Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia


  “This whole thing started because I was trying to keep you from making a fool of yourself.”

  Grace’s face turns ashen. Her eyes dart to Christian and then to the flames. I know exactly where April is headed with this. She’s going to out this nice girl in front of everyone, including Christian—the guy Grace has a crush on.

  “Don’t do it, or I promise you’ll be sorry.” My tone carries a warning, and April knows it’s meant for her.

  April narrows her eyes. “That sounds like a threat.”

  “Because it is.”

  “Don’t do what?” Christian asks.

  I look directly at April. “Nothing.”

  For a second, I’m not sure which way this standoff will go. Christian’s ex might out Grace to spite me. If she’s smart, she’ll back down.

  April flips her auburn waves with a dramatic sweeping motion that had to take practice. “I know what’s really going on.” She turns to Christian. “You were looking for an excuse to end things, so you sent your cousin to pick a fight with me.”

  Christian looks confused. “I had already ended things.”

  “I don’t believe you,” April says.

  “No one sent me to do anything,” I snap. “I’m not a puppet in the show you have going on here.”

  Madison puts her arm around April’s shoulders. “This is your fault, Christian Carter.”

  Way to switch gears.

  Christian snorts. “How do you figure?”

  Madison points an acrylic nail at him. “You’re always playing games with April. Could you be a bigger jerk?”

  Christian throws up his hands, and beer sloshes out of the can. “What games? We broke up. End of story. Call me whatever you want. I don’t give a crap.”

  Madison raises her chin. “That’s because you are a total narcissist.”

  I’m impressed. Someone has been watching Dr. Phil.

  “That means you’re in love with yourself,” she continues.

  Not exactly the meaning of the word.

  A black guy in a baseball cap sits up in his lawn chair, trying not to laugh. “I don’t think you can be in love with yourself. You can like yourself a whole lot and all, but—”

  “Shut it, Jackson.” Madison puts a hand on her hip. “I watched a whole talk show about it. So don’t tell me.”

  I was right about Dr. Phil.

  Madison turns back to Christian. “You’re emotionally abusing April, and it’s not right.”

  “Abusing her? I wasn’t even talking to her until you started up tonight,” Christian says.

  “I’m feeling emotionally abused too,” Jackson mutters.

  It’s like I’m watching a bad Saturday Night Live skit, and I can’t change the channel. “I’m taking a walk.”

  “Where are you going?” Cam looks worried.

  I nod in the direction of the barn and lower my voice. “Over there. I’m not interested in joining the cast of this soap opera.”

  “I’ll come with you.” Cam grabs a beer from one of his buddies.

  “Hang out with your friends. I’m fine.”

  Cam lets me go, but he stays in the same spot, craning his neck until it’s too dark to see me.

  I yank on the sides of the brace as I trek through the muddy grass—at least I hope it’s mud. Finding a position that will make this stupid thing more comfortable is impossible. If my future on the soccer field weren’t at stake, I would’ve trashed it already. I lean forward and give the brace a hard pull as I turn the corner. I look up in time to see a figure coming toward me in the darkness, but it’s too late to stop. Our bodies collide and I lose my balance.

  “Shit!” a guy calls out.

  My knee buckles and I reach for the side of the barn, but my fingers barely graze the wood.

  I fall backward and my mind flashes on the image of Reed standing at the top of the steps. My back hits something, and suddenly I’m being lifted. I blink hard, my eyes adjusting to the contrast between the darkness and the glow of the moonlight.

  Owen looks down at me, his chest only inches from mine. His fingers press against the curve of my waist, and I realize his arm is behind me. My palms turn cold and clammy, and my stomach feels like a twisted towel waiting for someone to finish wringing it out.

  “Sorry. I was reading a text.” Owen steps back as if he’s checking for injuries, and recognition flickers in his eyes. “Twice in one day. You must think I’m an ass.”

  “You just startled me,” I manage, disentangling myself from him.

