phone off the rug and hugged myself as I laughed. “You’re crazy. You know that?”

The delighted sound of her laughter filled my ears, and I had gone from tears to smiles in no time.

There was a time when I was more experienced than Tate. Who knew she’d be buying me my first vibrator?

“I have one just like it,” she said. “It’s getting me through Jared’s absence. And the iPod has angry rock music,” she pointed out.

Oh, that’s right. I peered into the drawer again, seeing the iPod Touch already opened with earbuds wrapped around it. She must already have loaded music onto it.

“It will help you forget that asshole.” She referred to Liam. The reason I was in trouble in the first place.

“Maybe it will help me forget K. C. Carter,” I teased.

Bending down, I picked up the vibrator and caught myself wondering what kind of batteries it took. “Thank you, Tate.” I hoped she could hear the sincerity in my voice. “If nothing else, I already feel better.”

“Use them both,” she ordered. “Today. Also, use the word motherfucker at some point. You’ll feel a lot better. Trust me.”

And then she hung up without a good-bye.

I pulled the phone away from my ear, staring at it as confusion shredded my smile.

I’d said “motherfucker.” Just never out loud.

“I’m sure you’re probably very nervous, but after the first day it will be much easier.” Principal Masters powered down the hallway at my old high school as I tried to keep up. “And after ten days,” he continued, “it will be as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.”

Inwardly, I admitted that I was never allowed to keep shoes long enough for them to get comfortable, but I’d take his word for it.

“I just don’t understand,” I said breathlessly as I jogged up to his side, trying to keep pace, “how someone with no teaching experience—no teaching education—is expected to bring eight kids up to speed for their senior year.”

It was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard.

When I found out that I was going to be sent home to complete my community service, I was a little annoyed and whole lot relieved. While I certainly didn’t want anyone finding out about the idiocy that got me arrested, I also had no place to live in Phoenix for the summer. Coming home had been a lucky turn of events.

Even when my mother told me I would be staying at the Brandts’ empty house instead of shaming her with my presence at our home, I still thought it was better than hanging around Arizona, knowing that my ex was in our apartment with someone else.

But teaching? Whose brain fart was that?

“You’re not teaching,” Principal Masters shot back, turning his head only enough so I could see the side of his face. “You’re tutoring. There’s a difference.” And then he stopped and spun around to face me. “Let me tell you something about teaching. You can have the best teachers in the world with the most scientifically proven resources that money can buy and a teacher will still fail. Students need attention. That’s it.” He sliced the air between us with his hands. “They need your one-on-one time, okay? You have eight seventeen-year-olds on your roster, and you will not be alone. There are other tutors and other teachers running summer sessions in the school. The cheerleaders and band members will be around here and there, and then we have our lacrosse boys on the field nearly every day. Believe me, the school will be packed this summer. You’ll have lots of lifelines should you need them.”

“Do you hold every tutor’s hand like this?”

He smiled and turned to keep walking. “No. But then, I don’t have any other tutors completing court-ordered community service.”

Ugh. I’d blissfully forgotten about that for five seconds.

“I’m sorry.” I winced. “I know this is an awkward situation.”

“A very lucky situation.”

I loved the pep in his voice. Our principal had always been easy to talk to.

“It must be ideal to be able to come home for the summer to fulfill your requirement. And in the comfort of a place you’re familiar with.”

Yeah, about that … “How did I get this project?” I ventured, clutching Tate’s brown leather messenger bag from high school that I’d found in her closet this morning.

“I asked for you.”

Yeah, but …

“Your information popped up in my e-mail,” he offered. “I knew you, trusted you—for the most part—and knew that you shone at writing. Ms. Penley still uses some of your essays and reports to showcase to the other students. Did you know that?”

I shook my head and followed him up the stairs to the second floor, where my new classroom would be.

I loved writing. Always had. I was shit when it came to oral presentations, debates, or telling stories, but give me a pen, paper, and some time, and my thoughts came together perfectly.

If only life could be edited like a story, I’d rock.

He continued. “And I also knew that you had experience counseling kids at summer camps, so it seemed like a good fit.”

My flip-flops slapped the smooth brick floors as we reached the second level. “But you said my information popped up in your e-mail?” I asked. “Who sent it to you?”

“I never knew.” He scrunched his eyebrows at me, looking curious. “I figured it was just a paper pusher with the Corrections Department.” And then he stopped in front of what used to be—or perhaps still was—Dr. Porter’s chemistry lab. “And that reminds me”—he wagged a finger—“your special circumstances do not need to be broadcast. I trust I don’t need to tell you that, but I want to make it clear. These kids are not to know why you are here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir. Of course.” I fisted the strap of the bag hanging over my shoulder, feeling embarrassed. “And thank you for trusting me with this.”

His blue eyes softened, and he shot me a small smile. “This will be your room.” He nodded to Dr. Porter’s lab and then handed me the file folders in his hand. “Diagnostic assessments telling you where each student stands, teacher notes, lesson plans, and worksheet master copies. Study up, and see you Monday, K.C.”

And then he left, leaving me to look around and get the lay of the land. I had so many questions. These kids were seventeen. What if they didn’t want to listen to someone who was only a few years older? What would I do with behavior problems? Of course, Jared and Jaxon Trent no longer went to school here, but I was sure other douche bags had replaced them. And why were we holding tutoring sessions for writing in the chemistry lab? Didn’t I need to be fingerprinted to work with minors?

Oh, wait. I had been fingerprinted.

I laughed to myself, figuring it was better than crying. How shit changes.

When you’re in high school, you think you’re so smart and plans will always work out. You think you’ll be on the road to success with money in your pocket and a busy schedule, because you’re so important, having become exactly the person you always wanted to be as soon as you leave high school.

What they don’t tell you is that you’re more confused at twenty than you were at seventeen. And looking through the window on the door to the classroom, I rubbed the chills from my arms, wondering if I’d be even more confused at twenty-five than I was right now. The road had been clear before, and now it was so muddy that I could barely even walk.

But walking was all I was going to do this summer. Since I’d lost my license for a year, I let Nik take my car to San Diego with her and took comfort in the fact that I didn’t have any friends in town—right now, at least—that would make it a burden for me not to be driving.

School and the gym. Occasionally the grocery store. Those were the only places I’d be going, and they were all a healthy, but manageable, hike from Tate’s house.

I decided to head back there, opting out of stepping foot in the classroom until I had to. I deserved my punishment, but that still didn’t make it easier to face spending all summer in a hot, musty building filled with people who didn’t want to be there any more than I did.

Leaving the school, I dug out Tate’s iPod and fit the earbuds into my ears. As I scrolled through the playlist, I couldn’t help smiling as I realized I didn’t recognize a single song she’d loaded.

I loved Tate’s taste in music, even before I met her. But over the years I’d gotten tired of battling my mother on the songs she’d hear coming from my room, and so I gave up. On all music. I rarely listened to anything, because her voice would always invade my thoughts and ruin it.

Clicking on Chevelle’s “Take Out the Gunman,” I cranked up the volume so loud my ears ached. But I still broke out in a huge smile when that sexy voice started and fireworks started going off in my chest. I couldn’t hear my mother in my head or anything but the thunder of music, making me laugh, making my heart beat, and making my head bob as I walked home.

The neighborhood streets were calm, the occasional car breezing past, and the sun on my legs felt so warm I realized how much I had missed my hometown in the summer.

The lush green trees looming around me, their leaves dancing in the breeze. The smell of lawns being cut and barbecues grilling dinner. The children racing up to the ice cream truck as it pulled over to the curb.

