Irreplaceable by Ava Lynn Wood by Ava Lynn Wood - Read Online

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Irreplaceable - Ava Lynn Wood

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chances!

Prologue

I don't want you to go, I said for the hundredth time that day.

"We've been over this, Annalee. I can't not go. I'm the best man." My boyfriend, Will, was sneaking off with his older brother and the rest of his wedding party for one last wild night in Miami. A trip that I'd very badly wanted to go on, but wasn't invited.

But you're not even old enough to get into half the clubs and you definitely won't be able to drink. I was grasping at straws, hoping I could say something to convince Will to stay.

Will walked past me to sit on the hood of his car. Levi's got it covered, was his response as he crossed his arms over his chest.

What is that supposed to mean? I charged forward, stopping inches from him with my own arms crossed.

He shoved off the hood of his car to stand a breath away from me. It means I'm the best man and I'm not missing my only brother's bachelor party. His hands stroked up and down my arms as his voice softened. Come on, Anna. Stop making such a big deal about this.

A big deal? I took a step back, needing some space to just breathe my own air for a second. Do you have any idea what happens at bachelor parties?

Do you? His hand brushed through his wavy espresso brown hair. God, Anna, it's just a party with some friends.

I guess it's just your luck that Janice is the maid of honor, I spat through pure jealousy. I'm sure the two of you will have an amazing time together. Will had never, in the year and a half that we'd been dating, given me reason to believe he'd ever be unfaithful to me, but it still ate at me that he'd once been the high school playboy and Janice was once on his roster of pliable women.

That's not fair and you know it. I have no control over who my brother marries or who her little sister is.

Nope. It's just dumb luck.

Stop it. Will took a step back, staring at the thin line of my lips. You're not going to make me feel guilty about this.

Whatever, Will. I'm sick of fighting. It was stupid.

I don't want to fight anymore, either, Will answered, moving in closer.

No. I don't think you get it, I cried, keeping him at a distance.

Get what? His forward movement ceased as his eyebrows drew together.

I won't fight anymore. On an unbelievable sigh, I whispered, I'm done.

You're joking, right? His hand pressed through his hair again. This isn't funny, Anna.

I bowed my head. I'm not joking. Through my lashes I peeked up at him, waiting for his response with bated breath.

You know what? he started, kicking at a rock in the parking lot. I'm sick of fighting too. I'm sick of the accusations and the jealousy and all of the bullshit you've put me through lately. His hands shoved into his pockets. You know, it's become a lot of work. This, he motioned between us, us. It's not worth it. Not anymore.

F‐fine, I stammered, trying to keep myself together. We'd been together for a year and a half, and if this was all it took to tear us apart, what was the point?

You're doing me a huge favor, babe, he uttered. Now there's no one to stop me from having all the fun I want.

His words ripped the barely beating heart right out of my chest, but I didn't have the strength to watch him stomp on it and crush it into a million pieces. I couldn't take anymore. As his ire poured off of him, I turned and ran away.

I hope you're happy! he shouted as I rounded the corner.

Once out of sight, I fell against the brick wall, drowning in my own despair.

Maybe I'd started this. Maybe I'd said I was through, but I'd just wanted him to fight for me, to show me how much he wanted me in his life. I wanted him to choose me, to be the one girl he'd finally settle down for. The girl who would hold his heart for the rest of his life. But I guess that was just too much to ask.

Stumbling on, I continued down the street, walking blindly as tears blurred my vision. With the lateness of the hour, our small town was virtually dead. There was no one else milling about, interfering in my sadness.

I'd walked a couple blocks away, nearing the edge of downtown, when all of my emotions came barreling into me full force. I couldn't take a step farther as I turned down a quiet street and fell against the stone building behind me. Feeling a gruesome dull ache growing in my chest, I sank to the ground, weeping uncontrollably. Heavy sobs shook me to my core and the hole where my heart had been began to expand, creating a deep ache that seeped through my body. My chest clenched and my breath caught as I burrowed my head into my knees.