  I take in the tousled dirty-blond hair that curls at his collar, his square jaw, and those warm brown eyes. It’s hard to see them in the dark, but I remember from the football stadium.

  He’s gorgeous—the kind of gorgeous reserved for guys who don’t know it.

  “If we’re going to spend this much time together, you should probably know my name.” He holds out his hand. “Owen Law.”

  I offer him mine, and his fingers curl around my wrist, grazing my pulse point.

  “I’m Peyton.”

  Owen gives me a sheepish smile. “I know all about you.”

  CHAPTER 12

  Sky Full of Stars

  OWEN’S HAND LINGERS around mine a moment longer than I expect.

  “You know what about me, exactly?” I ask.

  And should I be worried?

  “Well, I know the Twins are your cousins and you’re staying with them. And I know your name. I guess that’s not much, but it’s something.”

  His phone rings, startling us both, and my hand slips out of his.

  Owen answers and holds up a finger, indicating he wants me to wait. He offers the caller a gruff “hi.”

  Trekking through the grass took a toll on my knee, and I search for a place to sit. A tower of hay bales stacked against the barn is my only option.

  “I don’t want to talk about this again,” Owen says under his breath, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck. “I need time to figure it out.”

  Sitting behind a barn in the dark, listening to a guy blow off his girlfriend, is too awkward for me. I start to get up.

  Owen notices and abruptly ends the call. “I gotta go.”

  “Fighting with your girlfriend?” I ask in a way that comes off sounding more like a statement than a question.

  He drops down on the hay bale next to mine, stretching his long legs in front of him, without giving me an answer. He notices that I’m still perched on the end of the bale. “I just sat down. If you take off now, I’ll think it’s because of me.”

  “Maybe it is.” I keep my tone light and I scoot back just enough to make it clear that I’m undecided.

  “Give me a minute and I’ll walk back with you and protect you from the bears.”

  Bears?

  My eyes dart to the tree line past the main barn. This is Tennessee—trees, forests, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. With my luck, I’ll walk away and end up getting mauled.

  I settle back against the hay.

  Owen looks up at the sky and studies it with an intensity that makes me wonder if he’s thinking about more than the stars. I’ve never seen a sky so dark or stars so bright. Without traffic lights or fast-food signs on every block, the moon is the only thing competing with the constellations.

  “Ever feel like you’re screwed no matter what you do?” Owen’s question comes out of nowhere.

  All the time. Part of me wants to say it out loud. “Once in a while.”

  “Any advice?” He gives me a half smile.

  I don’t know this guy, but he seems nice—and unhappy. I can relate. He’s waiting for me to respond. I shrug. “Sometimes life only gives you two options. Bad or worse. So you go with bad.”

  “Makes sense.” He studies me like he’s taking inventory, checking off boxes on a mental list. The competitor in me wonders how I’m scoring. What if I’m giving him advice about his girlfriend, possibly a delightful friend of April’s?

  The faint sound of laughter from the party floa
ts through the air.

  “Why did you come to Black Water?” Owen asks. “I’m guessing it wasn’t for the social scene.”

  I tap on my brace. “I tore my PCL, the ligament that runs behind my knee. My doctor said I’ll need a lot of physical therapy to get my knee back in shape, and I only have four months to do it.”

  “What happens in four months?”

  “I’m a soccer player. I need to get back on the field in March, when the season starts.”

  “What if you need more time to recover?” It sounds like he actually cares about the answer.

  “If I work hard enough, it will heal by then.” I hope.

  Losing my spot at UNC isn’t an option. I practiced soccer drills with Dad every day after school and on weekends—and it paid off. I’m not letting Reed destroy my dreams.

  “Don’t they have physical therapists where you’re from?” he asks.

  “In Washington, DC? Sure.”

  “You left Washington, DC, to come here? Why?” Owen is smart and nosy. Not the best combination when I’m trying to keep certain parts of my life private. But he does have an amazing smile.

  “Why not?” I counter.

