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First pages

Chapter 1

The school gymnasium bustled with excitement. Isabella winced as a beefy guy crammed onto the bleacher, practically sitting on top of her. He smelled of locker room sweat, and Isabella grunted as the air squished out of her lungs.

Her best friend, Savannah, turned to glare at him. “Hello? Someone’s sitting there.”

The guy turned to stare at Isabella. “Sorry,” he mumbled, scooting over a millimeter.

“Maybe look next time before you sit?” Savannah said, rolling her eyes.

“Won’t do any good. I’m invisible, remember?” Isabella pulled her phone out of her pocket and sighed. That was the story of her life.

Savannah moved over to give her room and snatched the phone from Isabella’s grasp. “Let me see your new phone.”

The cheerleaders ran onto the gym floor, shouting and waving their pom poms. Ugh. There was so much to hate about mandatory pep rallies.

“You have no fun apps.” Savannah nudged her. She had her hair up in pigtails, and she looked like she stepped out of an ‘80s magazine with her sparkly lips and denim jacket. “You haven’t even put your name in here.”

“I just got it last night.”

“You’d better put a password in, at least. What if someone steals your phone?”

“Who’d do that?” Isabella wanted to laugh but saw Savannah was serious. “I’ll do that tonight.”

Savannah slapped it back into Isabella’s hand. “At least you have a cool case.”

“I know, right? The Beatles were legendary.” She pocketed her phone. The cheerleaders were forming a pyramid, and she didn’t want to miss it if one of them toppled off.

“I’m still surprised your stepmom let you get a phone.”

“I think it’s because she wants to be able to hound me, even when I’m not home. She’s acting like I owe her big time now. Never mind that Delilah and Ava have had phones since middle school.”

Savannah smirked. “If I were you, I’d have run away a long time ago. Your stepmom is the worst.”

Isabella didn’t want to get into it. She was holding out, waiting for graduation. Just one more year and she’d be gone. Not even Savannah knew how horrible it was living there, in her father’s house, but not belonging. Unloved and unwanted. She pushed her glasses up her nose. “You said it.”

A deep voice rang out over the speakers and Isabella’s heart involuntarily sped up. Chase Hawkins. The most popular guy in school. And an actor. Who could forget the roles he’d had in two major Hollywood movies? Not leading roles, smaller stuff, but still. He was a movie star, and the whole school treated him as such.

Chase was her stepsister’s dream man. Isabella had to hear about him every morning as Delilah rushed about getting ready for school. It made her want to throw up. It might be because Isabella didn’t want to admit to herself that Chase affected her in much the same way as every other female in the school. Especially in physics class. He sat right in front of her and she had to smell his heavenly scent all period long.

“Are we ready for the game tonight?” he shouted, and the crowd burst into a screaming frenzy. Chase walked to the center of the gym floor with a wireless microphone. “I can’t hear you!”

Isabella pretended boredom, but couldn’t help staring at Chase. His dark hair was never perfectly styled, and yet it fit his easy-going manner. His smile made her toes curl, and his blue eyes were sigh-worthy. He handled being in front of the crowd with ease. It was in his nature.

“All week we’ve been collecting change for our ‘Kiss the Pig’ contest.” Cheers rang out, and he waited for everyone to settle down again. “I’m sure you’ve seen the teachers’ jars all over the school.” More cheers.

“It’s time to announce the teacher who collected the most change and has to kiss the pig.” Screaming erupted, and Isabella held in a smile. Even though the pep rallies weren’t her thing, she couldn’t deny wanting to see a teacher kiss a pig.

Jason Scott, the quarterback, came out of the locker rooms wearing his football gear and carrying a squirming pig. It squealed its disapproval at being manhandled. The crowd went nuts, standing and stomping, and making whatever noise they could.

Chase pulled an envelope from his pocket. “In this envelope is the name of the teacher who won.”

There was no settling the crowd down now. Even Savannah was screaming. Isabella stood, pulled her phone out, and tapped on the camera app. There would be perks to having a cell phone. She focused in on Chase, zooming in so his face filled the screen. No one heard the click of the camera, they were too busy hollering.

