Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia


  “I didn’t say that.”

  “But it’s true. I just didn’t want to see it. After tonight, I can’t pretend anymore.” She crosses her legs and twists the frayed threads on the bottom of her jeans. “And I feel awful about dragging Cameron into this mess.”

  Is that what she thinks happened? “Nobody dragged Cam into it. He went after Christian on his own.”

  Grace hugs her knees. “Cam feels like he has to protect me.”

  “I don’t think that’s it.” I can’t say more without betraying Cam’s confidence.

  Grace falls back on the bed. “Talking about me is depressing. I want to hear about you and Owen. Please tell me there has been kissing.”

  I cover my face with my hands and groan. “There has and it’s only making things harder.”

  “What things? It sounds like everything between you two is going perfect.”

  I don’t believe in perfect anymore—not perfect days or perfect relationships. But I have to admit that when I’m with Owen it feels pretty close.

  I fall back on the bed next to Grace and I stare at the ceiling. “Have you ever made a mistake that you can’t forget about no matter how hard you try? And you just don’t want to make it again?”

  “What kind of mistake are we talking about? I’ve made lots of them.”

  “The kind that involves dating a guy for seven months and finding out that he wasn’t the person you thought he was.” It feels good to finally say it out loud.

  “I’ve never had a boyfriend for longer than a month, so that’s a no. But it sounds awful.” Grace is quiet for a moment. “What happened?”

  “I’m not sure if I’ll ever know for sure. My ex, Reed, changed while we were together. I didn’t even notice at first. My dad died a little less than a year before Reed and I started dating, and I was still a mess. Reed helped me through it. He didn’t get upset when I was distant or preoccupied, which was most of the time.”

  “He sounds really sweet.”

  “That’s why it was so hard when he changed.” I rest my chin on my knees and try not to think about how much I’ve lost in the last year and a half. “Reed is an MMA fighter, like Owen.”

  “No way.”

  “Trust me. I know.” It still seems crazy when I think about it. “Reed is really serious about MMA. It’s his whole life. He’s a year older than me, and after he graduated last year, he started competing and training other fighters full-time. He was obsessed with making it into the UFC.”

  “What’s the UFC?” Grace asks.

  “It stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship. They organize most of the big pro fights on TV.”

  “Your ex must be really good.”

  “He is, but he was so obsessed with getting on the UFC’s radar and going pro that he started cheating.”

  Grace twists her shiny black hair around her finger, hanging on every word. “Isn’t there a ref watching the fight the entire time?”

  “Not that kind of cheating. Reed was taking performance-enhancing drugs.” Every time I think about it, my stomach ties itself into knots. “Reed was using steroids, which is prohibited in MMA, like it is in most sports. I didn’t catch on right away, but based on the changes in Reed’s behavior, I think he was using for at least two months before I finally figured it out.”

  “I’m sorry. That must have been so hard.” Grace breaks the last doughnut in half and hands me a piece. “How did you find out? Did he tell you?”

  “I found the drugs in his gym bag.”

  “Seriously?”

  This is my opening.

  If I chicken out now, I might never tell her and I want Grace to know. But it’s harder than I expected.

  “Finding his stash wasn’t the worst part.”

  Grace doesn’t ask any more questions. She waits until I’m ready to tell her the rest.

  “We were at a party, and I went out to Reed’s car to look for something. That’s when I found the drugs. So I confronted him. He admitted the steroids were his, but he refused to stop doping, so I broke up with him.”

  Bits and pieces of my conversation with Reed flash through my mind.…

  I was going to stop after the fight.

  A couple of months … that’s all I need.

  After the tournaments I’ve got coming up. I’ll stop. I swear.

  You have to choose right now—me or the drugs.

  This is the hard part. “Reed refused to accept the fact that I was breaking up with him. He got angry and flew into a rage.” I take a shaky breath, picturing the scene. “People talk about ’roid rage, but I didn’t really understand what it meant until that night. Reed turned into a different person. It was like he was a stranger.”

