Time for another book announcement, because I’ve only written five this year.
Actually, that’s not true – this is once again the work of one Jessica Pine, who – contrary to rumours – is not actually me but a romance novelist I captured and locked in my attic. (I heard there was money in this genre romance thing)
It’s fine. We feed her and everything. What? Stop looking at me like that.
“Did you ever fall in love with someone so completely that you forgot who you were? Like you can’t breathe without them. Like you’re two halves of a whole, and that nothing makes sense unless you’re together?”
Jaime Alvarez always thought of himself as an ordinary working-class guy, so he was thrilled when he landed a job as a security guard at the Laurel Canyon home of Hollywood action star John Gillespie.
What he didn’t expect was the added responsibility of John Gillespie’s daughter, Amber.
High up in the Hills, guarded, secure and deeply damaged, Amber hides herself away from the public and the paparazzi. When Jaime first meets her she is crippled with anxiety and panic attacks so severe she can barely stand the touch of the sun on her skin.
As her friendship with Jaime turns into something deeper, Amber is forced to face her past, and the poisoned love-affair that destroyed her and turned her into a recluse. Worse, she must face a secret that may also destroy her – and Jaime’s – future.
Some bonds are harder to break than others.
Due to adult content and disturbing scenes Held: A New Adult Romance is not recommended for readers under 17.
When I get to work the big house is quiet. John Gillespie is in Prague for a couple of days. Uncle Steve has gone to his new job with the Douglases and there’s just us grunts doing the rounds for Amber. Her wing of the house is maybe the best protected, tucked against the hillside and protected by dense woodland. Sometimes I hear helicopters overhead, but she’s well sheltered there.
I don’t expect to see her. I’ve spoken to her maybe six times in all. The first was when she had a panic attack. The second was when I came back to deliver her cigarettes. The rest of the times were pleasantries and for some reason with every passing instance we got stiffer and stranger with one another. Then yesterday when I went back there was no sign of her but a pale pink envelope taped to her closed door. Inside was a twenty and a note saying ‘Jimmy – I’m sick today. Please can you leave me some smokes next to the aloe plant by the door?’
I wouldn’t know an aloe plant from a cactus if I was peeing on one.
The door is closed, but the drapes are open. Maybe I should knock, but then I’m reminded of a fish tank again. Tap on the glass. See what they do. For a moment I hesitate, then make my way carefully around the edge of the pool. Maybe I’ll catch her next time round.
She catches me instead. I didn’t even realize I was stealing past like a thief, not until I heard the rasp of the sliding door on its tracks and found my heart in my mouth. “Holy shit.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you jump.”
“I guess you owe me,” I say. “I nearly fell in the pool.”
She’s wearing loose white linen pants and a little blue top. Her feet are bare and while she’s not shifting her light weight enough to actually move her feet, I can see the tension in her hips. It reminds me of the way that just the touch of her toes in the water could make the whole surface tremble. She holds her arms folded, her elbows held still in her hands.
“It’s not cold,” she says.
“I don’t care. I can’t swim.”
Amber frowns, and then for a second a smile touches the corners of her mouth. Her hair is sloppily tied back with a white ribbon and the wind catches a strand, blows it across her lips. She unsticks it with the nail of her thumb and quickly returns her hand to her elbow. “I thought everyone could swim,” she says.
“Not me.” The wind is strong enough to stir the surface of the water today. It’s the kind of wind that makes the forest rangers and firefighters super antsy. One dropped cigarette butt and whoosh – wildfire. It flattens the thin linen against her thighs and hips and I can see the pink of her skin and the white of her panties. And then it’s like I just light up. Just that one stray thought and I’m gone, thinking about what’s under her clothes. I’d learn to walk on water if it meant I could get to her side that much faster.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” she says. “I hope you don’t think I was being rude.”
“No, not at all.” Forget it. No way. This is stupid. Rich girl, white girl, crazy girl. Not for you. You don’t even know her, dumbass. “I mean, I know you’ve got that…thing, right?”
She nods and presses her lips together, making a thin line of her mouth. Her bottom lip is a little thicker than the top, or maybe it’s where she’s been worrying it with her teeth. “I have some days where I can’t even handle talking,” she says. “Yesterday was one of those bad days, so…”
“And today is better?”
“Today is better, yes.” She tilts her head. All her movements are slight and slow, like she’s afraid if she moves too quickly she’ll go off like she did when I first met her. For a moment I kid myself that she’s looking at me with the same interest as I’m looking at her. “Are you serious?” she asks. “You really can’t swim?”
“No. Why are you so surprised? Do I look like a surfer or something?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “I just took it for granted, I guess. I thought everyone could swim. Didn’t you have lessons?”
She moves to the side of the pool, to one of the little mosaic edged seats set into the wall. I follow her but I don’t sit down – she looks nervous as a bug still.
“Some,” I said. “But I think they got me too late, you know? Like I’d lost the natural instinct or something. You know how they say it is with little babies.”
Amber cups a hand against the wind and lights up a smoke. “What about them?” she says, peering up at me. Her eyes look more green than blue in this light.
“You know. You know what happens if you throw a newborn baby into a swimming pool?”
She gives a puzzled look. “What? Somebody calls Child Protective Services?” She makes no attempt to hide the laugh in her voice.
“Well yeah, you’d hope.”
“I would, definitely.”
“It’s a thing,” I say, determined to explain. I have no chance with this girl but that doesn’t mean I have to be okay with her thinking I’m the kind of weirdo who goes around throwing babies into swimming pools. “My brother probably knows all about it. Swimming is supposed to be a thing we’re born knowing how to do, but if you don’t get in the water early enough you learn to be afraid of it.”
Amber blows smoke into the wind. It comes back and makes her blink fast. “I don’t think that’s true,” she says. “You hear of little children drowning all the time. Sometimes in like three inches of water. They were going to drain the pool one time and I remember thinking that if you really want to drown yourself, you can easily do it in your own bathtub.”
I feel like I shouldn’t be hearing this but I don’t know what to say. She curls her feet up on the seat and leans back against the mosaic.
“Doesn’t have to be the Death of Marat,” she says. “Just takes a pill. Maybe a drink. Doze off in the water and it’s Goodnight Vienna. Wasn’t that was how Whitney Houston died?”
“I think so. I don’t really think much about things like that.”
“I know,” she says. “I shouldn’t either. But then I am crazy. You probably know all about that, right?”
I can’t stop thinking about that picture. The inside of her thigh was white as bone and gave me the same ugly shock as it does when you click on something and find yourself looking at crime-scene photos or gore. Like something hardwired inside your head makes you look away. Wrong. Bad. You don’t want to look at that girl like that; her goddamn guts are hanging out.
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” I say.
She pulls the ribbon out of her hair and gathers it back to retie it. Her neck is pure white, but then I see a patch of red at the back, like a fresh scar or scorch mark – I can’t tell. When she looks back up at me her gaze is cool, almost cold. I can see her old man in her eyes – the Hollywood hard man. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “Everyone knows. It’s all over the internet.”
I shake my head. “I don’t pay attention to that kind of thing,” I tell her.
Amber grinds out her cigarette on the wall. She doesn’t smile. “Maybe you should,” she says. Her eyes are dry but there’s this final note in the way she says it. When she walks away I see the scar at the base of her neck, the size of a rose and nearly as red.