Fear. At one time, it was an emotion that was unfamiliar to me. When I was young, I wasn’t afraid of monsters under my bed or gorillas in my closet. I wasn’t afraid of getting in trouble or of Santa marking me off his list or of visits to the dentist. As I grew, so did the list of things that I refused to be afraid of. I wasn’t afraid to sneak out of my bedroom in the middle of the night or to take my parents’ car for a joyride without their knowledge. I wasn’t afraid to steal a kiss from a girl or to mercilessly tease my brother when he didn’t have the courage to do the same. The truth is I had never truly known fear…until the accident.
Thunder boomed in the distance, bringing me out of my reverie, forcing me to focus on the present. Ominous, gray clouds hung heavy over Quail Mountain, Tennessee, the mundane, little town I called home. I gazed at the sky, noting how much darker it was than normal for this time of day. I suspected it wouldn’t be long before huge, fat raindrops splattered the Earth and everything in between, including me, my bike, and the newly paved road that would lead me to work.
I shoved my helmet on my head, fastened the strap, and swung my leg over my glossy black crotch rocket. I cranked the engine, revved it with a few, quick twists of the throttle, and popped the bike into gear, pulling it up into a wheelie as I barreled down my long driveway.
This bike had been a present from my parents a few months ago for my eighteenth birthday. As far as material possessions went, it had been the only thing I had really wanted. Hell, who was I kidding? I didn’t want it. I needed it.
My body shook as I let the front wheel hit the ground again and came to a quick stop at the end of the drive. The June air was stifling, so I opted to keep the shield of my helmet up, leaving my sunglasses to protect my eyes from airborne debris and insects. Once I determined no traffic was coming, I pulled into the street and torpedoed toward town, hugging the curves of the asphalt as I wound my way down the mountainside. I was reckless, and I knew it. Perhaps there was a huge part of me that wanted to taunt death.
When I reached the bottom of the mountain fifteen minutes later, I pulled under the carport behind Quail Mountain Books, a medium-sized shop that sold books, movies, CDs, and video games.
I took my helmet off, welcoming the stormy breeze on my sweat-dampened hair, and opened the metal door that led into the back entrance of the store. The door shut softly behind me as I laid my helmet down on the laminated countertop that ran around half the room. I was in the kitchen, which had been renovated about a year ago out of necessity. Sleek, black appliances were tucked under the new counter and a matching microwave hung over the stove. I opened the refrigerator door, grabbed a bottled water, and twisted the top open as I went to look for Tom Sullivan, the manager.
“Stone,” Tom called. “What’s up?”
Tom, who was a couple of years older than me, was seated behind a computer along the checkout counter, a newly opened box of video games beside him. His shaggy, brown hair grazed his eyebrows. He was the epitome of a geek from the glasses that constantly rode down to the end of his nose to the hideous plaid pants that he wore.
“Not much,” I answered, walking over to the box and picking up one of the games. I took a sip of my water and set it on the counter.
“Just got those in,” he said.
“Yeah, I heard this game rocks.”
“Let’s hope so,” Tom said. “With any luck, this will bring in some customers and give the sales numbers a boost.”
“School’s out now,” I said, having just finished my junior year at Quail Mountain High. “Business will definitely pick up over the summer.”
“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “I just hired the seasonal help.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “In fact, she should be getting here any minute.”
A large boom of thunder shook the building. Tom and I both looked up at the large, plate glass window along the front of the building. Rain began to patter against the asphalt in the parking lot, leaving it dappled with wet spots. A few seconds later, it began to fall furiously, pelting everything in its path. Lightening sizzled in the sky, like electrified scissors slicing through the dark gray gloom.
“Looks like it’s going to be one helluva day,” I muttered to Tom.
“There she is now,” Tom said, ignoring my comment.
