Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

  “Need some help?” he asks, removing one of his earbuds.

  “I’m looking for my friend. He fought here tonight. Are any of the fighters still around?”

  “Not sure. They usually clear out fast. You can check the locker room.” He points toward the end of the hallway. “Straight down.”


  He notices my leg brace. “Are you a fighter?”

  “Soccer player.”

  He raises an eyebrow. “Didn’t know soccer was such a rough sport.”

  “Thanks again.” I head down the hall, feeling less optimistic about finding Owen. It’s probably a result of the Reed Effect—the way Reed turns everything to shit.

  The locker room is dark and quiet. Locker rooms aren’t quiet unless they’re empty. Conversations, showers running, doors closing, and footsteps echo inside. But I still don’t want to chance it and walk in on a half-naked stranger.

  I take a step inside and whisper-shout Owen’s name. When no one responds, I take another step. This time I call his name loud enough for a person without supersonic senses to hear. “Owen? Are you in here?”

  “Give me a minute,” a muffled voice calls out.

  “Owen? Is that you?”

  A moment later, I hear what sounds like “Hold on.”

  There’s something weird about his voice. I’m not waiting.

  I storm into the locker room, my steps echoing to announce my arrival.

  Owen must hear them, too, because he calls out to me again. “Just give me a minute.” He sounds strange.

  “You’ve already had over an hour. That’s how long I’ve been waiting in the parking lot for you.”

  “Peyton, don’t come in here. Please…” He coughs and then sucks in a deep breath.

  I stop at the corner where a bank of lockers begins. Owen is just on the other side. Why doesn’t he want me in here? And why does he sound so strange? Did the fight take a bigger toll on him than I thought?

  Owen coughs again, and I round the corner. “You’d better have clothes on, because I’m—”

  The moment I see him, I lose my train of thought. He’s sitting on the floor, leaning against the lockers behind him, still in his trunks. His hands are still wrapped, the white cloth stained red from the fight.

  Why hasn’t he showered or changed?

  Owen sees me and takes a labored breath. “I told you not to—” he gasps, then sucks in a sharp breath. Even in the dim light, he looks pale.

  My heart stalls.

  “I’m okay,” Owen mumbles, struggling to keep his eyes open. I rush over to him just as he loses the battle and they flutter shut.


  Just Friends

  OWEN IS NOT okay.

  I take off my brace and carefully lower myself to the floor beside him. I’m not worried about hurting my knee. Owen is in pain, and I don’t want to do anything that might make it worse. I sit facing him with my legs tucked to the side, my thigh pressed against his.

  “Is it your ribs? Are they broken?” That would explain his labored breathing. How could Cutter and Lazarus leave him alone in this condition?

  “My bag.” Owen tries to point, but it seems like too much effort, and his hand drops to the floor.

  I scoot backward and reach the gym bag easily, which terrifies me. It’s only a few feet away from Owen, and he couldn’t get to it himself.

  I unzip it for him. “What do you need?”

  Owen’s chest heaves with every breath as he gropes through the bag. Whatever he’s looking for, he’s not finding it. I reach across his lap, grab the bag, and dump out the contents. Rolled hand wraps unfurl and land in our laps as energy bars and bottles of pain reliever clatter against the floor.

  “Tell me what I’m looking for,” I plead.

  “My inhaler.”

  I push the items around, looking for the inhaler. I see it! I pick up the inhaler and put it in Owen’s hand. He takes two puffs and closes his eyes.

  “Should I call 911?”

  His eyes fly open and he grabs my arm. “No!”

  “Relax.” I raise my hands so he can see them. “I’m not calling.”

  Unless he gets worse.

  When Owen closes his eyes again, I grab a T-shirt from the bag and wipe the sweat off his face. My hand lingers on his jaw, my thumb only inches from his lips. I listen to his breathing until it evens out, our faces so close they’re almost touching.

  “I’m okay,” he says, as if he senses me watching him.

