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Red Card
Carrie Aarons

PROLOGUE

FOUR YEARS AGO

There is something so blissful about lying in bed with the person who means the most to you in the entire world. It’s perfection, for just those few couple of hours. Alone in your little bubble, just you and your love, skin-to-skin beneath the covers. You don’t even have to speak because you talk in touches. Kisses. Snuggles. Gazes.

That’s what I had with Taylor at this moment. When we got these rare, uninterrupted periods of time where we could just memorize each other’s bodies and minds, it was like heaven on earth. If I could just do this for the rest of my life I would be the happiest girl on earth. No parents, no pressure. No impending graduation and no unease about college. It was just us.

“You’re so beautiful,” Taylor, my high school sweetheart and boyfriend of a year whispered in my ear as his hands trailed up my ribs.

I smiled, my heart all but melting in my chest. This is how I always felt around him, how I knew I would always feel. His parents were away on a long weekend trip, so of course the first thing Taylor had done was invite me over. It wasn’t as if his parents were naive, they had probably known we would grab at the chance to be alone. We were attached at the hip even when we didn’t get the opportunity to take our clothes off.

And that was as often as possible. Taking our clothes off, that is. After months of Taylor being patient, we finally decided to go all the way, both losing our virginities to each other. And it had been the most magical moment. Taylor had been so sweet, he’d lit candles and brought me flowers. He’d gone slow, warming me up with all of the tricks we’d read about in the Cosmo I’d sneakily bought at the drug store.

And since that day, we hadn’t stopped since. It was like we were addicted to each other, even more so than we had been in those sweet first months of dating our junior year of high school.

So here we laid, in Taylor’s bed, his football jersey hanging in a frame over his bed. Thoughts of our future flashed through my head and I grinned.

“What are you smiling at gorgeous?” He palmed my face, his brown eyes warming as he raked those big receiver hands through my hair.

“Just dreaming about the fall. Walking through campus with you. Being able to sleep over anytime I like.”

Taylor smirked, his brown curls falling into his eyes. “I’m looking forward to that perk too.”

I tickled him a little, those cut abs contracting under my fingers.

“Quit it, Watsy.” Taylor called me by my nickname and laid a kiss on my nose. “But seriously, baby, I can’t wait for it. I am so glad you finally agreed to come with me.”

Taylor had committed to The University of Oklahoma way earlier in the year, being recruited to play as their starting wide receiver come fall. I had dillydallied with my decision, wanting so bad to follow him but worrying about my own future if I did. I’d finally accepted though, not wanting to be separated and deciding to pursue my degree in public relations.

“Me too. It is going to be amazing. You’re going to kill it on the college scene, babe. I’ll become a PR guru, you’ll sign me as your agent, and we will live happily ever after.” I smiled a cheesy grin and Taylor pulled me close, my face mashing into his magnificent pecs.

“I know. I can’t wait for our future, Leah, I really can’t. I am going to make a life for us. I’m going to push myself as hard as I can, because I know you’re behind me. I want to provide for us, give you anything you ever wanted. I can’t wait to have you standing next to me when I walk up onto that stage at the NFL draft. I can’t wait to see you on our wedding day. I can’t wait for you to be the mother of my children.”

He paused, kissing me with such passion that I felt it all the way to my toes. My stomach was doing somersaults, still so in love with him as if I was the doe eyed girl he’d asked to homecoming last year. I knew that I would always feel like this, feel this for him and about him. This all-consuming, drives-you-crazy but makes-you-sane kind of love. The kind of love that was a balm to your soul but also made your heart beat and spasm like it was trying to turn itself inside out. Talking about our future only solidified that.

“I will walk through fire for you Leah, so long as I know you’re waiting on the other side. Our future is so bright baby, and I can’t wait to get started. I love you so much, Leah Watson.”

“And I love you Taylor Mason. I can’t wait for everything. Growing up, getting out of town, college, dorm rooms. Your career. Our future.”

And in that moment, I meant those words so much that nothing in my life had ever been truer. And naively, I thought he meant them too.

1

LEAH

A rolling, nauseous sensation seizes my stomach and jolts me awake just as we hit a pocket of turbulence. The metal can I'm strapped into with approximately 500 other travelers shakes and vibrates, causing me to grip the armrests at my sides until my knuckles go white. The organ in my chest beats wildly up into my throat, the panic slowly seeping through my pores and invading my system, threatening to erupt in horrific sobs if this air-quake doesn't pass soon.

I hold my breath for what seems like forever, until it’s burning in my lungs and causing a stray tear or two to roll down my cheek.

"Sorry about that folks, just some minor turbulence. Our path now is looking fine, and we'll be arriving on schedule to London Heathrow in about an hour and a half."

The pilot's voice ends my almost-anxiety attack, and I huff out a few breaths before peering out the window on the inner most seat.

Less than two hours until I'm safely on the ground in the United Kingdom. Less than two hours until I'm 4,600 miles away from him.

The familiar guitar riff of a song that means all too much strums in my earbuds, and it’s only then do I realize that I fell asleep with my iTunes library on shuffle. And only then do I realize what song my music player has stumbled across.

Echosmith are still singing the lyrics to "Bright" in my ears as I blink back the tears that have been coming for two weeks now. I jam my index finger against my iPhone to quickly change the song.

Our song.

Except not anymore. Now I'll never be able to listen to that song again.

Fucking Taylor Mason.

I scroll through my playlists until I find the one labeled "Snogging the Spare," smile and hit play on the first song. The Beatles begin harmonizing, and I'm instantly flooded with relief and homesickness. Relief that I don't have to listen to the song I thought I would dance to on my wedding day, homesick because my best friend was the one who put the all-Brits playlist together.

Of course Jaycee had named the selection of songs with something having to do with Prince Harry. She'd practically drawn out a strategic map on how I could become the next Kate Middleton. I hadn't checked yet, but I'm pretty sure she'd snuck it into my luggage before I'd left Oklahoma.

Oklahoma. Home. I already missed it and I hadn't even touched down in Europe yet. But this change of pace would be good, it was exactly what I'd needed. Because as much as I would miss being a Sooner for my last semester on the University of Oklahoma campus, I didn't think I could bear it if I actually had to be there. Waiting for graduation. Waiting for a future that was now totally unknown. Waiting for Taylor to take me back.

Mourning swept over my entire body, locking me into my seat and forcing me to swallow down the lump of emotion caught in my windpipe. I had to stop this. It was over. The life that I had planned was not happening, and I needed to start forging my own path.

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