Pixie Marshall wishes every day she could turn back time and fix the past. But she can’t. And the damage is done. She’s hoping that a summer of free room and board working with her aunt at the Willow Inn will help her forget. Except there’s a problem: the resident handyman is none other than Levi Andrews. The handsome quarterback was once her friend-and maybe more-until everything changed in a life-shattering instant. She was hoping to avoid him, possibly forever. Now he’s right down the hall and stirring up feelings Pixie thought she’d long buried . . .
Levi can’t believe he’s living with the one person who holds all his painful memories. More than anything he wants to make things right, but a simple “sorry” won’t suffice-not when the tragedy that scarred them was his fault. Levi knows Pixie’s better off without him, but every part of him screams to touch her, protect her, wrap her in his arms, and kiss away the pain. Yet even though she’s so close, Pixie’s heart seems more unreachable than ever. Seeing those stunning green eyes again has made one thing perfectly clear-he can’t live without her.
My black and white paint tubes are still out from the last time I painted. I’m not sure where my colored paints are. Maybe in one of the unopened boxes I brought from my dorm? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m not really in a red or green or yellow mood, and haven’t been for quite some time.
A few blonde curls fall into my eyes as I stretch my arms out, and I hastily blow them away. Once again, I didn’t bother to straighten my hair after my warm shower last night—I needed to rinse Matt’s buttery saliva trails from my skin—so of course my locks are a poofy mess, which is why I hate showering at night!
Holding the paintbrush between my teeth, I quickly pull my hair into a haphazard bun and imprison my curls.
Sunlight pours in through my bedroom window, warming the floorboards beneath my feet as I wiggle my toes and stare at the blank canvas.
A good twenty minutes goes by before I finally set my brush to it, and when I do, it’s a giant black stroke. Then another. I brush at the canvas until it’s nearly covered in darkness. I add white. I smudge it into gray. I change my mind and jab more black on there.
I don’t know what I’m painting yet, but that’s not unusual. I typically don’t know where I’m going when I start a painting. The image just… happens, and sometimes it’s not even a real image. Sometimes—most times, lately—it’s just an array of colors and brushstrokes that feel like something more than look like something.
A few quick knocks pull my attention to my door.
“Come in,” I call out.
It creaks open and Ellen steps inside with two canvases. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” I say. “And thanks for lending me your spare keys yesterday too. My set is lost somewhere in this mess.” I gesture at the mounds of laundry, books, and boxes about my room.
“No problem.” She sets the canvases by the wall and watches me paint for a moment. “Why is everything you paint only black-and-white? What happened to those beautiful color paintings you used to do?”
Why does everyone care?
“Don’t overthink it,” I say. “I’m just in a phase.”
“Right,” she says with knowing eyes. “Well. Enjoy your day off.” She turns and disappears into the hallway.
I go back to painting, thinking about all the times Ellen encouraged me to pursue my passion for art.
She bought me my first set of paints. My first real paintbrushes. She paid for my first art lessons and hung my first real painting—a bright orange sun shining over a purple lake surrounded by yellow flowers—in the center of her living room like it was a priceless piece of art. Like it was special.
I stand back and look at the muddled gray colors in front of me. I frown. It’s not quite what I want to see. It looks… wrong, somehow.
My eyes skip to my bedroom window, drawn by a flash of movement outside. I see Levi running up and down the stone steps behind the lavender field. He does this almost every day.
Today it’s cloudy outside and the sky is darker than usual, which means a storm is coming. My heart starts to race.
I watch Levi scale the steps again. His hair is all mussed up like he’s been shoving his hands in it, and he’s wearing a pair of gym shorts and his worn-out ASU T-shirt. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen him in that shirt, running laps or bleachers. His dad, Mark, gave it to him for his sixteenth birthday, and I swear Levi wore it every day for two weeks after that. He was so determined to play football for ASU. He was always so dedicated and driven, so focused. He was a teenage boy with big dreams and few problems.
I wonder who he is now. Who’s that guy running up and down those old stone steps?
I used to know him. I don’t anymore.
Sharp sadness sinks into me, cold and dark, and I suddenly want to run outside and throw my arms around him. I want to bury my face in his chest and cry into his college T-shirt like a lost little girl.
I pull my eyes away from the window and look back at my gray painting.
I put my paintbrush away. It no longer looks wrong.
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