I’m a big fan of New Adult books and so I was excited when Berkley sent me True by Erin McCarthy to read ( A | BN | K | S ). It captured the zeitgeist of the New Adult genre with the college age protagonists and their attempts to not only discover their place in life but their connections to others. I’ve selected this book as our May bookclub read. TRUE is an InterMix e-book original with a publication date of May 7, 2013, and a price of $3.99.
In TRUE, Rory Macintosh has nothing in common with Tyler Mann. Innocent, studious, and awkward, she wouldn’t know where to even begin a conversation with the confident, tattooed bad boy. But when Tyler saves her from a dangerous situation, the two begin to look at each other differently. Tyler knows he’s not good enough for Rory. She’s smart, doctor smart, and from a good family while he’s barely scraping by at his EMT program in the hopes of pulling his younger brothers out of the hell of their home life. But there’s something about her he just can’t keep away from. As Rory enters Tyler’s world, she realizes that she might be out of her depth. If first love is supposed to be easy, then maybe this isn’t the real thing. Or, maybe, their struggles just mean they’ve found something truer to fight for…
To sweeten interest in the book (and the bookclub), I asked Berkley if they would be willing to provide ARCs as giveaways and allow me to post the first Chapter of the book. Here’s an exclusive sneak peak at TRUE. At the end, merely use the Rafflecopter to enter the ARC giveaway. (Note the ARCs are 8.5 x 11″ bound in house galley)
Getting drunk was not in my plans for Friday night.
Neither was admitting to my roommates, Jessica and Kylie, that I was a virgin.
But they left me alone with Grant.
I knew what Jessica and Tyler, Kylie and Nathan were going to do in the guys’ respective bedrooms. Well, it’s not like I actually knew from personal experience what they were doing—but I hoped their sex fest wouldn’t take that long. I had studying to do for an inorganic chemistry exam on Monday. Plus, I had to read six chapters of Hemingway about boozy, washed-up writers and their cheating wives, which was always a challenge for me, since I preferred the facts of math and science. Puzzling out literature and the social dynamics of characters struck me as a waste of time, especially given their activities.
Alcohol and sex. Ironic, really.
But Jessica was my ride. It was too far to walk back to the dorms, and it was the kind of off-campus neighborhood that had my dad raising his eyebrows and suggesting I go to college in some cow town like Bowling Green, where there were no dirty couches on sagging front porches and no residents’ smoking crack in full view of the street.
So walking back was not happening, because I didn’t smoke crack and I was no risk-taker. At all. Yet sitting there alone with Grant while my roommates were off having a good time almost seemed riskier than strolling through the ghetto. Because it was sort of like perching over a public toilet seat without actually touching anything. It was difficult. Awkward.
Plus, it was very, very quiet. He didn’t speak. And I didn’t either, so there was a lot of sitting and a lot of awkwardness and a lot of trying to be entirely motionless so I wouldn’t be moving more than him. Since he was barely breathing, this was a hard thing to do.
I actually felt sorry for Grant, which was just crazy because I wasn’t exactly the Girl Everyone Wants to Be. But Grant was cute, with long hair that dropped into his eyes, long cheekbones, and thick, girlish eyelashes. He was too thin, his black T-shirts, always tight and wrinkled, with various rude expressions like Bite Me and What the F Are You Looking At? His dirty jeans hung off nonexistent hips that rivaled Mary Kate Olsen’s, and not because he was looking to be fashionable. I don’t think he ate enough, honestly. Nathan had told me Grant’s father was a drunk, and his mother was a freak who stabbed her coworker at Taco Bell with a pen and was in some psych ward downtown. No one was shopping for vegetables at Kroger in Grant’s house.
So I had kind of an awkward girl crush on Grant because it smelled of Possibility. Like it was not totally out of the realm of possibility that he could actually want to be with me, in some sort of male-female capacity.
“Smoke?” Grant asked, holding his pack of Marlboro Reds out to me, gaze shooting around to avoid the connection with mine, as we sat in the main room of Nathan’s apartment.
