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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)
Author: Penelope Douglas

Prologue

Tate

Four Years Ago

“Jared Trent,” I scolded, “if I get into trouble for the first time in my life, three weeks before I graduate high school, I’m telling my father it was your fault.”

I nearly jogged behind him as he pulled me along down the darkened school corridor, the music from the dance like a subterranean hum around us.

“Your father believes in taking personal responsibility, Tate,” he pointed out, and I could hear the humor in his tone. “Come on.” He squeezed my hand. “Pick up the pace.”

I stumbled as he led me faster up the steps onto the second floor, my royal blue floor-length prom dress sweeping the length of my legs. It was nearing midnight, and our senior prom, happening downstairs, wasn’t holding my boyfriend’s attention. Not that I thought it would.

Sometimes I imagined he simply endured social activities by plotting what he was going to do to me when we were finally alone. Jared Trent had a few favorite people in the world, and if you weren’t in that group, then you received a modicum of his attention. If he couldn’t be with me, then the only other people he could stand being around were his brother, Jax, and our best friend, Madoc Caruthers.

He hated dances, he hated dancing, and he loathed monotonous chatter. But while his demeanor was meant to push people away, it only enticed them to want to know him more. Much to his delight, of course.

But he put up with it. All for me. And did so with a smile on his face. He loved making me happy.

I jogged to keep pace and held his arm with both hands as I followed him. He swung open a classroom door and held it wide, waiting for me to enter. I pinched my eyebrows together, wondering what he was up to, but I hurried into the room anyway, afraid we’d be caught. We shouldn’t be roaming the school, after all.

Once inside the deserted room, I twisted around as he followed me inside and closed the door.

“Penley’s classroom?” I prompted. We hadn’t stepped foot in this room since last semester.

His mischievous chocolate brown eyes flashed to me before he answered. “Yeah.”

I wandered down the aisle between two rows of empty desks, feeling him watching me.

“Where we hated each other,” I reminisced in a teasing voice.

“Yeah.”

I let my fingertips graze a wooden desktop. “Where we started to love each other,” I kept playing with him.

“Yeah.” His soft whisper felt like a warm blanket on my skin.

I grinned to myself, remembering. “Where I was your north.”

Elizabeth Penley was our literature teacher. We’d both had her for several classes but only for one class together. Themes in Film and Literature last fall.

When Jared and I were enemies.

She’d given us an assignment in which we had to find partners for each of the cardinal directions. Jared ended up being my “North.”

Reluctantly.

My strappy silver heels—which matched the silver jewels on my nearly backless dress—struck the floor as I turned around to eye him still standing by the door.

And his flat, stoic expression did nothing to hide the dangerous streak. I suddenly felt an urge to climb him like a tree.

I knew he hated suits, but he honestly looked like a devil of the best kind dressed up as he was. His tailored black pants draped down his legs and accentuated his narrow waist. The black dress shirt wasn’t tight, but it didn’t hide his body, either, and the black jacket and tie completed the look in a way that emanated power and sex, as always.

In the eight months since we’d gotten together, I’d become very adept at swallowing my drool before it seeped out of my mouth.

Luckily, he looked at me the same way.

He leaned against the door, his jacket pulled back from his waist as he slid his hands into his pockets and watched me with interest. His dark brown hair sat across his forehead in elegant chaos like a dark shadow hovering just above his eyes.

“What are you thinking?” I asked when he continued to just stand there.

“How much I miss watching you come into this room,” he answered, looking me up and down.

My body warmed, knowing exactly what he was talking about. I’d enjoyed toying with him when I knew he was watching me in here.

“And,” he continued, “I’m going to miss how your hand shoots into the air like a big dork to answer questions.”

I gasped, my eyes rounding in mock anger. “Dork?” I repeated. I put my hands on my hips and pursed my lips to hide my smile.

He grinned and kept joking, “And also how you huddled so close to the desktop when you were concentrating on a test, and how you chewed your pencils when you were nervous.”

My gaze flashed to the side, where his old desk sat behind mine.

He went on, pushing off the door and inching closer to me. “I’m also going to miss how you blushed when I whispered things in your ear when Penley’s back was turned.” He cocked his head to the side, and I looked up at him as he approached me.

Shivers ran down my arms as I remembered Jared leaning forward over his desk and tickling my ear with his hot promises. I closed my eyes, feeling his chest brush against mine.

“I’m going to miss sitting two feet away,” he whispered over me, “and no one the wiser as to what I’d snuck into your room that morning to do to you.”

I sucked in a breath, feeling his forehead dip to mine.

He continued, “I’m going to miss the torture of wanting you in the middle of class and not being able to have you. I’m going to miss us in this room, Tate.”

Me, too.

The pull was always there between us. Even in a crowded classroom, full of noise and distraction, there was an invisible rope cutting through the space, connecting him and me. He touched me even when he couldn’t reach me. He whispered in my ear from twenty feet away. And I could always feel his lips even when we were apart.

I smiled and opened my eyes, his lips now an inch from mine. “Even though you sat behind me, I could always feel your eyes, Jared. Even when you acted like you hated me, I felt you watching me.”

“I never hated you.”

“I know.” I nodded gently, circling his waist with my arms.

The three years he’d made an enemy out of me seemed unbearable at the time. Now I was just glad it was all over. I was grateful that we were here. Together.

But I wouldn’t look back on high school as a very enjoyable experience, and I knew he had a lot of guilt about that.

All of Jared’s life, he’d suffered abandonment and loneliness. From his horrible father and alcoholic mother. From the neighbors who ignored what was happening and from the teachers who looked the other way.

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