This is Mackenzie’s story…
Mackenzie Wilson once had hope for what life had to offer, but everything changed on the night of her graduation. A year later, the only way she can find comfort is by keeping her head down and hoping she remains unnoticed at college.
When Bentley James discovered Mac in that twisted SUV, he was just a newbie EMT on his first call. It was a gut-wrenching moment that made him realize not everyone can be saved—and sometimes they don’t want to be.
A chance encounter on campus brings Bentley back into Mac’s life. Despite her initial resistance, he sets out to discover the girl hiding beneath a shield of seclusion. He evokes painful memories in Mac—but also feelings. As the spark between them grows, Mac must decide if she can let go of the past and believe in something as fragile as love…
About the Author
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graduation night 2013
The breeze blowing through the open windows of the SUV was hot and sticky thanks to the blanket of humidity that was normal for this time of year. Not that my friends and I cared. Even with sweat running down our backs and our hair plastered to the napes of our necks. We were too amped-up to worry about something as pesky as the weather. Today we were free. This was the moment we had discussed at length. The moment we had planned for and dreamed about. We didn’t need drugs or alcohol to experience our current state of euphoria. We were high on life and the anticipation of what the future held.
Laughter filled the interior of the Suburban, drowning out the roar from the oversized off-road tires as we cruised down the highway. It was the sound of exhilaration and triumph fifteen years in the making. Fifteen years of friendship that had stood the test of time. Through the muck of adolescent squabbles, preteen dramas, and the turbulent years of high school, we had made it to the other side of graduation. Our friendship was unbreakable. We made a pact many years ago over mud pies and juice boxes. We swore we would always be friends. No matter what the obstacles, we managed to stay inseparable. Our parents, who had also become close over the years, had coined us the “Brat Pack.” They would laugh every time they said it, like it was some inside joke only they were privy to. I guess you had to be older than forty to get it.
I swept my eyes around the vehicle, listening to the loud music blaring from the radio as the wind played with my hair. With the exception of my family, anyone who had ever meant anything to me was here.
Zach was always our driver. His parents gave him the keys to the Suburban when he turned sixteen, knowing it was the perfect vehicle for our group. We were used to doing everything together, so it only made sense that the first of us to obtain a coveted driver’s license would receive a vehicle big enough to carry everyone. The Suburban was a year older than we were and had its fair share of dings and rust spots, but it was trusty and reliable.
If he minded becoming our designated chauffeur, he never complained. That was Zach in a nutshell. He was the guy everyone liked, and for good reason. He was the first to lend a hand or volunteer his services, or even listen if you needed someone to talk to. He had been the captain of the football team and class president junior and senior year. Zach was a born leader, which is why he was bound for FSU in the fall on full scholarship. He had also always been my stand-in boyfriend. It was an on-again/off-again routine we had fallen into. I knew I could always count on him. My plan was to avoid a serious relationship before college. Zach had provided the perfect buffer. All along we had planned to spend this final summer together before we headed off to separate schools. If Zach promised, I knew I could bank on it, or so I thought.
I pulled my thoughts away from their current path. There was no reason to muck up the evening we’d been planning forever. Instead, I moved my eyes to Dan and Kathleen sitting in the third row with their heads pressed together. They had been a thing since we were kids. Not a thing like Zach and me, but a real couple. Their love had been forged over shared cookies and building sandcastles. It had always been Dan and Kat/Kat and Dan. In the beginning, their parents tried to rein in their kids’ feelings for each other, but that was like telling the sun not to shine. They were the image of soul mates. The pending separation of our group would be hardest on them. Kat’s parents insisted on the idea of her and Dan attending separate colleges, at least for the first couple of years. They wanted her to be sure that Dan would be more than a childhood romance. Kat confided to us that she only planned on giving it a year, if that long. This is why I’d always kept things casual. As close as we all were as friends, the idea of planning your college career around a guy seemed extreme to me.
“Class of 2013, bitches!” Jessica yelled from the second row, where she sat with my best friend, Tracey. Filled with exuberance and more adventurous than the rest of our Brat Pack, they were usually also the loudest. They were ready to take on the world and would stretch their wings wider than any of the rest of us in the group. I actually felt a little jealous, wishing I had an ounce of their fearlessness. Tracey’s eyes met mine briefly before darting away. I grimaced without saying a word. Nothing would mar today. That is the vow I made to myself. Tomorrow would be soon enough to analyze what I had discovered.
I shifted back around in my seat as Zach drove over the causeway. We all whooped with our hands in the air as we reached the top. In the remaining light of dusk, we could see the dark never-ending expansion of water in the distance. We were close to our first destination of the evening.
Zach slowed to a crawl; maneuvering the Suburban around an old Lincoln Towncar going twenty-five miles per hour, even though the speed limit was almost double that. I had respect for my elders, but anyone who says teenagers are the worst drivers has obviously never lived in Florida.