I watched as an old, beige, piece-of-shit, tank-of-a-vehicle pulled into not one, but two parking spots. The car shook and sputtered to a stop. The taillights went out, and Tom and I both watched, waiting for the new girl to make her exit in this godforsaken weather.
“Hope she brought an umbrella,” Tom mumbled to himself.
The car door cracked open, and she struggled as she pushed the heavy door open farther, squeezed through the crack, and then closed the door with a quick shove. She darted into the rain, her messenger bag thumping against her hip as she ran. Tanned, slender legs stretched out beneath a blue jean skirt and disappeared into a pair of brown rain boots with pink polka dots.
By the time she reached the front door, she was drenched. The bell chimed as she opened the door and entered the building. She gave a slight wave to Tom as she approached the counter.
I glanced down the length of her body, admiring every last, magnificent inch of her. It was Tom’s voice that snapped me back to attention.
“Stone Hamilton, I’d like you to meet Dara Golding. She’s going to be helping us over the summer.”
Dara! My eyes flew to her face. I knew that name. I hadn’t recognized her at first. Her shoulder-length, blond hair was so saturated that it looked much darker than normal. Even now, droplets of water clung to the ends of her hair. Dara Golding hung out with the popular crowd from my new school, and she was a freaking snob. She would be a senior next year, like me, thanks to the fact that I had flunked out of boarding school and had been forced to repeat my junior year at the local public school. Unlike me, she made good grades. A regular teacher’s pet. She also dated the leading running back of the high school football team.
Of all the people Tom could’ve hired, he had to pick her?
She held her hand out to me, and I noted her delicate bone structure and her nails, which were painted a soft pink. Reluctantly, I took it. She gripped my hand firmly and shook it with enthusiasm. Not what I expected from such a girly girl.
“It’s nice to meet you, Dara.” Passing her in the hall at school as she hung off of Chance Murray’s arm hadn’t given me the opportunity to notice the color of her eyes. They were almost bright enough to be Kawasaki green.
“Sorry if I got you wet,” she said as she smiled, revealing straight, white teeth. “I’m soaked. Are there any paper towels around here?”
Her eyelashes were spiked with water droplets. When she blinked, they splashed against her cheek and rolled down to her jawline. “I can get you a bath towel,” I offered, taking in just how drenched she actually was. “I try to keep one around for emergencies.”
“So now I’m an emergency?” Her laughter filled the air.
I don’t know what I had expected, but that wasn’t it. I would have thought she would’ve been really pissed off about her hair being ruined and her mascara running and all that other nonsense girls like her were always worried about. She was making it really hard to keep thinking about her as the uptight snot I had always imagined her to be.
“Follow me, and I’ll get you the towel. Then, you can use the restroom just off the kitchen to dry off.”
I opened one of the cabinets over the new countertop and removed the towel that I usually kept reserved for wiping down my motorcycle seat if I got caught in the rain. I handed Dara the towel and watched her as she walked to the restroom. Seeing her outside of school had a whole different feel to it. Maybe it was because her annoying jock wasn’t attached to her hip. Her tanned legs looked as smooth as silk, and I suddenly had the urge to glide my palm along her thigh.
She disappeared behind the closed door, and I decided it was a good time for a cigarette.
I pushed the back door open and stepped out beneath the carport, letting the door shut behind me. The rain had eased up some, but it still drummed rhythmically on the metal roof of the carport. I pulled a loose cigarette out of my front shirt pocket and lit it, drawing in deeply. I closed my eyes and exhaled. Chance and Dara were the ideal high school couple, the kind that were crowned Homecoming King and Queen, the kind that were voted Most Popular, the kind that had perfect lives. I drew off my cigarette again, the end of it turning bright orange as it burned away to ash. They were the kind of couple that irritated me.
I exhaled and propped my arm up against the support post of the car port. Watching a tendril of smoke drift off the end of my cigarette, I wondered why Tom chose her. I cracked a smile. I knew why. One look at her was all it had taken. He probably hadn’t even made her fill out an application. Lightening flashed, followed by a clap of thunder. I was glad it was such a nasty day. It matched my mood.
