(Love Unexpectedly #3) Love Story - Lauren Layne - PDF Free Download (2024)

Love Story is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. A Loveswept Ebook Original Copyright © 2017 by Lauren LeDonne Excerpt from Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne copyright © 2017 by Lauren LeDonne All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New Y ork. LOVESWEPT is a registered trademark and the LOVESWEPT colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC. This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book Walk of Shame by Lauren Layne. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition. Ebook ISBN 9781101968888 Cover design: Sarah Hansen Cover photograph: Mikhail_Kayl/Shutterstock randomhousebooks.com v4.1 ep

Contents Cover Title Page Copyright

Prologue: Lucy Chapter 1: Lucy Chapter 2 Chapter 3: Reece Chapter 4 Chapter 5: Lucy Chapter 6: Reece Chapter 7 Chapter 8: Lucy Chapter 9 Chapter 10: Reece Chapter 11 Chapter 12: Lucy Chapter 13: Reece Chapter 14 Chapter 15: Lucy Chapter 16: Reece Chapter 17: Lucy Chapter 18 Chapter 19: Reece Chapter 20: Lucy Chapter 21: Reece Chapter 22: Lucy Chapter 23 Chapter 24: Lucy Chapter 25: Reece Chapter 26: Lucy Chapter 27: Reece Chapter 28

Chapter 29: Lucy Chapter 30: Reece Chapter 31: Lucy Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Reece Chapter 34: Lucy Chapter 35: Reece Chapter 36: Lucy Chapter 37: Reece Chapter 38: Lucy Chapter 39 Chapter 40: Reece Chapter 41 Chapter 42: Lucy Chapter 43: Reece Epilogue: Lucy Author’s Note Dedication By Lauren Layne About the Author Excerpt from Walk of Shame


Lucy I was eight years old when I gave my heart to Reece Sullivan. I was eighteen when he shattered it into a million pieces. Now, I wish I could tell you I was twenty-eight when I next saw him, because that’d be sweet, right? Ten years in between each of our most crucial…encounters. (And yes, you absolutely should visualize air quotes there.) Alas. I was twenty-four when our paths crossed again, and they did so in the worst, most Are you freaking kidding me with this?! sort of way. As in, my well-meaning but completely oblivious family somehow maneuvered us into taking a two-week road trip together. Yes, that’s right. Me. My ex. Two weeks. One car. Sounds tricky, right? Um, respectfully, You have no idea. Did I mention that one of the first stops on the road trip was to see my then-boyfriend? Yeah. That. But, see, sometimes… Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned when you’re eight. Sometimes life involves two broken hearts, a flat tire, an honest-to-God flood, and a few seedy motel rooms along the way. My name is Lucy Hawkins. His name is Reece Sullivan. And this is our story.

Chapter 1

Lucy Congratulations, Spock! I scratch my nose and stare up at the homemade sign where the g looks like a pube and the l looks suspiciously like a penis. “Your handiwork?” I ask my brother. Craig, older brother by fourteen months, drapes an arm over my shoulder as we take in the house where we grew up. “Brandi helped. You like?” I purse my lips. “I don’t suppose there’s a statute of limitations on how long that nickname gets to stick around?” “Hell no. It’s a classic,” he says, going around to the back of his truck and hauling my suitcase out. Now, lest you think I, or anyone in my family is a Star Trek fan, I’ll stop you right there. We’re not. I mean, like most Americans, we have at least a passing knowledge of the sci-fi classic, but that’s the extent of it. But the roots of the oh-so-flattering nickname go back to my first days home from the hospital when my camera-happy mother took a picture of me waving my hand, fingers in the Live long and prosper V. Factor in the way my super-straight, dark hair fell over my forehead, my thick eyebrows, and… Yeah, okay. I totally resembled a mini Leonard Nimoy (rest in peace). Hence the nickname Spock. It used to drive me crazy back when I was pubescent and trying to be cool, but right now I find myself grinning at the ugly sign my brother made and what it represents. Home. “You know, in gratitude for me driving four hours round trip to bring you home, the least you could have done is let your hot roommate tag along,” Craig says. “She’s a lesbian,” I counter, pulling out my laptop bag and the Victoria’s Secret gift-withpurchase tote that’s stuffed to the brim with makeup, flat iron, and no small number of tampons. “Even better,” Craig says reverently. “Her girlfriend could have come too.” “You know you’re twenty-five now, right?” I say, shutting the car door. “A little old to be lusting after cliché girl-on-girl action.” My brother shakes his head. “Some things never go out of style, Spock. Also, I repeat: ‘fourhour drive.’ I gave up Orioles tickets.”

“Your sacrifice is noted,” I say, pinching his cheek as we head up the bumpy walkway toward the familiar blue front door, the squeaky wheel of one of my suitcases protesting mightily. “And in my defense,” I argue, “it’s not like I planned yesterday to be the day my car finally went to car purgatory.” “Really? Because the way I see it, when you buy a car on Craigslist that has a hundred and twenty thousand miles and is single-handedly responsible for destroying the ozone layer, you sort of risk it breaking down every day.” “Let’s not speak ill of the dearly departed.” Craig’s pretty much right though. See, I thought I could get through graduate school without a car the way I did when I was an undergrad. But Virginia Tech, while pretty fabulous, isn’t exactly NYU when it comes to public transportation. The tuition for my MSBA in hospitality and tourism management was mostly courtesy of a buttload of student loans, but books and food and the roof over my head were all on me. There hadn’t been much money left over for a decent car, so I’d made do. And really, the poor little Subaru did better than Craig’s giving it credit for. But yesterday it decided that it couldn’t make the two-hour journey back to my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, after all. And the mechanic I’d paid an extra fifty bucks to come to me confirmed it wouldn’t be making any journeys. Ever. Normally, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The car was long past its prime, and I have a big brother who’s been oh-so-gracious about coming to pick me up and bring me home. But… That sad little Subaru wasn’t just supposed to get me to my parents’ house. It was also supposed to get me from Virginia to California the day after tomorrow to start my new job. Now I’ll have to round up the money for a plane ticket, plus the cost of shipping all my stuff, not to mention a car when I get to Napa. As if the money wasn’t enough of an ouch, I recently spent one rather glorious, cabernetfueled Friday night carefully planning a two-week road trip to see the states that I’d likely never visit otherwise. A road trip that included a detour down to Miami to see my boyfriend. A road trip that won’t be happening. I blow out a breath. Tomorrow. I’ll deal with all of that tomorrow. I smile as the Congratulations, Spock sign flutters in the warm June breeze. Suddenly, I can’t wait to see what sort of gloriously fattening welcome-home meal my mom has prepared, have a beer with my dad and brother, gossip with my sister, and enjoy two nights with my family before I start my dream job as hospitality manager at Chateau St. Magrit, one of the biggest wineries in Napa Valley. “Spock.” Craig says my name as I reach for the handle of the front door. I glance back, and he gives me a slightly sheepish grin. “For what it’s worth, it wasn’t my idea.” “What wasn’t?” I say. Then it hits me. The sign in the front yard. The cars lining the cul-de-sac. The fact that my parents haven’t been out to greet me, even though I’d have bet serious money that my mom would be

impatiently waiting by the living room window, my father making up excuses for why he needed to be out in the front yard for when I drove up. I groan. “They didn’t.” Craig grins wider. “It’s not every day their baby girl comes home with a fancy degree in tow.” “I’m not even the baby,” I mutter. That dubious honor belongs to Brandi, my little sister by four years. Then I take a deep breath and push open the door. I’m prepared for it, but the “SURPRISE!” still makes me jump a little. And then, even though it isn’t quite the small, intimate homecoming I’d been dreaming about for weeks, my eyes water all the same, because everyone is here. My parents, beaming at me, Brandi looking seriously grown-up even since I saw her at Easter. Aunts, uncles, cousins. Neighbors who’ve known me my whole life, grade school friends, high school friends. Even some former coworkers from Luna Winery, the local Virginia vineyard where I discovered my love of the wine business… I drop my bag, ignoring the fact that my Revlon mascara and off-brand tampons are probably scattered all over the area rug as I run toward my parents with a happy squeal. Not exactly dignified grown-up behavior, but I don’t care. The second my mom’s arms go around me, and I feel dad’s hand mess up my hair, I don’t care about anything except that for forty-eight glorious hours I’m home. Don’t get me wrong, my dream job in Napa is pretty freaking fantastic—it’s everything I’ve been working for since I was like, five. But right now, this is where I want to be more than anything. It’s the kind of homecoming you see in Hallmark movies, complete with a big bouquet of Congratulations! helium balloons tied to the back of our dining room chairs. It’s perfect. Even as a quick scan of the room tells me there’s one rather crucial absence. “Lucy Darlene Hawkins, you’re too skinny!” my mom says, pushing me back. I grin, because I know my mom’s quest to fatten up her children is how she best shows her love. Unfortunately for her, all three of us take after my dad’s side of the family, which means we’re lean. My leggy sister also got my dad’s height, whereas I got the short genes, coming in at just under five two. Something my five nine “little” sister reminds me of now by resting her forearm on my shoulder. “Hey, Spock. You like your sign? Craig and I worked hard on that.” “Love it. Although maybe you could tell Mom exactly how you knew to make the l look so perfectly like a penis?” My mom says, “Girls!” in exasperation, and Brandi gives our mother a cheeky smile. “I’m not sure what a penis looks like, Mom. What’s this penis Spock is referring to? A type of co*cktail?” Everyone’s in the kitchen now, happily heaping pasta salad and potato salad onto paper plates, the enormous platter of what looks to be the local Gabby’s Fried Chicken rapidly

depleting. I’m about to sink my teeth into a drumstick when my mom pulls it away from my face and tosses it onto a plate. “What the heck?” I say. “I thought you said I was too skinny.” “You have your whole life to eat,” my mom says, clapping her hands excitedly, a strand of dark hair falling across her cheek. “We have something for you.” I glance around, realizing that “we” means my immediate family, although my sister and brother look decidedly more skeptical about the surprise than my giddy parents. I let my mom lead me to the garage, following after my dad as the sibs drag along behind. I admit I’m expecting the ta-da moment to be a little more, well…anything. I glance around at our familiar, cluttered garage. I see one too many rakes, an overflowing garbage can because my dad forgot to take it out to the curb yesterday. There’s the old hideous brown station wagon….The only thing that’s new is a ladder, and I can’t imagine how it warrants a ta-da! My parents are still beaming expectantly, awaiting my response. I give Craig and Brandi a Help! look but they’re too busy trying not to crack up. It’s my dad who caves, clearing his throat and gesturing with his hand toward the car. I scan over the station wagon, affectionately dubbed Horny by my brother his freshmen year of high school, and then I see it. The bow. Not a big bow, but a tattered, dirty-looking red bow that I think had a former life as a Christmas-tree topper. “Umm—” “Spock, we’re giving you Horny!” my mom blurts out, apparently fed up with my denseness. Her utterance is too much for my siblings to handle and they both burst out laughing, retreating into the kitchen to rejoin the party where there’s wine. Oh what I wouldn’t give for wine right now. “I, um…you’re giving me the car?” I ask. “Because yours broke down,” my dad explains, walking forward to thump Horny’s dented hood. “And this one’s…not broken down?” I ask skeptically. Look, it’s not that I’m not grateful. My parents are trying to give me a car, I appreciate the sweetness of the gesture, it’s just… Here’s the thing about Horny: he barely got us three kids through high school. I mean, Horny is the car that sputtered and shook making it the 3.2 miles to Jefferson High, no matter who was behind the wheel. I’m even going to come all the way clean here and say that early on in my freshmen year, I was embarrassed showing up in Horny. Then I realized I was lucky to have a car at all, and well…I dunno, I guess Horny became a part of us Hawkins kids’ charm, because the station wagon was practically an institution from Craig’s high school reign all the way through

Brandi’s. But poor Horny quit working years ago. Much to Brandi’s chagrin, he gave up the ghost a mere two months before her high school graduation, and she spent the last bit of her senior year being picked up by my parents. “He’s going to take you to California,” Dad says, giving the car another thump. “Really?” I step forward and run a tentative finger along the familiar panel. He’s had a bath, so at least that’s something. “Because last I knew, he wouldn’t even make it out of the garage.” “Yeah, well, we neglected him for a while, but he’s right as rain now,” Dad says, puffing out his chest as though Horny’s a fourth child. “Like, as in he actually starts?” “Purrs like a kitten,” my mom says with an emphatic nod, even though I know she doesn’t even like cats. “We didn’t believe it, but we took him to church on Sunday and there were no issues.” I literally bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that this is hardly a feat. Sacred Presbyterian is 0.8 miles away from the house. “You took Horny into a shop?” I ask, starting to warm to the idea of having a car again. I’m a little touched, actually. Money is tight for my parents. Dad’s a PE teacher, and Mom gives a mean winery tour, but the gig’s never paid much. “Not exactly, it was more of a bartering situation,” Mom says. “Yeah?” I say, going around to the driver’s seat, already giddy with the prospect of telling Oscar I’ll be able to come see him in Miami after all, even if I won’t exactly be riding in style. “Reece agreed to fix him up.” I’m lowering myself into the car as my dad says this, but I reverse so quickly I hit my head. My skull doesn’t even register the pain, because I’m too busy registering the hurt in my heart at the familiar name. “I’m sorry, what?” “Reece,” my mom says, giving me a bemused look. “He’s always been handy with cars.” “He fixed up the car in exchange for what?” And then I feel—I actually feel—the air change around me as the side door to the garage opens, and a new presence sucks all the air out of the space. I don’t turn around. I don’t move. But I feel his eyes on me. Over me. “Reece is headed out to California too,” my oblivious mother chatters on. “It worked out perfectly actually. Now you two can ride together, and your dad and I don’t have to worry about you alone in the middle of nowhere with a twenty-something-year-old car.” They think the car is going to be the problem here? It’s not the car that’s toxic to me. It’s him. Reece Sullivan. My brother’s best friend. My parents’ “other son.” Slowly I force myself to turn, and even though I’m prepped, the force of that ice-blue gaze still does something dangerous to me. He winks, quick and co*cky, and I suck in a breath, and I have to wonder… I wonder if my parents would feel differently about their little plan if they knew that their

makeshift mechanic is the same guy that popped my cherry six years earlier under their very roof. And then broke my heart twenty-four hours later.

Chapter 2 LUCY , EIGHT, REECE, NINE The little boy hurriedly wiped the back of his hand over his sniffling nose as he heard someone climbing up the Big Toy, fingers swiping quickly at his wet eyes. He tried to stifle the surge of anger at the intrusion. Craig was probably just trying to help. But he’d heard Mrs. Hawkins tell Craig that Reece needed space right now, and Reece had been grateful his best friend hadn’t followed him into the backyard and onto the top of the Big Toy. Hadn’t been there to watch him cry. As far as Big Toys went, this one sucked. It just had one stupid little slide, and a swing that creaked. But the Big Toy was more than Reece had at his house, and the first time Reece had come over, he and Craig had used some boards and sheets to create a pretty cool fort. He didn’t feel like building a fort today. Reece sniffled. It sure was taking his friend a long time to climb up the short ladder. He turned his head just as a dark head came into view, and Reece blinked in annoyed shock at the girl invading his privacy. He’d only met Craig’s little sister once. He’d seen her around school and on the bus, but fourth graders didn’t have much to do with third graders. And every time he’d come over to Craig’s house, Lucy was always on her way to Brownies or soccer practice or ballet. But she was here now. Of all the rotten timing… Lucy crawled on her hands and knees over to him, and he noticed the smashed Kleenex box in her hand. Without the slightest bit of hesitation, she sat beside him on the platform, swinging her legs around to dangle like his, and handed Reece the Kleenex box. He pushed it back at her. She blinked at him with green eyes, the blue tissue box smashed against her chest. He thought maybe he’d hurt her feelings, but he didn’t care. Not today. Lucy turned and stared straight ahead, still clutching the tissue box. “My mom told me your mom went to heaven.” Fresh tears immediately filled his eyes, but he refused to reach for the Kleenex as he blinked them away. Boys don’t cry. Except, Reece’s dad had. Yesterday, he’d cried and cried and cried when the policeman had come by their house. There was an accident…. Reece swallowed a sob, sniffing in dramatically before turning and glaring at the girl beside him. “Can you go away? I don’t like you.” I don’t want you to see me cry.

She looked at him carefully. “You want to be alone?” “Obviously,” he said with all the disdain he could muster. She didn’t look away. “My mom said your dad dropped you off here. And that your sister hasn’t come out of her bedroom.” “So?” He didn’t want to think about the fact that his dad hadn’t so much as hugged him. Or that fourteen-year-old Trish hadn’t said a single word since hearing the news. He was all alone. Lucy heaved a big sigh that reminded Reece of when his mom was frustrated with his dad. A sound he’d never hear again… Tears rushed again, and this time he wasn’t fast enough, and they were running down his cheeks, dripping off his chin faster than he could wipe at them. He looked at Lucy in embarrassment, but she didn’t seem to mind. She reached into the pocket of her pink hoodie and pulled something out. Reece watched incredulously as she held up the deck of cards. “Go Fish?” she asked. He could only stare. His mom had just died, and this little girl wanted to play Go Fish? It was… It was… Slowly, Reece nodded, suddenly realizing that he’d do anything to have a break from thinking about his mom. To keep from thinking about how nothing would ever be the same. Lucy gave him a big smile, and began dealing the cards, all the while chatting about how her friend Robin had broken her arm and gotten a pink cast and how Lucy had signed it with a heart, and how she hoped her mom would let her quit ballet because she wanted to take gymnastics instead, and how she found a moldy grape in her lunch box and how it was the grossest thing ever. They played one game. Then another. By the third game, Reece’s eyes had dried. His stomach still hurt, but his chest didn’t hurt quite as much. For the first time since they’d told him his mom had died, he thought he might not die too. They played and played, and Lucy chatted, and Reece even laughed once or twice. Finally, he heard Mrs. Hawkins’s voice calling them in for dinner. Lucy began picking up the cards and putting them back in the deck. Reece picked up a ten of clubs, playing with the corner as he mustered his courage. When she held out her small hand expectantly for the card, he took a deep breath and handed it over, meeting her eyes. “Thank you. For staying with me.” Lucy blinked, looking a little confused, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world that she’d spend an afternoon with a crybaby. Then she gave him a small smile, looking a little shy for the first time since going to him, as though she’d just realized something. “I’ll never leave if you don’t want me to.”

Chapter 3

Reece I learned a long time ago that life’s not fair. I learned it when I was nine, and my mom was struck and killed by a drunk driver at a crosswalk outside a donut shop. I learned it just a few months ago when my dad finally gave in to the cancer in his stomach. I learned it when my older sister ditched the crap out of me right when I needed family the most. To sum up? Life’s not fair, and people leave. I get it. But right now, what feels more unfair than just about anything else is that the person I hate the most for leaving looks damn hot in tiny denim shorts and a white tank top, with murder in her eyes. Lucy Hawkins. She’d be my ultimate downfall if I hadn’t already hit rock bottom. It’s on the tip of my tongue to say, Hey, babe, to see her fire ignite even further, but her parents are here and they don’t know our, um, history. I know it though. And right now my damn co*ck is remembering all too well what it felt like to run my hand up those smooth calves, my tongue up the even smoother thighs. There might be some pain in there somewhere at the memories, but mostly there’s anger. Anger that I didn’t see before it was too late that for all of Lucy Hawkins’s easy laughter and girl-next-door charm, she’s really just a self-serving brat. Always one foot out the door, her eye on what’s ahead instead of what’s right in front of her. Her hands find her narrow hips and she looks me over. “Reece.” “Lucy,” I say in response. “What are you doing here?” The question pisses me off. I have as much right to be here as she does. Delia Hawkins was as much a mother to me as to her, having put at least as many Band-Aids on my scraped knees over the years as on Lucy’s. And Tim Hawkins was more dad to me than my own, teaching me everything from how to throw a football to how to drive a car, back when I was sixteen and my own dad was in the throes of depression. Hell, lately, I feel like I have more right to be here than Lucy. While I’ve been fixing her parents’ busted garbage disposal, cleaning their gutters and fixing this f*cking car, she’s been off prancing around in high heels at some fancy restaurant, plotting her escape to California. I guess on that last one I can’t blame her since I’m after the same thing. But damn, I wish like hell I’d known about Princess Lucy’s plans before I’d taken the job at the Sonoma winery.

She’s after it for the glory. I’m after it for the change. I’ve worked in the vineyards since I was fourteen, and as damn proud as I am to be a part of Virginia wine country, I need to get away from here. Away from the memories. I’d applied for the job at Abbott Vineyards in Sonoma the day after I buried my father. Not because I thought I was too good for Beaumont Winery, where I’ve been assistant winemaker for three years, but because I simply can’t take this f*cking town right now. It’s like there’s a ghost around every corner, either of my parents, or my sister, or Lucy, even my damn dog Dudley, who I had to put down a few months ago. It was Craig’s idea that I get out of town for a while. His idea too that I approach his parents, ask about fixing up the ancient station wagon and using it to get my ass to California. They hadn’t even hesitated, and I love them for it. What I’m not loving them for at the moment is the fact that the second the precious middle child’s car breaks down, they foist her on me. I mean, I get it. It’s logical. Two people needing to make a cross-country move, one car…and a sh*t ton of baggage, and I’m not talking the literal kind. “This will be perfect,” Lucy’s mom says, oblivious to the resentment simmering between her daughter and me. “We’ve been worried about you making this journey on your own, sweetie, especially in that car, and this way you’ll have someone to help if the car breaks down.” “I can get Triple A,” Lucy says, crossing her arms. I roll my eyes. Diva. I want to remind her of all the summer afternoons when she got a flat tire and called me to come fix it. Me. Not some anonymous AAA number. Me. But then, that was back before she got fancy. “I appreciate the offer,” Lucy is saying, “but my whole reason for wanting to do a road trip was to actually see the country on the way.” “And what, I’ve just been planning to make the drive with my eyes closed?” I ask, leaning against the doorjamb. I feel her parents look over in surprise at my sharp tone, but I don’t look away from Lucy. She pins me with pissed-off cat-shaped green eyes, a startling contrast to her dark hair, tan skin. “The drive I’d planned was going to take two weeks.” The f*ck? We could easily get from Virginia to California in a few days, even without pushing it too hard. “Two weeks? What was your plan, just driving in big loops around Kansas?” She ignores my sarcasm, looking back at her parents. “I really appreciate the offer, guys, but if I’m not going to stop in Miami on the way, I might as well just fly.” Miami? Only Lucy Hawkins would get from Virginia to California by way of Florida. “I’m sure Reece won’t mind the detour,” Delia is saying. “Reece have you ever been to Florida?” “Nope.” Not planning on it either. I thought it’d be a cold day in hell before Lucy and I would agree on something, but we’re

on the same page right now. This joint road trip is a no go. She can take the car if she wants, but no way am I getting in there with her. I’ll find another way to get to California. “And it could be nice for Oscar to meet a family friend, even if he’s never met your actual family.” Delia is still rambling. There’s a slight pout to Lucy’s mom’s tone, and I narrow my eyes on the three Hawkinses, who seem to be having some sort of silent standoff. Then the name registers. “Oscar?” I ask, before I can think better of it. “My boyfriend,” Lucy says in a sugar-sweet voice, shooting me a smile laced with venom. Boyfriend. The word rocks through me. I knew she was seeing someone, but I figured that it was some overeducated douchebag she’d dump when she moved across the country. That’s what Lucy does. Looks ahead, moves forward. But if she’s planning to go out of the way to see the guy… Something hot and dangerous rips through me. Possession. I don’t want Lucy Hawkins. I got that pipe dream out of my system a long time ago. And yet somehow, I hear myself uttering the most idiotic words of my life: “I wouldn’t mind seeing Miami.” The look she shoots me would have made me laugh if I hadn’t been so rigid with the shock of what I’d just agreed to. Me. Lucy. Horny. And I’m not talking about the car.

Chapter 4 LUCY , FIFTEEN, REECE, SIXTEEN The song ended, and Lucy lifted her head from the pillow and reached out and hit back on her CD player so that the song would repeat. It wasn’t even a good song. Two days ago, she and her friend Kayley had talked about how much they hated it. Now, however, she was listening to it with fresh ears. The pop star was no longer singing about generic heartaches, she was singing about Lucy’s heartache. Her phone buzzed, and she picked it up, then dropped it again when she saw it was a text from Paige. Like Kayley, Paige was dying to know all about what had happened this afternoon at Tyler’s house. Wanted to know if Lucy had finally gotten her first kiss. Lucy rolled onto her back as the singer launched into her chorus about how the boy she liked liked another girl. I get you, Amber, Lucy silently told the first-name-only singer. I so get you. There was a knock at her bedroom door, and Lucy heaved a sigh. “Go away!” There was a moment of silence, then someone spoke. “You okay?” Lucy sat bolt upright. She’d assumed it was either Brandi or Craig telling her it was time for dinner, but it wasn’t. She swung her legs off the bed and brushed her hair back, wishing she were wearing something other than the gym shorts and T-shirt she’d worn to track practice. “Come in.” The door opened slowly, and the familiar face of Reece Sullivan appeared in the doorway. His blue eyes flicked briefly over her, then narrowed. “You okay?” he repeated. She scratched her nose. “Sure.” His eyes narrowed further, and he entered the room, shutting the door before leaning back against it with his arms crossed. Like Craig, Reece had made varsity football as a sophom*ore, but unlike Craig, he didn’t wear his letterman jacket everywhere he went. Today he was wearing a white polo and jeans, his forearms tan from working in the vineyards after school. “Do I need to beat someone up?” he asked, his mouth hitching up in one corner. “Also, what the hell is this song?” Lucy reached out and hit the pause button. “I’m wallowing.” “I can see that. Want to talk about it?” She picked at her cuticle. “Not with you.” “Hey,” he chided softly. “You’ve always told me what’s bugging you.” “Yeah, well, this is different.”

And it was different. Reece was one of her best friends, and she knew she was one of his, despite their age difference, despite the fact that she was the pesky kid sister of his actual best friend. Usually, he was the first person she ran to with what was bugging her. He had a calm way of getting to the heart of every issue and making her see that whatever she was upset about wasn’t the end of the world. She supposed since he’d had a rough go of it with his sister bailing and his mom dying that he had a different perspective from most of her girlfriends, who thought the concept of tragedy only applied to their favorite show being canceled. This topic though…that was different. Reece was quiet, but well liked, especially by the girls in his class. No way was she about to tell him that she thought she was finally going to get her first kiss from Tyler Vance today, only to learn that he wanted her to fix him up with her friend Paige. Reece pushed away from the door, coming to sit beside her on the bed, leaning forward so that his hands were clasped between his knees. He looked over and met her eyes. “Guy trouble?” She bit her lip. “Nobody likes me.” He blinked in surprise, then let out a little laugh. “Don’t let it go to your head, but you’re one of the most popular girls in the freshman class.” Lucy shook her head. “No, it’s just that everyone knows me because I participate in every possible extracurricular activity and talk a lot. But the guys…they don’t like me like that.” “Ah.” Reece looked away, staring down at his hands. She scratched her nose again, suddenly embarrassed. Not a feeling she was used to having around Reece. He always made her feel safe. Comfortable. But lately…lately he was making her feel something else too. “I thought it would be different once I got rid of the braces,” she said, feeling stupid for even saying it. “I thought maybe nobody wanted to kiss a girl with braces, but it’s been four months, and—” “Hold on. This is about kissing?” She shrugged, feeling her cheeks heat. “I’m the only one in my group who hasn’t been kissed.” Reece rubbed his hands over his face. “Not sure I’m the right person to be having this conversation with.” “Why not? You’ve kissed lots of girls.” She wanted him to deny it, but he didn’t. “Look,” he said, pressing his palms together in agitation and then standing. “If it makes you feel any better, first kisses aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.” She frowned. “They’re not?” He shook his head. “Definitely not. Nothing to look forward to, really.” “What about after the first kiss,” she countered. “Those are better, right?” He looked away and shuffled his feet. Nodded.

“Well then,” she said, crossing her arms smugly. “How can I possibly get to those kisses, until I get the first one out of the way?” His gaze came back to hers, eyes narrowed with something. “Mighty eager to get to kissing, Luce.” She tried to keep her smugness in place but it slipped. “I just want to know what’s so wrong with me. What about me screams bad kisser?” He frowned and took a step forward. “Hey. Stop that. Nothing is wrong with you. You’re just pretty and confident. Guys are intimidated.” She snorted to hide the fact that her eyes were welling with tears. It was all so embarrassing. “He likes Paige better,” she said, hating the wobble in her voice. “Idiot,” he said firmly. “Forget him. Find someone better for your first kiss.” “But you said first kisses suck. Why would I want to inflict something crappy on someone good?” He laughed and threw up his hands in exasperation. “You’re impossible to talk to. What do you want me to say here?” “Nothing,” she said, pushing her hands into her hair and tugging at her ponytail in frustration. “I’m sorry I’m in a bad mood.” His eyes softened just a little as he studied her. “Once you get the first kiss over with, you’ll stop being weird?” She lifted her shoulders. “Sure. Until I start obsessing over the second one.” Reece rolled his eyes then took a step toward her. “Don’t tell your brother, okay?” She frowned. “Tell him what?” He swallowed and then put both big hands on her shoulders, moving even closer. “And definitely don’t tell your parents.” Then he dipped his head, and before she could register what was happening, before she could absorb the fact that Reece Sullivan was about to kiss her, his lips pressed against hers. He didn’t linger, but neither did he pull back right away. His mouth stayed on hers just long enough for her to register the kiss, and then he stepped back, and shoved his hands in his pockets. She stared at him in mute shock, and he looked everywhere in her room before finally meeting her eyes with an almost defiant look in his. “Okay? Now will you come down to dinner?” Lucy nodded even though she was pretty positive that she wouldn’t be able to eat a single thing. Reece had been wrong. First kisses were absolutely what they were cracked up to be.

Chapter 5

Lucy “You’re being weird.” I shove at the suitcase I’d just loaded, but it doesn’t budge far enough for me to close the trunk. “You’ve been saying that all morning,” I mutter. “Because you’ve been weird all morning,” my sister says, joining me in trying to move my suitcase. Only she weighs all of, like, a hundred pounds, and the thing doesn’t budge. Not with the other suitcases, moving boxes, and general amount of crap I have already stuffed in there. I stand back up and blow out an irritated breath, pulling the hair tie from my wrist and twisting my hair into a messy bun. “I guess it’s just hitting me that I’m really doing this. I’m moving to another state. Another time zone.” Brandi turns, leaning against the suitcase protruding from the trunk, and crosses her long, skinny arms as she studies me. “Nah.” “What do you mean ‘nah’?” “You’re all on edge because you’re about to spend two weeks with Reece. In a car. Just the two of you.” Just the sound of his name sends something through me. I bite my lip and resist the urge to pull my phone out of my back pocket and check the time. We’d agreed to be on the road by seven A.M., so he should be here any time. “I still can’t believe he agreed to this after what went down between you.” I narrow my eyes. Brandi is the only one—and I mean the only one—who knows about our history, and only because at the time Reece and I had been doing whatever we were doing, she was fourteen to my eighteen, which is just about the most annoying, prying age in the history of adolescent females. Although I suppose in some ways, it worked in my favor that she was the one who had caught us kissing once. My brother would have beat the crap out of his friend. My parents would have been…I don’t know…I think their brains would have exploded. But Brandi had been in ninth grade when she’d walked in on us, and though she’d been wide-eyed and shocked, she’d also been totally eager to keep a secret “just between us sisters.” I’m pretty sure the sheer drama of it had fueled her for most of high school. Six years later, she’s kept my secret, although I’m almost wishing she hadn’t. Maybe if the fam knew about just who and what Reece actually was, they wouldn’t have come up with this ridiculous plan. “You could have warned me, you know?” I mutter.

