The Novella Collection: A series of short stories for the Pushing the Limits series, Thunder Road series, and Only a Breath ApartKatie McGarry
The Novella Collection
A series of short stories for the Pushing the Limits series, Thunder Road series, and Only a Breath Apart
Other Books by Katie McGarry
The First Loves Collection:
The First Loves Collection:
The First Loves Collection:
And They All Lived Happily Ever After:
And They All Lived Happily Ever After:
A Moment Together:
Only a Breath Apart Original Opening
Copyright © 2020 by Katie McGarry
Cover Image and Design by and from BetiBup33 Studio Design https://thebookcoverdesigner.com/designers/betibup33
This 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.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval systems without prior written permission of the copyright owner except where permitted by law or for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
First paperback edition March 2020
Created with Vellum
Other Books by Katie McGarry
The Pushing the Limits Series:
Pushing the Limits
Breaking the Rules
Crossing the Line
Dare You To
Crash Into You
Take Me On
The Thunder Road Series:
Nowhere But Here
Walk the Edge
Long Way Home
Say You’ll Remember Me
Only a Breath Apart Series:
Only a Breath Apart
Echoes Between Us
“Promise me you will not elope.” Through video chat on my cell, Lila gives me her patented best-friend glare of disapproval. Her blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail and swings with the shake of her head. “I swear to God, I will never forgive you if you do. Like never. I have been your best friend for too long to be left out of a big moment like you getting married, do you understand?”
From the passenger side of my Honda Civic, I glance out the window to make sure Noah’s still in line in the convenience store. He rolled down all four windows so I wouldn’t wither in the August heat of Pensacola Beach, Florida, and the last thing I need is for him to walk up and hear my best friend talking about wedding-dress shopping, bachelorette parties, and what should be the something borrowed and something blue.
My car is filled with our vacation. A bag of clothes in the back that desperately needs to find a washer, printed out directions from Louisville to here that we never used since the GPS worked, a few crumpled fast-food bags and the drinks we brought along with us from the lunch we just had at the Whataburger.
“One, what makes you think Noah and I would elope?” I ask. “Two, he hasn’t proposed. Three, I seriously don’t think he has plans to propose.”
Lila rolls her eyes and does it in such a big way that it was clearly meant as her entire response. “You’d elope because your father hates him.”
True, but my father understands that Noah’s not going anywhere. After regaining my memories during my senior year of high school as to why I have scars all over my arms, I forced my father into therapy with me last January.
Because we’re both stubborn, we argued, we yelled, and sarcasm was used as a whip made of spiky chains. I’d get so angry I’d cry, and he’d go mute because he’s my father and that’s what he does when he doesn’t yell. After three months of both of us being intolerable to each other and probably to the therapist, my father broke—and when I say broke, I mean he cried.
I swallow when my throat tightens with the memory. My father doesn’t cry and when he cried, I cried and we were both crying and we finally talked about a lot of things. One of them being, I loved Noah and my father was going to have to deal with the fact that Noah is not a phase and would be in my life.
“I pinkie-swear to you, I am not eloping,” I say, but Lila continues like I didn’t speak.
“You’re leaving in four days to live over a thousand miles away from Noah and the guy first asked you to marry him after you dated him for two months. You’re telling me that he hasn’t proposed to you while you’re surrounded by white-sand beaches and tropical air? I have to admit this little game you’re playing with me is starting to tick me off.”
I place my hand in the air in a stop. “He took that proposal back because he didn’t really mean it. He was only seventeen! He was scared of not getting custody of his brothers and he was realizing he was falling in love with me and he just said the first thing that came to his mind as a solution, so it doesn’t count. That was two years ago, and just so you know, Noah and I have absolutely no plans of getting married until we’re out of college.”
Because God knows we had enough complications in our personal lives before we even met each other or graduated from high school. We talk about our future together and we talk about what our lives will be like once we get married, but for now our goal is to take the next few years slow and easy.
Since we’re not even halfway through college, most people would think we’re too young to think about forever, but those people haven’t lived my life or Noah’s and they can keep their opinions to themselves.
Lila shrugs. “Whatever.”
