I have been plugging away at the third installment of the Collide series, and I’m pretty excited to share this quick synopsis and a little sample with you all!
Collateral: Collide 3
Harlow Jones is still attempting to come to terms with the events of Christmas break. Her fears and doubt linger, lashing out and making her feel completely out of control. Jax Walker is her anchor; her sunlight, and desperately wants to move forward with her…but she’s holding back. She’s afraid to truly give her heart to him, because in the end…everyone she cares about ends up leaving her.
It’s hard to forget the past, when it’s staring right at you…
Click read more to read this scene from Collateral, but remember that it is the first draft and subjected to change. Also, please don’t read it unless you’ve read the first two novels in the Collide series (Collide and Consumed), as it does contain spoilers.
Please be warned: it may be a trigger for certain individuals, as it does discuss sexual assault and other heavy subjects. You have been warned.
Copyright 2014 by J.C. Hannigan
All Rights Reserved
These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic or mechanical—without permission in writing from the author.
Excerpt from Collateral: book three of the Collide series
“Hey!” Crimson said with a toothy grin as I approached her after class. She was waiting for me by Tabaret Lawn. She looked cozy and warm with her huge, thick royal blue scarf wrapped twice around her neck and over her head. I shivered, regretting my decision to not bring a hat today.
“Hey. Did you decide where do you want to go?” I asked, coming to a stop in front of her. I shoved my hands in my pocket, trying to warm them up a little, seriously hoping that wherever she wanted to go was close.
“I really don’t care,” Crimson shrugged, rubbing her belly. “Somewhere near, because I’m famished!”
“Well, The Bean is like five minutes away,” I suggested, eager to get out of the bitingly cold wind. We started walking, Crimson filling the silence with small talk about her classes so far this semester and other random things she thought of. There wasn’t such a thing as a ‘quiet moment’ with Crimson, and if there was…it didn’t feel normal. I hummed and nodded in all the right places, and aside from that…Crimson didn’t really need my input to carry on a conversation.
I pushed open the door, sending Crimson a quick, tight-lipped smile.
“You really need a hobby, girl,” Jamie said, clucking his tongue as I approached the counter.
“If you keep saying that every time I come to visit, I’m going to stop visiting. You’re giving me a complex,” I retorted, pretending to pout. “Besides, it’s not my fault Mark makes incredible sandwiches or that you’re placed conveniently close to the campus.”
Jamie laughed, rolling his eyes at me. “I suppose that is true,” he allowed. “What can I get you?”
“A sundried tomato pesto panini and a vitamin water, please?”
Jamie typed it in to the cash register without looking up. “Sure you thing, my sweet,” Jamie winked. “And who’s this lovely lady with the radiate hair?” he added, accepting my money while he studied Crimson with open interest.
“Hi! I’m Crimson,” she responded, stepping up toward the till. Her eyes fluttered back to the menu, taking in all of the different sandwiches. She chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Actually, could I just have the same thing as Harlow? It sounds delicious, and there are way too many options! I’ll be here all day!”
“That’s how we lure you in,” Jamie grinned, his white teeth flashing. Crimson paid for her order and Jamie handed us both our waters. “I’ll bring your paninis over when once they’re made, go have a seat!”
Crimson’s eyes were wide while she took in the comfortable set up of the cafe. It was bustling, several university students occupied the comfortable chairs; typing away on their laptops, chatting and drinking specialty coffees.
“This place is incredible,” she remarked, sliding into a vacant booth. I sat down across from her, twisting the cap of my vitamin water and taking a sip.
A few moments of silence passed between us, both of us busy drinking our waters and not looking at one another. The tension between us was heavy and awkward, and I knew I had myself to blame. Crimson had only ever tried to be my friend. She’d only ever tried to be her genuine self and I’d been shutting her out ever since the whole thing with Cole went down.
Crimson hadn’t known about my past with Cole. How could she have? She had only just met me in September, and our friendship was in the very early stages when the opportunity to meet her boyfriend had arisen. We’d all gone to a party at a classmates house, and he was supposed to meet us there.
When I turned around and saw Cole standing beside her, I lost my shit. All the rage I’d felt towards the boy who had been my first boyfriend, the boy who had led me to the dragons den, rushed out. Crimson hadn’t even known what was happening.
At the time, I didn’t know the truth. I only knew the rumors I had heard about myself, about how I’d slept with Cole and all his friends. All I had from that night was broken whips of memory; Cole kissing me, his hands unbuttoning my pants, his friends cheering him on, pain as I was penetrated and lots of darkness.
