Charged, p.1
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       Charged, p.1

           Jay Crownover
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Charged


  CHARGED

  Jay Crownover

  Copyright

  Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

  The News Building

  1 London Bridge Street

  London SE1 9GF

  www.harpercollins.co.uk

  First published in Great Britain by Harper 2016

  Copyright © Jennifer M Voorhees 2016

  Cover design by Studio Takoma © HarperCollinsPublishers 2016

  Cover photograph © Fotosearch/Getty Images

  Jennifer M Voorhees asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

  A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

  This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

  Source ISBN: 9780008116279

  Ebook Edition © May 2016 ISBN: 9780008116286

  Version: 2016-05-06

  Dedication

  Dedicated to the one person that has held my hand through all my worst decisions and cheered me on through all my amazing ones … this book and this story about bad decisions leading to the best things in life is for you, Mom.

  You’re just the best, and every mistake I’ve ever made, every bad choice I’ve blindly made, you’ve been there to pick up the pieces afterwards.

  Luckily, I do indeed have some pretty awesome stories to tell after everything is said and done, and all the storms have passed. But nothing makes me happier than knowing that none of those tales of wonder and of woe would have had a happy ending if I hadn’t been able to share them with you.

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Introduction

  Chapter 1: Avett

  Chapter 2: Quaid

  Chapter 3: Avett

  Chapter 4: Quaid

  Chapter 5: Avett

  Chapter 6: Quaid

  Chapter 7: Avett

  Chapter 8: Quaid

  Chapter 9: Avett

  Chapter 10: Quaid

  Chapter 11: Avett

  Chapter 12: Quaid

  Chapter 13: Avett

  Chapter 14: Quaid

  Chapter 15: Avett

  Chapter 16: Quaid

  Chapter 17: Avett

  Chapter 17.5: Church

  Chapter 18: Quaid

  Chapter 19: Avett

  Epilogue: Quaid

  Author’s Note

  Avett and Quaid’s Playlist

  Acknowledgments

  Keep Reading – Riveted

  Keep Reading – Built

  Keep Reading – Rule

  About the Author

  Also by Jay Crownover

  About the Publisher

  INTRODUCTION

  She’s immature.

  She’s a brat.

  She’s annoying and not very nice.

  Why is she getting a story?

  Whenever I have a character that seems like they shouldn’t get a story or like they might not deserve some kind of happiness, they are inevitably the characters that I most want to turn it all around for. I want to know their stories more than anything, and I want to dig into why there might be more to them than we initially see. It happened with Asa, and it happened with Avett from the minute she touched the page. I always knew I wanted Brite’s daughter to get a story, but I had no clue how layered, complex, and difficult that story was going to be. She’s a hurricane all right, and watching the storm break on the shore has made for some of my most favorite writing to date. I never start out with a character determined to make the reader like them, but I do hope that by the end of the journey, the reader understands the character and maybe even sympathizes with them a little bit … and hey, if you do end up liking that character you were so sure you hated … score one for me. <3 (Looking at you, Melissa Shank!)

  I think Avett is the character that speaks the most to the person I was at the same point in my life. As I was writing her I kept cringing and thinking, yep … been there and done that, and now I definitely have a story to tell about those choices and the consequences they led to. Sometimes the story is the best part of screwing up, and really, no matter who we are or where we’ve been in life, we all have a story to tell. I feel that for all my characters, but for some reason it really, really rang true with Avett and Quaid.

  When I was twenty-two I made a lot of questionable choices: about men, money, school, and my future in general. I had to be rescued (by family, not a handsome fella, which was a total bummer for me!) and one would think I learned my lesson because I was sure that was as low as I was ever going to get. Flash forward to my early thirties when things once again fell apart because of my bad choices and my foolish stubbornness. There I was for the second time in my life needing to be saved with more stories to tell and harsh lessons learned. (That story involves Rule getting published and my whole life changing, so even though it starts with heartbreak, it ends with a dream come true.)

  So go out there and screw up. Have experiences so that you have stories to tell, and do it without an apology.

  Memories and mistakes are both beautiful and important in their own ways.

  Love and Ink,

  Jay

  All things truly wicked start from innocence.

  —Ernest Hemingway

  CHAPTER 1

  Avett

  Don’t worry, Sprite, bad decisions always make for good stories …

  I could hear my dad’s gruff voice, lightened with humor, in my ear as he told me those words every single time I got caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to do when I was growing up. I was always doing something I shouldn’t then and now, so I heard those words a lot from him. Unfortunately, as an adult, my bad decisions resulted in consequences far worse than a scraped knee or a broken wrist from falling out of the tree in the backyard he warned me repeatedly wasn’t sturdy enough to climb. And sadly, my dad reassuring me in his firm and gentle way, while calling me his little Sprite as he kissed my boo-boos, wasn’t going to help my current situation at all.

