My Sweet Escape by Chelsea M. Cameron

  The past will always find you

  Jos Archer was the girl with the perfect life—until the night it all came crashing down around her. Now, nine months later, she still hasn’t begun to pick up the pieces. Even transferring to a new college and living under the watchful eye of her older sister, Renee, isn’t enough to help her feel normal again.

  And then she meets Dusty Sharp. For reasons Jos can’t begin to fathom, the newly reformed campus bad boy seems determined to draw her out of her shell. And if she’s not careful, his knowing green eyes and wicked smile will make her feel things she’s no longer sure she deserves.

  But even as Dusty coaxes Jos to open up about the past, he’s hiding secrets of his own. Secrets about the night her old life fell apart. When the truth is finally revealed, will it bring them closer together—or tear them apart for good?

  Also available from Chelsea M. Cameron

  and Harlequin HQN

  My Favorite Mistake


  Chelsea M. Cameron


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25


  Chapter 1

  “I can’t believe your parents are forcing you to leave. It should be, like, illegal. You’re over eighteen. Why don’t you just bail?” Kelly sat on top of one of the boxes of my almost-packed dorm room and snapped her gum. When we’d first met, the little habit had irritated me to no end, but I’d gotten used to it.

  “I wish I could, but they’re footing the bill for school, so right now I’m screwed,” I said. Not to mention the fact that no one said no to my mother. No one.

  “Why don’t you drop out?” Oh, I’d considered that more than once. Actually, more than a thousand times. It was impossible to explain the complicated dynamic of my family to someone like Kelly, who had moved out of her parents’ house and gotten her own place when she was still in high school.

  “I don’t know,” I said, shrugging and taping up another box. Kelly flipped her dirty blond dreadlocked ponytail and cracked her gum again. She’d asked me if I needed help packing, but so far all she’d done was bother me.

  “You’ll come back and visit, right?” she asked.

  “Yeah, sure,” I told her with a little smile. We both knew it was unlikely that I’d ever get back here. I folded my University of New Hampshire blanket and shoved it into another box. My mom had bought it for me two summers ago as a going-away-to-college present.

  I was one of only two of my siblings or steps who’d actually managed to graduate high school, let alone get accepted somewhere. Neither Mom nor Dad nor any of my stepparents had finished high school, so it was a big deal for any of us to make it that far. The only other one who had was Renee, and that was the reason they were shipping me back to Maine to live with her after...everything.

  Kelly’s phone buzzed and she typed a quick response to the text message and grinned at me.

  “Mac wants to meet up for coffee.” I always wished she’d put coffee in air quotes, because we both knew that it meant getting stoned and hooking up in the backseat of his rusty Pontiac. Kelly and her boyfriend were notorious; they’d even been caught by campus security in the middle of the day. It was a miracle they were still students at all. I think they were holding on by the thinnest of academic threads.

  “Have fun.” I knew she’d bail on me for Mac. She always did. Kelly wasn’t much of a friend, but she was the only one I had. The others had ditched me months ago.

  “Call me before you leave. I wanna say goodbye.” She got up and gave me a loose hug. It was more of a lean involving arms that was over as quickly as it had begun.

  “See you later,” she said, slamming the door. Kelly could never leave a room quietly.

  I stared at my deconstructed dorm room. My roommate was avoiding me, had been avoiding me since the beginning of this year. We’d had all of two conversations—one of those happened on the day we moved in, and the other happened when she found me passed out in front of the door one night after a crazy time with Kelly and Mac and a bunch of people I hadn’t seen again. As if I’d remember them anyway.

  I took Kelly’s place on one of the boxes, pulling my knees up and resting my chin on them.

  The fight I’d had with my mother when she’d told me that I was being forced to move back kept running through my mind. Actually, the entire Christmas break had been one long fight that didn’t seem to end.

  What is wrong with you, Joscelyn? You’d better straighten up and fly right. You are coming back to Maine, or else I am coming there and dragging your ass back, understand?

  Straighten up and fly right. Yeah, I’d get right on that, Mom. She was one to talk. My parents had a half-dozen marriages between them and kids and stepkids all over the place. It was a full-time job just keeping track of them.

  I’d screamed myself hoarse, but hadn’t gotten anywhere. She’d even put a moratorium on hating Dad long enough to call him, fill him in and then get him to yell at me, too.

  I was powerless against the two of them.

  And then there was Renee.

  If Mom didn’t drag my ass back, Renee would be on that. She was worse than Mom in some ways.

  Speaking of my sister...

  My phone rang, and when I saw who was calling, I debated about picking it up.

  “Hey,” I said, wincing in anticipation of the barrage I knew was coming.

  “You better be getting your stuff together and be out the door,” she said by way of a greeting.

  “Nice to talk to you, too, dear sister.”

