Aflame, p.1Penelope Douglas
Also by Penelope Douglas
A Fall Away Novel
First published in the US in 2015 by the Berkley Publishing Group and New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House
This ebook edition published in Great Britain in 2015 by Piatkus
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © Penelope Douglas 2015
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than
those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
An imprint of
Little, Brown Book Group
50 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DZ
An Hachette UK Company
For the girls . . .
For Juliet, who thinks everyone deserves a white picket fence,
For Fallon, who thinks that if we know what we really want, then there is no choice,
And for Tate, who knows that fighting with someone isn’t half as satisfying as fighting for them.
Carry on, ladies.
Also by Penelope Douglas
Note from the Author
Letter to the Reader
About the Author
Music inspires the development of my characters and inspires my scenes. Enjoy!
“Adrenaline” by Shinedown
“Alive” by P.O.D.
“Blow Me Away” by Breaking Benjamin
“The Boys of Summer” by The Ataris
“Breath” by Breaking Benjamin
“Click Click Boom” by Saliva
“Girls, Girls, Girls” by Mötley Crüe
“I Get Off” by Halestorm
“I Hate Everything About You” by Three Days Grace
“My Way” by Limp Bizkit
“Nothing Else Matters” by Apocalyptica
“She’s Crafty” by Beastie Boys
“Something Different” by Godsmack
“This Is the Time” by Nothing More
“Weak” by Seether
“Wish You Hell” by Like a Storm
“You Stupid Girl” by Framing Hanley
Note from the Author
Aflame is the conclusion of the Fall Away series, which includes Bully, Until You, Rival, and Falling Away. While every book in the series is written to be a stand-alone, Aflame will be most enjoyed by those who have read at least Bully, as Aflame is a continuation of that story.
Four Years Ago
“Jared Trent,” I scolded, “if I get into trouble for the first time in my life, three weeks before I graduate high school, I’m telling my father it was your fault.”
I nearly jogged behind him as he pulled me along down the darkened school corridor, the music from the dance like a subterranean hum around us.
“Your father believes in taking personal responsibility, Tate,” he pointed out, and I could hear the humor in his tone. “Come on.” He squeezed my hand. “Pick up the pace.”
I stumbled as he led me faster up the steps onto the second floor, my royal blue floor-length prom dress sweeping the length of my legs. It was nearing midnight, and our senior prom, happening downstairs, wasn’t holding my boyfriend’s attention. Not that I thought it would.
Sometimes I imagined he simply endured social activities by plotting what he was going to do to me when we were finally alone. Jared Trent had a few favorite people in the world, and if you weren’t in that group, then you received a modicum of his attention. If he couldn’t be with me, then the only other people he could stand being around were his brother, Jax, and our best friend, Madoc Caruthers.
He hated dances, he hated dancing, and he loathed monotonous chatter. But while his demeanor was meant to push people away, it only enticed them to want to know him more. Much to his delight, of course.
But he put up with it. All for me. And did so with a smile on his face. He loved making me happy.
I jogged to keep pace and held his arm with both hands as I followed him. He swung open a classroom door and held it wide, waiting for me to enter. I pinched my eyebrows together, wondering what he was up to, but I hurried into the room anyway, afraid we’d be caught. We shouldn’t be roaming the school, after all.
Once inside the deserted room, I twisted around as he followed me inside and closed the door.
“Penley’s classroom?” I prompted. We hadn’t stepped foot in this room since last semester.
His mischievous chocolate brown eyes flashed to me before he answered. “Yeah.”
I wandered down the aisle between two rows of empty desks, feeling him watching me.
“Where we hated each other,” I reminisced in a teasing voice.
I let my fingertips graze a wooden desktop. “Where we started to love each other,” I kept playing with him.
“Yeah.” His soft whisper felt like a warm blanket on my skin.
I grinned to myself, remembering. “Where I was your north.”
Elizabeth Penley was our literature teacher. We’d both had her for several classes but only for one class together. Themes in Film and Literature last fall.
When Jared and I were enemies.
She’d given us an assignment in which we had to find partners for each of the cardinal directions. Jared ended up being my “North.”
My strappy silver heels—which matched the silver jewels on my nearly backless dress—struck the floor as I turned around to eye him still standing by the door.
