Authors: Jo Raven
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Sports
(Inked Brotherhood, #1)
Almost three years ago, a car crash took Audrey’s dad and scarred her for life. Now eighteen, she returns to her hometown for the first time after the accident.
She’s here to start again. Go to college and have fun. Make new friends. Get over the past.
But the past won’t let go.
is here—her first kiss, her first heartbreak. More handsome and distant than ever, he’s still the boy who used to be her best friend. That was before he changed into someone she hardly knows anymore—the boy who started getting into fights and gave her the cold shoulder for years.
Asher isn’t what she needs. In fact, she hates him and should try her best to keep away from him.
Yet her body doesn’t seem to care about how she feels, and maybe, just maybe this time her body got it right. Not that she has much of a choice. Asher draws her like a bright flame, and if she isn’t careful, she’ll burn.
And that may not be such a bad thing after all...
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(Inked Brotherhood, #1)
Copyright Jo Raven 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
: Huge thanks to Jean Davis, Harlow Fallon, J.A. Beard and Arlene Webb for helping me make this real.
In my memory, we must be ten years old or so, because Ash is my height. I can look directly into his pale blue eyes.
His dark brows dip low as he crouches by my side to examine my skinned knee.
“You’ll survive,” he gives his verdict. His tanned face splits into a grin. “You’ll have a cool scar.”
“Scars are ugly,” I say, staring at my knee doubtfully. Blood trickles down my leg, a red line, seeping into my white socks. “Aren’t they?”
His gaze is guarded. He stands up and gives me his grubby hand. “I don’t know. You get used to them, I guess.”
I take his hand. He’s so strong. So warm and kind. “Used to seeing them?”
He nods. “And having them. They become part of you. Scars aren’t ugly, Auds.” He’s the only one who calls me that. The nickname started as a tease, then it stuck.
He glances down at my knee. “I have Band-Aids in my room. Come on, I’ll clean this up for you.”
“What are best friends for?” His eyes warm up and he tugs me along. He always makes me feel safe, protected, taken care of.
Best friends forever
Or so I thought back then. It only took one kiss to ruin it all.
As soon as the door opens, a smiling short-haired girl gestures with her beer bottle for us to enter. Music blares, a popular dance song. Behind her, I can see the apartment, spacious and airy, the living room visible through a glass door, the walls hung with drawings and posters.
Tessa tugs on my arm, her blond ponytail bouncing. Her large blue eyes shine with excitement. “Come on, Audrey.”
The short-haired girl leaves us and wanders toward the heart of the party obviously in full swing. Laughter echoes in the hall and I’m still trying to decide whether coming was a mistake. I have a headache from the move, and my muscles ache from carrying my boxes.
“You’ll see, Audrey!” Tessa manages to drag me further into the apartment. “It’s gonna be great.”
“Where’s Dylan?” He was the one who invited me, even though this isn’t his apartment or his party. I don’t even know who owns the place, much less anyone in this crowd.
“You’re still crushing on Dylan,” she says smugly.
“Of course not,” I snap. God, it’s like being back in high school all over again. “Just because I once said he looked good...”
“You said he looked hot.”
“It was a hot day. He was sweating. Besides, that was, like, five years ago.”
Tessa giggles, making me wonder if she started drinking earlier in the day, and waves a hand back and forth. “Sure, hon, whatever you say. Wait till you see him, though.”
Dylan isn’t why I’m here, though he’s probably the reason
is. No, I’m not here for anyone in particular.
“We need to meet new people,” Tessa gushes. “
need to meet new people. This is what college life is all about!”
God, she’s said that like ten times already. I wish I could be as excited as she is about the whole thing. I let her drag me into the living room where loud rock music is now blaring and people mill about talking and drinking and smoking.
Tessa’s right, and I look forward to studying, having friends, finding my way. My life went sideways less than three years go and it still feels as if it’s off the rails.
Which is why I came back to Madison WI, hoping to hit the reset button. Only, this town holds lots of memories, both good and bad. It’s where I spent a magical childhood, where I fell in love for the first time and had my heart broken. Where the accident took place, turning my world upside down.
Finally I spot Dylan at a table stacked with bottles, talking with a pretty dark-haired woman. He has his back to me, but his broad shoulders are hard to miss. I hesitate, watching the girl’s animated face. Should I interrupt?
Then Tessa squeals and throws herself at Dylan, hugging him from behind, leaving me no option but to follow her.
Dylan and Tessa. At school they were like a commercial for toothpaste—both blond and blue-eyed with perfect white smiles. They looked like twins and behaved that way, too. They’ve been friends since forever and lusted after each other for just as long.
