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HER REASONS


REASONS SERIES

BOOK 1







JL AKINS




COVEY PUBLISHING

HER REASONS: REASONS BOOK 1


COVEY PUBLISHING, LLC

Published by Covey Publishing, LLC

PO Box 550219, Gastonia, NC 28055-0219


Copyright © 2017 by JL Akins


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the writer, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Cover Design Copyright © 2017 Covey

Book Design by Covey, www.coveypublishing.com


Copy Editing by Covey Publishing, LLC

Printed in the United States of America.


ISBN: 978-1-948185-27-1


First Printing, 2017

Also by JL Akins


Reasons Series

Her Reasons

Brittney’s Reasons (Nip of Frost Anthology)


Dedicated


To Charlie, for loving me even when I didn’t always love myself, believing in me when no one else did, for the encouragement and faith you’ve given me these past eleven years. For sharing with me your sense of humor, and sharing in my sense of wonder. For always being my partner in this life, and even for all the times when I wanted to smack you. I love you sweetie!

Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

INTERODUCTIONS


A boot stomped into my ribs. “You worthless pile of shit!” Dad straddled me, grabbed my hair and slammed the back of my head into the floor. Concussive pain shot from the back of my skull, reverberating through my brain and into the front of my head. “When I tell you to do something, you damn well do it! Do you hear me?”

I needed to answer. If I didn’t, it would only get worse. “Yes, sir.” I managed to croak, throat still raw from when he choked me the other day.

Without responding, he climbed off me and walked away.

Love you too, Dad.

I dragged in air as I rolled onto my abused stomach, then pushed myself up onto my hands and knees before I stood and stumbled to the bathroom.

Well, at least the bruises won’t show this time. After last time, I needed turtlenecks to hide the damage. Out of the cabinet, I reached for an Ace bandage and wrapped my ribs the best I could. To do it right, it required two people, but I knew asking for help only brought more pain.

I glanced into the mirror to check for obvious damage. If not for the pain pinching my eyes, no one would glance twice at me. Popping two aspirin, I used my hairbrush to gingerly comb out my long, brown hair. When the brush skimmed over the back of my head, my eyes watered from the pain. I would need to leave it down today because my head hurt too much. With a tug on my shirt to straighten it, I checked for tears on my clothes. Good to go.

As I stepped out of the bathroom, the bare trash can, the reason for my punishment, caught my eye. After I took the trash out, I forgot to put a new bag back in. I hurried to fix my mistake, then I snatched my car keys and an apple to go with the sandwich I packed for lunch.

Once I was in the car, I slipped my bag into the back seat before I inserted my keys, praying my car would turn over. Lately, it took three or four tries before it worked. Once the engine sputtered to life, I placed it into gear and drove toward school. The radio in my car didn’t work, so I used the quiet drive to think.

I don’t know if I could survive until the end of the school year. Since I turned eighteen, I could move out, but all the money in my savings would go toward college expenses. I studied hard for the past four years to maintain a perfect GPA and because of that work, Tennessee Tech awarded me a full academic scholarship. If I avoided dipping into my savings and the cash I received from Mom’s estate until I moved into a dorm, I’d be able to pay my living expenses for the full four years. I refused to depend on my father for whatever scraps he’d throw my way.

Now, I just needed to stay alive long enough.

The pain meds kicked in; my headache was down to a dull throb. I had no idea what I did, but Dad had really stepped up the beat the shit out of my daughter campaign lately. It didn’t used to be this bad, but the anniversary of Mom’s death quickly approached, and Dad seemed to get more violent the closer it got. Remembering Mom brought back memories of how it used to be, how Dad used to be, which makes me sad so I avoid it.

Growing up, my father wasn’t an abusive asshole, beating me because of the smallest transgression. Dad was a happy, caring, considerate man when Mom was alive. Once Mom was diagnosed with cancer, he changed, becoming angry as time passed.

He yelled, a lot. When yelling didn’t help anymore, he threw things: coffee cups, plates, remote controls. One time, he flipped the kitchen table. Eventually, he started punching the walls, trees, fridge, or whatever handy object he could get his hands on. The day we buried Mom, he hit me for the first time. She died four years ago; he beat me ever since.

I took a deep breath and tried to shake myself out of my funk. Four years of hell, and the end was finally in sight. I only needed to get through one more semester of school and two months of summer. Eight months. I could survive eight months, hopefully.

As usual, I pulled up to the school before almost everyone else. Because I never knew if I could count on my car, leaving the house early was a must. Parking in the deserted lot, I got out and grabbed my bag out of the back seat, my ribs twinging when I settled it on my back. I pocketed my keys, not bothering to lock my car. Anyone who stole the piece of crap would be doing me a favor.

