When faced with broken love…Have you ever had the feeling you were a stranger?
She was supposed to be my light.
…or will you be fearless?
“No.” And to make his point clear, he gripped my ass tighter, pulling me closer to him while I sat on his lap. I couldn’t help but smile against his chest.
“You’re being unreasonable.”
“You think I give a fuck?” His sharp tone was replaced with a softly worded plea. “Stay with me, Lake.”
Now how was I supposed to resist that? He so wasn’t playing fair and he knew it. To make it worse, he leaned down and rubbed his nose against mine. I could smell the sweet scent of his breath and feel it brush against my face.
Keiran had always been possessive, but this seemed different. He was clinging to me in a desperate attempt to delay or stop what was already happening.
Tomorrow, I would be leaving Six Forks behind for Nebraska. A few months ago, leaving this place and the unrelenting torment he unleashed on me had been all I wanted. I never thought he would be the reason I would want to stay. He and I would be attending separate schools thirteen hundred miles away.
It felt like our fairytale was ending. Uneasiness turned my body cold. Would he go to his school in Arizona and forget about me? What if he realized I wasn’t what he wanted? What if he found someone stronger, fiercer, and better equipped to handle him?
The answer to his weird behavior was an epiphany brought on by my fears. A tidal wave of unwanted emotions shattered the light bulb, and I found myself clutching him back. What if he felt as insecure as I did right now?
“Are you afraid?” I breathed evidence of our shared insecurities into the night air, letting it hang between us.
I hadn’t expected honesty. Keiran had just admitted he was afraid. The idea that I could make him feel vulnerable made me both elated and afraid. We had been together for only a few months now, but I felt like I’d been his forever.
In a way I guess I have.
Before I could tell him I shared his fears, he emitted a sound between a growl and a grunt before he abruptly lifted me to my feet. “Fine. Go then.”
I had no idea what set him off. Without another word or backward glance, he was gone, and I was left standing by myself in the playground that had become our meeting place when we needed to be alone.
“What the fuck just happened?” I whispered aloud.
I stomped to the parking lot but already found his car gone. His behavior was unlike the possessiveness he’d shown since he claimed me for good. I hopped in my car, confused and feeling a little bit played.
The next day, I was pulling up to the airport with Willow and Aunt Carissa, angry and hurt. I hadn’t heard from Keiran since he left me alone at the playground.
I was getting ready to leave my home behind for the first time, and he was off somewhere pacing like an angry caged lion. I knew he wouldn’t be pouting. It just wasn’t his style, but it didn’t make him any less childish. I moved my suitcase and carry-on from the car with short angry movements. From the corner of my eye, I could see my aunt and best friend lift their eyebrows.
“Are you okay, honey?”
“Fine,” I barely pushed through my teeth. I didn’t want to be rude to my aunt, but Keiran’s absence had already consumed me. For each minute that stretched by, my anger rose. To avoid making eye contact, I stared at my shaking hand.
I heard Willow mumble something to my aunt and wished they would leave so I could have a moment alone. It was getting harder to get on that plane knowing how we had left things.
I tore my attention from my twitching hand to find a worried green gaze staring back at me. “What did he do?” I could tell by her sharp tone that she wouldn’t leave it alone, so I looked around for my aunt, who seemed to have disappeared, before answering.
“What makes you think it wasn’t me?” I wasn’t going to take the blame for our fight, but I was sick of people treating me with kid gloves when it came to Keiran.
“It doesn’t matter, now does it? You’re here and he’s not. He should be here.”
“We got into a fight last night.”
“I wish I knew.”
“I’m not following,” she said impatiently.
“Keiran doesn’t want me to leave. I guess it was too much for him.” As if he was the only one feeling it. My sudden awareness of how selfish he was acting did nothing to abate my anger.
“Are you sure you’re prepared for a long distance relationship?”
“I don’t know, Will. A few months ago, I was a target, not a girlfriend. I have no experience, but I always knew he’d be right there.”
For fuck sake… why was I talking as if we’d broken up instead of having a fight?
“He needs a stiff kick in the dick.”
I didn’t want to, but I did. I held my sides as I bent over from the hard laugh that shook my body. It wasn’t what she said but the level of frustration on her face as she said it. Her brow was pulled so tight that she could have had a unibrow.
