Today we have the chapter reveal for the much-anticipated novel, BREAK, by USA Today Best Selling Author Cassia Leo. Check it out and pre-order your copy today!
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Shattered Hearts Series comes a sweet and sexy stand-alone rock star romance.
For most of my life, Ben Hayes was the gorgeous bad boy musician next door. My brother’s heart throb best friend.
Then, he was my boyfriend for six of the happiest years of my life. Until he dumped me on social media in front of millions of people, officially cementing his role as my worst enemy.
Three years later, Ben returns to our small beach town with an ego the size of California, a drinking problem, a movie deal that’s about to fall through, and a secret that only he and his dying father know.
I’m not the same pathetic girl I was when he broke my heart. I’m stronger now. I won’t let him break me again.
But it’s hard to resist those ocean-blue eyes, that sculpted, tattooed body, that smooth voice, that enormous… Well, you get the picture.
Every time he makes me laugh or swoon, my defenses fracture. The walls around my heart are crumbling fast. And Ben’s wrecking ball of a secret is about to deliver the final blow.
BREAK will be available for purchase on all retailers for ONE DAY ONLY, July 26, 2018. After July 26th, it will only be available on Amazon. You do not need to have a Kindle Unlimited subscription to purchase BREAK on Amazon.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I would say a picture is worth a lifetime of words, since a single photograph can change your entire life.
When I was fourteen, a chubby girl in my freshman Spanish class attempted suicide after her former boyfriend posted a naked photo of her on MySpace. It was the scandal of the school year. I publicly expressed my disappointment with the way my fellow classmates were body-shaming her. Privately, though, I judged that girl. I couldn’t help but wonder… Who would be foolish enough to trust a teenage boy with nudes?
* * *
Just ten more minutes. Don’t pass out yet. Just hold on for ten more minutes.
I repeat the words over and over in my mind, like a mantra. Just ten more minutes and I can go home, drink a gallon of NyQuil, and sleep away this dreadful flu.
The art gallery just off the Sonoma State campus is small, but not quaint. Situated in the middle of 4th Street in Santa Rosa, among an eclectic mix of upscale and fair trade shops, the gallery has a wall of windows facing south. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t eighty-two degrees outside and the gallery’s air conditioning wasn’t working.
I loosen my black scarf and swallow the saliva pooling in my mouth as the urge to vomit begins to overtake me again. Closing my eyes, I take a few deep breaths as I attempt to quell the sensation.
“I’m sorry. I just need a minute,” I say to my professor as we move onto the next photograph in the exhibit.
If I knew, when I chose to be an art major, that I’d have to do my final exam — a solo show using selected pieces from my photography portfolio to tell a story — in an overheated art gallery, while secretly popping Tylenol every time my professor turns his back on me, I might have seriously reconsidered my dream of being the next Annie Leibovitz. Or I might have chosen a major where I could take my final exam in an air-conditioned lecture hall. At the very least, I’d rethink my brilliant idea to wear a scarf today.
My attempt to look like an artsy-fartsy ballerina — in my lucky black scarf, baby-pink bateau-neck top, black skinny jeans, and pink ballerina flats — and my refusal to request a postponement of the solo show the moment I came down with the flu, will be my downfall. No matter how hot it gets in this gallery, I can’t take off my lucky scarf. Therefore, I predict, if I don’t get high marks on this final, I’m going to drop dead on the high-gloss marble floor.
I trail behind Professor Healy like a baby duckling, answering his questions about lenses, exposures, and filters while trying not to stare at the Florida-shaped birthmark in the center of his bald spot. The show is supposed to tell a story, and the only story that matters in my world is the story of Ben and me. The exhibit begins with images of the beach, where Ben and I first met, then moves through a collection of places we’ve visited together. With Ben’s fame becoming such an issue these past few years, most of the pictures depict secluded landscapes: sparkling lakes, rocky coves, and misty forests.
As I discreetly wipe the sweat trickling down the back of my ear, my phone vibrates in my hand. I quickly slide it into my back pocket as we approach the picture I took of the Sky-house.
The Sky-house is a hollowed out Redwood tree near the forested campsites of the Bodega sand dunes, just steps away from where my boyfriend Ben Hayes and I grew up next door to each other in Bodega Bay, California. The Sky-house was Ben’s hideout before it became ours, and we promised we would never reveal the location to anyone. He approves of my use of the photo for my final, but I’m supposed to destroy the evidence after my solo show. We named our tree the Sky-house because you can look straight up through the hollow trunk and see the sky.