Of course, Zach didn’t mind. He was patient and cautious, even after jerking the wheel to avoid a moped that darted in front of us. The bikini-clad girl perched on the back didn’t even bother looking at us as she flipped us off.
“Stupid asses, huh?” Zach laughed, shooting me a smile I thought I returned until I saw his face fall slightly before he looked back to the road. Sighing, I turned my head to look out my window. Of all the days for me to discover what had probably been going on under my nose for some time, why did it have to be today?
Seeing Zach’s smile drop, I realized I wasn’t fooling anyone. I could put on a facade that everything was okay, but deep down, three of us in this vehicle knew differently.
Minutes later we arrived at the public parking lot at New Smyrna Beach. We piled out of the Suburban, breathing in the salty sea air. Kat linked her arms with mine and Tracey’s while Jessica linked my other arm. Our human chain was complete when the guys bookended us on either side and we raced down the grassy slope to the long expansion of sand. We kicked our shoes off the instant our feet touched the sand, which had already started to cool now that the sun had gone down.
Laughter rang through the air as we raced toward the dark water without slowing. Our graduation robes flared out behind us like capes. With the wind whipping them around, we almost felt like we could fly as we splashed into the incoming waves. Nothing could hold us back. We were invincible.
• • •
We never made it to our second destination that night. Sadly, we weren’t invincible.
I would later be asked countless times what happened, forced to recall what I remembered about the accident that changed everything. Clarity of the events was never an issue. I breathed it—had nightmares about it. It would haunt me for the rest of my life.
Zach had just merged onto the interstate, heading toward Orlando. Everything happened so quickly and unexpectedly. My mind was still focused on what had transpired as we left the beach. Not on the careless driver on the highway who acted like we were never there.
It was Jessica screaming after the semitruck slammed into the side of the Suburban that will be forever burned into my mind like a bad song that refused to go away. The oversized advertisement for fresh strawberries that ran the length of the trailer was the last thing that appeared upright after Zach jerked the wheel to avoid another collision. I would later learn that our momentum combined with the impact from the trailer were the culprits for what happened next.
With the horrific grinding sound of metal against metal and the sickening smell of burning rubber, the wheels on the right side of the Suburban left the road, sending us airborne. I had heard once that when you’re in an accident, everything passes in a blur of slow motion. That is total bullshit. It’s instant chaos. Fast and scary are more accurate—and loud. So loud you feel like your ears will burst. So hectic you can’t tell where sounds are coming from. It’s a jumbled mess of groaning metal beat out of its original shape, shattering glass, blaring horns, and worst of all, screams of pain from your friends. And yet, through it all, I remember every detail with painstaking lucidity.
“How could you possibly know how many times the vehicle rolled?” That is always the first question asked when I recount the series of events for someone. It was a question that haunted me as well. It was as if I was being cosmically punished for some wrong I had committed. If I knew what it was, I would take it all back. I would trade places with any of my friends over being forever tormented by vivid memories that I could never escape. Each roll of the vehicle was significant by what it did to my friends. The first roll sent Tracey’s head against her window with a thud. The second roll abruptly silenced Dan, who had been swearing from the moment Jessica started screaming. Kat shrieked Dan’s name in anguish, overpowering Jessica’s screams during the third bone-crunching roll of the vehicle. On the fourth roll, Jessica’s screams stopped like someone had flipped a switch. I panicked, believing at any moment my last breath would be snuffed out like the flame of a candle.
We stopped on the fifth roll, finally coming to a rest mid-turn, leaving us upside down. The bench seat Zach and I shared tore away from the metal bolts that attached it to the floorboard and tumbled forward, pinning me to the dashboard. My head exploded with pain as it bounced off the windshield. I vaguely remember wondering why an airbag hadn’t opened. It turns out the old Suburban that Zach had been given by his parents was a year away from that upgrade. A steady hum filled my ears. It was as if I had been swaddled in a cocoon of cotton. I felt absolutely nothing.
one year later
“No, Mom, not this weekend,” I said, rolling my eyes at the phone even though she couldn’t see me. “I have a big test next week in sociology. I have to stay and study.” I sank down on the dorm room bed, which was adjusted to the perfect height for my bum leg.
“But, Mackenzie, you haven’t been home in ages.”
“Mac,” I corrected automatically.
She sighed, but didn’t comment on my correction. I had decided to change my name over a year ago, after the accident. For a while, she protested, which led to the same argument so many times, I could recite it word for word. I think she assumed I would eventually get sick of the shortened version or that if she ignored it and continued to call me by my full name, I would concede and “come to my senses,” as she would say. I could have told her not to hold her breath, but that would be like telling her I was fine, which was pointless because my mom had selective hearing. She didn’t understand what I had endured and probably never would.