“Girls?” my aunt called as she approached with a fresh bottle of water. “It’s time to board.”
I took one last look around the busy parking garage and gave up the hope that he would change his mind and rescue my breaking heart.
Ten minutes later, I was waving goodbye to my aunt. Willow and I found our seats. She immediately pulled out a sketchpad, and I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.
When a loud shout and even more wild commotion erupted from the front of the plane, I was saved from the shame of a major breakdown by one Keiran Masters.
“Sir! Sir, you cannot board this plane without a ticket. Sir!”
Willow turned wide eyes on me at the same moment as I had looked at her.
“No,” she groaned with disbelief and slammed her head against the headrest.
I swallowed hard and fought not to smile. She read my emotions immediately and shot me a look that said I was crazed. Maybe I was, but I knew in my gut who was the cause of such havoc.
My suspicions were confirmed when he rounded the corner at the exact moment my heavy heart picked up its beat again.
His hair was disheveled and his eyes crazed as he wildly searched the cabin with his gaze. His chest moved up and down as if he’d just ran a race. When his eyes were finally connected to mine, he froze. His expression quickly morphed from desperate to unsure to possessive. I never even realized he was moving until he was right in front of me on his knees.
“The next word out of your mouth better be begging,” Willow grumbled next to me. Her eyes were closed and her face finally relaxed as if his presence was as much a healing balm for her as it was for me.
“If she’ll listen, then yes.” I searched his eyes as he held mine. “I want to beg, baby.”
ONE MONTH LATERI bounced from one foot to the other as I waited for Willow to collect her colorful pens. Some things never change.
Since we were freshmen and taking general courses, we were able to take three out of five courses together. I didn’t know what I would do if I had to start my first year of college thirteen hundred miles away from my boyfriend and without my best friend, too.
“Willow, hurry will you?”
“Ugh. God, Lake. As if he wouldn’t wait or call you a million times if you’re even a minute late for your Skype date.”
“He’s not that bad.”
“Oh, yes, he is. But it’s kind of cute… I guess.”
Keiran had always been possessive, but the distance separating us had brought a vulnerable side to him that I never told her I’d seen.
Sheldon said it was normal for guys who think something or someone belongs to them. He had already marked his territory but was now unable to defend it, which was the reason he’d become so agitated before I left for college.
Those were her words.
I didn’t know whether to take her advice as the truth or as a result of pregnancy hormones talking. I still couldn’t believe she was going to have a baby and my crazy fuck of a boyfriend was the one to convince her to go through with it when she wanted to terminate.
If possible, I fell in love with him even more because he had. He’s grown up knowing only death. I never thought he would value life in any way other than living.
She finally finished packing her stuff and met me at the door.
“Sorry, I can’t do lunch today. I have a test next class, and I need all the studying I can get.”
“Nerd,” I teased.
“Whatever. You’d be the same if you weren’t so stuck up Keiran’s as—”
Willow and I both jumped at the sudden sound of Keiran’s deep rumble. He stood across the expansive hallway with his hands shoved in his jeans wearing a pleased grin.
“Hi, Willow,” he taunted. It was evident he caught her remark.
She rolled her eyes and wiggled her fingers dismissively. He knew her well enough by now not to be offended by her pissy attitude. Willow was hurting. We all knew it and so did she.
His eyes finally shifted to me and instant heat assaulted me. We stood frozen on opposite sides of the hallway, content to drink one another in.
It took me a few extra seconds too long to realize he’d spoken.
“Hi.” Breath. It was all the one syllable word managed to be, and yet I felt completely breathless.
My first romantic relationship.
My first boyfriend.
My first love.
What a sap I turned out to be.
“Turn down the sexual energy, will you? I feel pregnant just looking at you two.”
I had no reason to be surprised. Willow usually said exactly what came to mind. Her attitude was as flamboyant as her dress code.
She rolled her eyes at my shock. “I’m off to the land of the nerds. I bought a fresh can of Lysol. Please be sure to clean every surface after use. You know… cause people gotta eat on them.”
Willow quickly retreated. Her laughter trailed behind her. I looked over to Keiran, who was noticeably holding in his own.
“Don’t encourage her.”
He regarded me with hooded eyes, letting the heat in them consume me. “Would you rather I didn’t fuck you on every surface?”
Oh. My. Fuck.
“Then stop staring at me like you want to be fucked.”