I loved it all, and for the first moment in a very long time, I was at ease. Even despite the trouble I’d gotten into.

I realized no one was waiting for me, no one was watching me, and no one was bothering me. Eventually my mother would call. Eventually I’d have to go to tutoring on Monday. And eventually I’d have to return to my political science major in the fall.

But if only for this moment, I was free.

And damn hot. I ran my fingers across my hairline, wiping off a bit of sweat. That’s one thing where Arizona wins out over Shelburne Falls. Less humidity there.

But I’d dressed as smart as I could. I’d worn a white crochet skirt that made my tanned legs look so much more awesome than they actually were, but I kept it conservative on top with a thin, button-up white blouse. The stickiness on my back was already too much. I unbuttoned the shirt and pulled it off, slinging it over the messenger bag and leaving me in my white cami.

My dark hair hung down past my shoulder blades, and now that it was getting windblown and sweaty from the walk, I wished I’d pulled it up.

Stepping over the curb, I walked across the empty street and suddenly felt my heart plummet into my stomach.

Oh, no.

Looking over the vast green lawn of the town park, I saw Liam’s Camaro parked in front of Applebaum’s Bagels. Liam. My ex-boyfriend who cheated on me twice and was supposed to be staying in Phoenix for the summer. Shit!

My head fell back, and I closed my eyes. Fuck my luck.

My teeth clenched, and every damn muscle in my body was charged.

But then I jumped, startled. A sudden jolt of vibrations tingled my feet and shot straight up my legs.

I opened my eyes and turned around to see that I’d stopped in the middle of the street I’d been attempting to cross before Liam’s Camaro grabbed my attention. I blinked, staring wide-eyed at a car—actually, a ton of cars—as they just sat there, staring back at me and waiting for me to move my ass out of their way. How long had they been there before I noticed?

Chills ran up my spine, and I shivered, Liam forgotten. I barely noticed the other muscle cars. All I saw was the one in the lead. The black one staring at me through blacked-out windows.

The Mustang GT.

Jaxon Trent’s Mustang GT.



I wasn’t expecting that. Not for one minute did I think Jax would still be in town.

I hurried to the other side of the street, locked in a weird daze as Chevelle pounded in my ears. Turning around, I watched his Mustang just sit there.

What was he doing?

Finally he revved the engine and cruised past slowly, car after car, all tricked out, following in his wake.

My dry tongue suddenly felt like a scrub brush in my mouth. More cars zoomed by me, blowing my short skirt across my thighs, and I felt as if I’d gotten caught in the middle of a damn parade.

What the hell was this?

Some of the vehicles I recognized. Since Liam, Jared, and Tate all used to race at the Loop, I’d learned at least a few things. Like Jax’s car was a Mustang, and I knew it was still Jax’s car, because I noticed his license plate still read NATIVE on it. The car behind it was Sam’s, a guy who graduated with me. It was a Dodge Challenger, but I had no clue what year. There was another Mustang, a Chevy SS, and a couple of older Fords and Pontiacs.

And then there were some very out-of-place ones.

Subarus? Hyundais? Was that a MINI Cooper?

Jax’s brother, Jared, would rather eat his own tongue than be seen with these cars. And they were all pimped out, too, with weird paint and huge spoilers on the back.


But there were a shitload of them. I just stood there, staring, as car after car roared past me, all of them making their own distinct sounds as their engines sent vibrations down to the pavement at my feet, and up my body, making my belly hum.

I clenched my thighs and winced, disgusted with myself.

I was not wet.


But I was. I was so completely turned on that I couldn’t remember the last time my body had burned like this.

I looked over once more, watching Jaxon Trent’s Mustang round the corner and disappear.

I spent the next few hours trying to keep as busy as possible. No friends, no car, not a lot of money, and I was restless as hell. And idle hands were the devil’s plaything.

Boredom was the root of all trouble, and apparently trouble was still living right next door.

What the hell was wrong with me? I hadn’t even seen the guy yet. He hadn’t even stepped out of his car, and all my brain wanted to do was wonder about him. Picture him. In his car. Dressed in black as he usually was. Touching me to that Chevelle song. What did he look like now?

When I finally got home, I changed into workout clothes and went to the gym, determined to kill some calories in kickboxing class. And then I stayed in the sauna, hoping to drain myself of every sexual impulse I’d had today.

For the most part, it worked. I was breathing evenly now at least.

As soon as I got back to the house, I showered, slapped on a little makeup and dried my hair, and then picked through my clothes for some sweatpants and a tank top.

Until I saw some of Tate’s clothes still in the drawers.

I smiled, reaching in and snatching out a pair of cutoff jean shorts. I slid them on, loving the way they felt so comfortable and still looked cute as hell. They were baggy, hanging off my hip bones, but they weren’t too long or too short, either. Pulling on my pink tank top, I looked in the mirror, wondering what my mother would say. She thought cutoffs were sloppy, and although she liked Tate, she stressed that her music and her style were not to be duplicated.

But she wasn’t here, and if no one was going to see me, then no harm done.

I spent the rest of the night sprawled out on the living room floor, eating mac ’n’ cheese and poring over the files Principal Masters had given me. Although he’d given me lesson plans, I typed up some K.C.– friendly instructions of my own on my laptop, adding a couple of journal activities I loved doing in my own classes at college. Sessions would be Monday through Thursday from eight fifteen to noon, and tutoring would end mid-July. After that, my hundred hours would be complete, and I’d be free for the rest of the summer.

I’d been staring at the same sentence for about five minutes when I let my head fall back and closed my eyes, completely pissed off at the noise outside.

The raucous party next door had begun as a dull hum two hours ago, but now it was a hodgepodge of laughter, squeals, thunderous engines roaring in and out of the neighborhood, and constant explosions of music that felt as if bombs might actually be detonating under Tate’s house. I gritted my teeth together and grumbled to no one, “I can’t believe no one in the neighborhood complains about this.”

I shot off the area rug, heading for the windows in the dining room to take a look at what was going on, when I heard pounding on the front door.

“Juliet?” a singsong voice called. “What light through yonder window breaks?” The familiar words made my heart flutter, and I smiled.

“Romeo, Romeo,” I called, doing an about-face for the front door. “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

I yanked open the door, reached for my cousin Shane’s hand, and let her pull me into her body and then dip me backward so that my back arched and my hair caressed the hardwood floors.

She held me tight. “Your nose hairs need to be trimmed, cuz.”

I popped my head up. “Your breath smells like a dead person.”

She swooped me back up and plopped a kiss on my cheek before walking past me into the living room.

“How are you?” she asked, acting as if it hadn’t been a year since we’d seen each other.

“Peachy. You?”

“Nothing that a few drinks or a bullet to the head won’t cure.”

I hesitated as I watched her crash into the armchair and slouch. Even though we rarely saw each other since college had started, we talked at least once a week and over time her jokes made me more and more uncomfortable. Those little comments were pretty constant.

Shane was my only cousin, and since we were both our parents’ only children, we grew up close. I appreciated her way with words and her easy humor, but it still didn’t erase the suspicion that she was aching to leave home and spread her wings.

“Careful,” I warned. “I may actually start worrying about someone other than myself.”

“That would be new,” she teased, folding her hands over her stomach. “So … are you really okay, Juliet?”

She was the only person who called me by my real name—Juliet Adrian Carter. Everyone else called me K.C.

“I’m fine.” I nodded, sitting back down on the floor and spreading my legs around the laptop. “You?”

“Better now that you’re home.”

Shane graduated this year and would be off to college in California in the fall. But even there, she wouldn’t have much freedom. Her parents only agreed to pay the out-of-state tuition if she lived with her grandmother—on her father’s side—in San Francisco.

