Bring Down the Stars (Beautiful Hearts Duet #1)(7)

And where I came from, debts must always be repaid.


He cheated on you.

The same thought greeted me first thing in the morning, riding on the current of my clock’s blaring alarm and slugging me in the heart. I snaked out my hand to shut off the alarm. The painful whispers weren’t so easily silenced.

You gave him your heart and he threw it in the garbage.

“Stop it,” I whispered to the dark room.

The clock read four in the morning. I was trained for early rising. Growing up on the Caldwell Farm in Nebraska, ‘sleeping in’ meant staying in bed until eight, and only on your birthday. Three months ago, I would’ve popped out of bed, humming a tune and ready to tackle the day. But that was before I walked into my boyfriend Mark’s bedroom and found him naked and voracious with another woman.

Mark stole my ability to fall asleep at night, and get out of bed in the morning. These days, when the alarm went off, I only wanted to sink back into bed and sleep for a hundred years. Or curl up under the covers with my worn-out copy of Emily Dickinson poems and cry. Cry until the vision of Mark and that girl was washed out of my eyes forever.

“It’s the first day of classes,” I muttered to the ceiling. “He’s not allowed to ruin this for me.”

I blinked the sleep out of my eyes, then sat up and stretched, shaking off the tiredness. The heartache clung harder and wouldn’t let go.

I showered, then put on a pretty sundress in cream with small pink flowers all over it, and a matching cardigan. The dress was a designer label I’d found at Marshall’s for fifteen dollars. Designer labels didn’t mean anything to me, but looking nice at all times did.

If you want to be successful, dress as if you already are.

I’d read that in a magazine once. That advice went hand in hand with a Yale study I read about that showed people who dressed nicely or professionally were taken more seriously. I had serious goals, and any preconceived notions about me—a poor farm girl from Nebraska—would only get in the way.

I tied up my long, coppery red hair in a bun to keep it out of my way for work. A little mascara and lip-gloss was all I ever wore for makeup. As I dabbed sunscreen on the light smattering of freckles across my nose, my phone chimed with a text.

Here’s to a wonderful start to your junior year! We’re all proud of you. Love, Mom, Dad, and Travis

I typed back, Thank you. Love you all and miss you already. Xoxo

I blinked back sudden tears. I’d returned from my summer in Nebraska only a week ago, but the urge to go back was an emotional hunger stronger than the physical one rumbling in my stomach. I wanted to go home and nurse my heartache surrounded by people who loved me.

I headed downstairs for coffee. The apartment was quiet and dark. My roommate wouldn’t be up for hours. Ruby always scheduled all her classes no earlier than eleven a.m. But she didn’t have to work like I did.

I sat at the counter with my First Day of Class To-Do List and a cup of coffee. I was big on lists. I’d read that making lists helped calm anxiety about all the stuff you have to do. Another article said that writing down goals helped them come true. I had journals full of goals and lists. Getting over Mark was #1 on today’s agenda.

“Everyone suffers terrible break-ups,” I muttered to my empty kitchen. “You have too much work to do this year to let Mark Watts drag you down.”

Saying his name out loud was a bad idea. I gulped the last of my coffee, swallowed it down hard and grabbed my backpack. I took a last look at myself in the mirror. Shadows under my red-rimmed eyes but otherwise okay. Maybe the same advice about looking professional applied here too.

Don’t act like you’re heartbroken and you won’t be.

The sun was creeping over the eastern horizon when I stepped out of the campus apartment and unlocked my bike from the rack. The burnt orange and purple light spreading over Amherst reminded me of sunrises on the farm. When I was little, I’d sit on my dad’s shoulders and watch the light turn wheat fields to liquid gold, or spill over the sea of green corn in spring.

“Do you know why the dawn is so beautiful, Autumn?” Dad asked. “Because every day is another chance for something amazing. You just have to be ready for it.”

Maybe that’s why I dressed as nicely as my tiny budget would allow, and got up early, even on Sundays, and made lists of my goals, and worked my butt off with the hopes of doing some good in the world. When something amazing came my way, not only would I be ready, I’d have helped make it happen.

I wasn’t about to let Mark’s betrayal—or anything else—get in the way of that.

I put on a smile as I stepped into the bakery at a few minutes to five. The scent of warm bread, sugar, and coffee wrapped pleasantly around me, along with a baritone voice singing an operatic aria.

“Good morning, Edmond,” I called, stowing my bag behind the counter. I took my apron from a front peg on the wall and tied it around my waist.

The singing grew louder and the large frame of Edmond de Guiche burst through the back door, his hands folded over his heart as his aria took a turn for the dramatic.

Edmond only sang about love. Lost love, true love, unrequited love. The big Frenchman with the elegant mustache was like an opera character himself, dispensing lines of poetry or bursts of song to his customers with every pastry, convinced love and food went hand in hand.

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