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Now for the first chapter:
+ CHAPTER ONE +
My name is Sebastian Crane.
I’m not here for the reason you think I am.
The bar is dark with three a.m. smog, the broken dreams and drunken incoherencies almost tangible. I lounge in one corner, shadows keeping me mostly hidden from the idiots falling over each other to argue about which girl belongs to who. I finger the rim of a crystal-clear shot of vodka. When I down it, it barely tickles.
I feel nothing.
I am nothing.
But tonight I’m a little sick of the nothing, so I stand, a deep ache sprouting in several of my muscles. I’ve been practicing too much, I know. But there’s no one to tell me to stop.
There’s a particularly stupid-looking Neanderthal at the table nearest me. He says something filthy to his friends, who slap him clumsily on the back. They’re all wasted. I’ve had at least as much to drink, but unlike them, it makes me sharper. Electrified.
Ready to let the burn out—something I can never do when I’m sober.
I stride past the Neanderthal’s table, purposefully letting my elbow jolt his shoulder. The bar’s crowded enough that it could pass unnoticed, and I hold my breath, but he bites.
“The fuck was that?” he growls, spinning around so I get a full view of the viper tattoo curling over his ugly jaw. His friends chuckle, smelling a fight. This guy is wider than me, but not taller. He’s a pickaxe. I’m a broadsword.
“Sorry,” I say smoothly. “I’m less careful around losers.”
They pick up the scent immediately—my rich-boy upbringing. It’s obvious in the way I carry myself, the imperious expression I’ve picked up from my father. I don’t try to hide it. It makes them want to hurt me more.
And that’s exactly what I’m looking for.
“Hey, you piece of shit.” Neanderthal stands, jostling the table and knocking over someone else’s shot. Nobody complains. He’s their leader. “Ready to get your pretty face broke in half?”
My mouth twists into a rare smile. “I’m ready for you to try.”
His first punch comes like a truck, but slow. I sidestep it, smirking at the dumb surprise on his face. I wonder how many teeth that punch has knocked out before. But not mine. His friends are hollering now, but I tone them out. My body is humming with animal rage.
This is the only time I let myself to feel.
If I hit him the right way he’ll go down in an instant, and I want to draw this out. I strike him once on the chest and once in the shoulder, enough to make it sting, enough to make him angry.
“Motherfucker—” He throws a wild swing.
This time I let him hit me, but I tighten my abs so that the pain, when it comes, is only a dull ache. Still, I relish it. Pain is different when it comes from the outside.
His idiot friends yell their approval. The girls are staring at me with a mixture of desire and fear, an expression I’m very familiar with. And all at once, I’m tired of this. Tired of them.
This won’t save me.
I finish it neatly, delivering a series of lightning blows to his chest and then clipping his temple. He makes an almost ridiculous amount of noise when he crashes to the ground. He’ll be sleeping for a while, and not from the booze.
His friends are dead silent. They’ve realized I’m more than some rich boy in the wrong bar. They’re afraid of me. Not entirely stupid, then. But entirely pathetic.
I curl my lip, kick aside a broken beer bottle, and pull my hood over my head before striding into the night.
The morning after
When I step out of the airport terminal, Tanner is waiting for me.
He looks almost the same as I remember him—almost ridiculously handsome, his face broad and smiling, skin a little darker than before. From the Florida sunlight, I guess. I throw my carry-on to the ground and leap into his arms. He grabs me and swings me around, laughing.
“Your hair!” he crows as soon as he sets me down. “Who’d you let touch you with bleach?”
I finger the ends of my once-mousy brown hair, now streaked with golden highlights. “Shut up. My old roommate did it for me, okay?”
New hair for a new life. That’s what she’d said.
“You look beautiful, May.” A flash of sincerity crosses his face, which is usually devious with some joke or another. There’s warmth there, and I nearly cringe away from it, because it means that the bombshell he dropped on me the day before he left two years ago still holds true—“I’m in love with you, May.”
A couple girls are gazing at me jealously. They must think he’s my boyfriend. But he’s not, because I’m May Young, and May Young does not have boyfriends.
We grab my suitcases from the luggage pick-up, Tanner making a point not to grunt with the effort even though I know they weigh about a bazillion pounds. Together, we hurry into the bright Florida sunlight.
“Palm trees!” I shade my eyes and point. “Tanner, those are palm trees!”
“You dork.” He hefts my bags into his car, which he’s left in the drop-off zone, even though he’s not supposed to. “Only you could get that excited about trees.”
A rush of stupid joy fills me and I hug him again, nearly knocking him into the side of his Toyota. “You know, even when I got accepted it didn’t feel real. But we’re actually going to the same university now. It’ll be just like high school!”
