Not everything is as perfect as it seems in this dark romance by A Matter of Heart author, Amy Dominy.
Theirs was the perfect love story.
After Emma Lorde’s parents’ divorce forces her to move halfway across the state of Arizona to live with her father, Emma must face her senior year in a new school knowing absolutely no one.
Then she meets Dillon Hobbs and something just clicks.
Dillon introduces Emma to friends she can call her own. He provides a refuge from the chaos of her past and the security of a commitment that he promises will last forever. And because circumstances of her messy life forced Emma to put aside her dream of pursuing archaeology, Dillon creates a blueprint for a future together.
He saves her, over and over, by loving her more than she thought anyone ever would.
But just when everything seems picture-perfect, Emma is offered an opportunity that will upend the future they’ve planned. Uncertainty grows, and fear spirals into something darker.
Now Dillon is the one who needs saving.
But how much do you sacrifice for the one you love? What if saving Dillon means losing herself?
"In this delicate, tense exploration of teenage relationship abuse, both the slow progression of Dillon's illness and Emma's refusal to see the signs until it is nearly too late ring true. The violence is handled sensitively, and readers are left hopeful for Emma's recovery. A perceptive portrait of relationship abuse."Kirkus Reviews
"This taut thriller unrolls hidden messages of abusive relationships with a sharp edge and well-drawn gray areas, leaving readers on the edge of their seats."Booklist
"With a fresh voice, Dominy adeptly depicts how love can grow dark and that abuse isn’t always physical."SLJ
About the Author
Amy Fellner Dominy is a former advertising copywriter, playwright, and hula-hoop champion. Her previous novels for tweens and teens include A Matter of Heart; OyMG, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book; and Audition & Subtraction. Amy lives with her husband and various pets in Phoenix. Visit her online at amydominy.com. Follow Amy on Facebook and Twitter.
Read an Excerpt
“Watch out,” Hannah says. “There’s a sweaty guy headed your way.”
I follow her gaze to the baseball diamond and laugh as Dillon hops the low fence surrounding the field and jogs toward the bleachers where Hannah and I are still sitting, along with most of the parents. The team won in the bottom of the ninth, and we’re basking in the victory. My throat aches from screaming. I’ve become one of those girls who jump up and down and shrieks like a game of baseball is the most important thing in the world.
Of course it’s not.
Dillon Hobbs, on the other hand . . .
He sees me watching and grins. I know that grin.
“Don’t you dare!” I call.
It’s only the second week of March, but summer likes to come early in Phoenix and it’s in the mid-nineties today. Dillon’s been strapped into his catcher’s gear for nine innings, except for when he was sprinting to the bases and diving headfirst to beat out a tag. His gold jersey is soaked with sweat, plastered to his wide shoulders and the flat ridges of his abs. His black hair is just as wetslicked back and dripping with the remains of a jug of Gatorade dumped over him after his bloop single brought in the winning run and clinched a win against our biggest rivals.
When his cleats hit the metal ramp, their clatter is drowned out as the parents stand and cheer, then make a path for him.
He takes the steps two at a time, shaking off droplets of liquid like a wet dog. A very dirty wet dog. Dust is smeared across his forehead, and his dark maroon socks are caked brown with the same mud that covers his white pants. There’s a chorus of laughter as I grab Hannah’s shoulder and climb up a row, putting her in front of me like a human shield.
“Come on,” he says, stopping just below Hannah. “We just beat Hampton. I need a hug.” He holds out his grimy arms.
“I’m embracing you from afar,” I say from behind Hannah. “And later I’m going to embrace the showered and sweat-free you.”
His grin widens.
Hannah shifts out of the way. “You’ve got to take one for the team, Emma.”
There’s more laughter as she shares a high five with Dillon.
“Traitor,” I say.
“Give up,” he intones in a deep and oh-so-sexy voice. “There’s no escape.”
And then he leaps up the row, grabs me in his arms, and lifts me against him. Sweat and mud and smelly boy press against me from head to toe. I groan at the death of my white T-shirt as more laughter rings out. And then I hug him back. I can’t help but smile.
It’s good to see him happy like this.
Dillon has been struggling since we started back after winter break, wound tighter and tighter as we go from one last to another. Last baseball season. Last Valentine’s dance. Last spring break. Graduation is weighing on everyone, but on Dillon most of all. So I love it when he loses himself in the moment, like now.
It’s a perfect afternoon. Nothing but clear skies and cotton-ball clouds. Spring break is officially here, and the Ridgeway baseball team is off to a winning start. Small things, yeah, but I’ve come to appreciate those in the past year.