  “What did you do?” Grace’s voice is a whisper.

  There’s no way to prepare her for what I’m about to say next. I can’t find the right words. It’s too painful and ugly. “Remember when I said I hurt my knee falling down a flight of stairs? I left something out. Reed pushed me.”

  Grace’s eyes go wide and tear up. She points at my brace. “That’s how—?”

  “Yeah.” Seeing Grace on the verge of tears triggers the same reaction in me. I press the inside corners of my eyes and take a deep breath to hold them back.

  “Did you press charges against him?” she asks.

  “No.”

  “Why not?” she blurts out. “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. I’m not judging you. I just hate that guy for hurting you.”

  “Don’t feel bad. It was a hard decision, and the situation was complicated because Reed’s sister is—I mean, she was—my best friend. Tess loves him so much. I just couldn’t do that to her.” And look how it turned out. “But I wanted Reed to pay for what he did to me. So I reported him to his trainer instead. I knew if Reed wanted to keep competing, he’d have to submit to a drug test for PEDs. It’s league protocol. I thought he’d test positive and his trainer and his mom would get him help.” I close my eyes to keep from crying. “But that’s not how it turned out.”

  Grace scoots closer to me. “What do you mean?”

  A tear runs down my cheek and I wipe it away. “Reed figured out how to beat the test and the results came back clean. He had already convinced people that I was confused about what happened the night of the party. He said he never pushed me—that he was just trying to grab my arm when I started falling. The test results made it look like he was telling the truth and a lot of people believed him—including Tess.”

  “People believed him?” Grace demands.

  “Enough to call my house and threaten me.” This part of the story doesn’t seem as dramatic in my head. But it’s hard to describe how much it hurt to have everyone doubt me.

  How much it still hurts.

  “That’s why my mom sent me here to stay with my uncle. The threats really freaked her out, and Reed kept calling and showing up at our house.… It was too much for her.”

  “Does Owen know about any of this?”

  “No! I don’t want him to feel sorry for me or treat me like I’m fragile, on the verge of breaking.”

  “I’d never say anything to him,” Grace says calmly. “You can trust me.”

  I nod and take a deep breath.

  “Now I understand why you’re not sure if you want to get serious with Owen. After all that, I’m surprised you didn’t swear off dating altogether.”

  “I did.” But I wasn’t expecting to meet someone like Owen.

  “But you like Owen,” Grace says as if she understands. “Are you worried about letting things get serious with him because he’s a fighter, like your ex?”

  “It’s not that.” I tell her exactly how I feel without worrying about how it will sound. “I’m scared to get close to him because I don’t trust my judgment and I can’t afford to make another mistake.” My eyes flicker to the brace strapped around my leg. “Look at what the last one cost me.”

  What I don’t say is the other thing I’m thinking.

  There’s no “lett
ing myself get close” to Owen. I’m already close to him. If that’s a mistake, it’s too late, because I’ve already made it.

  CHAPTER 35

  Unraveling

  TODAY I ASK Owen to take me through my exercises before I hit the pool. I need to burn off some energy—at least that’s what I’m calling it.

  Watching Owen through the gym window while I’m in the pool is becoming more unbearable every day. The tension from being so close to him and seeing the way he moves in the ring has me wound so tight that I can’t think about anything else when I look at him.

  I’ve never met a guy who affected me this way—a guy I wanted this much.

  I’ve wanted guys to kiss me before, but I want Owen to touch me—every inch of me. And I want to touch him.

  I didn’t feel this way with Reed. We slept together, and it was good. But not mind-blowing, tension-inducing good. I never lost track of a conversation because I was daydreaming about Reed’s hands all over me.

  I know it would be different with Owen.

  I’m standing at the end of the pool, staring at the water and imagining how different, when an old lady in a flowered swim cap clears her throat. “Are you using the lane?”

  I snap out of it. “Yeah. Sorry.”

