by 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 © 2013 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art Designed by Laura Heritage
I was already broken when she came into my life — almost like a shell of the man I knew I should be but could never, ever hope to end up like. The thing about wanting to be good is just that. You want to be good, but you lack the self-control to be anything but bad.
And I was bad.
I am bad.
She just didn’t know it. I wish I were a good person, because maybe then I could let her go. Maybe if I was good, I could release her before everything goes to hell. But I couldn’t. I wanted her too damn bad. I wanted us. And I’d do anything — be anything to keep her. Even if it meant that I had to be something that I wasn’t.
I used to think life was easy — you got up, you ate, you drank, you did whatever the hell you did, and you went back to bed… I was wrong.
Maybe if I could have seen it coming, I could have prevented what happened. Hell. I know I could have prevented it from happening. But I didn’t see that coming. Nobody would have seen it coming — nobody would have been able to guess.
I knew it was only a matter of time before my control snapped. After all, I’d been on borrowed time for too long. I kept everything in boxes. My relationship with Nat, my career, my issues with my brother, and then finally all the shit I put myself and everyone else through a few years go. That box was labeled Hell and it was conveniently stored in the furthest part of my brain — never to be opened again.
Unfortunately, the sucky thing about packing away bad choices, memories, and just all around stupidity, was that it always taunted you.
I knew it was only a matter of time before my own Pandora’s box exploded and my control snapped. After all, as much as I told Demetri he needed to deal with all his baggage, I just ignored mine. I mean, I knew it was there, but I chose to believe that as long as it was safely tucked away, it was dealt with.
The cards weren’t just stacked against me; they were collapsing on top of me. I fought for breath as Nat’s hurt eyes bore into mine.
“So that’s it?” Thick tears ran down her cheeks.
I cursed and ran my hands through my hair. “Yeah, Nat. That’s it.”
“So what happens now?” She wiped some stray tears from her cheeks and crossed her arms protectively across her chest.
I would forever remember that moment. During those lonely nights when I was tempted to do something stupid, I’d remember the look of betrayal on her face. I’d remember the way even her tears seemed to look beautiful as her clear eyes searched mine for the one thing I couldn’t give them — reassurance.
“I stop hurting you.” I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry, Nat. But, this is goodbye.”
Two weeks previous
I watched the waves crash against the sand as yet another camera flashed in my face. The group was all together, Alyssa and Demetri, Angelica and Jaymeson, and finally Nat and me. I cringed for the twentieth time that day.
Seaside was officially the hot spot to be, and we were the show to watch. Nobody was nervous but me. Why was I the only one? I was stressed, angry, worried. Damn, I felt like a parent. I just wanted to protect everyone, especially Nat. I loved her so much, and now it felt like I was really exposing her to the life Demetri and I lived on a daily basis. Before it wasn’t so bad. I gave Nat a bit of Hollywood in small doses. After all, AD2 was still technically on hiatus.
Not now. Why did it suddenly feel like I brought the depths of hell into this sleepy town? Camera crews were everywhere. A makeup artist touched up Nat’s lipstick for the third time while I watched. Couldn’t they have at least gotten her a female makeup artist? By the looks of this guy, he wasn’t gay. And if he kept lingering, my fist was going to end up in his face.
I scowled and looked toward the beach. It was like I had just hatched hundreds of baby turtles and was now waiting in anticipation of the horror of them being eaten by birds before making it into the ocean and swimming free.
Note to self: You know your life is going to shit when you start using reptiles as allegorical examples of how bad things suck.
“Enough!” I finally said as the guy hovering over Nat’s face added more powder. He scurried off as I showed him the finger. Nat glared in my direction. I blew her a kiss and managed a cocky smile.
I could do four more weeks of filming, and then I was going to propose and whisk her away from Seaside, away from Hollywood, away from everything. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could balance everything before I broke. All things considered, I was already on borrowed time. Nat and Demetri had no clue. I gripped the chair until my knuckles turned white.
I wanted her to be far away from everything when it hit the fan.
Granted, she may not want to come with me. And that’s the part that sucked. The great unknown… I guess I’d find out just how deep her love ran. I hoped to God it was deeper than Mariana’s Trench.
Insecurity was a bitch. And I was full of it these days. What sucked was I had to hide it, from everyone, especially those who were affected by my crap decisions and inability to deal with things. I stole another glance at Nat. She smiled at me and winked. Damn. Everything about her sent heat through my body. She was perfect. Everything I needed — everything I wanted. And yet… I still felt like I wasn’t good enough for her, like I wasn’t good for her. Hell. I knew I was bad for her, but clearly I didn’t care enough about her to care about what I did to her, or what my presence could cost her.
