Jaxon is the guy she’s supposed to avoid. K.C. is the girl he won’t let get away...
K. C. Carter has always followed the rules—until this year, when a mistake leaves her the talk of her college campus and her carefully arranged life comes crashing to a halt. Now she’s stuck in her small hometown for the summer to complete her court-ordered community service, and to make matters worse, trouble is living right next door.
Jaxon Trent is the worst kind of temptation and exactly what K.C. was supposed to stay away from in high school. But he never forgot her. She was the one girl who wouldn’t give him the time of day and the only one to ever say no. Fate has brought K.C. back into his life—except what he thought was a great twist of luck turns out to be too close for comfort. As they grow closer, he discovers that convincing K.C. to get out from her mother’s shadow is hard, but revealing the darkest parts of his soul is nearly impossible.…
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THE FALL AWAY SERIES
ALSO BY PENELOPE DOUGLAS
FALLING AWAY PLAYLIST
Three whole years.
I’d had a boyfriend for three whole years, and I still had more orgasms when I was by myself.
“Damn, baby, you feel good.” His sleepy whisper felt wet on my neck as he dragged his lazy lips over my skin.
Packing. That was what I’d forgotten to add to my to-do list for tomorrow. It wasn’t likely I’d forget to pack for college, but everything needed to go on the list so it could be checked off.
“You’re so hot.” Liam’s fish lips tickled my neck in short, slow pecks. It once made me giggle, but now it kind of made me want to bite him.
And a pharmacy run, I remembered. I wanted to stock up on my pill so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a while. Packing and the pharmacy. Packing and the pharmacy. Packing and the pharmacy. Don’t forget, K.C.
Liam thrust his hips between my legs, and I rolled my eyes.
We were still clothed, but I wasn’t sure he realized that.
If I weren’t so tired, I’d laugh. He rarely got drunk after all—tonight only because it was an end-of-summer bash. And although I’d never been overwhelmed with a desire for sex, I did love that he tried to jump my bones at every opportunity. It made me feel wanted.
But it just wasn’t happening tonight.
“Liam,” I grunted, twisting up my lips as I pushed his hand off my breast, “I think we’re done for the night, okay? Let’s lock up the car and walk to your house.”
We’d been in his car for over a half hour—me trying to indulge his fantasy of sex in risky places and him trying to . . . Hell, I didn’t even know what he was trying to do.
I felt guilty for not being more into it lately. I felt guilty for not helping him get into it tonight. And I felt guilty for making mental additions to my to-do list while he was trying—keyword, trying—to get it on with me.
We hadn’t made love in a long time, and I didn’t know what my problem was anymore.
His head sank into my shoulder, and I felt the weight of his hundred and eighty pounds collapse on my body.
He didn’t move, and I let out a sigh, relaxing into the passenger seat of his Camaro, my muscles burning from trying to support his body weight all this time.
He’d given up. Thank God.
But then I groaned, registering that his body had gone a little too still, except for the slow, soft rhythm of his breathing.
Great. Now he was passed out.
“Liam,” I whispered, not sure why, since we were completely alone in his car on a dark, quiet street outside my friend Tate Brandt’s house.
Arching my head up, I spoke into his ear that was nearly covered by his blond hair. “Liam, wake up!” I wheezed, since his weight was hindering my oxygen intake.
He moaned but didn’t budge.
I slammed my head back onto the headrest and ground my teeth together. What the hell was I going to do now?
We’d gone to the Loop tonight for the last race before college started next week and then Tate and her boyfriend, Jared Trent, had thrown a party at his house, which just happened to be right outside, next door to her place. I’d told my mom that I’d be sleeping over at her house when I was really planning on spending the night with my boyfriend.
Who was now passed out.
Tate’s house was locked, I didn’t know how to drive Liam’s car, and the last thing I was ever going to do was call my mother for a ride.
Reaching for the handle, I swung the car door open and pulled my right leg from under Liam. I pushed against his chest, raising him off me only as much as I needed to squirm out from underneath his body and stumble out of the car. He groaned but didn’t open his eyes, and I wondered if I should be worried about how much he’d had to drink.
Leaning in, I watched his chest rise and fall in quiet, steady movements. I grabbed the keys he’d dropped on the floor and my wrist purse with my cell phone and slammed the door shut, locking the car.
Liam didn’t live too far, and even though I knew it was a lot to ask, I was going to have to wake up Tate. If Jared was even letting her get any sleep at all.
I ran my hands down my strapless white summer dress and powered quietly down the sidewalk in my rhinestone sandals. Pretty dressed up for the race track earlier, but I wanted to look nice at the party. It was the last time I was going to see some of these people. For a while, anyway.
Squeezing my little purse—small enough for my phone and some money—in my hand, I traipsed up the small incline into Jared’s yard and up the front steps of his house. No light shone from inside, but I knew there had to be some people still here, since the street was littered with a few unfamiliar cars and I heard the low beat of music still pouring out. Lyrics saying something about “down with the sickness.”
I turned the knob, stepped into the house, and peered around the corner into the living room.
And stopped. Dead. What the . . . ?
The room was dark, not a single light showing other than the blue glow from the screen on the stereo.
Maybe there were other lights on in the house. Maybe there were other people still here. I couldn’t say.
All I could do was fucking stand there as my eyes stung, and a lump stretched my throat, at the sight of Jaxon Trent damn near naked on top of another girl.
I instantly looked away, closing my eyes.
Jax. I shook my head. No. I didn’t care about this. Why was my heart beating so fast?
Jaxon Trent was Tate’s boyfriend’s little brother. Nothing more. Just a kid.
A kid who watched me. A kid I rarely ever talked to. A kid who felt like a threat just standing next to me.
A kid who was looking less and less like one every day.
And right now he wasn’t coming up for air. I jerked my body toward the door, not wanting him—or her—to see me, but . . .
“Jax,” the girl gasped. “More. Please.”
And I stopped, unable to move again. Just leave, K.C. You don’t care.
I squeezed the doorknob, sucking in quick breaths, but I didn’t move. Couldn’t move.
I didn’t know why my hands shook.
Chewing my bottom lip, I inched around the corner again and saw him and the girl.
My heart pounded like a jackhammer in my chest. And it hurt.
The girl—I didn’t recognize her from school—was completely naked, lying on her stomach on the couch. Jax was sprawled on top of her from behind, and judging from his jeans pushed down below his ass and his thrusting hips, he was inside her.
He didn’t even get fully undressed to make love to a girl. He couldn’t even look her in the face. I wasn’t surprised. With the arrogance he displayed around school, Jax could do whatever he wanted, and he did.
Holding himself up with one arm, he used the other to wrap around her face and twist her chin toward him before he leaned down and covered her mouth with his.
Liam had never kissed me like that. Or I’d never kissed him like that.
The girl—long blond hair fanning around her face and spilling over her shoulders—kissed him back with full force, their jaws moving in sync as his tongue and teeth worked her.
Jax’s smooth, sculpted hips ground into her in slow, savory movements while his hand left her face to run down her back and then slide underneath her body to cup her breast. He didn’t do one thing at a time. Every part of his body was in this, and everything he did looked as if it felt good.
And why wouldn’t it? Jax was coveted by the girls in this town for a reason after all. He was suave, confident, and good-looking. Not my type, but there was no denying that he was sexy. According to Tate, he was part Native American.
His skin was like toffee—smooth, unblemished, and warm-looking. His hair was a deep brown, almost black, and it hung halfway down his back. He often braided pieces of it before tying it back into a ponytail midskull, which he did all the time. I’d never seen his hair hanging loose.
He had to be six feet tall by now and would probably be exceeding his brother in height in no time. I’d seen Jax on the lacrosse field at school and at the gym where we both worked out. The dips in his biceps and triceps flexed as he held himself above the girl and worked his body into hers. With the moonlight coming through the window, I could just make out the V in his torso as it descended to his abs and lower.
He didn’t break pace as he whispered in her ear, and as if she were given an order, she dropped her foot to the floor, bent her knee, and arched her back.
Jax let his head fall back and bared his teeth as he sank deeper into her, and I stared, absently tracing the scar on the inside of my wrist.
I wanted it to be like that for me. I wanted to be breathless like her. Gasping and desperate. Passionate and hungry.
Liam had made me happy once, and when he messed up, I took him back, because I thought the relationship was worth it.
But now, seeing this . . . I knew we were missing something.
I didn’t know when the tear spilled over, but I felt it drop onto my dress, and I blinked rapidly, wiping my face.
And then my eye caught something, and I blinked again, noticing someone else in the room. Another girl, nearly naked in her bra and panties.
I swallowed a gasp, sucked in air, and then swallowed again.
What the hell?
She walked across the room—she must’ve been over by the windows, because I hadn’t seen her until now—and leaned down, kissing Jax hard.
Acid bile crept up my throat.
“Ugh!” I growled, and stumbled backward, hitting the opposite wall in the entryway. Scrambling, I yanked open the front door and flew outside without looking back.
Jumping the steps, I had hit the grass running when a deep voice commanded behind me, “Stop!”
Screw him. Screw Jaxon Trent. I didn’t know why I was mad, and who the hell cared?
