Broken (2016)


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Broken is book one of the bestselling This Series.  It's my debut novel, and it's one I've struggled to be proud of for a long time.  There's head hopping, third person past tense, little contractions, and SO. MUCH. TELLING.  

I had to start somewhere.  In that way alone, I am kind of proud of it because it shows my progress.  But when people read one of my newer works then go to my back list, I CRINGE at the thought of them having to read Broken to get to Mending (which is worlds better even though it's still lacking in so many ways).

Many times I've tried to re-edit it.  Several times, I started re-writing it.  See, another issue was I don't think I was all that true to my characters.  I was finding my voice, struggling with what my family would think if they said a bad word or had sex (gasp).  

I'm over all that now, and it's on my mind again.  When I sent it to my editor to have her try to work magic, it became clear the only magic that could occur would be for me to rewrite it.  Editing a few pages was taking me hours.  Far longer than just sitting down and bleeding onto the page.  And editing.  It's far more painful too.

So, here I am.  Rewriting my first novel not because I have to - oddly enough, it's my best selling novel - but because my soul needs to fix it.  Gabby and Bradley are demanding I make their beginning as epic as their ending.

I hope you enjoy this version of their story.  Please note this is my rough draft and will go through edits at a later date.  Because I'm working in two different tenses and POVs, please bear with me if there are discrepancies.  It's so hard to go between the two like this.  My brain plays tricks on me. 

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Chapter 1 | Gabby

Cade Williams.  He's the reason I'm back in this house, home from college for the weekend here in Charleston, South Carolina.  He's actually more of my older sister Sam's friend.  The two of them have always been best friends.  Inseparable, even.  For a long time, I think everyone, including me, thought they would get married.  But marriage typically requires dating first, and they never did that.  In fact, there wasn't even a kiss.  They were more like siblings than lovers.  And since he was like a brother to Sam, by default, it meant he was also like one to me too.

He started dating Kristin in high school.  He asked her to spend the rest of her life with him a year ago. The proposal was low key.  Somehow, he'd secured a secluded part of the Folly Beach all to himself.  The pictures showed her wearing a white dress with him in a white button down shirt and khakis.  I'm not sure when that became the official dress code for all beach photo ops, but he'd arranged sea shells on the shore in the simple sentence that every girl dreamed of her man saying to her. 

"Will you marry me?"

It was all Cade.  Classy, elegant, and simple.  The memory brings a smile to my face.  Not many people got to witness it, but Sam took the photographs.  I tagged along as her assistant.  It made me yearn for what they have, for someone that looks at me the way he does her—the way his eyes sparkled against the water as he rose from his knee, the way he gently caressed her face like he was memorizing the moment before he planted his lips on hers—but I knew then, and I know now that nothing is ever that simple for me.

This wedding, though, is Charleston's most buzzed about event this weekend.  And I don't expect any part of it to be simple.  His family has old wealth. They've secured Charleston's First Baptist Church for the ceremony.  That part alone wouldn't be that big of a deal, but securing a slew of horse-drawn carriages to transport the guests from the church to the waterfront harbor and battery, which is reportedly closed to the public during the reception—that's extravagant.  Hundreds are expected. 

A little tinge of jealousy courses through me just thinking about it.  I'm not sure I even know a hundred people, let alone hundreds.  The likelihood Cade had much to do with planning all this is slim, but the fact he'd allow Kristin to go all out, spending only God knows how much, on a wedding fit for a princess is what every girl wants, right?  I shrug.  And that's what I'm getting.  A night with my sister at someone else's fairy tale wedding.  She. Is. My. Date.  I roll my eyes.  That's how pathetic I am.  And this is not the way I meant it when I thought it those other fifty thousand times it's crossed my mind.

I'm looking forward to it, though, because of my date—my sister, Sam.  She moved back to Charleston in May to attend med school at MUSC in August.  There was one year in high school and one year in college where we were together.  I chose Columbia College, an all-girls liberal arts college—in you guessed it—Columbia, South Carolina, just to be close to her.  We shared a downtown apartment.  It'd been an especially hard year for me, and frankly I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't been close to her during that time.  But looking back, it was kind of stupid.  Because she's here now, and I'm there.  I survived, though, and I'm not sure I could say that if I'd been here instead.

Keys rattling makes me pop up from my bed, tossing the books to the side.  I tiptoe down the hall and peek past the wall at Sam, who's staring down at her key chain.  "Gabby.  You here?"  She mutters something else, but I can't make out her words.  That stupid lock always gets stuck, but neither of us will change it.  Once she disengages the key from the lock, she blows her hair out of her face.  "Gabby?"

I take this as my opportunity to charge her.  Running into her, she is barely able to get her arms out quick enough, dropping all her stuff by her side.  Pulling her petite body into mine, I rock her from side to side.  “I’ve missed you so much, Sam. How have things been around here?”  I glare at the changes around the living room, but quickly disregard them as I smile at the door knob.

“Things are good and everything is coming along.” She squeezes me tight.  We stay like this for a few seconds.  “I’m glad you decided to stay here rather than at the hotel for out of town guests.  You know this is your home, too."