  “How about because Washington, DC, is a major city with museums and concerts and the subway, and Black Water is … Black Water.”

  “In DC, we call it the Metro, not the subway.”

  He smiles at me again. “In Black Water we don’t call it anything, because we don’t have one.”

  “That’s the point. There are no distractions here.”

  “How did you hurt your knee?”

  I didn’t.

  “I fell down a flight of stairs.” It’s the truth, but for some reason leaving out the details makes me feel like I’m trapped in a room that’s too small and could get smaller any minute. “I’m a klutz when I’m not on the soccer field.”

  “That sucks. I’m sorry.” Owen looks me in the eye and says it, like he really means it.

  “It could be worse.” But with my scholarship hanging in the balance, it doesn’t feel that way.

  “It still sucks.”

  Why am I letting Owen ask me so many questions? I’ve known him for fifteen minutes. The incident with Reed taught me how easy it is to misjudge someone. I thought he was the kind of athlete who would never resort to doping and cheating.

  I’ve always relied on my gut instincts about people—the little voice in the back of my head. But I don’t trust it anymore.

  Owen cocks his head to the side and grins. “So do you still want to know if I have a girlfriend?”

  Heat crawls up the back of my neck. “I never asked you that.”

  “When I got off the phone, you asked if I was fighting with my girlfriend.”

  “I was making conversation, not fishing.” Okay, I sort of was. “I’m not hunting for a boyfriend if that’s what you think.”

  “Your cousins made that pretty clear.”

  I’m going to strangle those two. “What did they say?” So I know how much salt to dump in their breakfast tomorrow.

  Owen leans back against the bales. “I saw them coming out of the locker room after the game and I mentioned that we met, and they said you don’t date.”

  The Twins are dead.

  They made it sound like I’m joining a convent after graduation. The heat spreads from my neck to my cheeks. I should ditch Owen and go back to the party before this conversation gets more embarrassing.

  But I want to stay.

  The last three weeks have been full of lies and accusations, surgery and doctors’ appointments, threats and depressing calls from an ex who won’t stop calling me and a best friend who never wants to speak to me again. My conversation with Owen makes me feel normal. It’s one of the few I’ve had in weeks that didn’t revolve around my injury or Reed.

  I want it to last a little longer.

  I also don’t want Owen thinking I’m convent-bound. “For the record, I do date. I’m just not interested in dating right now. There’s a difference.”

  Owen holds up his hands in surrender. “I’m just telling you what I heard. Is that the reason you’re back here instead of hanging out at the party?”

  “No. I’m just antisocial.”

  His eyes flicker to my mouth. “I don’t believe that.”

  I pull my hair back in a ponytail and secure it with the elastic around my wrist. Anything to keep from making eye contact with him. “You don’t even know me.”

  Owen leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. His arm grazes mine and he looks over at me. “Not yet.”

  “Peyton? Where are you?” one of the Twins shouts.

  Owen hops off the bale. “Sounds like your cousins are looking for you.”

  A hulking figure rounds the corner. I’m not sure if it’s Christian or Cameron until I see his green T-shirt.

  Christian storms in our direction. When he sees Owen, he does a double take. “Owen? I didn’t know you were here.”

  “I just stopped by to get Tucker,” Owen says. “Some idiot freshman talked him into coming to the party. Garrett went after Tucker at the game so I just wanted to make sure nothing happened. I sent him home with his friend.”

  “Tucker is lucky he’s got you to look out for him,” Christian says. “You treat him like a kid brother.”

  “I’m trying to teach him how to look out for himself.”

  Christian nods and takes a quick look over his shoulder. “Does Titan know you’re here?”

  “No. And it’s probably better if we keep it that way.”

  “Why? You two don’t get along?” I ask.

  “Something like that,” Owen says.

  Christian looks at Owen, then at me, and frowns as if it suddenly occurs to him that we were alone back here. “How did you end up back here with my cousin?”

