Tear You Apart

Tear You Apart

I’m on a train.

I don’t know which stop I got on at; I only know the train is going fast and the world outside becomes a blur. I should get off, but I don’t. The universe is playing a cosmic joke on me. Here I had my life-a good life with everything a woman could want-and suddenly, there is something more I didn’t know I could have. A chance for me to be satisfied and content and maybe even on occasion deliriously, amazingly, exuberantly happy.

So this is where I am, on a train that’s out of control, and I am not just a passenger. I’m the one shoveling the furnace full of coal to keep it going fast and faster.

If I could make myself believe it all happened by chance and I couldn’t help it, that I’ve been swept away, that it’s not my fault, that it’s fate…would that be easier? The truth is, I didn’t know I was looking for this until I found Will, but I must’ve been, all this time. And now it is not random, it is not fate, it is not being swept away.

This is my choice. And I don’t know how to stop.

Or even if I want to.

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  1. Tear You Apart takes place in Philadelphia and New York City, two places I’ve been but in which I have never lived.
  2. Elisabeth’s twin daughters were named during a Twitter contest I held while I was doing a Weekend of Legend with Lauren Dane. Elissa Petruzzi picked the names, Jacqueline and Katherine. Jac and Kat.
  3. Elisabeth and Naveen’s first meeting was based on my memories of my first night at college, even though none of the events in the story actually happened.
  4. Elisabeth is named after the main female character in 9 ½ weeks, one of the first erotic novels I ever read.
  5. There really is a gimp suit in the front window of a South Street storefront in Philadelphia. (Probably more than one!)
  6. Will claims not to speak French, but he totally does.
  7. Will’s favorite song is Hell Bent for Leather. Elisabeth doesn’t have a favorite song, because she could never settle on just one.
  8. Elisabeth experiences synesthesia, which is when colors and sounds or smells link up – a color might have an odor, for example. To her, Will smells and tastes and sounds like the ocean.
  9. Some of the locations used in the book – Madame Tussaud’s, MOMA, the park where there are giant white statues of heads, the Empire State Building – were places I’ve actually been. The diner where they can’t find any decent cake is a real place, too. When Elisabeth almost has a breakdown based on the fact she can’t even get a muffin, that was based on a real thing that happened to me. Who knew it was so hard to find a muffin in the city?
  10. Tear You Apart is not a romance. It’s a love story.
  11. The title comes from the song by She Wants Revenge.
  12. The character of Will is unabashedly based (physically) on Norman Reedus. Love him!
  13. I also despise modern art, and experienced something very much like Will and Elisabeth’s trip to the Museum of Modern Art. Moved to tears by Starry Night. Underwhelmed by some other pieces. Drunk on the MOMAtini. (The rest of it didn’t happen to me!)
  14. The book can be experienced, in addition to the text, as a “rock opera” with a full playlist. It can be found in the back of the book, and should be listened to in order. The songs tell their story.
  15. Tear You Apart is one of the fastest books I’ve ever written, and until literally just a few chapters from the end, I had no idea what was going to happen.
  16. Will is not named in honor of anyone; I can’t remember why I picked that name, only that it fit him.
  17. Gillian Anderson would be a great Elisabeth.

Why I loved writing Tear You Apart

When I first sold to Harlequin, I did it on a three book contract. One book, Dirty, was finished. I was halfway through a second book (Broken) but had no third book. The deadline for the third book was only a few months after I’d sent in the first two. With two small children at home and a total of about four hours a week to write, I was panicked. Then came the summer with NO time to myself.

What happened?

I put my kids in day camp and every day, dropped them off. Came home. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I wrote more per day than I ever had. And that book, Tempted, came out of me…well, I can’t say easily, because while the words came out faster than anything else ever had and without as much effort, the book itself kind of killed me. To this day, I’d say Tempted is my favorite book not only for the plot or characters, but because of the experience I had writing it that first summer when I did know I could write so fast or so hard. I also loved writing Tempted because it was the first book I wrote to contract, and yet I was still writing for the love of the story, without any expectations from readers or anyone else.

What does this have to do with Tear You Apart?

Writing it, in many ways, was very similar to writing Tempted. After years of writing to contract, though, I found myself hit with an idea that wouldn’t let go. I had other contracts and projects to finish, but found myself with a few weeks “in between” time, and I started writing the book. Tear You Apart was the hardest and easiest book I’ve ever written. Easiest because, like Tempted, the words came out. There were few days, if any (memory can be a fickle bitch, you know, taking away the memories of middle-of-the-book hatred) when I found myself stuck on something, unable to write it.

If anything, most days, I clung to writing that book as though it were going to save my life.