"I know, I know.  I just didn't want you to have to worry about entertaining me." 

"Pfft."  She reaches down and grabs her stuff.  "Do you wanna to cook here or go out to eat? I’m starving.”

I take a few steps and plop down on the old, brown suede love seat, tucking one foot under me.  Our house isn't big, but Mom bought this little beach cottage for us years ago, and Sam's finally started to redecorate some things after all these years.  The pictures are all in the same place as Mom hung them, the furniture is mostly all the same.  I glance at the door knob, at that wonky lock.  She's not changed that.  My heart squeezes a little tighter.  I methodically twirl one of my curls between my fingers as Sam sits next to me. 

She puts her back against the armrest and faces me, tucking her legs just like mine.  "I don't really feel like going out tonight."  She yawns.  "It's going to be a long day tomorrow.  I thought we could watch a chick flick and order in Chinese food."  This is Sam.  She gives me a choice, but she knows I'm so indecisive that she's usually already decided before even offering it.

My stomach rumbles, and my mouth waters at the thought of Uncle Poon's, our favorite place.  Even though the budget was tighter than a shoestring, we usually ordered that once a week as a special treat—an indulgence.  I hop up and grab my cell phone from my bedroom, then make my way back to the living room.  We've always kept the menus in the side table drawer.  I don't need to look to know what we're ordering, but over the last year, I've forgotten their number.  "Your usual?" I ask. 

She nods.  "You know me well.  I don't like change."  She glanced around the room as she let out a small laugh. 

Change is hard, especially when it's forced.  No.  That's not right.  Change is just hard no matter what.  I had to get a new laptop.  That was hard.  Forced.  That was also forced.  Shaking my head, I point to the entertainment center.  "You pick the movie, and I'll do this." I dialed the number and a less than a minute later, we were in queue for a night of nostalgia.

Just like I knew what she wanted to eat, I should have also known the movie in the old VCR.  Yes.  VCR.  It was yet another thing we’d not been able to part ways with.  There were a couple of times it tried to eat our tapes, but luckily none of the ones that really mattered like this one, Steel Magnolias.  Mom’s favorite.  I think that’s why we’ve not gotten rid of the VCR.  Mom made us each tapes.  We could and should convert them.  It just won’t be the same, though.  These are the ones she bought, the ones she touched with her fingers, the originals.  Nothing could ever replace all the originals in this house and the memories connected to them.  A new lock would be easier, but eventually we’d forget about the curse words she’d mutter under her breath when her key got stuck while telling us if she heard either of us say those, she’d be washing our mouths out with soap. 

Julia Robert’s laugh makes me smile.  Every time.  Without fail.  And so, this is the totally perfect movie choice considering I’m here, we’re together again, for Cade and Kristin’s wedding. 

I nearly jump in Sam’s lap when the old doorbell buzzes.  “Crap.”  My heart is floundering on the coffee table like a fish out of water.  “Scared the mess out of me.” I exhaled a long sigh.  “I’ll get it.” 

A young guy, probably the same age as me, answers.  His blond hair is long and he whips his head to the side, effectively clearing the bangs from obstructing his view.  I mimic the movement, and I just feel like an imposter auditioning for a hair commercial.  He laughs.  “You order Uncle Poons?”

“How do you do that without getting whiplash?” I ask.

“Shh.  This is the good part,” Sam says. 

I take a step closer to him. 

“Who says I don’t.”

“Huh?  What?” I ask.

He smirks.  “Get whiplash every time I do it.”

His hair.  Right.  Why am I making conversation with this guy?  His green eyes bore into mine, and my mouth dries.  My heart falls.  “Yeah.” I clear my throat.  “I paid with a credit card.  Do you need anything else?”

He hands the bags off to me, and I pivot and put them down on the coffee table.  When I’m facing him, he’s even closer than I remember before.  “I just need you to sign the credit card slip.”  He tries to not drop it while taking the top off the pen. 

I nod, give him a few bucks tip, jot my name on the line, and run my hands down my shorts wishing they would create antibacterial fabric for instances where you can’t sanitize your hands but want them clean quickly.  Really, that’d be genius.  “Thanks.”

He glances down at the receipt.  “Thank you.” 

Closing the door, I lean my back against it and try to gain control of my breathing.  Sam’s watching me instead of the movie.  She shakes her head.  “What an ass for looking at the receipt in your presence.  Douche.”

I roll my eyes and smile.  That’s so much better than what I thought she was going to say. 

After going in the kitchen and pouring us two glasses of cheap red wine, I grab us a couple forks and plates.  Resuming my place on the couch, I open the containers and divvy up the sesame chicken, egg rolls, and crab rangoon.   

We both eat in silence as we watch the plot we’ve seen a thousand times play before our eyes. 

Sam gets up.  “I’m going to get the whole damn bottle.  We’re going to need it for that ending.  Gets me every time.”

I put my plate on the coffee table and smile, knowing there’s nowhere I’d rather be.  There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.  Sometimes the best medicine is just being home.  And that place varies.  It’s wherever Sam is, wherever we are together.


