*** Upper New Adult Spinoff Standalone to the USA Today Bestselling Novel, Under the Influence***
“Shhhh, Cassandra, it’s our little secret.”
Secrets are stubborn things when they refuse to remain hidden. They tear through your soul, clawing and lashing until the pain becomes so unbearable, you’re left no choice but to silently scream your agony. No one hears you, of course. You smile on the outside and drift through life as though your mind is at peace, but all the while, you remain your own tortured prisoner. Sealed inside the darkened, soundproof room of your conscience, deafening cries echo as you plead for someone to unlock the door and release you from your nightmares. And eventually, when no one comes, you find ways to cope. To dull the suffering the only way you know how.
But what happens when you’ve become so numb, when everything around you has become so blurred, that you begin to lose focus on the saving grace standing directly in front of you? When you’ve anesthetized yourself to the point of losing consciousness, forced to watch as his once solid image fades away, lost to your reach in the haze as it smothers you?
What do you do then?
You fight. You heal. Then you bring him back.
Well, my name is Cassie Cooper, and it’s time.
No more secrets.
This is my story.
***WARNING – The subject matter of this novel centers around the psychological effects due to sexual abuse experienced during childhood. For this reason, as well as sexual situations, language, and adult themes, suggested reading age is 17+.***
**POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR UNDER THE INFLUENCE (CHOSEN PATHS BOOK 1)**
When I found out that L.B. Simmons was writing a book for Cassie I knew that I had to read it as soon as possible. The glimpses we got of her in Under the Influence made me crave more of her story. I was honored to recieve a copy of Out of Focus for an honest review.
When I was reading Under the Influence there were some serious red flags thrown up regarding Cassie’s behavior. I was sure there was a lot more to her than the crude, promisuous best friend. She was silently hiding something and I knew I wanted to delve in to what it was.
My heart hurt so much for Cassie. All of the pain that she carried within her made me weep for her. I loved brash, outlandish Cassie, but she was nothing in comparison to the person she truly was under her carefully constructed mask. Seeing Cassie slowly take the parts and pieces of that mask and unveil the dark and light that she truly housed within her soul was beautiful. There wasn’t, for even one page, a time when I didn’t feel the strength that she possessed. Even when the worst bits of her were on display there was a silent strength behind her actions. Cassie was an amazingly well developed character and her spirit leapt from the pages of her book.
Grady was the perfect yang to Cassie’s yin. He knew darkness, and had experienced more than his share of it, but he found the light and was able to shed his light into Cassie’s darkness. His never ending patience and acceptance was glorious. I had appreciated the small glimpses we had of him in Under the Inflluence, but had definitely underestimated the strength of his character. Out of Focus was most definitely Cassie’s story of redemtion, but Grady was the catalyst that had her moving forward. And for that I loved every single thing about him. Any flaws he had only served to make him one of the most perfect characters I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
Out of Focus may be billed as a romance, and it does include one incredibly touching love story, but for me the true story was Cassie’s acceptance of herself. Her healing. Her learning to love and forgive herself. Those are always my favorite stories, and this one lived up to almost every expectation I have ever had. I absolutely adored every word that was written and all of the love and pain that was poured into Out of Focus. L.B. Simmons has definitely earned her way on to my short list with Out of Focus and I will be eagerly anticipating her future releases.
Only twenty-three years old, and I’m so goddamn tired.
I used to be so much stronger. I somehow kept the voices at bay, the memories locked away safely, contained within the confines of my mind. But with each passing day, I feel the glow of my once-luminous strength fading. Darkness encases me now, bowing the walls of protection I put into place years ago. My past is an ever-present nightmare, repeatedly tapping, slowly fracturing the window of my sanity.
I have no doubt that it’s only a matter of time before the glass finally breaks. Blackness will eventually seep through its cracks and deliver me from the safety of my façade into a reality that will destroy me.
I’ve done my part. I’ve kept the secrets thrust upon me with dedicated believability. My portrayal of who I am has become a blurred, hazy version of the once very distinct Cassie Cooper.
I read an ungodly amount of trashy romance novels.
I’m the overtly sexual and foul-mouthed friend who will say anything to get a laugh.
And I have exactly zero fucks to give to what anyone else thinks about my actions.
But the reality, the actuality, is this:
I read obsessively to escape my own world. To live the dreams of others when, for so long, the reoccurrence of my nightmares has been my reality. I read to fall in love and find a happily ever after, even if it is purely imagined. With each story I read, I’m able to live and love vicariously through the characters in my books. It’s the only plausible way for me to survive.
I threw away my virginity at the age of thirteen just to prove something. And when I found that proof, that vindication I was looking for, I sought it every chance I could. Sex is about control for me. Nothing more. The act will never be about making love, like it is for the heroines in my books. I will never be granted the beauty of that gift.
I use humor as a form of avoidance. I draw upon laughter to block the pain. And I smile to mask the agony of the eight-year-old soul who weeps within me.
And the fucks . . . well, that’s not entirely accurate either.
I have given two to be exact: One to my best friend of seventeen years. She knows nothing of my past, and although she so willingly disclosed the horrors of hers, mine remains hidden for no other reason than to avoid the pity she would undoubtedly cast my way if I were to ever tell her. I don’t want her pity. I would sooner die than have her look at me in any other way than with pride.
The other died with the person to whom it was given. Anthony “Rat” Marchione. He was my one allowance of naïveté. The one person I actually wanted to touch me, to hold me, to love me. He was going to rescue me from my brokenness as though I were a character in one of my books. Young and senseless, I thought he was to be my eventual happily ever after, but tragically, he was murdered five years ago.
Black coldness waits in vain to leech the void where his once beautiful existence filled the pieces of my irrevocably shattered heart. Where he temporarily healed the hurt of the innocent child and quieted the voices that tormented her.
He’s gone now. I’ve accepted that. And in turn, I have relinquished all dreams associated with finding the light at the end of this miserable tunnel.
I will keep trudging through this life . . . this sentence handed to me for someone else’s crime, my payment shackled by secrets and weighted with lies. I will continue to do so with the same fraudulent smile on my lips and play the part of the strong heroine so convincingly, that even I believe it.
It’s only a matter of time before my fictional strength wears out—when I’m no longer hidden safely inside my protective blur—and I have to face the very real and lucid image of my past.
But until that time comes, I’ll do all I can do.
All I have ever done.
I will pretend.
I loved you once. A love I thought irrevocable. A love I mistakenly believed could transcend both time and circumstance. Under the influence of my dimwitted, naïve, traitorous heart, I became intoxicated with what I now know was simply a figment of my self-indulgent imagination. So drunk on the feeling, I couldn’t see what was right in front of my face. So foolishly enamored, I blindly followed my heart into the depths of an emotion that would ravage me.
Years later, I know now what I wish I knew then. I am stronger. Smarter. Tougher. I will not allow myself to be broken again.
I loved you.
I raged for you.
I wept for you.
And now, I’m letting you go.
***Author’s Note: Under the Influence is the journey of two childhood friends that spans the course of five pivotal years in their lives. It is a story about their discovery of true friendship as it blossoms into first love, their experience of crucial sacrifice and ultimate betrayal, and their endurance of agonizing heartbreak on the way to finding lasting redemption.***
L.B. Simmons is a graduate of Texas A&M University and holds a degree in Biomedical Science. She has been a practicing Chemist for the last 11 years. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Texas and writes every chance she gets.
Keep up to date with all things L.B. Simmons by signing up for her newsletter or following her on social media.