Authors: Crystal Green
Also by Crystal Green
Rough and Tumble
Down and Dirty
InterMix Books, New York
UBLISHED BY THE
USA â¢ Canada â¢ UK â¢ Ireland â¢ Australia â¢ New Zealand â¢ India â¢ South Africa â¢ China
A Penguin Random House Company
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / January 2015
Copyright Â© 2015 by Chris Marie Green.
copyright Â© 2015 by Chris Marie Green.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
Photo Â© Gabriel Georgescu/Shutterstock.
Cover design by Lesley Worrell.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-19407-6
InterMix Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group
and New American Library, divisions of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
INTERMIXÂ® and the “IM” design are registered trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
The events in “Whisper” take place before the trouble even begins to start for
Â .Â .Â .
*You'll see what I mean in February 2015, when
I'd do anything to have Carley, but she doesn't know I exist.
If the latest message on my phone hadn't name checked me, I would've swiped past it on my way to read all the other secrets from anonymous users on the TellTale app. Secrets like
Sometimes I touch myself when I'm thinking about my teacher
I like to keep my girlfriend's underwear in my office drawer
But this wasn't some confessional meme I could ignore, especially since the words were overlaying a black-and-white selfie of a guy's silhouette, his face turned away from the lens, the rest of him in shadow so I couldn't tell what color his hair was or what the rest of him looked like. Also, this wasn't the first post from him about me.
A secret admirer?
Me? Carley Rios? The new girl in town?
At the thought, my heart raced, my skin flushed, and I wasn't sure if I was more flattered or scared of this unknown person who had sent the messages from less than ten miles away, according to their location status. And like any girl who was freaking out about a boy, I'd blabbed to someone else.
To the only friend I had in Aidan Falls so far.
That's why my new neighbor, Diana, was huddled with me in a corner of the party she'd dragged me to. While she checked the latest TellTale post on my screen, keeping my phone down by her blue-jean-skirted thigh, she swept a lowered, false-eyelash look around the room.
“Come out, come out wherever you are,” she said under the country rock song blasting in the family room of some guy I didn't even know. I hadn't been around Aidan Falls long enough to know much of anyone. My stepdad told me I should get my butt into community college, where I could actually avoid failing classes and meet people at the same time, but ever since I'd dropped out of UCLA, I had no interest. Or maybe I should say no confidence.
I made a move for my phone, thinking that Diana could really be less obvious about comparing the shadowed profile on the TellTale post with all the guys around us. They were older than me and Diana, playing Quarters at the dining table and throwing down beers, hanging around in their Wranglers and boots while chatting up pretty girls with bouncy hair and tight T-shirts.
“Do you have to gape at the picture so much?” I asked when she held the phone away from me. “You got me here by telling me you already had a good idea of who sent this.”
“And I do. It's just that he's not here yet. I'm sure he will be, though. He knows the guy who's throwing this poor excuse for a rager.” She used her thumb to flip through more TellTale posts and smiled. Her lips were shimmery pink, her blond hair in two ponytails, making her look like someone's kissin' cousin. “Hey, these posts are actually pretty entertaining. Someone within five miles likes to lay out in the nude in their backyard at night, even right now with the spring rain. Talk about letting it all hang out.”
I finally snatched the phone before she could check my home page and see all the TellTales I'd been leaving ever since I'd moved to Aidan Fallsâposts about feeling aimless, lost, and alone ever since my stepdad moved me and my mom from our place in LA to his suburban digs in this tight-knit little Texas town. Secrets about how I hated not being able to afford my own place and how it made me feel like a leech. Confessions about how I'd joined TellTale to feel like I knew more people than just Diana, and how I was embarrassed to talk to my friends from home because they were still in college and I hadn't been able to make the grade.
Mom had asked me to give Aidan Falls more time before I passed judgment on it, but it was hard to lob this town a gold star when it seemed like everyone already had their place and there was nowhere I fit in. I had no school to go to and no job yet, even though I'd been looking. I had to make some money to get out of that house, because I was so, so ready to really live now that I'd left college behind. There had to be more out there for me.
The real world awaitedÂ .Â .Â . if I could just join in.
Diana checked me out with a long look. “Wow, someone's on edge tonight. You nervous about meeting your SA, Carley?”