In a word, I felt like Demetri. I should have seen it coming. But that’s how life was. The calm before the storm. That was how it hit me. Everything was fine — perfect really. And then she came into my life and I was thrown into a hurricane of emotions I hadn’t experienced in years. By the time I realized what was happening, I was already head-over-heels in love with her. I didn’t have a choice. My heart had already spoken. I just didn’t know that by claiming her as my own, I’d be dooming her at the same time.
And insert depressing violin music. Maybe I should just ask Demetri to punch me in the face and get it over with. It’s not like he wouldn’t want to do that and more once he found out.
Even though I had deleted the pictures from my cell phone and tried to expel them from my memory — they still existed. And I was still tempted every damn minute that I took a breath, to just blurt out everything and then run headfirst into the ocean, praying the waves would do me the magnanimous favor of drowning me and my guilt.
I groaned into my hands. I seriously needed to stop being so depressing. I mean, I knew I had the tendency to be brooding enough without having all this baggage hanging around. Nat was probably two minutes away from strangling me, and I totally wouldn’t blame her. I needed a shot of something — preferably strong and alcoholic.
“Alec?” Nat stood a few feet in front of me, her arms crossed and lower lip jutting out. Damn, she had no idea how beautiful she was.
“Hmm?” I leisurely got up from the chair and walked over to her. I told myself to stop being so transparent, but
Long, golden-blonde hair blowing in the wind; she put her hands on her hips. Her brown eyes were narrowed as she watched me approach.
Her eyes widened a bit when I purposefully flexed my arm and then she looked down, a beautiful pink blush staining her cheeks. “Remember how I feel about your blushing?” I whispered, trying with every ounce of self-control I possessed, not to make a complete fool of myself and toss her over my shoulder cave-man style.
“Is it the same way you felt last night about—”
“—And we’re done.” My brother Demetri cleared his throat, appearing out of nowhere. “Can a person un-hear something? Anyone? Anyone?” He shook his head as if that would make everything go away and cursed. “Seriously, I’m almost embarrassed for the sand.”
“Why the hell would you be embarrassed for the sand?” I rolled my eyes and pulled Nat into my embrace, trailing my hands down her arms. I couldn’t get enough of her. Not by a long shot. Even touching her was enough to send my control out the window. Ha, she thought I had control. No. What I had was a lot of guilt that made me feel the need to control every damn situation until I thought I was going to shatter.
“Because you guys were all…” Demetri put his hands in the air and scowled. “Fornicating.”
“Fornicating?” I laughed, a bit thrown off that he not only knew a four-syllable word but the meaning behind it. “How the hell does one fornicate without—”
“—Okay, sorry to break this weird love triangle up…” Jaymeson stepped beside Nat and me. “But we’re supposed to go over to the bonfire and pretend to be bonding.” Jaymeson was an action star from the UK and one of our good friends. At least he was someone I could count on during all of the chaos that was our lives. I was actually relieved when they asked him to be part of the show. Against popular opinion, he was actually a really clean-cut guy. He never did drugs, never drank, and spent every Easter with his ninety-year-old grandma. Sometimes I hated that he made it look so easy. Fame wasn’t a big deal to him. Granted, he also slept with anything that looked cross-eyed at him, but whatever. He claimed it was because Americans were easy.
“Ah, reality TV at its finest,” I muttered back to him.
“Cheers.” Jaymeson winked at Nat and then slapped my ass. I lunged for him but Nat’s hand slipped to where Jaymeson’s hand had been, making me totally lose my train of thought. I sighed and kissed Nat gently across the lips. Her wet tongue licked my bottom lip and then slipped into my mouth. I wanted to throw her onto the ground.
“And we’ve come full circle.” Demetri cleared his throat. “Back to fornicating.”
I groaned against Nat’s mouth and cursed. “Do you really have nothing better to do than sit here and watch us fornicate? Really, Demetri? Is life that boring without drugs?”
Because of me, my brother had nearly killed himself last year and was finally out of rehab. I couldn’t take credit for pulling him out of his funk — nope, that honor went to Alyssa. She challenged him enough to grow a pair and put on his big boy pants.
Demetri’s wide smile did nothing for my mood. He pulled out a piece of taffy and winked. “Just getting you back for walking in on me and Alyssa.”
It’s possible I’d been ruining my brother’s mojo purposefully just to piss him off. I’d happily take that to my grave.
“Dude, you were moving slower than a snail.” I smirked and made a slow crawling gesture with my hands.
Laughter bubbled out of Nat. “So true.”
Demetri cursed. “If a snail is a kick-ass-ninja-track-athlete, then yeah. I was moving just like that.”
“Did he just compare himself to a ninja snail?” A female voice said from behind us. We all turned. Alyssa, Demetri’s’ girlfriend, was shaking her head and laughing. “Wow, wonders never cease. What were you yesterday, Demetri? A turtle, was it?”
“A turtle?” I repeated. All eyes turned to Demetri.
