Bianca Easton is the perfect senator’s daughter.
Law school? Check.
Camera-ready smile? Check.
A dull and boring existence? Double check.
But that was before. Before she lost her best and only friend in a tragic accident. Before she found that friend's unfinished bucket list. Definitely before she turned her life upside-down by deciding to stay in New York for six months to finish it.
It's while she's checking off her first item on the list--buy coffee for a stranger--that she meets Ian Mathis. Between the tattoo sleeve curling up his right arm, his guitar-roughened fingertips, and the secrets shadowing his past, he's a complication Bianca doesn't need but desperately wants.
With every item they cross off the list together, Bianca uncovers a piece of herself that she's buried under what's expected, all the while breaking her own rules by falling hard for Ian. But when her six months run out, Bianca has to decide if she's willing to risk her empty but picture-perfect life for a chance at real, messy love.
About the Author
Jamie Howard spends her days as a legal and compliance specialist. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Art from Ramapo College. When she's not tapping away at the keyboard, you can find her devouring books and perfecting her gaming skills. She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs in New Jersey, and is almost always awake early enough to see the sun rise, even on the weekends. Her books include Until We Break, Until It's Right, and All the Ways You Saved Me.
Read an Excerpt
All The Ways You Saved Me
By Jamie Howard
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Jamie Howard
All rights reserved.
Graduation caps rained down around me, the yellow tassels fluttering in the wind. Everyone cheered, hugging each other tightly. Even the weather was cooperating with the happy occasion — not a cloud in the sky to mar the perfect expanse of endless blue. It was a picture perfect moment in every way.
Except it all seemed to be happening around me. I was there, but not quite there. I held my cap clutched between my fingers, too worried about losing it in the commotion to carelessly toss it in the air.
"Everything alright, Ms. Easton?" Eli, the head of my father's private security detail, asked, bending down to whisper in my ear.
I rearranged my face into a smile. "Of course. Thank you." Turning around, I tipped my head back to look at the only person who'd managed to make it here for me today. Not that he'd really chosen to come, he was more the replacement for my absent parents. "I think we're just about done here, so you're more than welcome to get on your way."
He glanced down at his watch and nodded. "Congratulations again, Ms. Easton." With an awkward pat on my shoulder, his black suit blended with about a hundred more and disappeared.
Slipping through the crowd, I tugged on the zipper of my gown, letting the cool spring air whisper over my sweat-dampened skin. I ducked my head, trying to find the quickest route out of the throng of people. Somewhere in front of me a camera flashed. I flinched, automatically lifting a hand to cover my face.
Raising a hand over my eyes, I squinted through the sunlight. Renée flapped her arms at me as she stood perched on top of a metal folding chair, trying to flag me down. Damn. I'd been hoping to escape the crowds, but instead, I reversed my course and headed toward her, dodging a random recent graduate colliding with her parents in a bone-crushing hug.
Renée hurried over to me, wrapping her arms around me in an equally ferocious embrace.
"Can you believe we did it? Look at us. We freaking graduated law school."
"Yeah, it's ... unbelievable."
Her eyebrows drew together, and she frowned. "What's the matter?" She tilted her head to the side. Her eyes shifted away from mine, scanning the empty spaces around me. "They're not here, are they?"
"Are you kidding me? What was their excuse this time?"
I fidgeted with my cap, looking somewhere a few inches to the left of Renée's face. "Work." I shrugged. "Something came up. Plus, I'm sure they didn't want to draw any unneeded publicity in my direction. Too much of a chance I might screw something up."
"God, they're such assholes. Explain to me how a 4.0 GPA and living like a nun is even close to screwing up." She took a deep breath. "It's fine. C'mon." She snagged my hand, digging her thumb ring into the side of my wrist. "We will gladly be your surrogate family for the afternoon."
I dug in my heels. "You don't have to do that, Renée. Really, it's not that big of a deal. I was just gonna head back to the apartment and finish packing."
Renée hovered two inches above my five-foot-five frame and had no trouble dragging me along behind for her. "Bullshit. Let my mom congratulate you, tell you how beautiful you look, how proud she is of you, and then you can scurry back to your room." She muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like "hermit."
We came to a stop in front of a woman who looked more like Renée's sister than her mother. Her sleek black hair curled over the tops of her shoulders, and her warm brown eyes brightened when they landed on me.
