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  Copyright (c) 2018 Tijan

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes only. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, or any events or occurrences, is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created by the author's imagination and are used fictitiously.

  Edited: Jessica Royer Ocken

  Proofread: Paige Smith, Kara Hildebrand, Chris O'Neil Parece, Amy English

  Formatting: Elaine York, Allusion Graphics, LLC

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Chapter Forty-Seven

  Chapter Forty-Eight

  Chapter Forty-Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-One

  Chapter Fifty-Two

  Chapter Fifty-Three

  Chapter Fifty-Four



  Ryan's Bed Excerpt

  Fallen Crest High Excerpt

  For my readers.

  For everyone who has a little Bren inside them.

  You aren't supposed to want to die.

  That isn't what society wants to hear. It's not supposed to be felt or thought. It's supposed to be ignored. But here I was, watching my crew beat the crap out of a guy, and all I wanted was to trade places with him.

  I knew that sounded morbid. It was true, though, and not like the off-the-cuff comment when you bomb your history exam and it's "kill me now!" Or your boyfriend dumps you and "Gurrrrl, I just wanna dieeee! WTF?!"

  No. I was talking about the dark kind of wanting to die, where it's in the back of your mind, where it's a little door you want to open and disappear through...

  Some days it was hard to suppress and harder to ignore, so right now I wasn't doing either of those.

  "You're not going to touch my sister again," Jordan growled before delivering probably his fourth punch. "Got it, asshole?"

  It was my face getting bloodied. Not that guy's.

  Jordan straightened to sneer at the guy lying at his feet.

  Jordan Pitts.

  He was the self-proclaimed leader of our crew. Note here: self-proclaimed. As in, he announced it one day. No one objected and off he went, embracing his cocky swagger and thinking he spoke for our group of four. The truth is he does, I guess, but only when we don't have a problem with what he's saying.

  Our group isn't a dick-tatorship, whether he believes that or not.

  Jordan bent down--with his long, six-foot-two self--grabbed a hold of the guy's shirt, and lifted him in the air. He shook him, growling again in his face, but the guy couldn't answer. His face was broken. Literally. Either Cross or Jordan had punched his cheek so hard it looked busted. His whole face was a mess of blood and bruises. I would've felt sorry except for two things: he'd tried to rape Jordan's sister, and when Jordan had asked him to report himself, he'd added a curse word and his middle finger, and spat on Jordan's shoes.

  Apparently this guy didn't know the reputation of our crew, or Jordan himself.

  Which made sense because Mallory Pitts just started attending a new private school at a neighboring town and that's where this guy met her. If he had known, he would've run the other way. You had to give the guy some props, though. Instead of lying, he was honest. He told Jordan exactly what he thought of that suggestion. And anyway, if he'd lied, we would've followed up, and when he didn't report himself, this whole beatdown would've happened anyway.

  That was my crew.

  Along with Jordan, there were two others besides myself--Cross Shaw and Zellman Greenly. My name is Bren Monroe, and even though I'm in the middle of this whole dark diatribe, and even though we look like the bad guys right now, things aren't always as they seem.

  Jordan slammed the guy back down to the ground, then bent over him to issue more threats.

  Cross stepped back, and I felt his gaze on me even before I looked up. Yes, there it was. The tawny hazel eyes that so many girls loved. We were family--and not that kind of family. But I'd have to be blind not to understand why so many girls at Roussou High salivated over him.

  Six-one. Lean, but built. Cross had a strong, square jaw--one that would clench at times--and a face that was almost prettier than mine. He would've been gorgeous even if he was a girl, a fact I loved to tease him about. But teasing aside, Cross got the girls. He could just show up somewhere, and ten would appear around him. He could nod at a girl, and she'd go to his side for the night, usually be down for anything he wanted.

  Cross was the quiet, nice guy...except he wasn't really either of those at all. I mean, he was, but he wasn't. He was generally quiet, but he talked to me. And he was nice, but he could be lethal. Piss him off, and you'd never see him coming. He wasn't like Jordan with the growling and throwing people around. He'd come right up to you, and then you'd be waking up in the hospital a couple days later.

  And while I loved Jordan and Zellman, they weren't Cross.

  They weren't my best friend, the guy whose closet I crawled into so many nights when I needed a sanctuary from my own hell called home.

  I met his eyes as he came toward me. His golden hair and tanned skin made him every pretty boy's nightmare. When would he wake up and realize he had more potential than all of us? He could go to New York and be a model, or go to Hollywood and be an actor. Why he stayed in Roussou was beyond me.

  He wasn't messed up like the rest of us. He wasn't messed up like me.

  "You got the look," he said, coming to stand next to me.

  Yeah. I knew what he was referencing, but I didn't take the bait.

  "Okay, fuckhead," Jordan announced. "We're going to leave you now, and if you think you'd like to turn any of us in, don't forget what we have on you. Got it? Nod your head, dickwad."