It was nearing my curfew, but I couldn't stand the thought of going home. Being near my parents, knowing they would hover, kept me seated on the cool cement, cowering in the shadows. I didn't want their pity, or the pity that would come when the town realized that the town player and the homecoming queen were no longer an item. When everyone knew your business, there was no escaping reality.

I didn't want the hushed whispers or the vacant stares. I didn't want the apologies or the pity parties. I just wanted to avoid it all. That thought spurred my hands to action and I pulled out my cell phone, hammering out a text.

Can I come for a visit?

I hadn't seen my sister, Lexie, in months. She'd moved from our small town in Florida to the suburbs of Valdosta, Georgia when the town gossip mill dove deep into her personal life, scandalizing her every move after she came out to my parents. Her move wasn't drastic, but it'd been just enough to keep the town rumor mill from headlining her every exploit.

Sure. Everything ok?

My sister knew me better than anyone, even my own best friend, Crystal.

Just need to get out of DeFuniak.

That was all I could manage. If I got into my breakup with Will, I'd lose it again.

I'd been focused on my phone when the sound of shuffling footsteps approached. In a panic, I rose from the ground and frantically swiped the tears from my cheeks, clearing my eyes just moments before my solitude was interrupted.

Anna? Brandon, Will's best friend, appeared from the same direction I'd just travelled.

Somewhere along the way, he'd become like a brother to me, and the thought of losing him now added to the ache I was already feeling deep inside, hindering the words that clawed at my chest.

Hey, you okay? His hand softly rested on my shoulder as he looked down at me.

Biting my tongue to combat the tears, I muttered, Yeah, I'm fine.

His honey colored eyes concentrated on mine, looking deeper as he countered, You don't look fine.

Thanks, Brandon, I mumbled as I turned and began to walk away.

Hey, wait, he called, tentatively falling in step with me. What's going on?

I shook my head, but refused to speak.

Did something happen with you and Will?

Ding. Ding. Ding. My head fell and thick, heavy tears seeped from my eyes. Every step was cumbersome as I stumbled down the sidewalk.

What happened?

I averted my gaze, unable to look at Brandon. I couldn't. Not without being reminded of Will and everything I'd just lost, and what I still stood to lose.

Anna, what's going on?

The only way I could tell Brandon the truth was to spit it out as quickly as possible. Will and I just broke up.

Oh, man, Anna, I'm sorry. His arm slipped around my back and I quickly turned into him, squinting as I buried my head in his chest. Trapping me in his embrace, he whispered, Maybe it's for the best.

Stunned, my head shot up to stare him in the face. What? I cried.

Now hear me out, he countered. When I didn't pull away any farther, he explained, You guys are young. You've got your whole lives ahead of you. And you've been together for, what, forever? Maybe you should take some time, see other people, experience what the world has to offer.

My arms crossed over my chest as I contemplated what Brandon said. You think we shouldn't be together?

I don't know, he uttered. I just know that relationships suck. People always end up getting hurt. He gripped my shoulder and added, Maybe this is for the best.

Maybe, I replied, but nothing he'd said made me feel any better. The tears continued to pour and all I wanted was to be alone. Needing my space, I spewed a pathetic, Thanks, before pulling away.

It'll be okay, Anna. I promise, he said with a weak, unconvincing smile.

I gently nodded and stated, I just need time, even though I was uncertain time would heal this wound.

Sure, he said, taking a step back.

I'll see you around, I mumbled as I walked away.

I'd travelled a couple blocks when my phone vibrated in my hand. I thought it would be my sister again, but found a message from my mom instead.

Going to make curfew?

I was the only eighteen‐year‐old I knew who still had a curfew. My mom and dad were notorious for smothering all four of their children. Adrian and Lexie were just lucky they'd moved out when they had. The moment Lexie left for Georgia, my parents became so overly involved in my life that they invited Will to work at the family bakery so that Will and I could spend more time together, under their thumb of course. Thankfully, Will already had a job with his family's winery and refused to spare any more time for a second job.

Unfortunately, the majority of my time had been devoted to that bakery. So much so, that I had given zero thought to what I wanted to do with my life. I hadn't even toyed with the idea of attending college, much less leaving town. Will had been a big factor in that decision.