Shane was less than happy, but she rolled with it. Although I think she liked Shelburne Falls—she had lots of friends—she was looking for an environment that had more than a ten percent African-American population.

Her dad was black. He loved it here and from what I gathered, he was comfortable, but Shane craved more diversity, more culture, more everything.

She cleared her throat and leaned on her knees. “What are you doing?” The question sounded like an accusation.

I looked up into her stunning hazel eyes. “Getting ready for my community service. I’m tutoring incoming seniors this summer.”

“I heard.” She still stared at me as if she were confused. “I meant why the hell are you holed up in the house when for once in your life Liam or Sandra Fucking Carter doesn’t have you on a leash?”

“You know I love you,” I started, “but I have a nice, peaceful house and a vibrator upstairs. I’m good,” I joked. “Besides, do you really think I should go looking for trouble, Shane?”

“You won’t have to look far.” Her taunting voice sounded sexy. “Has it escaped your notice that a party has commenced next door?”

Ah. Now I got it. I looked at her attire, noticing the skintight black miniskirt and the white tank top. Unlike my tank, though, hers had sequins around the neckline and in one long strip down the front. With her café au lait skin, dark, straightened hair falling below her shoulder blades, and her legs that went on for days, she was stunningly beautiful.

I wondered if Jax ever noticed her, but I shook my head clear. I didn’t care.

“No, it hasn’t escaped my notice,” I mumbled. “I think the vibrations of the music are shaking the foundations of this house, actually.”

“Well, I’m going. And so are you.”

“No, I’m not.” I let out a bitter laugh and unwrapped a piece of spearmint gum, sticking it into my mouth. “Jax is trouble, and I have no desire to be over there.”

“Yes, you do. Everyone wants to be over there. And every girl gets along with Jax.”

I couldn’t help it. I looked up and shot her what I was sure was a nasty little scowl. But I quickly looked back down again. Images of Jax screwing those two girls a couple of years ago flashed through my mind, and I thought of everyone else he’d probably had since then, and I …

I fisted the gum wrapper.

Why did he affect me so much? Jaxon Trent was just a cocky kid who had liked to push my buttons in high school—but for some reason my damn body had more of a reaction to him than the boyfriend I’d had for five years. And even though I didn’t consider what he might or might not have been doing while I was gone, I damn well couldn’t stop thinking about it now.

Oh, Christ. I hope Shane had never slept with him.

I almost asked.

“Well, I don’t,” I grumbled. “Jax was always bad news. Does he even go to college?”

“To Clarke,” she answered quickly, and I blinked.

Clarke College?

It was local. Close enough for him to live in Shelburne Falls. But it was also private and had very high ratings for its academics. Shame warmed my cheeks for assuming he wasn’t college material. He was, and he was in a much better school than I attended.

“So he still lives next door year-round with Katherine?” I ventured.

“No, she married Madoc’s dad last year and moved into his apartment in the city. She gave Jax the house when he graduated from high school.”

So that was Jax’s house now.

I closed my laptop. “What’s with all the cars outside?”

Her full lips, painted a glossy red, spread in a smile, showing off her perfect white teeth. “A lot’s changed, Juliet.”

“Trying to be cryptic? What the hell’s changed?”

She shrugged. “It’s hard to explain,” she said, leaning back and resting her arms on the sides of the chair. “You just need to see. We’re going to the party, and you’re going to have fun.”

I shook my head. “Neither of us is going over. I’m keeping my nose clean, and you’re severely underage and without a party buddy.”

Her eyes practically twinkled. “Oh, no,” she gasped, putting her palm to her chest. “I can’t be without a party buddy,” she said as she stood up.

I stared at her. “What are you doing?”

She inched past the chair toward the entryway, smirking with her hand still on her chest. “Without a party buddy, I might do something moronic,” she teased, still moving away, “like take a mysterious drink laced with GHB from a tattooed ex-con who wants to take me upstairs to introduce me to his buddies!” She opened the door as I scrambled off the floor. “Bye,” she yelled.

And then she bolted out the front door, slamming it shut.

“Shane!” I growled, scurrying after her.

Damn, damn, damn! I pulled open the door, darted out to the porch, and … shit! Spinning around, I dived back into the house and shoved my feet into my black flip-flops that were lying in the entryway.

Yanking open the door again, I ran outside, leaping over all the steps on the porch and landing on the brick walkway.

Ugh, that girl!

She was gone. Twisting left and then right, I didn’t see her sparkly white top anywhere. She was already at the party, and I sucked in breath after breath, trying to calm the tornado in my stomach.

Eighteen. Without a buddy. And the closest person I’d had to real family in a long time. All good reasons to go get her.

I looked down at my outfit. Sloppy and disheveled, in clothes that hung on me, hair kinky with the natural wave that I hadn’t straightened out after my shower and barely any makeup on.

Well, the good thing was I’d push off any unwanted attention. That was for sure.

I stomped across the lawn, feeling the sharp blades of grass poke my ankles. The sun had set an hour ago, but the wet heat still hung in the air, and my back suddenly cooled with the light layer of sweat already coating it.

The long driveway was packed with cars—two rows, five deep—and the street was a damn parking lot. I recognized most of the cars I’d seen earlier. Different makes and models, some with loud paint and design work, others calm, clean, and sleek-looking. There were even cars parked in the middle of Fall Away Lane, as if the neighborhood residents wouldn’t need their own street to drive on tonight.

I noticed that the garage—which sat on the other side of the house—had been extended from a two-car to a three-car, and the house had been refreshed with new white paint, although the shutters had been changed from navy blue to black.

My ears perked up when a new song started, and I actually recognized it. “Heaven Knows” by the Pretty Reckless. Nik had listened to it a lot at school.

Partygoers were scattered about as I walked onto the porch and stepped through the open doorway, trying not to think about the last time I was here.

But then I couldn’t think about anything as I immediately deflated and gawked at the inside of the house.

Oh, my God. Wow.

More than the exterior had been upgraded. My eyes darted up, down, and all around as I took in new, bold paint making the house so much more inviting, and the carpet in the living room that had been torn away to reveal shiny hardwood floors. Everything in the rooms that I could get a glimpse of was made to accommodate a bachelor and his parties.

Three huge flat-screens lined the wall in the family room where the pool table still sat. The furniture in the living room had been replaced with deep leather couches and more flat-screens, and as I peered to the back of the house, I could see glimpses of a renovated kitchen as well.

“A lot’s changed, Juliet.” Shane’s voice came back to me. Yeah, so it would seem.

Katherine Trent—or Katherine Caruthers now—had kept a nice house before, but this was … well, I didn’t know how to describe it.

Loaded? Indulgent? Hot. Definitely hot.

I liked the red walls in the living room, the midnight blue walls in the family room, and the cappuccino-colored walls in the foyer. I liked the black-framed prints of Native Americans wearing various headdresses and jewelry on the walls leading up to the second floor, and even though black leather couches usually creeped me out, the ones in the living room weren’t cheap. They were deep and lush, and expensive looking. Everything looked so well kept and clean.


I spun around, coming face-to-face with Liam.

And I swallowed my fucking gum.

I winced, not even trying to hide the look. The sight of his blue doe eyes and polite expression gave me a sudden urge to breathe fire in his stupid, fat face. Was this seriously happening to me right now?

He stood in the doorway, holding hands with the very same redhead I’d caught him with at the club last week. She had on a black, strapless dress, and her hair was full of volume and looking sexy as it fell around her.

