Authors: Courtney Kristel
Copyright © 2015 by Courtney Kristel
Table of Contents
This book is
dedicated to all of the readers that want to hide away, cry, or
scream at the top of their lungs. It may not always be easy, but it
does get better. Keep holding on. Life is beautiful, including the
A special thanks to my
very first reader, my sister Heather. Thank you for believing in me
and pushing me to follow my dreams. Words can never describe how
grateful I am for you being here for every step of the way, every
word I typed, and every thought I had. Because of you, this story
came to life. I love you.
Thank you Dad for
helping me make my dream a reality. You have always helped me with
reaching every goal of mine. You are the best dad a girl could ever
ask for. I love you Daddy.
Monica, you are as much
to thank for this story being finished as anyone else. Your love for
the characters was the push I needed to finish. Thank you for all of your nagging and staying up until 4am reading the first draft. Now it’s your turn to see what I put Heather through. Love you big sis.
Twinsy, thank you for
being you. I am so grateful that you would always listen to my
ranting even though you had no idea what I was talking about. Thank
you for stepping in when I needed you the most. You will forever be
the first person to ever know my dream to write.
My wonderful editor,
Stacy Juba, THANK YOU! Your insight has helped me tremendously.
Without you, I would have ripped my hair out. You’ve made this
whole process so much easier. Thank you for all of the wonderful
feedback, emails, and comments about the plot twist.
The fantastic cover
couldn’t have been done without the amazing designer, Danielle
Hurps. Thank you for the numerous cover designs, and all of the other
artwork. You’re incredibly talented.
Connor nods to the
left, indicating that Jax is striding our way. Stubbornly I stare
straight ahead, refusing to face the man who has destroyed me. I wave
my hand at my family, conveying that now is not the time for me to
“You’re here to
celebrate my last meet of the year, not to force me to talk to him,”
I mutter to Connor.
Connor doesn’t say
anything as he walks the short distance to my family. Connor bends to
whisper something in Hadley’s ear. Her thirteen-year-old self jumps
up and down, giddy to do Connor’s bidding.
His footsteps become
louder the closer he gets. I breathe deeply, enjoying my last breath
of fresh air until he leaves. The Thai aroma almost brings a smile to
my lips. I really wanted greased-filled pizza, the kind that is so
delicious you know it’s blocking your major arteries, but because
he’s here I wanted to make him suffer. So of course I chose the one
food he hates. I even gave him a vindictive sneer when he searched
the menu for something he would be able to stomach. Once he’s near,
his scent will invade my senses like it always does; everything will
disappear leaving only Jax. I can’t let that happen, not anymore.
Because of what he did, I can never forgive him. I have to forget the
love I still feel for him.
My brother says
something to Dad, but I don’t catch it. I’m too focused on
listening to the way Jax’s steps sound on the concrete. He’s
almost near me. I go for indifference as my Mom studies my reaction.
I fear she’s aware of why I’m suddenly anti-Jax, but she has yet
to voice her suspicions. I used to stay up late at night wishing that
Jax would change, crying into my mom’s lap while she ran her
fingers through my hair, consoling me for something I can’t be
honest about. My wishes never came true. I should have known that
Jaxon Chandler would ruin me.
I slide on my
sunglasses even though it’s cloudy. The rare Southern California
storm has arrived. Hopefully it’s gone by tomorrow, or the barbecue
my parents have planned for my seventeenth birthday won’t happen.
Not that I’m in the mood to celebrate. Every spring, for the past
eight years, I’ve looked forward to my birthday for one reason.
Jax. He always sneaks in and gives my present to me in private. Our
tradition is now broken, like us.
I check whether anyone
is watching us. They’re not, their attention glued to my little
sister showing off some ballet move. Without turning to see if he’s
following me, I stalk behind the Thai restaurant. His footsteps thud
against the pavement.
He starts in as soon as
we’re deep enough in the alley that my parents won’t hear me
I whirl around, eyes
blazing. “No! You lost the chance to call me that when you stepped
onto the plane.” I stab my finger into his hard chest. “You lost
the chance to ask ANY questions! You have no right to speak to me!”
His arms hover over me,
as if he wants to touch me. He’s fighting the same battle I am. If
he pulls me into his arms, I’ll melt into him. His pretty words
will wash over me; everything will disappear. Jax isn’t the sun,
he’s the darkness, preventing me from shining. I can’t let him in
Decision made, I step
away. His arms fall to his sides. “Why are you here?” I demand.
“Please give me the
chance to explain. You stopped taking my calls, you’ve locked your
window. You leave when I come by.”
I laugh. “So you
thought ambushing me earlier, at my swim meet and in front of my
family, was the right choice? You thought if I laid eyes on your
handsome face, all would be forgiven? I HATE YOU, JAXON! Nothing you
can say will ever make me forgive you.”
He drops to his knees
in front of me. His hands dig into my hips as he looks up at me. I
wipe my angry tears away. I won’t cry because of him. Jaxon
Chandler has been the reason for too many of my tears. No more.