Running across the lawn, I bolted for the sidewalk, wishing I’d worn sneakers instead of sandals that flopped around on my feet.
“Stop, or I will take you to the ground, K.C.!” Jax’s loud bellow threatened behind me, and I brought myself to a sudden halt.
Shit. My eyes darted from left to right, searching for an escape. He wouldn’t really do that, would he?
I inched around slowly, watching as he stepped off the stairs and walked toward me. He was wearing pants, thank God. But I guess that was easy, since he never really took them off. The dark-washed jeans hung off his hips, and I got a damn clear look at the muscles framing his abs. He had a swimmer’s body, but I wasn’t sure if he was actually a swimmer. From the way the top of his jeans barely hung just above his hairline, I guessed he wasn’t wearing boxers . . . or anything under the jeans. I thought of what was just beneath his pants, and heat warmed my belly. I clenched my thighs together.
I shot my eyes down to the ground, wondering how I could stand the sight of him. He was just a kid. Did he do things like that with a lot of girls?
He came up to stand in front of me, hovering down, since he was nearly a half foot taller. “What are you doing here?” he accused.
I locked my mouth shut and scowled at the air around him, still avoiding eye contact.
“You left with your dipshit boyfriend an hour ago,” he pointed out.
I kept my hot eyes averted.
“K.C.!” He shoved his hand in my face, snapping his fingers a few times. “Let’s process what you just saw in there. You entered my house uninvited in the middle of the night and witnessed me having sex with a girl in the privacy of my own home. Now let’s move on. Why are you roaming around in the dark alone?”
I finally looked up and sneered. I always had to do that to cover up the way my face felt on fire at the sight of his blue eyes. For someone so dark and wild, his eyes were completely out of place but never seemed wrong. They were the color of a tropical sea. The color of the sky right before storm clouds rolled in. Tate called them azure. I called them hell.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I took a deep breath. “Liam’s too drunk to drive, all right?” I bit out. “He passed out in the car.”
He looked down the street to where Liam’s car sat and narrowed his eyes before scowling back down at me. “So why can’t you drive him home?” he asked.
“I can’t drive a clutch.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head. Running his hand through his hair, he stopped and fisted it midstroke. “Your boyfriend is a fucking idiot,” he snarled, and then dropped his hand, looking exasperated.
I sighed, not wanting to get into it. He and Liam never got along, and while I didn’t know why, I did know it was mostly Jax’s fault.
I’d known him for almost a year, and even though I knew small details—he was into computers, his real parents weren’t around, and he thought of his brother’s mother as his own—he was still a mystery to me. All I knew was that he looked at me sometimes, and lately, it was with disdain. As if he was disappointed.
I tipped my chin up and kept my tone flat. “I knew Tate was staying with Jared tonight, and I didn’t want to wake up her dad to let me in the house to crash. I need her to help me get Liam home and to let me in her house. Is she up?” I asked.
He shook his head, and I wasn’t sure if that meant “no” or “you’ve got to be kidding me.”
Digging in his jeans pocket, he pulled out keys. “I’ll drive you home.”
“No,” I rushed. “My mom thinks I’m staying at Tate’s tonight.”
His eyes narrowed on me, and I felt judged. Yeah, I was lying to my mother to spend the night with my boyfriend. And, yes, I was eighteen years old and still not allowed the freedom of an adult. Stop looking at me like that.
“Don’t move,” he ordered, and then turned around, walking back to his house.
After less than a minute he walked back out and started across the lawn to Tate’s, jerking his chin at me to follow. I assumed he had a key, so I jogged up to his side as he climbed the porch steps.
“What about Liam?” I couldn’t leave my boyfriend sleeping in his car all night. What if something happened to him? Or he got sick? And Tate’s dad would have a fit if I tried to bring him inside.
He unlocked the front door—I wasn’t sure if he had Tate’s or Jared’s keys—and stepped inside the darkened foyer. Turning to me, he waved his hand in a big show, inviting me in.
“I’ll get Jared to follow me in his car while I drive Dick-wad home in his, okay?” He hooded his eyes, looking bored.
“Don’t hurt him,” I warned, crossing the threshold and walking past him.
“I won’t, but he deserves it.”
I swung back around to face him, arching an eyebrow. “Oh, you think you’re so much better, Jax?” I smiled. “Do you even know those skanks’ names in there?”
His mouth instantly tightened. “They’re not skanks, K.C. They’re friends. And I’d make damn sure any girlfriend of mine knew how to drive a manual, and I wouldn’t have gotten so drunk that I couldn’t keep her safe.”
His quick temper threw me, and I immediately dropped my eyes, hating the rush of guilt that prickled my skin.
Why was I trying to cut him up? Jax definitely got under my skin, but he wasn’t a bad guy. His behavior at school was certainly better than his brother’s had been in the past. And Jax was respectful to teachers and friendly to everyone.
I took a deep breath and straightened my shoulders, ready to swallow a mouthful of pride. “Thank you. Thank you for driving Liam home,” I offered, handing him the keys. “But what about your . . .” I gestured with my hand, trying to find the right word. “Your . . . dates?”
“They’ll wait.” He smirked.
I rolled my eyes. Oooookay.
Reaching up, I worked my messy bun loose, pulling my mahogany hair down around my shoulders. But then I shot my eyes back up when I noticed Jax approaching me.
His voice was low and strong, without even a hint of humor. “Unless you want me to send them home, K.C.,” he suggested, stepping closer, his chest nearly brushing mine.
Send them home?
I shook my head, blowing off his flirtation. It was the same way I’d reacted last fall the first time I met him, and every time after that when he made a suggestive remark. It was my safe, patented response, because I couldn’t allow myself to react any other way.
But this time he wasn’t smiling or being cocky. He might’ve been serious. If I told him to send the girls away, would he?
And as he reached out with a slow, soft finger and grazed my collarbone, I let time stop as I entertained the idea.
Jax’s hot breath on my neck, my hair a tangled mess around my body, my clothes ripped apart on the floor as he bit my lips and made me sweat.
Oh, Jesus. I sucked in a breath and looked away, narrowing my eyes to get my damn head under control. What the hell?
But then Jax laughed.
Not a sympathetic laugh. Not a laugh that said he was just kidding. No, it was a laugh that told me I was the joke.
“Don’t worry, K.C.” He smiled, looking down on me as if I was pathetic. “I’m well aware your pussy is too precious for me, okay?”
I knocked his hand away from my collarbone. “You know what?” I shot out, my fingers fisting. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you actually make Jared look like a gentleman.”
And the little shit grinned. “I love my brother, but get one thing straight.” He leaned in. “He and I are nothing alike.”
Yeah. My heart didn’t pound around Jared. The hair on my arms didn’t stand on end around him, either. I wasn’t conscious of where he was and what he was doing every second that we were in the same room together. Jax and Jared were very different.
“Tattoos,” I muttered.
Shit! Did I just say that out loud?
“Um . . . ,” I choked out, staring wide-eyed in front of me, which just happened to be at his bare chest. “Tattoos. Jared has them. You don’t. How come?” I asked, finally looking up.
His eyebrows inched together, but he didn’t look angry. It was more . . . befuddled.
Jared’s back, shoulder, arm, and part of his torso were covered with tattoos. Even Jared and Jax’s best friend, Madoc Caruthers, had one. You would think with those influences, Jax would’ve gotten at least one by now. But he hadn’t. His long torso and arms were unmarked.
I waited as he stared at me and then licked his lips. “I have tattoos,” he whispered, looking lost in thought. “Too many.”
I didn’t know what I saw in his eyes at that moment, but I knew I’d never seen it before.
Backing away, he wouldn’t meet my gaze as he turned and left the house. He closed the door, locked it, and walked down the porch steps quietly.
Moments later, I heard Jared’s Boss and Liam’s Camaro fire up and speed down the dark street.
And an hour later, I was still lying awake in Tate’s bed, running my finger over the spot he’d touched on my collarbone and wondering about the Jaxon Trent I never got to know.
Two years later
Shelburne Falls was an average-size town in northern Illinois. Not too small but barely big enough to have its own mall. To the naked eye, it was picturesque. Sweet in its “no two homes are alike” originality and welcoming in its “can I help you carry your groceries to the car?” kind of way.
Secrets were kept behind closed doors, and there were always too many prying eyes, but the sky was blue, the leaves rustling in the wind sounded like music, and kids still played outside rather than zoned out on video games all the time.
I loved it here. But I also hated who I was here.
When I left for college two years ago, I had made a promise to spend every day trying to be better than I was. I was going to be an attentive girlfriend, a trustworthy friend, and a perfect daughter.
I rarely came home, choosing to spend last summer counseling at a summer camp in Oregon and visiting my college roommate, Nik, at her home in San Diego. My mother got to brag about my busy lifestyle, and my old friends really didn’t seem to miss me, so it all worked out.
Shelburne Falls wasn’t a bad place. It was perfect, actually. But I was less than perfect here, and I didn’t want to come home until I could show all of them that I was stronger, tougher, and smarter.
But that shit blew up in my face. Big-time.
Not only did I breeze back into town much sooner than I’d wanted, but my arrival was on the heels of a court order. Awesome impression, K.C.
