Book #1 in the Perfect Little Pieces TrilogyAva Conway
Lucy White had it all—popularity, an acceptance into a pre-vet program at a prestigious college and a hot boyfriend—until one day something happened that made everything change. Battered and broken, she gives up on life, preferring to waste away at Newton Heights Psychiatric Hospital than to feel the guilt and pain. The hollow feeling inside her heart threatens to swallow her whole, until she meets someone who makes her realize how wonderful life can be.
As Jayden McCray peels back her defenses, the pain returns, and Lucy is forced to deal with the ghosts of her past. Jayden gives her the strength to face her fears, until his inner demons interfere and threaten to send her back to that dark place from which she came...
At fourteen, Ava snuck her first romance novel into bed and read it by flashlight. There she met her first “book boyfriend” and has been hooked on reading ever since. She often prefers book-boyfriends to the real thing, and believes that a gooey, fudge brownie is a little piece of heaven on earth. When she’s not writing, she’s stumbling through her Zumba class (have to work off those brownies somehow), obsessing over the latest PINK song, or feeding her addiction for reality television.
Note: Ava also writes more sensual romances for her over-eighteen fans as Suzanne Rock. See her kinkier side by clicking on her pen name in the menu above. (For mature audiences only. By clicking on the tab you confirm that you are over 18 years or older.)
Blog: Romance on a Budget: www.suzannerock.wordpress.com
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/AvaConwayAuthor
1) Lights – Nellie Veitenheimer
2) Nothing – The Script
3) A Team – Ed Sheeran
4) How Do I live Without You – Leann Rimes
5) Carry On – Fun
6) I’ll Be – Edwin McCain
7) Madness – Muse
8) Try – Pink
9) Stay – Rhinanna
10) Crazy – Gnarles Barkley
11) Let Me Be Myself – 3 Doors Down
12) Adele – Skyfall
13) Feel Again – One Republic
It was a full minute before my mind unfroze enough so I could tap my hero on the shoulder.
Jayden’s footsteps slowed, and the hallway began to look familiar. As my heartbeat quieted, his scent—coffee and a hint of vanilla—filled my nose. I closed my eyes and inhaled the wonderful aroma. It reminded me of the little café Bethany, Mia and I hung out in on campus. I could almost see that purple-haired woman behind the counter, sneering at my coffee order. Black? Who drinks their coffee black?
Jayden stopped at my room and shifted me in his arms. After a little fumbling with the handle, he opened the door and swept me inside. The room held two simple twin beds, two cushioned chairs and two dressers.
There was a window on the far wall, but no curtains. A similar paisley pattern from the common area decorated the comforter and chair. Otherwise, the walls and floor were the same in my room as in the hall—clean, sterile and rather depressing.
Jayden kicked the door to my room closed and leaned back against the metal surface. “Are you all right?”
Was I? It had been so long since anyone had asked me that question. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.
Instead of speaking, I curled up inside the safety of Jayden’s arms and buried my head in his chest. Perhaps, if I held tight enough, he’d ground me in the present and make all the ghosts of my past fade away.
“Lucy?” He tightened his grip around my body, as if he needed to hold me as much as I needed to be held.
I nodded as a lump formed in my throat. How did he learn my name? Or where my room was? It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was here. I was safe.
“Good.” He closed his eyes. “Good.”
It was in that moment that I realized we were alone. I blinked around at my surroundings, feeling a little uneasy. Unlike the other rooms in the hospital, mine had no pictures, no posters, nothing that would differentiate my room from anyone else’s. Even the bed next to mine was empty. The hospital was under-capacity and the staff didn’t have a roommate for me yet. I wasn’t allowed most things other patients had because I was still considered a suicide risk.
Would Jayden notice how bleak everything looked and realize that I was a suicidal? Would he care? He was from the outside, after all. Being with someone who was so depressed might freak him out. The thought of explaining my drab surroundings caused a hole to form in the pit of my stomach.
He popped one eye open and looked at me, assessing. “You could’ve gotten hurt pretty bad back there, you know. Promise me that the next time a fight breaks, you’ll get out of the room.”
It was odd to have someone show so much concern for my well-being. It felt kind of…nice. I leaned back and blinked up at his bright, blue eyes, suddenly hyper-aware of our closeness. Not only did his scent calm my frazzled nerves, but the feel of his hard body pressed up against mine made me warm all over. As my skin heated, something fluttered inside my lower abdomen, and the hollow feeling inside started to recede.
I nodded my promise. He closed his eyes and exhaled. Tension left his shoulders as he squeezed my body closer to his.
“Thank you.” He closed his eyes and let out a long breath.
Part of me knew that it was a little odd to have him still hold me. The danger had passed and we were alone. I wasn’t a tiny girl. It couldn’t have been easy for him to hold my weight for so long. Yet he made no move to put me down, and I was reluctant to have him let me go. It felt nice being cradled in his arms. Safe.
I traced his profile with my gaze. Jayden was gorgeous in a guy-next-door sort of way. Thick hair fell in soft layers across his temples. He had day-old scruff along his jaw and wore a small stud earring in one ear. All of that paled in comparison to the long scar on his temple, however. His hair covered most of it. If I wasn’t so close to him, I never would have seen it. It was…fascinating. I wanted to reach out and touch it, but was afraid that my movement might break the quiet comfort that surrounded us.
