Authors: Jamie Canosa
Never let anyone—yourself included—tell you that you don’t matter.
It’s not true.
Anyone can take the easy way out. It takes a strong person to face this life head-on.
You are a strong person, whether you believe it or not. Have faith.
Substance abuse isn’t something easily conquered. If you need help with a problem you or someone you love struggles with, there are resources available. Don’t be afraid to use them!
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Helpline and Treatment:
National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Hotline:
Other books by Jamie Canosa:
Falling to Pieces
Pieces of my Heart
Fight or Flight
Sink or Swim
Now or Never
©Jamie Canosa 2015
Cover Design: KKeeton Designs
Cover ©Jamie Canosa 2015
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Exceptions are reviewers who may quote short excerpts for review.
All Rights Reserved
“This isn’t how this was supposed to go.”
The stringent scent of bleach and gun powder and death stings my nose. My stare fixes on the pale hand dangling lifelessly from beneath the sterile white sheet.
“Miss. Stark, it has been your willingness to be forthcoming with us that has saved you from prosecution thus far. I don’t suggest you start holding out on us now.” Detective Tanner leans against the window sill beside a small recording device. Behind him, rain streaks down the glass, warping the view. The clouds are a lonely gray color that causes a sharp pain in my heart. “Rylie,” Tanner sighs. “There are bodies. We
“This isn’t how this was supposed to go.” It’s not what he’s looking for, but it’s the only statement I have. The only thing I know for sure is the truth anymore.
was not how my life was supposed to turn out. I had a plan. I was supposed to be the hero of this story. The princess.
I’m not any of those things.
~9 Months Earlier~
There’s something about running that gives you a natural high. It floods your system with endorphins and leaves you feeling . . . free. My heart raced, my lungs demanded a level of oxygen I was unable to provide them, my knees reverberated with each strike of my feet against the rubberized track, but I shut it all out. I shut out the screaming, the cheering, the demands that I do better,
better. All of it. And for four-hundred meters, the only thing that existed was that finish line.
I blew past it in a blur of scenery. My arms shot up, folding back behind my head to open my lungs as I slowed to a walk and began to pace. I couldn’t even hear the roar of the crowd over that of the blood rushing through my head. I’d won, but that wasn’t even a question anymore. I always won. I
to win. What really mattered—what I was too nervous to even look at—was how fast I’d done it.
My reputation was on the line. My legacy. Starks weren’t happy being
at something. We were
or nothing at all.
My breathing had long since evened out by the time I managed to convince myself that the official times weren’t going to change just because I refused to look at them.
Quit being such a baby and just do it.
I was psyching myself up to turn around when I was nearly tackled by a flash of pink.
“You did it!” Carrie practically screeched in my ear, and for a moment I was too distracted by concern for my future hearing to realize what she said. “You broke the record. I knew you would.”
“I . . . I did?” I turned slowly, letting my gaze drift over the digital board at the back of the metal bleachers.
I’d broken the state record. Relief slammed into me so hard I nearly collapsed. “I did it. Holy crap. I really did it.”
I choked out a laugh as my hands found their way to my knees.
“As if there was ever any doubt.” Angela stood beside Carrie, hands poised on her narrow hips.
The two of them couldn’t have been more different. Carrie’s sleek black hair to Angie’s golden curls. Carrie’s deep complexion to Angie’s snow white skin. Carrie’s exuberance to Angie’s unequaled dignity and self-control. I fell somewhere in the middle with my perpetually frizzy brown hair and wry sense of humor. They’d been my best friends for as long as I could remember and my biggest supporters. Outside of Mom and Dad, of course.
“Congratulations, sweetheart.” Mom pulled me into a tight hug, bouncing slightly on her toes.
“Well done, honey.” My father stood back, his smile not quite reaching his eyes, and the expression at odds with the fold of his arms across his chest. “But you know . . .” And here it came. “. . . if you’d cut inside ahead of number five at the last turn, you could have shaved fractions of a second off your time. You
have had a real shot at the national record.”
I’d known the instant I made my move that I’d waited too long, but it was too late to do anything about it. There was always something I could have done better. Some way to improve.
I told myself
. Next time, I’ll be the best. Next time, I’ll be perfect.
“I’ll talk to Coach, see if we can squeeze in some extra practices, focus on my timing.” I had no idea when or how. I already practiced six days a week, and between that and studies I barely had time to breathe. But I’d find a way. I’d make it work. I always did.
“You do that. I need to get back to the office. Are you staying for the rest of the meet?”
