Coming August 30, 2018
The book starts with a Prologue, so make sure you read that when starting the full book.
Four Months Later
“I didn’t set my apartment on fire!”
At least, I don’t think I did.
My nails press into my palm, an attempt to stop myself from smacking the smirk off my asshole of a landlord’s arrogant face.
Ronnie—said asshole—widens his grin. “Tell that to the police.”
“The police?” I shriek. “You called the cops?”
He gestures toward what’s left of the burned-down complex I’d called home this morning. Thankfully, the firefighters extinguished the flames and are loading their supplies back into the truck while my neighbors watch. My apartment has been reduced to rubble and ashes, my belongings scorched, and Ronnie the Dick found it necessary to point the blame at me.
He chuckles. “Perfect timing. They’ve arrived.”
His threat doesn’t alarm me as much as it should, and I force a smile before swinging around. This will be cake. Flirting has saved me from countless speeding tickets. They’ll take one look at me and know I’m not some pyromaniac.
That confidence shatters when I spot the officer stepping out of the police cruiser across the street. My breathing falters, my grin collapsing faster than panties drop after prom, and an ache plummets through my chest.
Am I dreaming?
I smack my cheeks. Squint my eyes. Pinch myself.
There’s no questioning it.
Years have passed, but his handsome face has been etched into my memory since age six. There will never be a time I won’t recognize the sun-kissed, gorgeous man headed in my direction. More scruff covers his strong cheeks than when we were teens, and his chest is broader, his muscles larger.
His almond-shaped carbon-black eyes are pinned my way, attempting to outstare me, as if I’m a target he can’t wait to hit. Vindication rides along with his all-business attitude. He remembers our history—how he begged me not to leave him and then told me I was dead to him when I walked away.
No amount of flirting will save me today.
I am so fucking fucked.
My father will kill me when I call for bail money.
I’m frozen in place, watching him grow closer, his partner behind him. My brain tells me to make a run for it, but my legs aren’t agreeing. Instead, I use this time to take in this new man.
Everything—from the way he walks to his body—has changed. The navy uniform envelops his solidly built frame, advertising every modification on him. His jet-black hair has grown out from his boyish cut in high school. Hard lines fill his stunning face, and his strong jaw is clenched—a silent admission his life hasn’t been a fairy tale since our breakup.
This familiar yet unfamiliar man no longer looks at me with love.
It’s hate. Pure, unadulterated hatred.
Gage Perry—OfficerGage Perry—towers over my small frame like a high-rise when he reaches me.
“What … what are you doing here?” I stutter out. Fucking A.I can’t even form a complete sentence without failing.
Don’t let him sense your nervousness.
The expression on his face switches from hateful to winning, like a guy who hit the lottery. “Oh, little hell-raiser, you didn’t hear the news? I moved home. Disappointed you weren’t my first call?”
Oh, yeah, still hates my ass.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” It’s more of a question to myself than him.
“Why would they?” His voice is deep, sharp, like daggers stabbing through my chest. “What I do is none of your business, is it, Lauren? You made that clear years ago.” Our eye contact is broken when he glances over to Ronnie and points at me. “This your arsonist?”
Ronnie puffs out his chest. “I believe the fire started in her apartment.”
Gage’s attention flashes back to me. “That true?”
I can’t stop myself from rolling my eyes. “That doesn’t mean I was in there playing Boy Scout. I have no idea how it happened.” My voice rises as the reality of the trouble I could be in hits me. Now entering freak-out mode.“I wasn’t even home!”
“She’s been harassing me for weeks to break her lease,” Ronnie cuts in, nodding with each lying word.
“That means I thought scorching the place was a better option?” I wave my finger in Ronnie’s direction. “In case you failed to notice, liar,my stuff went up in flames, too. It would’ve been simpler for me to write a check for a few thousand bucks than lose all my belongings.”
Gage shoots a glance toward his high school best friend/I’m assuming now partner, Kyle. “I think she’s guilty. You?”
