Shatter

Shatter

4.6 54
by Erin McCarthy
     
 

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From the USA Today bestselling author of True, Sweet, and Believe comes a tantalizing New Adult novel about finding love in the most unexpected ways…

Kylie Warner prides herself on being optimistic, but after finding her best friend in bed with her boyfriend and flunking chemistry, her upbeat attitude has taken a dive.See more details below

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Overview

From the USA Today bestselling author of True, Sweet, and Believe comes a tantalizing New Adult novel about finding love in the most unexpected ways…

Kylie Warner prides herself on being optimistic, but after finding her best friend in bed with her boyfriend and flunking chemistry, her upbeat attitude has taken a dive. Even an impromptu hook-up with her sexy new chemistry tutor only brightens her mood slightly. After all, it’s not like she’ll ever see the tattooed scholar again…

While he’s a whiz at complex equations, Jonathon Kadisch has trouble when it comes to figuring out women. So when Kylie tells him that she’s pregnant after their night of passion, he’s at a complete loss. He’s prepared to be a good father—unlike his own deadbeat dad—but he’s less prepared to fall for the genuine and alluring blonde bearing his child.

With emotions running high, Kylie wonders if Jonathon’s devotion is out of growing love or looming obligation. And when heartbreak threatens to tear them apart, Jonathon will have to fight for the only girl who’s ever made him feel whole…

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/28/2014
An unexpected pregnancy sparks a relationship in McCarthy’s fourth True Believers novel (after Believe), but the resultant trappings of melodrama fail to bring the story to life. College student Kylie Warner, heartbroken over her boyfriend’s infidelity with her best friend, has a one-night stand with her chemistry tutor, Jonathon “Darwin” Kadisch. During her subsequent pregnancy, they bond over her ex’s attempts to get her back, hyperemesis, and the work and worry of juggling school and baby-planning for both of them. Kylie and Darwin are both such practical, committed, stable people that even the best efforts of a genre-standard, one-dimensional villain can’t pull them apart long enough to generate real conflict. The characters are well depicted, but the clichéd obstacles in their way make the story forgettable and shapeless. (Sept.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698148727
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/02/2014
Series:
True Believers , #4
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
18,554
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Fast Track Series

The Vegas Vampires Series

The Deadly Sins Series

The True Believers Series

CHAPTER ONE

I hated living alone. I was never meant to live alone. And I don’t mean that in the pathetic way where I couldn’t be happy with myself unless someone was validating me with their company or whatever. I mean that I was just super social. I liked having people around me all the time. Conversation. Laughter. Growing up with three younger siblings, the house was loud all the time, and to me that was comfortable, homey, happiness. Some people, like my friend Rory, need alone time, and they can get lost in their private thoughts, a whole universe going on in there that no one else has a view to.

Not me. My thoughts for the most part came out through my mouth in a steady stream of talking and I loved that constant interaction with my friends.

But I had to move out of our roomie’s apartment because of what I had started calling RAN (Robin and Nathan and their drunken hookup), and into a crappy little studio that was dark and way too quiet. Maybe if I’d at least had a boyfriend to cozy up on my daybed with me, I could deal with flying solo in the housing situation. No boyfriend, though, because my ex Nathan had decided to be both mean and stupid and have sex with my friend Robin while we were still dating. Yeah. He so did that. She so did that. Even though she was seriously drunk and didn’t remember a thing, it had still been really hard for me to forgive her and impossible for me to forgive Nathan.

It was hard to be single in a world filled with perfect pairs. Salt and pepper. PB&J. Chili and hot dogs. Not to mention couples like Rory and Tyler. Jessica and Riley. Even Robin—who, drunk or not, had still ruined my relationship—even Robin had Phoenix. How unfair was that? She lived with her boyfriend, totally happy, while I was alone and for the first time ever in my entire life, miserable.

I didn’t do sad. Grumpy wasn’t me. I was usually optimistic, high-energy. Basically a cheerleader for life, always having a good time, always believing the best in people. So I wasn’t the most super-intelligent, highest-IQ chick in the room. I knew that. It didn’t matter, because I always liked everyone and I tried really hard to be nice. It took basically something awful like murder for me to hate your face. Or something like cheating on me with one of my best friends. But even then, I didn’t hate Nathan. I was hurt. Hurt in a way that was weird to me because it wasn’t going away. It wasn’t like a cry at the end of a sad movie or the pang in your heart when you read a story about someone being bullied online.

This was different. It was a hurt that came over me in gigantic cold waves and settled inside my chest. It just lingered on and on, every day, making me feel like I was someone else, someone I didn’t recognize, someone who had nasty thoughts and who cried unexpectedly. It made me forget to do homework and forget my phone in my room and forget where I was going.