“I’m here. Doesn’t
that count?” he says against my stomach.
We’re standing in
front of the dumpster. The stench should be overwhelming, but all I
smell is Jax. I torture myself with the woodsy scent, hating that I’m
enjoying his close proximity.
It takes a second too
long for my legs to carry me away from his touch. “It’s too late.
You should have stayed in New York.”
I shake my head as I
back up. “I never want to see you again. I’ll be fine without
you.” I grab my iPod from my pocket.
“I want to—” His
words die as I insert my earbuds and leave the alley.
Coldplay blast in my
ears, blocking out Jax. I lean against the brick wall of the
restaurant and watch my family in the parking lot. My heart stops
when I feel him behind me. He makes no move to touch me. He leans
over until his breath pours over my bare shoulder.
His nearness still has
the same effect it always has on me. I shouldn’t have given him
such power over me. He makes me feel helpless. I can’t be the
lovesick teenager anymore. I have responsibilities now. I allow
myself to breathe him in before pushing off the wall and wandering
back to my family.
Each step takes me
further from the man I love.
As much as I hate him,
I can never regret us.
“There you are,
Adalynn. Where have you been?” my mom asks as I reach the car.
My spine stiffens. I
know we’re going to fight. That’s all we do now. I hate fighting
with my parents, but I can’t tell them the truth. I promised myself
if he got on the plane then we would be over. All he is now to me is
Logan’s best friend, a guy I have to avoid at all cost. He has no
right to be more.
I never meant to fall
in love with my brother’s best friend, but twelve years ago I fell
for his charming smile. As the years went by, little by little I
allowed him into my heart. I thought he was my knight in shining
armor. I was wrong. As I settle into the backseat of my dad’s Range
Rover, I have only one thought.
Chandler will be the death of me.
Six years later . . .
Every Tuesday is the
same for me. I work at the bakery in the mornings, go to my therapy
appointment in the late afternoon, and finally I have dinner with the
guys. The only thing that changes is the location. I live a simple
life, well, as simple as I can manage after causing my parents’ and
sister’s death six years ago on my seventeenth birthday.
My body automatically
tenses. I stare at the blank eggshell walls in my penthouse and shove
those memories in the back of my mind before they can haunt me. I
tell myself to relax, but no matter how many times I try to get
comfortable on my suede couch, I can’t seem to unwind. Ed Sheeran
plays in the background, but the solace I usually feel listening to
the calming music is missing. My hands itch to do the one thing that
will bring a peaceful calm over me. I visualize using the sharp blade
I keep taped underneath my sink, feeling the cold of the steel as it
nips my skin. I can practically see the blood dripping down my thigh.
I slap those images away, too. I’m not that girl anymore.
As soon as I woke up
today, I immediately knew something was off. I can’t put it into
words; it’s something that I can feel all the way to my bones. I
haven’t been able to shake off this sensation all day. I try
concentrating on anything but today’s date. It’s almost as if my
mind is in a war with my heart. My soul won’t let me forget and my
mind attempts to push me past it, to move on. Something changed
between the time I closed my eyes last night and when I opened them
I’ve been in and out
of therapy ever since the accident. My brother, Logan, insists that I
continue to see Olivia White since I have made “noticeable
progress” with her over the other therapists that I have seen since
the accident. If he has to go out of town for work he leaves either
Connor or Jax, his two best friends since childhood, to babysit me.
In other words I’m not to be left to my own devices.
Within these last six
years, Logan has become less of a brother and more of a parent. He
moved me from California to Manhattan, sent me to college for a
business degree, and bought me a penthouse in walking distance from
his place. I refused to move in with him after graduation so he made
sure that he didn’t have to wait in New York traffic to visit me.
He feels better knowing that I’m close, so I don’t fight him on
Before the accident I
wouldn’t have stood for Logan treating me like I’m made out of
porcelain. After? I allowed it because I didn’t care about
anything. Now I’m starting to crave the independence I gave up to
my brother without a fight.
He takes protectiveness
to a whole new level. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had one of my
doctors insert a GPS tracker in me. I can’t really blame him,
though. I’m the reason that we have no family and he’s almost
lost me twice. He won’t allow there to be a third time.
It’s my night to host
this week’s dinner. The boys had to leave for an emergency at the
office, but promised to bring dinner. I already laid out the white
plates that Logan bought me when he purchased the penthouse.
Everything in here is white, just the way I like it. The only color
comes from a painting, mounted above my couch, that the interior
designer snuck in. It’s a shadow of a girl holding a bright yellow
umbrella while the storm rages on, falling from the dark, unforgiving
night sky. I allow it to stay because I can’t care about pointless
decorations when all my energy goes into not giving up.
I’m antsy, counting
the minutes since the guys left. Once they return, they’ll distract
me. They’ll buy Thai food to please me, even though Jax hates it,
they’ll paint smiles on their faces, and not voice what’s on
everyone’s mind. Today, May 21, six years ago, my life was consumed
by darkness, stealing my every promise of a happy future.