Authors: Missy Johnson,Ashley Suzanne
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Contemporary Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2015 by Michelle Johnson and Ashley Smith
by Missy Johnson and Ashley Suzanne copyright © 2015 by Michelle Johnson and Ashley Smith
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Missy Johnson and Ashley Suzanne. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
eBook ISBN 9781101886656
Cover design: Caroline Teagle
Cover photograph: © Deposit Photos
How is this all going to work? Nobody’s going to understand.
I’ve talked to my cousin Zara, but not about this. She’s my best friend, but she wouldn’t be able to get this. How could she, though? She might be mature enough to date a college guy, but to handle something like this? I know I’ve laid too much on her.
“Zar, it’s okay. I’m going to be okay. Just finish your associate’s and get up here next year. We’ll have a blast,” I tell her, lying through my teeth. She’s going to come to Northwestern in the fall, but I won’t be there. I won’t be anywhere.
With my luck, I’ll be gone. Just a distant memory.
“Karly, something’s wrong. I know it. Please tell me what happened. Please,” she begs. I want to let her in, but I’ve already given her too much. To divulge more would do more harm than good. I’m protecting her from what a cruel world this is. That’s my job as her older cousin.
“Really, I’m fine. I’ve gotta get off the phone, though. I have a paper due in Denali’s class bright and early, and I’m only a few pages in. I’ll call you tomorrow night, okay?”
“Yeah. Okay,” she responds, not wanting to let me go but knowing she has no choice.
“I love you,” I say, emphasizing every word. I don’t want her to remember this conversation, except that small phrase. I need her to know that I love her like she was my own sister.
“I love you, too. Call me after classes. Maybe Mom will drive me up this weekend.”
“Sounds good, lady. Bye.”
I hang up the phone and take a look in the mirror. My long, dark hair is perfectly parted down the middle, my lips are painted red as blood, and the classiest dress that I own hangs off my slender frame. Taking a few deep breaths, I stand on the small stool I carried to the basement. Even though I want to cry, I can’t. My eyes, too swollen from crying through the night, have no more tears to shed. I rub the small knot in my stomach, say a silent prayer, and place the rope around my neck.
“At least this way I’m the only one to get hurt. Nobody else has to suffer,” I whisper to myself as I kick the stool out from under me.
It’s only seconds before my head starts to get cloudy and I immediately regret my decision. I panic, because I don’t want to die. But then I remember why…and I finally have the peace I’ve been searching for since I found out I was pregnant.
He can’t hurt me. Hurt the baby. Hurt Zara. She’ll go on with her life and do amazing things. When she reads the letter she’ll know I was pregnant. I’m keeping her safe from a pain she should never have to experience.
A small smile appears across my lips just before the world goes black.
NE YEAR LATER
I’m standing outside room 203 in the English building of Northwestern University, clutching my schedule in my shaking hand. It’s my first day and I’m late—but that’s the plan, right? To walk in there with all eyes on me? I’ve been through this moment so many times in my head that I shouldn’t be nervous, but I am. Being the center of attention isn’t my thing. That was more Karly’s forte.
Think about her. Remember she is why you’re doing all this.
The reassurance helps a bit, and I take a deep breath as I force the thick wooden door open. My heart catches in my throat as twenty pairs of eyes turn to stare at me. Well, twenty-one, if you include
He’s the entire reason I’m here.
He puts down the stack of papers he’s shuffling through, stands from the desk, and walks over to me. There’s kindness in his light blue eyes and I see nothing of the monster that I know he is. I force myself to focus. I straighten my posture and wordlessly hand him my registration form.
“Okay, guys, it looks like we have a mid-semester transfer. Everyone say hello to Zara Hamilton.”
His words are met with a half-assed chorus of greetings, and I already know this is going to be hell. When I’d switched high schools in the middle of a term, it’d been terrible, so why should college be any different? Not to mention that classes have been in session for a few weeks and most of the students in this class are juniors, having been together for a few years now; so for me it’s like the first day of school, but even worse. I’m the new kid walking into a room full of people that have already had a chance to get to know one another.
