“I’ve become an expert at avoiding things that could hurt me—which means I will figure out how to stay away from Marco Leone.”
From the bestselling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures novels and the Dangerous Creatures novels, comes a fast-paced contemporary romance full of loss, love and redemption, and I have an excerpt for you.
PIECES OF ME
A police officer shines a blinding light in my eyes. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
To ruin what’s left of my miserable life?
“Was I speeding?” I have no idea, but the swerving is probably the reason.
He knocks on the roof of the car. “I’m going to need you to step out of the car and show me your license and registration.”
Red and blue lights flash in my rearview mirror, and the dull haze that kept me from falling apart earlier tonight begins to fade.
I don’t want to feel anything. Most of all, I don’t want to remember.
“Have you been drinking?” he asks when I get out. I consider lying, but what’s the point? There is nothing he can do to me that’s worse than what I’ve already been through.
“Miss? I asked if you’ve been drinking,” he repeats.
I look him in the eye. “Yes.”
Riding in the back of a police car sobers me up fast, but not enough to pass a Breathalyzer test at the precinct.
“Your blood alcohol concentration is point one.” Officer Tanner, the cop who pulled me over, writes it down on a form attached to his clipboard. “That’s two points over the legal limit in the state of Maryland.”
I stop listening and watch the second hand on the wall clock click past the numbers. It’s 10:20 on a Tuesday night.
The old Frankie Devereux would be kissing her boyfriend good night in front of her house right now, or slaving over her Stanford University application. She didn’t have the personal essay nailed down yet. But she wasn’t worried. With a 4.0 grade point average, eight years of classical piano training, and two summers’ worth of volunteer work at Children’s Hospital, Stanford was well within her reach.
But the old Frankie died with Noah.
The girl I am now is sitting in a windowless interrogation room, staring at grayish-white walls the color of turkey lunch meat after it spoils. Not exactly how I thought the first day of senior year would end. Considering how badly it started, I should have known.
Of course Woodley Prep chose today to hold a memorial gathering in Noah’s honor. I begged Mom to let me stay home, but she was more concerned about her reputation than my sanity. “How will it look to people if you aren’t there?” It only sounded like a question.
So after fifth period, our teacher marched us outside, where the rest of the senior class was already assembled in front of the English building.
Noah hated English.
They talked about Noah Wells. Captain of the lacrosse team. Blue eyes the color of the sky. The boy everyone loved, including me.
Dead at seventeen.
I watched students who barely knew Noah plant a stupid tree for my dead boyfriend—a guy who didn’t even recycle.
With a Sour Patch Kids addiction like Noah’s, he would have preferred a vending machine.
When the lopsided tree was finally in the ground, Noah’s lacrosse coach said a few words and invited us all to his house that evening for another get-together in Noah’s honor.
Noah died three months ago, and I still couldn’t sleep at night. The wounds hadn’t stopped bleeding, and my school was already tearing off the bandages.
It’s almost over, I’d told myself. Or so I thought. The poem was what sent me over the edge.
Student body president Katherine Calder had written it herself, and she read the poem in front of the entire senior class while her mother videotaped the performance. The little bitch finally had a meaningful personal experience to write about for the college Common App essay.
Everything went downhill from there.
After spending an hour at Coach’s house, which included an encore of Katherine’s heartfelt poem, I swiped a bottle of wine and drank it in the bathroom. By the time I left, the combination of anger, alcohol, and sleep deprivation had turned me into an emotional hand grenade with a set of car keys.
Mom won’t see it that way. She’ll be pissed. I actually feel sorry for the cop who got stuck calling her.
The doorknob turns, and I sit up straighter. Officer Tanner comes in and hands me a cup of burnt-smelling coffee. “Your mother is here.”
This will be fun.
