DEEPER is book 1 to Robin York’s New Adult contemporary romance Caroline & West Series. This is Robin’s debut novel. However, she is the beloved Ruthie Knox, USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romances.
In this New Adult debut by Robin York, a college student is attacked online and must restore her name—and stay clear of a guy who’s wrong for her, but feels so right.
When Caroline Piasecki’s ex-boyfriend posts their sex pictures on the Internet, it destroys her reputation as a nice college girl. Suddenly her once-promising future doesn’t look so bright. Caroline tries to make the pictures disappear, hoping time will bury her shame. Then a guy she barely knows rises to her defense and punches her ex to the ground.
West Leavitt is the last person Caroline needs in her life. Everyone knows he’s shady. Still, Caroline is drawn to his confidence and swagger—even after promising her dad she’ll keep her distance. On late, sleepless nights, Caroline starts wandering into the bakery where West works.
They hang out, they talk, they listen. Though Caroline and West tell each other they’re “just friends,” their feelings intensify until it becomes impossible to pretend. The more complicated her relationship with West gets, the harder Caroline has to struggle to discover what she wants for herself—and the easier it becomes to find the courage she needs to fight back against the people who would judge her.
When all seems lost, sometimes the only place to go is deeper.
Advance praise for DEEPER:
“The perfect new adult story . . . West will make you swoon!”—New York Times bestselling author Monica Murphy
“Beautifully written and full of swoony tender moments, toe-curling chemistry, and delicious, twisty angst . . . Stop whatever you’re doing and read this book.”—Christina Lauren, author of the Beautiful Bastard series
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I find him on the fourth floor of the library.
It’s all journals up here, the shelves shoved together in the middle and study desks lining the outside walls, plus a Xerox machine where I spent way too much time copying literary criticism of T. S. Eliot last year.
West is standing by a cart full of books with his back to me, shelving a fat red volume of something. It takes me a minute to realize it’s him. I’d already looked all over the first three floors, and I was starting to panic that he might not be here. I’ve noticed that I often see him here on Thursday afternoons, but that doesn’t mean much.
He’s got earbuds in, and I don’t think he’s seen me, so I take a second to think about what I want to say to him. I feel kind of sweaty and unkempt, even though I took time after lunch to change my shirt and slick on lip gloss.
I’ve never done this before.
I’ve never initiated a conversation with West.
It feels more intimidating than it should, not only because of who he is—the forbiddenness of him—but also because this is the fourth floor. It’s an unwritten rule of Putnam that the fourth floor of the library is a space of sacred silence.
West grabs another book. He has to reach above his head to shelve it, which means his shirt lifts and I see he’s got a thick brown leather belt holding his jeans up. It doesn’t match. His boots are black, and so is his T-shirt. It’s got this big jagged orange seam sewn across the back, as though a shark came along and bit a giant rip in it and then he handed it over to a seven-year-old to fix.
I can’t imagine how such a T-shirt even happens. Or why anyone would wear it.
West’s clothes are sometimes like that. Just . . . random.
I kind of like it.
When he lowers down to his heels and bends over the cart, his shirt rides up again, exposing some of his lower back.
I clear my throat, but his music must be too loud, because he doesn’t turn toward me. I step closer. He’s got his head down, his hand reaching for a book on the lower shelf.
Crap. Now I’m so close that I’m bound to startle him when he finally figures out I’m here.
There’s nothing I can do to prevent it. I reach out, meaning to touch him just long enough to get his attention, but I end up pressing my palm flat against his lower spine instead.
It’s an accident. I’m almost sure it’s an accident.
Eighty percent sure.
He doesn’t jump. He just goes completely, utterly still. So still that I can hear the music playing over his earbuds. It’s loud, with angry vocals and an insistent, pounding beat that matches the sudden pulse between my legs.
Oh, I think.
Maybe it’s not an accident, after all.
West’s back is indecently hot beneath my palm. I stare at my fingers, ordering them to move, for several long seconds before they actually obey. When I pull my hand away, it feels magnetized. Like there’s this drag, this force, tugging it back toward West.
I’m pretty sure the force is called lust.
West straightens and turns around, and I know even before he does it that I’ve miscalculated, and now I’m totally at his mercy, which means I’m doomed. I’m not sure he has mercy. He sure didn’t seem like he did when he was hitting Nate hard enough to make me physically ill.
