Kissing Cassie has re-released today!
In celebration I’m sharing the first chapter with you in the hope you’ll LOVE it!
Cassie Thornton’s tires crunched over the thick gravel driveway, and her stomach sank with dread as though she’d swallowed a load of loose change for breakfast.
Don’t give in. Don’t give in, was getting louder with each internal chant. Her leg trembled as she pressed the brake of her car and swung it into a parking space. She turned the ignition off, withdrawing the key slowly and clutching it tightly in her palm and glaring up at the old, stone building through the car window.
She glanced at the item resting on her passenger seat. The stunning picture emblazoned on the cover of the travel brochure did nothing to stem her frayed nerves. That was the problem. She’d looked at the image well over a hundred times. Its intended, relaxing effect had worn off. Her fingers smoothed over the glossy surface before she snatched it up, rolled it and tucked it safely under her arm. Her heart thudded in her chest and pulsed through her ears. She tried to steady her shaky fingers as she pulled at the door handle and swung her legs out of the car then hurried inside the old building.
Her long blonde locks hid her face. Her breath burned her throat with each inhale. Now wasn’t the time for anything other than achieving her ultimate goal. It had taken her over a week to pluck the courage up to ask her husband, Robert, to take this trip. Today would be the day she fought for something for herself for a change.
By the time she’d scurried through the musty corridors to get to the outer door of his office, her cheeks flamed and a sheen of perspiration coated her skin. Her hand rested on the old-fashioned, brass doorknob. She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting off the shiver of uncertainty that ebbed down her spine.
The handle suddenly slipped from her grasp. The door had been yanked open from the inside. A figure hurtling toward her forced her to stumble backward and out of its way.
“Oh, Cassandra! What are you doing?”
Diana, Robert’s awful boss’ eyes flew wide when she saw her. Cassie felt vulnerable, a shaken and sweaty mess leaning against the wall.
“Whatever brings you here?” Diana asked in a high-pitched voice. Her gaze appeared to dart all over Cassie, eyes narrowing into slits as she seemed to find something more unsavory with each glance.
Cassie peered down at her clothes, she looked as though she’d been hanging around the art department for too long. Splotches of primary-colored paint from helping out in her best friend’s art class that morning littered her black slacks and sweater, that was fraying at the cuffs. Cassie was a drama teacher, but the department of arts often pulled together to assist each other.
She squeezed the magazine defensively between her hooked arm and her body. The last thing she needed was for Diana to see it. Diana would put a stop to everything before Robert even had the chance to say, “no”.
“I’m here to see Robert,” Cassie mumbled, not wanting or able to make eye contact with Diana’s wrinkle-free face or her flawless hair and makeup. Diana was always the picture of elegant perfection.
“Of course. He’s in his office. Go through if you must.”
Cassie shuffled past, head down and shoulders slumped, wishing she’d worn her best suit that day. It might have made her feel less inadequate. She’d been unprepared for bumping into her husband’s bitch of a boss. It would have been preferable to encounter Satan himself.
She darted through the door and leaned against the wall. The room was a tiny classroom designed for meeting with a small group of students. A few mismatched chairs and desks were huddled in the center of it. She dropped her head back, cooling it against the plaster. After a moment, she pushed away from the wall, her jaw set with determination. In three strides, she pushed through his office door.
Her triumphant pretense vanished as her eyes fell on her husband sitting behind his desk, his head dipped, the corners of his eyes crinkled with concentration.
“Diana,” he whined as he threw himself back in his chair and his hands up in the air, one of them still holding the biro that he’d been writing with. His head came forward, and he squinted toward the door where she stood.
“Cassie?” Confusion laced in his voice as he spoke her name. She never bothered him at work.
Her mouth quirked because he’d shortened her name. A glimmer of hope snaked through her trembling limbs. Since he’d gotten the job at Oxford, he’d called her Cassandra, as though he were mimicking his awful boss. She’d seen the way he looked at Diana, with respect and awe. He never looked at her like that.
Cassie nodded nervously, confirming it was indeed her. Which was stupid, because he could see it was.
His head cocked to the side. “What are you doing here, Cassandra?”
She winced as he morphed back into his usual self. Traces of surprise vanished from his features, abruptly replaced by irritation. He was no longer the man she’d fallen for ten years ago. He hadn’t changed much appearance-wise; his eyes were still the same shade of velvety chocolate. His silky, brown hair complemented them perfectly. But the shell didn’t match the man. The love he’d once shown her had been doused, and there was no warmth within him. Not where she was concerned anyway.
She bounced from one foot to the other, glancing around trying to remember the lines she’d practiced relentlessly for this scene. Hoping they would somehow appear out of thin air.
“Well?” he asked again, his head cocking to the other side.
Her thumbs rubbed over her perspiring fingers.
