RUINED: An Ethan Frost Novel by Tracy Wolff
On sale January 7, 2014
Fans of Fifty Shades of Grey, Bared to You, and Release Me will be hooked on Ruined, an electrifying journey of emotional and sexual discovery that pushes two damaged souls to their breaking point—and beyond.
He’s the last man Chloe Girard should love . . . but the first she ever could.
Ethan Frost is a visionary, a genius, every woman’s deepest, darkest fantasy—even mine. And, somehow, I am his.
He stole into my life like a dream. Turned my reality upside down and made my every desire come true—especially those I never knew I had. He demanded everything I had to give and gave me everything of himself in return.
But dreams don’t last forever, and ours is no exception. Because my nightmares are darker, and my wounds deeper, than I could ever reveal. And as much as Ethan wants to protect me, the secrets we share will only tear us apart.
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Excerpt from Chapter One of RUINED
Like Google before it, Frost Industries is known for its state-of-the-art cafeteria. With two gourmet chefs and twelve different food stations that change their type of cuisine served on a weekly basis—not to mention the salad, juice, and dessert bars—it boasts something for everyone. And they do mean everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a janitor or an executive VP; as long as you have your employee badge, you eat free. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon snack. They’re all on the house for Frost Industries employees—another reason I’ve been able to take this internship. With no rent and no food bills to speak of, my meager savings should get me through until my scholarship and work study come in to offset the cost of my senior year.
Though it’s one o’clock, I’m still not very hungry—residual nervousness from my first day still has my stomach flipping a little—so I head over to the juice bar. A smoothie sounds about right for lunch today. It’s not too heavy, but it is substantial enough to get me through until dinner. Besides, the juice bar is the closest thing to me, and at this point, every step counts.
When I get there, there’s no line—everyone seems to be hanging at the pizza and Indian food stations today. There are two guys behind the counter, neither of whom seems in that big a rush to take my order. Which is fine, since I don’t know what I want yet anyway.
The menu’s not that extensive—eight different smoothies, and six different juices, including wheatgrass and beet, neither of which is high on my list of things to try—so it doesn’t take me long to make up my mind. And still neither guy tries to wait on me. I’m more intrigued than annoyed, though, especially since it looks like I’m not the only one who is new today. One of the guys is definitely instructing the other on the fine art of smoothie making, and he’s being very particular, talking about things like the proper juice-to-fruit ratio and how important it is to make sure that the frozen yogurt is just the right temperature. He even goes so far as to instruct him on exactly how many blueberries should go into the smoothie he’s making. It turns out thirty-eight is the right number. Not thirty-seven. Not thirty-nine. But thirty-eight.
Coming from another guy, the whole speech probably would have sounded jerky. But this guy is so passionate about smoothie making, so determined that it be exactly right, that he doesn’t sound jerky at all. Instead, he comes off like the Dalai Lama of blended-drink making. Patient, wise, omnipotent.
And the guy he’s talking to is hanging on his every syllable, like the words that fall from his lips are actually directions on how to reach nirvana. I’m amused despite myself, and am almost sorry to see the lesson end when the smoothie finally gets poured into two cups. Or I would be if the minutes of my lunch hour weren’t ticking rapidly away.
“Excuse me,” I say when it eventually becomes obvious that they’re both more than happy to stand around staring at the reddish blue smoothie in front of them for many moons to come. It’s like they’re both completely entranced by the drink, and I can’t help thinking that maybe Frost Industries doesn’t take their no-illegal-substance policy all that seriously. Because these guys have to be high on something, right? Otherwise a simple smoothie just wouldn’t be all that interesting. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m ready to order now.”
The trainer looks up at the sound of my voice, his dark blue eyes immediately zeroing in on mine. That’s when I realize he wasn’t as oblivious to my presence as I’d thought. He’d been testing me as surely as he’d been testing the other employee, waiting to see how each of us would handle the situation.
The knowledge gets my back up. It’s just a stupid drink, just a stupid little power play, but I don’t enjoy being manipulated. Even over something as ridiculous as a drink.
“No need to order,” he says, pressing a lid down onto one of the cups before sliding it across the counter at me. “You can have this one. It’s the Ethan Special.”