“Do you want to know who it is?” Chase asked, eating up the attention.

She’d probably be deaf after this pep rally.

Chase opened the envelope and tugged the piece of paper out. He grinned and pulled the microphone close to his lips. The gym grew quiet. “Mr. Morgan!” he shouted.

The pig squealed in protest and the entire school blew up. Savannah jumped up and down, shrieking. Mr. Morgan taught her physics class, and he was probably the coolest teacher in the school. He actively campaigned for his jar to get the most change. All the students loved him. He was young and energetic.

The gym exploded again as Mr. Morgan ran onto the gym floor waving at the bleachers. Jason held up the pig, and Chase tried to calm everyone down. “Let’s give the man a little silence please.”

Mr. Morgan put on a show, waving his hand in front of his face like the pig stank. Then he walked around, pretending to contemplate where he would kiss the pig, pausing and looking close at the back end. Laughter rose amid the crowd. Isabella snapped another photo, this time of the pig and Mr. Morgan. When he finally leaned down and kissed the pig on the top of the head, cheers erupted and Chase whistled.

“Come to the game tonight and watch us kiss East Ridge High goodbye!” Chase waved one arm signaling the students could go.

The cheerleaders stood at the doors handing out candy kisses to everyone. Isabella waited until the mad dash for the doors had turned into a solid throng before starting down the stairs. “I wish you could come to the game tonight,” Savannah yelled over the noise.

Isabella held in a snort. “Delilah would die if I showed up at a game. I’d ruin her social status or something. I’d rather avoid the drama.”

Savannah gave her a pitying frown and hugged her shoulders. “See you Monday.”

Isabella nodded and gave her friend a little wave. Her weekend would be spent running the art gallery her father had established before he died. Her stepmother, Ms. Elenore Shepherd, was too stately to do something as low as man the gallery. It fell to Isabella’s shoulders.

She pulled out her phone and fiddled with the photo she’d shot of Chase. She’d caught him while he was smiling, showing his perfect white teeth and a small dimple in his cheek. It was a good shot. She stepped onto the gym floor.

“The pig is loose!” someone screamed.

In an instant, the gym turned into a mass of running students. Some tried to catch the pig, while others tried to avoid it. The pig ran past her legs, squealing with what she could only imagine was glee.

“There it is!” someone shouted.

A cheerleader slammed into her and her phone went flying. Her heart lodged in her throat. Not her new phone!

It clattered to the floor about two yards from her. She prayed no one would step on it and crack the screen before she reached it. She pushed her way through the crowd, trying to not lose sight of the phone. The pig ran past her again. Someone kicked her phone and it skittered across the gym.

Her heart pounded. She couldn’t see it. Please, no. She couldn’t lose her phone on the first day of having it! She fought against the steady stream of kids, trying to see where the it had landed. There! She saw it. It was on the floor near the wall. She focused on it and shoved her way through.

Just before she could grasp her phone, a hand reached down and picked it up. “Hey, that’s mine,” she said as she looked up to see—no. Not him. Anyone but him.

Chase grinned at her, holding out her phone, and another one with an identical Beatles case. “Hey, look, we have the same phone case.”

“You like The Beatles?” she asked, then mentally rolled her eyes. Brilliant. That was a completely idiotic thing to say.

He grinned. “Who doesn’t?” But he wasn’t looking at her anymore. His gaze ran beyond her.

She turned to see Mr. Morgan holding the pig. “Got him!” he shouted. Everyone cheered.

She grabbed her phone from his hand but Chase didn’t seem to notice.

“See ya at the game.” He brushed past her and ran to catch up to Jason who patted him once on the back before they disappeared into the crowd.

And that was it. Her first conversation with Chase and he didn’t even really look at her. She was upstaged by a pig.

***

Chase jogged across the parking lot to his Mustang convertible. He unlocked the doors with his key fob and slung his backpack onto the seat. Friday at last. Football and fun with the guys. This weekend was going to rock.