Why? There are always reasons why one book means more than another. Why some words come out easier than others. For this one, for whatever reason, the story was in my head and heart and it needed to come out. Tear You Apart (like Elisabeth says about Will) was all over me like a stain.

But it was also one of the hardest books I’ve ever written. The words came out, sure, but each one felt like I was slicing myself with a razor. If you’re familiar with the original version of The Little Mermaid, you know that she gives up her voice to gain legs to win the heart of the prince, but that each step she takes is as though her feet are being sliced by knives. The theme, I guess, is that great love takes great sacrifice. Love is pain. You will walk on razor blades and broken glass for the sake of love.

And sometimes, you will write a book.

Tear You Apart is not a romance, but it is a love story. It’s a love story between the main characters, Elisabeth and Will, who find each other but are not meant to stay together. And it’s a love story between me and the book, which I wrote during most of a hot summer using my blood and tears. And it’s a love story between me and you, readers, because while I’m fond of saying without you there’d be no point in writing. The truth is, though, I’d have written Tear You Apart even if nobody ever read a word of it, because I had to.

But if you read it and you like it, thank you.



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He’s standing outside the restaurant smoking, not looking my way, and I do imagine myself walking away without speaking to him, leaving him standing there for an hour, or for forever, waiting? Hell, yeah. Do I imagine myself running across the street and leaping into his arms to babymonkey cling to him like a fucking barnacle?

Oh. Yes.

When I cross the street to face him, he turns to me with a smile so wide and bright and genuine that I want to kiss his face off. I want to run my hands through the mess of his hair and smooth my fingertips over those brows and trace the curves of his ears with my tongue. I want to eat him up like a peach until the juice drips down my hand and wrist and arm and I lick it all away.

Instead, I give him the barest hint of a smile. “Hey.”

“Hi.” He moves as though to hug me, but I step back so deliberately there can be no mistaking my message.

Do. Not. Touch.

“You look…great,” Will says.

I don’t answer that. I look at the restaurant menu in the window instead, though honestly I don’t give a fart in a high wind what they serve. I won’t be able to eat. I plan on ordering the most expensive thing they have and making him pay for it, though. Maybe I do play games, after all.

He opens the door for me, and the solicitous hand at the small of my back as he lets me go in front of him should not make my knees weak. We take a booth near the back, in the shadows. It’s curved, which means I slide in first, but I put my purse on the seat between us so he can’t sit too close.

We order drinks. We order food. We make small talk that sounds like pebbles rattling in a pie-pan. At first, Will is animated and effusive, but as he watches me pick at my salad and give him brief answers without smiles, he sits back in the booth.

“If you don’t want to be here,” he says, “maybe you should just fucking go.”

My fork shakes a little against the edge of the plate before I set it down very, very carefully. I wipe my fingers on my napkin. Then my mouth. I put my hands on the edge of the table, fingertips just barely touching the smooth, polished wood. And I say…nothing.

He shifts in his seat with a frown. “That’s it? I get the silent treatment?”

“I’m being careful with what I say, that’s all. I want to make sure nothing comes out that I can’t take back.”

“Maybe you should just say whatever you think,” Will says with a sneer. “You think I can’t handle it?”

My fingers slip on the smooth wood. “I don’t want you to handle it. I don’t want to say anything I’ll regret, that’s all.”

“If you’re pissed at me, you should just say so.”

“Should I be?” I press my lips together and rub my tongue slowly on the inside of my teeth to keep my voice low.

“Are you?”

I think of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, telling Michael Douglas how she won’t be IGNORED. But that’s exactly how it felt those long weeks when Will stopped talking to me. Ignored.

“I would never just stop talking to you,” I tell him, whispering only so I don’t scream. “I would never just disappear like that. That was a shitty thing to do to me, Will.”

“I was busy,” he begins, and I’ve had enough.

I need to get out of this booth, and now. But the other side is blocked by a tray of food waiting to be served and the only way out is past him. “Move.”

He doesn’t, even as I’m grabbing up my purse and sliding along the smooth vinyl toward him. I bump against him. “Move!”

He won’t. I don’t want to cause a scene. And sitting this close, I can feel his thigh on mine. I can feel the heat coming off him. When he slides a hand between my legs beneath the cover of the table, all I can do is let him.

“Everyone’s busy,” I tell him.

His fingers press, press, press. “My ex went out of town. I had my kid. I was busy, Elisabeth.”

To anyone looking at us, we simply appear to be deep in conversation. There’s enough distance between us, the angle is just right to hide the fact he’s inching up my skirt to get inside my panties. At the last minute, I clamp my thighs shut, trapping his hand before he can.

“Then you should’ve told me.”