I only half listened as she rattled out all the reasons I should come home for the weekend. My eyes drifted to the other side of the room that belonged to my dorm mate, Trina. I noticed her belongings were slowly beginning to disappear. It was no secret she was unhappy living with me. She had certain expectations for a college roommate, like occasional conversation, some exchanged pleasantries, maybe even a friendly smile once in a while. What she got instead was mostly silence mixed with shrugs, an occasional grunt, and a half-darkened room because I usually turned off my lamp at 9 p.m. each night and pretended to be asleep, even if I wasn’t really tired. She put up with it for a while, but eventually gave up trying to coax me out of my shell.
None of it was her fault, of course. I just wasn’t ready to be anyone’s friend. That was my mistake when I convinced my parents I would be better off living in the dorms than making the forty-five-minute commute from home for classes each day like I had done freshman year. I thought I was ready to interact, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wished I could find the words to explain myself to Trina, but I couldn’t seem to muster up enough emotion to care.
Mom broke through my thoughts when she switched the conversation to where it inevitably always ended up—the accident. I wondered if we would ever have a normal conversation again. She droned on about the letter that had come in from the law firm that was handling everything for the victims. That’s how we were referred to now—the victims. A full year had passed and the insurance companies were still dragging their feet, not allowing anyone involved to move on. They had proven to be complete scumbags. I couldn’t care less about the money or who was suing who. All I wanted was to be able to have a conversation with my parents without the words “victims” or “lawyers” or “insurance claims.”
I waited until she took a breath in between sentences. “Mom, I can’t talk about this now, okay? I’ll come home in a couple weeks. I really do need to study for my test.”
“Maybe your father and I can drive up to take you to dinner.”
This time it was my turn to sigh. I understood why she pushed so hard. Hell, for a long time after everything that happened, I needed her. I had become afraid of the dark. Closing my eyes meant reliving images that were too painful to remember. Mom spent many nights during my recovery sleeping in my hospital room in a backbreaking chair that converted into a narrow bed. Through it all she never complained. She was my rock. It was only after I left the hospital that I began to resent the constraints of having her around. At that point, everything was dictated for me. Therapy for my leg, follow-up visits with doctors, and weekly appointments with the psychiatrist were all scheduled for me. I had no say in anything. I knew my parents were only trying to help, but I felt smothered.
“Honey, are you listening?” Mom’s voice broke through my reverie.
“Yeah, Mom,” I lied. I didn’t have a clue what she had said.
“Okay, so we’ll pick you up tomorrow evening at five for Olive Garden, and then maybe afterward we can even see a movie. There’s that new romantic comedy with the guy from that Disney show you used to like.”
“You mean the show I haven’t watched since I was twelve? You do know I’m an adult now, right, Mom?” I pulled the phone away from my ear and silently screamed at it. “Look, my test is really important and—”
“I know, honey, but you have to eat, and taking two hours to relax while you watch a movie should be allowed. I realize you wanted to live on campus for some space, but it’s still just college, not jail.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be my argument?” I asked dryly. “A little space.”
I used the cane I had developed a love-hate relationship with, to rise from my bed. I absolutely hated being dependent on it, but I couldn’t deny its necessity. The hard truth was I would probably need it for the rest of my life. The surgeons had done everything in their power to fix my leg. In the end, despite having more hardware than the Bionic Woman, it was still a mess.
“How’s the leg?” Mom asked like she was hot-wired into my brain.
“Fine.” We all knew it wasn’t anywhere close to fine, but when she asked, what else was I going to say? At least I could walk. I was lucky in comparison to my friends. I jerked my thoughts back before they could stroll down that agony-filled path again. “Look, Mom, I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow for dinner.”
“And a movie,” she persisted before I could hang up.
“We’ll see,” I said reluctantly. “I love you.”
“Love you, too, sweets.”
Glad to have my daily interrogation out of the way, I placed my cell phone into the side pocket of my backpack for easy access. Gone were the days of carrying a purse. The backpack I used was lightweight and completely functional, keeping my hands free—one for my cane, and the other hand ready to catch myself on the rare occasion when my leg would not cooperate while walking on uneven ground. I had learned that painfully embarrassing lesson one time in front of the campus bookstore, falling flat on my ass when a seemingly innocuous crack tripped me up.
I gathered the rest of my belongings and headed for the library, leaving my newly constructed dorm building that resembled condominiums in size and amenities. My dad had complained when we toured the university during my senior year in high school that the campus was too “new looking.” Of course, he was an alumnus of Florida State University, which, he liked to brag, was steeped in tradition and character. Over the years, we had gone to several FSU football games, and to me, there was a fine line between history and just old. I personally preferred UCF’s modern architecture and facilities over aged vine-covered brick buildings. Of course, I had to keep my opinions to myself when I chose UCF since Dad would have a coronary if he heard me criticizing his old stomping grounds.
