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When a seventeen-year-old girl vanishes,
A community is shaken.
Parents turn desperate.
Friends hold vigils.
And the boy who loves her searches.
When a year goes by,
The community is recovering.
Parents feel hopeless.
Friends feel helpless.
And the boy who loves her continues his search.
When ten years go by,
The community has forgotten.
Parents cling to the past.
Friends move toward the future.
And the boy who loves her . . .
Brings her home.
Jade Childs spent ten years in captivity, but now that she’s back, the real battle for survival begins. The media shadows her. Flashbacks haunt her. Her old life evades her. Her so-called new life rejects her. She spent too many years in the dark to recognize the light. She spent too long repressing her feelings to remember how to express them. She spent a decade abandoning hope and cannot dare letting it back into her life. Jade’s not just defined by what happened to her—she’s collared to it.
When the twenty-seven-year-old woman is found,
A community wants to know the story,
Parents want to forget the story,
Friends want to be a part of the story,
And the man who still loves her faces the greatest challenge yet: letting her go.
I feel something swirl at my ankle, then it grabs me. I’m sucked under instantly as the undercurrent slams me to the ocean bottom and tumbles me around. It’s happened before, so I don’t panic. I know that once it’s done with me, it will let me go. Once it’s twirled me around a few times, it will leave me alone.
I can feel it starting to lose momentum when two arms brace around me and break me free. When we pop through the surface, Torrin spins me around, terror drawing up his expression.
“Are you okay?” He holds me with one hand, inspecting me with the other like he’s going to find an elbow or organ missing.
I’m totally wet. I feel ocean water draining out of my ears and nose. My hair feels like a cyclone just had its way with it, and I know my skin’s red and blotchy from the sand exfoliation treatment I just received free of charge.
I laugh. This is what alive feels like. I remember.
It’s adrenaline pulsing so hard in my veins they feel about to burst. It’s feelings that twist my stomach into knots. It’s feeling so cold my body goes numb and so attracted to someone my body feels the opposite of numb.
This is it. Living. I can almost feel the blood warm in my veins as it starts to run again.
“Why are you laughing?” Torrin’s face flashes with relief when he sees I’m okay, but he doesn’t let go of me.
On the beach, my parents slowly make their way back to the beach blankets once they’ve seen I’m okay.
“That was fun.” I rub my stomach because it hurts. From the laughter. I’d forgotten stomachs could hurt from laughing.
“Fun? Not my idea of fun.”
I wipe the water from my face and find just as much sand pasted to it. “What’s your idea of fun then?”
Torrin’s still shaking his head when he suddenly shouts, “This!”
He pulls me under the water with him. He lets me go right away, but I don’t want him to. I don’t want him to ever let go.
I splash him when he resurfaces a few feet away. “Did you just dunk me?”
He splashes back. “I just did.”
“You’ve heard of payback, right?” I move a little closer, ignoring the way I can feel my parents watching us from the beach.
“I’ve heard of it. Not really a big fan though.”
When I lunge at him and try to knock him under, he’s clearly bracing for it because all I do is smash into him. My wet body against his, our arms tangled together, our faces too close to not be aware of where each other’s mouths are . . .
“What’s this payback thing again?” He’s practically gloating, so I come at it from a different angle.
My eyes drop to his mouth and stay there until his lips part from his breaths coming faster. When my hand curves against the side of his face, sweeping down the line of his jaw, I feel his chest moving hard against mine. His arms tangle tighter behind me because I’m slipping through them. When that doesn’t work, he hoists me higher, and his arms form a net beneath my backside.
I need to clear my head before I can’t remember what I’m doing.
My eyes lift to his and hold there. When he blinks, a drop of water rolls off his eyelashes. My hand slides lower until my thumb is touching the corner of his mouth.
“Torrin?” I whisper, my mouth lowering.
“Yeah?” His voice is rough, coming from low in his throat.
I move my mouth just outside his ear. “This . . . is . . .”—I burst free of his hold and slide his legs out from beneath him with my foot—“payback!”
He goes down with a surprised shout and an explosive splash. I’m laughing again, and so is he when he pops his head above the water.
“Well played, Childs.”
“Thank you very much,” I say with a bow, hoping he can’t see right through me the way I feel he can sometimes.
If he does, he’ll know. He’ll know I would have rather kissed him. I would rather still be kissing him. He’ll know that while I’m content to put most of the past behind me, there’s one part I want to pack and bring with me to the future.
I think he might see it though, because I think I might see it in him too.
The sun catches his eyes just right when he looks at me. “You always had a way of taking the ground right out from beneath me.”
Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.