If You Stay

The Beautifully Broken Series: Book 1


By Courtney Cole

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For fans of Jessica Sorensen, J.A. Redmerski, and Abbi Glines…

Twenty-four-year-old Pax Tate is an asshole. Seriously. He’s a tattooed, rock-hard bad boy with a tough attitude to match. His mother died when Pax was seven, leaving a hole in his heart filled with an intense guilt that he doesn’t understand. What he does know is that he and his dad were left alone, and they have never been close. Now, he uses drugs and women to cope with the black void in his soul. He pretends that the emptiness isn’t there and this has always worked . . . until he meets Mila.

Sweet, beautiful Mila Hill is the fresh air that Pax has never known in his life. He doesn’t know how to not hurt her-but he quickly realizes that he’d better figure it out because he needs her to breathe. When the memories of his mother’s death resurface to haunt Pax, Mila is there to save him from his overwhelming guilt. Mila restores his broken heart, even as she evokes his powerful, sexual desires. Now for Pax to keep Mila, he needs to work on his issues-and stop being an asshole. But is that enough to make her stay?


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Table of Contents

Bonus Material: Wedding Night Scene

A Preview of If You Leave


Copyright Page

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Chapter One


I can't be sure that the girl said my name. Her voice is muffled and unintelligible and hard to understand, mostly because my dick is in her mouth.

Slumping against the black leather seat of my car, I push the girl's head down farther, wordlessly urging her to bury more of me in her throat.

"Don't talk," I tell her. "Just suck."

I close my eyes and listen. I can hear the spit pooling in her mouth and sliding out the corners. Her cheek makes a soft sound as it grazes my open zipper. She moans periodically, although I don't understand it. She's not getting anything out of this. My hand is on her head, pushing, pushing. Guiding her movements and her speed. I grip the hair at the base of her neck, winding it in my fingers; pulling it, releasing it, then pulling it again.

She moans again.

I still don't know why.

I still don't care.

I'm high as fuck.

And I don't know her name.

Everything is a fog, except this moment. I tune out the crashing sounds of Lake Michigan to our right, and the sounds of the cars on the highway a few miles away. I block out the glowing lights from town. I tune out the roaring quiet and the occasional thought that someone might happen by and see us. No one is out here on the beach, not at eleven p.m. Not that I would care anyway.

Right now, all I'm focused on is this blow job.

I already know that I'm not ready to come, but I don't tell her because I don't want her to stop yet, either. I let her go for a few minutes more before I push her away.

"Take a break," I tell her as I settle back into my seat.

I don't bother to put myself away. I just sigh loud and long as I relax in the breeze. The girl turns her attention to the visor mirror, trying to straighten her mess of a face.

"Wait," I instruct. "Hold on for a minute."

She looks at me in confusion, her lipstick smeared. I smile.

"I know you want some of this," I tell her, grabbing a little bottle from my jacket pocket. I dump a few coke pebbles onto a little mirror on my console and crush them with a razor, dragging the powder into two straight lines.

I offer her the little straw and now she's the one smiling with her distorted clown mouth.

She snorts at her line, coughs, then snorts it again.

Settling back into her seat, she tilts her face to the car roof as she lets the drug take effect. Her eyes are empty as she thrusts the straw at me and I hesitate for only a second.

I've hit it hard today and I've done more than I usually do.

Of everything.

But for some reason, the need to disappear into the black is strong today, stronger than usual. And it's on days like this that I hit the hard stuff. I grab the straw and do my line, breathing in the powder that never fails to take me away. Even when I can count on nothing else, I can always count on this.

The familiar burn immediately numbs my throat. The emptiness spreads throughout the rest of my body, dulling my senses, speeding up my heart. I can feel the blood pulsing through it, hard and pounding, carrying oxygen to my numb fingers.

I fucking love this shit.

I love the way it dulls everything but my attention. I love how it heightens my awareness while still turning everything else black and numb.

This is where I am comfortable. Drifting here into this nothingness, this obscurity.

Coke makes it easy to exist in the emptiness.

