Authors: Michelle Kemper Brownlow
Table of Contents
In Too Deep
“As a reader, I want to feel something in the hours after I’ve finished reading, and Michelle has done that with In Too Deep. A high-emotion, beautifully written, bittersweet love story, In Too Deep is a book I will recommend time and time again.” ~Jillian Stein,
“IN TOO DEEP takes an important, often neglected, topic and brings it front and center in this debut novel from Michelle Kemper Brownlow ... I guarantee there will be moments you want to throttle most of the characters. But, the story is also all too real, and you will FEEL it. That’s a promise.” ~Elizabeth,
Swept Away by Romance
“I sit here speechless, awed, and deeply moved by Michelle’s ability to provoke such intense emotions for not two, but three incredibly dynamic characters. I have never read a book that kept my emotions in such a constant state of turmoil while promising a truly beautiful ending.” ~Jeneé Gibbs,
Jeneé’s Book Blog
“I think that Michelle Kemper Brownlow needs a standing ovation for In Too Deep. It focuses on emotional abuse, something that is very hard to see because it leaves no physical marks. Michelle Kemper Brownlow has written this so beautifully, it blew my mind!” ~Stephanie, First Class Books Blog
Kemper Brownlow writes with raw emotion drawing on personal experience to breathe life into her fictitious characters Noah, Gracie and Jake ... IN TOO DEEP is a compassionate, steamy story of love and redemption and one that all women should be able to relate to on some level.
Booking with Manic Blog
“In her debut novel, Michelle brings us a story about strength. A portrayal on emotional abuse in which sadly, many can relate to. Honest, hopeful, and brave... This story shows that no matter how deep you sink, you can always break the surface..” ~Nancy Lopez, Goodreads
A heartbreaking-eye opener debut novel that grabs your heart and mind from the very first page without you noticing until you’re in too deep to let go. Raw, happy, gritty, sad, and oh so very real. Michelle Kemper Brownlow is one author to watch out for.” ~Alba Soloranzo,
Book Pics Blog
MICHELLE KEMPER BROWNLOW
Copyright © 2013 Michelle Kemper Brownlow
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the publisher.
Sapphire Star Publishing
First Sapphire Star Publishing ebook edition, June 2013
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Names, characters, places, and plots are a product of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Design: Okay Creations
Cover Image: Masson
To all the silent victims of emotional abuse,
You are not broken. You are not damaged. You are worthy. You are beautiful. You are a survivor. There is a beautiful heart out there with your name written on it. Someone exists who will wrap you in a kind of love you never knew existed. You must free yourself from what holds you down so your heart can accept the unconditional love you deserve.
You ARE worthy of that kind of
September, Fall Semester, Junior Year
The strong force of the wave pulled me under. I gasped for air just before my face disappeared below the surface. My body rolled over and over, my arms flailed, and my head pounded into the sea bed which felt like a concrete floor. The salty water stung my eyes. I forced myself to keep them open, fearing I would slip into unconsciousness from the blow I took to the head. I knew I had to hold it together long enough for the swell to pull me back up when the wave rolled. But something was pulling me deeper. I fought with all my might, kicking against the thick water swallowing me whole. I used my arms like underwater oars and sliced through the depths trying to reach what I needed most, but I was in too deep.
“Get out!” I could barely get the words out before I had to run to the bathroom and void my gut of its contents. Noah didn’t move.
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and screamed, “I said,
” I stumbled back into the room, grabbed the box of mementos I’d collected from the last year of our relationship, and dumped everything into the trashcan in the corner. Like a communal grave, there lay movie tickets, dried rose petals, a strip of photos from the boardwalk, all the beautiful letters he wrote last fall semester, an empty beer bottle, and all the rest of what was now just a reminder of the guy I thought I knew.
“Gracie, don’t…” His face fell, but he didn’t move from the edge of my bed.
“Don’t? Don’t what, Noah? Don’t break up with you? Are you kidding?” My ears burned from his admission of guilt. It hit me broadside. I wasn’t prepared for the words he had spoken just moments before.
The rush of water covering me grew cold. Icy. My body quaked. My lungs burned and begged for air. I could see light above. It glimmered and danced on the small waves my panic created. I reached for the surface. Even if I couldn’t pull myself up, maybe just feeling the sun’s warmth would stop the shivering that threatened to unravel me.
My legs gave out beneath me and I crumbled into a heap on my apartment floor. I sobbed so uncontrollably I gasped for air. I was livid. Repulsed. Crushed and torn. Noah was the love of my life, and things were just getting back to the way I longed for them to be. Back to what used to be our “normal.” Before he pledged Sigma Chi. Our relationship hadn’t been easy since I transferred to Knoxville. But our story wasn’t ready to end.
