In Ruins


By Danielle Pearl

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She wanted to start again. To be someone–anyone–different . . .

Freedom. When Carleigh Stanger thought of college, that was the word that came to mind. Freedom from her unhappy home life. Freedom from high school mistakes. Freedom from the memory of that terrible morning. Only instead of bringing a sweet escape, Carleigh’s first campus party traps her in the scornful gaze of the last person she wants to see, Tucker Green.

It wasn’t long ago that being close to Carleigh was everything Tucker wanted. But that was before he realized she was just another scheming girl who’d do whatever it took to get her way. Even lie to the guy she claimed to love. Unfortunately while Tucker’s brain remembers the pain Carleigh caused, his body only remembers the pleasure . . .




"Princess," Daddy loud-whispers to draw my attention from the rainbow I'm coloring on the brick driveway with chalk. I don't have all the colors, so I used purple three times. I think I like it better than a regular rainbow.

"Coming, Daddy!" I top off the rainbow with a fluffy white cloud and run to the front of the garage. My face spreads into a super big smile when I see the shiny car with the big red bow.

"What do you think, Princess? Will Mommy like it?" Daddy asks.

The car is big and small at the same time. Sneaky looking. Like it can go really fast without even making a sound. The color is special, too. It's shiny and white, but not just white. Like one of the pretty pearls Mommy sometimes wears around her neck. Like white glitter.

"She's gonna love it, Daddy!" I squeal with giggles as he grabs me and plops me up onto his shoulders.

"Too bad I don't have anything for you," he says in a way that makes me think he's up to something.

"That's okay. It's not my aversity, silly," I remind him.

"Ann-i-ver-sary," he says for the ten hundredth time today, and I say the word the way he said it, even though it still comes out different.

Daddy walks us into the garage going slower than a turtle, and then I see it.

"Yay!" I start clapping and wiggling so much I almost fall, but Daddy catches me—he always does.

"Whoa, calm down there, Carleigh! You don't want to break your neck before you ever get to drive it." He laughs with his big mountain voice, and it booms like a happy drum through the whole garage.

I rush over to what I know is my present, even though it isn't my a-ver-sity. It's exactly the same as Mommy's new car. Only smaller. And it has no top. A converble. It even has a big bow like Mommy's car, except this one is my favorite color—purple.

"What do you think, Princess?" Daddy asks. "I had it made custom for you to match Mommy's. They don't sell it in stores, you know."

I hug his leg as tight as I can—it's as high as I can reach unless he picks me up or leans all the way down.

"It's the bestest car ever," I tell him. "I love it so so so much. Can I drive it now?"

Daddy bends down and picks me back up. "In a few minutes. It's all charged up for you, but let's give Mommy her present first, okay?"

"Will!" Mommy calls Daddy from inside the house.

"Come out here, Nik!" he calls back.

A minute later Mommy appears with my baby brother, Billy, in her arms. He is cute and tiny and I just met him a couple months ago when Mommy and Daddy brought him home from the hospital, and I already love him even more than my favorite doll. If I'm super careful Mommy lets me hold him sometimes, but only if I'm sitting down and either she or Nanny Marina is right next to me.

"God, what is it, Will?" She seems tired. Billy doesn't really sleep so good, but Nanny Marina takes care of him at night and Mommy and Daddy's room is so far away they can't even hear him. Sometimes I hear him cry and I wake up, but I don't mind. He likes it when I sing him songs from my favorite princess movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.

"Just wanted to show you something real quick," Daddy says, and he smiles back at me in that sneaky way.

"Honestly, Will, I was going over instructions with Marina, and I still have to finish packing." Mommy sounds like me when Daddy tells me I'm whining.

"Well, we could stay home. Celebrate our anniversary with the kids," Daddy says, and he gives Billy a baby kiss. "We've been to the south of France plenty of times. We can take a trip when this little man gets a bit bigger."

"Ugh, stop it. Last summer I just found out I was pregnant and couldn't even enjoy a glass of rosé! It's my turn for some fun," Mommy says, and I wonder why she can't have fun with me and Billy.