And his flat, stoic expression did nothing to hide the dangerous streak. I suddenly felt an urge to climb him like a tree.
I knew he hated suits, but he honestly looked like a devil of the best kind dressed up as he was. His tailored black pants draped down his legs and accentuated his narrow waist. The black dress shirt wasn’t tight, but it didn’t hide his body, either, and the black jacket and tie completed the look in a way that emanated power
In the eight months since we’d gotten together, I’d become very adept at swallowing my drool before it seeped out of my mouth.
Luckily, he looked at me the same way.
He leaned against the door, his jacket pulled back from his waist as he slid his hands into his pockets and watched me with interest. His dark brown hair sat across his forehead in elegant chaos like a dark shadow hovering just above his eyes.
“What are you thinking?” I asked when he continued to just stand there.
“How much I miss watching you come into this room,” he answered, looking me up and down.
My body warmed, knowing exactly what he was talking about. I’d enjoyed toying with him when I knew he was watching me in here.
“And,” he continued, “I’m going to miss how your hand shoots into the air like a big dork to answer questions.”
I gasped, my eyes rounding in mock anger. “Dork?” I repeated. I put my hands on my hips and pursed my lips to hide my smile.
He grinned and kept joking, “And also how you huddled so close to the desktop when you were concentrating on a test, and how you chewed your pencils when you were nervous.”
My gaze flashed to the side, where his old desk sat behind mine.
He went on, pushing off the door and inching closer to me. “I’m also going to miss how you blushed when I whispered things in your ear when Penley’s back was turned.” He cocked his head to the side, and I looked up at him as he approached me.
Shivers ran down my arms as I remembered Jared leaning forward over his desk and tickling my ear with his hot promises. I closed my eyes, feeling his chest brush against mine.
“I’m going to miss sitting two feet away,” he whispered over me, “and no one the wiser as to what I’d snuck into your room that morning to do to you.”
I sucked in a breath, feeling his forehead dip to mine.
He continued, “I’m going to miss the torture of wanting you in the middle of class and not being able to have you. I’m going to miss us in this room, Tate.”
The pull was always there between us. Even in a crowded classroom, full of noise and distraction, there was an invisible rope cutting through the space, connecting him and me. He touched me even when he couldn’t reach me. He whispered in my ear from twenty feet away. And I could always feel his lips even when we were apart.
I smiled and opened my eyes, his lips now an inch from mine. “Even though you sat behind me, I could always feel your eyes, Jared. Even when you acted like you hated me, I felt you watching me.”
“I never hated you.”
“I know.” I nodded gently, circling his waist with my arms.
The three years he’d made an enemy out of me seemed unbearable at the time. Now I was just glad it was all over. I was grateful that we were here. Together.
But I wouldn’t look back on high school as a very enjoyable experience, and I knew he had a lot of guilt about that.
All of Jared’s life, he’d suffered abandonment and loneliness. From his horrible father and alcoholic mother. From the neighbors who ignored what was happening and from the teachers who looked the other way.
The summer before freshman year, the parents who should’ve protected him hurt him nearly beyond repair. His father was abusive, leaving permanent scars, and his mother couldn’t be there for him.
So Jared decided alone was best. He shut everyone out.
But with me, he went a step further. Several steps, actually. He sought revenge.
I was his best friend at the time, but he’d thought I’d abandoned him as well. It was a culmination of too many bad things happening in too little time, and Jared couldn’t be forgotten about anymore. He wasn’t going to allow it.
I was the one he could treat badly to feel in control again, and so I became his prey. All throughout high school I suffered at his hands.
Until last August, when I came back from my year abroad.
When Jared pushed, I started pushing back. The world turned upside down for both of us, and after more shit than I care to remember, we found our way back to each other.
“We have a lot of good memories in this room.” I pulled my head back and looked up at him. “But there is one place where we don’t have good memories . . .”
I slipped out of his arms and walked for the door, reaching down to slip off my heels. “Come on,” I urged with a backward glance and a smile.
Swinging the door open, I darted out into the hallway and bolted, running.
“Tate!” I heard him yell, and I spun around, jogging backward as I watched him come out the classroom door. His eyebrows were pinched together in confusion as he watched me.
I bit my bottom lip to stifle a laugh before I whipped around and started running down the hallway again.
