Authors: Piper Lawson
“I want all of you, Ariel. For as long as we’re allowed to have.” I can’t hold back the words as much as I want to. Even though I know it’ll end up hurting her in the end.
This girl’s taken my heart when I didn’t know it was mine to give.
She curls back into my chest and I feel her heartbeat next to mine.
Friday morning I’m pacing in the bleachers like a nervous parent.
Coach Varis didn’t want me there. Of course, I didn’t listen. So I snuck in to watch from the far end of the stadium.
I drove her here, gave her the best kiss of my life and wished her luck. This is for both of us, but I want it for her most of all.
The drill’s a 10k. She needs to take a full minute off the time she ran in practice.
She can do it. I know she can.
She’s standing on the start line, putting her headphones in. I can practically hear Eminem blasting from her phone, and a smile tugs at my lips despite the nerves.
I think of all the things we’ve rehearsed. Keep focused, keep steady. Keep strong.
She breaks from the start and I watch, holding my breath.
She’s not settling, I realize. She doesn’t look nervous, just tight.
I watch her round the end of the track closest to me and farthest from Varis for the fourth time.
Her expression clouds and she reaches up to touch her headphones.
“Chase? I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“I see that,” I say into my phone.
She looks up and I swear her face lights up when she sees where I am.
“Who’s in your head, Hastings?” I say into my phone, teasing.
“You’re in my head a lot lately, Chase.”
“Listen. I don’t wanna distract you. Don’t talk. But your arms are tight. Take a big breath and let it go through your shoulders. You’re using too much energy.”
I watch her do it and she’s better already.
“Good girl. Just breathe.”
“Chase? Will you stay with me?”
Something squeezes in me that she wants me to. “Yeah. I’m here.”
I don’t say anything else but watch. Hear her breathe and it’s like I’m breathing with her. Hear her feet crunch the gravel and it’s like I’m running beside her.
Twenty minutes later she crosses the line and I know we’ve done everything we can.
I meet her at Varis’ office. “How’d we do?” Her face isn’t as happy as I’d hoped, and my enthusiasm dies.
“Five seconds short of our target time, Chase.” Varis frowns.
“Fuck.” I pull Ariel against my side, my eyes falling closed.
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs into my chest.
“It’s not your fault. You did great.” I press a kiss to the top of her head. She’d put everything she had into this. Maybe I let her down.
Varis is watching, silent. “You know, that’s damn good for two weeks of training. Not to mention the disruption at the end of last week.”
Ariel’s head lifts. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I don’t think the team can afford to be down both of you for the rest of the season. Particularly given your dubious yet effective coaching methods.” He raises a skeptical eyebrow. “You’re back on. Both of you.”
We turn to each other and she beams at me. It’s the sweetest moment since the time she kissed me at the side of the road.
When we’re back outside, Ariel calls Tess to tell her the good news.
While she’s busy I make a call of my own. Hit a speed-dial entry, not bothering with an introduction.
“The guy who took Ariel. He said something before the police put him in the cruiser. I didn’t get it at the time.”
He said “
This isn’t over, Daniel
Amos swears. “You think this wasn’t even about her.”
I watch Ariel talk animatedly into the phone, a smile on her lips and her blond ponytail bobbing in the sun.
“I think someone wanted to send a message, Amos. To me.”
Thank you for reading Chased, Part I! If you loved it, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
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Piper Lawson is the author of the Travesty series (Schooled, Stripped). Piper loves reading and writing stories about sassy, sexy, smart women and the guys who fall hard for them.
Piper’s main household expenditures include books, shoes, and chocolate, not necessarily in that order. Coffee = life (and she’ll defend it accordingly). Piper has two degrees from a pretty good business school and has been fortunate to spend the last several years working at a really good business school.
Home is Canada plus occasional sunny winter escapes.
Books by Piper Lawson
Schooled (Travesty #1)
Stripped (Travesty #2)
Chased (Chased #1)
Excerpt from Schooled (Travesty, Book #1)
“You’ve lost your mind! It’ll never work.”
