Breathe Me Page 1

Prologue

STANDING ON THE slick, damp rocks smoothed over by centuries of wind-tossed waves, my heart stopped. Piper wore nothing but her swimsuit, and the temperature was cool enough to make our noses blush pink. Hunger lingered in her eyes, making my own desire burn through me, the frigid air forgotten in the heat of a deep ache and a longing unexpectedly overcame me. I ran to her, embraced her thin frame and attempted to stifle the goose bumps flaring across her skin. We were on vacation on one of my favorite beaches of the Oregon coast. A place to forget the insanity of college life.

The alcove was a small private beach, free from the barrage of tourists. Leading her over the mess of rocks and sand to the blanket I had set out for our picnic, I carefully cradled her body as we slipped down onto it, our lips devouring each other’s until they felt downright bruised. Hers were bright pink, full and swollen from my assault as I explored them. Our skin had turned from frozen to searing, the wind all but forgotten as it toyed with the ends of her long brown hair with unseen fingertips. It lay fanned out underneath us, a warm pillow for her head.

I’d never met anyone like Piper. She was the vision of my dream woman, the one I never knew I had wanted. She was always spontaneous and filled with a vibrant life force so few others possess. I reached over and undid the ties to her bikini, raking my fingers down her sides, desperate to devour every last bit. She was soft, her curves supple against the hard rocks pressing against us. We didn’t care. We were lost to the world. We could’ve jumped up and rushed into the old beach house a few yards away, to the warmly burning fire and the creaky but cozy bed, but such comforts were of no concern to us. All that mattered was kissing her, everywhere, everyplace in every way to make sure some sort of fiery warmth caressed the cold away, and our wanting was satisfied.

Shivering from my touch, she opened her hooded eyes, glazed with lust and most definitely matching my own. Her fingers curled around my blonde hair as she whispered my name, “Sasha,” before her voice ebbed away and my lips found hers once more. It was there that I gave away my heart, before all the wrong snaked into our lives back home. Before all the flighty decisions and selfishness had sent us spiraling into oblivion, leaving us broken. I wanted it back, all the “before and “once upon a times.” I still did, now more than ever before. I was determined to salvage our hearts. It was the only way either of us could really live again.

Chapter One

Piper

Present Day

“SINGLE RIDER!”

The most humiliating words spoken by man.

I cringed at the Ferris wheel operator’s words. A slight sheen of sweat built on my forehead as I stepped forward.

“Do you have to announce it like that?” I muttered, throwing him a searing glare. He was oblivious to my mortification as he waved toward the growing line of people crowding behind me. I wouldn’t have even been there if my cousin Joss hadn’t dragged me out of my safe cocoon at home to celebrate her daughter’s eighth birthday at the county fair. I could’ve done without the hordes, the craziness, the toddlers screaming on the kiddie rides and the nauseating smell of deep-fried Twinkies, bottomless popcorn and waves of wood-burned pizza swirling about me. Not that I didn’t indulge in such fattening but savory treats, I just wasn’t in the mood for any festivities that night. Especially not since I felt like a third wheel.

“Hi, Auntie! I can see the Excalibur from here!” My niece Leah waved from high above, rocking their chair enough to make me that much more concerned as I waited for a volunteer partner to ride with. I waved back, hoping she’d turn around and settle into her chair. My bravery was not strong tonight, and peering up at the array of steel seats made me dizzy.

“Just like sitting in a chair,” I mumbled. Just breathe, breathe, breathe….

“Did you say something?” The operator threw me a confused look, and I pasted the fakest, widest smile across my face.

“Nope, not a word.”

“You can’t ride without a partner, the seats need to be balanced. Maybe you can take turns with your friend.” He pulled off his dingy hat and shoved back matted, sweaty hair, crinkling his nose at me.

“I can ride with her!” someone shouted from across the pavement. Everyone turned to watch as a spikey-haired blonde guy sprint across the asphalt toward me.

Oh no, no, no. Not him. Anyone but him, please. Why, of all people… Sasha?