I run my fingers through the traces of the remaining powder and slide it along the skin of my erection before grabbing the girl by the back of the neck. I shove her head back down and she opens her mouth willingly. This is most definitely not against her will. She wants to be here.

Especially now that I have fed her habit.

Especially now that she can lick her habit from my dick. If she moans now I'll believe it because she's getting something out of it, too.

"Finish," I tell her. I stroke her back while she moves and I can't feel my fingers.

Her head bobs for a few more minutes and then without warning, I come in her mouth. Her eyes widen and she starts to pull away as my ejaculate seeps from the edges of her lips, but I hold her fast by the back of the neck until my dick stops throbbing.

"Swallow," I tell her politely.

Her blank eyes widen, but she swallows obediently.

I smile.

She gags, but she doesn't heave.

"Thank you," I say, still polite. And then I lean past her and shove open the passenger-side door. It creaks as it swings wide, evidence that cars were still made from iron back in 1968. I pull out my wallet and hand her a dog-eared twenty.

"Get yourself something to eat," I tell her. "You're too skinny."

She's got the look that girls on nose candy get. The way-too-thin look. That's one downfall of the stuff. It's good for drifting away into oblivion, but it's hell on your appetite. If you don't make yourself eat, you'll waste away and start looking like shit.

This girl doesn't look like shit. Yet. She's not ugly. But she's not pretty, either. She mostly looks hardened. Mousy brown hair, pale blue eyes. Bland, stick-thin body. I can take her or leave her.

And I'm leaving her.

She glares at me as she wipes her mouth.

"My car is in town. Aren't you at least going to take me back to it?"

I look at her and note how there are three of her that blur into one, then back into three, before I shake the blurriness from my head and try to focus again.

Nope. Still three of her.

"Can't," I tell her, dropping my head heavily against the headrest. "I'm too fucked up to drive. It's not that far, anyway. It's not my fault that you wore five-inch stripper shoes. Just take them off. It'll make it easier to walk."

"You're a fucking asshole, Pax Tate," she spits angrily. "You know that?"

She grabs her purse from the floor and slams my car door as hard as she can. My car, Danger, shakes from her efforts.

Yes, I named my car. A 1968 Dodge Charger in pristine condition deserves a name.

And no, I don't care that this coked-up little bitch thinks I'm an asshole. I am an asshole. I'm not going to deny it.

As if to prove that point, I can't even think of her name right now even though it only took me one second to recall the name of my car. I might remember the girl's in the morning or I might not. That doesn't matter to me at this point. She'll come back. She always does.

I've got what she wants.

I strip off my jacket and lay it on the passenger seat, zipping my pants back up as I watch her stomp away. Then I open my own door, dangling one black boot over the doorsill, letting the cool breeze rustle over my flushed, overheated body.

The landscape up and down the coast is jagged and rolling and wild. It is so vast that it makes me feel small. The night is inky black and there are barely any stars. It's the kind of night where a guy can just disappear into the dark. My kind of night.

I rest my head against the seat and allow the car to spin around me. It feels as though the seat is the anchor that is holding me to the ground. Without it, I might drift off into space and no one will ever see me again.

It's not a bad notion.

But the car is spinning too fast. Even in this state, I know it's too fast. I'm not going to worry about it, though. I simply pull out my vial and take something to slow things down. My vial is like a magician's hat. It's got a little bit of everything in it. Everything I need, fast or slow, white or blue, capsule, pill, or rock. I've got it.

I wash the pill down with a gulp of whiskey. I don't even feel the burn as it slides down my throat. I consider it for a minute, the speed that things are turning and blurring around me. I decide I should take another pill, maybe even two. I put them in my mouth and take another slug of Jack before I toss the bottle onto the passenger-side floor. I realize that I don't know if I put the cap back on or not.

Then I realize that I don't care.

The drug-induced fog blurs my vision and all of the blacks and grays swirl together and I close my eyes against it. I still feel like I'm moving, like the car is spinning round and round.

The night swallows me and I am propelled into the darkness, far above the clouds and into the night sky, sailing through the stars, past the moon. Reaching out, I touch it with a finger.

I laugh.

Or I think I laugh.

