Heartless by Kelly Martin
Series: Book 1 of 3 Genre: Paranormal Romance Publication Date: January 17, 2016
EXCERPT @sullyGray: What ya up to today? I sip my decaf coffee—which totally defeats the purpose of coffee, I understand that, but regular coffee gives me worse migraines than I already get—and stare a hole into my monitor. Yeah, I'm still one of those people who have a monitor. I have a desktop, a keyboard, a computer chair, and the whole mid-2000s thing going on in my bedroom/office. It's the one room in the apartment where I can get away from everything. My place to shut the door, turn up the music, and dance if I want to dance. And I do want to dance. Nineties' music is my specialty, and I use that word very loosely. My room is my place to shut out the world. To stay awake and not sleep. To hide from my nightmares. To hide from Hart. Every morning for the past week, it's the same routine. I get up and rub my throat, because it hurts like a mother from all the screaming I apparently do in my sleep. As a side note, this is why I try not to sleep now when Sam's here. Which means I don't get a whole lot of sleep, but what's sleep when you are eighteen? Eighteen year olds don't need sleep. We need parties and friends and boyfriends to not think we are crazy. Oh, I'm sure Sam does, though, because he's caught me on a few occasions. Screaming. Yelling. Trying to fight Hart. Especially that first night. I had the honor of falling asleep in Sam's lap while we watched a movie downstairs. Then, BAM, Hart was there. I was on the table. The same table I hadn't seen in five years. Hart smiled. Hart cut. Apparently, I screamed. Sam woke me up, all big eyed and scared. He poured me some red wine, covered my shoulders with a blanket, and waited for me to talk about it. I drank every bit in about three swigs—incidentally, the best wine ever—and told him it had just been a nightmare. He knows about the five pills I take every night before bed and four I take in the mornings. He doesn't know what they are for. We've been dating for two years, and I haven't felt the need to tell him about it—okay, I'm scared the heck out. I'm afraid he'll leave me if he finds out. Sam is, well, he's Sam. Samson David Asher. He's perfect and good and all that other stuff I'm not. And up until a week ago, he's been wonderful. Bless him…. He tries. He's at Crimson Ridge on a football scholarship, so you know he's athletic. It's just that I don't want to ruin this. He'll think I'm crazy. His father, the therapist, will know I'm crazy. I've met him one time. That was the one and only time Sam took me over to his house. Plenty for me. He spent all of supper not necessarily breaking his Hippocratic Oath, but damn well coming close. He never used names, but I could tell ole Jane Doe was as batty as a belfry. And Doctor Asher would laugh. And Mrs. Asher would laugh. Sam wouldn't laugh. I'm so glad Sam didn't laugh. Didn't mean I wanted him to know about me. At the time, there wasn't much to tell. It wasn't that I was lying. I took medicine to keep the scary dude from eating me in my dreams every night. That's all. And it worked. It all worked. So I didn't have to tell Sam. That's why I didn't. Then we moved in together, which my mother hated even though I told her we weren't sleeping together or even in the same room. Even then in the back of my mind, I was scared that maybe the dreams and Hart would come back. Looks like I was right. Yay me. When I finally roll out of bed, Sam's already gone for the morning. He gets up before God and goes running. Then he goes to the gym. Then class. I don't see how he can keep that up for the rest of the semester, but if that's what he wants to do, who am I to complain? Makes it easier to fake being normal when I'm alone. I sit and fidget with my coffee in my hands, staring at the screen, waiting for a reply. I need someone to talk to. Someone human. I've talked to Hart all night. He cut me open and the girl… well, she watched. You try living with the same nightmare. You try being ripped apart every night in your dreams. For the past week, I've had to do it all over again. I thought it was over. I still take my damn medicine and nothing—he's still there. He's still torturing me, and I have no idea why. It's getting to me, though. Seeing those red eyes in the middle of that boyish face. In fact, it's those red eyes that stand out with Hart. Not sure why I named him that either. He's just always been Hart. Like I've always been Gracen, and Sam's always been Sam. He's always been my tormentor. If it weren't for the eyes, Hart wouldn't be very bad looking. Tall, tan, toned, big muscles, which he uses to pull my skin off. By the way he tugs and rips, it seems like difficult work. I have the easy job. All I do is lay there naked and scream. Hart has longish brown hair, which gets coated in blood sometimes. Lovely. I totally blame him for it. It's longer now that he's been gone for a few years. Funny how the mind thinks of weird things like that. He isn't real, of course. It's just my brain doing what my crazy brain does. Some people dream of rainbows and kittens. Occasionally, they will have a clown or a possessed doll thrown in for flavor. To remind them that their mind is a pretty screwed up place. Sometimes a person will see themselves hanging down from the ceiling and scream while they sleep. Me? I'd give anything to see a freakin' clown in my dreams. All I have, all I've ever had, is Hart. I'm a lucky duck. But, despite all that, I try very hard to be normal. Whatever that means. I smile when I figure I should smile and laugh when it seems appropriate to laugh. Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty socially messed up. I hate crowds, and if I don't have a backspace, well, I'm screwed. Royally. I like backspaces. The world needs a backspace. Imagine how awesome everything would be with backspaces. For the most part, except for a few glitches—like the one time I dated Earl Flynn… and my entire sophomore year—I think I've done rather well for myself in the I'm-just-like-you department. It's been exhausting, worrisome, and entirely too stressful, but I did it. And I'd been fairly good at it until this week. Until I'd moved away from home. Moved in with Sam. Drank a little extra wine every night. Sam offered, and who am I to turn it down even if I'm underage. The one bad thing I do in my life. And then I started dreaming of Hart again. My inner demons came out in my dreams. Very deep. I thought I'd gotten out of the woods. I thought Hart was gone, and everything until the end of time would be hunky dory, all sunshine and roses. I never should have thought that. Idiot. Is Tina ever going to message me back? Seriously, I have class in like thirty minutes, and I need to finish getting ready. I know she's online. The little green dot tells me that. And yeah, I guess I could wait for her on my phone, but keyboards are so much more convenient. To me anyway. Tina is from California. I'd think she wouldn't be up at the central time crack of dawn—or seven a.m.—but she is. She's usually up before me. Messaging me. Asking me if I'm okay. If I slept well. Typical friendly Internet banter. A side note: I enjoy typical friendly Internet banter. It's relaxing. There are no expectations. There is no judging. And yeah… backspace city up in here. Tina, apparently, is one of those up and at 'em folks. I want to be like her someday. She's my happy buddy, which isn't as weird or creepy as it sounds. My therapist actually suggested it once. To keep away the demons, he'd said. Dr. Sheldon took Hart very figuratively. I don't think he ever thought of him as a person or a thing. Just a crazy hallucination in a crazy girl's mind. Maybe Dr. Sheldon is right? My foot will not stop shaking as I scroll down my page, waiting for Tina to pop up. I know she has a life and kids and a family and she's never seen me, but still, I need to talk to her. Talking to her makes me feel less insane. Talking to a person I've never met in a room, by myself, makes me feel less insane. Yep, I'm totally normal… The world is weird. The shaking of my foot causes the blanket, the one I always have draped over my legs when I'm sitting at my desk, to fall toward the floor. Thanks to my lightning quick reflexes, I grab it before it crashes to the floor and pull it back to its upright position. I'm freezing. Then again, I'm always freezing. Always. I can't ever remember a time when I felt warm. I totally blame Hart—even if he has nothing to do with it. The doctor, an actual medical doctor, said she thinks it's some kind of hormone imbalance. At eighteen? I'm falling apart. Because I needed something else to break me. I don't care though. Not really. I can just keep a blanket on me and live in a world of denial where everybody is cold, and the hot or warm ones are mutants. It would be totally awesome if I were the normal person in the world and everybody else were the freaks. It would make my life. Anyway… @tinaM Mornin' Nothing much. Getting ready to head out. You? Everything okay? Did you sleep well last night? Loaded question. I place my fingers on the keyboard to type out my usual: "I slept fine. I'm fine. Everything's fine. Peachy. Awesome. Couldn't be better." But I freeze. Those words mean nothing to me. They sound like someone who is moving through the motions but her heart isn't in it. And it's not. Not really. I feel deflated. I thought Hart was gone, but he's back. I thought I'd be able to have an awesome life in Crimson Ridge living on my own with Sam. I thought a lot of things. I thought wrong. "I'm fine" is what humans say to each other if they are dying. Because we are polite and think our problems are nobody else's problems. They are hurting worse than us—or someone in the world always is—so we shouldn't complain. We shouldn't tell anybody what's bothering us. Not at all. Never. In the scheme of things, it isn't important. We aren't important. I'm not important. I should tell Tina I'm fine. This morning, though, for some reason, I don't. My fingers seem to have a mind of their own as they type. Not really. Rough night… My fingers itch to keep going. To share anything about Hart, the dreams, and the dark-haired girl who joined him last night. It has to mean something, right? It has to be a clue or an omen. I have to be dreaming about these things for a reason. Maybe if I talk about it, tell someone else about it, then I'll be able to figure it out. A new, fresh brain on