Home > Shattered Sea (Tattered & Torn #4)

Shattered Sea (Tattered & Torn #4)
Author: Catherine Cowles

 

Prologue

 

 

Laiken

 

 

PAST


“Next dare. Backflip into a dive.” Mitch puffed up his chest with each word like he was an overgrown gorilla.

I rolled my eyes and snuggled back against Jase’s chest, letting the crackling bonfire warm my bare legs. I did my best to tune out Mitch and the rest of our friends and tipped my face up to the sky. It was crystal-clear, letting the stars shine like sparklers in the inky black—as if the heavens were putting on their own little show in honor of our graduation.

“You could at least pull a double,” Isaac muttered, cutting into my peace. “Don’t be a chicken shit.”

Mitch’s eyes narrowed. “I’d like to see you try.”

I sighed. This endless quest to one-up each other was getting old. And I could only imagine it worsening when we left for college in a few months. The mixture of freedom and access to booze taking hold.

Jase pulled me tighter against him and nuzzled the side of my neck. “You warm enough?”

“I’m perfect.”

Isaac gave Mitch a shove, and he let out a string of curses as he tripped over a rock.

“Or I would be,” I said, raising my voice, “if these two idiots would quit messing with my bliss zone.”

Lisbeth laughed, holding her hands out to the fire. The flames made her strawberry-blond hair look more of a true red under its glow. “Good luck with that.”

Isaac’s focus swung to me, a devilish grin in place. “Come on, Laik. Let loose for once. You got salutatorian and your fancy gymnastics scholarship. You can breathe.”

I stiffened. Structure had been my friend since finding my love of tumbling at age four. Or maybe it really took hold when my dad bailed at six. I relished the reliability of it. The knowledge that it kept things safe and predictable. Only I was tired of feeling like the dud of the group.

I pushed out of Jase’s hold and stretched. “I think we can do better than a double, don’t you think, guys? How about a two and a half?”

Mitch whistled. “Shit, girl. Now we’re talking.”

I slapped his hand in a high-five and started for the rope swing.

Jase stood, jogging to catch up with me. He grabbed hold of my elbow. “Laik, it’s dark. There could be debris in the water you don’t see.”

I turned to face Jase, taking in the lines of concern creasing his face. I stretched up on my tiptoes, brushing my lips against his. The touch brought with it a flush of warmth and comfort. Sometimes, I thought I knew Jase’s body better than my own. From childhood best friends to middle-school crush to first everything.

“Someone has to put these idiots in their place,” I whispered in his ear.

Jase’s fingers tangled in my hair. “It doesn’t need to be you.”

“I’ve done flips off that rope swing a million times. Are you forgetting who the state champ on the uneven bars was?”

He shouldn’t. Jase came to every meet, usually dragging the rest of our friends, too. He made ridiculous posters and sometimes t-shirts. My favorite one had read: Number One Fan & Water Boy.

A smile stretched across his face, but the edges were strained. “I’m not doubting your bendy, twisty prowess. It’s the hard objects you could land on that make me nervous.”

I scanned the water and saw more than enough to make the jump safely. “Full moon, babe. I got this. Channeling my inner gymnastics nerd.”

He chuckled, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close. “Those leotards have always been my favorite.”

“Perv.”

Jase nipped at my bottom lip. “You like me pervy.”

Isaac made a gagging noise. “I think I’m gonna vomit.”

I twisted out of Jase’s hold and strode towards the rope swing. “When I do this, you have to stop giving me shit for the rest of the night.”

“Aw, come on, that’s no fun.” He ran a hand through his blond hair, the strands long on top and shaved on the sides. A look he thought was the epitome of cool.

“You being silent sounds like plenty of fun to me,” I called back.

I heard a grunt and curse that I was pretty sure meant someone had gotten punched in the gut.

“That’s what you get for being a jackass,” Jase muttered.

I tugged off my t-shirt and tossed it onto my bag near the fire, leaving me in only my bikini. Lisbeth let out a loud whistle. “Get it, Laik.”

I shot her a grin. “Take a picture of Mitch and Isaac’s faces when I put them to shame.”

She held up her phone. “I’m going full video on this one.”

“Smart. We can post it everywhere.”

“You girls are brutal,” Mitch muttered.

“And it would do you well to remember that,” I called.

Before I could let myself have second thoughts, I grabbed hold of a wooden plank nailed to the tree. I hoisted myself up, rung after rung. My friends’ voices lifted on the early summer air, but I tuned them out, focusing only on my next steps.

I reached the platform in a matter of seconds. Who knew how long it had been up here? At this point, there were layers of boards reinforced by every generation who had frequented the spot.

I grabbed hold of the rope, the rough surface biting into my palms. Any blisters would be worth it for this minor moment of glory and bragging rights for the rest of the summer. I adjusted my grip and stared down at the water. It took a few moments to discern where the shore ended, and the water began.

My heart picked up speed as I stretched up onto my tiptoes, preparing to jump. I didn’t give myself a chance to reconsider; I let myself fly.

The wind whipped against my face as I swung through the night air. My palms burned, but I held tight to the rope, waiting for the moment when I knew I was fully over the lake. The rope gave a jerk, and I released my hold.

I arched into a backflip, the stars blurring overhead. Instead of releasing my tuck for a dive, I stayed in a tight ball for a second rotation, then opened into that extension. My hands and head hit the surface with a sharp sting.

The lake was colder than expected, stealing the breath right out of my lungs. I kicked towards the surface as my chest burned. Panic started to set in as my muscles seized. My face met air just in time, and I took a sharp breath.

I heard splashing by the shore as Jase waded into the water, his bare chest on display. I swam towards him. “I’m fine. Told you.”

Jase hauled me into his arms. “I think that’s enough daredeviling for tonight.”

I wrapped my arms around his waist. “Think Mitch and Isaac will keep their traps shut?”

Jase shook his head and nuzzled my neck. “If they don’t, I’ll shut them for them.”

I ran my fingers through his longish, dark hair. “What does it say about me that I support that move?”

He chuckled and kissed me as he strode towards the shore. “That you’re my girl.”

“I am, aren’t I?”

“Forever and a day.”

My stomach gave a healthy flip as if I’d taken another tumble from the rope swing. “Forever and two days.”

“Deal.”

Isaac chuckled. “Does she wear his balls on that necklace of hers?”

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