Authors: Sera Bright
SEE THROUGH ME
Copyright © 2014 Sera Bright
All Rights Reserved.
Najla Qamber, Najla Qamber Designs,
Truver and Emily Nemchick
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coin
’s only one person I want to see when I finally return home. But I know he won’t be waiting for me. It’s the reason I feel safe enough to come back.
I’m so wrong.
Ash Townsend isn’t the same quiet boy from next door. He’s tall, dark, and demanding answers. He wants me, but he doesn’t trust me. Who can blame him? When his own family tried to break him down, he still sheltered me in this town full of liars. And I repaid it by leaving him behind without a word.
Because I’ll do anything to protect him. I have the scars on my wrist to prove it.
First in a 2-part series
Contains strong language, descriptive sexual situations, and mature themes. This novel is not intended for readers under the age of 18.
Sign up for my mailing list for future release dates and sales.
I don’t know why I expected the town of Havenwood to look any different, but it pissed me off that nothing had changed. It hadn’t changed in the eighteen years I spent growing up here, so why should it have changed in the measly year since I left? Not even a full year—more like ten months.
I passed the same wooden sign welcoming me back, and followed the main street into the heart of the small, wealthy suburb outside of Cleveland. The same towering trees lined the streets, shading the sidewalks and manicured lawns. The same tasteful shops stood in the downtown area. Even the same type of flowers used year after year were planted in the park across from the post office. There had to be more out there than snapdragons and forget-me-nots.
I pulled my pickup truck into a parking space in front of the post office and shut off the engine, but kept the key in the ignition. In the rear view mirror, Lake Erie sparkled through the leaves of the trees scattered through the park. My tired eyes, the same bluish gray color of the lake, reflected back at me in the glass. I leaned my forehead on the steering wheel. I could walk into that post office and deal with everything like a mature adult. Or I could throw the truck in reverse and get the hell out of there. My fingers gripped the cracked vinyl of the wheel while I stalled on making a decision either way.
Someone knocked on my window. Through the fall of red hair covering my face, I peeked up to see Mrs.
Siriano standing outside my door.
Katie Flynn?” She rapped again. “Is that you, Katie?”
Five minutes. I tugged on the loose neckline of my t-shirt to make sure it covered the tattoo of a blue swallow under my collarbone. It took five freaking minutes for the chain reaction of gossip to start. I pushed the hair out of my face. At least it wasn’t purple anymore. I rolled down my window.
“It is you! I almost didn’t recognize you with your new hair color. It’s different!” She gave me a warm smile, her round cheeks flushed pink. “Devon’s going to be so excited. She told me she didn’t know when you were coming back.”
That was because I hadn
’t planned on coming back at all. I still doubted if my return was truly necessary, or another exaggeration on my father’s part. With a small, tight smile of my own, I said, “I just got back.”
She held a box at her full hip.
“She was just talking about going out tonight. You should join her!”
Tell her…” I chewed on the tender skin inside my lower lip.
Tell her what? That right now I was more than a little angry and overwhelmed, and the last thing I wanted to do was fake my way through hours of drinking and talking about nothing? I could tell her that. And while I was at it, I could also find a bunch of toddlers and slap some candy out of their hands to make my transition into a total bitch complete. What was it about this town that activated my inner villain? Short answer: everything.
Besides, there was only one person I wanted to see, but I knew he wouldn’t be waiting. Knowing so was the only reason I felt safe enough to come back. I glanced at the tattoo on my left wrist, still healing.
Tell her what, dear?” Mrs. Siriano’s forehead wrinkled as she looked at me in concern. People do that when you stop talking mid-sentence and stare off into space.
Tell her to call me,” I said. “Let me give you my new phone number.”
I rummaged through my lime-green canvas bag, sitting next to me on the bench seat, but I couldn
’t find a pen in the jumble of all my crap. Reaching across to the glove box, I found a stub of a pencil and then scribbled my number on an old receipt. She took it through the window with her free hand and tucked the paper into the luxury leather purse hanging off her shoulder.
I’ll try to find her tonight,” I promised. It shouldn’t be too hard.
She beamed at me and shifted the package to her other hip. Her arms shook under the weight, the charm bracelets at her wrist jingling with the effort. I slung the straps of my bag across my shoulders and popped open the door. Time to be a mature adult, I guess.
Mrs. Siriano stepped back as the door swung wide and I climbed out of the truck. She moved to shift the heavy box again, and I couldn’t stand to watch her struggle with it. “Do you need help with that?”
Thank you!” She shoved the package into my arms. It weighed a ton. “You always were so thoughtful.”
chattered as we walked to the post office. About how her dog’s hip operation last month had been a success. About the cruise her husband had surprised her with for their anniversary. About how disappointed she was that Devon didn’t make the dean’s list during her first year at college. All in thirty seconds. Mrs. Siriano had always made a point to be friendly to me—regardless of how she drove her daughter crazy with her constant off-hand passive-aggressive comments. And regardless of what other people said about me.
The house has been so quiet with Devon gone.” She held the post office’s lobby door open for me. “Did she tell you she pledged at the same sorority I did when I went to school? She’s lucky they wanted her.”
I nodded but refrained from commenting. The last email Devon had sent me had been about joining the sorority—she
’d described the whole process similar to “joining a cult that won’t drink the damn Kool-Aid already.”
I laid the package on the counter in front of the postal clerk.
“I’ll see you later, Mrs. Siriano.”
Tell your dad I said hi. I haven’t seen him around lately. Is he out of town again?”
I mustered up a polite enough smile and walked away without an answer. My dollar-store flip flops slapped on the marble floor as I went across the lobby to an alcove walled with locked boxes, searching for my father
’s. A pile of mail spilled out at my feet when I unlocked it. I gathered all the loose paper together and settled down on the floor, checking them one by one and unconsciously holding my breath until I came to the envelope from the mortgage company. I tore it open and carefully read the letter.
