Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

  “As real as it gets, Jordan,” Miss Ives says. “Let’s get everything on the desks.”

  Owen takes out his leather wallet and drops it on my desk. I match his wallet with my own and raise him a keychain and an energy bar. He steals a look at me, and I pretend not to notice.

  An Asian girl with long, shiny supermodel hair sitting in the front row throws our teacher side-eye. “What if we have stuff in our purse that’s inappropriate to take out?”

  “Like what?” Miss Ives crosses her arms. “Are you referring to cigarettes or other contraband?”

  The comment gets Miss Ives side-eye from everyone.

  “I think she means girl stuff,” Supermodel’s partner, a cute guy in a plaid button-down, adds. “For when her cousin visits.”

  Supermodel whacks him with her purse. “Shut up. My cousin is none of your business.”

  “Settle down.” Miss Ives adjusts her glasses, noticeably flustered. “If anyone else has items of that nature, please leave them in your bag.”

  Supermodel’s partner tosses his wallet on the desk and points at it. “That means you might not want to open the inside pocket, Brit. Or maybe you do?”

  Supermodel Brit stands up. “I want to switch partners.”

  “We’re running out of class time,” Miss Ives says. “We’ll get started today and continue tomorrow. I want everyone to choose three items that are meaningful to you. Then share the items with your partner and explain their significance or what they represent.”

  Everyone groans.

  “You might have to open the inside pocket after all,” her partner teases.

  Supermodel Brit ignores him. “What if we don’t have anything that’s important to us?”

  “Look harder,” Miss Ives says. “Check your pockets, inside makeup bags and pencil cases. For example, I carry a lucky penny in my bag.”

  Our teacher flits around from group to group while we search through our belongings.

  “This sucks,” Owen mumbles.

  I ignore him and search for something impersonal to share. “I don’t have anything.”

  “Nothing?” He seems annoyed that I didn’t have any girly mementos in my backpack.

  Our eyes meet, and I can’t think of anything to say. Owen is gorgeous, and not in an obvious I-worked-my-ass-off-to-blow-your-mind way. His eyes take me in, drifting from my eyes to my mouth and it makes me nervous.

  “Yeah, well, I don’t have anything, either.” Owen pushes the items I didn’t even see off the edge of my desk and into his palm. Then he shoves his wallet into his back pocket.

  At the party, he seemed nice.

  Clearly, I was way off.

  “You really know how to turn on the charm.” I lay on the sarcasm and lower my chin, hiding behind my hair as I collect my stuff.

  “What’s that supposed to mean?” He sounds irritated.

  “I guess that sweet boy-next-door personality was just for show?” I push my hair over my shoulder and my eyes drill into him. “Do you only break that out for girls in the dark?”

  Owen stiffens. “Should I have gone with cocky-football-player-desperate-for-attention, like your boyfriend?”

  He knows about Titan carrying me through the hallway. Did Owen hear about it from someone or did he see it for himself?

  “Titan is not my boyfriend.”

  The bell rings.

  “That’s not the way it looked in the hallway.” Owen stands and flips the chair around.

  Now I’m pissed.

  Miss Ives issues instructions about the personal items she wants us to bring tomorrow. I’m not paying attention. Owen swings his backpack over his shoulder and heads down the center aisle.

  Maybe if I figure out how to get medical treatment for a fantasy football quarterback, Miss Lonnie will switch me to another English class. I turn my back to the door and put my things in my backpack.

  Why do I care what Owen Law thinks?

  I’ve only had one real conversation with him—two if talking to him for a minute at the game counts. And he’s judging me?

  I storm out of the classroom. Some football players are passing a ball in the hallway. The football sails through the air and skims the bottom of a banner hanging above the archway. BLACK WATER WARRIORS is printed in block letters across the top, with two lines of text underneath.

  Players go for the win.

  Warriors battle for it.

  If I could reach the banner, I’d tear it down. I spent the last three weeks battling my heart out, and I still lost.


