By: Cora Brent


Dedicated to my supremely indulgent family who put up with my long disappearances into the worlds which populate my imagination.

Also, THANK YOU to all of the wonderful authors I have met on this journey who have so generously given me advice, support and friendship.

Of course, nothing is ever possible without you, the reader. I feel so blessed by your enthusiasm and passion. I love you all!

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato



We weren’t friends.

That’s the first nod of truth which needs to be acknowledged if anything can be understood about the chaotic passion which came later. Cord Gentry wasn’t my friend and he sure as hell wasn’t in my thoughts as I careened through the inky expanse of Death Valley in a dying Civic with my jaw still stinging painfully.

Night in the desert is otherworldly, preternatural. I breathed in the sweet perfume of it and reveled in the force of the hot wind on my face. All the windows of the car were wide open because the air conditioning had broken the summer after my freshman year at Oxy. Devin, in one of his falsely tender moments, had offered to foot the bill to get it fixed but I had learned to be wary of his offers.

Gingerly, almost without thinking about it, I brought my fingertips to my swollen face. He’d gotten me square on the curve of my lower right jawline. It was swollen. It would show a bruise tomorrow. I knew that because my fair skin was afflicted with a special sensitivity which marked easily. I also knew because it’s what had happened before. The memory of it all brought a surge of rage over something I’d once thought of as love.

Until I knew it was the opposite.

The worst part was how I had fooled myself. At first he would just wrestle a little too hard. Devin would squeeze my wrist with a small, wicked smile until I yelped and then he would pull back, innocently insisting he didn’t know he’d been hurting me.

But every violent ending has to begin somewhere.

“Look what you did, you asshole,” I told him indignantly the first time my arm bore the distinct imprint of his crushing hand.

Devin was dismayed, or rather playing at it. “Oh, sweetheart,” he’d said, kissing it and then slowly undressing me. He figured out early on how to sucker me in and I melted under his touch, squashing my own doubts. There was nothing bad about this, I told myself. Devin loved me. He said so. I’d always had so much disdain for certain other women, women like the ones I had seen lurching around back in my hometown of Emblem, the ones who would endure one terrible thing after another until it just seemed like that’s the way things were supposed to be. But I wasn’t like them. I could handle Devin.

The next time it happened he whined, “I’m sorry, Saylor,” with the crumpled face of a boy as he held me tight, too tight.

Then, after he slapped me hard because I’d disagreed with his assessment of the MLB draft picks, it was “Aw Say, I just love you so fucking much.”

I was angry. I held my face and called him a lousy prick as he wheedled his way back in, murmuring things he knew would break my stony silence.

“Say,” he whispered, running his lips over my neckline and up to the place where his hand had done damage. “I love you.”

I remained furious but still I let him bend me over and ride me how he liked even though I couldn’t come that way. He was rough and I was dry, unready, but I took it just the same. As Devin grunted his claim on my body I stared at the neutral colored wall two inches from my nose and bit the inside of my cheek to keep myself distracted. That moment was exactly when it occurred to me there was something very wrong with it all.

Devin Berlin was absurdly hot. He was rich. His father was a Silicon Valley overlord who’d invented one of the backbones of personal technology; motherboards or modems or something. I always forgot the specifics. Devin’s arrogant grin landed on me one classically sunny southern California day when I carried a latte to the table where he sat alone.

It had been a desolate semester, nothing but studying and waitressing. My mouth ran dry and I tried to fend off my own nerves as his smile lingered on me. “Can I get you anything else?”

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