I put my cigarette out in a puddle forming near my feet, carried it inside, and tossed it in the trash. Dara was nowhere in sight, but the towel was sitting on the edge of the counter, carefully folded. Her messenger bag hung on a row of hooks near the back door.
I went to the restroom to brush my teeth and then walked back through the kitchen to the front of the store.
Tom had already put Dara to work unloading the newly-arrived box of games onto an endcap that was visible as soon as customers walked in the front door.
“Did that shipment of books come in?” I asked, interrupting him as he entered data into the computer.
“Yeah.” He pointed to a stack of boxes on the floor by the wall on the other end of the long counter. “Got some CDs in, too.”
“Have you already added them into inventory?” I asked.
“Yep. They’re ready to stock.”
I walked to the stack of boxes and flipped open the flaps, satisfied when I saw a much anticipated release in hardback from a popular author. I lifted the box and carried it to the empty endcap next to Dara and began neatly arranging the books on the shelf.
“Thanks for the towel,” Dara said as I bent over to pick up another stack of books.
“No problem,” I replied, not bothering to look away from my task at hand.
“Have you ever played this game?”
I glanced at her as she waved one of the games in the air. She was watching me, awaiting my answer. “It’s a new release,” I said, hoping that answered her question and shut her up. I really wasn’t in the mood to chitchat.
“I’ll have to tell Chance about this. He likes to play video games when he’s not practicing football.”
Great. Of all the people I didn’t want to hear about….
“Do you play video games?” she asked.
I slid the last book into place and grabbed another stack, shoving them into place before I answered her. “Not much. Every once in a while, Tom and I will test a new release.”
I finished emptying the box, turning some of the books cover side out, so customers could easily spot the title and author. Glancing over at Dara, I realized her box was still half full. Looking out the plate glass window, I frowned at the ugly, black clouds. If sales didn’t pick up soon, I didn’t know how much longer this shop would be in business, and this weather wasn’t helping.
“Didn’t you go to Quail Mountain High last year?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, grabbing a handful of games out of her box and helping her fill the shelf on the endcap.
“You’ll be a senior next year, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered. I didn’t need to ask her what grade she’d be in next year. The whole school knew she would be a senior.
She and I bent down at the same time to grab another stack of games and bumped heads.
“Shit!” I blurted before I could catch myself. I had a really bad habit of speaking now and thinking about what I was actually saying later, a trait that had pissed off my parents on more than one occasion. Dang, she had a hard head. I blinked, trying to clear the stars that had blurred my vision.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered frantically. “Are you okay?”
I rubbed the side of my temple, trying to determine the answer to her question. I felt a lump rising, and I closed my eyes for just a moment and breathed deeply.
“Let me see,” she said.
I held my palm up toward her. “I’m fine.” I dropped my palm to my knee, not yet rising from my stooped position.
Before I knew what she was doing, her fingers were in my hair, her gentle touch skimming over the spot where our heads bumped. She was so close that I could smell the delicate fragrance on her skin, and I found myself enticed by her.
“Oh, my gosh!” she exclaimed. “A knot. Great. My first day of work, and I’ve already given someone a concussion.”
I laughed, but I didn’t move. I didn’t know why I found her comment so amusing or why I didn’t want her to move her hands. Slowly, I rose, catching her slender wrists in my grasp. “I’m fine,” I said, feeling the pulse in her wrist quicken against my fingertips. Her brilliant green eyes widened, and her full, shimmering-pink lips parted in surprise. “What about you?” I asked.
I wasn’t sure if she heard my question. She stared at me in shock as if the principal had just caught her making out behind the bleachers.
“Dara?” I asked, starting to wonder if she was the one with the concussion.
“I’m…fine,” she said breathlessly.