Great. And I picked today to get rebellious with my appearance. I shook my head at the irony.

When he’d cheated on me in high school, I’d taken him back. Stupidly. I felt as if I’d done something wrong—something to push him away—and he’d honestly seemed sorry for what he’d done. After seeing how Jared had treated Tate through most of high school, I was actually grateful to have a boyfriend who brought me flowers when I was sick and who put up with my mother’s attitude.

When I caught him cheating again a couple of weeks ago, I was done.

“Liam.” I sighed, trying to look bored. “Doesn’t Jax hate you? Why are you here?”

His face fell, and it was the first time I’d been glad for Jax’s contempt toward Liam. Although I was also insinuating that Jax was fine with me being here, which might not be true, either.

“Everyone’s here, K.C.” Liam stuck his other hand in his pocket. “This is Megan, by the way.”

“I’ll let you know when I give a shit,” I mumbled.

He continued, ignoring me. “I brought her home to meet my parents.” Don’t care. “We’re moving in together, K.C.”

My knees damn near buckled, and I let out a shocked laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”

Megan arched an eyebrow, looking dissatisfied that she had to tolerate my presence, and Liam hooded his eyes, totally not laughing with me.

I immediately straightened. “Wow, I’m sorry.”

“Excuse me?” Megan snipped.

“I mean, I’m sorry in advance. For when he cheats on you,” I explained. “Do you really think that he won’t?”

She smiled, looking smug, as if she knew something I didn’t, and I locked my hands behind my back, fingering my scar.

“Men who are unsatisfied cheat,” she taunted me. “And from what I hear, you were very unsatisfying.”

And I stared dumbfounded as she pretended to take a dick into her mouth and start gagging.

I barely saw Liam give her a dirty look. All I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears while her pompous smirk leveled me. She was imitating me. Liam had told her …


The room was too crowded, and I rubbed my upper arms, trying to erase the chill even though embarrassment warmed my cheeks. They just stood there, staring at me, and it was my turn to act, but I locked my mouth shut, searching my blank mental arsenal for what I should do next.

But I had nothing. I was unsatisfying. I was pathetic to him. What was I supposed to do now? What was I supposed to say?

Tate. She would know what to do.

“You couldn’t even give a decent blow job, huh?” Megan baited me.

Say something!

Goose bumps broke out over my arms, I was so cold, and I blinked long and hard. So cold.

But then a rush of heat hit my back, and I gasped, my eyelids fluttering with the sudden warm relief.

“Liam,” Jax’s voice greeted him as he wrapped his arms around my waist and engulfed me in the soothing furnace of his skin.

“Jax,” Liam muttered, his voice unfriendly. I opened my eyes to see his gaze shooting between me and the man behind me, probably wondering what the hell was going on.

Hell if I knew.

Glancing down, I saw Jax’s same beautiful hands and long fingers, smeared with grease, locked in front of my waist. I brought up my hands and clasped his forearms, much thicker than they were last time I’d seen him.

I didn’t know why he did it. All I knew was that I wasn’t hurting right now, and I wasn’t alone and feeling stupid.

He took my movement as an invitation and pulled me closer into his chest.

“How’s it going?” he asked Liam.

“Fine,” Liam answered, still looking between Jax and me suspiciously. “You?” he asked back.

I noticed Megan staring over my head at Jax, the hint of a smile on her lips.

“Fine,” Jax answered in a flat tone. “But your new girlfriend is acting like a bitch, and it’s pissing me off. If she upsets K.C. again, she’s out.”

A breathless laugh escaped my chest, and I clamped my hand over my mouth. Oh, my God!

Megan’s eyes flared, and Liam just stared at Jax, shaking his head as though he wanted to lunge for him.

But he knew better. This was Jax’s house, Jax’s party, and Liam knew if it came to a fight, no one here would be on his side.

Heat spread across my face, and I dropped my eyes, knowing damn well they looked too pleased at what was happening. I wasn’t supposed to like a guy throwing his weight around for me. I shouldn’t want Jax to protect me. I should do this myself. But what the hell?

Liam looked between us and then grabbed Megan’s hand, twisting around and leaving.

As they both disappeared out the front door, Jax dropped his arms slowly, his hands running down my bare arms before his touch disappeared altogether. I couldn’t help feeling disappointment.

I was cold again.

Turning around, I folded my arms over my chest, putting on my game face. And forced down the sudden golf ball lodged in my damn throat.


My eyes used to meet his neck, but now I stared at the wall of his chest. His strong-looking pecs and wide shoulders made me feel very, very small. No wonder I’d felt so warm a minute ago. His body would be like a blanket on mine.

And then my stomach flip-flopped, seeing that his nipples were pierced.

Well, that was definitely new.

He sported two barbells, one on each pec, and I suddenly felt as if I were on a roller coaster.

I scowled, wondering why I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I didn’t like nipple piercings, so what the hell?

Then I forced my eyes into a convincing—I hoped—little scowl and finally looked up.

Blue Hell arched an eyebrow at me, and I deflated. Not a damn thing had changed. And yet everything had changed.

While I was away, Jaxon Trent had become a man.



Only his hair was the same. Still as dark as black coffee but with a gorgeous shine. His face was still smooth and clean-shaven, but now it was more angular with chiseled cheekbones, a straight, narrow nose, and full, sculpted lips.

And his straight black eyebrows only emphasized the bluest eyes ever born to a human being. You could see those jewels from fifty yards away.

I knew that for a fact.

He was bare-chested, of course, and the cuts and dips of his abs and slim waist were hard to look away from. But I’d look away, scowl, glance back real quickly, and then look away again. His arms were a lot bigger than the last time I’d seen them.

He was huge.

And nineteen.

And a troublemaker.

And scary.

I dug in my eyebrows as deep as I could manage and met his gaze again.

His lips were tilted in a smile. “Don’t worry. I know.” He sighed, cutting me off before I could speak. “You’re an independent woman who can fight her own battles, blah, blah, blah, and et cetera. Just say thank you.”


He thought I was mad about the Liam episode. That worked. I arched an angry eyebrow for extra effect, not saying thank you.

He smiled, probably amused by my defiance. “You looking for your cousin?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Come on.” He took my hand.

The car grime on his hand rubbed into mine, and I held him firmly, a smile that I wouldn’t set free tickling the corners of my mouth.

I liked how it felt. Sandy, gritty, alive.

Everything had always been clean for me. Every moment of my life had been manicured, pedicured, and scrubbed. My clothes always matched, my fingernails were always clean, and my biggest decision was whether I should buy the silver ballet flats or the black ones.

Now Jaxon Trent’s dirty hands fused with my sweaty palms, and I wondered how good his dirt would feel everywhere else on my skin.

I glanced around me, noticing people noticing us. Their eyes visibly taking in the sight of Jax holding my hand behind him, at which point a confused look would appear on their faces. A couple of people seemed surprised, and a few others—women, mostly—scrunched up their noses or looked away, annoyed.

I squeezed his hand one last time—hard—because I never wanted to let it go, and then I yanked my hand quickly away. Jax only looked back for a second, probably to make sure I hadn’t run off.

“This is ridiculous,” I grumbled as I followed him through the kitchen. “Isn’t there a maximum capacity in a house like they have for restaurants and elevators?”

Jax ignored me as if I’d asked a rhetorical question. We slithered through the crowd, stepping aside as three young men crashed through the back doorway.

“Shane comes around quite a bit,” he said. “But don’t worry. No one messes with her.”

“Not even you?” I ventured, following him into the backyard.

Please say that you haven’t screwed my cousin. Please, please, please.