  I adjust the strap of my black one-piece and quickly braid my hair. My eyes dart to the glass wall, out of habit. Usually, Owen is working out or sparring in the ring.

  Not today.

  He’s standing in front of the window, watching me.

  And it’s so incredibly hot.

  A rush of heat burns down to my core. I should smile and act casual, or jump in the pool—anything except stare at him like I want to take off his clothes.

  “Miss? Are you getting in?” the lady asks impatiently. “It’s bingo night at church, and it’s my turn to spin the wheel.”

  Bingo night breaks the spell, and I ease into the pool, painfully aware that Owen is probably still watching.

  “I’m sorry,” I tell her again. “I won’t be long.”

  Cutter graduated me from walking to swimming laps, which cuts down on the amount of time I can spend drooling over Owen.

  A swim class finishes, freeing up the other lanes. Now it’s just Bingo Lady and me. I count my strokes, anything to distract me from the window. But I’m getting tired faster than usual.

  Bingo Lady finishes before me and rushes off to spin the wheel.

  I steal a look at the window.

  The gym is empty.

  Owen and I are often the last ones to leave, but I don’t see him. He wouldn’t take off without telling me. I check the clock on the wall. No wonder I’m tired and the gym is empty. I swam twice as long as I normally do.

  I pull myself out of the pool. Water drips down my legs, and I lean to the side and wring out my braid, leaving puddles behind me as I head for the showers.

  The entrance to the women’s locker room is next to the glass door that leads to the gym.

  Owen pushes it open and walks toward me without a word.

  My heart throbs at the sight of him—his broad shoulders and muscular chest, his intoxicating brown eyes, and full lips that beg to be kissed. He picks up my striped towel as he passes the chair where I left it, stops in front of me. He holds the towel between us, our toes almost touching. “Hi.”

  “Hi.” I should feel self-conscious standing here, dripping wet, in nothing except a bathing suit. But I don’t.

  Owen opens the towel, slips it around my waist, and uses the ends to pull me toward him.

  My chest touches his, and the thin layer of wet fabric between us emphasizes how little clothing we’re both wearing.

  My fingers graze his waist as my hands slide down and rest above his hip bones. “I’m dripping on you.”

  “You can do whatever you want with me, Peyton. Just don’t break my heart.” His tone is sexy and playful, but there’s a hint of seriousness, too.

  The gym door opens behind him.

  “Hey, Owen? I need a favor.” It’s Charlie, the guy who works at the front desk. “It’s bingo night over at the church and nobody brought the doughnuts. Y’all are the last ones here. Any chance you can lock up for me when you leave? The older folks get real upset if there aren’t any doughnuts.”

  “No problem,” Owen says without taking his eyes off me.

  Charlie waits for Owen to turn around. But Owen doesn’t move.

  “All right, then. I’ll leave the keys in the boxing ring,” Charlie says. “How about that? Just toss ’em in the mail slot after you lock the front door. I’ve got another set at home.”

  Charlie rushes back out the glass door and through the gym.

  Owen and I are alone—as in the only people in this building.

  His eyes glaze over. “You are so beautiful.”

  Owen touches my lips with his, but he doesn’t kiss me. He just brushes his lips over mine, back and forth, until I can’t catch my breath. He pulls the towel tighter, and I feel how much he wants me.

  I slide my arms around his neck and tilt my head to kiss him.

  He pulls back so our lips barely touch, teasing me.

  “Kiss me, Owen. Please.” I run my finger down the back of his neck and continue the path along his spine.

  When I reach his shorts Owen’s mouth crashes into mine. Firecrackers explode inside my chest as his tongue slides into my mouth. The kiss is hungry and impatient, and I don’t want it to end. He tries to move down to my neck, but I recapture his lips with mine.

  My skin is burning up from the heat building inside me, but I’m still soaked and I shiver.

  Owen brings the towel up around my shoulders and nuzzles my neck. “You’re cold.”

  “I’m fine.”