“Hey.” His wide-toothed grin made me press my lips together as I threw him a firm, tiny smile. I cringed as I entered the awaiting swinging chair, wondering what I might’ve done to deserve such punishment.

Might as well get this over with, I thought.

I’d known this man once, intimately. Sasha was the epitome of the “don’t look because you’ll be caught like a deer in headlights” type of guy. His striking blue eyes were nothing to take lightly. They could literally stop traffic and a send a bus full of school girls fainting.

Yeah. That was me once. Not anymore. Never again.

He swung his legs in after me, still wearing the dark maroon uniform shirt with the “County Fair” logo embroidered on the front right pocket. I didn’t know he’d been working the fair. God knew it was every teeny bopper’s haven. Why he was working this joint when he should’ve had a stable career or at least be finishing graduate school by now? Whatever the reason, why did he have to be there, at that moment?

I gripped the metal bar as it came creaking down onto my lap, turning my knuckles white as paper. The operator tugged at it one last time before heading back to flip the switch, sending the carriage floating forward to carry us up before it came to a jerking halt. It swung with a creaking scream from the overused joints, sending my heart bursting in my chest from fear. He resumed loading up more customers on the swing below, as though my life wasn’t in jeopardy at all. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t, but this sort of thing was not my cup of tea on a good day.

“Don’t worry, you won’t fall out. That is, if you don’t make the chair swing too hard.”

I turned toward Sasha, his face a rosy, flushed pink from sprinting toward the ride. Though he didn’t stink, he obviously had been working all day in this inferno and was starting to smell a little too ripe for my liking. The stench of popcorn and funnel cakes clung to him, but a subtle scent of aftershave hovered, mixing along with it. I shifted in my seat and turned away from him to stare at the flashing lights of the fair below. “Hey, I don’t bite, Piper.”

A touch of his skin on mine as he slipped his hands onto them, which continued to grip the metal bars for dear life, caused me to jerk them back into my lap. The sway of the swinging chair made my stomach flinch and had me wishing I hadn’t gotten on. It was intensely terrifying, and it took all my control to not scream down to the operator to get me off the ride sooner than as soon as possible. Clasping the side of the cart, I hoped and prayed the ride would get a move on already. Heights were not my forte.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

Sasha huffed, and I could actually feel his smirk on the back of my head, drilling into my skull. Still always wanting to be proven right, I see.

“The hell you are. You’re shivering like a wet terrier. If heights aren’t your thing, why in the world did you hop on the Ferris wheel? You never did like it.” Shaking his head and chuckling softly just bought him another dirty glare from me. I let it dig in, waiting for him to turn away, defeated. But it only made him cough slightly before his smile faded, ever so slowly. Clearing his throat, he continued to observe me. “Why do you come to these things if you can’t stomach it?”

“If you must know, and it’s frankly not any of your business, it’s my niece’s birthday.”

“Ah, yes, I thought I saw your cousin.” He glanced up and waved up at Leah. “Man, the kid is getting big! How old is she now? Ten? How is Joss nowadays? Still with her sickly husband?”

“He died eleven months ago,” I responded dryly. “And Leah is eight today.” He deserved to get disarmed with that snooty remark.

“Oh.”

“Look, you don’t have to make small talk, I get that I’m stuck on this ride with you for a bit before they let me off. So why don’t you do yourself a favor, and me too while you’re at it, and just don’t speak.” My pathetic smile made his downgrade a bit, but if my memory served me well, he wasn’t going to just take it. He was as stubborn as I was. It was probably the main reason we never got along as well as we should have. It had only fueled our undoing.

“Well, that’s really too bad. I liked Will a lot. Down to earth kind of guy.” He scratched his head and peered down over the edge of the carriage. The light was fading, and the balmy inferno of the daytime was cooling off. Though the heated asphalt gave off its reserved warmth, the cooling night air, paired with my frayed nerves, made me shiver a bit. I pulled one arm around myself, keeping one hand clasped firmly on the bar. The crowd’s screams and the endless bleeps from the arcade games were a welcome distraction, allowing my thoughts to wander into the even louder arena of my mind.

