Table of Contents
About The Author
Also by Rachel Van Dyken
A Seaside Pictures Novel
by Rachel Van Dyken
Copyright © 2016 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2016 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art by P.S. Cover Design
To anyone experiencing anxiety—or the very real stresses behind—this is for you.
May you find your mallow <3
MY PALMS SLID AGAINST the guitar, slick with sweat, I tried to wipe them across my jeans, but it was no use. The noise was deafening. I had to remind myself why I was up there. “Saint! Saint! Saint!” Stomping ensued while I knelt down and made the sign of a cross in the air in front of me. “We want Saint! We want Saint!” With a muffled curse, I stood, then reached into my tight jeans to pull out a smashed marshmallow.
I popped it in my mouth and closed my eyes, allowing myself to be transported back to a simpler time, a time when things were easy, when decisions weren’t all on me. When life was about making mud pies and carrying around miniature marshmallows in a measuring cup.
“You don’t have to save the world,” she whispered. “You know that, right?”
“Right.” I furrowed my brow. “But why is it wrong to try?”
“Oh, Zane,” My grandma leaned down to eye level. “Just because your parents were taken from you, doesn’t make it your job to make sure everyone and everything is safe from the bad in the world.”
My frown deepened as she walked off, my two little sisters skipping after her. I was the man of the house. It was my responsibility to take care of the girls, especially Grandma, with no other family but her. That was my job. My papa told me so on my last birthday when I turned six; he said I was a man.
And it was time to be that man.
I quickly ran into my room and started making a list of how I could help. I didn’t want Grandma to lose the house, but how could she keep it if she wasn’t working? I never saw her leave for work, and we used those funny coupon things in line at the store, and sometimes, I had to bring stuff back because we couldn’t afford it.
With determination, I sat at my desk and started writing out my list:
1. Make enough money so Grandma isn’t hungry. Because sometimes she gives me her extra meatloaf. I hate meatloaf.
2. Be famous, so I make money.
3. Make sure Grandma keeps her house.
I thought a little harder, shoving the end of the pen into my mouth. What else? With a grin, I wrote out the last number. Tears ran down my face at the memories, but I wrote it anyway.
4. Never, ever run out of marshmallows again.
I took the stage two stairs at a time, hands still shaking, body still trembling with anxiety, and grabbed the mic stand, sliding it in front of me. I gave a smug grin to the waiting crowd as I strummed out the first two notes. The lights dimmed, as the audience cheered, and then I held one finger to my lips as I motioned for them to be quiet.
The entire stadium went silent.
“I’m Saint…” I chuckled. “Are you ready to be saved?”
“NOPE!” I HELD MY hands in the air and started walking backwards, maneuvering my way through crowds on the boardwalk. “This is where I draw the line. I’m not a stalker!”
“But you could be.” My friend Maggie nodded her head vigorously. “You just need to fully commit to the idea.”
“Of going to prison?”
“Oh, please.” She rolled her eyes, gaining on me. If I turned and ran from my best friend and then hid in a trashcan would that make me lose best friend status or just mean I was smart? I started to turn on my heel, but she grabbed my elbow and tugged me back toward Main Street. “Do you really think he’d send a blind nineteen-year-old to prison?”
“I’m not blind!” I yelled. “That’s lying!”
“Your glasses are huge.” Maggie’s eyes widened as if to show me logistically how huge my glasses really were. “Trust me, just pretend like you can’t see, he’ll totally buy it.”
“But I can see.”
“Without your glasses you’re legally blind as a bat,” she pointed out, her long blond ponytail swishing as she picked up speed. We went from walking to jogging all within the span of a few seconds. I tried to dig my heels into the ground, but she was strong.
And I’d always been small.
Only five foot one. So even though she was barely five four, she still had some strength on me.
“Mags, stop!” I yelped, nearly stumbling into an elderly couple. “We are not doing this. You know I stutter when I get really nervous!”
“Perfect!” She seemed absolutely thrilled at my terror, damn her.
We rounded the corner.
I didn’t see any sign of him. Thank God.
“Look,” I huffed, making a mental note that I needed to work on my cardio if all it took was five seconds of jogging for me to get my butt handed to me. “You didn’t really see him, you’ve just been watching way too much reality TV. TMZ said he’s here for the fall working on his album. He came here to get away from the crowd, not meet some obsessed groupie!”