My phone rang, and I blinked as I came out of my thoughts. Adjusting the covers, I sat up in bed and slid the screen on my Galaxy.
“Tate, hi.” I smiled, not even bothering to say hello. “You’re up early.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.” Her cheerful voice was a relief.
“You didn’t.” I swung my legs out of bed and stood up, stretching. “I was just getting up.”
Tate had been my best friend all through high school. She still was, I guess. During senior year, though, I’d changed our friendship. I wasn’t there when she needed me, and now she kept about two feet of personal space when I was around. I didn’t blame her. I messed up, and I hadn’t manned up to talk about it. Or apologize.
And despite my mother’s oft-repeated words of “wisdom,” I should have. “Apologizing is lowering yourself, K.C. Nothing is really a mistake until you admit you’re sorry for it. Until then, it’s just a difference of opinion. Don’t ever apologize. It weakens you in front of others.”
But Tate rolled with it. I guess she figured that I needed her friendship more than she needed me to say I was sorry.
But all in all, I was positive of two things. She loved me, but she didn’t trust me.
She was chewing something as she spoke, and I heard a refrigerator door shut in the background. “I just wanted to make sure you got settled in okay and that you’re comfortable.”
I pulled my white cami back down over my stomach as I walked to the French doors. “Tate, thank you so much to you and your dad for letting me crash here. I feel like a burden.”
“Are you kidding?” she burst out, her voice high-pitched in surprise. “You’re always welcome, and you’ll stay for as long as you need.”
After I’d gotten in to Shelburne Falls last night—by plane and then by cab—I’d made quick work of unpacking all my clothes in Tate’s old room, showering, and inventorying the cabinets for any food I might need. Turned out I needed nothing. The cabinets and the refrigerator were crammed full of fresh food, which was weird, considering that Tate’s dad had been in Japan since May and would be there until fall.
“Thanks,” I offered, dropping my head. I felt guilty at her generosity. “My mom may warm up as the summer progresses.”
“What’s her problem?” Her honest question threw me.
I let out a bitter laugh as I opened up her white French doors to let the fragrant summer breeze in. “My police record doesn’t match her lily-white living room. That’s her problem, Tate.”
My mother only lived a few blocks away, so it was funny that she actually thought she’d escape gossip by not letting me stay at home while I completed my community service. Those Rotary Club bitches were going to be on her case either way.
That wasn’t funny. I shouldn’t laugh.
“Your ‘police record,’” Tate mimicked. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Don’t tease me, please.”
“I’m not,” she assured me. “I’m proud of you.”
“Not for breaking the law,” she was quick to add. “But for standing up for yourself. Everyone knows I’d probably have a police record if not for Jared and Madoc tossing their weight around. You make mistakes like everyone else, but if you ask me, that asshole Liam got exactly what he deserved. So, yes. I’m proud of you.”
I stayed quiet, knowing she was trying to make me feel better about dumping my boyfriend—kind of violently—after a five-year relationship.
But then I shook my head as I inhaled the clean morning air. Everyone may make mistakes, but not everyone gets arrested.
I could do better. A lot better. And I would.
Straightening my back, I held the phone with one hand and inspected the fingernails of the other.
“So, when will you be home?” I asked.
“Not for a couple of weeks. Madoc and Fallon left for a vacation yesterday to Mexico, and Jared’s at ‘Commando Camp’ until late June. I’m going to visit my father soon, but for now, I’m taking the opportunity while Jared is away to pretty up the apartment.”
“Ah,” I mused, staring absently through the trees to the house next door. “Here come the scented candles and throw pillows,” I teased.
“Don’t forget the frilly toilet seat covers and accent lamps.”
We laughed, but mine was forced. I didn’t like hearing about their lives that I hadn’t been a part of. Jared and Tate were going to college and living together in Chicago. He was in ROTC or something and was off on a training session in Florida. His best friend, Madoc—a fellow classmate of mine from high school—was married already and going to college in Chicago with Jared, Tate, and his wife, Fallon, whom I barely knew.
They were all some sort of little gang that I wasn’t a part of anymore, and suddenly a heavy weight settled on my heart. I missed my friends.
“Anyway,” she continued, “everyone will be home soon. We’re thinking of a camping trip for the Fourth of July, so do yourself a favor. Get ready. Be wild. Don’t shower today. Wear a mismatched bra and panty set. Go get a hot bikini. Be. Wild. Got it?”
Hot bikini. Camping. Tate, Fallon, Jared, and Madoc and their wild ways. Two couples and me the fifth wheel.
I looked across at the darkened house next door, where Tate’s boyfriend had once lived. His brother, Jax, used to live there, too, and all of a sudden I wanted to ask Tate about him.
I shook my head, tears pooling in my eyes.
Tate. Jared. Fallon. Madoc.
Jaxon Trent, and all the chances he gave me that I never took. Wild.
The silent tears dropped, but I stayed silent.
“K.C.?” Tate prompted when I said nothing. “The world has plans for you, baby. Whether you’re ready or not. You can be either a driver or a passenger. Now get yourself a hot bikini for the camping trip. Got it?”
I swallowed the Brillo Pad in my throat and nodded. “Got it.”
“Now go open the top drawer of my dresser. I left two presents in there when I was home this past weekend.”
My eyebrows pinched together as I walked. “You were just home?”
I wished I hadn’t missed her. We hadn’t seen each other in about a year and a half.
“Well, I wanted to make sure it was clean,” she answered as I headed to the opposite wall to her dresser, “and that you had food. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay to greet you, though.”
Yanking open the drawer, I immediately froze. My breathing halted, and my eyes went round.
“Tate?” My voice squeaked like a mouse’s.
“You like?” she taunted, the smirk on her face practically visible through the phone. “It’s waterproof.”
I reached in with a shaky hand and took out the purple “Jack Rabbit” vibrator still in its clear plastic packaging.
Oh, my God.
“It’s huge!” I burst out, dropping both the phone and the vibrator. “Shit!”
Scrambling, I snatched the phone off the rug and hugged myself as I laughed. “You’re crazy. You know that?”
The delighted sound of her laughter filled my ears, and I had gone from tears to smiles in no time.
There was a time when I was more experienced than Tate. Who knew she’d be buying me my first vibrator?
“I have one just like it,” she said. “It’s getting me through Jared’s absence. And the iPod has angry rock music,” she pointed out.
Oh, that’s right. I peered into the drawer again, seeing the iPod Touch already opened with earbuds wrapped around it. She must already have loaded music onto it.
“It will help you forget that asshole.” She referred to Liam. The reason I was in trouble in the first place.
“Maybe it will help me forget K. C. Carter,” I teased.
Bending down, I picked up the vibrator and caught myself wondering what kind of batteries it took. “Thank you, Tate.” I hoped she could hear the sincerity in my voice. “If nothing else, I already feel better.”
“Use them both,” she ordered. “Today. Also, use the word motherfucker at some point. You’ll feel a lot better. Trust me.”
And then she hung up without a good-bye.
I pulled the phone away from my ear, staring at it as confusion shredded my smile.
I’d said “motherfucker.” Just never out loud.
* * *
“I’m sure you’re probably very nervous, but after the first day it will be much easier.” Principal Masters powered down the hallway at my old high school as I tried to keep up. “And after ten days,” he continued, “it will be as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.”
Inwardly, I admitted that I was never allowed to keep shoes long enough for them to get comfortable, but I’d take his word for it.
“I just don’t understand,” I said breathlessly as I jogged up to his side, trying to keep pace, “how someone with no teaching experience—no teaching education—is expected to bring eight kids up to speed for their senior year.”
It was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard.
When I found out that I was going to be sent home to complete my community service, I was a little annoyed and whole lot relieved. While I certainly didn’t want anyone finding out about the idiocy that got me arrested, I also had no place to live in Phoenix for the summer. Coming home had been a lucky turn of events.
Even when my mother told me I would be staying at the Brandts’ empty house instead of shaming her with my presence at our home, I still thought it was better than hanging around Arizona, knowing that my ex was in our apartment with someone else.
But teaching? Whose brain fart was that?
“You’re not teaching,” Principal Masters shot back, turning his head only enough so I could see the side of his face. “You’re tutoring. There’s a difference.” And then he stopped and spun around to face me. “Let me tell you something about teaching. You can have the best teachers in the world with the most scientifically proven resources that money can buy and a teacher will still fail. Students need attention. That’s it.” He sliced the air between us with his hands. “They need your one-on-one time, okay? You have eight seventeen-year-olds on your roster, and you will not be alone. There are other tutors and other teachers running summer sessions in the school. The cheerleaders and band members will be around here and there, and then we have our lacrosse boys on the field nearly every day. Believe me, the school will be packed this summer. You’ll have lots of lifelines should you need them.”
“Do you hold every tutor’s hand like this?”
He smiled and turned to keep walking. “No. But then, I don’t have any other tutors completing court-ordered community service.”
Ugh. I’d blissfully forgotten about that for five seconds.
“I’m sorry.” I winced. “I know this is an awkward situation.”
“A very lucky situation.”
I loved the pep in his voice. Our principal had always been easy to talk to.