He pulls out his earbuds, and I try to think something other than the word doomed. Doomed, doomed, doomed.
I try to remember what I was going to say to him—I had a whole speech planned—but I can’t. I can’t.
I stare at his belt instead. I think about grabbing it and yanking him closer. As if this is a thing I could do. A thing I have ever done, with anyone, much less West Leavitt.
“Hey,” he says.
Which isn’t fair, because it means I have to look up.
I do, eventually.
Our eyes meet. His pupils are huge, and there’s something so intense about the way he’s looking at me, it’s kind of scary. Only scary is the wrong word. I’ve felt a lot of scary in the past few weeks, and this is different.
This is scary like pausing at the top of the steepest hill on a roller coaster, bracing yourself for the drop.
“Hey,” I say back.
“Can I talk to you?”
He considers this request. “No.”
It’s not what I was expecting him to say. All I can come up with is “Oh.”
Then it’s silent again except for his music, and there’s this . . . this atmosphere. I think it must be him. I think he’s making the atmosphere with his skin and his eyes, which look almost silver right now, and maybe he’s also making it with all the muscles in his forearms, which are clenching and unclenching his hands in this way that’s just—
It’s just something. Intense, I guess. Menacing, but without the menace.
I have never stood this close to him before. I’ve never been alone with him since the day he parked his car right next to my feet and made me pass out.
I’ve never felt this excited, awkward, and senselessly worried in my whole entire life.
Until he takes a step toward me. That’s worse.
Better-worse. It’s totally a thing.
I back up.
He’s supposed to stop stepping toward me when I back up, but he doesn’t. He keeps coming. He moves right into my zone of personal space, and I get pinned up against the stacks, my butt pressing against a low shelf, West’s hands braced on either side of my head.
“I’m working,” he says. As though I’m a book, and he’s shelving me.
I try to say, I’ll come back later, but instead I make this sort of clicking, gargling noise that makes me sound like a bullfrog. I can feel my throat flushing—always a dead giveaway that I’m embarrassed. I clear it and manage to say, “That’s fine. I can . . . come back. Or I’ll c-call you.”
I don’t have his phone number. Or any intention of calling him.
I don’t know why I’m imagining I can feel the heat off his skin, because that’s impossible. He isn’t that close, surely. I cast my eyes up, trying to visually measure the number of inches between our faces.
It’s not very many inches at all.
West doesn’t touch me, but he is much closer than he needs to be, and the way he’s looking down at me, his chest rising and falling rapidly, color high in his cheeks—I can’t help but think about his fist connecting with Nate’s mouth. The way Nate fell to the floor, heavy and limp.
He did that for you, I think.
I came here to ask him, but I already know.
He did it for me, and this is how he looked afterward. Dilated everywhere, his skin warm and his breathing rapid and shallow.
This is how he would look in bed.
I close my eyes, because I need to get my bearings. I had imagined a businesslike talk with West. Please don’t do that again, I would say. Okay, if that’s the way you feel about it, he’d reply. Yes, that’s the way I feel, I would tell him. Then maybe I’d give him a lecture about the importance of settling conflict without violence, followed by a brisk handshake.
I didn’t imagine the ruddy skin of his neck right by the collar of his shirt. The stubble on his jaw where it curves into his ear. I didn’t anticipate his smell, like spearmint and library books, detergent and warm skin.
God, he smells fantastic, but he’s also kind of scary, and I have no idea what the rules are right now. No idea at all.
I need rules to get through this kind of stuff. I’m a rules kind of girl.
“West,” I whisper.
It’s supposed to sound calm and businesslike, but instead it sounds like I’m begging him for something, and I guess he takes that as a cue. He drops his head toward my shoulder. His lips . . . I can’t be sure, but I think his lips are really close to my skin. I feel his breath near my ear, and my nipples harden.
“West, what the hell?”
“Why’d you come here, huh?” he murmurs.
And then—this is the worst-best part, by far—he turns his head and kisses my jaw, openmouthed.
It’s like satin. Like lightning.
I don’t know what it’s like.
I do know that it’s not what’s supposed to be happening at all.