“No, thanks.” It was the eyes that made me understand that here was someone I didn’t have to be afraid of, didn’t have to feel threatened or intimidated by. Because even though his eyes never met mine, Grant had haunted eyes. Aching, vulnerable, gray eyes.
I wanted him to kiss me. Even as I took a huge swig out of the beer he had given me five minutes before, I was thinking that if only he would recognize what I saw, everything would be awesome. We were absolutely perfect for each other. Two totally sensitive, pale, quiet people. I’d never shove him around the way Tyler did, under the guise of bro wrestling. I’d never embarrass him or set his clothes on fire for fun like his alleged best friend, Nathan, did.
His hand shook a little as he flicked his Bic on to light the cigarette he’d stuffed in his mouth. There was an oak end table between us, each perched in a plaid easy chair, a movie playing on the TV screen in front of us. Some sort of bad Tom Cruise drama. I’ve never liked Tom Cruise. He always reminded me of someone’s creepy cousin, who smiles too big before he touches your butt and whispers something gross in your ear with hot whiskey breath.
Grant was studying the TV, though, very seriously, his smoke floating out into nice, sexy ovals. He could make smoke rings.
I thought my only talent was converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, though to give myself credit, I did really well in school—I always have. I was in the Honors Scholar program, and I was on track for magna cum laude, which made my rooming with Jessica and Kylie even more ironic than reading Hemingway. They were social superstars, while if there were a subject called Casual Conversation and Flirting 101, I would have been flunking it.
I’d never had a boyfriend. No sweaty, handholding, note-passing middle school boyfriend. No guy in high school who had me wear his football jersey to pep rallies. No TA in college who suddenly recognized the value of a quality brain and spent coffee-shop nights studying with me. None of the above.
I wasn’t exactly sure why, because I didn’t consider myself ugly with a capital U. Maybe slightly plain, definitely quiet, but not repulsive in any way. No body odor, bad breath, or strange growths in obvious places, no bald spots or facial tics. I did have a few guys who wanted to make out and attempt to shove their hands down my pants, but no one wanted to date me.
Which is why I knew I should make a move on Grant somehow. Because here was my chance to score a boyfriend. To have make-out sessions and share popcorn at the movies, to text each other on a minute-by-minute basis using sickly sweet nicknames. Just to see what it was like, a relationship, to try it on for size like a great pair of sexy heels.
Maybe it would even result in having my name tattooed on Grant’s bicep. It was a short name, Rory, so it would fit on his skinny arm. Something permanent that said that someone else in this world thought enough of me to ink me into infinity.
In reality, Grant and I had remained completely silent for fifteen, twenty minutes. He’d even stopped asking me if I wanted another beer. He had the uncanny ability to sense when I’d drained one without even looking over at me, and he immediately offered another by just holding out the can. I didn’t really want this many, but I couldn’t bring myself to say no. His silent offer was the only thing connecting us at all, besides the fact that we were both human and happened to be sitting in the same room.
I was starting to feel a serious buzz from the three back-to-back beers I’d had, and I was wondering how much longer until my supposedly large brain managed to put forth a flirtatious comment for me to sling at Grant, with an artful hair flip. A lot of girls I knew talked more as they drank, but so far, my tongue still seemed to be stuck to the roof of my mouth, and my ears were ringing.
“Do you think . . . ?” Grant started to say, his whole body suddenly turning to me.
Startled, I choked a little, beer going up my nose. I didn’t know he was going to look at me. Not prepared. No coy smile in place. I blinked at him, hoping that just maybe he’d say something that could lead to something, and I would have a turn at this strange mating game we all seemed to want to play.
“Do you think Tyler and Jessica are serious about each other or are they just hooking up? Or could I, you know . . .”
I sank back into burgundy plaid. My turn was not today. I was stupid to think it ever would be.
“No,” I managed to say. “They’re definitely serious.” Even though I knew it wasn’t true, that Jessica wasn’t serious about anything right now. But I was feeling mean and a little sick, and drunk in a not-so-good way. It was rare for me to get angry, but I suddenly felt just that.
Because even Grant, who was like a terrified grasshopper clinging to the windshield of a speeding car, was too good for me.