It was a new feeling and I didn’t know how to get rid of it, how to make the sadness stop popping up like some jerk-off Jack-in-the-box.

Shoving my hands in my pockets I trudged across the street to the coffee shop to meet my new tutor for chemistry, the cold wind instantly whipping my hair across my face and into my lip gloss, where it stuck. Sigh. I was flunking chemistry because I couldn’t seem to focus. The formulas danced in front of my eyes when I looked at the online study sheet for our final exam next week. It was like temperature and molarity were twerking with each other. Rory, who was pre-Med, had tried to help me study, but I had ended up crying and she had ended up horrified.

I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t wind up leaky-eyed on my tutor, too, but I was willing to risk it. I couldn’t stay in that apartment alone in the dark for one more minute. The lighting sucked and with it getting dark so early every day, it felt like every corner of the room was a black hole filled with happiness thieves. Like there were little men hovering in there, snagging my confidence and hope while I watched TV and slept. It was a weird thought to have, but I was having a lot of weird thoughts, and they were foreign to me. It was like suddenly discovering your thoughts are in Hindi and you don’t know why and you don’t speak that language.

Pushing the door open, the warmth of the room washed over me and I gave a residual shiver. My hair was still stuck to my lip and instead of pulling it away, I decided to chew on it a little. It felt good, like I was six years old again and had the right to nibble my hair. I looked around for a nerd. I had never met the tutor, who was a grad student. My professor had given me his e-mail and said he was the best for helping undergrad students understand concepts. His name was Darwin, according to Professor Kadisch and the e-mail address. That couldn’t be his real name. Or maybe it was. But anyone who went by that name, nickname or not, had to be a nerd. Which was perfect, because only a nerd could save me from failing this course and having to retake it next semester.

It wasn’t very crowded in the coffee shop but as I moved inside, I didn’t see any obvious candidates for a Darwin. There were three girls studying together, and two couples. See, couples were everywhere. You couldn’t exist without stumbling over like a hundred perfect pairs of people who believed they were in love every single day. Some of them probably even were in love, though I had my doubts about Couple Number One. They looked bored. Couple Number Two? Love. And say hello to jealousy, Kylie, your new best friend.

I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind where there was a box labeled Things That Suck and went back to searching for my genius tutor. And why weren’t those thoughts in Hindi? Geez, so not fair.

There were two guys sitting by themselves. One was wearing hipster glasses and had a tattoo sleeve, his head bobbing to the music fed through his iPhone. Nope. The other one looked a little young to be a grad student, but he had acne and curly hair that went to his shoulders. He was staring intently at his computer screen, papers spread out all around him. This was clearly my man. He was going to have to be a superhero to save me from repeating this class, and, frankly, he looked up for the job. I also felt that I was perfectly safe from bursting into tears in his presence. Nothing about him seemed compassionate or friendly.

Approaching him, I smiled. “Are you Darwin? I’m Kylie. Thanks for helping me study.”

But he just glanced up at me blankly. “What?”

“I’m Kylie. Professor Kadisch gave me your e-mail . . . we arranged to meet here.” Then as his expression never changed, I realized I was barking up the wrong nerd tree. “Are you Darwin?”

“No, I’m Christian.”

“Oh.” I gave him a smile of apology, readjusting my backpack on my shoulders. “Sorry to bother you.”

“No problem.” His Adam’s apple moved as he swallowed, his upper lip curling up to indicate it was in fact a huge problem. He was annoyed at the interruption.

Feeling stupid, I turned on my heel and went for an empty table. Darwin must be running a few minutes late. I would check my e-mail on my phone and see if he had canceled or something.

“Kylie?”

I stopped short, and turned. The other guy had pulled out his earbuds and he was giving me a smile.

“Yes.”

“I’m Darwin.” He stood up and came toward me, sticking his hand out. “Nice to meet you.”

This was Darwin? For real? Huh. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge. I hated when people assumed I was just another dumb blonde. But seriously, this guy was cute. He had eyes that crinkled when he smiled in greeting, a patch of beard on his chin, and eyelashes behind his glasses that made me bitter on behalf of wispy-eyelashed blond women everywhere. He was about five eleven, lanky but not skinny, and despite the jeans and T-shirt, looked every inch a man, not a kid.

“Nice to meet you, too.” I took his hand and shook it carefully. His grip was appropriately solid, but not grabby or lingering. His palm wasn’t damp. “Thanks for helping me out. I’ve been . . . struggling.” That was an understatement.