  Jordan was the intellectual here. He was smart.

  The guy made a gurgling sound and managed to move his head a bit.

  It sufficed for Jordan, and he nodded. "Good." He turned, his long legs crossing the ground toward us.

  I leaned against the bed of his truck, Cross still next to me, as Jordan opened the driver's side door.

  Zellman had been standing nearby at the ready. That's what he tended to do--always lurking behind Jordan and waiting. Since Jordan had come over to us now, so had Zellman. H
e launched himself up to the opened truck bed behind us.

  I heard the cooler open, and he tossed a beer Jordan's way.

  "Bren? Cross?" he called.

  Cross shook his head.

  I turned around to look at the guys. "I'm good. Thanks."

  "You sure?" Zellman extended a beer.

  "I am."

  Jordan's eyes flicked upward--his response to a lot of the things I did. We had each other's backs, but to Jordan that meant doing everything he wanted. Sometimes we disagreed, and every time I didn't do what he did, he took that as disagreeing with him.

  Family doesn't work that way.

  I watched him, just for a moment.

  One day we would battle.

  One day it would be me against him.

  One day his disapproval would make me snap, or one day he wouldn't just be a jerk because I wasn't doing what he wanted. He would go too far, and that would be the day I'd meet him halfway.

  I already knew how the lines would shift in our group when that happened. Cross would back me up. Zellman would probably back Jordan. It'd be two against two. Even though I was the only girl in the group--one of only two girls in the entire system--I could handle my own, and I knew I would enjoy lighting into Jordan on that day. But that day wasn't today, and I hoped it would take a long time to come. I did care for Jordan like a brother, though he wasn't my actual blood.

  "So." Jordan slammed the door shut again, the force rocking his truck for a second. He propped up a leg. "What's the plan for tonight?"

  This was the last night before our senior year started.

  Sunday night. People had been to church this morning, and we'd beaten someone bloody this evening. There was irony in there somewhere. I was just too tired to find it.

  "Ryerson has a party tonight," Zellman offered. "I say we go." His shaggy curls bounced around as his blue eyes darted between us.

  "Yeah?" Jordan's eyes lit up.

  Zellman nodded. "I'm down to go. I think Sunday Barnes got new boobs this summer." He grinned. "I'm hoping to check 'em out personally."

  Jordan laughed. "I'm good with that." He tipped his head back, finishing his beer, and then tossed the bottle into the trees behind us. "Bren, Cross, what about you guys?"

  Cross would wait for me, so I said, "I'm good for the night."

  "No party?"

  "I'm gonna head home."

  Jordan's disapproval settled in the air over us, but no one said a word.

  "Think I'm down with you guys for the party," Cross added after a moment.

  Zellman thrust a fist in the air. "Hell yeah. Take it." He offered his half-emptied beer.

  Cross laughed, but shook his head. "I'll wait for the good liquor there. Ryerson always has something."

  "Yeah! That's what it's about." Zellman finished his beer and reached into the cooler for a second. "Jordan?"

  "I gotta drive." He glanced to me. "Ride home?"

  I looked over to where the guy still lay on the ground. He hadn't moved.

  I shook my head. "Think I'll walk. I can cut through the trees."

  "You sure?"

  Cross moved around us, clapping Jordan on the shoulder. "Let's go. Bren can take care of herself." He glanced back to me, circling around the front of the truck to get into the passenger side. He knew I wanted to be on my own tonight. He knew it because he could feel it. Just like I could almost hear his thoughts now.

  She always has.

  I finished in my own head, Always will.

  Cross' statement seemed to settle the other guys, and Jordan started the truck. He circled around me, kicking up a cloud of dust, and zoomed back down the way we'd come. He saluted me with a finger as he passed by. Zellman had settled into the bed, sitting by the cooler, and he held up his beer as his goodbye.

  I shook my head, the smallest hint of a smile tugging at my mouth, but that was all the reaction they got.

  Once they were gone, it was just me, the bloodied guy, and the same dark quiet I'd felt earlier.

  It came out of nowhere at times, swallowing me whole. Some days it would vanish just as quickly. Other times, like tonight, it lingered.

  It used to scare me. I now missed it when it wasn't here, but I always knew it would move on. It was like a firefly slipping away into the night. When that happened, I was left with the feeling that I'd let something slip through my fingers.

  This night, that firefly remained.

  It warmed me.

  The dirt crunched under my shoes as I headed for the guy.

  He wasn't unconscious, like he'd been playing. At my approach, one eye opened, and I saw panic flare there. He tried to get away, but couldn't. His injuries were too much.

  I sat next to him, fishing out my phone. "Stop." He was still trying to get away, but it was only adding to his injuries. "I'm not going to hurt you."

  A gargled groan came from him.

  I shook my head. "Trying to talk is useless. Save your energy." I waved my phone at him. "We're in the middle of nowhere."