I didn’t know that Cole had tried to stop everything when he realized how out of it I was. I didn’t know that two of the other guys held Cole back and made him watch while the ring leader, Casey, raped me.
I didn’t know that Casey had threatened Cole with the photos he’d taken of Cole kissing me and doing things to me while I’d been unconscious. Cole was trapped. If he spoke a word of the truth, Casey would go to the police with the photos and the other guys would back him.
But there was really no reason for me to remain angry with Crimson about it. Her only crime had been asking me to hear Cole out, and it turns out that wasn’t really a crime. She just wanted me to know the truth about what happened, and she wanted Cole to find redemption.
Crimson cleared her throat, drawing my attention away from the label on the water bottle that my fingers were carefully shredding apart. The usually cheerful look on her face was replaced with a serious one, with a thick underlying sadness beneath it.
I sighed. “Look, Crimson…I’m sorry for being a shitty friend. I’m really not good at this kind of thing…” I trailed off, trying to figure out where I was headed with this conversation.
Crimson tilted her head to the left and watched my lips as I spoke. She was hard of hearing, and she only had 55% hearing in her left ear, and 30% in her right. She relied on turning her better ear to the speaker and reading their lips to understand what people were saying. “You don’t need to apologize, Harlow,” she said gently. “You’ve been through a lot the last few months. I completely get it.”
I shifted awkwardly in my seat. Crimson didn’t even know the half of it. All she knew about was the thing with Cole and the attack by Andrew.
“I guess,” I finally managed, my eyes dropping back down the torn label in my hands. “But I’m sorry regardless, and I’ll try to not be such a bitch.”
“Is Harlow actually apologizing for something?” Jamie’s musical voice interrupted our conversation as he came to a stop beside our table carrying two white plates. He had a mischievous smile on his face, and his dark green eyes glinted with trouble. He looked over his shoulder toward the counter, where Mark was carefully placing several freshly baked deserts on the display. “Mark! This one is for the scrapbook!” he laughed, winking at me.
Mark chuckled, shaking his head at Jamie’s antics.
“Ha ha,” I said dryly. “Very funny.”
Jamie’s slender hand reached out and gently squeezed my shoulder. “You know I’m just playing, honey. Enjoy your sandwiches girls!”
“Paninis!” Mark corrected, scowling at Jamie from across the room.
“That man always gets his panties in a bunch over the silliest things,” Jamie sighed, rolling his eyes. There wasn’t a trace of annoyance on him as he smiled lovingly at Mark. “Enjoy your paninis, ladies!” he added, bowing for emphasis.
Crimson giggled, watching as Jamie took off back to his place behind the counter to serve another slew of customers.
“Your bosses are seriously the coolest,” she finally said, pulling her plate closer towards her. She picked up the panini, pausing with it halfway to her mouth. “My boss kind of sucks,” she added, a sad look settling in to her eyes.
“How so?” I asked before taking a bite of my own panini. It was delicious, the perfect ratio of cheese, sun dried tomatoes, and pesto. The Bean was renowned for the excellent food, beverages and service it provided.
Crimson sighed. “It’s no big deal. I guess I don’t have to worry about it anymore, anyway,” she added darkly.
I tilted my head, chewing as I studied her. I didn’t know Crimson as well as I knew Jenna, but I could tell that something was upsetting her.
Crimson was usually a happy person, and it wasn’t that she wasn’t happy now…she just seemed troubled.
I swallowed and took a slow sip of vitamin water before fixing my no bullshit stare at Crimson. “I know this is going to sound very hypocritical, but if you want to talk about it…I’m here.”
Crimson laughed. “You’re right, that is hypocritical,” she agreed. She still had yet to take a bite of her panini, and went to raise it to her mouth. She paused again, staring at it for a moment. Then she sighed and set it back down on the plate. “Well, I’d like to talk about it, if you don’t mind. I really don’t have anybody else…”
I tried to ignore the stab of guilt I felt at Crimson’s words. “Go for it, I’m all ears.”
“Ha, funny,” Crimson snorted. She absently tucked a strand of her unruly hair behind her ear, her hearing aide glinting in the bright afternoon sunlight that streamed in through the front windows of the cafe. “Okay, well…” she took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I lost my job at the body shop because I missed too much time after the whole Cole thing.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I frowned. It didn’t seem fair that you could lose your job when someone you cared about was hospitalized for trying to kill themselves.
“Yeah, it’s not a huge deal though. My scholarships cover my living expenses and school expenses, but I do need to find a new job soon. My savings account is getting pretty sparse.”
“I could talk to Jamie and see if we’re still looking for another barista,” I found myself offering. “Jamie and Mark are great…they’ll work with school schedules and everything.”
