About Just Breathe:
(TRIGGER WARNING: This content deals with an account of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.)
When Cassie Shaw looks at Noah Hunt, she sees a knight in shining armor, but she’s convinced he sees her as nothing but damaged goods.
Noah saved her from a brutal assault, talked her through a panic attack, and held her when she broke down crying.
Noah is a mystery. He avoids talking about his past, his phone rings with calls from four women he won’t talk about, and he receives texts from over a dozen more. To add to the intrigue, when Cassie tries to kiss him, he gets a look of sheer panic in his eyes.
Cassie finally finds a chink in Noah’s armor, and realizes that he’s even more damaged than she is.
He saved her.
Now it’s her turn to save him.
Excerpt From Just Breathe:
Cassie tried to scream, but she couldn’t even breathe. A hand covered her mouth and someone pressed against her body.
“Stop struggling, bitch!”
She tried to see who it was, but all she saw was a black truck parked behind a car dealership with the motor running. Cassie was being dragged toward it, helpless.
Fight, you idiot, fight!
Cassie began to buck and kick wildly. She bit down on his hand and he screamed in her ear. But he didn’t let her go. He wrapped his hand around her throat.
“Please,” she begged. “Let me go.”
“You think you’re begging now. Just wait.”
Cassie recognized the voice just as she was thrown in the backseat. She looked up and saw him. Tom crushed his mouth on hers. His breath tasted like cheap beer and cigarette smoke as his tongue forced its way into her mouth. Cassie whimpered. She tried to fight, but she could barely move, crushed by the weight of Tom. He pinned her arms and pressed his erection against her. Tom’s mouth moved down to her neck, teeth grazing her skin.
Scream, she commanded herself. Scream for help! Scream fire! Just scream your fucking head off! You know what he’s going to do! You know what will happen next. But no sound escaped her.
Tom lifted his head for a moment and locked eyes with Cassie. He seemed to enjoy her panic. Cassie saw the perverse pleasure in Tom’s eyes shift to confusion—and then fear. Cassie felt the weight of Tom’s body lift from her as he seemed to fly out of the truck of the car, backward. Cassie struggled to get up. She needed to get out of this car. She couldn’t breathe inside the car. A hand helped pull her out, where she collapsed to the ground.
“Are you alright?”
Cassie looked up. It was the guy from the pharmacy. His boyish face was filled with concern. Cassie tried to nod, but she couldn’t. All she managed was a strangled gasp when she saw Tom coming at them with fury etched on his face. The young man in front of her pivoted and smashed his fist into Tom. Cassie watched as Tom’s nose started to leak red.Tom stumbled backward and tripped. He cursed as he tried to get up. Her rescuer returned to her side.
“You’re safe,” he assured her. “He can’t hurt you.”
Cassie looked up at him. She didn’t know who he was, but the one word that registered with her was safe. She wanted to thank him, but she still couldn’t speak. The only sound she heard was Tom’s drunken scream as he rushed forward. He didn’t get far. Cassie watched her savior spin around again. With both hands, he grabbed Tom’s arm. He twisted and step back. There was a snap as Tom’s arm was pulled into an unnatural position. Her protector then smashed Tom’s face down onto the pavement.
Cassie watched his face, no longer boyish and friendly looking. It was the face of a predator. Cassie found her voice and screamed.The young man turned and walked a few steps toward Cassie. She could see him push the anger away, replacing it with concern. Cassie heard movement again. Her eyes found Tom, who had managed to get to his feet. His right arm dangled by his side, useless. With fear in his eyes, Tom made a break for it.
For a moment, Cassie feared she’d be left alone, that the man who saved her would take off after Tom as they both watched her assailant run away. He didn’t. Stopping a few feet away, he crouched down to be eye level.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you. Can you tell me your name?”
Slowly, Cassie nodded. “Cassie,” she said. “Cassie Shaw.”
He smiled. “Hello Cassie,” he said. “My name is Noah.”
It was the last thing Cassie heard before she realized she couldn’t breathe.
“What were you talking about with my dad?” Cassie asked as Noah opened the passenger door.
Noah waited until she got in, then shut the door and went around to the other side of the car. “I wanted to thank him for what he did,” He said as it got in. “And I guess he wanted to get to know me a little better.”
“Don’t we all?” Cassie said. “Noah Hunt, the great mystery.”
Noah pulled out of the driveway carefully, and headed toward the address Cassie had given him earlier.
“Some mysteries are better left unsolved,” Noah said. “Have you considered that you might not like everything you find?”
“Sure,” Cassie said. “That’s part of the fun.” Cassie said it with humor, but it was clear that Noah was taking her seriously.
“Are you worried that if I were to find out about something in your past that I wouldn’t want to be around you anymore?”
Noah didn’t answer.
“I can’t imagine that happening,” she assured him. “Noah, we all have things in our past. Things we wish we weren’t there. But they are. If it’s a part of you, I want to know about it.”
Noah listened as he pulled into a parking spot about half a block away from the party.
“Would you talk to me?” she pleaded.
Noah killed the engine, but made no move to get out of the car. He gripped the steering wheel and tried to gather the courage to let it all spill out. But he couldn’t. The idea of seeing Cassie’s eyes fill with hate and disgust at the sight of him was just too much.