I headed to the school and made my way toward my locker. Quickly swapping out the books I wouldn’t need until later, I managed—after a bit of a struggle with the zipper—to get the books and binders for my first three classes into my bag. I walked past the library to the front office where I worked as an office aid first period. Treating the class as a glorified study hall with only short pauses to answer phones or file papers allowed me to study for my AP classes. The office tended to get slammed with calls and people in the morning, and since I showed up to school early because of my car, I volunteered to answer phones before classes started.

Trying to mask a grimace caused by the pain in my head, I made my way into the office. My ribs protested the bag on my back, throbbing in time with the ache in my skull. People would notice if I tried to carry it in one hand or in front of me, though, so I sucked it up and lived with the pain. Gingerly easing it down my back, I placed it under the counter used by the office workers.

For once, the office sat silent, no phones ringing and no one waiting for help. As I took stock of the room around me, I stretched out my sore muscles. Mrs. Lane, the school secretary, decorated her desk, which was in front of the principal’s door, as well as the entire office with University of Tennessee memorabilia. Bright orange covered every conceivable surface of the office. Even Mrs. Lane’s computer fell victim to this theme, its white surface decorated with UT stickers. One more item, and I’d need sunglasses to protect my eyes from all the glare.

I peeked at the long counter used by the office aids as a desk and made a mental note to fill the drawers with paper, pencils, and highlighters. No files waited for me in the tray at the corner of the counter, so I pulled out my AP History binder and started reviewing my reading notes, thankful for the extra time to study.

My schedule was, in a word, chaotic. Reading for three AP classes, working thirty-two hours a week, and keeping up in all my other classes occasionally made me question my life goals. In addition to the hectic schedule, I’m also treasurer of the Garden Club and I was Senior Class Secretary. I may never sleep again.

The phone rang, and I answered, “Good morning, Brown High School. How may I help you?”

As I took down information from a mom about her daughter who wouldn’t be in school today, the office door opened. I glanced up and almost dropped the phone. Five gods stood in front of me. I almost fell to my knees in worship. Finishing up the message I scribbled for the attendance secretary, I tried to compose myself, but failed.

Hanging up the phone, I straightened to find the boys fanned out in front of me.

A man in his late thirties snapped me out of my staring when he cleared his throat. With sympathy in his eyes like he understood my immediate obsession because this was a normal occurrence, he stood behind the five god-like creatures, straightening his tie as I sized him up. He was tall, though he stood shorter than some of the gods. The light reflected off his perfectly styled black hair, his eyes laughing behind his thick black-framed glasses.

“Excuse me.” His voice, like cashmere, fell softly in the room. “I’m Joshua Keeler, the new English teacher. These are my boys. I need to get them their schedules.”

“Uhm, right. Just give me a second.” Before winter break, Mrs. Lane mentioned something about a new teacher.

I strolled to the filing cabinet and searched through the new student files. No Keelers. Then again, the gods obviously weren’t related by blood. Maybe they were adopted?

“What are your names?” I asked the gods over my shoulder.

The one farthest to the left stepped forward, “Matt Browen.”

His voice, deep and slightly gravelly, matched my expectations because of all the muscles. This particular god stood a full head above the rest, well above my five-three, and he could probably crack a walnut in his fist. At least six and a half feet tall, he gave new meaning to the term ‘heavily muscled.’ His t-shirt screamed for mercy as it stretched over his biceps. One of the lucky few who could claim what I always pictured as the superhero jawline, his was square with a little cleft in his chin. He held himself like he knew he could take care of whatever fate threw his way. Thick, black hair, with a little bit of a wave, flowed to his shoulders; it was the longest out of the group. Hunter green eyes gazed out from beneath thick brows.

Pulling myself away from his intensity, I grabbed his schedule and a handbook for him and brought them to the counter. He reached for the items quickly, and I flinched involuntarily. He pulled back slowly and peered curiously at me. I didn’t know how to respond; I decided to pretend it didn’t happen. I gently placed the items on the counter and gazed questioningly over at the next guy.

Tan, with short, blond hair and blue eyes that danced, he exemplified a golden boy. Built like a runner, lean and strong, and shorter than the guys on either side of him, he still stood taller than me. He cradled a bag of trail mix in his hands and happily munched away as he stepped forward.

He leaned on the counter. “Hey, babe, I’m Bishop Sawyer.”