  Owen’s breathing is returning to normal and he sounds like himself again. But without knowing exactly what’s wrong with him—and why he needs an inhaler—I have no idea if I should be worried about anything else, like his pulse rate or blood pressure.

  “No, you’re not.” Tears prick my eyes. I feel helpless. “I think we should go to the hospital and get you checked out.”

  The color still hasn’t returned to Owen’s cheeks, and his expressive eyes, which usually give away his feelings, look dull and glazed over.

  His back stiffens and he shakes off the fog. “No hospitals. My medicine is kicking in. I’ll be fine in a couple minutes.”

  “Why don’t I believe you?”

  His eyes drift past my face to the narrow space between his chest and mine. The way I’m leaning over him makes it look like I want to jump into his lap.

  I pull back, suddenly self-conscious. “Tell me what happened. Did you take a bad hit? Tell me if this hurts.” Without thinking, I gently run my fingers over Owen’s rib cage. The moment my fingertips touch his bare skin, my nerve endings buzz.

  “Nothing’s broken,” Owen says, staring at my hand. I yank it away, drawing even more attention to the fact that I was touching him.

  The disadvantage of putting more space between us is that now I have a better view of Owen’s chest—and the rest of his gorgeous body.

  I pick up his inhaler. “Why do you need this?”

  “I don’t like talking about it.”

  I stare at him. “Then you’ll have to get over it, because I just found you sitting on the floor of an empty locker room, gasping for air. You don’t know how bad you looked. I thought…” My voice wavers. I can’t say it.

  Owen reaches up and trails a calloused thumb over my cheek. “I’m glad you didn’t listen to me.”

  “About which thing?”

  The corner of his mouth turns up. “Coming in here.”

  “Doing the opposite of what I’m told is my specialty.” I hold up his inhaler. “So are you going to tell me why you need this?” I ask.

  Owen rubs the back of his neck and frowns. He glances at his wrapped hand and brings his wrist to his mouth, tugging on the end of the wrap with his teeth.

  “Stop.” Taking his wrist, I quickly unwind the wrap—following it around his wrist three times and threading the cloth out from between his fingers and then back down to his wrist, before moving on to the next finger. After that, it’s easy. Around the knuckles several times, then back down to his wrist and up to the thumb loop.

  My thumb grazes the soft skin under his wrist, and Owen’s pulse drums against the pad.

  “Have you done this before?” Owen asks as I slip his thumb out of the loop and toss the other wrap aside. “You’re better at that than I am.”

  “No,” I say automatically, realizing my mistake. It takes practice to unwrap someone’s hands. “You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out,” I add. “The … cloth stuff only unwinds in one direction.”

  Owen rubs his wrists. “Most people still need practice to do it that fast.”

  “I’m super coordinated, and don’t try to change the subject to get out of answering my question.” Which is exactly what I’m doing.

  He takes a deep breath. “Is there any chance you’d be willing to put that question on hold?”

  I cross my arms. “No.”

  Without a word, Owen stands and extends his hand to help me up. As soon as I’m back on my feet, he picks up my leg b
race and gives it to me. I put it on, watching him from the corner of my eye. Owen’s hands are on his hips and he’s staring at the floor, the contents of his gym bag scattered around his feet.

  But he won’t look at me.

  As much as I want to know what happened, he doesn’t want to talk about it even more.

  “You win. You don’t have to tell me.” I sigh. “I’ll wait in the hall while you change, in case you need me … I mean, need help.”

  I turn to walk away and Owen touches my elbow. He lets his fingers slide down my arm until he’s holding my hand. “Don’t leave.” He takes a deep breath and raises his eyes to meet mine. “I’ve got…”

  Whatever he’s about to tell me is difficult for him. Instead of pushing, I wait until he’s ready to talk. I understand how it feels to need time. I rarely tell people that my dad is dead, but when I do, it takes me a minute to collect my thoughts.

  Owen leans his shoulder against the locker and faces me. “I have asthma. It gets bad sometimes.”