“We’re going to celebrate at Pizza Joe’s,” Dillon says. “Jace, Spence . . . I’m sure Hannah, too. You’re coming, right?”
I glance over at the fence. Hannah has found her way down to Spence. They’re nearly the same height, both with honey-blond hair, and could pass as brother and sister. Which would be creepy seeing as how they’re officially an item now. Dillon’s closest friend, Jace, who’s next to them, is usually a head above everyone else, but he’s bent over tugging off the ankle brace he’s been wearing this spring.
The four of them have been best friends since elementary school and I try not to feel like a fifth wheel. Mostly they’ve been greattreating me like one of the group. They did it for Dillon at first, but more and more I feel like they’re my friends now, too. Still, there are times when I look at how close they are and I miss Marissa. She’s my history, the best friend I left behind when I moved across town last May. Marissa and I try to stay close, but it’s hard when we live so far apart.
“I’ll try,” I say. “I’ve got to meet Mrs. Lyght, remember?”
“I forgot,” he says.
He lets go and I look down at myself. “I’ve been slimed.”
Dillon’s dark eyes skim over my chest and then lower. His lips part and his eyes narrow in a look that still takes my breath away. “You look good slimed.”
Warmth shivers through me. “Later,” I say. “I have a meeting.”
He brushes a chunk of mud off my shoulder. “Love you, Emma Lorde.”
“I love you, too, Dillon Hobbs. Now go away.” With a laugh, I push his soggy chest with the flat of my palm. “I have to clean upsomehow.”
“I’ll see you later, then.” He kisses me and I taste the grit of dirt and sweat and lemon Gatorade. I smile. If forever had a flavor, this would be it.
“How would you like to spend next year in Rome?”
I stare at Mrs. Lyght. I’m suddenly having a difficult time processing the English language.
“Ummmm?” It sounds like a question. I cover my mouth with my hand, but other words don’t appear to be coming out any time soon.
The classroom is awkwardly quiet. Even the air conditioner has kicked off, and I wonder if it’s already shut down for spring break. I should be gone, too, having pizza with Dillon, Jace, Spence, and Hannah. But I’m here, my white shirt still wet and stained in splotches, as if I’ve had a run-in with a used tea bag.
I figured Mrs. Lyght wanted to meet with me to talk about my dad’s summer program. He teaches archaeology at Arizona State University, and every year he arranges expeditions for his grad students. Mrs. Lyght is usually one of his teaching assistants. It was actually one of the nicest surprises I got when I transferred to Ridgeway for my senior yeara history teacher I already knew. But it also means I have to tiptoe around why Dad hasn’t planned anything for this summer. When she asks, I’ll blame it on the divorce and the move. He wanted to stick aroundfor my sake. It sounds so much better than the truth.
But that’s not what she’s asking.
I clear my throat. “Rome, Italy?” I say.
“That would be the one.” The history teacher at my last school was a human artifact, but Mrs. Lyght is still young enough to pull off squared black glasses and short hair the color of a penny. Her smile widens and I wonder if she can tell my heart is racing and fireworks are going off inside my head. Rome, ItalyCity of the Seven Hills. City of the Great Empire. City of Love. City of my dreams.
“I have an opportunity for you, Emma.” She rests her elbows on the desk. A paper crumbles beneath her and she brushes it out of the way. “A friend of mine runs a small museum in Rome. Each year, he brings in a study-abroad student to work there. He was just told that the person he had lined up has to drop out. His second and third choices have already committed elsewhere, so now he’s scrambling. There’s just not enough time to start the application process again. He asked me and a few other colleagues if we had any students we could recommend.”
My heart drops like a yo-yo, then shoots up again. “Me?”
“If you’re interested.”
“If I’m interested?” The expression I’d give my right nut pops into my head. What’s the female version, I wonder? And why am I thinking about this right now while Mrs. Lyght is staring at me like she might be reconsidering?
“Of course I’m interested,” I say quickly. “I just can’t take it all in. I mean, Rome. It’s always been a dream of mine.”
It’s embarrassing to admit, but my fascination with Rome started with the movie Gladiator. All the blood and guts grossed me out but at the same time, I couldn’t get over the fact that Rome was the center of art and culture. How could one society have so much destruction and creation?
By then I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist like Dad, but that’s when I first started obsessing about all things Roman. Then Dad bought me a book about Pompeii, and I just knew. Dad says it happens that way for a lot of archaeologists. They connect to some particular time or place and that becomes their focusoften for their whole careers. As soon as I saw the pictures and read the stories, I knew where I wanted to work.