  This boo-boo was big-time.

  This boo-boo was life-changing.

  This boo-boo was anything but a good story waiting to be told.

  This boo-boo very well could be the end of me, the end of the rope where my patient parents had dangled precariously for years, and it very well could be the end of any kind of future I may have had. A future I was well on my way to letting a lifetime of bad decisions and even worse choices screw up. At barely twenty-two, bad decisions had sort of become my stock in trade and were as familiar to me as my own face. I was almost legendary, at this point, for putting all my trust in the absolutely worst kind of people. If there was a wrong path to take, I was going to skip gleefully down that road and not look back until I ended up exactly in the kind of situation I found myself in at the moment. It wasn’t like this was even a new dead end; it was the same one I ran into over and over again. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get myself turned around, and the longer I was circling this dead end, the darker and more wicked it became.

  I knew better. I really did, even if t
here was a boatload of evidence contradicting that fact.

  I wasn’t stupid, naive, immature, or senseless. I might appear that way to anyone on the outside looking in, but I had my reasons for being a consummate failure and lifelong loser. All of those reasons had nothing to do with me not knowing better and everything to do with me knowing exactly what I deserved.

  For a long time now I had been spiraling out of control, whirling, falling deep and deeper into a pit of really awful actions and consequences, each seemingly worse and more painful than the last. I also hadn’t made any kind of effort to try and pull myself out of the tailspin, so logically I knew the only place I was going to end up was right here, right at the lowest part of rock bottom. I never imagined the landing would be so jarring.

  I had been in need of rescue for a long time and now I really needed it because I was facing a very real prison sentence, and a very real attorney dressed in an immaculate suit, while I sat there shivering, locked in handcuffs, and choking on fear. I never in a million years would have imagined rescue coming in the form of a man like the one sitting across from me. He looked like temptation and ruin, not salvation and redemption.

  I wasn’t guilty of what they were saying I did, but I wasn’t exactly innocent in all of it either. Sadly, that was the story of my life. I was always the girl that wasn’t quite good, the one who was just bad enough to be trouble, and the man seated across from me looked like he didn’t have the tolerance or patience to deal with any of the chaos that I always seemed to be drowning in.

  I laced my tense fingers together, and fought not to wince, or even worse, break down into sobs as the handcuffs snapped around my wrists, knocked loudly on the metal table that was separating me from the man that was supposedly here to save the day … and me. He told me his name, but I couldn’t remember it. I was a mess of nerves and confusion, and he wasn’t helping put any of my anxiety to ease. I was also sleep deprived, and terrified of what was waiting for me after this meeting was over. My future had always been uncertain, resting on shaky and unstable ground on a good day. Right now, I was longing for that wobbly foundation, and scared shitless that my latest bad decision had finally landed me in a spot that I couldn’t lie, cheat, steal, or manipulate my way out of.

  The stoic and startlingly good-looking lawyer seated across from me didn’t look like any white knight I had ever seen. He was too slick for that, way too calculating in the way he looked at me while he silently judged me. No, this guy wasn’t the good guy riding in to rescue the damsel and prove himself a hero; this was the guy that the villains paid megabucks to in order to keep them out of jail. In all that I had done, I’d never considered myself a villain. I knew I was a bad guy (or girl), but I wasn’t a corrupt, amoral criminal with the actual intent to harm anyone other than myself. However, under the scrutiny of this man’s unusual gunmetal-blue gaze, which held not even an ounce of warmth or reassurance in it, I was starting to reconsider my stance. He made me feel like I was well on the road to corruption and disgrace, and he had yet to utter a single word. I’d never done anything bad enough or stupid enough that I required a professional to defend my actions before now, and I was having a hard time believing this guy gave a single shit whether I was innocent or not.

  All I wanted to do was cower away from him, and pretend like I was anywhere else in the world but in this tiny room with a metal table that was bolted to the floor between us. I moved my hands again, and couldn’t hold back a flinch and a tremor as metal scraped across metal. Rock bottom was going to leave more than bruises if I ever managed to pull myself up and dust myself off. This was going to scar, deep and vicious, and I hated that I deserved every single stinging mark.

  “I don’t want your story.” His words were sharp and to the point. I blinked at the rough sound of his voice in the sterile room.

  “I don’t want to know if you knew what your boyfriend was up to or not. I don’t care. All I want to know is if you understand what you’re being charged with, and how serious those charges are. If the answer is yes, all I need to know is if you are willing to do whatever I tell you to do moving forward.”

  Did I understand how serious the charges were?

  Was this guy fucking kidding me right now?