He climbed into his car, clicked the button to put the top down, and started the engine. Delilah Shepherd came running across the parking lot in her ridiculously high heels. “Chase!” she shrieked, waving her hand. She was Barbie blonde and had about as much empty space in her head as the doll.

He tried not to roll his eyes. He was just too nice. That’s what it was. He didn’t have the heart to tell her he wasn’t interested. “Hi, Delilah,” he said as she stopped, panting.

She grinned at him and adjusted her purse. “Some of the guys are coming to my house later tonight for a small gettogether after the game. I thought maybe you’d like to come.”

Delilah’s parties were always popular. Most of his friends were probably going to be there. “Sure. Sounds fun.”

Her grin spread and she placed her hand on his arm. “Great. I’ll see you tonight.”

She took off and he could see her younger sister waiting for her by their car. They giggled and jumped up and down before getting in their red sports car and driving off. He shook his head. See? Too nice.

He threw his car into drive and skidded out of the parking lot. Even with Delilah after him, he was going to have fun tonight.

His phone made a noise. What kind of noise was that? He didn’t know what that notification meant. When he stopped at the light he checked it. There was a text but he didn’t recognize the number. He looked closer at the phone. It looked brand new. The tiny crack in the corner was gone, and there were no scratches on the screen.

Dang, he had the wrong phone. He pulled off to the side of the road and read the message.

Where are you? You’re late. If you don’t show up immediately your precious phone privileges will be gone.

Ouch. The girl from the gym was in trouble, and she didn’t even know it. He swiped the phone and touched the text message icon. He typed in his phone number.

We accidentally switched phones. I think your mom is texting you asking where you are.

He waited a minute before realizing she didn’t have a way to answer back. His phone was locked. He sent another text. Unlock my phone. 110900

A message came through.

Oh my gosh, your phone will not stop beeping at me. I don’t even know what Snapchat is. You’ve got soooo many messages. Sorry about the phone switch.

That’s OK. Your mom sounds angry. You better hurry home. We can switch phones back tonight at the game.

He slid the phone into his cup holder and pulled out into traffic. Five minutes later he parked in his driveway. The phone beeped again and he picked it up.

I’m not going to the game. We’ll have to switch them later. Sorry.

She wouldn’t be at the game? Who was this girl? Didn’t the whole school go to the games? He tried to remember what the girl looked like, but couldn’t think of her face. Did she have brown hair? Blonde? He wasn’t sure. She was shorter than he was, and that’s all he remembered. He texted her back.

Who are you?

He figured he could look her up in the yearbook so he knew who he was talking to. As he waited for her answer he climbed out of his car and grabbed his backpack. Walking into the house, he checked the screen but no further texts had come through.

Huh.

His mother met him in the kitchen, her dark hair set up in electric curlers. “Excellent. You’re home. I can tell you the good news.”

He inwardly groaned but didn’t let it reach his throat. “What?”

“You have an audition tonight. Quick. Go shower and change. This is a good one.”

His mouth dropped. She knew he had plans. Why would she do that? “Mom, there’s a game tonight!” He knew he sounded whiny, but he couldn’t help it.

She narrowed her eyes at him and folded her arms. “And aren’t you glad you’re not on the team? This is why we decided you shouldn’t try out. It’s your career we’re talking about. Not some unimportant football game.”

His heart sank. It wasn’t his career. He didn’t want it. “It’s important to me. It’s the first game of the season.”

She got that look on her face, the one that said he’d better do what she wanted or he’d be in trouble. “It’s one audition. They are making special arrangements for you to come in tonight. Don’t sass me about it. You can go to the game afterward.”

He let his shoulders fall. There was no point in arguing with her. His father would have his head if he talked back to her. “Okay.”

“Go get ready. The script’s on your bed. Memorize your lines before we leave.”

He nodded and ran up the stairs. His phone beeped and he swiped to read it.

Your mom texted. Sorry, I was walking and didn’t see it right away. She said something about an audition.

He answered her back.

Yeah, I know, I just talked to her. I’m going to miss the game.