“So how should I look at you?”
He chuckled and finally moved to touch me. “As much as I want to,” he fingered my hair, “ a responsible man feeds his woman first.”
“Fine time for you to be chivalrous.”
His smile only widened at my quip. “Maybe I want to be better for you.” His hand lifted, palm up for mine to take. It took longer than necessary for me to oblige. I was lost in the sincere emotion in his eyes.
Hand in hand, he made me show him to the nearest dining facility. Unfortunately, Brady Hall was the closest. I didn’t like eating here because it was jock haven, but I figured Keiran would fit right in. The guys were always rambunctious and rude. Willow and I had been subjected to many catcalls and lewd suggestions.
On second thought…
“Yeah?” He was pulling the door open and waiting for me to go in.
“I’m not very hungry.”
He looked at me suspiciously and then cracked a smile. “Nice try,” he said, thinking I was seeking a shortcut to sex. He pulled me inside by my wrist, and we made our way to the cashier where I swiped my meal card and Keiran paid cash. As we grabbed food, I prayed the jocks had already come and gone. We had a game tomorrow, which was when they were usually the rowdiest.
As we made our way to a table, I realized my prayers had gone unanswered. Why, why, why would I pick this stupid cafeteria? There were two more on campus, yet I had to pick this one.
“Baby, if I have to call your name again, you might just get my hands on your ass, but not in the way you imagined.”
“Huh? Oh… what?”
“What’s up? Why are you so tense?”
His jaw clenched, and I knew my lie hadn’t gone unnoticed. He usually read me like an open book.
“You don’t lie to me. Ever. You keep looking around like you’re waiting for someone to jump out at you.” If possible, his jaw clenched even more. “Has someone been fucking with you?” It was his turn to look around as if he knew who the culprit would be. When his gaze landed on the tables full of football players, his eyes narrowed. I should have known he would know. “Have they?” His voice was full of grit and fire as he nodded at the table of players.
“I don’t understand your question.” It was another lie. I understood him. Just as I knew what would happen next if I confirmed his suspicions. Keiran was thousands of miles away from home and Arizona. He was alone, and there were too many of them for him to take. Jocks stuck together—right or wrong. I’m sure Keiran knew that considering he was a jock, but the way his chest heaved, I knew defending my honor would be more important.
“Lake, I would never let anyone hurt you. Do you believe me?”
“I do, Keiran, but that’s what scares me. It’s okay to walk away sometimes.”
As soon as the words left my lips, the school’s quarterback planted himself in the seat next to me.
I rolled my eyes at his obnoxious greeting. Don’t get me wrong. He’s asked me for my name many times, but I’d always denied him. The last thing he needed was an encouragement to be an even bigger asshole.
“When are you going to let me have that date?”
“Would you like to take her out before or after I break your neck?”
Panic replaced irritation when I saw the infamous vein that meant trouble appear near Keiran’s forehead. Sean never bothered to take his eyes off my breasts, and then he made the catastrophic mistake of groping me. It was the first time he’d ever been so bold and he picked now.
Keiran rose from his seat, and I thought he would make his way to the other side of the table, but he didn’t. He pulled Sean across the table with a grip on his throat.
I jumped from my seat at the same time the entire football team did. The cafeteria, including the staff, had gone quiet. Keiran was outnumbered, and now he had their star quarterback in his hands.
This would end badly for Keiran. I was sure of it.
I looked down and grabbed my fork. It was the best option, and if used in the right spots, it would do severe damage. I was prepared to protect Keiran as fiercely as he was determined to defend my honor.
“You’re making a big mistake, bro. I suggest you let him go or our entire defensive line will make this very painful for you.”
“Pain?” Keiran had transformed into his most sinister right in front of every eye in the cafeteria. Without warning, he kicked out, sending the quarterback to his knees. His grip transferred to Sean’s right arm, and with one motion, he forced it at an awkward angle just enough to make him cry out. I remembered another time, similar to this moment when Keiran had stopped Trevor from raping me in the girl’s locker room.
“Let me school you about pain. Pain for who I’m guessing is your star quarterback here is when I break this bitch’s throwing arm in two. Pain for you is when you lose your game tomorrow and break your winning streak because he doesn’t know when pussy belongs to someone else.”