“There wasn’t time. Truthfully I didn’t know what they were planning until the day of. I mean, I knew they were giving Reece the car, but I didn’t know that he was headed to California or that your car had bit the dust.” “Well it’s not like you needed enough time to send a freaking telegram. A quick text, ‘Hey, sis, Mom and Dad are going to try to send you and the biggest dick on the planet on a twoweek expedition together,’ would have been great.” Brandi looks away, and I narrow my eyes. “Tell me,” I say. She shrugs and looks back. “I don’t know, I guess I just thought…maybe it’ll be good for you guys. Work things out. Nothing’s been the same since whatever it was went down with you two.” Now it’s my turn to look away. Brandi knows that Reece and I were together, but doesn’t know why we broke up. That’s one piece of the puzzle that nobody knows. Well, Reece does. Seeing as he was the cause of it. “It’ll only be ‘good for us’ ”—I put this in air quotes—“if one of us ends up dead, and that person is him,” I mutter. Brandi merely looks at me, her eyes appearing wiser than seems fair for a twenty-year-old. “Where is everyone?” I ask, changing the subject before she can psychoanalyze me the way she does everyone since heading off to college. Brandi ticks off with her fingers. “Mom’s in the kitchen, packing a cooler for you and trying not to cry. Dad is pretending to fix the perfectly fine shelf in the bathroom, also trying not to cry….” “Oh boy,” I mutter on an exhale. She nods solemnly. “You broke the family.” “Where’s Craig? He can say something stupid and distract the ’rents. His specialty.” She shrugs. “He promised to see you off before he headed to work, but since he’s always running late, I wouldn’t be surprised if he meant he’d pass you on the freeway and wave. Is this all your stuff, or is there more upstairs that’s not going to fit?” I push Brandi away from my suitcase and resume trying to shove it into the trunk. “I’ve got one more duffel and my laptop bag that need to get in there somewhere.” “I’ll get ’em,” Brandi says, all but sprinting into the garage. Two seconds later, I realize why she was so eager to be helpful. “Nice of you to leave room for my stuff.” I take a deep breath and turn, annoyed to see that Reece looks well rested, perfectly calm, and not the least bit frazzled about the fact that he’s about to move across the country. With me. He’s wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, both of which should be boring, but instead look incredibly good on him. He’s gotten bigger since he was nineteen and I mean that in the best way possible. Reece has always been fit, courtesy of high school sports he’d never cared about but always been good at.

But he’s filled out even more in all the right places: shoulders broad, hips and waist narrow, arms tanned and strong. There’s an unfamiliar tattoo peeking out from the sleeve of his right arm, and my fingers itch to reach out and push up the cotton to see what it is. Once, I could have. Once when we were best friends. Once when we were a good deal more than friends. But now…now I’m pretty sure his skin would burn me. Brimstone, and all that. “Is that all you’re bringing?” I ask, my eyes skimming over the cross-body bag slung over his shoulder and the canvas duffel by his feet. “A good thing too,” he says, glancing into the overstuffed trunk. “We’re relocating,” I say, my voice just a little bit whinier than I want it to be. “We’re supposed to bring all this stuff.” “Yeah, well not all of us that are relocating have all this stuff,” he says, a gruffness to his voice. I instantly feel the sting, extra-sharp because I suspect Reece is speaking a simple truth rather than trying to piss me off. My family’s not wealthy. Not even close. We’re middle-class in the most solid sense of the word, and Christmas gifts often came from secondhand stores. Reece didn’t even get that much. Dinner might never have been fancy the nights Reece ate with my family (which was often), but the spaghetti, or leftover chicken, or whatever out-of-the-box meal we were having was more than his dad or sister remembered to feed him back home. “Move,” he mutters, jerking his chin to gesture me out of the way. I don’t budge, and our gazes clash, a silent battle of wills that he wins only by physically elbowing me out of the way. Without another word, he begins hauling out everything I’ve put in the trunk. “Hey! I need all this,” I say, dodging the garbage bag stuffed with bedding. “Well then, shut up and let me figure out how to fit it all in here,” he says, hauling out an enormous suitcase like it’s nothing. The sleeve of his T-shirt rides up a little higher, distracting me, but I can’t quite see what the tattoo is. “Why’d you agree to do this?” I ask, relenting and helping him pull the last of my haphazardly packed stuff out of the car so we can reload it. “Agree to what?” I roll my eyes. “The car trip.” “Well, way I see it,” he says, resting his hands on his hips as he surveys the stuff that is now all over the driveway, “you crashed my trip. Your folks offered me the car if I could fix it up, and I needed a way to get out of here. Wasn’t counting on you.” I bite my lip, feeling a little stab of guilt. My parents love Reece, almost like a son, but it bothers me a little that they think nothing of foisting their daughter on him. It wasn’t quite reneging on their promise to him, but it’s sort of a bum deal. “I can back out,” I say quietly. “Get a plane ticket.” He bends down, picking up the largest of the cardboard boxes and easily setting it into the

trunk before maneuvering it toward the seats I’d folded down. “You wouldn’t get to see your boyfriend then.” Oscar. Right. It’s more than alarming that I’ve barely thought about him in the two days since learning that Reece and I’d be making this trip together. Heck, half the reason I wanted to do the road trip in the first place was to stop by Miami, and now I’m just…I don’t know. I’d told Oscar the good news that the road trip was back on, but I’d deliberately misled him on the timing. I want to surprise him. I’ve been planning it for weeks, although nowhere in my imagined scenarios of seeing Oscar’s happy, surprised face was there Reece Sullivan lurking in the background. Reece picks up the box near my feet, then gives me an incredulous look as he manages the weight easily. “What the hell’s in here? Air?” “Yup, just stuffed a whole lot of air in there, Reece. Never know when you might need it.” He rips open the top flap, then gives a grunt of disgust when he sees the pillows inside. “Take them out.” “They were expensive. Down. They’re coming.” “Your down pillows can still come, but there’s no reason they need to be in the box. We can shove them around the other stuff.” “Have you thought about the sleeping arrangements?” I blurt out, ignoring his command about the pillows, and watching as he continues to load the trunk, somehow making everything fit a hell of a lot better than I did. He doesn’t pause, doesn’t even look at me, which is mildly insulting. “When I planned the trip, I saved up enough for cheap motels. I’m assuming you did the same.” He’s right. I did save up, but it’s a little jarring the way he doesn’t even seem to joke about us saving money and sharing a room. Sharing a bed. I chew my lip again. “I just feel bad, knowing you probably planned for a few nights on the road, and I planned for two weeks.” “What Lucy wants, Lucy gets. Isn’t that the way it works?” “I’m trying to be decent here, Reece,” I say. “I’m saying I can help pay for your room, some of the nights, since I know it’s my fault we’re extending.” His blue gaze is murderous when he glances over at me. “I don’t want your money. I don’t want anything from you. Haven’t in a long time.” My own temper snaps right along with his. “Yeah, I picked up on that. Because what I was giving out, you could find from some other girl if you wanted to, right? Oh wait. You did want to.” He tosses his own stuff in the trunk before slamming the station wagon hatch shut. “Go tell your family goodbye. Let’s get this nightmare on the road.” Right. Right. Because heaven forbid we put off the inevitable of finishing what we started years ago: destroying each other.

Chapter 6

Reece Craig Hawkins has been my best friend since we were in fourth grade. It started like this. Some mean girl named Katie or Kelly or Kimmy was giving me sh*t for the fact that my mom had accidentally grabbed one of my sister Trish’s My Little Pony Band-Aids instead of the Power Rangers one I’d requested, and then slapped it on the scrape on my forehead like it wouldn’t ruin my budding manhood. (Yes, that was back when the biggest problem in my life was the pattern on my Band-Aids, but you should still feel sorry for me, because the humiliation was real.) Anyway, Craig stepped forward with an impressive swagger for a nine-year-old and told Kelly or Katie or whatever her name was to knock it off. I returned the favor the next day, sharing some of the chocolate peanut butter cup my mom had snuck me as a snack even though we weren’t supposed to bring peanut snacks, because some kid probably had an allergy. (Probably Katie/Kelly/Kimmy.) Anyway, a friendship formed over Band-Aids and nut products is apparently forever, because we’ve been best friends ever since. I’d do just about anything for the guy. Now, I’m betting this is the part where you think that I’m all torn up about betraying his friendship by hooking up with his little sister, but it’s not like that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he knows. At least I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. But neither is this that cliché big-brother story where Craig threatened to castrate any guy who dared check out his little sister, leading me to hide my lust for years, until I finally gave in, seduced the hot sister, and now spend my life feeling guilty. Craig’s a good big brother, but he’s never been the overprotective type. That was always my gig. Everyone’s always known not to f*ck with the Hawkins girls, but not because Craig would kick their ass—but because I would. And yes, it applies to both girls—I’d kill anyone who ever tried to hurt Lucy or Brandi, but really Lucy was always the one on my radar. At first it was an age thing—Brandi’s five years younger than me, and of course I looked out for her when I could, but our paths never crossed much outside the Hawkinses’ home. Lucy, though, being only a year younger, has always been in my peripheral vision. Well not always. For a while there, she wasn’t peripheral, so much as all I could see. But anyway, eventually I started looking out for Lucy, not just because of proximity, but because of well…necessity. Not that she needed a guardian so much as she always sort of felt

like mine, and I protect what’s mine, you know? sh*t, where was I going with this? Craig. Right. Though Craig always made the requisite comments about telling the pigs in high school to stay away from his little sister, he’d never said a word to me. Because he trusted me? Probably. But here’s the thing. He should have said something. I don’t blame him for what happened, obviously, but I’ll confess that sometimes I wish that, just once, he’d done the whole I love you like a brother but touch my sister and I’ll kill you thing. I’d have listened. Maybe. Maybe. He never did that—never said a damn word. So I did touch his sister, despite my better judgment, and the whole thing blew up in my face like dynamite stuffed in a sh*t cake. Fifty percent her fault, fifty percent mine. One hundred percent devastating. “You okay, man?” “Yup.” I’m grateful for my shades so Craig can’t see the lie in my eyes. “We appreciate you doing this,” he says, lowering his voice so Lucy can’t hear us. Not that there’s much risk of that. It’s hard to hear much of anything over Mrs. Hawkins’s wailing. “It’s no problem.” Another lie. It’s a huge problem. It’s bad enough that I have to spend two weeks with her. Worse that it’s in such close quarters. Worst of all, we have to stop and see f*cking Oscar on what’s supposed to be a trip to my new life. “Spock’d kill me for saying this, but I’m a little relieved her piece of sh*t car broke down before the trip. None of us thought that car had a chance in hell of making it out of Virginia, much less to California.” “And you think Horny does?” I say, nodding with my chin at the brown—yes, brown— station wagon. “Fifty-fifty shot,” Craig says, thumping the roof of the car. “Weird to think this will probably be the last time I see the car where I got my first score. Remember Amy Pearson?” I do. Small tit*, great ass, redhead. Red other areas too. (And don’t look at me that way. She and Craig were never serious, and I didn’t hit that until a year after he hooked up with her.) “Yeah, I remember,” I say. I also remember that Lucy and I hooked up in the backseat of this car as well. It was the first time I went under her shirt, and I swear to God it felt like the first time I touched a breast instead of the hundredth. That’s how it was with Lucy. Every damned thing had felt like a first. And then it had felt like the last. sh*t.

I look at my watch, and Craig notices. “Yeah. This has gone on long enough. Mom,” he calls gently to his mother who’s telling Lucy in a watery voice to text every hour. “They’ve gotta hit the road.” “Of course you do,” Delia Hawkins says, swiping at the tears. “So you don’t drive after dark! You won’t drive after dark. Will you? Reece?” “No ma’am,” I say, going over to hug the woman who practically raised me. “And you’ll text every hour too, right? But not while driving. Every stop. I want to know every single thing about this trip, you kids are just going to have the best time.” I hug her tighter and try to ignore the sulky silence of Lucy behind me. We haven’t so much as made eye contact since her family gathered around the car to say goodbye. Not since I told her I didn’t want a damn thing from her. Because the lies just keep coming this morning, apparently. Lucy’s dad hands me a Triple-A card as I go to hug him. “Not the most glamorous goingaway gift,” he says a little gruffly as he thumps my back. “But I’ll feel better knowing you have it if you get stranded somewhere.” “Does nobody in this family have faith in my mechanic abilities?” I ask with a wink. “I do,” Brandi says, wrapping her skinny arms around my neck and giving me a smacking kiss on the cheek. “And for what it’s worth, my money’s on you and Lucy killing each other long before the car dies.” I narrow my eyes at her, which she can’t see through my sunglasses. Or maybe she can see, because she gives me a wide grin that’s full of little-sister sass. That’s what Brandi’s always been. The little sister Lucy should have been. Except where my feelings for one sister have always been strictly brotherly, the other… “Reece. You coming, or what?” Lucy says. I turn around to snap at her that I’m not the one who’s been yapping for the past twenty minutes, but I get distracted when I see she’s by the driver’s-side door. “I’m driving,” I state. She shoves her sunglasses up onto her head, pushing her dark hair back, and glares. “This is my trip. My plan. I drive.” “Lucy—” her mother murmurs. We both ignore Delia. “Sure, you can drive” I say, giving Lucy an easy smile that has her eyes narrowing. “Keys are in my front left pocket.” Her gaze drifts down to the front of my jeans, just for a second, but it’s enough. sh*t. Major error in judgment on my part. All it takes is her looking at my co*ck to remember what it felt like when she touched it. With her hands, mouth… I stifle a groan, not exactly wanting to let on to her parents that I was their darling daughter’s first blow j*b and that she was damn good at it. “Lucy, you’re making the guy drive all over the damn country,” Craig says, coming to my rescue. “At least let him take first shift behind the wheel. Plus, you’re sort of crashing his deal. He thought he’d be taking Horny alone.” I’ve never hated the nickname of this stupid car so much as I do right now, on the verge of a full-blown (pun intended) erection, in front of my pseudo-parents, all from a memory of a

girl I don’t even like. I can tell by the look on Lucy’s face that she wants to argue, not because she’s actually dying to drive, but because she hates me too much to let me drive. But she can’t really go there without signaling that she and I haven’t so much drifted apart in recent years like everyone assumes, so much as collided and then very deliberately steered off course. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if her parents were actually matchmaking with this scheme of theirs. Not in the romantic sense—but they’ve both mentioned on occasion that it’s a shame that the two of us aren’t as close as we used to be. Both Lucy and I have happily let them believe it’s due to circ*mstance—me taking care of Pops, her off taking over the hospitality world or some sh*t. The way she gives me one last glare before flicking her finger to knock her sunglasses back over her eyes tells me she intends to keep her parents in the dark, even though she’d like nothing more than to go toe-to-toe with me right now. But the way she snarls “Asshole” under her breath as we pass going around the back of the car lets me know we’ll go toe-to-toe later. As Lucy gives her parents and sister one last round of hugs, I man-hug Craig, a little surprised to feel a little sting of regret as he thumps my back once, and then again, as though not quite ready to let go. I’ve been so hell-bent on getting out of this town, getting a fresh start where I’m not the poor boy who lost his mother, later to be defined as the surly boy with the attitude. But I realize now that as much sh*t as I’m leaving behind, there’s good stuff too, and all of it’s right here in this driveway. “See you, man,” Craig says. His voice seems just a little hoarser than usual, and I nod, suddenly extra-glad we’re both wearing sunglasses. “Talk soon,” I say. He nods, then jerks his chin toward Lucy. “Take care of her. I guess I don’t need to tell you that. You’ve always been better at it than me.” I go still, waiting for any hint that he knows what’s up between us, but he sounds dead serious, as though he really thinks I’m the best person to care for the cyclone that is Lucy. His trust rips at me a little bit, but instead I nod, and say the only thing I can. “I will. Always.” Craig’s head turns slightly, verifying that his sister is still being mauled by his mother, and then steps closer. “Watch this Oscar character. None of us like him.” I lift my eyebrows. “Thought none of you had met him.” “Exactly.” With that bit of uselessness, Craig flashes me his old familiar grin and slaps at the hood of the car in a final farewell with a “Take care man,” before going around the car to forcibly maneuver Lucy away from her parents, giving her a hug, and then none-too-gently shoving her into the passenger seat. I take a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

I lift my hand once more, gesturing goodbye to the family that has practically been my own, the house where I’ve spent more than a few holidays, and amid a refrain of “Drive safe, call often,” I climb into the car beside the girl who once was very nearly the death of me. There’s a moment of almost suffocating silence, and I wonder if I’m even capable of surviving the next two weeks. Then Lucy rolls down the window, and the pressure eases, but only for a minute, because she maneuvers half of her body out of the window to wave goodbye to her family with both arms, and the position gives me a prime view of her tight ass in her tiny shorts. Yeah. No chance in hell are we both going to make it through these two weeks alive.

Chapter 7 LUCY , SIXTEEN, REECE, SEVENTEEN “Damn it, Lucy, you’re giving me whiplash,” he said, rubbing at his neck before turning to glare at her. “Not my fault Horny’s older than the U.S. Constitution.” He laughed. “That’s specific.” “I had a quiz in U.S. History today,” she muttered as she fiddled with the controls, trying to find the windshield wipers. “You just turned on your brights.” Lucy sighed and let her hands drop into her lap. “I don’t know why you agreed to teach me to drive when you obviously don’t want to be here.” “Because your parents know you don’t listen to them, and I lost a bet with your brother. Plus, I’m the only one with keys to this part of Mr. Jensen’s property where there’s nothing but dirt and weeds for you to destroy.” Lucy tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “Is this where you learned to drive?” she asked, looking around at the big nothingness that was part of the winery property where Reece worked. “Yup.” “Who taught you, your dad?” He looked away. “Nah.” “Trish?” He snorted. “Would that have been before or after she left for Vegas without so much as a goodbye note?” Lucy swallowed, annoyed with herself for bringing up his deserting sister and the dad who barely registered that he had a son. “Sorry,” she said softly. He dropped his head back against the headrest. “Don’t worry about it. And to answer your question, it was your dad who taught me.” She couldn’t help the laugh. “I love that he taught you, but not me.” “Maybe he knew that I would listen to him.” Reece turned his head and smiled at her, and for an annoying moment, Lucy’s breath caught. He was so good-looking she couldn’t stand it sometimes. No matter how hard she tried to remind herself that he was Reece, it was getting harder and harder to think of him as a brother figure. Especially when he was this close and there was no one around. Their gazes caught and held, and her mind flitted back to that first kiss. She thought about it a lot more than she

should. She’d had a few kisses since then, but Reece had lied when he said that kisses got better after the first one. Nothing had even come close to that day in her bedroom. “We good for today?” he asked, breaking the moment. If it even was a moment. She laughed. “Well, let’s see, I learned the difference between the gas pedal and the brake, and…well, that’s about it.” “And turn signal,” he said, holding up a finger. “I’m a very good teacher, Luce.” “Uh-huh. I really owe you for the ten minutes you took out of your busy schedule of football and feeling up Abby Mancuso.” He gave a startled laugh. “Craig’s been ratting me out.” She forced a smile. “He doesn’t have to. I have eyes, and you guys are all over each other between classes.” “Careful there,” he said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and scrolled through his missed calls. “You almost sound jealous.” She looked away and said nothing so he wouldn’t know how right he was. Reece pushed open the door of the family’s station wagon and stepped out. “Switch. I’ll drive you home.” Lucy reluctantly went back to the passenger side, knowing that it meant the end of their time together. It seemed that the older they got, the busier they got, and she hardly saw him anymore. Except at school, and she’d meant it when she said his mouth was always fused to the head of the debate team. A brainy, pretty blonde named Abby who made Lucy feel like a ditzy cheerleader in comparison. Probably because she was a ditzy cheerleader. And student body president, and theater darling, and track captain, and just about every other activity she thought would look good on her college application given that her grades were good but not great. On the way back to her house, Lucy forced herself to keep things light as they bickered and bantered back and forth in the way that had become their thing in recent months. They were still friends, but there was an almost frenemy edge to their conversations now. Almost as though that kiss a year earlier had made them realize they weren’t actually brother and sister, and now they put up walls however they could. A few minutes later, Reece pulled Horny into the Hawkinses’ garage before pulling the keys to his dad’s truck out of his pocket and heading down the drive. “Tell your parents hey,” he said, attention still locked on his phone. “Sure,” she said, lifting her hand in a lame wave he didn’t even see. She was just heading back into the garage when he called her name. Lucy turned. “Same time tomorrow?” he asked with a grin, shoving his phone back into his pocket. Lucy grinned back and nodded, hoping like hell that he’d never find out just how much seeing him had become the highlight of her week.

The highlight of her everything.

Chapter 8

Lucy It feels like approximately eleven hours of stifling, awkward silence before I register that we haven’t even made it to the freeway yet. I glance at the dashboard clock, a little surprised to realize that Reece got it working again. It’s been three minutes since we pulled out of my driveway. Three minutes since I left my old life behind to embark on my new one with…him. I may hate the guy next to me with the sort of blistering loathing that only a scorned woman is capable of, but I hate awkward silences nearly as much, and my fat mouth opens before I can stop it. “So. How have you been?” Reece snorts and doesn’t even glance over as he turns on his blinker and pulls into the turn lane for the on-ramp. “Really? We’re doing this?” “Well, what exactly was your plan? To not speak to each other for two weeks?” “No, actually.” His thumbs drum against the steering wheel. “My plan was to make this trip alone in about five days, settle into my new job in Sonoma, and remain blissfully unaware that you were headed that same direction.” I glance over at that, a little disbelieving. “Oh come on. You know that California wine country has always been my dream. It didn’t occur to you that I might be there?” He shrugs and looks out the window. “It’s a big enough place. Pretty sure we could have managed to go an awful long time without seeing each other. You on one side of the business, me on the other.” I bristle a little. I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s tension between the winemakers and the people who sell the wine, but it’s not unusual for winemakers to get up on their high horses because they’re the ones actually handling the grapes. And it’s not that I don’t admire them. Growing up in a wine country, albeit a new, up-andcoming one, I understand just how important the entire process of winemaking is, from the soil to the vines to the crush to the casks. I get all that. I was raised on it. But I resent the subtle implication that just because my passion is educating other people about that—showing them just how magical wine can be, with the right cheese or the right setting—that I’m somehow an insignificant talking head. Once upon a time, Reece understood this. Back when we sat up late into the night, my head on his shoulder, his fingers tangled in my hair, he’d listen as I talked about starting my own winery. Virginia, California, Argentina, Australia, it didn’t matter. And though he’d never said a word about his own dreams, I’d secretly always thought we were going to do it together—a

small, boutique vineyard with wine that was both award-winning and affordable/approachable. I turn my head and look out the window. That was a long time ago. As he merges onto the freeway, it belatedly occurs to me that with him behind the wheel, he could easily ignore my route altogether and drive straight to California as was his original plan. I reach into the backseat and rummage around until I come up with the blue journal where I painstakingly planned the trip, with driving directions, motel options, and a place to jot thoughts about all the different stops. He’s heading south, at least. That’s a start. Reece glances over briefly at my notebook as I smooth my hand over the page where I’ve written Day One in curly letters across the top, followed by directions. “You know they have GPS for that, right?” he asks. I shrug. “Yeah. I’ll use that if we get lost. But it chews up the data on my phone, and I don’t want to pay the extra if I go over my monthly allowance.” He doesn’t respond, probably because he can’t turn my statement into a fight. “I thought we could stop in Wilmington tonight. North Carolina,” I continue. “I know where Wilmington is, Luce. And why? We can easily make it to Miami in one day.” I grit my teeth, hating that he’s talking down to me, as though I hadn’t bothered to look up the distance from Virginia to Florida. He never used to do that. It’s one of the things I used to adore most about him (aside from his eyes, smile, hands, laugh, etc.)—the way he didn’t treat me like I was young and stupid the way Craig often did. Reece always treated me like we were equals, like I was every bit as smart as him, despite having been born a year later. That’s over, apparently. “I know we can make it,” I say. “But isn’t the entire point of this trip to do what we want to?” “What you want to, you mean.” “Well damn it, Reece, I didn’t freaking invite you. You had an out, and you didn’t take it.” “I didn’t exactly see you politely declining.” I open my mouth, then snap it shut, because he’s right. I’ve been stewing for two days now, pissed off that he got us into this, but the truth is I didn’t have to go along with it just because he did. The truth is… I don’t know the truth. The truth is I’m confused. And maybe the truth is, I’m a little curious as to why he said yes. Even more curious as to why I didn’t fight it. The man broke my heart. I should be keeping my distance, and yet…here we are. “What’s in Wilmington?” he asks, after a few more tense moments of silence. “Another boyfriend?” “Yes, another boyfriend,” I reply snidely. “Didn’t I mention it? I have four.” He changes lanes. “Hard to juggle?” “Not at all,” I say sweetly. “See, I just watched the way you attempted to juggle multiple

girlfriends and failed, and then did the exact opposite.” He glances at me then, a mocking smile on his face. “Oh, sweetheart. When did I ever claim you as my girlfriend?” I suck in a quick breath, because it’s one of the more hurtful things he can say—dismissing that summer as though it were nothing. And maybe he knows he went too far, because there’s something like regret that flickers in his blue eyes before he looks back at the road. I swallow the lump in my throat, and smooth a shaky hand over the notebook once more. “We’re taking 64 to I-95 South,” I say, relieved that my voice doesn’t wobble. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him nod once before reaching out a hand and flicking on the radio. It’s rock. Eighties crap that I hate, but it’s better than silence. And it’s definitely better than talking. I turn my head to look out the window and I try to focus on Oscar—try to imagine what it’ll feel like when I surprise him. See, I know Oscar. If he knows I’m coming, he’ll get all nervous, get his restaurant staff all hyped up and nervous too. I want to see his new restaurant just as it is on any day. I want to see him in his element. So yeah, he’ll be surprised, but not annoyed. Oscar’s easygoing, and gorgeous, and loves to laugh. Unlike the guy next to me, who’s never had a damn thing easy in his life and looks like he hasn’t laughed in months. He probably hasn’t. It hits me then that there’s something I haven’t said—something I need to say—even as I sit here hating him. “How are you doing, truly?” I ask. “I really am so sorry about your father.” The words come out as a whisper, and at first I think he doesn’t hear me, because he doesn’t respond. Okay then. I guess we’re not going to talk about that day. Then I remember who I’m dealing with. Reece Sullivan takes any and all emotions and buries them deep. Any sort of kind gesture is likely to be ignored, or worse, used as a weapon. Fine then. I lash out with the only recourse I have at the moment, turning the radio to country. Reece hates country. I turn it up. It’s a classic Jenny Dawson song. “Heartbreaker.” Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Chapter 9 LUCY , TWENTY -FOUR, REECE, TWENTY -FIVE Lucy nervously stepped into the small funeral parlor; for a second she thought she was in the wrong place. A quick glance to her right showed the unassuming, handwritten sign telling people why they were here. Right place. But so few people. Her chest hurt. Nobody turned to look at her as she walked in, everyone lost in the somberness of the occasion. She spotted the backs of four heads, all in a row, all familiar. Lucy bit her lip, realizing belatedly that she should have told them that she was coming. Not that they’d be unhappy to see her, but this was no time or place for surprises. It wasn’t like she’d meant to make a grand entrance or anything, it’s just…her family hadn’t even asked if she was coming. Like it hadn’t occurred to them that she would make the time. The realization was more jarring than she wanted to admit, even to herself. Then again, it’s not like she’d given them reason to think otherwise. She certainly hadn’t given him reason to think otherwise. Lucy came even with the row of chairs where her family was sitting. Her dad was on the end, glancing up at her distractedly, then doing a double take when he recognized her. Her mom and siblings did the same, smiles mingling with the sadness in their eyes. She touched her dad’s shoulder, intending to scoot past him to go sit in the empty seat by Brandi, but even as she started to move in that direction, her eyes scanned the room for the reason she’d come. He was all by himself. Why wasn’t anyone with him? Reece sat by himself in the front row, empty seats on either side of him. An older couple sat behind him—his aunt and uncle, if she was remembering correctly—but she’d never seen someone so utterly alone. Lucy’s mom read her thoughts. “He wanted some space,” she whispered quietly. Bullsh*t, Lucy thought. Not that she’d say it to her mother. But why did everyone insist on believing Reece when he put on his brave face? Why did nobody see that I want to be alone was his code for letting everyone off the hook?

Why did nobody understand that he didn’t want to be alone, he just expected it? He wouldn’t want to see her. She knew that. Heck, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see him. Not after everything that had gone down between them. The last time they’d spoken was over a year ago at a dreadful Thanksgiving dinner where they’d both put on a painful show for her family, pretending they hadn’t broken each other’s hearts. No, scratch that. It was her heart that was broken. She wasn’t sure he had one where she was concerned. But that didn’t change the fact that Reece’s father had just died, and he was all by himself. Before she could think better of it, she moved toward him, scanning the room as she did so. There were fewer than thirty people in attendance for Jeff Sullivan’s funeral. Not surprising, perhaps, given that the man had isolated himself for years even before the cancer had taken its toll. What was surprising was that his own daughter hadn’t showed yet. Or maybe not. Trish Sullivan hadn’t looked back when she’d skipped out on her family a decade ago. Lucy wasn’t all that shocked that apparently even funerals weren’t worth her while. She didn’t blame Trish for needing some distance when her mom had died and her dad had turned into a zombie. Lucy did blame her for leaving her much younger brother to fend for himself. No matter. This wasn’t about Trish. This was about Reece. Lucy swallowed as she reached the front row, and before she could lose her nerve, walked straight to him, sitting in the chair directly to his left. He glanced down at her in shock. Reece opened his mouth, and she braced for him to tell her to get the hell out of here, but before he could speak, there was a throat-clearing from the front of the room, and a pastor stepped up to the small podium beside Jeff Sullivan’s casket and started his somber opening remarks. “Just until it’s over,” Lucy said under her breath. “Then you’ll never have to see me again.” Reece fiddled with a wrinkled piece of paper in his hands. It looked like it had been folded and unfolded a million times. A eulogy, she realized. Her eyes watered. Poor Reece. He didn’t move the entire time. Not until he briefly left his seat to stand and give a short, wooden-sounding eulogy about his late father. When he returned to his seat, Lucy briefly searched his face. There was no trace of tears, and that somehow made it all the sadder. Without thinking, she slipped her hand into his. The first time she’d touched him in six years.

He stiffened, and she braced for him to shake her off. Instead, his fingers very slowly spread apart until they were palm to palm. Then he linked his fingers with hers, and squeezed hard. Lucy’s eyes watered, and she wasn’t sure if it was from the pressure of his grip, or from the pain she felt coming off him in waves. Reece had no one now. Once, he might have had her, but that ship had sailed in the most heartbreaking way possible. True to her promise, she’d left after the funeral was over. All without Reece Sullivan saying a single word to the woman who’d once loved him with all her heart.

Chapter 10

Reece The motel that Lucy directs us to is as crappy as I expected given the price. The “swimming pool” looks like a wannabe sewer, and the roof is one tropical storm away from caving in. But she tells me it’s “near the river,” whatever that means. I pull into the parking lot and turn off the ignition, the silence the first respite we’ve had in hours of an ongoing radio war. Nudging the volume up every time we changed the station wasn’t exactly mature, but damn if it didn’t feel kind of good. The silence now is deafening, though, and as I glance toward the crooked check-in sign, the awkwardness of the situation hits me. Here are two reasonably attractive twentysomethings checking into a motel at four o’clock on a humid afternoon, with…separate rooms. Maybe whoever’s working the front desk will assume we’re siblings. I sneak a glance over at the long expanse of Lucy’s slim thigh peeking out of her little shorts. Nope. Not siblings. I shove open the car door before I do something stupid like drool or cop a feel. I step onto the pavement and stretch. I don’t really need to stretch. The drive has only been a few hours, which is horsesh*t, considering we could have made it much farther. And yet, as I inhale, trying to clear my head of Lucy, I admit that maybe she’s onto something with her little plan, because there’s something oddly nice about stopping just because we can. Something indulgent about spending time in a place that doesn’t require work or laundry or having your heart torn out by people dying and pretty brunettes leaving. Realizing Lucy hasn’t gotten out of the car yet, I brace a palm on the top of Horny and lean down to see what’s up. She’s scribbling in that stupid notebook, bottom lip drawn between her teeth as she writes. “Dude. What are you doing?” She doesn’t stop writing. “Hello? Weirdo, it’s hot. Let’s go.” She clicks her pen shut and reads what she’s just written. “And then, after not speaking for over three hundred miles, his first words are dude and weirdo. I’m no longer puzzled as to why he doesn’t have a girlfriend—” I roll my eyes and slam the driver’s-side door on her sentence, and the passenger door opens a second later.