Daddy doesn't say anything else; he just tucks Billy into his elbow and holds my hand with his other hand.

And then we can see Mommy's present. Daddy turns around with a giant smile and I yell "Ta-da!"

Finally Mommy also smiles, and not the one that only shows in her mouth. Her eyes are smiling, too.

"Oh, Will!" She runs over to her new car and touches it from the top down to the front like she can't believe it's real. "You got me my Aston Martin!"

"Happy anniversary, Nicole," Daddy says, and Mommy gives him a big hug and an even bigger kiss. "I promised you, didn't I?"

Mommy claps like a little kid and gets inside, and starts pressing buttons and looking around.

"Told ya she'd like it," I tell Daddy, and he pats me on my head like the puppy Mommy won't let him get me.

"Right as always, Princess."

Chapter One


I wait, until my mother blows her air kisses and the door to my dorm room closes behind her, to let the fake smile fall from my face. I don't know which of us is more relieved for her to go, but once she does, I allow the finality of her departure to finally sink in.


I turn to face my roommate and a genuine grin pulls at my lips.

Devin mirrors it. "She's something, huh?" she says of my mother.

I raise my eyebrows in mock exasperation. Nicole Stanger is certainly something. I plop myself down onto my narrow twin bed—the smallest one I've had since I was in a crib—and sigh. "Well, she's gone now," I assure myself more than her.

Devin smiles at me in sympathy. We were fourteen when we met on a cross-country teen tour my summer camp was sponsoring, and we connected instantly, staying in sporadic touch despite rarely ever seeing each other. So when we learned we'd be heading to the same college, we put in our roommate requests immediately.

She has never met my mother before, and I'm sure she wasn't quite what Devin expected. We're nothing alike—never have been. I was a Daddy's girl, though the idea that I might take after him isn't something I especially want to entertain.

"Carleigh, darling, be sure to put your best foot forward for rush week." I repeat my mother's words in a perfect mocking impression, and Devin laughs. I roll my eyes. I may have simply smiled at my mother in response—arguing with her gets you nowhere—but I have no intention of joining a freaking sorority, that's for sure. I'll just tell her none of them wanted me.

"Do you want to go down to the dining hall for dinner?" Devin asks.

"Nah, I want to get to these." I gesture to the excessive number of moving boxes considering the shoebox of a dorm room we now share.

"Okay," she replies. "Just remember we need time to get ready for tonight."

My pulse speeds uncomfortably and my stomach rolls. "I don't know…" I say for the hundredth time. And I hate myself for it. I should be excited to go out tonight. My first night of college, and it's a notoriously huge party night. But Devin isn't the only person from my past here at school with me, and I hate myself even more for being that girl. The one naïve enough to make college plans with her high school boyfriend, only to have the relationship implode before summer was out.

But it's so much worse than that. Because ours wasn't your standard high school romance. Sure, it was tumultuous for a time, until we admitted our feelings for each other, but then…then I thought it would be forever.

And ours wasn't your standard breakup, either. It was a disaster.

It was Chernobyl.

Devin sits down beside me on my bed. She doesn't know that Tucker is here at school with us. All she knows is that I had a tough breakup over the summer, and she has made it her personal mission to get me out of my funk. It's something I would do if the roles were reversed, but hers is a role I could handle. It's this one that has me utterly lost.

Because I'm the strong girl. The one who doesn't need a boyfriend. Who could hook up and walk away. Or so I used to tell myself.

Now I feel like every step I take on this campus is on eggshells, because Tucker knows my secret. He hates me for it, and he should. And I honestly can't fathom why he hasn't outed me as the fraud that I am. Why he hasn't told all of our friends. But he hasn't.

But that doesn't mean he won't.

"Come on, Carl. It will be fun. You'll get your mind off of your ex, and maybe meet someone new," Devin coaxes.

I slip on my fake smile. She doesn't notice. I've been pasting it on for so long, lying for so long, I'm not sure I can even tell when I'm faking it anymore.