Except that the atmosphere West is creating makes me feel like this is what’s supposed to be happening. Exactly this. The West menace is, like, sex in aerosol form. He’s making it with his body, and then he’s putting it all over me.
My body is into it, too. My body is on board.
My body is such a traitor.
“Why’d you have to come?” His voice is low and husky. Languid. His voice is a hook, catching on me. Reeling me in.
The music from his earbuds is a faraway drumbeat, and West doesn’t move his hands. I do, though. Mine have slid up to his neck, tangling in his hair, pulling his head down.
Okay, no, they haven’t. But they want to. They are positively itching to go rogue, and maybe he can see that in my eyes, because he makes this sound that’s not even a sound. It’s just an explosion of breath that does incendiary things to my panties.
“Tell me,” he insists.
Tell him what? I have no idea what he’s talking about. The only thing I know is if he doesn’t kiss me soon, I’m going to die. He’s so hot, and it’s not just that his skin is warm, although it is. It’s that I can feel all the energy from the fight coursing through him. He’s still jacked up and high on adrenaline and chemicals. He’s not himself. I’m not sure how I know this, but I do. West isn’t West, and I’m not Caroline. Not with him so close. Braced over me, heating me up, breathing against my neck, he feels like a guy who’s barely keeping it together. A guy who would beat the living shit out of the wrong someone if the wrong someone happened by, but who’d rather spend the rest of the afternoon and half the night fucking the right someone raw.
The right someone could be you.
I can’t believe I just thought that.
“Tell me,” he says again.
“Tell you what?”
“Why you’re here.”
I look away, to the side and up, because I want him to kiss me and I shouldn’t. I don’t know him. I’m not sure I like him. He scares me. His knuckles are split where they grip the metal shelving—gripping it so hard, they’ve turned white. West is holding himself back from what he wants to do to me, and I wonder, what happens if he lets go?
Do I let him turn me around, bend me over this shelf, sink inside me?
I try to be disgusted by the idea, but, God, I can feel a ghost of what it would be like. It would be electric. Hot and slick, full and fast, the most erotic thing that’s ever happened to me. I know it. I know.
But then it would be over, and I think I know what that would be like, too. West silent and stiff-jawed. A closed door.
I’ve never even had a conversation with him.
I push at his chest, trying to break the spell. “West. We have to talk.”
But I don’t have his attention. His attention’s lower, as it should be, because when did his knee get between my thighs? And am I really . . . ? Oh. I am. I’m kind of almost riding him.
“Get off,” I say.
I’m whispering, nervous again about being overheard and despised by studying students—though I haven’t actually seen any—or, worse, being seen here, doing this. They would talk about me. They would never stop talking about me riding West’s thigh in the library barely an hour after he punched Nate in the mouth.
This is the worst possible thing I could be doing right now.
“West, get off.”
He lifts his head. His dark hair is falling in his face, and his eyes look like chips of sky.
He eases back. “What is it?”
“I have to talk to you.”
“I’m not in a talking mood right now, Caro.”
My head is clearing. Nobody’s getting bent over anything.
This is all just hormones. Adrenaline. It’s got to be. West is biologically driven to want to rut with something after his testosterone-fueled display of masculinity, and I’m . . . I guess I’m biologically driven to be rutted on.
But I’m strong. I can rise above my biology.
“Too bad,” I say, “because that’s why I was looking for you. So we could converse like civilized beings.”
West just levels that stare at me.
“Not rutting beasts,” I add.
His mouth is a flat line. “I’m a beast,” he says slowly. “And we’re rutting?”
He doesn’t like the word rutting. He spits it out of his mouth as if he’s disgusted with it.
“What would you call it?”
“I don’t know what to call it. Maybe you should tell me what you’re chasing me around for.”
“I’m not chasing you. I just—”
A pissed-off male voice says, “Shh.”
Fourth floor. Shit.
When I open my mouth again, my thoughts have scattered like marbles, and I can hardly even look at West. He’s crossed his arms. His split knuckles are wrapped around his biceps. It looks hard.
Everything about West is hard.
Talk, Caroline, my brain urges. Words. Sentences. Go.
“I wanted to, um . . . About earlier. See, I heard from Bridget that—”
The same irritated voice again. I lose my words, flustered and ready to bail on this whole thing.