He kept walking, turning his head only slightly. “Especially not me.”

I exhaled, trying to keep my cool and my thoughts together. Until I took a look around. The backyard was insane, and I couldn’t help gawking.

“Uh, I …” Was that a Jacuzzi? “I just came to take Shane home. Back to Tate’s, I mean.”

“I figured.”

I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he was nodding. His ponytail rose and fell on his spine. “See?” He turned and gestured through the gate. “She’s fine.”

But I barely registered my cousin sitting in a lawn chair, talking closely with another girl.

“What the hell?” I burst out, my eyes burning from not blinking.

No wonder it felt as if Tate’s house was shaking! The party next door had spilled over into her backyard.

“K.C.!” Shane smiled with eyes full of mischief as she sat cross-legged on the lawn chair. I noticed that she had a Solo cup in her hand, but to be honest, my head was elsewhere now.

The old wooden fence that had separated Jared’s and Tate’s backyards was now gone.

It had been replaced with an awesome-looking wall of aged red bricks, pierced to leave small empty spaces for looking through. Each three-foot section of the brick wall was interrupted by a brick column, a lamppost sitting on top of each one. Where you would have to hop the old dowdy wooden fence before, you could now simply walk through a solid wooden gate to venture into the next backyard. Thus making two spaces into one.

Apparently Jax was using both yards for his party tonight. How had I not noticed the new fence when I got here? And how had I not noticed the party practically on top of me when I was inside Tate’s house working? And how was Jax, who was only nineteen years old, getting all this liquor? And how the hell was he paying for all this stuff!

Shane had resumed her conversation with the girl she’d been talking to, so I let her sit tight as I followed Jax into Tate’s backyard to the array of car parts spread out on a folding table. Several men sat looking over the machinery, inspecting, taking things apart, whatever.

I shook my head, in a daze. “Jax, what the hell do you have going on here?” I asked quietly.

It wasn’t my intention to sound uptight or accusing, but I was concerned. All this took money. Lots of it.

I knew Jax was skilled and smart, especially with computers, so I’d never doubted that he’d do well for himself. I’d overheard him saying once that a person’s entire life was online. You could control it or be vulnerable to it.

And you didn’t have to know Jax well to know he liked control.

But to have all this? So young?

He picked up a tool and looked to be continuing work that he’d been in the middle of. “How do you mean?” he asked.

He was caging.

Jax had never confided in me. I’d never given him reason to think I cared, but I did know that his dad was in jail for abusing him, his mom wasn’t in the picture, and he had spent much of his life in the system. Until, that is, his half brother, Jared, had started taking an active role in his life.

Shortly after, Jared’s mom assumed custody of Jax, and they’d all been a family ever since.

But now she’d remarried, moved out of town, and from the looks of it, Jax was surviving very well on his own.

Noticing lots of people sitting close by in lawn chairs, I approached the table and spoke quietly. “This house has been renovated. You have a ton of expensive electronics in there, and you have to have close to a half million dollars’ worth of cars sitting out on the street. Who the hell are all these people?”

His brother’s parties used to boast only half as many guests. It had certainly been less impressive but a lot more comfortable than this chaos.

Jax threw down a tool, picking up a Phillips-head. “They’re my friends’ cars, not mine.”

I stood there, studying him.

He looked up and locked eyes with me, letting out an annoyed sigh. “Okay, I’ll slow down, K.C. First, a friend is someone you enjoy sharing time with. Someone you’re nice to that you trust—”

“Screw you,” I said, sneering, folding my arms over my chest again.

“She gets arrested,” a girl off to the side laughed, “and she still thinks she’s so superior.”

What the hell?

I lost my breath, hearing snickers and snorts go off around the area as everyone reacted to what she’d said.

Everyone knew?

“We got a noise complaint!”

I jumped, twisting around to see two uniformed police officers standing in the open gate.

Chatter stopped, and everyone popped their heads up, eyeing the two officers dressed in black.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and felt the sweat on my forehead. Shane and I were underage at a party with alcohol. My mother would disown me if there was another call from the police.

Or maybe they’d just shut down the party. Hmm … that’d work for me. Shane safe, and me away from trouble.

“Hey,” Jax greeted, and then turned back to his work.

I narrowed my eyes, watching his long fingers work.

“Okay, you can go back to your partying now.” One of the cops waved everyone off, chuckling at his own joke, and others followed suit, laughing and beginning their conversations again.

“Hey, man.” The same cop who had just spoken came up to the table and shook Jax’s hand. “I brought Tim by to see the Evo.” He jerked his thumb to the young-looking officer behind him.

Jax spoke lightly, gesturing with his chin. “In the garage. Go ahead.”

The cops walked out, acting oblivious of the underage drinking, the packed street that had to be a fire hazard, and the huge amount of party noise coming from the house.

I turned to Jax, completely and totally confused. “What the hell is going on?”

“A lot’s changed, Juliet.”

Yeah, no shit, I thought. Jared got a ticket or two for noise complaints for his parties. Why not Jax?

He stopped working and cocked his head, taking me in. His gaze dropped down my body, over my tight pink tank top and Tate’s shortish cutoffs. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, I tucked my hair behind my ear and then shoved my hands into my pockets, averting my eyes from his scrutinizing gaze.

But then I sucked in a breath as Jax reached over and pulled my hair back out from behind my ear.

“It was perfect before.” His voice sounded gravelly as if his mouth was dry.

He held my eyes, and I swear I felt high from his presence. I wished he wouldn’t look at me. I wished he hadn’t touched me. I wished he didn’t always knock me on my ass every time we were near each other.

Tossing down his tools, he spoke loudly. “Everyone clear out for a minute. Go get another drink.”

And I watched as all the guys dropped their toys, and others stood up from their chairs, scraping the legs against the brick-paved ground. Looking over, I saw Shane watching me as she walked out, her eyebrows raised and licking her lips to hide a smile.

What did that mean?

I turned to leave, too, but Jax caught my arm. “Stay.”

He let go and walked around, coming to stand in front of me and then leaning back on the table as he spoke.

“Do you remember when we met?” His soft voice reminded me of chocolate. “I told you that I was old enough to unravel you. Do you remember that?”

I swallowed and looked away. Yeah, I remembered. I’d played out that conversation so many times in my head.

How his eyes ate me up that night. How he wanted to give me a ride home. How I ignored Liam’s calls and fell asleep thinking of the new kid in town. My body warmed as I thought about it. It was the first time I’d ever slept naked.

He gave a gentle smile and looked down. “Man, I wanted to unravel you, K.C.,” he whispered, and then looked me straight in the eye. “I wanted inside you so badly.”


I reared back, but he caught my hand, holding me.

Please don’t do this.

He caressed my fingers with his thumb, and my eyes fluttered at the tingles spreading up my arm. His soothing voice, his touch, his gentleness …

He barely whispered and my heart hurt, it was pounding so hard. “I wanted to make you come so hard that you’d lose that little sneer on your face forever,” he said softly. “I wanted to taste how wet you were for me. I wanted you underneath me, writhing and sweaty and begging.”

I closed my eyes, my chest tight. Writhing. Sweaty. That wasn’t me. I’d never please him.

He continued, standing up and moving flush with my chest. “I used to fantasize about pinning you against the lockers at school and running my hand up the inside of your thigh, hearing your whimpers.”

My knees shook, about to buckle, and I felt the warmth between my legs. He needed to stop.

“I wanted your mouth on mine,” he whispered, his breath tickling my forehead. “And your legs wrapped around my waist as you rode me.” Oh, my God. “Man, I wanted you, K.C. I wanted to undo you.” His lips were so close to my face I could feel the moistness of his breath as he whispered, “I wanted to dirty you up.”