“I don’t believe you.” The guy who I recognized as Jerald motioned to his team, and they moved to surround Keiran. My anxiety kicked into high gear as I held my weapon that seemed meager now, and I wondered if I could get across the table in time.
Keiran didn’t move or speak as he was surrounded.
One of the biggest players in the circle stepped forward. I started to warn Keiran because I didn’t think he would see him. Keiran jerked Sean’s arm back infinitesimally. His cry was loud, causing Jerald to unload a string of threats to Keiran. Judging by the angle of Sean’s arm, it wouldn’t be long before his arm broke. I wasn’t entirely sure his arm would even be useful tomorrow.
This was not going to end well.
Even if Keiran managed to get out of this unscathed, I would officially be the school pariah and target.
“His arm isn’t going to last much longer,” Keiran taunted, voicing my thoughts.
“Fuck!” Jerald’s face red with rage while Keiran stood calm and relaxed as if he weren’t threatening to break someone’s bones in a room full of witnesses.
“Please,” Sean yelled.
“You know what to do,” Keiran stated.
“Stand down! Stand down!” Jerald ordered.
Everyone moved at the same time. I watched them back away and only then began to breathe easier. We weren’t out of the woods yet.
Keiran had let him go, so what would stop them from pouncing now? Sean stumbled into the safety of his team
“Lake.” I forced my gaze back to Keiran. “Head for the door, baby.”
“Lake.” His tone was no longer soft.
“I’m not leaving you.”
“This will end much worse if you get hurt. Now go.”
I let the distress I felt rip from me as a whimper.
What do I do? What do I do?
“What the hell is going on here?” The team’s coach thundered by me leaving behind a gust of wind. Along with him were two members of campus police. Everyone scattered, leaving us alone with a different kind of trouble.
Keiran’s arrest was imminent, and suddenly, I was no longer afraid for him. I was crazy mad and wanted nothing more than to drive the fork into his brain and dig out his common sense.
I knew for sure someone would snitch—and didn’t he deserve it? He did almost break a guy’s arm… for groping me. The reminder of that sleazeball’s hands on me made my skin crawl.
“Nothing, coach. Just goofing around,” Jerald spoke up though his glare never left Keiran.
“Why is my quarterback clutching his arm and who the fuck are you?” the coach bellowed between Jerald and Keiran.
“Misunderstanding,” Sean whimpered.
Keiran smirked, and I knew if he could reach him, he would offer a pat on his head.
“Boy, your arm better not be broken! Security! Get this piece of shit out of my cafeteria.”
Security moved forward to grab Keiran, but with one look, they backed away and reached for their sides. I prayed campus security didn’t carry guns.
Keiran ignored them and reached for my hand, leading me out of the cafeteria. I was still in shock by the time the building was out of sight.
“I have no idea where I”m going, baby. I need you to snap out of it.” His casual tone broke me out of my trance and I quickly snatched my hand away from his.
“I can’t believe you did that.”
“Are you defending him?”
“I’m defending me! I won’t be able to show my face anymore. He’s the star quarterback.”
“So I’m supposed to let him put his hands on you because he can throw a ball? That will never fucking happen, Lake.”
“You can be such an overbearing dick! Sean is harmless. You couldn’t just walk away?”
“I’d never walk away from protecting you.” His voice softened, and I willed myself not to break. Today could have ended badly. Keiran wouldn’t have been able to win against an entire team, and if they had decided to rat him out, he’d be in jail right now.
“You sure it wasn’t just your jealous ego?”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. He was so adorably cute and proud about the wrong things. “What am I going do now, Keiran? I’ll be a pariah.”
Rather than answer, he pulled me close. I didn’t want to, but I wrapped my arms around his neck and inhaled his scent.
“Run away with me.”
“This is not the time to try to get into my pants. You lost that privilege when you were almost jumped and arrested.”
“Why would we run away? Where are we going?”
“I want you to come to Arizona with me. I can’t do this anymore, Lake. I tried. Fuck me, I tried.”
“I can’t just leave. What about school?”
“I want you with me. I want you in my bed. I want to see you and touch you every day.
“What about school,” I repeated.
Bebe has always wondered about the existence of her talent. When she finally decided to pick up a metaphorical pen and start writing, she found a new way to embrace her passion.
She favors a romance that isn’t always easy on the eyes or heart, and loves to see characters grow–characters who are seemingly doomed from the start but find love anyway.