This book is meant for entertainment purposes only. Names, characters and events are all a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental. All comments and conversations written within these pages are part of a fictional story and not meant to be taken in the literal sense. The author retains all rights to this book. Illegal copying or distribution is prohibited without author consent.
For Stacey. I can't put into words how much your friendship has meant to me through all these years. Through all the ups and downs and life lessons we've experienced, we've always found a way to be there for one another. I am truly blessed to have you in my life. I'm looking forward to many more years of friendship—and hilarious text messages that can brighten anyone's bad day. Love you, girl.
Table of Contents
It’s the one emotion that stands out amongst the complicated maze of inner emotions and turmoil that is wreaking havoc within me. It’s been gnawing at my insides throughout the entire flight to California.
I draw in a deep breath and press a hand to my stomach. I tell myself it’s okay to feel this way. A whole new world awaits me down below as the jet circles the Long Beach Municipal Airport. There are parts of me that feel excited and exhilarated at the thought of being able to do anything I want. No more pleasing Justin. No more emotional or physical abuse. No more watching people walk on egg shells around me as if I’m going to break by them simply looking at me the wrong way. I’m free of everything that has haunted me for the past five years.
I’m excited for this new chapter in my life, but I also feel resentful. I haven’t escaped my past just yet, and if Oliver—my ex-boyfriend's brother—has his way, he’ll track me down and finish what he started.
the reason my parents insisted I leave town.
the reason I have no choice but to start a new life in Long Beach.
If it weren’t for Oliver, I would have never contemplated leaving Harrison, Arkansas. And that’s what bothers me the most. It took a few ‘oddly coincidental’ accidents that could have killed me for those around me to come to the conclusion that I needed to leave town for my own safety. The first incident happened when I'd taken my bicycle out to escape my stifling room. After hiding for weeks to avoid facing the world, I'd felt I was long overdue for some fresh air. That need for fresh air almost cost me my life; I'd nearly been run over. The second incident occurred when I'd dared to drive my vehicle in one of those rare moments of confidence—even if it was simply to get some tampons from the local grocery store. I'd taken the long way home, enjoying the scenery when I'd been run off the road by an unknown vehicle. Both times I hadn't been able to give a description of the vehicle, just the color. When you're struggling to save your life, you don't take time to memorize details. Thank God I'd only received bruises and a few lacerations each time. My injuries were minor, but I'm not sure how long my luck would have lasted had I stayed in town.
The problem with both incidents is the fact that the first vehicle had been white, and the second one had been dark blue. It wasn't the same car. The police needed facts and details to bring anyone in for questioning, and since I couldn't give them what they needed, both incidents remained open cases.
I know it's Oliver.
His family owns a used car dealership on the outskirts of Harrison. It would have been easy to take one of the cars to mess with me, and nobody would have suspected a thing. I'm not sure if Oliver truly wants me dead or if he's just playing with me. I
the reason why his baby brother is sitting in prison, so it's a safe bet that no matter what his intentions are, it spells bad news for me.
Oliver had always hated me. His dislike of me had been bad enough that he'd go out of his way to mess with my relationship with Justin, which in the end caused more harm. Nothing like dealing with a riled up Justin when you've been accused of doing something that you're innocent of. His mother hadn't liked me, either. I think I'm a reasonably nice person, and I haven't a clue as to what I did to earn their disapproval. It'd certainly been a challenge going to his house, but at least Justin and Oliver's father had been friendly enough.
My mind shifts back to my present situation and why I am sitting here on a plane in the first place. My parents decided that if the police couldn't put Oliver behind bars, which they couldn't due to lack of proof, the next best option was to send me somewhere safe. The decision had been made before I was even aware that they’d been considering it for weeks. Not one word was said to me until the plan was already set in motion.