“You’d do that?” Crimson asked, her eyes widening at my offer. I nodded, and she smiled. “Thanks! That would be awesome!”
I took another sip of my water, waiting for her to continue. I had a feeling the whole job thing wasn’t even a blimp on the radar of things bothering her. She noticed me waiting and sighed, biting her bottom lip. “Is that all?” I encouraged, arching a brow.
“I can’t really talk about the rest,” she muttered, looking away from me quickly.
“It’s okay,” I assured her. “It doesn’t bother me…” I trailed off. “Well, it doesn’t bother me anymore,” I added, hoping it was true.
In hindsight, I had bigger fish to fry. Cole was a blimp on the radar of fucked up things that had happened to me. I didn’t think I had any energy left to be mad at him anymore.
Crimson’s eyes turned back to mine, searching to make sure that I was sincere. Crimson wasn’t very good at detecting lies, though. That, or I was a skilled actress in the art of deception. “Okay…well. It’s just been really hard with everything with Cole. Since it all happened, he hasn’t really been talking to me. I’ve only seen him a handful of times since the hospital, and each time I saw him…he wouldn’t look at me,” the hurt Crimson felt was written all over her face.
“How’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s back home with his parents now, on a new medication. He’s taking some time off work still…but he won’t take my calls anymore. He only texts me two worded replies,” she bit her lip again, as if trying to keep the pain inside. Her eyes had started to water.
“Maybe he just needs time to process and adjust,” I supplied, shrugging my shoulders.
“I know, that’s probably it…” Crimson said doubtfully. “But I just feel like it’s something more than that. Like he doesn’t want to be with me anymore. I’m trying to be there for him, I’m trying to understand and be sensitive to what he’s going through…but I won’t lie, it hurts that he’s shutting me out,” she added, her shoulders dropping with defeat.
I took a deep breath, considering the situation. Normally, I’d blurt out the first thought that came to mind…but this was different. This was Crimson, and this was the guy I’d thought for the longest time had taken part in my rape, and I suppose in a way he had. I had to tread carefully, or I’d hurt Crimson…or myself.
“I can see you have something to say,” Crimson smiled sadly. “Go on…say it. I’m a big girl.”
“Well…” I sighed. “I can’t speak for Cole, because I’m not him, but it’s obvious that he’s going through a lot right now. Maybe he just needs to focus on himself. Maybe he feels ashamed about what happened. Maybe he feels weak and he doesn’t want you to see that…but you should tell him you care and you’ll be there for him, but that you understand he may need the space. You’ve got to be okay with that, though.”
Crimson slumped even further down on her seat. A tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. “I know, it’s just hard to let go. Cole has always been there for me, and I can’t describe it…but he’s always made me feel like this incredibly gorgeous and beautiful woman. He was the first person to ever make me feel desirable.”
My heart ached for Crimson in that moment, in the raw way that only one who has experienced heartbreak and insecurity could feel.
“Crimson, you are incredibly gorgeous and beautiful – inside and out. You don’t need Cole to make you feel that way,” I told her, willing her to believe it. “Besides, you may not have to let him go. And if you do, it might just be for a little while, until he heals a little.”
Crimson’s genuine smile was back and she shook her head, almost with disbelief. “Thank you, Harlow. I know Cole is probably the last person you want to discuss right now…but thank you for listening anyway.”
“It’s okay,” I answered, waving away her concern. I was surprised to feel that it was okay. Maybe I was right; maybe I just didn’t have any energy left. Maybe I was simply dissociating myself from the situation, or maybe Crimson’s heartache helped me get over myself a little. “We better hurry up and eat; I’ve only got twenty minutes before my next class.”
* * *
I encouraged Crimson to talk to Jamie before we left, telling her that I’d meet her outside. My phone chimed in my pocket, and I quickly fished it out as I started walking towards the door, opening the message with a swipe of my finger.
Can’t wait for our session tonight, beautiful. Miss you, the text read. I smiled; quickly typing my reply to it as I pushed opened the doors to the street. Before I could send the text message, I walked into someone and dropped my phone against the icy sidewalk. I was more concerned with the massive cracks down the middle of my iPhone than I was whoever I’d run into. “Sorry,” I muttered, not looking up as I bent over to grab my phone. It had landed beside the person’s brown Doc Martens in an icy puddle. They crouched down at the same time I did, attempting to help me pick up my shattered phone. We bumped heads. “Fuck!” I swore, standing up at the same time he apologized.