I didn’t know how to feel about being called babe, but I was pretty sure I don’t like it. I gathered up his schedule and handbook and brought them back.

He slowly reached out and took them gingerly. “Thanks.”

I turned to the guy in the middle, who seemed a little scared. His beautiful, mellow-brown skin glowed under the fluorescent lights, and a short afro and goatee gave him quite a charming quality. He, too, was tall and carried himself a little differently than the other two, as if he did everything with a distinct purpose. He cradled a thick book—I couldn’t make out the title—and managed to do a pretty good job of reading it without knocking into anything.

The god next to him threw an arm around him and forced him up to the counter. “This is Jaidon Wilder, and I’m Alex Morales.”

This one, the shortest guy in the bunch, still stood a few inches taller than me. Wearing thin-framed glasses, he laughed, and his brown eyes sparkled with humor. It made me want to laugh along with him. He wore a short beard and mustache, barely long enough to not be considered a five o’clock shadow. His arched brows gave definition to his face and his short-cropped black hair held enough length to run fingers through it.

Jaidon smiled at me, and I almost melted into a giant puddle of girl goo. “What’s your name?”

“Joey,” I stammered, “Joey Miles.”

Stumblingly, I gathered their schedules and brought them over.

Alex smiled again, and Jaidon gave me a whispered, “Thanks.”

The last guy stepped up and leered at me. He actually leered. He must practice the look in a mirror. Average height for a guy, he wore a black, button-up shirt. When he threw his arm around Alex, a six-pack peeked through the opening where his shirt lifted, and a tattoo flashed from under his left sleeve. His jeans fit him well, but the motorcycle boots and the scruffy hair on his face, like he skipped shaving today, had me wanting to see more, even though something about him rubbed me the wrong way. Probably the feeling I got from the way he eyeballed me, like he expected me to drop to my knees at any moment.

His brown hair cascaded over his forehead and into his deep-brown, almost black, gleaming eyes. “Stetson Tucker.”

I snatched his schedule out of the file and grabbed a handbook for him. Setting them on the counter in front of him, I turned to Mr. Keeler.

“Is there anything else you need?” I tried not to sound too flustered. Surrounded by this much hotness, I found it had an adverse effect on my intelligence.

Mr. Keeler shook his head and ushered the guys out of the office. They huddled outside the door to compare schedules, and I shook my head. It doesn’t matter if you do have the visage of an angel; everyone wants someone they know in their classes. It must be even harder on them, joining classes in the middle of the year.

After they left, I returned to answering phones and filing papers for most of first period. Not getting many chances to review my notes, I sighed when the bell rang to dismiss class. Hauling my bag out from underneath the counter, I walked out of the office toward my second period.

Perfecting the art of being invisible took me a couple of years. During my Freshman year, drawing attention caused me problems when a teacher noticed the bruises on my arms; ever since, I did everything I could to avoid it. Now, I managed to get from class A to class B without acknowledgement from anyone. It’s one of the reasons I hold the unnoticeable positions in the Student Council and the Garden Club. I need them for college applications, but no part of me desired to be the person people think of first when the clubs came to mind.

I walked into my History class and was startled when I found someone in my seat. Not just someone, but Alex, the one who spoke for his friend this morning. Not wanting a confrontation, I settled into the desk in front of him, since no one sat there anyway.

Before the class started, he leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder. “Joey, right?” When I nodded, he asked, “Is that your real name?”

I nodded again. This dude obviously missed the I don’t want to talk to you hint.

“So, is this class hard?”

I turned to gape at him. “It’s an AP History class, what do you think?”

He smiled. “I think I just got you to talk to me. Why don’t you wanna talk?” His voice, smooth as silk, slid over my skin, causing a little shiver. His chuckle caressed my nerve endings as he wiggled his eyebrows at me.

I squinted at him, “Don’t you mean, why aren’t I throwing myself at you?”

He chuckled. “Well, yeah, now that you mention it, why aren’t you?”

“I’m not interested in dating.”

“Who said anything about dating?”

Flustered, I cleared my throat. I hadn’t talked this much to a person without it being mandated by work or school in months. “I thought…” I paused. “You said…” I gave up. “Oh, never mind.” I huffed and turned back around in my seat.

The teacher came in clutching her obligatory mug of coffee. “Take your seats.”

As the students filed toward empty desks, Alex leaned toward me and whispered in my ear, “I’m just giving you hell, girl. Don’t get salty about it. If I didn’t want to get to know you, I’d have ignored you.”