I lifted my beer to my mouth and sucked hard, eyes focusing on Tom on the TV and his cheesy grin.
“She says she adores him,” I added, to emphasize my point, driven to speak by an itchy humiliation that prickled over my skin. It wasn’t a lie—she had said that. But Jessica adored her Hello Kitty slippers, and her iPhone, and Greek yogurt. It was her catchall word for anything that was pleasing her at that very moment. Tyler had been pleasing her half an hour ago. Whether he still was now was anyone’s guess.
Grant looked down the hallway, toward the bedroom. He didn’t say anything, but I could see it. That pathetic, hopeless wanting. The desire for what you want but can’t have. The need for someone to like you.
I recognized it because I saw it in my own face every day.
So I drained my fourth beer completely, my teeth starting to numb, my breathing sounding loud and labored to my ears. I knew I should slow down, drink water, stand up, but it was easier to feel sorry for myself, hidden behind a beer can, deep in the recesses of the plaid chair, my new best friend.
When Grant leaned over and suddenly covered my mouth with his, I was so shocked I made a startled yelp and dropped the nearly empty can in my lap, dribbles of cold beer spilling onto my jeans. Grant had eaten up the distance between the two chairs and was leaning on the oak table with one hand, grabbing the back of my head with the other. Confused, I sat there unresponsive for a second, my beer brain chugging along slowly, processing. Grant was kissing me.
I kissed back. Because, well, this is what I wanted, right? Grant to kiss me.
But then I remembered Grant wasn’t really interested in me. He was into Jessica. I knew that. And his mouth was hard, his tongue thrusting and swollen. I started to pull back, desperate for air. He tasted like stale cigarettes, and he smelled like he did laps in a swimming pool of Axe body spray.
“Pass that on to Jessica,” he said, panting hard, tossing his hair out of his eyes.
I blinked. I may have been the awkward girl, but I didn’t want to be second-best. A sexual stand-in for my hot roommate. Humiliation flooded over me, drenching my skin in heat from head to toe as I flushed with embarrassment and anger. When he started to move in again for another kiss, I put my hand on his chest to stop him.
“Tell her yourself,” I spat out, standing up, the beer can tumbling to the dirty carpet. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but away from him.
Only Grant grabbed me by the arm as I walked past and pulled me down onto his lap. Before I could react, he had his arms completely around me, his warm lips on my neck, the hard nudge of what I figured had to be his erection at the back of my thighs. Fear flooded my mouth. He didn’t look this strong. He didn’t look strong at all, yet his grip on me was tight, his sloppy, wet kisses trailing lower down my chest, under my T-shirt.
When I tried to stand, his hands held my arms so tightly it felt like my wristbones were being snapped, and I was too out of it from the beer to have great coordination. Trying to back up, I ended up sliding down his lap, between his legs and to the floor.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” he said, loosening his hold on me to take down his zipper. “Good girl.”
When he pulled out his erection, a mere foot from my face, I couldn’t believe what I was looking at, all smooth skin and dark hair, just out there, all casual. Right in front of my face. I realized he thought I was going to give him a blow job. That I was actually offering to give him oral sex, for no reason, with no conversation or lead-in, just a few shitty kisses when he referenced my roommate. That somehow, he was insane enough to think that I would willingly go down on him. Nauseated, I turned my head, so I didn’t have to look at his junk.
The beer was going to come back up. I drank it too fast and it was sloshing around in my gut, ready to rush up my throat in a Bud Light tsunami, crashing out over my teeth onto his lap if I didn’t get some fresh air, didn’t get away from him.
“Let me go,” I said, trying to get my feet on the floor so I could stand.
But he had my hair at the back of my head, and I realized the only way out was to go low, not try to stand. But if I fell to the floor completely, then he could fall on me, which meant that if I didn’t get out of this in the next sixty seconds, I might wind up having sex on the hard, filthy carpet of this crappy rental apartment. I’d rather give oral sex than lose my virginity to this douche bag, who I had thought was nice, who I had thought would never victimize anyone because he’d been the victim.
Neither was a good choice.
