Rival (Fall Away #2)


by Penelope Douglas

PROLOGUE

FALLON

There were people I liked and people I didn’t like. People I loved and people I hated.

But there was only one person I loved to hate.

“Why are you doing this?” I heard a whiny female voice ask as I rounded the hall to sophomore P.E.

I immediately halted, locking eyes on a red-faced Tatum Brandt as she faced off with my douchebag stepbrother, Madoc Caruthers, and his friend Jared Trent. They stood in the hallway next to the lockers with flat expressions, looking bored, while she clutched her backpack straps for security.

“You barked at me yesterday,” she continued, pinching her eyebrows together at Jared as Madoc smirked from behind him. “And then all of your friends followed along. It’s been forever, Jared. When are you going to stop? Why are you doing this?”

I sucked in a long breath and completed my usual awesome combination of eye-roll-head-shake.

I really hated turning corners. I hated closed doors. I hated not seeing the path ahead.

Corner #1: Your dad and I are getting divorced.

Corner #2: We’re moving. Again.

Corner #3: I’m getting married. Again.

Corner #952: I don’t really like you or my husband or his son, so I’m going to take fifteen vacations a year by myself!

Okay, my mom never really said that, but I’m damn good at interpreting shit. And corners sucked.

I hung back and stuck my hands into the pockets of my skinny jeans, waiting to see what this girl would do. Would she finally grow some balls, or at least take the little ones these idiots had? I kept hoping she would step up to the challenge, and she always disappointed me.

Tatum Brandt was a wimp.

I didn’t know much about her. Only that everyone called her Tate, except Madoc and Jared; she was a rocker on the outside, but played it safe on the inside; and she was pretty. Like cheerleader pretty.

Long blond hair? Totally.

Big blue eyes? Absolutely.

Long legs, full lips, and big boobs? Even at sixteen.

She was the perfect package, and if I were my stepbrother, I wouldn’t have any problem sticking my tongue into her mouth. Hell, I might do it anyway.

I chewed the corner of my lip, thinking about it. Yeah, I could be a lesbian. Maybe. If I wanted.

No, never mind.

The point is . . . why Madoc and Jared tormented her rather than tried to date her was a mystery to me.

But for some reason I was interested. From the start of freshman year, they had both bullied her. They spread rumors, harassed her, and did everything they could to make her unhappy. They pushed, and she retreated time and again. It was starting to piss me off so much that I was about to go knock their heads together to defend her.

Except I barely knew her. And Tatum didn’t know me at all. I stayed so far off the radar that sonar couldn’t pick me up.

“Why?” Jared answered her question with a question and jutted into her space with a cocky swagger. “Because you stink, Tatum.” He scrunched up his nose in mock disgust. “You smell . . . like a dog.”

Tate straightened immediately, and the tears in her eyes finally spilled over.

Kick him in the balls, bitch!

Exhaling a furious breath, I pushed my glasses back up the bridge of my nose. It’s what I did before I braced myself.

She shook her head. “You don’t even remember what today is, do you?” She folded her trembling lips between her teeth and looked down at the ground.

And without even seeing her eyes, I knew what was there. Despair. Loss. Loneliness.

Without looking at him again, she turned around and walked off.

It would’ve been easy to hit him. To toss an insult back at him. And while I despised her weakness, I understood one thing that I hadn’t before. Jared was an ass, but he was an ass who could hurt her.

She was in love with him.

Crossing my arms over my chest, I walked over to the lockers where Jared and Madoc stood staring after Tate.

Madoc spoke up behind him. “What did that mean? What’s today?”

Jared shrugged off the question. “I don’t know what she was talking about.”

“It’s April fourteenth,” I piped up over Madoc’s shoulder, causing him to spin around. “That mean anything to you, Shit-for-Brains?” I directed at Jared.

Madoc raised a dark blond eyebrow at me, a hint of a smile in his eyes. Jared twisted his head only enough so that I could see the side of his face.

“April fourteenth?” he whispered and then blinked long and hard. “Shit,” he murmured.

And Madoc reared back a hair as Jared slammed the palm of his hand into the nearest locker door.

“What the hell?” Madoc scowled.

Jared ran his hands down his face and then shook his head. “Nothing. Never mind,” he growled. “I’m going to Geometry.” Stuffing his fists into his pockets, he stalked off down the hall, leaving Madoc and me.

Between my stepbrother and his friend, I respected his friend more. They were both Grade A ass**les, but at least Jared didn’t care what people thought of him. He stalked around like a weird cross between a jock and a goth. Popular and foreboding. Dark but extremely coveted.

Madoc, on the other hand, cared what everyone thought. Our parents. The principal. And most of the student body. He loved being loved, and he hated his association with me.

As sophomores they were already starting to wield power that was going to be out of control by the time they reached senior year.

“Wow, your friend is a loser,” I teased, sliding my hands into the back pockets of my jeans.

Madoc zeroed in on me with his playful half-smile and relaxed eyes. “So are your frien—” he started, then stopped. “Oh, that’s right. You don’t have any friends.”

“Don’t need ’em,” I shot back. “I travel faster on my own. I’m going places. You know that.”