“It must be ideal to be able to come home for the summer to fulfill your requirement. And in the comfort of a place you’re familiar with.”
Yeah, about that . . . “How did I get this project?” I ventured, clutching Tate’s brown leather messenger bag from high school that I’d found in her closet this morning.
“I asked for you.”
Yeah, but . . .
“Your information popped up in my e-mail,” he offered. “I knew you, trusted you—for the most part—and knew that you shone at writing. Ms. Penley still uses some of your essays and reports to showcase to the other students. Did you know that?”
I shook my head and followed him up the stairs to the second floor, where my new classroom would be.
I loved writing. Always had. I was shit when it came to oral presentations, debates, or telling stories, but give me a pen, paper, and some time, and my thoughts came together perfectly.
If only life could be edited like a story, I’d rock.
He continued. “And I also knew that you had experience counseling kids at summer camps, so it seemed like a good fit.”
My flip-flops slapped the smooth brick floors as we reached the second level. “But you said my information popped up in your e-mail?” I asked. “Who sent it to you?”
“I never knew.” He scrunched his eyebrows at me, looking curious. “I figured it was just a paper pusher with the Corrections Department.” And then he stopped in front of what used to be—or perhaps still was—Dr. Porter’s chemistry lab. “And that reminds me”—he wagged a finger—“your special circumstances do not need to be broadcast. I trust I don’t need to tell you that, but I want to make it clear. These kids are not to know why you are here. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir. Of course.” I fisted the strap of the bag hanging over my shoulder, feeling embarrassed. “And thank you for trusting me with this.”
His blue eyes softened, and he shot me a small smile. “This will be your room.” He nodded to Dr. Porter’s lab and then handed me the file folders in his hand. “Diagnostic assessments telling you where each student stands, teacher notes, lesson plans, and worksheet master copies. Study up, and see you Monday, K.C.”
And then he left, leaving me to look around and get the lay of the land. I had so many questions. These kids were seventeen. What if they didn’t want to listen to someone who was only a few years older? What would I do with behavior problems? Of course, Jared and Jaxon Trent no longer went to school here, but I was sure other douche bags had replaced them. And why were we holding tutoring sessions for writing in the chemistry lab? Didn’t I need to be fingerprinted to work with minors?
Oh, wait. I had been fingerprinted.
I laughed to myself, figuring it was better than crying. How shit changes.
When you’re in high school, you think you’re so smart and plans will always work out. You think you’ll be on the road to success with money in your pocket and a busy schedule, because you’re so important, having become exactly the person you always wanted to be as soon as you leave high school.
What they don’t tell you is that you’re more confused at twenty than you were at seventeen. And looking through the window on the door to the classroom, I rubbed the chills from my arms, wondering if I’d be even more confused at twenty-five than I was right now. The road had been clear before, and now it was so muddy that I could barely even walk.
But walking was all I was going to do this summer. Since I’d lost my license for a year, I let Nik take my car to San Diego with her and took comfort in the fact that I didn’t have any friends in town—right now, at least—that would make it a burden for me not to be driving.
School and the gym. Occasionally the grocery store. Those were the only places I’d be going, and they were all a healthy, but manageable, hike from Tate’s house.
I decided to head back there, opting out of stepping foot in the classroom until I had to. I deserved my punishment, but that still didn’t make it easier to face spending all summer in a hot, musty building filled with people who didn’t want to be there any more than I did.
Leaving the school, I dug out Tate’s iPod and fit the earbuds into my ears. As I scrolled through the playlist, I couldn’t help smiling as I realized I didn’t recognize a single song she’d loaded.
I loved Tate’s taste in music, even before I met her. But over the years I’d gotten tired of battling my mother on the songs she’d hear coming from my room, and so I gave up. On all music. I rarely listened to anything, because her voice would always invade my thoughts and ruin it.
Clicking on Chevelle’s “Take Out the Gunman,” I cranked up the volume so loud my ears ached. But I still broke out in a huge smile when that sexy voice started and fireworks started going off in my chest. I couldn’t hear my mother in my head or anything but the thunder of music, making me laugh, making my heart beat, and making my head bob as I walked home.
The neighborhood streets were calm, the occasional car breezing past, and the sun on my legs felt so warm I realized how much I had missed my hometown in the summer.
The lush green trees looming around me, their leaves dancing in the breeze. The smell of lawns being cut and barbecues grilling dinner. The children racing up to the ice cream truck as it pulled over to the curb.
I loved it all, and for the first moment in a very long time, I was at ease. Even despite the trouble I’d gotten into.
I realized no one was waiting for me, no one was watching me, and no one was bothering me. Eventually my mother would call. Eventually I’d have to go to tutoring on Monday. And eventually I’d have to return to my political science major in the fall.
But if only for this moment, I was free.
And damn hot. I ran my fingers across my hairline, wiping off a bit of sweat. That’s one thing where Arizona wins out over Shelburne Falls. Less humidity there.
But I’d dressed as smart as I could. I’d worn a white crochet skirt that made my tanned legs look so much more awesome than they actually were, but I kept it conservative on top with a thin, button-up white blouse. The stickiness on my back was already too much. I unbuttoned the shirt and pulled it off, slinging it over the messenger bag and leaving me in my white cami.
My dark hair hung down past my shoulder blades, and now that it was getting windblown and sweaty from the walk, I wished I’d pulled it up.
Stepping over the curb, I walked across the empty street and suddenly felt my heart plummet into my stomach.
Looking over the vast green lawn of the town park, I saw Liam’s Camaro parked in front of Applebaum’s Bagels. Liam. My ex-boyfriend who cheated on me twice and was supposed to be staying in Phoenix for the summer. Shit!
My head fell back, and I closed my eyes. Fuck my luck.
My teeth clenched, and every damn muscle in my body was charged.
But then I jumped, startled. A sudden jolt of vibrations tingled my feet and shot straight up my legs.
I opened my eyes and turned around to see that I’d stopped in the middle of the street I’d been attempting to cross before Liam’s Camaro grabbed my attention. I blinked, staring wide-eyed at a car—actually, a ton of cars—as they just sat there, staring back at me and waiting for me to move my ass out of their way. How long had they been there before I noticed?
Chills ran up my spine, and I shivered, Liam forgotten. I barely noticed the other muscle cars. All I saw was the one in the lead. The black one staring at me through blacked-out windows.
The Mustang GT.
Jaxon Trent’s Mustang GT.
I wasn’t expecting that. Not for one minute did I think Jax would still be in town.
I hurried to the other side of the street, locked in a weird daze as Chevelle pounded in my ears. Turning around, I watched his Mustang just sit there.
What was he doing?
Finally he revved the engine and cruised past slowly, car after car, all tricked out, following in his wake.
My dry tongue suddenly felt like a scrub brush in my mouth. More cars zoomed by me, blowing my short skirt across my thighs, and I felt as if I’d gotten caught in the middle of a damn parade.
What the hell was this?
Some of the vehicles I recognized. Since Liam, Jared, and Tate all used to race at the Loop, I’d learned at least a few things. Like Jax’s car was a Mustang, and I knew it was still Jax’s car, because I noticed his license plate still read NATIVE on it. The car behind it was Sam’s, a guy who graduated with me. It was a Dodge Challenger, but I had no clue what year. There was another Mustang, a Chevy SS, and a couple of older Fords and Pontiacs.
And then there were some very out-of-place ones.
Subarus? Hyundais? Was that a MINI Cooper?
Jax’s brother, Jared, would rather eat his own tongue than be seen with these cars. And they were all pimped out, too, with weird paint and huge spoilers on the back.
But there were a shitload of them. I just stood there, staring, as car after car roared past me, all of them making their own distinct sounds as their engines sent vibrations down to the pavement at my feet, and up my body, making my belly hum.
I clenched my thighs and winced, disgusted with myself.
I was not wet.
But I was. I was so completely turned on that I couldn’t remember the last time my body had burned like this.
I looked over once more, watching Jaxon Trent’s Mustang round the corner and disappear.
* * *
I spent the next few hours trying to keep as busy as possible. No friends, no car, not a lot of money, and I was restless as hell. And idle hands were the devil’s plaything.
Boredom was the root of all trouble, and apparently trouble was still living right next door.
What the hell was wrong with me? I hadn’t even seen the guy yet. He hadn’t even stepped out of his car, and all my brain wanted to do was wonder about him. Picture him. In his car. Dressed in black as he usually was. Touching me to that Chevelle song. What did he look like now?
When I finally got home, I changed into workout clothes and went to the gym, determined to kill some calories in kickboxing class. And then I stayed in the sauna, hoping to drain myself of every sexual impulse I’d had today.
For the most part, it worked. I was breathing evenly now at least.
As soon as I got back to the house, I showered, slapped on a little makeup and dried my hair, and then picked through my clothes for some sweatpants and a tank top.
Until I saw some of Tate’s clothes still in the drawers.
I smiled, reaching in and snatching out a pair of cutoff jean shorts. I slid them on, loving the way they felt so comfortable and still looked cute as hell. They were baggy, hanging off my hip bones, but they weren’t too long or too short, either. Pulling on my pink tank top, I looked in the mirror, wondering what my mother would say. She thought cutoffs were sloppy, and although she liked Tate, she stressed that her music and her style were not to be duplicated.