It went something like this:
Bad boy meets good girl.
Bad boy turns sensitive.
Good girl gives sensitive boy all of her.
Flowers. Love letters.
Long, sweet phone calls.
Good girl transfers to sensitive boy’s school.
Sensitive boy becomes fraternity boy.
Drunken social events.
Fraternity boy pulls good girl under.
Good girl finds herself in too deep.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pull myself to the surface. The harder I flailed, the further I sank… down, down, down. The murky depths laughed as I floated helplessly toward the bottom. Lifeless.
I struggled to breathe through the sobs. My dark bobbed hair clung to my wet cheeks. My heart stung as I felt it tear right down the middle. I wanted to act like I didn’t care, like Noah hadn’t just plucked my heart out and ground it into the dirty carpet. But I did care. I was nothing without him. I wasn’t ready to give up, but at that moment, I couldn’t even look at him.
This former bad boy had opened up to me and showed me a side of him no one else knew. No one. It was like our own little miracle. Our oasis. He truly loved me. We were bound by the one-time gift I had given him just months into our relationship. My soul was married to his. Our relationship defined me.
I gasped for breath.
Earlier that evening, I attended my first fraternity formal. My love was now a member of the newly initiated Sigma Chi brotherhood. I was on cloud nine. I wasn’t sure I knew what all the hype was, but there was a status level I had reached because I was dating a Sigma Chi brother. It was similar to being celebrity arm candy. Girls were jealous. My whole life, I was the token quiet, innocent girl, so I’d never experienced anything like it. It was a feeling that just gave me a buzz…all the time.
I heard a knock on the door and knew it was Noah.
“You ready, Gracie? You’ve hit the big times now. Sigma Chi formal. Wow!” Stacy had helped me make sure everything was perfect; my make-up, my hair, the shoes. We based all the decisions off the gorgeous Vera Wang dress she let me borrow. Yesterday she helped me pick out sexy thigh highs so my evening would be perfect.
“Stacy, I am so nervous I could barf. What if I fall in these shoes? What if his brothers think I’m a dork?” My hands started to shake.
“Relax. Please relax. If you puke on this dress I will kill you.” She walked to the door and turned the knob in what seemed like slow motion.
The door slowly opened to one fine specimen of fraternity boy. As though paparazzi cameras were flashing, a tux-decked Noah developed frame by frame right before my eyes. And I watched his bottom jaw drop like a stop action film as the door slowly opened and presented me to him. He walked toward me with his hands out in front of him and I instinctively held out mine for him to take. He squeezed my hands and looked me up and down. The smile on his face was wider than I’d ever seen. I was floating on his obvious delight in what he saw. His mouth moved a couple times as though he was trying to form words but no sound left his lips. He was literally speechless. He broke the silence with a declaration I would never forget.
“Gracie,” he said my name so slowly. “Oh, Gracie…you take my breath away. Turn around. Let me see you.”
He dropped one of my hands and spun me like the ballerina inside the jewelry box I had as a little girl. When we were face to face again he dropped my other hand and both of his came to my face. His lips touched mine so gently it tickled and sent a shiver throughout my body. Three light pecks and a sigh later, he shook his head and whispered, “Wow. Just wow.”
“Well, you look mighty fine, yourself.” I was just as awestruck but too unsure of myself to go on and on the way he did. He smiled and his big brown eyes drew me in. The gold flecks in them sparkled in response to the strapless, ice blue gown I wore. Noah was one of those guys you see that you wish would just stand still long enough for you to take him all in. His short sandy blond hair framed a face that appeared reckless and boyish at the same time. His skin was still tan from summer, which made the gold in his eyes striking. His eyes were the first thing I noticed the night we met. His eyes and those lips. Strong, full lips that did things to me I couldn’t describe. I stood on my toes, grabbed his face and kissed him deeply.
“You two make me sick. Go on, Mr. and Mrs. Perfect, get out of here before I go into a sappy-love-story seizure. Go!”
As we walked in the warm fall air to Sigma Chi, Noah continued to fill my heart with his stolen glances. I felt treasured and cherished. This would be a night to remember.
The inside of the Sigma Chi house had been transformed into a ballroom. It was unbelievable. We still drank from red party cups but the overall ambience was like a fairy tale. Throughout the night, I caught a couple brothers eyeing me. So did Noah and he was sure to send a look to let them know I was taken.
When the energy of the formal waned and party guests became few and far between, Noah and I walked to my apartment hand-in-hand. In my mind, I did the beauty queen wave to all of the drunken people stumbling past us. Cocky? Yeah, it was, but I had endured weeks of distress because my beautiful blond boyfriend went through pledging hell behind the closed doors of his fraternity house.
