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More Than Words
A Love Story
By Mia Sheridan
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- ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
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The moment eleven-year-old Jessica Creswell met Callen Hayes, she knew he was a broken prince. Her prince. They became each other's refuge, a safe and magical place far from their troubled lives. Until the day Callen kissed her—Jessica's first real, dreamy kiss—and then disappeared from her life without a word.
Years later, everyone knows who Callen Hayes is. Famous composer. Infamous bad boy. What no one knows is that Callen's music is now locked deep inside, trapped behind his own inner demons. It's only when he withdraws to France to drink his way through the darkness that Callen stumbles into the one person who makes the music return. Jessica. His Jessie. And she still tastes of fresh, sweet innocence . . . even as she sets his blood on fire.
But they don't belong in each other's worlds anymore. There are too many mistakes. Too many secrets. Too many lies. All they have is that instinctive longing, that need—and something that looks dangerously like love.
Jessica—Eleven Years Old
"The night was dark and…" I took a tentative step forward, the dry summer grass crunching softly beneath my feet. Stormy? No, it wasn't even misty. I squinted at the pale sliver of moon overhead. It wasn't even really dark yet, the evening sky just beginning to take on a deeper twilight blue. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and then it grew quiet again, my footsteps echoing around me as if I were the only person alive in this strange, treacherous land. "Lonely," I finally decided, whispering the word. I squared my shoulders, summoning courage. "The night was…dim and lonely, and yet the princess continued on her journey, believing with all her heart that the prince wasn't far behind and that he'd rescue her. All she had to do was hold on to hope."
I kept walking, my breath hitching as my pulse sped up. I'd never walked this far from home before, and nothing looked familiar. Where am I? As the sky turned gray, lights suddenly blinked on up ahead, and I moved toward them as if they were a beacon, a guide. "The stars glittered in the sky, and the princess followed the brightest ones, sure they would lead her to safety and"—my stomach growled, louder than the soft rise and fall of the cricket song in the evening air—"food."
A slope stood between me and the glowing lights—what I could now see were streetlamps—and I began making my way up slowly. I clutched my book in one hand, using my other hand to balance myself on the steepest sections. "The princess was tired from her journey, and yet she gathered her strength and scaled the cliffs, knowing that she would be able to see where she was from higher ground. Perhaps she'd spot the prince, galloping toward her on his trusty steed."
The lights were very close, and when I reached the top of the incline and emerged through some bushes, I was standing in front of a set of train tracks. I let out a harsh exhale, looking one way and then the other, turning around to survey the land below. Looking down the slope in front me, I could just make out the edge of the golf course that backed up to a wide field. I sighed in relief now that I had my bearings. My house was in a neighborhood on the other side of the golf course. How could I have been so caught up in my own fantasy that I hadn't realized how far I'd walked?
I should head home now that I know which way to go.
I stood for a moment looking in the direction of my house, hearing the echoes of my mother's tears, my father's annoyed voice, and the slamming door telling me my little brother had gone next door to spend the night at his friend Kyle's house. I don't want to be there. It'd be hours before they noticed I was gone anyway. If they noticed at all.
I turned back toward the tracks. There was a lone boxcar sitting still and silent a short distance away, and I eyed it curiously, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, a strange fluttering in my chest. "The princess spotted the caves up ahead," I murmured, "and was drawn to them for some reason she couldn't explain." Fate.
I walked slowly through the gravel, stepping over the first set of tracks and moving toward the boxcar. The sound of the crickets from the field below grew faint, and the night seemed suddenly quieter and more still, as if the entire world were holding its breath. My heart began beating faster again in anticipation of…something. I touched the side of the boxcar, the metal cool and smooth beneath my fingertips as I trailed my hand along it, moving toward the wide blackness of the open door. My whisper was a bare breath of sound. "The caves were dark, and yet the princess was brave. She would stop here for a while and wait for the prince to catch up with her. He was very close now. She could feel it."
Pausing at the edge of the open door, I leaned my head slowly inside, my breath catching and my eyes widening. A boy sat leaning against the far wall, his long legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankles, his eyes shut. My heart galloped in my chest. Who is he? One of the streetlamps cast a glow into the shadowy interior, enough for me to see that the boy's lip was bloody and his eye swollen. I stared, noting the way the boy's dark hair fell over his forehead as if he were too exhausted to move it back. His face was bruised, his eyes shut, and I thought there might be tear tracks on his cheeks, and yet, even so, he was the handsomest boy I had ever seen in my whole life. He was a prince. A…broken prince. My mind spun. The princess thought she'd been waiting for the prince and yet…and yet, she'd had it all backward. The prince had survived battle and crawled to the dark cave nearby to hide, where he'd been waiting…to be rescued by her.