It's hard to say at this point. I don't know what's real or not real. And that's just the way I like it.

Chapter Two


I love the night.

I love everything about it.

I love how the blackness hides things that I might not want to see, yet at the same time exposes things that I wouldn't see in the light of day. I love the stars and the moon and the velvety wetness against my skin. I love how Lake Michigan turns black in the dark and shimmers like shattered onyx glass in the moonlight.

It always feels a little bit dangerous. Maybe that's why I like it, too.

I grip my camera as I step over the soft, damp sand of the beach. The breeze is always cool here, but it's just because the air is cold as it blows in from the lake. The water is always frigid, summer or winter, like God dumped a big glass of ice water into it. I wrap my sweater more tightly around me before I look through the lens again.

The moon is full tonight and it hangs just at the edge of the horizon, right where the water meets the sky. It's got a reddish tint to it, something that we don't get to see very often. The sailors call it a blood moon, and I can see why. It's ethereal and beautiful—haunting, actually. It's why I'm here tonight.

I start snapping pictures: kneeling, standing, then kneeling again.

When a large wisp of fog floats partially in front of the moon, I gasp. I've never seen a more perfect picture. It will make an amazing painting. And the framed print will look good, too. Either way works for me, since I've got customers for both.

I take at least a hundred pictures before I'm finally satisfied with the light, the luminosity, and the angle. As I tuck my camera into its bag, I take a huge breath of the fresh, crisp lake air and enjoy my walk back along the beach. I love the way my bare feet sink into the thick silvery sand, and I take care not to trip over random pieces of jagged driftwood.

It's a good night to let my thoughts drift. The air is so still and the silence is enormous. Even the seagulls have gone to sleep, so there is no one here to bother me. Complete and perfect solitude.

As the breeze blows my hair away from my face, I absently think of my to-do list in my studio and what I need to order tomorrow when I restock my supplies. I also wonder if I remembered to lock my house, although it won't be a huge issue if I didn't.

In a larger city, I'd have to be more careful about that, and definitely more careful about walking alone at night. But here in Angel Bay, I'm as safe as I'm going to get. We have a crime rate here that belongs in a 1950s Mayberry kind of town. The most crime we see is jaywalking during peak tourist season.

As I climb over a dune and into the parking lot where I left my car, I'm surprised to find a black, glistening muscle car facing the lake. It hadn't been here when I arrived earlier.

I sigh. My solitude has been interrupted. But, honestly, it doesn't matter. I'm leaving anyway.

Slipping my shoes back on, I pad across the pavement toward my car, but as I do, I notice that the other car's door is standing wide-open. I can hear the dinging sound from here. Apparently, the keys are still in the ignition.

That's strange and I pause, staring at the lonely car.

I'm uncertain, because it's dark and I'm alone. But the insistent buzzing ding of the open car door pulls me to it. I can only hope that the owner isn't a mass murderer. I curl my fingers around the cell phone in my pocket, as if it could actually shield me from danger. Regardless of the ridiculousness of that thought, I keep the phone planted firmly in my palm.

As I draw closer, I see a battered black boot dangling through the doorsill of the car. It isn't moving.

Normally, I wouldn't think anything of it. I'd think that the person attached to the black boot was just asleep. But something seems wrong here. Something tangibly ominous seems to hang about like a cloud. Not many people could sleep with that annoying buzz coming from the open door.

I creep up on the car and gaze inside, covering my mouth with my hand as I do. There is an overpowering stench of vomit and I immediately see the reason. The guy in the driver's seat has passed out in a large pool of orangey-red puke. His mouth is slack, hanging open, and sticky tendrils of vomit stretch from his chin to his chest. I shudder. It's definitely not this guy's finest hour.

He's very, very still, but I know he's breathing because he's making strange gurgling noises. The tiny snorts vibrate through the cartilage of his nose, muffled by the vomit bubbling around his mouth.

That can't be good.

I gag from the smell and shake his shoulder. His head lolls loosely around and hangs to his chest. I shake him again, but he doesn't come to. His head just jerks limply from side to side, like a doll with a broken neck.

Holy crap.

I feel more panicky by the minute, my heart thrumming like a hummingbird trapped inside my rib cage. I'm not sure what to do. He could've just passed out from drinking too much. In fact, I see a bottle of whiskey on the floorboard that could attest to that. But there's something wrong. Something that I can't put my finger on, but my gut is screaming at me now.

So I do the first thing that I think of.

I pull out my phone and call 911.

They answer on the second ring and ask what my emergency is. I stare at the young guy.

"I'm not sure," I say uncertainly. "But my name is Mila Hill, and I'm down on Goose Beach in the parking lot. There's a guy here, passed out in his car. I can't wake him up. I think something's wrong with him."

"Is he breathing?" the woman on the phone asks calmly. I check again, then tell her yes.

"That's good," she tells me. "Do you feel comfortable waiting there until help arrives?"

"Yes," I tell her. "I'll wait with him."

Knowing that help is on the way calms me down.

I move a couple steps away and watch the unconscious man.

He still isn't moving, except for the slow, ragged rise and fall of his chest. I swallow hard as I glance over the rest of him. He's got tattoos on his toned bicep and a jagged scar in the shape of an X at the base of his thumb. I know this, because his arm is now dangling outside of the car. Vomit runs down his forearm and drips onto the pavement. I cringe and move back to him, lifting his hand and placing it on his stomach.

His stomach is hard and flat. And covered in vomit. If he weren't lying in that vomit, he'd be handsome. That much is certain, even in the dark. He looks to be in his mid to late twenties. He's wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt and has brownish-blond hair. He's got day-old stubble and I find myself really wishing that he'd open his eyes.

"Wake up," I tell him. I don't know him, but I definitely want him to be okay. I've seen friends pass out from drinking before. This isn't that. This is far worse. The strange gurgling coming from his nose is proof of that.

I glance at his car again. I've seen it around town, but I don't know him. I've never bumped into him before… until now. And this isn't a great first impression.

I am trying to wake him again when I hear a woman's angry voice.

"Pax, you fucking asshole. I'm not walking into town, so you're going to take me. I fucking mean it."

I startle, then straighten up to come face-to-face with the owner of the less-than-pleasant words.

She's as startled as I am.

I've seen her before. She's a rough-around-the-edges woman who hangs out all day in a bar on Main Street. Since my shop is only a few blocks away, I've seen her walking around. Right now, she's wearing a tight-tight miniskirt and a shirt that is so low-cut, I can practically see her navel. She's covered in old, faded tattoos and her makeup is smeared. Classy.

"Who the fuck are you?" she demands as she stomps up to the car. Her brown hair is tousled and tangled. She looks harsh. And then she starts screaming when she sees the guy in the car.

"Pax!" she screams as she rushes to him. "Oh my God. Wake up. Wake up! I shouldn't have left you. Holy fuck, holy fuck."

"What's wrong with him?" I ask her quickly. "I called nine one one because I couldn't wake him."

She yanks her face away from his.

"You called the police?" she snaps. "Why would you do that?"

I'm incredulous. Clearly, her way of thinking is much different from my own. Her priorities are definitely in a different place.

"Because he needs help," I tell her. "Obviously. An ambulance is on the way."

She starts to glare at me again, but the guy in the car, Pax, starts gurgling again. And then he abruptly stops. He is still, his chin buried in his chest, which is no longer moving.

The woman and I look at each other.

"He's not breathing!" she cries as she grabs him. "Pax! Wake up!"

She's shaking him so hard now that his teeth are rattling. I grab her arm.

"That's not going to help," I tell her urgently.

Holy crap. She's right, though: he's not breathing. My mind is buzzing as I try to figure out what to do and before I can decide on a plan of action, my body is moving with a mind of its own.

I shove the woman out of the way and pull on Pax's arm with all of my might. He only comes partway out of the car, dangling half in, half out. He slumps over, his head almost grazing the concrete. His legs are firmly tangled beneath the steering wheel, and we are now both covered in his smelly vomit.

"Help me," I bark at the motionless woman. She snaps out of her hysteria and between the two of us, we drag the man out of the car and onto the sandy pavement. I kneel beside him and feel for a heartbeat. He's got one, but it's faint and thready. And since he's not breathing, I know it won't last long.


I try to remember the details of CPR, fail, and then just do the best I can. I pinch his nose closed, tilt his head back, and breathe into his mouth. He tastes like ashes, Jack Daniel's, and vomit. I fight the urge to gag, fail, and dry heave to the side. Then I square my shoulders and give him a couple more breaths.

I gag again as I pause and listen at his chest.


He's still not breathing.

"Do something," the woman hisses.

I tune her out and breathe into Pax's mouth again.

And again.

And again.


What the hell do I do now? I am past being repulsed at the taste in his mouth. I'm only focused on trying to keep his lungs filled with oxygen, trying to make him take his own breaths. But it's not working.

He's not breathing.

I am frantic and on the verge of hysteria myself when I give him two last futile breaths. And then I have to lunge out of the way as he chokes, then coughs, then vomits a geyser-like fountain of orange puke.

I quickly shove him onto his side so he doesn't choke on it.

By this point, he and I are both completely covered in his vomit. It isn't pleasant, but at least he's breathing now. It's ragged and slow, but he's breathing. His eyes are still closed, but I can see them moving now, rapidly, behind his eyelids.

And then he starts convulsing.

Oh my God. I don't know what to do.

"What do we do?" I cry out to the girl behind me.

I don't even look at her. I am just focused on the orange foam coming from this guy's mouth. It billows out and upward, soaking into his nostrils and smearing everywhere as he flails. Bits of it fly off of him in orange flecks and land on my sweater.

I grab his arm and hold it down. He's strong, even in this state, and it takes all of my weight to keep him immobile. I practically lie across his chest, his arm folded beneath me. After a moment, his convulsions stop and he's limp. But he's still breathing. I can hear the rattle of his chest. It seems like every breath he takes is an effort.

I am on the verge of crying, simply from not knowing what to do, when I see red and blue lights flashing against his car.

I exhale a breath of relief. Help has arrived.

Thank God.

"Run over and bring them here," I tell the girl. I turn, only to find her gone.

What the hell?

I peer into the darkness and see her running away, up and over the nearest sand dune. Apparently, she doesn't want to be here when the authorities arrive.


It takes the paramedics only a minute or so to leap from their ambulance and begin administering help to the prone man in front of me.

I'm not sure what to do, so I shrink back to the periphery and limply wait. I watch as they shove a breathing tube down his throat. And then I watch as they do chest compressions, which can only mean one thing.

His heart stopped.

At that realization, mine feels like it stops as well.

I don't know why. I don't even know him. But being thrown into this intense situation makes me feel connected to him. It's a stupid notion, but I can't help feeling it. Even though the only thing I really know about him is his name.


I can hear the sickening sound of his bones cracking and bending while the paramedics thrust hard against his chest, trying to force his heart into beating again. It makes me cringe and I look away, trying to tune it out. It's at this moment, while my eyes are squeezed shut, that a police officer approaches me and asks me some questions.

Do I know him?

What was I doing here?

How did I find him?

Was he alone?

Doyouknowhowlonghewashere?Doyouknowwhathetook? Doyouknowhowmuchhedrank?

The cop's monotone runs together and I answer as best as I can.

By the time he is done, the EMTs are loading Pax into the ambulance. They run to the front and jump in, their tires squealing as they lurch from the parking lot and onto the road leading to town. Their siren and lights are on.

That's got to be a good thing.

That means he is still alive.


I'm frozen in place and shaky as I stare at the car, as I watch the policeman search through it. He puts some items into plastic baggies and shakes his head.

"I don't know why I bother. His dad will get him off, just like he did last time."

The cop is muttering and I'm not sure if he's talking to me or to himself. So I ask.

He smiles grimly. "Either of us, I guess. The situation is just frustrating. Here's a kid who could have the world on a string, but he seems to be dead set on fucking himself up. Pardon my language, miss. But he needs to land himself in jail or rehab, in order to straighten himself out. But he comes from money and his father is some big shot attorney in Chicago, so he always gets a pass. One of these times, though, someone's gonna take him away in a body bag. He's just lucky that you found him in time tonight or today would have been the day."


I picture the orange foam that erupted from his mouth as Pax convulsed on the rough pavement in front of me and I'm not so sure that I'd use that word. Whatever he is, lucky doesn't seem to be it.

I'm shaken now as I head to my car and drop onto the seat. I am covered in vomit and my mouth tastes like an ashtray from the seediest bar in the world. I grab a bottle of water and gulp at it, swishing it around inside my mouth and then spitting it out on the ground.

What the hell just happened? I came here to get some shots of the beautiful, tranquil full moon and ended up saving someone's life.

Unless he dies.

And in that case, then I guess I ended up doing nothing at all… except acquiring a horrible taste of someone else's vomit in my mouth and seeing images that I am sure will haunt my dreams for some time to come.

I take another shaky drink of water and turn the key in my ignition.

I hope he doesn't die.

I really do.

Chapter Three


I feel the light threatening to seep into my closed eyelids, so I squeeze them tighter. I'm not quite ready to wake up yet. Fuck you, world. You can wait.

Stubbornly refusing to open my eyes, I reach for my vial, which should be next to me on the nightstand along with a pack of smokes, a lighter, and a razor blade.

My fingers grope awkwardly, but the stand isn't where it should be.

Muttering under my breath, I decide that if my fucking housekeeper keeps moving shit, I'm going to fire her.

But as my consciousness returns, bit by bit, I realize that I'm not where I should be, either. The bed beneath me is hard and small and it crinkles like plastic when I move.

What the fuck?

I open my eyes to find that I'm in what seems to be a hospital room. I have an IV needle taped to my hand and I'm wearing a thin hospital gown. There is a blanket folded over my feet and there are plastic guardrails on the bed.




I gaze around quickly and find that I'm alone. The walls are bare and white, but for a dry-erase board that has Your nurse today is Susan scrawled across it and a clock that is ticking away the time. Tick, tick, tick. The noise is annoying. Its black hands tell me that it is 3:07.

How long have I been here? I see a plastic sack with my name written on it in black marker propped in a nearby chair and my boots sitting on the floor below it.

That's it.

I'm alone in a hospital room and I have no memory of how I got here.

It's disorienting.

I focus, trying to remain calm as I attempt to recall the last place I remember being.

A swirly, foggy memory emerges; a crashing sound, a moonlit night. Sand. Stars.

The beach. I was at the beach with that bar whore Jill. She's always willing to do anything for a few snorts of coke. And since I was in the mood for a blow job, I called her up. I don't really remember much else, though.

I have a few hazy memories of Jill walking away. I think she was yelling.

And that's it.

And now I'm here.


I groan. As I do, a nurse bustles through the door in faded blue scrubs, wearing a tired expression and a stethoscope wrapped around her neck. She must be Susan. And Susan's eyes glimmer for a moment when she sees me conscious.

"Mr. Tate," she says with interest. "You're awake."


  • "5 stars - Love this bad boy who's heart is pure gold!"
    Stuck In Books (stuckinbooks.com) on IF YOU STAY
  • "...You should go grab this book asap."—thereaddicts.blogspot.com
  • "If you've ever loved someone unconditionally, in spite of their problems, read this book."—obsessionwithbooks.blogspot.com Obsession With Books
  • "I loved If You Stay. Like, really really loved it. The kind of love that kept me reading until 2:40 am and left me crying, smiling, devastated, and elated. The best kind of book love."—Andrea, The Bookish Babe
  • "Beautiful, raw, gritty, emotional and breath-taking are just a few of the words I can find to describe this book...reading this book was one of the best experiences I have had."—Amanda, Globug and Hootie Need a Book
  • "...[R]aw and gritty and well done."—Mandi, SmexyBooks.com

On Sale
Apr 8, 2014
Page Count
352 pages

Courtney Cole

About the Author

Courtney Cole is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who lives near Lake Michigan with her family. She’s always working on her next project . . . or staring dreamily out her office window.

You can learn more at:
Twitter @Court_Writes

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