Kyle smiles in entertainment and narrows his green eyes at me. He’s the co-chair of my hate club. “I concur with you, partner.”
“I’ll take her in for questioning,” Gage tells them. “I know from personal experience that she enjoys seeing shit go up in flames.” His attention turns back to me, giving me a warning that I’m in for a ride from hell. “She’s an expert on obliterating shit.”
Ronnie rubs his hands together. “Appreciate it, Officer.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I shout when Gage pulls out the stainless steel handcuffs from the back of his belt. “Handcuffs, really?”
His amusement is gone, replaced with the look of a cold and calculated man.
He takes a step closer. “Turn around. I’ll read you your rights.”
I scoff, “Not a chance in hell.”
He looks to Kyle in question. “Should we add failure to cooperate to her charges?”
“Damn you,” I hiss, my stomach rolling while I do as I was told. The cuffs are cold when Gage slowly tightens them around my wrists. “I take it, you still hate me.”
Shivers run down my spine when the solid wall of his chest brushes against my back, and he leans in to whisper in my ear, his lips sliding along the lobe, “I’ll hate you until the day I die.” He grips my shoulder, turns me around, and jerks me forward. “Kyle, take the landlord’s statement. I’d better split, so we can get this pyro to the station before she does any more damage.”
Kyle chuckles while saluting him. “Sure thing.”
I throw out every curse word known to man and nearly trip over my own feet while he leads me to his car. “You sure you can handle being alone with such a criminal?”
A harsh laugh leaves his throat. “Oh, I can handle you just fine, sweetheart.”
Everyone’s attention stays on me during my profanity show. Gage opens the back door with one hand, pushes my head down for me to slide in without bumping it, and slams the door in my face. I scope out my audience, their phones recording my episode, and shift around in a seat that had to have been made from the same material as my childhood Barbie dream car.
“I hate you,” I hiss when Gage slides into the driver’s side.
He starts the car. “Good. I fucking despise you.”
I slump back against the seat. “You seriously don’t believe I started that fire, do you?”
“Intentionally, no. Although, knowing your crazy ass, it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Then, why am I back here? At least let me ride passenger.”
“Nah, it’s more enjoyable, watching you throw your tantrum through the rearview mirror.”
I fight with the handcuffs. “This is abuse of power! I’ll be filing a complaint.”
“Don’t get me started on abuse of power,sweetheart.”
I sigh and shut my mouth. An argument is what he wants. There will be no falling victim to his game.
Yeah, that’ll really one-up him, Lauren. He won the jackpot in ex revenge today.
Silence takes over the ride, and my back stiffens when I notice we’re heading out of town.
“Wait … where are we going?”
“Taking the scenic route.”
“Let me out, okay? You can hate me, stick pins in the voodoo doll I’m sure you have of me, toilet-paper my new house when I’m no longer homeless. My mom will flip her shit if you turn me in. I could lose my job!” I slam the cuffs against the seat while he ignores me. “Let me out of here, Gage Perry, or so help me God, you’ll regret it. Don’t think I won’t make it my life’s mission to make yours a living hell.”
I yelp, and my body slams against the steel cage in front of me when he swerves to the shoulder of the road and brakes to a hard stop.
“You want out?” He kills the engine and steps out of the car.
Seconds later, my door flies open, nearly causing me to fall out of my seat.
“Then, get out.”
I scoot my butt against the seat and slowly slide out. I square my shoulders up as soon as my feet hit the pavement and shake away the loose hair from my face, blowing at the strands that aren’t cooperating. The handcuffs clink when I spin around and hold my arms up behind me.
“Cuffs need to be taken off,” I tell him.
I peek over my shoulder at his failure to move. His cold stare is replaced with amusement.
“Not happening, sweetheart.” He tips his head toward the street. “Enjoy your day, pyro.”
