It will haunt me. It will claim me. It will shatter me. And I don't care.
Faith Watters has a picture-perfect life. She's captain of the dance team, popular, happy. She even spent her junior year traveling the world before returning to Oviedo High School for senior year. But she's living a lie.
Diego Alvarez hates his new life in the States, but staying in Cuba is not an option. Covered in tattoos and scars, Diego doesn't stand a chance of fitting in, and doesn't want to. His only concern is his secret past--a past, which if it were to surface, would cost him his life.
Everyone knows that Faith and Diego don't belong together. But fate has its own plan. All they want is to be free. What they get is something different entirely.
Love--it will ruin you. . .and save you.
"Will hook and hold you. . ." --K.A. Tucker New York Times bestselling author of Ten Tiny Breaths
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Amber Hart
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Amber Hart
All rights reserved.
My closet is a place of secrets.
This is where I change into Her, the girl everybody knows as me. Searching through hanger after hanger of neatly pressed clothes, I find the outfit I'm looking for. A black knee-length pleated skirt, a loose-fitting white top, and two-inch wedge shoes. Looking good at school is a must. Not that I do it for me. It's more for my dad's reputation. I have to play the part.
I am stuffed into a borrowed frame. One that fits too tightly. One that couldn't possibly capture the real me.
"Faith," my stepmom calls. "Are you joining us for breakfast?"
There is no time. "No," I reply, my voice carrying downstairs.
I quickly dress for school, catching my reflection in the closet door mirror. Waking sun shines off my hair, highlighting a few strands brighter than the rest. Everybody has a favorite body part. Mine is my hair, which is the fiery-brown of autumn leaves. My best friend, Melissa, swears my eyes are my best asset. Ivy-green, deep-set, haunting. Like they go on forever.
Speaking of Melissa, her horn blares outside. Beep, beep, pause, beep. That's our code. I race downstairs, passing my dad, stepmom, and little sister on the way out.
"Wait," Dad says.
I sigh. "Yes, Dad?"
He glances at my outfit, pausing at my shoes. If it were up to Dad, I would wear turtleneck shirts and dress pants with lace-up boots forever. The perfect ensemble, it seems. As it is, I dress conservatively to protect his image. I'm eighteen. You'd think he'd stop cringing every time he saw me in anything that showed the least bit of skin.
"Hug," he says, waving me over.
I hug him. Place a kiss on my five-year-old sister's jelly-covered cheek. Then, grab a napkin to wipe the sticky jelly from my lips.
"Bye, Gracie," I say to her. "See you after school."
She waves a small hand at me and smiles.
"Take this." Susan, my stepmom, hands me a bagel even though I already declined breakfast. It's poppy seed. I'm allergic to poppy seed.
As usual, I don't put up a fight. My frame feels especially uncomfortable at the moment. It's always the same thing. I learned early on that it's easier to go with the flow than to be different. Different is bad. Standing out attracts attention, something I try to avoid at all costs. Unfortunately, being the dance captain makes that more difficult.
"Have to go," I say, shoving the bagel in my bag.
The screen door swings shut behind me.
Melissa waits in my driveway. We live in a modest, yellow-paneled house in Oviedo, Florida. The majority of the people here are middle class. We fit in well.
"What's up?" Melissa smiles. "Took you long enough."
"Yeah, well, you try waking up late and still looking as good as I do," I joke.
Melissa whips her blond hair into a ponytail and puts her red Camaro in reverse, careful not to hit my Jeep on the way out. I have my own car, but since Melissa lives three doors down, we have a deal where we alternate driving to school. She takes the first month; I take the second, and so on. Saves gas.
"You look smokin'," Melissa says, lighting a cigarette.
I roll my eyes.
She's always hated the way I dress.
Melissa laughs. "Okay, true, the clothes need to go. But your hair and makeup are flawless. And no matter what you wear, you still look beautiful."
"Thanks. You, too," I say, eyeing her tight jeans and sequined top. Melissa is effortlessly beautiful with her sun-freckled face and athletic build.
"Prediction," Melissa begins. This is something we have done since ninth grade: predict three things that will happen during the year. "Tracy Ram will try to overthrow you as dance captain, once again, but you'll keep your spot, of course, 'cause you rock. You'll quit dressing like an eighty-year-old and finally wear what you want to wear instead of what society dictates is appropriate for a pastor's daughter. And you'll come to your senses and dump Jason Magg for a hot new boy."
Melissa always predicts that I'll dump Jason, has done so since Jason and I began dating freshman year. It's not that she doesn't like him. It's just that she thinks my life is too bland, like the taste of celery. What's the point? she figures.
"First of all, I do not dress like the elderly," I say. "And second, I don't know what you have against Jason. He treats me nicely. It's not like he's a jerk."
"It's not like he's exciting, either," Melissa says.
She's right. What I have with Jason is comfortable, nice even, but excitement left a long time ago.
"Prediction," I say, turning to Melissa. "You will not be able to quit bugging me about dumping Jason, even though last year you swore you would. Despite your doubts, you will pass senior calculus. And you're going to win homecoming."