“Sit down and we’ll see where you’re at.” He pulled out a chair for me and sat in the one he’d been occupying before, his tablet propped on his bag so he could see the screen.

I sat down, feeling disarmed by his friendly smile. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I would have preferred a stern and studious tutor. I wasn’t sure I could handle kindness without comparing it to the cruelty Nathan had shown me. That’s what I kept doing. Every time someone was even remotely and casually nice to me, I immediately wondered why Nathan could have so intentionally and viciously hurt me. Which then made me feel terrible. Like maybe there was something wrong with me. That the more he had gotten to know me, the more he thought I wasn’t entitled to his respect. I didn’t want to think about that, but I couldn’t help it. It charged in without warning.

As I pulled out my laptop and found my study guide, I studied Darwin.

His hair wasn’t military short, but not long either, just enough length to look appropriately effortless with a hint of hair product. I knew hair product. You could not fool me. He was definitely using it, but it was most likely just a molding mud he ran through his hair post-shower in a pea-sized dose. A man who cared enough to control frizz was a notch up in my estimation. But if they spent more time on their blowout than I did, we had a problem. There was a fine line for acceptable male grooming practices. In that middle territory between high maintenance and caveman was where I found men to be attractive.

Not that I found him attractive. I didn’t find anyone attractive. I had been in love. You don’t just suddenly start finding other guys attractive when your heart has been hand-fed to jackals.

“So what do you think is the main issue?” he asked me, shifting a little closer to me so he could take a look at what was on my screen.

“I’m failing chemistry.”

He laughed. “Well, I know that. But when did you start having problems?”

“When the class started.”

His lips pressed together and he pushed up his glasses. “Okay, let’s just start going through the study guide together and we’ll see if we can figure out what’s tripping you up.”

“Okay,” I said doubtfully. The coffee shop was warm and I shrugged out of my jacket.

His hand came out and helped me drag my left sleeve all the way off. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” He draped the freed sleeve over my chair. “So why can’t isolated atoms be measured?”

Um. I thought about it. But I seriously had no idea. None whatsoever. I didn’t even remember discussing atoms at all, but since this was a chem class, we must have at some time. “Because they’re alone and there’s no one to hold the measuring tape?”

He gave me a grin. “No. It’s because we can’t determine the location of the electrons around the atom’s nucleus.”

“Right.” Oh my God, I was already lost. Wait. I had never been found.

“But we can estimate the size of an atom by assuming that the radius of an atom is half the distance between adjacent atoms in a solid. This is best for elements that are metals, because they form solids composed of extended planes of atoms of that element. The results of the measurements are called metallic radii.”

I tried not to panic. “So . . . do I just have to memorize the definition? Is the exam just going to ask me to define ‘metallic radii’?”

“Yes, and there may be an example where you have to estimate the size of the atom.” He ripped a piece of paper and started drawing a formula. He was left-handed and his pen moved efficiently and confidently. “See? Like this.”

Yeah. No. I figured if I at least got the definition and bombed the formulas, I would maybe get a D and that was all I needed to pass. “Uh-huh,” I said, noncommittedly.

“The metallic radius becomes larger as we go down a column of the periodic table because the valence electrons are placed in larger orbitals.”

I could feel my lip starting to tremble and I blinked hard, afraid I might embarrass the hell out of myself and start crying. He might as well be speaking Klingon for all I understood what he was saying. Actually, I might understand Klingon better. I went through a Star Trek phase in middle school.

When I didn’t say anything, he glanced over at me and his face became alarmed. “What’s wrong?”

“I think a whole semester of chemistry is a lot to cram into one night,” I said in a small voice.

“Good thing you have the best tutor.” He winked at me. “They don’t call me Darwin for nothing.”

“Is that your real name?”

“No. It’s Jonathon.”

“That’s a nice name.”

“Thanks. I got saddled with the Darwin nickname when I won the state physics competition in high school. It stuck.”

For some reason, that made me feel better. “I played volleyball in high school. My nickname was Bump.”

He laughed. “Really? And how did you feel about that?”

“I hated it. Who wants to be called Bump? It made me feel like my butt is big.”

Darwin, or Jonathon, gave me a puzzled look. “Isn’t a bump a . . .” He used his wrists to demonstrate hitting the ball.

“In volleyball, yes. But it doesn’t have that meaning off the court.” It was a teasing slur that could be interpreted in a thousand ways depending on the circumstances, but I wasn’t going to spell it out for him.

He glanced down behind my chair. “I think your butt is fine.”

That’s what I got for bringing up my butt in the first place. My tutor giving me a lame compliment to shut me up so we could get back to atoms and whatnot. “Thanks. Am I supposed to call you Darwin or Jonathon?”