But she wasn’t here, and if no one was going to see me, then no harm done.
I spent the rest of the night sprawled out on the living room floor, eating mac ’n’ cheese and poring over the files Principal Masters had given me. Although he’d given me lesson plans, I typed up some K.C.–friendly instructions of my own on my laptop, adding a couple of journal activities I loved doing in my own classes at college. Sessions would be Monday through Thursday from eight fifteen to noon, and tutoring would end mid-July. After that, my hundred hours would be complete, and I’d be free for the rest of the summer.
I’d been staring at the same sentence for about five minutes when I let my head fall back and closed my eyes, completely pissed off at the noise outside.
The raucous party next door had begun as a dull hum two hours ago, but now it was a hodgepodge of laughter, squeals, thunderous engines roaring in and out of the neighborhood, and constant explosions of music that felt as if bombs might actually be detonating under Tate’s house. I gritted my teeth together and grumbled to no one, “I can’t believe no one in the neighborhood complains about this.”
I shot off the area rug, heading for the windows in the dining room to take a look at what was going on, when I heard pounding on the front door.
“Juliet?” a singsong voice called. “What light through yonder window breaks?” The familiar words made my heart flutter, and I smiled.
“Romeo, Romeo,” I called, doing an about-face for the front door. “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
I yanked open the door, reached for my cousin Shane’s hand, and let her pull me into her body and then dip me backward so that my back arched and my hair caressed the hardwood floors.
She held me tight. “Your nose hairs need to be trimmed, cuz.”
I popped my head up. “Your breath smells like a dead person.”
She swooped me back up and plopped a kiss on my cheek before walking past me into the living room.
“How are you?” she asked, acting as if it hadn’t been a year since we’d seen each other.
“Nothing that a few drinks or a bullet to the head won’t cure.”
I hesitated as I watched her crash into the armchair and slouch. Even though we rarely saw each other since college had started, we talked at least once a week and over time her jokes made me more and more uncomfortable. Those little comments were pretty constant.
Shane was my only cousin, and since we were both our parents’ only children, we grew up close. I appreciated her way with words and her easy humor, but it still didn’t erase the suspicion that she was aching to leave home and spread her wings.
“Careful,” I warned. “I may actually start worrying about someone other than myself.”
“That would be new,” she teased, folding her hands over her stomach. “So . . . are you really okay, Juliet?”
She was the only person who called me by my real name—Juliet Adrian Carter. Everyone else called me K.C.
“I’m fine.” I nodded, sitting back down on the floor and spreading my legs around the laptop. “You?”
“Better now that you’re home.”
Shane graduated this year and would be off to college in California in the fall. But even there, she wouldn’t have much freedom. Her parents only agreed to pay the out-of-state tuition if she lived with her grandmother—on her father’s side—in San Francisco.
Shane was less than happy, but she rolled with it. Although I think she liked Shelburne Falls—she had lots of friends—she was looking for an environment that had more than a ten percent African-American population.
Her dad was black. He loved it here and from what I gathered, he was comfortable, but Shane craved more diversity, more culture, more everything.
She cleared her throat and leaned on her knees. “What are you doing?” The question sounded like an accusation.
I looked up into her stunning hazel eyes. “Getting ready for my community service. I’m tutoring incoming seniors this summer.”
“I heard.” She still stared at me as if she were confused. “I meant why the hell are you holed up in the house when for once in your life Liam or Sandra Fucking Carter doesn’t have you on a leash?”
“You know I love you,” I started, “but I have a nice, peaceful house and a vibrator upstairs. I’m good,” I joked. “Besides, do you really think I should go looking for trouble, Shane?”
“You won’t have to look far.” Her taunting voice sounded sexy. “Has it escaped your notice that a party has commenced next door?”
Ah. Now I got it. I looked at her attire, noticing the skintight black miniskirt and the white tank top. Unlike my tank, though, hers had sequins around the neckline and in one long strip down the front. With her café au lait skin, dark, straightened hair falling below her shoulder blades, and her legs that went on for days, she was stunningly beautiful.
I wondered if Jax ever noticed her, but I shook my head clear. I didn’t care.
“No, it hasn’t escaped my notice,” I mumbled. “I think the vibrations of the music are shaking the foundations of this house, actually.”
“Well, I’m going. And so are you.”
“No, I’m not.” I let out a bitter laugh and unwrapped a piece of spearmint gum, sticking it into my mouth. “Jax is trouble, and I have no desire to be over there.”
“Yes, you do. Everyone wants to be over there. And every girl gets along with Jax.”
I couldn’t help it. I looked up and shot her what I was sure was a nasty little scowl. But I quickly looked back down again. Images of Jax screwing those two girls a couple of years ago flashed through my mind, and I thought of everyone else he’d probably had since then, and I . . .
I fisted the gum wrapper.
Why did he affect me so much? Jaxon Trent was just a cocky kid who had liked to push my buttons in high school—but for some reason my damn body had more of a reaction to him than the boyfriend I’d had for five years. And even though I didn’t consider what he might or might not have been doing while I was gone, I damn well couldn’t stop thinking about it now.
Oh, Christ. I hope Shane had never slept with him.
I almost asked.
“Well, I don’t,” I grumbled. “Jax was always bad news. Does he even go to college?”
“To Clarke,” she answered quickly, and I blinked.
It was local. Close enough for him to live in Shelburne Falls. But it was also private and had very high ratings for its academics. Shame warmed my cheeks for assuming he wasn’t college material. He was, and he was in a much better school than I attended.
“So he still lives next door year-round with Katherine?” I ventured.
“No, she married Madoc’s dad last year and moved into his apartment in the city. She gave Jax the house when he graduated from high school.”
So that was Jax’s house now.
I closed my laptop. “What’s with all the cars outside?”
Her full lips, painted a glossy red, spread in a smile, showing off her perfect white teeth. “A lot’s changed, Juliet.”
“Trying to be cryptic? What the hell’s changed?”
She shrugged. “It’s hard to explain,” she said, leaning back and resting her arms on the sides of the chair. “You just need to see. We’re going to the party, and you’re going to have fun.”
I shook my head. “Neither of us is going over. I’m keeping my nose clean, and you’re severely underage and without a party buddy.”
Her eyes practically twinkled. “Oh, no,” she gasped, putting her palm to her chest. “I can’t be without a party buddy,” she said as she stood up.
I stared at her. “What are you doing?”
She inched past the chair toward the entryway, smirking with her hand still on her chest. “Without a party buddy, I might do something moronic,” she teased, still moving away, “like take a mysterious drink laced with GHB from a tattooed ex-con who wants to take me upstairs to introduce me to his buddies!” She opened the door as I scrambled off the floor. “Bye,” she yelled.
And then she bolted out the front door, slamming it shut.
“Shane!” I growled, scurrying after her.
Damn, damn, damn! I pulled open the door, darted out to the porch, and . . . shit! Spinning around, I dived back into the house and shoved my feet into my black flip-flops that were lying in the entryway.
Yanking open the door again, I ran outside, leaping over all the steps on the porch and landing on the brick walkway.
Ugh, that girl!
She was gone. Twisting left and then right, I didn’t see her sparkly white top anywhere. She was already at the party, and I sucked in breath after breath, trying to calm the tornado in my stomach.
Eighteen. Without a buddy. And the closest person I’d had to real family in a long time. All good reasons to go get her.
I looked down at my outfit. Sloppy and disheveled, in clothes that hung on me, hair kinky with the natural wave that I hadn’t straightened out after my shower and barely any makeup on.
Well, the good thing was I’d push off any unwanted attention. That was for sure.
I stomped across the lawn, feeling the sharp blades of grass poke my ankles. The sun had set an hour ago, but the wet heat still hung in the air, and my back suddenly cooled with the light layer of sweat already coating it.
The long driveway was packed with cars—two rows, five deep—and the street was a damn parking lot. I recognized most of the cars I’d seen earlier. Different makes and models, some with loud paint and design work, others calm, clean, and sleek-looking. There were even cars parked in the middle of Fall Away Lane, as if the neighborhood residents wouldn’t need their own street to drive on tonight.
I noticed that the garage—which sat on the other side of the house—had been extended from a two-car to a three-car, and the house had been refreshed with new white paint, although the shutters had been changed from navy blue to black.
My ears perked up when a new song started, and I actually recognized it. “Heaven Knows” by the Pretty Reckless. Nik had listened to it a lot at school.
Partygoers were scattered about as I walked onto the porch and stepped through the open doorway, trying not to think about the last time I was here.
But then I couldn’t think about anything as I immediately deflated and gawked at the inside of the house.
Oh, my God. Wow.
More than the exterior had been upgraded. My eyes darted up, down, and all around as I took in new, bold paint making the house so much more inviting, and the carpet in the living room that had been torn away to reveal shiny hardwood floors. Everything in the rooms that I could get a glimpse of was made to accommodate a bachelor and his parties.
Three huge flat-screens lined the wall in the family room where the pool table still sat. The furniture in the living room had been replaced with deep leather couches and more flat-screens, and as I peered to the back of the house, I could see glimpses of a renovated kitchen as well.