He opened his eyes. I jerked back from his gaze like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar.
Something indefinable flashed through his features as he straightened.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry.”
He lowered my body, inching it down over his rock-hard abs until my feet hit the floor. He felt good rubbing up next to my skin, too good.
I stood there, gripping his shoulders, not quite ready to let him go.
“I shouldn’t be here. It isn’t allowed,” he murmured more to himself than to me.
I held my body still and willed him to stay. He was right, of course.
The boys’ and girls’ bedrooms were in separate halls. They were strictly off limits to the opposite sex. Visitors weren’t allowed back here at all. They were kept in the common rooms and the waiting areas downstairs.
He was a visitor. That explained why he was so full of life. He wasn’t confined in this hell hole. Jayden was free and working for my mother.
Why was it so hard for me to remember that? I had to try, however. If my mother thought that she could manipulate me from outside the hospital, then she was mistaken.
I started to pull away, but his grip tightened and held me in place.
He ran his fingers along my cheek as he met my gaze. “Things will calm down soon and they’ll be checking rooms to make sure people are safe.”
He shifted his gaze to my lips. “We’ll both get in trouble if they find me here.”
No kidding. Yet, despite knowing this, despite knowing that he worked for my parents, I didn’t want him to go. Heat slid down through my center and settled between my thighs. I slipped my fingers along his neck and became aware of how the bulge in his jeans pressed up against my lower abdomen.
He inhaled a ragged breath and moistened his lips. “Don’t leave this room until the staff has things under control, okay?”
I nodded, unable to speak. Tension crackled between us. It was odd, this instant connection. I was probably feeling the after-shock of the near-death experience in the common area. Still, there was something genuine about Jayden, something different from the other patients and staff in this place. It lowered my defenses and made me want to be genuine, too.
My heartbeat quickened as he lowered his hand and wrapped it around my waist. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive, really alive.
He moved his fingers along my lower back, stimulating my skin until my whole body melted against him. “I mean it, Lucy. Both Flynn and Nesto have good hearts, but that won’t prevent them from hurting you if you get in the way.”
Hearing him say my name felt like a caress. What he did back in the common area was heroic and sexy-as-hell. I could really use a hero in my life, someone to purge the past and save me from my private hell.
“This is serious.” Jayden gripped my upper arms and eased me away from his chest. He steeled his jaw for a moment, then relaxed his grip.
“You don’t know how it works around here, do you?”
Works around here? I stared at him, uncomprehending. Wasn’t he a volunteer, an outsider? How did he know the rules in a place like this? Unless all volunteers were given some sort of training session before interacting with the patients. Then again, Nesto and Flynn seemed to know him. Perhaps he was a regular volunteer at the hospital and Howlistic Healers was just a side gig.
Damn it, everything was happening so fast. I couldn’t think. Who was this guy standing in my room, and why did he seem to care what happened to me? I wasn’t the type of person someone cared about. He had to have some ulterior motive, but what?
Jayden made a low, frustrated noise and began to pace. He ticked off rules on his fingers as he walked. “The point system. The Confinement Ward. Sedation Therapy.” He stopped and raised his brows. “Is any of this familiar?”
I didn’t know much beyond earning points for walks in the courtyard and fancy coffee. Dr. Polanski had never mentioned Sedation Therapy or the Confinement Ward before. They sounded like things I wanted to stay away from. I shook my head.
He raked his fingers through his hair and resumed pacing. “I can’t believe no one showed you.” He stopped walking and waved his arms in the air. “How long have you been here—three days?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but he was already moving on. “Dr. Polanski must have gotten sidetracked with the dogs.” He shook his head and started walking once more. “You need to know how things work around here before you get yourself in trouble.”
Trouble like Nesto and Flynn? I wanted to ask, but Jayden rushed on before I could form the words.
“I’ll have to show you, but not now.” He stopped and pressed his ear against the door. “They at least gave you a schedule, right?”
I nodded and pointed to the paper on the dresser.
“Good.” He closed the distance between us and brushed a stray lock of hair from my face. “Follow it to the letter, and try to participate, if you can. We won’t be able to chat in the morning, because they like to keep the men and women separate for one-on-ones and group. It will have to be afternoon, then.”
The man was positively amazing. How did he manage to talk so fast? How could he be so full of life in a place where the people looked half-dead?
Jayden turned away and pressed his ear to the door once more.
“Tomorrow, after the Rec Therapy session, we’ll talk. You’ll be all right until then?”
“Good.” He closed the distance between us, framed my face with his hands, and kissed my forehead. “Stay safe.”
He let go and stepped back. The look on his face suggested that the spontaneous affection had surprised him as much as it did me. Cool air whispered against my skin, leaving me confused. I swayed on my feet as he opened the door and disappeared into the hallway.
The door closed, and it felt as if the energy had been sucked out of the room. I felt cold and empty without his presence. Things were much too quiet. I rubbed my arms and curled up in my bed, suddenly feeling very much alone.