  “Don’t give me that shit, Jos. I am so done with this. You’d better get your butt on the road in the next hour or—”

  “I know, I know. You’ll surgically remove my fingers and sew them to my ass. I know.” Having a sister who knew surgical procedure and who was also mad at you really sucked sometimes.

  “Hey, I don’t need the attitude. You’re lucky that you’re coming to be here with me instead of Mom.” She did have a point. Back at Mom’s I’d just be drowning in a sea of my step and half siblings, among them a set of four-year-old twins who made the devil look like Mother Teresa.

  “I know,” I said. That seemed to be my phrase of choice lately.

  “Just know that I’m going to be on your ass like white on rice, and if I’m not around someone else will do it for me. You’re walking into a house full of people that are going to watch your every move and call you out on it. Understand?”

  Jesus Christ.


  “Okay. I’ll be waiting for you. Call me the second you leave.”

  “I will. ’Bye.”

  I hung up before she could say anything else. I put my hands over my face and screamed into them. This was a nightmare I never seemed to wake up from.

  Asleep or awake, it never left me.

I was awake now, and I had to move, so I got off the box and picked it up.

  Chapter 2

  After nearly twelve trips and a lot of sweating and swearing, I got all my stuff into my car. Despite it being freezing outside, I peeled off my winter coat and just wore my ratty sweatshirt, my breath visible in the January air. People walked by and gave me looks, and I knew what they were thinking. Just another student who couldn’t hack it and was being forced to leave and not come back after Christmas break.

  They didn’t have any idea.

  I went back up to the half-bare room and looked at it one more time.

  Goodbye, freedom.

  I didn’t bother to leave my roommate a note and just shut the door behind me. It wasn’t like she’d care anyway.

  I texted Kelly that I was leaving, but she didn’t respond. Big surprise. Other than Kelly, there wasn’t really anyone else at UNH that I had left to say goodbye to. I hadn’t heard from Matt since before the summer, when he’d broken up with me. The others, my little circle of friends, had long since lost touch with the crazy, reckless emo girl. I’d heard them talking about my transformation behind my back more than once.

  Snow was just starting to float down from the sky when I got back downstairs to my car. I could barely see out the rearview mirror, but I was mostly driving on the highway anyway.

  I plugged my iPod into my car speakers and hit Shuffle. It was going to be a long trip and I only had music for company. The sleeve on my sweatshirt rode up, exposing the bracelet I never took off. It was simple, just a chain with a little elephant charm on it. I kept it as a reminder. A constant reminder.

  Shaking my head, I pulled away from the dorm and headed for the highway and the next chapter in my life. A fresh start was irrelevant when the dark things in your past were always following you.

  * * *

  It took me longer than I anticipated to get from New Hampshire to my sister’s house in Bangor, Maine. Actually, it wasn’t even her house. She’d moved in with this guy Hunter, who was buying the house because he was apparently loaded. Leave it to Renee to find a rich friend. She was also on again with her boyfriend, Paul, which was a good thing, in my opinion, because she was a pain in the ass when she wasn’t with him. Even more so than she was when she was with him.

  I hadn’t seen the house before, so it was a bit of a shock when I parked in front of the house Renee had given me directions for.

  “Damn,” I said. It was huge. Way huger than Renee had let on. I’d pictured something a little run-down, and small, but this was bigger than any house I’d ever lived in, with Mom or Dad.

  I grabbed my backpack and headed up the porch steps, glancing at the cars in the driveway as I passed them. It was easy to spot Renee’s, so I knew I must have the right place.

  There was even a freaking doorbell. My finger was an inch away from ringing it when the door flew open.

  “There you are! I was worried you were lying in a ditch somewhere,” Renee said, flinging herself at me. Startled by the hug, I sort of stood there and kind of hugged her back.

  “I’m here.”

  Somehow, I’d gotten a recessive redhead gene in our family and ended up with carrot-red hair, freckles and green eyes. Renee had gotten the good genes, with her blue eyes and blond hair that didn’t need much highlighting. Our features were similar, but our coloring was so different that people never thought we were sisters.

  She finally stopped hugging me, but kept her hand clamped on my shoulder and steered me into the house, as if I was going to make a run for it. Where, I didn’t know. Renee had mentioned something about Stephen King living down the street, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be any safer at his house anyway.

  “How was the driving?” Renee closed the door behind us and it clicked shut with finality.

  “Fine,” I said, glancing around the house. Damn. Again. I didn’t know who had decorated, but they’d obviously used those crazy home-improvement magazines as inspiration.

  One thing was for sure—it didn’t look like a typical college crash pad. It was clean, first of all, and second, there seemed to be an actual scheme where things matched and went together. There were also a lot of peacock feathers, and similar peacock colors around. Renee had mentioned something about her roommate Taylor being obsessed with peacock stuff. I couldn’t remember why. I sort of tuned out when Renee gushed about her amazing and awesome life, while mine had gone into a downward spiral that never seemed to hit bottom.