I’d been around enough girls to know when I had an effect on them. And she was definitely affected.
Dara wasn’t the type of female I usually hung out with, but it was nice to know I had the same effect on the goody-two-shoes that I did on the bad girls.
My phone buzzed, and I pulled it out of my pocket, glancing at the caller’s name. Speaking of bad girls, Jessie was calling.
I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest. If I hadn’t still been freezing from the cold rain that soaked my hair and clothes, sweat would’ve been trickling down my temples. The warmth from his hands was like heaven against my icy skin, but his close proximity was dangerous to my hammering heart. In fact, if I had to describe Stone Hamilton in one word, it would be dangerous.
He was everything I was scared of.
Thank goodness he had gotten a phone call. The distraction was just what I needed to get myself back on track, to remember why I had taken this job in the first place.
I watched as he walked toward the door that led to the kitchen. I didn’t know who had called him, but it appeared that he wanted privacy before he answered.
I had gone to Quail Mountain schools my whole life. Last year was the first year that I had ever seen Stone Hamilton. I assumed that he had moved to the area recently. I didn’t really know, though, because I had never spoken to him until today. He wasn’t the kind of guy that I usually conversed with. He was kind of dark and broody. I had tried to be nice and strike up a conversation with him, but it was difficult when all he would do was give me short answers to my questions.
Stone had a reputation for attracting females—not females like me, but the ones that seemed to be a little more on the wild side or maybe I should say were more like free spirits, the kind of girls that weren’t weighed down by inhibitions.
I turned my attention back to the box of games and finished putting them on the shelves. I picked up my empty box and the empty box that Stone had left in front of the endcap beside me.
“What should I do with these?” I asked Tom, who was still hunched over the computer keyboard, tapping away.
“We break the boxes down and put them in the cardboard recycling dumpster out back. There’s a box knife in the kitchen drawer by the back door. Just break them down and lean them against the wall behind the door, and we can take them out after it’s stopped raining.”
“Okay.” I carried the boxes into the kitchen and set them on the counter. I had no idea what a box knife was, but I looked in the drawer that Tom mentioned. There were three box knives in the drawer. At least, I assumed they were box knives. I pulled one out of the drawer and slid the button on the side of it until the edge of a razor blade popped out of the opening on the top. I grabbed the box and flipped it over.
Stone opened the back door and stepped into the kitchen, sliding his phone back in his pocket.
He looked at me with clear blue eyes and nodded toward the boxes. “Need some help?”
“I got it,” I answered, not wanting him to think I couldn’t handle it myself.
I put the edge of the razor blade on the far end of the box, sliding it toward me as it sliced the center of the wide, clear tape that held the box together.
“Stop,” Stone said authoritatively, moving closer to me.
I froze and looked up at him expectantly.
“Always cut away from yourself,” he said softly.
When I stared at him because I had no idea what he was trying to say, he took my hand in his and moved it to the end of the tape nearest my body. His hand was warm, his fingernails neatly manicured. As he guided my hand, his face close to mine, I was incredibly aware of him, of the scent of his cologne, of his gray tee shirt stretched taut over his pectoral muscles.
“Start here and move the blade away from your body,” he said. “It’s safer.”
I watched his lips as he spoke. His nearness made it difficult to breathe, and I stood motionless as I gazed up at his eyes, mine locking with his. I suppose I stared a little too long.
“You wouldn’t want to accidentally cut yourself,” he explained as he held my gaze. “The smell of blood sends me into a frenzy, and well, I’d hate to sink my fangs into that pretty, little neck of yours.”
I continued to stare like a complete idiot. Words usually flowed from my mouth effortlessly, but right now, I couldn’t put a coherent thought together to save my life.
He grinned. “I’m kidding.”
The transformation was amazing. He was handsome, whether he smiled or not, but watching him as he grinned sent my heartbeat into high-speed mode. His eyes seemed a little brighter, his mood a little lighter. I finally snapped out of my stupor and smiled back. “I’ll have to make sure I wear my garlic necklace from now on.”