Melissa shakes her head. "No way. Homecoming is all you, girl."
I groan. "But I don't want to win."
Melissa laughs. "Tracy Ram would have a heart attack if she ever heard you say that."
"Great," I say. "Let her win homecoming."
We grin. Melissa and I have been friends since kindergarten. Memories come to me suddenly. I'm in elementary school, and it's sleepover night at Melissa's. In my overnight bag, I carry a small stuffed bunny, my steadfast companion since forever. People would laugh if they knew, me carrying around a stuffed baby toy, but Melissa never tells. Fast-forward to middle school. The braces on Melissa's teeth are still so new that the silver catches the light from the fluorescent fixtures when she smiles. The headgear is huge, cumbersome, and no one lets her forget it. But I relentlessly defend my friend. She's so beautiful, can't they see? Sometimes I leave flowers stolen from a neighbor's rosebush at her locker when no one is looking. That way people will know that she is loved. High school. Melissa and me, same as always.
"What do you want to bet?" Melissa asks.
Whoever gets the most predictions right wins.
"Hmm," I say. "If I win, you have to quit smoking."
Melissa almost chokes. "Pulling out the big guns, are we? Okay, then. If I win, you have to break up with Jason."
"Deal," I say, knowing that she won't win. She never does.
Melissa purses her lips and gives me the stink eye. She knows I have a better chance.
"Faith, I will find a way to break you out of your mold," she says.
I laugh, partially because of the determination in my friend's eyes, but mostly because of the absurdity of her statement. Everybody knows that girls like me never break free.CHAPTER 2
I can't help the frustrated sigh that escapes my lips, hurled at mi padre, my dad, like a gust of wind that threatens to flatten our house of cards. It's my fault. I should have built something stronger with the cards I was dealt. But I didn't. I didn't know how.
"Go away," I say. "Vete."
I'm not planning to attend school today.
In fact, I didn't plan to be in the States at all.
"Vamonos. Let's go," mi padre repeats in his heavily accented voice, yanking me off of the couch. "You will not miss senior year."
He has this new thing where we have to speak English as much as possible now that we live in the States. I almost wish I weren't fluent. Several summers in Florida, and I am.
With a grimace, I pass him, reluctantly moving toward my room. It feels like my feet are sinking, like I'm walking over sticky sand instead of thick, dirty carpet.
How did I get stuck in this place?
I open my dresser drawer and pull out faded jeans, a white T-shirt, and my Smith & Wesson.
"No," mi padre says, grabbing the gun.
I take a step toward him, challenging. He does not back down.
"This is why we left," he says.
Hypocrite. Under his bed is a similar gun, waiting. Just in case. But he's also the one who taught me how to fight.
I'm bigger than he is, but he has more experience. And the scars to prove it.
Not that I haven't been in countless fights myself.
"Fine," I say through clenched teeth, and turn toward the bathroom.
The hot water heater goes out after five minutes. The tiny two-bedroom apartment—this hole we now call home—is the only thing mi padre could afford. It's not much, but it's inexpensive. That's all that matters. The plain white walls remind me of an asylum. Feels like I'm going crazy already.
Our jobs keep us afloat. They're our life vests, our only chance of survival in a sea of ravenous sharks. Mi padre found a job with a lawn crew a couple of weeks ago. Not many people would hire him with his scarred face and tattooed body. A restaurant offered me work part-time. Two shifts as a cook, one as a busboy. They promised a free meal every night that I worked. Couldn't pass that up.
"Don't be late for school or work," mi padre says as I step out of the house.
School's only ten minutes away. I walk, staring at the graffiti-covered sidewalk that stretches in front of me like a ribbed canvas. Latinos roam the block. It didn't take moving to the States for me to know that's how it is. The gringos, white people, live in nice houses and drive cars to school while the rest of the world waits for a piece of their leftovers. I'm trying not to think about how screwed up it all is when a Latina walks up to me.
"Hola," she says. "¿Hablas inglés?"
"Yeah, I speak English," I answer, though I'm not sure why she asks since both of us speak Spanish.
"I'm Lola." She smiles, sexy brown eyes big and wide.
She reminds me of a girl I knew back home. Just the thought, the image of home, makes my guts clench.
"What's your name?" she purrs.
"Lola," a Latino calls from across the street. She ignores him. He calls again. When she doesn't come, he approaches us.
One look tells me he's angry. He has a cocky stance and a shaved head.
"Am I interrupting something?" he snaps.
What's this guy's problem?
"Yep," Lola says, turning her back on him. "My ex," she explains, brushing a strand of curly hair out of her face.
Perfecto. Just what I need. I didn't even do anything. Not that I'm going to explain.
"She's mine," the guy says, staring me down. "¿Entiendes, amigo?"
"I'm not your friend," I say, gritting my teeth. "And you do not want to mess with me."
Lola is smiling. I wonder if she enjoys the attention. Probably. I've met too many girls like her. She fits the type.
"You don't know who you're messing with," he says, stepping closer.
