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The first novel in this darkly sexy contemporary series from bestselling author Monica Murphy kicks off an emotionally powerful two-part tale of forbidden love.
Crazy how eight years can disappear in an instant. One look at Katie Watts, and I’m a fifteen-year-old again—the one who risked everything to save a terrified girl from her twisted kidnapper. She’s grown-up now—beautiful, quiet, composed—and telling her story to the world. A story that involves me in more ways than you can imagine. She used to call me her guardian angel. Sure, I risked my life, but she was worth dying for.
I need to make contact with her. Just to ensure that she’s safe.
Somehow we reconnect. We become friends . . . but I want more. I want to make her mine. And she wants me too. Does she know who I am? Has she figured me out? Not yet. But she will. In the meantime, I need to make sure that whatever hold that animal had on her is gone.
So, yeah, I’m stealing these moments with her. Savoring them. Knowing, dreading, that she’ll soon find out who I really am. And everything will fall apart. All because of that twisted, perverted monster sitting on death row. Her kidnapper. A convicted serial killer.
Praise for Never Tear Us Apart
“All the best parts of romance and betrayal . . . I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.”—New York Times bestselling author Jay Crownover
“A powerful story that left me raw yet hopeful.”—USA Today bestselling author K. A. Tucker
“A powerful story of friendship, trauma, coping and betrayal. The characters jump off the page into real life and will have readers gasping and feeling every emotion that they go through. Another amazing book to add to Murphy’s already stellar library!”—RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars)
“Murphy has written a compelling and emotional love story of two severely broken people, each of whom can be healed only by the other.”—Booklist
“Murphy imbues these characters with genuineness and plausibility. . . . [Readers] will look forward to the promised sequel.”—Publishers Weekly
“It’s poetic, addresses difficult themes, and captures the essence of our fragility as humans and the strength love provides.”—Heroes and Heartbreakers
“Beautiful, poignant, and perfectly written . . . It’s a book that burrows into your very heart and grabs hold. A book that’s different yet unforgettable.”—Dirty Girl Romance
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Never Tear Us Apart
The lights are bright and hot and I feel little beads of sweat form along my hairline. I don’t touch my face, though. I might ruin the makeup that someone just spent the last thirty minutes carefully applying, so I dip my head and wring my hands together instead, noting how clammy my palms are, though my fingers are like ice. A fitting contradiction, considering how I feel.
Nervous. Excited. Terrified. I make no sense. What I’m doing makes no sense, especially to my family.
I’m about to go on camera. Ready to tell my story.
The reporter is one I’ve seen on TV since I can remember. She’s famous. Everyone knows her name. She’s pretty in that broadcast news way. Perfectly coiffed dark blond hair, bright blue eyes heavily made up. Slashes of peachy pink define her cheeks and her lips are a subtle berry color. She’s efficient and knows exactly what she wants. I can tell by the way she commands the room, by how fast the network employees do her bidding. She’s strong. Confident. Flawless.
Reminding me that I am most definitely not. All of my flaws mock me, remind me that I’m not perfect. At one point in my life I thought I was pretty close to it, when I was young and ignorant and believed myself untouchable. But perfect is hard to obtain. And once you lose all sight of it, it’s impossible to gain back.
“Are you ready, Katherine?” The reporter’s voice is soft and even and I glance up, meeting her sympathetic gaze. Humiliation washes over me and I sit up straighter, schooling my expression. I don’t need her pity. After feeling hollow inside for so long, unable to dig up even an ounce of bravery, unable to face . . . any of this, I finally feel strong enough and I can’t forget that.
Only took me eight years and my father’s death to make it happen, but I’m doing it.
“I’m ready,” I tell her with a firm nod. I hear Mom off to the side, murmuring something to Brenna, and I refuse to look at them, too afraid my strength will evaporate. They came with me, I told them I needed their support, but now I’m wondering if that was a mistake. I don’t want to hear Mom’s sobs while I’m trying to talk. I don’t want to see them watching me spill all of my painful, ugly secrets with horrified expressions and tears in their eyes.
Everyone’s shed enough tears over this tragedy that is my life. I should celebrate that I’m alive, not hide in the shadows. I haven’t been allowed to talk for so long and I feel almost . . . liberated. Yes, despite the awful things I’m about to reveal, I’m relieved. Free. From the moment I came home, Dad demanded our silence. Particularly mine. He was too embarrassed, too ashamed that he’d failed his daughter.
I heard him say that once, when he and Mom got into a huge fight pretty soon after I came back home. They thought I was sleeping safely in my bedroom but their yelling woke me up, not that I slept much back then. I still have a hard time. But I remember that moment like yesterday, it’s burned so deep in my brain. The despair in Dad’s voice, that’s what drew me out of bed first. That and my name being mentioned again and again, their voices rising.
I slipped out of bed and crept down the hall, my heart racing. I pressed my body against the wall of the hallway and listened, unable to turn away when I realized they weren’t just talking about me—they were fighting about me.
“You can’t keep her under lock and key,” Mom had said. “I know I was always the overprotective one, but I think . . . no, I know you’re taking it too far.”
“I failed her, Liz. I failed our baby girl and there’s nothing I can do to change that.”
But he could have changed that, if he’d just accepted me. Hugged me like he hugged my older sister, Brenna, without thought and with plenty of affection. If he’d stopped looking at me with so much shame and humiliation filling his eyes, as if I were some sort of mistake returned home to them, sullied and disgusting. I went from being Daddy’s girl to the daughter Daddy didn’t want to touch, all in a matter of days.