“And don’t forget your holy water perfume,” he added, those glacier-like eyes studying my face.
“You can’t take too many precautions to keep yourself safe from people like me.” With that, he left the room, going back to the front of the store.
What did he mean by that? I was unsure of whether he was still joking, referring to himself as a vampire, or whether he meant people wanted to be safe from guys like him.
I finished breaking down the boxes and was setting them by the back door when Stone came back into the kitchen.
Any happiness that had shown on his face moments ago was gone now. He scowled as he said, “Thought you might want to know your boyfriend’s here.”
“Technically, I don’t have a boyfriend, but I assume you’re talking about Chance?” I asked, a little surprised.
It took him a moment to respond. “I’m talking about the jock who was attached to your hip last year at school. He’s not your boyfriend?”
“What happened? I didn’t think he could function if you weren’t hanging off his arm, laughing and fluttering your eyelashes at him.”
Was this the same guy who was joking just moments ago? I didn’t respond to his question or his snide comment. Why was he being such a jerk?
“Let me guess. You finally realized that you could do so much better.”
“You don’t even know him,” I muttered as I brushed past him, leaving him in the kitchen alone.
Chance was standing at the endcap I had just stocked, reading the package of the newly released video game.
“You should buy that,” I suggested, walking toward him.
He ran his fingers through his feathered, blond hair, pushing it out of his eyes. “Hey, Dara! I thought I’d stop by and see how the first day of your new job’s going.”
“So far, so good.” I hadn’t seen Chance since we broke up a week ago. We had been inseparable for the last year, and it had been a little strange without him during the last few days.
“How’re you doing?” he asked as he scanned my face with caring, hazel eyes.
I smiled at him. “I’m okay. How about you?”
He grabbed my hand and kissed the back of it. “It’s definitely different without you, but I’m okay, too.”
“We made the right decision, Chance.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I squeezed his fingers and then slid my hand out of his. “So do you have big plans for this summer?”
“Not really. I’ll probably just hang out with friends for the most part. You?”
“I’ll be working,” I said with a grin. “Hopefully, I’ll make enough money to buy me a car. Granny is always happy to let me drive hers, but…it’s a little embarrassing, if you know what I mean. Besides, I want to drive to school next year, and even though she would probably let me drive hers, I don’t want to leave her without a vehicle all day.”
“She does like to go to the grocery store and visit Mr. Milton,” he said, a mischievous grin on his face.
Granny went to the small, local grocery store almost every day. Mr. Milton was a sweet, little, old man that the whole town knew. He had owned the grocery store since my grandmother was a teenager. Papa had passed away ten years ago when I was seven, and Mr. Milton’s wife passed away a couple of years ago. In the last few months, Chance and I noticed how Granny’s eyes seemed to light up when she saw Mr. Milton. I knew she was lonely.
“Yeah, there’s no way I could keep Granny from getting her Mr. Milton fix. That settles it. My number one goal for the summer is to save enough money to buy a car.”
“When you get ready to buy something, let me know. My dad might be able to help you find a decent set of wheels.”
“I will. Thanks, Chance. I can use all the help I can get. I know nothing about cars.” In an odd way, it really was a relief to know that someone would be able to help me. The thought of buying a car kind of scared me. There were only two car lots on Quail Mountain, and Chance’s father owned one of them.
“Well, I guess I’d better get going so you can get back to work. I think I’ll buy this game. It’ll give me something to do.”
I walked Chance to the cash register. Tom let me scan the game and ring up the purchase. It was really easy and kind of fun. Other than dealing with Stone’s mood swings, I was going to like this job.
I watched Chance walk out the door and get into his shiny, red convertible. His top was up, of course, but I did notice the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to clear.
