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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(2)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(2)
Author: Penelope Douglas

The summer before freshman year, the parents who should’ve protected him hurt him nearly beyond repair. His father was abusive, leaving permanent scars, and his mother couldn’t be there for him.

So Jared decided alone was best. He shut everyone out.

But with me, he went a step further. Several steps, actually. He sought revenge.

I was his best friend at the time, but he’d thought I’d abandoned him as well. It was a culmination of too many bad things happening in too little time, and Jared couldn’t be forgotten about anymore. He wasn’t going to allow it.

I was the one he could treat badly to feel in control again, and so I became his prey. All throughout high school I suffered at his hands.

Until last August, when I came back from my year abroad.

When Jared pushed, I started pushing back. The world turned upside down for both of us, and after more shit than I care to remember, we found our way back to each other.

“We have a lot of good memories in this room.” I pulled my head back and looked up at him. “But there is one place where we don’t have good memories . . .”

I slipped out of his arms and walked for the door, reaching down to slip off my heels. “Come on,” I urged with a backward glance and a smile.

Swinging the door open, I darted out into the hallway and bolted, running.

“Tate!” I heard him yell, and I spun around, jogging backward as I watched him come out the classroom door. His eyebrows were pinched together in confusion as he watched me.

I bit my bottom lip to stifle a laugh before I whipped around and started running down the hallway again.

“Tate!” he called again. “You’re a runner! This is an unfair advantage!”

I laughed, excitement energizing my arms and legs as I lifted my dress and hopped down two flights of stairs, racing down the hallway toward the Athletics Department.

I could hear the thuds of his large body gaining on me. He was jumping stairs, and I squealed with giddy fright as I hurled open the locker room door and away from his gaining advance.

Hurrying to the third row of lockers, I collapsed against the little metal doors, my heavy breaths stretching the bust of my dress as I dropped my shoes.

I’d left my long blond hair down, but I’d had my best friend, K.C., blow it out and fix it in loose, wavy curls. Given the exertion, I was tempted to shove it away from my face, but Jared loved my hair down, and I wanted to drive him wild tonight.

The locker room door opened, and I fisted my hands, hearing him approach.

His soft steps rounded the corner as if he knew exactly where to find me. “The girls’ locker room?” he asked, discomfort written all over his face.

I knew he’d be timid, but I wasn’t letting him off the hook.

I took a deep breath. “The last time we were here—”

“I don’t want to think about the last time we were here,” he cut me off, shaking his head.

But I forced it again. “The last time we were here,” I emphasized, “you threatened me and tried to intimidate me,” I told him as I walked over and grabbed his hand, leading him back to the spot against the lockers where we’d had our confrontation last fall. I leaned backward, taking his waist and leading him in close, so he hovered over me.

“You pushed into my space and hovered just like this,” I whispered, “and I ended up being pretty damn embarrassed in front of the whole school. Remember?”

I laid it all out on the line for him. We couldn’t be afraid to talk about it. We’d have to laugh, because I’d done enough crying. We’d face our fears and move on.

“You were mean to me,” I pressed.

He’d come in after I’d showered, rushed my teammates out of the room, and issued a few threats as I tried to stand tall dressed in nothing but my towel. Then some students came in and snapped pictures of us, in which nothing was happening, but being nearly naked with a boy in the locker room didn’t look so great to everyone in school who saw the pictures.

Jared’s eyes, always soft with me now, always holding me close, turned heated. I clutched the lapels of his jacket and melted my body into his, wanting to make a good memory here.

His face inched closer to mine, and my breathing faltered as I felt his fingers glide up the inside of my thigh, clawing my dress higher and higher.

“So we’re back to where we started,” he whispered against my lips. “Are you going to hit me this time like I deserve?”

Amusement threatened, and I could feel the corners of my mouth turn up.

I slid out of his shadow, hopped up on the center bench behind him, and stood over him, loving his wide-eyed expression as he turned around to face me. Placing both of my hands against the lockers, now behind him, on either side of his head, I bore down, crowding his space as I leaned in close.

“If I ever lay my hands on you,” I whispered his same words to me from all those months ago, “you’ll want it.”

He let out a quiet laugh as his lips grazed mine.

I cocked my head, playing with him. “Do you?” I prompted. “Want it, I mean?”

He cupped my face with both hands and begged, “Yes.” And then he snatched up my lips. “Hell yes.”

And I melted.

I always melted.

Chapter 1

Jared

Present Day

Kids are crazy.

Batshit, certifiably, without-a-brain-in-their-head crazy. If you’re not explaining something to them, then you’re reexplaining it, because they didn’t listen the first time, and as soon as you explain it, they ask the same damn question you just spent twenty minutes explaining the answer to!

And the questions. Holy fuck, the questions.

Some of these kids talked more in one day than I have in my entire life, and you can’t get away from it, because they follow you.

Like, take a hint, you know?

“Jared! I want the blue helmet, and Connor had it last time, and it’s my turn!” the half-pint blond kid whined from the track as all the other children climbed into their go-kart cars, two rows of six each.

I tipped my chin down and inhaled an aggravated breath as I gripped the fence surrounding the track. “It doesn’t matter what color helmet you have on,” I growled, tensing every muscle in my back.

Blondie—what the hell was his name again?—scrunched up his face, getting redder by the moment. “But . . . but it’s not fair! He had it two times, and I—”

“Get the black helmet,” I ordered, cutting him off. “It’s your lucky one, remember?”

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