About the Author
S.C. Stephens is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the romantic trilogy Thoughtless, Effortless, and Reckless. All three titles are available from Gallery Books.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Thoughtless Chapter 1
It was the longest drive I had ever been on. That really wasn’t saying a whole lot, since I had never driven more than sixty miles away from my hometown. Still, by anyone’s standards, the drive was absurdly long. According to MapQuest, it was roughly thirty-seven hours and eleven minutes long. I’m assuming that’s if you’re superhuman and never need a pit stop, of course.
My boyfriend and I were driving away from Athens, Ohio. I had been born and raised there, along with every other member of my family. It was never discussed among our little foursome, but it was a known-from-birth fact, that my sister and I would be attending and graduating from Ohio University. Therefore, it had been a terrible family tragedy when, a few months ago, during my second year there, I’d made plans to transfer out in the fall. What had shocked them even more, if that were possible, was the fact that I was transferring nearly twenty-five hundred miles away to Washington—more specifically, the University of Washington in Seattle. I had landed a pretty nice scholarship, though, and that had definitely helped to sway my parents. Helped, but only a little. Family gatherings were going to be . . . colorful from now on.
The reason for my transfer was sitting beside me, driving us away in his beat-up Honda. I looked over at him and smiled. Denny Harris. He was beautiful. I know, it’s not the manliest way to describe a guy, but in my head, it was the adjective I used most often and it fit him to a tee. He was originally from a small town in Queensland, Australia, and a lifetime spent in the water at that exotic locale had left him tanned and muscular, but not in a beefy kind of way. No, in a more natural, proportioned, athletic way. He wasn’t overly tall for a guy, but he was taller than me, even when I wore heels, and that was enough. His hair was a dark, dark brown, and he liked to have it lightly styled into chunky but orderly pieces. I loved to do this for him, and he adoringly let me, sighing and complaining the whole while that he was just going to shave it off one day. He loved it though.
His eyes were warm and a deep, dark brown and were currently turned in my direction to sparkle at me. “Hey, babe. Not too much longer now, maybe a couple of hours.” The way his accent slid over his words was curiously intoxicating to me. It never ceased to bring me some small sliver of joy, as weird as that was.
Luckily for me, Denny had an aunt who, three years ago, had been offered a position at Ohio University and moved over here. Denny, being the sweetheart that he is, had decided to come with her and help her get settled. Having loved being in the States for a year back in high school, it didn’t take him long to decide to transfer to Ohio U, which to my parents, up until he had swept me away that is, made him the ideal candidate for my affections. I sighed and hoped they got over this college thing quickly.
Thinking I was sighing at his statement, Denny added, “I know you’re tired, Kiera. We’ll just be a minute at Pete’s and then we can go home and crash.”
I nodded and closed my eyes.
Pete’s was apparently the name of the popular bar where our new roommate, Kellan Kyle, was a local rock star. Though we were heading off to be his new permanent houseguests, I didn’t know much about him. I knew that while doing his junior year of high school abroad, Denny had stayed with Kellan and his parents, and I knew that Kellan played in a band. Yep, I knew two whole facts about our mysterious new roomie.
I opened my eyes and stared out the window, watching the thick, green trees blur past me. The numerous streetlamps on the freeway cast an odd orange glow upon them. We had finally made it over the last mountain pass; I had been worried for a moment there that Denny’s old car wouldn’t be able to make it. We were currently zigzagging past lush forests, rocky waterfalls, and vast lakes sparkling in the moonlight. Even in the dark of night, I could tell it was beautiful here. I could already see a new life opening up for me in this picturesque state.
Our departure from my comfortable life in Athens had started several months ago, with Denny’s impending graduation from Ohio U. He was brilliant, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. “Gifted” is how his professors commonly referred to him. They had written him numerous letters of recommendation, and Denny had started applying for jobs everywhere.
I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from him, even if it was only for two years until I finished school, so I applied to universities and colleges everywhere that Denny applied for a job or internship. My sister, Anna, thought that was odd. She wasn’t exactly the type to go traipsing around the country after a guy, not even an attractive one like Denny. But I couldn’t stop myself. I could not bear to be without that boy’s goofy grin.