I held out my hand toward her. "It's so good to see you again, Ms. Rodriguez."
Ignoring my outstretched hand completely, she threw her arms around me. "Congratulations, Bianca." She reached out for the cords hanging around my neck, fiddling with the knot on one. "I'm so proud of you, my dear. And please, if I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, none of this 'Ms. Rodriguez' stuff. To you, it's Victoria."
Renée smirked at me with an I-told-you-so expression on her face.
"Thank you." I took a breath and gave her a smile. "Victoria."
Changing tracks entirely, she said, "You'll join Renée and me for lunch?" The way she said it sounded more like a statement than a question.
"Well, of course you will. It's the least I can do after all you've done for Renée. Lord knows whether we'd be here celebrating today without you nudging her on the right track."
"Mom," Renée groaned, running a hand through her own thick black hair.
She shrugged. "It's only the truth, dear." She started walking away. "Come on, girls. My treat."
Renée looked at me to see if I was going to object. Honestly, I was too surprised by the quick change of events to say much of anything. I shrugged out of my gown as we walked, draping the offending sky-blue garment over my arm. To my left, Renée dipped her head toward her mom's, her voice too low for me to hear, but when she turned back, she grinned at me and linked our arms together.
A few minutes later we came to an abrupt stop, and I drew my eyes up from where they'd been studying the cracks in the sidewalk. Fancy cursive font scrawled across the burgundy overhang — JC Kendall, Salon & Spa.
I frowned. "You eat lunch at a hair salon?"
Ms. Rodriguez turned toward me, her chocolate eyes dancing with feigned innocence. "Did I say lunch? I meant we'd all get haircuts and then have lunch."
Renée skipped toward me, lifting a chunk of my long blond hair in her hand. She fingered the silky strands before looking up at me. "How much do you trust me?"
"We're moving on to a new stage in our lives. Another few months and we'll be actual freaking lawyers. It's time for a change, don't you think? I mean, you've had the same haircut since you were like what, fourteen?"
"Twelve," I mumbled.
"Well, it looks like a twelve-year-old's haircut." When I still hesitated, she pushed on. "Is that really the impression that you want to give your new bosses? Your clients?" Her eyebrows shot up.
Crap, she totally had me. I sighed and gave in. "Fine." I leveled a finger at her. "But nothing too drastic."
"Of course not." She laughed. "Just a little trim."
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I passed by my dresser, but ignored it. I'd already spent too much time studying my reflection today. Just a little trim. Hah. Apparently, we had wildly different definitions of what that meant.
"Still avoiding the mirror?" Renée asked.
I set another neatly folded pile of clothes in my suitcase. "Just tired of wasting time staring at myself. I've got too much to do before my flight tomorrow."
"Well, for what it's worth, I love it. Chopping it nice and short like this really brings out your eyes. It makes you look edgier, sophisticated." She flopped down on the bed next to my stuff, overturning a precisely stacked group of jeans.
Repressing an irritated sigh, I plucked the jeans from her side and set about folding them again. "My mother's going to hate it."
"Tell me again why you care?"
"I don't —"
I pinched my lips together, trying to contain my frustration. I did care what she thought. Twenty-five years' worth of trying to gain my parents' approval was as ingrained in me as my ridiculous need for my entire wardrobe to be perfectly folded inside my suitcase.
Grabbing the entire pile, I dumped it in my suitcase in an act of defiance and plopped down next to Renée, covering my head with my hands. "I'm trying very hard not to care."
She wrapped an arm around my shoulders. "I know, sweetie." She hesitated. "Are you sure heading back to Texas is what you want to do? There are plenty of amazing opportunities for you here in the city after you pass the bar. We could even bunk together at my new place."
I wanted to. God, I wanted to so bad. In the seven years I'd been gone, the hold my parents had over me had barely loosened. Going back there wouldn't make the situation any better, but flat-out disobeying a direct order from the senator — well, it wasn't something I thought I could do. They'd already given me the tiniest bit of leeway by letting me do my grad and undergrad degrees halfway across the country. Then again, all the Ivies were in the Northeast, so it's not like they had much choice in the matter.
"I want to, Renée, but I can't. It has to be this way."
Her eyes searched the ceiling as though seeking divine intervention. "Sometimes, girl, I just want to slap you."