  Sucker Punch

  “I’M LOOKING FOR Catherine Dane.” I’m in the boxing gym at the YMCA after school, in search of the doctor who agreed to help me rehab my knee.

  The woman keeps her eyes on the fighter in the ring wearing headgear. “You’re looking at her, but nobody except my mother calls me Catherine. It’s Cutter.”

  She looks like a mash-up between a delicate fairy and a dangerous assassin. Her platinum-blond hair is almost the same color as her skin and it’s cut in a short pixie style that highlights her feminine features. Tess’ hair is almost the same color, but it looks edgier on Cutter. Maybe it’s the super-short cut or the rows of tiny hoops that run from her earlobes to the tops of her ears. She’s short—maybe five foot two—but her body is lean and well-defined.

  “Not what you were expecting?” Cutter cups her hands around her mouth and yells, “Lazarus, tell him to get those damn knees up.”

  Lazarus, the tall black man in the ring, with broad shoulders and salt-and-pepper hair, looks old enough to be my grandfather. But he has the strength of someone younger. He gives Cutter a thumbs-up, without losing his grip on the red pad the fighter is pounding.

  The guy in the ring with Lazarus is a kickboxer. His knee kicks give him away. His knees hit the pad over and over, each impact pushing Lazarus back a little farther.

  The sound of the guy’s bare skin smacking the Vinyl triggers memories of Reed—images of him throwing an elbow jab or a shin kick in the gym, circling an opponent in the cage, the way he cracked his neck to the side before he moved in for the kill.

  Cutter looks back at me. “So you’re Hawk Carter’s niece.”


  “Hawk told me you’re a soccer player and you took a serious hit to the knee.”

  “I fell down a flight of stairs and ruptured my PCL. There was also some damage to the cartilage.”

  “Did you bring your MRI?” she asks.

  I slip the large white envelope out of my backpack and hand it to her. Cutter holds it up to the window behind her.

  “The PCL ruptured here.” She runs her finger along the film, like she’s following a path. “Has your knee been giving out on you?”

  “Not as much since I had surgery.”

  “Do you have a copy of the surgeon’s notes?”

  I hand her a manila folder. “Everything else I brought is in there.”

  Cutter flips through the pages, reading some closely and scanning others. “Your orthopedic surgeon thinks it will take four months to get your knee back in shape.” She snaps the folder shut with one hand. “But with the right physical therapy regimen—if you work hard—I should be able to get you out of that long leg brace in four to six weeks and back on the field in about three months.”

  It sounds too good to be true. “Are you sure? Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to get out of this thing tomorrow, but the orthopedic surgeon said—”

  “Hands up!” Cutter shouts, watching the kickboxer. “Knee. Knee. Elbow. Knee.” She turns her attention back to me. “I know exactly what Dr. Kao thinks. I just read her diagnosis and recommendations. She’s a brilliant surgeon. Graduated second in her class from Harvard Medical School, completed her residency at Georgetown University Hospital, and she has published three articles about her arthroscopic surgery techniques. I’ll give you one guess who graduated first in her class.”

  Cutter’s crooked smile is a dead giveaway.


  She nods. “Damn right.”

  “I’m sorry if I offended you, Ms. Dane. I know you’re helping me as a favor to my uncle, and I really appreciate it.”

  “Ms. Dane?” She laughs. “Drop the Ms. It’s just Cutter. And I’m not offended. I’m used to people wondering why a Harvard Med grad with eight published papers in the field of sports medicine walked away from the operating room and the seven figures she was earning as an orthopedic surgeon.” She cracks a real smile. “The truth is I like sports more than surgery and martial arts more than money.”

  Cutter notices something out of the corner of her eye and waves to get Lazarus’ attention. “If he doesn’t move faster than that, he’s going to get his ass handed to him at the semifinals.”

  “I know exactly how fast he has to move,” Lazarus says. “We’re working on it.”

  Cutter returns to our conversation. “If you want to get back on the field, I’ll help you. But you’ll have to work for it. If I give you exercises, I expect you to do them. And if I tell you to rest, you rest.” She walks toward a small office in the back of the gym and I follow her. “You’re going to start in the pool. Walking. That’s it. Did you bring a bathing suit?”

