From #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover comes the heart-pounding Thriller Collection, each story centered on a woman discovering a dangerous truth that will change her life … for better or worse.
In VERITY struggling writer, Lowen Ashleigh, takes a life-changing job from Jeremy Crawford, the husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, to complete her unfinished series, but she discovers a hidden and disturbing autobiography that could shatter their relationship.
In TOO LATE Sloan, navigating a desperate situation to care for her brother, becomes entangled with the alluring but dangerous drug trafficker Asa Jackson, while an unexpected attraction to undercover DEA agent Carter puts them on a perilous path toward escape.
Release date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 736
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The Thriller Collection
Hell, this whole damn year.
I moan and attempt to squeeze my legs together, but I can’t. There’s pressure everywhere. On my chest, against my cheek, between my legs. It takes me a few seconds to pull my mind out of its sleepy haze, but I’m awake enough to know what he’s doing.
“Asa,” I mumble, irritated. “Get off me.”
He thrusts his weight against me repetitively, groaning against my ear, his morning stubble cutting into my cheek. “I’m almost done, babe,” he breathes against my neck.
I attempt to pull my hands out from beneath his, but he squeezes them tighter, reminding me that I’m nothing more than a prisoner in my own bed, and he’s the warden of the bedroom. Asa has always had a way of making me feel like my body was at his disposal. He’s never mean or forceful about it; he’s just needy—and I find it really inconvenient.
Like right now.
At six o’clock in the damn morning.
I can guess the time by the sunlight peeking through the crack under the door, and the fact that Asa is just now coming to bed after last night’s party. I, however, have to be in class in less than two hours. This isn’t how I would have chosen to be torn from sleep after only three hours of it.
I wrap my legs around his waist and hope he thinks I’m into this. When I act half interested, he gets it over with more quickly.
He palms my right breast and I let out the expected moan, just as he begins to shudder. “Fuck,” he groans, burying his face in my hair, slowly rocking against me. After several seconds, he collapses on top of me and sighs heavily, then kisses my cheek and rolls onto his side of the bed. He stands up and removes the condom and tosses it into the trash can, then grabs a bottle of water off the bedside table. He brings the bottle to his lips, raking his eyes over my exposed flesh. His lips pull into a lazy grin. He stands confidently naked by the bed, gulping the last of the water.
Despite his good looks, he has his faults. In fact, his looks may be the only thing about him I don’t find fault in. He’s cocky, quick-tempered, hard to handle sometimes. But he loves me. He loves the hell out of me. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love him in return. There are so many things I would change about him if I could, but right now he’s all I have, so I deal with it. He brought me in when I had nowhere else to go. No one else to turn to. For that reason alone, I put up with him.
I have no other choice.
He brings his hand up and wipes his mouth, then tosses the empty bottle into the trash can. He runs his hand through his thick brown hair and winks at me, then drops back onto the bed and leans in, kissing me softly on the lips. “Goodnight, babe,” he says as he rolls onto his back.
“You mean good morning,” I say as I reluctantly pull myself out of bed. My T-shirt is bunched around my waist, so I pull it down and grab some pants and a different shirt. I walk across the hallway to the shower, relieved that one of our countless roommates isn’t occupying the only upstairs bathroom.
I check the time on my phone and cringe when I realize I won’t even have enough time to stop for coffee. It’s the first class of the semester and I already plan to use it to catch up on sleep. This isn’t looking good.
There’s no way I can keep this up. Asa never goes to class on a regular basis, yet he always passes with near-perfect grades. I’m struggling to keep my head above water, and I didn’t miss a single day last semester. Well, in physical form. Unfortunately, we live with so many other people, there’s never a quiet moment in the house. I catch myself falling asleep in class more often than not; it’s the only time I get peace and quiet. The parties seem to go on all hours of the day and night, regardless of who has class the next day. Weekends have no separation from weekdays in our house, and rent has no bearing over who lives here.
I don’t even know who lives here half the time. Asa owns the house, but he loves being around people, so he likes the revolving-door free-for-all. If I had the means, I’d have my own place in a heartbeat. But I don’t. That just means one more year of pure hell before I graduate.
One more year before I’m free.
I pull my shirt over my head and drop it to the floor, then pull the shower curtain back. As soon as I reach down for the nozzle, I scream at the top of my lungs. Passed out in the tub, fully clothed, is our newest full-time roommate, Dalton.
He jerks awake and smashes his forehead into the faucet above it, letting out a yell. I reach down and grab my shirt just as the door bursts open and Asa rushes in.
“Sloan, are you okay?” he says frantically, spinning me around to check me for injuries. I nod feverishly and point to Dalton in the tub.