My eyes narrow as I take in my best friend since birth. There’s a glint in her Glinda the Good Witch blue eyes I missed before. “What do you know?”
Her face falls. “He really hasn’t asked you, has he?”
I sit up straight in the seat and ask again, “What do you know?”
She ducks. “Nothing.”
Nope. Not nothing. “Too late. You know something,
and you’re spilling.”
Lila turns her head as if there is someone else nearby. “What did you say? I’ll be right there.”
“Don’t you dare! You’re setting up your apartment and you told me your roommates aren’t moving in until next week.”
“Lincoln’s here.” She sucks at lying.
“You told me he has to work until six.” Lincoln’s her boyfriend and the two of them are about to start their sophomore year at the University of Florida in Gainesville. She’s super excited that she and friends of hers will be living in the same apartment complex as Lincoln and his friends.
“Our side of Florida is on a different time zone than you. Like five hours. Psh.” She shakes her cell. “We have…ba….connec…tion.”
I purse my lips. “You’re not fooling me.”
“Fine.” She flops back on her already-made bed. Only Lila would have a neatly made bed on the same day she moves in. “Noah told us he was going to propose to you at the beginning of the vacation. I thought he had and you were keeping it from me. You’ve got so many friends now, and I’ll admit I want to be the first to know.”
It’s weird how there’s a spike of elation at the thought of him proposing and then the dip of disappointment that he and I aren’t engaged. “Why do you think he hasn’t proposed yet?”
Lila twists her fingers into her ponytail. “Remember when Lincoln came to Louisville and the whole group of us went to Isaiah and West’s place to play cards?”
“Yes.” Noah was in a foul mood when we left even though he won while playing poker. I don’t play poker, so I’d spent the night sitting and talking with Lila, and I hadn’t understood why Noah was angry.
“When you went to the bathroom, I heard Noah arguing with Isaiah. Noah was mad because he said everyone let him win.”
My forehead furrows. “Why would they do that?” Those boys are highly competitive, especially Logan, Ryan and West.
Just thinking of them and the rest our self-made family makes me smile. To think it all started out with me meeting Noah. Eventually, I became friends with Noah’s best friends, Beth and Isaiah, and then our circle continued to beautifully expand.
“What does this have to do with a proposal?” I continue.
Lila tilts her head like I should have a massive lightbulb moment. “Noah gave all the extra money he saved this summer to Abby to help with her grandma.”
“I know this.” Because I gave money, too. Abby is a good friend of Noah’s and Isaiah’s and she became a part of our unofficial family. Her grandmother needed medical help and we all pitched in because that’s what members of a real family do—love and support each other.
“Echo,” she says as if saying my name slowly will help me understand. “Noah was saving that money to buy you an engagement ring. The guys let him win so he’d at least have something to give you when he proposes. Maybe he hasn’t proposed because he doesn’t have a diamond ring. He seemed real upset that he didn’t have one to offer you.”
I blink. Several times. My heart hurts and I blow out air to help with the ache. Yes, Noah and I talk about our future together, but we also talk about how we aren’t in a rush to run down the aisle. “Why would Noah propose to me now?”
She offers a sheepish expression. “You’re leaving—for a year. Honestly, he and I talked and he wants to propose to show you he supports you chasing your dreams while he chases his. He wants to show you that he doesn’t believe distance and time are going to change how he feels about you. Noah really loves you, and I think proposing is his equivalent of making a promise to you that he’ll always be by your side.”
My eyes water because that sounds like Noah. He’d maybe drop an f-bomb in there because he sometimes still has a tough time with emotion, but Noah does love me and he does support me and I love him back just as much.
While Lila obviously knows things I don’t, I know hundreds of things she doesn’t and one of them is that there is no extra money—not for Noah. His car broke down and even with Isaiah working on the car for free, the part needed for the repair was expensive and Noah had to pay for his car insurance and…just the normal ands of life.
This weeklong vacation was my birthday present to him and it was tough enough to get him to agree to it, but he did only because I am leaving for a year to study painting in Colorado while he’s staying in Kentucky for college.