  Jordan liked to bring his victims to this part of town for that reason. It was a small alcove at the top of a hill. The street ended up here, and there were only trees surrounding us.

  The guy quieted, watching me with that same panicked eye.

  "I'm going to call for an ambulance. I'm going to give them your name, and then I'm going to sit here with you until they come. If you turn me in..." I let the threat hang between us.

  Guilt flashed in his eyes. He knew what would happen.

  I dialed 9-1-1 and sat with him.

  This scene should've bothered me: a guy who could barely move and was bleeding out beside me. The silence in the woods around us. The fact that he was like this because of my group. But it didn't.

  Now that the guys were gone, the firefly lingered beside me, keeping me company.

  I closed my eyes, my insides matching the outside.

  I felt one with the darkness.

  No. This scene didn't bother me one bit.

  I loved the silence. I welcomed the silence, and it wasn't interrupted until the shrill ambulance sirens cut through the air.

  I let out a sigh, knowing the dark calm would go away now, and looked out over the hill. From the top, I could see the lights of the ambulance coming from miles away.

  I'd have to move. They couldn't find me with him, but for now I waited.

  The road wound all the way around the hill on its way up. Once the ambulance was just around the bend, I patted the guy on the leg.

  "Okay, I'm off." I glanced back to him as I stood. "You're going to be fine." I dusted off my jeans. Some of the dirt seemed to land in his eye, and he blinked a few times, still watching me steadily. It seemed like he was asking me not to leave, but I shook my head.

  "I can't stay. Just don't mess with another girl. Okay?"

  I waited a beat. The ambulance was almost to us. I needed to go. Yet I bent down over him. I took out my knife and placed it against his throat. He went completely still.

  "If I hear that you've touched another girl against her will..." I pressed the knife against his skin. "I'll come alone next time, and I won't leave you awake. Got it?"

  He blinked. That's all he could do.

  The lights began to turn toward where we were, so I moved into the darkness, slipping my knife back into my pocket.

  The ambulance lit up the street where he lay, and as they parked, I stepped back into the trees. They hid me, even as I heard one of the paramedics curse.

  "Fuck. Who did this?"

  The other paramedic didn't answer, and as instructed, the guy didn't either. As one EMT began to talk to him, taking his vitals, the other opened the back to pull out a stretcher. It was only a few minutes later when they were gone again.

  I stepped out and walked back to where he'd lain as the ambulance moved down the hill. Its lights disappeared into the darkness, and I was all alone.

  There were shortcuts all through the woods, but I was content to walk down the middle of the r

  I just followed the white dashes.

  I walked past the motorcycles on the front lawn, knowing the house would be unlocked.

  What I didn't know was whether my brother would be home. It was Sunday night, his night off from the bar, but that didn't always mean he'd be here. He kept a random schedule, coming in and leaving at odd hours. I was usually okay if he was gone, but not because he was a bad guy. He was just an absent guy, had been most my life.

  I stepped inside and quietly shut the door. I held my breath, waiting, listening. No lights were on, but I smelled smoke as it wafted past me on a breeze. The back patio door stood open. I crossed to the kitchen and stood at the sink. They weren't on the patio, but I saw the fire pit lit up, and a second later, Heather's voice drifted to me on another breeze.

  "...can't blame her. She's a senior this year."

  My brother's girlfriend, or his on-again-off-again-whatever-the-fuck-they-were-doing-childhood-sweethearts-girlfriend, sat forward in her lawn chair.

  My brother, Channing, sat next to her, tipping his beer back as he spoke. "Give me a break. She should be home and you know it."

  It was just the two of them.

  They were talking about me. Even now, knowing that, I let some of the darkness sneak back in. When I felt it, it pushed all the other emotions away. I felt some peace, but I knew it'd come at a cost. There was always a cost. The darkness was there for a reason. I wasn't an idiot. I knew I was messed up, but I couldn't help it sometimes. Or like now, I welcomed it. The firefly had left me on the walk home. I loved feeling the buzz of its wing next to me again.

  I turned and sat, my back against the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink.

  Eyes closed.

  Head down.

  I listened to them.

  A lawn chair creaked. A bottle clanked against another one. Then came the swish sound of another bottle being opened.

  "She's my sister, Heather. You act like I shouldn't worry about her."

  A frustrated sigh. "That's not my issue. I'm just saying, you're forgetting how we were at that age. We ran wild. The shit we did, fuck. You want your sister to act like some normal kid, and there's no way she can. Not with all that's happened to her. You need to be realistic."

  "Thanks," he clipped out.

  "Your mom died when she was in seventh grade, and your dad went to prison. Max died a few years ago. Give her time."

  "It's been two years."

  "She lost her parents, her half-brother, and she had to move out of the house she grew up in."

  "Fucking bank. I offered to pay the rest of that mortgage. Asshole had a stick up his ass."

  "Channing." Her voice was soft and soothing. "You can't blame yourself."