“There’s an empty desk in the back next to Melanie.” I was hoping the class sizes would be larger, maybe in a lecture hall, so I’d have a chance to blend in a little better until I got my head wrapped around a plan, but this will have to do.
He nods with a sympathetic smile and points in the direction of my seat. At least I’m in the back and have the advantage of keeping a watchful eye without him noticing. However, I can already tell I’ve commanded his attention from the way his eyes look away when I confront them with my trademark cold stare. Looks like I won’t have that extra time like I’d hoped, after all.
“Come see me after class so we can discuss what you’ve missed so far and play catch-up.”
I’ve probably done more than half these kids will in their senior year of college, let alone in this junior-level lit class. I’d piss myself if one of them even knew who Mr. Darcy was.
I retreat to the back of the room, ignoring the scowls from the girls and the inquisitive stares from the guys. I sink into the seat and rearrange my books as I listen to his voice. My heart is beating so fast I’m sure the chick next to me can hear. I wipe my sweaty palms on the sides of my skinny jeans.
God, why am I so nervous?
I’m an army kid, which goes hand in hand with different places and new faces. I’ve had years to prepare for this. It should be nothing new for me, but it is. Everything is different this time. I’m twenty-one. I’m an adult, able to walk into a store and buy as much wine as I can afford, but still, each time I transfer somewhere new, it feels like I’m that shy, nervous ten-year-old all over again. This is what drives the point home. If she were still here, I’d at least have someone to confide in, but that’s a moot point. She’s gone, and I wouldn’t be here if she were still alive.
So here I am, at Northwestern University in the lakefront town of Evanston, just north of Chicago, and everything feels so wrong. Karly’s sarcastic tone rings loudly in my head, telling me to quit whining and just get on with things.
But if she were still here, I wouldn’t be doing this. Granted, I’d always planned on transferring to Northwestern, but not until I was done with all my prerequisite classes at the community college back home. I’d also be taking as many credits as possible toward getting into law school and not dicking around, pretending I’m interested in an English major.
“So, we’ve discussed the main plot of the novel. Now we need to search out the subplots. What else was going on? Do the secondary characters possess any outstanding characteristics that would encourage…” How is this even warranted as a curriculum for a third-year student? I can remember doing this when I was in high school. At least I know I’ll ace the class—not that it matters, anyway.
Before he has a chance to finish giving out the assignment, the majority of the class begins shuffling around, gathering their belongings, and walking toward the door.
“Okay, I guess our time for today is done. Finish the last five chapters before we meet on Wednesday.” A few students groan as they’re leaving. I take this as my cue as well.
I’m surprised at how quickly time passes. When the room is completely empty, I gather all my belongings and toss them into my bag. Taking a deep breath, I slowly stand and move toward his desk. He’s watching me with a curious expression. I half smile, drop my bag to the floor, and sit on the desk in front of his…legs crossed like a lady, of course.
“So, Zara…that’s a rather unique name.”
“Is it?” I raise my eyebrows. “Nothing seems unusual anymore. The girl at the gas station on the way here had a name tag that said Joya. You have stars calling their babies things like North West.
is normal in comparison.”
“Fair point,” he says and laughs. It’s an engaging laugh that makes me want to smile, but I don’t. “So, your transcripts say you were taking classes at a community college and were supposed to transfer in at the beginning of the term. Why are you just now arriving?” His brow furrows.
“Personal reasons. I’m very lucky I didn’t have to wait until the beginning of the next term.” Truth be told, I barely mustered the courage to show my face here. I had panic attacks for weeks, my mom begging me to stay behind and go to a state school, but I remembered why I was doing all of this. So, I put my big-girl panties on, gave myself a pep talk, and drove across two states to get here. And I was very lucky. Had the admissions director not known Karly I would have been sent packing, but the man felt pity for me, which worked out in my favor.