  “Yes.” I brought everything on the list Hawk left in my room, not that I expected to break out my bathing suit on day one.

  Cutter points at a door across from her office. “The women’s locker room is straight ahead. Walk for thirty minutes. Come see me when you’re done.”


  The kickboxer throws a killer shin kick. His movements are fluid and controlled, unlike the brute force of Reed’s fighting style. Developing that kind of control takes time. It requires practicing the same drills and techniques for years until they become second nature. Soccer demands the same level of discipline.

  The guy lands an elbow strike, and Lazarus stumbles back. The fighter rushes to help him up, and my heart thumps in my chest.

  I turn away and head to the locker room.

  * * *

  After thirty minutes of walking in the pool, I admit my knee feels better. The view certainly didn’t hurt, either. Across from my lane, a window separates the boxing gym from the pool. A few guys showed up around lap twelve to shadowbox and work the speed bag, but none of them compared to the kickboxer in the ring.

  Lean and cut to perfection, without the exaggerated definition of a bodybuilder, he has the type of body I love.

  If I was dating and if he wasn’t a fighter.

  I pull myself out of the water and sit on the edge of the pool, wringing out my hair.

  The kickboxer lands three body shots and a combination. Lazarus puts down the pad and makes a wide circle with his hand. The guy nods and circles the ring, hands resting on his hip bones and sweat running down his muscular back. He picks up a water bottle in the corner of the ring and takes a drink. He tugs on the black padded headgear, but Lazarus shakes his head and waves him back over.

  I wrap a towel around my waist and let my eyes roam over his shoulders one last time. He’s probably a jerk. I appreciate an amazing body as much as the next girl, but the way a guy makes me feel outweighs everything else.

  Funny and smart are must-haves. If a guy hates soccer or cheesy horror movies, he won’t last. Athletic and capable of doing his own laundry are pluses.

  Reed had the pluses. He excelled at MMA—without doping—and he knew his way around the laundry room in his building. But he fell short in the must-haves department. Reed wasn’t brilliant, but he was street-smart. And he wasn’t exactly funny, but I didn’t notice. I’d lost my father. My sense of humor back then was almost nonexistent.

  In the locker room, I shower, change, and pull my wet hair into a ponytail. When I return to the boxing gym, Cutter is standing near the ring. She sees me and checks her watch. “Right on time. At least you know how to follow directions. That’s more than I can say about most of the athletes I work with.”

  “Thanks. What’s next?”

  “I need to assess what kind of shape the PCL and surrounding ligaments are in—strength and range-of-motion tests. You probably did something similar with Dr. Kao. After I determine where to start, I’ll design a physical therapy plan for you. I’ll meet with you twice a week. I’ll run through the exercises with you, track your progress, and make adjustments.”

  “Just twice a week?” I expected to see her more often.

  She flips through a date book that’s falling apart. “You caught me during football season. I’m a consultant for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. They’ve got a wide receiver with an ACL tear and an offensive lineman who can’t stay off the injured list, so my schedule is tight. But don’t worry. You’ll work out with my intern on the three afternoons I’m not here. Let me introduce you.”

  “Lazarus,” Cutter shouts. The old man peeks out from behind the pad, and she motions to the kickboxer.

  Lazarus understands her shorthand. He taps the fighter on the shoulder and points in our direction. The guy swipes a bottle of Gatorade off the mat, tips his head back, and takes a long drink as he walks toward us.

  She can’t mean …

  “The fighter? He’s your intern?”

  Cutter gives me a strange look. “He interned with me for two summers. He knows his stuff. You’ll be in good hands.” She notices my apprehension and crosses her arms. “But if you don’t trust me—”

  “No. It’s fine.” I can’t risk offending her.

  “That’s what I like to hear.”

  The guy stops behind the ropes in front of us, his head still tipped back as he finishes off the Gatorade. He looks at Cutter without even glancing in my direction.