It was a long walk from my dorm to the library, and my leg had a tendency to lag about halfway there. I slowed my pace, hoping today it would give me a break until I could pass the lawn in front of the Student Academic Resource Center, where everyone liked to hang out. As I approached the popular hot spot, I tried to hide my limp as I passed a group of guys playing a game of Frisbee on the lush green lawn.
I remember the first brochure I opened for the school, before I had even decided to apply. I was immediately enthralled by the pictures of carefree students playing touch football and hanging out studying on heavy quilts lying in this plush expansion of grass. Everyone looked hip and happy. I remember thinking it reminded me of one of the Old Navy commercials on TV. I used to imagine myself in those pictures, spending time with the new friends I was sure to make. That memory was almost laughable now. I had no friends, and wouldn’t even think of trying to play Frisbee. Even something as simple as getting up from a sitting position on the ground required crawling and rocking back and forth as I tried to get my leg to cooperate.
My only goal, as it was every day, was to get to the library without anyone noticing me. Once I rounded the corner and was out of sight, my steps became nothing more than a shuffle the closer I got to my destination. Sweat beaded on my forehead while a steady stream ran down my back. There was no such thing as mild autumn temperatures in central Florida. Even in October, it was still eighty-five degrees and humid. I had exerted a fair amount of energy crossing the campus. My good leg was beginning to shake from shouldering the brunt of the work, while the handle of my cane became slick from the sweat of my palm. I knew I should stop and wipe it off, but I ignored it. I just needed to get to my safe place.
That was what the library had become for me. It was a sanctuary, an easy place to hide among the books and computers. Avoiding conversation was easy since talking in the library wasn’t encouraged. Being there made me feel normal—the way I wanted my normal to be—which was why I would trek halfway across campus every day after classes. Jake, my physical therapist, whom I still saw twice a month, was always riding me about pushing myself too hard, but the walk was better than the alternative of spending evenings at my dorm.
Not that I would ever admit that fact to Mom or Dad. They would press me to move back home again, but that would be the easy way out. All that did was keep me dependent on my parents. It was a struggle living on campus, but I had to keep trying. It didn’t help that no one seemed to respect private space and that every night felt like a giant sleepover. The first couple days of the semester, people barged into my room, looking for Trina, not even bothering to knock. By the end of the first weekend, I grew tired of it and started locking the door, forcing Trina to use her key anytime she entered. She was never quiet with her grumblings, making a point to tell me I was becoming the hermit of our dorm building. Ironically, I discovered the seclusion of the library around the same time that Trina started spending more time away from our room. I should have told her I was rarely there during the day anyway, but that would have required initiating a conversation.
I stopped just outside the library to let out a pent-up breath—taking a moment to wipe the perspiration from the handle of my cane.
A cool blast of air welcomed me as I pulled open the heavy door. Giving my eyes a chance to adjust to the dim interior, I glanced around the large room, grimacing at the crowds of people scattered about. Midterms for the first nine weeks were approaching, making my hideout a popular spot during the past week.
Trying to be discreet, I headed for my normal seat in the far corner of the room. My cane clicked loudly on the floor, echoing through the open space with each step. I kept my head down, trying to make myself invisible, but I could feel everyone’s eyes upon me. Their stares were heavy and smothering. It didn’t help that I was still overexerted from my trek across campus. My breath came out in slight wheezing gasps. I needed to sit. I made the final surge to my secluded seat, stumbling slightly from the floor’s transition from hard tile to carpet. Luckily, my cane helped keep me upright.
Relieved to be able to rest, I sank into the comfortable leather wing chair that I’d discovered weeks ago. If I had my way, I’d hang a sign from it, declaring this spot as mine alone. I closed my eyes, dropping my head into my hands as I waited for my lungs to start breathing evenly again. Maybe Jake had a point. It was possible my brisk pace to get past the crowded scene at the Student Resource Center wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do. My leg ached badly, and I felt slightly nauseous. I fumbled blindly through my backpack for a water bottle I knew I had packed, jumping at the sound of a male voice over my shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I answered, keeping my eyes closed while I gripped the arm of the chair. I could feel the presence of the person beside me, invading my personal space. I counted to ten in my head, waiting for him to leave.
“Do you mind?” My voice dripped like a leaky faucet with sarcasm after stopping at six in frustration.
“Not at all,” the stranger responded without budging.
“This seat is taken.”
He barked out a laugh. “I know. By me.”
Great. Just what I needed—a smart-ass. Dropping my hands, I glared up at the douche bag who couldn’t take a hint. I was just about ready to tear him a new one until his face came into focus.
I knew him, or at least, I remembered him. The one time I had gotten a good look at him would be forever branded into my mind.