She stretches like I did, inhales like I did too, before she beams. “This is what I wanted.” My eyebrows lift. “This? A one-star roadside motel with more roaches than guests?” “Lighten up, grandpa. We’re on vacation.” “Yeah, that’s not what this is,” I mutter, as I follow her up toward the check-in desk. The thirtysomething dude with a scraggly goatee couldn’t care less whether we want one room or four, although he does give us neighboring rooms without us having to ask. I’m relieved. Torture as it’ll be to share a wall with her, I don’t exactly love how isolated the motel is, and I’m betting the locks on the doors wouldn’t withstand a strong fart. The AAA card her dad gave me makes the already cheap rate even cheaper, and I’m a little relieved to realize that if we keep finding sh*tty, cheap places like this, I won’t have to deplete as much of my savings during these two weeks as I thought. The last thing I need is to be tempted to share a room in order to save money. Keys in hand, we head back to Horny to grab our bags. I pop the trunk, grabbing the duffel where I’ve packed clothes and toothbrush and sh*t, and wait for her to grab one of her nine hundred bags. I look over impatiently when I see her simply surveying the contents. “I don’t think this place has a bellhop, Hawkins.” She purses her lips. “Trying to figure out which bags I put which stuff in.” I grunt in frustration. “You didn’t pack a go bag?” She laughs. “A go bag? Simmer down there, Bourne.” “You’re telling me you have a road trip diary with stupid stickers, but not a road trip bag?” She scratches her temple. “Oops?” “Unbelievable,” I mutter, shoving my own duffel at her. “Which ones? I’ll bring them in tonight, but then you repack it all into one.” Out of the corner of my eye I see her salute mockingly, and five minutes later I’m hauling three bulging bags, two of them pink, toward our rooms. Lucy unlocks her door first, and it opens with a tired creak. I follow her into the room, not all that surprised by the slight smell of mildew, nor by the fugly bedspread. I drop her bags unceremoniously on the bed, intending to grab my own bag and get the hell out of here, either for a shower or a beer, I haven’t decided yet. I pause when I see her expression. “Come on,” I say, nudging the strap of my bag off her slim shoulder, trying to ignore the fact that I can feel the heat of her skin even through her T-shirt. “Surely at fifty bucks a night you weren’t expecting anything more.” “No,” she says with a cheerful little smile. “It’s just…someday, Reece. Someday…” I stiffen, freezing for a split second as I sling my bag over my own shoulder. Someday. It’s so her. She’s always been more obsessed with someday than today. It’s a game she used to love, starting back when we were kids, taking turns with far-off dreams. Someday, I’ll get my braces off.

Someday, I’ll have my first kiss. Someday, I’ll tell my family about us. Someday, we’ll do this in a bigger bed. Someday, I’ll be the darling of Napa. “Someday what?” I snap, wondering how much bigger and more precocious her dreams have become. “Someday, we’ll drop the Mercedes off at valet at a four-star resort, mints on the pillow and champagne chilling.” Lucy smiles up at me, a little shy and a lot happy, her face so damn expectant it feels like a kick in the nuts. “As I thought,” I snap. “You’re more of a snob now than you were at eighteen.” I brush past her, jerking the flimsy door open. “Reece?” her voice is tentative, a little hurt. I turn back, meet her eyes. “You know the biggest flaw with your latest someday scenario?” I ask, letting a sneer curl my lip. “There might be a fancy hotel in your future, maybe even the Mercedes, but there sure as hell is not, and will never be, a we.” I step out into the bright sunshine, not waiting for a response as I slam the door behind me. Why bother? Whatever things we might have needed to say to each other once don’t matter anymore.

Chapter 11 LUCY , NINE, REECE, TEN “This is stupid. I want to play baseball.” “You can’t,” Lucy told her brother as she adjusted the doily atop her head. “Mom said you have to play with me and Brandi since it’s her birthday.” Five-year-old Brandi nodded. “And I want to play wedding.” Ten-year-old Craig sighed with big-brother exasperation. “If you’re going to play wedding, shouldn’t you want to be the bride?” Brandi scowled at him from where she stood on top of a beat-up cooler to bring her up to her playmates’ heights. “The bride is boring. I want to be the pastor.” “Fine,” Craig said, kicking at a tuft of grass. “But why do I have to be the usher?” “Well you can’t be the groom, because Spock’s the bride, and sisters can’t marry brothers,” Brandi said with impeccable little-kid logic. Craig scowled at Lucy, as though it was her fault, and she merely shrugged. “She has a point.” “Can we, um, just get this over with?” Reece Sullivan asked, tugging at an ancient red bow tie that Lucy and Brandi had commandeered from their dad’s closet. Brandi gave him a curious look, her crooked ponytail touching her shoulder as she studied him. “You don’t want to be the groom?” Reece made a face. “I don’t want to get married. Ever.” Brandi’s face turned red, the sure sign of a full-on tantrum, and Lucy rushed to mollify the birthday girl. “Come on guys, let’s just get this over with. We’ll be quick, and it’ll make Brandi happy.” “How come you’re not more annoyed?” Craig asked, giving Lucy a suspicious look. “You were supposed to ride bikes with Robin.” “I wanted to do something nice for my sister,” Lucy said with a serene smile. Craig rolled his eyes, and Brandi beamed, both taking her answer at face value. As Reece and Lucy stood before “Reverend Brandi” and pretended to exchange vows, she snuck a glance at Reece, saw him giving her a knowing look. She broke eye contact, and bit her lip, wondering if he knew. Wondering if he knew as well as she did, that someday… They’d be exchanging vows for real.

Chapter 12

Lucy When I’d planned this road trip, I’d thought I’d be doing it alone—and I thought I’d prepared myself for a little jab of the loneliness of rolling through a strange city all by myself. But sitting here at the cute Wilmington restaurant I’d bookmarked weeks ago, I realize that there’s something worse than traveling alone. It’s worse to travel with someone who absolutely despises you. To be sitting all alone at a four-top table, not because of circ*mstance, but because your travel companion can’t stand the sight of you. I suppose that’s not fair. The loathing is mutual. And I’m pretty sure I hate him for what he did more than he hates me. Which begs the question. Why does he hate me? I’ve never quite understood that part. He’s the one who messed up. He’s the one who was making out with another girl within hours of getting in my pants for the first time. Me: the wronged. Him: the wronger. But it hadn’t felt that way in the motel this afternoon. It had felt like he hated me. I take a sip of my better-than-expected chardonnay and mentally kick myself for going there with him today. The stupid Someday game had just rolled off my tongue. Apparently the past six years of heartbreak weren’t enough to erase the ten that came before that. The decade of my life where Reece wasn’t just a part of my life, he was my life. My everything. The server comes over, asks if I want to order another glass of wine, and well, what the hell, sure I do. The restaurant is walking distance to the motel; I can stumble home if necessary. I hold off ordering my food, figuring I might as well stretch out the dinner since I’m not exactly dying to get back to the gross motel. Plus, I can sleep in a bit tomorrow, get a later start. Our next stop is Savannah, which is hardly some several days’ grueling drive from Wilmington. I take a deep breath and try to settle down. And even as I order myself not to, I reach out for my cell, which I’ve purposely put facedown on the table so as not to look at incoming messages. Or rather, the messages that aren’t coming. I’m trying really hard not to be worried about Oscar’s silence. My boyfriend has a new restaurant—I, of all people, know the time that takes, the energy, the focus, the long hours.

Still, it hasn’t escaped my notice that the only times I’ve heard from him in the past couple weeks is when he’s responding to me. There’s no proactive communication, it’s all reactive. I say I miss him, I get a miss u 2 babe. I say I love him, I get a love u 2 babe. Is it so much to ask that I be the one that gets to say 2 sometimes? That he tells me he misses me, unprompted? I huff out a breath and flip the phone back down again, feeling a stab of irritation, not at Oscar, but at Reece. Oscar’s busy schedule hadn’t bothered me until Reece walked back into my life, and though I can’t figure out how the two could possibly be connected, it feels good to have someone to blame. I pick up the menu, contemplating the crab cake appetizer when I feel the entire atmosphere change. It’s like the room gets hotter and colder, and my body goes on high alert. I know before I look toward the door what I’ll see. Reece’s icy blue gaze locks on me, and I hear his silent groan echoed in my own head. Of all the restaurants… Seriously though. Of all the restaurants, he picks this one? Even as I think the uncharitable thought, I realize it’s not all that surprising. I’m betting Reece picked this place for the same reason I did—a better-than-usual wine list. Surprised? I know. Reece has beer guy written all over him, a dude’s dude through and through. And I’m betting he’ll finish the night with Jack Daniel’s. But, like me, Reece grew up in wine country. Like me, the grapes and the wine world are a part of him. We’re always watching, seeing what restaurants are serving, what customers are buying, what our competitors are up to. I’m betting his phone’s search history looks a lot like mine: best wine list in Wilmington. For one heat-filled moment I’m afraid—and hopeful—that he’ll walk this way. That he’ll join me, and we’ll pick up where we left off earlier with our fight, or our remembering or… whatever. His gaze drags away from me, and he gives the hostess a quick smile before sauntering to the bar and taking a seat there, back to me. Okay then. I glance back down at my menu, trying not to feel stung. Trying also not to feel so aware of the fact that the cute blond hostess had been giving him some trashy come-hither, and he hadn’t exactly looked disinterested. I don’t care. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care. I have a boyfriend, and Reece Sullivan is fully in my past. “Miss, can I get some food started for you?” I look up at the server as he sets my second glass of wine in front of me. He’s super skinny, a bored-looking twentysomething for whom I’m betting this is a forgettable summer job. “I’ll start with the crab cakes,” I say with a pleasant smile. “Still deciding on my entrée.” “No problem,” he says, scribbling my order on his notebook. Really? How hard is it to remember “crab cake” from here to the computer?

I push the petty thought aside. It’s one of the curses of being in the hospitality industry. It’s darn hard to go out to eat without analyzing everything. Okay fine, judging everything. Still, I picked wisely. The restaurant’s actual by-the-glass wine list is even better than the one listed on the website, and the restaurant’s got a good vibe, a perfect combination of upscale and approachable, and… The vibe is ruined when Reece drops into the chair across from me. He looks irritated, as though he’s found himself at my table against his will, and I totally get how he’s feeling. It’s the same reason I didn’t back out of the road trip. We may hate each other, but we’re a part of each other. Moth to the flame, or whatever. Except I really want to be the flame in this situation—wouldn’t mind watching him turn to ash at my very touch. His eyes are on my wineglass. “Italian pinot grigio?” “California chard,” I say, pleased to be able to inform him that he doesn’t know me as well as his smug expression suggests he thinks he does. He merely nods. “Been drinking some of those myself. Research.” I’m interested, although I tell myself it’s because I’m interested in his new job at the winery, not because I’m interested in him. “Abbott does chard?” His eyes flick up for a second, a little surprised that I know and remember the name of his new employer. Reece nods once. “It’s their bread and butter.” I lean back and look pointedly at his glass of red. “Interesting. You’ve always been a Bordeaux-blend guy.” “I can work with anything.” His quiet confidence gives me an unexpected thrill, and a grudging stab of admiration, because I know it’s true. Back when we were…together, Reece had been as passionate about the grapes as I had been about the sexiness of the finished product. He’d turned that passion into a serious skill. I’d die before admitting it, but I’d followed him in the past few years. He’d gotten a dozen write-ups as a new up-and-coming winemaker, even giving a handful of interviews to some of the big-hitting wine magazines about why Virginia was earning its rep as the next big thing in wine. I watch as he picks up his glass, giving it a quick swirl and sniff before taking a sip. Oh mama. My stomach gives a little flip, because damn if he doesn’t take an otherwise stuffy, winesnob habit and make it sexy as hell. There’s nothing fussy about the way his long fingers wrap around the glass, the way he savors the wine as though he owns it. “Good?” I ask, my voice a little husky. He looks back to me. “It’s all right.” Reece hesitates just the briefest of seconds before extending the glass to me. His glower tells me it’s not a peace offering so much as a reluctant acknowledgment that we’re in each

other’s elements right now. We may hate each other, but we both love wine. Wordlessly I slide my own glass across the table to him as I take the red from his hand, ignoring the strange sense of familiarity as our fingers brush. The wine is bold, a little leathery in the best way possible. I swirl and sniff, then take a small sip, then another. “Cab. Also California.” He’s watching me. A quick nod is the confirmation that I’m right. No praise, but then I don’t need it. He takes a sip of my wine, and then we wordlessly switch back, as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to be sharing wine. Once, it would have been. Once, I’d imagined all my nights would be just like this one, sitting across from him, coaxing his broody self into conversation, as we analyze and enjoy wine. Of course, I hadn’t anticipated it happening like this—with the two of us alternating between wanting to kill each other and not speaking at all. The quiet tension is interrupted by the arrival of my crab cake. “Brought an extra setting,” the server said, placing a small plate and napkin roll-up in front of Reece. Reece is already pushing his chair back. “No thanks. I’ll grab something at the bar.” “Wait,” I say, before I can think better of it. Reece stills as the server moves away, not giving a sh*t about our little drama. “You can stay,” I say. “If you want.” His gaze flickers darkly. “Not interested.” “We can talk about wine,” I say, a little desperately. “We don’t have to get…personal.” We don’t have to fight. I see him waver, and I lean forward, suddenly desperate not to eat dinner all by myself. “Or we can not talk at all. Your choice.” Just don’t leave. He settled back in his chair, looking annoyed with himself, even as he reaches for the napkin. “I’ll stay. But no talking. Too many witnesses for when I feel the unavoidable urge to strangle you.” I resist smiling in victory as we quietly dive into the crab cakes. My phone buzzes and, out of habit, I turn it over, exhaling when I see that it’s Oscar. Finally. thinking of u. can’t wait to see my baby. There it is. This is what I’ve wanted—to know that he’s thinking of me. That he even remembers he has a girlfriend. But as I sneak a glance across the table at Reece’s brooding expression, I’m struck by the uncomfortable realization that I’m not nearly as excited about Oscar’s text as I should be.

Chapter 13

Reece The next day, we don’t even make it as far as the gas station in Wilmington before we start bickering over the radio. “Okay that’s it,” I snap. “New rule. Whoever’s driving controls the radio.” She glares at me behind her aviator shades, tapping her fingers on that stupid journal that she started scribbling in the second we got into the car. The way her pen moves furiously across the notebook gives me no doubts about what she’s writing: how she plans to kill me and bury the body. “Your stupid plan would totally be fair,” she says cheerfully, “if you were ever going to let me drive.” I grind my teeth, debating my options. On the one hand, I really hate country music. I’m not even sure she likes it that much, she’s just tolerating it to torture me. On the other hand, I’m already having serious doubts about my ability to survive this trip. Being so close to her all the damn time without being able to touch her is making me crazy. Driving at least will keep my hands occupied, but my ears will pay the price. “We’ll take turns on the music,” I finally snarl. “Switch stations every half hour.” “Great, I’ll go first,” she says sweetly, reaching over and cranking up some hideous song about a front porch. I fill up Horny with gas (no amount of my tinkering could improve the car’s crappy gas mileage), while Lucy goes into the store to get goodies. Her word. She comes out just as I’m going back around to the driver’s side, and I stop and stare, just for a second. She’s wearing tiny denim shorts again, this time they’re white, and a bodyhugging pink T-shirt that has more than one truck driver salivating as she makes her way back to me and the car. I finally tear my eyes away from her legs long enough to register that she’s raided half the store. “I was thinking of stopping at McDonald’s for breakfast,” I say irritably. She merely smiles and comes around to my side of the car, motioning to the backseat so I can open the back door for her. “Sounds great.” “My point was you didn’t need to clean their shelves.” “Yeah, I got your point, Grumpy,” she says, shoving the two bulging paper bags into a sliver of space behind my seat. Just before she slams the door, she slaps something against my chest, and I glance down, emotions simmering as I register the familiar yellow bag. Peanut M&M’s. My favorite, because they’d been my mom’s favorite.

I resist the urge to hurl the bag at her ponytail as she goes around to the passenger side. I feel like a child for thinking it, but: It’s not fair. It’s not fair that this girl knows me so well, that she can wiggle beneath my defenses with something as simple as a candy purchase. The thing is, I suspect she didn’t even do it to torture me. I think she just knew that I’d want the damn candy later. Anticipating me, as she always has. I drop the M&M bag into the console between us, and neither of us says a word as I pull out of the gas station and head toward the freeway. We’re headed to Savannah today. God knows why, although I don’t think there’s a why for any of her stops. Other than Miami that is. The why for that stopover is all too clear. Lucy’s got a boyfriend. Another guy has run his hands up the back of those slim calves, another guy has eased between her thighs after getting her good and wet, another guy has seen those perfect breasts, tasted them…. “Your turn.” I glance over. “What?” She points at the console. “It’s been a half hour. Your turn to pick the music.” Thank God. Except I’m not in the mood for music, and instead I reach out and punch the power button, leaving us in silence. A mistake. Now there’s nothing but the sound of Horny’s struggling air conditioner and my dirty thoughts on repeat in my head. I’m about to turn the radio back on. Rock. Rap. Country. Anything to block out the memories of how right her small body felt beneath mine, or how hungry her mouth had always been for mine, as though she were made just for me. The suffocating silence is interrupted by the buzz of a cellphone. I tense, bracing for the stab of jealousy that her boyfriend’s contacting her again, but I realize it’s my own phone. I go to pick up the phone from the cup holder where I’ve set it next to the M&M’s, but Lucy’s faster. “Uh-uh,” she says in a singsong, scolding voice. “You weren’t listening to my mom’s lecture. No phone while driving.” Then before I can rip it away from her, she’s swiped her thumb across the screen, answering the incoming call. “Reece Sullivan’s phone.” “Lucy—” She holds up a finger. “Where is he? He’s in the restroom. It might be a while, if you know what I mean.” I grab for the phone, but she switches it to the other ear, batting my hand away. “Shannon you say?” Fuu-uuuck.

Shannon’s a hot but clingy girl I was seeing a few months ago. One that I might have “forgot” to tell I was moving. “Of course I’ll pass on the message! He definitely misses you too, hun. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yup, I’ll for sure tell him. Got to run, though, he’s hollering for more toilet paper.” With that, Lucy ends the call and drops my phone back into the cup holder with a clatter. I glance over. “Pleased with yourself?” She bares all of her teeth in a mocking smile. “Shannon misses you. Says she’s in town next weekend.” I grunt in response. “You didn’t tell her that you were moving?” I lift a shoulder. Lucy is studying me. “Did you tell Abby?” I can’t help it. I flinch. Abby Mancuso. My high school girlfriend and the one responsible for my and Lucy’s implosion. Actually, that’s not fair. Abby was the catalyst. The responsibility for that ill-fated moment rests solely with me and Lucy. “No,” I snap. It’s as much info as she’ll get from me on that subject. Lucy turns her head and looks out the window. And though I order myself to shut the hell up, I keep talking. “I haven’t spoken with Abby in months.” Maybe years? I can’t remember. Lucy snorts. “Yeah. I’ve heard that before.” I adjust my grip on the steering wheel to keep from punching the dash in frustration. “Does your boyfriend know you’re dodging his messages?” I snap. She whips her head around. “What?” “Oliver,” I say, deliberately missing his name. “He was texting you last night. Does he know you’re with me?” “Yes. He knows my parents shackled me to the guy who’s like a second brother.” Her words are meant to be a jab, and she lands the hit. I can’t stop the wince. Lucy and I may have been as close as siblings once, but she’s never been like a sibling to me, and I haven’t been one to her either. “How’d you meet him?” I ask. She pushes her glasses farther up her nose and stares straight ahead now. “Don’t act like you care.” Evasion is unlike Lucy. She’s a face-things-head-on kind of girl; it never really occurs to her to play word games. “You’re having second thoughts.” “I’m not.” “About him, or about surprising him?” I ask. She doesn’t answer, and I’m pissed to know how much I wish she’d have said it was the first one.

“We met at a restaurant,” she says, deciding to answer my original question after all. “It was my first internship, and he was a sous-chef. That’s like the assistant—” “I know what a sous-chef is,” I snap. “Sometimes I even manage to pluck the hay out of my teeth.” “You know, I thought Horny was pulling to the left because the tire was low on air, but now I see that the chip on your shoulder is what’s pulling the car that way.” “Who made the first move?” I ask, continuing our destructive pattern of picking and choosing what we respond to. “I did,” she says. “He was hot and smart.” “And connected.” Her head snaps around. “Meaning?” I spare her a quick glance as I change lanes to pass a slow truck. “Meaning, it can’t hurt to have a guy in the biz, right? An up-and-comer with connections?” She blinks and I can feel that she’s stung, but I don’t apologize. “You’re so right,” she purrs, recovering quickly. “In fact, I tried to seduce the owner, but he was gay, so I’m stuck on the slow track of sleeping my way to the top.” “That’s not what I meant,” I mutter. “Then what?” she snaps, tearing open the peanut M&M’s. Belatedly I realize we never did stop for breakfast. “I just meant that you’ve always been driven. Known what you wanted.” I hold out my palm, and she dumps some of the colored candies into my hand before fishing one out and popping it in her mouth as she continues to glare at me. “I’m not going to apologize for going to college, Reece.” I don’t want you to. But how about you apologize for leaving without saying goodbye. Without giving me a chance to explain anything. I toss the entire palmful of M&M’s into my mouth. “You’re impossible to talk to.” “You started it,” she says, and I almost smile, having flashbacks to when we were kids, still figuring out how to talk to each other. Lucy leans forward, flicking the radio back on. Country again, but I leave it. Because listening to the guy warbling about his broken heart is a hell of a lot better than reminiscing about mine.

Chapter 14 LUCY , EIGHTEEN, REECE, NINETEEN “If your brother catches me, he’s going to kill me,” Reece muttered as he hoisted himself through Lucy’s bedroom window. “No he won’t,” she said, quickly putting her palm on the top of his head to keep him from banging it on the frame. “I can handle Craig.” He stood before her, reached out, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “My little protector.” Lucy reached up, looped her arms over his shoulders. “My parents though. They’ll kill you.” He winced, started to pull back. Lucy immediately regretted her playful words. “Don’t go,” she whispered. His expression was tortured. “I can’t be here, Lucy. This thing with us…it’s crazy. It’s wrong.” “It doesn’t feel wrong,” she said, cupping his cheek. “It feels more right than anything I’ve ever experienced.” His eyes closed as he let her fingers roam his face, her palm scraping at his stubble, fingertips light along his lips. “Why can’t I stay away from you?” “I don’t want you to stay away,” she said, reaching up and bringing his mouth down to hers. His kiss was hesitant at first, as though still trying to talk himself into leaving. Lucy kissed him with every ounce of longing in her eighteen-year-old body, showing him with hands and lips what she wasn’t yet brave enough to tell him with words. The greedy way his hands gripped her butt, the gentle way he palmed her breasts, his quiet groan when she tilted her hips to his told her everything she needed to know. It told her he felt the same. Even if he didn’t know it yet.

Chapter 15

Lucy “You’re fidgeting,” Reece says in an irritable voice. He’s always irritable. Have you noticed? “My skirt keeps riding up,” I mutter, shifting to tug it down. “Maybe if you wore something bigger than a piece of masking tape wrapped around your ass…” I smirk a little that he’s noticed. Not that I needed the verbal confirmation that Reece noticed my outfit today. Few moments in my life have been as gratifying as coming out of my Savannah motel room to find him leaning against the side of the car, looking bored. Bored until he saw me in a flared coral miniskirt and a silky black halter top. The highheeled sandals didn’t hurt. He blinked and tensed, and for a second there I had to remind myself that I’d dressed for Oscar. Not Reece. If I repeat it often enough, maybe it’ll become true. Then Reece snapped at me about being late even after I was the one who insisted on leaving at the ass-crack of dawn…and just like that we’re back to normal. I put my notebook away. I meant the journal to be more of a keepsake—a way of making sure I actually remember the journey instead of only focusing on the end result, which tends to be my MO. But it’s been surprisingly…therapeutic. After long hours in the car with Reece and all the freaking memories, it helps to have an outlet. A place to talk about my frustration and my pain and… Crap. There I go thinking about Reece again. I tell myself it’s because we’re closing in on Miami and I’m…nervous. I’ve had seven hours to think about my excitement, to anticipate the exact moment I walk into Oscar’s restaurant. I’ve timed it so that we’ll get there around 3:30. The restaurant is a late-night hot spot, which means it doesn’t open until five, and I know Oscar usually gets there no later than three to oversee prep for the evening ahead. But admittedly, there’s something I didn’t think through. After the grand Surprise! moment, then what? Oscar still has a restaurant to run. My whole reason for surprising him is because I don’t want him to do anything special for my arrival (the man is prone to grand, sometimes cheesy gestures), but by not giving him any warning, he also wouldn’t have planned to take the night off.

I know he’ll plan to take tomorrow off, when he thinks I’m getting in. And although I’m staying two nights in Miami (yeah, Reece is thrilled about that), it’s still going to be potentially awkward with me just like…hanging out at the restaurant all night? Like the little woman? Ugh. One thing I know about the hospitality business is that it can be a little unnerving for friends and family to see you in your place of work. Teachers, construction workers, receptionists, doctors…they don’t very often have their significant others watching them at work. But in the restaurant business, you’re on display, your worlds colliding. And I know from experience that it can be annoying. Too late to back out now, Hawkins. Reece reaches out and turns down the annoying blaring rock music slightly (his turn to pick). “So, where we staying tonight?” I go still. Uh-oh. Another thing I haven’t thought out. Though I’ve painstakingly found the absolute cheapest lodging option in every stop, I haven’t done so for Miami. I figured I’d be staying with Oscar, and that’s still my plan. I hadn’t counted on Reece being in the equation, also needing a place to stay. “Um.” I dig my phone out of my purse. “Hold on, let me find something real quick.” I see the moment it clicks, because his knuckles whiten just slightly on the steering wheel. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll find something.” “No, no, that was part of the deal,” I say, already scanning the results on my phone for cheap lodging. “I drag you along on this trip, at least I can find you a good deal on a place to stay. I’ll even pay for it.” The look he shoots me is murderous, even through his sunglasses. “I swear to God, Lucy, if I wasn’t driving right now, I’d strangle you.” “I’m trying to be nice.” “Yeah, well offering to pay for my motel room so you can shack up with your boyfriend for two days while I sit around and wait for you isn’t the way to do it.” “Don’t get pissy. You knew this was the deal,” I say, pushing my glasses onto my head so he can feel the heat of my glare. “And it’s not like I’m leaving you to fend for yourself in a onehorse town; it’s freaking Miami Beach. I’m sure you can find a girl or twelve to hook up with by the time we roll out in a couple days.” He gives an incredulous laugh. “Un-f*cking-believable. Even on your way to surprise your boyfriend, you’re still preoccupied with my sex life.” “I don’t give a crap about your sex life,” I mutter. In what has to be the worst possible timing for a traffic jam, we come to a complete standstill on the crowded freeway, and Reece slowly turns toward me, shoving his own glasses on top of his head, his blue eyes hot and angry. He braces one hand against the back of my headrest as he studies me. “What?” I snap.

His smile is slow and lethal. “Liar. You’re thinking all about my sex life. I think that’s what’s got you fussy. You’re thinking about me sleeping with other women a lot more than you’re thinking about you sleeping with Oscar.” I start to roll my eyes and turn toward the window, but he snags one long finger under my chin, pulling my face around to his. “Deny it,” he says, his voice low. “Deny that the outfit wasn’t for me. That you’re having a hard time remembering your boyfriend’s name when I’m around.” “That’s crap,” I snap. “I haven’t thought about you like that in years. I hate you.” He smiles as his finger strokes along my jawline. “Yeah. Yeah you do. But you want me.” “I don’t.” But the effect of his cool finger against my hot skin threatens to make a liar out of me, so I bat it away and jerk my chin toward the road. “Traffic’s moving. I think we’re close. I need to find you a place to stay so I can get to Oscar’s restaurant.” His jaw tenses. “Give me the directions there. I’ll drop you off and get you out of my hair.” “So that you can get into someone else’s pants?” He doesn’t rise to the bait. Probably a good thing, since we seem to be going in circles. Snap, snap, scratch, bite. It’s exhausting, and a little sad, honestly. Because I know if either of us let our guard down even a tiny bit, we’d find what’s always been there. A friendship for the ages—a connection I’ve never felt with anyone else. But with that sort of intensity comes risk—one that didn’t pay off for us. I’ve written down detailed directions to Oscar’s place, and I read them in a monotone voice as we make our way through crowded Miami. And the closer we get to Flame, the more antsy I get, and I can’t figure out if it’s nerves or excitement or anger or regret or just some vague sense of uneasiness. “There,” I say, pointing when I see the sign for his place, suddenly excited, even amid all the nervousness. Reece says nothing as we approach the restaurant. Flame is in the heart of trendy South Beach, and I haven’t exactly thought through the whole parking/grabbing my stuff scenario, and I bite my lip. “Go,” he says gruffly, pulling to the curb. I give him a nervous look, but his expression is unreadable. “What about my stuff? I guess I could take my bag in with me….” He snorts. “And ruin the effect of that short skirt? Even I don’t hate you that much. I’ll catch up with you later. After I’ve hooked up with, how many girls was it again? Twelve?” I smile a little because his voice is more teasing than angry for once. “Might as well add one more. Baker’s dozen.” He laughs, and my heart hurts at the flood of memories. Of how we used to talk so easily, how we used to laugh so much… “Go get your guy. Surprise the sh*t out of him.” He says it in an easy tone, but I wonder if this is hard for him. Watching me go to another

guy. God knows it’s hard for me to walk away from this guy for another. Our gazes hold, and, not for the first time, I’m struck by just what a bad idea this road trip was, rousing up memories that should have been left behind. And I’m fast learning that the good memories hurt even more than the bad ones. I open the car door before I can say something utterly dumb. “I’ll text you,” I say, climbing out carefully so as not to flash anyone. Even so, I can feel Reece’s gaze on my ass. When I glance back, his look is defiant, daring me to call him out—daring me to acknowledge the tension between us. Instead, I slam the door and turn on my heel, refusing to let him continue messing with my head. The restaurant has an outdoor seating area, but it’s empty, and I quietly open the door, heart pounding with…something. Excitement, I tell myself. I am excited to see my boyfriend. I resist the urge to see if Reece and Horny are still at the curb and let myself inside the restaurant. It’s mostly quiet. A guy and a girl speak Spanish as they put out place settings on the tables, sparing me only a quick, dismissive look before going back to their conversation. A bartender comes in from the back, liquor box in hand, and gives me a friendly look. “Lost?” “I’m looking for Oscar.” He gives me a once-over, then shrugs. “Back office, I think. Last door on the right, past the bathrooms.” I smile in thanks, and this time when I make my way toward Oscar, I really am excited. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him and— Déjà vu. The absolute worst kind of déjà vu. My boyfriend is in his office. But he’s not alone. He has one arm around the waist of a sultry brunette, the other splayed across her ass, and it takes him a full ten seconds to register my presence before he pulls his mouth away from hers. Oscar stares at me in shock, then horror, and then somehow it gets worse, because the girl lets out a startled giggle and lifts a hand to wipe her coral lip gloss off my boyfriend’s mouth. For some reason, that hurts the most. That casual, intimate gesture that tells me this isn’t a first kiss, not a drunken one-time mistake. No actually, that’s not what hurts the most. What hurts the most isn’t Oscar’s betrayal. It’s that it reminds me of a betrayal six years ago, one that hurt about a thousand times more than this one. All of a sudden the pain of that memory comes crushing down on me, so heavy I feel my knees buckle. I turn just as Oscar says my name, but this utterly sh*tty tableau isn’t done with me yet. Blocking my escape is none other than Reece Sullivan.

My heart twists. I can’t. I just can’t right now. Wordlessly he holds my cellphone out to me. “Fell out of your bag in the car.” I force myself to meet his eyes, wanting to know how much he saw. He’s not looking at me. His gaze is locked on Oscar. And from the murderous look on Reece’s face, he saw everything.