*  *  *

There are three main parties tonight, and I've managed to convince Devin to go to the one at The Library bar, even though it's the least popular of the three. It's famously lax on ID's, so I told her my fake isn't convincing enough for the others, even though my ID happens to be spectacular. But Morgan's is the bar everyone wants to be at, so that's where I expect Tucker to go. Because that's who he is. He is popularity, and likeability, and utter male perfection, and he will put absolutely no effort into it whatsoever, but by the end of the week, every freshman here at Hofstra University will know his name, and every girl—and some guys—will be fantasizing about warming his bed.

I squeeze my eyes shut to chase off the image of his army green eyes, the way his dirty blond hair falls into them. I try to forget that boyish grin and those dimples that melt my heart. But they only appear when he smiles, so they are decidedly absent in my memory of the last time we saw each other. No, that one features his rare scowl, directed at me with such resentment and contempt that it shocked the air from my lungs. Even recalling it now has my eyes welling with moisture, and I have to blink to fight it away.

I suck in a deep breath and dab under my eyes with a tissue, then fix my eyeliner and concealer. I'm skilled with makeup, and I'll admit I put extra effort into my look tonight. I needed to account for the shadow of heartache staining my features, and I have.

I brush my stick-straight, light golden-blond hair. It's grown quite a bit since I cut it to my shoulders last winter, and it now hits just above my cleavage. I wonder if I should cut it again. Perhaps something drastic. Something to make me feel like someone else. Someone new. Anyone but the girl Tucker Green hates.

"You ready?" Devin asks as she spritzes on a final spray of Hanae Mori perfume. She smells like cotton candy, and she looks beautiful, too. Her chocolate bob is sleek and straight and parted down the side. I did her makeup using a new technique I learned from a YouTube video, and while she looks equally gorgeous without any at all, I'm deeply pleased with the result. Her eyes are almost the same chocolate shade as her hair, and the coral and earthy shadows make them look impossibly large under her long, black mascaraed lashes.

"You look hot," I tell her, and she smirks at me.

"Not so bad yourself, Stanger. Come on, let's go make all the other bitches jealous."

We walk outside, following the throngs of students all headed to the same strip of bars. The girls are dressed to impress in their favorite outfits—short dresses, tight miniskirts, tighter tops. Tonight we will all make our first impressions here, and the air is thick with possibility.

Three more blocks and I can see our destination up ahead—a vintage-y white and green sign that reads "The Library." It may be lackluster in appearance, but it's brilliant with significance. The bar is one of the staples of our new school—a bona fide landmark—and its dull sign glows under the streetlamps; and under that, a crowd of students smokes and chats. A couple of guys pass us and shamelessly rake us both with their gazes. One smirks. I think I hear another murmur something about fresh meat.

I try to force myself not to wonder what Tucker is thinking right now. What fresh meat he's checking out. Who he might go home with tonight. The truth is it wouldn't be any less painful if he were across the country at some other school. As long as I don't run into him, anyway. But no matter where he is, he'll be doing the same thing. Meeting new people, checking out the girls, and inexorably attracting their attention.

My phone buzzes with a text from my friend Rory, who's in New York City at freshman orientation for NYU.

How are you doing? 10:15 pm

She doesn't know the details of why Tucker and I broke up, but she knows my devastation. She's one of the few people who can actually understand it, as she experienced her own last year when she and Cap couldn't get their shit together. They're practically married now, but then, she hadn't been harboring some monumental secret that would inevitably destroy them.

I text her back.

I'm okay. About to head into some bar. How are you? Cap? 10:15 pm

We're good. Heading to his place now. Miss you though. Call me if you want to talk. 10:16 pm

I text her back a smiley face that in no way reflects my actual mood. I'll call her tomorrow. At least one of us is happy. And Rory and Cap deserve it, especially after all they've been through. I don't know what I deserve, but I fear happiness isn't it.

*  *  *

The night passes slowly. It's a strange juxtaposition. Because while the dull ache in my chest is always there, surprisingly, I am kind of having fun. I've met a few girls I'll be in classes with, including one in my creative digital marketing class, the one I'm most excited for. Which is ironic since I ended up in the class by default when it was the only one available to replace the class Tucker and I had planned to take together prior to our breakup.

