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Copyright © 2014 by Lily Paradis
In Association with Empire Books
Published by Lily Paradis and Elia Sayre
Cover Design by Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations
Print and eBook Design by JT Formatting
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, bands, and/or restaurants referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Excerpt from VOLITION
About the Author
SWIMMING THROUGH SHARK-INFESTED waters would be more fun than waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Although there was a much higher chance of survival at the DMV, it still brought out the worst in people. It wasn’t even that bad; it’s just that people made such a big deal out of actually being there. That’s what made it so agonizing.
I could’ve handled the cranky lady at the info kiosk, and I could’ve have handled the creepy DMV employee who looked like my aunt’s ex-husband, but the people behind me in line jabbering on their phones about the horrors of the DMV? Not so much.
“You’ll never guess where we are, Janice,” a woman behind me complained. “The DMV. Screw me, right?”
Like I said, people love to hate this place.
The only times I’d been to a DMV before this was with at least one of my parents. Now I was navigating the system solo. Which, I was sure wasn’t that difficult, so I wasn’t sure why I was so anxious. I’d driven all the way to this DMV since I’d been here before, even though I could’ve gone to the one in the city where I’d gone to school, Boulder.
It was also possible my nerves had everything to do with the guy sitting directly to my left. I saw him when I sat down. Well, sort of. I’d gotten my line number from the info kiosk, then glanced around for the seat with the easiest access to the service desks so I wouldn’t miss being called.
I gave the woman behind me jabbering to Janice some credit; sometimes the system here wasn’t the most logical thing. However, when you were dealing with this many people and issuing government identification cards, I guessed you did whatever you had to do. That apparently involved a very strange array of chairs all over the room that were set up without any recognizable pattern or direction.
It seemed like the best thing to do was to find a seat, pretend that I knew exactly what I was doing, and hope that number 478 was called sooner, rather than later.
I sat in an aisle seat in the middle of the group of chairs. It wasn’t really an aisle seat by traditional means, considering there really was no defined aisle, but it was a safe bet. There were people sitting on the fringes of the seating arrangement, but they were further away from the service desks and I really didn’t want to miss my number being called.
So, I picked my seat. I didn’t quite realize what was going on until I’d texted all of my friends who had turned twenty-one already. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any important documents that I needed to get my new I.D. At that point, I realized I was almost as bad as Janice’s friend. At least I was doing my complaining silently.
The guy next to me was giving off a strange vibe. Not a weird “I’m a creeper, stay away” vibe, like I had gotten from the creepy ex-uncle DMV employee, but a “I probably have a face like Henry Cavill” kind of vibe. He had that kind of presence that just sitting next to him made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Guys like him didn’t appear in real life; they were sequestered to superhero movies. I didn’t want to openly stare, so I glanced up at him from under my lashes.
I couldn’t see his face because of the angle of our chairs, but I could see his profile. It made me take a deep breath. Which, incidentally, was not a good idea, because he smelled fantastic. He reminded me of something − or someone − I’d almost forgotten, which made him more and less alluring all at the same time.
Who was I kidding? He was strikingly alluring.
A bell rang and a huge number flashed across the massive TV screen across the room. Four hundred seventy-eight. I checked my line ticket in disbelief and gathered all of my paperwork nervously.
As I stood, I looked to my right. A man in a wheelchair had conspicuously perched himself there, and had effectively blocked off my exit.
I looked to my left. I would have to climb over the Henry Cavill look-a-like to get to the counter. The bell rang once more and the woman’s obnoxious voice came over the PA system as she repeated my number. Panic rushed through me. They didn’t give you a third chance here, they simply moved on and made you take a new number. I had seen plenty of people miss their numbers already simply because they gave up to go use the restroom, or god forbid, get a drink of water.
I glanced to the right once more to see if there was any chance I could squeeze by the man in the wheelchair, but it was futile. I was going to have to face the hot guy, or wait for three more hours.