Chapter 16

Reece I have a choice: chase after Lucy, or drive my fist into the face of the sh*thead who made her cry. At first, I’m thinking the first—I care about Lucy a hell of a lot more than this asshole. But then I see it. I see that instead of looking absolutely ravaged by just losing the best girl he’s ever had, Oscar turns to the other girl. The one he’s been making out with, wraps an arm around her shoulder, as though to protect her from the inconvenience of witnessing his brokenhearted girlfriend. I want to kill him. It’s been years since I communicated with my fists. I grew out of it sometime in high school when I realized most people just aren’t worth the trouble. This guy, though—he has it coming. Because Lucy’s worth it. I don’t make a big production out of it. I take a few steps forward, wait until he pulls away from his new girl with a vaguely mocking What are you gonna do about it? expression. The crack of my knuckles against his nose tells him exactly what I’m going to do about it. Always go for the nose. Sure, the right hook to the jaw makes for better action movies, but a broken nose leaves a nice reminder. And I want this dick remembering what he lost—who he lost—every time he looks at that crooked nose in the mirror. The girl makes a squeaky noise, trying to pull Oscar’s hands away from his nose as he stares at me in pissed disbelief, but I’m done here. I’ve illegally parked Horny a half block up on the curb, and I curse when I see that Lucy either didn’t see the car, or opted not to seek refuge there. I put my hands on my hips, trying to figure out where she could have run off to. And if there’s a sick sense of déjà vu lurking in the back of my consciousness, I ignore it. I can’t afford to think about that now. Can’t afford to think of six years ago when the one she’d been running from was me. That day, I’d let her go. A mistake. Not one I’m going to repeat today. I scan the nearby businesses. Starbucks, shopping, a bunch of restaurants… She wouldn’t go into any of those. Not while she was crying. She wouldn’t want to be seen all blotchy; she’d want space…. I immediately start heading toward the water, which thankfully isn’t hard to find in Miami. I get to the beach, which luckily isn’t that crowded on an overcast weekday. I see her, and my heart cracks. She hasn’t taken off those ridiculous shoes, the spike heels have sunk all the way into the sand, driving her weight backward, even though her shoulders

are rolled forward. My girl looks broken, and I’m realizing that a crooked nose wasn’t nearly enough punishment for this Oscar guy. I walk slowly toward her. My boots and jeans aren’t exactly beach friendly, but I ignore this. I ignore everything except Lucy. The gentle sound of the surf drowns out any sound of her crying, which somehow makes the tears running down her cheeks all the more like a punch in the gut. I should have thought of something to say. Should have tried to figure out if she wants me to offer to beat up the guy, or tell her he’s not worth it, or that she’s a hundred—thousand— times more beautiful than the other girl… None of that matters. There’s no talking, there’s not even thinking. There’s only doing, and I slowly reach out, my hand on her shoulder as I pull her around to me, my movements a little rough. She comes easily, her face against my shoulder, her hot breath against my thin T-shirt with a shuddering sigh. I wrap one arm around her waist, the other cupping the back of her head as I pull her close. She doesn’t wrap her arms around me, just clenches her fingers into my shirt as she buries her face against my chest. I close my eyes and, for a minute, let myself be selfish. Let myself relish having her close once more, even though the circ*mstances are sh*t. She doesn’t say a word as I hold her, and I wonder if she’s realized the same thing as me. That there’s nothing to say, not really. That that guy was never the one for her, that he’s not even worth talking about. He’s certainly not worth her tears, but then Lucy’s always been a bit of a crier. Not in the weepy, weak sense; it’s just how she shows her emotion. Happy, relieved, sad, excited…she cries. She cries when she’s heartbroken too. I hope to God that isn’t what these tears are about. My hand smooths over her back, the pads of my fingers warm against her head. Before I can register what I’m doing, my lips brush her hair. I tell myself it’s an accident, but that’s bullsh*t. It’s a kiss. A need for her, even now, as she’s hurting. Hell, perhaps because she’s hurting. It’s always been my job to fix that, and I don’t know how to at the moment. “You know the weird part,” she whispers quietly, finally breaking her silence. I shake my head slightly. “I’m not even that surprised. I think I knew something was off, but I insisted on doing this anyway. And you know the worst part?” Her fingers dig into my chest, little claws, and I feel a quick sense of foreboding. “The worst part,” she rushes on, “is that I wasn’t even seeing him as it was happening. I was seeing you. And her. All over again. And it was like I was dying inside, all over again.” I feel a stab of panic followed by anger as I pull her back roughly. “You kidding me with this, Luce? That guy cheats on you, and I take the blame for it?” She lifts her chin. “You cheated on me once too.” I let out an incredulous laugh and step back, running my hands over my hair in disbelief.

And guilt. Not guilt over what she thinks I did, but guilt over how f*cking… Never mind. I strike back, the guilt making me defensive. “Damn it,” I mutter. “That’s what you’re turning this into. It’s not enough that I paid for my own actions back then, now I’m going to have to pay for his too?” She swipes at her tears, and I register what kind of crying we’re dealing with here: angry crying. Well bring it on. I’m angry too. At myself mostly, but a little bit at her too for being so… so…Lucy. “Even now, you don’t deny it,” she cries. “Even now you stand there, look me right in the eye and tell me I’m overreacting!” “It was six years ago, Lucy! We were kids.” The wrong thing to say, clearly, because her green eyes go furious, and she steps forward to shove at my shoulders. Only the high heels and soft sand make her uneven, and she wobbles. I reach out a hand to steady her and she rears back, as though stumbling into the Atlantic would be better than my touch. “Well it sure felt very grown-up when you took my virginity,” she hisses. I close my eyes, at the bittersweet memory. “I’m not going to talk to you about this now. Not when you’re upset over some other guy’s betrayal.” She lets out a little laugh that’s more sad than anything else, and shakes her head. “I’ve heard that before. You’ve never wanted to talk about it, Reece. You’ve always acted like you didn’t have to. Like you never had to explain yourself to little Lucy Hawkins.” “It wasn’t like that.” “Then what was it like?” I just didn’t know what to say. How to say it. I was nineteen, for Chrissake. Stupid. With her, with myself. But smart too. Because while the way we ended tore us to shreds, it was better then, that way, than later. And there was always going to be a later. Lucy Hawkins was never going to stay. Not with a guy like me. She shakes her head, her hand finding the sunglasses tangled in her hair, pulling them down to cover up puffy, angry eyes. Without another word she turns away from me, but doesn’t move, and I realize her eyes are scanning the buildings on the beach. “There,” she says, pointing to one of the huge hotels facing the water. “I’m staying there tonight. I’d say I’ve earned a little splurge.” I follow her, because no way am I letting her out of my sight. Not when she’s so volatile. I can’t afford the hotel, but I’ve been paying for my missteps with this girl for six years now. Might as well put some of that guilt on my credit card.

Chapter 17

Lucy Reece lets me wallow for a full twenty-four hours in Oscar’s betrayal, which, let’s face it, is longer than the asshole deserves. Still, once the shock of seeing my and Reece’s history play out in front of my eyes wears off, I’m hit by the realization that Oscar’s betrayal hurt in its own right. I mean, did I think I was going to marry the guy? Probably not. But I cared about him enough to find out if he was the one. Cared enough to make our relationship work, even with distance and the fact that our schedules had no overlap. So yeah, I took a full day to mourn, and I’d picked a good place to do it. When I’d scanned the beach for hotels, I’d purposely picked one that looked like it had once been grand, but was now a little tired. One that would make my bank account cry only a little. And a full day wrapped in a generic hotel robe with a partial ocean view, my journal, room service and really bad TV is exactly what the doctor ordered, because around four in the afternoon the day after Oscar’s betrayal, I’m starting to feel like maybe I can survive this. Reece apparently agrees, because about three minutes after I step out of the shower, he pounds on my door. I know it’s him by the angry impatience, but I look through the peephole anyway, mostly to annoy him. Yep. He looks pissed. My mood lifts. “What?” I ask. “Let me in.” I roll my eyes. “I just got out of the shower.” His head snaps up at that, and I smirk. “Well this is progress,” he says in a bland tone. “I’d half expected to find you ass down on the bed, melted cheese in your hair.” My smirk turns into a real smile at that. Last night, just as I’d been trying to muster the energy to order food, room service had arrived with a bottle of California chardonnay and a chicken quesadilla that I hadn’t ordered. If the chard hadn’t been a dead giveaway, the chicken quesadilla would have been. I pretty much lived on them all throughout high school. I don’t eat them as much now, since I pretend to be an adult and eat the occasional piece of fish or vegetable, but it’s still my ultimate comfort food. Something Reece had apparently remembered.

“Thanks for that,” I say quietly. He rolls his eyes. “Don’t thank a man through the door, Hawkins. Open the hell up.” I glance down at my towel, considering throwing some clothes on first, but then I shrug. It’s just Reece. My inner skan* rolls her eyes. There’s never been anything just Reece about what’s between us. A fact I’m reminded of when I open the door and his gaze rakes over me. At first, his look’s impulsive—instinctive guy checking out an almost naked girl from head to toe. But when his gaze drags back up my body, it’s slower. More deliberate. Not guy checking out girl so much as Reece checking out Lucy, and I feel it. I feel it everywhere, and I’m annoyed by the memory of how Reece used to make every part of me feel like an erogenous zone, not just the obvious ones. Even my ankles are burning. Damn the man. I try to strike back, give him the same slow perusal, but it’s not really the same when he’s fully dressed in… My nose wrinkles in confusion. “You’re dressed up.” Reece shoves past me and I jump back, because I don’t think either one of us can handle touching when there’s nothing but terry cloth covering my interesting bits. “I’m wearing jeans,” he says dismissively. True. But they’re nice jeans. Dark denim, not the faded whatever jeans he’s been wearing the past few days. And he’s wearing brown dress shoes instead of boots, a white button down instead of a T-shirt. “You’re going out.” His eyebrows lift, as he sets his bag next to the desk. “You’re the one who pointed out that we’re in Miami. And that I have a baker’s dozen women to sleep with.” I roll my eyes to ward off the flash of jealousy. “How many did you check off last night?” “You mean while you were stuffing your face with Real Housewives and sour cream, sobbing into your diary? Wouldn’t you like to know. Now get dressed. Do something with your face.” I blink. “What’s wrong with my face?” If I was hoping for a compliment I’m disappointed, because he ignores the question and ambles toward the window with a whistle. “Nice view.” “Yours isn’t the same?” He shoves his hands into his pockets. “Nope. I didn’t have the whole sad girl in a sexy outfit thing going on when I checked in, so no free upgrade. My room was on the poor person side, looking out at a dumpster.” “Was?” I ask in confusion at the past tense. The plan has always been to stay two nights in Miami, and seeing as it’s already four P.M. and he wants to go out, there’s no way we’re driving anywhere else tonight. With a grin, Reece turns and plops on the couch, patting the cushions with both palms,

before draping his arms over the back of the sofa. “Fold-out bed, am I right?” “Ah—” It probably is. I think I remember the guy at check-in say something about that, but I was in such a daze…. “You can’t stay here tonight,” I say. “Sure I can,” he says, leaning forward and linking his fingers between his spread thighs. The confidence is damn sexy. Also, annoying. “I’m all for you celebrating the end of that sh*tty relationship, Luce, but I can’t afford another night here. For that matter, neither can you. We’ll split the cost of this room tonight.” It’s a practical idea, but not a smart one. Reece and I in the same car is bad enough. In the same bedroom… But the way his attention’s on his cellphone tells me I’m the only one whose thoughts are headed that direction. “Hurry up. We’re grabbing co*cktails before dinner.” I blink at him. “co*cktails. Who are you?” The Reece I knew hated restaurants. Was more the type to make sandwiches and take you to a secluded pond somewhere to kiss you senseless rather than out for co*cktails. Then again, to be fair, we were teenagers. Still, it’s a little jarring to realize that he can surprise me. For so long, I’ve thought I had him pinned, could anticipate every move. Now I’m realizing that I knew the boy. I knew the boy better than he knew himself. But the man? The man is new. The man is hot. And even as I bite my lip and contemplate the wisdom of spending an evening in his company, I know that I’ll do it anyway. Because suddenly I’m desperate. Desperate to know the man as well as I knew the boy. For the first time I realize that maybe there’s hope for me and Reece to get back to what we were before. Friends. Good friends. Just…minus the whole messy falling in love part this time. Because that sh*t hurt.

Chapter 18 LUCY , SEVENTEEN, REECE, EIGHTEEN Lucy sat at the big round table, her thumb clasping and unclasping the magnetic fastener of her pink lace clutch over and over, even as she tried to look relaxed. Tried to look like she was sitting here all alone at prom because she wanted to be. Next year, she told herself. Next year will be better. At Jefferson High, both juniors and seniors could attend prom. She’d never really understood why you were allowed to go two years, but she did now. It was in case you needed a do-over. Kayley caught Lucy’s eye across the room and gave her a sympathetic wave over Mike Chevron’s beefy shoulder. Lucy faked a smile and waved back. I’m fine. A shadow appeared to her right, and she glanced up, fully braced for Craig to demand Luke’s whereabouts so he could beat the crap out of Lucy’s missing date. It wasn’t her brother. “Hi!” Lucy said in surprise. Reece jerked his chin in greeting, using the foot of his rented dress shoes to pull out the flimsy folding chair beside her. Lucy fixed him with a look the second he sat down. “Did my brother send you?” Instead of answering, he studied her, his sharp eyes no doubt taking in the red nose and mussed eye makeup. “Where’s Dickson?” Lucy sighed. Luke Dickson was one of the most popular boys in the junior class. Starting pitcher for the baseball team, ASB treasurer… And entirely incapable of handling the tequila his idiot friend DJ had snuck into the limo on the way over. “Puking his guts out in the dumpster, probably,” Lucy said. “Mrs. Gomez caught him and called his parents to come pick him up.” “What about you?” Lucy resumed her fiddling with her clutch. “I’ll call Mom or Dad in a few.” Reece was silent for a moment more. Then he nodded and, apparently satisfied with her answer, stood just as the DJ announced the last song of the evening. But instead of walking away as she expected, Reece held out his hand. Lucy blinked at the hand, then up at him. He lifted an eyebrow. “This is the part where you say, ‘Yes, Reece, I will dance with you.’ ” Lucy’s heart fluttered as she registered the heat of his hand against hers when he pulled

her to her feet. “What about Abby? The DJ said this is the last dance of the evening.” Reece shrugged. “I checked with her. She doesn’t mind. She doesn’t like to dance much. And she knows you’re practically my sister.” Just like that, the happy butterflies making Lucy’s heart beat too fast had their wings ripped off. Still, she swallowed her disappointment. Dancing with someone dismissing her as a sister was still better than not dancing with him at all. Reece led her onto the dance floor as a sappy ballad trickled through the sound system, and as she stepped toward him to put her hands on his shoulders, she could have sworn she saw something a bit like panic flit across his face. Lucy licked her lips nervously as his hands reluctantly found her waist. “You look nice.” His big shoulders shrugged beneath her arms. “You can blame your mom. She dragged me and Craig to the rental store this afternoon.” There was a moment of awkward silence, and his fingers tightened just the slightest bit on her waist before he cleared his throat. “You look nice too. Pretty.” Lucy smiled against the rough fabric of his suit jacket, even though he couldn’t see her. She felt pretty. Her dress was light pink, with a fitted, beaded bodice, and a poofy skirt, which she hoped distracted from her small chest size. They fell silent, and Lucy let herself register the pure joy of being in Reece Sullivan’s big arms. Yes, she knew he was dating Abby Mancuso, and up until tonight, Lucy really had liked Luke Dickson. But all that didn’t change the fact that nothing had ever felt quite so right as this moment. Without thinking, Lucy rested her head on his shoulder, letting her eyes close. Letting herself pretend that this wasn’t just one dance with a guy who thought of her as a sister. Pretending that someday soon he’d show up on her doorstep and tell her that he couldn’t date Abby anymore because he was in love with his best friend’s little sister… Her eyes flew open. Had Reece just pulled her a tiny bit closer? Nah. Probably her imagination. Then she felt the brush of his chin against the side of her head, the gesture lingering and fleeting, all at the same time. Almost as though he was trying to get close in the only way he could. Lucy’s heart felt like it was cracking as the music slowed, knowing her perfect moment with the perfect guy was coming to an end. Reece graduated in just a couple months, and then… Then what? The music faded away, and Lucy took a deep breath before fixing a bright smile on her face and taking a step back. “Thanks, brother,” she said teasingly, putting emphasis on the latter word, hoping to put him at ease so he didn’t freak out about the way she’d rested her head on his shoulder like they were together.

Reece didn’t smile back. Instead he frowned, his face all confused guy before giving a quick shake of his head. He stepped back, looking like he wanted to run away. Had the dance been that bad? “Call me if you can’t get ahold of your parents,” he grumbled, before brushing past her. Lucy stared after him in confusion. What had that been about?

Chapter 19

Reece It’s taken a few drinks and every ounce of my admittedly crappy conversational abilities, but Lucy’s finally, finally lost that haunted look she’s had since walking in on Oscar kissing that girl. Hell, for that matter, the drinks have taken the edge off my own anger at the way she turned the whole thing around on me. Fact is, I don’t want to be angry at her. Not last night when she’d looked so shattered, and not tonight when she looks so happy. Tomorrow will be soon enough to remember all the damage we’ve done to each other. We’re at our third stop of the evening, a nightclub with a patio. Not usually my scene, but it’s early enough on a weeknight that although the music is pounding and the drinks are flowing, it’s not so crowded that we can’t have a conversation at the table we’ve nabbed outside. She rests her elbows on the table, chin propped up on her linked fingers, as she gives me a smile that’s so much like the old Lucy I nearly lose my breath at the memories rushing through me. “So when are you going to tell me what you did last night?” she asks. I tilt my beer bottle to my lips. Wine hadn’t seemed right for tonight’s occasion, and I’m not at all sure I trust myself around Lucy and liquor. “That’s really bugging you, hmm?” I say. She shrugs and takes a sip of her rum and Diet as if it’s no biggie, but I know better. Lucy Hawkins is dying to know if I hooked up last night. Too bad darlin’. I’ve spent days imagining you spending tonight in the arms of some other dude. Turnabout’s fair play. “I just hate that I wasted a night in Miami holed up in my hotel room. Was hoping to live vicariously,” she says too casually. I smile wider. “You always were a crappy liar.” Lucy opens her mouth to retort, but then her eyes light up and I watch as her rum-buzzed brain dances away from the topic at hand. “I love this song.” She turns back to me, eyes expectant, but I merely snort. “No way.” I expect her to protest, but she merely laughs happily. “Yeah, I figured.” I frown, a little annoyed to be dismissed so easily. My frown turns to a full-on scowl when Lucy all but bounces out of her chair. The gesture has her neck tilting back, and for about the hundredth time this evening I realize my mistake in encouraging her to dress up. She must have packed the short, hot-pink dress for Oscar, because it’s flirty and sexy and hotter than f*ck. The top is fitted and strapless, clinging precariously to perky round breasts,

the skirt hitting at that teasing part of mid-thigh that says Look but don’t touch. Through the open patio doors, I keep my eye on the dance floor, annoyed every time someone moves to block my view, relieved when Lucy comes into sight again. Well, relieved and turned on. I don’t know the name of the song, nor the artist, but it’s vaguely familiar. Some hot topforty number with a sultry female voice that apparently begs to be writhed to, because Lucy’s movements are ninety percent hip wiggle. I’m not the only one who notices. A tall guy approaches and without missing a beat, his hands find her hips, his movements matching hers as they grind in perfect unison to the song. My beer freezes halfway to my lips. What the hell is this? It looks f*cking choreographed. My beer slams back down to the table when Lucy’s arm lifts, her hand hooking idly around the other guy’s neck as she leans into him, her head against his chest, lips parted. Her eyes close as the guy’s hand moves down slightly, then up again, lifting her skirt a bit, and I’m moving before I can stop myself. The song fades into another as I step onto the dance floor, a Latin song with a sexy, driving rhythm. I watch the man’s hands slide toward her ass as her arms lift to drape over his shoulders and pull him closer. And then I’m there, shoving him out of the way, my hands replacing his. “Hey—” “Mine,” I growl at him. To his credit, the dude merely lifts his hands in surrender before backing away. I don’t know where he goes after that, because my eyes are locked on Lucy. I expect her to be pissed at my high-handedness, but although she goes momentarily still, she recovers quickly, her arms wrapping around my neck as she picks up the rhythm once more, and I don’t think it’s my imagination that her movements are slower now. Sexier. Seductive. I move right along with her. I’m not one for dancing, but this I can handle. This slow swaying is little more than a grind, and though I don’t know a lick of Spanish, the gist of the song is clear. It’s a promise of hot sweaty nights, of my hands on her skin, my mouth on her mouth…. I’ve pulled her closer now, a little unnerved by how right it feels that after all this time we move together so well. The rhythm shifts; there’s an interlude with a woman’s voice, and Lucy pulls back slightly, hands sliding over my chest, her gaze locked on mine, teeth dragging against her bottom lip in blatant seduction. She slowly turns, and my fingers grip harder, thinking she means to move away, but she’s merely pivoting, turning so that her back’s pressed to my chest, her small ass tucked against me. sh*t. Holy hell and f*ck. I’m dying. I can’t help myself. My hands skim over her sides, down over her hips, slowly teasing the

fabric upward, just enough so that my fingertips can touch her bare outer thighs. I feel her freeze for a half second before she resumes her torturous wiggling, more deliberate this time, her ass teasing my co*ck which hardens more with every breath. We go on like this endlessly, torturing each other, the music, the lack of words, the unfamiliar city somehow letting us pretend that this is all a dream. That in real life, we didn’t break each other’s hearts, that we won’t hate each other tomorrow. The song slows to a stop long before I’m ready, the DJ coming on the microphone to babble about some sh*t. Lucy turns back around slowly, both of us breathing hard as we stare at each other. What was that? her green eyes ask. I shake my head once. Don’t know. The closest I can come up with is dry humping, and that’s not nearly sexy enough to describe what just happened. Without a word, she turns and walks back toward our table. She picks up her drink, which is now mostly just ice and water, but I grab her wrist and pull the drink away. She frowns and I frown back. “Don’t be stupid,” I say, lifting the drink. “Picking up a drink that’s been unattended in a club. Really?” She shakes her head a little, pushing her hair back from her face. “You’re right. You’re right. Stupid. I’ve probably had enough rum.” Stupid is right. Both of us. “You wanna get out of here?” I ask. She nods, and I’m relieved. Everyone around us is one drink away from screwing. Not the sort of atmosphere we need to be in. I need fresh air, a glass of water, a change of scenery…. Instinctively, I hold out my hand for hers, and the second we make contact, palm to palm, I realize that we’re so not out of the woods yet. This godforsaken club is the least of our problems. Because somehow, Lucy Hawkins and I are supposed to survive a dirty dance, one too many drinks, and then share a hotel room without touching each other. I mentally add a cold shower to my agenda for the evening.

Chapter 20

Lucy So, silver lining? At least I’m not thinking of Oscar anymore. Reece deliberately picked places near our hotel so that we’d be able to walk back, and as we leave the club, I feel a flash of gratitude, because I’ll have a chance to gather my thoughts, clear my head, and get the hell out of the danger zone. But we’re in Miami, and it’s summer. The air is thick and heavy, just like the tension between us. Why did he come dance with me? Why? Except I know why. I love to dance, I’ve always loved to dance, and I wasn’t trying to make Reece jealous with that other guy, really I wasn’t. I’d just needed to feel…wanted. Reece had been kind but platonic all evening, and Oscar, well…he was probably in that other girl’s bed. So when the guy with the grabby hands had wanted to dance with me when nobody else had…sure. Only Reece wasn’t nearly as immune as I’d thought, and somehow it’d gone from what was supposed to be a freeing night out, embracing an “All the single ladies” vibe, and it had turned into…well, whatever this is. Neither of us says anything as we make the slow trek back to the hotel, and all I can think about is that we’re sharing a room. To distract myself, I try to remember all the reasons why letting him anywhere near me would be a bad idea. I try to remember what it was like when I’d seen him kissing another girl. But the rum is messing with my brain, and now the only place my memory wants to go is Reece and me together. The first time he’d kissed me. The first time he’d touched my breast over the shirt. Under the shirt. The first time I’d given him head, the first time he’d put his head between my thighs, and then finally, the first time he’d thrust inside me, the pain and the wonderfulness all wrapped into one glorious memory. “You all right?” he asks quietly. “Hmm?” He glances down at me, blue eyes blazing. “You seem sort of out of breath.” I let out a little laugh but don’t respond. We go back to quiet, although oddly it’s not uncomfortable. Well okay, it’s uncomfortable,

but it’s not unpleasant. Not really. Still, the tension is mounting, and I make it to the elevator of our hotel before I realize that I need to say something now, before there’s a bed a few feet away. “I’m not going to sleep with you.” Reece doesn’t even blink, his gaze locked on the elevator numbers as we ascend. “Don’t recall asking.” “But that dance…” He glances over. “Was a dance. You danced with the other guy too.” “Which you didn’t like,” I say, hands on my hips. Admit it. You were jealous. Reece’s eyes flick over me, goosebumps left in the wake of his gaze, but he doesn’t deny or confirm, and I’m oddly disappointed. True to his word though, once we step into the dimly lit hotel room, seduction seems to be the last thing on his mind. He snaps on the light. No, he snaps on all the lights, before hauling his duffel bag onto the couch and rummaging through it, coming up with a bedraggled-looking Ziploc bag with his toiletries. He lifts his eyebrows when he finds me watching him. “You want to use the bathroom first?” “No.” My voice is scratchy, and I try again. “No, go ahead.” Reece shrugs and goes into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him, while I lower myself to the side of the bed and try really hard not to think about how good it felt to have his hot, firm body pressed against me. I try not to think about how when his fingers brushed my thighs I’d wanted to turn to him, beg him to keep going, to drag his fingers up and up, to touch me everywhere. I groan, putting both hands over my face and flopping back on the bed, legs dangling over the side. “Well. This is a sight.” I sit bolt upright again when I realize Reece has come out of the bathroom and isn’t even trying to hide the fact that he’s noticed my skirt has hiked up. I hurriedly pull it down, and he smirks. Smirks. I give him my best glare before scooting off the bed. “Done in the bathroom?” “Yup.” Once again, not looking at me. Fine. I brush by him, ignoring that he smells like mint and soap and man. He cheated on you. Never forget that. I hesitate only briefly before taking off my makeup, stuck between this weird place of thinking, It’s just Reece and Ohmigod, it’s Reece. Sort of like that feeling of wanting to look your best for a guy, and yet somehow knowing that you don’t have to, because he’ll like you anyway. I put toothpaste on my brush and point it at my reflection in warning. “Don’t. He doesn’t like you. Remember. And you don’t like him.” “What’s happening in there, Hawkins?” he calls.

“Nothing.” I shove the toothbrush into my mouth, working up a furious foam. By the time I come out of the bathroom, the rum-haze is fading, my blood is cooling, my brain gaining the upper hand over my hormones. And then it all goes to hell. He’s standing there in nothing but blue plaid boxers, and he’s an absolutely perfect specimen of a man. He was always fit courtesy of high school sports and long hours in the vineyards, but this is different. Once again I realize that the boy I knew has been replaced by a man. And he is all man. “Damn it, Reece, put a shirt on.” He gives me a bemused look before crossing the room to the closet to grab the spare blanket from the top shelf. “You’ve seen it all before.” “Yeah but that was…” Reece grabs one of the pillows off the bed. “That was what?” “That was before,” I say, grabbing at the pillow. He laughs and grabs it back. “Seriously? There are like six pillows on that bed. You don’t need them all.” I grab it back again, only to regret it, because at least the pillow blocked some of the view of his six-pack. To make matters worse, his boxers are slung low, revealing far too much muscly goodness. I’m in so much trouble. He turns away and I think I’ve won, but he merely goes to the other side of the bed, grabs a different pillow and stalks to the couch. “You’re not going to pull out the bed part?” I ask, watching as he settles on the couch, picks his phone off the side table and begins swiping at whatever’s on the screen. “Obviously not,” he says. I toss the pillow onto the bed with more force than necessary and go to my bag for pajamas. “What’s your deal, Lucy?” “What?” I snap. He’s not even looking up from his cell. “It’s not my fault you can’t decide what you want.” “Meaning?” I sneak a glance to make sure he’s not looking, then peel my dress over my head. His bored tone tells me he cares a hell of a lot more about whomever he’s texting than he does me. “Meaning, you can’t decide if you want to force yourself to pretend you’re trying to get over that ass-wipe Oscar, or if you hate my guts, or if you want me to jump you, but I’ll tell you, if you’re going to strip in front of me, the latter is likely to happen.” I spin around, and sure enough he’s staring at me. I automatically pull my arms toward my chest, the tank top in my hands doing little to cover my front. Then, both annoyed and motivated by his blatant perusal of my mostly naked body, I hold his gaze as I slowly lower my arm, letting him take in the strapless white bra, the black and white striped panties with black lace and a little bow as I leisurely pull the tank over my head.

Normally I’d take the bra off first, but I’m not quite that brave. Brave enough though, to turn, my back toward him, bending over slightly as I look for my pajama bottoms. I think I hear Reece groan, and I grin as I pull out the white cotton shorts and step into them more slowly than I need to. Only then do I undo my bra, under the safety of the top, whipping it away and dropping it into my bag before scurrying into bed. I haul out my journal. Reece wasn’t half-wrong when he said I’d been crying into my diary. I’m a little embarrassed to say that the notebook thus far reads more like my seventh grade diary with the pink and teal glittery stripes than it does the worldly travel journal I’d envisioned. Instead of talking about the sights and my impression of parts of the country I haven’t seen before, it’s a lot of, well, boys. Last night it had been a lot of tear-soaked scribbles about betrayal and loyalty, alternating between self-pity that I seem to be the type of girl that boys cheat on, and righteous, girlpower indignation that they’d even dare. Tonight though…I tap the pen against my lips, sneaking a glance at Reece as I try to figure out how to even capture this particular day and night of our road trip. He’s ignoring me altogether, and I suppose that’s the lesson right there. Keep your eye on the prize, Lucy. You’re moving toward Napa and away from your history with Reece Sullivan. Don’t be that girl who moves backward. By the time I plug in my phone and turn off the lamp, he’s still ignoring me, except this time I know he’s faking it and is as determined as I am to dodge the fact that we have unfinished business. After a few minutes, I see the faint glow from his cellphone go out, and then there’s nothing but the darkness and our silence. I don’t mean to speak, but I do. “Reece?” For a second he’s quiet, and I think he’ll ignore me, but then he clears his throat and responds in a quiet voice. “Yeah.” Crap. Didn’t think this through. There are so many things I want to say, ask…do. I blow out a breath. “Thanks.” “For?” I pluck at the hotel comforter. “For yesterday. For coming after me and holding me, even though I know you hate me.” I hold my breath, waiting for him to confirm that he doesn’t hate me. Which is stupid. He has no reason to hate me. He’s the one who ruined things. I hold my breath anyway. Deny it. Say you miss me like I miss you. There’s a rustling noise, then the creak of a crappy couch. “Night, Lucy.” I squeeze my eyes shut in disappointment. His ex-girlfriend is wearing tiny pajamas, not ten feet from him, and he’s not even interested.

Which…I shouldn’t care. I know I shouldn’t. Reece Sullivan hurt me more than anyone’s ever hurt me. I should be keeping my distance. Not to mention I just ended a relationship; the last thing I should be thinking about is hooking up with Reece. And yet I lie awake long into the night. Wondering what if. Remembering the good parts a lot more vividly than the bad.