“I want to,” Noah said. “I just…” He trailed off, unsure of what to say.
Cassie took his hand. He looked into her eyes.
“Cassie,” he said.
“Thank you for being my friend,” Noah said finally.
Cassie face became angry. Her eyes narrowed and she pouted.“Sure,” she said as she reached for her door handle. “That’s me. Your best buddy.” She got out in a hurry and started across the street.
Noah chased her.“I’m sorry,” he said as he caught up with her. “Cassie, you have to understand that’s the best I can do. It’s all I can give.”
“Bullshit,” Cassie said. “It’s all you’re willing to give. Noah, you’ve saved me twice. You’ve let me cry on your shoulder. You’ve listened to me confess my deepest, darkest moments. But you won’t share any of those parts of yourself with me. Do you think I’m too weak or fragile to handle it?”
“No, absolutely not. I think you’re one of the strongest and bravest people I know,” Noah said. “You’re just better off not knowing.”
Cassie rolled her eyes. “Your call, bud,” she said as she brushed past him. “Now, I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Two exams, three quizzes, two encounters with Lisa the Bitch, being accosted by Trent and his gang of Neanderthals and then having to worry about your sorry ass getting locked up. I need to unwind. So I’m going into that party, getting drunk and just maybe I’ll find some guy who isn’t afraid to put his hands on me.”
She stormed off into the house with the music blaring. Noah stood there and watched her go in. Maybe this just wasn’t worth it? Walter was right. He was hurting Cassie by hanging on, but not giving her what she wanted. If only there were some way of explaining to Cassie why he wouldn’t take that next step, wouldn’t risk seeing to horror and disgust on her face. Maybe if she got drunk enough, he could tell everything. And if it didn’t go over well, he might convince her that it had never happened? He dismissed the idea as quickly as it appeared. If Noah was honest with himself, he was a little pissed. He never looked at himself as a hero, but he had saved her two times. Couldn’t she cut him a break? Didn’t she have any idea how hard it had been for him to open up to her as much as he had?
Of course she doesn’t, you fucking moron. How could she, you won’t share.
Noah sighed. He had a week until his birthday. The McMillians were counting on him. Maybe after that?
No, you know it won’t end then. There’s always next year. And the year after that.
How could he drag her into his mess of a life? Maybe he should just turn around and leave her here. Her friends were all here. Ben or Coretta or someone would see she got home okay. But Noah had promised her father he would make sure Cassie was safe. He may have screwed everything else up with her, but he’d get at least that much right.
Noah took a deep breath and went in to find Cassie. He promised himself he’d just hover around the edges of the party and keep an eye on her. But he knew going in that it was a promise he was going to have a hard time keeping.
She ended the call. Her cell signaled an incoming text. The McMillians wanted to meet in three hours. She sent back the letter K and went to the door that linked her room and Noah’s. She expected to have to knock, but Noah had opened his door and left it ajar for her. She went in and heard the water running from the bathroom. She took a step inside as Noah came out. He had stripped off his shirt and hadn’t yet put on a fresh one.
Noah stopped short, saw her and reached for his shirt.
“Wait,” she said.
Noah froze. She could see the embarrassment it caused him. His face turned red and his eyes were downcast, but she had to look.
Cassie moved closer to examine him. She had always known he was built, but she hadn’t realized how defined he was underneath the shirts that he wore. But it was the scars that reached over his shoulders that her eyes were locked on. Cassie slowly placed her hand on his chest. She could feel him tremble from her touch. His placed his hand over hers.
“Noah,” she said. “It’s okay. Please, let me look.”
Slowly, he nodded, closed his eyes and dropped his hand away.
Her fingers went to the scar on his left shoulder. She circled around him and saw his back. She had to fight not to gasp again. While his chest was mostly unblemished, except for the marks that reached around his shoulders, his back was a mishmash of scars, crisscrossing back and forth over one another. She completed her turn around him and found herself facing him again. His eyes were shut tight.
“Noah,” she said softly. “Look at me.”
His eyes met hers. Cassie reached up and pulled him into a kiss. Noah resisted at first. She could feel his heart pounding in his chest. She placed her arms around him, not to feel the wounds again, but to pull him to her.
Any trace of resistance fell away when she pulled him onto the bed. His lips nuzzled her neck as his hand slid up her body. He found her breast through her blouse and caressed her while she moaned softly in his ear.
She placed a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed Noah on his back. She climbed on top of him and smiled. She kissed him again, starting on his lips, then slowly moving down his chest and working her way up again to his neck.
“Your turn to see,” she whispered in his ear.
About the Author:
Born and raised in Brooklyn NY, Vincent Morrone now resides in Upstate NY with his wife. (Although he can still speak fluent Brooklynese.) His twin daughters remain not only his biggest fans, but usually are the first to read all of his work. Their home is run and operated for the comfort and convenience of their dogs. Vincent has been writing fiction, poetry and song lyrics for as long as he can remember, most of which involve magical misfits, paranormal prodigies and even on occasion superheroes and their sidekicks.
As they say in Brooklyn: Yo, you got something to say? Vincent would love to hear from you at Vincent@vincentmorrone.com