• • •
graduation night 2013
A male face peered at me through the broken window, shining a small penlight into my eyes. “Do you know where you are?”
I started to nod my head, forgetting it was pinned against the dashboard. I grimaced from the resulting stab of pain. “Yes,” I answered.
“Try not to move,” he instructed. “Can you tell me what your name is?”
“Good, very good. Do you know what day it is?” He swept the light through the rest of the vehicle assessing the damage.
“Huh?” he responded, returning the light back to me.
“Today was graduation. May twenty-eighth.”
His face was difficult to make out in the dim light, but he was definitely younger with a boyish look. I couldn’t help wondering if he was even old enough to be here. No offense to him, but the last thing I wanted was someone who was new to the job.
He continued to ask me questions while he took my vitals. After assuring me they would have me out soon, he turned to Zach, who was not in my line of vision.
“Is he dead?” My voice was thick as I braced myself to hear the words I assumed to be true. The EMT didn’t answer, which made it much worse. Tears fell hot and fast from my eyes. I was stuck in a coffin with all of my friends. Why was this happening?
“You sorta stole my seat,” he chuckled, pointing to the backpack I had missed that was resting beside the chair. Judging by the array of papers spread out on the table, he’d been hard at work.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry.” Heat crept up my neck to my face as I fumbled around to locate my cane, which had slipped to the ground. After finding it, I struggled to get to my feet with my right leg still quivering. I couldn’t tell if he recognized me. The last time he’d seen my face, it was bruised and battered. I wasn’t even sure why I cared, to tell you the truth. I shook my head to clear the sudden cobwebs that had muddled my thoughts.
He gently pushed me back into the seat. “It’s no biggie. I can move to another chair,” he said, reaching for his backpack.
“I don’t mind moving,” I mumbled even though my legs were begging me to stay put.
“Please. I’m serious. You stay. This is my first time trying to study in the library, but I’ve discovered I’m easily distracted.”
I nodded my head, not sure what the appropriate answer would be. I looked away, hoping that would be the end of our exchange and he would move on. Hearing his voice again was stirring up the demons I worked hard to keep at bay.
I exhaled gratefully when he began to gather his papers.
“So, how have you been?” he asked.
Crap balls. That answered my question. Of course he recognized me. My friends and I had been splashed across the news for weeks after the accident. The media decided to make us the faces of No Texting While Driving campaigns.
Not that we were the culprits. My friends and I were the victims of a crime that was as illegal as drinking and driving, yet everyone seemed to do it. Everyone except Zach, who refused even to talk on his phone while he was driving. Even after all of us pitched in and bought him a Bluetooth earpiece for his phone, he refused to use it. That was the ironic thing about our accident. I couldn’t help wondering what had been so important that the truck driver felt the need to text while he was driving a big rig. Was he telling his wife he’d be home late, or maybe reminding his kids to finish their homework, or was he texting a buddy about going out? Did he regret that text now? Did he even realize or care about the lives he had shattered into a million pieces? There were so many questions, but no real answers.
“I, uh—” I tried to answer his question, but the tall bookshelves surrounding us began to close in on me. I was in no shape to flee, but I could feel the all too familiar signs of a panic attack approaching.
Panic attacks had become my body’s way of dealing with any uncomfortable situation since the accident. They were sneaky bastards, creeping in when I least wanted them to. Like the time Mom and Dad helped me get into a car for the first time after the accident, or when I drove by the scene of an accident six months after I was released from the hospital. I had become an expert at knowing when it was happening. My breathing would become labored, I would sweat profusely, and it was as if there was a voice in my head telling me to run or hide. Consequently, it had been nearly six months since my last attack and I had naïvely convinced myself they were gone for good.
Trying to get a handle on myself before things got too embarrassing, I moved my eyes past the EMT, finding a focal point on the wall just over his shoulder. Joan, my therapist, had given me tips and advice on how to avoid a full-blown attack before it sank its claws into me. It was all about focusing on something you could control. For me, it worked to count for as long as it took to calm down. I had reached twenty when I could feel the stranglehold of the attack slowly releasing me.
“You okay?” the EMT asked, stepping directly into my field of vision. It felt like déjà vu. My eyes became fixated by the soft comforting brown of his pupils. My breathing returned to normal as I took in the genuine concern on his face. This was the second time he had calmed me from a near-panicked state.
“Fine—I’m fine.” I wasn’t sure which of us I was trying to convince. I looked down to find the water bottle I had been searching for sitting in my hand.
He perched on the corner of the table he’d just cleared off. “Sorry. It’s a hazard of the job. I’m always overstepping boundaries by being too helpful. My mom says I’ve been trying to save things since I was four years old when I tried to reattach a lizard’s tail with superglue. I’d say she was exaggerating, but the picture she snapped of me with the lizard superglued to my finger speaks for itself.” He laughed, flashing a dimpled smile.