Chapter 21

Reece I rub my forehead in exasperation. “You missed the exit.” I can actually hear Lucy’s teeth grinding together, even over the hard rock I’ve put on to punish her for the fact that I can’t stop thinking about her ass in those little shorts last night, nor her tit* in the dress…. “Maybe if you’d told me that was our exit before we passed it,” she snaps, moving into the far right lane so we can get off the freeway and backtrack. “I did tell you,” I growl. “Oh, you mean when you muttered something under your breath, and then wouldn’t repeat it when I asked?” I reach for my M&M’s and toss back a handful to keep from reaching across the car and strangling her. We haven’t gotten off to a good start this morning. I think it was sharing the bathroom that did it. Having to sit and listen to the water running, knowing that only a single door separated me from her naked body. And then she came out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel, dark hair dripping water over her collarbone, smelling like vanilla and Lucy…. “You’re a terrible navigator,” she gripes. I don’t deny this. I hate navigating. It’s making me crazy not to be the one driving. I have nothing to do with my hands, too much free reign for my brain to go places it shouldn’t. “Right or left?” she asks impatiently when she gets to the bottom of the off-ramp. “Actually, never mind. We’ll fill up on gas, and I’ll figure out directions and drive.” No chance. The second she gets out of the driver’s seat, I’m in it. Except the girl knows me too well, because she pulls up to the pump, turns off the car, and stares straight ahead, staying stubbornly seated. I jerk my head toward the back. “When I drive, I pump.” “Yeah, I’ve seen the way you pump. And unimpressive as it is, don’t think I don’t know your plan, that the second I unbuckle my seatbelt you’re going to be behind the wheel.” I put a green M&M between my teeth and grin at her, my mood slightly improved by her bad mood. “Luce. Did you just make a sex joke with that whole pump thing?” She rolls her eyes, and I lean forward. “So you think about it. The way I…pump?” Lucy hisses out a breath, and apparently changes her mind about pumping the gas, because

she gets out, slamming the door on me. I climb out of the car after she does. I fully intend to walk around the front of the car to get in the driver’s side, but feeling ornery and more than a little horny, I walk toward the back of the car, stepping in front of her just as she’s about to reach for the gas pump. She looks up at me, her green eyes unreadable, and that bothers me. I used to know her every thought, but she’s increasingly a mystery to me, part childish brat, part sexy woman, and most vexing of all, part mine. “What?” she asks. I realize that I’ve crowded her against the side of Horny, more aware than ever just how appropriate the car’s name is for this road trip. “You’re making me crazy,” I say, because it’s the first thing that pops into my mind and the truth. Her face registers incredulity. “Me? You’re the one running hot and cold! You’re either comforting me with a hug, or snapping at me, or ordering me quesadillas when I’m sad, or putting your hands all over me on the dance floor, or then not even looking at me when we’re alone in the hotel room.” I lean in, even as I know I’m playing with fire. “Did you want me to look at you?” She looks away. “No.” I press my knuckle under her chin, forcing her gaze back up to mine. “Lucy.” “Reece.” I look at her lips as she licks them, before meeting her eyes once more. “You think I’m running hot and cold? Two days ago you had a boyfriend you couldn’t wait to see.” Her eyes dart to the side and it tells me everything I need to know. I smile. “You were relieved, weren’t you? You were relieved that the bastard cheated on you so that you didn’t have to worry about breaking up with him.” “Yes, Reece. That’s just what I was hoping for when I drove all the way to Miami to surprise him—that I’d walk in on him with his tongue in another girl’s mouth. Because that sure worked out well for us, didn’t it?” She tries to move around me, but I block her way, my hand finding her hip. “Enough of that. You have to decide, Luce. You wanna be mad at me and hate me forever for something that happened when we were kids, or do you want to grind against me on the dance floor and put it behind us?” This time when her eyes come back to mine they’re still angry, but now they’re also filled with tears, and it rips at me. “You think I want to remember? You think I’m clinging to that memory of your betrayal for kicks? It hurt, Reece. It still hurts. Do I forget sometimes? Sure. Sometimes I forget what you did. But only for a little while. Then the memory comes back and it breaks my heart all over again, and no amount of quesadillas or hugs or flirting can fix it.” Emotion causes my fingers to dig into her hips, and I don’t know if it’s anger or exasperation or pain, and all I can manage is to exhale, closing my eyes and resting my forehead against hers, just for a moment, trying to get my sh*t together. I step back. “All right then. All right.”

My arms drop to my sides and I start to head into the store for water or a co*ke, or more M&M’s. Anything to get away from her while my blood is still simmering. “Reece.” I pause, but don’t turn around. “I’m not the only one who’s confused,” she says, challenge in her voice. “You don’t know what you want either.” I keep walking, because there’s nothing to say, because she’s damn right. I don’t know what I want. I mean, I know that my body wants hers. f*ck, I’m half-terrified that my body will always want hers. Today, tomorrow, ten years from now. But my brain knows better. And my heart? sh*t. My heart’s had barbed wire around it for a good six years now, and there’s absolutely zero chance that the person to slip beneath my protective walls is going to be the one who caused those walls to go up in the first place.

Chapter 22

Lucy So, update. We’re somewhere in Tennessee, and we’re…surviving. There’s no other word for it, really. It’s been two days since our whatever in Miami, and it’s been a lot of bickering about the radio, where to stop for lunch, what to eat for dinner…. Except that gets exhausting, as does trying to keep our hands off each other, so we occasionally slip up. We occasionally slip into old Reece and Lucy, back when we told each other everything. I’m slowly chipping away at the piece of his life I missed while I was away at school, although the guy’s not making it easy on me. The second I make any sort of headway, he overreacts by treating me like I’m a bratty little sister he can’t wait to be rid of. My head is throbbing from the pounding of his obnoxious rock music. I reach out again to change it, and he knocks my hand away. “What’s your deal?” I snap. “We each get thirty minutes of radio at a time,” he says, without glancing away from the road. “Been that way the whole time.” A few more nights, I think. You can do this. Then I’ll be in Napa, him in Sonoma. Too close for comfort, certainly, but there’ll be a hell of a lot more space than there is in this stupid car. Obviously my crap brother named it Horny for a reason because even though I hate Reece, I can’t seem to go five minutes without visualizing his hands on me. My efforts with the radio thwarted, I opt for rolling down the window instead. Reece gives me a look. “Hot?” I don’t respond. I’m not hot. Well maybe a little. Mostly it’s that freaking cologne he’s taken to wearing since that night in Miami. I don’t know what the hell it’s called, but they should rename it: Lucy Hawkins’s Cooter Kryptonite. It makes me want to jump him every time he gets near. To be fair, I’d probably want to do that anyway. But the fact that he smells like pepper and Christmas and bourbon doesn’t help. We drive in silence for a few more minutes, and I distract myself by watching eagerly for a rest stop so we can switch drivers. At least with my hands on the steering wheel, I’m not tempted to put them on him. Well, less tempted anyway.

I get excited when I see the telltale blue sign, then wrinkle my nose when I see the big orange notification that it’s temporarily closed and the next rest stop isn’t for forty-eight miles. My pissy mood’s interrupted when the car makes a quick and unexpected swerve, and I hear a stream of curses from Reece. I sit up in my seat and roll up the window to keep out the dirt that’s flying up as he pulls over to the shoulder. “What’s going on?” “Flat,” he says grimly as Horny rolls to a stop on the mostly deserted highway in the middle of nowhere. For a moment there’s only silence, then a whoosh as a semitruck whizzes by. Reece checks over his shoulders to make sure no other cars are coming up on us before opening the driver’s side and climbing out, giving the door an angry slam. I watch as he puts his hands on his hips, chomping on the mint gum he stole from my purse at our last gas stop, coming around to glare at the passenger-side tire. Then he glares at me, as though it’s my fault just by being closest. I give him my biggest sh*t-eating grin, and even through the dark lens of his aviator sunglasses, I know his eyes are narrowing. He marches toward the door, and after glancing once more at the oncoming traffic (spoiler alert, there’s none), he jerks open the door handle. “Get out.” “Why? It’s hot.” He doesn’t answer. He goes around to the trunk, and I reluctantly follow him, mostly because he turned off the car, and without the AC, it’s sweltering. Hmm. Not much better outside. And it’s humid as all heck. By the time I make it around to the trunk, I’m already sweating. Reece tosses a bag at my chest before dumping others on the dirt beside my feet. “Hey! You’re getting my stuff all dirty!” He grumbles something I can’t understand and probably don’t want to. He finally reaches the bottom of the trunk, tugging up on the nasty-looking fabric that separates the stuff in the trunk from, I dunno…car stuff. Car stuff, as it turns out, that includes a spare tire. He moves slightly to the side so I can see it better. I glance down at it, then at him. Reece gestures, as though I’m supposed to pull it out of the trunk. I blink. “You can’t be serious. You’ve forgotten how to change a flat tire?” His expression is completely emotionless. “Yes, that’s right. I took this car from being a pile of rusty metal into a running automobile to get your ass from Virginia to California, but nope…no idea how to change a flat.” I ignore his sarcasm and make a hand gesture of my own, as though to say Have at it. He doesn’t move. “Do you know how to change a flat?” I purse my lips. “Um.” Reece uses his free hand to shove the sunglasses on top of his head, fixing me with an icy blue stare. “You should learn.”

“Why? My dad gave you a Triple A card. I may not know how to change a tire, but I’m super good at making phone calls.” I give him what I know to be my prettiest smile, but he only snorts and uses a finger to flick his glasses back onto his nose. “Come on. I’ll show you.” “I hope by ‘show you,’ you mean do it yourself,” I mutter. Still, he has a point. I’m hardly a tomboy, but neither do I want to be labeled as one of those princesses scared of breaking a nail. (Real truth: if I’d had a manicure in the past two weeks, my stance right now would be different. But as it is, my nails are bare and cut short as a nod to the casual road-trip vibe, so… why the hell not?) I drop the bag I’m holding on to the ground along with the others, wrap both hands around the spare tire, and tug. It moves, but only a little. I struggle with it. Reece isn’t known for patience, and after about forty-five seconds he reaches down and hoists it out easily with one arm, giving me a waft of that hideously wonderful cologne in the process. Crap. Now I’m distracted. I’m also really sweating now, and pluck at my blouse where it sticks to my back. Reece, for his part, looks only a little bit shiny, and the look is really good on him. I want to lick. He stares at me. “Grab it, Lucy.” “Grab what?” My eyes are locked somewhere in the vicinity of his crotch, and I hear him grunt before he points toward the front of the car. “Roll the damn tire up there. I’ll bring the jack.” I giggle, because the word jack combined with the fact that I was just thinking about his… I clear my throat. Anyway. I do as he says, awkwardly straddling the tire between my legs and rolling it forward until I reach the totally deflated passenger tire. I look over. “Now what?” He drops a nasty, hundred-year-old bag thing on the ground. “There should be a flathead screwdriver in there. Use it to pry off the hubcap.” I got this. I couple minutes later, I look up victoriously, hubcap by my feet. He remains unimpressed. “Wrench,” he snaps. Wrench. I can do wrench. I helped my dad with a handful of odd jobs back in the day. I dig around until I come up with the wrench and hold it up for praise. He gives me only the slightest of nods. “Now use it to remove the lug nuts, but don’t remove them all the way.” I giggle again. I know. I know. But jack and nuts? Come on. I listen as he points out the lug nuts, then use the wrench to loosen them, trying to ignore the fact that it’s like a million degrees and the temperature only seems to be heating his

cologne to intoxicating levels. “I hate you,” I mutter, as a trickle of sweat runs between my boobs. “You’ll thank me someday.” “When? After the apocalypse when the Triple A turns into an iceberg, or something?” “I think the icebergs are melting.” “I’m melting,” I snap, throwing my weight against the wrench to loosen the last of the lug nuts, remembering his instruction to not remove them all the way yet. “I don’t suppose you want to help?” “Nah. I’m hot.” I flip him the bird, and he takes a little bit of mercy, and hunches down to squat beside me, pulling a weird-looking thing out of the bag. “This is a jack. Don’t make it juvenile.” I don’t respond. Too hot. I watch and listen as he shows me how to position it, then cranks it to lift the car a few inches. “Now you can take the lug nuts off all the way,” he says. “Oh wow. Can I?” Still, I admit there’s a weird sense of satisfaction in all of this, and I do as he instructs, noticing the way he stands back, keeping an eye on the occasional car that whizzes by. I mean, I don’t know what he’s going to do if one careens our way, but it’s nice that he cares. Sort of. Ten minutes later, the old wheel is off, spare is on, lug nuts put back in their place. Other than doing a cursory tightening of the lug nuts using his man muscles, or whatever, he lets me do the whole thing myself, and when I finally stand back up, I’m sweaty and dirty beyond belief, and no small amount of proud. Even his impassive expression can’t keep me down, and I grin up at him. To my surprise—and okay, pleasure—he smiles back. Not a grin, but a smile. It’s slight, but it’s also a little bit proud, and my heart catches in my throat as I realize how much I want to make him proud. At how much I want him to want me, not just as a piece of ass, but as someone important. Someone worthy of him. Someone worthy of his loyalty. I tug at the hem of my jean shorts and pretend to curtsy at my tire-changing performance. He’s staring at me hard, as though contemplating something. The second I straighten back up, I know exactly what he was debating. To kiss me or not to kiss me. The heels of Reece’s hands push into my ribcage as he pushes me against the car. My breath comes out in a whoosh as I collide with the hot metal of Horny, but Reece captures the gasp with his mouth. I forget all about my sweat, all about the fact that my hands are grimy, and that he was hardly a gentleman in making me change the tire myself. My hands are greedy on his shoulders, the back of his head, his waist, and his hands are equally greedy, touching me everywhere. His mouth tastes like the mint of his gum, his lips a little bit salty from the sweat.

The kiss turns fast and hungry, and also somehow a little bit sweet for all its spontaneity. We both ignore the honk of a passing car. Then another honk. It’s finally the long, irritated honk of a semi that reminds us that the side of a highway isn’t the smartest place to make out. “What was that?” I ask, slightly out of breath. His gaze drops to my swollen mouth, flicking briefly over my body, before returning to my eyes. “You want me.” I blink. “That’s what you have to say? You kissed me.” “You kissed me back.” I touch the corner of my stubble-grazed mouth and scowl at him. “So? What are you going to do about it?” Reece tiredly runs a hand over his face. “Hell if I know, Lucy. Hell if I know.”

Chapter 23 LUCY , EIGHTEEN, REECE, NINETEEN “Hold on!” Lucy called, scooping another bite of chocolate pudding from the little cup, and with the spoon still in her mouth she opened the front door. She blinked. “Reece! Um, you’re knocking now?” He smiled and shoved his hands in his pockets, looking sheepish. “Door was locked. Not used to that this time of day. Forgot my key.” “Ah,” she said, gesturing him inside. “Yeah, I lock it when I’m home alone. Rapists and murderers and whatnot.” “And yet, you opened it without knowing it was me,” he said, following her into the kitchen. She pointed her spoon at him before dipping it back into the chocolate pudding. “You bring up a good point. I’ll write that on my list of Life Tips for College.” “If you need a list to tell you not to open the door to strangers, I’m having second thoughts about letting you leave in three months.” She gave him a sunny grin as she finished the pudding cup and tossed it in the trash. Then she hoisted herself onto the kitchen island. “Lucky for me, you don’t get a say.” “Obviously. Because if I did, I’d have you enrolled at the community college down the street where I can rescue you from the trouble you’re destined for.” She reached out to kick him, and he pushed her foot aside. “You looking for Craig?” she asked. “He said he was going to run some errands, which I’m pretty sure means he’s hooking up with one of his high school girl toys.” Reece swallowed. “Yeah, I haven’t seen much of him since he got back from college for the summer.” Lucy’s heart went out to him. Reece would never admit it, but she knew he felt left behind with everyone going off to college and him staying to work at the same winery gig he’d had since high school. “Mom and Dad are at some soccer celebration dinner with Brandi, but I was going to order some pizza. You want to stay?” “Nah, I’ll let you have your space.” “I hate having space,” Lucy said. “Besides, in a few months I’ll be gone, getting into all that trouble you mentioned, and then who’s going to tell you that your shirt’s too small?” He glanced down, rubbing a self-conscious hand along the front of the tight T-shirt. “Yeah, I’ve been doing more and more heavy lifting at the vineyards lately. Probably time to get some new shirts.” She clucked her tongue. “You poor thing, struggling with all those new muscles. Have you heard from Abby since she got back for the summer? Bet she’ll be regretting that you guys

broke up when she sees you.” His surprised blue gaze came back to her. “I swear, sometimes it’s like you monitor my phone.” Lucy forced a smile. “So you have heard from her.” He lifted a disinterested shoulder. “She mentioned wanting to hang out. See how I was doing.” “And how are you doing?” Lucy said, leaning forward, letting her legs swing. “I hardly see you anymore.” Again with a shrug. “Not as much reason to come around without Craig here.” She let out a startled, hurt laugh. “Ouch.” He winced. “You know what I mean.” “Not really,” she said, eyes narrowed. “I thought we were friends too. Not best friends like you and Craig, but…I miss you.” She hadn’t meant to say it, but it was out there, and it was true. Lucy may have worked darn hard during her senior year to get over her crush on the unattainable Reece Sullivan, but every time he showed up again, her stupid heart seemed to remember that it beat too fast for him. Reece swallowed and crossed his arms, almost as though protecting himself. From what? He cleared his throat. “Congrats on graduating. Didn’t get to say so at the party with your entourage hanging around.” She laughed. “Seriously?” Reece shrugged. “The Bentley kid stayed awfully close to you.” “You know Bryan?” “Yup. He was second-string running back when I was starting.” “You forgot to beat your chest when you said that,” she teased. “And he was starter after you graduated.” She didn’t know why she was baiting Reece, but she’d swear there was a touch of jealousy beneath his frown. Or at least protectiveness. “I’m not dating him,” she said quietly. “Well, he’s interested,” he grumbled. “Maybe,” she granted. “But I’m not.” “Smart. You’re leaving in three months.” “That’s not why,” she said. His eyes narrowed for a half second, his expression going wary, even as his gaze flicked over hers, both hungrily and reluctantly. As though he didn’t want to notice her but couldn’t help himself. She felt a thrill of hope. It’s not just me. Then he relaxed his arms and nodded his head back toward the front door. “I should go.” Lucy swallowed her disappointment. What had she been expecting, that he’d walk in here

and tell her that things had changed for him too? That he was as aware of her as she was of him? She hadn’t been expecting it. But she had let herself hope, and that was just as dangerous. “Okay. See you around,” she said, forcing a smile. Reece nodded and headed toward the front door, giving her a chance to admire the way the shirt hugged his broad shoulders and narrow waist, and the way the jeans perfectly fit his perfect— He turned around before she could fully appreciate his butt. “There’s something I’ve been wondering.” “Shoot,” she said, legs continuing to swing idly, as though she didn’t have a care in the world. “Did it ever get better for you?” “Did what?” Lucy asked, not following. “Kissing.” Her legs abruptly stopped swinging. “What?” Reece walked toward her until he was just a few inches from where she sat. Her position on the counter put them at eye level, and the sheer control in the way he moved made her suddenly realize that she’d seriously be in over her head with this guy if he ever decided to make a move. “I promised you it got better after the first kiss,” he said, moving even closer, even as his gaze stayed safely locked on her collarbone. “Want to make sure I didn’t let you down.” “You didn’t let me down,” she said without thinking. His eyes flew to hers. “Meaning?” Lucy decided to go for broke. As he pointed out, she was leaving in three months. Nothing to lose. Other than her heart. “Meaning that my first kiss remains my best kiss,” she whispered. “Well that’s a shame,” he said quietly, easing forward as she spread her knees slightly to make room for him to step between them. “Because I seem to remember that wasn’t my best work.” “You angling for a do-over, Sullivan?” she teased, trying desperately to keep the girlish breathlessness out of her voice. To sound grown-up. His gaze dropped to her mouth, and Lucy swallowed. She may not have mastered the art of sounding like a grown-up just yet, but the woman in her knew that he wanted to kiss her. She held her breath. Maybe leaned forward… He stepped back, swearing softly as he rubbed his hands over his hair. “What am I doing?” she heard him mutter. Reece turned and stomped toward the front door, and Lucy all but flew off the counter, racing past him and getting between him and the front door. He got an annoyed look on his face and glared at her. “What?” “You know what,” she snapped back. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.” “I never should have started it,” he said, trying to step around her.

She stepped with him, blocking him. “What are you scared of?” He surprised her by laughing. “With you? Everything.” “Me too,” she whispered, taking a step forward. Reece tensed, but didn’t move away. “Don’t do this, Lucy.” She ignored him, and before her brain could tell her heart to get back in line, she went on her toes and kissed him. It was a soft, awkward kiss. He was way taller than she was, and though she’d gotten plenty of kissing experience over the past year or two, most of that had been guys kissing her, not the other way around. She pressed harder, her heart sinking when Reece didn’t respond. He didn’t move a single muscle as her lips moved pleadingly against his. Lucy dropped back to her heels, not sure which emotion was stronger: humiliation or devastation. She swallowed. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have—” Lucy stepped aside to flee upstairs to the safety of her bedroom, but he grabbed her, fingers wrapping around her upper arm, and dragged her against him. Reece dipped his head, hesitating for a fraction of a second before whispering, “f*ck me.” And then his mouth closed over hers, hot and possessive. Lucy gasped in surprise before opening her lips to his. Reece’s hands found her shoulders, backing her into the front door. Once she was pinned between the door and his body, his hands lifted to her hair, tangling in it and tilting her head so he could take the kiss deeper. Lucy kissed him back with everything she had, as one word looped on repeat in her head: finally.

Chapter 24

Lucy The rain is vicious against our windshield and I try not to betray my nervousness as I glance down at my phone. Reece doesn’t look away from the windshield, but his peripheral vision must notice. “Oscar again?” Ugh. Oscar. After nothing for days, Oscar’s apparently realized he acted like a tool and wants me back. I’m inclined to think the other girl realized he was a piece of crap and walked away. Had the guy chased after me then, I still wouldn’t have taken him back, but the fact that he waited for days? Pass. Reece had finally caved, asked why my phone was blowing up, but after I told him, had merely muttered “That f*cker,” and not mentioned it again. “Nah. I blocked him,” I say tapping my nails against the screen. Reece whistles. “Damn. Cutthroat. You block me back then?” “Didn’t have to. You didn’t exactly chase me down.” He doesn’t deny it, and we fall back into tense silence as the rain pounds harder. It’s been like this ever since our kiss, both of us lost in thought as we made our way to our next stop, retreating to our respective motel rooms. I spent the evening watching a weird documentary on the chocolate-making process, followed by Armageddon (classic), and talking myself into not knocking on Reece’s door like I wanted to. The tension eased slightly when we met up for breakfast this morning, both of us committed to making polite small talk, but I think we both prefer the silence. I look at my phone as it buzzes once more. “It’s my mom again,” I say with a sigh. “Says there’s a bunch of severe weather warnings coming our way.” He laughs softly. “What, did she put a GPS tracker on Horny?” “Nah, but you know Delia. Demands regular check-ins, knowing where we are, what we’re doing, who’s driving, how fast they’re driving.” “The speed limit. Always.” I snort. The only attention Reece seems to pay to the speed limit is to go at least ten over. Not so much now, however. What should have been an easy drive is anything but. The rain’s been constant, and just when I think it can’t possibly come down any harder, it does. I suck in my breath as we pass a semi, its giant tires kicking up a deluge of water onto the windshield that temporarily puts our visibility at zero.

I give a nervous look at Reece, and though he doesn’t say a word, his knuckles seem to be a little bit white on the steering wheel. We finally creep past the semi, and the visibility improves, but only slightly. There’s still nothing but a blur on the windshield, and though I’ve never really considered myself the anxious sort, I finally acknowledge what’s been looming for the past hour. “I’m kind of freaking out here,” I tell Reece. “Can we pull over? Wait the rain out a bit?” He doesn’t answer right away, but either he hears the nervousness in my voice or he too wants a break from the doomsday weather, because he slowly makes his way over to the right lane, and then onto the nearest off-ramp. I’m thinking maybe we kill time at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, but Reece surprises me by pulling into the parking lot of a non-chain, a little roadside diner that looks like it used to be adorable and is now simply tired. I look toward the backseat and purse my lips as I realize I have absolutely no clue which box my umbrella might be in. Or if it even made the trip. Some of my stuff my parents will be shipping later. Reece reaches behind my seat, pulling his jacket out. “Put this over your head.” I take it as he shoves it at my chest. “But it’s leather.” “You’re sh*tting me. It is?” I roll my eyes at the sarcasm. “You love this thing. I’m not going to use it as an umbrella.” Reece shrugs. “Suit yourself.” Without another word, he shoves open his door and steps into the pounding rain wearing only a T-shirt and jeans. The door slams on my protest, and I scramble after him, hesitating only briefly before holding his jacket over my head and dashing across the parking lot after him. Holy frick, I’ve never in my life seen rain like this. Thunder cracks loud and angry just as I catch up to Reece. He opens the door for me, and I dash inside before pulling his coat from over my head. I start to hand it to him, then burst out laughing when I see him. He’s drenched. Water’s running down his face, his shirt has gone from perfectly dry to all the way wet in the fifteen seconds it took him to get from the car to the diner. Before I can consider my actions, I run a hand over his short hair, laughing more as water sprays everywhere. “You’re soaked,” I say, my hand already going to pluck at the shirt at his shoulder, wanting to see if it’s as wet as it looks. His fingers wrap around my wrist, yanking my hand away before I can touch him. My laughter dies as I meet his eyes: they’re blue and blazing. “I can play nice for the next week until we get to California, but not when you touch me.” I tug my hand back. “Really. Then what was that yesterday when you were all over me? Or the night before that on the dance floor?” His eyes cool. “Mistakes.” I open my mouth to fire back that they didn’t feel like mistakes, but luckily I’m saved from

uttering that stupid statement by the approach of a tired but friendly-looking waitress. “This is a seat-yourself joint, kids. Wherever you like.” Reece nods in thanks and claims a nearby booth without looking at me. I slide onto the cracked vinyl bench across from him, stubbornly ignoring the way his shirt clings to his pecs. He wants no touching. Fine. I’ll raise him one. No looking either. I’m not even going to be aware of him. Only, that doesn’t seem to be going both ways, because I suddenly realize he’s very aware of me and my wet shirt. The jacket covered my head, but with the rain coming down hard every which way, my tank top got a bit…clingy. Unable to resist, I arch my back oh so slightly under the guise of stretching after a long day in the car. I think I hear him groan softly before he picks up the menu the waitress has set down. “Can I get you kids something to drink?” I smile, because she looks to be about a hundred, and we probably do seem like kids to her. “Diet co*ke, please.” “Regular co*ke for me,” Reece says, flashing her a friendly smile. “I like the real stuff.” I blink a little. When was the last time I saw him smile like that? Wide and unabashed, maybe a little flirtatious? I mean, he flirts with me, but there’s always an edge, as though we’re engaged in a battle of wills at the same time. The waitress slaps his arm. “Save it for the pretty girl. I’m old enough to know better about boys that look like you.” It’s my turn to smile up at her. “Well, Darla,” I say, after a quick glance at her name tag. “Wish I’d met you a few years ago, so I’d have known that this one came with a warning label.” “Don’t mind her,” Reece says in a bored tone, turning his attention back to the menu. “Just make sure to double her order. Half for her, half for the baggage she insists on carrying around.” Darla moves away with a clicking of her tongue, and I kick Reece under the table. “Really?” He lowers the menu only slightly to meet my eyes. “Any chance we can have this meal in silence?” In response I reach out, shove the menu onto the table so I can see his face, ignoring his sigh. “Yes, Lucy?” he asks with exaggerated patience. I fold my hands. “Thank you for driving today.” Reece’s head tilts back, looking at the peeling ceiling in exasperation. “This, after days of you bitching about me not letting you drive?” I look out the window at the angry rain. “I didn’t want to drive in that.” His gaze follows mine. “It is crazy. Since your mom’s taking up meteorology while we’re on this road trip, did she tell you when it was supposed to let up?” “Nope, but she did order me to download no fewer than five weather apps on my phone,” I say, picking up the iPhone and clicking on one of them.

“What?” Reece asks when I frown. I turn my screen around so he can see what I’m looking at. The app’s zeroed in on our location, and there are two red exclamation points and one orange one. “What are we dealing with?” he asks. “Locusts? Famine?” “Severe thunderstorm, flash floods and…oh this is nice. Tornado warning,” I read. “sh*t,” he mutters, picking up his menu again. Darla comes back with our sodas, and I order a grilled cheese with bacon, while Reece gets a burger. “What’s the verdict on the weather?” I ask Darla, as she scribbles our orders. “Going to let up?” She looks out the window, tapping her pen. “Where you kids headed?” “Kansas City.” She purses her lips. “Wouldn’t do it. Wouldn’t advise my kids to do it, not my grandkids either. Been like this since last night, river’s high, freeway’s flooded in a couple spots.” Darla shrugs, then shuffles away in her bright white tennis shoes, already hollering our order toward the kitchen. “Well that’s encouraging,” I say. “It’s just rain,” Reece says. The weather gods disagree, and the entire diner lights up with a flash of lightning followed by a clap of thunder that sounds like it’s right on top of us. The rain pounds even harder against the window. I reach for my straw, tapping it against the table to poke it through the wrapper before plunging it into my soda. “So you never did tell me. You ever talk to Abby?” Reece’s co*ke stops halfway to his mouth. “Seriously? Now? Here?” I bite my lip and fidget with the wrapper. “Guess it’s been on my mind. Because of Oscar,” I clarify quickly, lest he guess I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s kiss on the highway over and over and over. He narrows his eyes, and I know he has zero intention of answering my question. I can see it in the stubborn set of his jaw, even before he snaps back. “That’s no longer your business.” “How can you say that?” I ask. “Considering she’s the cause of us breaking up.” “Bullsh*t,” he snaps, before lowering his voice and leaning forward. “You’re the reason we… broke up. sh*t, were we even dating?” I lean forward. “I sure as hell thought so when I handed over my V card.” His eyes narrow. “You act like you handed it over easily. Like it didn’t take me all goddamn summer to get into your pants.” I smile slowly, because though his words are cruel, his eyes are warm, and I happen to know that those months of foreplay were very enjoyable. For both of us. “So you remember.” His eyes go dark. “Hell yeah, I remember. Every damned thing. The way you kiss, the way you taste, the sounds you make. I remember the look in your eyes the first time I nudged inside you, surprise and excitement, and…”

I swallow dryly. “And what?” Reece shakes his head. “Nothing.” It’s not nothing. I know exactly what he saw in my eyes that night. Love. But he doesn’t say it, and I sure as hell am not about to. Darla brings out our food, and the rest of our meal is mostly silent, both of us lost in thought, or memories, or in my case…jealousy. In high school, there was only ever one person who caused a ripple in our friendship and that was Abby. They dated for two years, and I was always aware that she had everything I didn’t. The prom picture. The holding hands. The football games. She was the girlfriend, and she was also very careful to keep me in my “kid sister” role. Abby made a big deal about being cool with my and Reece’s relationship, but always in a slightly condescending way, as though wanting to remind him that I was practically his sibling. Best day of my life was learning they broke up when she went off to college. No, that’s not true. Best day of my life was when Reece kissed me for real. But the worst day of my life was when I realized that though he might be sleeping with me, his heart was still with her—with the high school sweetheart who went away to college only to come running back to his open arms, while I, the pathetic, adoring rebound, looked on. Literally looked on. “Lucy.” I look up when I see Reece watching me, and even though he looks guarded and frustrated there’s something else there too. Something vulnerable, even a little tender. Then he shuts it down. “Never mind.” He nods at my mostly empty plate. “You done?” I nod. Reece pulls out his wallet, throws a couple bills down, and scoots out of the booth, heading toward the front door. “We can split it,” I say, grabbing my purse and his jacket, and chasing after him. He doesn’t bother to respond, and I nearly slam into his back as I follow him into the storm. I see immediately why he’s come to a halt, understand exactly why he’s swearing under his breath. The parking lot is a swimming pool. “Holy crap,” I yell over the whining wind, lifting my hands to shield my eyes so I can look toward Horny. The water’s more than halfway up the tires. “What happened?” “Guess they weren’t dicking around with the flash flood warning,” he replies. I glance up at him. “What now? We can’t drive in this. And Darla said the freeway was flooded too.” Reece scans the parking lot before pointing to our right. It takes me a second to realize what I’m looking at. Dim neon lights read Motel, except with the t burned out. Even through the fierce rainstorm I can tell that the motel hasn’t seen a

single upgrade since the Reagan administration. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Reece grins at me, looking deliciously boyish, and yet the way the shirt’s plastered to his torso all over again is solidly man. “Yup. We’re staying at Moel.” With that, he grabs my hand, pulling me toward the car so we can get our stuff, and I squeal in horror as I follow him through water coming all the way over my ankles. Apparently wherever we are has seriously crappy drainage. “We can’t stay at that gross place,” I call after him, trudging toward the car. He glances back, happy smile still in place, as though he’s enjoying this. “Scared?” “Um, yes. Of herpes. Mold. Bedbugs.” Reece laughs low and loud as he pulls the keys out of his soaking jeans and pops the trunk. As I stare at his happy profile, it hits me that the thing I should really be scared of is standing right in front of me: the boy who once broke my heart, and who I’m terrified will soon have the power to do it all over again.

