Sep 1, 2015


Today is the release day for PULLED UNDER!!! And in case you haven't read the first chapter, I thought I'd post it here. Enjoy!


2 and a half years ago…

Today was officially the worst day of my life. Call me melodramatic, but I thought I was going to die. Was it possible to die of heartbreak? I think maybe it was because the pain in my chest was insurmountable—like a giant boulder sitting on my heart, smashing it into a flat pancake.
Ironic, too, because John had made me pancakes for breakfast this morning. I’d woken up hopeful and excited, given that today was my sixteenth birthday. Today I was a woman…or at least that was what I’d always thought my Sweet Sixteen was supposed to feel like. John, my big brother and my guardian, had surprised me with breakfast. Homemade pancakes with blueberries—exactly the way our Nanny Kristen used to make for us when we were young. They were wonderful pancakes, surprisingly, since John was a horrible cook. Then I’d headed off to school.
And it all started off as a regular enough day—complete with Honors classes that were admittedly over my head, lunch with my favorite teacher, Ms. Whittle, and kids who didn’t know nor care what my name was. Needless to say, I was about as irrelevant at my school as irrelevant comes. But life was good. Because there was Ben.
Ben was that boy at our high school. Arguably the most handsome, most athletic, and most popular guy among a sea of frogs. The boy whom girls like me dreamed about and the one other boys wished they could be. And…he knew my name.
Just last Friday in our chemistry class he’d asked me, and I quote, “Hey, Sydney, what did you get for number three?”
Oh swoon. Be still my beating heart.
Ben had amazing, sparkling blue eyes that were framed by long, dark lashes. He had dark brown—almost black—hair that was a little wavy and always perfectly disheveled—like a young, American Hugh Grant. Sigh. I could stare at him for hours. On my first day at Kill Devil Hills High School, two years ago, I’d fallen instantly in love with him. There was something about him. Somehow I knew; I knew with every ounce of my being that he was the guy for me. This wasn’t some imaginary infatuation in my mind. There were moments—small moments where I would think he felt it too. Like this past March, for example.
Sam Butler had bumped into me on the walk between English and Art. I’d been carrying a giant case of colored pencils, and Sam didn’t even notice me. I tripped, and I’ll never forget the sound of those pencils rolling in a million different directions. Not a single student in that hallway helped me. Everyone brushed past, stepping over the pencils, while shooting me snarky looks. It was beyond embarrassing. People laughed. I could feel my cheeks blaze red hot. Only one person did something—Ben. He quickly bent down to help me collect all the pencils. And afterward he said, “I’m Ben.”
And I said, “I know.”
It felt like a moment out of a Meg Ryan movie. He reached out to hand me my case of colored pencils, our fingers brushing slightly, and it was like ‘magic.’ My heart skipped and I swear Ben had felt it too.
Too bad he had a girlfriend. But I didn’t care. I loved him still. Maybe one day he would grow to love me, too. He’d realize she was all wrong for him and that I was right. A girl could dream. There was no harm in dreaming. I’d watched enough movies to know that dreams sometimes came true. Sometimes the nerdy, shy girl won the heart of the popular boy. It could happen. I had hope.
Until today…when my hopes and dreams had been smashed. Or, more accurately, pounded.
I’d forgotten my gym clothes in my PE locker. I always brought them home to be washed on Fridays and I never forgot—because who wanted smelly gym clothes? Not me. So after my final class, I’d hurried across the school to grab them. But Ms. Whittle had stopped me on my way—she’d brought another one of her favorite romantic comedies from home to let me borrow. We’d started talking about movies, and I lost track of time.
By the time I reached the locker room, it was deserted but, luckily, not locked. I tiptoed my way through the empty, musty-smelling room. It freaked me out being in there alone—it was too quiet without the usual sounds of gossip and giggles. Then I heard a moan. Like a sex moan! Not sure what I was doing or why I felt compelled to look, but I peeked around the corner, searching for the source of the moan. When I found it, my eyes saw the most horrific sight imaginable.
Sonya Fletcher. God, she was beautiful. Everything I wished I could be. Soft blonde hair, tiny frame, button nose, and perfectly perky breasts. Half the boys at our school worshiped her. Worse still, she was Ben’s girlfriend. And I saw her cry out in pleasure as a toned white butt pumped against her naked form. Her tan, lean legs were spread wide and locked around the waist of…Ben.