Getting an audition is good though.

He snorted.

If only I wanted to be an actor.

He hit send then instantly regretted it. Why did he say that? He didn’t talk about that with his friends. They all thought he was cool because he’d had a few roles in the movies. There was a pause, and then another text came through.

Why do you do it then?

That was a complicated answer.

Parents

Oh. Sorry. That stinks. I know how that is.

Who was this girl? He was curious enough to poke around on her phone and look. He opened her contacts, but it was empty. Didn't she have any friends in her phone? She hadn’t even put her name in. Just her number showed at the top of the screen. Weird.

He tossed her phone on his bed and stripped down to his boxers. He turned on the shower to let the water get warm and grabbed a towel out of the closet. A half hour later he was dressed and he picked up the script. When he saw what role he was trying out for he confronted his mother.

“Mom, this is a major part.” He flipped through the pages and pages of text. “This isn’t something I can do during school.”

She smiled. “We’ll get you a tutor. Then you wouldn’t have to go to school each day. Honey, this is the role we’ve been waiting for. You’re ready for it.” Her eyes shone, and she flipped her curly hair behind her shoulder. “Come on, you can memorize in the car.”

Just what he wanted. Not.

 

Chapter 2

Isabella pushed open the front door to the Vibrant Hue Art Gallery, and the familiar bell sounded. Her heart pounded in her chest. Chase Hawkins was texting her. She had his phone. It even smelled like him…a little. Yes, she’d smelled the phone. She had a problem. She admitted it.

Leilani looked up from the hostess desk. “Hello, Isabella.” Leilani was the epitome of petite. She always wore something hip, and her hair was cut short in one of those inverted bob styles.

“Slow day?” Isabella asked, trying to calm her pounding heart.

“Mr. Kato came in and bought the Water Lilly. Other than that, we’ve been dead.”

“He’s been looking at that one for a long time. I’m glad he decided to purchase it.” Isabella took off her backpack and went into the office.

“Elenore wants you to take it down from the website,” Leilani called.

“Will do,” Isabella said, turning on the computer.

She took in a deep breath. She loved the smell of the gallery, studying the bright artwork on the walls, and the intricate sculptures on the pedestals. Someday her paintings would grace these walls like her father’s had in the past. Ms. Elenore Shepherd didn’t think she was good enough yet, which was funny because Elenore had tried to sell her own paintings in the gallery, and failed. No one had wanted them.

As Isabella waited for the computer to boot up, she pulled a photograph from her back pocket and touched the surface. Her mother was seventeen in the picture. She was smiling at the camera like she didn’t have a care in the world. She had dark hair, like Isabella’s, cascading down her shoulders. She looked positively gleeful.

“It’s been a good day, Mom,” she said. It was silly, she knew, but talking to the photo helped her feel better about life. And she hoped somewhere, her mother could hear her.

Chase’s phone chimed. She stuffed the photo back in her pocket. She’d turned off the Snapchat notifications, so she knew it was Chase.

A tiny thrill shot through her. She took his phone out to look at the screen.

Why don’t you have any numbers stored in your phone?

What? She punched in her response. Why are you looking?

You won’t tell me who you are. I got curious.

It’s a new phone. I haven’t put them in yet.

What are you doing?

She peered around the office.

I’m at work.

I have to memorize lines for an audition I don’t want.

She thought about what to say to him. If he really didn’t want the part, there was an easy solution.

Then mess up your audition.

What?!? Are you serious?

Why not? If you don’t want the part, don’t be right for it.

U R A GENIUS.

I know.

LOL. I think I love you.

Isabella choked and almost dropped the phone on the floor. She caught it in time and stuffed it back into her pocket. He was joking, of course, but seeing it still made her heart jump into her throat.

She opened the gallery’s website and logged into the content editor. The website was her responsibility, as per her stepmother’s commands. Usually, she didn’t mind doing it. At first, it was stressful, as she had no clue how to build a website. It had taken her a whole month of reading and watching YouTube videos to figure out how to get the thing up and running.