Chapter 25

Reece To the surprise of no one, the motel has plenty of rooms available. No need for us to share a room. I tell myself I’m relieved. Relieved that there will be a wall and two doors separating me from the soaking wet, laughing Lucy. How long since I’ve seen her like this, I wonder, as we dash from the check-in desk to our rooms. How long since I’ve been like this? Light, and carefree and…happy? Not since my dad got sick, certainly. Maybe not even since I’d locked eyes with a heartbroken Lucy over the blond head of Abby Mancuso and known that my life would never be the same, that I would never again feel as happy as I had that summer when Lucy had looked at me like I was the light of her life—like I was worthy. But I’m feeling something close now. Got a glimpse of what my life could have been like when I stupidly kissed her on the side of the freeway yesterday like a guy who couldn’t help himself. Because I couldn’t. Nothing could have stopped me from kissing Lucy at that moment, her looking all proud and victorious and sweaty, and mine. Yesterday, she’d been dangerous to me, and the situation’s only getting worse. More intense. I know it feels like hippie horsesh*t, but I have the weirdest sense that this apocalyptic rain is somehow cleansing. Like, it’s washing away the crap of the past few years, clearing away the memories that haunt us both. The motel’s parking lot isn’t nearly as flooded as the diner’s, but it doesn’t really matter. We’re soaked through, my leather jacket probably ruined, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything but the fact that we’re both smiling, and maybe a little about the fact that Lucy’s green tank top is plastered against her body, revealing the outline of her bra, and if I stare hard enough, the outline of her nipples. We’re trudging across the parking lot, nearly to the rooms, when Lucy’s foot hits a slick patch of mud. She’s headed toward falling on her ass, but I catch her just in time, pulling her full against me. With wet bags sandwiched uncomfortably between us, both of us cold and shivering, the moment shouldn’t be sexy. But when she lifts her eyes to mine, framed by the wet spikes of her long lashes, her eyes

dark and smoky, partially from her smeared makeup, partially from the heat between us… Damn but I want her. Always her. Maybe only her. I drop my eyes to her mouth, lowering my head slightly, slowly. I’m giving her time to move away, bracing myself for rejection. And it’s a good thing too, because she pulls away, just a little, but it’s enough. Enough to tell me to back off. Apparently the healing power of this plague rain can wash away some of the bad blood between us, but not all of it. I reach for her bag, slinging it over my free shoulder, hoping she’ll think that was my plan all along. That I’m not obsessed with tasting her again, finding out if her mouth is as perfect against mine now as it was yesterday. The wind has picked up, and I remember the tornado warning. I nod for her to continue toward the rooms, not that this ramshackle building provides any kind of protection if the weather decides to go all Wizard of Oz on us. Despite the fact that the motel is a million years old, they’ve surprised me by having upgraded to plastic key cards instead of old-school keys, and Lucy laughs as her slick fingers fumble hers to the ground. As has become our habit, I wait to see her into her room before going into mine, and with her turned away from me, I let myself take in the slim line of her back, the curve of her ass beneath the jean shorts… “I can’t wait to see what sort of paradise awaits,” she says as she slips the key into her door. The light flicks green, and Lucy twists the door handle to push it open…. The door doesn’t open, and we both stare down at the cheap doorknob that now sits uselessly in Lucy’s hand, no longer attached to the door. “Well then,” she says. “Can’t say I didn’t see that coming.” She laughs again, turning and looking back toward me, her smile still happy in spite of the weather. “You can just drop my bag here. I’ll run back to the front desk, see if they have another room open.” I’m about to tell her to forget it—that I’ll go, when I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn to my right, see that the man staying in Room 9 has come to see his new neighbors, and the dude is… Creepy as f*ck. Wispy gray hair, faded wife-beater, ugly khakis, and eyes that fall onto the crazy side of weirdo. Eyes that don’t even see me, because they’re locked onto Lucy. Oh, hell no. I’m not sending her back into the storm to get a new key, and I’m sure as hell not leaving her here alone. But both of us going to get a new room seems stupid, especially since no way am I letting her out of my sight with this guy lurking about and her only protection a flimsy

door. She shifts uneasily under the guy’s scrutiny. f*ck it. I drop a possessive hand low on her waist, pulling her toward my door, shifting so that I mostly block the guy’s view of her, giving him a fierce Get back in your room look. He finally seems to register my presence, his expression borderline sulky as he slinks back into his own room. I see the curtains of the windows move, and glance down at Lucy, smiling when she mouths creeper. I open the door and we both wince. We’ve stayed in some pretty sh*tty motel rooms so far, but this one takes the cake. “At least it doesn’t smell?” Lucy says, as I shut the door and use the dinky chain to lock the door. I toss both our bags on the bed, wincing when it sags more than it should. Maybe sleeping on the floor will be a blessing. Then I glance at the carpet, noting the iffy stains. Or not. Lucy unzips her bag, plucking at her tank top with two fingers, and I grind my teeth not to notice the way it clings. “How good does a hot shower and dry clothes sound right now?” Right now I’m a lot more intrigued by Lucy in the shower than I am dry clothes. My mind flashes to the thought of us showering. Together. Me crowding her against the wall, my hands all over her soapy body, my lips on her neck as she tips her head back, moaning with pleasure. God, I love the way she used to moan. “I’ll go see about getting us another room,” I say in a low voice. She spins around. “Oh, don’t leave me. That guy next door…” “Has the muscle definition of a four-year-old. Flimsy as that lock is, he’s not getting through.” “Please. Stay.” I meet her eyes. “I can’t stay here in this room with you, Lucy. Not with one bed. Way too much temptation.” She cups her elbows with her palms and seems to curl into herself. “Temptation because it’s me, or just because it’s been a while since you’ve gotten laid?” My temper surges. “I’m not an animal. I don’t run after anything with tit*.” Lucy says nothing, and that pisses me off further, and I take a step closer. “That’s what you think, isn’t it? That I don’t have an ounce of decency, that I’ll get my rocks off with anyone who offers.” “Not just anyone,” she says in a small voice. She doesn’t say anything more, but I know exactly what she isn’t saying, and complete the sentence for her. “Just Abby Mancuso. Is that it? Jesus Christ, would you let that go? I’m not still hung up on my high school girlfriend.”

She doesn’t meet my eyes, and now I’m pissed. I swipe a hand over my face, ignoring the fact that I flick water all over the place. What we both need is a towel to dry off, some distance both from the happiness of five minutes ago, and the anger of now. It keeps happening this way with us, and I’m damn sick of it. Push pull, flirt fight, laugh… And now this. Whatever this is. Another fight, I suppose, but I just, I don’t… “I’m so sick of this, Lucy. We can’t keep doing this.” “Then you shouldn’t have agreed to the road trip!” I step closer. “Don’t put this all on me.” “But it is all on you!” “How the f*ck do you figure that?” “You ruined us. We had something perfect, and you ruined it.” Fine. She wants to have this out, let’s f*cking do it. I move even closer to her until we’re toe-to-toe, face-to-face. “No, you ruined it. You left. I was your summer fling before your real life began. You always made that perfectly clear.” Her head tilts up to mine, her mouth parts in surprise, and I wonder…have I never said it? Have I never told her how much it hurt to have her disappear from my life? I tell her now. “You were my everything, you were the one thing in my life that kept me centered, and you only ever talked about leaving.” “Abby was your center,” she whispers. “She was your girlfriend for two years, and—” “Stop.” My hand lifts, my thumb brushing the dampness from her cheek, not sure if it’s rain or tears. “She was my girlfriend, not my best friend.” She swallows. “That was Craig.” I laugh, and drop my hand. “Jesus, you’re stubborn. You refuse to acknowledge that you mattered?” “Reece.” I turn away and go to the door. “I’m going to get my own room. Lock the door behind me.” “Reece!” I don’t turn back. I’m going in circles with this girl, and it has to stop. She’s right. I shouldn’t have agreed to the road trip. Hell, I shouldn’t even have entered her orbit. She ruins everything. She ruins me. “Reece!” I’m halfway across the parking lot, and I barely hear her over the still-thundering rain, but now I do turn back. “Damn it, Lucy, get back—” She apparently didn’t expect me to stop, because her body slams into mine, our breath whooshing out, although I think it’s more from the proximity than it is the collision. “I really mattered?” she asks, breathing hard and looking up at me. It’s on the tip of my tongue to punish her. To say yes, she mattered, but to emphasize the past tense. She mattered once. No longer.

But damn it. She does matter. Present tense. I don’t have the words. I’ve never had the words to tell her how I felt about her back then, and I don’t have them now. Hell, I’m not even sure I know how I feel about her right now. She’s stubborn and provocative and infuriating, and… f*ck it. I plunge a hand into her hair and pull her face up to mine so that my mouth can claim hers. I groan the second our lips touch, and my fingers flex slightly in her damp hair when I feel her stiffen. Don’t. Don’t pull away. Then Lucy’s lips soften beneath mine, leaning into the kiss as her arms wind around my neck. I tell myself to keep it casual, to not devour her in the middle of a parking lot during a summer thunderstorm from hell, but restraint’s never really been my thing, especially not with Lucy Hawkins. Her kiss is both sweet and dangerous, both teasing and passionate, and lest she get confused about who’s driving this kiss, I slide my hand down slightly, gripping the back of her neck as my other arm wraps around her, dragging her all the way against me. I nudge her lips apart and she lets me in with a soft gasp. Mine. Always mine. Lightning flashes, thunder barks, and the wind rips the rain viciously against us, but I don’t notice. I’m not aware of anything but her and her warmth. Lucy’s nails claw at my head, my neck, and each nip of pain is the perfect counterpoint to the softness of her mouth. I was right. Nobody tastes like Lucy, no girl’s soft moans have ever got me at the gut level like hers have. If only she’d given me a chance all those years ago, if only she’d stayed— I tear my mouth away, pushing her back none-too-gently. She stumbles a little, and I reach out a hand to steady her, but she finds herself quickly and shakes me off. “Regrets already, Sullivan?” Her tone is snide, and I blink through the sheet of rain. Just like that we’re fighting again. She opens her mouth, and I hold up a hand. “Don’t. If you’re going to say something about other women, or f*cking Abby, just save it. You think whatever you want about me, but I’m done pretending that your opinion matters.” Without another word, I walk away. Let her see how she likes it. I get the key to another room, one door down from Lucy’s original room. When I get back, my bag’s outside the door. I glance toward the door where the creeper is staying, then rap an impatient knuckle against her door. “Lucy. This door locked? I know you’re mad, but don’t forget the creepy neighbor.” There’s no answer, but a second later my phone buzzes. Yes. And for what it’s worth, I’d rather deal with HIM than YOU. I roll my eyes and pick up my bag. I see we’re reaching new heights of maturity today.

I go into my room, which is every bit as gross as the one she’s staying in. I lie on the bed, but I keep jumping off the mattress with every thump, every creak, looking outside every half hour to make sure the creeper keeps his distance from Lucy. In between these bouts of protecting her, the kiss plays on repeat in my head like a movie, and even when I drift off to sleep, she’s waiting there too, consuming my dreams. That’s no surprise though. Lucy Hawkins has been doing that for years.

Chapter 26

Lucy My scribbling in my travel journal is so ferocious that my pen tears the page. I heave out a sigh, breathing hard as I look down at the torn paper, my usually friendly, looping handwriting all hard and slashy, as I rant about how Reece keeps proving again and again that he’s not long-term material. He’s the sort of guy you chase in the rain for a hot kiss, not the sort of guy you walk down the aisle toward. A summer fling? That’s what he thought he was? I was thinking of marrying the idiot, and he thought it was just a summer fling? I can’t even. I attack the page with the pen again, ranting on and on about how he wasn’t a summer fling then, but that’s all he is now. A hot guy who’s got nothing going for him other than the fact that he kisses really, really well… I groan in frustration and toss the notebook aside. I can’t remember the last time I felt so… mad. Mad at the way Reece makes me feel. Hopeful and wary and hot, all at the same time. I can still taste his kiss, but my entire body’s on edge with want. I just can’t decide if it’s the want to be naked beneath him, or to shove him into traffic. My head snaps up as I hear a knock on the door. My heart pounds, and I’m not sure if it’s out of fear that it’s the weird dude next door or if it’s Reece. I swallow. “Yeah?” I call. Nothing. I swing my legs off the bed, walk to the door, and look out the peephole. Reece. His arms are crossed, his shoulders tense, as he glares at my door. He’s breathing hard, and my stupid brain wonders if he’s maybe a little sweaty beneath the shirt. Wonder if his back would be slick against my palms, his chest damp as he presses me down on the bed, skin to skin… I rest my forehead on the door, tapping it lightly against the wood. Damn it, Lucy. Learn your lesson already. “Open the door.” His voice is quiet and commanding, and even as I open my mouth to tell him to screw off, my hand finds the chain lock.

A second later, there’s no door between us. Nothing but tension and want separating our yearning bodies. He steps closer. “Damn it, Lucy,” he says gruffly, stopping a foot away from me. Close enough to feel his body heat, but not as close as I want. Need. “Why are you always mad at me,” I whisper. “I can’t do anything right.” “Mad,” he says with a laugh. “That’s what you think this is?” Reece reaches out a hand, slips it into my hair, palming my head as he tilts my face up. “I’m not mad.” I open my mouth, to say…I don’t even know what. Instead, I shake my head. We can’t do this—we shouldn’t do this. Reece’s fingers tighten. “Tell me, Lucy.” It’s a command. “Tell you what?” I ask, giving in to the heat of his gaze and everything it promises. “That you want this. That you want me.” His words are gruff, but his eyes are vulnerable and it nearly destroys me. The part of my heart that’s always been his opens just the tiniest bit. I meet his eyes. “I want this. I want you.” His eyes flash in victory, and his other arm wraps around me at the exact moment his mouth takes mine.

Chapter 27

Reece I’m no philosopher, but if my twenty-five years have taught me anything it’s that every guy hits a crossroads. That proverbial fork in the road. For me, the moment was when I’d looked down into the eyes of the girl who’d been my everything for ten years, knowing that kissing her would mean losing her. Of thinking that having her once would be less painful than having only a little bit of her forever. I was nineteen and dumb. And wrong. Dead wrong, about having her once being enough to buffer the pain of having her walk out of my life. Just a week ago, I would have sworn that I learned my lesson. And yet here I am, in a sh*tty motel in the middle of nowhere, making the whole mistake all over again. Trouble is? None of this feels like a mistake. Not the way her tongue shyly brushes against mine as her hands settle on my waist, tentative at first, then her fingers clenching the fabric in greedy handfuls, tugging me closer. She’s too late though. I’m already closer, one arm wrapped around her back, plastering her body to mine, seeming to promise that if I can just bring her near enough, she won’t be able to leave me lonely again. Just like with that kiss in the rain, her mouth is perfect. Familiar and new all at the same time. A part of me’s terrified kissing Lucy will always be this way—that strange sense of coming home for the first time, every time. When I’d knocked on her door, I’d intended only this. Just the kiss to punish her for being so damn gorgeous. Then Lucy’s nails dig into my sides, the shyness in her kiss replaced by a hunger to match my own, and I know I have a choice. Another crossroads. I can pull away now, save us both from the agony of tomorrow, or… Or, I can shut the door behind us, and give in to the ecstasy of tonight, tomorrow be damned. Lucy pulls away slightly, her lips grazing the underside of my jaw. Then her hips move against mine, not a lot, but just enough for her to know that I’m hard, and me to know that she wants this every bit as much as I do. Sorry, tomorrow. I need tonight too damned badly.

Chapter 28 LUCY , EIGHTEEN, REECE, NINETEEN Lucy’s hands trembled as they came up to frame Reece’s face above hers. “Why’d you stop?” Reece’s blue eyes blazed down into hers. “We shouldn’t do this, Lucy.” Her stomach flipped, the hurt tearing through her. “You’re telling me that now.” “Shh, no,” he whispered, silencing her with a kiss. “That’s not what I meant. I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything. But like this? You deserve more….” Lucy bit her lips and parted her legs further, feeling the hard press of his erection against her naked body. “I have everything I want.” “Oh God,” he whispered, face dropping to her neck. “I can’t…I can’t resist you.” “So don’t,” she whispered. He kissed the column of her throat before lifting his head again, searching her face. “You’re sure? I need you to be sure, Lucy. All the way.” She met his gaze boldly, the nervousness of her first time edged out by the rightness of doing it with Reece. “You brought a condom, right?” Reece blew out a breath, then kissed her soft and deep before reaching down to his discarded jeans beside her bed. A moment later, she heard the tear of a wrapper, and she squeezed her eyes shut. “Hey,” he whispered, palms cupping her head as he waited for her to open her eyes. “You are the best thing to ever happen to me. You know that, right?” Lucy nodded, telling him with her eyes that he was the best thing that ever happened to her too, even as they both avoided the heartache that lay just a couple weeks away. When she would go away to college, leaving him behind, and there’d be none of this intimacy, no more of him sneaking into her bedroom. Tell him how you feel. Ask him to wait. Ask him to come with you. Tell him you love him enough to find a way to make this work. Lucy reached up, gripping his wrists. “Reece. Reece, I need to tell you. I think I—” His eyes flickered in panic. “Don’t, Lucy. Don’t think.” She knew what he was really saying. Don’t say it. Don’t tell me you love me. Her heart ached for the broken boy in him that hadn’t heard it nearly enough. But she could wait to say the words until he was ready. She’d waited for years. So instead of telling him the words of her heart, she smiled slow and hopefully sultry, tilting her hips up. “Please. Now.” Reece never broke eye contact as he nudged inside her, slow at first, giving her body time to adjust.

It hurt. She’d known it would hurt. But it was also perfect. And when finally he was inside her all the way, his body joined with hers, his eyes flashed in vulnerability, and her heart soared because she knew what he was feeling, even if he didn’t yet understand. It was written all over Reece Sullivan’s face: he loved her too.

Chapter 29

Lucy Reece releases me with one hand, his other reaching out behind him and closing the motel room door with a firm, decisive slam. The sound rolls through me. I know I’ve got exactly three seconds to come to my senses— to focus on the fact that once we see each other naked, tomorrow’s car ride is going to be excruciating. But then he kisses me again, swinging me around so I’m sandwiched between his hard body and the hard wall. His mouth is hot and possessive, and I’m lost. I want this. I want the second time with Reece that I should have had six years ago. I want—no, I need—to prove to myself that the perfection of that long-ago time was due to girlish romanticism. That he wasn’t actually that much better than every guy since. Reece’s hand slides down over my butt, down behind my thigh, lifting it so he can move between my spread thighs, and I moan. Suddenly not at all sure that my plan won’t backfire in a big way—that Reece won’t prove that he’s not only as good as I remember…but better. He pulls back slightly, his eyes dark and stormy as he slowly lifts his eyebrows. His expression holds both a dare and a promise. “Last chance.” I reach up, my hand sliding around his neck and pulling his mouth down to mine and kissing him with all the want and heartache of the past few years. Thunder crashes, and it occurs to me that although the weather couldn’t be worse, the motel room couldn’t be grosser, the moment’s pretty darn close to perfect. It’s only us, and a bed and a boatload of bittersweet memories. He kisses me on and on, and slowly I feel my doubts disappear. I let myself believe, just for a second, that he wants me the way I want him. Reece cups my face as he steps even closer, his kiss fierce and hungry. I kiss him back, my hands everywhere. He’s bigger than I remember, his shoulders broad and hard. He’s still lean but with the hardened shape of a man instead of the lithe frame of a boy. My hands slip under his shirt, and the second my fingers touch hot skin, I hate every other girl who’s touched him here, loathe every woman who’s known him like this. He doesn’t let my mind linger there though. His mouth leaves no room for regrets as his tongue tangles wickedly with mine, making dirty promises about what’s to come. My fingers pull at his damp shirt, wanting it off. Reece steps back and gives me a slight smile before reaching behind his head and grabbing a fistful of the T-shirt, jerking it over his head and tossing it aside.

His cologne is even more potent now, drowning my senses. At least, I tell myself it’s the cologne. I’m half-terrified that it’s essence of Reece that’s making it impossible for me to think. I expect him to tug my shirt up over my head, but instead he bends his head toward me, kissing me again, softly this time. His lips brush teasingly over mine, his mouth sweet and coaxing. Like it was back then. “You don’t have to be gentle with me,” I whisper against his mouth. “I’m not a virgin anymore.” He lets out a startled laugh. “I know. I was there.” I nearly smile at the memory, but something else is creeping in around my heated lust… fear. Fear that by repeating the magic of that one night, I’ll be setting myself up for the pain that followed. His smile slips away as he searches my face. “You always deserve gentle, Lucy.” I hear the question there, and the promise. Were the other guys gentle? I’ll kill them if not. I don’t know how to tell him that it’s not about gentle or rough; it’s about the guy. It’s all about that elusive connection between two people that takes sex from being okay to epic. And it’s not that I don’t like the slow buildup of dreamy, romantic sex. It’s that I can’t handle it. Not tonight. Not with Reece. So I don’t tell him anything. I show him. I show him what I want. A hard, hot coupling to scratch the itch. Something rough and impersonal that will leave our hearts intact at the end. Reece is startled at first when I launch myself at him. I can feel it in the way he tenses against me, the way he hesitates just a second before returning my desperate kiss. It’s not until I rake my nails down the center of his chest that he gives me what I want, his mouth slamming down hard on mine, taking control. His arms wrap around me, his hands possessive as he cups my butt, pulling me tighter to him as he tilts his head and deepens the kiss. I nip his lip and he growls, nudging my head back so his mouth can devour my neck, his hands slipping down under my dress, his fingertips tracing teasingly along the line of my underwear. “You want this?” he asks, his breath hot against my neck. “You want my hands all over you?” I’m breathing too hard to speak, but I manage to nod and he rewards me by slowly pulling the dress over my head. It catches on my earring, and I let out a panicked squeak. Reece stills, and the gentle way his fingers carefully untangle the fabric from the small silver hoop contradicts the ferocity of the moment before, showing a different side of him—a different side of us—that nearly undoes me. Then the dress is gone, and his hands are back on me, his palms gliding along my sides before he lifts them to my breasts. My bra is light blue and plain, hardly the lingerie I’d have picked if I’d known the evening was going to go here, but Reece doesn’t seem to mind or even notice. The bra is gone before I can give it another thought.

Reece’s gaze locks on mine at the exact moment the rough pads of his thumbs brush over my nipples. I gasp with pleasure, and his teeth flash in a wolfish smile before capturing my mouth once more, kissing me thoroughly as his fingers relearn the shape of me. “You’re just like I remember,” he whispers softly against my mouth. “Better.” He dips his head, his tongue flicking playfully across the tip of one breast before he wraps his mouth around my nipple, sucking hard. My hands are on his shoulders, holding on for balance as his wet mouth shifts back and forth between my breasts. It’s delicious torture. My hands run down his chest until they find the waistband of his pants. I get the button undone, but he grabs my wrists before my fingers find the zipper, wrapping his hand around both my wrists and easily maneuvering me to the bed. I’m still in my high heels, and I sit on the edge of the bed, trying to tug my hands free so that I can remove them, but he doesn’t relent. I scowl up at him, and his grin is playful. He releases me, but points a warning finger in my face. “Stay.” The bossy command should piss me off, but instead I’m turned on, so I do as he says, sitting still as he lowers himself to his knees before me. His mouth finds the inside of my knee, kissing it softly as he removes one shoe. He repeats the process on the other side. I think I feel him whisper my name against my skin, and my eyes close. Hands glide up my outer thighs, and my eyes fly open when I feel his fingers hook into the waistband of my underwear. His gaze holds mine as he drags the embarrassingly girlish polka-dot panties back down over my legs, my face burning with embarrassment as I remember they’re not quite so different from the underwear I wore the night I gave him everything. I’ve never really given much thought to the fact that I seem to gravitate toward polka-dot panties, but it’s not how I wanted him to see me if he ever did for the second time. I wanted to be in black satin or, or pink lace, or something to make him see that I’m not the same idiotic girl who— I gasp as Reece’s head moves between my legs, the sweet swipe of his tongue banishing all insecurities. Falling back on the bed, my hands come down to his head, wishing his hair was longer so I could tangle my fingers in it, hold him close. Not that I need to—he’s not going anywhere. He’s unapologetic in his tasting of me, his hands going to my thighs, spreading me wide as he alternates between long licks, soft kisses, and searing sucks. My body is tightening, my entire awareness zeroing in on the center of my body at the exact spot where his tongue moves in relentless circles. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I’ve never felt anything like this before, never been so desperate for release and terrified that I won’t survive it. “Reece—” He slides a finger inside me at the exact moment his tongue speeds up, and I shatter beneath him, hips bucking as I claw at the bedding in a futile attempt to grind myself against the almost unbearable shudders of pleasure.

I open my eyes just as Reece pulls away, standing and kicking off his shoes and pants before stepping between my legs once more, this time beautifully naked and hugely Reece. I try to sit up, but he quietly shakes his head, nodding for me to back up toward the center of the bed. When I obey, he crawls over me and takes my mouth in an open-mouthed kiss, unapologetic about the fact that I can taste myself on his lips. I place both hands on his chest, pushing him back slightly. “That was…” He lifts his eyebrows, and I realize I don’t want to answer. “Lucy?” he prods. I swallow. “I was going to say it was better than before, but I find I don’t like thinking about where you got all the practice.” His expression clouds, and he starts to pull away, but my arms wrap around him. “I’m sorry I’m jealous, I’m sorry I was wearing stupid polka-dot panties.” He frowns and he lowers to me once more, framing my face with his hands. “Shove your apologies, Hawkins. I like that you’re jealous. And those damn panties have been making appearances in my daydreams for years. Only fair I got to see them in person one more time. I like them.” I laugh and try to buck him off. “You’re such a liar. You do not.” He doesn’t let me go, instead moving his lower body so that he nudges against me. “Does this feel like I’m a liar? Does this feel like a man who doesn’t adore every damn thing about you?” My eyes go wide at the unexpected sweetness of his words. I search his face, but he doesn’t meet my eyes, instead going to nuzzle my neck. “Do I need a condom?” he asks gruffly, circling his hips again so that the velvety tip of him nudges my soft folds. “I’m on the pill. And I just had a doctor’s appointment before I left.” He lifts his head, elbows on either side of my head as he stares down at me with glowing blue eyes. “Same.” “You’re on the pill too?” Reece laughs and I laugh back, loving the sound of it, but I love even more the way he captures my laugh with his mouth at the precise moment he thrusts inside me, catching me by wonderful surprise. “Oh.” Reece’s breath is ragged as he holds my gaze. Neither of us moves as we both register the feeling of him all the way inside me. “Not like before,” I whisper. He slowly shakes his head. “Not like before.” “Better.” “Better,” he agrees as he pulls back, before pushing forward once again. It’s perfect. It’s not fair how perfect it is. As far as losing virginity goes, my experience with Reece was as good as it got, but this is unspeakably better. It’s like my body knows his, even after all this time, even after one time. I fit him perfectly, and he fits me.

“Damn you, Lucy,” he whispers, his tone more aggravated than it is angry. In response I lift my hips and tighten around him, my nails digging into his back as I arch into him. “More. Harder.” He complies, quickening the pace, each thrust all but lifting me off the bed until we’re nothing but a writhing tangle of limbs, lost in the other as we search for release. And then we find it, almost simultaneously, my own cry coming just seconds before his shout as we both stiffen and shudder, each holding on to the other like a life raft. Which is ironic, really, considering that I’m pretty sure we’re more likely to be each other’s deaths than saviors. He’s heavy when he collapses, and I wrap around him. Reece rolls us to our sides. My breath is hot against his chest, his warm against my temple, as we try to remember how to breathe. Neither of us says a word, and we sure as hell don’t look at each other. Reece’s hand slowly slides up to the back of my head, his fingers fisting in my hair just a little bit roughly, and I know. I know that he’s in the same torturous, strange place that I am: torn between past and present and wondering what the hell it means for the future.

Chapter 30

Reece When I open my eyes, the first thing I see are Lucy Hawkins’s green eyes staring down at me, wide and impatient. Never at my best in the morning, I put a palm over her face and push it away. “Quit it, weirdo.” She tries to bite my hand, and though her face is ferocious and maybe a little scary, my body’s still on hyper awareness after last night and I feel my morning wood twitch to life. Then the last of my sleep fog fades, and I register that a) she’s no longer naked, a silky tank top covering up her perfect tit* b) I’m most definitely naked, still in her bed c) she’s got that expression on her face that all men know and fear: We need to talk. I roll over onto my side, intending to go back to sleep. Maybe next time I wake up my dirty dreams will be a reality and I’ll be deep inside her, and she’ll be making those desperate moaning noises that seem to reach right to my soul just as sure as they do my co*ck. This time her teeth dig into my shoulder, sharp enough to get my attention. Giving up on sleep, I roll back toward her. “What is wrong with you? Who bites people?” “Women who’ve been waiting the better part of a half hour for a lazy-ass to wake up.” “Oh no, not a whole half hour,” I mutter, pulling myself into a sitting position against the headboard, tugging the sheet up around my waist before dragging my hands over my face. The room’s even grosser in the morning. She gives a satisfied smile at having gotten her way, and apparently decides I deserve a reward. Not a sexy one, unfortunately, but she hops out of bed and, wearing only the tank top and panties, walks across the tiny room to one of those cheap-ass coffeemakers. Lucy impatiently shifts from side to side, putting one bare foot on top of the other, and then switching as she waits for the little coffeepot to spit out a full cup. The sight of her tight little ass cheeks does wonders for my mood, even as I’m tensing for The Talk. Not that I’m all that surprised. Over the years, I’ve gotten damn good at keeping sex carefree and uncomplicated, but with Lucy? There was never any chance. Damn, but it was good though. Every bit as sweet as I remember, but even hotter without the pressure of her virginity absorbing my every thought. Last night had just been about me and Lucy and need. She hands me the coffee and climbs onto the bed, sitting cross-legged and watching me take my first sip.

I pause with the flimsy paper cup halfway to my mouth. “Would you spit it out already? All your staring is creeping me out.” She folds her hands and rests them on the mattress in front of her. “I was waiting for you to get caffeinated, before…” I lift my eyebrows when she trails off, and she sucks her bottom lip between her teeth, clearly dreading what she needs to say. “I’m confused,” she blurts out, just as I’m braced for her to say the words I’m expecting: It was a mistake. I take a sip of coffee. “About?” She chews her lip harder. “What just happened. How I feel. How you feel.” I smile slightly because she looks adorably frustrated. Lucy Hawkins has always been that girl who knows exactly what she wants. I doubt that confused has ever been in her vocabulary, and I’m oddly pleased to know that I’ve caught her off-balance. Because I’ve spent most of my life being put off balance by her. Fair is fair. And yet confused isn’t enough. I want more. Not that it matters. I’m not the guy for her. Even if I wanted to be, there’s not a damn thing I could do to keep her. Lucy’s still got her big dreams and expensive taste, and I’m always going to be the man in jeans and a dirty T-shirt, not the guy in the custom-made suit who schmoozes with Napa’s elite. “I guess it’s good we got it out of our system,” she says thoughtfully. “Maybe now we can move on.” I take a sip of my coffee to hide the wince. “Right?” she says, noting my silence. I lift the cup in mocking salute. “Sure.” “Reece.” “Look, Lucy. I’m a dude. I really don’t want to talk about any of this.” “Because it was just sex. Just one night.” “Just sex,” I say, relieved when I don’t hesitate and give away the fact that it was the best sex. That it felt like it mattered. She smiles a little in relief, and the devil in me can’t shut up. “Really good sex though.” My voice is gravelly and her green eyes darken. “Yeah.” Her tongue touches the corner of her mouth, and the fact that I know the gesture to be instinctive rather than intentional seduction makes it all the hotter. sh*t. I’ve never stood a chance against this girl. Never. I set my empty coffee cup on the nightstand and reach out and hook a finger down the front of her tank top, and she freezes when the back of my finger brushes the inner slope of her breast. “Reece—” I have her beneath me before she can finish the sentence, my mouth opening hot and wet

against the side of her neck, gratified when I feel her shiver. Gratified, and a little bit mad. Mad at her. Mad that she finds it so easy to discard me and so easy to dismiss what last night was. Hell, maybe to her it was just sex. Maybe her world wasn’t rocked the way mine was, maybe she’s not half tied up in knots right now, terrified that sex will never ever be as good as it was last night. f*ck that. If I’m not forgetting this encounter, neither is she. I’m not careful. My hand tugs her shirt down with so much force the skinny shoulder strap snaps. I’m not gentle as I lash her nipple with my tongue, scraping with my teeth just hard enough to make her gasp in shock before moaning in pleasure. It takes a few seconds before her hands reach for me, and that pisses me off too, the way she’s obviously reluctant to give in to the heat between us. I grasp her wrists with firm fingers, pinning her arms to her side, as lips, teeth, and tongue work her perfect tit* until she says my name in a quiet plea. Not good enough. I want her desperate. Begging. I drag the torn tank top down over her narrow hips, taking her black underwear with it. Normally I’m all for black underwear, but with Lucy I’m merely pissed that they’re not polka dots. Since when has she started wearing black underwear? For whom? Jealous possessiveness has me handling her with more roughness than I normally would, my hand pushing her legs apart, rubbing three fingers along the wet seam of her before slicking my middle finger inside her. She cries out, back arching up, pushing a pink nipple into my waiting mouth as I slide a second finger inside. For all her bullsh*t about our history and this not working, she’s more than ready for me, but I keep her on the edge. Deliberately, I show her what I could give her, and then take it away, slowing the pace of my fingers every time she gets close. “Damn you, Reece,” she says, her voice raspy as she glares down at me. Damn you right back, Lucy. “Need something?” I ask. Her eyes are cloudy with near-org*sm, but she still finds the feistiness to narrow her eyes at me. “Nope. Just wondering when you’re going to get started, make this worth my while.” I let out a little bark of amusem*nt, and even in my anger, I love that her smart mouth still works with my fingers deep inside her. “Bored, are you?” I press my thumb against her and her eyes close, but she stays stubbornly silent. All right then. I have her flipped onto her stomach in a half a second, ignoring her squeak of protest as I press my chest against her back, nuzzling her ears. “Never got the chance to do this back then.” “Do what?” she asks, trying to buck me off.