Of course, being so brilliant, he landed his dream internship in Seattle. He was going to work for a company that, according to Denny, was one of the leading advertising agencies in the world, and was responsible for coming up with a certain golden-arched fast-food chain’s world renowned jingle. He would repeat that fact to anyone who would listen, and he said it with an odd look of reverence, like they had invented air or something. Apparently, their internships are really rare. And not just in how many a year they offer, but also in how involved they allow their interns to be with projects. Denny would immediately be a member of the team, not just a fetching boy. He had been practically giddy in his excitement to leave for Seattle.
I had been a panicky mess. I had downed a half bottle of Pepto daily, until I’d finally received my acceptance for transfer to the University of Washington. Perfect! Then, I somehow managed to swing a scholarship that paid for nearly all of my tuition. I wasn’t Denny’s level of brilliance, but I wasn’t a dummy either. Double perfect! The fact that Denny actually knew people in Seattle, and that one of them had an extra room for us at a fraction of what we were expecting to pay . . . well, it made the whole affair seem like it was fated to be.
I smiled as I watched the names of roads, parks, and small towns fly by us. We were coming upon towns more frequently now, starting to move away from the majestic mountains that I could no longer see behind us in the darkness. Rain spattered our window as we approached a larger city with a sign directing us toward Seattle. We were getting closer. Our new life would start soon. I knew virtually nothing of our new city, but I would get to figure it all out with Denny by my side. I reached over to grab his hand and he smiled softly at me.
Denny had graduated a week ago with a double major in business economics and marketing—the hunky dork—and we’d packed up to leave. His new job required him to be there this coming Monday. My parents had not been thrilled about the all-too-soon separation. Once they had grudgingly accepted my decision to leave, they had been looking forward to having me for one last summer. While I would miss them terribly, Denny and I had been living apart, he at his aunt’s and I at my parents’, for nearly two achingly long years, and I was eager to advance our relationship. I had tried to keep a solemn face while kissing them all goodbye, but on the inside, I had been glowing with the thought of finally being on our own.
The only part of the move I had protested, vehemently, was driving there. A few hours in a plane versus days in a cramped car . . . it really was a no-brainer to me. But Denny had some odd attachment to his vehicle and refused to leave it behind. I supposed it would be convenient to have a car in Seattle, but I got a good half day of sulking out of it anyway. After that, Denny had just made the trip too much fun for me to complain anymore, and of course, he had found numerous ways to make his car quite . . . comfortable. There were a couple of rest stops that are now forever etched in my fondest memories.
I smiled widely at that thought and bit my lip, once again excited at the very idea of a place of our own. The ride had been entertaining and full of many happy memories, but we had driven straight through. Even in my happiness, I was bone-tired. And even though Denny had managed to make his car surprisingly cozy, it was still a car, and I was dreaming of an actual bed. My smile turned into a contented sigh when the lights of Seattle finally showed themselves to us.
Denny had gotten directions on the way over, and we easily found Pete’s Bar. He managed to find an empty space in the it’s-Friday-night-let’s-go-drink jammed-full parking lot and nimbly pulled the car in. The second the engine shut off, I practically jumped out of the door and stretched for a solid minute. Denny chuckled at me, but did the same. Grabbing each other’s hands, we made our way to the open front doors. We were later than we had expected to be, and the band was already playing, their music drifting out to us in the lot. We walked inside the doors and Denny quickly scanned the room. He pointed out a really big guy leaning against the side wall, watching the audience, who were mostly watching the band, and we started making our way through the packed room to him.
On the way over, I looked up at the stage to the four guys performing there. They all looked to be around my age, in their early twenties. Their music was fast, driving rock, and the singer’s voice was perfectly matched to the style, rough, yet really sexy. Huh, they’re pretty good, I thought, while Denny expertly navigated us through a sea of feet and elbows.
I couldn’t help but notice the lead singer first. No one would be able to overlook him—he was drop-dead gorgeous. He had intense eyes that were busy scanning the crowd of adoring women clustered around the front of the stage. His light, sandy-brown hair was a thick, wild mess. It was longer on the top with shorter, shaggy layers all the way around, and he was running his hand through it in a rather adorable way. As Anna would say, he had “bedroom hair.” Well, okay, she would use a cruder adjective—my sister could be a little crass—but it was the kind of style that looked like he had just been ravished in the back room. I blushed as it occurred to me that maybe he had been. . . . Anyway, it was alarmingly attractive on him. Not everyone could pull off that kind of look.