Unfortunately, it was Ben’s white naked butt and his penis that filled her vagina.
And it was my heart that hit the floor.
“God, I love you,” he grunted and pounded into her harder, both of them oblivious to the fact that I was watching. Then Ben pulled out, flipped her around, pushed her stomach against the white tile sink, and slid inside her from behind.
Oh my goodness!
A squeal left my lips, my virgin eyes bugging out of my head, and then I ran. I ran as fast and as hard as I could, tears streaking down my cheeks, the entire world around me suddenly duller than it had been before. What had I just seen? I texted John and told him a ‘friend’ was driving me home. I’d long since missed the bus. Lamely, Ms. Whittle ended up driving me home.
Reality was a bitch and today she’d slapped me across the face. And I hadn’t even grabbed my gym clothes…
Somehow in my mind, I’d never realized Ben and Sonya might be intimate like that. Especially like that. And now the image was burned into my brain. Meanwhile, I’d never even been kissed before. How lame was I? How could I ever compare to Sonya? I’m not sure I even wanted to anymore.
So…that had been earlier, and now here I sat at Chancy’s Claw. Birthday dinner time, woo-freaking-hoo. I didn’t know how I was going to get through this meal without barfing all over the table. The image of Ben and Sonya was still fresh in my mind, eating my brain like a starved, rabid zombie.
“Sydney,” John said, rapping his knuckles on the table so I’d stop staring off into space. “Just say the word and we’ll cancel this. Mom and Dad are still thirty minutes out. We can go home and order takeout. They’ll bitch but whatever.”
Leaning my head on the back of my plastic lawn-chair, I groaned. “They’re already going to bitch because we came here instead of somewhere nicer. Might as well suck it up and get this over with.”
“Is something else wrong?” Leave it to John to be persistent right now.
“Just the fact that high school sucks.”
A pained expression filled his face. And I instantly regretted saying that. John and I had a good thing going. He was my guardian, my parent, and my brother. He was ten years older than I, and he took care of me, thus preventing me from having to live with our real parents. I hated making him worry. He didn’t have to take care of me and it was wrong of me to burden him with my problems. Being forced to raise a teenager—that had to be difficult enough.
Two years ago, when John had simply asked, my parents had given me over like they were loaning someone a sweater. They were really just children themselves. Rich, impulsive, spoiled children. Their life was one long vacation, and they never took a moment of it seriously. They were fun people, but sucky parents. Neither worked. Instead they lived off the fruits of my grandfather’s labor. It wasn’t an ideal lifestyle for a child. So when I turned fourteen, John, who proved to be more mature than both of them combined, suggested that I come live with him. They’d jumped at his offer.
So that was how I ended up living with John in our family’s beach house in North Carolina. My parents visited us often enough, but in actuality he was my real parent. And I didn’t need to worry him with my silly teenage heartache and drama. He gave up so much for me, and I appreciated that more than anything. Living with him was so much better than the alternative.
“I just need some fresh air before they get here,” I explained, feigning a smile. “Would you order me a milkshake whenever the server comes over? I’m in a milkshake kind of mood.”
John nodded. So I slipped out of my seat. I cut through the restaurant toward the hostess stand and the front door. Outside, I walked around the building in search of a decent place to hide. It was frigid and windy, since Chancy’s was next to the ocean and it was February, but I found sanctuary by the dumpsters. No one would bother me here.
I sat down on a crate and for the second time today cried my eyes out. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Not to mention silly. How could I believe that Ben would ever want me? My hair was this weird dishwater blonde and my eyes some ugly pea-green color. I had freckles and glasses. My best friend was my teacher, for crying out loud! My butt was about as flat as John’s pancakes and my boobs even flatter. I spent all my time watching hopeless romances, living in a dream world waiting for Prince Charming to come rescue me from my mundane life. But this wasn’t Sixteen Candles and Jake Ryan wasn’t about to ditch his hot girlfriend for pathetic, na├»ve me.
I sniffled into my sleeve. God, I was so lame…crying by the dumpsters on my birthday.
“Um, is everything okay?” a voice asked.
Yikes! And apparently I wasn’t alone.