She found the Water Lilly painting and deleted it from inventory. Tomorrow she’d have to take some photos of the new artwork they were getting in to put up on the website, but tonight, she wouldn’t worry about it.

Paco stuck his head in her office. “Hey, pretty lady.”

Isabella smiled at him. Paco mostly helped with the behind-the-scenes work at the gallery, but sometimes he took over for Leilani on the sales floor or helped paint the walls when they were redecorating. He was a friendly man in his forties. “Hey, Paco. How are you?”

“I’m good. Just a heads up, more art is coming in,” he said with his Spanish accent.

She nodded. “Okay, thanks.”

He waved and ducked out again.

She pulled up the books and entered today’s sale on the ledger. Not only was she the webmaster, she was also the bookkeeper. Elenore wrote the checks, signed the contracts with the artists, and hobnobbed with the clientele. Elenore’s job mostly consisted of hanging out at the country club and going to social events. But she claimed it was necessary to keep the customers returning.

After entering the sale, Isabella opened the closet and took out the dust broom. It was also her responsibility to keep the gallery clean. By the time she was done, it was after six. She waved to Leilani on her way out. “See you tomorrow.”

The gallery was located on a commercial strip, only three blocks from her house. Since it was on the way home from school, Elenore didn’t think she needed a car. “It’s better for you to walk,” she’d say. She must not want Delilah and Ava to be healthy, what with the sporty little Mazda MX-5 she bought them.

Isabella entered her house and walked into the kitchen, her stomach grumbling. She pulled out the sandwich meat and some bread and fixed herself a quick meal. Elenore came in as she was getting out the package of Oreos. “Don’t touch those. They are for the party tonight.”

Of course, they were. She slid them back on the shelf and shut the cupboard door.

“Don’t drop any crumbs or you’ll have to vacuum,” Elenore said as she patted her long, blonde hair that she wore swept up into a fancy French twist. Isabella had never seen the woman with even one gray hair. It was like they were scared to make an appearance. Her fingernails were well manicured and always blood red. She usually wore long dresses with leather boots, as if she’d stepped out of a Jane Austin novel.

Elenore breezed out of the room, leaving behind the gagging essence of her overpowering perfume.

Isabella made a face at the empty doorway. She picked up her plate and climbed the stairs to her room. Every time she walked through her home, she felt her heart break a little more. She loved her house. It was magnificent, with a huge, open floorplan and balconies that jutted out in architectural genius. Her father had bought it because she had fallen in love with it. But now that he was gone, everything belonged to Elenore.

She bit into the sandwich as she entered her bedroom and shut the door. Elenore always threatened to banish her to the attic with the spiders if she didn’t do as she said. Isabella wasn’t sure if it was an empty threat or not, so she did as she was told.

Her one joy was her bedroom. It was the largest of all the bedrooms in the house, but it’s the one Isabella had picked out when she and her father had moved in, and no one had the backbone to kick her out. Plus it was the only room large enough for her hobby, and Elenore liked pushing her to improve her painting skills.

Sunlight streamed in her floor-to-ceiling sliding glass windows, hitting her canvases. Painting was her relief. Her retreat into another world. She wasn’t as good as her father, but she still gained immense satisfaction from it. Her father had made millions from his passion, and she loved the connection she felt to him when she painted.

She stepped out onto her balcony and took another bite of her sandwich. The view always took her breath away. Being situated on the edge of a cliff had its advantages. The Los Angeles valley stretched before her. At night, the city was lit up with a million pin pricks of light. Right now, in the setting sun, the orange light reflected off the buildings. The breeze raced across her skin, blowing her long, dark hair. She closed her eyes and leaned on the railing, wondering what Chase was doing.

After she’d finished her meal, she walked back inside and drew the curtains. She’d spend the evening doing what she loved. She set up a blank canvas on her easel and tightened it in place. Her father had taught her the art of painting directly on the canvas with her fingers, and she squeezed out several colors on the palette, then dipped her fingers in the cool acrylic paint.