“What?” My voice rises when I scan my surroundings, and he walks back to the car. “It’s twenty minutes back to town in a car. It’ll take at least an hour to get back on foot!”
He pauses, his hand clutching the door handle, and fixes his gaze on me. “I did what was asked of me—to let you out. Enjoy your walk. Maybe it’ll give you time to think about your actions.”
I shake my arms in a sad attempt to rid myself of the cuffs, like I’m damn Houdini. He slips into the cruiser, and the engine starts.
I won’t allow him the pleasure of witnessing me upset. My breakdown will have to wait until he’s out of sight. The car stays running in neutral while I straighten my shoulders and walk along the side of the road.
It’s no easy feat, walking with your hands clasped behind your back. Pride kicks inside me when I pass the cruiser, and shock fills his face at the realization that I’m not playing his games. His not pulling away confirms his plan wasn’t to leave me stranded. It was a ploy to hear me beg.
The passenger window rolls down.
“All right, fuck, I feel bad,” he yells. “Get in.”
I walk faster and force myself not to look back when he steers onto the street. “Fuck off.”
For a brief moment, the thought that he might leave me stranded passes my mind. The old Gage would’ve never done something so cruel, but this isn’t the man I loved in high school. This man is different, someone I recognize yet don’t at the same time.
Instead of speeding off, he cruises beside me, the car not going any faster than what I’m walking. Gage might hate me, but he’d never leave me in a possibly dangerous situation. He’s been that way for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him.
“Jesus, I forgot how goddamn stubborn you are,” he shouts.
“And I forgot how big of an asshole you are. Good thing I dumped your ass.”
An ache rocks through my chest in regret as soon as the words leave my mouth. I look over at him, knowing they hit him harder as he goes stiff in his seat, memories and anger flashing across his face as a reminder of how much I hurt him.
It was a low blow.
Gage hadn’t done anything wrong when I broke up with him. I didn’t leave because I was unhappy. His begging for me to stay broke my heart as much as it did his, but my reason for walking away wasn’t for me. Rather, it was for someone else. I ignored his calls for weeks and had my roommate lie when he’d show up at my dorm room to talk to me.
After three weeks of rejection, he left me a voice mail telling me to never contact him again. I listened to it on repeat, hot tears rolling down my swollen cheeks, and the severity of what I’d done clung to my heart with regret.
“Get in the fucking car, Lauren.”
I don’t stop. “No.”
We go back and forth with our argument, and it’s not until I notice the bottom of my feet are as black as the soot covering my apartment that I stop. No way in hell can I take more of this walk in my flip-flops andmake it to the hospital in time for my shift. I also have to find a family member to let me crash with them until I get a new place to live.
“Fine,” I groan. “But, before I do, I want to make it clear that I’m doing it only so I don’t lose my job.”
He doesn’t say a word when he pulls over to stop. The door slams behind him, and he circles around the car. His touch is cold when he releases me from the cuffs, and I shake my hands out, a sigh of relief leaving my chest. I shall never take these babies for granted again.No conversation is made while I settle into the seat or when he drives back into town.
It’s been years since I’ve seen him. In the past, there were no moments of silence between us. We were loud, rambunctious, lovesick teens who never shut up or got enough of each other.
“Where do I drop you off?” he finally asks.
I peek at him in confusion. “You’re not taking me to the station?”
“Fuck no.” A hint of a smile plays at his lips. “It’d be too much paperwork, and I hate paperwork.”
I perk up in my seat in victory.
“You’d better spit out an address and calm your arrogant ass down before I change my mind,” he warns at my response.
“My parents.” I raise a brow when he snorts. “What?”
“I’m back in town. You’re staying at your parents’. A bit of nostalgia is creeping in.”
The same feeling is bursting through me. “I guess so.”
I want to punch him in the face.
I want to apologize.
I want him to know I regret what I did and that my heart beats only for him.
But it wouldn’t change anything.
No amount of apologizing will reverse the betrayal and pain I caused.
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