My new friend Julia, on the other hand, has been looking forward to digital marketing ever since she visited campus last year and happened to audit the class, though her enthusiasm is less about the coursework than about Professor Stevens himself, who apparently has a reputation as the hottest professor on campus.

Personally I'm hoping to gain a lot more than eye candy from that class—namely credits toward my major. I love makeup, but I don't just want to own a salon one day—I want to own a chain of them, and a line of cosmetics, too. And for that I need a business degree.

I swallow the last sip of my beer and debate ordering another. As Devin predicted, we have gotten our share of attention from the opposite sex, and I should feel flattered, but honestly, I just feel inescapably lonely.

The place is packed, and the guys are all on the prowl. Most of the girls, too. The guy with the shaved head I've been trying to blow off all night suddenly sidles up to me again, and I sigh in exasperation. "You sure I can't buy you a drink?" he slurs.

"I already have one," I say for literally the fifth time.

He shakes his head and taps the glass of my empty beer to make his point. "Not anymore."

Well, nothing gets by you. "I can get my own drink, thanks." I turn away from him.

"Fucking bitch is too good to let a guy buy her a drink," he murmurs drunkenly to his friend, who isn't even listening to him.

I should let it go, I know, but I just don't have it in me. I swing around to face him. "Actually this fucking bitch is just too good to let you buy her a drink. Who do you think you are, anyway?" I hiss.

Devin turns from the guy she's flirting with, her eyes wide and alarmed, as do quite a few of the people surrounding us. I hear my mother's voice in my head warning me not to make a scene, but I just don't care. I'm not going to take that shit from this douchebag.

Douchebag chortles loudly, spitting beer out of his rancid mouth, and I recoil from his rank breath. "Who am I? I'm Ricky fucking Vance, bitch!" he says proudly, and I vaguely recognize the name, but can't place it.

I glare at him, unimpressed.

"I'm the fucking number one lacrosse goalie in the goddamn state!" A few cheers erupt around him. "And you're just some fucking slut who should've taken the drink I so generously offered. I—"

"Ricky, shut the fuck up," a deep male voice commands from behind me.

Douchebag—or Ricky, whatever—refocuses his very dazed, inebriated gaze behind me. "Fuck this uptight bitch. She was disrespectful." But the fight is draining out of him, replaced by uncertainty.

I turn to see who seems to have called off the douchebag, and I'm a little taken aback. He's stunning. At least six foot two with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. I noticed him in the bar earlier—a gaggle of girls gathered around him, desperate for his attention, and finally I recognize who he is. Ben Aronin, the captain of our very popular lacrosse team, and a nationally ranked attacker. And he's offering me a conciliatory smile.

"I'm sorry for my friend. As you can see, he's had a little too much to drink."

"The fuck, man?" Douchebag sounds betrayed.

"The fuck is right. A girl doesn't want a drink from you so you start cursing her out? You make us all look bad when you act like that. Go back to the house and sleep it the fuck off," Ben orders, his eyes narrowed in censure.

Douchebag starts to say something else, but suddenly there are two guys beside him guiding him toward the door, and I just stare after him, a little dumbfounded.

"Sorry about that," Ben says again. He nods to the bartender and holds up two fingers.

"I was handling it," I murmur. I am not the girl who needs saving. I can handle a drunk douchebag. And at least the douchebag asked to buy me a drink. Ben just hands me a beer, and I don't know why I take it.

He's handsome, sure, but all I can see when I look at him is how much more vibrant Tucker's eyes are, how much more thrilling his smile.

"I don't doubt that. But I'm not about to stand by and let my teammate behave like that. Sorry," he says matter-of-factly, as if he wasn't doing it for me at all—like it was simply his responsibility—and strangely, that makes me feel a little better about it.

"Thanks for the beer." I hold it up and turn to go find Devin, but he stops me with a hand on my shoulder.

"Hey, you don't have to run off. Not all of us are assholes," he says sheepishly.