  “We just bumped into each other,” Owen says. “I was protecting her from the bears.”

  Christian gives him a strange look. “What bears?”

  Owen flashes me a sheepish smile. “Forget it. Too many beers.”

  He heads toward the front of the barn, and I feel a hint of disappointment. He’s probably worried about getting his ass kicked by the Twins.

  “You don’t even drink,” Christian calls after him.

  Owen stops and looks back at me. “It was my mom.”

  “What?” I ask.

  “On the phone earlier. That’s who I was talking to,” he says before he turns the corner.

  A smile tugs at my mouth.

  “What was that about?” Christian holds out his hand to help me up.

  I swat it away. “Nothing.”

  “It didn’t sound like nothing.”

  Using the bales for balance, I ease a little weight onto my right leg. The pain has ratcheted up over the last few hours, and I wince. Christian reaches for my elbow, but I slip out of reach. “I’ve got it.”

  “Has anyone ever told you that you’re hardheaded?”

  “I prefer determined. If I want to get my knee back in shape, I have to use it.” I follow Christian around the side of the barn. Suddenly, I’m exhausted. I should’ve let him help me up.

  Across the field, the bonfire spits orange flames into the darkness. A figure jogs toward us.

  Is it Owen? Did he leave something behind?

  “Did you find her?” Cam yells.

  Christian gestures in my direction. “She’s with me, isn’t she?”

  “I wasn’t lost.”

  “Yeah, yeah,” Christian says. “Everyone wants to hang out behind an empty barn with the cow shit and the snakes.”

  “Snakes?” I freeze.

  “Not poisonous ones.” Christian scratches his head. “At least I don’t think any of them are poisonous. But I’m not really a snake guy.”

  “Oh my god. Stop talking about them.” I stay glued to his side until we get closer to the light of the bonfire.

  We catch up to Cam and he shakes his head at me. “Damn. You scared the crap out of us, Pe
yton. You can’t just wander off without saying anything.”

  What’s left of my patience runs out. “Actually, I can. Stop treating me like I’m ten years old. We’re all the same age.”

  “Technically, you’re older,” Christian says. “You turn eighteen three months before we do.”

  Cam makes a slashing motion across his throat. “Not helping.”

  “Are you two telling people that I don’t date?” My hands move to my hips.

  “Where did you hear that?” Cam asks innocently.

  “Owen was here,” Christian says. “He was hanging out with Peyton.”

  Cam looks confused. “Owen who?”

  “Owen Law, you dope. Who did you think I was talking about?”

  “He was here?”

  Christian nods. “Yep.”

  “It’s a party. Why are you guys acting so weird about it?” I ask.

  “Owen doesn’t go to parties,” Cam explains. “I mean, he used to before…”

  “Before what?” I ask.

  Christian takes over. “Before his parents split up.”

  My cousins are acting weird. Maybe it’s because they’re friends with Titan, and he and Owen don’t get along.

  “So let’s get back to the part about you guys telling people that I don’t date.”

  Cameron looks around as if he thinks I’m talking to someone else. “I didn’t say that. Christian did.”

  “Sellout.” Christian punches his brother in the shoulder, and within seconds, they’re circling each other and bouncing on the balls of their feet like boxers.

  This is what I’m dealing with for the next four months?

  I step between them. “I don’t care who said it. Just don’t say it to anyone else.”

  “In my brother’s defense, that is what you told us,” Cam points out.

  “No. I said I wasn’t interested in dating. There’s a difference.”

  “We’re trying to look out for you,” Christian says.

  The Twins have perfected their sad puppy faces, which makes it impossible to stay mad at them. “I appreciate it. But I know how to take care of myself.”

  Cam takes the car keys out of his pocket. “Ready to get out of here?”

  “Yeah. I’ve had enough of April for one night,” Christian says.

  “I’ve had enough of her for a lifetime.” I follow my cousins to the truck. Without houses or signs to use as landmarks, I have no idea where we parked.

 
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