They did go out for a while, a couple of months when we were fourteen. But then something happened, though neither of them will talk to me about it. Dylan’s eyes turned haunted, and Tessa seems to have demons of her own to fight.
know is they’d be perfect together. Not because they look alike; because they hurt alike.
“Audrey is here,” Tessa says in Dylan’s ear.
“Audrey!” Dylan twists around, a grin from ear to ear, his arms open wide. “Come here.”
I almost fall over. I can feel my eyes going round. God, how he’s changed. His black T-shirt has a silver skull design, and his hair is longer in the front, purple bangs brushing his jaw. A silver ring glints on his lip.
I’m so shocked, it takes me a moment to realize he’s still holding his arms open. He lifts a brow, beckoning with his hands, and I have no choice but to walk over and be hugged.
“Hi. Dylan.” I draw back and try not to gape openly at him. Since when has he turned into a sexy bad boy?
“The prodigal daughter returns.” He pats my back and pulls away, his eyes sparkling. “How does it feel to be back home?”
“She hates it,” Tessa says and sticks her tongue out at me.
“Actually, being back is perfect,” I lie, a momentary twinge of unease in my chest. Because it’s perfect, and hard, and sad, and horrible, all of it at once. “Good to see you. How’s everything?”
“Great. Did you start classes? Haven’t seen you on campus.”
“Only got here yesterday. I’ll go on Monday. I need to get permission to enroll in the astronomy class.”
Dylan nods, grinning. “Astronomy. Hadn’t pegged you for a stargazer.”
“I’m not.” Which was why I want it. Something new, something different.
“Hey, I’ll leave you two to get reacquainted. Gonna grab a beer.” Tessa wanders away, inserting herself into a group of unfamiliar people.
I stare at her slender back, left bare by her black halter top and low-slung jeans. She used to wear ripped jeans and dye her hair black back in school, but I guess her oppressive family finally got to her, forcing a more conservative style on her. She hasn’t told me much about them lately.
No matter, though. Whatever she wears, Tess is beautiful. Right now she rocks the classy, laid back style and attitude, and I wish I was like her.
Dylan on the other hand rocks the somber punk style, with his black skull-themed T-shirt, tight pants and combat boots.
Jesus, talk about a make-over. He was always so clean and proper, a good boy from a good family, the stellar student and athlete.
“Decided on a major?” he asks, his eyes fixed on Tessa.
“Not yet.” I have no clue yet what I want—from my studies, from my life—and sometimes it feels like I’m standing on the edge of a precipice.
Seeing Dylan brings back so many memories. Tess is right. Ages ago, back when we went to high school together here in Madison, I had a fangirl crush on him. Then again, who hadn’t?
It’s easy to fall for Dylan with his killer body and that handsome, square-jawed face, the bright blue eyes and big smile. He was a quarterback and it shows. Half the female population of the school had pined for him and the other half had tried to get him.
Unsuccessfully. Dylan hasn’t been involved with anyone since he was fourteen, and I should know. Tessa wept on my shoulder when he broke up with her. I don’t really know why he changed, but hopefully after all these years he’s found happiness.
Well, I’m not sure if the new style is a sign he’s happy, or that he’s still searching, come to think of it. Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk to him one of these days.
“Earth to Audrey.” Dylan waves his drink in front of my face. “Let’s get you a drink. What’s your poison?”
“Oh um.” My cheeks warm. “Just beer.”
“Knot Stock okay?”
I nod. I love the local brew with its faint peppery taste.
He grabs a bottle from the cooler, opens it and passes it to me. “Have you seen anyone else you know? I bet you’ll see lots of familiar faces from school.”
I turn the cool bottle in my hands. Any moment now I’ll start peeling the yellow label, and I force my hands to still. “No, actually, I haven’t. I just arrived.”
“The guys are here. In fact,” he glances around and hollers, “Zane! Rafe! Over here.”
Oh god. Automatically, I put a hand over the scar on my cheek and turn away. Heat licks up my neck.
“Are you okay?” Dylan mutters.
I nod. I know the scar isn’t very visible anymore—all that remains is a fine white line—but I’m suddenly transported back to the days when it was red and horrible and I hid it from everyone.
Someone claps me on the back and I’m forced to turn around and face them all. Rafe, his dirty blond hair long to his shoulders, his tawny eyes merry. Silver hoops glint on his ears and his arms bulge with muscles.
And Zane, with his dark, slanted eyes and a faint smirk. He wears his dark hair in a tall, green Mohawk, the sides shaved, and has three silver rings through one eyebrow. Tats swirl down his arms all the way to his wrists, full of colors. He looks like a wicked Yakuza boy.