I glanced at Carrie, bent over, hair trailing over the grass as she began her warm-up. Angela stood behind her, straightening her ponytail. They were both up next in the long distance division and I wanted to be there to support them the way they’d been there for me. “I think I’m going to stick around.”
“Alright then. Not too late.” Mom pressed a quick kiss to my cheek. “You have work to do.”
“I know. I’ll leave as soon as Carrie and Angie are done.”
“See you later.” Mom waved as she rushed off after my father, who was already climbing the stairs of the bleachers that led to the parking lot.
“So . . .” Carrie hopped closer, still stretching out her thigh muscle. “Are we celebrating?”
“I can’t. I have that paper due in English tomorrow.”
She frowned. “The one you finished like two weeks ago?”
“Yeah, but . . .” If today had taught me anything, it was that nothing I did was ever flawless. It required another read-through. “I want to take another look at it. Make a few changes.”
“Rylie,” Carrie whined and Angela rolled her eyes.
“Get off her case, Car. She’s right.”
“You two are no fun.” Carrie dropped her left leg to the ground and threw her arms overhead to stretch out her back.
Angela flicked her gaze to me before poking Carrie in the belly, eliciting a grunt. “There’ll be time for fun later.”
Yeah, in about ten years, give or take, according to ‘the plan’, but I’d already invested seventeen, so what was another decade?
“Oh . . . my . . . gosh.” Carrie smiled. A lot. But she had this one smile that always gave me a major case of the ‘ah crap’s. She was wearing it as she straightened, her gaze drifting over my shoulder. “Don’t look now, but guess who’s totally checking you out.”
“Who?” Angela followed her line of sight, brows drawing together in confusion.
“Elijah Prince!” she practically squealed.
Completely disregarding her ‘don’t look now’ directive, I turned and, sure enough, there he was. Arms folded, hip planted against the railing, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear she was right. He was totally checking me out. The black hair that bushed his chin drank in the sunlight. Despite the heat, he wore two shirts—a long sleeved flannel rolled up to his elbows with a white tee underneath—jeans, and his ever present scuffed-up, who-gives-a-shit black work boots. He was tall, slender, but there was a roughness to him. Something that said ‘he may not look it, but he could totally kick your ass in a fight’.
ha, yeah right. Prince of holy hottie hell, maybe. Elijah was trouble with a capital T. I knew it, he knew it. Hell, the whole school knew it. That hadn’t stopped us from noticing each other throughout the years, though. Not in a creepy stalker way. More an ‘I know you exist’ sort of way. Which was strange seeing as we were from two entirely different worlds.
“Eww. For chrissakes, Carrie, don’t tell her that.” Angie spun me around by my shoulder.
“Why not? He’s hot.” Carrie fanned herself dramatically and I swear I turned fifty shades of red.
, maybe.” Angie rolled her eyes.
“Stop it. Both of you.” I slapped Carrie’s hand away from her face, sparing a glare in Angie’s direction. I could not deal with this from them. Not today.
“What, Rylie? Please don’t tell me you actually
“No. Of course not.” The words came easily enough, but still, I found myself glancing over my shoulder for one last peek.
“Good, because you know who he hangs out with. He may be good looking, but that boy is bad news. He’s the last thing you need.”
She was right. Angie was always right. I’d never met anyone with her head on straighter. Except maybe me. There were a lot of things I needed out of the next year of my life to stay on track, and Elijah Prince was most certainly not one of them.
The drive home would take fifteen minutes if I followed the back roads. Fifteen whole minutes where the most important thing I’d have to worry about was the speed limit and maybe my gas level, which was full at the moment. My assignments were sorted on my desk in my room, my study schedule all mapped out on my white-board. Everything was where it needed to be, waiting for me to take care of it when I arrived, but until then . . .
I turned the key, shifted into reverse, and started scanning the two-bazillion satellite stations on my radio. The particular sound I was searching for, however, was not the stomach curdling crunch of metal I heard next.
A glance in the rearview was all it took to verify what I already knew. I was completely and irrevocably
. I could barely make out the black car I’d mutilated through the cloud of white steam pouring from its hood.
. Ten thousand facts immediately crowded my mind.
There are fines associated with accidents on school property, a suspension of my parking privileges at the very least. My insurance rates are going to skyrocket. How extensive are the damages to my own car? Will my insurance cover those? What kind of coverage do I have? Where are my insurance cards? What else will the police need? Could I be charged with distracted driving? Christ, the whole school will know about this by Monday. What will they say? Will it go on my permanent record? Could colleges hear about this? What if—
“Hey.” A tap on my window jolted me back to the current crisis that needed to be dealt with. “You okay?”