“Yeah, except in high school we couldn’t drink or go to clubs. Legally, anyway.” He flashes me that wolfish smile of his. “Get in. I’m gonna give you the grand tour of campus.”
Rothschild University is only twenty minutes away from the airport, and Tanner drives fast, blasting the radio with the windows rolled down. His muscular arm—he’s been working out—is hooked over the side of the window. I roll down my own window and lean out into the rushing air, so far that Tanner laughs.
It’s been two years since I’ve really seen him, apart from a few scattered days over breaks. Two years since he got accepted to the prestigious Rothschild University, and I went to New Jersey state so I’d be able to look after my mom, who’s needed looking after ever since my scum-of-the-earth dad walked out on her when I was five. But she promised she’d be all right without me now. Said I needed to start my own life.
When we reach the campus, the first thing I notice is that it’s right on the water. The beach is glittering, a long strip of sandy perfection glowing in the heat with a few students sprawled out on towels. The water is crystal-blue. I want to dive right in, but Tanner pulls into the parking lot and lines my suitcases up on the sidewalk.
“You’re in Chatterley Hall, right?” He points to the building nearest the water, and my heart leaps. It’s very new-looking, with lots of windows that face the sea. “Lucky. Their air-conditioning is the best on campus. Be prepared for me to crash in your room every day for the rest of the semester.”
“I have a roommate,” I remind him, picking up the smallest bag, which is the only one he’s left for me to carry. I laugh at him panting over my three giant suitcases. “Who I’m completely sure is gonna be gorgeous and smart and perfect and I’ll spend the entire semester trying not to die of jealousy.”
“All girls here are generally gorgeous and smart and perfect. I’ve researched it very thoroughly.” He grins, and I punch him lightly on the arm.
“Perv. I’ll have to protect my new roommate from you if you’re going to be hassling me for my air-conditioning all the time.”
He scoffs. “Ladies never want to be protected from me.”
I slug him one more time, for good measure.
Fortunately, my dorm room is on the bottom floor of the building, so we don’t have to drag my stuff up any stairs. The hall is way nicer than my old school, with new carpeting and a lot less drawings of cocks on the whiteboards—maybe because it’s an all-female hall. I realize I forgot to pick up my key and I knock, hoping my new roommate is home. Opal reads the name on the door. Odd name.
Fortunately the door opens. Opal is a pretty girl, a little taller than me, with messy black hair toppling over her shoulders and a sleepy smile. She’s also in her underwear.
“Why hello there,” says Tanner brightly.
Her eyes widen, and she shrieks and shuts the door. Tanner collapses against the wall, laughing, while I try knocking again. “Sorry! I’m your new roommate. Ignore the gorilla in the hall, he’s mostly harmless.”
There’s some rustling and finally the door opens again, Opal having miraculously donned pants and brushed her hair in the span of a few seconds. She’s still blushing fiercely red. “S-sure, come in. Sorry it’s a total mess in here. Need help carrying any stuff?”
“No, we brought it all up. I’m May, by the way.” I smile at her as Tanner drags my things inside. It’s not true that it’s a mess—her side of the room is very neat, papers arranged on her desk and a string of yellow Christmas lights pinned to the wall in a straight line. I’m delighted to see she’s left the bed by the window for me. It has a perfect view of the ocean. I rush to it and throw it wide open, breathing in the salty air.
“That’s it,” I declare. “I officially love it here. Every single thing about this school is perfect.”
“So where are you from?” Opal says, a little shyly, and inches away from Tanner, who’s just plopped down on her bed like he owns the place. That idiot.
And I don’t want to talk about where I’m from. “New Jersey. Hey, I’m really glad to be your roommate. You seem cool and I totally don’t mind if you sleep in your underwear.”
“Now who’s the pervert,” says Tanner, rolling onto his back so that his shirt slides up and reveals a fraction of his abs, probably on purpose. “Opal, meet May. She says pretty much everything that pops into her head.”
I move to drag him off the bed and throw him out the door before he can say anything else to embarrass me in front of my new roommate, but instead I trip spectacularly over one of my bags and crash across his chest. He locks me in a bear hug and I have to squirm to get free. “She’s also the biggest klutz in the universe.”
“Bye, Opal, we’re gonna go take a tour of campus and I’ll see you later,” I say hastily, seizing his hand and hauling him into the hallway. Once we’re there, I kick him.
“Still as mild-mannered as ever,” he says ruefully, rubbing his shin.
“Could you just keep your fat mouth shut for like two minutes? I have to live with this girl for the rest of the year and I’d rather she not figure out straightaway that I’m a complete—”
He frowns. “Don’t. There’s nothing wrong with you. Look, I’m sure she thinks you’re awesome. And if not, I’ll bring some booze over tonight and then she’ll definitely think you’re awesome because you have such a hot, booze-bringing friend. Now come on, let’s actually take a tour of campus.”