My brother’s eyes hooded with desire. “You can ride my shell anytime, you—”
“Children!” Jaymeson yelled from the bonfire. “If you’re all done getting in each other’s pants, we’ve got some fake filming to do for the future leaders of America!”
“Truer words have never been said.” Nat nodded solemnly.
“What we do, we do for our country,” I agreed as I grabbed her hand and kissed the back of it. “Later though?”
She winked. “Oh, I promise.”
I still couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten so lucky. A year ago, when Nat was dating my brother, I’d done everything in my power to stay away from her, but I couldn’t. I was in love with her even before she introduced herself and taunted me by threatening to tattoo my name on her ass. Figures. She was the only girl in the known universe who still hadn’t asked for my autograph.
Granted, now we were dating and the whole fame thing had kind of worn off. But still, you’d think she’d at least want my signature. But that was Nat. She made even the most prideful man feel humble. Exhibit A: Demetri.
I swung her hand in mine as we made our way over to our fake bonding bonfire. The record company for my brother’s and my group, AD2, decided that Seaside would be the perfect backdrop for a quick reality show about our private lives. Considering everything went to hell last year when Demetri nearly killed himself and then decided to fall for a local girl just like I did — our publicist was basically salivating. Apparently every girl in America now thought that if they went to Seaside, Oregon, they’d be discovered by some rock star and swept away to Hollywood.
So, now we were basically feeding that lie in the best way possible. Bringing Hollywood to the sleepy town of Seaside, Oregon in hopes to help boost our record sales when our new single dropped in a few weeks.
The best part of the whole reality show was that after only a few days we were so boring, our producer almost cut the whole project.
Demetri didn’t drink anymore, you know, after that whole rehab thing. Neither of us would go within forty miles of any sort of drug, including cough syrup, and we nicknamed Saturdays lazy-whore-day, meaning none of us did anything except sit around and watch old movies with junk food.
It took exactly four days into shooting for the producers to come up with a new idea. In fact, Ruben, the main producer, sat me down and told me straight up that I bored him to tears.
I laughed in his face.
“Can’t you do something exciting?” he pleaded. “Wreck a car? Get in a fight?”
I sighed. If he only knew how bad my past really was, or my giant secret… yeah, he’d probably sell off his own grandma in order to get that story.
Shrugging, I placed my hand on his shoulder and shrugged. “Maybe we just aren’t star material?”
“Right.” He snorted. “And I’m a horny sixteen year old.”
“Aren’t we all?”
Cursing, he ran his hands through his hair. “Fine, I’m going to script you guys.”
“I don’t act.”
“You do now. Plus, all you have to do is make nice with your girlfriend, be in love, do a few activities. Trust me. It will be like a vacation.”
Two hospital trips later and I’m pretty sure vacation was the wrong word to use.
The first week Demetri almost lost an eyebrow. It was camping week. He said he used to be a Boy Scout. Clearly, he had lied.
The second week Alyssa, Nat, and Angelica were teamed against the guys in a rowing competition. Nat still says it wasn’t her fault that Angelica fell out of the boat and ended up getting stung by a jellyfish.
Demetri offered to pee on her. Though, he said something along the lines of, “I’ve been wanting to piss on you for a really long time.”
So basically we were TV gol
I took in the scene around us. Waves crashed across the sand. Jaymeson sat next to Angelica and gave me a look that said, “She would eat her own young.” I shook my head in warning as Jaymeson made gestures of a beheading behind her chair.
The woman was crazy. The only reason she was on the show was because Jaymeson had made the life-altering mistake of taking her out on a few dates. Apparently, she wasn’t as bad as everyone claimed. I didn’t get how that was possible. Then again I knew things that no one else did. As did she. Agh, the soap opera of my life.
Demetri plopped down next to me and grinned in Angelica’s direction. She waved back with a smirk and then gave him the finger. I wondered if they’d edit that out later and make her look like a saint?
“Charming,” I said dryly.
“That woman is the devil.”
“The devil has nothing on Angelica Greene.” I sighed and leaned back in my chair.
“Tell me about it.” Demetri picked up a stick and threw it in her direction. “Go get it, girl! Go get it! That’s a good girl.”
“It’s like you want her to stab you in your sleep.”
Demetri cursed. “Whatever, man. I could freaking call her out on national television wearing nothing but a tiara and a smile, and she’d still hate you more than me. Why do you think that is anyways?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and cleared my throat a few times. “Yeah, well, I’m not very likeable.” My heart slammed against my chest, Guilty, guilty, guilty. I winced.
“Tell that to them.” Demetri pointed to the part of the beach that was sectioned off for our safety while filming. Several girls stood on the other side of the barrier with signs that were anything but appropriate for TV.
A camera was thrust in my face as I scowled in Angelica’s direction again and rolled my eyes.