“Get the door,” I remotely register Liam saying to someone and I want to know who, I need to know who, but I can’t focus through the pain. I try to open my eyes but it hurts too badly to even try. Clinging to Liam, I cannot do anything but trust him and pray he’s worthy of that trust.

“You’re okay,” he promises, tightening his arms around me. “Everything is going to be okay.” It’s the last thing I remember before everything goes dark.


Chapter Three

I’m swimming in darkness when Liam’s promise surfaces in my mind. Everything is going to be okay. The words spiral through me and suddenly I can breathe again. I inhale air and then I am back on the porch of my family home, hidden in a dark corner with Luke, the sexy, blond god of an older boy next door, who I’ve crushed on since he moved in four years ago.

“You shouldn’t be out here,” I tell him and I am nervous on the dark porch, my brother’s warning about being cautious making me edgy for no reason. I’m here with Luke, my next door neighbor of many years. So what if I’d given him my virginity last night and it had left me feeling pretty lost? I’ve been lost a lot lately, confused by some weird vibe with my family I can’t escape.

“I had to see you before I left,” he says, pulling me close, brushing the hair from my eyes, and stepping on my bare toes.

“Ouch,” I groan.

“Sorry. Sorry, Lara. Did I hurt you?”

Obviously he hurt my foot, but I know he’s not talking about now. He’s talking about last night. “I’m fine. It’s...fine.” A perfect eighteenth birthday present, him pounding into me and then going drinking with the ‘boys’ after. I wish he wouldn’t have even come home for the summer. “And ah, you didn’t have to come by. I’ll see you at UT Austin in two weeks anyway.” I’m just not sure I want to now. “Unless you seniors are above us freshmen.”

“Did I seem like I was above freshmen last night?

He really isn’t going to like my answer to that. “It’s one in the morning. If my mom catches us, she’ll be furious.”

“She’s sleeping. You said so when I called.”

“I also told you not to come.”

“You’re upset with me.”

“No, I--” Tires grind on gravel behind me, and I jump, spinning around to watch a black sedan pulling into the driveway. Luke’s hand settles on my waist and he leans in to whisper, “Your mom got a little something something going on the side, or what?”

I grind my teeth, wondering how I never noticed what an ass**le he was until last night. I open my mouth to tell him so, too, when the front door flies open. Luke yanks me back into the farthest, darkest part of the porch, and not a moment too soon. My mother appears and I’m shocked that she’s fully dressed in shorts and a tank top like me, when I’m certain I saw her in a white gown not an hour before.

Holding my breath, I watch as she pads down the stairs. her flat sandals slapping against the wood. The car pulls further up the driveway and disappears at the side of the house, and she follows it.

“I’m out of here, babe,” Luke says, but I barely register his words, tuning him out and rushing toward the steps. Luke catches up to me on the grass, grabbing my arm. “What are you doing?”

“I want to know who’s here.”

“Lara, be real. It’s the middle of the night and your dad and brother are out of town. Who do you think it is?”

Does he know? “Who? Who is it?”

“It’s a booty call.”

I gape at the crass comment. “Booty call? Is that what you hoped tonight would be for you? My mother is not cheating on my father.”

He snorts. “If you say so.”

I shove him. “Go back to Austin, Luke.” Moonlight washes over his shocked expression and I turn and head down the line of the house to squat beside a large row of neatly trimmed bushes.

Steeling myself for what could come next, telling myself whatever this is, is innocent, I peer down the driveway and suck in a breath. The car’s lights are dimmed now to a glow and my mother is standing at the open driver’s door. Yelling. She’s yelling at whoever is inside. She never yells. Except that day I came home to tell her I’d been accepted into the University of Texas, and overheard her fighting with someone.

“You told me it wouldn’t be like this,” she shouts, seemingly forgetting she might be overheard. She sounds too freaked out to think logically, out of her mind with emotion.

A deep, male voice says something, but I can’t catch the words. I think he’s being cautious about his voice carrying, though I can’t say why I think that. I just do.

“You said--” my mother starts, but the man pushes out of the car, turning her to press her against the trunk, his big, suit-clad body framing hers. My heart is racing and I want to call out for him to let her go, but I’m not sure I should. Shadows hug his profile, making it impossible for me to make out his face and he doesn’t seem familiar. He just seems like a monster.

“Don’t touch me!” my mother hisses, and the man leans in low to her ear and then pulls back to look at her.

I gasp as my mother slaps his face, the bite of her palm on his cheek clapping in the air.

He grabs her arm, moving her with him, and then yanks open the back door of the car. His back is to me and they exchange more incoherent words before I hear him clearly as he orders, “Get in.”

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