She allowed the process of applying color to canvas take her away and was surprised when noises sounded from downstairs. The people were starting to show up for the after-game party. Minutes had turned into hours. The sun had set long ago. She wiped off her fingers with a rag, then went into her bathroom to wash them.

As she dried her hands she heard a chime from Chase’s phone.

Done with the audition. Won’t be getting that part. Ha!

She held in a smile and punched in a response.

What’d you do?

Didn’t look up. Read in monotone. The director was quite unimpressed.

I hope your parents aren’t mad.

Mom wasn’t in the audition room. She’s happy. I’m happy. You are brilliant.

Isabella grinned at the phone. She’d helped Chase Hawkins. What a day this was turning out to be.

I’m glad.

I should buy you dinner.

She blinked. What? Was he asking her out?? No way. Her heart sped up as she responded.

I already ate.

Are you going to Delilah’s party tonight?

She swallowed, a lump forming in her throat like a rock. No.

Come on. Please? We need to switch phones anyway.

Her fingers trembled as she thought about sneaking down to the party. No, that wouldn’t work. As soon as Delilah saw her she’d pitch a hissy fit, and totally embarrass her. And if she saw her with Chase, it would be a million times worse.

I can’t. I’m grounded.

Oh, snap. Is this about earlier? When you were late?

That was the easiest thing to let him think.

Yes.

Sorry. Why were you late?

She debated telling him the truth. It couldn’t hurt.

Pep rally crowds.

You couldn’t have been that late.

She rolled her eyes. How could she explain her situation?

Stepmom is strict.

That sucks. Text if you are late again. I’ll give you a ride home.

She put the phone to her chest and held in a scream. Chase Hawkins just offered to give her a ride home from school. Could this really be happening? But then a sinking feeling replaced her euphoria. She’d forgotten who she was for a moment. She couldn’t go near Chase. Her stepmother would kill her. But it was super nice of him to offer.

Thank you.

She turned off her bathroom light and went out onto her balcony. The city lights stretched forth for miles. The phone chimed again.

What are you doing tomorrow?

Still grounded.

How long would this same excuse work?

What’s your address? I’ll drop off your phone.

She couldn’t tell him that. She chewed on her fingernail before getting an idea.

I know a place where you can leave your phone, and I’ll exchange them. I’ll sneak out.

Whoa. Bad girl. I like it. You should sneak into the party. I’ll be there.

I wish.

Did she, though? She usually didn’t mind staying away from the crowds. She liked her solitude. But the thought of going downstairs tonight was appealing to her.

This was not good. She was going to get herself into trouble.

 

Chapter 3

Chase watched the city lights flash by as his mother drove home. “How do you think the audition went, honey?”

She kept asking, making him feel guiltier. “Fine, Mom.”

“I know, but did they give you any indication if they would call you in again?” She gave him a hopeful smile.

“Who knows.”

He wanted to avoid talking about it, so he messaged the mystery girl.

Where do you want me to leave my phone?

Flatwater Park. There’s a loose brick by the bench with space under it. It’s the one that’s slightly lighter than the other bricks.

Okay. I’ll hide it there tonight after the party.

Thanks.

He fiddled with her phone. It was driving him nuts, trying to figure out who this girl was. He knew a lot of people in school, but not everyone. He opened her phone app to see who she had called. It had no calls logged in it.

He opened her photos and a picture of him popped up. What? He swiped the screen and saw only one other photo of Mr. Morgan about to kiss the pig. He laughed and swiped back to his picture. It was taken this afternoon. A smile crept onto his face.

He decided it might be fun to tease her about it.

How come you have a pic of me?

It took a couple of minutes before she answered.

I forgot I took that. Embarrassing.

He laughed. You have a secret crush on me?

The answer came quickly this time.

Get over yourself.

“What’s so funny? Are you watching videos? Because we’re not in range of the Wifi, and that will use up our data.” His mirth was interrupted by the warning tone in his mother’s voice.

He waved the phone at her. “Not watching videos. Just chatting with a friend.”

“Oh. Okay.” She turned her attention back to the road.

I’ll get over myself if you tell me who you are.