“Whichever one you like. I answer to both.”

“I’ll test them both out and make a decision,” I said to him, standing up. “I’m going to grab a latte, Darwin, can I get you anything?”

He smiled, his mouth turning up like he was fighting the urge to laugh. “Sure. I’ll take coffee. Black. Costa Rican blend. Thanks, Kylie.”

I dug in my backpack for my wallet and he tried me to hand me five dollars but I shook my head. “It’s on me. For helping me. It’s the least I can do.” Especially considering I was a totally hopeless case.

He nodded. “Thanks. And hey, we’ll just divide the material into the major components and break it down one section at a time. You’ll be fine. You’ll ace this.”

Sigh. I used to be optimistic like that. When the earth was younger, and I hadn’t been cheated on by the guy I’d given my heart and the key to my back door to.

CHAPTER TWO

Two hours later my head was spinning, but I at least had a game plan for further studying. Darwin/Jonathon had shown me that the class was divided into elements, mixtures, compounds, gases, and measurements. He subdivided each of those for me into additional categories and talked me through every definition and gave example formulas, which I almost maybe understood if I squinted and thought really hard.

I had three days before my exam so if I spent every waking moment between now and then reading the notes over and over and over again, I might pass. Maybe.

But I was getting a little loopy. While he was in the bathroom I was going through some online study sites and I found a bunch of chemistry jokes. I couldn’t help it. I copied one and e-mailed it to him.

He was looking at his phone as he came out. “Did you just e-mail me while I was in the restroom?”

He really was cute. It just wasn’t right. His jeans fit the way they were supposed to and I found it interesting that he only needed a T-shirt in November. His tattoo was a complex sleeve of numbers and diagrams.

I nodded. “Yes, I did, Jonathon.” I was still testing his dual-personality names.

He gave a low, husky laugh as he settled back into his chair while reading his screen. “Really, Kylie?”

My head was propped with my palm and I smiled, feeling comfortable with him. He smelled good. Like coffee and clean.

“What did one ion say to the other?” he read back to me, even though I knew what it said since I’d sent it. “I’ve got my ion you.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. It was stupid, and even I understood it.

To his credit, he laughed with me. “See? Chemistry is fun.”

“Oh yeah. It’s a laugh riot. Hey, what do you do with a dead chemist?” I asked him, glad to rest my brain for a minute. I was a little afraid it was smoking from overheating.

“You barium.”

No way. He’d heard this one before. “Damn it! How did you know the answer?”

He tapped his temple. “Me use my head.”

“Well, Darwin.” I let the nickname roll off my tongue. I still wasn’t sure which one suited him better. “I guess I should let you get back to your regularly scheduled life. Thanks for all your help.”

“You’re welcome.” He efficiently packed up all his stuff. “You’ll do fine on this exam as long as you don’t panic.”

Easy for him to say. “So what all is in your tattoo?” I asked, reaching out and running my finger along his arm, over the maze of numbers.

He looked startled that I had touched him and I realized that probably wasn’t appropriate. But I came from a touchy-feely family and I had always been someone who reached out and made contact without any thought about it. I hugged my friends, I put my hands on arms when I spoke to people, I squeezed knees. If I liked you—and it was rare I met someone I truly didn’t like—I touched. The me before the RAN incident wouldn’t have even thought twice about it, but now I suddenly felt like I needed to apologize or something. Like he would think I was hitting on him.

But he just started pointing out parts of his sleeve. “The periodic table of the elements. Avogrado’s number. The molecular graphic for propane.”

After that, I couldn’t follow any more. “But won’t professors think you’re cheating? If you have stuff on your arm?”

The smile he gave me was patronizing. I don’t think he meant it to be, but his answer told me how clearly stupid my question was. “When you’re studying reactions kinetics and advanced nucleic biochemistry you don’t need to cheat on basic chem.”

“Oh.” I felt heat in my cheeks. Most of the time, I was perfectly happy with who I was. But then there were other times, like then, where I just didn’t want to be the dumb blonde. Just once, I wanted to be taken seriously, instead of having everyone think I was cute, but ten IQ points off from needing the short bus. “Duh.”

“In between are dates representing people and events that are important to me. My birthday. My mom’s birthday. The first time I—” He looked up and gave me a grin. “Well, you get the idea.”

So genius or not, he was still like any other guy. Needing to brag. “Are you seriously telling me you inked the date you lost your virginity on your arm?”

“I never said that.”

But he did wink at me, and I thought he was actually growing even cuter the longer I sat with him. “Honestly, it should look like a total mess, but the artist did a really good job. It’s very cool.”

