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Sink or Swim

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Sink or Swim

  Praise for Sink or Swim

  “Jamie Canosa does it again, writing an incredible, unforgettable story with a hotter-than-hot hero and a perfectly sassy, beautifully sarcastic heroine. This is one of those books that you can’t put down once you start it—the best kind in my opinion.”

  ~Cindy C Bennett, author of Rapunzel Untangled

  “Nothing could have prepared me for this book. Nothing. It was absolutely amazing and written beautifully. Be prepared to blown away by Sink or Swim.”

  ~Kendall, Book Crazy

  “Allie and Dean are two genuine hearts that will have readers wanting to tear down the cage they are caught in themselves. Jamie Canosa’s writing depicts extraordinary examples of what it takes to protect friendship, family and love.”

  ~Celine, I Blog You Read

  “I first fell in love with Jamie Canosa's writing when I picked up Fight or Flight. I instantly connected with her characters and knew that I had found an author that I would follow for many books to come. Her characters are endearing and her storylines are emotionally charged and compelling. Subsequently, Fight or Flight was also the book that introduced me to Allie. She was one of my favorite characters and I loved her smart and sassy attitude. When I heard that Jamie was releasing her story, I knew that I had to read it. Sink or Swim met every one of my expectations. The love story of Dean and Allie will leave your heart aching, pulse racing, and have you cheering in triumph.”

  ~Jessica, Book Lover’s Paradise

  “Sink or Swim is an excellent, heart breaking story that will give people the strength to overcome all obstacles.”

  ~Mayas, Reading by the Book

  “This is the story of being willing to forego your own love in order to save the life of the one who holds your heart.”

  ~Jennifer, Three Chicks and Their Books

  "An exquisite book that will teach you what real life is all about! Simply wonderful! "

  ~Sabrina, Book Town

  Sink or Swim

  Jamie Canosa

  Dear Reader,

  Allie and Dean’s story is fiction. Unfortunately, the issues they face are all too real.

  The statistics on abuse are unbelievable. If you or someone you know is suffering, know you are not alone. You don’t have to suffer in silence. Say something. There are people who care and who can help.

  The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day. 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

  Please be safe.

  With love and hope,


  Other books by Jamie Canosa

  Fight or Flight



  Heart and Soul series





  Our Own Worst Enemies

  How We Came to Be

  Chapter One


  “You’re back.”

  Shit! She hadn’t gotten two feet from the car and it was starting already. But, that was the curse of living in Small Town USA. Everyone knew too damn much about everyone else. Where rumors spread like wild fire and a single secret could ruin your entire life.

  “I’m surprised.”

  So was she. Coming back had never been part of the plan. It was a mistake. Stupidity, pure and simple.

  She refused to be baited by him, but couldn’t help glancing over her shoulder. There he stood—in holey jeans and a faded gray t-shirt. He was leaning up against the same old blue pickup that had more rust spots than actual paint anymore. Legs crossed casually at the ankle and hands pillowed behind his head, he somehow managed to make work clothes and a crappy old truck look like a magazine ad. Dammit if all that shit she’d been trying to forget didn’t just come rushing right back in.

  Unlatching his ankles, he strolled toward her in that unhurried way of his. He always moved like that—deliberate and graceful. Even as kids, he’d never run around, just ambled through life at his own pace like he had all the time in the world. It used to piss her off.

  Still did.

  “Allie Porter.”

  Dean Ritter. He’d lived across the street her entire life. Her entire life. It was one of those towns where your parents grew up there, and their parents before them, and your children probably would, too. No one even thought about leaving. No one except Allie. But here she was, right back in that one horse town again. The place was like quicksand. Just kept pulling ya back in ‘til you were dead.

  With him headed her way, Allie found herself stuck between a confrontation with Dean or going inside the place she once called home—a rock and a hard place. Choosing the less dangerous of the two—emotionally anyway—she slammed the trunk of the taxi and started for the front door.

  She should have known it never would have worked. For someone whose life seemed to move on his own damn timeline, he could sure move quick when he wanted to. Allie hadn’t made it five feet when he swooped in front of her, bringing her up short with an aggravated huff.

  “Not even a hello? Is that where we’re at now? No, ‘Hey, Dean. Sorry I took off with no explanation and dropped off the face of the earth for six months?’”

  “I don’t owe you an explanation.” She tried to dodge him, but he was much better at that game than she was.

  “I have to disagree. You sort of left me hanging, Al.”

  So maybe they’d sort of dated on-and-off, now-and-then . . . for six years.

  “I didn’t drop off the face of the earth. I just left town. I know the thought’s never occurred to you, but it has been known to happen on occasion.” If she was honest with herself, she probably did owe him an explanation, or an apology, or something, but she had enough problems to deal with at the moment. She didn’t need to add Dean to the list.

  “With no warning. You left your cell behind and didn’t tell a single soul where you were going. Shit, Al, that’s just about as far off the face of the earth as you can get without a rocket.”

  Crap, he was mad. Pissed was more like it. He was trying to hide the fact, but she could see it in his eyes. They’d known each other too long. He couldn’t hide anything from her. She’d always been better at it—the hiding—but it was starting to get harder. It was one of the reasons she’d had to leave. And one of the reasons she couldn’t be having this conversation with him.