Dalton groans. “I’m not okay.” He palms his freshly injured forehead and attempts to crawl out of the tub.
Asa looks at me, down at my naked body being covered by the shirt in my hands, then looks back at Dalton. I’m afraid he’s about to get the wrong idea, so I start to explain, but he cuts me off with a loud, unexpected burst of laughter.
“Did you do that to him?” He’s pointing at Dalton’s head.
I shake my head. “He hit his head on the faucet when I screamed.”
Asa laughs even harder and reaches a hand down to Dalton, then pulls him the rest of the way out of the tub. “Come on, man, you need a beer. Cure for hangovers.” He pushes Dalton out of the bathroom and follows behind him, closing the door when he leaves.
I stand frozen, still clutching my shirt to my chest. The sad part is, this is the third time this has happened. A different idiot every time, passed out in the tub. I make a mental note to check the tub from now on before undressing.
I pull the schedule out of my pocket and unfold it to look for the room number. “This is such crap,” I say into the phone. “I graduated college three years ago. I didn’t sign up for this shit so I could do homework.”
Dalton laughs loudly, forcing me to pull the phone several inches away from my ear. “Boo fucking hoo,” he says. “I had to sleep in a damn bathtub last night. Suck it up, man. Acting the role is part of the job.”
“Easy for you to say. You were signed up for one class a week. I have three. Why’d Young only give you one?”
“Maybe I give better head,” Dalton says.
I look down at my schedule and up at the number on the door in front of me, finding a match.
“I gotta go. La clase de Español.”
“Carter, wait.” His tone is more serious. Dalton clears his throat and prepares for his “partner pep talk.” I’ve been suffering through them on a daily basis since we started working together. He doesn’t have to remind me why we’re here. I realize I have a duty. My duty is to complete the job I’m being paid to do… which is to bust the largest campus drug ring in collegiate history. The drug problem at the local university has multiplied tenfold in the past three years alone. Rumor has it that Asa Jackson is the sole reason for that. Asa and all the people in his circle, which is why Dalton and I are here—to identify the key players. Dalton and I are only a small part of this sting, but it’s the small parts that make up a huge whole, and every one of our roles is vital. Even the role of pretending to be a college student. Again. I just wish I would have started the semester last week like everyone else in this class but the department took forever to get me set up in the system.
“Try to make it fun, man,” Dalton says. “We’re so close to getting everything we need… You’ll be here two months, tops. Find a hot piece of ass to sit by; it’ll make the days go by faster.”
I look through the window of the classroom door. It’s practically at full capacity with only three empty seats. My gaze immediately falls on a girl in the back of the room next to one of the empty chairs. Her dark hair is spilled over her face while she rests her head on her arms. She’s asleep. I can sit by the sleepers; it’s the incessant talkers I can’t tolerate. “Look at that. Already found me a hot piece of ass to sit by. I’ll check in with you after lunch.” I end the call and swing open the classroom door as I turn off the volume on my phone. I hoist the strap of my backpack onto my shoulder as I make my way up the steps to the back of the room. I squeeze past her to the empty seat, tossing my backpack on the floor and my phone onto the table. The sound my phone makes when it meets the solid wood jolts the girl from her sleep. She immediately sits up, wide-eyed. She looks around the room, frantic and confused, then down at the notebook on her desk. I pull the chair out and sit down next to her. She glares at my phone lying on the table in front of us, and then looks at me.
Her hair is a wild mess and there’s a shiny trail of drool running from the corner of her lip, down her chin. She’s glaring at me like I’ve interrupted the only minute of sleep she’s ever had.
“Late night?” I ask. I bend over and open my backpack, pulling out the Spanish textbook I could more than likely recite from memory.
“Is class over?” she asks, her eyes narrowed at the book I’m placing on the desk in front of me.
“On how long you’ve been passed out,” I say. “I’m not sure which class you’re here for, but this is the ten o’clock Spanish class.”
She throws her elbows onto the desk in front of her and groans, running her hands over her face. “I’ve been asleep for five minutes? That’s it?” She leans back into her seat and slouches down, resting her head on the back of her chair. “Wake me up when it’s over, okay?”
She’s looking at me, waiting on me to agree. I tap my finger to my chin. “You’ve got a little something right here.”
She wipes at her mouth and pulls her hand back to inspect it. I expect her to be embarrassed by the fact that she’s got drool running down her face, but instead, she rolls her eyes and tucks the sleeve of her shirt under her thumb. She wipes the puddle of drool off the table with her sleeve, and then slouches back down in her seat, closing her eyes.