“It has to, Lex.” My best friend, Ava, set her beer down with a thunk on the table between our beach chairs. Mine was next to it, looking even emptier than hers.
Ava and I were indulging in a tradition we’d started years ago. Before leaving for college, we’d lie out at night on the deck of her parents’ pool at least once a week and talk about anything and everything. Looking out over the expanse of water, tinted electric blue by the liner and the lighting, was oddly soothing. It was a weird tradition, but it was ours.
“My mom would flip,” I stated.
Ava shrugged a slim shoulder. “Well that’s just a bonus.”
“You think we can sell our own clothes and make money at it?”
“Come on. With my designs and your brain? We can’t fail.”
As crazy as it was, the idea sounded eminently more exciting than a finance career.
Ava and I had just finished our freshman year of college. She was in liberal arts but had been talking about transferring into fashion design. I was majoring in business, and the only time my mom bothered to talk to me was to see whether I’d read the investment banking internship pamphlets she kept sending. The mounting sense of feeling trapped plus our long-time love of fashion had combined in some kind of heady cloud to produce this evening’s idea.
Beer might have been a contributing factor.
The slamming of a car door interrupted our exchange. I sat up and glanced over the hedge that provided some privacy between the pool deck and the driveway beside the house.
“You were lucky not to get arrested.” Ava’s father’s voice thundered through the night. Ava and I exchanged startled looks. While I didn’t know the “what,” I was pretty sure I knew the “who.”
Dylan Cameron, Ava’s seventeen-year-old brother, was marching ahead of his father up the back walkway toward the porch.
There was a striking resemblance between them, though Dylan was taller and dressed in a button-down and jeans. Sunglasses were sticking out of the neck of his shirt even though it was past 11:00 p.m. With his dark good looks and lean figure, he could’ve been an actor in the latest network teen drama. Dylan’s profile looked mildly irritated but otherwise unconcerned.
“It’s not what you think. You’re taking it all out of context.” Dylan’s low voice carried on the night air.
“I get a call to come and pick you up from a party where there were drugs. What part of that is out of context?” Mr. Cameron clearly didn’t share his son’s laissez-faire attitude.
Ava and I would be in plain view were it not for the backs of our chairs. Just my luck, Dylan glanced back as he reached for the handle of the porch door. For a moment his gaze seemed to lock with mine. Assessing brown eyes stared me down. We must’ve been fifteen feet apart, but his intensity made it feel like two. If our positions had been reversed, I’d have been averting my eyes in shame. Dylan, however, looked entirely unselfconscious.
I resisted the urge to turn away. After all, Ava and I were here first. It wasn’t like we had planned to eavesdrop.
Dylan’s gaze finally released mine as he turned the handle and stepped inside, his father in pursuit. The rest of their conversation was muffled as they closed the door. I could make out only dull noises, could distinguish Mr. Cameron’s agitated voice from Dylan’s calm one.
“Wow,” I said, turning back to face the yard and sinking into my lounge chair.
Ava whistled. Her voice was just audible over the filtration system, which hummed in the background as the pool lights cast an eerie glow over her face.
“Dylan’s been kind of crazy lately. Did you hear that two cheerleaders got suspended for fighting over him in the hallway at school?” Ava loved gossip. She didn’t seem to care that it was at her brother’s expense. “Ms. Baron had to physically tear them apart.”
I could picture it, our poor former gym teacher trying desperately to extricate fists from hair. The thought made me cringe.
I kind of got it. Though I barely knew Dylan, I knew his type. He was the guy that ignited female imaginations and libidos despite zero potential for anything serious.
My memory offered up flashbacks from more than fifteen years of time spent at Ava’s. “Remember when he used to be all sweet? Watch movies with us and pack our lunch for the beach?”
“You mean before puberty?” Ava’s voice was dripping with sarcasm.