The boy opened his eyes, which were shiny with tears. He started slightly as he spotted me, his hands curling into fists. But then he blinked the tears away, his brow furrowing and his hands relaxing as he sat up straight.
I pulled myself into the boxcar and stood in front of him, my knees weak with the unexpectedness of finding him. "I'm here to save you," I said in a rush of words.
I felt the blush rising in my cheeks when I realized I'd said the words out loud. He didn't know what I'd been playing, and I suddenly realized how strange and awkward I must seem. I'd been far too involved in my own made-up world. Although…clearly he did need saving. Maybe not by a pretend princess, but by someone anyway.
The boy's dark eyebrows rose as his gaze moved down my body and then back up to my face. He laughed a small laugh that ended in a sigh. "Oh yeah? Then I'm screwed," he muttered.
Well. I put my hands on my hips, the sympathy I'd felt a moment before turning into irritation. Maybe I was strange and awkward, but I didn't deserve to be laughed at. "I'm stronger than I look," I declared, drawing myself up to my full height. I was the fifth-tallest girl in my class.
The boy smirked and ran a hand through his hair, moving it off his forehead. "I'm sure. What are you doing here? Don't you know little girls shouldn't be wandering around train tracks alone at night?"
I stepped farther inside, looking around at the graffiti sprayed all over the walls. There were several pieces of writing on the wall nearest me, and I leaned in to read them. "Better not to read those," the boy said. I turned to him questioningly. "Probably not for kids." He raised an eyebrow. Probably? As if he hadn't read them himself. Right.
I cleared my throat, deciding to take his advice anyway. For now. I figured they must be dirty sayings. I'd come back another time and read them when I was alone. Maybe I'd memorize them, too, just because. "You don't look that much older than I am," I said. In truth, I couldn't really tell. If I had to guess, I'd say he was a middle school kid, although there was something about his expression—or maybe his eyes—that made him seem older.
"Yeah, well, I'm a guy, and I know how to protect myself."
I considered his bruised face, thinking there was at least one person he'd had some trouble protecting himself from. "Hmm. How old are you anyway?"
He frowned at me for a moment, as if he wasn't going to answer. "Twelve."
I smiled. "I'm eleven and a half. My name's Jessica Creswell." I kneeled and put my hands on my thighs.
He studied me for a minute, as if he wasn't sure what to think of me. I glanced away, biting my lip, feeling suddenly insecure. I knew I wasn't the prettiest girl. My hair and eyes were both a plain, boring light brown, I had a scattering of freckles over my nose and cheeks that I'd tried to scrub away with lemon juice, which hadn't worked, and I was pitifully skinny. The girls at my snobby French school never stopped reminding me how knobby my knees were or how the stupid cowlick at the front of my head had a mind of its own. I'd smoothed it down with my mom's hair gel, but it had resisted, standing straight up in a stiff spike. Hopeless.
"What are you doing here, Jessica Creswell?"
I sat back on my butt, drawing my knees up in a more comfortable position, and leaned on the wall next to the one he was sitting against. "I sorta got lost. But now I know where I am. I know how to get back home."
"Then you should do that. Go home."
I pressed my lips together, frowning at the thought of home.
The corners of his eyes tightened as he watched me, making me feel nervous again. "Don't you like your home, Jessie?"
Jessie. My heart fluttered at the sound of this handsome boy calling me by a nickname. No one had ever called me Jessie before. I liked it. "I…not really. My mom and dad fight a lot." I wasn't sure why I said it, especially to a stranger, but there was something dim and dreamy about the inside of the boxcar, something that felt unreal, as if my pretend game were coming to life around me in some small way. As if what was said here couldn't go any farther.
He sighed again, looking off behind me. "Yeah," he said, as if he understood. I started to ask him if his mom and dad fought a lot, too, but he nodded to the book I'd placed next to me on the floor.
"King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table."
He tilted his head. "You like fairy tales, Jessie?"
I nodded slowly. I thought about my parents, about how my mom was always dragging us to hotels and restaurants and to my dad's office after hours, where we'd find him with his girlfriends. I thought about how my brother had been so young when we'd first started finding my father that Johnny's eyes would always light up, and he'd say in this big, happy voice, "Hi, Daddy!" And our dad would cringe, the girlfriend of the moment would either seem to shrink or look shocked, and inside I would want to die of embarrassment. And then my mom would sob and throw a fit, and sometimes my daddy would come home with us, but mostly he would shut the door or drive away, or leave us standing there.