West says, very calmly, “There’s three other floors, buddy. Pick one or shut the fuck up.”
“This is the quiet floor,” the invisible guy complains.
“Show me where it says that.”
West shakes his head. “I’m not everybody.”
There’s silence for a moment, then the resonant sound of a chair being pushed back. A backpack zipper. Footsteps announce the approach—a student glares at West with angry eyes—but he keeps going, and I hear the stairwell door opening.
A beat later, just before the door slams shut, the words stupid slut drift through it.
The ugliness of those words cuts into my hurt place, deep.
He’s not the first person to call me a slut, but he’s the first one to say it so I can hear him. And honestly? It doesn’t help that he says it right after I let West push me against the stacks and stick his knee between my thighs.
It doesn’t help that my panties are wet. I feel like a slut. I feel like I’m rattling apart, unable to stick to a direct line for more than five minutes.
Stupid cunt would spread for anyone, the men inside my head say.
I’d like to see him fuck her. I’d pay good money to watch that.
I look up at West. I feel despised and powerless, and it’s so frustrating that he’s seeing me this way—that he’s watching so intently and really seeing what I try not to let anyone see, ever.
That I am right on the verge of falling apart. All the time.
His eyes soften, gentle with pity, and that makes it a hundred times worse.
Stupid, pitiful slut.
“It’s fine,” I say. “I’ve heard it before.”
“It’s not fine.”
I wave my hand in the air, pointlessly, because I have no response. It isn’t fine. But it’s my life now.
“Caroline, it’s not fine.” West puts his hands on my shoulders.
I shrug him off and step sideways to get out from under him. “I know, okay? You don’t have to yell at me. I know. He’s going to tell everyone, and then the whole campus is going to be whispering about how we were practically screwing on the fourth floor of Hamilton. I get it. I’m sorry, all right?”
I think his eyes could burn holes through me, they’re so fierce. The little flecks seem to flash. The grooves beside his mouth carve themselves deeper. “What are you sorry for?”
What am I not sorry for? I regret everything I’ve ever done with a guy. My first kiss, which took place after an eighth-grade dance, with a boy named Cody. My first French kiss, which was with Nate. Letting Nate take off my bra, put his fingers inside me. Sleeping with Nate and thinking we were making love. Buying lingerie for him, going down on him, letting him take the pictures when I thought it would bring us closer.
West, too. I regret what just happened with West.
“Everything,” I whisper.
It’s the wrong thing to say. His hands push into his hair, clenching. “Christ. I can’t even—what’s the matter with you, huh?”
“Nothing you can fix.”
“So why are you here?”
I take a deep breath. I can do this. “I need to know it’s not going to happen again. That you’re not going to go around punching people because of me.”
He frowns, a deep slash between his eyebrows. “Who said it was because of you?”
The question catches me off guard. “I heard—I heard you guys were arguing about me. Sierra told Bridget.”
“I don’t know a Sierra.”
“I guess she knows you.”
His face goes even darker. “It’s not her business. Or yours. It’s between Nate and me.”
“I think we’re way past the point where you can play the none-of-your-business card.”
That makes him even more agitated. He wheels away, stalking to the end of the row. Then he comes back and grabs the cart with both hands. He looks like he wants to shove it at me. “He pissed me off. That’s all you need to know.”
Head lowered, he kicks the toe of his boot against the cart. Not hard, but hard enough to make way too much noise.
“You have to tell me what happened,” I say, as calmly as I can manage. “Then I’ll leave you alone.”
His head comes up. “You think that’s what I want? For you to leave me alone?”
I don’t know what he wants, so I keep my lips pressed shut.
“He pissed me off because he’s a smug, arrogant prick,” West says. “And I was fucking sick of hearing him talk, all right?”
“So it had nothing to do with me.”
He rakes his hand through his hair again. Turns away.
“I wouldn’t say that.”
It occurs to me that I am good at waiting, and maybe that’s one thing I have on West. He’s more worldly, more confident, but he’s volatile and I’m not. I’ll stand here until he’s done throwing his tantrum, and then he’ll have to tell me.
I wait some more.
He turns back around. “I didn’t do it for you, okay? I just couldn’t take it anymore. He deserved to get beat down, and nobody else was doing it. But if you have some kind of hero fantasy, you can forget it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know. If you’re getting your rocks off thinking I hit your ex because I’ve got a thing for you.”