“Yeah, exactly.” I snickered. We both were silent for a moment. I took another sip of my beer, thinking about what it was that changed us when we entered adolescence. Turned nice kids into bundles of hormones and social posturing.
“Did we ever get into trouble like that in high school?” I asked.
“Trouble? Yes. Trouble like that? No.”
“Here’s to college, and being grown up.” I raised my beer and clinked it against hers.
The party was already gaining steam when I headed downstairs. Ava and our other roommates, Jen and Emily, had handled the first wave of incomings while I changed into a short black skirt and strappy tank and added some makeup. I left my hair, which was shoulder length and red, to do its thing. It was probably my best feature. My eyes were an unremarkable gray that picked up shades of green when I was agitated or trying to hold something in. Which seemed like most of the time lately.
Looking in the mirror I decided Ava was right. I looked pretty good considering my recent and unplanned singledom.
Birthday-girl-worthy? Maybe not. But the party had been sprung on me, so I didn’t have much choice. I took a deep breath and steeled myself to make the rounds. I would smile, laugh, and show everyone I was doing just fine, thank you very much. With luck the crowd would die down early, or maybe move to the bar down the street. I might even get a chance to work on my study schedule for the fall semester of senior year. The one that started Monday.
A few dozen faces, some familiar and some not, greeted me as I descended the stairs to the open-concept living and dining area that took up most of the first floor. The town house we shared was just off campus of our state college in San Diego. A newer model, it had hardwood, granite and stainless steel, and didn’t reek of pot. The last reason alone made it a big step up from the typical local student digs.
“Happy birthday, Lex!” I was hit with waves of smiles and hugs, some wanted and some tolerated. Though it was nice to see familiar faces, the dull ache in my chest and the occasional sympathetic glance reminded me that many were mutual friends of Jake’s and mine. I’d gotten Ava and our roommates in the breakup at the start of the summer. It wasn’t clear where the others fell.
A couple of guys I knew from class were sending me glances of a different kind. I pointedly ignored them, made small talk with everyone I knew, and tried not to think about how many fire code violations we were committing.
The compulsive part of my brain started to kick into overdrive. At one point I had to force myself to stop counting the number of people with my peripheral vision. We weren’t equipped for this much party.
As I glanced across the room I spotted Jake Marsden.
. Every muscle in my body tightened. He was laughing with a circle of guys and girls. This was the danger of having common friends. Ava wouldn’t have invited him, but Jake showing up probably couldn’t have been avoided. This may have started as a birthday party, but I’m pretty sure it was advertised as “little-b” birthday and “big-p” Party.
It was the first I’d seen him in three months and I had to admit Jake looked good. His short, dirty-blond hair still suited him perfectly—the topping on the rest of his great body, earned from playing football at a school that worshipped sports and expected a lot from its heroes. He was several inches taller than my five-five and towered over most of the partygoers who weren’t varsity athletes.
Jake and I started dating four years ago in senior year of high school. Jake was that “first crush” guy: the one that makes your head spin and all the other girls send jealous looks because he smiled at
. Jake had transferred from another school and instantly fit in. We’d been close ever since, even through junior year of college when I’d been taking business and he’d gone into pre-med. He’d even seemed supportive of my dream to start my own label. We never fought. In a way he was the perfect boyfriend: doting without being overbearing.
In May I’d won a coveted summer internship in New York with the advertising and accounts group of a major lifestyle magazine. I could still remember Jake’s voice down the line when I’d called to tell him.
That’s great, Lex.
The pause, then,
Listen … you going to New York is a good thing. I’ve been thinking lately that we’re going in different directions, you know?
That was the problem. I didn’t know. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d declared that he was actually gay and had decided to run away to become a backup dancer for Lady Gaga. I didn’t like surprises. Especially ones like that.
Sure, his dad’s practice was in LA and I would more than likely move to New York when school was done. But that didn’t absolve him of anything. Bottom line: Jake Marsden’s face should appear in the Guinness Book of World Records next to Worst Phone Breakup in History.