His clothes were surprisingly basic, like he knew he didn’t have to accessorize his looks. His shirt was just a gray tee, with the long sleeves pushed back to the elbow. It was just tight enough to hint at what was most definitely a fabulous body underneath. He wore perfectly lived-in black jeans with black, heavy boots. Simple, yet stunning. He looked like a rock-god.
Even with all that, the most amazing part of him, besides his alluring voice, was his unbelievably sexy smile. He only showed glimpses of it through the words he was singing, but it was enough. A smooth half-smile here and there—flirting with the crowd. Utterly charming.
He was downright sexy. Unfortunately, he knew it.
He met eyes with every one of his adoring fans. They went crazy as his gaze passed over them. Now that I was looking closer, his half-smiles were disconcertingly seductive. His eyes were practically undressing each and every one of the women around the stage. My sister also had a choice turn of phrase for those kinds of eyes.
Watching him seduce the entire cluster of female groupies was making me uncomfortable, and I shifted my focus to the remaining three members.
The two guys on either side of the singer were so similar that they had to be related, probably brothers. They seemed about the same size, slightly shorter than the singer, and thinner, not quite as . . . well built. They had the exact same slim nose and thin lips. One played lead guitar, one played bass guitar, and they were both passably cute. Possibly, if I had seen them first instead of the singer, I would have thought them more attractive.
The lead guitarist wore khaki shorts and a black T-shirt featuring the name and logo of a band I didn’t know. His hair was blond, short, and spiky. He played the difficult-sounding piece with a look of concentration on his face, his light eyes flicking over the crowd every once in a while, then back down to his hands.
His equally light-eyed, blond-haired relative wore his hair longer, down to his chin and tucked behind his ears. He was also wearing shorts, and his T-shirt made me chuckle a little. It simply read, “I’m with the band.” He played the bass with an almost bored expression on his face and kept looking over to the guitarist, who could so easily be his twin. I got the impression he would rather be playing that instrument.
The final guy was tucked behind the drums, so I couldn’t see much of him. I was just thankful that he had clothes on at all, since many drummers seem to feel the need to be nearly naked when they play. But he had the kindest face in the world, with big, dark eyes and buzz-cut brown hair. He had gauges in his ears, maybe half-inch ones. I wasn’t too big a fan of those, but on him, they looked oddly attractive. His arms were covered in bright, colorful tattoos, like an art mural, and he flew through the complicated drum patterns effortlessly, scanning the crowd with a big grin on his face.
Denny had only mentioned that our new roommate, Kellan, was in this band. He had never elaborated on which member he might be. I hoped it was the big, teddy-bear-looking guy in the back. He seemed like he’d be easygoing.
Denny had finally worked us through the crowd to the burly man. He’d noticed us approaching and was smiling broadly at Denny. “G’day, mate! Glad to see ya again,” he yelled over the music, trying to mimic Denny’s accent and butchering it horribly.
I smiled to myself. Everyone always tried to sound like him, once they heard him speak. Usually, nobody pulled it off. It was just one of those accents that sounded phony unless you had lived in Australia. Denny was always trying to get me to use it, because it highly amused him when people tried. I knew I couldn’t, so I didn’t give him the satisfaction. No point in making myself look stupid.
“Hey, Sam, long time no see.” Denny’s year in Seattle as an exchange student back in high school had introduced him to Kellan. Since Sam looked about Denny’s age, I assumed that was how he knew him too. I smiled wider as they gave each other a swift “guy” hug.
Sam was a big guy. He definitely had a beefcake body and wore a red shirt that barely contained his muscles. His head was completely shaved, and if he hadn’t been grinning, I would never have dared to approach him. There was just an air of menace about him, which, now that I noticed the name of the bar across his shirt, seemed appropriate. He obviously worked as a bouncer here.
Sam leaned in closer to us, so he didn’t have to talk quite so loud. “Kellan told me you were coming in tonight. Staying with him, huh?” He looked over at me standing beside Denny. “This your girl?” he asked, before Denny could answer his first question.
“Yeah, this is Kiera, Kiera Allen.” Denny smiled over at me. I loved the way his accent slid over my name. “Kiera, this is Sam. He and I were mates in school.”
“Hello.” I smiled at him, not knowing what else to do.
I hated meeting people for the first time. It always made me a little uncomfortable and very self-conscious. I didn’t feel like I was anything special to look at. Not that I was unattractive, just nothing s...
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