“Are you serious?”
“Why wouldn’t I be serious?”
For a few seconds, I can’t speak. He’s just yanked me so rapidly from ashamed and awkward to righteously pissed off, my brain is having trouble keeping up. “That’s so . . . conceited,” I finally manage. “I mean, so, so conceited. After what you just—why would you even say something like that?”
He steps closer. He’s vibrating with emotion, and I can’t sort him out. I don’t know what he’s thinking, how he feels. I only know he feels it a lot. “Why did you touch me?” he asks.
“I was trying to get your attention.”
“People tap when they’re trying to get someone’s attention. That wasn’t a tap.”
“It was . . .”
I’ve got nothing. I groped him, and we both know it. The only thing I can do now is lie. “It was an accident.”
I hate when he does this. Looms over me this way with those eyes and that face. Looks at me. It is my new least-favorite thing: being looked at by West. Like he’s trying to sex me to death.
“Honey,” he says finally, “that was one hell of a long accident.”
“Don’t call me honey.”
“I think you like it.”
“I think your ears are too small.”
I nearly groan after I say it. Stupid blurting mouth.
But I had to say something, because honey is degrading to women, totally inappropriate, utterly unexpected. And I do kind of like it.
West exhales a laugh through his nose, smiling. “You have a gap between your front teeth.”
“It’s useful. I can spit through it.”
“I’d like to see that.”
“Well, you won’t get to.”
“No. We’re not going to be friends. We’re not going to be anything. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
He doesn’t like that. His mouth doesn’t, and his eyes don’t. “It’s not what it seemed like you wanted to tell me a minute ago.”
“I don’t care what it seemed like.” If he keeps leaning closer, I’m going to pinch him.
He leans closer. I pinch him.
Okay, I try. But my hand gets near his arm, and lust sucks me in, and then I’m just kind of groping his sleeve.
His biceps is as hard as it looks. I take my hand away before it can declare its allegiance to the enemy.
“Looked to me like you wanted me to kiss you,” West says.
I cross my arms and examine the books on the shelf behind his shoulder, a neat row of thick blue spines that say PMLA.
“It doesn’t matter,” I tell him. “I can’t afford it. If people think we’re together, or that what happened between you and Nate was about me, they’ll keep talking about it, and this whole mess will go on and on. That’s not what I want. I want it to go away.”
“You want it to go away.”
The doubt in his voice fires up my anger again. I hate that some people think I published those pictures myself, just for the attention. I hate that he might think it.
“Yes.” The word comes out a little louder than I intend, so I say it again. “Yes.”
“Rich Diehms called you a slut three minutes ago, and you didn’t say anything to him. You said it’s fine.”
“What do you want me to do, chase him down and punch him in the mouth?”
“Maybe,” he says. “Yell at him, at least.”
“What would that accomplish?”
“Does everything you do have to be about accomplishing something?”
Here, at least, is a question I can answer easily. “Yes.”
“So what are you trying to accomplish now?”
“I’m trying to get my pictures off the Internet, and I’m trying keep a low profile so people will forget it ever happened.”
He laughs at me.
My hand comes up so fast, I don’t even realize I’m about to smack him until he catches my wrist.
“Don’t call me honey.” I’m struggling against his grip, so angry that he caught me and won’t let go. Caught me easily. I’ve never tried to slap someone before. I’m breathless and too emotional, balanced on the brink of tears. “Let me go.”
“You gonna hit me?”
I wrench my wrist, then try pounding at his chest. He captures my other wrist.
“It’s a lost cause,” he says. “Trying to get at me. Just as hopeless as the idea you can erase something from the Internet or make people forget what you look like naked. Completely hopeless.”
Once his words sink in, I stop struggling, and he lets me go. I spear him with the iciest glare I can muster. “Thanks for the pep talk, but you are the last person on this campus I would ask for advice.”
Something in his eyes shuts down then. “Oh? Why’s that?”
Because you’re a drug dealer.
Because you’re the kind of person who punches people when they piss you off.
Because you’re trouble.
I can’t tell him any of that. I can’t make myself sound like an angel. I suck dick on the Internet.
“Because I was with Nate. And you’re . . .”
