How do you repair a broken life?Home is a dark place of anguish and pain for seventeen-year-old Bree Jacobs, forced to endure emotional and physical torment daily at the hands of a violently unstable mother. Bree’s only escape is high school, particularly her history class taught by young, handsome, kind and caring Axel Taylor. Mr. Taylor becomes Bree’s dearest friend, a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, and soon their shared affection grows into something greater. But by reaching out to protect her—to mend her breaks and soothe her wounds—Axel has crossed a dangerous line, resulting in two shattered lives instead of just one. Six years later, they will meet again: Bree, still battling the demons that continue to possess her, and Axel, reduced to taking work as a substitute teacher wherever he can find it. Once again he will feel compelled to rescue her. But this time it will be different, because now the yearnings of a loving heart won’t be silenced by suspicious minds. And now there’s more than one life that desperately needs saving.
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Finally, he took a deep breath and scrutinized me with his intense stare, making me feel as though a heat wave had blasted through my body, despite the sixty-degree weather and cool breeze. “I didn’t want to make it seem like an invitation to stop by, because that would be completely inappropriate. I understand I came to your house when you were sick, but I’ve since realized how wrong that was. And I swore I wouldn’t do it again—unless it’s absolutely needed. Unless you’re in trouble and need me to come. Other than that, I have no business at your house, and you have no business at mine. What good would it do for me to tell you where I live? Why would I need to tell you that?”
Axel had always been really good about not making me feel rejected, even when rejecting me. He had a way of wording things to ease the blow, and I was fine with that. I understood our friendship, and I never expected anything beyond it. I’d always kept our conversations clean, free of anything remotely close to indecent topics. So his explanation sent a hard punch to my chest, knocking the wind out of me. It hurt, stung, and the pain rippled through me until it morphed into anger. The anger bubbled, boiling into rage, which left my face heated from the fire it ignited within me.
“Gee, I don’t know, Mr. Taylor.” I spread my arms wide, throwing every ounce of fury into my words and enunciating it with my body language. “Maybe so something like this wouldn’t happen? Had I known that over the river and through the woods, to Axel Taylor’s house I go…I wouldn’t have made the trip! But I’m glad I know how you really feel. This was a good thing—me stumbling over here like this. Because now I know that you see me as…what, Axel? A stalker? Some kid who’d randomly stop by your house and peek through the windows? Do you think of me as a peeping Tom? Or maybe you’re worried I’d come by when you’re not home and sneak inside to rifle through your underwear drawer and curl up in your bed. Fuck you.” I spun on my heel and took off toward the line of trees.
“Aubrey! Wait!” He must’ve only taken three steps before reaching me, grabbing my upper arm and pulling me into his hard body. In the process of halting my escape, he managed to turn me around so that when I fell into him, my face slammed against his bare chest. His warm, sweaty, bare chest.
I froze, unable to move or fight back. Somehow, my hands ended up on his sides, just above the waistband of his jeans. The fingers of one hand remained wrapped around my upper arm while the others cautiously caressed my back. I could hear the harsh, angry beats of his heart through his chest, thumping against my ear like heavy bass through a speaker. Or was that the sound of my own heartbeat deafening me?
“Bree…that’s not what I meant.”
He moved his hand from my upper back to the side of my face, threading his long fingers through the strands of hair next to my ear. He kept it there for a beat before using that hold to pull my head away, angling it until we were face to face. His eyes clouded over with an intense darkness, and even though I wanted to look away, I couldn’t. The usually bright-blue color came to life with a hypnotizing depth, holding me hostage and defenseless against it. I became instantly powerless to stop the hold his fierce stare had over me.
“You’re taking my words out of context. You know I don’t think those things about you. If I did, would I continue talking to you every night? No. If I thought, even for a second, that befriending you would be hazardous to my safety or dangerous to either of us, I would have never started this to begin with. I didn’t tell you where I live for several reasons, but none of them are even close to your assumptions.”
I skimmed my hands over his sides and up his front, pressing them flat to the center of his solid, hairless chest. His skin reminded me of a layer of silk over hard rock. This was definitely not a boy’s body. It belonged to a man.
That one move offered me some distance from him. It put a barrier between us. Even if my small hands were no match against his strength, it still gave me a tiny sense of security. In a span of two minutes, my only friend had managed to flip my entire world upside down, leaving me with the worst case of vertigo.
“But you said I have no business at your house…”
“Yes,” he said softly, punctuating his one word with a slow nod. “I said that because it’s true. It wasn’t meant to be mean.”
I swallowed and attempted to lower my gaze, needing to break eye contact, but he wouldn’t allow it, tipping my chin up with a finger. “You said you had several reasons. What are they? If that’s not what you meant, then tell me why.” My voice was quiet but strong, unwavering in my demand for answers.
He blinked a few times. Dark lashes that would make any woman jealous rested on his cheeks before reaching his eyebrows again. When he exhaled, his warm breath fluttered across my face, reminding me of a summer’s breeze. Then, once he seemed composed enough to continue, his eyes met mine again. This time, instead of fierce intensity, they grew troubled. He seemed sad, or possibly distraught. Guarded even. Panic filled me as I watched him struggle for words. Tingling fear that started in my toes, worked its way up my body until my hands shook against his chest and unshed tears stabbed the backs of my eyes.
“Just get it over with, Axel,” I begged, my chest heaving with short pants, none deep enough to fill my lungs properly. My head began to spin, and the metallic taste on my tongue warned me of an impending blackout if my brain didn’t receive oxygen soon. “Stop beating around the bush and spit it out. You can’t possibly hurt me more than you already have, so stop trying to protect me and just fucking say it.”
“I’m not trying to protect you. I’m trying to protect myself.” His words came out rough and scratchy, yet filled with air. They sounded desperate, heavy with emotion that I couldn’t comprehend. “And maybe I’m also protecting you, but not the way you think.”
The lack of oxygen to my brain must’ve been worse than I originally thought, because in the blink of an eye, my hands had gone from his chest, where they kept him at a distance, to his face, cupping his unshaven cheeks and pulling him closer to me. So close that every breath he took put pressure on my breasts.
“Tell me,” I whispered desperately.
Leddy Harper had to use her imagination often as a child. She grew up the only girl in a house full of boys. At the age of fourteen, she decided to use that imagination and wrote her first book, and never stopped.
She often calls writing her therapy, using it as a way to deal with issues through the eyes of her characters.
The decision to publish her first book was made as a way of showing her children to go after whatever it is they want to. Love what you do and do it well. Most importantly Leddy wanted to teach them what it means to overcome their fears.