  I’ve had teammates with asthma, but I’ve never seen any of them unable to catch their breath.

  “A black eye is bad. You could barely breathe when I got here. What would’ve happened if I hadn’t come looking for you?” The moment I ask the question, the truth hits me.

  I care about what happens to Owen.

  “Eventually, it would’ve let up enough for me to grab my inhaler. You walked in during the worst of it.” He sounds so calm.

  “What if your bag wasn’t nearby?”

  “It would’ve been okay, Peyton.”

  “You don’t know that for sure.” Before Dad left for a mission, he’d give me a bear hug and tell me that he would be okay. Even though high-risk ops were the norm for him, Dad believed he would always come home to us. Then one day he didn’t.

  “Don’t dodge the question. What happens if you have an asthma attack and you don’t have your inhaler?”


  I’m not giving up that easily. “What would happen?”

  “I wouldn’t be able to breathe.”

  Something else occurs to me. “Does fighting increase your chances of having an attack?”

  Owen sighs. “Yeah. But so does running across the street. Should I stop doing that, too?”

  “If it keeps you alive.”

  “I don’t want to live that way—avoiding anything that might hurt me.” He looks directly at me.

  “Normal people don’t want to get hurt, Owen.”

  “Normal is overrated.” He takes a step toward me. “I can’t let my condition control my life. I don’t want to play it safe all the time. I don’t want to be afraid to go after the things I want and take risks … like this.”

  Owen wraps his arm around my waist and pulls me against him. When I don’t protest, he slides his other hand up my back and into my hair. “Unless you tell me to stop, I’m going to kiss you.”

  He leans in, never taking his eyes off mine.

  When his lips graze mine, it feels too good. The kind of good I want to feel a hundred more times. He brushes his lip against mine, and the contact sends shock waves through my body. He continues to tease me, tracing the seam of my lips with his tongue.

  I part my lips. Owen accepts the invitation and kisses me for real.

  My hands touch the bare skin on his chest and he moans—low and sexy. He tastes sweet, with a hint of copper from the cut on his lip. I loop my hands around his neck, and he tightens his hold around my waist, carefully turning us until I’m leaning against the lockers.

  The combination of the cold metal against my back and the heat of Owen’s skin against my chest creates a delicious burn inside me. Part of me knows I should stop kissing him, but the other part of me wins out.

  Owen lets his hands trail up my sides, and he reaches over my shoulders and plants his palms on the lockers, boxing me in. His bottom lip is swollen from the fight and I brush my lips across it. His breathing speeds up and he deepens the kiss. I’m breathing just as hard, and our chests press together whenever one of us exhales.

  When Owen finally pulls back and looks at me, his eyes are glassy and his cheeks flushed. “I knew that’s how it would feel to kiss you.”


  He leans over and whispers the answer in my ear. “Like it was worth the risk if you didn’t feel the same way.”

  I do. That’s the problem.

  “We can’t do this, Owen.” I turn my head away and try to pull myself together. “We’re just friends.”

  He touches my chin with his finger and turns my face back toward him. His mouth hovers in front of mine, so close that his breath teases my lips. It takes every ounce of self-control I have left not to kiss him again.

  “If that’s what you want…” he says.

  It is and it isn’t, but I can’t say that without giving him an explanation.

  When it’s clear I’m not going to respond, Owen leans over to my ear and whispers, “We can be just friends. For now.

  “As long as you aren’t just friends with anyone else.”



  I’M STILL IN the hazy place between dreaming and waking, but I don’t want the dream to end. It feels so real. Owen’s hands tangled in my hair. His mouth finding mine over and over, nipping and tugging until my lips are swollen. I can’t think about anything except what it would feel like to have his hands on me … because kissing Owen feels too good.

  That’s why it can’t happen again.

  The nagging voice in the back of my head is awake, reminding me that last night was a one-time thing. If I hadn’t felt anything, then maybe I could sneak in a repeat performance. But a kiss like the one we shared—that kind of kiss isn’t easy to forget.

