Authors: L. R. Johnson
L. R. Johnson
This book is dedicated to my husband, Greg,
and my wonderful kids, Evan and Ashlyn,
who told me to never give up.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to my
Associates in Writers Crime, Season Burch and
Pattie Sadler, whose inspiration, talent, and
support encourage me and lovingly criticize me
to become better. Thank you to my
loving parents who gave me the courage to never give up on my dreams. Thank you to Shawndra Johnson,
your detailed eye is amazing. Thank you to all those who gave me
feedback, and helped me correct my spelling mistakes,
you all know who you are – my guiding angels.
Thank you to Season Atwater, who helped me design my cover,
you have my eternal gratitude.
Out of our darkest hours can come our brightest moments
A New Beginning
Going to school in England has always been my dream…always. To finally be able to put an ocean between me and the poisonous influence in my life has been what I’ve desired, but in my dream I wasn’t alone – like this.
Now I stand by myself in the middle of what I hope will be my escape. The large elaborate buildings of Cambridge University mark where I will be starting anew. Several months ago my life took a sharp left hook in a direction I could have never dreamed of – even in my nightmares. Now I gaze at all the eager, bright-eyed students dotting the area with their lives just starting out, while I stand here with more experience in my eighteen years than I could have ever imagined.
The chill from eyes watching me dances on the back of my neck. Shifting my gaze, I notice several of the male students staring at me as if I am fresh meat thrown into a lion’s den. One guy in particular is examining me with a sensual, penetrating gaze. His eyes narrow slightly as he gives me a quick, flirtatious wink. An embarrassing edge tickles my gut, spreading up across my shoulders and neck, triggering a shiver to rush through me. Quickly I look down at my over-sized sweater, pulling and tugging on all the edges to make sure every part of my torso is completely covered. Though his gaze is flattering, it is the very last thing I am or will be interested in. It’s too soon. And who knows if I will ever be able to open my heart again.
Grabbing hold of my internal nerve I take in a deep breath.
Breathe, Breanna. Just breathe.
Exhaling a quivering breath I push back a loose strand of hair, clearing my vision as I slowly walk away from the flirtatious guy.
Moving through the maze of departments which are scattered throughout the college town, I try to find the English building. The archaic grandeur of the large structures makes me feel as if I stepped back in time instead of living in the twenty-first century.
Jumping out at me like a black sheep in a field of white stands the mid-century English building. This building has plain, clean lines with very simple yet elegant architecture. The building reminds me of being home in America, where nothing is as old as some of the structures here.
A cold sweat forms on my neck and my hands as I begin trembling, comprehending what I’m about to do. Here I am in a foreign country, all alone, about to embark on a new experience I’m not sure I’m ready for. A queasy sensation rises to the base of my throat with a heavy acidic tinge to it. I swallow forcefully, pushing the thick bile back down. This is not the time or the place to get sick right now. Pretending a deep hiccup, I try to hide the nausea flowing through me.
As I stare down the long hallway leading to all the classrooms, I notice many students moving through the hall like a fine dance choreographed by their professors. Their excited chatter fills the corridor and rolls over me like a tidal wave. It takes everything I have to walk against the sea of fear and disconnection. Because of my age this is a world I’m supposed to try to belong to. Theoretically this should be an exciting time of my life. But no matter what I do I will never fit in, nor am I really sure I want to belong.
Clutching hold of the doorknob, I fling the door open and walk into my new adventure. All of the students in my class turn and watch me. I begin aggressively wringing my hands as I turn my eyes to the floor and move to find an empty seat. Grabbing my pen and notebook from my book bag I start doodling vigorously, attempting not to look up.
I hear the classroom door open again. From the quiet murmurs, several girls call out, “Callum! I’m so glad you’re in our class.” Some of the girls even give a coy giggle after their statement.
The whole class starts making a fuss over him, with their overwhelming gratitude that he is in the same class as them. This is definitely someone I need to see. Perhaps I am in the presence of English Royalty or something along those lines. Shielding my eyes from my classmates I slyly look up, attempting to see this mysterious person. When, to my chagrin, I notice it is the same guy from earlier who was flirting with me. He’s just an ordinary yet very good-looking guy.
He’s perfectly put together with nicely shaped blue jeans accentuating the curves of his lower body. He’s got on a soft blue button up shirt with a coordinating form-fitting cardigan. His clean cut light brown hair emphasizes his strong, chiseled features. Though his appearance is respectable, there is a rebellious glimmer in his eyes which I have seen in people multiple times in my life. I’m almost positive he is not a member of the royal family, so why is everyone making such a fuss over him? Pure curiosity pours over me, and I visually capture several mental images of his undeniably good looks.
Turning towards me his eyes look right into mine, narrowing with a surveying expression moving across his face. For just a brief moment my eyes lock onto his liquid caramel gaze, sending chills of energy shuddering throughout my body. The corner of his mouth turns up, revealing a slight smirk. A mischievous twinkle glistens just under the surface of his caramel ocean, as if he recalls his earlier attempt at flirting with me.
Abruptly the class door swings open, breaking my spell. In walks – I can only assume by the way everyone is rushing to their seats – our Professor. He briskly makes his way to the front of the class and takes us all in as if to ascertain what type of term this is going to be. Instantly his eyes stop on the same guy everyone was making a big deal over.
“Mr. Hughes, I see once again you have graced me with your presence. Do you think perhaps this term you might put some effort into your school work?” he utters, with a sincere tone in his voice.
A roar of snickers and giggles moves through the class. “Yes, Mr. Bramble,” Callum answers in a low, masculine voice. His soft, buttery tone accentuates his English accent. Though I have a hard time understanding everyone here, I can understand him clearly. Perhaps his smooth tone makes it easier for me to comprehend him.