“A lot’s changed, Juliet.” Shane’s voice came back to me. Yeah, so it would seem.
Katherine Trent—or Katherine Caruthers now—had kept a nice house before, but this was . . . well, I didn’t know how to describe it.
Loaded? Indulgent? Hot. Definitely hot.
I liked the red walls in the living room, the midnight blue walls in the family room, and the cappuccino-colored walls in the foyer. I liked the black-framed prints of Native Americans wearing various headdresses and jewelry on the walls leading up to the second floor, and even though black leather couches usually creeped me out, the ones in the living room weren’t cheap. They were deep and lush, and expensive looking. Everything looked so well kept and clean.
I spun around, coming face-to-face with Liam.
And I swallowed my fucking gum.
I winced, not even trying to hide the look. The sight of his blue doe eyes and polite expression gave me a sudden urge to breathe fire in his stupid, fat face. Was this seriously happening to me right now?
He stood in the doorway, holding hands with the very same redhead I’d caught him with at the club last week. She had on a black, strapless dress, and her hair was full of volume and looking sexy as it fell around her.
Great. And I picked today to get rebellious with my appearance. I shook my head at the irony.
When he’d cheated on me in high school, I’d taken him back. Stupidly. I felt as if I’d done something wrong—something to push him away—and he’d honestly seemed sorry for what he’d done. After seeing how Jared had treated Tate through most of high school, I was actually grateful to have a boyfriend who brought me flowers when I was sick and who put up with my mother’s attitude.
When I caught him cheating again a couple of weeks ago, I was done.
“Liam.” I sighed, trying to look bored. “Doesn’t Jax hate you? Why are you here?”
His face fell, and it was the first time I’d been glad for Jax’s contempt toward Liam. Although I was also insinuating that Jax was fine with me being here, which might not be true, either.
“Everyone’s here, K.C.” Liam stuck his other hand in his pocket. “This is Megan, by the way.”
“I’ll let you know when I give a shit,” I mumbled.
He continued, ignoring me. “I brought her home to meet my parents.” Don’t care. “We’re moving in together, K.C.”
My knees damn near buckled, and I let out a shocked laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”
Megan arched an eyebrow, looking dissatisfied that she had to tolerate my presence, and Liam hooded his eyes, totally not laughing with me.
I immediately straightened. “Wow, I’m sorry.”
“Excuse me?” Megan snipped.
“I mean, I’m sorry in advance. For when he cheats on you,” I explained. “Do you really think that he won’t?”
She smiled, looking smug, as if she knew something I didn’t, and I locked my hands behind my back, fingering my scar.
“Men who are unsatisfied cheat,” she taunted me. “And from what I hear, you were very unsatisfying.”
And I stared dumbfounded as she pretended to take a dick into her mouth and start gagging.
I barely saw Liam give her a dirty look. All I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears while her pompous smirk leveled me. She was imitating me. Liam had told her . . .
The room was too crowded, and I rubbed my upper arms, trying to erase the chill even though embarrassment warmed my cheeks. They just stood there, staring at me, and it was my turn to act, but I locked my mouth shut, searching my blank mental arsenal for what I should do next.
But I had nothing. I was unsatisfying. I was pathetic to him. What was I supposed to do now? What was I supposed to say?
Tate. She would know what to do.
“You couldn’t even give a decent blow job, huh?” Megan baited me.
Goose bumps broke out over my arms, I was so cold, and I blinked long and hard. So cold.
But then a rush of heat hit my back, and I gasped, my eyelids fluttering with the sudden warm relief.
“Liam,” Jax’s voice greeted him as he wrapped his arms around my waist and engulfed me in the soothing furnace of his skin.
“Jax,” Liam muttered, his voice unfriendly. I opened my eyes to see his gaze shooting between me and the man behind me, probably wondering what the hell was going on.
Hell if I knew.
Glancing down, I saw Jax’s same beautiful hands and long fingers, smeared with grease, locked in front of my waist. I brought up my hands and clasped his forearms, much thicker than they were last time I’d seen him.
I didn’t know why he did it. All I knew was that I wasn’t hurting right now, and I wasn’t alone and feeling stupid.
He took my movement as an invitation and pulled me closer into his chest.
“How’s it going?” he asked Liam.
“Fine,” Liam answered, still looking between Jax and me suspiciously. “You?” he asked back.
I noticed Megan staring over my head at Jax, the hint of a smile on her lips.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Fall Away series
"I read this book in one sitting. Rival was as gripping as it was sexy."—#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Colleen Hoover
“A gritty, racy new adult tale peppered with raw emotions. This smoking-hot, action-packed story is a powerful addition to the edgy side of the genre, and readers will eagerly anticipate the next installment.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Bully, the first book in Douglas’ new adult romance Fall Away series, was a self-published sensation, and Rival, the latest installment, is bound to capture even more readers with its intensely emotional writing, angst-driven plot, and abundance of steamy sex scenes.” – Booklist
“Bully was a wonderfully addictive read that kept my heart racing from start to finish. I could not put it down! 5 stars!!”—Aestas Book Blog
“A heated and passionate novel, full of feeling and intensity that will appeal to the reader seeking an emotional rush.”—IndieReader
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Although in Bully and Until You, I was not KC's biggest fan, I know that everyone has their own side of the story, and I could not wait to hear K.C.'s side. I was not disappointed! K.C.'s story is so much more heartbreaking than I anticipated. K.C. and Jax's relationship can be best described as angtsy, angry and passionate. Jax will have you panting one second, and wanting to knock some sense into him the next second. There isn't much else I can say about this book without accidentally spoiling the journey. And that is exactly what this is, a journey, a rollercoaster, an epic adventure! So sit back and enjoy the ride. You will not regret picking this book up! Don't miss out on this 5+ star read!
Jax has always had a thing for K.C. I have a thing for Jax. I have been waiting for his story, wanting to know more about him all along. My inner cougar is definitely in full force. Everything comes to surface in Falling Away. I knew Jax had a terrible childhood. The details only make me love him more. We get answers to previous secrets like what happened in his past, what jobs he is doing now and how he feels inside. Jax has always shown an unbreakable cool surface. We finally see cracks. All of the leading men dig into your heart for different reasons. The deepness of Jax's soul is one of his pulls. K.C. has never been my favorite. I've always thought all the guys and girls from each couple were exciting except K.C. The other girls were badass. K.C. is girly. I went into this read not really caring about her. After learning more about the real person she is, not the shell she has previously shown, I'm totally won over by her also. Jax and K.C. both definitely had way more pain in their lives than anyone could have surmised from the previous books. Now the problem is can two people with this much baggage make it together? All of the existing characters appear in this story. They really are making their own way, putting together their own unique family. I adore them all. Sometimes I got quite emotional over it, as does the book. I blinked away the stinging in my eyes, but I couldn't swallow over the lump in my [...] throat. Falling Away has all the great constants of this series: fast muscle cars, awesome rock music and undeniably attractive men. The best part is how much I feel. It isn't just entertaining; it's passionate. This book definitely pulled my heartstrings, and I cannot wait for more from these characters.
Penelope Douglas does it again. Bully, Until You, & Rival were brilliant and Falling Away is every bit as gripping and amazing. While technically this could be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading the first three books in the series so that you have the full back story on Jax and K.C. as well as the other characters. Jax is the ultimate tortured hero. His childhood was absolutely horrific and it has jaded him in ways that are hard for his friends and family to understand. His life takes a turn for the better when, at 17, he is given the opportunity to leave foster care and move in with his brother, Jared and Jared’s mother. She treats him like her own son, in truth, better than her own son. She mother’s Jax like she should have Jared, in her own way making up for her mistakes. In this environment, Jax is able to bask in love and attention. He first meets K.C. when he begins to attend high school in his new home. He is instantly drawn to her and knows that if they came together, they would combust into a raging fire of passion. However, he also recognizes that they could have a deep and lasting bond. Unfortunately, K.C. refuses to open herself up to him. She spurns him and his attention, ignoring their intense attraction and pull between them. When K.C. finally leaves, Jax reconciles himself to the fact that she will never be his and begins to focus on her cowardice to help drive away his feelings for her. Jas an adult, Jax has settled into a life that straddles right and wrong. The darkness seems to be winning out and he is intent on proving that he has it all. He applies his brains to work that is less than legal, building up his position in power, both financially and within society. In essence, he runs the town. But, deep down, beneath the bravado and swagger, there is still insecurity and fear. He doesn’t truly believe his own façade, he still thinks that he isn’t good enough, that he will never be good enough. He bares deep, unseen scars that keep him from ever truly moving out of the shadows. K.C. is a doormat. In an unexpected twist to this series, we learn some shocking background about K.C. and it really brings her personality into perspective. After her boyfriend chests on her again and a public outburst gets her arrested, she returns home to live out her summer and complete her community service. Her actions estrange her from her mother, but this is actually one of the best things to happen to her. She is finally able to break free of the chains constricting her and find herself. Unable to go home, she stays at Tate’s house, next door to Jax. When she sees him again, she realizes that her attraction to him has only intensified and now it’s for a man, rather than a teenage boy. All though, he was more of a man in high school that she knows. At first, Jax refuses to see beyond the negative feelings he has nurtured towards her. He has let his anger at her fester and he treats her pretty terribly. Some of that anger comes from the fact that he is still attracted to her, like no other woman. K.C. doesn’t truly understand his attitude, but she doesn’t dwell on it much, instead focusing on finding herself. Through the summer, they find themselves thrown together and they begin to learn more about each other, which allows them to have a deeper understanding of the way they are. K.C. is still skittish about being with him because she can see how he straddles the lines in life. Jax isn’t convinced that K.C. could ever accept him as is, and not always have a desire to be with someone “better.” He takes his façade even further at times, trying to be what he thinks he should be to be with her. However, he continues to erode inside until he gives in to the doubts that plague him. Their passion is out of this world and when they come together, the heat blasts off the pages of the book. It’s extremely hot and it will have your panties melting right off! They have the ability to destroy each other, and the ability to heal each other. The story has a lot of give and take in this area. They build each other up and then tear each other down. This book will rip your heart out and make you ache for what both K.C. and Jax have dealt with in their lives. But in the end, the angst and frustration, the anger and passion, they are so worth it. This book is intense and utterly incredible. My emotions were all over the place. This books will without doubt leave you with an extreme hangover! Penelope Douglas is always an automatic 1-click for me and Falling Away just reaffirms that decision. Small warning, if you read all the way to the end, including the preview of Aflame, be prepared for a shocker. I will be counting down the days until the final chapters of this series in the follow up novel that returns to the story of Tate and Jared. I know it will be worth every moment of waiting. Penelope is a force to be reckoned with in the world of fiction. You MUST read this series!