“Thank you.” He pushed his chair back. “You ready to head out?”

“Sure.” I stood up and pulled my coat off the chair.

“Do you have any tattoos?” he asked.

“No. I do have a piercing, though.”

“Belly button?”

“No.” Let him interpret that however he wanted to.

His eyebrows shot up. “Are you telling me you have your love button pierced?”

I laughed. “Love button? And I never said that.” I winked back at him after echoing his words.

“Oh my God,” he said, standing up and picking up his messenger bag. “You’re dangerous.”

I wished. “To be dangerous you have to be evil or super-smart and I’m not either.”

“Those aren’t the only ways to pose a threat.”

Suddenly I was afraid to hear what he might say. So to distract myself, I looked at my phone, and was immediately sorry I had. I had a text from Nathan.

I love you.

My smile evaporated and I shoved my phone in my pocket. I didn’t want to see that. He kept coming at me like that, trying to apologize, begging me to take him back. But how do you trust someone who not only hooked up with your friend, he spent the next two months trying to repeat it?

He didn’t love me. You didn’t treat someone you loved like he had me.

Resolutely, I put a smile on my face and looked at Darwin/Jonathon. “Thanks again, Jonathon. Have a good night.” I started to walk away, wanting a private moment to myself.

“I’ll walk out with you,” he said easily, falling into step beside me.

Damn it.

“Are you okay?” he asked, as he held the door open for me.

Cold air hit me the face. I winced. “Fine. I’m stressed, but I’ll do the best I can on the exam. If I fail, well, at least I tried.”

“I’m not talking about the exam.”

Puzzled, I glanced over at him, hovering on the sidewalk, not sure which way he was going. “What do you mean?”

“Whatever was on your phone upset you.”

That it was that obvious made tears instantly rise to my eyes. “No, it’s fine.” I gestured to the left. “I’m this way. Have a good night.”

“You’re walking?” He frowned.

“It’s just a block.”

“It’s dark. I’ll walk with you.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” I started walking, anxious to get away from him. He was being too nice and I felt vulnerable, like a loser. I couldn’t keep a boyfriend or understand basic chem. What he considered chemistry for dummies.

But he continued to walk with me. “You’re a junior, right?” he asked casually, like I wasn’t struggling not to cry.

I nodded.

“What is your major?”

“Education. I want to be a kindergarten teacher.” I gave him a wan smile. “I don’t need to know chemistry to teach that.”

“I bet you’d be good with kids.”

“I love kids.”

There was silence between us as we walked, the heels of my boots sounding extra loud in the dark, the street, which was normally filled with students, mostly empty. It was a bit of a creepy walk at this time of night and I’d known a girl who had been mugged. I would pee my pants if I were mugged and if I wasn’t feeling so bummed, I would be more grateful for him walking with me. But mostly I just wanted to get home.

Then I realized what I was going home to—a dark, silent room.

And the tears I’d been holding back fell along with a sob that burst out unbidden.

We were in front of my building and I just about ran to the door, digging in my bag for my key.

“Kylie.” Darwin/Jonathon touched my arm. “Hey. Look at me.”

I shook my head.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I shook my head harder.

But then, because I’m not someone who stuffs my feelings down, and because all my thoughts come out like a toddler commentating from their car seat on every car, cow, and house they see out the window, I blurted out, “My boyfriend cheated on me with my best friend.”

What?” He sounded horrified. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

It gave me a sense of relief that his reaction was so strong. “That’s what I thought. I mean, it’s like the worst thing ever.”

“I hope he is your ex-boyfriend.”

“He is. Because the thing is, okay, so it was a drunken hookup which is really bad, but I don’t know, maybe I could have forgiven him for that. But I found the texts he sent her for months afterward, creeping for a repeat. He said it was the best blow job he’d ever had and that she had a . . .” I shook my head. “Never mind. It just was obvious he wasn’t even remotely sorry.”

“Wow. That’s rough. He sounds like a complete asshole. I’m sorry.”

My shoulders fell as my breath expelled. I ran out of words for a second. It was the right thing for him to say, but every time I heard someone offer sympathy, I just felt worse. Because while they were all genuinely sorry for me, they were also a little bit glad it hadn’t happened to them. “Thanks.” I finally found my key and I noticed my hand was shaking a little as I tried to unlock the exterior door to my building.

Darwin/Jonathon put his hand over mine to steady it. For a second, I just stood there, drawing in a breath to calm down. He waited then helped me turn the key to the right.

He was close behind me when I looked up at him, my hip shoving the door open. “Thanks,” I whispered.