“I’m not a groupie.” Mags didn’t look back at me as she jumped into the air then went and climbed onto a park bench and continued her vain search of Zane Andrews. “Plus, at his last concert we made eye contact, you know what that means, right?”
I had officially lost all patience. Mags was home for a long weekend, while I’d been home for months sinc
“Fallon!” Mags nearly jumped onto my face as she scrambled off the bench and started sprinting down the street. Well, I was going to have to bail her out of jail. That was all there was to it.
Deciding she could text me later, I turned on my heel and collided with a nice old man.
I dropped to the ground with a huff. My glasses fell off my face, and I was pretty sure I was going to have a bruised tailbone.
“Sorry, dear.” The old man said in a sweet voice. “Didn’t see you there.”
“That’s okay.” Pavement scraped my palm as I fumbled around for my glasses; I really was blind as a bat without them. All I could make out were blurry images of people shuffling around me.
The old man was in a walker, not like he could actually skip over to where my glasses had fallen and hand them over.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yup, I’m great.” I exhaled. “What about you?”
“Fit as a fiddle.” He shuffled by me, at least it looked like he did.
“Shoot.” The glasses should be on my right, they fell that way. Or had they fallen left? The sidewalk was starting to burn my butt in all the wrong places. Stupid Mags!
“Either you just fell…” came a smooth, silky voice, “or you like hanging out between trash cans in your spare time.”
“Trash cans.” I sighed, then slumped my shoulders and gave up. “Would you believe me if I told you right now they look like giant ice cream cones?”
“Sure.” The guy chuckled, and then hands were on my shoulders jolting me to my feet, and my glasses were placed on my face.
I adjusted them on my nose and looked at my rescuer then stopped breathing altogether.
A Yankees cap covered his gorgeous hair and he lacked a shirt. Zane Freaking Andrews, completely and totally without any clothes on his upper body.
I begged my eyes not to fail me twice in one day and kept them firmly fixed on his face.
“A little advice.” Zane leaned in and whispered, forming the words with perfect lips. “It’s creepier when you don’t blink.”
My entire body went numb with embarrassment. “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. I’m just in shock, it’s not every day a rock star finds you sitting between two trash cans.”
“And dog shit. Don’t forget that.” His side grin had me sucking in a breath of much-needed air as he pointed to doggy doo right next to where I’d fallen. Awesome.
“Great.” I held out my hand. “Well, thank you for your rescue.”
Well, thank you for your rescue? I mentally slapped myself. Who says crap like that?
His lips pressed together in a suppressed smile as he took my hand and shook it firmly. “A girl with manners. I like it.”
He didn’t release my hand.
“If I didn’t know your name I’d probably call you sir too, it’s just how I was raised.” Stop talking, Fallon. Stop. Talking.
“Hmm, I may like that regardless.” He grinned. “Has a ring to it, don’t you think? Sir…” Somehow he maneuvered himself so that he wasn’t holding onto my hand anymore but had slid his hand up my arm and put his own arm around my shoulder. “What’s your name?”
“F-Fallon.” There it was, the stutter. And I had been doing so good! Why, God? WHY!
“Fallon.” He repeated it. I tried to keep my eyes averted, but it was so hard not to stare at him. At the diamond stud in his nose, or the fact that every time he moved, I felt warm skin against my bare arm. He was bigger than I thought he’d be, extremely fit but just…big all around.
“Would you be offended?” He stopped walking and turned me toward him.
“Offended?” I frowned.
“If I used you as a human shield?”
“A human, what?”
“Ten girls just spotted me. They’re currently skipping in our direction. My choices are run, but I’m kinda winded from all this titillating conversation.” He winked.
My knees knocked together. I loved it when guys used big words. Having a gorgeous face or body was one thing, but if the guy actually had a brain? Or knew how to spell? He was officially my knight in shining armor, only instead of a sword, I pictured a rather large dictionary in his hand as he whispered sweet words like titillating into my ear while feeding me grapes.
“Or I can make them think I’m pre-occupied with someone who isn’t after my autograph.”
“O-o-okay.” I thanked God I finally got the stupid word out.