I sigh and rub my temple warily. Okay, so I get it. I’m lousy at making decisions. I started dating Justin when I was fourteen, and by the time we’d hit our one year anniversary, Justin was already controlling me. I don’t know why I allowed him to. I guess I’m a pushover. I don’t like confrontations, and arguing makes me uneasy. I found it was best to simply let people have their way, especially Justin.
I’ve been in therapy for over a year, and I know I need to start being more assertive…but it’s hard. Even with Justin in prison, he still haunts me. I feel like my brain is still programmed for his next order, and I still find myself living my life according to what had once pleased him.
It frustrates me.
I can’t shake him from my mind.
And why hadn’t I felt some sense of self-preservation and come up with the idea to flee Harrison myself instead of waiting until I was
to do it? Why do I always wait for permission before I do anything?
I feel pathetic.
A lump forms in my throat, and I swallow past it and draw in another deep breath before slowly exhaling. Going to that negative place in my mind will not help me, and it'll only make me feel worse. Instead, I give myself a little pep-talk as the flight attendant’s voice drones on overhead about the weather and which gates those with a connecting flight are to board.
I am nineteen. I’m a grown woman, and I am in charge of my own life. It’s time to grow up and find out who I really am. The old Faith needs to be put to rest, and I need to let the new Faith out. She’s inside me somewhere. I need her, or I’m going to drown in my uncertainty.
That’s when I feel it.
That spark of determination.
My lips flatten slightly as the jet begins to descend. I clutch the arm rests on either side of my seat and close my eyes tightly. Moving to Long Beach is my chance to start over. I need to embrace it with everything I have. God gave me a second chance at life, and I am not going to waste it on being too scared to do anything.
The jet’s wheels make contact with the runway, and I bounce in my seat slightly before we’re rolling smoothly to the jet’s designated gate.
“You okay, hon?”
I realize my eyes are still clamped shut. I pry them apart and glance at the older woman sitting next to me. A genuine smile curves my lips, and I nod. “I’m good,” I assure.
All that earlier uncertainty begins to fade as I realize that I am indeed good. In fact, I’m better than good. I need to let go of the reasons
I am here and concentrate on simply living. Anticipation swells in my chest, and it’s a new and unfamiliar feeling. I haven’t been excited over anything in a long, long time.
I bite my lip and fight back a grin. When I realize I’m holding it back, I let it escape and enjoy the realization that no one has any expectations of me. I’m free. I rise to my feet as the other passengers begin to stand to retrieve their belongings. I have an apartment. My very
apartment that I will see for the first time shortly.
Life is about to get very interesting.
When I make my way to the baggage claim a few minutes later, I spy my cousin through the crowd and rush for him. Caleb spies me at the same moment and opens his arms wide. I drop my carry-on at his feet and launch myself into his arms for a hug.
He holds me tightly to his chest and doesn’t say anything. I know exactly what he’s thinking. The last time we saw each other, he had flown to Harrison to sit at my bedside after Justin tried to kill me. He stayed a week until he had to leave for college.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he tells me as we both pull back at the same time.
I look up at him and grin. Out of all my cousins, I think Caleb’s my favorite these days. While everyone else had seemed to hesitate around me after the attack, Caleb had been the only one who seemed to understand my need for silence as I dealt with the ramifications of what had happened. He didn’t fill the hospital room with silly, pointless conversation. When he looked at me that week he was there, he saw
It suddenly feels right to be here, and I can understand why my parents chose Long Beach. It’s the furthest state from Arkansas that any family resides in. It’s just Caleb here, but that’s enough for my parents. They know he’ll watch out for me, especially with Oliver still wanting revenge.
I note that his hair is shorter than the last time I saw him, but not short enough to hide the hint of curl to it. As he gazes down at me, his light blue eyes flicker with amusement, and I know he’s about to tease me. Caleb is one of those guys that has an easy-going personality that naturally draws people to him. Of course, with his tall, lean, muscular build, I‘m betting he was quite the flirt until he got himself engaged. He’s quite the handsome devil, and he’s always known it.