To my surprise, he stood up. I was surprised that he was even paying attention, because I was expecting to have to awkwardly clamor over him like you do when you need to use the bathroom but you are in the middle of the row at the movie theater. I wasn’t used to people paying attention. That was my job.
The newspaper that he’d been reading was now rolled up i
My stomach tightened and I almost forgot about my number. I was so utterly stunned that he had been paying attention. I couldn’t move, much less speak my thanks. His profile had nothing on his features when viewed directly.
He looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes and motioned toward the counter, his head tilted slightly in that direction. That gesture had me lost in the curve of his lips and his perfectly straightened white teeth.
“Thanks,” I muttered breathlessly. By the time I slid past him to booth six, I wasn’t sure I’d said anything coherent. It didn’t help when the man who called me over muttered at me under his breath while he typed my information into the computer.
“Have you been a good girl?”
I actually shook my head in disbelief.
“Excuse me?” I asked, feeling slightly violated.
“I said,” the creepy, headband-wearing-ex-uncle DMV employee repeated, “have you been a good girl?”
Creeper status confirmed.
“Um, I hope so,” I replied, silently praying that he would hurry so I could get away from him as quickly as possible.
“Let’s check,” he said as he clicked a few buttons on the computer screen and typed in my license number. “Oh, you haven’t been. You got a ticket last year.”
He smirked at me as though I had committed a felony.
“Just one though, I think,” I said as I shrugged. I was unsure as to why I was trying to defend myself to a man who was wearing a cheap headband that was probably intended for a four-year-old. Couldn’t he just cut his hair?
He bobbed his head around and pretended he had to really think it over. As though he were the supreme authority on who was able to renew their drivers license.
“I guess we’ll still let you through.”
I visibly rolled my eyes so he could see how annoyed I was.
He made me take the bothersome driving pre-test that had me staring into a black box in order to determine whether or not I could distinguish right from left, and that I could see flashing lights. Thankfully, I passed. He handed me a receipt, and told me to go sit down until my name was called. I was glad they were going to call me by name this time and not some random number. Those were too easily missed and fostered way too much anxiety on my end.
As I turned around to find another seat, I noticed that the Henry Cavill look-alike was called over to the booth I’d just vacated. He didn’t turn to look my way once, so I tried to forget about him and found another seat closer to the photo area.
After a few minutes, they called me for my picture.
The photographer wished me a belated birthday, and took what I was sure must have been my worst I.D. photo yet. He handed me my temporary paper I.D., and sent me on my way. I realized I hadn’t checked my phone in a while, I reached into my purse and pulled it out as I headed for the door.
The display was flashing at me, but I hadn’t heard it ring. There were seven missed calls from my uncle Jed in the past half hour.
I stopped in my tracks, completely confused as to why he would need to talk to me so urgently. I gasped and shut my eyes as I was immediately pulled back to the call from Jed that shattered my life: the call in which he informed me that my dad didn’t make it out of a mine collapse.
A split second later, I was opening my eyes, but I was disoriented for a new reason. Something, or someone, ran into me and knocked my phone and paper license to the ground.
I bent to pick them up, but another hand went for the paper when I went for the phone. I stood up, completely embarrassed that I’d just let my emotions get the better of me yet again. In the DMV, no less.
Our eyes met, and I sucked in a breath. He studied what he was holding and read off my name. The sound of his deep voice caught me off guard.
“I’m so sorry, Lauren Annabelle Lindsay, five-five, hazel eyes, red hair, 3239 Summit Drive,” he said as he flashed a dazzling sideways smile at me. From anyone else, this might have been too invasive. But this guy knew he could say something like this to a girl and have it charming, rather than an I’m-going-to-stalk-you-home-and-kill-you-now kind of way. His mouth was raised up higher on one side, and I could see the faint outline of a dimple on his cheek. I had the strange urge to reach out and touch it.
Confidence radiated off of him in waves, and I got the distinct notion that this guy knew he could say anything to a girl and have it be utterly flustering.
“Uh, thanks,” I managed to say and as I snatched the paper he held out to me.