There’s more to it than that. I can see it in his face. He twists his wrist a little, but I don’t give him even a quarter of an inch.

“I told you —”

“Bullshit.” I lean a little closer when the waiter passes by, lowering my voice to keep it from attracting attention. The heat of his hand against my bare skin is beginning to burn. “It’s an excuse, and a shitty one. You think I wouldn’t understand if you told me you had to take care of your kid? You think I’d be some kind of bitch about it?”

Steadily, he works his hand a little higher. His knuckles brush my panties before he twists again to press my clit. I do not move except for the rise and fall of my shoulders when I take a breath. My muscles ache from the effort of keeping him away. When I relax the tiniest bit, he takes advantage, pressing harder. Twisting so infinitesimally that nobody would be able to tell.

He can’t see the golden stars beginning to creep into the edges of my vision, but I’m sure he must see something in my eyes, because his hand moves just a little faster. His pupils are so wide open his eyes have gone dark. His tongue slips out to touch the center of his bottom lip.

“I don’t owe you anything,” Will says, but low and under his breath.

I do not want to let him see how good he’s making me feel, because I don’t want to be feeling it. But when I put my hand over his, it’s not to push it away. I grip his wrist tight, holding him closer.

“Yes,” I tell him. “You do.”

I am close, so close, but not going over. The waiter shows up then with a dessert tray, and I pull away. I shake my head at the pies and cakes and decline a box for my leftovers as I slide toward the other end of the booth, now cleared by the busboy who took away the tray of dirty dishes. I assure the waiter everything was fine, though I can see by the way he eyes my plate that he takes my uneaten food as a personal affront. I get out of the booth and push past him and out of the restaurant to the New York City street outside, and I breathe in exhaust and heat and the scent of puke and piss, and I blink away the last flutters of gold Will’s touch gave me.

I’m halfway back to the gallery when he catches up to me. He falls into step beside me without saying anything. He follows me through the door I don’t bother to hold open for him, and down the hall past Naveen’s blessedly empty office and into my own. Then, when I whirl on him to tell him to get the fuck out, he shuts my door. The lock clicks.

We sweep my desk clean. Paperclips scatter. Then he’s inside me, and nothing else matters but this.

After, his forehead pressed to mine and the taste of his sweat on my lips, Will says, “I was ignoring you on purpose.”

I cup his face in my hands and kiss him. “I know you were.”

We disentangle, comb and straighten. He fills a paper cup from my water cooler and drains it, then crumples the cup. I pull my hair back with a spare elastic from my drawer and swipe my face with powder. Fix my lipstick. Will is looking at the door, ready to make his escape, when I finish. I recognize the look.

“You don’t have to talk to me every day,” I tell him carefully. “If it’s too much. But you can’t just abandon me, Will. That’s not fair. I deserve better than for you to just disappear. Frankly, you deserve better than to be that sort of guy.”

“I came back,” he begins, and stops when I don’t smile.

“You can have a life. I expect you to have a life. I have one too, you know.”

His brow furrows. “Yeah. Believe me, I know.”

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? I don’t have an answer for it. So much to say and nothing seems right, so we stare at each other, too far apart to touch.

“Did you…really miss me?” I almost don’t ask, in case the answer isn’t what I want to hear.

He nods.

I shouldn’t feel so relieved. I shouldn’t feel anything for him, but there’s no holding it back. No stopping it. I sag against the desk a little. “Good. I want you to miss me. A lot.”

“I worry this is going to make trouble for you.”

“It might.” My chin lifts. Shoulders and spine straighten. “But that’s my problem.”

“It would be mine, too.” Will rubs at his mouth with his first and middle fingers. “Sometimes, I think we should stop. Before it’s too late. Before we do something that we can’t take back.”

“It’s already too late,” I tell him. “We’ve already done it. It’s done, Will. We can’t take it back. That’s the way stuff like this works.”

He won’t move, so I do. I pull him closer, step by step, until he takes me in his arms. We fit just right, Will and I, and I don’t want to let him go.

“You’re my kryptonite. I don’t know why.” My words are muffled against his neck. I can’t stop myself from nibbling, just a little, and I can’t stop myself from telling him the truth. “But if you don’t want to talk to me anymore…if you don’t want to see me…”

His arms tighten, just a little, around me. “Are you breaking up with me?”

I look at him. “Are you breaking up with me?”

We both smile at the same time.

“Just don’t ever disappear on me again. If you have to stop talking to me—”

“I don’t want to stop talking to you.”

“Then…don’t. We’ll find a balance.” I say this more confidently than I feel, but it seems the only thing to say.

Then I kiss him, kiss him, kiss him until neither of us can breathe.

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