Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 190 pages
Heat Level: 1
eBook Price: $.99
Print Book: $9.99
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 190 pages
Heat Level: 1
eBook Price: $.99
Print Book: $9.99
The heart must be protected at all costs... but will Cassidy be able to afford the price? Cassidy has distanced herself from childhood friend, Tristan. She’s moved on from their days of best friend-hood and is attending college. And dating one of the most eligible males on campus. Life couldn’t be better. Really. Tristan has devoted himself to Cassidy since they were children together. But no matter what he did, she’s never treated him like more than her best friend. He knows they can have something deeper. If only he can find the key to unlocking her fearful heart.
Cassidy shot upright, spitting out the pencil she’d been chewing on. It was a nervous habit and one she despaired of ever breaking; at least her mom wasn’t there to see the mangled stub. The crashes of thunder outside her dormitory window had grown louder, and sharper, during the past hours. Sucking in several calming breaths, she listened to the rain spattering on the roof before retrieving the pencil that had landed on her study sheet. She wrinkled her nose, reading the professor’s name on the top of the page.
Dr. Ezra Thorne, author of the five page syllabus and tyrant of the glyphs — zeros and sevens must have a line slashed through the middle — was labeled the toughest accounting professor at Fyfe University by his students. And it was Cassidy’s ill-fated luck to have ended up in his class in her final year of college.
Cassidy stretched her arms, bumping the small reading lamp clipped to the textbook propped against the stuffed bear on her bed. The pink and red blotches covering its cottony body made it truly unique – just like the person who’d given it to her.
She grinned, remembering the time Tristan had seen her wearing her green off-the-shoulder peasant blouse. Draped softly against her sun-kissed skin, it had literally made his jaw drop. And for a brief moment, she’d suspected — even hoped — he was going to fling the packed silver and maroon duffel bag across the room, yank her into his arms, and ask her to stay… to take a chance.
Instead, he’d offered to carry the bag to her car, but not before asking for his Yale Blue cardigan sweater back. A disillusioned frown revealed Cassidy’s disappointment, and she’d sulked to the closet to retrieve the sweater, curious to know the name of the girl Tristan planned on giving it to in her absence.
Shaking the distressing thought away, her bloodshot eyes lazily scanned the pages bathed in a white glow. As evening faded into morning, the words blurred together in a big blob; rendering it nearly impossible to study for tomorrow’s test in Dr. Thorne’s class.
Unable to focus, Cassidy closed the book and turned up the volume on her headphones. The chorus of “My Eyes Adored You” rang in her ears from the local oldies station in town. Her tired eyes flitted shut. She’d been in sixth grade and he in eighth when they’d met…
Romantic lyrics fused with nature’s rainwater symphony. Storm clouds darkened the sky... flashes of lightning lent a strobe effect. Wind whipped at her feet. On the ground, tiny stones spelled out 1 + 1 = 1 in the mud along the path lined with gravestones.
Sparks overhead. She must escape the storm. A door left ajar… she stumbled toward it. Fiery wires slithered and nipped at her heels. Another step, another flash. A large gust pushed her inside… Wham! Her body collided with the isosceles shaped desk. Books covered the walls and ceiling, swirling around her.
Thunk! A book fell from above… lying open on the desk. The wires climbed up its legs… coiling around the book. Fire spread at the pages’ edge. Flames and books crowded her. Words lit up across the paper: Love is friendship set on fire.
Love. Rising out of the flames… he appeared. Tristan. He whispered through the smoky air. She nodded. Move for—
Cassidy startled awake, watching the room glow from the bolts of lightning. Dazed green eyes followed the flashes across the walls until the room was once again consumed in darkness.
Cassidy peered toward the blackness of the ceiling where the droplets dampening her face had fallen. She wiped them away with her sleeve, rolling a drowsy eye back and forth as she squinted at the shadows lingering overhead along the tiles. A warm tear skimmed her cheek, and only then did she realize she had been crying in her sleep. Even with over two hundred miles separating them, she couldn’t escape Tristan — couldn’t forget his embrace, all of their shared memories. His last words still echoed in her mind: It’s time for us to move forward.