I surprised myself by returning his smile.
“You have a beautiful smile.”
My mouth dropped, as did my stomach. He was a liar.
I didn’t need his pity. I knew my smile was anything but attractive now. The shattered glass from the windshield had made sure of that, leaving a thin scar from the corner of my lip and down my chin. It had whitened a bit over the past year, but was still noticeable.
“Gee, thanks,” I said sarcastically as I grabbed my bag.
He sat watching me with fascination, which only added to my aggravation. In my haste to stand up to leave, I forgot about the water bottle, which dropped from my hand and rolled away, coming to a rest beneath the table. I blurted out a string of swear words that would have made a biker blush, gaining me several disapproving looks from everyone except the EMT, who only chuckled. Shouldering my bag, I gripped my cane and limped away, leaving my water bottle and the EMT behind.
My leg complained bitterly as I hobbled toward another seating area on the far side of the room. The chairs were situated near a high-traffic area, making it less desirable, but it would have to do.
Mr. Persistent followed me, handing over the water bottle I had dropped. “Hey, you didn’t have to leave because of me.”
I bit back a groan. Seriously, this guy needed to get a clue. “I just need a little peace, so I can study.” My words were rude, and the tone was harsh.
“Right. Well, like I said, I’m not very good at this whole library studying thing. I’m Bentley, by the way. Bentley James.”
“Mac,” I returned shortly.
“So, what are you studying?”
“Listen, Bentley. It was cool seeing you again. I’m, uh, just not very good around people right now, you know?” I hated being this way, but I wasn’t much of a conversationalist anymore.
“Oh, hey, I get it. I’ll leave you to it then. It’s time I got back to the old grindstone anyway,” he said, holding up an anatomy book that was easily three times as thick as a regular textbook. Oddly, he still didn’t walk away.
An awkward silence stretched between us until finally, after a few seconds that felt like an eternity, he spoke up again. “Okay, I guess I better get busy.” He flashed another smile before walking off.
My eyes followed him now that his back was turned. It was actually the first time I had noticed any of his features below the shoulders. He was taller than me, which wasn’t saying much, but I guessed him to be at least six feet tall. His broad shoulders made him appear even bigger. His face was boyishly cute with warm brown eyes that sparkled like he was keeping a secret he couldn’t wait to share. On the night he rescued me, he had been serious and focused, while today he was laid-back and carefree. Regardless of his mood, he was definitely handsome.
Tracey would say he was hunk-worthy. My breath hitched at the errant thought that had slipped into my mind. My heart thumped erratically in my chest. I clasped my hand against it, trying to ease the ache that was quickly spreading down to my clenching stomach. Pulling my eyes away from Bentley, I forced my mind to go blank. As long as I didn’t think about them, I could make it through another minute, another hour, and maybe another day.
As I worked to pull my thoughts from entering what I called my dark zone, I kept my eyes away from Bentley, blaming him for taking me there in the first place. The idea was irrational, I realized. It’s not like it was his fault we had run into each other on campus. He had as much right to be here as I did. How ironic that in a city with millions of people, I would run into the EMT who had helped save my life.
• • •
graduation night 2013
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” the EMT said, moving to my side as the machines I was hooked to responded to my distress. “You need to calm down.” He adjusted the oxygen mask on my face. “Breathe in slowly,” he coaxed, leaning over to make sure the mask was snug against my cheeks. The panic dispersed slightly as oxygen entered my airway. My lungs inhaled deeply while I looked into my rescuer’s eyes.
“It’s going to be okay, I promise.” His hand gently stroked my head. If the tape on my forehead wasn’t restricting my movement, I would have shaken my head in protest. It would never be okay.
“Trust me,” he murmured, seeing the doubt in my eyes. He continued to stroke my head. His touch worked better at soothing me than the oxygen now pouring into my lungs. I could also feel my head beginning to clear.
With one last sudden jerk of the wheel, the ambulance pulled into the brightly lit emergency bay at Halifax Medical Center. I lost sight of my rescuer after several medical personnel surrounded my stretcher, which was cautiously lifted from the vehicle. I wanted to call out to him. I couldn’t do this by myself.
• • •
I glanced back toward the table to see if he was looking at me. He wasn’t, of course, and I couldn’t blame him. I was pretty much a bitch. After everything he had done for me, I couldn’t muster a thank-you, or any other way to show my appreciation. Instead, I’d basically told him off.
I was unsure of how long Bentley stuck around because I couldn’t bring myself to peek in his direction again. To show any kind of interest would be a misrepresentation of my intentions. I was incapable of functioning as a normal person. Not because of my limp, or even my less-than-perfect smile, but because I was nothing but a shell. Everything inside me died more than a year ago.