I raised my eyebrows at her and let out a laugh. Getting stuck with Renée as my roommate had been the best thing that ever happened to me. She pried open my shell with her incessant friendliness and sheer stubbornness, making me step out of my comfort zone. In return, I'd tempered her partying ways, kept her on track with her class schedule, and tutored her when she struggled with some of her classes. Her mom hadn't been completely exaggerating when she said Renée might not have made it to graduation without me.
"You're just afraid that if I'm not rooming with you anymore, you'll never be on time anywhere. Seriously, I'm going to buy you the world's loudest alarm clock."
Her laughter echoed around the room. "You got me. The only reason I want you to stick around is so that you can be my personal alarm clock." She rolled her eyes. Shifting so that she was facing me, she grabbed my hand in hers and squeezed it.
"Uh-oh," I said. "You're wearing your serious face."
The corner of her mouth quirked up. "Listen, Bianca. You know you're like a sister to me, so I'm saying this because I love you and because someone needs to say it. You are the smartest person I know. You're beautiful and kind, even mildly funny sometimes when you let yourself relax." I rolled my eyes at her. "But watching the way your mom and the senator tear you down? The way they disappoint you over and over and over again, and instead of giving in or letting go, you just try harder? It kills me. I want you to be happy. You. Not your mom or your dad. For once, I want you to do something for yourself, just because you want to. Not because it's what you're supposed to do, or it's the right thing to do. Just because. I'm so afraid that one day you're going to wake up and your whole life is going to have passed you by."
I bit my lip to keep it from quivering.
"Promise me, Bianca. Promise me that you'll live the life you want to."
"I promise." For some reason it sounded like my words were coated in gravel. "You'll come visit me in Texas?"
She snorted. "Are you kidding? All those hot cowboys? Of course I will."
I shoved her lightly in the shoulder. "Do you ever think of anything else?"
"Sometimes." She shrugged. "So, are you coming to this party with me tonight, or what?"
I glanced around the room at the millions of things I still needed to pack before heading to bed. "Uh, no. I think I'll pass."
"Bianca," she groaned. "You have not let me drag you to one party in the entire time we've been here."
"Well, I wouldn't want to break my record then," I said cheekily.
She stood, placing one hand on her hip. "One day. One day it's going to happen. You wait and see." She cocked her head to the side. "I'm still taking you to the airport tomorrow?"
I snorted. "Assuming you're sober enough for it."
"Please," she said, stooping to grab her purse. "Don't wait up for me, chick."
"Wasn't planning on it."
She paused on her way out the door, leaning against the doorjamb. "Love you, girl."
"Love you too, Renée."CHAPTER 2
A brisk knocking on the door woke me the next morning. I pushed back the covers and rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand. Brushing back the hair that drifted in front of my face, I startled briefly at how short it was before remembering the epic haircut that happened yesterday.
The floor was cold beneath my bare feet as I shuffled across the room. I pulled the door open a crack, giving my eyes a second to adjust to the harsh fluorescent lighting in the hallway.
"Sam?" I asked, peering through just barely cracked eyelids at the guy standing in front of my door. We'd lived across the hall from each other for an entire year, but we'd never been anything more than casual acquaintances. "What's ... what's up?"
He shifted from foot to foot, his eyes not quite meeting mine. "Bianca." One hand drifted up and down his arm. "Shit, I don't know how to tell you this, but I was there and I wasn't sure if anyone had told you yet and ... has anyone told you?" Finally, his gaze met my mine.
I blinked at him, my brain still trying to catch up. He stared right back, his eyes filling with an odd combination of fear and hope. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about."
His expression fell and he worked a hand over his tired face. "I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but ... God, there was an accident last night and Renée ... she didn't make it."
My throat closed, and I felt the immediate burn of tears in my eyes. My first attempt at speaking failed. I opened and closed my mouth several times before anything managed to escape. In the end, all I managed was, "How?"
He ran a hand through his hair, making the long brown strands stick out like porcupine quills. "They were in a cab. Didn't even make it two blocks from the party. It was a head-on collision. The other driver was drunk. None of them made it." I couldn't tell if he was speaking in short declarative sentences for my benefit, or because he couldn't get anything else out.
The pressure on my chest grew; every breath was an effort. My eyes blinked furiously to hold back the tears, but they ran stubbornly down my cheeks, dripping off my chin and splattering against the tightly woven navy carpet. "Has someone called her mom?"