“No, thank you.” I don’t even glance at the cup. “I’d prefer a Hawaiian Sunrise.”
“How do you know that’s what you’d prefer? You don’t even know what’s in the Ethan Special.”
Judging from his behavior, I’m thinking grass of the non-wheat variety. And since this is my first day, I’m not exactly prepared to risk it, no matter how hot he is. “I don’t have to know what’s in it to know that I’m in the mood for” —I glance back at the menu— “A refreshing blend of strawberries, bananas, pineapple juice, and orange sherbet. None of which appear to be in the drink you just made.”
“This drink has strawberries in it. Seven, to be exact.”
Thirty-eight blueberries and seven strawberries. Is this guy for real? There’s a part of me that’s intrigued despite myself, but I’m not about to let him see that. So I just look down my nose at him and answer, “One out of four ingredients is not what I would call a perfect match.”
“Is that important to you?” he asks, one dark eyebrow raised. “That things match up perfectly?”
Absolutely. I’m obsessive about it, really, making sure things fit exactly where they’re supposed to. Making sure the i’s are all dotted and the t’s are all crossed and the rules have all been followed. Tori calls me OCD, but it’s not like that. It’s not the routine of doing something a certain way that appeals to me. It’s the order of the end result that I crave, the knowledge that things are exactly as they should be.
And while I’m aware that sounds a little crazy, it’s actually what’s kept me sane the last six years. Ever since Brandon—
I slam that door shut before the memories leak out from where I’ve buried them. No way am I going to think about him again ever, let alone on what is the best day I’ve had in a very long time. No, I’m going to focus on keeping things simple. Orderly. Easy. After all, I’m not one to rock the boat just to see what falls out.
I don’t tell any of this to him, of course. Instead, I raise one of my own brows and say, “You’re the one who counts the blueberries in his drink. All I’m trying to do is get what I ordered sometime before the dinner rush. Which, incidentally, starts in”—I make a show of glancing at my watch—“approximately four hours.”
“So, we’ve got plenty of time then. Why don’t you pull up a bar stool and we’ll get to know each other a little? I don’t have anywhere I need to be.”
The guy next to him—the trainee—makes a choked little sound in the back of his throat. But he doesn’t say anything, just takes a drink from the second Ethan Special cup, so I don’t bother looking over at him. Especially since every instinct I have is screaming at me to keep my eyes on the guy in front of me. That looking away would be akin to admitting a defeat I am suddenly hell-bent on avoiding.
“Well, that makes one of us. I, however, have a meeting in fifteen minutes that I can’t be late for.”
“Hmm. That certainly puts you at a disadvantage then, doesn’t it?”
“Why? Because I have a job that actually requires me to perform the duties that are in my job description?”
This time the noise the trainee makes sounds somewhere between a cat hacking up a furball and a hyena in its death throes. “Are you okay?” I finally demand, still not taking my eyes off his trainer. “Because, frankly, I’m getting concerned.”
He makes the sound again, then slaps his chest hard before taking another long sip from his drink. “I’m good, thanks.”
“Glad to hear it. I was beginning to think he’d poisoned you.”
“I never poison anyone on the first day. The second day, however, is an entirely different story.”
“I wouldn’t go around admitting that to anyone. It makes you—and Frost Industries—culpable if anyone ever suffers so much as a mild case of food poisoning.”
He steps back then, looks me over from top to toes. “God. You’re one of the lawyers, aren’t you?”
I might have been excited that it was that obvious, except he definitely doesn’t make it sound like a compliment. Which, I admit, gets my hackles up even more. “Is that a problem?”
Before he can answer, someone comes up behind me and orders a Hawaiian Sunrise. The trainer chats easily with him even as he begins scooping ingredients into a blender. Less than ninety seconds later, he puts a beautiful, pinkish orange smoothie on the counter. The guy runs his badge through the scanner, grabs his drink, and then heads off with a wave.
I watch the whole thing go down, then turn to him in disbelief. “Are you kidding me? Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. Me?”
He does an admirable job of looking confused. “Is something wrong?”
“You just gave him my drink!”
“No. I just gave him his drink.” He taps the cup in front of me. “That’s your drink.”
I’m not even sure what I’m feeling at this point. Annoyance, definitely. Shock, probably. Amusement? Strangely enough, I think there’s some of that going on, too. This guy is so brash, so bold, so in-my-face that I can’t help being impressed. Even as I’m determined to put him in his place.
“Are you always this insufferable?” I demand.
“Only when I’m right.”
“I thought the customer was always right.”
He cocks his head to the side, pretends to think for a second. Then says, “Nope. Not always. But hey, how about this? I’ll make your drink right now if you give the Ethan Special a try.” He pushes the smoothie a little closer to me. “Come on. Just one sip.”
“I didn’t realize this was a negotiation.”
“Life is a negotiation.”
“No. It’s a cereal.” I eye the smoothie. “What if I don’t like it?”
“What if you do?”
“It’s an unnecessary risk.”
“Almost everything is an unnecessary risk. Sometimes the risk is worth the reward.” He’s smiling now, but the look in his eyes is intense. Interested. Interesting. It tugs at something deep inside me, makes me wonder, when I never wonder. Makes me want, when I never want.
That’s when I take a step back and look at him, really look at him. Except for his dark hair, he’s the quintessential California surf bum. Bright blue Hurley T-shirt. Quiksilver board shorts with wide, color-blocked stripes in red, orange, yellow, and blue. Tan leather flip-flops. Gorgeous face. Dark stubble on his chin. Too-long hair flopping in his eyes. Even the hint of a tattoo peeking out from under the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. Totally not the kind of guy I would normally go for.
And yet there’s something familiar about him. And also something that intrigues me. That makes me want to yield to him when I don’t normally yield to anyone. For a moment, just a moment, I think about picking up that stupid purple shake and drinking it. I’m running out of time, after all, and the afternoon will drag by if I don’t eat something.
I could just walk away, grab a sandwich and some fruit from one of the coolers, and eat it on my way back to Building Three. But that feels too much like retreat, something that I suddenly realize would disappoint us both.
Which means we’re at a stalemate. Him insisting I try something new. Me insisting I’m fine with the tried and true. It’s a stupid fight to have, especially with a stranger, but the look in his eyes can’t be denied. We both know there’s more going on here than a battle over a stupid drink
I can’t believe I’m going to do it, can’t believe that after all this fuss I’m going to take a sip of that damn smoothie, but I am. I reach for it, am compelled to reach for it by the look in his eyes and the sudden tension in his body. But as my hand closes around the cup, my stomach growls. Loudly.
It breaks the spell and I flush in embarrassment. So much for first-day nerves. A tangle with the juice-bar guy and suddenly my appetite is back with a vengeance.
“You’re hungry,” he says. His voice is colored with a sudden regret I don’t understand.
“It’s lunchtime. That’s my lunch.”
The next thing I know, he’s back at the blender, loading it with cut-up bananas and an extra-large serving of strawberries—definitely more than seven. He adds a large scoop of protein powder, then sherbet and juice.
Moments later, an extra-large Hawaiian Sunrise smoothie appears in front of me.
I’m confused. Uncertain, suddenly, though I don’t know why. I like to win. It’s kind of an obsession with me, so I should be happy that he backed down so unexpectedly. Except I’m not, because winning like this feels strangely like losing.
Under his watchful gaze, I reach for my smoothie. But at the last second—don’t ask me why because I don’t have a clue—I grab his instead. Take a long sip. Then place the cup back down on the counter.
Then I gather up my smoothie and turn away without glancing at him again. I can’t. I’m too unsettled by what just happened. By what I just did and why I did it.
I’ve only gone a few steps, though, when he calls after me. “Hey!”
I turn back, even though I tell myself not to. “Yes?”
“What did you think? Of the Ethan Special?”
“Exactly what I thought I would. It’s disgusting.”
He rears back in surprise. “Disgusting? Really?”
“Really. I hate blueberries.”
He doesn’t say another word, but then again, neither do I. Still, the question hangs between us. If I really hate blueberries so much, why did I drink his smoothie when he’d already given me what I ordered?
I don’t know the answer to that question, but as I walk away, I can feel his eyes on me. And somehow I’m certain that until I do know, until I understand, things will never be the same for me again.
ABOUT TRACY WOLFF
Tracy Wolff lives in Texas and teaches writing at her local community college. She is married and the mother of three young sons.
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