“Good, because I would hate to tell your father. He wouldn’t like to hear that you are gliding through class again. Taking advantage of the faculty building which is named after your father,” our professor responds in a firm tone.
Callum’s jaw quivers slightly as his eyes narrow in anger. He faintly tilts his head in my direction, gazing out the corner of his eyes.
“No, Mr. Bramble, I wouldn’t want that. Nor would my father like to hear about the happenings of his grown son,” a sharp edge flutters off of each word as the atmosphere in the room takes on a new, thick reaction. The silence shrieks loudly within the room, filling every corner and crevice around us. No one has moved, let alone shown any signs of breathing. I can tell by Callum’s stiff posture this is a subject he does not want to discuss, let alone mention.
“Good. As long as we are clear, Mr. Hughes,” Mr. Bramble adds flatly.
“Crystal,” Callum snaps back.
Our professor bounces back quickly, instantly bringing our class’s attention to him. He reveals what he expects from us this Easter term. The air within the room softens, gently heaving away any anger and doubt once residing within its grasp. Now all I have to do is successfully figure out how to keep all attention off of me.
I am effectively able to sink into the background for the rest of the class time by staying quiet and avoiding any eye contact, only listening to what our term schedule is going to be. As soon as the class ends I hastily grab my things and bolt out of the room, trying to avoid a possible conversation with Callum.
Standing out front of the Hughes English building, I realize there is no possible way I am going to be able to locate my next class without asking for help. Streams of students hastily swim past me with very little attention directed towards my confused state. I know if I’m going to make it to my next class on time I have to take the initiative and ask someone for help. Looking around, I notice a petite blond girl gazing questionably down at her class schedule. Her sharp features blend into each other, as if a sculptor has chiseled every detail flawlessly. Her blonde pixie haircut frames her face perfectly. A twisted smile creeps into the outer edges of her thin mouth. She looks about as confused as I am.
“Excuse me. I don’t mean to bother you, but you look like you’re lost. Maybe we can help each other?” I inquire timidly.
“Am I that bleeding obvious?” she asks. The words seem to spin around deep in the back of her throat, occasionally she snaps out the last letter of each word. Her thick English accent makes it hard for me to understand what she is saying. Trying to process what she just said, I mumble out, “Well…” my mind searches for the right words to say without offending her.
“Oh buggers. Don’t worry about answering the question. I already know the answer.” A swift smile forms as a sweet, high-pitched laugh gracefully escapes her mouth. “My name is Olivia,” she says as she lifts her hand towards mine.
Grasping hold of her delicate hand I shake it fervently, “Nice to meet you Olivia. My name is Breanna.” She lets go of my hand, rubbing hers gently. “Oh, I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t hurt you.” I softly bite the corner of my mouth as the furrow between my eyes deepens in embarrassment. Heat presses up into my face, tainting the color of my cheeks.
“Let me guess. You’re American?” she asks sarcastically as a wide smile spreads across her face.
“Does my accent give it away?”
She exhales a slight laugh, “Sure, but I was more thinking of your grip. What is it with Americans and your bloody firm handshakes? Do you all practice on bricks or something?”
With a quick wit I add, “No. We start with wood then we graduate to bricks.” A burst of laughter rushes through both of us.
Though Olivia’s petite frame gives the appearance of an insignificant or meek girl, her strong, sarcastic personality commands your attention. This is a girl who can definitely hold her own against anyone. I highly doubt she has ever let anyone pull the wool over her eyes. Her self-assurance is not in any way rude or uncouth. On the contrary, it is very captivating. There is something about Olivia’s boldness that makes me not only trust her, but feel the need to have her fully in my corner here. I admire her brass way of stating what is on her mind. This is a character flaw I have, I keep everything inside of me and allow it to tear me apart like a ragdoll in the clutches of a bear’s mouth.
“Well, Breanna, should we find our class?” a slight giggle still resonates within her words.
“Yes, please. I’m supposed to go to my history class, but the buildings are all spread out here.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m from England and I still get confused. My arse of a brother was supposed to meet me here, but as usual he’s a no show.” Her eyes narrow, causing a dark veil of anger to briefly wash over her. Then as quickly as it appeared, the shroud of irritation is gone. “Well, that’s a story for another occasion. I don’t think we’re too far off, though. The faculty of history is just on the corner of Queen’s Road and West. It’s just a bit of a stroll.”
“Thank you so much,” a sigh of relief escapes my lips as I gaze around. “I feel like I have been walking forever today. I never thought Cambridge University was made up of so many schools.”
“If you want we can share a cab? That way you don’t have to walk anymore,” Olivia adds, as she sweeps a stray strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
“No, I don’t mind walking. Now hopefully I can help you find where you’re going.”
“Well, actually I’m heading there myself. Maybe between the two of us we will be able to find our bloody course.”
Nodding gently, I join her and we head down the street towards where the history building is located. This is not how I envisioned my new start, but at least I have grabbed hold of the reins to my run-away life.
Though Olivia never stops talking the whole time, I can’t recall one thing she is saying. Her accent is too thick to follow along, besides my mind is completely captivated by my new surroundings. The grand arches and sheer magnitude of all the buildings is absolutely amazing.
Looking around, I take in everything. How the River Cam gently cuts through the breathtaking backdrop to all the well-manicured grounds. The crisp, clean air is such a sharp contrast to the dirty, smoke-filled environment I am used to. Raising my head I lift my eyes towards heaven, taking in a deep, cleansing breath, smelling the fresh rain tainted with moist dust and the sweet smell of the white willow trees. The cool, fresh air washes through my body, filling my soul with a sense of renewed possibility and hope.