Johnny was nine now and had enough sense to be as embarrassed as me when we found our dad with one of his girlfriends.
My mom was always crying and wailing, and my dad was always making promises that nobody believed. Not even him, I thought. And Johnny and I just tried to disappear into the background.
Fairy tales helped me believe that not every man was like my daddy. Fairy tales helped me disappear into worlds where princes were loyal and honest and where princesses were strong and brave.
"Yes. Fairy tales, adventures. Someday I'm going to go on the grandest adventure of all—I'm going to live in Paris, have a French boyfriend who writes me the most beautiful love letters ever, and I'm going to eat French chocolate all day long."
"Sounds like you'll be fat."
I shrugged. "Maybe. If I want to be."
The boy chuckled softly, and butterflies fluttered in my tummy. He was even more handsome when he smiled. Although, really looking at him now, I saw that his clothes were worn, his sweatshirt a little too small, and the sole of one shoe was coming loose. He was obviously poor, and the knowledge made tenderness well up in my chest.
"You didn't tell me your name," I said softly, scooting closer.
He eyed me for a second but then shrugged. "Callen."
"No, Callen. No v."
I repeated it, liking the way it sounded. "Callen." I paused. "Did you get in a fight?" I asked, my eyes moving from his cut lip to his reddened eye.
"Who'd you get in a fight with?"
He looked away for a second and then back at me. "Just a bully."
I nodded slowly. "Oh. Well, I hope you can stay away from him from now on."
He let out a laugh that was mostly breath. "No, Jessie, I can't stay away from this bully, but it's okay. I don't mind the bruises."
I frowned, not understanding how anyone could be okay with getting hit in the face. I opened my mouth to say something, when Callen reached forward and picked up my book, looking at the picture on the front cover. He turned it over and began reading the synopsis on the back. "You read French?" I asked, surprised.
His eyes flew to mine, and his expression did something funny. "No. I was wondering what language this is."
I nodded, scooting even closer, leaning my back against the same wall as him. "Want me to read it to you? I can translate. I go to a French school, and we're only supposed to read books in French."
"A French school?"
I nodded. "Every subject is taught in French. It helps kids become fluent."
"Huh," he said, tilting his head, studying me. "So you can eventually move to Paris and get fat."
I grinned. "Yup."
He smiled back, causing those butterflies to take flight again. "Sure, Princess Jessie. Read to me."
* * *
I walked through the neighborhoods, across the golf course and the field, and up the embankment to the train tracks every day that summer.
When Callen was there, I would read to him, or we would go on adventures together. He acted as if he were only doing it for my benefit, but he smiled more than usual when we were traveling into volcanoes in the Realm of the Merciless Vales or picking magical herbs in the Ever Fields.
"I don't want you staying here by yourself, Jessie," he said one afternoon when I told him I'd been there alone the day before. "You never know who else might be hanging around the train tracks."
"I've never seen anyone here except you."
"Yeah, well"—he glanced down the tracks to a turn, where the rails disappeared behind a grove of trees—"the people who hang around the railroad tracks usually stay half a mile that way because the old train cars are hidden by the trees and brush, but you never know."
He was a head taller than I was when we were standing, and I peered up at him, noticing the bruise under his jaw. "But how will I know when you're going to be here?"
He put his hands in his pockets and turned to me. "I'm not really someone you should be hanging around, either."
My heart dropped, and I was suddenly scared he was going to send me away, tell me he didn't want to meet me there anymore. "You're wrong," I insisted. "You're the most wonderful person I ever met."
"Jessie." It was more breath than word, though I was sure I'd heard my name on his soft exhale. He met my eyes and smiled at me, softly, sweetly, and he suddenly looked younger than he was. He sighed, looking off into the distance. Maybe toward where he lived, though I couldn't be sure. Whatever he saw in his mind's eye made his smile slip. When his eyes moved back to mine, he asked, "Can you meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at seven o'clock?"
That was after dinner, when my dad left for an "unexpected" business meeting that we all knew was really some woman waiting in a hotel room for him and my mom opened a bottle of wine and cried now that we were too old to be dragged all over town without putting up a fight. "Yes, I can meet you then. And Saturdays at three?"
He was quiet for a moment, and then he gave me a crooked smile that made my heart do a somersault. "And Saturdays at three."
* * *
One cold autumn day a year after we'd first met, we sat close together in the boxcar, my breath pluming in the air as I read to Callen from the French version of The Adventures of Robin Hood. I paused when he reached forward and pulled the edge of a piece of paper out of my backpack. He studied it for a moment, his gaze moving over the page before his eyes flew to mine. "What is this?"