Mom is waiting in the lobby. Even at midnight, she looks perfectly pulled together, dressed in fitted black pants and a beige cashmere wrap. With only a hint of blush and her blond hair gathered in a low ponytail, she could pass for my older sister. When my parents were still married, her hair was the same shade of light brown that mine is now. I ditched the high- lights months ago, along with any trace of the old Frankie.
Holding the white foam cup, I walk toward her. My eyes are swollen, and my face streaked with mascara. I don’t care about getting in trouble. Listening to one of her guilt trips is a hundred times worse.
Mom storms past Officer Tanner without giving him so much as a look. Cops only interest her if the alarm system at our house goes off. “What were you thinking, Frankie? You could’ve killed someone—or yourself.”
“I’d never want to hurt anyone else.”
It’s me I don’t care about.
“Even if that’s true, your behavior over the last few months proves you’re out of control.” Her voice rises with every word. “You’ve been on a downhill slide since Noah died, but this”—she gestures to our surroundings—“crosses the line.” I’ve never seen Mom this angry, and I know she’s holding back. She hates making a scene in public. I stare down at my black Adidas Sambas, the beat-up pair of indoor-soccer shoes I salvaged from the basement. The old Frankie never would’ve been caught dead wearing them outside the gym. But I wear them everywhere.
“Mrs. Devereux?” Officer Tanner uses his cop tone. Bad move.
“My last name is Rutherford, not Devereux.” Mom closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, regaining her composure and trust-fund-baby charm. “I apologize, Officer . . . ?”
“Tanner,” he finishes for her, even though his name is engraved on the pin above his pocket.
“The last few months have been difficult for all of us. Francesca suffers from PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder,” she explains, as if he isn’t smart enough to recognize the acronym. “It’s certainly no excuse, but she’s never been in any trouble before. If you don’t press charges—”
Officer Tanner holds up his hand. “Let me stop you right there, ma’am. I know this situation is upsetting, and I’d like to extend your husband a professional courtesy. But we’re not talking about a speeding ticket.”
Mom bristles when he refers to Dad as her husband, but she doesn’t correct him. “Francesca attends Woodley Prep, and if the headmaster finds out about this, she’ll be expelled.” Mom lowers her voice. “She’s already been through so much. We still don’t know what she saw that night.”
I saw everything.
I try not to think about it, but Mom’s voice fades as other sounds cut in and out.
Don’t panic. Breathe.
Isn’t that what the last shrink told me to do? Or am I supposed to picture my safe place? I can’t remember. A switch flips in my brain, and fragmented memories from the night Noah died hit me in rapid bursts—
Strobe lights flash.
A mass of bodies swells on the dance floor—arms raised. House music blaring and bass pumping.
My head pounds along with it.
Noah told me to wait inside while he got the car. But it’s too loud.
Black velvet curtains part at the main entrance, and cool air hits me.
Dim streetlights glitter against the wet asphalt. I walk around the side of the building to the parking lot. Where did he park? I didn’t pay attention. Noah always remembers.
The Sugar Factory’s pink marquee glows above me.
Noah’s voice, low and muffled. A glimpse of his baby-blue polo shirt. A guy standing in front of him, his face obscured by black shadows—as if it were erased.
But I see Noah clearly, and I can tell he sees me. He shakes his head slowly, the movements almost imperceptible. I recognize that look, and it sends pinpricks up my arms. I’ve seen it after lacrosse games when a player from the opposing team came up to Noah off the field, looking for a fight.
The look means: Don’t come over here, Frankie. . . . “Frankie?” Mom’s voice scrambles the images, and Noah’s face disappears.
I open my eyes and blink hard, battling double vision.
“Are you still drunk?” My mother doesn’t recognize when I’m having a flashback, which only proves how wrong things are between us.
“I’m just tired.” And completely screwed up.
The glass door to the precinct swings open, and Dad charges in like he owns the place. From his faded green Indian Motorcycles T-shirt and five-o’clock shadow to his scarred knuckles and crooked nose, he looks more like a middle-aged boxer or construction worker than an undercover cop. I guess that’s the point. He flashes his Maryland State Police badge at the county cop sitting behind the counter. Did Mom call him? Or one of the officers here?