Drip! Drip! Drip!
“Stop screaming up there.” Her roommate, Billie, gave the mattress of Cassidy’s bunk bed a shove.
“Don’t you feel it?” Cassidy blinked her eyes. She sat up, dabbing her face with the corner of her mauve comforter. It had smoky pink and amaranth rose petals strewn throughout the fabric that reminded her of home and the numerous rosebushes planted in the yard.
“Feel what?” Billie growled as a strong gust of wind rattled the glass of their dormitory window.
Cassidy shuddered at the noise and crawled to the end of the bed. With cautious steps, she descended the ladder from her bunk to the floor. At the bottom rung, she pulled her fuzzy robe from its hook then gripped the bedpost to steady herself while she slid her cold feet into a pair of kitty slippers. She walked over to Billie’s bed and sat down on the edge.
“Water was dripping on me from the ceiling.”
Billie propped herself up on an elbow. “Keane, I thought I told you never to talk to me before noon?”
“I know, but—” Rain clamored above them, a deluge on the dormitory roof, and spatters of water struck against the window. A hand reached up and grabbed her arm, and Cassidy gulped.
“Not amusing.” Cassidy shook loose from Billie’s grasp. She stood and eased her way toward the window, which was still rattling from the high winds.
“Go back to bed. Only crazies are awake at this time of day.” Billie turned and buried her head in the blankets.
Cassidy stood at the window, watching the storm through sleepy eyes. Off in the distance, massive greenish-tinged clouds hovered in the sky as the rain saturated the ground. Loud claps of thunder pierced the dense air, and bold flashes of lightning illuminated the dorm room then returned it to darkness. The populous white ash and scarlet oak trees twisted and whipped in the wind, littering the ground with their stripped branches.
“It looks ominous out there. I hope we don’t get any tornadoes on campus.”
“Don’t worry,” Billie mumbled from underneath her blankets. “The university hasn’t texted a warning, or our cell phones would have beeped. And the tornado siren hasn’t gone off.”
“Not yet.” Cassidy bit her nail as she listened to the wind howl. “Oh, we would have to live on the top floor!”
She continued to watch the storm, listening to the church bells clang randomly every time the wind kicked up, and thinking of the verses in Job: Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them. The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds.
Feeling the tension rising with every falling raindrop, Cassidy shivered as the window clattered. Her warm breath fogged up the paned glass and the chilly night air clung to her skin, covering her arms with goose bumps. She tightened the robe around her shaky frame and stepped away from the window, using the dim light from the hallway that appeared at the bottom of the door to guide her back to bed. She was about to climb the ladder when someone knocked at the door.
“What now?” Billie grumbled, tossing her covers aside.
“Stay there. You aren’t human until midday, remember?”
Billie nodded in agreement as Cassidy opened the door to find their Resident Advisor, Felice Devin, standing in her pajamas and slippers. The RA’s usual sleek, blond hair was disheveled and tied up in a ponytail. She held a half empty cup of coffee in her right hand and balanced a stack of papers in her left.
“Good morning, ladies. An early morning I might add.”
“Yes, it is.” Cassidy yawned. “What can we do for you?”
“Leave me out of the we.”
Felice peeked into the darkened room. “What was that?”
“It’s only Billie babbling in her sleep.” Cassidy shot an annoyed glance in her roommate’s direction.
“Really?” Felice shifted her weight, causing the coffee to swish in her cup. “I’ve been learning about somniloquy in my psychology class. Are her sleep utterances recurrent? If so, she might have a more serious underlying problem, like a psychiatric disorder.”
Billie’s low chuckle filtered out of the darkened room. “Uh, no. That was the only time.”