But I already know not all lacrosse players are assholes. I know one in particular who is absolutely wonderful. But he hates me. And he lives in the same house as Ben and the rest of the lacrosse team, and the last thing I need is to get to know anyone who has anything to do with Tucker.

"Hi," Devin says, suddenly beside me as she flashes her winning smile.

Ben grins and tips his beer. "Ben," he introduces himself.

Devin's smile widens even more and she bats her eyelashes flirtatiously. "I'm Devin. This is my roommate, Carl."

Ben signals for the bartender to get him another beer, which Devin accepts graciously. I wonder if he's running a tab, since he doesn't seem to be paying for any of these drinks.

Devin asks Ben about his major—finance—and talks excitedly about classes I happen to know she's not actually excited about. The girl has flirting down to a science.

But Ben hasn't taken any of Devin's classes. "What about you?" he asks me. "Taking anything good?"

I shrug. "Just freshman requirements, and creative digital marketing with Professor Stevens."

Ben's subsequent stare is unsettling, but then he breaks out into unrestrained laughter.

"What?" I ask, but he just continues to laugh so hard he's practically choking. I glare at him, and Devin just blinks at him, puzzled. Irritation crawls up my skin—how did I suddenly become the butt of some secret joke?

"I'm sorry," Ben cries, wiping his eyes as he tries to get ahold of himself.

"Funny how you apologized for your teammate's rudeness…" I remark.

He sucks in a deep breath, and, with one last shake of his shoulders, his apparent hilarity finally subsides. "I'm sorry," he repeats. "I just didn't take you for the type." His shoulders twitch with a residual chuckle.

"The type?" I raise my eyebrows, still annoyed.

Ben frowns, like he expects me to know what the hell he's talking about. "Oh," he says.


"My bad. I just thought…well, Zayne Stevens, you know? It's been the same every semester since he started teaching my sophomore year. Girls signing up for an easy elective so they can stare at his ass. Only to find out it's one of the hardest business classes at the school."

"Well, that's not why I took the class. I didn't even know he was supposedly good-looking until some girl told me tonight." Inwardly I think Julia is probably one of the girls Ben just described, and she might be in for a rude awakening. "I'm here to learn. I'm not afraid of a difficult class."

"Psh," Devin scoffs, "Carl will ace that shit."

Ben eyes me thoughtfully, nodding slowly. "Yeah. I'm getting that," he says. "I'm sorry."

"You said that already," I remind him.

He flashes his too-perfect grin. "But this time I mean it."

I offer a flicker of a smile despite myself. At least he's honest.

"Well, good luck, anyway. I took that class last semester. I mean, you learn a lot, but it can wreak havoc on your GPA if you're not careful."

I shrug. "I'll be okay."

Ben smirks. "I don't doubt it."

Devin taps my shoulder. "Uh, Carl, don't freak out, but there's a seriously hot guy over there who's been staring at you all night like he either wants to eat you or kill you," she says, pointing to the back of the bar, and Ben turns to follow her gaze.

I suck in air and swallow down my anxiety. Because I know exactly who the hot guy who wants to kill me is, and I don't know if I can handle seeing him.

But I can't help but look, and I will away the tears that threaten as dark green contemptuous eyes greet mine.

"Hey, that's our new defender, Tucker Green," Ben says, surprised.

Tucker is surrounded by people, particularly girls, who are obviously vying for his attention. But he's distracted by my presence, and he just stands there, glaring at me.

Ben laughs. "You know, Carl, I think it's you he wants to eat, and me he wants to kill right now."

Ben waves to Tucker, who nods once and sips his beer, eyes barely straying from mine long enough to acknowledge him.

"So do you know him, or is he just that competitive over beautiful girls?" Ben asks lightly.

"We went to high school together," I murmur, and I think he expects me to blush or something, or thank him for his compliment, but the only person I care about thinking me beautiful is looking at me like he wishes I would disappear. So I do him the favor.

"Thanks for the beer, but I—uh, need to go. Dev, you stay. I'm just gonna walk back to the dorm," I mutter quickly, and then I turn and rush out of the door before she has a chance to ask questions.