But if I faked oral, I could bite him instead. Sink my teeth down into his most sensitive spot and get away. Call a cab. I was just panicked enough that I figured I could actually do it, get away or at least go down fighting.
So I tried to stand instead of falling down, and he yanked my hair so hard tears came to my eyes. I had long, dark-red hair, which made it easy for him to entwine his fingers to control my head and my neck, holding me so I couldn’t move.
“Stop! I’m serious.” I braced my knee on the bottom of the chair, my hand on his chest to keep my head as far from him as possible. “I’m going to be sick,” I added, because it was true, and I figured no guy wanted to be puked on.
But he ignored me and said, “Open your mouth.”
So I punched his wrist, trying to break his hold, desperate, panicked, my vision blurred from tears and too many beers, my stomach churning violently. “No! Please, don’t!”
“Let her go, Grant. Now.”
He did, and I fell to the ground, gasping, scrambling backward, my floral rain boots giving me traction to butt-scoot out of his reach. Tyler was standing in the hallway, not wearing a shirt, a beer in his hand. He had clearly been to the kitchen, clearly seen what had been happening, clearly planned to stop it.
Relief had my hands shaking and I zipped up my hoodie, wanting my T-shirt covered, wanting all of me covered, gone.
“Mind your own fucking business,” Grant said.
“No. I won’t. She said no.” Tyler was tall, broad-shouldered, his chest and biceps covered in tattoos. He looked at me, and I shrank back a little. His eyes looked angry in the fluorescent glow of the stove light. “Did you say no, Rory?”
“Yes. I said no,” I added, wanting to clarify.
Grant’s foot came out, and he kicked my arm, hard. “You did not, you dick tease.”
He kicked me. I couldn’t believe that he just kicked me. I yelped, and before I could respond, Tyler was between me and Grant, pulling him to his feet.
“I heard her say no. Now get the hell out of here. Go home. What is wrong with you? You don’t treat a chick like that.”
They scuffled a little, Grant shoving Tyler’s arms off him as he made his way to the door. “Man, I was doing her a favor. No one else wants her.”
Tyler’s response to that was to punch Grant in the face, knocking him into the wall. “Shut the fuck up, or I’ll beat your ass into tomorrow.”
Grant peeled himself off the wall, shot me a look of hatred, then left, the door slamming hard behind him. The tears were rolling down my face, whether I liked it or not. The realization that I was almost raped settled over me, and his hateful words lay on top of that, a final insult. He was right. No one wanted me. But that didn’t mean I could be treated like shit. It didn’t mean I wasn’t a person, that I should toss over my dignity and accept whatever attention I got, no matter how selfish and crude it was.
“You okay?” Tyler asked, popping open his beer and holding it in front of me.
I shook my head. Because I didn’t want the beer. And because I wasn’t okay.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know he would do something like that. I feel really bad.” He set his beer down on the end table. “Do you want me to give you a ride home? Jessica’s asleep.”
Great. All I wanted to do was retreat to our dorm and cry in my bed, but Jessica was taking a post-coital nap. It was bold for me, but I decided to accept his offer, even though I knew I was putting him out. “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, no problem. Just let me get my keys.” He made a face. “And a shirt. It’s cold out there for October.”
He went back into the bedroom and when he came out, Jessica was actually with him. “Rory, are you okay?” She rushed over to me, blond hair flying behind her, dressed in men’s pajama pants and a huge sweatshirt. “Tyler told me what happened.”
Her arms wrapped around me and I let her hug me, grateful for the contact and her concern.
“What an asshole. If I see him, I’m going to cut his dick off and shove it down his throat. Let’s see how he likes cock crammed in his mouth.”
Her vehemence made me feel better. “I should have . . .” I started—but then stopped myself. I should have what? I shouldn’t have done anything differently. I was just sitting in my chair and he made a world of assumptions and I said no, and that was the truth of it. I wasn’t going to blame myself that he’d taken a fist to the face.
“No, screw that,” Jessica said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. And I’m sorry I left you alone with that prick.”
“I’ll be right back,” Tyler said, his phone buzzing in his hand. He retreated into the bedroom as Kylie came out, her hair a hot mess, makeup streaked.