  My phone rings, and I grope around on the nightstand until I find it.

  I check the caller ID, and it’s not Reed.

  “Hi, Mom.”

  “Hi, sweetheart.”

  I’ve talked to Mom a few times since she left, mainly to fill her in about PT and my classes.

  “How is everything?” she asks.

  “Okay, actually. I think I’m getting used to things here.” And I kissed an amazing guy I can’t kiss again.

  “That’s a good thing, right?” She sounds relieved. “Hawk said you have the day off from school.”

  “Yeah. The teachers have an in-service.”

  “How’s school otherwise?”

  “Not bad.” Except for Christian’s bitchy ex that annoys the crap out of me, and the Twins’ friend, who wants to pick a fight with the guy I kissed … the one I’m not mentioning.

  “That’s all I get?” She’s disappointed.

  I’d love to tell her about Owen, but it will just worry her, and she’ll ask questions about him that I’m not ready to answer.

  Instead, I offer up more details about my classes. But I don’t mention the novel we’re reading in English. I also tell Mom about the way Lazarus plays chess against himself and how Dutch gets stuck under my bed. She loves hearing about the everyday things.

  We’re about to get off the phone when she gets quiet. “Is Reed still calling?”

  “Yeah. But I never answer. Why? Is he calling the house, too?”

  She doesn’t say anything.


  “Reed calls more now than he did when you two were dating. He leaves ridiculous messages asking if I’ll tell him where you are. He seems…”

  “What?” If Reed is bothering my mom I’ll sic Hawk on him.

  “I don’t know. Out of touch with reality is the best way to describe it.”

  “I know what you mean.” The fact that Reed thinks I’d give him another chance proves it.

  “Just don’t talk to him, okay?” she asks.

  “Trust me. That’s not a problem.”

  “Good. I’ll call you in a day or two, sweetheart,” she says. “I love you.”

  “Love you too, Mom.”

  The moment I hang up my phon
e chimes with an incoming text.

  are u up?


  He probably wants to grill me about what I was doing last night. I ignore his text and, a minute later, another message comes through.

  helping Pop haul crap to storage. text me when u get this.

  I’m not ready to face the Twins and answer questions about last night.

  Finding Owen in the locker room, in such bad shape, still has me reeling. By the time I got him in the car, he was so tired that he slept until I pulled up in front of his house to drop him off.

  “Don’t tell anyone what happened until we talk, okay?” he asked.

  “I won’t.”

  His secret wasn’t mine to tell.

  Owen was about to close the car door, when he bent down and poked his head back into the car. “My hoodie looks good on you.”

  A hoodie I just happened to sleep in last night.

  What was I thinking? Kissing him was a huge mistake.

  I kick back the covers and put on a pair of sweats. Now that I’m up, the familiar scratching sounds start under the bed. I lift the bed skirt and take a peek. Dutch is sprawled out on his belly.

  “Maybe you should stop crawling under there if you can’t get out.”

  Dutch howls.

  I’m not strong enough to lift the end of the bed without putting pressure on my knee, so I sit on the floor and use my shoulder to lift one corner of the bed high enough for Dutch to belly-crawl his way out. Once he’s free, the bloodhound lopes across the rug and stretches out on the floor next to the closet.

  I wash my face, brush my teeth, and try to decide what to do with the rest of the day. Normally, I’d just hang out and binge-watch women’s soccer, but after last night I need a bigger distraction.

  I consider calling Grace to tell her that Owen kissed me. I’d leave out the part about his asthma attack. Grace seems trustworthy, and I’m dying to tell someone. I scroll through my contacts to find her number, and my phone chimes again.

  If Cam plans to text me all day long, it will drive me nuts. I open my messages, expecting to find another update on the crap hauling.

  It’s Owen. I’m on a loaner phone. You busy?

  Seeing a message from him makes me smile.

  not really. how are u feeling?

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