SA = Secret Admirer. “No.”
“Bullcrackers.” She scanned the room, with girls chatting in another corner, the crowd around the keg in the kitchen.
And I knew the exact moment my SA walked in, because Diana's entire face changed. Her body did, too, going a little melty, even while she lifted her chin and stuck out her chest like a sex bomb that'd just been lit. I didn't even think she realized it, either.
But who could blame her? Because the minute I saw him, I blushed, too. Majorly. I could feel it all over me, and I thanked my DNA that my real dad had genetically gifted me with a little Latina tint to my skin. Too bad my mom had lightened me out, because I sure could've used all the camouflage I could get.
He was tall and built in his beaten boots, faded jeans, and white T-shirt that didn't lie about all the planes and ridges underneath it. Abs, arms, shouldersâthey were all present and accounted for. He had dark blond hair pulled back into a low ponytail, eyebrows that made him look naughty, and light eyes that seemed to smile across the room. And that smile wasn't exactly niceâit was suggestive, full of thoughts that belonged on TellTale. Thoughts like
I want to kiss my way down your body until you scream
I like to dare women to say no
, I told myself as my pulse picked up speed.
As he glanced around the room, that gaze landed on me and Diana in the corner, catching us staring right back at him.
“Oh, shit,” I whispered, looking down until my straight black hair hid my face.
Diana only laughed as she said, “That's Micah Wyatt. He hasn't been in Aidan Falls much longer than youâjust since the beginning of the yearâbut he's sure making a name for himself. I don't know a lot more than that about him except that he's twenty-two and he moved in with his rowdy cousins, Deacon and Darwin.”
I had no idea who Deacon and Darwin were, but I suspected that everyone else in this small-town room did, especially if they were one of many former football heroes who Aidan Falls worshipped. I was still getting used to all the pigskin fever in this place, even during the off-season.
When I risked a glance back up, Micah already had two girls who'd brought him a plastic red cup of beer.
“Someone like that wouldn't be interested in me,” I said.
“Whatâa shrinking virgin in a corner?”
Sometimes Diana could be so catty. I'd found that out immediately, after she'd popped in at my stepdad's house to welcome me and Mom to the neighborhood. I wasn't sure she had many friends, either. She said hers were off at Texas-U, leaving her behind at the nearest community college. I had to wonder if boredom was the only reason she'd been so eager to meet me.
I blew past her comment. “I'm not a virgin.” But who needed to announce that when you were new in town? I had some experience with vanilla sex, and I was curious about a different kind, but I'd always been too shy to experiment. I'd also call myself a careful person who wasn't sure of her place in Aidan Falls yetâif I had a place.
The one thing I knew for sure was that I was tantalized by those TellTale posts.
“Well,” Diana said, “you sure are acting like a virg. Give him a grin, would ya? Do
As she talked, Micah worked his bad-boy smile on those girls. If he'd been the one who wrote the TellTale posts about me, he sure wasn't showing much interest in my direction. You'd think he'd be noticing me a little more already.
“So why do you think it's him?” I asked.
“Call it a hunch, but he's supposed to be a game player, and posting on TellTale would be just his thing to lure in a girl. He's a big ol' honeytrap.”
“Yeahâhe loves all kinds of women and traps them with his charms.”
“Diana, I don't think that word means what you think it does.” I was pretty sure it had something to do with deceit or betrayal. I wasn't totally sure, though.
“Oh, you know what I'm talking about.” Diana ran a finger around the rim of her cup while eyeing Micah. “They say he even seduces married women, but the ones I've heard he's been with are those bored housewives who have shit for husbands and are on the way to a divorce, anyway. Those are the rumors, but I don't know if they're true. Mostly, though, I've heard he likes a challenge. He likes to seduce the supposedly unseduce-able.” Diana laughed. “That kind of leaves me out of the picture. You, thoughÂ .Â .Â . You're the mysterious new arrival who seems all quiet and sweet and untouchable. Sending a TellTale to catch your attention would be just the first step in reeling you in.”
I slid her a glance. “So this is your evidence? That's why you think it's him?”
“Maybe I just want it to be him.” She got a dirty smile on her lips. “Boy, can you imagine? Maybe we can get a game of Spin the Bottle or Seven Minutes in Heaven going here. You'd have a fine introduction that way.”