I lift off her, shifting backward and pulling her hips upward as I kneel behind her. I groan at the site of her ass in the air, run a trembling hand down her slim back. Mine. My co*ck nudges at her wet opening, and it takes every bit of self-control not to plunge into her then and there, taking what I want to belong to me more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I thought I wanted her when I was nineteen, but it’s nothing compared to what I feel now. Still, pissed as I am, I’d never take what she’s not offering, and I stay perfectly still. Waiting. Asking. “Lucy?” In response, her hips nudge back, the tiniest gesture, but it’s the permission I need to wrap my fingers around her slim hips and slam home. The sex is rough and dirty, the words coming out of my mouth and the cries coming out of hers neither gentle nor romantic, but it’s what we both need. I hold out as long as I can, but the warm heat of her combined with the slap of my hips against her ass has me losing my mind in what feels like a matter of seconds. Determined to take her with me I reach my hand down, pressing just above the spot where we’re joined. Lucy arches with a feral cry, clenching around me, and my free hand acts of its own volition, tangling in her hair, pulling her head back as I come harder than I ever have before. When I can finally remember how to think again, I slowly release her hair, and she drops her head forward, breathing hard as she sinks all the way to the mattress. I lie beside her, the reality of how roughly I’ve just taken Lucy—the girl I once vowed to protect with my own life—creeping in. Somehow I don’t think this is what her parents had in mind when they asked me to look after her on the damned road trip. I lie on my back and swallow, racking my brain for what to say, when she shifts, lifting up slightly and turning her head around to face me. I brace for the censure, maybe anger, but I make myself meet her eyes. The lower half of her face is hidden partially by her arm, and I can’t read the expression in her eyes. Then she lifts her face slightly, and my heart starts beating again when I see that she’s smiling. Grinning, actually. “We’re in trouble here, huh?” I smile back, relieved beyond belief that she’s not going to give me the lecture I deserve. And yet, she’s right. “Yeah, Luce. We’re in trouble.”

Chapter 31

Lucy I’m prepared for the car ride to be tense, or, at the very least, fake cheerful, but by the time we’ve loaded our bags into the car and set off for Wyoming, we’re more or less back to normal. And by normal, I mean fighting over the radio. In the end, he gives in, letting me listen to the remainder of a Reba McEntire ballad. I smirk. My reward for putting out, I’m pretty sure. “Tell me the truth,” he says, changing lanes to pass the slow bus in front of us. “Do you even like country? Or do you just like torturing me?” “Little bit of both. Now your turn to tell me something,” I say, deciding to take advantage of the fact that his shoulders seem a little less tense than usual, his face less guarded. “Pass.” I ignore this, and ask anyway. “So. Napa.” His eyes narrow just slightly. A little wary. “What about it?” “What’s your endgame?” His knuckles tighten briefly on the steering wheel, the only sign that the invasive question bugs him. “What do you mean, endgame? I want a fresh start and a paycheck. The new job gives me both.” “Sure,” I say, keeping my voice easy. “But what about long term? A year from now, five years from now? Ten?” I’m all but holding my breath, hating how much his answer matters. He’s silent for nearly a minute and doesn’t glance over when he finally responds. “I don’t really do long term. If life’s taught me anything it’s that it can be short and brutal and you can’t plan on sh*t.” Reece’s answer makes my heart hurt, even though I understand it. His voice is monotone and ice cold, his jaw solid steel in his resolve, but it makes sense. Here’s a guy who lost his mother way too young, had his sister bail on him, and has spent the past few years caring for a father who barely registered his existence, only to lose him too. Still, the optimist in me wants him to see that it doesn’t have to be that way. That just because his past is full of pain doesn’t mean his future has to be. “They have some great winemaking classes in the area,” I say, turning and glancing out the window, hoping the suggestion seems off the cuff. “I already know how to make wine.”

“I know, but California is different,” I say as gently as I can. “There’s a ton of competition if you want to move from being an assistant stuck tending the vineyards to the guy in charge.” This time he does glance over, and though he’s wearing his usual aviators, I can feel the anger in his gaze. “ ‘Stuck tending the vineyards’? When have I ever given you the impression that I felt stuck?” Uh-oh. “I didn’t mean—” “Yeah, you did, Lucy,” he interrupts. “You think your side of the business is better. It’s not. It may require fancier clothes, but all you do is sell the wine. I know how to f*cking make it.” I grit my teeth. “Don’t power play me, Reece. We’re both experts in our field.” “But you more so, right? Because you have a fancy degree that says so? Never mind that I was actually doing work while you were just reading about it.” “Hey!” I say, stung by the way he’s belittling years of hard work and dedication. “Without people like me, nobody would even know about what people like you do all day.” “Well I’ll be sure to send you a fancy thank-you gift. Oh wait, I can’t afford it, what with me not having a ten-year plan or being brutally ambitious.” “Brutally ambitious?” I sputter. “Is that what you think I am?” “I don’t know what you are,” he mutters, turning on his blinker and getting off the freeway. “We need gas.” I have no idea if we actually need gas or if he just needs to cool off, but since I need a breather myself, I don’t protest as he pulls into a gas station. Reece climbs out of the car, slamming the door behind him, and I blow out a long breath, shoving my hair away from my face. Not how I thought that conversation was going to go. I was just trying to figure out where his head was at. He’s so damn closed off all the time. A quick glance over my shoulder shows that the pump is still running, but he’s got his arms crossed, and his scowl is fierce. Not in a chatty mood. Fine. I climb out of the car, stretching my legs and intending to make my move to take over driving for a while. Anything to distract myself from the real reason I’d pushed Reece into that conversation. I thought that maybe if I could figure out what he wants out of life, I could figure out if there might be room for me in it. Because I can’t deny it any longer. I want Reece Sullivan in my life. I just have to figure out how he fits.

Chapter 32 LUCY , TEN, REECE, ELEVEN “Yuck, I got an orange one. Trade?” she asked, holding out her Popsicle to Reece and staring longingly at his purple one. He rolled his eyes. “You know it says the flavor on the wrapper. You could just read.” Even as he said it, he reached out and traded her orange Popsicle for his much preferable grape one. They were sitting on the old Big Toy. Mostly unused these days, except by Brandi and her friends. Rarely did Lucy and Reece sit here together as they had on that first day after Reece’s mom had died. Lucy looked at him out of the corner of her eye, wondering if he was thinking about the sad memory, but he looked more interested in his Popsicle than anything. Reece had come for a sleepover with Craig, but Craig had gotten sick less than hour after Reece arrived, barfing up all his grilled cheese and tomato soup. Lucy felt terrible for thinking it, but she was a little bit glad that Craig got sick. She never had Reece all to herself. “So what’s up?” he asked. She fiddled with the Popsicle wrapper and tried to think of something to talk to him about that wouldn’t seem too babyish or girlish. “My class had a career day today. Shelley’s dad is a firefighter and he brought in a real hose for us to look at.” “Cool.” He didn’t sound that impressed. “My mom came in too. To talk about grapes.” He looked a little more interested in that. “I like grapes.” She gave a sheepish look at the grape Popsicle she’d stolen from him, and quickly changed the subject. “You want to go into the industry?” The industry around their town referred to the wine business. According to Lucy’s mom, Charlottesville, Virginia, was an up-and-comer on the wine scene. “Yeah, I guess,” Reece said, finishing off his Popsicle and chewing idly on the flat wooden stick. “My dad used to work at the wineries, and his old boss came over the other day. Told me to call him if I ever wanted a job.” “So that’s what you want to be when you grow up?” she asked eagerly. She loved talking about being a grown-up. “A winemaker?” He looked annoyed and shrugged. “I guess. I don’t care.” Lucy was puzzled. How could he not care? “I want to sell people the wine,” she said, hoping

that if she told him her dreams, he’d tell her his. “And I’ll wear tall shoes, and I’ll wear a skirt every day, and my hair will be perfect,” she said, running a hand over her chronically messy ponytail. “Cool.” Lucy frowned. “What about you? What do you want?” “I just told you. To get a job.” “No, I know, but like who do you want to be?” she asked. “What do you dream about? What’s your endgame?” Reece scratched his head. “Endgame?” Lucy nodded enthusiastically, excited to share her new vocabulary. “It’s from chess. My grandpa taught it to me. It’s like the final stage of your plan.” Reece turned and gave her a stare so flat it made her tummy hurt. “I don’t have a plan. I don’t have an endgame.” Lucy’s tummy hurt harder. “But surely there’s something you want?” His small shoulders shrugged. “Wouldn’t matter. I never get anything I want.”

Chapter 33 Reece “Okay, I’ve gotta say, we really should have started the whole sharing-a-room plan earlier,” Lucy says, setting her bag down in the Las Vegas hotel room. “The bathroom in this place is bigger than last night’s motel room.” I don’t argue as I drop my own bag, going to the wide windows and looking out at the Las Vegas Strip. We’d splurged on a room at the Paris hotel, and Lucy had sweet-talked the front desk into an enormous suite facing the Bellagio fountains. I’m not much of a gambler, so Vegas has never been on my bucket list or anything, but I have to admit, it’s pretty cool. Lucy comes up behind me, her arms wrapping around my waist, and my hand finds the top of her hand, and I feel a little stab of panic about how natural the gesture feels. Don’t get used to it, man. It’s a refrain I’ve been playing on repeat over the past few days as our routine’s gone from circling each other like wary animals, to, well…screwing like animals. And that’s not even accurate. Not really. Sure, we kept each other up all night long in both Cheyenne and Salt Lake motel rooms, but the days have been pretty great too. It feels like we’re getting to know each other again, and it feels good. Or at least it does when she doesn’t start badgering me about plans. I know I shouldn’t have bitten her head off with her stupid endgame questions, but damn it. Why the hell can’t she just let it be? Let me be? Why can’t I just be good enough as I am? My fingers tighten reflexively on her hand, and she eases around so she’s standing in front of me, her gaze wary. “You okay?” I force a smile. “I’ll be more okay once I get you naked and into the two-person shower.” She doesn’t smile back. “Look, Reece, I’ve been trying to avoid the topic since you freak out every time I mention it, but we’ve only got a couple nights left on the road.” My chest tightens in panic. “I’m aware.” I’m more than aware that I’ve only got a couple days left before your real life starts. Lucy takes a breath. “Okay, I get that guys aren’t known for talking about their feelings, but you’ve got to give me some indication of where your head’s at.” “In a few minutes, I’m thinking it’ll be between your thighs,” I say, my hands sliding down to cup her ass, pulling her toward me. Lucy’s not having it and steps back. “Is that all this is? Sex? I can take it if it is, just…tell me

now.” Despite her brave words, her voice is small, and it tears at me. I close my eyes and rub my hands over my head. “sh*t, I don’t know, Luce. I’m not good at this.” “Nobody’s good at this, Reece. Relationships are hard, and I can do hard, but I’m just trying to decide if I should even bother with you.” I open my mouth, but she lifts a warning finger. “Do not make some smartass comment about me doing hard. I’m trying to talk to you.” I’d forgotten how persistent this girl can be when she wants something. I just wish she’d learn that I’ve never been any good at giving her what she wants. “Give me a break here, Luce,” I say, striving to keep my tone light. “A little over a week ago you and I weren’t even speaking to each other. A few days ago, we couldn’t speak to each other without wanting to kill one another. You can’t expect me to have it all figured out.” My answer isn’t what she wants. I knew it before I said it, and the way her face crumples just a little bit confirms it. It also destroys me. But how the hell am I supposed to put it all out there when she won’t? I’m not an idiot. Lucy Hawkins wants me; she cares about me. But I also notice that she doesn’t use words like forever when it comes to me. I’m not her endgame. Never have been. We stare at each other for long moments, and with a sigh, I start to reach for her, then let my arms drop. “For someone that’s doing an awful lot of pushing for conversation, I don’t hear you saying much of anything.” She takes a long breath. “You’re right. I’m scared.” I swallow, and nod once. Yeah. Me too. And though I know it’s the coward’s way out, though I know it’s less than she deserves, I reach for her. I may not have a clue about how to tell her how I feel—I’m not sure I can even tell myself. But I can show her.

Chapter 34

Lucy My head drops back with a moan as Reece’s mouth glides down my neck, his hands sliding to the small of my back, pulling me against him. I know what he’s doing. I know what we’re both doing. We’re taking the easy way out, expressing ourselves with hands and mouths instead of words, but for now, I let it be enough. I kiss him back with everything, and Reece senses my desperation, pulling back slightly and giving me a searching look, framing my face with his big hands and resting his forehead on mine. “You okay?” No! No, not okay. I’m falling in love with you all over again, and I don’t know that you’re falling back. I nod, and his eyes narrow at the lie, his thumbs drifting over my cheekbones, his eyes following the tender motion. His lips replace his thumbs, and he rains soft kisses along my cheek, my temple, before kissing me again, soft and sweet. And then I realize he is answering, just not with words. My heart clenches as I realize what’s happening here. He’s saying goodbye, or at least beginning the process. Hot as the past couple nights have been, even downright raunchy, it’s been all about sex, carnal and earthy, maybe even a little angry at times. Me, angry at him for the past. Him angry at me for holding on to the past. Tonight, though… Tonight is different. Tonight is about the fact that in just a couple days we’ll be done with the road trip. Done with each other. The thought makes me want to weep, and with something akin to a sob, I kiss him back, my own hands framing his face in the same way he holds mine. I want to tell him that he’s beautiful to me, that he’s everything. I want to beg him to undo the past, I want to stop remembering what it felt like when he cheated. I want to go back to when I was eighteen and so in love with this boy that I thought nothing could ever break us. The kiss changes. Still sweet, but a little desperate now too, and his hands slide over me, his palms cupping my breasts before he slides them down farther, tugging the dress up and over my head and tossing it aside. Reece groans a little at the sight of my underwear. Polka dots again, but grown-up. It’s a pink satin thong with black lace dots and a little bow at the top. He lightly drags his fingers

over the fabric and I whimper, torn between needing him now, and wanting this to last all night. He’s wearing a blue checked button-down, which I manage to get undone as he continues to explore the tiny scrap of my panties. Reece’s hands slide back up my body, but I push them aside, gripping his wrists as I let my lips explore his perfect upper body. He’s strong enough to throw me off in an instant, but he stands perfectly still, his only movement the quickening of his breathing as I kiss every inch of him I can reach. I reluctantly let go of his hands, only so that I can unfasten his jeans, reaching inside and cupping him over the fabric of his boxers as I look up and meet his eyes. Reece swears softy, kissing me hard before pulling my hand aside, scooping me into his arms, and carrying me easily to the bed. I reach for him again, but he shakes his head, holding me still with only his gaze as he kicks off his shoes and ditches the pants and boxers. Reece is wonderfully naked as he slowly lowers himself on top of me, once again kissing my mouth as though he’s a starving man. We break contact only long enough for me to arch up so he can undo my bra, and then his mouth is on me, kissing my breasts as his fingers slide beneath my panties, teasing me with soft strokes. Through the almost unbearable pleasure, I feel his eyes on me, as though committing my every moan and sigh to memory. When he finally pulls my underwear down my legs, that too is slow, sensual. Reece settles between my thighs, but I catch him off guard, pressing both hands against his chest, somehow managing to roll him onto his back. I straddle him, loving the way his eyes darken as I lower myself over him, taking him in hand, rubbing him against me before lowering myself onto him. Finally, he’s all the way inside me, and the room’s filled with the sound of our labored breathing as we both strive for restraint, wanting the moment to last. His hands curve around my hips, but he doesn’t move, somehow understanding that I need this my way. I take the control he’s offering, rocking my hips onto his in rolling, needy motions. My head falls back as I ride him harder, and he lets me, his hands everywhere. My waist, my hips, my breasts, rubbing my cl*t. I cry out, my release so close, and at the last minute, he rears up to a sitting position, one arm wrapping around my waist, the other around my head as he thrusts inside me, taking my mouth in a kiss at the exact moment we both explode, coming together in an org*sm like nothing I’ve ever felt. Like nothing I’ll ever feel again. For long moments, neither of us moves. I’m draped over his shoulder, breathing hard into his neck as he holds me close, his breath moving in rapid pants against me, until slowly he lowers us back to the bed. I mean to look at him. I mean to make some saucy comment, but all I want to do is cry.

Reece seems to understand—maybe even feels the same. Because he doesn’t talk either, only pulls me against his side, and after a distracted kiss to the top of my head, exhales with something that sounds very much like despair.

Chapter 35

Reece Craig picks up on the second ring. “Hey, man! Where you at? I’ve barely heard from you.” “L.A.,” I say, sitting back on the hotel bed and reaching for the remote, turning on the TV and flipping around idly until I find the Dodgers game. Craig laughs. “Damn, Spock really did drag you out of the way, huh? At least you’re in California.” “Yeah.” I don’t tell my best friend that I’m looking forward to my final destination a lot less than I was two weeks ago. “Got any plans? Seeing the Hollywood sign, that sort of sh*t? I’m sure Spock’s got a bucket list in each city.” “Not sure what the plan is for later,” I lie. Lucy’s been talking all day about some fancy restaurant known for its celebrity sightings that she wants to try. I agreed to that, although I drew the line at going shopping with her, which is how I’ve ended up with a few minutes to myself to check in with Craig. I was hoping that talking to him would distract me from her, but I’ve realized my mistake. If you’re trying to not think about a girl, don’t call her f*cking brother. “She’s driving me nuts,” I say, before I can think better of it. He gives a startled laugh. “Yeah, Spock does that sometimes.” “No, I don’t mean in the annoying-little-sister way,” I say, pacing in short, agitated movements. Craig’s laugh breaks off. “Then how do you mean it?” I stop pacing, tilt my head back, and stare up at the plaster ceiling, debating the wisdom of what I’m about to say. He may be my best friend, but we’re not really the chat-on-the-phone types. We’ve never had to be. Apart from during the four years Craig was in college, we’ve always been a twentyminute drive away from each other, more inclined to catch up over a beer and a game than have a long, girly chat on the phone. And yet everything that’s happening with Lucy, I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with… something. I just need to talk it out, and it says a hell of a lot about my life that I only have one option. “Craig, I’ve gotta tell you something,” I say, closing my eyes and praying for mercy. “You slept with my sister.”

Damn. He’s not my best friend for nothing. The guy knows me. I clench my teeth as I shove my hand in my back pocket, forcing myself to be straight with my friend. “Yeah.” I hear a sigh, followed by something that sounds like a gum wrapper. The slight chomping noise that follows confirms that he’s chomping on the wintergreen gum he’s loved since the sixth grade. “Thought that fizzled out a long time ago.” I close my eyes. “You knew about that too?” “Unfortunately,” he mutters. “Nobody knows the intentions of a nineteen-year-old boy like another nineteen-year-old boy.” “You never said anything.” “Because it grossed me out.” “But you didn’t stop it,” I say, a little incredulous. Craig’s silent for a minute, probably uncomfortable. “I dunno. I guess I thought…thought you two were good for each other. Always figured it would happen eventually. None of us were surprised.” Another surprise. “ ‘Us’? Your family knows.” “Yup.” I run my hand over my hair. “Good Christ. And they let me take this road trip with her, knowing I was the one—” “Nope,” Craig interrupts. “Don’t say it. I prefer to never ever know a single detail. But yeah, the road trip was parental interference at its finest.” I wait for my brain to catch up. “Does Lucy know they know?” “Nope. Well, she talked to Brandi about it. But, like you, Spock overestimated you guys’ teenage stealth. Mom and Dad have known from the very beginning.” “Jesus,” I mutter, suddenly replaying the past few years. Realizing that every time I sat in their kitchen, let them feed me beer and chili, they knew I’d hooked up with their daughter. Still, around the shock and dismay, there’s also a little bit of relief. It’s never felt right, having them trust me so implicitly while I thought I was keeping a crucial secret. “So if you knew we were together back then, you have to know that we’ve been very much not together for the past few years.” “Sure. And I accepted it. The parents, not so much.” Everything clicks into place. “This road trip was a matchmaking attempt.” “That’s putting it mildly. Wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Mom’s had your wedding invitation picked out for a decade, and if Dad plans to give you my grandfather’s watch instead of me.” The thought of being a part of the Hawkins family for real…being connected through marriage to Lucy… The vision nearly chokes me, not with horror so much as with… I shove the thought away. “Well, they’re going to be disappointed,” I say. “Because she’s driving you nuts,” he says, bringing our conversation full circle.

“She’s gotten all fancy-pants since she went off to school. Thinks that because she has a piece of paper about hospitality that she’s better than the rest of us.” “She said that?” he asks. “No,” I grumble. “But she’s out shopping right now for work clothes for the new job.” “And?” “My work clothes are boots, jeans, and my oldest shirts. Hers are high heels and…I don’t even know.” “Never bothered you before.” I take in a deep breath. Maybe he doesn’t know me as well as I thought he did. “It’s always f*cking bothered me,” I say quietly. Craig is quiet for a minute. “Spock’s always been a little…driven,” he finally says. “She announced when she was like, ten, that it wasn’t enough for her to know wine, she wanted to teach other people about wine. You knew that about her.” “Sure,” I mutter. “I just didn’t know how annoying it would be.” How inferior it would make me feel. “Just tell her to shut up,” Craig says. “That’s what I do. Spock’s passionate, that’s all.” You have no idea, I think, remembering how generous and eager a lover she is. Craig’s right. Lucy’s passionate, and not just between the sheets. She’s passionate about everything. Work. Love. Life. I want some of that. I want to absorb it and claim a little bit of it. I want to beg her to save some of it for me. She won’t though. Lucy’s a girl with a plan. And I’d bet serious money that her long-term plan involves someone who’s not satisfied with minimum wage. “What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re not usually wound this tight.” “She’s so f*cking complicated.” He snorts. “They all are.” “I just wish I knew what she was thinking,” I say, cringing at the sound of the whining coming from my mouth. “I’m surprised she hasn’t told you. She’s always been the blurt-it-out type, at least around me.” Yeah, well, you didn’t break her heart, I silently add. I’d give just about anything to know what Lucy’s thinking these days. “Hey, hold on one sec,” Craig says. “Boss is calling on the other line.” “ ’Kay, ’kay.” I sit back down on the bed, then immediately stand, unable to shake the restlessness. I wander to the desk as I wait for Craig to come back, idly picking up one of Lucy’s earrings, putting it back down again on top of her travel journal. I freeze. “Hey. Sorry. Still there?” Craig asks. “Yeah.” My gaze is still on the journal.

He’s silent for a second. “Look man, I get it. My sister’s infuriating.” “Yup,” I say, when he doesn’t finish his sentence. “Don’t hurt her.” I rub a hand over the back over my neck. “I don’t know if I can promise that.” My thumb finds the corner of the journal. “Bullsh*t. Promise.” How can I promise not to hurt her when I don’t even know what she’s thinking? Feeling. I open the cover of the journal. Close it again and close my eyes. I could though. I could know what she’s thinking. “How about this,” I tell my best friend. “I promise that if I hurt her in the short term, it’s only so that I don’t hurt her more in the long term.” “Fair enough,” he says slowly. “And for what it’s worth, I’d tell her not to hurt you too, if she was the one that had called. She’s my sister, but you’re like my brother. You both matter.” “Yeah. Thanks for that,” I say. “Gotta run.” I hang up before I can tell my best friend that I’m seriously contemplating doing the sh*ttiest thing on the planet: reading Lucy’s journal. He doesn’t want her to hurt me? Probably too late for that. Lucy’s already reopened a part of me that only she can, and is poised to pour salt on the wound. But maybe…maybe I can protect myself. Brace myself for the pain before it hits me full force. Even as I open the journal, I hate myself. I hate myself even more as I start to read it. Long, long minutes later, I slowly close the journal once more. I still hate myself. But now I hate her a little bit too.

Chapter 36

Lucy Something is up. Reece has been weird for two days, ever since Los Angeles. Not a big deal. He’s always weird. But this is different weird. I thought I’d seen every side of the guy, but this is new. I’ve dealt with angry Reece, jerk Reece, teasing Reece, hot Reece, impatient Reece, even seen too few glimpses of sweet Reece. But this? This is indifferent Reece. He still talks to me, but only when spoken to. He hasn’t made a single complaint about the country music on the radio—I’m not sure he even noticed. And though he made love to me in Los Angeles, and again last night when we spent the evening in San Francisco—except, actually made love wasn’t the right term for what it was—it was just sex. Clinical, a little rough. And worst of all, cold. Although the weirdness of the past couple days is nothing compared to the tension that’s descended upon Horny as we approach my new apartment in Napa. Napa’s only an hour or so from San Francisco, and we opted to spend most of the day in San Francisco itself, doing touristy stuff. Well actually, I opted. Reece more or less followed me around like he couldn’t care less until I finally gave up and, with a lump in my throat, climbed into Horny for the last leg of our journey. It’s late as we near the Napa city limits, and I realize I can’t keep quiet anymore. He doesn’t know the address of the condo I’m subletting. I rattle off directions from my phone in a monotone voice. He follows my directions but doesn’t say a word. During our silent standoff, it’s occurred to me that I don’t know if he has a place to stay tonight. He mentioned that he’s crashing on his new boss’s couch while the guy’s on his honeymoon, but I don’t know if that starts immediately, or if he’s planning to get a hotel room, or what. I want so badly to ask him to stay, but I’m too afraid that when I open my mouth to ask him to stay the night, it’ll come out as Stay forever, and right now I don’t think I can handle the rejection if he says no. He pulls up in front of the three-story condo building on the outskirts of downtown Napa. “This it?” I glance down at the address in my email, then up at the dimly lit building. The numbers

match. “I guess so.” He nods and gets out of the car. I do the same, grateful to stretch my legs. Grateful to be home. I stare at the building. It feels…lonely. “Got a key?” he asks, already pulling my bags out of the trunk. I nod, digging around in my purse for the envelope that the girl I’m subleasing from sent me via FedEx. We both load my bags onto our shoulders, Reece grabbing a couple boxes and jerking with his chin to show that he’ll follow me. My apartment’s on the second floor, and we walk silently up the steps. It’s quiet. Of course, it would be. It’s past eleven on a weeknight. I take a deep breath as I open the door to my new home. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, but it feels…hollow. I tell myself it’s because I’m tired, and a little grumpy, and already aware of the fact that I don’t have toilet paper or coffee or groceries, but I know the real reason: the man beside me. I flick on the light and step inside. Reece follows, and I try my best to ignore him as I take in the condo. It’s nicer than I thought it would be, which is a pleasant surprise. My experience with Craigslist is that the reality rarely lives up to the Photoshopped pictures, but the apartment is actually as it looked in the photos. Not new, but clean. The furniture not exactly modern, but not falling apart either. It’s a one-bedroom, which is all the space I really need, and the kitchen is an open concept, with a big counter and lots of windows in the main living area. The couch is as ugly as promised, but the little white kitchen table is cute, as is the oldtimey-looking trunk that doubles as a coffee table. I wander into the bedroom. The mattress is new. No bedding, but I knew that and brought my own. Tiny closet, but that too I can deal with. I take in a deep breath. Home. I’m home. This is everything I’ve wanted. I’ve never been so miserable. Reece follows me into the bedroom and sets a box labeled Bedding on the dresser. His eyes flick around the room, avoiding me. “Not bad.” “Yeah, it’s nice,” I say in a wooden tone that sounds nothing like mine. “There’s one more box in the car,” he says, just as flatly. “I’ll grab it then be on my way.” I nod but can’t bring myself to say anything else. A quick glance in the small bathroom shows that the girl I’m leasing from is a good soul. There’s a roll of toilet paper after all. I hear a soft thud on the door, and I open it for Reece, who must have kicked it to get my attention since he has his hands full with the enormous box of my few kitchen belongings. He sets it easily on the counter and stretches his back. “Good?” I can only look at him. Seriously? Good? No. I’m so far from good, I’m not even sure

there’s a word for what I am. “Yup,” I say. “Thanks for carrying my stuff up.” He nods in acknowledgement and turns toward the door. “Wait,” I say. “Where will you stay tonight?” He lifts a shoulder. “Motel. I texted my boss, he leaves tomorrow. I’ll settle in there for a few days until I can find a cheap rental.” I nod, silently begging him to say, but unable to say the words. I don’t know how to talk to this Reece. He looks at me for a long minute, and I swear there’s something akin to disgust on his face before he nods and heads toward the front door. “Enjoy your life, Lucy.” “Wait, what?” I say, just as he reaches for the door handle. “That’s all you’re going to say? After all of this?” He gives a weary sigh, his head dropping forward as though he’s been expecting this conversation as much as he’s been dreading it. I half expect him to walk out the door without a backward glance, but he turns around and gives me a slightly bored look. “What do you want me to say?” I have no idea. I want him to stay. I want him to go. I want him to apologize. I want to apologize. “Okay, what’s going on?” I say, forcing a smile. “Are you just doing that skittish guy thing?” “Sure.” “Damn it, Reece,” I snap. “You’ve got to give me something. What the heck happened? Why are you acting so weird?” “How have I been weird? We’ve talked. We’ve screwed. We’re good.” “No, we’re not good!” I shout. “Is this how we’re going to end this? To just fizzle out with a haphazard Have a nice life?” His smile is colder than I’ve ever seen it. “Not part of your plan, was it, babe?” Babe? He’s never called me babe in his life. “What plan? What are you talking about?” “You don’t have a problem that this is ending, you have a problem that it’s not ending your way. That you’re not in control.” I blink rapidly, trying to follow, then give up, and drag my hands over my face tiredly. “Okay, can we do this tomorrow? We can both get a good night’s sleep, get on the same page in the morning.” His hand is already on the doorknob, jerking the front door open, and I feel a surge of panic. “We’re already on the same page.” “Really?” I say with a nervous laugh. “Because nowhere on my page is it written that you walk out that door.” He turns away. “I’ll shop for a new car tomorrow and drop the keys for Horny off as soon as I can.” My panic surges into full-on terror. “Reece, wait. I don’t want Horny, I want…you.” He goes rigidly still for a moment.

Then he shakes his head, and without another word, shuts the door in my face.