I changed out of my gown and we both threw on jeans. I grabbed a bright red, low-cut top from a hanger. He threw on his Crazy Eddie’s Bar t-shirt from the stack on the shelf. I loved that he kept clothes in my closet. To me it solidified our status as a serious relationship. We headed toward the pounding music blasting from the floor above. Noah would have liked to keep me out of my gown a little longer, but I was looking forward to some quality drinking time with a few
Jake and Sam were Noah’s dorm and apartment roommates until this year. At the beginning of the semester, Stacy, me and two of our closest guy friends moved into the same building off campus. At the same time Noah moved into the Sigma Chi house. I’ll never forget the quizzical smiles on Jake and Sam’s faces when we first met. It was like I could see their brains working to piece together a puzzle that, according to them, didn’t visibly fit.
“Don’t know what you did to him, Gracie, but he’s a new man!”
Jake and Sam quickly became two of my dearest friends. I loved them like brothers. I was in their apartment whenever I wasn’t with Noah. And while he was pledging Sigma Chi, that was a lot of time spent with the two other men in my life. Noah never got jealous. It was a decent set-up. Jake and Sam sometimes even joked that they were Noah’s stand-ins, and it didn’t hurt that they were both adorable.
Jake was, for lack of a better word,
. He was taller than me and slender, but had broad athletic shoulders and amazingly defined arms. His eyes were crystal blue, and his shiny chocolate brown hair was just a little curly when it got too long. He had a gorgeous smile and a quiet sexiness about him that was only amplified by the rugged stubble he usually sported. Sometimes he’d shave it off or sculpt it into a goatee, but either way he was so nice to look at. I don’t think he had any idea how gorgeous he was, but I’m not sure how he didn’t pick up on the gawking co-eds wherever he went. Sometimes, when no one was looking, I just watched him. I was so in love with Noah, but I wasn’t dead. His girlfriend Jessica was a lucky girl. But then again, so was I.
Sam was similar in build to Jake but not quite as tall. The two of them worked out together almost every day so he was cut, and I had no doubt he could hold his own if fists ever flew in his vicinity. He had thick blond surfer hair and beautiful hazel eyes that were quite flirty when he was being ornery, which was almost always. He was a great guy. Super smart, great sense of humor and a big ole tender heart. I wasn’t sure how someone hadn’t snagged him up yet. He said it was because no one girl could handle all he had to offer. I always giggled when he said that because I wasn’t exactly sure what he was referring to when he said
, and I was embarrassed by what I assumed he meant.
Jake and Sam’s parties were infamous. They’d yet to throw a bad one. I knew their party would the perfect follow-up to our evening at Sigma Chi. When we got to their apartment, Noah and I were welcomed by music so loud it could melt speakers, cold beer, and tons of people crammed into the small living room. Noah spent time drinking and partying with Jake and Sam, and reconnecting with other people he hadn’t seen for a while. I hung out with Stacy and a couple girls from down the hall. Every now and then I would get a kiss on the top of my head along with a freshly tapped beer. It was one of my three guys each time. We all laughed and sang and danced together. I loved when they all lived together and was a little bummed that Noah moved away from them, but with this one party we had created “the good ole days.” When I yawned for the fifth time in ten minutes, I decided it was time to go downstairs. Stacy had left with her boyfriend, Greg, and wouldn’t be home all night. After a semester of barely seeing Noah, I would have paid her a hefty sum of money if she needed convincing to stay at Greg’s.
I weaved in and out through drunk dancers looking for Noah to tell him I wanted to leave. But I couldn’t find him. An unexplainable and irrational fear shot through me.
He left. Who did he leave with? Where did he go?
Sam interrupted my panic when he handed me something blue in a shot glass. The fruity taste and the beautiful after burn only took five seconds to calm my nerves. I rationalized that Noah was probably in the bathroom.
Sam and I were known for our on-the-spot improvisational dances. I hopped right next to him when our favorite song pounded and jolted the poster frames on the walls. He instantly was the rock star and I was his back-up dancer as we sang at the top of our lungs. We were quite a sight, as usual. We danced and laughed until the song ended.
Sam gave me a big bear hug and lifted me off the floor. “Where’s Noah?” I knew Sam missed him, too, and I was sure he wanted to hear more about the perks of pledging. Perks being spelled as g-i-r-l-s.
Again, panic seized my chest. Noah had never given me any reason to distrust him, but that night, something wicked picked at the threads of my heart, threatening to yank the string. You know, the one that never stops unraveling.