It doesn’t matter. He knows.
“Why don’t you go sit down while I talk to your parents?” Officer Tanner nods at a row of red seats bolted to the wall. He doesn’t have to tell me twice. He meets Dad in the middle of the hallway. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I’d like to make this go away, but—”
Dad cuts him off. “You know I don’t walk that line and I would never ask another cop to walk it, either.”
I’ve heard my father talk about the line between right and wrong so many times. It defines every aspect of his life, and tonight I crossed it.
I slouch against the molded plastic seat and count the black rubber marks on the floor. My long hair falls over my shoulder and hides my face. I want to disappear, especially when the precinct door opens again.
“What the hell is going on?” King Richard, my pathetic excuse for a stepfather, bursts into the lobby.
“Why don’t you take it down a notch, Richard? This isn’t your office,” Dad says. “Nobody here works for you.”
“James.” Only Mom calls my father by his given name. “You could at least try to be civil.”
Dad crosses his arms. “I could do a lot of things. . . .”
Nobody pisses my mother off more than Dad. At least he gives her another target.
“That’s enough, Elise.” My stepfather shoots her a warning look.
Mom’s heels click against the floor as she scurries over to her place beside King Richard. He rests his hand on the small of her back in case he needs to pull her invisible puppet strings.
Within seconds, they’re arguing. It’s nothing new, and I don’t worry until the shouting dissolves into sharp whispers. Never a good sign.
Snippets of the conversation drift through the hallway, and I strain to listen.
“—ruined her chances of getting into Stanford.” Mom.
“If she keeps this up—” King Richard.
“Ever since Noah died—” Dad.
“It’s a shame she can’t ID her boyfriend’s killer.” Officer Tanner doesn’t bother whispering. “That son of a bitch should be locked up.”
My stomach lurches like someone kicked me. He’s right, but it’s not a shame.
My mind is damaged—shrink code for too weak to handle what I saw that night. Now I’m a hostage to the flashbacks that hit without warning and the insomnia that keeps me from sleeping more than three hours a night.
Mom and Dad walk toward me shoulder to shoulder. A united front. They divorced when I was three, and they get along about as well as two rabid dogs locked in a closet. If they managed to agree on anything, they must think I’m a few weeks away from hooking on a street corner.
For the first time tonight, I’m scared.
Mom looks at me like I’m a stranger. “I’ve tried to be under- standing, Frankie. But you’re out of control. Avoiding your friends, sneaking out of the house, drinking with the lifeguards from the club.” Maybe she has been paying attention between tennis matches.
“That was one night,” I argue. At least that she knows about. “I hoped you would snap out of this and go back to being the girl you were before.”
Before I watched someone beat my boyfriend to death in a beer-stained parking lot. Before I realized that doing all the right things doesn’t matter. Noah was an honor student, a star athlete with offer letters from three Ivy League universities, and a good person.
And he’s still dead.
“I just want you to feel like yourself again, sweetheart,” Mom says.
She doesn’t realize that girl doesn’t exist anymore.
“Your father and I think it’s time for him to get more involved.”
Based on how involved he is now, that’s a pretty low bar. I spend two weekends a month with Dad, if he isn’t too busy working undercover in RATTF—Regional Auto Theft Task Force—a supercop unit. When I do see him, it’s not exactly quality time. I usually end up eating leftover pizza until he gets home from pretending to be a car thief. On his days off, we practice what Dad calls Critical Life Skills—and what I call Ways to Dodge a Serial Killer. Fun stuff . . . like how to escape from the trunk of a car if it doesn’t have an automatic-release handle inside.
“Maybe your father will be able to help you get back on track,” Mom adds.
“How is that supposed to work when we barely see each other?” I ask, ignoring my dad, even though he’s standing right next to her.
Dad steps between us. “You’re moving in with me.”