  “Look, Dean, I don’t know what to tell ya. I’m sorry. Is that what you want to hear?”

  “Not really,” he grumbled.

  “I don’t have time for this right now. There’re things I need to do.”

  “Fine, Allie. You do what you need to do, but this conversation isn’t over.”

  Of course it wasn’t. But she could avoid it for as long as humanly possible. Avoidance was something she’d become pretty damn good at.

  Taking the escape while she could get it, Allie ducked around Dean and headed onto the front porch. Her step faltered at the hunter green door. She didn’t want to be inside that house any more than she wanted to be outside of it. But with Dean still standing at her back, watching her, she didn’t have much of a choice.

  Stepping inside without bothering to knock, she was met with silence. At least that was better than the alternative. Leaving hadn’t been a choice, it’d been a necessity. And if coming back hadn’t been just as necessary, there was no way in hell she would have been standing in that rundown living room, staring her past in the face. Christ, just being there had her heart pounding a mile a minute. Yeah, Dean Ritter was definitely the least of her problems. Even if he had caused the whole mess to begin with.

  Chapter Two

  ~Six Month Earlier~


  “Allison Mae Carson!”

  Crap, what now? She had
n’t done anything wrong. She was sure of it. Then again, she was always sure of it and that had never stopped him from finding things to get pissed about before.

  “What, dad?”

  “What the hell do you call this?” His words slurred together and she could smell the alcohol from halfway across the room—whiskey this time, if she had to guess.

  Double crap. Whiskey always made him mean—meaner. And she still had no idea what he was talking about. She knew better than to ask, though. Instead, choosing to wait him out.

  “This! This, you stupid girl! Where the hell did this come from?”

  Allie glanced at the envelope lying on the counter and cringed. Triple crap. How the hell had she forgotten about that?

  “It’s an acceptance letter.” No use lying. He was drunk, not stupid. “Came in the mail today.”

  “Acceptance? To some fancy-ass college? What, your life here not good enough for you? You too good for what I give you?”

  Shit. What the hell had she been thinking even applying in the first place? It’s wasn’t like she’d ever actually get to go. But, she’d been thinking exactly what he’d just said. Life there wasn’t good enough. She wanted more. She sure as hell wasn’t about to tell him that, though. Accepted or not, college was out of the question. Even with a partial scholarship, she still couldn’t afford it. She’d applied on a whim. Mostly, just to see if she could get in. Stupid. And then, leaving the letter on the counter like that? That was just plain suicidal.

  “No, sir. I just wanted to see if I could—?”

  “Could what? Leave us? Your family? Make fools of us? Show the world how much better you are than the rest of us?”

  Maybe. “No, I—”

  The blow came faster than expected considering his state of intoxication. And it was hard enough to rock her back on her heels. Shit, she really was slipping.

  “Don’t talk back to me, girl!”

  “Sorry, sir.” She gasped through the pain and steadied herself against the counter.

  “You want to make a fool of me? Let me show you exactly what happens to people who try to make a fool of me!”

  The next blow sent her to the floor. He wasn’t angry. No, she’d seen angry before. Plenty of times. This was something else. He was livid. The grounding blow had come to her face. A part of her body that had always been off limits before. Arms, legs, stomach, chest . . . all of those were acceptable punching bags as far as her father was concerned, but never the face. Never anything that couldn’t be easily covered by a long sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. Again, drunk, not stupid.

  She collided with the kitchen linoleum hard enough to rattle her teeth and heard a whimper from the living room. Seriously? A whimper? That was the best she could do?

  Allie’s mother sat stone faced on the sofa, staring at a blank spot on the wall. Like if she didn’t see it, it wasn’t really happening. Her husband wasn’t really abusing her daughter right there in front of her, while she did nothing to stop him.

  Allie understood her fear. She really did. Her mother had taken his abuse for years—as long as Allie could remember—until she was old enough to take the brunt of it herself. Allie hadn’t asked for it. It wasn’t like she’d pulled some kind of martyr crap, begging him to hurt her instead. She didn’t want to be hurt any more than her mother did. Who would? But it was just easier for him to find reasons to be angry at a pre-teen girl than a woman who had been so beaten into submission she was barely a shell of a human being anymore. Allie felt for her mother, but she was her only child, dammit. Couldn’t she muster up a little more than a friggin’ whimper?

  Her cheek throbbed and her lip swelled rapidly. She could already feel the skin straining against the influx of blood as she dragged herself back up off the floor, keeping her eyes lowered. Her father was sort of like a wild animal. He took direct eye contact as a challenge.

  She stood her ground, waiting, knowing it probably wasn’t over, and wishing that someone—herself included—had the guts to stand up to him.

  “You ungrateful little bitch!”

  She braced herself . . . And then a knock came at the door.

  “Allie?” Shit, it was Dean. She’d forgotten they had plans that afternoon.

  “Goddammit! That boy.” Her father was still fuming, but his voice dropped low. Dean being on just the other side of the door had squelched things . . . for now. “Clean yourself up before you dare set foot outside of this house.”