My little sister, Bella, and I were in charge of keeping the bakery sparkling as well as monitoring inventory and deliveries of special orders. And now that I was legally an adult, my father had decided to add to my list of tasks, training me on the art of cake decorating. It was more than a full‐time job since our shop was the best in three counties, and the only bakery in town. It didn't hurt that my parents paid well, but my job drastically cut into my time with Will, which only elevated our amount of arguments.

When the Miami trip came into play, the arguments escalated. Janice couldn't wait to rub the trip in my face. She'd been dying to get her hooks back into my boyfriend. Jumping from bed to bed over the past year and a half clearly hadn't swayed her affections for Will. That single thought had my stomach turning and the tears that had started to subside came flooding out again.

Staring down at the message from my mother, I gripped my phone, angry at the part my job at the bakery played in the demise of my relationship.

On my way.

My message wasn't to appease her, but simply to shut her up. I didn't need the barrage of nagging texts that would ensue if I hadn't given a response.

Bumbling down the sidewalk, I made the remainder of my walk home, burying the emotions that had taken hold. I wouldn't let my mom see me cry. I wouldn't let her tell me how it had to be a misunderstanding and what a good boy Will was. Even knowing about his tarnished past, in their eyes, Will could do no wrong.

I wiped the last of the tears from my face, forcing a smile, as I walked through the front door. I'm home, I called as cheerily as I could muster.

In the kitchen, Anna, my mother called, undoubtedly spending another evening perfecting new cupcake and cookie recipes.

The moment I walked into the kitchen, she peered over my shoulder and asked, Where's Will?

He always walked me home, sparing a moment for a sampling of her latest concoction and a goodnight hug. I shouldn't have been surprised when she'd immediately asked about him, but I'd hoped to get by without hearing his name again.

Probably home packing for his trip to Miami. I couldn't hide the disdain that oozed at the mention of Miami.

My mother set down her wooden spoon and wiped her hands as she closed in on me, examining my face. Oh no, Anna. Not that again. You really need to cut that boy some slack.

Rolling my eyes, I muttered, I've cut him plenty, and turned to leave.

She grabbed my arm, turning me back to face her. What's that supposed to mean?

Nothing, Mom. I'm just tired. I pulled from her grasp, wanting nothing more than to escape to my room.

You're awfully grumpy, my mother muttered. Is it that time of the month?

Mom, I groaned, heading for the stairs.

You should get some rest. Your father is planning on starting a new cake design in the morning and I know he'd love your help.

My feet froze. I was so sick of working at the bakery and spending so much time at a job that I despised. My parents had become pros at guilting us into doing their bidding, but I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't want to make cakes. I didn't even have it in me to go to work in the morning. Needing a visit with my sister now more than ever, I turned back around and stated, Actually, I'm taking a trip to Lexie's.

What? The crooked smile and wide eyes on her face told me I'd caught her off‐guard.

I talked to Lexie earlier. As soon as I'm packed, I'm heading over to Dellwood. Sure, I could've waited until morning to make the trip, but I didn't want to give the rumor mill the chance to fill my mom in on my breakup with Will. I wouldn't be able to handle the amount of hovering that would commence the second she found out. Or the constant nudging she'd embark on trying to force us back together.

Tonight? She'd completely abandoned her experimenting to follow me in my ascent upstairs. That's nonsense. It's already midnight. I can't let you take off in the middle of the night. The way she talked to me … it was like she had no clue that I was legally an adult.

You can't stop me. I'm eighteen, Mother. I'd just entered my room and would've slammed the door in her face had I not caught sight of my little sister entering the hall to assess the situation.

Annalee Louise Montgomery, you may legally be an adult, but by God, you're acting like a spoiled little brat.

Grumbling, I marched to my closet and pulled a bag from inside, then began ripping my clothes from their hangers and stuffing them in it. Just get out! I bellowed, adamant about my departure.

I heard my mother huff before she stomped out of my room, leaving me in my own wallowing silence.

Are you okay? my little sister, Bella, asked from my doorway.

