Knockout (North Star Series Book 1)

By: Tracey Ward

Chapter One

The first time Kellen Coulter walked into my world I was thirteen years old. Old enough to know what beautiful looked like, to recognize it when it sat down at the kitchen table in ratty blue jeans and a gray hoody pushed away from ruffled, chestnut brown hair. Old enough to understand why I couldn’t look away from his square jaw, imperfect nose and midnight blue eyes. They were almost black, the irises blending in until he looked inhuman. Scary. Exciting.

When I walked into the kitchen and saw him for the first time, I froze. I didn’t understand then that he was used to that reaction. He was seventeen, four years older, three grades higher, and infinitely more streetwise than I was. He also knew exactly what he looked like and when he smiled at me, it was the end for me.

I was ruined the moment I met him.

“Hey,” he said, lifting one hand from where they both rested on the table. I noticed that his knuckles were cracked and raw.

“Hi,” I replied hesitantly.

I had come in to get a soda from the fridge before I sat down to do my homework. I had planned on doing it at the kitchen table, but now I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t scared of him, not really, but he made me nervous. It wasn’t that he was too good looking, it was that he was too rough looking. He was more than my wealthy, suburbia, four car garage upbringing could handle.

“I’m Kellen,” he said.

His voice was nice. Surprisingly gentle considering his exterior. The more I looked at it, the more I was convinced his nose had been broken a couple times. Without a doubt, he was a fighter.

He was also still smiling at me. I started to get the impression he was laughing at me. Probably at my tongue tied reaction to him or the staring I suddenly realized I was doing. The thought ticked me off.

I tossed my book bag onto the table across from him, my eyes unabashedly locked on his.

“Jenna,” I told him, spitting out my name like I was throwing down a gauntlet. “Are you here to see my dad or my sister?”

“Is she pretty?”

“Prettier than my dad.”

His smile widened briefly before it faded altogether. His eyes flickered to his hands, to the injured and broken surface of his skin, before coming back to mine. His entire expression changed and that quick smile seemed like something I’d made up. Something I dreamed.

“I wish I was here to see her, then,” he muttered.

“Did you get in a fight?”

He didn’t flinch. “Yeah.”

He didn’t lie to me either, something I appreciated. At thirteen years old, I was good and ready to be done with the lies that I was fed to protect me. They didn’t protect me at all, they only pissed me off when I found out about them. Like when I found out that my mom hadn’t actually gone on vacation to visit her sister on the East coast when I was eight. She’d had breast cancer and had to get surgery. She was gone for almost a month. She even gave me a souvenir when she got back – a small snow globe with the statue of liberty inside. She hadn’t even set foot in New York! She must have ordered it online. I used to have it sitting on my dresser where I could see it every day. Now it sat in the back of my sock drawer under the nylons I wore once and never needed again.

“What was it about?” I asked.

“Something stupid.”

“Then why’d you fight about it?”

“Because I’m a guy.”

I scowled. “That’s not an answer.”

“When you’re from my neighborhood, it is.”

“That’s dumb.”

He grinned. “I already told you that.”

“Was it about a girl?”

“Do you mean over a girl or for a girl?”

“What’s the difference?”

“A lot.”

“Tell me,” I said, starting to sit down in the chair across from him. The second my butt hit the chair, I shot back out again. “Oh, wait, hold on! Do you want a soda?”

I could feel his eyes on me when I opened the fridge door. I was suddenly very conscious of my long, dark hair, my tall gangly body and my startling lack of boobs. They hadn’t come in yet. Laney, my sister, with her stupid C cup liked to tell me that they never would. That missing piece of me had never made me feel more like a child than it did in that moment. I knew he wasn’t looking for them, he wasn’t being gross and checking me out, but I knew he saw me. All of me. He was very alert. Very aware.

“I shouldn’t,” he said.

I glanced around the fridge door to see him looking at the entryway to the kitchen. He was probably looking for my dad. Probably wondering if it was a good idea to be sitting in his lawyer’s kitchen with the guy’s daughter. But I knew from experience that my dad would never bring home a client that couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t care what neighborhood he was from. My dad had grown up rough as well, ‘from the wrong side of the tracks’ he would always say, but he worked hard, put himself through college and spent his entire adult life becoming a very successful attorney. Now he did a lot of pro bono work with kids growing up the way he did. Kids like Kellen. People he felt that, given the chance, could become better than their upbringing.