Read Harder Online

Authors: Robin York

Tags: #Contemporary Romance, #Love Story, #Romance

Harder

Harder
Caroline & West [2]
Robin York
Random House Publishing Group (2014)
Rating:
*****
Tags:
Contemporary Romance, Love Story, Romance

In Robin York’s provocative new novel, two young ex-lovers find themselves together again in the shadow of tragedy - and an intense, undeniable attraction.

Caroline still dreams about West. His warm skin, his taut muscles, his hand sliding down her stomach. Then she wakes up and she’s back to reality: West is gone.
And before he left, he broke her heart.

Then, out of the blue, West calls in crisis. A tragedy has hit his family - a family that’s already a fractured mess. Caroline knows what she has to do.
Without discussion, without stopping to think, she’s on a plane, flying to his side to support him in any way he needs.

They’re together again, but things are totally different. West looks edgy, angry at the world. Caroline doesn’t fit in. She should be back in Iowa, finalizing her civil suit against the ex-boyfriend who posted their explicit pictures on a revenge porn website. But here she is. Deeply into West, wrapped up in him, in love with him.
Still.

They fought the odds once.
Losing each other was hard. But finding their way back to each other couldn’t be harder.

Harder
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

A Bantam Books eBook Edition

Copyright © 2014 by Ruth Homrighaus

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

B
ANTAM
B
OOKS
and the H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data York, Robin.
Harder : a novel / Robin York.
pages cm
ISBN 978-0-8041-7703-0 (paperback)—ISBN 978-0-8041-7704-7 (eBook)
1. Couples—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3625.O7545H37 2014
813’.6—dcs23 2014008238

www.bantamdell.com

Cover design: Eileen Carey
Cover photograph © Konrad Bak / Alamy

v3.1

Contents
West

When I had to say goodbye at the airport, I thought,
This is the last time
.

The last time you get to kiss her. The last time you get to touch her
.

This is the last time you’re ever going to see her face
.

And then, after I turned and left,
That was it. It’s over
.

I guess I went to the gate. I must have boarded a plane. Someone sat next to me, but I don’t remember if it was a man or a woman, what they looked like. What I do remember is thinking everything would have to get easier from that point forward, because nothing could be harder than walking away from Caroline.

It almost makes me laugh now, if you can call it laughter when it comes with the salt-copper taste of blood at the top of your throat. If it’s still a smile when you have to swallow and swallow around it, unable to get rid of the bitter flavor of your mistakes.

I went home to Silt thinking I was heading into some kind of
Wild West showdown. I’d call my dad out onto the public street at high noon and we’d draw our pistols. I’d fire straight and true and take him down, and then … well, that was the part I had to avoid thinking about. That was the part where the screen starts to go dark, the edges drawing in around a black-bordered circle that shrinks until it’s the size of a quarter, a nickel, a pinhole, nothing.

Nothing. That was where I would live after I drove my dad out of my life once and for all. Inside that blackness where the pinhole used to be, where the light had disappeared from, I’d pitch a tent, pull a blanket around me, and endure.

I was the sheriff, right? And he was the bad guy. But after I took him down, my reward would be an eternity of nothing I wanted. Maybe a gold star to pin on my shirt.

I was so sure I was the fucking sheriff, it almost makes me laugh, because what happened when I got home was that everything sucked in a completely different way from how I thought it would.

I did the impossible and walked away from Caroline.

After that, everything in my life that was hard got harder.

Caroline

When West’s ringtone starts playing in my darkened bedroom, it slips into my subconscious, and I have one of those last-second-before-you-wake-up dreams that’s pure sensation—his skin warm against me everywhere, his weight and smell, the muscles in his thighs against the backs of mine, his hand sliding down my stomach. All of that, slow and melting and
West
, until the song finally manages to pierce through the haze of my sleep and pinch me awake.

I fight my way from under the sheet, turned on and pissed off because I know how this goes. The rock in my stomach, the day ahead during which I’ll try and fail to shake that flood of sense-memory.

I’m going to have to live through it, and then I’m going to lose it, every good memory I have of West,
again
, when what I want is to drop back into that dream and live there instead.

It sucks. It
sucks
, and I’m so distracted by the suckage that I’m picking up the phone and swiping at the screen with my thumb before I completely register what’s going on.

West’s ringtone. West is calling me.

West is calling me at one a.m. when I haven’t heard from him in two and a half months.

If he’s drunk-dialing me, I’m going to fly to Oregon and kick him in the nuts
.

That’s what I’m thinking when I put the phone to my ear—but it’s not how I feel. I wish it were. I wish I could say
Hello?
and hear West say
Hey
, and not feel … I don’t even know. Plugged in. Lit up.
Juiced
.

I stand in my dark bedroom, aware in every centimeter of my skin that he’s breathing on the other end of the phone, somewhere on the far side of the country.

I have too many memories that start this way. Too many conversations where I told myself I wouldn’t and then I did.

I have this enormous burden of longing and pain, so heavy I can hear it in my voice when I snap, “What do you want?”

“My dad’s dead.”

My head clears in an instant, my attention sharpening to a point.

“He got shot,” West says, “and it’s … it’s a fucking mess, Caro. I know this is—I shouldn’t ask you. I can’t ask you, but I just need to tell you because I can’t fucking—” A crackling whooshing noise interrupts him, the kind of interference that fills your whole head with white sound. I just stand there, waiting for his voice to come back.

I’m pushing the phone so hard against my ear, my breath shallow and fast, aware with the kind of clarity I’ve only found in moments of crisis that it doesn’t even matter. Whatever he says next. It doesn’t matter.

The thing I never understood before West was that there
are some people who, when it comes to them, reason and logic are never going to be in charge.

He left me. He hurt me.

But I stand there in the dark, holding the phone, and I know that in a few hours I’ll be on a plane.

Caroline

I emerge from baggage claim in Eugene to the sight of West leaning against a dirty black truck. The first thing I think is,
He cut his hair
.

The second thing I think is,
Maybe he did it for her
.

If there is a her. I’ve never been able to accept that there is, despite what West said.

If she exists, she’s not here. I am.

West looks scary. Stubble covers his scalp, a dark shadow that throws the shapes of his face into relief: jawline, cheekbones, eye sockets, protruding brow, jutting chin, scowling mouth.

The muscles in his crossed arms belong to a brawler.

The West who left me in Des Moines more than four months ago was a guy, sometimes a boy, but this person who’s waiting for me is a big, hard, mean-looking man, and when he glances in my direction, I freeze. Mid-step. I’m wearing a white cardigan over a new green top that cost too
much. Designer jeans. Impractical flats. Ridiculous clothes for August, because it’s always cold when you’re flying.

I wanted to look nice, but I got it wrong. I got everything wrong, and yet I think nothing I’ve done is as wrong as whatever is wrong with him.

He straightens and steps forward. I start moving again. I have to.

“Hey,” I say when we meet a few feet from his truck. I try on a smile. “You made it.”

He doesn’t smile in return. “So did you.”

“Sorry you had to pick me up.”

I’d texted right before I boarded the first flight to tell him I was coming. I didn’t want to give him a chance to say no, so I just gave him my flight number and announced when I’d get in.

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