  Grateful for the reprieve, Allie shot up the stairs and into the bathroom. As expected, her face was a mess. How the hell was she supposed to cover that up? She dug through a drawer of toiletries and pulled out a bottle of concealer. Her mother was a pro at concealing bruises. Allie generally steered clear of the makeup and used clothes instead. Unless she planned to wear a mask, however, that wouldn’t work this time.

  She toyed with the makeup bottle and a cotton ball for as long as she dared to make Dean wait and then checked her work. Not terrible. Who was she kidding? The color might have been closer to normal, but there was zilch she could do about the swelling.

  Tearing apart her closet, she found an old green scarf and wrapped it carefully around her neck. The thing was bulky enough that it concealed half her face as well. Not exactly seasonal ware, but thankfully they’d hit a bit of a spring cold snap so it wasn’t entirely ridiculous.

  Makeshift covering in place, Allie headed downstairs. Dean was sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of sweet tea. Her mother must have let him in and gone into hostess autopilot mode. She was a pro at that, too.

  “Hey, darlin’. You ready?” He stood as soon as she entered the room just like he always did. His mama trained that boy right.

  He looked amazing even in his old pullover fleece and blue jeans. Work at the lumber yard was hard, and he had the muscles to prove it. Not bulky like the football players who hit the gym too often, but long and lean from a hard day’s genuine work. Genuine work that he did each and every day. After school, weekends, all summer long. Every spare minute he had was spent at that place, working to put food on his family’s table.

  When his dad died two years earlier, he refused to let his mother and sisters suffer. His mama worked too—day and night at the diner—but it still wasn’t enough. If Dean hadn’t stepped up, they probably would have starved. Allie respected that about him. She respected a lot about him. Mostly, though, she respected the fact that he never pried. That’s why they worked so well together. Why they’d worked so well together for so many years.

  It wasn’t flowers and candy with them. They both had their own shit going on at home. Allie knew about his. Not so much the other way around. And that was the way it needed to stay.

  “Yeah. Ready.”

  Disengaging her eyes from his muscles had always been a difficult task, but she needed to grab her jacket so they could get the hell out of there. Her father was nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t guarantee he’d stay away long. Besides, she could stare at Dean all she wanted for the next few hours. They had a whole afternoon to themselves, for once.

  When she yanked her coat from the closet hanger, Dean took it from her and helped her slip it on. Oh yeah, his mama was definitely doin’ something right.

  “Ladies first.” He opened the passenger side door of the truck and helped her up, before walking around to his side and sliding in beside her.

  Okay, yes, she was capable of opening her own damn door, and told him so . . . repeatedly. But who doesn’t secretly enjoy having doors opened for them? And any excuse to be close enough to smell him was a good one. Damn he smelled good. It wasn’t cologne. He wasn’t a cologne wearing kinda guy. Fabric softener, maybe? Mixed with something that was entirely Dean. Allie couldn’t be sure, but that didn’t make her love it any less.

  When they were finally alone, Dean leaned in to kiss her just like he always did, but came up short. She still had the scarf wrapped over her mouth and wasn’t about to move it.

  “Little cold?” Dean chu
ckled and pressed a quick kiss to her forehead before flipping on his heater.

  With the sun beating through the windshield, the cab was already pretty warm, and Dean wasn’t even wearing a jacket, but he’d always gone out of his way to make sure she was comfortable. Despite the fact that she was now completely overheated, and dreadfully close to sweating like a pig, Allie smiled to herself. Dean was a good guy. And he was all hers . . . for now.

  They’d been on-again-off-again for years, the ‘off-agains’ usually because of her. Hell, always because of her. But when they’d been ‘off’, she’d always known that eventually they’d be ‘on’ again. Just like she’d always known that—in the end—it could never work out between them. No. Dean deserved someone who could give themselves to him completely. Not constantly lie and hide shit from him. Not break his heart every time they felt the need to pull away. He had enough of his own shit to deal with. He didn’t need hers added to the pile, but she wouldn’t be able to keep it buried forever. That was becoming abundantly clear.

  “Everything all right?” Allie glanced over a Dean nervously.

  “Yeah. Why wouldn’t it be?”

  “You’ve just been awfully quiet, that’s all. Heard some shouting when I got to your door. Your dad sounded pissed.”

  Shit! “Nah, everything’s fine. He just spilled some coffee on his pants.” Lying—and scarves—both excellent tools.

  Dean glanced at her before settling his eyes back on the road. He didn’t look convinced. That was becoming more of a problem lately, too. Normally, he was too busy or preoccupied to notice much—which worked just fine for Allie—but lately he’d been paying more attention. She got the feeling that he knew she was hiding something from him, even if he never came right out and asked about it.

  “So, where are we headed?” When all else fails, redirect. Another useful tool. She had a whole arsenal of them.

  “Thought we’d go see a movie. I saved a little extra this week and—”

  “You shouldn’t waste your money on me, Dean. You have more important—”

  “It isn’t a waste, Allie. Do we have to have this argument every time? I want to do this with you. Don’t I ever just get to do what I want for a change?”

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