I must be staring at the rings in his eyebrow, because he chuckles and sticks out his tongue where a barbell glints. “Like my metal?”
“Of course she does,” Dylan says and winks. “She likes bad boys.”
That’s the truth. What can I say? Yeah, I prefer bad boys, ever since...
“Hey Ash!” someone calls from behind me. “Have you seen my car keys?”
I spin around, searching the sea of faces, my heart pounding and sweat springing on my face. Excitement and dread mingle in an indefinable, dizzying cocktail.
here? He might be—after all, as Dylan said, this is my high school class and Ash was in it, but I didn’t think of it and now...
“Do you like my place?” Zane says, gesturing around.
I struggle to gather my thoughts. I tug my sweater lower over my black leggings and shift on my high-heeled boots. “This your apartment? Looks great.”
He grins. “Like me.”
“Knock it off,” Dylan growls.
That’s kinda funny. I shoot Dylan a half-annoyed look. What, is he my big brother now? I realize I’m not used to having anyone filling that role anymore. Not that I ever had a brother, but I had Ash, and then I had Dylan.
And then I was alone and hiding from the world.
“Well, the apartment is mine and Erin’s. She’s out of town today.” Zane sips his drink, eyeing me over the rim of his glass. “Erin Wilson.”
I vaguely recall the girl from school. She’s a couple years older than me. “Girlfriend?”
“Just a friend.” He tips his head to the side. “Are you staying at your old house?”
“We sold the house after the accident.” Mom said she couldn’t stand living there without Dad. Truth is, I’m not sure I could, either. “I’m renting an apartment.” Well, technically, Mom is. “Not far from here, in fact. Real close to Tessa’s.”
“How have you been, Audrey?” Rafe says, leaning closer. He’s always been cat-like, but now he’s like a lion, golden and tall, his shoulders broad, stretching his grey T-shirt. Dark ink lines travel from his shoulder down his arm. Zane’s work. He’s inked his closest friends. “It’s been so long. What is it, three years?”
I bite my lip, trying to calm down. “Two and a half. I left mid-year.”
“To Chicago, right? The big city. Did you like it?” He grins and his cheeks dimple.
Christ, when did all the boys I knew turn into heartthrobs?
“It was okay.”
Brilliant conversational skills, Audrey, well done.
I clear my throat. “It was tough at first. I didn’t know anyone there and Mom worked all the time.” Now I sound whiny.
“She had to, of course. And after a while it was fine.”
Okay, that’s a big fat lie. It was never fine, and I ran away as soon as I could, which is now. Mom turned into a workaholic and I’ve been lonely and kinda lost.
“You vanished,” Rafe says. “I looked for you online, but I only found your old Twitter and LiveJournal accounts. Are you hiding under a fake name or something?” He winks.
I shrug. “No.”
“Well, you look good,” Zane says, swirling the ice-cubes in his whiskey. His dark eyes narrow to slits. “With the accident, I thought you’d be... different.”
Silence greets his words, and a flash of panic goes through me. “Like what?”
“Z-man, shut your mouth,” Dylan says. His fists clench and he seems about to pound Zane into the wall.
Zane lifts his hands. “Hey, fucker, cool your engines. I only meant... Hell, I don’t know what I meant. You said she was scarred, Dylan. I don’t see any scars, that’s all. That’s a good thing, man.”
My breath catches.
Dylan is already moving toward Zane and I insert myself between them. “It’s okay, Dyl.”
Dylan looks uncertain. “I’ll bust his balls.”
Zane gives him the finger, his eyes hooded. “Fuck you, man. Sorry if my social skills need polishing. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It’s called being civil,” Dylan grounds out.
“Maybe nobody cared to teach me how to open doors and pull back chairs for the chicks, but I honestly didn’t mean anything,” Zane mutters.
“I said it’s okay.” I suck in a deep breath. I’m over my initial reaction, brought on by the memories of the town and its people. I can do this. I saw a therapist in Chicago, and I’ve learned to be in control of myself. “I have some scars, but they’re old now and don’t show much. This,” I touch the one on my cheek, turning so Zane can see it, “is the only one on my face.”
He nods stiffly, his gaze flicking away. “I’m sorry, Audrey. Honest.”
My chest expands again. “No problem.”
Dylan throws an arm over my shoulders and tugs me away from his friends. “Let’s leave these idiots and go get some air, huh?”
“Hey, what did
do?” Rafe mutters behind us.
“They’re okay,” I say, feeling bad for the argument.