There’s just nothing like Pompeii. Only a few hours from Rome, it’s an entire city perfectly preserved under fourteen feet of volcanic ash. You can see the homes, gardens, bathhouses, and art. They’ve made casts of the bodies exactly how they were found, and they’re so detailed you can read the expressions on the townspeople’s faces.
Over the years, I’ve read so much about Pompeii I sometimes wake up hearing the screams of the people and tasting volcanic ash in my throat. To think that I could actually visit and maybe even volunteer makes my fingers itch. The collection of broken pottery and colored tile must be incredible. Pieces of the past waiting to be made whole. It’s what I’m good at, what I love mostfitting together jagged bits of pottery. Dad says it’s a gift I have, like a sculptor who can see a statue in a block of stone. I can picture the original shape of an artifact from just a few pieces, sense the patterns and designs before other people can. It’s the most amazing feeling in the world, too, when you put something back togetherturn rubble into real.
My thoughts rush ahead. From what I’ve read, Pompeii is just a train ride from Rome. If I lived in the city, I could go anytime I wanted. I shiver at the thought. Traveling abroad was a dream I buried when Mom and Dad fell apart. It was all I could do to hold things together here. But now . . . I feel like Mrs. Lyght has dug up those dreams.
She leans forward, and my attention shifts back to her. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
I run my palms over my jean shorts. My hands feel damp with sweat while my legs are shaky with goose bumps. “Just about all the things I’ve read but have never seen. Rome . . . Pompeii.”
She nods. “It’s one of the reasons why I thought of you for this opportunity. Your project last semester on culture in Pompeii was excellent. College level.”
I smile, feeling as if I might float out of my chair. “They’re still getting packages in the mail at Pompeii,” I say. “Did you know that? People who have stolen bits of glass or tile are sending them back. Some of them from fifty years ago.”
Mrs. Lyght raises her eyebrows. “That would make working in the mailroom an interesting job.”
“Scrubbing toilets would be an interesting job if it was in Pompeii.”
She laughs. “So you like the idea of a year in Italy?”
“Are you kidding? What do I do? How can I make it happen?”
“First things first,” Mrs. Lyght says. “You need to talk it over with your parents. They’ll want to be part of the decision.”
“Oh, sure. I will.” I nod as if my parents are part of any of my decisions these days.
“The internship only pays a small stipend, but you will earn credits through the American University of Rome. You’ll have to look into registration beginning with the fall semester.”
“I can figure it out over spring break.”
“Good,” she says. “Use the week to think it over. If you still feel certain this is something you want, then come see me a week from Monday and you’ll get your assignment.”
“You won’t be the only student considered. In order to be chosen, you’ll have to impress Dr. Abella with your abilities to handle the job.”
“Abilities?” I feel like a not-very-bright parrot.
“He’ll need someone with basic research skills, general education, and some experience with artifacts,” she explains. “I imagine you’ll be competing mainly against college students, but you’ve had very unique opportunities because of your father. I think you have a good chance.”
“Can I get the assignment now?”
She smiles. “Take the week, Emma. Let the idea settle. It’s a big commitment and it would mean a lot of changes.”
“But . . . Rome?”
She pulls off her glasses and laughs. “Yes, Rome.”
It’s possible I walk to the door, but I have no memory of moving my feet. I’m weightless. I feel like too much blood has gone to my head and not enough oxygen to my lungs.
Somehow, I’m outside. Fresh air hits my face and life suddenly rushes back at me as if I’d hit the pause button while I was inside.
“No way,” Dillon says, pointing a finger at me in warning.
“Just try it,” I say. I leverage myself higher on his chest and wiggle a Raisinet near his lips. “Come on.”
He’s lying back, head propped up on two pillows, his bare chest damp and bathed in candlelight. His skin smells gooda mix of his ocean-fresh body spray and us. The sheet is tangled around our legs and our legs are tangled around each other. I love these moments after. The guesthouse silent around us, the rest of the world a million miles away. It’s just the two of us . . . and Dillon’s secret stash of candy.
Dillon is one of those annoyingly healthy people who don’t just talk about eating right; he actually does it. Except for his one vice, candy, and not just any kindJunior Mints. It’s become a challenge to get him to try something different.
“This could be your new favorite,” I say. “Chocolate. Fruit. What’s not to love?”
He fishes a Junior Mint out of his box. “I know what I like. Why mess with perfection?” His gaze drops to the curve of my breasts and his lips part in a slow smile. He slides the mint in my mouth. I roll the chocolate around and let the icy center melt on my tongue.
“Mmm,” he says in a low voice. “Do that again.”
I shake my head. “Your turn.” I dance the Raisinet across the smoothness of his chest. “Come on. I tried yours. You try mine.”