“Tate!” he called again. “You’re a runner! This is an unfair advantage!”
I laughed, excitement energizing my arms and legs as I lifted my dress and hopped down two flights of stairs, racing down the hallway toward the Athletics Department.
I could hear the thuds of his large body gaining on me. He was jumping stairs, and I squealed with giddy fright as I hurled open the locker room door and away from his gaining advance.
Hurrying to the third row of lockers, I collapsed against the little metal doors, my heavy breaths stretching the bust of my dress as I dropped my shoes.
I’d left my long blond hair down, but I’d had my best friend, K.C., blow it out and fix it in loose, wavy curls. Given the exertion, I was tempted to shove it away from my face, but Jared loved my hair down, and I wanted to drive him wild tonight.
The locker room door opened, and I fisted my hands, hearing him approach.
His soft steps rounded the corner as if he knew exactly where to find me. “The girls’ locker room?” he asked, discomfort written all over his face.
I knew he’d be timid, but I wasn’t letting him off the hook.
I took a deep breath. “The last time we were here—”
“I don’t want to think about the last time we were here,” he cut me off, shaking his head.
But I forced it again. “The last time we were here,” I emphasized, “you threatened me and tried to intimidate me,” I told him as I walked over and grabbed his hand, leading him back to the spot against the lockers where we’d had our confrontation last fall. I leaned backward, taking his waist and leading him in close, so he hovered over me.
“You pushed into my space and hovered just like this,” I whispered, “and I ended up being pretty damn embarrassed in front of the whole school. Remember?”
I laid it all out on the line for him. We couldn’t be afraid to talk about it. We’d have to laugh, because I’d done enough crying. We’d face our fears and move on.
“You were mean to me,” I pressed.
He’d come in after I’d showered, rushed my teammates out of the room, and issued a few threats as I tried to stand tall dressed in nothing but my towel. Then some students came in and snapped pictures of us, in which nothing was happening, but being nearly naked with a boy in the locker room didn’t look so great to everyone in school who saw the pictures.
Jared’s eyes, always soft with me now, always holding me close, turned heated. I clutched the lapels of his jacket and melted my body into his, wanting to make a good memory here.
His face inched closer to mine, and my breathing faltered as I felt his fingers glide up the inside of my thigh, clawing my dress higher and higher.
“So we’re back to where we started,” he whispered against my lips. “Are you going to hit me this time like I deserve?”
Amusement threatened, and I could feel the corners of my mouth turn up.
I slid out of his shadow, hopped up on the center bench behind him, and stood over him, loving his wide-eyed expressio
“If I ever lay my hands on you,” I whispered his same words to me from all those months ago, “you’ll want it.”
He let out a quiet laugh as his lips grazed mine.
I cocked my head, playing with him. “Do you?” I prompted. “Want it, I mean?”
He cupped my face with both hands and begged, “Yes.” And then he snatched up my lips. “Hell yes.”
And I melted.
I always melted.
Kids are crazy.
Batshit, certifiably, without-a-brain-in-their-head crazy. If you’re not explaining something to them, then you’re reexplaining it, because they didn’t listen the first time, and as soon as you explain it, they ask the same damn question you just spent twenty minutes explaining the answer to!
And the questions. Holy fuck, the questions.
Some of these kids talked more in one day than I have in my entire life, and you can’t get away from it, because they follow you.
Like, take a hint, you know?
“Jared! I want the blue helmet, and Connor had it last time, and it’s my turn!” the half-pint blond kid whined from the track as all the other children climbed into their go-kart cars, two rows of six each.
I tipped my chin down and inhaled an aggravated breath as I gripped the fence surrounding the track. “It doesn’t matter what color helmet you have on,” I growled, tensing every muscle in my back.
Blondie—what the hell was his name again?—scrunched up his face, getting redder by the moment. “But . . . but it’s not fair! He had it two times, and I—”
“Get the black helmet,” I ordered, cutting him off. “It’s your lucky one, remember?”
He pinched his eyebrows together, his freckled nose scrunching up. “It is?”
“Yes,” I lied, the hot California sun beating down on my black-T-shirt-clad shoulders. “You wore it when we flipped in the buggy three weeks ago. It kept you safe.”
Aflame by Penelope Douglas / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes