Gracie has just finished her freshman year of college in Memphis when she takes a job at a local pizza joint in her home town of McKenzie, Tennessee. She is the epitome of innocence when she meets Noah. Noah is unabashedly handsome, intriguingly reckless and just cocky enough to be sexy. Gracie’s instincts tell her to stay far away from him and based on the stories she hears from her co-workers he leaves broken hearts in his wake. But still, she can’t explain her fascination with him.
Noah puts aside his bad boy ways when what he thought was a summer crush has him unexpectedly falling in love. But soon after Gracie transfers to UT Knoxville to be with Noah, their unexpected love becomes riddled with anger, deceit and humiliation.
Jake, Noah’s former roommate and Gracie’s best friend, can no longer be a bystander. Gracie’s world falls out from beneath her and when she breaks she turns to Jake for strength. As Jake talks her through a decision she’s not yet strong enough to make, together they uncover a truth so ugly neither of them is prepared for its fallout. Will Jake pull her to the surface or is Gracie Jordan finally In Too Deep?
“Jake. I hate that I am even going to say this out loud, but…Noah makes me feel like an idiot sometimes. I mean, part of why he was so taken by me in the beginning was because of how innocent I was. He liked that I was so naïve and didn’t know about a lot of things. And now, it seems like he isn’t happy unless I sacrifice that for him.”
“Hm. That’s messed up.”
“Do you think less of me for smoking pot, Jake?”
“Gracie, our mistakes don’t define us, they help us make the choices that will one day be woven into who we become.”
“You’re deep at two a.m.”
“Gracie, you can’t let him steal who you are. You need to make choices based on who you are…right here.” He poked his finger into my chest. “Don’t make decisions because Noah is standing behind them convincing you they are the right choices for you.”
“See, it makes so much sense when you say it. If I am thinking of someone else in the same situation, I would give them that exact advice, although not as scholarly as you just did.” I giggled and poked him in the bare chest that was peeking out above his comforter.
“So, take your own advice, Gracie.”
“It’s not that easy. It’s like he’s got strings tied to my emotions and my common sense. I can’t seem to think for myself when he wants me to do something I’ve never done before.”
“Does he make you feel guilty if you don’t want to?”
“Sometimes, but mostly he just makes me feel stupid. Like I’m too immature to make a sound decision. So, he makes it for me.”
“Gracie! Only you should be controlling the things you are doing with your mind…and…your body. Gracie, please don’t let him take things from you that you aren’t ready to give. Promise me.”
“It’s not like that, Jake. It’s not like he knows he’s making me feel that way. I just do. I guess maybe I am just reading into his expressions and assuming what he’s thinking. Maybe I am just too insecure around him to think straight sometimes.”
“I wouldn’t doubt that he knows exactly what he’s doing. I’ve seen him in action.”
I had never been conscious of the things we spoke about in Jake’s bed. It was like pieces came together when Jake and I spoke. My thoughts flowed freely and they made sense. I never felt like I had to be anyone but me when I talked to Jake. He was so comfortable. I rolled over on my side again so I could see him as he spoke.
“You shouldn’t be with someone who makes you feel that way, Gracie. Look, Noah is my friend but I have seen what he can do. He’s crushed more than a few girls on this campus. I know we’ve all seen him make a big change, but you still have to be careful.”
“I know, Jake. He wouldn’t hurt me on purpose. I know he loves me. I think he just wants me to be a little more adventurous. I think he gets sick of the goody-two-shoes-Gracie.”
“The Gracie I know,” he laid his hand on my cheek and kissed me on the tip of my nose, “is one of the most incredible people I have ever met. Her smile lights up a room and everyone feels her joy because, take it or leave it, she comes with no pretenses. You get all of her. The second you meet her, you’ve got her heart. And her security in her convictions is what makes her shine.”
Tears flowed in a stream across my face and onto the pillow under my head. Jake gently placed his hand on the side of my face and wiped the tears away with his thumb.
“Oh, Jake.” I sobbed out his name and crumbled in his bed. I didn’t know how he could still see me as the girl he just described. I wasn’t sure I even remembered her.
“Come here, Gracie. Let me hold you.” He lifted the covers so I could climb under. He enveloped me in all that was Jake—his strength, his honesty and an indescribable level of friendship I never knew existed. I didn’t know what was to come with Noah, but I knew Jake would never walk away from me. I didn’t know how to do life without him.