No, I cried, crumpling to the floor.

Cautiously, she approached me. She'd never seen me looking so weak and broken before. I was her big sister. It was my job to be strong for her, but at the moment, I couldn't even manage an ounce of strength. What happened?

I shook my head, certain a fifteen‐year‐old couldn't possibly comprehend the hurt I was feeling, even if I tried to explain it.

Her hand fell on my shoulder, and after a few short pats, she whispered, I'm here if you need me.

My hand reached for hers, gripping it like a lifeline as I tried to pull myself together. Instantly, she fell next to me and gripped me in a bone‐crushing hug.

I love you, Anna.

Through my waning tears, I whispered, I love you, too. When I'd banished the last of my crying, I eased from my sister's death grip and returned to packing.

Bella had taken a seat on my bed, most likely waiting for me to break again, but I had to see this through. I needed to pack and get out of this suffocating house.

You're really leaving? She picked at a loose thread on my comforter as she asked.

Yeah, I replied rather weakly. I hated leaving her, dumping all of the bakery responsibilities on her shoulders, but I couldn't fathom another night in DeFuniak Springs.

Where are you going?

I talked to Lexie earlier. I'm going to stay with her while I figure things out. Not that there was really anything to figure out. I just needed to move past this, but I couldn't tell my baby sister that.

When will you be back?

A knife stabbed where my heart had been only hours earlier, because I wasn't quite sure when or even if I was coming back. I'd had enough of the small‐town life and tremendous responsibility of being a Montgomery. I don't know, I mumbled, hating that because of my broken heart, I would probably be breaking hers.

I hope you come back, she whispered, sinking that knife a little deeper in my chest.

My fist fell against that ache. Her words ripped me to pieces just as Will's had done less than an hour before, but this time my heart didn't break, because it was already gone. When I turned around to steal one last glimpse of my sister, I found the place she'd been sitting empty.

Without hesitation, I returned to my work, packing up every bit of clothing I could manage until it seemed the zipper might burst from the sheer magnitude of clothes I'd placed inside. I'd grabbed a second bag, one much smaller, and ran to the bathroom to grab my makeup and hair products as well as my toothbrush and toothpaste, tossing them all inside before heading back to my room for my duffel bag. When I stepped inside, my heart stopped, because there, on top of my bag, was Bella's favorite raggedy teddy bear.

I allowed one single tear to slip down my cheek before I made the walk down the hall, pausing only briefly to rest my hand on Bella's door before I rushed down the stairs and out of the house. Promptly, I tossed all of my belongings in the backseat of my Volkswagen Jetta and headed east toward Valdosta.

The ride was a mixture of misery and silence. I'd shut off the radio the instant I got in the car, because I couldn't take the barrage of songs that would filter in through the silence. I didn't want to listen to some teen princess sing about heartache or some pop icon croon about making love. But in the silence, thoughts of heartache and love making crept in, reminding me of every single moment I shared with Will.

Through laughter, sadness, smiles and tears, I made the trip to my sister's house, arriving a few hours before sunrise. While every other house in the neighborhood was pitch black, my sister's was alive, glowing from inside. The moment I wearily climbed from my car, Lexie came rushing out of the house.

You made it, she sighed.

Yeah, I muttered, reaching for my bags in the backseat. When I'd retrieved them and Bella's bear, I caught Lexie examining my cargo.

What's Billy B. Bear doing here?

I chuckled at the memory of Bella naming her silly bear then groaned, Bella caught the tail end of my argument with Momma and dumped him on my duffel bag before I left.

What happened? She'd wrapped her arm around my waist and led me inside.

I'd easily dropped my head on her shoulder, needing my sister now more than ever. What didn't happen? The moment we stepped inside her house, I dropped my bags by the door and saw two steaming cups of coffee on the dining table. Obviously my mother had called and Lexie had timed my arrival just right. Drearily, I fell into one of the chairs around the table and slipped the coffee mug in my hand. Will and I broke up. Mom and I fought. I probably broke Bella's heart. I was yammering out my very vague explanation as Lexie fell into a