I’ve been through college before. I know how it is with the late nights, the partying, the studying, and never having time for it all. But this girl seems stressed to the max. I’m curious if it’s due to maybe having a night shift or way too much partying.
I reach down into my backpack and pull the energy drink out that I picked up on the way here this morning. I’m thinking she needs it more than I do.
“Here.” I set it on the desk in front of her. “Drink this.”
She slowly pries her eyes open as if her eyelids weigh a thousand pounds each. She looks down at the drink, then quickly grabs it and pops the top. She gulps the contents frantically, like it’s the first thing she’s had to drink in days.
“You’re welcome.” I laugh.
She finishes the drink and sets it back on the table, wiping her mouth with the same sleeve she wiped away the drool with earlier. I’m not gonna lie; her unkempt, sloppily sexy demeanor is a major turn-on, in a weird way.
“Thanks,” she says, wiping the hair out of her eyes. She looks at me and smiles, then stretches her arms out behind her and yawns. The door to the classroom opens and everyone shifts in their seats, indicating the entrance of the instructor—but I can’t take my eyes off of her long enough to even validate his presence.
She combs through the strands of her hair with her fingers. It’s still slightly damp and I can smell the floral scent of her shampoo when she flips her hair back over her shoulders. It’s long and dark and thick, just like the lashes that line her eyes. She glances toward the front of the room and opens her notebook, so I mirror her movements and do the same.
The professor greets us in Spanish, and we return his salutations in collective, broken responses. He begins giving instructions on an assignment when my phone lights up on the table between us. I look down at the incoming text message from Dalton.
Does this hot piece of ass you’re sitting next to have a name?
I immediately flip the phone over, hoping she didn’t read it. She brings her hand to her mouth to cover her laugh.
Crap. She read it.
“Hot piece of ass, huh?” she says.
“I’m sorry. My friend… He thinks he’s funny. Also likes to make my life hell.”
She arches an eyebrow and turns toward me. “So you don’t think I’m a hot piece of ass?”
With her facing me head-on, it’s the first chance I’ve actually had to get a good look at her. Let’s just say I’m officially in love with this class now. I shrug my shoulders. “With all due respect, you’ve been sitting down since I met you. I haven’t even seen your ass.”
She laughs again. “Sloan,” she says, extending her hand. I take her hand in mine. There’s a small crescent-shaped scar on her thumb. I run my thumb across it and twist her hand back and forth, inspecting the scar.
“Sloan,” I repeat, letting her name roll off the tip of my tongue.
“This is usually the point during introductions that one would reply with their own name,” she says.
I glance back up at her and she pulls her hand away, looking at me inquisitively.
“Carter,” I reply, keeping in character with who I’m supposed to be. It’s been hard enough referring to Ryan as Dalton for the past six weeks, but I’ve gotten used to it. Calling myself Carter is another story. I’ve more than once slipped up and almost used my real name.
“Mucho gusto,” she says in an almost perfect accent, turning her attention toward the front of the room.
No, the pleasure is mine. Believe me.
The professor instructs the class to turn to the closest partner and state three facts about the other person in Spanish. This is my fourth year of Spanish, so I decide to let Sloan go first so I don’t intimidate her. We turn toward each other and I nod my head at her. “Las señoras primera,” I say.
“No, we’ll take turns,” she says. “You first. Go ahead, tell me a fact about myself.”
“Okay,” I say, laughing at how she just took control. “Usted es mandona.”
“That’s an opinion, not a fact,” she states. “But I’ll give it to you.”
I tilt my head in her direction. “You understood what I just said?”
She nods her head. “If you intended to call me bossy, then yes.” She narrows her eyes, but a tiny smile forces its way through. “My turn,” she says. “Su compañera de clase es bella.”
I laugh. She just complimented herself by telling me that my class partner is beautiful? I nod in unabashed agreement. “Mi compañera de clase esta correcta.”
I can see the blush rise to her cheeks, despite her tanned skin. “How old are you?” she asks.
“That’s a question, not a fact. And in English, no less.”
“I need to ask a question to get to the fact. You look a little older than most sophomore Spanish students.”
“How old do you think I am?”
“Twenty-three? Twenty-four?” she says.
She’s not too far off. I’m twenty-five, but she doesn’t need to know that. “Twenty-two,” I say.
“Tiene veintidos años,” she says, stating her second fact about me.
“You cheat,” I reply.
“You have to say that in Spanish if that’s one of your facts about me.”
I can tell by the arch in her eyebrow that she wasn’t expecting me to know that one in Spanish.
“That’s three for you,” she says.