I set the book down, tilting my head as I turned to face him. "My piano music."
He looked back to the paper and held it toward me, pointing at the first note. "These are notes."
"Yes," I said, frowning. "Haven't you ever seen music?"
"Not written out like this." There was something odd in his voice, and he was talking fast. He pointed at the first note. "This one?"
"Um, that's an E."
"An E?" he asked, bunching up his brow. "The letter E?"
I shook my head. "Well, yes, like the letter, but, um, a note. A different, er…language, I guess." I smiled, but he was still wearing an intense look of concentration as he turned back to the music, his brow smoothing after a moment. He pointed at another E and then another. "These are all Es."
I nodded, confused about his excitement. In the year I'd known him, I'd only ever witnessed two emotions: sullen or kinda happy. I had a moment of irrational jealousy over his sudden enthusiasm. "Yes."
He nodded, a jerky movement of his head. I could see his pulse thrumming quickly under the smooth, tanned skin of his throat. "What's this?"
I glanced down at what he was pointing at. "That's the treble clef. It tells you the pitch and key of the notes on that line."
His brow furrowed, and I rushed to explain further. "Pitch and key are…the highness and lowness of notes."
He nodded again, his eyes wide and shining with something I didn't know how to name. It was more than excitement. It was…disbelief. Was he that excited to be reading in a different language? I noticed the way he hummed when we were playing. He'd put music to our games—slow, dark, and creepy when we were hunting for a villain, light and happy when we were running through a meadow of magical, talking bluebells. Sometimes I'd look at him and smile at some particular melody and he'd glance at me in surprise, as if he didn't even know the music was anywhere except inside him. He looked up and our eyes met, causing a tremor of delight to move down my spine. "Will you bring me more?"
"O-okay. I, um, I have a keyboard, too. I could bring it? It has a carry case."
"Yes," he breathed. He grabbed my hand and squeezed it, and another small thrill went through me at his touch. I suddenly felt shy but glad to have given him something that obviously brought him happiness. I wanted to give him more. I wanted him to direct those clear gray eyes at me again and see them bright with joy.
So, two days later, I ran through the field and over the tracks, the keyboard case clutched in my hand and excitement filling my chest. I taught Callen which notes were which as his eyes lit with that same wonder. I'd never been very good at the piano, but I'd learned the basics, and I gave those to Callen along with the keyboard that had been in my closet unused for so long I'd almost forgotten about it.
He took to music like a fish takes to water, and I was amazed that in only a couple of months he was far better than I'd ever be, even though we had a Schimmel baby grand that I sat at each week, practicing for what felt like hours and hours, but in reality was only thirty minutes.
He showed up one day later that year looking angry, his face bruised, and sat down heavily, leaning his head against the wall. "Will you read to me today, Jessie?"
I nodded, taking the book I was in the middle of out of my backpack. "Sure." I started The Three Musketeers, pausing and glancing up at him after I'd read a few paragraphs. His expression had settled into sadness and his eyes were closed. I gathered my courage. "Is it your dad who hits you?" I asked softly.
His eyes opened, but he didn't turn his head toward me. He was silent for so long, I wondered if he'd answer me at all, and my heart began beating faster, scared that he would be angry with me and leave instead. "Yeah."
My heart squeezed, and I released the breath I'd held in my throat.
He looked at me, his gaze moving over my face. "I can handle the hitting. It's…it's the words that…Anyway…"
I desperately wanted to ask him to say more, but I wasn't sure how. I cleared my throat. "My dad isn't a good man either." I whispered it as if there were someone close by I was trying to prevent from hearing the truth. Maybe myself. I'd known it for a long time, as long as I could remember actually, but somehow saying it out loud made it an unavoidable truth. I'd never be able to pretend again. My father was weak and selfish, and he didn't love us enough, if he even loved us at all.
Callen reached out and took my hand in his, and my eyes darted to our interlaced fingers, mine small and pale and his tanned and calloused and so much larger than my own. I kept my eyes on our joined hands and swallowed before continuing. "But the worst part is that my mom can't stop loving him. No matter how much he makes her cry, she keeps coming back for more. I just…I don't know how one person has that many tears."
When I raised my eyes to his, he was staring at me. I felt self-conscious, even though he'd told me a secret, too, and I bit my lip and looked away. "Is that why you like fairy tales so much, Jessie?" His voice was soft, laced with something tender, but the question made me feel more exposed. He squeezed my hand gently. I wanted to pull away and I wanted to get closer, and the feelings running through my body were new and confusing, thrilling and scary.
