I TOOK A FEW tentative steps through the aftermath of my former life. It hadn’t rained since the fire and the ashes coated everything, making it difficult to know where to step. The cheap metal frame lay twisted and charred. The concrete front steps remained, blackened and leading to nowhere. This was the spot I had last seen my father. I continued farther into the debris, refusing to dwell on the person I had lost due to him not wanting to be in my life. At least Jax . . . I couldn’t even finish my thought. It turned my stomach to think about him as anything more than the animal he was. Fragments of our old boxed television crunched under my foot, and I knew I was facing what used to be the hallway. My throat began to close as I struggled to face my past and walk down this path one last time. It’s funny how the memories can hold you hostage on something that no longer existed. I took a deep breath, the air smelling like a campfire, and tilted my face toward the sky. The sun shined down, warming my skin, and the birds called to one another in the distance. There was no yelling, no hate, just life continuing on in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.
I GAZED AT THE BACK of the old trailer next door as I began to walk toward it. My body reflexively sidestepped the old bucket that used to catch rainwater, even though the bucket was long gone and melted into the dirt. I stopped, glancing to my left at my room. A small smile played on my lips as tears began to blur my vision. This was my tiny corner of the world, and for years it felt more like a prison cell. My eyes danced around the neighborhood, taking in all of the life and families that had surrounded me for years, but had been closed off to me by those walls. I kicked at a plank of wood with the toe of my shoe and raised my chin in silent defiance to all that I had been put through inside that prison. It was now that I finally realized that this place was nothing more than a shell. The real confinement was inside of my head. I had been so beaten down mentally that I had convinced myself I couldn’t leave, but it was fear that kept me, not these weak walls.
I stepped across what would have been my bathroom. Not all of the contents had disintegrated into nothingness, and I took a moment to take in what remained from all of those years. The pain, the sadness, and the loved ones brutally taken from me burned down to an old flimsy rubber hose and memories that would haunt me for a lifetime. I looked toward my old self’s old room and knew that this place didn’t hold any good memories. The memories I truly treasured were in my heart, and nothing could take those away from me.
I LET OUT A LONG, deep breath as I heard the tires on the stone parking lot behind me. I glanced over my shoulder, squinting in the sunlight as I looked at the sleek, black Cadillac parked a few feet away from Aggie’s Diner. It was time to finally close out this chapter of my life. I had learned and grown a great deal over the last few months, and I was ready to start over completely. No more running and hiding under secrets. I looked back one last time at the place where my trailer had sat before I made my way across the parking lot and slipped inside the open back door of the car. The driver nodded at me once before he got back inside and pulled out of the dusty lot.
It was impossible to block out the voices of those who had once been my entire world. I could still hear Jax apologizing. I could still see the vacant look in my mother’s eyes as she slipped into a drug-addled oblivion. The events of the day that would forever change my life replayed on a loop inside of my head as we made our way across town.
I squeezed my eyes closed and rested my head against the back of the seat. I pushed aside the guilt as I tried to focus on the happier moments that had brought my life to this point. The memories that I held sacred in my heart didn’t belong to Jax. They belonged to Tucker. He was the reason I could see past those walls.
I SMILED and let my eyes flutter open. Glancing out of the dark, tinted windows I knew we were getting closer. I sat up straight and ran my hands through my messy blond hair.
“Big day,” the driver said in a gravelly voice. My eyes focused on his peppered dark hair. He was at least twenty years older than I was. For a brief moment, I wondered if my father’s hair would be turning gray or if he had any at all. I shook the memory of him from my head and cleared my throat.
“Very,” I replied as we made our way into the city. I began to hum along to the song on the radio as we turned toward City Market.
When I ran away from my problems the first time, I had done it all wrong. I thought all I wanted was to escape from my shitty life and my abusive boyfriend. . . . I never expected to fall deeply, madly in love with someone else. But I also never expected to lose myself in the process and get absorbed into someone else’s larger-than-life world that didn’t really have a place for me in it.
I stepped out of the car, lost in my own thoughts as I glanced up at the apartment building I had been calling home. The driver nodded at me with a smile and I returned it, hoping I could keep my nerves at bay for a little longer.
“Thank you,” I called over my shoulder as I made my way to the front door and sighed before pulling it open and ascending the stairs.
Everything was going to change once again. I pulled open my apartment door and scanned the living room that was filled with cardboard boxes containing what little I had accumulated in the few months that I had lived on my own.
I ran my hand over one of the boxes as a light tapping came from the door behind me. I turned to look as it squeaked open and Tucker stood in the doorway.
“Coconut?” He laughed as he ran his hand through his hair and kicked the door closed behind him. I could feel my face turn pink with embarrassment.
“It reminds me of you.” I captured my bottom lip between my teeth and chewed on it nervously.
Tucker took two quick steps, closing the space between us, and cupped my face in his hands.
“If you wanted to smell me, Cass, all you had to do was invite me over.” His lips pulled into a slight grin. I placed my hand on his as he gently caressed my cheek.
“I did. You were late.” I smirked as his eyes met mine.
“My flight was delayed. I’m sorry.” His eyes drifted over the stack of boxes behind me. “Let me make it up to you.” His gaze flicked from my eyes to my mouth. His tongue rolled over his bottom lip, and I knew I was powerless to resist him any longer. His lips met mine hard, and my knees immediately buckled under his touch. His left arm looped around my back and held me firmly against him, keeping me from falling. Even without hitting the ground, I had fallen for this man a long time ago.
I let my mouth open slightly, and Tucker ran his tongue over my lips, causing me to moan as I pushed my tongue against his. My hands slid up his toned chest and into his messy hair. I gripped it, tugging gently as he deepened our kiss.
Panic began to set in as I thought of where this had gotten us before. My body stiffened involuntarily at the memory. Tucker broke away from our kiss and searched my eyes with worry marring his beautiful face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, struggling to steady his breathing.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I can . . . not yet.”
His hand slid from my cheek to the back of my head as he pulled me against his chest.
“I’ll wait forever. Just don’t run away from me again.” He kissed the top of my head. “As long as it takes.”
I nodded and listened to the soothing steady rhythm of his heartbeat. I don’t know how I ever went a day without hearing the sound of it. His voice broke through my thoughts as his chest vibrated against my ear with each word.
“You ready to go start our forever?”
I pulled back to look up into his eyes. I wanted him to see that I meant every word I was about to say.
“I don’t ever want to spend another minute apart.” I spoke with as much confidence as I could muster, even though I was terrified about taking this next step with Tuck and leaving my new apartment—my flimsy attempt at a fresh start—behind to spend the next few months on the road with him and his band, Damaged. I glanced around my cramped apartment, suddenly realizing that, even though it was familiar, it no longer felt like my home. Tucker’s arms were my home, no matter where they took me.
White Trash Damaged
Living on a tour bus with your boyfriend’s rock band is nothing like living in a trailer with your drug-addicted mother—except for the drama. After all the pain and grief that marked the beginning of Cass and Tucker’s relationship, they’re finally building a life together—just the two of them, his three bandmates, some groupies, and thousands of screaming fans. And not everyone is as happy about the couple’s reunion as they are.
The last thing Cass wants to do is create friction within the band—especially when Damaged is on the brink of achieving the success Tucker has worked so hard for. She’s thrilled to finally be with a man who loves and protects her as much as he does. But how can she carve out a place for herself in this new rock star world . . . without being swallowed by the shadow of Tucker’s fame?