I sigh, a little relieved. I was worried things would be awkward with Tanner after two whole years of hardly seeing each other, but he seems just as ready as I am to settle into our old friendship. So far, he hasn’t even said anything about the I love you he gave me the last time we were together, and I’m grateful. Every time I think of it, I’m overwhelmed with embarrassment—and guilt.
“Are you spacing out? Because I have places to show you.” Tanner hangs against the wall at the end of the hallway, tapping his foot.
I grin my brightest and bound after him. “Show away!”
The rest of campus is just as beautiful as my building. Palm trees line the walkways that lead up to each building, all of which sparkle—Tanner tells me that they just finished remodeling almost the whole campus, which is huge. It takes us more than an hour to just to walk past all the buildings. He shows me the big lawn beyond the beach, where people take their books to study on picnic tables, and the main dining hall, which is stuffed with windows and faces the water. There’s even a garden with a stone table in the center, partially hidden from the rest of campus. I know the second I see it that I’ll be spending a lot of time there.
We get takeaway tacos and coffee from library café and eat in the garden, Tanner downing his in practically two bites. When I finish mine, I look up and realize that he’s staring at me, his characteristic joking smile nowhere to be seen.
“May,” he says softly. “I want you to know that I still mean what I said last time I saw you.”
Just like always, the guilt pours into my chest. But this time I’ll do better. I won’t just stand and stare in shock. “Tanner, it’s not you. It never was you. Any girl would be lucky to have you. It’s just that my mom—”
“May, you don’t have to explain anything to me,” he says, leaning forward. The breeze pulls his hair into his sky-blue eyes. “I just wanted to tell you that despite that, you don’t have to worry. We’ll still be friends like we’ve always been.”
“Thank you,” I say a little helplessly. “But listen. You know that my dad left my mom when I was little. She’s never been the same. I promised myself I would never let that happen to me. It’s not you. I just don’t want to date anyone.”
There’s silence for a moment, the wind rustling the flowers around us. Then he reaches out and tousles my hair, like he always used to when we were kids. “As long as you’re happy, May. That’s what’s important. Now let’s go. I have something special to show you.”
He takes me to the farthest side of campus, where the gym building stands between the academic quad and the football field. He flashes his I.D at the door and shows me down several flights of stairs, which is when I smell the familiar scent of chlorine. It reminds me of home.
“I figured you’d like this,” he says, grinning to himself the way he does when he’s proud of something. “I know you’ve always been really into swimming.”
And then he brings me inside the pool room.
The pool is enormous, at least twice as big as the one where I swam for the team at my old college. The water clean and glassy. I almost sprint back to my dorm room and grab my bathing suit, it looks so inviting—and only a single lane is occupied.
I turn to Tanner, ready to squeal with excitement, but his expression stops me short. A shadow has darkened his face. I follow his gaze and realize he’s staring at the one occupied lane.
The person swimming is fantastic, I notice that right away. His lithe arms cut through the water in sharp, flawless strokes. His body moves through the water like a knife, barely causing any ripples but going so fast he does two lane lengths in the amount of time it takes us to watch him. He’s not wearing goggles. His eyes are closed, but he knows exactly when to twist and turn when he reaches the side of the pool, and as he does, I catch a glimpse of his face—frozen in focus so intense he almost looks like he’s in pain.
A shiver runs down my spine, the same sort of shiver I get when I watch Olympic swimmers on television. I’ve always wanted to be that good.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Tanner says, but even the annoyance in his voice can’t shake me out of my reverie. “I have to take a piss.”
Normally I’d make fun of him for that, but I can’t stop watching that man move through the water. He uses his body like a musical instrument. “I’ll be right after you. I just want to check out the pool for another minute. Please?”
He hesitates, scowling. I can tell he’s reluctant to leave me here, but I tear my eyes away long enough to do my best puppy eyes, and he gives in. “Fine. But hurry up, okay?”
I watch him disappear into the locker room, and when I turn back towards the pool, the swimmer has stopped. I almost protest, but then I notice that he’s resting his forehead against the concrete rim, his shoulders shaking very slightly. I wonder how long he’s been swimming like that to make him so tired. Eventually, he lifts himself out the pool in one fluid motion, stands, and finally sees me.
I should probably say something, but all I can do is gape. He’s beautiful. He’s got a perfect swimmer’s body, muscular without being too broad—more toned, like a panther. His flat stomach rises and falls as he pants. He takes a few steps toward me and I’m stunned by his eyes—golden-brown and flecked with silvery gray.
