Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia


  Owen stares him down. “I said, nobody’s going outside. Unless they’re going with me.”

  Dylan backs off. “I don’t have a problem with you, man. Why are you getting in the middle of this?”

  “You don’t need to worry about what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it,” Owen warns.

  “You’re such a jerk, Owen.” April tries to step out from behind Dylan. “For, like, two years, you haven’t given a shit about anything, and now suddenly you’re playing hall monitor? For the last time, I didn’t put anything in her locker. And if I did, I’d take credit for it.”

  What does she mean about Owen not caring?

  April turns on her heel and grabs Dylan’s arm. “Come on, let’s get out of here. This conversation is boring.”

  When she’s out of earshot, I turn to Christian. “I appreciate you looking out for me, but I don’t need your help with April. She might need a guy to fight her battles, but I’m perfectly capable of handling my own problems.”

  Owen rubs the back of his neck and stares at the floor. Christian frowns, looking confused. I turn my back on them and walk to class.

  “Peyton, wait,” Owen calls after me.

  “I’m going to class.”

  As if on cue, the bell rings.

  April is looking for attention. Unfortunately for me, Christian and Owen just gave it to her.

  CHAPTER 23

  Killer Smiles and Almost Kisses

  CHEMISTRY PASSES IN a blur of periodic table elements and unbalanced equations. I can’t stop thinking about the novel stuffed in my backpack. Reading it isn’t an option. I’ll have to find a summary online and hope Miss Ives doesn’t come up with lots of in-class activities that leave me feeling like a gutted fish.

  I catch myself picturing Owen’s lopsided smile instead of copying the homework written on the board and I kill the thought.

  He’s off-limits.

  One hundred percent not an option.

  But if things were different and Owen wasn’t a fighter … who knows?

  The bell rings.

  Books slam shut and chair legs scrape across the floor. I ease out of the chair quickly and try to keep up with everyone else, but I’m still the last person out of the classroom.

  The moment I step into the hallway, I stop short.

  Owen is standing next to the wall, thumbs tucked in the pockets of his jeans. He turns as if he senses me watching him.

  “Ready?” Owen asks, pushing away from the wall.

  Whatever he’s referring to, I’m not ready for it. “For what?”

  He falls in step beside me. “Lunch. I hear you haven’t had the pleasure of eating in our one-star cafeteria yet.”

  How would he know that? Did the Twins tell him? Or did he ask?

  “I’m not a fan of school cafeterias. We’re allowed to eat off campus at my school.”

  “Isn’t this your school now?”

  “Only until March. Then I’m going home.” I steal a glance at him. “I have to be ready to play by then, remember?”

  “Right.” Owen pushes his hands deeper into his pockets. “But you’re here now, and you have to eat.”

  “And you’re offering me a personal escort?” I brush my hair over my shoulder.

  I’m totally flirting.

  Could I be more obvious?

  “It’s a service I provide to all my English partners with killer smiles and knee braces. Don’t let it go to your head.” Owen cocks his head to the side, watching me.

  I recognize the look. He’s sizing me up. I’m used to seeing the expression on the faces of my opponents on the soccer field.

  He thinks I have a killer smile. Not cute or sweet. Killer.

  Suddenly it feels like I’m standing on the deck of a boat. Is my knee giving out? But it’s not my bad knee.

  Owen’s smile, the thump of my heartbeat, the fluttering sensation in my stomach—my legs have transformed into ramen noodles because of this guy.

  I reach for the wall beside me and Owen catches my arm. His rough fingers slide under my forearm and leave behind a tingling sensation. He cups my elbow, my arm resting on top of his, and I grab his biceps for balance.

  “Sorry…” I stammer. “My knee gave out.” It’s the first time I’ve used my knee as an excuse without resenting it.

  Owen’s hand drops to my waist.

  Not good.

  Not the kind of good I’m looking for, anyway.

  “Do you need help walking?” he asks.

  Yes. I shake my head. “No.”

  The pressure of his hand on my waist makes me wonder how it would feel on my skin.