“What’s going on?”
“Grant tried to rape Rory,” Jessica said in such a loud, matter-of-fact voice I couldn’t help but wince.
“What? Are you effing kidding me?” Kylie could have been Jessica’s twin. They were both tall, blond, tan, toned. They were getting vague degrees in Gen Ed and would probably wind up wedding planners and golf wives, while I was intending to go to med school to be a coroner. I was more comfortable with dead people than living ones. But for whatever reason, they liked me. And I liked them. Their reaction cemented that feeling. They both looked like if they had had a baseball bat and five minutes alone with Grant, he’d wish he’d never been born.
I didn’t want to fight Grant. I just wanted to forget it had ever happened. “I did kiss him,” I said, because I felt guilty for that. That was leading him on, a little.
“So? A kiss is not a promise of pussy,” Kylie said.
She was right. “I know,” I said, miserable, confused, stomach upset. I sat down on the end table, looking at my boots. “But I mean, it’s not like I haven’t thought about being with Grant. I have. But he was so . . . and I don’t want it, my first time, to be like this . . . and I should have done . . . something.”
So much for telling myself I wasn’t going to do that. There I was, worried, feeling like I’d had some part in what had happened.
“Your first time? Wait a minute, are you saying you’re a virgin?” Jessica was staring at me blankly. “For real?”
Oops. I hadn’t really meant to share that. It wasn’t exactly a deep, dark secret, and it really couldn’t have been that much of a shock to her, but it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to go around talking about. “Um. Yes. I just haven’t . . .”
Had the opportunity.
“There hasn’t been anyone . . .” I reached for the beer Tyler had abandoned and took a sip. I was drunk, but not nearly enough to not suddenly feel completely and totally middle school mortified.
“Oh.” Kylie looked bewildered. “Well, that’s cool. Lots of girls make that choice.”
“It hasn’t been a choice. Not exactly. I mean, if I could, I think I would.” I did. I was twenty, and I had all the same physical feelings as other people. Just no one to explore them with. In a way that wasn’t a quickie on the stained carpet.
“Well, why can’t you?” Jessica asked.
“Because no one is offering. I guess technically Grant offered, but I don’t want it like that.” I was sorry I’d brought it up at all. It wasn’t a discussion I wanted to have with Tyler and Nathan a few feet away.
“So you want, like, romance?”
Was that what we called it? “I guess.”
Tyler came back into the room, pushing his cell phone into his front pocket. “You ready?”
“Yeah.” I found my crossbody bag on the floor and put it over my head.
“Tyler, Rory wants romance,” Jessica told him. “What do you think of that?”
My face burned with embarrassment. I didn’t want to be the subject of discussion. I didn’t want Tyler to stare at me the way he was, dark eyes scrutinizing mine. He was the typical bad-boy type—which was why Jessica liked him—and I was the kind of girl he would never notice. And he hadn’t ever noticed me, not really. I was the quiet friend of Jessica and Kylie whose presence he tolerated. But now his eyes were sweeping over me, assessing, and I couldn’t read his expression.
“I think she should have whatever she wants.” He reached out and took the beer can from my hand, his fingers brushing mine. “But nothing says romance like a six-pack. I need to pick up more beer.”
I shivered from his touch and from the inscrutable look he was giving me.
“I’m staying here,” Jessica stated. “It’s too cold outside to go home. See you tomorrow, Rory.”
Kylie was already curled up on the couch, in a praying position, half-asleep as she gave a weak wave. “Bye, sweetie.”
“Okay, bye,” I said, shoving my hands in the front pockets of my jeans, wishing I had worn a thicker coat. I was cold and I wanted a hot shower to wash away the beer and the fear and the feel of Grant’s wet lips on me. But first I had to sit in the car alone with Tyler. A perfect ending to a crap night. Awkward small talk with my roommate’s Friend with Benefits, who had punched his own friend on my behalf.
As I followed Tyler down the metal stairs, the smell of fried foods strong in the hallway, I thought that was the end of any talk about my virginity.
I didn’t know it was just the beginning.
Update: I rarely do this but I’ve deleted the comments that are completely unrelated to this book.