The serenity of the library had been replaced by a blanket of painful reminders. As the afternoon bled into evening and the light outside dimmed from twilight to nighttime, the library began to empty. I never looked up as each set of footsteps passed. My headphones and iPad gave the illusion that I was too busy to care. Finally able to breathe normally again, I packed up my bag. Tomorrow, the library would be my sanctuary again. Bentley had mentioned that studying in the library wasn’t his thing. Hopefully, today had been a fluke, and I wouldn’t run into him again.
I slammed my anatomy book closed a little louder than necessary, earning a curious glance from a long-legged redhead who had been eye flirting with me since she sat down. For a solid hour, I’d been staring at the same damn page in my book without comprehending a single word. My focus was for shit today. I could blame it on trying to study at the library rather than my apartment, but truthfully, the reason for my distraction was sitting in a chair across the room. Not the redhead who was practically begging for me to notice her, but the five-foot-something, sharp-tongued cutie who had basically told me to take a flying leap. She’d introduced herself as Mac. I remembered her name being Mackenzie, but Mac was better. It suited her.
I recognized her the instant she sat in my chair. How could I not? For days following the accident, the media had a field day splashing her and her friends’ faces on every news channel. Maybe that was the reason I found myself so captivated with her at the moment. It definitely wasn’t her winning personality, since she practically had a no trespassing sign hanging from her neck. Being shot down might have bruised my ego any other time, but her “fuck off” attitude intrigued me.
She was not only my first rescue, but now the first person I’d rescued and then bumped into in a normal setting. I remember that night clearly. The guys at the station called me “The Green Pea” because I was new to the job. I was so nervous when the dispatch alarm went off that I launched myself from the chair I was sitting in like I had just heard the starting gun for a hundred-meter dash. The worst part was I tripped over my own feet and fell face-first into my supervisor’s ass. Steve was the lead paramedic and luckily a patient dude. Newbie or not, when we arrived at the scene of the accident, I was thrown right into the thick of things.
What People are Saying About This
“A beautiful story of how hope and love can heal all wounds.”—New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout
“King pours her soul into each book.”—M. Leighton, New York Times bestselling author
Praise for the novels of Tiffany King
“A must-read for New Adult contemporary romance fans.”—Samantha Young, New York Times bestselling author
“A beautifully woven story of a love that can withstand anything.”— New York Times bestselling author Molly McAdams
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seriously, Tiffany King. The tears. I had lots of them. Well done, my friend. Mac was in a tragic accident that killed her best friends and left her forever changed, both physically and mentally. She's trying to move on with her life as best she can in college, but she's really not doing well with that plan. Until she meets Bentley - for the second time - and he forces her to face things she'd rather just stay hidden. So, I mentioned tears, right. Well, let's talk about the fact that six friends, as close to each other as blood, are in a horrific car accident because of a drunk driver. On graduation day. If that doesn't just punch you right in the feels, I don't know what will. The details of the crash and what happened to these kids immediately before and after the accident are revealed slowly throughout the book in the form of Mac's flashbacks. They're all from her POV, and all heartbreaking, knowing what happened to all of them eventually. And there were a lot of unresolved things between these friends that didn't get a chance to work out, which heaped a lot of guilt on Mac's shoulders, in addition to her injuries. I've seen Tiffany King use this way of extracting the whole story before, and I have to say, I kind of love it. The book bounces back and forth between present day and the past as we slowly uncover the reasons why our characters are the way they are today. Nothing is revealed too quickly, which ensures that the questions we have aren't answered too quickly either. It drives you through the story, in search of those answers. Not that the drive through the story is hard or anything. I read A Shattered Moment in one day. I was completely caught up in Mac and her struggle to become alive again. I can't even imagine what she went through. Not only did she lose her friends, but she has a physical disability now that makes walking difficult. Her own view of herself is severely skewed - she thinks no one could want or love her anymore. And, to make matters worse, her parents are smothering her. Bentley comes on the scene unexpectedly. He was the EMT who saved her life at the accident, and then all of a sudden, he's there on campus at her school too. They remember each other, and Bentley has enough tact to know to tread lightly. She fascinates him and he petrifies her. Bentley was sorta awesome. He was so, so patient with Mac. He watched over her without causing her to lose her pride. He lifted her up when she needed it. And, he caused her to see that her self-imposed prison was shutting her off from all the wonderful new friends she could be making, but had been scared to, in case she lost them too. I think the thing I liked best about Bentley was that he never coddled Mac. When she was being a jerk, he called her on it. When she was being irrationally afraid, he made her face her fears. And, he didn't shy away from his feelings, even though Mac made it really hard for him sometimes. I also loved how Bentley's own inner circle of dorky friends accepted her without question, and stood in for him as her protector whenever Bentley couldn't be there. They are completely awesome guys, and I sincerely hope that we see more of them in future books. This is a spectacular start to a new series. It ends with questions still to be answered, but not about Bentley and Mac. Their ending is everything I needed it to be. I can't wait to see what comes next.