And because I wasn’t screwed enough already, I found myself staring up at Elijah-freaking-Prince.
“Rylie? Are you alright?” Concern did strange things to his eyes. It turned them from the normal silver color I found so hypnotic to a soft molten gray that matched the storm clouds brewing through my windshield.
I blinked at him before it registered that he was talking to me.
“Yeah.” Jeez, what was wrong with me? I hadn’t hit my head. Had I? “I’m fine.”
Elijah took a step back as I shoved open the door and climbed out to survey the damage. It was pretty much as bad as I’d expected. Overhead the sky rumbled and a single raindrop darkened the pavement near my feet.
. Ten minutes later and I probably could have put at least some of the blame on the weather.
“Crap. I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention to—” I stumbled backward when I turned around to find Elijah behind me.
behind me. The guy clearly lacked the concept of a personal bubble.
“Whoa.” His hand whipped out to encircle my wrist, steadying me. “You don’t seem to be having a good day with movement. Maybe you should sit down.”
He had the best damn poker face I’d ever seen. It was only the gleam in his eye that gave away that he was teasing me.
For half a second my brain went fuzzy and I thought he might have a point. I took a deep breath and the scent of cinnamon spice invaded my senses. He smelled like a warm pumpkin pie on a cool fall day. Which reminded me that I probably reeked of sweat and B.O. “Um . . . so . . . I guess we’d better exchange information. Do you have your insurance card?”
“What about your policy number?”
Irritation flared. My fifteen minutes were up and this was seriously starting to carve into my carefully plotted schedule. “Well, what
I froze, 50/50 on whether he was screwing with me or not. “You don’t have insurance?”
“You can’t drive without insurance.”
can’t drive without insurance, obviously.” He glanced pointedly at the hood of his car, which more closely resembled an accordion. “I was doing just fine without it.”
“But it’s illegal to . . . The police will—”
Elijah grinned. “We’re not calling the police. Calm down.”
“We have to! Not reporting an accident is—”
“What accident? You dinged a mailbox. Your car is fine.”
My eyes roamed over my rear bumper. There was a decent sized dent that would be hard to ignore until I could get it fixed, but otherwise, he was right, the car looked fine.
“But your car—”
“Let me worry about my car.”
“It’s ruined. If I don’t report this to my insurance they won’t pay—”
“I’ll deal with it.”
“Can give me a ride to school next week while I work this shit out? How nice of you to offer.”
“What? No. I didn’t . . . I can’t—”
“Wait to see this devilishly handsome face first thing every morning? I think that can be arranged. You can pick me up at the deli on Main.”
“No, I . . .”
I couldn’t form coherent thoughts fast enough to keep up with him. “What are you even doing here?”
He was a master in the art of looking innocent. “Supporting my school.”
My bullshit alarm was blaring, but . . . whatever. I didn’t have time for this. “Elijah, listen . . . I—”
“Have to go or you’re going to be late to study until all hours of the night for a test that doesn’t happen until next week?”
“I—” Well . . . yes, actually.
“Go.” He nodded to my car.
“How will you get home?”
“You worried about me?” His smile widened and, high-flying holy hell, he had dimples. Good Lord, help me. “I’m touched.”
Blinking away the stupor, I scowled up at him. “Not in the slightest. Your ego appears to be entirely intact.”
“That it is.” He chuckled and if a sound could be as rich as chocolate and as smooth as honey, that would be the one. “And I happen to know a guy who has a tow truck and owes me a favor, so don’t worry that pretty little head, Princess. I’ll be just fine.”
Why was I not surprised that he ‘knew a guy’?
“Fine then. Good luck with this mess.” I waved at his wreck of a car and the sudden reminder that this ‘mess’ was entirely
fault drained away all of my bravado. “I really am sorry. I’m glad you’re alright.”
Elijah sobered some himself, and those dimples went back into hiding. “I’m fine. And you’re fine. That’s all that matters. Go on, get out of here before this storm breaks and someone decides to call the cops for us.”
That would only make things worse for Elijah and I’d done enough damage for one day. Sliding behind the wheel of the
I was apparently driving, I rolled down the window and watched Elijah pull a cellphone from his pocket. “See ya Monday.”
“Sure.” He waved and a moment later he was deep in conversation with whoever was on the other end of the line and I was pulling out onto the main road.
From my rearview I watched as Elijah tipped his head back and rain drops fluttered over his eye lids, sketched his cheek bones, dribbled along the dark fuzz that implied he’d forgotten to shave that morning, and slid down the arc of his throat.
Prince of holy hottie hell for sure. Possibly even the damn king.