Another book in the Fall Away series, this one focusing on K.C. and Jaxon. K.C. is back in her hometown. She is in college, but there was an incident while she was there and now she is home to complete her community service. There she sees Jaxon again, she hasn't seen him for a couple years, and wow, do sparks fly between the two of them. Well, sparks fly when they aren't arguing. This one was pretty steamy, it seems like it might even be more steamy than the last one I read by this author. I liked that in this book you got a little behind the scenes, you heard a bit about K.C.'s past. What happened with her family when she was younger, and why she was going by the name K.C. instead of her real name, Juliet. You also hear more about Jaxon growing up. His mother abandoned him as a baby and his father, once he found Jaxon in foster care, took him in, but it was a horrible, abusive place to grow up in. One of things I liked the best about this one, was the ending. Jaxon's dad is saying that nobody cares and is there for him, and then multiple people step up saying they care, they are his family, they will be there for him.
Hot hot hot! Penelope sure knows how to raise your blood pressure. Definitely read this book
Oh boy! this really was a tough one. This is like the only book I didn’t run and write a review right after. Maybe I had to marinate it in for a little bit. Falling Away is done so well, everything Jax went through growing up. Is really difficult to imagine. My heart hurt for him and I think in a lot of ways that he was afraid deep down inside. To really let someone in. To actually care and love someone wholly is such a huge thing. K.C. hasn’t had it easy either. She was brought up in this crazy home, that no one really understood. I loved watching the character growth with these two. They went through this whirlwind but you could tell they had that fire. They belonged together, even though yes they both are stubborn. The narrators did an amazing job with this story. I enjoyed both of them. This quickly has become my favorite series. Overall, I give this Five Boundless Stars
I will pay God money to have Jaxon Trent made for real cuz this story was CALIENTE!! I will read It again! ??????
What an amazing book to start my year of reading!!! I love it when we get to know several characters from a book series, first Tate and Jared, then Madoc and Fallon and finally the one that I was waiting for Jax and KC. Now, I knew that this was going to be an emotional book based on the blurb and teaser that I had read, but I was definitely not expecting so much raw emotion, I loved it, it made the characters specifically Jax and KC feel a lot more real. Let’s get a little backstory, we all know that Jax liked to flirt with KC when they were in high school and that he liked to protected her from her boyfriend Liam, but until reading Falling Away we really had no idea of how much these two characters were connected, reading about those first feelings that KC had towards Jax make us wonder why we don’t take chances in love and life more often, just as KC wonders that herself, she feels like she wasted and lost so much to Liam and now with Jax she is determined to show him what being loved is like. But Jax having grow up in such a horrible environment and being mistreated by adult most of his young life, feels like he doesn’t deserve her love, good thing KC is strong willed and didn’t gave up on Jax very easily even when he was trying to get rid of her. From the previous books we knew about Jax and his past, but we didn’t really knew much about KC and her past and in this book we get to really now her, we get to understand her actions a little more and also why she is so determined to get out her skin and live. I was shocked with her background and the things she went through in her childhood. I love that this two people became real to me, I was very invested in their story and that is always good. I love all the books in this series but I can honestly say that I think that this is the best book so far, Penelope’s writing is just beautiful and enchanting. I wish everyone gave this book a chance and get to know this amazing author. I can’t wait for Aflame!
Juliet and Jax have such a captivating relationship, I couldn't put the book down!
K.C. has returned home after being away at college. After a misunderstanding and a violent outburst, K.C. now has to work on some community service hours. Being in her hometown isn’t like coming home, things can and will never be the same. One thing that has changed exponentially is her former crush and nemesis, Jaxon Trent. A story about redemption and second chances, Jaxon and K.C. each must create a new future and leave their hurts and past trials behind them. K.C. must reconcile a terrible childhood at the hands of her parents and premature death of her sister. Jaxon finds it difficult to understand or contemplate the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. Penelope Douglas is a master storyteller and its never been more clear than in Falling Away. Taking these two deeply flawed characters and allowing them to find redemption within one another was both beautiful and well written. Full of temptation, redemption, and a happy ending, Douglas proves she can write a damn good story even when the odds are stacked against her characters.
Falling Away is the third installment in Penelope Douglas's new adult romance series: Fall Away. New adult is slowly but surely becoming one of my least favorite genres, but Ms. Douglas's writing just does it for me every damn time. I get so hooked on following her characters and their lives throughout this series...I just don't want it to end. Falling Away features two damaged characters, and how the effects of abuse have followed them into their very new adulthood. As with the other books in this series, the main characters' relationship dynamics are complex: their relationship with family, friends, romantic interests, and most importantly their relationship with their selves. The new adult age can be challenging enough without added stressors, and although these characters struggle a lot at times, I enjoyed watching them finally figure out how to cope in life despite what they have been through... and most importantly, learn how to move on with supportive people by their sides. If you enjoy the new adult genre, don't miss out on this series! Consider looking into it even if, like me, this genre is not one that you frequent. Different authors bring different insights, and Penelope Douglas is a winner! Check her out! My favorite quote: “The more you suffered, the more you survived. It shaped people in different ways, and what broke one person could empower another.”
Spoiler alert i liked if penelope always does a great job Jax was great but im a littled bummed with what happened at the end of the story i think it was unnecessary. Either way looking forward to the next book regardless. I want to see how it turns out because im so invested in it.
Jax's story...finally! "You've owned me since I was seventeen." I loved this book and this series!
I read this book first. You really dont need to read them in order, but there is some refernce from the previous stories in them. I won this book and Rival in a contest from Penguin and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I purchased the previous books, and read them in a day. I also preordered the next book, Aflame.
After two years away at university, KC Carson returns to her home town in disgrace only to find herself living next door to the guy she's been secretly obsessed with since high school. I've been a fan of The Fall Away series since book one (BULLY). KC was never one of my favorite characters, so it was great to find out that she has such a dramatic back story. Her growth over the course of the novel is monumental. I did find the issues with her mother a bit of a yawn. It is an interesting concept, but the series is already so crammed with inadequate or absent parents that the Carsons' problems seem overwrought and unrealistic. The book starts out really well...KC and Jax playing their "I really can't stand you" games. The plot loses momentum at around 30%. There's nearly a whole chapter spent on Jax showing KC how to drive a stick shift. It KILLS the pacing. I get there's this metaphor about KC taking control and cutting loose, and at one point it's a really good thing she can drive a stick, but the chapter could have been pruned to a single longish scene. Luckily, the story picks up again at around 50%. From there it offers a great balance of emotion and excitement. As is usual in this series, the erotic elements here are plentiful and creatively orchestrated. One of the best things about the book is how the characters from across the series come together. We get to witness the evolution of romantic relationships and friendships. Penelope Douglas does a great job making her readers feel like they're part of the world she's created. We want to be invited to to the parties and on the camping trip! Jax is annoying at times. His self-loathing "not good enough" shtick gets old. And we've already gone through it with his brother Jared. And it looks like there's trouble on the horizon there--so stay tuned. In spite of the melodrama and the pacing issues, FALLING AWAY is emotionally riveting, and the climax makes up for all the racing scenes.