“He’s an asshole,” he repeated, his voice serious, eyes earnest.

“Do you want to come in?” I asked, because I really, really didn’t want to be alone. My thoughts were too scattered, my anxiety high. Failing chemistry, moving out of my old apartment, hating my jealousy over my friends’ relationships . . . it was hitting me hard. I didn’t want silence.

His eyes shuttered for a minute and I felt silly. He was like twenty-five years old, a grad student with labs and research and probably a brainiac girlfriend who did physics for fun. Why would he want to spend the rest of his night with an undergrad who didn’t know biochemistry from her butthole and kept threatening to cry? “Sorry, I don’t know why I said that. I’m sure you have better things to do. Things that don’t involve me boring you with my pathetic love life.” Shame wasn’t an emotion I’d felt a lot in my life, but the last three months it had become a familiar feeling. One I hated.

I stepped into the vestibule, intending to close the door behind me, letting Darwin off the hook. But he came with me. “I’d love to.”

Oh, God, he totally felt sorry for me. The shame increased, but at the same time, I still didn’t want to be alone, so I didn’t hold firm and send him home like I should have. I trudged up the stairs to the second floor and he reached out and put his hand on the small of my back when I stumbled a little on the third step.

Darwin was clearly a nice guy. Whatever he was getting paid by the university to tutor wasn’t enough. How many hours a week did he spend coaching crying undergrads? Probably half the freshman class was failing chemistry. Yet here he was, being pretty damn sweet when it was obvious he could be doing about a million more interesting things.

“Do you have a roommate?” he asked.

“No, it’s just a studio. I moved here in September after classes started, so I had to take what I could get and this was it. But I couldn’t live in an apartment with Robin after what happened, so this was the best solution.” I unlocked the door and shoved it open. Flicking on the light, I felt depressed all over again looking at the glum. “It has terrible lighting.”

He wandered in to the small room and bent over to inspect my two lamps. “You only have twenty-five watts in here. You could get brighter bulbs.”

“Oh.” Of course I could. But that had never once occurred to me. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to be logical. “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”

He dropped down onto my bed, which also acted as my couch, because I had no furniture and no space. “It takes a while to settle into a new place.”

“I never wanted to be here. So it’s hard to care.” Setting my backpack on the floor, I sat next to him, crossing my legs and tucking my feet under them. “Do you have a roommate?”

“Yeah. My friend Devon. I’d rather live alone, honestly, but I can’t afford it.”

“And I would rather live with people. I’m social.” My phone buzzed in my pocket.

I wasn’t going to look at it. I didn’t want to look at it. It could be nothing. It could be Jessica or Rory or my mother. But compulsion drove me to pull it out and check. I was sorry I did. A pit formed in my stomach as I read the text from Nathan.

This wouldn’t have happened if you had stayed here this summer like I asked you to. We would still be together and happy.

My lip curled. So it was my fault that he had fucked my friend? Because I wasn’t around for a few weeks?

“Why don’t you block him?” Darwin asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe because I keep wanting and waiting for a better apology.”

“I don’t think there’s a better apology for what he did. I don’t think he can ever really give you a good enough reason for why he had sex with your best friend.”

I nodded. “You’re right.” I knew it. “I also know it’s not my fault, but I can’t help but feel like if only I’d done something different . . .”

He held his hand up, palm out. “Stop right there. There is no way that you could have done anything different so that it would have prevented this. If a guy is willing to cross that line, you could be perfect and it still wouldn’t matter. Don’t put yourself through that.”

The tears started again. I nodded, my lips trembling.

“It’s not your fault he’s selfish, stupid, immoral, and an asshole.”

“Well, I don’t know if he’s stupid.” I could concede the rest, but for some ridiculous reason I felt the need to defend Nathan, even just a little.

“He got caught, didn’t he? That makes him stupid. Besides, any guy who would waste his time hooking up with a chick when he has you is an idiot.”

I smiled. “Thanks. Even if you are just saying that.”

But he shook his head as he peeled off his jacket. “I’m not just saying that. You’re beautiful, Kylie, and more than that, you’re sweet.”

I did like to think that I was nice. “I try to be a decent person. But it seems like that’s worked against me.”

“Don’t let one guy’s dickheadedness change who you are. Don’t let him ruin you. You’re attractive just the way you are.”

Confused, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew he was just being nice, and I hated that it even mattered to me what anyone’s opinion was, but I felt needy. It had me seeking validation in a way I hadn’t since probably middle school. “You think I’m attractive?”

It was an embarrassing thing to ask. I wanted to choke myself for letting it slip out.