And then he grabbed my wrist, and I gasped before clamping my mouth shut again. His hand was fire on my body, and my breath shook as he leaned in, almost touching my lips.

“But then I got to know you.” His voice grew hard and clipped and my wrist ached where he squeezed. “You’re gutless and helpless and I’ve never met anyone so desperate to get out of her own skin.”

And then he yanked my wrist in between us, turning up the inside to reveal my two-inch scar. Running his thumb over it, he scowled down at me, looking disgusted.

Tears burned my eyes.

He knew. How did he know?

Pressing my teeth together so hard it hurt, I glared at him, yanking my hand out of his grasp.

Backing away, I pushed away the tears and hardened my jaw, determined never to show him defeat.

And as I walked out, back through Jax’s house, I didn’t even break pace as I grabbed an abandoned drink off the kitchen table and threw it on an amplifier before I left. I vaguely heard it fizzle, white static filling the room, as I walked out.



I sat on the edge of Tate’s bed the next morning, running my thumb back and forth across the jagged scar on the inside of my wrist that lay in my lap. It was long and thin but well hidden, running diagonally on the inside of my wrist.

Gutless and helpless. I shook my head slowly, feeling a cold tear land on my arm.

Jaxon Trent was an asshole.

Everyone thought they had me figured out. Jax, Jared, Madoc, Liam, my mother … everyone.

Everyone except Tate and Shane. They were the only family I really had, because they were the only ones who knew everything.

“I’ve never met anyone so desperate to get out of her own skin.”

I tucked my long hair behind my ear and sniffled. He was right about that. Immediately the memory hit me as if it had just happened yesterday.

“Katherina, come here,” my father calls. He sits by the window, wearing blue lounge pants and a robe.

I chew on my nails, looking up at my mother, scared. But she doesn’t look back. Why won’t she look at me?

I’m four, and they don’t tell me what’s wrong, even though I keep asking. All I know is that my daddy can’t live at home anymore. His hair is messy, and he never had a beard before.

“Katherina.” He waves me in with his hand, wanting me to come.

“Daddy, I’m Juliet,” I mumble, and my mother pinches my back.

My lip shakes, and my face hurts. I did something wrong. When I do bad things in public, she pinches me, because she says she can’t yell at me.

I see my daddy’s face look sad, and I drop my hands, because I want him to love me. “I’m just kidding.” I smile as big as I can. “I am Katherina.”

And I run to the safety and love of my daddy’s arms, holding on tight, even though he thinks I’m my sister.

I couldn’t believe it, and I hated to admit it, but the asshole was right. I wasn’t my dead sister, Katherina, and what was worse, I didn’t even know who the hell Juliet was anymore. I barely existed.

What ice cream did K.C. like? Because I’d just eat that so I wouldn’t confuse my father’s happy delusions. Did I have to wear Mary Janes to church every Sunday just because they were K.C.’s favorite shoes? I hated Mary Janes, but no, I was supposed to like them, so I decided just to like them and forget about it. What did I want to be when I grew up? Or, wait. What did K.C. want to be? Because Daddy liked to talk to her about that, and I had to try not to upset him.

In death, my sister was perfection. She never bit her nails, acted up, or listened to bad music. She was beautiful, perfect, and alive. Juliet was the dead one.

I trailed around in a daze, having slept barely at all the night before, and stripped off my pajama shorts and cami as I stepped into the bathroom. Turning on the shower, I climbed in, my heavy limbs moving only as much as they had to, weighted down with fucking defeat.

Gutless and helpless.

I dipped my head back and shivered as the hot water poured welcome heat all over my skin. The weather outside was hot and wet, and I kept the temperature inside at eighty degrees, not wanting to run up the Brandts’ electric bill while I stayed here. But even though it seemed I was constantly wiping sweat off my brow, I wanted it hotter. I turned the faucet, increasing the temperature from a pleasant thaw to a fever, and I didn’t care if it was almost too much. I wasn’t cold anymore.

“… writhing and sweaty and begging.”

I tilted my head, leaning it on the shower wall and closing my eyes.

“I wanted to taste how wet you were for me.”

Sucking in my bottom lip, I felt the fire pool between my legs, and my head felt as if it were floating.

It could’ve been the heat of the shower. Or it could’ve been the memory of his breath on my face. It had smelled like apples and pears and rain.

Like summer. How could anyone’s breath smell like summer?

“I used to fantasize about pinning you against the lockers at school …”

Reaching down, I slid my hand up the inside of my wet thigh, the urge undeniable. I should’ve let him have me in high school, but I was afraid he’d rip my life apart. I was afraid he’d confuse me. And here I was, just as confused as ever, and I should’ve let him screw me. Ten times a day, whenever he wanted, because at least I would’ve been Juliet again, and I would’ve felt something.

I brought my hand up between my legs and ran my middle finger along my slit, rolling my hips into my hand.

Oh, God, that felt good. I breathed hard, rubbing my hand faster.

I was at least grateful for one of the things my mother had encouraged. Waxing. I’d opted to get it all removed. I loved it, and I wondered if Jax liked that sort of thing. My fingers rubbed against the smooth skin, and the pressure built in my belly with the pleasure of skin on skin.

My fingers slipped inside my folds, and I reached up and held one of my breasts with the other hand, wishing it was his hands squeezing and kneading while his tongue swirled around my cunt.

Shit. I just said “cunt.”

I never said words like that, but Nik constantly used them, and somehow it didn’t seem out of place right now.

I groaned, swirling my fingers around my clit, feeling the hard nub pulse like an automatic weapon. I wanted him.

Jax’s tongue was on me, and the hot spray of the shower doused his body in shimmering droplets. I wanted to lick them all.

But he was doing all the action right now. His tongue darted out to lick and play over my hip, up my stomach, and then stopping to French-kiss my breast before he stood up straight. Grabbing me by the back of my hair, he stared down at me as he whispered into my mouth.

I want your legs wrapped around my waist as you ride my cock.

“Oh, God,” I cried out, swirling my clit faster and faster. “Yes.”

I was throbbing and on fire, and I wanted what I had never wanted with Liam. Leaving the water running, I climbed out of the shower and hurried for the bedroom, dripping all over the rug. Yanking open the bedside drawer, I pulled out the vibrator and crashed onto the bed, lying on my back.

Spreading my legs, I turned the dial as far as it would go, and I heard the buzzing getting louder and louder. Working the head around my clit, I gasped at the swirls of pleasure filling my stomach.

Holy shit!

I started feeling little waves rolling through my belly. My eyes fluttered closed, and I arched my back off the bed, wanting more, needing more.

Oh, God.

Rubbing the vibrator over my entrance, I bit my bottom lip. The tantalizing vibrations felt so good.

“Oh,” I groaned, feeling the quakes and quivers inside my body.

“I wanted to dirty you up.”

“Jax.” My voice shook as I pumped the cock around my entrance, never going in, but just massaging and teasing. My legs shook with the pleasure of what was happening inside me.

“Oh, God!” I screamed, spreading my legs wider.

Heat poured out of me, and I wanted this more than I’d ever wanted anything. The deep vibrations pulsed in quick hums inside my womb.

Oh, God. Faster, faster, faster …

I arched my back and moved the tool up and around, rougher and rougher, massaging my clit.

“Oh, God. Fuck!” I cried out, shaking and sucking in air as the cyclone between my legs racked through me. “Yes!”

I came, gasping and moaning as I reached up and fisted the hair at my scalp.