When I trail off, he lifts one scarred eyebrow. “I’m?”
This time, his laugh is bitter. “No,” he says. “I’m not Nate.”
I want to apologize, but I’m not sure how, or even what to say.
West doesn’t wait around for me to figure it out. He takes his cart, checks the number on the spine of the next book in line, and begins rolling down the aisle away from me.
“I’m sorry,” I call to his back. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Don’t worry about it, princess,” he says without turning around. “I won’t say a word to anyone.”
“Okay.” I wrap my arms around my stomach. “Thank you.”
He doesn’t answer me. I guess we’re finished, and I’m relieved. Sort of.
I’m also shaky and weak. It seems possible I might puke.
West pauses, right in the middle of turning from our row to the next one. He leans over the cart, balancing his forearms on the books, staring down at them for a long, awkward minute that feels like a year.
He lifts his head and looks right at me. “This wasn’t a good day for us to have this talk.”
“No,” I agree. “Probably not.”
He blows out a breath. “I shouldn’t have hit him. It was a dumb-ass thing to do, and I’m still pretty wired from it. Sorry I . . .” He waves his hand at me. “Sorry for all that.”
I don’t know what to say, so I nod.
“Is your nose okay?”
“A little. But it’s not a big deal.”
He flexes and releases his swollen hand a few times, staring down at it. It’s his left hand. I guess that means he’s left-handed.
“What about your hand?” I ask.
The floor falls silent. I wonder if anyone is up here. If there’s a girl around the corner, sitting in silence, listening to this whole thing.
Maybe she’s like me. Scared and stuck, frozen in place.
“You know,” West says, “you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Yeah. That’s what Bridget tells me.”
But she only says it because it’s what she’s supposed to say. I know what she really thinks. It’s the same as what I think—what everyone thinks.
I did do something wrong. I trusted the wrong person. I made a stupid mistake. I made it possible for Nate to take advantage of me, and it’s my responsibility to own up to it.
West shakes his head, as though he can hear all these thoughts, and he doesn’t buy it. “You took some sexy pictures for your guy. Lots of girls do it. If some girl gave me pictures like that, I’d never fucking stick them on the Internet, no matter how pissed at her I was.”
“You saw them?”
“Everybody saw them.”
I close my eyes against a stinging pressure in my sinuses and behind my eyes.
Crying isn’t on my schedule.
“He says he didn’t do it,” I whisper.
“That’s because he’s a douchebag. Douchebags lie.”
“Can we not talk about this?”
His head drops, his gaze falling back to the books. “All I wanted to say was, I don’t think you can make it go away. Not the way you’re doing it.”
I have no reply. It hurts too much to hear him articulate it—my worst fear—and for the second time today I feel as if he’s the one who hurt me, even though both times I did it to myself.
I’ve just run into his elbow all over again.
The way he says my name forces me to look up.
“You know what?” he asks.
He starts wheeling his cart away. Turning his head toward me, he smiles the tiniest bit and says, “Except for that gap between your teeth, you looked fucking hot.”
He turns the corner. The wheels squeak as he moves into the next aisle.
He’s a pig.
I won’t think about what it means that I’m not disgusted with him.
Or that I’m standing here, arms wrapped around my torso, smiling at my feet.
It’s too screwed up, so I just won’t think about it.
I won’t wonder if he’s right and I’m wrong—if everything I’ve done to try to rescue my future is pointless and really I should be doing something different. Fighting for myself, somehow.
Right now I can’t handle it. I can only breathe in deep and try to make myself remember what’s next on my schedule. Where I have to be. What I have to do to get through the rest of this day.
This is my fight. The only thing I know how to do to get my life back the way it was. Bury the pictures, rebuild my reputation.
This is my fight, and I’m not giving up.
You can find the next section of the serial on January 17th over at Vilma’s Book Blog
Robin York Bio:
Robin York grew up at a college, went to college, signed on for some more college, and then married a university professor. She still isn’t sure why it didn’t occur to her to write New Adult sooner. Writing as Ruthie Knox, she is a USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary romance, including RITA-finalistsAbout Last Night and Room at the Inn. She moonlights as a mother, makes killer salted caramels, and sorts out thorny plot problems while running, hiking, or riding her bike.