Receive a free ebook!
Read this book for free by signing up for the Newsletter
Six orphaned friends are about to be torn apart forever.
Seventeen-year-old Amanda can’t bear the thought of being separated from her younger sister, Mattie, her oldest friend Patrick, or any of her other close friends, either. When Randy suggests a day trip on his inherited sailboat, they all jump at the chance.
A shipwreck isn’t in their plans…
Buy Ebooks Online
Buy Print Books
I sat on the worn, familiar steps of the orphanage, hugging my jean-clad legs to my chin. Below me sprawled the familiar cafeteria where I’d eaten meals for the last eleven years. Actually, Pinecrest wasn’t an orphanage. It was a church-funded, large group home. Regardless, I was an orphan, and Pinecrest, my home. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
I didn’t want to live anywhere else.
And yet the troubling rumors flying today… I closed my mind to the fear. Gossip wasn’t reliable. I wouldn’t worry until I had to.
I scanned the faces below. I barely knew most of the kids, because most didn’t stay long. A small group of us had lived at Pinecrest for many years, and we’d become close-knit friends. Right now I waited for one of the other four to show up. Today I didn’t want to sit down there alone, waiting for the others to arrive.
The temperature in the room felt chillier than normal, and I shivered. How could the cold cafeteria make me feel even more alone? And scared, too? And yet it did.
A familiar figure strode into view, hopping down the last few steps of the boys’ dormitory on the other side of the cafeteria. Patrick O’Brien. I’d literally known him my entire life.
With lithe athletic grace, he crossed the cafeteria to our table. I studied him for a second in a way I didn’t normally. He was good-looking in a tough, determined sort of way. The resolute set to his jaw mirrored the look in his shadowed, direct green eyes. He seemed to grow sterner by the day. At twenty-one, he paid for his room and board while he attended college. The directors gave him cheap rent, because they wanted him to live in the dorms. He knew to how to keep the troublemakers in line. Everyone respected him.
Memory washed over me for a second as I remembered our past. Our parents had been great friends in college. When I was born, we’d all lived in the same apartment building. Even now, I vaguely remember my mother, Alice Souten, and Mrs. O’Brien sitting in our kitchen for hours, gossiping and exchanging recipes. It had been a happy time, especially when I turned six, and my sister Mattie was born. I’d always wanted a little sister. I remember thinking that everything would be wonderful from then on.
I’d been horribly wrong.
Three months later, I’d woken in the middle of the night choking on the thick clouds of smoke billowing into my room. I ran into the hall and slammed into my mother.
“Take Mattie and go outside. Hurry!” She shoved my sister at me, and plunged back into her smoke-filled room. Although terrified, I did as she asked.
I ran downstairs, clutching my new sister awkwardly in my arms. A fireman brought us to the sidewalk, where Patrick stood alone, crying. He was ten. When I saw how frightened he was, I erupted into hysterical wails. All at once, I realized my parents hadn’t come out of the building.
I lunged to run back in, but Patrick grabbed me back, holding my hand so tight it hurt. We stood hand in hand, with Mattie safely at our feet, and watched our apartment building collapse in flames. Not one of our parents made it out.
The aching, paralyzing grief flooded me again.
The cold of the linoleum stairs seeped into my jeans as warm tears slipped down my cheeks.
Sometimes, the fire still seemed so close—as if it had happened only yesterday. In my mind, I could still smell and taste the acrid scent of charred wood, and feel the soft ash landing on my skin. Back then, the smooth, ashy powder had mixed with my tears and painted my face ugly with mish-mashed black streaks. The broken black lines had reflected the shattered state of my soul.
My soul still felt broken.
I drew a deep, calming breath, and exhaled softly. Dr. Zimmerman, my old psychologist, would be proud. I remembered his coping techniques. I swiped the slick moisture off my cheeks.
At least now, after eleven years, I could think about the fire without completely going to pieces. For the longest time, I couldn’t eat or sleep. It was one reason why they hadn’t split Mattie and me up in the beginning, when we were first put into our church’s children’s home.
By the time I had recovered enough to function normally, Mattie had turned two. She was a holy terror. Even when she grew out of that phase, no one wanted to adopt her. She pitched screaming fits each time a likely candidate came to call.
She’s still a rather stubborn child.
Below me, Patrick sat at the table, and glanced about for the rest of us. I stood up, smoothed my jeans, and hurried down the steps to join him.
His shadowed, serious green gaze lightened for a second when he saw me. “Hey, Amanda.”
“Hey.” I sat on the opposite side of the table and glanced at him more closely. Something was troubling him. The rumors. Were they true? Fear tightened in my chest as I scanned his features. Patrick would know the truth.
His straight dark brows hooked together, and it looked as if he’d repeatedly run his fingers through his short, sun-bleached brown hair. His army green T-shirt clung to his broad shoulders and drew attention to his muscled biceps; he hadn’t taken the time to change for work yet. Another clue that something was wrong. My spirits dropped a little more with dread.
Before I could question him, however, Eric Martin joined us. When I’d first met Eric, the first thing I’d noticed was his shock of white-blond hair. Then his crooked nose. A trophy from a fight long ago. He wasn’t particularly good-looking, but his grin had set me at ease from the first moment we’d met.
“What’s the conference about, Patrick?” he asked.
I looked quickly at Patrick. More fear seeped into my heart. So something was wrong.
He shook his head. “I’ll tell you when everyone gets here.”
I glanced at Eric, and our eyes met in instant communication. It was uncanny, but we always seemed to understand each other perfectly.
Patrick scanned the room again for the others. Worry narrowed his eyes.
“Here they come,” Eric said. “Who’s with them?”
I turned as Mattie and Anna Highland arrived with a dark-haired, good-looking boy in tow. I immediately wondered how my hair looked.
“This is Randy,” Mattie announced to everyone at large. “He’s new here.”
“Hi,” we welcomed him, but Patrick looked stressed. He obviously wanted to talk to us in private.
“You can sit next to Eric.” Mattie pointed to Eric. Her shoulder length brown hair swung about her bright, eager face as she made the introductions.
In the meantime, I could not help but gawk at Randy. He was, quite literally, the best looking guy I had ever seen. I guessed he might be as tall as Patrick, and he wore a light blue, Oxford shirt. His features resembled a Greek god’s. I glanced quickly away when I realized I was staring.
A bell rang, and we all jumped up to join the line at the lunch counter. After we filled our plates, we returned to our table. Anna and Mattie monopolized Randy’s attention, but Patrick held mine. He looked grimmer with each passing minute, and did not touch his food. Finally, he shoved away his plate. Everyone stopped talking.
“I have news,” he told us, “and it can’t wait.”
Available in Ebook Format Available in Print Format Available in the UK