  I was hooked up in cuffs. I was wearing an orange jumpsuit, and had on rubber shoes that squeaked across the floor when I walked. I hadn’t slept in two days because, after everything went down the night I had been arrested and booked, I’d been locked up in a cell with one woman who was so strung out she kept seeing little gremlins coming out of the floor and, as a result, kept jumping up on the rigid bunks suspended from the concrete cell wall, barely missing stepping all over me. The other woman in the holding cell was there because she had tried to run her cheating husband over with the family minivan when she found him in bed with their next door neighbor. He had been in the family’s dining room at the time, so not only was the woman fighting mad about the affair, but she ranted and raved well into the early hours of the morning about how her unfaithful spouse better be on the phone with the insurance company to repair the damage she’d caused. She was a bag stuffed full of crazy, and the more I tried to ignore her, the more she seemed determined to tell me her entire life’s story.

  Yeah, Legal Eagle, I had a pretty damn good idea how serious the charges were, and I was scared shitless about what would happen to me if I was going to be found guilty of them.

  I lifted my chained hands in front of me and let them fall back on the table to make a noisy and unmistakable point. The man didn’t bat a single, ridiculously long eyelash at the motion, but his mouth tightened a fraction. It was a pretty mouth. All of him was pretty, in one way or another, and I wondered if when he walked out of this industrial meeting room he shook himself off like a wet dog to rid himself of the feel and taint of crime, sleaze, and bad decision making. He looked like the type that had never, ever took a wrong step. He oozed confidence, self-assurance, and arrogance like it was an expensive cologne that was crafted and bottled just for him. It should be reassuring, should make me feel like he had this all handled, like I would be home safe and secure in my own bed in no time, but instead it made me bristle and feel even worse than I already did. I was a train wreck and that was bad … but having a witness to the wreckage, a witness as put together and unflappable as this man seemed … Well, that made the fallout from my latest bad move seem a hundred times worse.

  This guy wasn’t the type to chase bad choice after bad choice. In fact, he made his living riding to the rescue for us poor slobs that did. A very nice living if the Rolex on his wrist and the Mont Blanc pen he was tapping against the file in front of him was any indication.

  “I understand how serious the situation is.” My voice was quiet and tiny in the empty room. I cocked my head to the side as we continued to size one another up. “My dad hire you?”

  I wanted to hold my breath while he answered, but I couldn’t get my lungs to work. I couldn’t get anything to work.

  I was a screwup. I was a failure, a flunky. I was a loser, a manipulator. I was one hot freaking mess on top of another, and through it all my parents, more often than not my dad, had always been there to pick up the pieces. He forgave me. He excused me. He cleaned me up and gave me helping hand after helping hand. He loved me when I didn’t want to be loved. He was always there, but not this time.

  Bad decisions make for good stories, Sprite.

  Dad’s words chased themselves around in frantic circles in my head as I felt myself slip a little farther, fall a little deeper and realized this … this point was actually my rock bottom, as the man who claimed to be my defense attorney shook his tawny head in the negative. “No. A former client actually contacted me and asked me to represent you. He paid my retainer in full and told me that any bills that are incurred while handling your case should be handed over to him. I was hired before the police had you booked and taken to lockup.”

  My dad wasn’t here to kiss the boo-boo this go-around. He wasn
t waiting in the wings to dust me off and tell me everything would be all right. Not this time. This time I had gone too far and a miserable, uncomfortable night with a drugged-out weirdo and a psycho, suburban mom had nothing on the ice cold fear that climbed up my spine, vertebra by vertebra, at the thought that I had finally done something Brite Walker couldn’t forgive. I knew it was coming. I knew that even my big, badass, former Marine, Harley-riding father had a breaking point. I pushed and pushed to reach that point my entire life. I always figured when the fracture happened it would come with a giant boom. I expected an explosion that would level Denver. The fact that it was barely a whimper, a whisper of sound that indicated a good man’s heart was breaking, made me feel even worse than I already did. I had no idea how it was possible, but I sunk even lower than rock bottom. This was what a torrent of misery and despair felt like and I was submerged neckdeep in it.

  I blinked back tears and tilted my chin up at the attorney. “Who’s paying for you to be here?”

  My mom loved me. She had a huge heart that was made of marshmallow, but she had reached her point of no return with me much earlier in my life than my father had. My parents divorced when I was in high school, right on the heels of one of the most defining moments of my youth. My dad rallied like he always did and tried to make the separation as easy on me as possible. My mom went from being distant and confusing to actively pushing me away. I was never sure if she forced the distance between us because things were so easy between me and my father or because they were so hard between her and me. Either way, the strain in our relationship did nothing to help the rapid descent that started to engulf me when I realized exactly what kind of person I was.

  A harmful one.

  A guilty one.

  A selfish one.

  I could even be considered a dangerous person, if you asked the right people, and they weren’t necessarily wrong. It was amazing how hazardous doing nothing could be. It had even more disastrous results than doing the wrong thing … at least, it had up until now.

 

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