Stop staring like an idiot, May, talk. “You’rearageswma.” No, talk with words. “You’re a really good swimmer.”
He stares at me for another second before he scoffs, a tiny sound that lets me know all I need to—he thinks I’m a moron. He slings his towel over his shoulders and starts toward the locker room, water running between his shoulder blades in torrents. “I’m the best,” I hear him say as soon as he’s no longer facing me.
I can’t let this guy think I’m a total loser. I’ve never seen anyone swim as well as him. I’m burning to know more about his technique. “How’d you get to be so good?” I ask, realizing too late that I’ve got the dopiest smile on my face.
He stops. Then he turns and approaches me again, getting close enough that I can see the water dripping off the ends of his dark hair. My heart does this stuttering thing. “I’m May—”
“I don’t care what your name is,” he interrupts. His voice is low and cutting. “The only thing I’m interested in is why you think you can come here. This is my practice time. Nobody interrupts that. Everyone else seems to get it, so I’m curious as to why you don’t?”
I’m still smiling like an idiot for a few good seconds after he stops talking, before I really realize what he’s said. He raises an eyebrow. “Are you deaf as well as a moron?”
“I’m s-sorry.” A hot blush spreads down my neck. “I didn’t realize you could reserve the whole pool—”
“You can’t,” he says coolly, water trickling in rivulets over his ribcage. “I can.” He turns sharply, back towards the pool. “Don’t come here again.”
His voice contains so much contempt that suddenly my embarrassment solidifies into anger. “And why are you so special that you get the pool all to yourself? A pool is supposed to be shared.”
A fraction of surprise momentarily breaks up his icy expression, but he quickly recovers it. “I don’t share. The pool is mine when I say it is. That’s something everyone accepts if they go to this school. If you have a problem with it, I suggest you transfer.”
His tone is so biting that I can’t think of anything to say in return—all I can do is tremble with anger. Who the hell is this guy?
He strides toward the locker room door, but Tanner opens it. He doesn’t get out of the way.
“Everything all right, May?” he asks loudly.
I’m still so stunned that I can barely remember how to talk, but Tanner is glaring at the swimmer like he’s prepared to deliver a punch. The problem with Tanner is that he has a terrible temper. Even in middle school, he’d blow up at anyone who looked at him the wrong way. Right now the air in here is thick with tension. “Yeah, everything’s fine. You coming?”
On his way towards me, Tanner nearly shoulder-checks the swimmer, who’s been standing with his back perfectly straight. I catch a hint of that sneer on his face, but mostly he just looks tired. Then he disappears into the locker room without a backwards glance at us.
“Congratulations,” Tanner says bitterly, throwing his arms out in a grand gesture as we step back outside into the luxurious Florida warmth I’m still not quite used to. “You’ve just met the biggest asshole at Rothschild University.”
The guy was definitely an asshole—he spoke to me like I was barely worth acknowledging. And yet…when I think about the way he swam, I get those shivers down my spine again. “What’s his name?”
“Oh, not you too,” says Tanner in disgust. “Please tell me you have more taste than that.”
The sun’s starting to set, and yellow-pink light streams over the gleaming tops of the buildings. I shield my eyes, feeling defensive. “What do you mean, not me too? I just asked what his name was.”
“Sebastian Crane.” Tanner kicks an empty soda can out of his way, frowning like the name itself offends him. “I can’t stand the guy. Nobody can. And that’s why he has zero friends and spends all his time at that stupid pool. I was hoping he wouldn’t be around today, but I guess my bad karma’s catching up with me. Anyway, what I meant was that all the girls around here secretly drool over him. They won’t talk to him, though. Nobody’s that stupid. Except you, apparently. You’re probably the first person around here who’s dared to say more than two words to him in ages.” He softens a little as he looks at me. “He didn’t say anything douchebaggy to you, did he?”
“No,” I lie, though I’m not sure why I’m bothering. Maybe it’s because I feel a twinge of pity for Sebastian Crane. “I feel kinda sorry for him. It can’t be fun to always be alone.”
Tanner snorts. “Oh, trust me, that’s the way he wants it. He made that real clear to everyone on his first day here. Say hi to him and he glares at you like you’ve personally poked him in the eye. Real charmer. Listen, May, don’t worry about him. Everyone else around here is nice, I swear.”
Tanner keeps up a steady stream of chatter on our way back to the dorms, even when we stop by the Admissions Office to pick up my dorm key and student I.D card. His jokes are a little forced—he’s trying to turn the subject as far away as possible from Sebastian. But it’s not that easy. I feel jarred to my core. Every time I blink, I see those golden-brown eyes narrowing at me.
How can someone swim so beautifully but be so cold?
+ + +
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