"We haven't played those games for a while now," I answered, shaking my head. Instead of going on adventures, I read aloud or did homework, and Callen played the keyboard, his brow furrowed in concentration, creating partial melodies that were so beautiful they made my heart trip over itself. Music that often faded away into nothing, as if the loveliness had slipped right through his fingers, or he didn't know where to take it.
His full lips tilted up. "Sometimes I miss playing make-believe."
I grinned. "You do?"
"Yeah. You made me feel like a hero."
"You are," I breathed. "To me, you are."
He shook his head. "No, Jessie. I'm no hero. God, I can't even…"
"What? What does he say you can't do?" I asked, feeling fierce and protective, knowing it was his father who put that haunted look in his eyes.
Callen laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. "He only tells the truth."
"No! I'd like to go to your house and give your father a piece of my—"
"Don't you dare." The words were sharp and icy, and I stared at him, my cheeks flushing and my eyes filling with tears. Callen had never spoken so harshly to me before.
"I…I wouldn't do anything that—"
He leaned forward so suddenly, I let out a gasp, and then his lips were on mine, soft and warm, and a shimmery heat moved through my body. I paused, uncertain, for I'd never been kissed before, not even close. I had clunky braces on my teeth, and I had no idea what to do.
Callen gripped my hand more tightly and used his other hand to cup the back of my head as he pulled me even closer and rubbed his lips softly—slowly—over mine. I let out a tiny breath, and he hesitantly moved his tongue along my parted lips, causing me to instinctively open them.
He jolted as if surprised, and I opened my eyes to find that his were open, too. For a few moments we stared at each other close up, our eyes wide, and I was dimly aware that my heart was slamming in my chest, before he once again closed his lids. He tilted his head and pressed his tongue inside my mouth—just barely—and I closed my eyes, meeting the very tip of his tongue with the tip of mine, touching and then retreating. A cascade of feeling sparked inside me: excitement, nervousness, joy, and fear. Callen nibbled softly at my lips, and I sighed in wonder at the physical sensation, loving the taste of his mouth, the way he smelled up close like this—cinnamon, and salt, and some sort of soap. Like a boy. Like my prince.
When he pulled away, I felt dazed and half-asleep, floating in some other world. I blinked, bringing myself back to the moment, and smiled shyly at him. He gave me a crooked smile in return. "No one makes me feel like you, Princess Jessie. No one ever will."
It was the only time he ever kissed me.
Callen never came back to the train tracks after that day. I went every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, hoping desperately he'd be there again. I didn't know where to begin to look for him. Santa Lucinda, the city in Northern California where we lived, was far too big, and I didn't even know his last name.
The only thing I had to remember him by was a string of hand-drawn musical notes written on a torn piece of paper I'd found in the corner of our boxcar.
As I waited week after week, I racked my brain for a reason why he had disappeared. Had I done something wrong? Had he hated kissing me? Had he felt ashamed? Had his father done something terrible to him? I felt desperate for answers I had no way to get.
Finally, one Tuesday evening in late summer, after an entire year of hoping he'd return, I sat alone in the doorway of our boxcar and said a silent farewell to my vanished hero—my broken prince—wiped a tear from my cheek, and never returned.
One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.
—Joan of Arc
- "A modern fairy tale, the well-crafted romance and beautiful French setting will take readers by surprise. Sheridan is one to watch."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Sheridan explores the power of first love in a tale of childhood friends parted and reunited."—Publisher's Weekly
- "More than Words is Mia Sheridan at her best! The story of love, heartbreak and second chances ... each scene was beautifully written and paired with breathtaking imagery and epic love."—Alessandra Torre, New York Times Bestselling Author
- "Simply perfect. There is no love story like a Mia Sheridan love story. I was absolutely swept up in Callen and Jessie, and fell for them just as hard as they fell for each other. I loved it."—A.L. Jackson, New York Times bestselling author
- "Some love stories touch your soul so deeply, they stay with you long after you've finished reading. More Than Words by Mia Sheridan is such a story."—Katy Regnery, New York Times bestselling author
- "If you loved Archer's Voice, you will love Most of All You...The writing was truly beautiful and just sweeps you away into the story."—Aestas Book Blog on Most of All You
- "Exquisitely written and utterly unique, this is the touching tale of two broken people...and their journey of healing."—Natasha is a Book Junkie on Most of All You
—Renee Carlino, USA Today bestselling author on Most of All You
- On Sale
- Jun 12, 2018
- Page Count
- 384 pages