My father wasn
’t lying. That alone was a fucking miracle. Unless other arrangements were made, the house was going into foreclosure. I sat back against the wall, trying to think everything through.
Three days ago he
’d called while I was in New Orleans, getting the wrist tattoo done and waiting to start my new volunteer placement. He begged me to go home to Havenwood and fix this for him, claiming he didn’t have any of the information to tell me over the phone. He couldn’t even tell me the name of the mortgage company. If I would just come back, he’d said, it would all be there. I didn’t know what was more unbelievable—the fact he thought he had the right to ask any more of me, or that he was telling the truth.
’d only agreed after he promised to meet me here at the end of next week. Mutual blackmail had its uses. I frowned at the paper in my hands. None of this made any sense, though. He should’ve made more than enough money working on an oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico to cover the mortgage and then some. Supposedly. I didn’t really know what the hell he did to earn money. My daddy issues didn’t extend far enough to care what he was doing, it was enough he was gone.
I stretched my legs out, the slick floor cool under my bare calves. He could give me twenty-five thousand in cash for graduating high school, surprise the shit out of me with a fully funded college tuition account, but he couldn
’t pay the mortgage? He had told me I’d earned the money for working so hard. I think he did it to soothe his conscience for flying to Cancun and missing my graduation ceremony.
ten days to show up, which was so much more than he deserved. If he didn’t, it was my turn to be gone. And this time it would be for good.
I put all the mail in my bag and rose to my feet. A pang of hunger flipped my stomach over. I couldn
’t remember the last time I had eaten. I needed to do that before I did anything else. Plus, I wasn’t in a rush to go home just yet. Too many memories waited there. I grabbed my bag off the floor and left the post office.
Once out of the building, I walked down the block, passing a cupcake bakery and a clothing boutique until I came to a café. A sign over the red awning announced the highly imaginative name,
Havenwood Café, in block letters. Bells attached to the door chimed as I went inside. People filled the small dining room, sitting at mismatched tables and oversized wooden booths.
Servers in black polo shirts and khaki shorts rushed back and forth in the room. Narrowly dodging one with a loaded tray of bacon and eggs, I made my way toward the counter that separated the dining area from the kitchen.
I walked through the dining room and steeled my spine as people raised their heads from their plates. I wasn’t invisible anymore. I sat down on a stool and picked up a shiny plastic menu with a reluctant grin, checking out all the new items listed. Helen, the manager and cook, hated making the same things repeatedly.
We don’t serve your kind around here,” a raspy voice drawled behind me.
I snatched a ketchup bottle off the counter and twirled around to point it at the angular wom
an with pixie short hair. I flipped up the lid with my thumb. Helen held her arms up in surrender.
Make my day.” I quirked up an eyebrow. “Also, if you hate ketchup so much, you shouldn’t have thirty-six bottles of it lying around. People may get ideas, like putting it on their food and eating it. Craziness.”
Watch where you point that thing.” She wrapped her arms around me, the powdery softness of her perfume embracing me simultaneously. “I missed you so much. No one around here has a sense of humor.”
sprung up at her sudden hug, but I managed to push it aside. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched me, either. But Helen lived in Cleveland and felt as out of place in this town as I did. It’s what had bonded us together when I worked for her in high school. With a step back, she studied my face. I set the bottle on the counter, uncomfortable with the scrutiny.
I brought up a cheerful smile.
“Scaring the normals again?”
Maybe.” She screwed up her mouth in distaste. “Still think Jerry’s scarier than I am.”
Jerry owned the place and a handful of other businesses. He also must have possessed super-powered hearing, because as soon as she said his name, he showed up behind the beaded curtain that hid the stairway to the second floor. A scrawny guy with a receding hairline and self-delusions, he spent most of his time above the café in a converted loft he charmingly called his personal lounge. That made it sound exclusive and private, rather than a grubby place for him to invite people over to party with him.
“Hey!” He stopped in his tracks and did a double take. A toothpick drooped low on his thin lips. “You’re back. Good, I need someone to cover for me tonight.”
Excuse me?” Helen demanded. “You didn’t even say hello. What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have any manners?”
’d worked for him since he bought the place four years ago, and if she hadn’t figured out by now he wasn’t ever going to learn social niceties, I didn’t know what to tell her.
Yes, it’s perfect for me,” Jerry snapped. “I don’t want to train one of the new girls on register right now.”
You don’t do training, I do. Like everything else around here.”
I do plenty around here.” Jerry took the toothpick out of his mouth with a glare.
And off they went. I wouldn
’t get a word in edgewise until they were done. I spun back to the counter. The sugar packets in front of me became increasingly fascinating as they bickered. All out of order in their little container, the artificial sweetener mixed in with the real sugar. Pure chaos. That would never do. I pulled them all out onto the counter and laid each packet in a neat row, then organized them by type and color before arranging them back in their holder. I admired my handiwork. Order was restored. The universe could now rest easy.
Katie!” Helen barked.
I turned around to face her.
“Are Mommy and Daddy done fighting?”
Jerry was nowhere to be seen, and the regular customers acted like it was perfectly normal for an argument to break out in the middle of breakfast service. Because it was, and people in this town were too
well versed in pretending to act otherwise.
“I hate to agree with him, but we really do need the help. Two of the new girls quit yesterday. Do you think you can come in tonight?”
I only came in to see you.” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “And I’m not staying for the summer, just for a week.”
Her dark brown eyes narrowed.
“What did I tell you last summer? You can’t keep running from your problems.”
Yes, I could. It had worked so far. I rubbed my wrist and felt the faint ridges of scars hiding under the tattoo.