“Your high school transcripts have credits from all over the place. Why’d you move around so much?” he asks.
“Army brat,” I nonchalantly say. To anyone with common sense, that’s all the explanation needed. Service members don’t stay in one place for too long, and neither do their families.
“Ah.” He nods, getting it right away. “Must be hard packing up your life all the time.”
Back it up, sir. I’m here to get in your head, not the other way around.
I shrug, not liking where this is going. My life is just that…mine. I don’t need anyone poking his nose around where it doesn’t belong.
I’m here to do one thing, and I won’t let his attempts at kindness distract me from it. Gotta keep the target locked in the crosshairs.
“It gets easier. I’ve already read through the syllabus for this class and I’m pretty confident I’m going to rock it.”
He raises his eyebrow and leans back in his chair.
“Is that so? Don’t get too cocky. I’ve heard I can be a pretty hard professor.”
So I’ve heard, you perverted fuck.
“I’m not cocky. Just confident,” I say, my voice cool. “If that’s all, may I be excused? I’m supposed to meet with my counselor before she leaves for the afternoon.”
He stares at me for a moment and then nods. “We’ll be analyzing
Pride and Prejudice
on Wednesday. We spent last week reading the material, so if you need the extra time to catch up to everyone, that’s fine, just don’t take too long. There’re a few sheets that go along with the book to document the characteristics of each character. You’ll need to get with a partner for those notes. It will be required for the final at the end of the semester.”
This is his version of hard?
I’ll eat him for breakfast.
“Thanks, Professor Bain, but to be honest,
Pride and Prejudice
is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it at least five times. Thanks for the heads-up, though. I’m sure I’ll be able to help anyone else that falls behind. Who knows, one of these boys could end up being my Mr. Darcy.”
I wink at him and walk out of the classroom, leaving him behind, lost for words. Most twenty-one-year-olds don’t read, let alone read the classics. Or for fun.
Zara: 1, Professor Bain: 0
I stare down at my bland cafeteria lunch, my breathing erratic. It took forever, but I finally found a table away from the prying, curious eyes of the other students…where I can sit and eat…alone. Not that I’m hungry, though. I’m too anxious to eat…too worked up. I’m sure anyone close enough to hear my accelerated breathing and my heart pounding away faster than a drum line would think I’ve completely lost my mind—but I don’t care. Now that I’m here, this whole thing has suddenly become real. I’m more shocked that I was able to channel my inner Karly and remain calm and collected. I send a silent prayer thanking her for the strength to get through my first class with him.
I’m actually doing this. Months of planning and I’m actually at Northwestern, in his class, living out my calculated plan of revenge on the person I hate more than anyone else in this world; the person who stole my best friend…my cousin…right out from under me without any warning at all.
Even his name makes me feel sick. I’m honestly surprised I was able to be so close to him—alone with him—for more than a few minutes without ramming a pencil through his eye. But death would be too easy. He needs to pay for his mistake. I just need to figure out the best way to go about this. There really are a lot of options. Maybe I’ll just sit back and let the situation resolve itself, and if he turns out to be the creep I know he is, he’ll fall right into my trap and half the work will be done for me.
I push my tray across the table, unable to stand the sight of food right now. I need just a little while to calm down. I hate that he’s being so nice to me. It doesn’t change anything, though. This morning, before I actually laid eyes on him, there was just a small spark. Now, after having heard his voice, I can picture him saying all those things to lure Karly, then trying to break her. Who am I kidding? He didn’t just try, he succeeded. And now that tiny spark has turned into a flame so large it’s capable of engulfing me whole.
I’m going to destroy him—it’s the one thing I can do to try to get some justice for Karly. I’ll be sure she comes out the winner. He doesn’t get to live his happy little life while she’s rotting away in a box six feet under. She deserves more.