Gracie survived an emotionally abusive relationship that wrecked her. Her ex, Noah, systematically chipped away at her self-esteem through intimidation, humiliation and infidelity which left Gracie unable to trust her own perception of his intentions. But after falling head over heels for Jake, her best friend and the man who stood by her through it all, she is ready to experience life in the way it was meant to be lived. However, Gracie may find it impossible to simultaneously heal from the trauma of abuse while navigating a relationship with Jake. Can she put her heart on hold in order to heal her soul? The sequel to the five-star debut novel, In Too Deep, chronicles Gracie's steps toward healing as she falls deeper in love, reaches out for help, stands on her own, steps out of her comfort zone, faces her biggest fears, and reconnects with a sensual, talented soul from her past all in hopes of finding herself on solid ground
I answered just as the waitress brought Becki’s food and a carafe of coffee for me. I smiled to thank her, phone glued to my ear.
“Gracie,” he started talking before I even said hello. “Honey, tell me you’re okay.”
“Sam, I’m okay. I’m with Becki, and I really don’t want to talk about anything right now. I’m just trying to clear my head. How did you know—”
I was pretty sure I knew the answer to my question though he answered before I finished it.
“I just got off the phone with Jake.”
“Are you angry with me, Sam?”
“Angry? No. I’m worried about you. And him. You guys are…” His voice trailed off as Becki took her seat and started in on her home fries.
“I know. With all my heart, I didn’t want to walk away from Jake, but I just need some time, that’s all.” I spoke, and Becki mouthed his name and cocked her head, questioning if that was who was on the phone. I nodded.
“I get that. I guess I just needed to hear it from you.”
“I don’t want to hurt him, Sam. He feels like I can only love him with part of my heart because he feels like Noah still holds the rest.”
Becki’s eyes bulged, and Sam went silent. This was a great way to talk it out, to both confidantes at the same time. Stacy would probably be pissed I wasn’t sharing this with her, but I was so pained by the decision to walk away from Jake, I couldn’t bear saying it any more than I already had. Plus, I couldn’t afford a call to Florence, which is where she was when she’d posted pictures online the night before.
It literally brought pain to my chest, thinking of Jake pacing in his apartment, running his hands through his hair, and mumbling to himself, trying to understand and digest what was happening. But, how could I be selfish and stay with him if being with him only reminded him of the part of my heart he thought he would never hold?
I ended up putting Sam on speaker and the three of us talked it out for over an hour. My heart had stopped racing, and I wasn’t shaking as much, but my thoughts were still frantic and open-ended. When Becki went up to the register to pay the check, I took Sam off speaker and finished our conversation.
“Gracie, he wants what’s best for you, and if putting an end to the relationship is best, he will be okay. It will hurt him, and he will have to heal, but he’s more about your happiness than his own. You know that.”
“I know, Sam. I just want him to be happy, but maybe that won’t happen with me.”
“Gracie, how about you start focusing on you and what makes you happy…and whole. If you stop worrying about how your decisions will affect other people, you may find the answers to your questions and comfort in place of your doubt.”
“What the hell? Are you reading that out of a book?” I giggled. I knew Sam was deep and emotional—I’d seen that side of him before—but it wasn’t usually something that happened between the two of us. He usually just let Jake do the talking and pulled a “yeah, what he said” kind of follow-up.
“Hey! Jake isn’t the last romantic stud on the planet. There are a few more of us around. Thanks for doubting my soft side.”
“Aww, Sam, I don’t doubt your romantic side. Thanks for your advice. It makes a lot of sense, and it’s exactly what I needed to hear.”
“I’m always here for you, too. Jake isn’t the only collegiate Superman, you know.”
“I know. Thanks, Sam.”
“I love you, Gracie.”
“I love you, too. Talk soon?”
Becki was sitting across the table having just walked into a whole lot of mush at the end of my conversation with Sam. “What the hell is with you?” She stood and motioned toward the door. “You have two of the most amazing men on the planet wound around your finger. Why…how? Nevermind. You piss me off.” She chuckled and bumped into me with her hip as we walked out the door.
Becki Mowry's journalism expertise keeps her busy as she spends her waking hours filling a calendar with gigs and public appearances for her boyfriend's up and coming band, Alternate Tragedy. Radio interviews and TV spots result in sold out concerts and rowdy groupies hot for her guy; lead singer, Calon Ridge. But, as fame would have it, their time in the limelight also brings sabotage, rumors and false accusations. Becki and Calon try to stay steadfast on a personal journey that takes them to the depths of fear and uncertainty. And finally, the rug is pulled out from under the band when they must make a transition they never dreamed they'd be faced with. In this third book of the In Too Deep series, Becki and Calon struggle to find balance as they navigate their new relationship while living amid the rock world's nocturnal chaos. But when life's unexpected obstacles come out of nowhere, they focus on finding their own private solace Above the Noise.