I breathed in deeply and exhaled. My life was changing. I had grown as a person during the last year. I would miss Chance, but he and I agreed that we had grown apart, that we needed to separate, that we needed to experience new things in our lives. It wouldn’t be long and high school would be over.
This was my first job, and I was excited about my decision to save money for a car. It made me feel mature, responsible. I was starting a new phase of my life, and it felt good.
I stood at the edge of the back of the building and watched as Chance drove off. I was pissed off, and I didn’t even know why. I had baited Dara, tried to get a rise out of her, but she left me standing with no one to harass but myself.
I figured I was just in a bad mood because Jessie had called to cancel our date. She mumbled something about her brother needed her help tonight, but with Jess, you never knew for sure whether she was telling the truth. Not that it really mattered to me. Jessie was just a diversion, same as I was to her. That’s what made us so perfect for each other. Neither of us wanted a serious relationship. We just wanted to hang out, have a little fun, and then go our separate ways. But it still left me with nothing to do tonight, and I’d be damned if I was going to go home to an empty house.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?”
Dara’s voice interrupted my thoughts. Surprised because I hadn’t heard the back door open, I turned to look at her. “What is?”
“Is that how you decide who you’re going to date? By how nice his car is?” I knew I was baiting her again, but I just couldn’t help myself.
I watched her face, waiting for her to narrow her eyes at me or shoot me a bird or at least frown. Instead, she shot me a dazzling smile. “Have you seen the car I’m driving? What makes you think I need to date a guy for his car?”
The image of her struggling to get out of that antique, ugly-ass tank made me smile.
“You do have a point.”
“If you play your cards right, maybe I’ll take you for a ride,” she said in little more than a whisper, as if she were in unfamiliar territory.
I locked my eyes on hers. I could see her uncertainty, perhaps a little bit of horror that I might even take her up on it. I figured it was best to let her off the hook.
“I’ve never been very good at playing cards.”
She gave a small shrug of her shoulders. “Suit yourself.”
“I usually do.”
I tried to hide a smirk as she stood innocent-eyed, staring at me as if she had no idea what to say next. She clung so hard to the broken-down cardboard boxes in her hands that her knuckles were turning white. This was Dara’s lucky day. I decided to let her off the hook for the second time in the last five minutes. “Here,” I said, motioning to the boxes. “I’ll take those for you.”
Reluctantly, she handed them over, and I walked away, so she wouldn’t have to think of something to say. Puddles were scattered across the pavement between me and the recycling dumpster. The humidity made the air seem thick in the back of my throat. The sun was peeking out from behind the clouds and shockingly enough, it looked like it might even turn out to be a halfway decent day.
I slid the boxes through the horizontal slit on the dumpster and turned to head back into the store. Dara was nowhere in sight, so I assumed that she had taken her escape while she could. Smart girl.
When I got back in the store, I was relieved to see that we had a few customers milling around. The break in the weather was probably responsible for that. Tom was busy training Dara on the computer system and the procedure for stocking inventory, so I went in my office to come up with a marketing strategy. Sales had been down. Without an effective marketing strategy, the store wasn’t going to stay open for long.
I brainstormed on ideas that might help get customers in. When I was finished, I printed it and went to find Tom. He was sitting behind the front counter with Dara at his side.
“You got time to talk about marketing?” I asked.
Tom did a face palm. “I do, but why don’t I go get a pizza? We can eat, and then maybe my brain can transition from boring tasks, such as spreadsheets and inventory, to the more exciting, creative world of marketing.”
“Deal.” I knew he was being sarcastic. Tom lived for boring stuff, like spreadsheets. He didn’t have a creative bone in his body, but he and I would go through the process anyway.
A few minutes later, Tom left to pick up the pizza. Dara and I sat on tall stools behind the front counter.
“So what kind of marketing are you working on?” she asked as she took a paper towel and wiped the dust off the register.