A few guys come out of nowhere, closing in on me. Blue and white bandannas hang from their pockets like a bad-luck charm. I know what the colors signify. Mara Salvatrucha 13 Gang, or MS-13.
I turn to Lola. Watch her smile.
This is all part of the game. What I can't figure out is if the guy really is her ex and she doesn't care that she could be getting me killed, or if he sent her to see how tough I am, to help decide whether he wants to recruit me.
I turn to walk away, but someone blocks my path.
"Going somewhere?" another gangbanger asks.
This whole time I wondered if I'd end up fighting at school. I hadn't thought about the fact that I might never make it there in the first place. I silently curse mi padre for hiding my gun. He wouldn't get rid of it completely, though.
"What do you want?" I ask.
The original guy laughs, looks me up and down. The number 67 is tattooed behind his right ear in bold black numbers. It only takes me a second to figure out the meaning. Six plus seven equals thirteen.
"What are those markings?" he asks, eyeing my tattoos.
"Nothing," I lie.
If they wanted to fight me, they would've done it already. This is a recruit.
"Where you from?" he asks.
I don't answer. Members of MS-13 stretch around the globe like fingers. They can easily check my past. I'm not gonna give them a head start.
"Swallow your tongue?" one of the guys asks.
I'm trying to figure out if I can win a fight against the five guys who surround me. I look for weak spots, scars, old injuries. I look for bulges that might be weapons. I'm a good fighter. I think I can take them. But at the same time, fighting will guarantee me a follow-up visit from MS-13.
Just then, someone speaks behind us. "Is there a problem?" a police officer asks from the safety of his car.
Everyone backs away from me.
"Nope," one of the gangbangers answers. "We were just leaving."
"See you around," 67 says, throwing an arm around Lola.
I turn my back and walk the last block to school. The police officer trails slowly behind, like a hungry dog sniffing for scraps. He leaves as I enter the double doors.
I think about what my dad said. Moving here will give you a brighter future.
His words sit heavily on my mind, like humidity on every pore of my skin. His intentions are good, but he's wrong. So far, moving here has done nothing but remind me of my past.CHAPTER 3
"Hi, I'm Faith Watters."
Those are the first words I speak to the new Cuban guy in the front office. He grimaces. He'll be a tough one. I can handle it, though. He's not the first.
I can't help but notice that he looks a lot like a model from the neck up—eyes the color of oak, strong bone structure. Everywhere else, he looks a lot like a criminal. Chiseled, scarred body ... I wonder for a second about the meaning behind the tattoos scratched into his arms.
One thing's clear. He's dangerous.
And he's beautiful.
"I'll show you to your classes," I announce.
I'm one of the peer helpers at our school. It's not my favorite thing to do, but it counts as a class. Basically I spend the first two days with new students, introducing them around and answering their questions. Some parents with kids new to the school voluntarily sign their kids up, but it's only mandatory for the international students, of which we have a lot. Mostly Latinos.
This Cuban guy towers over me. I'm five-six. Not tall. Not short. Just average. Average is good.
This guy's not average. Not even a little bit. He must be over six feet.
I glance up at him, kind of like I do when I'm searching for the moon in a sea of darkness.
"Looks like you have math first. I'll walk you there," I offer.
"No thanks, chica. I can handle it."
"It's no problem," I say, leading the way.
He tries to snatch his schedule from my hands, but I move too fast.
"Why don't we start with your name?" I suggest.
I already know his name. Plus some. Diego Alvarez. Eighteen years old. Moved from Cuba two weeks ago. Only child. No previous school records. I read it in his bio. I want to hear him say it.
"You got some kinda control issues or somethin'?" he asks harshly, voice slightly accented.
"You got some kind of social issues or somethin'?" I fire back, holding my stance. I won't let him intimidate me, though I'll admit, he's hot. Too bad he has a nasty attitude.
The side of his lip twitches. "No. I just don't mix with your type," he answers.
"That's what I said."
"You don't even know my type." No one does. Well, except Melissa.
He chuckles humorlessly. "Sure I do. Head cheerleader? Date the football player? Daddy's little girl who gets everything she wants?" He leans closer to whisper. "Probably a virgin."
My cheeks burn hot. "I'm not a cheerleader," I say through clamped teeth.
"Whatever," he says. "Are you gonna give me my schedule or not?"
"Not," I answer. "But you can feel free to follow me to your first class."
He steps in front of me, intimately close. "Listen, chica, nobody tells me what to do."
I shrug. "Fine, suit yourself. It's your life. But if you want to attend this school, it's mandatory for me to show you to your classes for two days."
His eyes narrow. "Who says I want to attend this school?"
I take the last step toward him, closing the gap between us. When we were little, Melissa and I used to collect glass bottles. Whenever we accumulated twenty, we'd break them on the concrete. When the glass shattered, the slivered pieces made a breathtaking prism of light.
I cut myself on the glass by accident once. It was painful, but worth it. The beauty was worth it. It's funny how the bottle was never as beautiful as when it was broken.
You will not shatter me, I silently tell Diego. Somebody already did.
Excerpted from Before You by Amber Hart. Copyright © 2014 Amber Hart. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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