Using the heel of my hand to wipe the tears from my cheeks, I quickly turned my back away from the person who’d just walked outside through a door on the side of the building. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that he wore a Chancy’s Claw employee t-shirt and was bringing out the trash. I knew his name too. Rhett Morgan. He graduated three or four years ago from my school. He never went to college and still frequented high school parties—or so I’d heard. That’s the thing about being invisible. I always heard everything because people often forgot I was around and talked openly in front of me. And Rhett Morgan…well, he was a constant topic of conversation at Kill Devil Hills High.
Even Ms. Whittle had spoken of the infamous Rhett once or twice. She’d mentioned something about how funny he was. I’d always kind of assumed Rhett had been her ‘Ben.’ That he’d been the popular, good-looking boy she’d worshiped from afar in high school. But Rhett wasn’t a boy. Nope, definitely a man, and definitely still standing outside with me. I hiccupped, trying to mentally shrink myself into a tiny ball. Maybe he’d go away if I ignored him.
I heard a heavy clank as he must have heaved the trash into the dumpster. Then, much to my horror, he came to sit beside me. He pulled out another crate and plopped down.
“You’re seriously crying,” he stated. He had a deep, husky voice—kind of soothing. “Was it something you ate?”
Looking up, I glared at him. “No,” I snapped. “It wasn’t something I ate.”
He smiled. “Figured. Got you to look at me, though.”
I huffed.
“So,” he said, running his hands across his thick, jean-covered thighs then resting them on his knees. “I just started as a bartender a week ago. People—well, drunks mostly, but that’s beside the point—they keep telling me all their personal problems. I’m quickly becoming a certified therapist. I’m probably better than a therapist—because who wants the opinions of some stiff in a suit? So how about you tell me what’s up? I’ll try to help.”
“Are you serious?” I groaned. This guy had to be insane. “You actually want to hear my problems? Willingly?”
“Yep. Let’s test out how good of a bartender I am. If you don’t feel better after talking to me then I’ll quit tomorrow. Fair plan?”
He couldn’t be serious, could he? But the thing was…he might have been Ms. Whittle’s ‘Ben,’ but he wasn’t my ‘Ben.’ Just because he was gorgeous, kind of cocky, built like an MAA fighter, and actually talking to me, that didn’t mean I was about to fall instantly in love with him. So, shrugging, I decided why not.
“I accidentally saw the boy I like having sex with his girlfriend today. I walked in on them in the school locker room. That’s not something I can unsee. It was a reality check on how lame I am, since I’ve never even been kissed before, and a reminder of how he’ll never be mine. So there. That’s the pathetic reason I’m crying. Oh, and today’s my birthday. My parents will be here soon, and I’ll have to suffer through a “fun-filled, excitement overloaded” weekend with them.”
I waited for him to laugh, but he didn’t. Serious as a heart attack, he asked, “You’ve never kissed anyone before?”
“No.” God, this was mortifying.
“Just today alone I’ve already kissed three different women.” He said this with pride. I already knew he was a manwhore from the rumors at school, and now he’d confirmed it.
“Ew,” I groaned. “That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Okay.” He rubbed his hand across the stubble on his jaw like he was thinking. Did guys like Rhett even have complex thoughts? “I have a plan to make you feel better. How about you and I…how about we kiss?”
I gasped and nearly slipped off my crate.
“Don’t look so stunned,” he said. “You’re a beautiful girl.”
Beautiful? That confirmed it; he had to be high. Or a flat out lunatic. Or maybe this was the reason he’d already kissed three girls today—he was a total player.
“How old are you?” he wanted to know next.
“Yikes.” He jumped to his feet. Actually, he’d been kind of leaning toward me and I hadn’t even realized it until he ripped himself away from me. “You’re practically a kid. Is kissing a minor legal??”
With a giant huff, I stood up. “You are officially the worst bartender-turned-therapist ever!” I yelled at him.
“Oh yeah,” he yelled back, “well, you have the prettiest green eyes I’ve ever seen!”
“And you shouldn’t let one guy define you. You should never cry over someone as stupid as a guy. Because trust me, we’re all stupid when it comes to women. And you shouldn’t kiss me either. Your first kiss should be memorable and special—something that makes you smile for the rest of your life. Ask anyone, I’m not ‘first kiss’ material. I’m not ‘last kiss’ material either. And you are—”
Something inside me came to life. I’m not exactly sure where the surge of confidence, excitement, and power came from, but I flung myself at this stranger and I kissed him. He was older and sexy and completely out of my league…and I, Sydney Francesca Michaels, kissed Rhett Morgan. He wasn’t Ben, but maybe he was the next best thing.
So it happened. A quick press of my lips to his. Then I immediately pulled back, suddenly shocked and terrified by my actions.
He stared at me for a moment after, as my face burned under his scrutiny and the blood in my veins raged through my body. He was probably equally as shocked and terrified, but somehow, the expression on his face didn’t show it.
“You have to go slower,” he finally said, his voice different now, thicker and heavier. “Never rush it.”
Inching closer, he took my face in his hands. His touch was searing hot. For what felt like an eternity, he continued to stare at me. I stood there, unsure how to act. Then his hands removed my glasses. He slipped them off and tucked them into one of my hands. “Can we try that again?” he asked, softly. “You already spoiled your first kiss on me. We might as well try to make it count a little more. Good plan?”
Unable to speak, I nodded. More than anything, I wanted to try that again.
“You really do have very pretty eyes,” he whispered.
“A boy in kindergarten told me they were diarrhea-green.”
“He was an idiot. They’re the color green the ocean turns when a big storm is coming.”
And with that lingering comment, possibly the nicest compliment anyone had ever given me, he pressed his lips against mine. Aside from his hands on my neck, no other part of our bodies touched—just our lips. Warm, soft, lingering lips. My brain didn’t know how to rationalize Rhett. I couldn’t decide what to make of him, but his kiss was perfection.
Up until the moment it ended.
Not even a second later, Rhett’s lips were forcefully ripped from mine. And then someone subsequently punched him in the jaw. That someone was my brother. John had appeared out of nowhere, livid, aggressive, and ready to kill. “Don’t you fucking touch her, Rhett Morgan,” he screamed. “You nasty motherfucker.”
Oh dear God! Never in my life had I heard my brother swear like that. Nor had I ever seen him hit another human being. John looked like a badass—covered in tattoos with a nose ring right through the middle of his nose like a bull—but he was harmless. At least, I’d always thought he was harmless. I guess when it came to protecting me, he wasn’t. Rhett stood up, adjusting his jaw. Then he shifted his feet, widening his stance like he was preparing to fight back. I was willing to bet money on the fact that Rhett had been in his fair share of fights in his lifetime. He had that look about him—the look like he could do some serious damage. I had to stop this.
“This is my fault,” I shrieked, tugging on John’s arm. “I kissed him. I kissed him.”
“I don’t care who kissed whom,” my brother snapped. “You’re never going near him again.”
“Fair enough. It was an impulse thing anyway. Didn’t mean anything. Can we just go?”
Rhett lowered his hands. I wasn’t sure if I was lying about the ‘impulse’ comment or not. Either way, he looked hurt by my words. But that wasn’t possible, right? I was the fourth girl he’d kissed today. Surely, he’d just find someone new to kiss later.
My brother ushered me away, toward the front of the restaurant, leaving Rhett behind. And I let him because I didn’t know what else to do.
“I need to pay for your milkshake and the appetizer I ordered,” John grunted. “Then we’re gone and never coming back to this hole again. Got it? Rhett Morgan sleeps around with everyone. He probably has crabs, and his crabs have something even more disgusting. He’s no good and will work at this bar for the rest of his meaningless life. You’re never going near him again.”
Wow. I didn’t know my brother could be such a judgmental jerk.
“It didn’t mean anything,” I whispered. “I’m sorry.”
We went back into the restaurant, John tugging me along. A big part of me wanted to glance up, toward the bar in the back of the room and look for Rhett. Had he come back inside? I felt horrible about my brother punching him. I hoped he knew that I was sorry. But I kept my head down and followed John.
Our untouched appetizer of fried calamari sat on the table. The server approached us, carrying my milkshake. John asked for the check and asked her to box up our food so we could take it home. It took a few minutes and then finally she returned. She handed John the takeout box and me my milkshake. She also slipped something into my hand when John wasn’t looking.
A piece of paper.
My heart started slamming even harder than it was already. My skin burned. I couldn’t look at the paper the whole way home for fear that John would see. But once we arrived home, I rushed up to my room to see if the paper was what I thought it was. It was. It was a note. A note from Rhett. The note read:

Come find me when you’re no longer jail-bait.

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