I speed-walk the first half block until I can round a corner, and once the bar is out of sight, I stop and catch my breath. I haven't been running like usual lately. I haven't been exercising at all, in fact. The pitiful truth is, I've barely been able to pry myself out of bed since our breakup.

My throat feels too tight and my chest aches. I hate how he affects me. I hate that I know he will always affect me.

And then a hand is grabbing my arm and I almost scream, suddenly remembering how stupid it is to be out alone at night, until I turn and realize that I am physically safe, though my heart is in mortal danger.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Tucker growls.

I shake my head. I'm sorry, but I can't articulate it. I shouldn't have to be sorry for being out at a bar at my own college, but I am. I'm so fucking sorry.

Tucker slams his palm into the brick wall behind me in frustration, right beside my cheek, the sound making me jump. "Goddamn it, Carl! You don't leave a bar alone at night, ever. You hear me?" He is furious.

I blink at him in surprise. Not at his wrath, but at what's caused it. He's right of course, but he hates me, so why does he even care?

But deep down I know why. What happened to Rory that night last spring traumatized us all, and I should know better.

"I'm sorry." I finally whisper the words.

"You're sorry a lot lately, aren't you?" Tucker sneers, and I wince.

But he's right, and I don't have a comeback. I study my sandals instead. I don't even recognize myself anymore.

"Why were you talking to Ben?"


  • "Normal is the kind of book that opens your heart, examines its parts and then stomps all over it only to put it back together again, better than before. It's feels overload!"—Young Adult Book Madness
  • "Normal is the kind of book that opens your heart, examines its parts and then stomps all over it only to put it back together again, better than before. It's feels overload!"—Young Adult Book Madness
  • "Normal is a riveting and magnetic story of abuse, love, and hope. It pushes the reader in every way possible. Normal is one of the most thought provoking stories I've ever read."—Biblio Belles
  • "Normal is a riveting and magnetic story of abuse, love, and hope. It pushes the reader in every way possible. Normal is one of the most thought provoking stories I've ever read."—Biblio Belles
  • "Normal was a hard-hitting, dark, contemporary novel that touches upon some heavy and emotional themes. While it isn't an easy read, it's one that captures your interest and moves you."—Lost to Books
  • "Normal was a hard-hitting, dark, contemporary novel that touches upon some heavy and emotional themes. While it isn't an easy read, it's one that captures your interest and moves you."—Lost to Books
  • "Normal is the kind of book that opens your heart, examines its parts and then stomps all over it only to put it back together again, better than before. It's feels overload!"—Young Adult Book Madness
  • "Normal is the kind of book that opens your heart, examines its parts and then stomps all over it only to put it back together again, better than before. It's feels overload!"—Young Adult Book Madness
  • "Normal is a riveting and magnetic story of abuse, love, and hope. It pushes the reader in every way possible. Normal is one of the most thought provoking stories I've ever read."—Biblio Belles
  • "Normal is a riveting and magnetic story of abuse, love, and hope. It pushes the reader in every way possible. Normal is one of the most thought provoking stories I've ever read."—Biblio Belles
  • "Normal was a hard-hitting, dark, contemporary novel that touches upon some heavy and emotional themes. While it isn't an easy read, it's one that captures your interest and moves you."—Lost to Books
  • "Normal was a hard-hitting, dark, contemporary novel that touches upon some heavy and emotional themes. While it isn't an easy read, it's one that captures your interest and moves you."—Lost to Books

On Sale
Oct 4, 2016
Page Count
400 pages

Danielle Pearl

About the Author

Danielle Pearl is the bestselling author of the Something More series. She lives in New Jersey with her three delicious children and ever-supportive husband, who — luckily — doesn’t mind sharing her with an array of fictional men. She did a brief stint at Boston University and worked in marketing before publishing her debut novel, Normal. She writes mature Young Adult and New Adult contemporary romance. Danielle enjoys coffee, wine, and cupcakes, and not in moderation.

To learn more, visit: @danipearlauthor

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