My arms ached with exhaustion, and I slowly relaxed my eyes that were squeezed shut.

Jesus. I blinked, seeing the white ceiling come into focus.

What did I just do?

“You know, if you could talk to me at some point in the foreseeable future, that’d be greeeeat, mkay?” Shane imitated the guy from Office Space as she trailed me in the school hallways Monday morning.

“Why are you even here?” I asked, sounding just as annoyed as I felt. It was eight o’clock in the morning on my first day of tutoring, but Shane was on summer vacation with no reason to be here other than to be a pain in my ass.

“I’m transitioning the new cheer captain.” She smiled. “I’ll be around tons.” The snarky arched eyebrow was meant as a threat, and that was when I finally noticed the spandex shorts and sports bra she was wearing.

Ugh. Damn. Damn, damn, damn, damn. I thought I’d be safe at school at least.

Ever since the party last Thursday, she’d been on my case to give her the scoop on what had happened with Jax.

No comment.

I’d buckled down, prepared for tutoring, and spent my remaining days of freedom at the gym or lying out tanning in the backyard, although that was uncomfortable, since the brick wall made it easier to see through. Jax had come out in the backyard yesterday and immediately shoved all his friends back into the house when they interrupted my tanning. It wasn’t like Jax to do anything to make me comfortable, but I appreciated it, even though I promptly got up and went inside anyway.

Luckily that was the only time I’d seen him, though. I’d heard his car in the mornings and in the middle of the night, coming and going at odd hours, but that was the thing. It was constantly coming and going. The guy hardly sat still and once he was home, he’d turn around and leave again minutes later.

I’d resisted the urge to peer out the windows, and I’d been avoiding Shane and texts from Tate and my roommate, Nik.

“Look,” I said, grabbing the doorknob to the chem lab. “I’m sorry I’ve avoided you. I’m nervous, okay?” And that was true. I was practically squeezing the life out of the strap of Tate’s messenger bag. “Just give me a couple of days to get settled in. We can do dinner Wednesday night. Sound good?”

Shane twisted her full lips to the side, looking displeased, but I couldn’t help it. Jax’s hateful words from the other night were still flowing through my mind, an ever-present whisper, and to make matters worse, I masturbated to him the very next day. Seriously?

Right now a nice, long walk with Tate’s iPod sounded like heaven. It was really the only company I wanted.

“All right.” Her mumbled answer took some weight off my shoulders. “Do you want a ride home? I get done at eleven. I’ll stick around,” she offered.

“No.” I shook my head and smiled. “I’m actually enjoying the walks.” Looking forward to them was more like it.

She gave me a playful sneer, her hazel eyes amused. “But it’s so hot. Really?”

“I like the heat.”

“Do you?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief as she backed up, walking away.

I smiled. Yeah, I guess it was weird. At first I thought that living in Phoenix got me used to the high temperatures, but Shelburne Falls was a different kind of heat. The thickness of the air saturated everything with moisture. It was wet, and it made every pore on my skin sensitive and aware. I was constantly conscious of the way the hem of my coral-colored skirt brushed across my thighs and the heat pouring off my chest made my shirt stick to my skin. The back of my neck was already damp, and although I was glad that I wore a light white sleeveless blouse, I wished I had pulled my hair up instead of leaving it down. Brushing it over one shoulder to lie on my chest, I turned the knob and walked into the classroom.

The smell hit me right away, causing me to stop. I hadn’t been in a classroom in this school in two years, and that smell took me back to bittersweet memories. The whole school smelled the same. Like basketballs and construction paper. I inhaled, suddenly feeling alone but at home. I had nothing I had the last time I was here. No boyfriend. No best friend. But it was here that I was last happy.

“Hi, Ms. Penley,” I said right away, trying to appear less nervous than I was.

“K.C.!” She smiled one of those smiles where you can see both rows of teeth. “It made my summer when I heard you’d be helping me out.”

I nodded, looking around the nearly empty lab. A few other students—or possibly tutors, judging from the fact that they had files like mine—sat at tables around the room.

It was weird to see Ms. Penley in here, since her literature and writing classes were always in a standard classroom. This room made my legs stiffen with fear, whereas Ms. Penley’s usual classroom made my toes curl with comfort. Chem lab was my least favorite place, because I hated science. Luckily I’d had Tate to get me through those classes.

“Well.” I shrugged. “I just hope I can be of help.”

She waved me off. “It’ll be fine,” she assured me. “I’ll be in the room, and there are three other tutors here as well. That’s why we’re in the lab. Lots of room.”

I nodded, it finally making sense.

She continued talking as she organized files on her desk. “You’ll be sitting at a table with four students. We’re going to spend the first half hour or so reviewing the basics: gathering and organizing their ideas, main idea and supporting details, and the revision process. Most of these students still need a lot of practice on forming a thesis statement. You already have their diagnostic assessments.” She stopped to look at me. “So when we break into groups, I want them to each share a sample paragraph and discuss how it could be made better. I simply want them to analyze their work today, and I want them to see how their work compares to others’.”

That sounded easy enough. “Got it.”

Scanning the room again, I noticed all the other tutors seated on their own, so I headed for an empty table and unloaded my bag. I glanced up at the clock next to the door and counted down three hours and fifty minutes until I could leave. I’d have two sessions, each lasting an hour and forty-five minutes with four students in each session. Some kids were here for more than just writing, so they’d rotate to physics, English, or whatever math class they needed. And as icing on the cake, we’d all get our fifteen-minute snack or Facebook break.

One of the tutors—I think his name was Simon if I remembered him correctly from when we were in school together—smiled at me, and I nodded a greeting back.

Students trailed in, most of them later than the eight fifteen start time, and I let my eyes wander as some took their seats. I recognized a few kids, but I didn’t know any of them. They had just been finishing their freshman year when I’d graduated.

Did I look that young only two years ago? Did I wear that much makeup?

As Ms. Penley began her lecture, showing examples over the classroom projector of what excellent papers looked like, I noticed that barely any of the kids paid attention.

This must be hard for her. Some of the kids clearly just didn’t care. They covertly played on their phones under the table. They whispered to one another, ignoring Penley. They doodled in their notebooks.

And I remembered that that was what I did in my science classes in high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I’d just gotten tired of struggling.

So I stopped trying. I did enough but no more.

Now I wished I tried more and wasn’t so afraid to put myself out there. Maybe if I had reached out for new experiences, I’d know what I wanted to do with my life. Now my options felt limited, because I’d held myself back in high school, and I was two years into college political science classes that I couldn’t just throw away.

I wanted these students to know that their education gave them choices. It was a valuable time.

Penley wrapped up her lesson and then directed the students to their tutors. I stayed where I was, leaning my elbows on the table and forcing a relaxed smile as one boy and three girls came to sit down.

“Hi, I’m K.C.,” I greeted.

The guy held up his pointer finger but didn’t make eye contact. “Jake.” And then he buried his face in his hands and let out a loud yawn.

Jake might be on drugs.

I looked across the table to the three girls. I knew one of them. The younger sister of a somewhat friend from high school whom I no longer kept in touch with. The other two were strangers, but all three of them looked at me as if I were the hair in their soup.

That was one thing that didn’t make me nervous. I had no trouble standing up to women in my own generation.

I kept staring at them, eyebrows raised in expectation.

The dark-haired girl finally spoke up. “I’m Ana. This is Christa and Sydney.”

Sydney I knew. Her sister was sweet. She looked like a little shit, though.

She had long auburn hair, parted on the side and hanging in big, voluminous curls down her back and over her chest. Her stunning brown eyes brought out the red tint in her hair, and her makeup and nails were perfect.