His mouth twitched as he watched her, and his eyebrows gathered in.
“I…um… We need to talk.”
Her stomach lurched so violently she wondered how she managed to stay on one spot.
He nodded slowly, egging her on to speak. She turned around on jellylike legs and pushed at the office door to close it, trying to buy some time to remember her rehearsed speech. Only on stage did things come out as they were meant to. Perhaps, that’s because the other actors stuck to the script.
“In two weeks, it’s the start of the summer break.” Her voice was a wobbly whisper. She flinched at the sound of it and hoped he hadn’t noticed. She wanted to look strong, make him think there was no way he could batter her resolve.
“Yes,” he said slowly, elongating the word.
“I think we should go on holiday.”
Her already pounding heart quickened as his lips twitched. He leaned forward until his elbows rested on the table. He pinched the bridge of his nose as he dipped behind piles of neatly aligned papers and textbooks.
She took a deep breath and stepped in front of his desk, carefully negotiating everything that surrounded him so she could place the thick magazine she’d brought on the surface before him. A silent prayer echoed through her mind; maybe, the images would warm him and bring him around to the idea.
“You know I’m working on a project all summer. You know—” His voice was sharp with agitation.
“Stop, Robert.” Her features twisted into a scowl.
His mouth fell open as he considered her with wide eyes. He cleared his throat and pulled his blue, silk tie away from his collar.
“After everything that’s happened these past few years,” she whispered, as much to herself as to him. She turned her face to gaze out the window, seeing the movement of the people below and the backdrop of tall steeples in the distance. But she couldn’t see anything through the anger that had built up inside her.
“It’s really important.” He whined.
“More important than me?”
She spun to face him, wrapping her arms around herself for comfort as she attempted to swallow her rage.
“Like everything else seems to be,” she hissed, as an unfamiliar feeling of fury ignited in the pit of her stomach.
“You heard what the doctor said a few weeks ago. He said I needed to relax. None of this—” She swept her hand through the air, gesturing toward a mishmash of leather-bound and colorful modern books. Images of exploding planets and other equally disturbing pictures decorated the covers. “Ever since you started working here, it’s been about you and this place. Give me two weeks of you. That’s all I ask for, and you know full well I don’t ask for much.” She glared at him, awaiting his answer with her heart pounding hard in her chest.
“Will it fix you?”
She knew exactly what he meant. Her lips bumped together, knowing the answer in an instant but not wanting to admit the truth. No amount of holidays would fix her, the babies were gone now. There was no getting them back. She closed her burning eyes for a moment and looked back to him.
“Just do this for me. I’ve been through so much. We’ll see how it goes.” It was all the words that she could squeeze from her swollen throat.
“I went through it, too. They were—” His voice jolted as if he were unsure if he dared say the things he’d said to her a thousand times.
“You went through it?” She glared at him with wide-eyed incredulity before hugging herself tighter. “So it wasn’t you that merely threw scientific facts at me instead of giving me comfort? Not. Even. One. Solitary. Hug?” Her voice caught on the sob that had formed in her heavy chest, she wouldn’t let it out though. She wouldn’t allow him to see any more of her sorrow.
“One week,” he offered quietly, dropping his head to stare at his desk.
“One week,” she affirmed, staring at the part in his brown hair as she retrieved the brochure from in front of him.
“See you later,” she said, turning to the door.
“I’ll be home late,” he called out after her, as though the awkward, emotive conversation had never happened.
“It’s only classed as late if you ever came home on time,” she muttered under her breath, closing his office door on her way out.
Alone again, she gulped in the stale air of the classroom, centering herself before heading for her car.
Diana’s high-pitched voice sliced through her, and her skin prickled, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
Diana had obviously hung around in the corridor waiting for Cassie to emerge.
“What he does is very important. You know that, don’t you?” she said pointedly. The toe of her black stiletto was pointed outwards, and her hands rested on her hips.
Cassie resisted the urge to rush over, grab Diana, shake her and tell her what she did was important too. But she knew that would be a foolish move since she was doing her best to contain the pent-up emotions tugging at her heavy heart. With her lips pressed into a hard line, she nodded, swung round and carried on walking. She refused to speak, out of fear of the wobble in her voice being heard. She didn’t want to be weak, little Cassie anymore.
She’d won this particular battle but wasn’t sure if she had enough fight in her to win the war.
* * * *
Jared Peterson glared at his whitened knuckles gripping the basin. The steam rising up from the running water made his eyelids feel heavier than they already were. His unshaven chin hit his chest as he lost his grip on alertness.
“Fuck,” he spat, angry he’d allowed himself to slip. He had to keep moving, had to find somewhere to go where he could get his head straight. Somewhere with no unwanted attention. No disturbances.