Caleb playfully grazes his hand across the top of my head, effectively messing up my hair. “When are you planning on growing up?”
I give him an exasperated look while smoothing my hair back in place. “Are we back to that already?”
He shrugs. “You look like a little kid. What are you, five-one?”
,” I correct.
“Still short,” he muses as he bends down to grab my carry-on.
I look around curiously. “Where’s your fiancée?”
“You’ll meet her tomorrow. How was your flight?” he asks as we begin to make our way through the crowd.
We make idle conversation as we wait for my two suitcases. Once we have them in our possession, we exit the airport and walk through the parking lot to Caleb’s car. A second later, he backs out of the parking space and flips on the air-conditioning. “Did your parents tell you that an apartment right next to mine and Zoey’s became available last week?”
“No. They just said that they put down a deposit for one in your building.”
He flashes me a quick smile as he drives. “It’s a single unit, so we grabbed it for you. You’ll be right next door to us.”
“That’s great. Thanks.”
I settle back in the seat and gaze out the window. The sky seems bluer here for some reason, and it’s warm, which is to be expected. It’s mid-September—but I’m used to humid weather. The atmosphere seems different here. More charged, I guess you could say. I’m assuming that it might have something to do with my excitement, though. I’ve never traveled on my own before. That, and I’ve only been out of the state of Arkansas three times, and that was for family reunions. My dad has several siblings, and I need more than both hands to count out how many cousins I have on my fingers.
“I’m thinking I should warn you about Zoey,” Caleb says as he slows down behind a car, then he glances over his shoulder and flicks on the blinker to pass. “She’s…different.” He throws me a wide grin. “But in a really good way. I just want to warn you that she doesn’t have a filter, so be prepared for her to be quite direct. Probably brutally direct,” he adds wryly. “People tend to either like her or hate her. Hopefully you can handle her personality.”
“I’m sure we’ll get along fine,” I assure, but in the inside I’m already having doubts. People that are bold and confident usually intimidate me. They certainly had back in high school.
It’s been just slightly over a year since Justin tried to stab me to death, and since then I haven’t really gone out of my way to be around people. The last year was spent in therapy and slowly rebuilding the life that I still have. I swear someone above was watching over me when Justin attacked me that day. I have several scars on my back from the knife, and I am lucky that he missed anything vital. I did almost bleed out though, so it was close.
It’s getting easier these days when I think about that fateful afternoon. Therapy has helped me understand what had happened, and I’ve been able to move on from the actual attack. Once in a while I’ll still have a nightmare, but they certainly aren’t as often as they had been. The panic attacks faded, too. In fact, I was doing pretty well with actually beginning to venture out on my own until Oliver happened. The moment I decided to put some effort into moving on with life is when he decided he wanted to take it from me.
Caleb’s voice brings me back to the present. “Hmm?”
He glances at me, his eyes searching mine briefly. “You okay?”
“I’m fine. Does Zoey know about Oliver?” I ask tentatively.
“No. It's not worth alarming her when he has no clue where you are.”
I nod and decide we need to change the topic. “I can’t wait to see the apartment.”
“The one bedrooms are small, but they’re nice. They don’t come furnished, so Zoey and I bought you a bed.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to do that,” I protest.
He shrugs a broad shoulder and switches lanes again. “We know. Consider it a ‘welcome to the area’ gift.”
“My parents gave me money for necessities until I can get a job. I can reimburse you,” I offer.
“Don’t even think about it.”
I feel bad that they bought me something as expensive as a bed, but I let it go. If I make a big deal out of it, he’ll just get offended. Instead, I stare out my window and take in the sights until Caleb pulls into a large parking lot behind an apartment complex.
“We’re on the second floor,” Caleb informs once we climb out of the car. He pockets his car keys, then pulls out a key ring with two keys. He tosses it to me, and I catch the keys easily. When we approach the rear entrance door, he holds it open for me. The elevator is just down the hall, and we take it up to the second floor to where Caleb leads me to my apartment door.