“Fabulous.” That was the only warning he gave me before he tugged me down the street and into an alleyway. I barely had time to process the change of scenery before he leaned in and kissed me across the mouth.
SHE WAS NERD HOT.
Like the girl who peaks after high school but has no idea how damn cute she is.
Her lips were soft, and I swear they tasted like marshmallow. What the hell kind of chapstick smelled like marshmallows and who did I have to kill to get a hold of some?
I broke off the kiss just as she swayed toward me. “Well, Fallon.” I held out my hand. “It’s been nice doing business with you.”
“Hmm? Wh-what?” Her big brown eyes blinked at me through hella thick glasses.
“The kiss. Business transaction. Human shield. Saved my life. The end.”
“What can I say? I’m a storyteller at heart.” I winked and placed a shaky hand against the brick wall behind her.
I acted like it was fine.
But the shaking was getting worse.
As if the screaming made the shaking harder to control.
And just like that, I felt the choking sensation of anxiety as I tried to rein in my emotions and concentrate on the nerd in front of me, the nerd who really had saved me from having a mental breakdown in front of ten fans.
It would have made the news.
And that was the last thing I needed.
Better they assume I’m on hard drugs or nursing a broken heart than actually know the truth behind my anxiety and health issues.
“Chapstick,” I blurted. “What kind do you use?”
Her eyes did that adorable little slow blink again as she took a deep breath. “I make it.”
I couldn’t have heard her correctly. “You make it?”
Nerd girl licked the chapstick from her lips with more aggression than necessary which naturally had me staring at them like I’d never seen a sexy pout before. “That’s what I said.”
“I was just making sure.” I really needed to focus on anything but her mouth.
“Because you’re the chapstick police? Or you’re worried I violated some sort of health code by making flavored lip balm in my parents’ basement?”
“You have a basement?”
“You just said you have a basement.”
“Where I m-make my lip balm.” She nodded.
Teasing her may become one of my new favorite things, which meant I was procrastinating, because I was in an alleyway with a strange girl, anything to keep from going back to the house. “I’ve never seen one.”
“A basement!” I slapped her on the back. “Keep up.”
“T-trying.” She shivered as the wind picked up. “Okay, well, I think I’ll just go now…”
I grabbed the hood from her sweatshirt and tugged her back. “Where can I get some?”
“S-some?” Her eyes widened like I’d just asked for sex.
“Chapstick, lip balm, whatever you call it.” I clarified with a wink.
“At the store.” She blinked dumbly. “Do you not…go to stores or something?”
I fought to keep my voice from shaking. “Not if I can help it.”
“Because of the fans?”
“Yeah,” I lied. “They toss condoms in my shoppin
“Do all celebrities use their name in the third person?”
“Demetri Daniels does.”
“The AD2 singer?”
“The very one.”
“Aren’t you living with him?”
“Ah… So you are a stalker, you’re just a really calm one?”
She clenched her tiny hands into fists at her sides. “Yes. Calm on the outside, doing cartwheels like a cheerleader on the inside, you should see my uniform.”
I placed my hand across my chest. “Oh God, tell me it has a giant Z on it.”
“With chapstick.” She grinned, finally smiling, then tucked her wavy strawberry blonde hair behind her ears. “So, this has officially been the weirdest conversation of my life.” Fallon reached into her pocket and pulled out a tube of chapstick. “It’s on the house.”
“Our first gift exchange.” I teased. “But I didn’t get you anything?”
“Yeah, you did.” She blushed.
“Ah, the kiss?”
“Yup. Consider your debt paid.”
“It wasn’t a hardship.” I took a tentative step toward her, my body already craving more. What the hell was wrong with me?
A dark red color spread over her cheeks, and I fought every urge within myself to reach out and touch her skin, to feel if it was hot to the touch or just a natural reaction to my presence. I was used to girls flashing me, not blushing around me.
Maybe that was why I was still a virgin.
I saw so much tits and ass that it had lost all its effect.
Or maybe I was a scared chicken shit little girl. Too afraid to get my heart broken to risk the thrill of sliding my dick into home base.” “Zane?” Fallon whispered.
“You’re shaking.” She pointed to my hands.
I hid them behind my back. “Sorry, I had a lot of caffeine today, and the sugar doesn’t help.”
“Oh.” She licked her lips. Damn it. “Well, it was nice meeting you.”