The first time Calon and I drank together was after one of their shows when he walked me back to my dorm. The guys didn’t usually drink during a show, but a big storm rolled in that night just as their first set started. The atmosphere inside Mitchell’s unexpectedly turned from a slamming rock sound to an acoustic vibe when the lights went out. Gracie ran around and gathered as many candles as she could from the back room, and we all helped her light them and place them on the silent speakers all around the stage. Calon and the guys enjoyed beer after beer and did a show like I’d never seen from them. It was rustic with a little folk-funk. The bar’s patrons sang along in the glow of about forty container candles of all different sizes. Calon sat center stage on a stool and sang away the hours with his guitar resting on his thigh. The whole night was ethereal and quaint and very fucking sexy.
He asked if he could walk me home again, which was exactly what I’d hoped for. When we crossed the road right outside of Mitchell’s, Calon grabbed my hand, and we ran for the opposite sidewalk that led across campus and up to my dorm. Electricity ran through the hand he held, I was sure he could feel it because he didn’t let go.
He told me groupie stories for the entire length of our walk to my room. I was laughing when I pushed my door open. Being a little tipsy, I tripped and fell into him, pinning him against the open door. My hands landed on his chest, and, in an attempt to keep up both upright, his strong hands grabbed my hips. My mind shot back to the thoughts I’d had earlier while watching his deft fingers move on the strings of his guitar.
His t-shirt was damp from sweat, and his curls tickled my forehead when he laughed. It was one of those moments you see in movies when the couple finds themselves in a compromising position and they freeze; chests heaving, mouths agape, and hearts racing. His eyes searched my face, but for what I didn’t know.
I pushed off his chest and, a bit shaken, walked to the mini fridge and grabbed the bottle of vodka from the top freezer portion.
“Shots?” I spun around and took in all of him; dark curls, sultry green eyes, an intense stare, and lips I could entertain for days.
“Absolutely.” He let the door close, plopped down on my bed, and leaned back against the wall, his legs so long they hung at a weird angle not quite touching the floor. He had a hole in his jeans just below his front pocket, which puckered when he sat. I had a hard time diverting my attention from it.
I was completely oblivious to what my heart was capable of at that point, so the alcohol was an attempt to loosen up before we started making out. This was the token third time he’d been to my room, and that’s just how it typically worked. The guy comes back the third time after not getting laid the first two, you know they want it, or they’d have given up after the second night of blue balls.
We did a couple shots and laughed about random shit, and then there was the uncomfortable silence; it was deafening. I decided to make the first move before it got really awkward. I turned on the twinkling lights that hung above my bed and turned off the overhead fluorescents. I climbed onto the bed on my knees facing Calon and reached for his face to pull him in for a kiss. He stopped me and held me still by the wrists.
“Becki, I’m not here for that.” He loosened his grip on my wrists, and I dropped my hands in my lap.
“Oh.” Fuck. He wasn’t interested. It was one thing to be turned down by the conceited freak from my study group, but to be turned down by a hot rock star who probably hits every piece of ass offered to him sliced a little deeper. I brushed it off like it didn’t bother me, but it did.
“No, no. Listen.” He took my chin between his thumb and finger and pulled my face a little closer to his. “I am extremely attracted to you, Becki. I love your personality, and you’re gorgeous, so my comment wasn’t a rejection.” He smiled, and I felt like a complete idiot, a slutty idiot.
“It’s okay, I get it. It was stupid for me to—”
“Shh. No regrets, Becki. You’re attracted to me, too, and I’m glad. I’m just not one to rush into that kind of thing.” He dropped his hand from my chin, and it joined my hands in my lap. I held his hand with both of mine.
“Wow. I’m pretty sure you’re the first rock star in history to turn down a groupie.” I rolled my eyes and got up to pour more shots. Calon followed me over to the mini fridge, put his hands on my waist and spun me around. His thumbs touched my skin when my Marilyn Monroe tank flounced with my spin.
“I don’t see you as a groupie, Becki, and I’m technically not turning you down. I can’t explain it, but I feel like there’s more here between us, a connection that we should pay attention to.” He rubbed the outside of my bare arms with his warm, strong hands. Those fingers…
Michelle Kemper Brownlow has been a storyteller her entire life. Her debut was on the high school cheerleading bus granting requests to re-tell her most embarrassing moments for a gaggle of hysterical squadmates.
Earning her Bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in Art Education and then marrying her very own “Jake,” she moved to Binghamton, NY where she taught high school. After having two children she quit work and finished her Master’s degree in Elementary Education at Binghamton University.
The Brownlow family of four moved to Michelle’s hometown of Morgantown, PA while the children were still quite young. A few years after moving, her family grew by one when they welcomed a baby into their home through the gift of adoption. The family still resides in PA, just miles from where that high school cheer bus was parked.
Michelle has been an artist for as long as she can remember, always choosing pencils and crayons over toys and puzzles. As a freelance illustrator, her simple characters play the starring roles in numerous emergent reader books published by Reading Reading Books.
MICHELLE KEMPER BROWNLOW
Follow me on Twitter: @MK_Brownlow
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