I glanced up and nearly swallowed my damn tongue. Iain Bentley was standing in front of me, his hand rubbing his temple and a sheepish look on his face. His Caribbean blue eyes were fixated on my face, and he ran a hand through his dirty blonde hair.
“Harlow, I -”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” I interrupted. My palms were sweaty and my hands were trembling. He was the last person I wanted to see right now, and I think he knew it too. He cleared his throat, putting his hands into the pockets of his brown jacket.
“Well, I do live in Ottawa…and sometimes I walk down the street,” Iain smiled wryly.
“Very funny,” I remarked, rolling my eyes. “What are you doing here, on this street, right now?”
“I’m meeting with someone?” Iain responded, his answer sounding more like a question. I felt a swell of curiosity at his words, wondering just who he was meeting with, but I pushed it aside with a frown. Iain arched a brow, seemingly amused by my behavior. “But now that I’ve run in to you…do you think we could talk for a minute?” he added uneasily.
I wanted to storm off, to leave him standing there with that bewildered look on his face, but the pain behind those eyes kept me rooted to the spot. It was hard to be unaffected by someone you once thought you were in love with.
I could still remember the day that I’d met him, the day that I’d walked into that classroom. It had felt like time stood still when those Caribbean blue eyes locked with mine. My stomach had instantly started clenching with pleasure, and I’d felt something. For the first time in years I had felt something wonderful and I hadn’t wanted to let that feeling go. I’d wanted to pursue it; to bask in it.
It hadn’t mattered that he was my English teacher, I went for that good feeling anyway. I honestly hadn’t expected him to return the feelings of attraction and longing, and I certainly hadn’t expected anything to come of it…but he did, and it did.
It was one of those relationships that had marked me in so many ways. He taught me how to open myself up again. I still wasn’t the best at it, but at least I tried now.
At the time, our relationship had felt right. And it was, it had been everything I needed and more at that time. The only thing I regretted was that we’d gotten caught, and Iain had served jail time for our relationship. He’d lost his job, the majority of his friends, and his dignity and pride over me. And I’d repaid him by moving on and falling for someone else.
Which is why I couldn’t exactly storm away from him, leaving him there with that pained look and no answers to any of the questions he probably had for me.
I had only seen him twice since high school, and I hadn’t been able to tell him I’d moved on either time because a part of me was still rooted in the past. I didn’t know if I was stuck there because I still had feelings for him, or if I was stuck there because of all the guilt I felt about everything. It was impossible to tell, but the one thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to find out either way.
A desire to rip those roots up from the ground took over me, giving me strength and resolve. I didn’t know what my lingering feelings for Iain meant, but I did know that I was in love with Jax. I hadn’t been able to admit it to myself until the day I risked losing him, and I didn’t want to lose Jax.
Iain sighed lightly, the pain and regret that swirled in his eyes evident in the soft exhale of breath as he quickly bent over to pick up my forgotten iPhone. He handed it to me, and I pocketed it before I crossed my arms. I sighed, rolling my eyes at him. “Fine, what is Iain? I swear to God if you try to kiss me again, I’ll knee you in the balls.”
He winced at my words, wounded by them. “I’m sorry, Harlow. I should have never done that…given what you were going through.”
I opened my mouth, about to tell him he shouldn’t have done it because I was with someone else. Before I could respond, Crimson was bouncing outside. She grabbed my arms with excitement, her eyes dancing happily.
“He said if you vouched for me, the job was as good as mine! Thank you so much Harlow!” she squealed, completely unaware at what she’d just walked into.
“No problem, of course I’ll vouch for you…” I trailed off, awkwardly glancing from Crimson to Iain. Crimson finally took notice of the man standing in front of me.
“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t realize you were…” she trailed off, tilting her head as if she could taste the strange heaviness and energy between Iain and I.
“I’m not, I was just leaving,” I murmured, avoiding the particular way Iain was studying me. “Sorry Iain…I really do need to go. I’m late for class…”
“Yeah, of course,” Iain said grimly, nodding once. The pain that still remained behind those Caribbean blue eyes made my heart hurt, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t even tell him about Jax, not with Crimson standing there. I didn’t want to have to explain the complicated history.
Crimson and I took off down the street, and I couldn’t help but glance once over my shoulder. Iain remained standing outside of The Bean, watching me with a broken, wistful expression on his face. I had to turn away.
“Tell me, what’s the scoop with that stunning man?” Crimson asked, peering back over her shoulder for a third time, despite my previous warnings not to.
“An ex,” I responded, my brow furrowing.
“God Harlow,” Crimson’s jaw dropped. “Where do you find these guys?”
In classroom settings, I’d wanted to reply. Instead, I bit back a smile and said; “you have no idea.”
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