Ana’s beautiful Asian complexion glowed alabaster and her long, shiny black hair and dark eyes were flawless.

Christa had short blond hair cut in a bob with a severe angle. Although the wallflower out of the group, I knew from knowing Tate that those were usually the ones to show their awesomeness later.

All of the girls were dressed the same. Shorts and tank tops.

I smiled calmly. “Nice to meet all of you.” I took out their diagnostic assessments—compositions they wrote at the end of the school year, including their outlines and rough drafts—and handed them their own papers. “So we’re supposed to each share a sample paragraph and discuss what improvements we could make. Who would like to go first?”

No one budged. Jake sat next to me, looking as though he was ready to fall asleep. Ana looked away while Christa and Sydney smirked, challenging me.

“Anyone?” I asked, a grin tickling my face. I remembered my classes when no one would volunteer. Now I knew what being a teacher felt like.

I held up my hands. “I’ll read it if someone wants to give me their paper. This time.”

Jake shoved his paper in my face, still not making eye contact.

“Thank you, Jake.” Relief flooded me.

I cleared my throat, reading out loud. “What do you do when you’re hungry? You might go through a drive-through or hit the store. For eight hundred and forty-two million people in the world, they can’t get food that easy.”

I cleared my throat again, hearing the girls across from me snicker.

“That was a good opening paragraph.” I nodded, keeping my voice light and looking at Jake even though he wasn’t looking at me. “Asking a question right off the bat is a solid way to grab the reader. And I like your voice.”

“He’s barely talked since we sat down,” Sydney joked. “How can you like his voice?”

“I meant the tone that comes through in his writing,” I explained as if she didn’t already know. “Expressions like ‘hit the store’ when most people would say ‘go to the store’ or ‘drive to the store.’ That’s his personal voice. It makes the writing sound natural.”

I caught Jake out of the corner of my eye, looking at me. I turned to him, wanting to be as kind as possible. The truth was, he needed a lot of work. His word choice was boring, he used adjectives when he should’ve used adverbs, and the sentences flowed like mud.

But I wasn’t going to lay all that on him today.

“Two suggestions, though: The statistic you wrote wasn’t cited. Readers won’t know where you got that information and they won’t trust it if you don’t tell them the Web site, article, or text to which you’re referring.”

“ ‘To which you’re referring,’ ” Sydney mimicked, and the paper crinkled in my hand.

“Is there a problem?” I asked, calling her out.

She rolled her eyes and whispered something to Christa.

“Another thing,” I continued, trying to ignore her, “is that there is some passive language h-here,” I stuttered, noticing Christa laughing into her hand and Sydney stealing glances at me. “You might want to spice it up,” I tried to continue to Jake, “by saying—” And when all three of the girls laughed together, I stopped.

“What’s going on?” I tried to keep my voice down.

The girls brought their hands down and folded their lips between their teeth to stifle smiles. Christa sighed sympathetically. “I’m just not sure why we’re being tutored by someone that got arrested.”

Son of a …

I narrowed my eyes and sat up straight. How the hell did everyone know? My mother definitely didn’t tell anyone. And Principal Masters most certainly didn’t tell anyone. What the hell?

“Everything okay here?” Penley stopped at our table as she circulated.

My chest fell with a hard sigh. “You might want to say ‘For eight hundred and forty-two million people in the world,’ ” I continued to Jake, “ ‘the solution to hunger proves more difficult.’ Using words like ‘is,’ ‘was,’ and ‘am’ is weak, so we try to use other verbs to make it sound better. Do you understand?”

Penley moved on to the next table, and I glared across the table to see that all the girls were concentrated on something out the window.

Jake shrugged. “I guess. So I have to go back and rewrite the whole thing?”

I shook my head, smiling. “Not today.”

“Oh, my God!” Christa bounced off her chair and leaned across the counter underneath the window, peering out. “He’s got his shirt off!” she whisper-yelled to her friends.

They scrambled out of their seats, Ana nearly falling in the process as they raced over to the window, giggling.

I shook my head, slightly amused, to be honest. I kind of missed being boy-crazy.

Sydney turned to her friends. “My sister says he’s even better without his pants on.”

One of them bounced up and down, while the other whimpered.

I wondered who they were talking about, and then I remembered Principal Masters saying something about the lacrosse team practicing every day.

Walking to the windows, I stood next to the girls and looked outside.

My shoulders sank, and I groaned. Fuuuuuuck. My heart suddenly felt as if it were too big for my rib cage as I watched a half-naked Jaxon Trent running around and rolling on the field as everyone horsed around with the water bottles.

“Damn, he’s hot,” Ana whispered, smoothing her hair as if Jax could actually see her. I felt like yanking her by her collar and sitting her ass down. He wasn’t a piece of meat.

But I swallowed that urge. Gazing out the window, I watched Jax and the rest of the team grab their Gatorades and collapse on the grassy field, the sweat on their chests shiny from the sun’s angry glare. His hair was wet, and he worked those long black shorts like a pro. I clamped my mouth shut before I whimpered.

He sat there, smiling and talking to a teammate, and I loved how even from here I could see his heart-stopping blue eyes.

He seemed oblivious that three teenage girls were gawking at him before he fell backward onto his back, resting.

“Girls,” I choked out, my mouth as dry as jerky. “We’ve got work to do. You’re here for a reason. And I’m here to help.” I held out my arm, gesturing for them to come back to the table.

But Sydney didn’t budge. “No, you’re here because you’re a fuckup, too,” she shot back. “We’re going to the bathroom.”

And I watched as all three of them grabbed their purses and left. Scowling up at the clock, I gritted my teeth, noticing that I still had three whole hours left.

Luckily session two passed more smoothly. After Jake and the girls left, I got a group of three male students, and I relaxed right away, noticing that boys were a hell of a lot easier. Men simply wanted to do whatever you wanted them to do so you’d shut up. There was no arguing, no cattiness, and no chitchat. Other than some minor flirting, the only problem was disinterest.

It was going to be a long-ass summer.

At noon, all the students filtered out of the room to enjoy the rest of their summer day, and I finally reached into my bag to check my phone.

Four texts. No, five.

Tate: Jax not happy! You blew out his speakers? LOL!

Great. I’d given her hell about cutting Jared’s electricity to shut down one of his parties. I was never going to hear the end of this.

Another from Tate. Heads up. Jared will be calling when he gets time. He needs to ask you something.

Hmm … okay.

Nik: Bored. Sooooo bored. Where are you?

I giggled quietly, missing my friend. I was about to dial her but decided to check my other messages first.

Mom: We need to meet for lunch this week. Call this evening.

Lunch? I grabbed the bag, swinging it over my shoulder as I walked out of the room, staring at my phone. Why did my mother want to have lunch?

When I got in trouble, she did nothing to help me. She had spoken to me only as much as she had to to let me know that I was not staying at home while I completed my community service. I’d felt alone and abandoned.

Now dread sat in my stomach like a ton of bricks, and the last thing I wanted to do was call her.

Checking the last message, I halted in the middle of the hallway.

Liam: Jax jumped me last night. Keep your new boyfriend away from me, or I go to the cops!!


I dropped my arm and just stood in the empty hallway, probably looking as confused as I felt. Holding up the phone, I read the text again.

Jax jumped Liam?

Why? And why was Liam complaining to me about it?

Fisting the phone, I shook my head. Whatever. This was their problem. Not mine.

If Jax wanted to act like a child, that was on him. If Liam wanted to have the police laugh in his face, since they were obviously in the palm of Jax’s hand, then let him.

Dumping the phon