  She doesn’t seem to notice. “This is Peyton. I’m setting up a PT program for her. You’re going to work with her on the afternoons I’m at the university.”

  The guy crosses his arms and studies the mat, as if the dust at his feet is more interesting than this conversation. He obviously isn’t thrilled. Working with me will probably cut into his training time. I put one hand on my hip and hit him with some attitude. I want him to know that I’m not happy about being stuck with him, either.

  When he doesn’t respond, Cutter loses her patience. “Are you waiting for an invitation? Take off your damn headgear and say hello.”

  The fighter pulls off the black headgear and drops it on the mat. Tufts of damp blond hair are plastered against his head, and trails of sweat run down his face.

  “It’s about time.” Cutter turns to me and gestures at the ring.

  “Peyton, this is Owen.”


  Against the Ropes

  OWEN STANDS ON the opposite side of the ropes, his eyes still glued to the mat. He’s shirtless and barefoot, his body covered in a thin sheen of sweat. His black shorts hang low on his hips, and my gaze flickers to a set of perfect abs. He has the kind of body you see on twenty-five-year-old underwear models, not high school guys.

  Heat spreads through my chest. Less than twenty minutes ago, I was in the pool drooling over his body.

  Owen’s body.

  He finally raises his head and our eyes lock. A crease forms between his brows and he looks miserable, like he’d rather scrub this place down with a toothbrush than spend three afternoons a week working with me.

  I turn away first, which gives me a ridiculous amount of satisfaction. This whole situation feels like a giant bitch-slap from the universe. My hand tightens on the plastic water bottle I’m holding and I shake my head.

  “What?” Owen leans on the ropes, his shoulders tense.

  “You’re a fighter?” I spit out the word. Now I know where he got the bruises on his arms.

  “Yeah.” He stands straighter. “But unlike your boyfriend, Titan, who starts fights with anybody who looks at him the wrong way, I try to keep my fights in the cage.”

  “He’s not my boyfriend!” Without thinking, I chuck the plastic water bottle at him.

  Owen’s eyes wide
n and he pivots out of the way, but the bottle pegs him in the side.

  Lazarus winces and makes a hissing sound between his teeth. “Ouch.”

  “That must’ve hurt,” Cutter says, smirking at Lazarus as he tries not to laugh. “I guess they already know each other.”

  The boxers in the back corner of the gym take a break to watch us, too.

  “There’s nothing wrong with her arm, that’s for sure,” Lazarus says.

  Owen rubs the spot where the bottle hit him. “What’s your problem?”

  “You first.”

  He swipes a gray hoodie off the mat, shoves his arms in the sleeves, and yanks it over his head. Then he ducks between the ropes and jumps down from the ring. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  My pulse pounds and the air feels heavy as if the room is getting hotter. Why did I make a fool of myself and throw that stupid bottle at him? Who cares if Owen gave me crap about Titan?

  I want to get out of here. I walk toward the glass door that leads out of the gym. Owen rushes ahead of me and plants himself in front of the door, blocking my path. I could probably squeeze by him, but that would involve touching him—something I’m not doing after I just spent thirty minutes gawking at his body from the pool.

  “Please move.” I lower my voice. We’re far enough from the ring that no one can overhear our conversation unless we raise our voices.

  Owen looks down at me. “You can’t leave. What about physical therapy?” He’s watching me and I look anywhere but at him.

  “Not your problem.”

  “It is if you walk out of here and Cutter gets pissed at me,” he says.

  “And that’s not my problem.” I avoid his eyes.

  “What did you mean by ‘you first’? I never said I had a problem with you.”

  I snort. “You made it pretty clear in English.”

  Owen clasps his hands behind his neck and stares up at the ceiling. “I just didn’t think you were the kind of girl who would get mixed up with Titan.”

  “I’m not mixed up with anyone. You’re making lots of assumptions. Titan is friends with my cousins and he offered to help me find my classroom. I didn’t ask him to pick me up and make a big scene. But even if I did, that doesn’t make him my boyfriend.”

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