Heartache and Hope (Heartache Duet #1) - Jay McLean

Prologue

One minute you’re sipping on your first beer at your first bonfire party, wearing a hoodie provided by a boy you’ve been crushing on for months. He slips his hand around your waist, pulls you closer to him. Then he dips his head, whispers into your neck, “You’re beautiful, Ava.”

It’s your fifteenth birthday, and you have the world at your feet, and you watch the fire blaze in front of you, watch the embers rise, float to a new existence, and you think to yourself, This is life.

Your phone rings, and you pull it out of your back pocket, see your stepfather’s name flashing on the screen, and you end the call, pocket the phone again.

The boy kisses your neck, and you take another sip, your eyes drifting shut at the feel of his lips against your skin.

Your phone rings again.

And again.

And you ignore it every time.

Every single time.

You move to the bed of a truck, your hands in his hair, his hands on your breasts, and you’re so drunk on desire it makes you high on this life.

This life.

This perfect life.

It’s 3:00 a.m. when you stumble home, drunk and delusional. Your stepfather is slouched on the couch in the living room, a single lamp casting the only shadows of the night. “I’ve been calling you,” he says, and you’re too out of it to care. “It’s your mother.”

At fifteen and one day, you sit with your stepfather in the same living room where he waited all night for you. Night has turned to day, and unlike him, you don’t look at the door, waiting. No. You look at the phone.

Waiting.

At fifteen and two days, the call comes through, and neither you nor your stepdad has slept a wink. Your stepbrother is on his way home from Texas, and you wring your hands together.

Waiting.

At fifteen and three days, you find out that the situation is so bad, they’re bypassing Germany and bringing your mother right home. To you. To her family.

At fifteen and four days, your stepbrother comes home, and you look to him for courage, find it in his eyes, in the way he holds your hand while you can do nothing but wait.

At fifteen and five days, you fly to DC, and see your mother for the first time in five months. The last words she said to you were “Be careful.” She smiled at you the way mothers smile at their children, and you hid the pain and fear in your chest, replaced weakness for courage, and offered her a smile of your own.

At fifteen and six days, you try to search for that smile on her face while you sit by her hospital bed, but you don’t find it. Can’t find it. Because half of her face is gone. Half of her arm is, too.

A grenade, they told you.

At fifteen and seven days, you say to yourself, “This is life.” And it only took seven days for you to realize how imperfect it is.

Chapter 1

Connor

LeBron James grew up poor as hell with a single mother and zero privilege. His high school was completely unheard of before he showed up with three of his buddies and took over the league. At eighteen, a senior, he went prep to pro and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers. His initial contract was $18.8 million over four years. Nike had offered him more than one hundred million off the court. This was before he played a single second of professional ball.

Talk about a game changer.

Obviously, I’m no LeBron James.

No one is.

Besides being raised by a single parent, comparing myself to LeBron