on November 10th 2014
Pages: 70,000 words
It’s been four years since twenty-year-old Jessica Hayes has been home, but when she discovers her father is dying, she must return to her hometown in South Carolina and face her past. Jessica thought patching up her relationship with her father would be her biggest challenge, but when she runs into Ryan Dawson—the catalyst of all her problems—she wonders if coming home was a mistake.
Ryan knows he screwed up. Hell, he paid the price…with interest. But when he runs into his best friend’s little sister, Jessica, he’s reminded that his debt will never truly be paid. He may have turned his life around, but he can’t undo the damage. So, he does what he should have done all those years ago. He stays away from Jessica, and all the other personal demons that still haunt him.
Jessica thought she wanted nothing to with Ryan, but something is different about him and she needs to know why. When she discovers the truth behind his change, she puts her troubles aside and tries to help him. But is putting her heart back in the line of fire worth disrupting her stable life back in Ohio, or will the past repeat itself, leaving her brokenhearted once again?
I drove to Lexington Square, the main park downtown, and the place where Ryan and I kissed for the first time. And many more times. This was the place where the magic had started, and where it ended. This is the place I last saw him before leaving town. This was the place everyone last saw me before I left.
I cut the engine of the truck in a parking space around the park.
The sun was setting. Its orange and reddish rays licked the graying sky, only a few clouds spoiling the beauty. It was a gorgeous view, which made me wonder, where was everyone? Oh yeah, at the bike show, silly me. Bike shows were always the main attraction whenever there was one.
I walked to the northern most point of the park, where a small circular plaza overlooked a fountain. I hid under the shadow of a tree around the circle and sat on the pavement, pulling my legs close.
I inhaled deeply, letting the air carry the memories to me. I needed to feel them, to see them, to swallow past them. But they hurt more than I remembered. They scorched their way into me, into my heart, and I gasped, fighting the tears.
I had been too young, too blind, too innocent. If I could, I would have skipped my teenage years. All of them. Nothing good happened until I went to live with my grandma. There, at my new high school, nobody knew me, nobody knew my past, and I was able to start over, to be someone else, someone stronger, wiser.
I wish I had been stronger and wiser before. Maybe then, things would have been different.
Did it really matter? I had already admitted to myself that I wouldn’t have done anything different, so why lie to myself? Yes, there were days I wanted to change the past, there were days I wanted to forget, but deep down I knew it didn’t matter. If I could go back in time, I would have done everything the same, down to my last mistake.
I just wished Ryan had done things differently. I wished my papa had done things differently too. Which was selfish. Ryan and Papa were guilty, but so was I.
Drowning in my thoughts, I startled when a car cut its lights in the parking spot behind the plaza. I didn’t notice it was dark already, and I didn’t even see it arriving.
Not in the mood to be found, by strangers or not, I squirmed closer to the tree, hoping the shadows would hide me.
The person skulked to the plaza, kicking some loose stones, hands buried inside jean pockets. I noticed, by the larger frame, it was a man, wearing a black baseball cap that covered his head. When he stepped into the plaza and looked at the fountain, I recognized that strong chin and that chiseled jaw.
My heart skipped a beat before hammering against my ribs.
Trying to be sneaky, I crawled backward, reaching for the tree trunk. I wanted to retreat, hide behind the tree, and tiptoe back to my car before he could even suspect he wasn’t alone in the plaza.
Instead, my foot rolled over a loose stone and I slipped, hitting my head and back hard on the cement ground. I let out a raw yelp and pressed my eyes shut as if the action would send the pain away.
“Jessica?” Ryan asked.