From NYT & USA Today bestselling author comes a new Bleeding Stars stand-alone novel…
She is his strength and he is her weakness. And this time he won’t let her go.
Edie Evans is gorgeous.
She’s also the definition of off-limits.
But that didn't stop me from sneaking into her room to comfort her at night.
But guys like me? We destroy everything, so it should have been no surprise when I destroyed us, too.
The night I sent her running, I thought I’d never see her again.
Until I saw her standing like a vision in the crowd.
Austin Stone is dangerous.
He broke my heart and I refused to give him the chance to do it again.
It’s been years since I’ve seen him, and now I can’t do anything but stare at the gorgeous, tattooed man playing onstage. I should run. I know I should. But like a fool, I run straight back to him.
Our desire is overpowering.
Our need unrelenting.
She is my hope.
He is my weakness.
We should have known a passion this intense would burn us right into the ground.
I gripped the railing as if it might propel me forward. Instead, my footsteps faltered and slowed. I stood facing away, my back heaving as his consuming presence swarmed over me from behind.
“Please.” This time it was a whisper. A plea.
Slowly I turned.
He’d always been my weakness.
Austin stood at the end of the walkway, just outside the reach of the lights, his body obscured in shadows.
Even larger than I’d imagined when I’d first seen him up on stage.
My heart ached. Because I was looking at the boy who’d been my best friend. The one person who I’d thought would completely understand. One who wouldn’t judge or make it hurt more than it already did.
He’d been my safety.
Until he’d dragged me right back into hell.
“Why are you here?” My words cracked. “H-h-how…how did you find me?”
I saw the shake of his head, and he took a single step forward, out of the shadows and into the glow of the single lamp attached high on the exterior wall that lit the way.
It hit him like a spotlight.
The boy was so beautiful.
It was a threatening kind of beauty, a whorl of mystery and pain, sharp lines and corded muscle.
It almost dropped me to my knees.
He fisted his hands at his sides. The question was strained, hard as it pressed from his mouth. “You believe in fate, Edie?”
Old grief I’d bottled for so long burst. It came out as some kind of maniacal cry. Incredulous. Oozing disbelief. “After everything that happened…that’s what you’re going to ask me?”
“Do you have any idea how badly you hurt me?” I cut him off, my own hands fisting as I took a single step forward. “The damage you caused? Careless words, Austin. So fucking careless, thrown out there without a single thought to the repercussions, without any consideration of how they would affect me. How they would change my life. You promised.” My brow twisted with the accusation. “And now you have the nerve to stand there and ask me if I believe in fate?”
I swallowed hard, shook my head. “You can go to straight to hell, Austin Stone.”
He laughed, but there was zero humor behind it. “Come on, Edie. You can do better than that, can’t you? Considering you know hell is where I’ve been all along, and you and I both know I deserve so much worse. And yeah…those words were reckless, but you know they weren’t heedless. You couldn’t expect me to just stand there. Not with him. Not with what he was saying. Implying. I couldn’t.” The last cracked on the emphasis.
I felt as if every cell in my body was being crushed. Squeezed so tight there was no chance but for everything to implode.
“And because you lost it, I lost it all. You. My home. My future.”
His big hands fisted. “I know. I…I fucked it up, Edie. Warned you, I always fuck it up.”
But what he failed to say was he’d promised he wouldn’t fuck it up with me.
I couldn’t tell if I was relieved or terrified when Jed suddenly rounded the corner. His sister, Blaire, was hot on his heels.
“Edie,” Jed gushed out in relief when he saw me. He came to a stop a few steps behind Austin.
As if he’d just stepped into the bristling intensity and it tripped up his feet.
Austin standing there? I knew that’s exactly what this was going to be.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jed demanded. His voice twisted into a threat. He glared at the back of Austin’s head, worried eyes flicking to me, hardening when they snapped back to Austin.
Blaire tugged at his arm. “Jed…I told you to give her a minute. Sometimes you need to let people sort out their own issues.”
Jed just grunted and shrugged off her arm.
Refusing to budge.
Austin swung his head to look behind him. When he did, his face shifted to the side, all those hard, beautiful lines exposed in profile, his expression winding into a bitter sneer. “Nah, man. All’s good here. Just telling an old friend hi. Isn’t that right, Edie?”
Aggression curled between them.
Alive and raging.
Jed was a burly, beefy, hulk of a man, a full beard covering most of his face, his brown hair cut short at the sides and longer on top.
Had I ever imagined him and Austin going toe to toe, I would have put all my money on Jed.
Now I wasn’t so sure.
Jed lifted his chin, as if for the moment he was standing down, turning to me as his tone softened. “You okay, Edie?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
Lie. Lie. Lie.
I was shaken to my core.
“I just want to go home.” It left me on a desperate breath.
Jed pushed around Austin and stalked my way. “All right, let’s get you out of here.”
As she passed by Austin, Blaire cast a searching glance in his direction, before her attention flickered over to me, a ton of worried questions moving across her expression.
Questions I didn’t know if I had the strength to answer.
With an arm wound around my shoulder, Jed spun me, breaking the spell Austin had me under, and tucked me into his side.
Protecting and shielding.
He began to lead me away, down the planks and toward his car waiting in the parking lot out front.
With each step we took, I could feel the heat of Austin’s stare. That burning intensity I wasn’t sure I could ever escape.
The hurt and hatred.
It was a hatred I couldn’t tell who it was directed at.
If it was aimed at him or me or the rest of the world that had threatened to choke the life out of us.
The world we were supposed to take on together.
Just as we started to round the corner, I paused because I just couldn’t stop myself, turned to look back at the man who stood there staring back at me.
Emotion gripped his expression just as tight as the clench of his fists.
Hard and tortured.
As if I was the one inflicting the pain.
I choked down the sorrow that rose like a cyclone, spinning and spinning, whipping up the old affection that longed for that soft, understanding boy to take me in his arms and sing in my ear.
I searched inside myself for the shelter that secured my heart. The flimsy cover I wore that just barely kept me together. I forced myself to speak the words I knew would drive him away, as much of a lie as they were. “And for the record…no, Austin, I definitely don’t believe in fate.”
A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.
Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, as well as the newest BLEEDING STARS novels. Watch for the next installments, WAIT and STAY, coming in 2016.
If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.
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