"I don't know. The police, maybe."
I sniffed, trying to hold myself together when every single piece of me was ready to fly apart. "Th-thank you, Sam, for letting me know."
"Will you be okay?" There was honest concern in his eyes, which surprised me. Before today we'd never exchanged more than a handful of words. Now, he'd always be the guy who told me that my best friend was dead. Forever, I'd have the image of him standing in front of me like this stamped on my brain — from his disheveled hair, to his red-rimmed eyes, to the tiny hole that decorated the edge of the pocket on his shirt.
I nodded, though I could barely imagine a time that I would be. After I nudged the door shut, my legs nearly buckled; I had to force them to carry me back to my bed. I collapsed on it, burying my face in the pillow.
I sobbed for what seemed like hours, my mind desperately trying to grasp the reality of the situation. But it just couldn't. My world didn't make sense without Renée in it.
Inevitably, my thoughts circled around to the worst — What if I'd been there? Would she still have gone wherever she was going if I was there? Would I have been in the car with her? Would it have made a difference?
The truth is I would never know, but that didn't stop my brain from dissecting every detail, analyzing every scenario.
When the tears refused to come anymore, I rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. I splashed my face with cold water and dried it on a fluffy white towel. Renée's fluffy white towel.
I swallowed through the lump in my throat, took a deep breath, and forced my mind to focus. Instinctively, I sought out order — something to do that would keep my mind occupied. I surveyed the tidy pile of boxes and suitcases stacked by my bed. My gaze drifted to Renée's side of the room, where organized chaos reigned. Not a single thing packed.
Across the room, my phone lit up on my nightstand, glowing in the dimness of the room. After throwing open the curtains and dispelling at least some of the gloom, I scooped up my phone and flipped the sound back on.
Three missed calls from Renée's mom.
One voice mail.
A calendar notification flashed at me — LEAVE FOR THE AIRPORT.
I dismissed it and pulled up my e-mail, typing out a quick message to my mother and letting her know they'd need to reschedule my flight for sometime next week. They wouldn't be happy about it, but for the first time, I didn't care.
Tossing my phone on the bed, I got to work.
I packed her suitcases with the same attention to detail I did with my own, despite knowing that her mom would likely donate everything. My tears were a constant presence as I sorted through her things; tiny wet blotches dotted all of her belongings. Everywhere I looked, everything I touched, reminded me of Renée. Her perfume clung to her clothes, and her comforter was still turned back at the corner from where she flung it back yesterday morning.
Was it only yesterday that we were giggling with each other, getting ready to graduate from law school? It felt like a lifetime ago.
As terrible as it was, touching her things, reminding myself over and over again that she wasn't coming back, was the only thing I could think to do to help. The one thing I knew would make her mom fall apart if she had to do it. So I did it myself, even though it felt like poking at an open wound with a serrated knife. If there was one thing Bianca Easton had been trained for, it was how to keep a cool head and function in even the worst situations.
Excerpted from All The Ways You Saved Me by Jamie Howard. Copyright © 2016 Jamie Howard. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Bianca,
Chapter 2: Bianca,
Chapter 3: Bianca,
Chapter 4: Bianca,
Chapter 5: Bianca,
Chapter 6: Bianca,
Chapter 7: Bianca,
Chapter 8: Bianca,
Chapter 9: Bianca,
Chapter 10: Ian,
Chapter 11: Bianca,
Chapter 12: Bianca,
Chapter 13: Bianca,
Chapter 14: Ian,
Chapter 15: Bianca,
Chapter 16: Ian,
Chapter 17: Bianca,
Chapter 18: Ian,
Chapter 19: Bianca,
Chapter 20: Ian,
Chapter 21: Bianca,
Chapter 22: Ian,
Chapter 23: Bianca,
Chapter 24: Ian,
Chapter 25: Bianca,
Chapter 26: Ian,
Chapter 27: Bianca,
Chapter 28: Ian,
Chapter 29: Bianca,
Chapter 30: Ian,
Chapter 31: Bianca,
Chapter 32: Ian,
Chapter 33: Bianca,
Chapter 34: Ian,
Chapter 35: Bianca,
Chapter 36: Ian,
Chapter 37: Bianca,
Chapter 38: Ian,
Chapter 39: Bianca,
Chapter 40: Ian,
Chapter 41: Bianca,
About the Author,