Broken Juliet
Author:Leisa Rayven

I stare at his chest. His shirt is a button-down. Blue. If I looked into his eyes right now, they’d mirror the color.

 

He squeezes my hands. “I know you’re thinking that you’ve been shut down for so long, you don’t know how to wake up. That all these messy feelings I bring out in you make you wishes you’d never met me.”

 

I sigh. “Pretty much.”

 

He pauses for a few seconds, then says, “That’s how I used to feel about you. When we started getting serious, everything I felt got too big. It didn’t help that a paranoid voice inside kept whispering that you were going to destroy me. I’m sure in your head, there’s a voice saying the same thing.”

 

That’s true. The difference is, I had nothing to do with creating his trust issues, yet he’s the sole reason for all of mine.

 

“But you’ve told me you could do this twice before,” I say. “Twice you broke my heart.”

 

He strokes my hands again. “Cassie, look at me.”

 

I struggle to lift my gaze to his eyes. When I do, he doesn’t let me look away.

 

“In the past, I thought I could be what you needed. But thinking and knowing are two different things. Now, I know. Let me prove I can love you the way you deserve.”

 

I don’t know what I deserve anymore. I used to think I deserved him, but he proved me wrong time and again.

 

If he were to fail this time, there’d be nothing left of me.

 

 

 

 

 

FIVE

 

 

DESPISED VULNERABILITY

 

 

Six Years Earlier

 

Westchester, New York

 

The Grove

 

 

For two weeks, Ethan is everything I’d ever hoped for. He’s affectionate and attentive, and we have standing dates on Friday and Saturday nights. He’s even bought me flowers. Twice.

 

I can’t believe the change.

 

Neither can anyone in our group of friends.

 

“What the fuck have you done to Holt?” Jack asks when Ethan leaves our table in the cafeteria to buy me a drink. “It’s like that creepy-ass movie where everyone is taken over by aliens and become super-nice. He hasn’t told me to fuck off in weeks. It’s wrong and unnatural.”

 

Connor shrugs. “Maybe the love of a good woman has changed him.” He gives me a smile. “Personally, I’m glad he’s stopped being such an asshole. It was starting to piss me off.”

 

Zoe pulls out a compact and powders her nose. “Well, I call bullshit. No one as badass as Holt changes overnight, no matter how much he wants to. Did you see that look he gave Erika in mask class today? If his eyes were laser beams, she’d be dust. The real Holt is still in there, that’s for sure.”

 

I tune them out. I don’t care what they say. Ethan has been amazing, and I’m going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

 

When he gets back to the table, he gives me a lingering kiss.

 

Everyone falls silent. Jack gets up and studies the back of Ethan’s neck.

 

“What the fuck are you doing?”

 

“Nothing,” Jack says, and stands on his toes. “Just looking for the alien tentacle attached to your brain.”

 

Ethan scowls and pushes him away. “Fuck off, Avery.”

 

When everyone hoots and breaks into applause, Ethan looks at me with a confused expression.

 

I shake my head and pull him down next to me.

 

A few minutes later, Jack launches into one of his epic jokes. When I turn to look at Ethan, he’s smiling, but there’s something in his eyes. A weary sadness. Like being this version of himself is exhausting, but he refuses to give it up.

 

Part of me wants to ignore the wrongness and just believe him, but then I’d be pretending as much as he is.

 

No matter how much I want to deny the truth, it gets more obvious every day that he’s a drowning man clinging to a sinking raft.

 

 

 

 

Whenever I try to talk to Ethan about what’s going on with him, he either changes the subject, ignores me, or uses his sex appeal as a weapon to distract me from everything but my escalating need for sex.

 

That’s what he’s doing now.

 

He’s between my legs, rocking and pressing his pelvis in a way he knows makes me crazy. I’m so desperate to have him inside me, I’ve resorted to begging.

 

“Ethan, please.”

 

He kisses me again, then pulls me on top of him. His hands are on my ass, his lips on my neck.

 

“Not tonight.”

 

“Why not?”

 

His mouth and tongue silence me. Wet, and warm, and so, so good.

 

I tug on his hair, and he makes that noise. My noise. The one that makes his chest vibrate.

 

“Ethan…” Oh, don’t stop. Yes, right there. Ohhhhhh, God. He pulls down the cup of my bra and uses his mouth. Oh, sweet majestic Zeus. “Okay. Fine. I’ll talk you into having sex later. For now, keep doing that.”

 

“I have a better idea,” he says as he unbuttons my jeans. “Let me put my mouth on another part of you.”

 

My jeans are halfway down my legs before I register what he’s said.

 

“Um … what now?”

 

He tugs my jeans off and throws them on the floor, then kneels between my legs and strokes my thighs. “Do you remember what third base is?”

 

“Uh … it’s … well.” I absolutely remember, and thinking about him going there makes me glow like a stoplight. “Are you sure you want to do that? I mean—”