Darwin nodded, though. “I find you very attractive. So attractive that I have to admit to being distracted the whole time I was tutoring you.”

A shiver inched up my spine. “You were not.” He hadn’t looked at all like he’d been undressing me with his eyes. But then again, maybe nerds were smart enough to hide it, unlike the douche bags I usually hung out with.

“Oh yes, I was.” He was leaning against the wall, hands resting on his knees, and his expression was hooded. “I can tell you that you wear two necklaces—one is a cross, one is a heart with a ruby in the center. You have on a braided bracelet and if I had to guess, you are a 34C bra size. You have a tiny mole on your neck, you’re really fond of lip gloss, you always twirl your hair with your left hand, never your right, and you are a natural blonde.”

Oh, my. A blush covered my face and it was partly from embarrassment and partly from a sudden arousal that caught me completely off guard. “How do you know I’m a natural blonde?”

“You don’t have any exposed roots and your eyebrows are the same tone as your hair.”

Were all intelligent people this observant? Rory was the same way. Though Rory had never nailed my bra size. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Is that creepy?” he asked. “I only told you to illustrate my point that I find you attractive.”

“It’s not creepy. It’s flattering.” It was. And he was very sweet to massage my damaged ego.

“Good. I want you to remember that, whenever you start to doubt that you had anything to do with Dickhead cheating on you. It was his problem, not yours.”

I felt like I should I give him a fee for the therapy. “Thanks, Darwin. I find you attractive, too.”

He gave me a smile, the corner of his lip turning up in a way that made me focus on his mouth, made me wonder what it would feel like to have it on mine. I kind of really wanted him to kiss me, just to see.

“Now you’re just flattering me.”

“No.” I shook my head, feeling myself leaning closer toward him, without even intending to. “The first thing I noticed when I sat down next to you was how good you smell.”

His nostrils flared a little. “How I smell?”

“Yes. You smell masculine.”

“That’s evolution,” he told me. “A female instinctively responds to the scent of a male and she is subconsciously drawn to the specimen she thinks will ensure her progeny’s survival.”

Whatever. “I think it was more that you don’t smell like sweat or cologne.”

“It’s still the chemistry of attraction.”

He had shifted closer, too, and I could see that he had an erection. It hadn’t been there before, and now it was. Bam. The sight of it so clearly outlined beneath his jeans had me tingling in places I had thought no longer existed. I hadn’t had a single sexual urge at all since RAN and now a warm sensation was pooling between my thighs and spreading out to all my limbs. My nipples felt constrained in my bra. My 34C bra.

“Can you just show me instead of explaining it to me?” I asked, and I was shocked to hear the flirt, which I thought had taken a permanent vacation, return to my voice for the first time in four months. “I learn better hands-on.”

“With visual aids?”

I nodded, biting my bottom lip.

“Come here,” he urged, holding his hand out to me.

I did, crawling up between his legs, breathing in his scent, taking in his narrow lips, his eyes, so dark behind the lenses of his glasses. He reached out with his thumb and wiped the tears that were still lingering on my face in itchy, wet streaks.

Then he kissed me.

CHAPTER THREE

It was a delicious kiss, the kind that started slow and tentative then grew deeper and deeper until I needed to pull back and snag a breath. For a heartbeat, I stared at him, my mouth hovering over his, the light reflecting off his glasses so I couldn’t read what was in his eyes, but he didn’t give me enough time to speak or think any further. He put his hand on the back of my head and erased the space between us, and for some reason it mattered to me that he didn’t pull me to him, he came to me. It wasn’t a lazy kiss, a hey, baby, give daddy some sugar, kind of lame, puckered-lip sloppiness.

This was like when you went tubing on the river and you drifted along, eyes closed, face turned up toward the sun, relaxed, warm and cold at the same time, aware of every sensation, fingers trailing behind in the murky water. Like each moment mattered, time caught in a mental camera roll, captured in sparkling perfection, time slow and easy, yet disappearing faster than you could have ever imagined. Jonathon kissed like that, his tongue teasing the inside of my mouth, his fingers massaging the back of my head, his legs and arms forming a warm circle around me. It was like he had nowhere to be and nothing to do except this, and he didn’t grind or grab or push my hand onto his junk.

It was like he could kiss me indefinitely, and I could hear my breathing grow ragged, could feel my body growing hot, heavy, eager. When he briefly pulled back to study me, smiling a little, I saw that I had fogged up his glasses. I gave a soft laugh.

“What?”

“Your glasses are steamed up.”

I expected him to smile or laugh with me, but his expression was serious, intense.

“It’s because you’re damn hot,” he said, his voice low, before he pulled my bottom lip into his mouth and sucked on it.

“Oh,” I murmured, leaning on him sideways, my hands around his neck. My response wasn’t meant to be an agreement, it was just an involuntary reaction to the sensation of him sucking on my flesh, the tugging echoing at all the warm spots of my body. I squirmed a little as he dipped down and nuzzled along my neck, amazed at how turned on I was from so little contact. My fingertips dug into his shoulders and he eased me back onto my bed.

“Can I take your sweater off?”

That he asked me instead of just tearing at my clothes stunned me and I just nodded. Something about him made me speechless, and it felt bizarre and confusing, yet arousing. I didn’t need to chatter away to keep his interest, and I didn’t feel like he wanted the porn star partner Nathan had always craved. This was slow and easy, and as Darwin stripped my sweater off carefully, making sure he didn’t accidentally pull my hair, I didn’t feel the need to pose or pout. Instead, I reached up with one finger and pushed his glasses up since they had slipped, and it felt natural to do that.

“Thanks,” he murmured.

He kissed me again, a deep, sexy kiss that had me rubbing my leg over the back of his calf, straining to meet my hips to his.

His hand rested on my hipbone, heavy and large, as his tongue slid across my lower lip and down my neck. I shivered. “Oh, God.” His fingers jerked a little on my hip.

My bra strap had fallen off my shoulder and he shifted his hand to pull it all the way down my arm. I finished the job, lifting my hand to remove the strap entirely. He repeated it on the other side and while his hands explored my breasts over my bra, his mouth continued to float over my flesh, sometimes on my neck, sometimes my cleavage, sometimes my lips, so that I never quite knew where he was going. It went on and on, minute after agonizing minute, and I moaned, my hips grinding more desperately against him. I hadn’t had sex since August and I hadn’t devoted this much time to making out since tenth grade.

He paused long enough to strip off his own T-shirt, revealing a chest that had more definition than I could have ever expected for a guy who spent all his time with beakers or whatever they had in chem labs. I ran my fingers over it, wanting to feel him. His skin was warm and wherever I touched, goose bumps appeared, and for some reason that pleased me. When I reached the button on his jeans, I popped it, and he drew back to look at me.

“I was wondering if we were going there,” he said. “Is that a yes?”

For a second, I felt a little confused. He really hadn’t seen sex as a definite conclusion? That seemed hard to believe. But it cemented my decision. I had already decided to without going through any actual decision-making process, and this forced me to stop and think and be one hundred percent certain. Did I want to have sex with Darwin? Oh, hell, yes. My body was on fire and he seemed like a guy who wanted to do everything to the best of his ability. For every tool who had told me I wouldn’t be disappointed, the majority of the time I had been, but the amount of effort Jonathon had given to making out made me certain in this case I wouldn’t be.

I nodded, biting my lip. “It’s a yes.”

He didn’t speak, he just popped the back of my bra and lifted it off of me. He studied the tag.

“What are you doing?”

“34C. Damn, I’m good.”

I laughed. “Or a pervert.”

“Not usually. But you bring out the pervert in me. I told you that you were dangerous.”

“I’m not taking responsibility for you staring at my breasts.”

His mouth descended onto my nipple.

“Or doing that.” Oh, God, that felt good. He took his time, sucking slowly, his hand cupping the weight of my breast. I could feel his erection thick against my leg, the heat from my body feeling trapped inside my jeans. I wanted to be naked. I wanted him to be naked. I jerked his zipper down and slid my hand inside his pants.

He paused to give his own moan when I made contact with his business, squeezing down the length of him.

But he still didn’t hurry. He didn’t shuck his pants to his knees and pump into me for five minutes, slapping the side of my ass at random intervals.

Not even close. He moved his mouth over me, trading breasts, licking down my middle, tongue dipping into my belly button. His hands trailed behind everywhere his tongue touched, and the feathery brushing over top of the wet path he’d created had me sucking in air on desperate gasps, my grip tightening on his cock.

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“[A] riveting addition to the rising new adult category.”—Library Journal

“A sexy, romantic, emotional coming of age new adult...Crisp writing, indulgent humor, and a smooth flowing storyline makes it incredibly easy to become fully invested in this book.”—Smexy Books

“McCarthy’s entry in the burgeoning new adult subgenre is a page-turning, gut-wrenching success…Their troubles are real, their love True, and readers will root them on past the very last page.”—RT Book Reviews

“One of those books that you just can’t and won’t put down…Extremely realistic and relatable…[A] dramatic and beautiful story.”—Harlequin Junkie

“Ms. McCarthy did a wonderful job with this story.”—Under the Covers Book Blog

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