  Owen scans my face. “Your cheeks are bright red, and you look like you’re about two seconds from passing out. Are you in pain?”

  “I just need some water.” I’m still holding his arm and it makes me self-conscious.

  Owen slides his arm behind me and moves next to me, as if he wants me to throw my arm over his shoulders for support. I’ve embarrassed myself enough already.

  “I’m okay now,” I say, trying to figure out what to do with my arm, which is hovering above his shoulders.

  His arm lingers a moment longer, and his fingers trail over the material of my T-shirt before he releases me. “If you pass out, I’m not responsible.”

  I walk toward the cafeteria, the ghost of Owen’s touch lingering. “I’ll take the blame. I don’t want to jeopardize the knight-in-shining-armor routine you’ve probably got going with the girls.”

  He studies the black marks on the floor. “No chance of that.”

  No chance I could put it in jeopardy, or no chance the girls think of him that way? The way he’s inspecting the floor has me leaning toward option number two. I hate that something I said made his smile disappear.

  “Anything I should know before we go in?” I ask when we reach the door.

  He relaxes. “Don’t eat the sloppy joes or the tuna melt. Or anything that looks like it’s made with cream of chicken soup.”

  The clatter of plastic trays hitting tabletops and conversations overlapping on the other side of the door paralyze me. When was the last time I set foot in an unfamiliar school cafeteria? Freshman year?

  Memories of the bitchy girls whispering about their so-called friends make me rethink the whole thing. I wasn’t on the receiving end of any major drama back then, but that doesn’t mean April and Madison and their army of clones won’t target me here.

  Eating is overrated.

  I step to the side, away from the door. “I’m not all that hungry.”

  Owen lets the door swing closed. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who only eats three pieces of lettuce and a carrot for lunch?” He takes a step toward me and lowers his head so we’re eye-to-eye. “Because I know you wouldn’t let anybody intimidate you.”

  “Maybe I’m not as brave as you think.” I raise my chin. Owen has no way of knowing how much truth there is in what I’m saying. But it feels like he does, and it’s unnerving.

  He leans his shoulder against the wall, watching me. “Says the girl who threw a water bottle at me. And something tells me you were holding back.”

  I open my mouth, but I can’t come up with a smart-ass comment.

  The door behind Owen swings open, and he lunges toward me to avoid getting hit.

  I back into the wall as Owen’s broad chest flies at me. I bring my hands up in front of me and brace myself. His chest hits my palms and I hold my breath, waiting for his body to slam against mine. But it doesn’t happen.

  Warm air tickles my ear and I open my eyes.

  Owen’s face is inches from mine, his chest pressed against my hands, his ragged breathing echoing in my ear. His arms are extended on either side of my head, his palms splayed on the wall.

  He caught himself.

  “I’m sorry, man. I didn’t know you were behind the door.” It’s a guy’s voice, somewhere behind Owen. “You good?”

  Owen lifts his head and pushes away from the wall to l
ook at me. With every breath, his chest presses against my palms. “Are you?”

  I’m not sure what he’s asking, and with his body this close to mine, I don’t care. “Am I what?”

  “Good?”

  I nod and Owen’s arms relax. He lets out a long breath and leans his forehead against the wall above me. The rough stubble along his jaw brushes my cheek, and I shiver.

  “You need anything?” the guy behind Owen asks.

  Owen pulls back, his breath evening out.

  I look up at him from beneath lowered lashes, and I’m immediately caught in the drag of his dark eyes. His gaze drops to my lips for a split second.

  “We’re good.” Owen says the words softly, so I’m the only one who hears them.

  CHAPTER 24

  Powdered Cheese and Power Trips

  THE TEMPERATURE IN the cafeteria drops from cool to subzero when Owen and I walk in together—at least, at the tables where April is holding court with her friends and some football players. She’s wedged between Dylan and Madison, laughing ridiculously loud. The Twins are at an April-free table nearby, with their backs to us, so they haven’t noticed me yet.