the matter, because, frankly, I've been thinking about it as long as I can remember. All I can come up with is "Why me?" And lately, "What the hell are these new visions for?" The old familiar beating pounds in my temples, and I know it's coming. A migraine. I have them a lot unfortunately. And mainly when I'm trying to think about Hart. Trying to figure him out. I guess I'm trying to figure myself out, which is a whole new level of crazy. I'd make an excellent research project for someone if I told them the truth. I can't even tell Tina. Even through my uncooperative fingers, my aching head, my anxious innards, I want to tell Tina some form of the truth, but I can't. I just can't. But I'm sure it'll be okay. I type back to cover myself. I'm a moron for even saying as much as I did. She'll worry. I'll have to explain. Lots of steps I don't want to do. I'm a thousand times sure it won't be all right. Might never be all right again. But I say it because I'm supposed to. I'm human after all. While I wait, the hardship of Internet chatting, my mind wanders. I really do like my apartment. It is nice and cozy. Two stories. The bottom has a '90s-style kitchen with an eat-in area. A sliding door leads to the backyard. When I say backyard, I mean a little spot of land probably no bigger than a postage stamp. But it's fenced in, and as a long as we pay the rent, it's ours. Ours… my mom doesn't like me living with Sam. She likes Sam. Likes him as much as any guy I've gotten serious with; of course, Sam is the only guy I've ever gotten serious with. More for his determination than mine. That boy seemed to really like me when we first started dating, but now… Anyway, my mom has enough to deal with, and I sure don't help. Her sister, my Aunt Willow has been, well, she's in a mental hospital. We aren't sure exactly what made her snap, but snap she did. One morning she was fine and then… she wasn't. Mom got a call that her sister was in the emergency room. She'd walked right in front of a car. Suicide they figured, which threw us both for a loop because Aunt Willow had always been full of life. I mean, yeah, she was a little weird at times, but aren't all aunts? Actually, this all happened about a week before I met Sam. Aunt Willow used to live with us. Took care of me when I was little. She helped out because I didn't have a dad. I mean, I'm sure I do somewhere, but I just don't know him. Don't know if I ever want to know him. That's a lie. I would like to meet the man someday. Curiosity and all that. So, Aunt Willow went insane, I met Sam, and two years later, we moved into our apartment at Crimson Ridge for school. Mama worries about the premarital sex since, apparently, that's how I came into the world and she doesn't want me to make the same mistake, which is an awesome thing to say to your daughter. Basically calling me a mistake. I know she didn't mean it like that, but after all the grief I've put her through in the last eighteen years, I feel like maybe she meant it. She was young. Didn't ask to have a kid. And BAM, there I was. It's not like I was the easiest when I got to be a preteen either with the nightmares and the therapists. But my mom, if she really knew Sam and me, she'd know that she has nothing to worry about. We've been good. No sex—not that I haven't wanted to. Believe me, I have. But Sam hasn't. He's shot me down every time. It's enough to make a person start to feel bad about themselves. Sometimes, I think that's part of the problem with us. Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that he's a gentleman. Still, it's not easy when it feels like even your boyfriend doesn't like you. Overdramatic? Yeah, probably. Can't help my feelings, though. I can help them as long as I don't talk about them. Talking is bad. Talking gets you new medicine, and if that doesn't work, I don't even want to think about it. I wonder how many people in the world pretend to be normal. I wonder what normal would be if everyone stopped trying to be it and actually acted like themselves. I bet the geeks would inherit the world because everyone is at least a closet geek. Who doesn't freak out over TV shows and Internet memes of their one true paring? Or fangirl? I do in the comfort of my own bedroom, staring at my own little computer, in my own little slice of Heaven. I love it here. Sam's room is down the hall. The bathroom separates us. Like I said, he doesn't venture to my end of the world very often. I love my room. It's white, clean, and cozy. I have dark purple curtains on the windows, shutter style doors on the closet, a starry fairytale lamp next to my bed, a quilt that looks homemade that I bought from the store, and my desk. All the comforts of home without having to hear my mom crying every night. I should probably call her. In here, in my little room, I'm safe. Or at least I used to be. I'd shut the door and everything would just go away. Now? Now I have Hart back, invading my dreams, killing me, bringing people to watch (which is extremely creepy, believe it or not). He invades my happy place and makes me feel uneasy in my own room. I hate it. I hate him. I hate myself for not being strong enough to push through the nightmares. I hate myself for having that little