He rubbed his fists over his red-rimmed eyes before cupping the water between his two hands like a bowl, splashing it up over his face. The squeak of the bathroom door opening caught his attention. He turned away and headed for the paper towels, drying his face and protecting his identity in one fell swoop. Luckily, the guy just took a piss, not even offering a sideways glance to Jared.
Snatching up his red baseball cap and dark shades off the counter, Jared grabbed his cabin bag and got the hell out of there, heading back into the arrivals area. Once there, he leaned against the back wall away from the carousel that would bring his luggage from his flight. The airport was heaving with passengers, and the last thing he wanted or needed was some sort of frenzy. He’d never get out in one piece.
“Excuse me,” an excited female voice rang out as she hurtled toward him. Jared groaned as the woman filled his weary vision. He had to make a decision and fast. Squishing his black eyebrows together, he feigned confusion.
“Are you… Are you…?” Her eye’s trailed over his face excitedly.
He held his palm up. “Just stop right there,” he said, putting on a heavy New Jersey accent. He’d never played anyone with that accent so he figured she wouldn’t recognize his voice. His raised hand flew up to his face to pinch his nasal bone for a moment before budging the sunglasses down a little to peer over the top of them. He’d have to pull off an Oscar winning performance to get out of this one.
“If you’re gonna ask me if I’m Jared Peterson, I’m gonna be a little pissed. That guy’s like ten years older than me.” His voice pitched up an octave as he threw his hands up in the air, holding them out and raising his shoulders into a shrug. “I’m so sick of this. I get it all the time,” he huffed, looking away from the girl, letting his arms drop back down by his sides.
The girl’s eyes shone with the tears.
“Shit,” he hissed, his bravado slipping. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take it out on you. It’s just—”
“No, it’s okay. I understand.” Her bottom lip quivered as she spoke. She put her head down and stared at Jared’s feet, seemingly unable to move, her humiliation causing her face to redden.
“Sorry, I’m not him,” he said quietly and patted her shoulder gently. As sorry as he felt for the young woman, it still wasn’t enough to give himself away. He wasn’t used to being such a disappointment. Not to his fans anyway. It was one of his rules. Security, marketing assistants, PAs, girlfriends and whoever else spent time with him would be forced to wait until the crowd was satisfied. His fans mattered most to him. It wasn’t like him to be goddamn rude. He knew he should think himself lucky to still have fans after everything that had happened. They all thought they knew everything about him, that he used drugs.
“It’s okay. Sorry to have bothered you.” She nodded her sweet, blonde head once then spun on her heel, her mouth downturned.
He watched as she walked to what looked like a group of her friends, shaking her head. His gut wrenched. He’d had to do it.
“Sorry,” he whispered. She couldn’t hear him, but apologizing eased the bad feeling attacking his conscience.
How she’d guessed it was him, even with the cap and glasses was beyond him. He’d been so careful to keep a low profile. What more could he do?
Turning his attention back to the carousel, he saw his suitcase as it breached the plastic flaps and was silently grateful for its appearance. He timed it just right to stride over and collect it.
He pulled the handle up then glanced around for the ticket desk. His own image on a big screen showing the latest news caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Still shots of Jared wearing a black T-shirt with the red cap and glasses flashed over the screen. He still wore those clothes as he stood in the middle of a congested baggage hall. The words “Jared Peterson flees Hollywood in attempt to escape accusations” joined the pictures in a scrolling news flash. He huffed and glanced around, feeling a little less inconspicuous.
* * * *
There was no queue at the ticket desk, just a brunette wearing bright-red lipstick and a blue uniform, perched on a stool behind it.
“How can I help, sir?” She eyed him coldly, pressing her lips together to freshen her lipstick.
“Well, I need to take the next flight out of here. As far away as possible.”
“Okay.” She nodded while lowering her head to inspect the computer screen, her eyebrows pinching together. “The next flight out is to Manchester at—”
“New Hampshire?” He lilted his voice to show his uncertainty. That wouldn’t be far enough.
“If you wouldn’t interrupt me, sir…” She shot him a narrow-eyed glance. “Manchester, in the United Kingdom. The flight departs in forty minutes, and we have one seat left in first class.” She gave him the information, the whole time avoiding eye contact.
His mind whirred, working overtime. Going to England would be as bad as going to anywhere in the States. But from there, he could catch a flight to some other hiding place no one would ever think to look. Not the press, not anyone.
“I’ll take it,” he said assuredly, reaching into his jeans for his wallet and slapping the American Express down on the counter. She glanced down at it with a pained expression, as though to touch it would somehow infect her with a terrible disease.
“I need your passport, too. And you’ll need to remove your baseball cap and glasses for identification purposes.”