  I wish I could say the same for Titan. He’s sitting directly across the aisle from me, holding a burger. He’s about to take a bite when he sees us and drops it onto his tray.

  The burger-drop sets off Madison’s drama-queen radar, and her eyes dart around the room until she spots Owen and me. She immediately turns to April and whispers in her ear.

  I get in line behind the other students waiting to buy lunch. “This is like a bad scene from a movie.”

  Owen walks around and stands on the other side of me, blocking Titan’s view. He picks up a red plastic tray for himself and takes another one for me.

  “Thanks. But I’m just going to grab a snack.” If the stench of boiled hot dogs and powdered cheese is any indication of what the Black Water High School cafeteria has to offer, I’ll stick with junk food.

  I sense Titan watching us and it annoys me. “What’s Titan’s problem? I talked to him for two minutes at his party.”

  Owen loads his tray with ham sandwiches wrapped in plastic. “This is a small town. New girls don’t show up that often. He probably thought he had a shot with you.”

  I pick up a bag of mini Oreos. “Didn’t the Twins give him the our-cousin-doesn’t-date speech?”

  Owen adds a stack of giant cookies and a slice of cake to his tray. “They probably did, but Titan does whatever he wants.”

  We pay the cashier, and suddenly it feels like everyone is staring at me—not with April’s uber-bitch level of intensity, but it’s still awkward. Tucker walks into the cafeteria carrying his new skateboard, shifting some of the attention away from me.

  He drops the board, hops on, and coasts over to us. “How’s your day going?”

  I remember the way Owen’s body felt pressed up against me before we came in. “Some parts have been better than others.”

  We pass April’s table and Grace looks over from the last seat. I make eye contact and give her a quick smile, hoping April and Madison won’t notice.

  Cam sees me, picks up his tray, and heads in my direction. Christian stacks his sandwiches under his chin and follows him.

  “Come on, Grace.” Christian waves her over and waits for her to catch up.

  Owen chooses the only empty table in sight. I wish it was further away from April. He sits across from me, with his back to them, and Tucker takes the seat beside him, creating a wall between April and me.

  Cam sets his tray down next to mine and nods at Tucker. “What’s up? I’m Cameron.”

  “Tucker. Nice to meet you.”

  Cam looks over at me. “I didn’t know you and Owen had third period together.”

  “We don’t,” Owen says, digging into a slice of cake.

  “You don’t what?” Christian asks, catching the tail end of the conversation.

  “Have third period together,” Owen says between bites. “Your brother isn’t happy that Peyton and I walked in together.”

  “What do you mean by together?” Christian loses his chin hold on the stack of sandwiches, and they tumble onto the table. A cellophane-wrapped square lands in Cam’s mashed potatoes.

  Grace pushes the sandwiches aside to make room for her tray. “Stop acting like such a baby, Christian. Do you think they started dating in the last three hours?”

  Christian straddles the chair next to hers. “Stranger things have happened.”

  “Hi. I’m Grace.” She waves at Tucker. “I think your locker is near mine.”

  Tucker grins. “Yeah. It is.”

  “This is Christian,” Grace continues the introductions.

  Owen looks over at me, and my stomach does a little flip. It didn’t seem to get the message that we’re just friends.

  I’m attracted to him.

  Any girl with a heartbeat would have trouble ignoring the pull of his sexy smile and beautiful brown eyes. I’m also attracted to half the guys on the Italian men’s soccer team, and I won’t be dating any of them, either.

  It’s a physical reaction, like an allergy.

  I’ll get over it.

  I avoid meeting Owen’s gaze, but it’s not easy when he’s across from me.

  After what feels like forever, he balls up his napkin and tosses it on his tray. “You guys have nothing to worry about. Peyton made it clear that she’s not interested in dating anybody. And even if she was I’m not her type.”

  Owen’s comment stings, and I try to hide my disappointment. To be fair, I did tell him that I don’t like fighters.

  Laughter erupts at April’s table and Grace shifts in her seat.

  “Will April and Madison give you a hard time for sitting over here?” I ask.