“Yeah, you’re going places. Just stop at the dry cleaners on your way, Fallon. I need my shirts picked up.” He smoothed an arrogant hand over his navy Abercrombie button-down. With his medium-wash boot-cut jeans, black Paracord bracelet, and styled dark blond hair, Madoc dressed to impress. Girls flocked to him because he looked good in clothes, could talk the ears off an elephant, and loved to play. For all intents and purposes, he was a fun guy.

And he always made me feel small.

I talked a lot of shit, but truth be told, it was more for my ears than anyone else’s. Madoc was designer. I was Target. He was Godiva. I was Snickers. And as far as he was concerned, he was entitled, and I was the freeloading daughter of the gold-digging whore who had snagged his father.

Madoc thought I was dirt under his shoe. Screw him.

I gave his outfit a condescending once-over. “Your shirts—which are super stylish, let me remind you. The g*y community would be proud.”

“You could get nice things, too. My dad pays your mom enough for her services, after all.”

“Nice things? Like the miniskirts you date?” I challenged. Time to educate the little shit. “Most guys, Madoc, like something different. You know why you want to see me in ‘nice,’ skimpy things? Because the more I show, the less I’m hiding. I scare you.”

He shook his head. “Nada, little sister.”

Little . . . I was only two months younger than him. He said shit like that to piss me off.

“I’m not your little sister.” I took a step forward. “And I do have friends. And plenty of guys interested. They like how I look. I don’t subscribe to you and our snotty parents’ stand—”

“Wow, I’m bored,” he cut me off with a sigh. “Your life doesn’t interest me, Fallon. Holiday dinners and once in a while around the house. Those are the only times I want to run in to you.”

I tipped my chin up, trying not to give anything away. It didn’t hurt. Not his words or his opinion of me. There was no ache in my throat that dropped down into my stomach and twisted the ever-present knots tighter. What he said didn’t matter. I liked who I was. No one told me how to dress, how to behave, what clubs to join . . . I made my own decisions. Madoc was a puppet. A drone.

I’m free.

When I said nothing, he started walking backward away from me. “The parents are out for the night. I’m having a party. Stay out of the way. Maybe hide out in the servants’ quarters where you belong.”

I watched him go, knowing I wouldn’t listen.

I would wish that I had.

CHAPTER 1

MADOC

2 years later

“Seriously?” I exclaimed. “Could she move any slower?” I asked Jared as I sat in the backseat of his girlfriend’s G8 with my hands locked on top of my head.

Tate twisted around in the driver’s seat, her eyes sharp like she wanted to drive a knife right through my skull. “I’m heading around a sharp turn at nearly fifty miles an hour on an unstable dirt road!” she yelled. “This isn’t even a real race. It’s practice. I told you that already!” Every muscle in her face was tight as she chewed me out.

I dropped my head back and let out a sigh. Jared sat in front of me with his elbow on the door and his head in his hand.

It was Saturday afternoon, a week before Tate’s first real race at our local, makeshift track—the Loop—and we’d been on Route Five for the last three hours. Every time the little twerp downshifted too soon or didn’t hit the gas fast enough, Jared kept quiet—but not me.

He didn’t want to hurt his girlfriend’s feelings, but I didn’t care. Why tiptoe around her? I wasn’t trying to get in her pants.

Not anymore, anyway.

Tate and Jared had spent most of high school hating each other. Battling with words and antics in the longest-running game of foreplay I’d ever seen. Now they were all up in each other’s shit like Romeo and Juliet. The  p**n o version.

Jared turned his head but not enough to meet my eyes. “Get out,” he ordered.

“What?” I blurted, my eyes widening. “But . . . but . . .” I stuttered, catching sight of Tate’s triumphant smile in the rearview mirror.

“But nothing,” Jared barked. “Go get your car. She can race you.”

The zing of adrenaline shot through me at the prospect of some real excitement. Tate could definitely race a chick who had no idea what she was doing, but she still had a lot to learn and some balls to grow.

Enter me. I wanted to smile, but I didn’t. Instead, I just rolled my eyes. “Well, that’ll be boring.”

“Oh, you’re so funny,” she mocked, gripping the steering wheel even tighter. “You make a great twelve-year-old girl when you whine.”

I opened the back door. “Speaking of whining . . . want to make a bet on who’ll be crying by the end of the day?”

“You will,” she answered.

“Not.”

She grabbed a package of travel tissues and threw them at me. “Here. Just in case.”

“Oh, I see you keep a ready stock,” I retorted. “Because you cry so much, right?”

She jerked around. “Tais-toi! Je te détes—”

“What?” I interrupted her. “What was that? I’m hot, and you love me? Jared, did you know she had feelings—”

“Stop it!” he bellowed, shutting the both of us up. “Goddamn it, you two.” He threw his hands up in the air, looking between us like we were misbehaving children.

Tate and I were both silent for a moment. Then when she snorted, I couldn’t help but let out a laugh, too.

“Madoc?” Jared’s teeth were practically glued together. I could hear the tension in his voice. “Out. Now.”

I grabbed my cell off the seat and did as I was told, only because I knew my best friend had had enough.

I’d been trying to bait Tate all day by making jokes and distracting Jared. She was finally racing a real opponent, and even though Jared and I had been working with her, we knew things went wrong out there on the track. All the time. But Tate insisted that she could handle it.