Class passed in a haze. Throughout the lecture, his eyes burned a hole through my back, and it took all my reserves not to squirm. When the bell rang, I popped out of my desk so fast my book fell off it. Without thinking, I leaned down to pick it up. Moving too suddenly, my back spasmed. A moan fell from my lips, , even though I worked to suppress it.

Alex leaned down and grabbed it for me.

As I straightened to take it from him, he held it out of reach, his eyebrows raised. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I’m just a little sore.” I fidgeted with the hem of my sweater.

“So sore you can’t bend over?” he asked sarcastically.

“I had a fall this weekend, it’s no big deal. Can I have my book back, please?”

“One condition.” He still held the book aloft. “You let me walk you to your next class.”

“You don’t know where it is. It might be in the opposite direction of where you need to go.”

“Girl, this school is tiny, and it’s in one big square. I’ve got five minutes. I could walk around the building twice in that.”

I nodded. “Okay.” I grabbed for my book. “On one condition.” I smirked at him as I slid the book into my bag. “You stop calling me girl or babe, or anything else like that.”

“Not into pet names, huh? You got a deal.” He smiled and gestured for me to lead the way out of the room.

As we walked out of class, he waved someone over. I peered up at the scary one, Matt. His muscles bulged even bigger when he stood less than a foot away. I arched my neck back to meet his eyes.

“Is the air thinner up there?” My eyes widened, and I almost choked. I couldn’t believe I said that. Stupid. What was wrong with me today?

“No,” he replied.

I paused mentally, not sure if he got the humor in my question or not.

Alex threw his arm around my shoulders, and I almost winced. “We’re walking Joey to her next class.”

Matt grunted. They both stared at me.

“What?” Uncomfortable, I studied my shoes as I pulled at the hem of my red turtleneck.

“Where’s your next class?” Alex asked.

“Oh, Calculus, it’s down the hallway to the left.” I restrained myself from smacking my forehead. I was an idiot.

As they guided me toward my class, girls glared at us as we passed them in the hallway. I sped up in order to make it to class faster, and Matt grabbed my backpack to keep me from running into someone. As the straps of the bag dug into my shoulders, pain shot up my spine. I yelped.

“Dude, she took a fall this weekend. She’s hurt,” Alex told him.

Matt raised a brow at Alex, who nodded. They shared a look I didn’t understand, and before I could do anything to stop it, Matt took my backpack.

“Hey!” I grabbed for it, but he held it out of reach and kept walking. With no other options in sight, I followed him.

After making it to my class, I tried to snatch my bag from Matt, but he shook his head. He walked into my class, scanned the room, and marched to an empty spot. He dropped my bag next to the desk and nodded toward it. “Sit.”

I huffed at him. “I’m not a dog, you know.”

He smiled, then he patted me on the head. The nerve. He glanced over to the desk next to the one he chose for me, nodded, and left the room.

I stood there like a complete goober for a minute before I sat down. Peering over my shoulder to my left, I caught a glimpse of who Matt had nodded at.

Jesus, they were everywhere. The quiet one, Jaidon, sat in the desk next to mine. He nodded at me, turned, and immersed himself in his book, Grapes of Wrath. Good choice.

Glad to be left alone, I busied myself getting out my book, pencil, and calculator out of my bag. I struggled the most in this class; my brain occasionally tried to mutiny when I attempted to wrap it around the numbers and formulas.


~


Class dragged like it usually did. When the bell rang, I packed up my books and stood. Jaidon blocked my exit.

“You ready?” His voice sounded the way rich, dark chocolate tastes.

“For what?” My eyebrows rose in question.

“I’m walking you to lunch.”

“Since when?”

“Since now.” He held up his phone, showing me a text from Matt.

BRING JOEY TO LUNCH. He text-yelled for Jaiden to bring me to lunch. That was it; they were crazy.

I reached for my bag, but before I could grab it, Jaidon slung it over his shoulder and walked toward the classroom door. So that was their plan? Hold my bag hostage?

I followed Jaidon out of the class, and we walked toward the cafeteria.

“So, are you guys just going to keep me following you all day by taking my bag everywhere?”

He shrugged, then nodded. “Probably. You made an impression this morning. We’re deciding whether to keep you or not.”

“Keep me?”

He nodded again. “Yeah, you know, keep you around.”

Now, I knew I must be crazy because a small part of me actually hoped they did.

Walking beside Jaidon, we didn’t talk, but then again, it only took a few minutes to get to the cafeteria. He held the door open for me as we slid into the lunchroom. His hand on the small of my back guided me into the room, but I froze because the touch of anyone made me pause. At least his touch didn’t make my skin crawl.


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