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Chapter One





Pushing the book cart down the narrow aisle, I stopped by the R section and scanned for RIO. I slid The Lightning Thief back into place and ran my fingers down the spine. Rick Riordan was a genius. His Percy Jackson series was my favorite. I loved getting lost in his different worlds—demigods, heroes, battles where the evil beasts were defeated.

Taking Holes by Louis Sachar, I housed it on the next shelf down and frowned when I noticed a few books out of order. It took two minutes to rearrange the mess before I continued shelving the remaining young adult fiction books. A few paces along, I stopped to straighten four spines out of alignment and then nodded, satisfied that everything looked neat and perfect.

Aubrey always teased me for being too fastidious. “You take twice as long to shelve as anyone else in this library.”

I didn’t care. I liked a job well done. Neat and tidy made me feel better.

With a satisfied grin, I pushed the cart out of the “For Teens” section and over to the adult romances. I was too busy reliving the wall of water scene from The Lightning Thief that I didn’t even hear the moaning couple until I turned the corner and noticed them up against the wall.

I jerked to a stop, a tendon in my neck straining. I couldn’t move for a moment. I was stunned still by the audacity of these lovebirds. They looked like college students. Well, she did anyway. I couldn’t see his face. It was buried between her breasts while she fisted his hair and bit her lower lip. His hand was gripping her butt while he gyrated against her. Were they actually having sex…in the Pasadena Public Library?

I gripped the cart handle so hard my short nails dug into my palms.

What did I do?

My throat was thick and gummy as I continued to stare at them. Why was I staring at them? I will never know. Actually, it was probably out of some deep-seated longing I didn’t understand at the time.

The woman’s mewling morphed into a different kind of whimper that haunted me. My back snapped straight, the dark memories disintegrating any kind of yearning.

I cleared my throat and the couple jolted. He whipped around to give me a coy smile, but I was too distracted by the tent in his pants to notice. His erection strained against his faded blue jeans, sending a hot fire crawling over my skin. I glanced away and stared at the books in front of me while she giggled.

I sensed her pulling down her skirt and rearranging her top while he tried to hide his tight-pant situation with his bag.

“Sorry about that,” he murmured as they brushed past me.

I gave him a jerky nod, then held the cart like the world’s most insipid statue until their titters faded out the door.

My hands were shaking, darkness swamping me as I pushed the cart forward. Pitiful whimpers taunted as I tried to dodge memories I hadn’t unearthed in months…years, even.

The book slipped from my hand and smacked onto the floor. I bent down to collect it, brushing my hand over the cover. A strong man with bulging muscles was holding a woman against him. She was looking up at his face like he was everything, while he tenderly touched her lips like he wasn’t about to slap or punish her…like he’d protect her from any man who did.

The book was probably filled with romantic dialogue and passages that made most women swoon and blush.

“This is why I only read fantasy,” I muttered, standing tall and shoving the book back into place. I was quite happy to stick with my wizards and elves, a world where reality was so far-fetched I could dive into it and forget how brutal life could be.

My hands didn’t stop shaking until I put the last book away. I hated that it took me so long to reclaim my composure and shove the past where it belonged—in a locked box in the farthest reaches of my mind. I was frustrated that simply spotting a heavy make-out session could bring it to the surface so easily. I’d gone such a long time without those memories touching me.

I wouldn’t let him win like that.

That was then.

He couldn’t have my now.

Smoothing back my hair to ensure it still sat secure in its ponytail, I raised my chin and headed to the front counter. I parked the cart where it belonged and moved behind the counter to check out some books for a waiting customer before disappearing into the break room.

I poured myself a glass of water, gulped it down, and then put it in the dishwasher.

“Hey, Cassie.”

Aubrey’s chipper voice made me jump.

“Oh, hi.” I spun around and forced a smile, gripping the counter behind me as she hummed while making a cup of coffee.

“Greg just took a call informing us that this old guy has requested his entire library be donated here. It was in his will. Isn’t that cool?”

“Yeah, wonderful. What kind of books?”

“It sounds like a massive collection. Lots of variety. I can’t wait to go through it.”

“Me too.” I was forcing it. My voice wasn’t usually so bright and bouncy. I clenched my teeth, hoping she wouldn’t notice.

She didn’t. She was too busy stirring her coffee and rabbiting on about how cute Greg was.

“Do you think I should ask him out?”

I shrugged. I didn’t know!

I’d forced myself to go on a date a few months back, because normal twenty-two-year-old girls went out with nice guys who asked them. It was a miracle in itself that someone even noticed me. He was a single parent, and I met him at a read-a-thon event the library ran as part of our summer program.

The date was nothing but painful. I didn’t know what to say or do. The poor guy worked overtime trying to strike up interesting conversation, but we had nothing in common, and I wasn’t about to shell out details of my childhood. My life was hardly entertaining, so I pretty much gave him nothing. It was awkward. He dropped me home straight after the meal, didn’t even get out of the car to walk me to the door. There was no promise of a follow-up phone call, just a swift goodbye that suited us both.

I swore I’d never do it again.

As much as I wanted to be normal, like Aubrey, I couldn’t. I had my routine, my structured life, and my buried secrets. It kept me safe and that was pretty much all I wanted—control and security.

My bubbly co-worker leaned against the counter and sipped her coffee. She had styled blonde curls and her makeup was subtle yet effective, highlighting all the right features to make her look beautiful. I brushed my cheek with the pads of my fingers, then turned it into a chin scratch when Aubrey glanced at me.

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