Part of me never quite understood why he’d picked me in the first place. Jake could have had any girl in school. I always had lots of friends but was never the center of attention. I was a little too quiet, too studious, too repressed to be an “it” girl. But we’d met at a beach party at the beginning of senior year and somehow clicked. I was flattered, and he’d been charming and sweet. Right up until he’d dumped me out of the blue.
I’d had two other boyfriends before Jake. But at twenty-one years old today, an almost four-year relationship was kind of a big deal. Effectively nineteen percent of my life had been spent holding hands, making out, and fused at various bodily junctures to Jake Marsden.
I watched him laugh at something one of his friends had said. It looked like the breakup wasn’t weighing too much on his mind. It still bothered me a little. Trying to find myself again post-Jake was harder than I’d expected. Heading back to school, without my internship to occupy me, some of the earlier feelings came flooding back. Even though I didn’t want to be with him anymore, I hadn’t healed enough to want him in my face. Or in my house.
I looked around for a distraction. My eyes widened when they landed on our kitchen table. Sitting in the center was a round purple cake made to look tufted with the help of fondant and pearls. An impressive collection of mini-kegs, bottles, and cans surrounded the cake, making it look like a tiny violet island adrift in a sea of impending bad decisions.
My analytic brain did a quick tally and decided we’d amassed roughly enough liquor to sink a war vessel. I made a mental note to murder Ava for throwing this impromptu party, and letting me know about it ten minutes after I got home from New York and an hour before it was set to start. I generally preferred “party lite.” Or even “no party at all.”
Glancing back at Jake, my chest tightened a little. I did a quick analysis in my head of the possible ways tonight would play out. I needed to get my brain off my ex, out of OCD mode, and onto something else.
Desperate times. I reached for the hard stuff.
Alright, Captain Morgan.
Permission to come aboard.
Two mixed drinks and a shot later, I was starting to relax. I opted for catching up with my roommate Jen and her boyfriend, Jace. Jen told me she met Justin Timberlake while running a half marathon this summer. Only in California did these things happen. Jen was in design like Ava and had met Jace last year playing rec sports. Jen was one of those athletic girls who could turn around and throw on a dress and heels and look instantly glam. Together, they were one of those super cute couples that made you want to vomit.
Speaking of vomit … nope, false alarm. I had always been a lightweight but thankfully not a total pushover. I never got drunk enough to get into any real trouble. I did have to pee though.
I excused myself and went in search of the little-known bathroom under the basement stairs. This was one of the perks of partying in your own house. I prayed no one else had discovered it, or if they had, that they’d left it in the same condition in which they’d found it.
Winding my way through the crowd and rounding the corner, I collided with a tall form coming from the other direction. Big hands reached out to my shoulders to steady me as I stumbled backward.
I had to tilt my chin up to meet a pair of startled brown eyes. Eyes I hadn’t really seen in more than two years, since they had locked with mine across a dark patio.
“Lex?” Dylan Cameron’s gaze warmed slightly as recognition set in. “I didn’t see you there.”
We’d crossed paths over the last two years at the Cameron house but never had more than a five-word exchange in passing. Still, though I was sure I’d seen Ava’s little brother, I couldn’t place the guy in front of me. He was taller. He’d filled out, too, his red polo displaying muscles I definitely hadn’t noticed. Otherwise Dylan seemed as coolly untouchable as ever.
“I almost didn’t recognize you.” It was true. Two grades’ difference, though only fourteen months in age, was an eternity in high school. Of course we’d played together as kids, since Ava and her three siblings spanned only six years. But in high school everyone had drifted apart.
“Yeah, I’m all grown up now,” he drawled. “Just transferred here. One year on the East Coast was enough for me. Probably for them too.” Dylan grinned. “I start classes next week. The civil engineering program’s the best in the state. I’m fulfilling the Cameron complement of gender stereotypes. Ava sews, I build.”