It hurt me then. It still hurts me now. And he’s been dead for over six months.
“We can stop taping at any time if you need a moment to compose yourself while you’re telling your story,” the reporter reassures me in her smooth, professionally comforting voice, and I smile and nod, thinking in my head that won’t be necessary.
I need to tell it, and I don’t want to stop, or come back at another time. I need to purge it from my soul once and for all.
More than anything, I need to set the record straight.
There have been endless reports on what happened to me. Countless one-hour documentaries devoted to my case. Two made-for-TV movies and about a bazillion true crime shows. My face was on the cover of People magazine when I was first found eight years ago. Wearing a drab gray sweatshirt and matching pants a female police officer gave me that were two sizes too big, my eyes full of tears as I stared at the camera while they escorted me out of the police station. They were taking me to the hospital so I could be examined.
A shiver moves down my spine at the horrific memory.
I kept that magazine, stashed away in a box. I saved it. My so-called claim to fame. Why I don’t know. Not like it documents a pleasant memory.
But it’s mine. My life. I can’t change it, no matter how much everyone who loves me wants me to.
People magazine wants to talk to me now, especially once they found out about this interview. They want to put my face on the cover again, but I haven’t said yes. I don’t think I will. Publishers want me to write a book about my experience, but I don’t think I’ll do it. This one time, I will tell my story from start to finish. The scheduled interview will air for one hour, but I’ve already been reassured that if I have more to say, the network will give me two.
Must be a slow week, but I don’t argue with them. I think I will take the two hours. I have a lot to say. This is my time. My moment.
And then I will never speak of Aaron William Monroe in public again.
The sun broke through the wispy tendrils of fog right about the time we left the hotel. Its intense rays caressed my arms and warmed my hair and face as we headed west down the sidewalk, and I regretted wearing the bright red lifeguard sweatshirt Mom bought me last night at a gift shop. I’d begged her for it, pleading with big eyes and my hands together in mock prayer. She’d reluctantly agreed, griping about the price the entire time.
Despite my love for the outrageously red sweatshirt, it was bulky and would look really stupid if I tried to tie it around my waist.
But I was stuck with it.
The sky was this incredible blue that looked almost unnatural, like out of a painting. The wind was cool, bringing with it the scent of the ocean. Dampness lingered in the air, from both the Pacific and the fog, and I could feel it on my face, taking the edge off the heat of the sun. Pure, unfiltered joy seemed to wash over me and I couldn’t remember a time when I’d felt so excited.
Never again would I feel that same innocent excitement.
When we finally arrived, the boardwalk was as crowded as I’d ever seen it and the rides had only just opened. Immediately I launched in, begging Mom and Dad to let us go on our own, and I pulled out all the stops.
“Brenna gets to take off with her friends all the time!” The whine in my voice was unmistakable. I’d been pleading my case, claiming I was old enough and could handle it, but I sounded like a total baby.
“That’s because I’m fifteen, not a whiny little child like you,” Brenna said condescendingly, glancing over at her best friend, Emily, before they both started to crack up. I hated Brenna sometimes. Didn’t really like Emily much, either. They always picked on me. Made me feel dumb.
My best friend, Sarah, glared at the two of them along with me. We seriously didn’t need Brenna’s commentary to screw up what we wanted so desperately.
To hang out at the amusement park all day by ourselves, not having to tag along with Mom and Dad. Sarah and I were both turning thirteen next month, our birthdays only six days apart, and we were eager for a taste of independence.
“Sarah has her cellphone,” I continued, staring at Daddy, pleading with him with my eyes. I could see his gaze waver, the flicker of hesitation, and I needed to latch onto that quickly. “We’ll check in every hour, I swear.”
“I don’t know . . .”
Chancing a quick glance at Mom, I could see that she really wasn’t too big on the idea at all. She wasn’t the one I needed to convince, though.
“Please. We can meet every two hours if you want. Get together for lunch. It’s only ten. We can meet at noon, right over there.” I pointed at the nearby food court. “Please, please, please.”
“We’ll be on our best behavior,” Sarah said solemnly, her expression serious. So serious I almost wanted to laugh.
But I held it all in. No way would I blow this, not when we were so close.
“No talking to strangers,” Daddy said, pointing at the both of us. I could tell he was this close to agreeing. He was such a softie. “And no leaving this boardwalk, not even to go to the beach.”
My heart threatened to burst from excitement. I knew we almost had him.
“Jim, really.” Mom’s voice was full of disbelief, but I ignored her. Something I’d grown quite good at doing the last few months. We hadn’t been getting along. She was always trying to tell me what to do. I was sick of it. Desperate for independence, wanting to forge my own way, not follow after her. What did she know about my life? Things had changed so much since she was a girl, I knew she couldn’t have a clue.
“Ah, come on, Liz. She’ll be fine,” Daddy reassured her before he turned his sunny smile on me. “We gotta let her go sometime, right?”
Monica Murphy is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of One Week Girlfriend, Second Chance Boyfriend, Three Broken Promises, Four Years Later, Owning Violet, Stealing Rose, Taming Lily, Never Tear Us Apart, and the eBook novella Drew + Fable Forever. A native Californian, she lives in the foothills of Yosemite with her husband and three children.