5 thrilling, heart-pumping, torrid, enemies-to-passionate-lovers stars! I have been waiting for Falling Away, which is Jax's book since he was introduced in the Fall Away Series. He absolutely captivated me in every single scene he was a part of, and I could not wait to read about him! He is one of the most intriguing and unforgettable characters that I ever read about. Falling Away features Jax Trent, which is Jared’s brother, and K.C. Carter, which is Tate’s best friend. These two have this explosive chemistry that sizzles every time that they are in the same room. Holy Crapola!! The sexy scenes in this book are crazy HOT!!! They have this love and hate relationship that is simply INTOXICATING!!!! Since the moment they met, K.C. has secretly felt something for Jax. When she comes back to town and comes face-to-face with Jax, she soon realizes that the feelings she has towards him are undeniable. I have to admit that all the characters in this story are unique and simply irresistible. I love them all to pieces and they all have a special place in my heart. These enemies-to-lovers couples will leave you breathless with their all-consuming love stories. When I found out that K.C. was going to be Jax’s love interest in this book, I had mixed emotions. Let me explain. For all of you that have read Bully you might figure out why K.C. was not one of my favorite characters. I liked her in the beginning of the story, but after what happened with her best friend, Tate, I was a bit frustrated with her. I could not figure her out! What I did know, is that Penelope Douglas has never disappointed me since the beginning of this series, and I was confident that by the end of Falling Away we would know who the real K.C. was. It took me less than five chapters to fall in love with K.C.! I love Jax to the moon and back, but K.C. stole the show for me in this book! K.C. and Jax have grown so much since the beginning of this series. Jax pushed K.C. out of her comfort zone so many times. I loved his persistence and how he never stopped until he got what he wanted. Both these characters were still a mystery to me when I started reading this book. After reading the first three books in this series, I knew that Jax had some pretty ugly memories from his childhood, but when I found out about every single detail, my heart broke into a million pieces :( I wanted to reach into the book and give him a hug! Same thing happened with K.C. I had no clue what was hiding in her past, but when I found out I was shocked! The more I read about her past the more I understood why K.C. was the way she was. Falling Away exceeded all of my expectations! It was everything that I expected it to be and more! Penelope Douglas is an auto-buy author for me. I don’t even need to read her blurbs or see her book covers to know that her books are going on my TBR list. Whenever I start one of her books, I know that I am in for an incredible reading escape. She makes me want to live in this world that she created. If you read Falling Away, you probably know that Tate and Jared are getting another book. I won’t deny that there was some ugly crying involved at the end of Falling Away. I only have this to say to Penelope Douglas about Aflame …. Here ---> This is my <3 I trust you with it. I expect it to break into a million pieces, but I know that every single word that you wrote will make it whole again. This book is going to be EPIC! A special THANK YOU to Jared for knocking on the door of Penelope’s writing cave. I can't wait to see what he has to say. Until You was phenomenal! I love all the books in this series, but that one is probably my favorite. That book written from Jared's POV was out of this world!!!! I give, Falling Away, by Penelope Douglas 5 thrilling, heart-pumping, torrid, enemies-to-passionate-lovers stars!
* Written for Craves the Angst Book Reviews * 4 "Only Summer Fun" Stars! The Review: Huge fan here! I love Penelope Douglas’s stories and I knew the moment we met Jax in Bully his story was going to be epic. That belief was cemented when we got more of him in Until You. Reading Falling Away saw that belief realized! His story was emotional, angsty and torturous to read. I loved every minute of it. But what I didn’t expect was to absolutely fall in love with Juliet. Her story was so much more than I expected and so much deeper than we ever knew. This book was wonderful! Story/Characters... Jax blew into town two years ago on his brothers coat tail and turned K.C.’s life upside down. But she denied her heart and followed the path her mother forced upon her literally living someone else's life. But these things never work out and she finds this out the hard way when she’s confronted once again with a disastrous relationship and a broken spirit. She’s been living a lie and the demons in her past are finally catching up to her. Heading back home with her head low, she’s set for a summer of tutoring at her old high school and living in Tate’s old home... across the street from the one guy she knew she needed to stay away from. I loved getting to know K.C./Juliet. I was ambivalent towards her in the first two books because to me, she seemed superficial, flippant and a bit of a traitor to her BFF, Tate. But I should have known she had a story hidden behind all that fluff. This author can make you dislike a character only to have you adore them in the next book. It happened with Jared and Juliet was the same. Juliet wasn't flippant or vacant as she allows people to believe. She has substance and layers and she was so full of self-doubt and pain it was heartbreaking. As she slowly came into her own, you would catch glimpse of the girl she was and see the fire underneath all that restraint. And when she was fully reborn, it was amazing to see! And then there’s Jax.... Jax’s past is riddled with painful events. Betrayed by the people who should have loved him unconditionally, he’s had to grow up depending on no one but himself. After moving in with his brother Jared, who fought to rescue him from that life, he sees things can be different if he only has the courage to take it. But he refuses to allow himself to be put back in the position where he has no control over his own life so he takes risks and is instantly labeled a bad boy. The moment Jax sees K.C., he knew no one would ever compare. But two years later and he’s still not got the girl of his dreams on his arm and what's worse is no amount of life altering, rule breaking or girl chasing can erase the demons trying to catch him or the memories haunting his nightmares. Loud parties, fast cars and loose women might tide him over but when K.C. storms back into his life, he knows he has to have her... no matter what. Jax was no longer just Jared’s mysterious little brother. The man was smokin’ alpha hot... and also a douche! He said some remarkably hurtful things to Juliet but those things also helped her. It was both tragic and empowering. And in the end, they helped each other become stronger, better versions of themselves. Jax comes off as self-assured and this mighty force but we soon see that it’s a mask to cover all the horrors he’s endured. We get glimpses into his past and it’s almost more than we can bare. The things he went through at the hands of someone who should have protected him was torturous to read but it also explained a lot. I knew his story would be epic and getting to know him would be hard and exquisite at the same time and I wasn’t disappointed. And the steam factor?? Holy smokes people. This book was more adult/erotic than new adult/contemporary. Penelope Douglas has graduated from sweet and sultry to deliciously wicked and sinfully sexy. I was blown away by the love scenes. They were well written and butterfly inducing. And I’m REALLY glad these characters were over eighteen or else I would have felt really icky afterwards... well, maybe not but I would have at least pretended to feel icky :D We also get to see plenty of our favorites from the past. Jared and Tate, who are on shaky ground. Maddox and Fallon who are delightfully married and we also get to see some other interesting characters plugged into this engaging and wonderful story that just rounds everything out perfectly. Now For the Buts... Yeah, I Know.. Everyone’s A Critic! I’m sure you’re wondering, if this book was so perfect, then why not 5 stars, right? Well, though I totally got off on the angst and the steamy-sexy, there were some things that I didn’t care for. First, the recreation of the Jared/Tate conflict with the loud music, slamming parties, skirt chasing and the alpha-jerk playing meanboy to the innocent girl left me a little disappointed. Though Jax did class things up, it felt like something that was wonderful and uniquely Jared and Tates was being rebooted. Second, Jax’s douchebaggery comes to an all time high when he tries to push Juliet away after realizing she loves him and the length he goes to was, in my opinion, hurtful to his character. I understood it and even accepted it, but it also made me see something in him I didn’t like. Lastly, Jax, in his epic downward spiral, decides to take Jared with him. He throws down a complete scare on Jared causing him to “see a future” that scares him right out of Tate's arms. I knew this was a set up for the next book but it BROKE. MY. SOUL!! Jax twisted something beautiful and now I kind of need to give him a spanking before I’ll feel better about that. The Wrap Up: All in all, another win from Fall Away Lane. I knew the moment we got word we would be getting this story that I was going to love it... and I wasn't disappointed. It was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.
Jaxon Trent is one guy I have been very eager to get to know better. He's always been a brilliant bad ass, but he's also had the promise of being a guy who loved strongly and deeply. He wasn't the only one I really wanted to get to know. K.C. has been quite a mystery as well and as many of us know by now, that means there is a lot more to it than we can see. I thought I knew Jax quite a bit from previous books but I found out I didn't know as much as I thought I did. After all I learned about him, I'm surprised he isn't more damaged than he is. He really kept his insecurities well hidden. His father has a lot to answer for, as does his mother. I think I was most astonished by how little I knew about K.C., rather Juliet. Calling her K.C. no longer seems right. My heart broke for the both of them. Juliet just wanted to be loved and wanted for who she was, while Jax too just wanted to loved and be good enough. Like I said, the adults in their lives have much to answer for. Both Juliet and Jax needed to get past their assumptions of one another. Honestly, Juliet stole the spotlight from Jax in this book. She really came into her own. I was so happy to see her breaking from the bonds that had held her back for so long. And Jax totally lived up his reputation as a lover. He was so hot! Put him and Juliet together and it was like fireworks! The heat and chemistry were really intense. They had such a contentious relationship initially I didn't think they were going to be able to ever find a way to be together without hurting each other. And once they got past that I didn't think anything could keep them apart. I read this book in one sitting, reading as fast as I could. This story is passionate and emotional. I loved seeing the Fall Away gang together again and happy for the most part. I was very happy at how the story ended. I may have cheered once my heart rate came back to normal. I thought this book was going to be the end of all the strife, pain, and disappointment everyone had faced, but it seems not quite yet. Things between Jared and Tate became a little tense during this book and I'm happy to know they'll get a chance to work it out in Aflame. Falling Away fully delivered on all I'd hoped for. I couldn't have asked for a better story. And for all you K.C./Juliet haters, I bet you wish you'd never talked trash about her! :D