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. He looked like he was about to say something, but seemed lost for words. I knew the feeling. It was like my brain had decided to take this moment to memorize every feature on his face rather than come up with anything to say to him.
My phone began vibrating loudly in my hand and broke my reverie as a picture of Uncle Jed flashed across the screen.
“Sorry,” I said quickly. “I should really take this.” I pointed at my phone with my other hand and wrinkled my brand new license in the process.
He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Oh, yeah,” he said almost nervously. “I have to um… my picture.” He nodded towards the photographer, who was clearly annoyed that his latest appointment hadn’t come over to the window yet.
I grinned more easily now.
“Yeah, you’d better go now or else You’ll be camped out until next week,” I said, hoping he would pick up on my humor. He must have noticed all of the people who were turned away for missing their appointments when we were waiting.
“Shoot,” he said as he snapped his fingers and went along with the joke. “My supplies will probably run out by tomorrow.” He beamed back at me, turning up the charm I’d noticed before.
I started to move out of his way so he could get to the counter, but he turned at the last second and held out his hand.
Without even thinking about it, I took it as I tucked my phone and license under my other arm to quickly reach out and return his gesture. Strangely, I was eager to have an excuse to stay a moment longer.
“Nice to meet you, Lauren Annabelle Lindsay,” he said. “Hope to see you around.”
I couldn’t help but stare at the dimple in his cheek again. An eternity later, I realized I was still holding his hand and I didn’t exactly want to let go. What was happening to me? I wasn’t the girl who swooned over random guys in the DMV.
“See you,” I said as I nodded and dropped his hand.
I turned to leave as fast as I could. I let out a breath I had been holding in and realized he never told me his name. Or had he? The effect he had on me fogged my brain completely.
Of course I would meet a cute guy in hell, and then he would make fun of my middle name. You don’t get a lot of Annabelles in the land of Elizabeths and Maries.
I pushed my way through the exit doors, dialed Jed’s number, and listened to it ring as I walked to my car.
“Lauren,” he said in an all-too-serious tone. “How are you?”
Why was he wasting time with pleasantries when he needed to talk to me so badly?
“Fine.” I cut to the chase. “What’s going on?”
“Sweetheart,” he said in the same voice that he used two years ago to tell me the worst news in the world. “You need to get down to the hospital right now.”
I dropped my phone in the middle of the parking lot and groaned as it skidded underneath my car.
I PULLED UP to the hospital and took a deep breath. Jed refused tell me over the phone why I needed to be at the hospital so urgently over the phone, but I knew he would never act like this if it wasn’t important.
I walked through the emergency room doors and immediately saw him waiting for me.
“Sorry,” I told him, waving my crunched phone around. “It’s broken. I came as fast as I coul
“Lauren,” greeted me somberly.
I rushed into his arms, grateful that he was standing before me unscathed, and sighed from relief. He enveloped me in his arms and I inhaled his signature scent of of cigar smoke and leather from his jacket.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I took a step back.
His beard was grayer than the last time I had seen him a few months ago, and it appeared as if the wrinkles on his face had multiplied.
His brows knit together.
“I’m glad you didn’t have to drive far. Come sit down, kiddo,” he said quietly as he led me to an empty waiting room around the corner.
He looked me straight in the eyes, and I sat on the edge of my chair expectantly. I knew it couldn’t be about my mom because that would be much too urgent to leave until I was there in person. Part of me doubted that he would even know if something was wrong with her. I would have to wait and hear it from my twin brother, Tucker. For reasons unknown to me, she only ever talked to him, and I couldn’t put an exact date on the last time I had seen her. Plus, she was probably halfway across the country with her new pilot boyfriend.
“I really don’t know how to tell you this, sweetheart. I thought I’d only have to deliver news like this once in your lifetime, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Someone was dead. I just knew it.
“Uncle Jed, just tell me.” I took a deep breath as if it would hold me together for whatever he was about to say. I didn’t really want to know, but I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.