After the two eldest Cameron siblings graduated, there’d always been a bit of friction between Ava and Dylan. Ava joked once that it was because her parents liked her better. While the Camerons had always seemed to me to be great parents, they definitely indulged her.
Dylan and his sister weren’t entirely different. Both had been effortlessly popular. But Dylan had somehow fallen off the map. At least, I hadn’t heard any more rumors of the kind that would have had my mother sending me promptly to boarding school if I’d been involved.
It surprised me that he was in engineering given his proclivities for partying. As far as I knew it was a pretty demanding major. “Well, consider me dazzled by your scholastic aptitude.”
My comment elicited a slow grin. It looked like it was designed to make teenage girls lose their undergarments. Mercifully I was unaffected. OK, almost unaffected.
I had to tilt my head back for my eyes to connect with his. It gave me an excuse to really look at him for the first time in years. Why was it that the good-looking people got
the assets? I should write a letter of complaint to the universe, just as a matter of principle.
The Camerons were a good-looking bunch, but Dylan was borne of the deepest end of the gene pool. He would’ve looked right at home on any movie or TV set. Though on second thought, I didn’t know where he would fit. He was too pretty to play the bad boy, his jaw too perfect, long dark lashes framing chocolate eyes, and a sculpted mouth. But he was too edgy to play the male lead. He had that messy-on-purpose hair that looked like some co-ed had been running her fingers through it. He didn’t look like he’d shaven today either.
“I haven’t seen you in forever,” he said, bringing my thoughts back to our conversation. “How was your summer? Ava said you spent it partying in Miami or something?” Dylan seemed strangely intent on making small talk. But since ninety percent of the other partiers knew me or Jake, and most of those had chosen sides or had some kind of sub-agenda, Dylan Cameron was one of the most appealing conversationalists available.
“New York, actually,” I corrected. “And more ‘or something’ than partying. I was interning at a magazine.”
“Ahhh, yeah my geography was always shit. I was close though.”
“Yes. Very close.” I nodded patronizingly. Waited. “New York’s the one with the park. And the statue.” I did my best torch-hoisting impression. Alcohol seemed to melt the filter that came between the thoughts in my head and the words emerging from my mouth.
Dylan seemed entertained by it, his dark eyes focusing on mine and the corner of his mouth twitching. “Alright, smart girl. Miami doesn’t have parks or statues?”
“Nothing near eight hundred and forty-three acres or three hundred and five feet tall.” I parroted it automatically. I had a brain for random facts. It was a gift and a curse.
“Noted.” Dylan shook his head and a full-fledged smile graced his mouth. I did a double take. The smile did great things for him. Not that he needed the help.
“The internship sounds cool,” he commented, pushing aside a chunk of dark hair that had fallen into his face in a familiar way that said he did it often. His deep brown eyes bored into mine. He was one of those guys whose intensity made you feel like you were the center of their entire world. He could’ve been thinking “I know all your darkest secrets” or “I could go for some spaghetti” and I wouldn’t have known the difference when his eyes were on me like that.
“The gig was great. I was one of the best interns ever to grace Manhattan publishing. After three months’ practice, I could run a Starbucks order for a department of twenty from memory.” It was one of the hazing rituals in publishing, but one I’d aced nonetheless.
“I don’t believe you. I mean, I do, but they’d have to be idiots to have a girl like you running coffee all day. What else did you do?”
He seemed genuinely interested, though I hadn’t the slightest idea why. My grateful brain clicked out of party mode for the time being. “Actually, I got to assist on some major accounts and a campaign. It was way closer to real stuff than I thought I’d be doing.”
He scratched his head. “You and Ava are still planning on that business thing, right? The connections must be pretty important.”
The fact that he remembered at all was unexpected. That he was thinking about what my internship meant for us was something else. Apparently he was not just a pretty face.
As if through some kind of sixth sense, I looked to my left and saw Jake heading our way. It didn’t look like he’d seen me, but I was sure he would soon.