The last time I'd played either game I'd been in middle school. I'd been just as intrigued then, too, and maybe even as nervous as I was now, thinking about what my secret admirer's latest post had said.
I'd do anything to have Carley, but she doesn't know I existÂ .Â .Â .
Heartfelt words. Longing words. And I wasn't used to being yearned for. At least, not lately. I even wondered if someone wild and hot like Micah would be the type to say these wordsÂ .Â .Â .
“You're thinking too much,” Diana said. “Come on, let's meet him. Don't do like you do back in your house, always going to your room and shutting the door when I'm trying to get you out and about.”
“Am I that much of a recluse?”
Now she sounded like my stepdad. He didn't know what I did in my room when the door was closed, eitherâand it wasn't anything TellTale-worthy. I touched the handmade black bracelet I was wearing, its straps winding around my lower arm, decorating a half sleeve that held credit cards, ID, and money. My practical idea, my fashionable creation. Not that anyone else needed to know right now.
Diana sighed. “Okay. If you don't want to meet your SA here and now, I can always find a way to hack into TellTale. It's not completely anonymous.”
Disappointment snapped inside me. “You don't have to do that.” There was something about the element of surprise, the thought of being admired from afar by someone I didn't know.
“Ooo,” Diana said, bumping me with her hip until beer sloshed out of my cup. “I'm seeing an opening.”
Micah had wandered away from the two girls and had come to lean against a wall. He was drinking and looking like he didn't have to go to anyone and was perfectly content for everyone to come to him.
I took a deep breath, telling myself to go already, but Diana grabbed my hand and tugged me so hard that I almost crashed into a guy who'd been standing nearby. I only had enough time to catch a glimpse of dark hair that was cut short in the back, leaving a rebellious hank in the front, obscuring his eyes.
Suddenly, there I was, turned around by Diana and cruising toward Micah, my knees ready to give out. Adrenaline stomped through me, and I didn't know if it was because I was about to make an ass out of myself or if it was because Micah was even taller than he'd looked to be from across the room. And those musclesÂ .Â .Â . they were the kind you got from actual work, not sculpted from a gym. Maybe I could tell because of all the rough edges he had.
Diana smiled at him as we passed. “Hey.”
He subtly jerked his chin at her, his gaze settling on me. Gray-green eyes. That smile.
But I saw something in that gaze I couldn't have noticed from across the room: loneliness? Did he feel like I did, even in a crowd?
In the next second, there was nothing there at all as he inspected the room again, drinking his beer.
Diana slowed down like we hadn't planned to say something to him. No strategy here at all. Nuh-uh.
As we stopped, my heart kicked my chest, his lethal gaze on me again.
“Haven't I seen you at other parties?” Diana asked.
“Probably not.” His voice was low, his words slow, with a dark molasses twang. “I don't go to these things all that much.”
“A discriminating man.” She stuck out her free hand. “I'm Diana, and this is my friend Carley.”
As she shook his hand, my gaze roamed up and down his body, too. If this was my secret admirer, he'd confessed that he'd do anything to have me, and that feltÂ .Â .Â . I don't know. I'd been so down in the dumps about college that I couldn't imagine someone who made such naked, bold confessions when they didn't even know me.
But I did offer a polite smile. Maybe it was even hard to get and unseduce-able.
And maybe my smile got a fire going in his belly, maybe it didn't. I couldn't tell from the cool way he kept leaning against the wall while Diana burbled on about where he worked (at Deacon and Darwin's repair shop) and how he liked Aidan Falls so far (just fine).
Then Diana got really ballsy.
She took my phone out of her pocket and swiped her thumb over the screen, and I knew she was fishing to see if he would say anything about TellTale since the images of its confessions were right there in front of him.
Very slick, that move.
I looked at him to see if he had a reaction, and he didâa sexy side smile that captured those lips. He took another drink of beer as he glanced at me, raising an eyebrow.
Was he trying to tell me something? Or was I reading too much into it? He was either playing this seduction game with real expertise orâ
âhe wasn't my secret admirer at all.
He drained the rest of his beer, lifted his cup to us, and stood away from the wall. “Either of you need more brew?”