  “Hey, Jos. How are you doing?” Paul came around the corner. He was cute in one of those white-bread nerd ways. Not my type. Not that I had a type...anymore.

  “Good.” It was a step up from fine. No one questioned you when you said you were good. Everyone thought there was something wrong with you if you said, “fine.”

  He gave me an awkward hug. I’d seen him at Christmas when he’d kept Mom and Renee from throttling each other with varying success. I’d tried to tell him it was no use, but he’d done it anyway.

  “Where’s everyone else?” I was actually looking forward to seeing Darah and meeting her new boyfriend. Darah was one of the sweetest people on the planet, and I knew if there was anyone who wouldn’t judge me, it would be her.

  “They wanted to give us some space. They’ll be here later.” Something about the way she said it made me suspicious.

  “They’re not going to make a big deal about it, are they?”

  “No,” Renee said, not looking at me, but glancing at Paul. Something was afoot.

  “So, how about we get your stuff inside, shall we? Come on, Paul.” Renee grabbed Paul’s hand and yanked him out the door.

  “Uh, okay.” I was left standing in the foyer alone. I walked into the living room, which was gorgeously decorated, except for a mangy-looking recliner and the video games the guys had probably left scattered around. I saw the “Skyrim” box and smiled. Renee couldn’t get enough of that game. It had consumed quite a bit of her time over Christmas break.

  I flopped down onto the couch and stared up at the ceiling. Even that was clean.

  A thud sounded a second later as Renee and Paul brought in some of my stuff.

  “Since we only have three bedrooms, you, my dear sister, get to stay in the newly refurbished basement. You’re lucky we decided to put in a guest room,” Renee said, panting.

  “Great,” I said, although I wouldn’t have minded staying on the plush leather couch. It was the largest couch I’d ever seen and took up most of the living room.

  “Why don’t you show her around and I’ll get the rest of the stuff,” Paul said. I got up from the couch and Renee led me down the stairs into the basement.

  “Welcome to the man cave,” Renee said, waving her arm. A man cave indeed. A bar, a pool table, yet another gigantic couch and a television large enough for a movie theater. There were also several sports team posters, including the Red Sox, the Patriots and the Celtics. Go teams.

  Renee led me toward the back of the space where there was a small guest room with a bathroom right beside it. Thank God. I wouldn’t have to share a bathroom. I’d done that in the dorms enough to last a lifetime.

  “So this is it.” The room was decorated in tan and black, which was boring, but nice.

  I sat down on the large bed and looked around at my new home.

  “Okay, we have some ground rules,” Renee said, leaning against the dresser. Don’t even bother to beat around the bush, sis. Go ahead and get right to the point.

  “Number one,” she said, holding up one finger. “You will inform me where you are and who you are with at all times. You will keep in touch via cell phone. You will also answer said phone when I call you, no matter what.”

  I clamped my mouth shut. I didn’t want to provoke her in the middle of her speech that she’d clearly rehearsed, probably on Paul.

nbsp; “Second—” she held up another finger “—there will be no partying. No drinking. No drugs. No substances of any kind other than aspirin. There will also be no passing out. Third, there will be a curfew which you will follow or suffer the consequences. Fourth, I may not be your mother, but you will treat me with respect, and that goes for the other people in this house. And fifth...” She didn’t seem to be able to come up with number five.

  “Fifth?” I said after a few seconds of silence.

  “I had a fifth one, but I can’t remember it right now,” she snapped. “But that doesn’t negate the other four. Do you agree to them?”

  “Yeah,” I said. What did it matter?

  “You said yes way too easily. I don’t believe you.”

  Jesus. I was being criticized for being too agreeable.

  “Whatever, Renee. Can I just be alone now?” I turned over on the bed, touching the sheets that were no doubt Egyptian cotton and had a crazy high thread count. Of course.

  “Listen,” she said, sitting down next to me. Ugh, she always started her lectures like this. Just like Mom. Although, Renee’s lectures always had more cursing in them than Mom’s.

  “You’re going through something right now. A phase, if you will. I’ve been there. Even Paul was there.” Yeah, I found that extremely hard to believe. And she had no idea what I was going through. She thought she did, but she didn’t. No one did, and I couldn’t explain it. I twisted the elephant charm on my bracelet.

  And then she smacked me on the shoulder. Hard.

  “But it’s time for you to get your head out of your ass and straighten up. Understand?”

  “Why with the violence?” I flipped over, jumped up and shoved her back. “Look, it’s not my fault that Mom decided to dump me on you. I don’t want to be here any more than you want me to be.”

  She glared at me, her face turning red.

  “Look, I don’t like the fact that my once-perfect sister, the one sister I knew would never screw up, has fallen off the wagon of epic proportions. You’re the one I never worried about. You got better grades than I ever dreamed of getting. You were the good one. And then...”

No Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]