“Our sales have been down. It usually picks up over the summer, but we need to come up with some ideas that will energize the store. We need to get our name out there and draw customers in.” I fidgeted with my ink pen, drawing circles on the paper.
“What are your ideas so far?” she asked, walking closer to me and looking down at the list in front of me.
“Loss leader,” she read. “What’s that?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.
“It’s when you sell an item at or below cost in hopes that it will generate other sales. Like if we sold a movie for ninety-nine cents and a customer came in to buy it and bought two other regular-priced movies while they were here.”
“Oh, I see,” she said. Man, she was standing close enough again that I could smell her perfume. I didn’t know what she was wearing, but it was highly effective. “You could have a date night sale to encourage couples to come in. Something like, buy an action-adventure movie, get a chick flick for ninety-nine cents. Or maybe a girls’ night out sale. I have a couple of friends who just got their cosmetology licenses through the vocational program at school. They could set up a table, and you could have something like spend twenty dollars and get your nails painted for ninety-nine cents. They would probably work cheap just to get the experience and to build up clientele.”
“Women would come in for that?”
“Women love to be pampered, and they love to shop. They would come.”
Considering how unsure of herself she seemed earlier, she was exuding confidence now. She really seemed to be in her element.
She continued, “We could also have a big Fourth of July blowout. We could have face painting, and braiding….”
“Yeah, like braiding hair. Little girls love that stuff, and if you can get the parents in here with the kids, then the parents will be shopping while we’re painting their little angels’ faces. Cha-ching.”
I had to admit that she was a brainstorming maniac who was full of creative ideas. No wonder she did well in school.
“I thought we might add a kids’ section,” I said, glancing at one of my other ideas. “Maybe put all the children’s products in one corner of the room and bring in a couple of small tables with chairs. What do you think?”
“That’s a good idea. You know what else we could do?”
“Add a snack bar.”
“I hadn’t thought about that.” I scanned the room, wondering where the snack bar could go.
“You think the owner would agree to that?” she asked, her expression serious, her green eyes focused on my face.
“I may be able to talk him into it.”
Tom finally showed up with the pizza. The three of us discussed marketing ideas during lunch, but I had a hard time concentrating. All I could think about was kissing those pink, sparkly lips. Her blond hair had finally dried, and it framed her face in soft ringlets. I had missed out on what had been said, but she looked up at me now, smiling, her green eyes focusing on my face before she shifted them to Tom.
I had no plans tonight. Part of me wanted to ask her out, but the other part had no interest in a girl like her. She would expect things. Jessie didn’t give a damn. She lived for the moment, never worrying about what the consequences would bring. And she didn’t care about other girls I dated. There was no clinging, no jealousy, no blowing up my phone. It was just the way I liked it.
I grabbed my water bottle and took a swig. Tom walked to the kitchen to get a drink.
I breathed in deeply, inhaling her scent. I could ask her now. There was the chance that she might say no. I could tell that she was out of her comfort zone when we were alone. But I could be pretty persuasive when I wanted to be, and I had no doubt that if I wanted to go out on a date with her tonight, all I had to do was decide what time to pick her up.
The logical side of me tried to kick in, despite the fact that it was being overridden by my male hormones at the moment. I had worked very carefully to stay away from girls like her.
My eyes flicked down to her soft, pink lips again, and I noted how the color perfectly matched her shirt. I found her incredibly sexy. A date. All I had to do was ask.
I stood up quickly, startling her as the stool scraped across the floor. I brushed past her and entered the kitchen. Tom was down on his haunches, sorting through things in the fridge.
“Tom, I’m leaving now,” I said, snatching up my motorcycle helmet.
“Okay,” he answered, never looking up.
I hurried out the back door, slammed my helmet onto my head, and rode a wheelie through the parking lot. I had to get the hell out of there. I needed my bike. It was my only crutch, the one thing that was familiar, comfortable, reliable.
My front wheel hit the ground, and I sped down the road, the hum of the motor calming me.
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