He flinched before fishing his passport from his back pocket and placing it into her outstretched hand. Her gaze still hadn’t met his face for longer than a moment. What the hell was her problem?
She opened up his passport and read his name without a flicker of surprise. “Glasses. Cap,” she snapped.
He felt as though he were a new recruit, fresh into military training. Glancing around nervously, he removed his disguise, raking his fingers through his flattened, thick, black hair.
Her eyes traced over his face, distaste evident on her pinched lips. She nodded, and he slipped the cap and glasses back on.
She slammed a button on her computer, and her printer rattled into life. A guy leaned on the other end of the counter. The server jumped right off her stool, a huge smile lingering on her lips. “Hello, sir, how may I help you today?”
She was so attentive to her next customer that she’d seemed to have forgotten Jared was due to board the flight right about now.
“Ma’am,” he called out to her when the printer fell silent. She ignored him. “Ma’am, I have to catch this flight,” he hollered down the end of the desk, purposefully getting the attention of guy she was serving. She’d been so damn rude and judgmental of him; why shouldn’t he just behave in the same way toward her?
She huffed and rolled her eyes. “Excuse me for a moment, sir, while I deal with this situation.” She stomped along behind the counter and snatched up the freshly printed tickets. She circled a few things with her pen and slammed them on the desk in front of him. “You board through gate 12-A around about now.” She narrowed her eyes at him, leaned in and hissed, “I don’t like people who do drugs, no matter who they are, Mr. Superstar.”
With her opinion of him clearly expressed, she swung around on her heel and stomped back to the other end of the desk, without giving Jared a chance to reply.
He shook his head then watched his feet all the way to the gate, only looking up to check that he was headed in the right direction.
Stupid woman, she doesn’t know me! Why do people think it’s okay to judge me? Do people really believe everything they see and hear in the news?
He arrived at the gate none-the-wiser. Trying to save himself the humiliation of being asked again, he slipped off his hat and glasses for the flight attendant to check the ticket and his passport. Her reaction warmed him from cold to tepid as she offered him a sexy smile and a wink.
Maybe, all wasn’t lost. Perhaps, some people still liked him? Did he still have friends? Should he be hiding and getting his head straight, or should he man up and tell the world the truth about what had happened? Whichever way he played it, people would get hurt. It was a lose-lose situation as far as he was concerned.
He boarded the aircraft and found his seat at the front. The guy already in the seat next to his was plump, balding and wiping his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief. He acknowledged him with a nod as Jared took his seat.
It seemed that Jared was the last passenger onboard, so the wheels were quickly rolling and they were soon airborne. He slipped off his disguise. There was no way he could wear it all the way to England. It would drive him crazy. The rotund guy next to him glanced over briefly but, thankfully, didn’t utter a word.
The lights got brighter, and the plane leveled out. Jared’s head had been pounding since he’d stepped off the last flight. Collecting his bag from under the seat, he grabbed the Tylenol from the front pocket.
“Any drinks?” The flight attendant stopped with the trolley beside them. The fat man ordered a whiskey on the rocks.
“You got a Pepsi?” He asked the stewardess that was looking at him, waiting for his order.
The attendant at the back of the cart was pouring the whiskey for the guy next to him. She snorted at Jared’s request and muttered, “I thought coke was more your thing.”
“Excuse me?” The wind felt as if it had been knocked out of his lungs. Her cheeks reddened, her flippant comment clearly not meant to be heard.
“I’m sorry, sir. I said we only have Coca-cola,” she spluttered, as the whole of first class, including him, glared at her, open-mouthed.
The other stewardess snatched a can of Pepsi from the drawer and handed it to him. “Sorry about that. If there’s anything else I can get you, let me know.” She passed him a plastic cup with ice and smiled.
He smiled back at her. “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.” He knew full well what that girl was insinuating, but what was the point of getting all pissy and proving the haters right by losing his temper? Instead, he took a deep, steadying breath and cracked the can open, poured a splash into the cup then knocked the Tylenol back with it.
“What a bitch, huh? I’m Bud Graham. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” The man next to him offered his pudgy hand for a shake.
Jared took it wearily, shook it then let it go as soon as he could without being rude.
“So you’re Jared Peterson? On the run from life, so I gather?”
“Don’t believe everything the press tells you about me,” he muttered, looking down into his lap.
“Well, if you are, I have a pal who owns a little hotel in the back of beyond. It’s a European tourist-type place, but with the rates that son of a bitch charges, the place is always empty. Here, take his card. It might just be your answer.”
Jared managed to keep his face expressionless as he glanced over at the blue card between the man’s fingers. The guy was giving Jared exactly what he was looking for.
Kissing Cassie is a fantastic beach read!
For more information and to purchase your copy from Amazon, click on the links below!
Happy reading 🙂
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2GvO5GK
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2UuDoIf