Annie McFarland is sick of being a shy nobody. A session at summer camp seems like the perfect opportunity to reinvent herself—gain some confidence, kiss a boy, be whoever she wants to be. A few days in, she’s already set her sights on über-hottie Kyle. Too bad her fear of water keeps her away from the lake, where Kyle is always hanging out. Jacob Fazio is at Camp Pine Ridge after one too many screw-ups. Junior counseling seems like punishment enough, but the rigid no-fraternizing-with-campers rules harsh his chill. When a night of Truth or Dare gets him roped into teaching Annie how to swim, she begs him to also teach her how to snag Kyle. Late-night swim sessions turn into late-night kissing sessions…but there’s more on the line than just their hearts. If they get caught, Jake’s headed straight to juvie, but Annie’s more than ready to dare him to reveal the truth.
Annie: “Don’t forget to pack extras of everything,” Mom stressed, her voice high, her entire demeanor anxious. She really didn’t want me to leave, though she was the one who’d suggested I go to camp in the first place. And I guess I can’t blame her, since I am her only child, but it’s just for a few weeks—I had to be wait-listed, and when a spot opened up for the second session, I begged my parents to let me go.
But with the way she’s fretting over my leaving, I realize she needs to cut the umbilical cord sometime. At least I’ll be outside getting fresh air, not stuck in the air-conditioned house with my nose in a book. That’s how I usually spend my summers.
Well, no more.
Not that there’s anything wrong with reading, but…it was my escape, my safe place. I’m tired of living in someone else’s imaginary world—I want to live in my world for once. But it’s hard making a new impression on people you’ve known your entire school life, some of them since preschool.
To them I’m quiet little Annie McFarland. The girl who cried so hard on the first day of kindergarten that she blew a bubble of snot out her nose. The girl who was so petrified to perform in the third-grade Christmas play that her knees literally knocked together and everyone could hear them. The girl who had a major crush on Wade Johnson in sixth grade and wrote him a heartfelt Valentine’s Day poem—and he shared it with all his friends.
I endured their teasing for the rest of the school year. Sixth grade was definitely not my favorite year.
Yeah. I could go on and on.
I’d just finished my sophomore year, and while everyone was busy pairing off, being social, actually doing something with their lives, I was stuck. Stuck in my quiet shell, stuck with the nerd-girl label, stuck as the teacher’s pet. I hated it.
More than anything, I was beyond ready for a change.
“Extra T-shirts, extra shorts.” Mom ticked off the items with her fingers, her gaze meeting mine. “Extra, um, feminine products.”
My cheeks went hot. “I’ve already packed extra everything.” I waved a hand at my open but mostly stuffed duffel bag.
“Okay, good. Good. Wouldn’t want you to run out of necessities. Though I fully plan on sending you care packages. And there’s parents’ weekend, too, so I can always bring you whatever you might need.” Mom was rambling. A sure sign she was upset.
“Mom.” I went to her and took her hand, giving it a squeeze. “I don’t leave for another twenty-four hours. It’s not time to cry yet.”
“I’ll just miss you.” She brushed a stray hair away from my forehead, her gaze soft. “You’ve never left us like this before, for this long. A whole month, hundreds of miles away. With strangers.” She stressed the last word.
That was my favorite part of the plan. Being with strangers, people who don’t know the real me. I could totally reinvent myself. Be whoever I wanted to be. I could demand they call me Ann, tell them I’m the most popular girl at my school, and win the attention of all the hot boys within hours of my arrival.
Though I doubted any of that would really happen. Just because I’m with people who don’t know me doesn’t mean my real self won’t make an immediate appearance. It’s hard for me to open up to new people. Plus, I really don’t like it when someone calls me Ann—I think Annie’s a much cuter name. And I’ve never gotten the attention of a hot boy in my entire life. Well, I have—hello, Wade Johnson—but that was unwanted attention. That I’m great at.
I’d like to change that particularly annoying trait of mine.
Okay, I’m not drop-dead gorgeous with a bubbly, flirtatious personality, not by a long shot. I’m not a hideous troll, either, but come on. Hot guys have never noticed me—unless they’re six and I’m blowing snot bubbles out my nose. Or I write really bad poetry that makes adolescent boys howl with laughter. And that’s not the way I want boys to notice me.
“I’ll be fine,” I reassured Mom, offering her a smile in return, which somehow only seemed to upset her more. Her chin got all wobbly, and she yanked me into her arms, holding me close. I let her smother me with Mom love for a few minutes before I disentangled myself from her embrace. “Seriously, it’s going to be okay. I’ll write you and Dad as much as I can.”
“Which shouldn’t be very much at all. I want you to meet new people and try new things. You need to stay busy and have fun. Don’t worry about us.” She wagged her finger at me before her hand dropped to her side. “I know you feel a little stifled here, so this will be good for you.”
Mom understood. She always had. We moved here when I was two, back to Dad’s hometown; he felt right at home because he was home. Mom, on the other hand, was still considered an outsider, and they’d always treated her that way. So she knew what it was like, to feel like you didn’t fit in. She understood my problems at school, when Dad always blew them off. Not that he was mean about it. He just didn’t get it.
“It’s going to be great,” I told Mom with a genuine smile. My heart did a funny little flip in the center of my chest and I breathed deeply, telling myself everything really would be great.
Going to camp was going to change my life.