Also, because it was fun to play “house” in there.
I wish Ben was here. He would kiss my forehead and tell me everything was going to be okay. Afterward, he’d take me home and make me some instant ramen — because he couldn’t make chicken soup if his life depended on it. Then, we’d cuddle on the couch to watch Futurama until falling asleep.
Oddly enough, I didn’t get my usual good morning text from Ben today. He must have been up late and decided to sleep in. But he knows today is my show. It’s not like him to forget to wish me well before a big test.
As Professor Healy examines the photograph of our hideout from various angles, my phone begins vibrating in my back pocket — nonstop. One pulse of vibration after another, like a phone call that keeps ringing or when one of my Instagram pics goes viral and my notifications are blowing up. But I haven’t posted any pics on social media in a few days. I’ve been too busy preparing for the show.
Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.
Maybe my voicemail isn’t working. Or maybe the mailbox is full. I’m notoriously guilty of letting unchecked voicemails pile up.
Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.
The vibrating continues for what feels like at least five minutes straight, but is probably only a couple minutes. I finally pull the phone out of my pocket and apologize to Healy for the interruption. Glancing at the screen as I reach for the power button, I see a long list of Instagram mention notifications on my lock screen, and my heart drops along with my jaw.
2 min ago: @charleywinters have you seen this, girl?
2 min ago: lmao. @charleywinters just got dumped in front of 600K people. #sorrycharley
2 min ago: @charleywinters More like millions of people! This is gonna be news.
1 min ago: @charleywinters Don’t pay attention to these assholes. You didn’t deserve this. #sorrycharley
1 min ago: so fucked up. can’t believe @officialbenhayes would do something like this to @charleywinters #sorrycharley
1 min ago: @charleywinters don’t pretend you haven’t seen this post. @officialbenhayes is too good for you. #byefelicia #sorrycharley #actuallynotsorry
1 min ago: haha! so true! Why doesn’t @charleywinters get that bump on her nose fixed? #sorrycharley
“Charlotte, are you listening?”
I suddenly understood why Ben didn’t text me this morning. I can literally feel my blood pressure dropping. My entire body feels cold and light as a feather, like I barely exist.
The room begins to spin as I look up from my phone screen. “What?” I murmur as Healy’s red, bulbous nose comes in and out of focus.
I unlock the phone as my professor’s voice murmurs in the background of my consciousness. Tapping the Instagram app, then a recent notification, I’m taken to a picture of Ben riding a motorcycle on the beach at sunset. Sitting on the back seat, with her head thrown back in gleeful laughter, is a blonde I recognize right away. A blonde the entire world could probably recognize.
The caption on the photo reads:
@officialbenhayes to new beginnings. #instalove #newlove
I blink as Professor Healy steps around me so he’s facing me straight on.
“I asked, ‘How long is the exposure on this picture?’” he glances at the label beneath the frame then turns back to me. “The one titled ‘Sky-house.’ You’ve achieved a stunning depth of field with this lens. How long is the exposure? Based on the softness, I’m guessing it’s at least a thirty-minute exposure, since it doesn’t appear to be motion-blurred or out of focus or over-exposed.”
I open my mouth to speak, but only word comes out. “Exposed.”
“Charlotte, your face is blood-red. Are you all right?” he says, grabbing my elbows.
I shake my head, still unable to speak as my phone continues to vibrate in my hand.
“Oh, dear. Let’s sit you down. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen,” he says, placing a hand on the middle of my back to guide me toward a gold velvet tufted bench about ten feet away.
“Do you need some water?” the gallery curator, a middle-aged woman with dark hair as glossy as the marble floor, asks.
I shake my head again as I sit on the bench. “No,” I whisper, reaching up to pull off my lucky scarf.
“Are you sure? Do you mind if I feel your forehead?” the woman asks gently.
I nod this time, closing my eyes and flinching slightly at the sensation of her cold hand on my face.
“Oh, my God. You’re burning up. I’m calling an ambulance,” she says, setting off to find a phone.
“Wait,” I call out, holding up my still-vibrating iPhone. “I have a phone… Here. Take it. I don’t want it.”
As she walks toward me, I can’t help but think about that chubby girl in my Spanish class. We are kin now. Today will be known as the day a single photograph changed my life.
The curator is a couple feet away from me when I lose my grip, dropping the phone on the floor as I pass out.
About Cassia Leo
New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.
Find her on…