Sasha had been my boyfriend—if you could call it that—my freshman year in college. He’d been so immature back then, probably not knowing what to do with a doe-eyed, deeply-in-love kind of girl like me. I’d been so into him, and he had acted like it’d been no big deal. I was just another girl going gaga over the blonde surfer player, the class star. I’d been so wrong about him. He’d taken what he’d wanted, played the ever-so-loving boyfriend, until one day, out of the blue, it was over. I’d been the last to know. It had felt like my heart had been chopped into a million tiny pieces when I watched him ignore me near the end of our relationship, party with other girls and blatantly insult me in front of his fraternity brothers. He’d left me invisible, more so than before he’d ever laid his soft, luxurious lips on mine.

My heart sped up thinking of the nights we’d spent together. Alone with him, I’d been in heaven, utterly lost to the world. I’d loved the way his fingertips had softly slid down my skin and sent goose bumps flaring throughout my body. His touch had been searing and his scent intoxicating. How do you get over someone like that? Especially after he turned me into a shadow in his midst, left in the cold, alone. It was no different than throwing me under the bus. At the time, it had left me empty, a hollowed mess that I’d been left to clear away, bit by painful bit.

But I wasn’t eighteen anymore, and I was definitely not that fragile, naïve and trusting girl I’d once been. I’d changed my classes to avoid him after that. I’d graduated and felt relieved to have made it out of college alive, but only just. My heart had been left a pummeled mess, but beating nonetheless.

I wondered if he thought about those days at all. I swatted the thought from my mind, the pain from it still feeling like a salted wound, aching to split wide open again. I couldn’t let that happen. Nope. I was a grownup now, long past the mistakes and awkwardness of those years. To let him affect me now was to give up the fragile universe I had carefully built to keep the likes of him out.

“Hey,” Sasha whispered.

I turned, locking my dark brown eyes on his as they gleamed bluely in the fading light. They could still stop traffic, and it made me fidget in my seat. “Yeah?”

“Look, I don’t want to make you uneasy. You all right?”

Blinking rapidly, I slowly tilted my head, scanning his face for any indication of malice. To my surprise, I saw none. Instead, I sized him up, really looking at him. I noticed the slight glazed look of exhaustion and tiny lines extending from the corners of his eyes. A shadow of stubble had grown across his jawline, making him look older than the last time I’d seen him. The baby fat of youth was entirely gone, chiseling out his jawline, especially with the hint of stubble shading his cheeks. Tiny worry lines etched against his eyes, betraying summers on the beach which had trimmed up his sleek, hardened muscular physique. He was different somehow, and it made me curious to find out what had happened in the six years since I’d given him my heart, which he’d gone on to splay wide open.

“Yes, I’m fine. Just hoping to not fall out of this chair.” I nervously chuckled and darted my gaze away from his enchanting eyes. If I wasn’t careful, I’d fall into this trap once more. Time had done nothing to stifle the longing ache he’d left within my heart, and I was careful to not peer at him again. If I let him get too close again, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t come out of it alive.

“Just don’t lean forward too much. It’s meant for people to sit back, hold onto each other and relax. The lover’s ride.”

He emphasized the last part with his deep, throaty voice, and I shivered. It was soothing but also made want to get off the ride right away. I let out a breath as I watched the world sway under us. The Ferris wheel made its way back down and through the operating podium. I could hear my niece squeal in delight as she pointed things out to my cousin. Joss may have suffered an extreme, heartbreaking loss recently, but she made darn sure her daughter had as normal a life as she possibly could. I envied her in so many ways. In other ways, she’d paid a high price already, and I wasn’t sure I could’ve gone through such a tragedy as intact.

Sasha drummed his fingers on the steel lap bar, but I refused to look his way. “Leah’s having a blast.”

“Yep.”

“Look, Piper….”

I gave up and turned back toward him and was instantly disarmed by his intense stare. “Yeah?”

“I wanted to apologize to you.”

“For what?”

“You know what. I never should’ve treated you like… like that. I….”

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