A Shattered Moment is a beautifully tragic story about grief, survival, and love. Mac is recovering from a nightmare. Unfortunately, Bentley was there and reminds her of the horror she faced - at least at first. As Mac learns to live again, if Bentley truly wants her, he will have to put his exceptional patience to the test. Mac and Bentley's journey is touching and a little bit heartbreaking. ASM was my first Tiffany King and I'm hooked. The emotional books aren't really my thing, but King may have converted me with this wonderful book. I really cannot recommend this book enough and it may make an appearance on my Top Ten of 2015 list. :-)
I am always eager to read another Tiffany King book, so when I heard about this series, I knew I had to read it. Tiffany does emotional so well and as difficult as this book was to read on my poor heart, it was such a beautiful story at the same time. This is a very character driven novel with a sweet romance that completely captured my heart. "This was the curse of surviving. You're left to pick up the pieces of your broken, shattered, decimated life. I couldn't remember what it felt like to be whole." Mac's character has gone through a traumatic event that no person should ever have to endure in their lifetime. Having been involved in a fatal accident on graduation night, Mac has not been the same ever since. She is a shell of a girl, merely existing at college. She is not personable and she shuts the world out, hiding behind her grief, anger, and shame. It was truly heartbreaking to see her living this way and it was hard to like her at first because of the wall she has erected. However, as Bentley reemerges into her life, things start looking up for her. In him, she finds a friend who cares enough to work past her surly attitude and dismissive nature. That's not to say Bentley 'cures' her by any means. It's a battle for her to start seeing herself as he does, an incredibly strong girl who has been dealt a tragic hand and still has her pride, despite her disability. I loved Bentley. He was such a great guy and truly the person Mac needed to help bring her out of her self-imposed prison. Saving people is not only his job, but it's in his nature. There are times when he forgets about Mac's limitations and feels bad, but Mac likes that he doesn't treat her as this breakable, fragile girl. She has come to terms with her disability and she tries not to let her affect her. Bentley is still new at their relationship and his protective nature makes him want to throttle people for being so heartless when it comes to pushing her along, etc. Mac doesn't particularly care for that, as she is used to it. It takes a bit to find the balance in their relationship, but once they do, it really works. I really liked these two's chemistry. It's a slower burn for sure, as Mac blows him off for a good bit in the beginning. However, the attraction is definitely there and I really enjoyed seeing them form an actual romantic relationship. Being a New Adult read, King does not overdo their sexy times together, but the ones she does include are so well placed and delivered. Mac not only opens up with Bentley, but she also starts to let others into her life as well. I loved seeing her relationship with her parents reinforced, as well as her open up to her roommate Trina. Mac has felt guilty for too long and she shouldn't be afraid to make new friends and let herself be happy again. It's a part of her healing process and while it's not easy, it's a step in the right direction. This is a part of a series and I definitely do not want to spoil anything, but I will say I am looking forward to seeing where King will take these books next. It's going to be an emotional journey for sure, but it's one I'm happy to take with her. Her characters are so real and engaging, that I couldn't help but fall in love with them. This book will really tug at your heartstrings, but it will also fill you with hope, especially after seeing Mac's journey.
*4.5/5 stars, rounded up due to lack of half-stars.* It took me a little longer to get my hands on this book than I would have liked. When a Tiffany King novel comes out, I’m always eager to dive right in. Now that I’ve finally read A Shattered Moment, I can say that the wait was worth it. This book is another to put on my favorites shelf. One of the great things about this book was that King packed in so much emotions without being heavy handed about it. There’s love, loss, anxiety, fear. It’s all within the pages of this book, but it’s spread out well and written to grab a readers’ attention, their heart, but not tear it out completely. Just tugging on it a little. A book dealing with issues like this one did could have gone overboard with it all, but I don’t think it would have worked well, that way. It’d be hard to discuss what I enjoyed about the plot without chancing spoilers. It’s not that anything super crazy happened, but I think it’d best to go into this one blind. It’ll help everything have the full impact it deserves. What I can say is that this is another book with great characters, from King. I enjoyed the chapters from Mac’s POV best. What her character has to struggle with and through, seeing it through her eyes is the best way to let the story unfold. I didn’t mind Bentley’s POV either, though I felt like his voice changed a bit abruptly nearing the middle of the book. It changed for the better, though, and at first I wasn’t his biggest fan even if he was a nice guy. Even King’s secondary characters, while they’re seen and heard from only briefly, worked well. I’m looking forward to the next book in the Fractured Lives series. I’m not sure what’ll have in store, but with writing like King gave readers in this book, I’m eagerly awaiting its release.