“Too bad. She might have made a great test subject in a sleep study.” Felice took a sip of her lukewarm coffee before getting down to business. “I’m handing out copies of the Standard Emergency Procedures for Fyfe University in case this storm worsens. The section referring to tornadoes can be found on page thirty-two. Also, in the event of a tornado on campus, all Brantley Hall residents are instructed to seek shelter in the dormitory basement.”
She indicated with a nod of her head for Cassidy to take a manual from the stack in her left hand.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get these circulated sooner, but the beginning of the fall semester is always a busy time for Resident Advisors.”
“It’s nice to know protecting your residents is a top priority,” Billie said. Her muffled voice was laden with sarcasm.
“I’d keep an eye on her,” Felice advised, turning to leave. She yawned and took another sip of coffee. “We’ll chat again later, after the caffeine kicks in.”
Cassidy closed the door as Felice ambled down the hall, then removed one of her slippers and threw it at the bottom bunk.
“Ow!” Billie yelped.
With her hands on her hips, Cassidy glared down at her roommate. “For someone who purports to hate mornings, you sure do talk a lot!”
“I couldn’t help myself,” Billie said, and laughed. “I mean, come on, she practically nominated me to be a guinea pig in some voodoo psychological experiment. And besides, mornings tend to bring out the worst in me. Why do you think I scheduled the majority of my classes in the afternoons and evenings?”
Cassidy bent down and picked up her slipper. “The professors who teach morning classes should send you a signed thank you card for not enrolling,” she snapped. “I, however, want an apology for having to white-lie away your foolishness. You know how I feel about dishonesty.”
Billie sat up and dangled her legs over the side of the bed. “I’m sorry, Cassidy,” she said as a wet glob smacked her bare knee below the hem of her sleep shorts. “Perfect. The roof really is leaking.”
“I tried to tell you,” Cassidy said. She reached for the light switch and flicked it on. As soon as the room brightened, a tile dropped from the ceiling and water spurted in.
“My bed!” Cassidy shrieked.
Billie leapt to her feet and shook the cold water off her legs. “Quick!” she pointed. “Give me that manual — I’ll find the extension for the Maintenance Department. Meanwhile, go find Felice.”
“I’m on my way.” Cassidy darted out of the room and into the hallway, passing by two or three doors before it occurred to her that she was still wearing her robe and slippers. She paused to tie the belt around her waist then rushed on to find her RA standing outside of a room near the elevator. Cassidy gasped when she realized who Felice was talking with.
“Those are some chic slippers,” the diva sneered, giving Cassidy the once-over. “Did you bring your little sister’s slippers to college by mistake?”
In her mind, Cassidy was shooting daggers at Ava Kayne. The petite brunette acted as though she was better than the other students, probably because she came from a wealthy family. She certainly dressed as though she belonged on the front cover of a fashion magazine. Cassidy stiffened. Her narrowed green eyes focused on Ava as she aimed knives right at her matching scarlet silk gown and robe, shredding the fabric into rags that fell upon her satin slippers. She rolled her eyes upward to find Ava smirking at her with glossy red lips.
“As a matter of fact, these are mine.” She lifted a leg in the air and wiggled the curly tail. “Do you think they could get featured in Vogue?”
“That’s quite enough, ladies,” Felice warned. She gave Ava a copy of the manual and then turned to Cassidy. “Do you have a question about the emergency procedures?”
“No. I need your help,” Cassidy said, lowering her foot. “A ceiling tile fell and we have water gushing into our room. Billie is calling maintenance about it now.”
“Come with me,” Felice said, taking hold of Cassidy’s arm. “We’ll check the housekeeping closet in the basement for some pails.”
As Felice pulled Cassidy to the elevator, she glanced over her shoulder to find Ava’s smirk transforming into a full-fledged, demonic smile. “Good luck,” Ava called down the hall.
Cherry Christensen has a degree in psychology from Aquinas College and lives in Michigan with her husband and three cats. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and running 5k races with her friends. The Fearful Heart is her debut novel.