“You still have one more.”
“Usted es un perro.”
I laugh. “You just accidentally called me a dog.”
She shakes her head. “It wasn’t an accident.”
Her phone vibrates, so she pulls it out of her pocket and gives it her full attention. I lean back in my chair and grab my own phone, pretending to do the same. We sit silently while the rest of the class finishes the assignment. I watch out of the corner of my eye as she texts, her thumbs flying quickly over the screen of her phone. She’s cute. I like that I’m looking forward to this class now. Three days a week doesn’t seem like enough all of a sudden.
There’s roughly fifteen minutes left of class and I’m doing my damnedest to keep myself from staring at her. She hasn’t said anything else since she referred to me as a dog. I watch as she doodles in her notebook, not paying attention to a single word the instructor has said. She’s either bored out of her mind, or she’s somewhere else entirely. I lean forward, attempting to get a better look at what she’s writing. I feel nosy, but then again, she did read my text earlier, so I feel justified.
Her pen is frantically moving over the paper, possibly a result of the energy drink she downed. I read the sentences as she jots them down. They don’t make a lick of sense, no matter how many times I read them.
Trains and buses stole my shoes and now I have to eat raw squid.
I laugh at the randomness of all the sentences sprawled across her page, and she glances up at me. I meet her gaze and she grins mischievously.
She looks down at her notebook and taps her pen against it. “I get bored,” she whispers. “I don’t have a very good attention span.”
I normally have a great attention span, but apparently not while I’m sitting next to her.
“Sometimes I don’t either,” I say. I reach across the desk and point at her words. “What is that? A secret code?”
She shrugs her shoulders and drops her pen, then slides the notebook closer to me. “It’s just something stupid I do when I’m bored. I like to see how many random things I can think up without actually thinking. The more they don’t make sense, the more I win.”
“The more you win?” I ask, hoping for clarification. This girl is an enigma. “How could you lose if you’re the only one playing your game?”
Her smile disappears and she glances away, staring down at the notebook in front of her. She delicately traces her finger over the letters in one of the words. I wonder what the hell I just said to change her demeanor so drastically and so fast. She picks her pen up and hands it to me, shaking away whatever thoughts just darkened her mind.
“Try it,” she says. “It’s highly addictive.”
I take the pen from her hand and find an open spot on her page. “So I just write anything? Whatever comes to mind?”
“No,” she says. “The exact opposite. Try not to think about it. Try not to let anything come to mind. Just write.”
I press the pen to the paper and do exactly what she says. I just write.
I dropped a can of corn down the laundry chute, now my mother cries rainbows.
I lay the pen down, feeling slightly stupid. She covers her mouth to stifle a laugh after she reads it. She turns to a fresh page and writes, You’re a natural, then hands me the pen again.
Thank you. Unicorn juice helps me breathe when I listen to disco.
She laughs again and takes the pen from my hand just as the professor dismisses class. Everyone throws their books in their bags and slides out of their seats in a hurry.
Everyone but us. We’re both staring down at the page, smiling, not moving.
She puts her hand on the notebook and slowly shuts it, then slides it down the table and into her backpack. She looks back at me. “Don’t get up yet,” she says as she stands up.
“Because. You need to sit there while I walk away so you can determine whether or not I really am a fine piece of ass.” She winks at me and spins around.
Oh my God. I do exactly what she says, planting my eyes directly on her ass. And just my luck, it’s perfect. Every bit of her body is perfect. I sit completely still as I watch her descend the stairs.
Where the hell did this girl come from? And where the hell has she been all my life? I curse the fact that whatever just happened between us is all that could ever happen. Relationships never begin well with lies. Especially lies like mine.
She glances over her shoulder before she walks out the door, and I bring my gaze back up to her eyes. I give her a thumbs-up. She laughs and disappears out the classroom door.
I gather my things and attempt to get her out of my head. I need to be on point tonight. There’s too much riding on this to be distracted by such a beautiful, perfect ass.
I finish the day’s homework at the library, knowing I won’t be able to concentrate once I step foot back in the house. When I first moved in with Asa, I was one night away from being evicted from the couch I was crashing on… not to mention all the other financial issues I dealt with. We had only been dating two months, but I had nowhere else to go.
That was over two years ago.
I knew based on the cars he drove and the size of his house that he had money. What I wasn’t sure of was whether or not it was old money or if he was involved in something he shouldn’t have been involved in. I was hoping it would be the former, but me and hope have never had good results. He hid that he sold drugs pretty well for the first couple of months, excusing his spending habits on the illusion that he had a big inheritance. I believed him for a while. I had no choice but to believe him.