sliver of doubt—that little nagging feeling in the back of my mind—that maybe Hart Blackwell isn't imaginary. That maybe he's real. Or maybe I'm getting as crazy as Aunt Willow. @tinaM: GRACEN! What's up with you? Did you fall off your chair again or something? Helllllooooo… So I sort of forgot to answer her. I suppose that happens. Happens to me when I start thinking and my mind wanders. #dangerous @sullyGray Yeah, sorry. I'm here. Just thinking. Like I said, thinking is a dangerous thing. And admitting to thinking when trying to act all fine is a dangerous road. I don't like dangerous roads. I'd rather just stay on the straight and narrow. That sounds pretty good to me. Straight. Narrow. Wait? Which road leads to Hell? Because I'd like to take the other, thanks. @tinaM Panic attacks again? Sometimes, I wish I'd never told her about the panic attacks. I've never mentioned Hart, obviously, but on the day the nightmares started coming back—has it really just been a week?—I messaged her. I guess I didn't have my wall up completely yet, and I let it slip that I might possibly be having some anxiety issues. Now, my anxiety issues are all about the crazy dude in my head and not actually me… is it weird that I think of us as two different people? Yes? No? Maybe? I so don't want to think about that. The thing is, I did tell Tina about the panic attacks and I regretted it exactly a millisecond after hitting the send button. I'd been careful to put the wall back up ever since. I should tell Tina the truth, or some sane variation of it. I should give her some reason to stick around, because I do need to talk. Not to a therapist or a shrink, though I'm sure my mother wishes I would visit Dr. Sheldon more regularly. But a friend. An actual friend. Someone I can just talk to. Someone who understands… Then again, who can understand this? Part of me is afraid I'm going crazy. Part of me is scared I'm not, because if I'm not, if what is going on in my nightmares is real, then I've got 99 more problems to deal with. That's why I can't tell Tina. It's why I can't tell anybody. There is something inside me that will not allow me to have a meaningful conversation with people. It's like part of me is missing. Not just the scary part either. It's like I'm missing some important part of myself that everybody else has and God forgot to put inside me. Like everyone else has a nice awesome soul and I have… Hart. So not a fair trade. I sit up straighter and place my hands on the keyboard, ready to tell Tina something without telling her anything at all. It's how humans communicate, right? I'll tell her that, yeah, I'm having some anxiety issues. It's the second full week of college, of living with Sam, of being away from home. College assignments are different from high school, and I'm a little stressed about doing well on them. I won't tell her about Sam or the weird fight we had last night. Almost like he wanted to pick it so I'd go upstairs and leave him alone. I'll tell her it's anxiety and not that I haven't slept more than two hours a night in a week. I'll tell her a lot of things because she is my friend and that's what friends do. They lie to each other so they can make each other feel good. @sullyGray I'm fine. Really. Just Monday morning, kwim? I'm ready for it to be Friday again. Whoot! @tinaM Tell me about it! Mondays are so hard! Gotta go. Talk to you later. Have a great day! @sullyGray You too!!!!!! And then I add some smiley emoticons, because that's just what a person does. I hit send and lean back in my computer chair. Monday morning. Time for Professor Mitchell's class. Time to see Marcy, AKA the best Teacher's Assistant in the world, and listen to the professor talk about some random event that happened in the Civil War. Because that's what he does. He talks about random events that didn't matter to anybody but does it in such a way that you care. Professor Mitchell is one of those teachers who just makes you want to learn, makes you want to listen. He has something special about him. Something no other teacher has had, and I've only had him three times. I have his class Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. A great way to start the week, and a great way to end it. Can't exactly say enough about Professor Mitchell. I mean, he's him. Sweet, intelligent, awesome, and at least twenty years older than me. Handsome in that old guy way. Not that I'd want anything to do with him—not in that way. Not feelin' that, but I know some other people in the class wouldn't mind. The professor loves talking about the Civil War. More than just the war, the families involved, the real people behind the "Hollywood machine," as he calls it. I shut down my computer and stretch in my chair. Yeah, it's Monday, but it'll be a good Monday. It will. I'll go to class with a positive attitude. I'll listen. I'll take notes. I'll text Sam—funny how he's not sent me one before now—and I'll be happy. Or, at the very least, I'll pretend to be happy. That's all people really want, right? Sunshine. Marcy, the T.A. for Professor Mitchell. Tina. Sam—somewhere. I'm living my life. I'm moving on. I'm totally ignoring Hart, who is currently whispering in my head about candles. I'm fine. I'm totally normal.