Falling Away

By: Penelope Douglas

To all the good people who had bad parents.

We’re going to be okay.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


To my parents, two who taught me the right way and one who taught me the wrong way but all who loved me. I learned that honesty and trust are golden and character and integrity are prized. Thank you.

To my husband and daughter, both who sacrificed to see these characters live. I owe my daughter lots of trips to the park, and my husband … well, you know what I owe you, honey. And I’ll get on that. Soon. Totally soon. I promise.

To my support system at New American Library, all of whom put up with my endless questions and work hard to protect my vision for the Fall Away Series. Thank you, Kerry, Isabel, and Courtney for your trust, advice, and help.

To Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, who found me, and thank goodness for that! You’re always working, and I always feel important. Thanks to you, Miriam and Mike, for staying on top of everything and taking care of me.

To my street team, the House of PenDragon, who are a wonderful group of women—and one guy—who hold one another up and create a community of friendship and fun times. Needless to say, I laugh my butt off watching your conversations online, and I enjoy seeing how close you all have become. Bananas forever!

To Eden Butler, Lisa Pantano Kane, Ing Cruz, and Marilyn Medina, who are all available at the drop of a hat to look at a scene or provide quick emergency feedback. Thank you for walking with me through this process and being honest.

To Vibeke Courtney. Plain and simple, this is all you. If I had never met you, I might never have tried writing a book. And without you, it would never have been successful. My writing was nearly all narration before you got your hands on it, and you helped create my voice. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To the readers and reviewers, thank you for keeping my work alive and showing your love and support! Your feedback, thoughts, and ideas have been incredibly important as these stories developed, and I always write with you in mind. I hope I can continue to give you characters you want to reread over and over again!



PROLOGUE





K.C.


Three whole years.

I’d had a boyfriend for three whole years, and I still had more orgasms when I was by myself.

“Damn, baby, you feel good.” His sleepy whisper felt wet on my neck as he dragged his lazy lips over my skin.

Packing. That was what I’d forgotten to add to my to-do list for tomorrow. It wasn’t likely I’d forget to pack for college, but everything needed to go on the list so it could be checked off.

“You’re so hot.” Liam’s fish lips tickled my neck in short, slow pecks. It once made me giggle, but now it kind of made me want to bite him.

And a pharmacy run, I remembered. I wanted to stock up on my pill so I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a while. Packing and the pharmacy. Packing and the pharmacy. Packing and the pharmacy. Don’t forget, K.C.

Liam thrust his hips between my legs, and I rolled my eyes.

We were still clothed, but I wasn’t sure he realized that.

If I weren’t so tired, I’d laugh. He rarely got drunk after all—tonight only because it was an end-of-summer bash. And although I’d never been overwhelmed with a desire for sex, I did love that he tried to jump my bones at every opportunity. It made me feel wanted.

But it just wasn’t happening tonight.

“Liam,” I grunted, twisting up my lips as I pushed his hand off my breast, “I think we’re done for the night, okay? Let’s lock up the car and walk to your house.”

We’d been in his car for over a half hour—me trying to indulge his fantasy of sex in risky places and him trying to … Hell, I didn’t even know what he was trying to do.

I felt guilty for not being more into it lately. I felt guilty for not helping him get into it tonight. And I felt guilty for making mental additions to my to-do list while he was trying—keyword, trying—to get it on with me.

We hadn’t made love in a long time, and I didn’t know what my problem was anymore.

His head sank into my shoulder, and I felt the weight of his hundred and eighty pounds collapse on my body.

He didn’t move, and I let out a sigh, relaxing into the passenger seat of his Camaro, my muscles burning from trying to support his body weight all this time.

He’d given up. Thank God.

But then I groaned, registering that his body had gone a little too still, except for the slow, soft rhythm of his breathing.

Great. Now he was passed out.

“Liam,” I whispered, not sure why, since we were completely alone in his car on a dark, quiet street outside my friend Tate Brandt’s house.

Arching my head up, I spoke into his ear that was nearly covered by his blond hair. “Liam, wake up!” I wheezed, since his weight was hindering my oxygen intake.

He moaned but didn’t budge.

I slammed my head back onto the headrest and ground my teeth together. What the hell was I going to do now?

We’d gone to the Loop tonight for the last race before college started next week and then Tate and her boyfriend, Jared Trent, had thrown a party at his house, which just happened to be right outside, next door to her place. I’d told my mom that I’d be sleeping over at her house when I was really planning on spending the night with my boyfriend.

Who was now passed out.

Tate’s house was locked, I didn’t know how to drive Liam’s car, and the last thing I was ever going to do was call my mother for a ride.

Reaching for the handle, I swung the car door open and pulled my right leg from under Liam. I pushed against his chest, raising him off me only as much as I needed to squirm out from underneath his body and stumble out of the car. He groaned but didn’t open his eyes, and I wondered if I should be worried about how much he’d had to drink.

Leaning in, I watched his chest rise and fall in quiet, steady movements. I grabbed the keys he’d dropped on the floor and my wrist purse with my cell phone and slammed the door shut, locking the car.

Liam didn’t live too far, and even though I knew it was a lot to ask, I was going to have to wake up Tate. If Jared was even letting her get any sleep at all.

I ran my hands down my strapless white summer dress and powered quietly down the sidewalk in my rhinestone sandals. Pretty dressed up for the race track earlier, but I wanted to look nice at the party. It was the last time I was going to see some of these people. For a while, anyway.

Squeezing my little purse—small enough for my phone and some money—in my hand, I traipsed up the small incline into Jared’s yard and up the front steps of his house. No light shone from inside, but I knew there had to be some people still here, since the street was littered with a few unfamiliar cars and I heard the low beat of music still pouring out. Lyrics saying something about “down with the sickness.”

I turned the knob, stepped into the house, and peered around the corner into the living room.

And stopped. Dead. What the …?

The room was dark, not a single light showing other than the blue glow from the screen on the stereo.

Maybe there were other lights on in the house. Maybe there were other people still here. I couldn’t say.

All I could do was fucking stand there as my eyes stung, and a lump stretched my throat, at the sight of Jaxon Trent damn near naked on top of another girl.

I instantly looked away, closing my eyes.

Jax. I shook my head. No. I didn’t care about this. Why was my heart beating so fast?

Jaxon Trent was Tate’s boyfriend’s little brother. Nothing more. Just a kid.

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