He waited, holding his breath, as his mother pulled into the driveway. She killed the engine. “Have fun tonight. Don’t stay out too late. Home by midnight, okay?”

He glanced at the clock. Nine-fifteen. “Okay.” No more texts came, even as he drove to Delilah’s house. As he walked up the sidewalk the phone beeped and he nearly tripped trying to look at the screen quickly enough.

I’m nobody.

For some reason, those words stabbed into his chest. She didn’t think she was important. It made him sad, and he felt bad that he hadn’t even really looked at her when they’d switched phones.

You’re not nobody.

Delilah’s front door opened and he was caught, standing on the porch, staring at his phone. He gave Delilah an apologetic smile and stuffed his phone in his pocket. “Hi.”

She grabbed his arm. “Chase! You’re here. I’m so glad you made it.” She pulled him inside, hugging him close to her side.

This was going to be a long night.

 

***

Just after Isabella received Chase’s text claiming she wasn’t a nobody, she heard Delilah shout his name. She tossed his phone onto the desk figuring there wouldn’t be any more messages from him tonight. She’d wait until everyone was gone and sneak out of the house. Flatwater Park wasn’t too far. Just a few blocks. She could walk there and back without anyone knowing.

She set her alarm then shut off her lamp, placed her glasses on the nightstand, and climbed into her sleigh shaped bed. Snuggling under the covers, she closed her eyes and allowed herself to think about Chase.

His phone made another noise. She was intensely curious as to what he was saying, but she needed to get to sleep if she was going to get up in the middle of the night. Two seconds ticked by before she sat up and grabbed the phone, unable to stand it. She squinted at the screen.

Did you get my text?

She sighed and answered him. Yes. Now let me sleep. I need to sneak out tonight.

Okay. Have sweet dreams.

She was sure she would. Pop music filtered through the floor, along with indistinct chatter, but she managed to fall asleep anyway. When her alarm woke her up at three o'clock in the morning, the house was silent.

The September night air was cool on her face as she climbed down the lattice fastened to the house next to her balcony. The house sat on a steep cliff, and she had to make sure she didn’t step too close in the dark or she’d slip off the edge. She didn’t sneak out often, but with the way her life was, it was nice to have a way to escape once in a while.

The walk to the park was uneventful. She scanned the area for people, and when she didn’t see anyone, she pried up the loose brick. A cool sweat broke out on her forehead when she found a phone laying there in the little hollowed out cement space. She took it out and saw, a sticky note attached to the glass. ‘Thanks for helping me with things tonight. You’re not a nobody.’

Her heart crept into her throat. She needed to stop thinking about Chase, and texting back and forth wasn’t going to help. She punched a few icons and deleted their text conversation, then slipped his phone into the space and put the brick back on top. There. He wouldn’t be able to text her again.

As she walked away, regret gnawed at her gut. She’d miss their texts, but it was for the best. He was the popular guy at school. Once he found out who she was, he’d lose interest anyway. She was nowhere near Chase’s league. Besides, if Delilah found out she was communicating with him, her home life would be a living hell.

She climbed back up to her balcony and slipped into bed. She spent the next twenty minutes trying to convince herself that she didn’t feel horrible for cutting off their communication. Sleep finally came to her as the early morning birds started chirping.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Victorine is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She writes contemporary sweet romance novels. She also enjoys creating book covers for authors, and messing around in her craft room. She has four children and lives in western Nebraska.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Many of my stories start with a 'What if?' question, and this is no exception. This story started with me wondering what would happen if the school nobody accidentally switched cell phones with the cute, popular boy, and they started texting and making a connection.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I adore clean romance stories. Although I only write contemporary, I read all kinds of clean romance. I'm currently reading Drops of Gold by Sarah M. Eden.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A.
The feels. I love the heart-wrenching stories where characters are falling in love, even though something stands in the way. I love that happy ending where they admit their love and live happily ever after.

Next in:
Romance
Chainsaw Honeymoon
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A Dark Night on Oak Lane
In the blink of an eye life changes