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L. U. Bennett

Hi, I hope commenting is okay. I'm not sure when you first posted this. First off, this is really good. I immediately felt connected to the characters and that's hard to do. You may want to hang on to some information and spread it out through the book. You've done a massive info dump. Drip feed the backstory so readers don't get bored and skip pages. The last thing you want is readers skipping but like I said I really liked it.

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Hi Louise, Yes, comments are great. I appreciate your feedback. This is actually a rewrite of my first book, which was all telling. I am trying to rewrite it, keep things in the order it was, and not change what happens next. I haven’t worked on it in a long time because I actually started questioning whether I even liked this version better (for that very reason), even though I hate the first one so much. I have intracranial hypertension, and I’ve really struggled to write anything over the last year and a half, so I’m not sure when I’ll get back to working on this. But I’ll definitely keep your comment in mind as I do. I appreciate you reading it and taking the time to leave me feedback. Best, JB

Chapter 2 | Sam

My eyes squint open, the morning sun creeping in through the tattered drapes across the large front window of our little beach cottage. Mom sewed them right after we moved in. They've seen better days. Most the work I've done to the house is on the exterior. There weren't many memories that went with the green shutters I changed to gray. I did leave the front door red, though, but applied a fresh glossy coat to it to give it sheen. The gray and red make the house look so much more modern. One day, I may get the nerve to change it to that pretty sea green, but I don't know if that will happen any time soon.

Having Gabby back here warms my heart. My lips part as a yawn escapes. I cover it and hush the sounds that instinctively follow. Running my fingers through my pixie hair, I rub my eyes. I can feel another yawn coming on. It's the weekend, my body protests. This stupid internal clock doesn't care, though. Stretching, I turn and put my feet on the ground before standing and making my way straight to the coffee pot.

Less than a minute of prep time, and I press the brew button and make my way to the shower, turn it on and turn to face the mirror while it heats. As soon as I get a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I pull the skin around my brown eyes tight to try to see what I looked like before bags took up residence, the result of many sleepless nights studying no doubt. That's just going to get worse, so I drop my hands and brace the sink.

There's so much studying that needs to be done before I go out for the night, but I just want to be with my sister. Time has been so limited for us to be together, and her being here last night reminded me just how much I miss her. It's not like we did anything super special. But she's the only person who understands the reason I have a love hate relationship with the lock. She's the only person who knows what I want from Uncle Poon's. I'll be the sweet sister and let her clean up that mess. Shaking my head, I let out a small laugh as I undress and hop in the shower determined to make it a quick one. Maybe if I finish early I can come home and surprise her, help her get ready.

Minutes later, I'm staring at my closet. If I don't finish early, I'll need to be dressed and ready. Tapping my chin, I tilt my head as I survey the options. It's going to be hot with the reception outside. Humidity is going to make me feel like I can't breathe. I want to be comfortable while studying. The obvious, most logical, choice is the light pink linen sundress. It won't attract the sun as it sets. It won't feel like I'm wearing much of anything because it'll be so light.

Slipping on matching nude panties and a bra, I slide it over my head. I push my feet into a pair of white strappy wedge flip flop heels. And at the last minute, I snatch the mint green cardigan from the hanger. The library is always freezing.

Gurgling from the kitchen and a robust aroma filling my nostrils lets me know my coffee's ready. Glancing over at Gabby still on the couch, I shake my head. I can't believe she's still asleep. It's not fair she can sleep through anything and seems to have no internal alarm clock like me. Ha. That's the understatement of the century. Gabby has no concept of time at all.

I fill my travel mug with the piping hot liquid, and then twist the top on before heading back to the bathroom. It doesn't take me long to get ready. Just a little mascara and lip gloss is all I wear on my face. My hair has almost completely dried. After putting my mug down, I squirt some gel in my palm and swipe my hair in place, tucking my long bangs behind my ear. Done.

Shoot. I forgot my coffee. After grabbing it, I'm halfway out the door when I glance back at Gabby. Dang it. She needs to know what time I'm coming. Granted I could call her later. I shift on my feet. But I don't want time to get away from me, and her not be ready. That'll just make her more late.

I run to the kitchen as quickly as I can in these shoes and snatch a notepad and pen. My mug makes a great paperweight.

Gabby, gotta go run some errands and study this afternoon at the library. Wedding starts at 6 p.m. Need to leave no later than 5 p.m. sharp. BE READY!

– Love you, Sam xoxo

Of course, I really don't plan on picking her up until fifteen minutes after five. There's a valet, and it'll only take us fifteen minutes to get there tops. I smile as I drop the pen. That's my little secret.

Carefully and quietly, I slip out of the house and ease the door closed.  Putting my key in the lock, I jiggle it until it turns, and then leave my baby sister, my only sister, inside in a peaceful slumber.  Man did I take that for granted last year.

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Chapter 3 | Gabby

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Chapter 4 | Gabby

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Chapter 5 | Sexy Usher Guy

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Chapter 6 | Gabby

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Chapter 7 | Gabby | August 2007

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Chapter 8 | Gabby | August 2007

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Chapter 9 | Ian | August 2007

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Chapter 10 | Gabby | Present

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Chapter 11 | Gabby | August 2007

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Chapter 12 | Gabby | Present

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