  “April has nothing to be mad about, and she has a new boyfriend to entertain her.” Christian looks over at his ex. She stops laughing and snuggles up to Dylan.

  “April isn’t the only person who looks pissed,” Cam says, tipping his chin in Titan’s direction.

  Titan is staring Owen down like he’s trying to burn a hole through him.

  “Could he act any creepier?” Grace scrunches up her nose. “What’s his problem?”

  “I am.” Owen crosses his arms and makes eye contact with Titan.

  The linebacker plants his feet on the floor and pushes his chair away from the table. The sound of metal scraping halts conversations around him as students at neighboring tables turn their attention to Titan.

  Titan’s expression makes me uncomfortable. “This makes no sense. I don’t even know him.”

  “It’s not about you,” Cam says. “I mean, it is and it isn’t.”

  Grace drops a half-eaten granola bar on her tray. “Thanks for clearing that up.”

  Christian watches Owen and Titan, like a ref prepared to break up a fight. “I thought you settled that shit last year.”

  Owen’s jaw forms a hard line. “I guess Titan wants to un-settle it.”

  I’m not letting Titan use me as an excuse to dredge up whatever happened between Owen and him.

  “There’s too much testosterone at this table for me.” I stand up and Owen jumps to his feet. More chair legs scrape against the floor, then Titan is on his feet—followed by the Twins.

  “Could this get any more embarrassing?” Grace shields her face and looks in the opposite direction, avoiding April.

  “So that’s how it’s gonna be?” Titan asks the Twins. “You’re backing him up?”

  Owen rolls his shoulders and subtly shifts his weight onto the balls of his feet, adopting a defensive stance. It’s the opposite of what Reed would do in this situation—strike first, but go easy. Give the other guy a false sense of security and then attack.

  The aisle that separates Owen and Titan seems dangerously narrow.

  “Nobody is backing up anyone,” Cam says, walking toward Titan. “We’re trying to make sure you don’t get benched on Friday night.”

  “That
’s not how it looks from here,” Titan fires back.

  Owen widens his stance. “Listen to Cameron. We both know I don’t need anyone to back me up in a fight, especially not against you.”

  “Shit.” Cam lunges for Titan, but he isn’t fast enough and Titan slips past him.

  In a blur of movements, Titan and Owen are within arm’s reach of each other—Titan’s hands clenched into fists and eyes full of rage, and Owen’s expression calm and calculating.

  Cam wedges himself between them, and Christian uses his chair as a step and jumps over the table to help.

  “You should sit,” Grace says. “If they start throwing each other around, it will feel like an earthquake.”

  I take her advice.

  “Get outta my way, Cameron, or I’ll lay you out,” Titan warns.

  Christian comes up beside Cam, and the Twins stand next to each other.

  “Take it easy, Big Man, or all three of our asses will be watching the game from the sidelines.” Christian’s voice drops. “But if you threaten my brother again, you’ll be watching it from a hospital bed.”

  “I’ve got this, Christian.” Owen hasn’t taken his eyes off Titan.

  “You think so?” Titan points at Owen over Christian’s shoulder. “That kung fu bullshit won’t help you when I’m pounding your head into the ground.”

  “I’m right here.” Owen opens his arms.

  “Carters! Wallhauser!” A voice thunders through the cafeteria.

  A short man about my uncle’s age with blotchy skin and patchy muttonchops along his jaw marches toward us. Dressed in track pants, a white polo, and a Warriors zippered jacket, he has football coach written all over him.

  He points at the Twins. “Step back unless you two want to play ball for a community college next year!”

  The other football players at tables nearby sit up straighter. When the Twins and Titan don’t move, the coach points at them and explodes. “Did I stutter? Move your tails or clean out your gym lockers.”

  The Twins snap to attention and back up.

  “Sorry, Coach,” Christian mumbles.

  Dylan says something to his friends and laughs.

  “You think this is funny, Mr. Rollins?” Coach demands, red-faced and angry. “Does Coach Graff know he’s got a comedian on the basketball team? Should I get him in here so he can see how goddamn hilarious you are?”

 
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