Tomorrow is our last day here and if he was going to ask, I bet that would be the day. He’s been talking all week about doing something special on our last night, sparing no expense, and has told me to save my special dress for that night. He’s talked about dinner, about dancing, about a long walk on the beach under the stars.
Last summer, when Noah and I went on a road trip to Colorado together, he did this a few times. Treated me to a special night out, so I didn’t question it when he brought it up, but now I can hear the audible click as the pieces fall into place.
Noah must have told everyone he was proposing early in the trip, but he must have decided to wait.
Lila draws her ponytail over her shoulder. “You wouldn’t turn him down if he didn’t have a ring, would you?”
“No.” Never. But it’d kill Noah to ask me without one. He struggles with the idea of being broke and is constantly telling me that someday he’ll be able to take care of me like I deserve. Noah doesn’t understand I’m not searching for him to take care of me as much as I want a partner. I mean, he does get it, but he doesn’t. The important part is that I love him and he loves me and someday we will officially be forever.
“I didn’t mean to spill.” Lila glances down. “I’m sorry. I assumed he had asked already and that you were keeping it from me so you guys could announce it to everyone at once.”
“I’m glad you told me. This is something I need to know. Noah’s on his way, so I’ll call you back when I get home, okay?”
“Okay. Love you.” She blows me a kiss.
I tell her I love her back and end the chat. Truth is, Noah’s on his way but not. He walks out of the convenience store and heads in my direction to pump the gas. It’s the agreement we made—he’d let me cover the trip if he bought the gas and half the meals. I agreed because I wanted this time alone with him before I left.
Noah flashes me his wicked and dangerous grin as he walks past, and those mutant pterodactyls in my stomach that exist only because of him stretch their wings.
He’s breathtakingly gorgeous. His shaggy brown hair is lighter due to our summer in the sun and his skin is deliciously tanned. While there’s still a part of Noah, especially when he smiles at me, who is the cocky kid who made fun of my name in the counselor’s office back in high school, he’s definitely no longer a teen.
Any slight baby softness he had when we first met is gone. His features are a bit fuller in his face, he’s grown another inch and he’s gained weight in pure muscle. He was already ripped, but this past year he’s become magnificent. Biceps chiseled, strong broad shoulders and his abdomen a flat hard plane. Noah is no longer a boy, but a man.
Not just physically, but emotionally, as well. Gone are the days of him working full-time as a manager at the Malt and Burger. He still works as a manager, but as part-time as he can get, just picking up extra shifts when his other job and school allow. This past spring he was offered a paid internship at an architecture firm.
He goes to class in the mornings, and in the afternoons he works in the office with a white button-down shirt and tie. He even traded in his combat boots for a pair of black dress shoes.
My bad boy, though, is still bad. He has two more tattoos than he did in high school, one on his chest and the other on his back. One is for his brothers. The other for me. I won’t lie—that tattoo is my favorite.
Noah’s nonwork and nonschool hours belong to the man I originally fell for. The guy who wears jeans that slightly sag, a black T-shirt and his combat boots once again on his feet. Noah still listens to heavy metal music a little too loud, still curses sometimes a little to
o much and when he’s hanging with his best friends on a Friday or Saturday night, still enjoys a good beer buzz.
He’s still bad, but he’s also good, and when it comes to me, he’s very bad in all the right ways.
The car door opens, Noah drops into the driver’s seat and he immediately turns on the car. The air conditioner blasts from the vents and a lock of my red curly hair blows in front of my face. Noah reaches over and with the most exquisite and soul-hugging care, he hooks the rebellious lock around his finger, gives it a slight tug, then tucks it behind my ear.
I suck in a breath as his touch creates a burning path along my cheek and I lick my lips as he tips my chin. Kissing Noah Hutchins is the closest I have been to heaven. With a simple brush of his lips to mine, he transports me to another time, another world, another place, where only the two of us belong.
He leans in; his breath is warm, and his mouth on mine causes me to melt. It’s a soft press of his lips followed by a gentle and teasing nip. Every individual cell in my body begins to vibrate and Noah cups my face with one hand while his other hand tunnels into my hair. I love the sensation of his strong fingers against my face. It makes me feel small, fragile, yet loved and in control. The exchange is too short, too sweet, too enticing for this to be it.