When people I didn’t know began showing up at odd hours of the night, and Asa only spoke to them behind closed doors, it became more and more obvious. He tried to explain his reasoning and swore he only sold “harmless” drugs to people who were going to find it somewhere else anyway. I didn’t want any part of it, so when he refused to stop, I left.
The only problem was, I had nowhere to go. I crashed on a few friends’ couches, but none of them had room or money to keep supporting me. I would have resorted to a homeless shelter before going back to Asa, but it wasn’t my life I was worried about; it was my little brother’s.
Stephen has never had it easy. He was born with a lot of issues, both mentally and physically. He was receiving state funding for his care and had finally been put in a good home I could trust with him, but when that was cut off, I couldn’t risk him being sent back home to my mother. I didn’t want him back in that life, and I’d do anything to make sure he wasn’t a part of it ever again.
I was gone all of two weeks when my brother’s group home funding from the state was canceled. I wasn’t in a position to take Stephen in, and if I had taken him out of the group home that was so hard to get him into, he would lose access to the care he needs. I had no one else to turn to other than Asa because he was the only one willing to help us. Walking back through his door and asking for his help was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was as if running back into his arms was the equivalent of relinquishing my self-respect. He let me move back in, but not without consequences. Now that he knew exactly how much I had to depend on him to pay for Stephen’s care, he stopped hiding his lifestyle. More and more people came over, and transactions were out in the open rather than behind closed doors.
Now, there are constantly so many people in and out of the house that it’s difficult to differentiate between the people who live here the people who crash here and complete strangers. Every night is a party, and every party is my nightmare.
Every week that passes, the atmosphere becomes more and more dangerous, and I want out more than ever. I’ve been working part-time on campus in the library, but they don’t have a student worker position for me this semester. I’m on a waiting list, and I’ve been applying for other jobs, trying desperately to add to my escape cash. It wouldn’t be so hard if it were just myself I had to care for, but with Stephen in the picture, it’ll take money that I don’t have. Money that I won’t have for a while.
In the meantime, I have to keep up appearances by acting like I still owe my life to Asa, when in reality, I feel like he’s ruining it. Don’t get me wrong, I do love him.
I love who I know he could be someday, but I’m also not naïve. As many promises as he’s made me that he’s scaling down the business in preparation to get out, I know he won’t. I’ve tried to talk some sense into him, but when you’ve got the power in your hands and the money in your pocket, it’s hard to walk away. He’ll never walk away. He’ll either do this until he’s in prison… or until he’s dead. And I don’t want to be around for either.
I don’t even try to identify the vehicles in the driveway anymore. Every day there’s a new one. I park Asa’s car and grab my things, then head inside for another night of hell.
When I walk inside, the house is eerily quiet. I shut the door behind me and smile, relishing the fact that everyone’s out back at the pool. I never get a chance for solitude, so I take advantage and put in my headphones and begin cleaning. I know it doesn’t sound like fun, but for me it’s my only chance to escape.
Not to mention, the house is a constant pigsty.
I start in the living room and throw away enough beer bottles to fill a thirty-gallon trash bag. When I reach the kitchen and witness the mountain of dishes piled in the sink, I actually smile. This should waste at least an hour. I organize the dirty dishes to the left of the sink and begin filling the basin with water. I begin to sway to the music spilling into my ears from the headphones. I haven’t felt so at peace in this house since the first two months I lived here. Back when the good Asa was around. The Asa who used to say sweet things to me and take me out on dates and put me before anyone and everyone else.
I remember a time when we could occasionally be alone in this house together. When he would order dinner and we’d snuggle on the couch for a movie night.
As soon as memories of the Asa I fell in love with flood my mind, I feel his arms wrap around me from behind. At first, it startles me. But then I smell his cologne, the same Dior scent he wore on our first date. He begins swaying to the music with me, holding me gently. I smile and keep my eyes closed, wrapping my hands in his, then lean back against his chest.
He kisses my ear, then laces his fingers with mine and spins me around to face him. When I open my eyes, he’s smiling down at me with a genuinely sweet expression. I haven’t seen this look in his eyes in so long, it makes my heart ache, knowing how much I’ve missed it.
Maybe he really is trying. Maybe he’s tired of this life, too.
He takes my face in his hands and kisses me—a long, passionate kiss that I forgot he was even capable of. Lately, the only time I get kissed is when he’s on top of me in our bed. I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him back. I kiss him desperately. I kiss the old Asa, not knowing how long I’ll have him here with me like this.
He pulls back and takes the headphones out of my ears.
“Somebody wants a continuation of this morning, huh?” . . .
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