  “Let’s go inside. You need to change out of this thing.” He hooks his finger under the strap of my bathing suit.

  I don’t want to change, or do anything that involves being any farther away from him than I am right this second. “Only if you come with me.”

  Owen draws back and looks at me. He’s trying to figure out if I meant it the way it sounded. “Only if I get to carry you.” He leans close to my ear. “You don’t know how crazy it made me when I saw you in Titan’s arms, in the hallway.”

  “That wasn’t my choice.”

  “I know.” He cups my face in his hands. “But when I touch you, I want to know that it’s your choice.”

  “Owen? Will you take me to the locker room?”

  “I’ll do whatever you want, Peyton. Haven’t you figured that out by now?” He bends down, scoops me up in his arms, and carries me into the women’s locker room.

  It’s dark except for the safety lights plugged in along the baseboards. In the corner, two chairs and a sofa are arranged like a sitting area in a department store.

  It’s colder in the locker room, and my teeth chatter.

  Owen notices. “You are cold.”

  “I’m okay.”

  He carries me to the counter, where clean towels are stacked next to a basket of body lotion, brushes, and Aqua Net hair spray. “Grab some towels.”

  “Why?”

  He kisses the top of my head. “Don’t be stubborn.”

  I pick up a few towels with a huff, and Owen carries me to the sitting area.

  “It’s warmer over here,” he says, gently lowering me down onto the sofa. He kneels on the floor in front of me and wraps the towels around my body.

  “I feel like a burrito.”

  “You look like a burrito. A pretty burrito.” He looks around. “Where’s your locker? I’ll get your clothes.”

  I tug on his shorts so he’ll come closer. “I’m warm now. I don’t need clothes.” That came out wrong. “Other clothes.”

  “You can’t stay in a wet bathing suit.”

  “Maybe…”

  He wraps his arms around my waist. “What?”

  “You could warm me up?” It sounds like a bad pickup line.

  Owen searches my face.

  I lean f
orward and kiss him, and his uncertainty disappears. He reaches inside the towels and wraps his arms around my waist. My pulse pounds faster than before, as if my body was just waiting for him to pick up where he left off.

  He slides my bathing suit strap off my shoulder and kisses his way up my neck. Then his hands drift lower. He traces a path along my collarbone. When his fingers brush over the wet fabric covering my chest, another rush of heat makes me shudder.

  “Come here.” I lie back slowly, keeping my arms looped around his neck so he follows. The towels are tangled around me, and Owen tugs at the one wrapped around my waist and lowers his body between my legs carefully, so he doesn’t lean against my knee.

  He runs his hand along my body slowly—down the side of my breast to my waist, then farther south to trace the edge of my bathing suit. My body reacts in ways I’ve never experienced before.

  His hand lingers at the boundary. “Is this okay?”

  “More than okay.”

  He slips his hand under the material, and I gasp.

  Oh god.

  His touch is gentle—slow and deliberate.

  I can’t think.

  Owen holds himself up with one arm, and from this angle his face is directly above mine.

  I tug on the other strap of my bathing suit. “Take it off.”

  “That’s not what this is about. I wasn’t trying—”

  “I want you to take it off.”

  “Are you sure?” He touches my cheek. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

  I realize what he means …

  He thinks I’m a virgin.

  Why am I surprised? It’s the classic double standard. Guys can sleep with as many girls as they want, but girls are supposed to save themselves. But I’m not double standard compliant.

  I push up onto my elbows. “I’m not a virgin. Sorry to disappoint you.”

  “I was talking about your knee.”

  Oh, right.

  “Sorry.”

  “It’s okay. I love the way you say whatever you think. Come here.” He slides his arm behind my back, supporting my weight, as I loop my arms around his neck again.

  I nip at his neck and work my way up to his ear, tracing the curve with my tongue. “I love this,” I whisper, letting my tongue slide into his ear.

  “Shit, Peyton.” He groans. “What are you doing to me?”

 
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