Jake: One month earlier
“You’re going. I know this is a last-minute decision and you’re probably pissed that you have to leave tomorrow, but too damn bad, Jacob. You’re out of here.” Dad’s voice was firm, simmering with anger. His eyes blazed with barely withheld fury as he glared at me. He was super pissed, but what else was new? “And that’s final. No arguments, no defiance, no threats that you’ll run away. The second you leave this house without my permission, I’m calling the cops. And they will lock you up. Thanks to your latest mishap, that’s guaranteed.”
I stared at him, my arms crossed in front of my chest, my jaw clenched so tight I felt like I could crush my teeth into powder. My uncle’s summer camp held good memories. Back when I was a kid and had no cares in the world, and my main priorities had been swimming in the lake and hanging out with friends.
But those days were a long time ago.
Now I didn’t want to go back. There was no point. I was a different person. Not just older, but freaking wiser.
Well. Maybe not wiser. I kept fucking up, like I couldn’t help myself. That latest mishap Dad was talking about? Stealing hubcaps off fancy cars in the middle of the night with my so-called friends. We’d been drinking. I’d been dared. The moment the cops showed up, they all bailed on me. Every last one of them, and I was royally busted. They booked me like a real criminal, taking my photo, getting my fingerprints. I’d nearly pissed my pants I was so scared.
Never let them see it, though. Just kept my mouth shut and glared at everyone. When Dad showed up to bail me out, I almost went weak with relief. I believed I was home free—until he got me into the car and proceeded to yell the entire drive home.
That was the first clue that I’d have to finally pay for my sins.
Dad went with me to my court appearance and asked to speak to the judge. I thought he would plead my case. Tell the scowling middle-aged woman with glasses perched on the tip of her nose that I really was a good kid. I just needed another chance.
Nope. Dad chucked me so far under the bus, I still have tire marks across my stomach. He told the judge I was a screwup, a failure, a disappointment, and that he was afraid for my future. He then promised her if she gave me community service, he’d make sure I did my time by working at my uncle’s summer camp under strict supervision.
And now here I am, going to camp and having to work with a bunch of asshole kids who’ll give me nothing but crap over the next two months. The only thing that was giving me hope? The possibility there would be plenty of pretty counselors with a bad-boy fetish. I’ll be willing to fulfill whatever fantasy they have, as long as we can do it on the down low. My uncle gets one whiff of me doing something wrong, and I’m a dead man. I’ll end up in juvenile hall or, worse, in freaking jail. My dad’ll make sure I pay for my mistakes.
“Fine,” I muttered, dropping my head so I didn’t have to look him in the eye. Seeing the disappointment there, all the anger and frustration, I couldn’t take it anymore. “I’ll go.”
His deep sigh of relief was loud, and hearing it didn’t make me feel any better. We sat in the living room, Dad in his recliner, me on the couch. I let my arms drop to my sides and took a deep breath, glancing around the room. It was small, narrow, no pictures on the wall, no homey touches. A total bachelor pad, Dad had told me when we moved in to the place, like that was going to appeal to fourteen-year-old me.
After Mom died, Dad sold our house—too full of memories, he’d said, his expression pained—and we rented this shitty little two-story condo. A temporary move, he’d reassured me. The place was old but centrally located in single-dom paradise. As in, there were plenty of divorced women who lived in this complex who were hot for my dad.
And it sucked. Mom’s dying had completely messed with my head. But Dad’s moving us away from the only home I’d ever known had pushed me over the edge. The more trouble I got into, the more attention I received. It didn’t matter if it was bad or good; at least someone was looking at me. Acknowledging me. Telling me I mattered.
“Spending the summer with your uncle Bob is just what you need,” Dad said, his expression softening, the anger slowly dissipating because I didn’t protest or get angry. Why fight it? At least at camp, I’d have some freedom.
I’d be working my ass off and under Uncle Bob’s thumb all the time, but what else could I do?
“Though just because you’re surrounded by a bunch of young girls doesn’t mean you should touch any of them.” The pointed look Dad sent my way almost made me want to laugh.
“They’re off-limits. Forbidden. The campers, at least. You have to follow your uncle’s rules. The counselors, they’re your peers, but I wouldn’t recommend you messing around with any of them, either. You don’t need the distraction.” He paused. “You mess up once, and you’ll end up in juvie. Understand?”
I nodded. Whatever. I’d mess around with whoever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I’d freaking need the distraction so I wouldn’t lose my mind having to work for Uncle Bob all summer long.
“You’ll get out of here.” Away from my friends. “You’ll meet new people.” Who aren’t my friends. “You’ll earn a little money and save it up.” So I can buy my own cigarettes or weed or whatever I want and not have to ask for cash from you. “And you might learn a thing or two.”
But instead of saying any of that, I nodded like I agreed and stood, finally meeting his gaze. His eyes weren’t blazing with so much frustration anymore, and I felt like I’d jumped over the first hurdle. “I’d better go pack, then,” I told him, and left the room.
Never looked back once, either.
Monica Murphy is the New York Times, USA Today and #1 international bestselling author of the One Week Girlfriend series, the Billionaire Bachelors and The Rules series. Her books have been translated in almost a dozen languages and has sold over one million copies worldwide. She is a traditionally published author with Bantam/Random House and Harper Collins/Avon, as well as an independently published author. She writes new adult, young adult and contemporary romance. She is also USA Today bestselling romance author Karen Erickson.
She is a wife and a mother of three who lives with her family in central California on fourteen acres in the middle of nowhere, along with their one dog and too many cats. A self-confessed workaholic, when she’s not writing, she’s reading or hanging out with her husband and kids. She’s a firm believer in happy endings, though she will admit to putting her characters through many angst-filled moments before they finally get that hard won HEA.
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