Chapter 37

Reece Good news: four days in, the new job is going great. Better than I could have expected, really. As promised, the winery’s got a small-family feel with a big-time budget. The wine’s damn good, my coworkers are chill and friendly, and even coming in as the new guy, my pay’s better than at my old job, courtesy of Sonoma’s higher cost of living. Granted, all I’ve done so far is shadow other people, learning their processes, their lingo, and most importantly, their grapes. But in under a week, I’ve already got ideas. For the first time in a long-ass time, I feel excited about possibilities. Not only about the grapes and the blends, but about how they’re underselling their merlot and treating their cab like it’s a happy-hour special instead of a robust, steak-night special. I mean, not that I give a crap about the marketing mechanics. That’s for fancy-pants like you know who to worry about. But I do know grapes. I know wine. And Abbott has some good stuff. It’s going to be even better once my training wheels come off and I get my hands dirty. Literally. So that’s great. What’s not so great? I still don’t have a place to live. Joe, lead winemaker, and my official boss once he gets back from his honeymoon, returns in two days. And though I know he’s grateful to have someone to feed his ugly cat, and I’m grateful for the place to stay, he’s going to be none too happy to find his new vineyard worker still sleeping on his couch. Blowing out a long breath, I lean back, thumping my head on the headrest of the blue Chevy pick-up. This damn second-hand car is a big part of the reason I haven’t yet found an apartment. I’ve never been a crackerjack with math, but over the past few years I’ve learned a thing or two about basic budgeting. I got damn good at figuring how much I needed to take care of Dad, make the mortgage payments, and still have just enough left over for basic groceries and one-ply toilet paper. I’d figured out how much I’d need to make it on my own in Sonoma down to the penny. I just hadn’t figured buying a new car into the equation. I’d been counting on having Horny. The piece of sh*t wasn’t just supposed to get me across the country; it was also supposed to get me to and from my new apartment and my new job.

Instead, the morning after I left Lucy’s place, I’d taken a chunk out of my savings, driven to a used-car lot, and bought the cheapest and most functional truck I could. I’d given the kid on the lot twenty bucks to follow me in the new car to Lucy’s place, where I’d left Horny parked outside. My motives were only partially good. We hadn’t talked about what the two of us would do for transportation once we’d parted ways, and I hadn’t wanted her stranded on her first day in Napa. But giving her Horny was a little selfish too. After the two weeks that had just passed, I also hadn’t wanted to see that car again. Not for a long while. Maybe not ever. Too many memories of how good it had felt to look across the car and see Lucy sitting there, chattering about the use of complementary colors on wine bottles, or singing along to a horrid country song, or just smiling back at me. Yeah, I hadn’t wanted any of that. So here I am, poor as sh*t and on the verge of being homeless. My stomach growls, and I realize I haven’t eaten since before I left for work a good ten hours ago. The apartment I’d just toured is next door to a sandwich shop, so instead of starting the car, I climb back out, hoping that the faded sign on the door of the shop means that their prices aren’t as astronomical as some of the fancier places around here. The whole damn area is expensive. Gorgeous. Breathtaking, even, if you love the business of grapes like I do. But expensive. It’s time to lower my living standards, obviously. All chances of getting my own place, no matter how crappy, are out. I’ll need a roommate, and not one whose apartment smells of weed like the first place I’d visited today. I’m too old for that sh*t. And not one whose girlfriend laughs like an angry Chihuahua like the second guy I met. I ignore the part of my subconscious that tells me I’m delaying finding a place to live so I’ll have something other than Lucy to occupy my thoughts. As I wait for the bored-looking girl behind the counter to make my ham and Swiss on white, I wander over to the bulletin board to see if there are any promising leads on somewhere to rent. Like I said. Anything to occupy my thoughts. And no. I haven’t talked to her since I walked out on her. Haven’t returned a single text. And go ahead, tell me I’m an ass. But you didn’t have to read page after page in her stupid journal about how I was a summer fling and that two weeks of stupid with me might be just the thing before she started her real life. You didn’t have to read about how she wishes she could instill some sort of drive in me, make me care about something—anything. Joke’s on you, Lucy. I care. I care too f*cking much about you. Correction. Cared. Ridding my brain of her feels impossible, especially given that she won’t stop texting and calling, asking what’s wrong. What’s wrong is that I want to hear that she misses me like I miss her. I want to hear that she can’t sleep like I can’t sleep, and that every time her phone buzzes she hopes it’s me, like

I hope it’s her. I want to hear that she doesn’t care about the distant past, because what happened in the recent past trumps it. I want to hear that she misses me so much she sometimes wakes up thinking the loneliness will kill her. I want to hear that she wants to try again, and this time she won’t leave, and that… I force myself to focus on my meandering, pathetic thoughts. My gaze falls on a Napa Academy flyer. I look away from it with a snarl. I know wine. I got hired without a degree, and unlike Princess Lucy, I don’t need a fancy piece of paper to tell me that I’m qualified. What’s your endgame? Just remembering her chipper question sets my teeth on edge, and my gaze goes back to the purple flyer. The girl calls out my sandwich order, but I don’t turn, my eyes are locked on the bulletin board. What’s your endgame? For the first time in a long time, I let myself think about it. What do I want? I’ve spent so long feeling older than my age, trying to just make it one day to the next, that it hits me that I’m twenty-five. In my prime. I can do anything. I like working with grapes, yes. I like making wine, definitely. I’m damn good at it. I could also be better. With a little time, effort, and energy, I could be the best. What’s your endgame? My endgame’s always been the same. Lucy Hawkins is my endgame. I reach out to pull the flyer off the bulletin board, and then I remember that her being my everything does not make me hers. Idiot. My arm drops, and I turn back to the counter to get the sandwich. The girl’s watching me as I approach, leaning forward onto the counter as I reach for the bag. “Looking for something?” she asks, nodding her head in the direction of the bulletin board. I shrug. “New in town. Looking for a place to stay.” “Well that’s convenient. Because I’m in the market for a roommate.” The girl’s smile is slow and maybe a little flirtatious. Belatedly I realize that she’s probably cute, borderline hot, and I haven’t noticed. I don’t really care, and that makes me all the more angry at Lucy and her careless words. I keep seeing her handwriting over and over in my mind. Line after line intended to rip out my heart. Falling for Reece the first time was the dumbest thing I could ever do. Doing it again would be certifiably insane.

What the hell am I supposed to do with a guy who doesn’t seem to have even an ounce of fight in him? Reece is damn lucky he’s so good in bed, because he’s got exactly zero boyfriend potential. No matter how many times I force myself to replay the words, the pain won’t lessen. I need to move on. I need to clean the wound, no matter how painful. I force a slow smile, leaning forward and matching the sandwich girl’s posture as I press against the counter. “Tell me about this roommate situation.”

Chapter 38

Lucy “See you Monday, Helen,” I say, slinging my bag over my shoulder and pausing in the door of my new boss’s office. The pretty blonde looks up from her laptop and smiles. “You too. Got anything fun planned?” “Nah,” I say, forcing a smile. “Just finishing settling in.” “Ah. Moving’s the worst,” she says with an understanding nod. “You almost done?” “Nearly!” I don’t tell her that I’ve been unpacked for days. That mostly I’ve been passing the time by rearranging things needlessly while trying not to think about Reece. It’s been more than week since he discarded me without so much as a look back or a text goodbye. I figure I’ll give him a couple more days before chasing him down at his new workplace, but I keep holding on to the hope that he’ll reach out to me. That hope’s fading fast. I wave goodbye to Helen, say goodbye to a couple of my other new colleagues as I step out into the summer sunshine. Napa’s everything I want it to be. So’s the new job. Mostly I’ve been training, shadowing everyone, learning everything there is to know about Chateau St. Magrit branding. And then there are the fun parts: tasting, learning the nuances, learning which labels are selling well, and which need a little bit of repositioning in the marketplace. It’s absolutely everything that I envisioned, right down to the sunny little office just off the main tasting room. I’ve already decorated it with the inspirational quotes that used to fuel me. The damn quotes have been failing me lately. Everything’s failing me. Because everything I thought I wanted isn’t what I want the most. I drop into the driver’s seat, the familiar sight of Horny reminding me, as it always does, of those two weeks with Reece. I alternate between missing him like crazy and hating his guts for being an emotional moron. Look, I get that guys can be weird with their feelings sometimes, and that talking it out doesn’t come naturally. But my guy? He’s set the bar really low on the communication front. I pull out my phone to look up a decent pizza place, feeling very much like I’ve earned a slice of pepperoni and a glass of the nice zin I’m supposed to be developing a tasting note for. Unsurprisingly, there’s no text from Reece. I’ve almost trained myself not to hope for it.

There are, however, two texts from Craig, and I frown in confusion. The first text: Spock. You didn’t get it from me. The second is an address in El Verano, California. I wrinkle my nose. What? I don’t even know where that is. A quick search on my Maps app shows me that it’s near Sonoma, but why my brother would be sending me there… Unless… A couple days ago, in desperation, I texted Craig, asking if he knew how I could get ahold of his idiot best friend who wasn’t answering my calls. If he doesn’t know what went down between me and Reece, my text has probably gotten him wondering, but I don’t care. I don’t care about anything except the idiot who ran away from the best thing either of us has ever known. Craig didn’t reply. Until now. “Brother, I love you,” I mutter to myself, as I quickly get driving directions to the address Craig provided. Getting around the area on a Friday afternoon is no easy feat with the weekenders coming into town for a couple days of winery-hopping, and by the time the GPS gets me to my destination, I’m practically shaking with anticipation. It’s a tiny blue house on a quiet street. A little run down, but a little charming too. There’s a white Honda and a beat-up blue truck taking up all the driveway space, so I park on the street, and, heart hammering, I make my way to the front door, which is… Open. Just a crack, but enough for me to hear masculine laughter. Familiar laughter. My heart seizes. Reece. Before I can think better of it, I nudge the door open and step inside, my heart pounding in anticipation. In hindsight, I probably should have come up with a plan, but then I remember that I’m not the one who has some explaining to do. I’m not the one who ran away. I follow the sound of his voice, my heart quickening in a different, more dangerous way when I register that it’s not just his voice. There’s a female voice too, high and a little giggly. I should be braced for the sight. After what happened with Abby all those years ago, I really should be prepared. But somehow, I’m not. And the sight of Reece in a kitchen laughing with another girl, who’s standing far too close, nearly breaks me. He’s in the middle of eating whatever’s in the bowl he’s holding. I watch in agony as she reaches up and wipes a thumb across his lips, as though it’s her right to touch him. And he doesn’t seem to mind.

What’s weird is that this moment is far more innocent than the one I’d walked in on when I was eighteen, and yet this one hurts so much more. I can’t make a single noise, I can’t even breathe, and I put a protective hand to my stomach as though trying to physically push away the shock. My gesture captures Reece’s attention, and his blue gaze swings around until it lands on me, his eyes widening in shock, then regret, and then, almost deliberately, defiance. As though daring me to care that he’s alone in another house with another woman. Dare accepted, Reece. I care. I care. The girl senses the tension and quickly turns around, and I register that she’s ridiculously pretty. She lets out a little squeak of surprise when she sees me. “Who are you? What are you doing in our house?” Our house. Jesus. I want to run. I need to run. But I did that last time, and it did not work out well. Instead I stand my ground and force myself to take a deep breath. “Yeah, Reece? Who am I?” He lifts a shoulder. “Lucy, this is my new roommate. Pam, Lucy. My best friend’s little sister.” I let out a crazed laugh, not sure which one hurts more. The fact that he’s living with this girl when he can’t even be bothered to send me a text message, or the fact that I’ve just been deliberately, summarily dismissed as Craig’s sister. He couldn’t be more clear. We’re nothing to each other, connected only by an annoying tie to his best friend and my brother. I don’t cry. Thank God, I don’t cry. Instead I lift my chin and sadly meet his eyes. “You win, Reece. I give up, and you win.”

Chapter 39 LUCY , EIGHTEEN, REECE, NINETEEN “Reece?” Lucy called, knocking once before opening the front door to the tiny house where Reece and his dad lived. “I got your text. Sorry I’m late.” No response. Lucy stuck her head into the kitchen, making sure that Reece’s dad wasn’t there with his usual beer in hand. Nope. Must still be at work. Lucy pushed away the thought that wondered how long Jeff Sullivan would keep this job. “Reece?” Lucy asked again, heading down the dark hallway with its ugly yellowed carpet that led to Reece’s bedroom. His door was open a crack, and Lucy gave it a push, an expectant smile already on her face. She’d thought they could grab something to eat, but if they had the house to themselves… Maybe they could have a repeat of last night. Lucy was confident she’d be better at it the second time. Not that the first time had been anything less than perfect. Her thoughts scattered as she tried to process the scene in her head. Reece. Not alone. A blond girl was plastered against him, her hands cupping his face as Lucy had the night before, and the girl was making breathy moaning noises as they kissed. Lucy let out a choked noise, and Reece and the girl broke apart. The blonde spun around, revealing the all too familiar face of Abby Mancuso. “Oh hi, Lucy!” Abby said with a sheepish smile. “It’s nice to see you again.” That hurt the worst. That Abby didn’t even have a clue that Lucy and Reece were together. Nobody did. Because they weren’t anything. Lucy forced herself to meet Reece’s eyes, wondering if there was anything he could possibly say to make this okay. But it didn’t occur to her that he wouldn’t say anything. He just stared at her. “Reece?” she whispered. His gaze flickered then, but instead of coming toward her, he drove the knife deeper. He reached for Abby, his hand touching his ex-girlfriend’s waist protectively. Lucy’s eyes filled, and without a word, she turned on her heels and ran. It wasn’t until she’d climbed into her car and was driving away at full speed that it hit her that he hadn’t even tried to come after her.

Chapter 40

Reece I catch up with Lucy just as she’s wrenching open Horny’s driver’s-side door. “Hold up,” I say, grabbing her arm and pulling her around before she can climb into the car. “What do you mean I ‘win’?” Her eyes are wild and shining with tears as she glares at me. “I mean your grand plan of pushing me out of your life, it’s finally worked. You nearly did it with Abby all those years ago. You made good progress by shutting me out completely without even telling me why. But this? Hooking up with your roommate? Nail in coffin, congrats.” Her voice is so full of pain I nearly pull her close. And annoyingly, I feel a strange sense of panic, even as I tell myself this is what I want. To be done with her. It’s on the tip of my tongue to explain that I’m not hooking up with Pam. Hell, I don’t even like my new roommate. She’s like a predatory cat, either ignoring or simply oblivious to the fact that I’m not interested. I don’t tell Lucy this. “How’d you even find me?” I ask. “What, that wasn’t part of your plan?” she asks snidely. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell Craig to text me so I’d walk in on your cozy little domestic scene.” I look away, and she lets out a choked laugh. “I was joking. Did you…are you kidding me? Is that why the door was open?” “The door was open because the lock’s busted and it doesn’t say shut. I wouldn’t—” I break off before I can finish the thought. I wouldn’t do that. Except I have. I’ve done exactly what she’s accusing me of. And damn Lucy for knowing me so well, because she catches it. I watch in misery as she puts the pieces together. “You have done that,” she breathes out in shock. “Oh my God. With Abby…you set that up?” I run a hand over my face. “It was a long time ago, Lucy. Let’s forget it.” “I’ve been trying to forget it. But every time I close my eyes, I see you kissing Abby—” “No,” I say so abruptly that she takes a step back. “What do you mean, no? I know what I saw.” “You saw what you wanted to see. Hell, you saw what I wanted you to see.” She lets out a disbelieving laugh. “You wanted me to catch you kissing her?” I roll my shoulders. “Hell, Lucy. I don’t want to do this. I’ve been trying to avoid this.”

“I don’t give a crap.” She steps forward, eyes blazing. “I want the truth. I want to know what happened. I want the other piece of the puzzle. Why you’ve never apologized for cheating.” “I didn’t cheat,” I roar with so much force that I swear the doors rattle. She steps back now, stunned and angry. “How can you say that?” I rest my chin against my chest for a moment before I lift it, looking her square in the eyes. Let’s do this. “I freaked out after what happened with us that night, Lucy. I shouldn’t have slept with you. I knew it the entire summer, but you were so damn sweet, and I needed you so damn much…” “So you called…Abby?” she asks incredulously. “Yes,” I say with an honesty that’s oddly freeing. “But not for the reason you think. I told her to come over, yes, but I knew you were coming over. I wanted you to see us together.” She laughs, and my gut twists when I realize she’s crying at the same time. “So I was right. You’re a bastard.” “No,” I say, reaching out a hand, then letting it drop. “I mean yes, but it didn’t go as planned. I wanted you to see me and Abby talking, not…” “Making out?” she says snidely. “Abby misinterpreted my call,” I say, even as I realize how lame it sounds. “Which I guess I let her, being an idiot kid like I was. But I swear to you, I never laid a hand on Abby that night except to push her away.” She snorts, and the sound is all watery. “I saw you kissing her.” “Her kissing me,” I say with such finality that she goes still. “Abby kissed me right as you walked in, but I swear to you I didn’t want her for even a second. Nobody…there’s nobody I wanted after I had you.” “Then why?” she whispers. “Why would you want to push me away?” f*ck all. “Because you were leaving. Damn it, Lucy, you’re always leaving. You were heading to college, and you had all these f*cking dreams, and…” “Wait. All of this crap, back then and now…this is you leaving before I can leave you?” I swallow. “I’m not proud of the way I did it, but I don’t regret it.” She shakes her head. “How can you say that? You stand there pretending you were all noble but you almost destroyed me!” “For how long, an hour?” I ask, my voice angry now, stepping forward. “Maybe a couple more weeks until you went to college, sulking about the loss of your cherry to a cheating jerk?” “Longer than that!” she shouts, equally angry. “I loved you! You knew that, and you used it against me.” Her proclamation rocks through me, but I don’t let it sink in. I can’t handle it. “Maybe, Lucy. Maybe. But you got over me.” “Because I had to, but it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t—” “It was easy!” he snaps. “It took you, what, six months before you found someone else? That skinny redhead with the douchebag glasses?”

She stares at me in confusion, and it seems to take her a full ten seconds to even register what I’m talking about. “Are you seriously throwing Matt Terry at me right now? The guy I dated for all of fifteen seconds? I caught you cheating on me, what was I supposed to do, wait around for a second chance at heartache?” “No,” I say, lifting my hands and pressing them to my temples, then letting them drop again. “No, I didn’t want you to wait at all. I never wanted…I never thought we’d get tangled up again. We only proved what I knew back then.” “Which is what?” “We’re no good together, Lucy. You’re…you’re vivacious and driven and you always want more. You’re always looking to the next thing.” She tries to set a hand on my chest, but I step away, and her face flinches in hurt, but she presses on. “Look, Reece, I was eighteen and probably not that great at expressing myself. I wanted to go to college, yes, I wanted to be all things, and do all things, but you were always one of them. I’m sorry if I ever let you think otherwise. Truly.” “Maybe,” I say quietly. “But you know better now, right? You know now that I’m a summer fling, and better in bed but not boyfriend material?” “What are you—” Her mouth drops open. “Wait. Wait. Tell me you didn’t read my journal.” I shove my hands in my pockets and stare at her, so buried in my own pain that I don’t see the slap coming. The crack of her palm against my cheek echoes between us, but the sadness in her eyes hurts a hell of a lot more than the slap itself. “That’s why you pulled back,” she says with a disbelieving laugh. “You read my rambling, angry, private thoughts in a stupid notebook and decided to base our entire future on what you read there.” “We don’t have a future, Lucy.” “Only because you’re too chickensh*t.” “Now, hold on,” I say, stepping toward her. “I’ll take some blame, but not all the blame. Those things you wrote—” “Were angry, childish stream-of-consciousness nonsense, Reece!” she says. “And you don’t get to be mad. In the same way you used Abby to keep me at a distance so I couldn’t hurt you, I was bracing myself for the hurt. Telling myself that I only wanted a summer fling, because on some level I knew that was all you’d ever give me.” I glance upward, my heart wanting so damn bad to believe her, even as my brain screams not to risk it. “What’s so broken inside of you that you won’t let me fix it?” she asks quietly. “Why can’t you believe that I care about you? That we can make this work?” I need to get out of here. I take a step backward, away from her, shaking my head. “Go home, Lucy.” She swallows and lifts her chin. “And give you what you want? Proof that I’ll leave, just like your mom. Your dad. Your sister. Everyone leaves, is that it? And you’re just waiting for me to do the same.” She’s so dead-on it nearly brings me to my knees, and I take another step back.

“Don’t lump me in with your family, Reece. They left, of their own will or not, but you let me leave. Hell, you more or less pushed me. And I walked away, and I don’t love that I did. But you’re just as bad. You didn’t come after me, and that’s on you.” “Go. Home.” I snarl it as I turn away. “Reece, please—” I keep walking. “Reece!” I hear the tears in her voice and expect them. What I don’t expect is the way my own tears come when I finally hear her drive away.

Chapter 41 LUCY , NINETEEN, REECE, TWENTY Reece paced impatiently by the park bench he’d been sitting on for the better part of an hour. He purposely didn’t look at anyone. Didn’t want to see anyone staring at him like he didn’t belong. He already knew he didn’t belong. College had never been in the cards for Reece, and standing on the campus now, he felt like the worst kind of imposter. It’s worth it. It’ll all be worth it when you see her. It was creepy. He knew that. He’d practically stalked her. But just as in high school, Lucy was sparkly and involved in every possible activity in college. She’d made friends with every single person. People knew her. It hadn’t taken long before he found someone who told him she’d just gone into the library with a study group. All he had to do was wait. And wait. And wait. Must be quite the study group. To occupy the time, Reece pulled out the crumpled piece of paper where he’d written down everything that he wanted to tell her. He clenched the paper tightly. He’d written his heart on this damn paper. No way was he going to let the evening breeze whisk it away. It held everything he needed to say. Sorry, obviously. Forgive me, definitely. I love you. He swallowed, read the words, mentally practiced saying them to Lucy. I love you, Lucy. I’ve always loved you. Please give me another chance. His eyes stung a little as he realized what a long shot it was. The library door opened, and Reece’s head came up at the sound of a familiar voice, his chest tightening when he saw her. She was waving goodbye to another girl, laughing at whatever the girl called back. Reece stared, willing Lucy to look his way. She didn’t. Instead she turned and talked to the skinny red-haired guy beside her. Reece checked his watch, and waited for them to finish coordinating homework, or whatever the hell they were doing.

After a few minutes, his impatience turned to panic. The kid was standing way too close, and Lucy’s smile was way too friendly. No. No! Reece resisted the urge to howl as he watched the guy bend down to Lucy. Kissed her. Another guy was kissing his girl. Reece swallowed the lump in his throat, reminding himself it was only fair. She’d seen Abby kissing him. He hadn’t told her otherwise. It was good that she’d moved on. Good that she was happy. The stinging of his eyes was turning to a full-on burn, and he cleared his throat quickly as he turned away, crumpling the piece of paper in his fist. There was a garbage can next to Reece’s car. He tossed the letter in it. Right along with his heart.

Chapter 42

Lucy “Okay, tell me again how it went down with Reece. Word for word. In excruciating detail.” I pull the cork from the half-empty chardonnay bottle with my teeth since one hand’s holding my cellphone, the other’s buried in the box of Wheat Thins that is my dinner. “I love that idea, Brandi, I do,” I tell my sister. “The only part I’m not clear on is, if I tell you all of that before I throw myself on top of a kitchen knife or after. I’m not sure which would hurt less.” My sister doesn’t even pause, bloodthirsty wench. “How can you move past it if you won’t even talk about it? It’s been what, a week?” Nine days. My new job? Fabulous. New apartment? Starting to feel like home. My heart? In shards. I don’t want to move past it. I want to wallow in the memories of me and Reece together. But…but…this is why I called tough-love Brandi. I have a couple of high school friends who know Reece, a bunch of college friends who don’t, but nobody besides my sister knows the whole story. “It was pretty much like you’d expect,” I say glumly, washing down a cracker with the creamy wine. “He told me he more or less manufactured the entire mess with Abby back in the day because he didn’t have the balls to break up with me directly.” “Sooooooo, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that those weren’t his precise words?” Brandi asks. I throw myself onto the couch. “I may be paraphrasing. But the gist is the same. He’s a big coward who couldn’t handle the fact that I was going to college, so he ditched me before I could ditch him. Fast-forward a few years. Repeat.” “But you weren’t going to ditch him, then or now,” Brandi says reasonably. “Right?” “Not even close,” I say quietly. “I mean, I knew we’d have to do long distance, but I also thought I was going to marry him. It took me close to a year to get over him. It’ll take me even longer now that I know the man’s even better than the boy.” There’s a moment of silence. “It took him just as long to get over you.” I roll my eyes. “I doubt that.” “You doubt that, but you don’t know that. Honestly, Lucy, you don’t know anything because you haven’t asked him. Nor have you told him how you felt then, or how you feel

now.” “I don’t know how I feel now.” Brandi’s voice is kinder than I expect, but also a little disappointed. “Lucy.” I squeeze my eyes shut and stay silent. “Luce…do you love him?” Just hearing the words, even through my iPhone, from someone on the other side of the country, makes my stomach flip. Love and Reece…they go together almost as well as the words hate and Reece. Hurt and Reece. Anger and Reece… “Luce?” “Yes, I love him. Okay? Happy?” Boom. I’d thought I’d feel better once the words were out, but I don’t. Because I’m not saying them to the right person. And Brandi doesn’t give an inch. “You’re hideous right now. You need to get him back.” I sit up. “What? No! He needs to get me back. He’s the one who messed everything up back then, letting me think he cheated. He’s the one who pushed me away.” “And you let him.” “What do you want me to do, chase him down? Fall on my knees and beg him to love me?” “No, but how about you have a rational conversation with the guy, lay it all out there, because you’re an adult? And crazy in love with the one guy who’s always been the only guy?” I scratch my nose. My little sister is super annoying when she’s right. And yet, I can’t stop thinking of the look on his face when he stepped away from me. It was so…final. I don’t doubt that Reece cares for me. And I know that he wants me, or at least he did when I was within easy reach. But love? I’m not even sure Reece Sullivan knows what it means. “Has anyone heard from him?” I ask, hating myself for being so desperate to hear something about him. Anything. “Nope, no way,” Brandi says. “Sorry, but I’m not making this that easy for you. You want to know how he is, you want to know where his head’s at, you go to him.” “I can’t. I don’t know what I’d say.” “So figure it out,” my sister says, her voice gentling. “You and Reece belong together. I know you were gone for a while, but I was here more often, and I saw him with the girlfriends he had while you two were apart. He barely even looked at them.” I wince at the thought of Reece and other girls. “Can we not go there?” “If you guys are going to make this work, you’ll have to come to grips with what happened when you were together, as well as when you weren’t,” Brandi says, sounding way wiser than she has any right to. “And besides, you had boyfriends in the meantime.”

“I know,” I say, nibbling on a fingernail. “Reece oh so kindly reminded me of that the other night, as though he gets to be jealous after what he pulled with Abby back in the day.” “Well to be fair, you did make him drive to Miami to meet that Oscar dude.” “It wasn’t even Oscar that had him all riled,” I say, swirling my wine. “It was Matt Terry, of all people.” “Who?” “Exactly!” I say, lifting my glass emphatically, almost swishing some over the side. “No really, who is Matt Terry?” “He was this guy who pursued me freshman year at college. I was trying to give Matt a chance, desperate to move on from Reece, but all it took was one horrible kiss and I knew I couldn’t go through with it. I broke up with the poor guy before our first date.” “Yikes. I’ve never heard this story.” I shrug. “Nobody has. It was sort of one those blink-and-you-miss-it moments of my life.” I take another sip of wine, then another, noticing Brandi’s silence is longer than usual. “You still there?” “Lucy.” I gesture impatiently with my glass even though she can’t see me. “Yeah?” “You’ve never told anyone about Matt Terry?” I scrunch my nose, wondering why we’re still talking about a poor kid I barely remember. “No, I don’t think so. I thought about telling my roommate, but I didn’t want to embarrass the poor guy. He was sweet. Not Matt’s fault I was still hung up on The Asshole. Let’s start calling Reece that now, ’kay?” My sister refuses to play along with my game, her voice more urgent now. “Lucy, if you never told a soul about what happened with this Matt guy, how did Reece know?” I open my mouth to respond, and then realize I don’t have an answer. “This kiss, the bad one with Matt,” Brandi rushes on. “Where did it happen?” “I don’t know, outside the library?” I think, trying to remember, my heart racing with something that feels important. “How would Reece have known about that?” “He wouldn’t. Unless he saw it.” “How would he see it, unless…” My sister makes a triumphant whooping noise. “He did follow you. He came after you to win you back, saw you making out with another dude. It’s the only explanation. Like, literally the only one. Right?” I want to tell her she’s wrong. But racking my brain, I realize she has to be right. The only other explanation is that he somehow connected with Matt, who’s the only other person who knows about the kiss. But that’s even more far-fetched. But either way, it meant that Reece cared. He came after me. The thought warms me from the inside out, and my hand is shaking just a little as I put my glass on the coffee table. “I’ve gotta go,” I tell Brandi.

“Why. Where are you going?” “He came after me once,” I say, standing up, already moving toward my purse. “Time for me to go after him.”

Chapter 43

Reece Okay, guys, I don’t mean to rush you here, but keep up, because sometimes a dude’s mind is super simple and works exactly like this. It took me about five minutes after Lucy let me go the last time to know that I wanted her back. It took me nine days to figure out how the f*ck to do it. You want a long drawn-out story of how I realized it? It was as simple as seeing that car’s f*cking taillights drive away from me and realizing I wanted to die. Realizing that I’d risk all the world’s heartache, risk her leaving eventually, if it meant I’d get to hold her for just five minutes more. I lift my hand to knock on Lucy’s door, then drop my arm again, wiping my damp palm against my jeans. This plan didn’t seem nearly so terrifying when I talked it over with Craig. Show up. Tell her how you feel. Hope like hell she feels the same way. Easy. And…I think I’m going to barf. I take a deep breath and lift my hand again, refusing to let myself chicken out the way I’ve been doing for the past six years. Lucy Hawkins was my girl. Now she’s my woman. And I’m her man. She’d better start getting used to the idea. The door opens before my knuckles can make contact, and I have only a second to register movement before her small body hurls into my chest. “Oh,” she says on an exhale, taking a quick step back. “I’m so sorr— Reece?” For a moment, I can only stare. She’s so…Lucy. Tight-fitting black shirt, white skirt, flipflops, hair in a messy knot on top of her head. She’s beautiful. So damn beautiful I can’t breathe. “Hi.” She blinks, then her eyebrows go up at the exact moment she plants a hand on her hip. “Hi?” I swallow. sh*t. Craig said it would get easier once I got started. f*cking liar. I swallow again and fist my hands to keep from pulling her toward me, resisting the urge to tell her how I feel with a kiss instead of words. She deserves the words. She deserves all of it.

“Can I come in?” I ask. “Um.” For the first time, I realize that she seems a little off. Her surprise at seeing me has faded, but there’s still something a little wild and desperate in her eyes. It’s an expression I’ve learned well over the past week from seeing it in my own mirror. “Please,” I say quietly. “I have things I need to say to you.” She steps to the side so I can come in, shutting the door behind me. I look her over more closely now, noticing the purse in her hand. “You were headed out.” She nods and doesn’t meet my eyes, and for a heart-stopping moment, I wonder if she was headed out on a date. Not so long ago, the thought would have made me run for the hills, wanting to bury my head in the sand before the bulk of the pain hit me. Now it only makes me want to fight. Fight for what’s mine. “I signed up for some classes,” I blurt out. She frowns a little. “Okay. What kind of classes. Like, how not to be an asshole?” I laugh, because it’s such a Lucy thing to say. “Wine classes. Winemaking, wine marketing, wine tasting. Whatever fit into my work schedule.” She goes a little still. “Thought you hated all that. Thought the only way to learn was eating the dirt, or whatever.” I smile. “Hands-on is still important. The most important, I’d say. But I’ve…I’ve been thinking about what you said. Thinking about what I want out of my life, and I don’t just want to be the guy drifting through the days from paycheck to paycheck.” “Okay.” She sets her purse carefully on the floor and crosses her arms. “And what do you want?” I take a step toward her, gaining courage now. Not because I’m not terrified of the power her one-woman army has over my heart, but because I know the answer to her question with absolute certainty. I’m tired of being the man who runs. Tired of being that guy who won’t reach for something worthwhile because I’m scared it’ll disappear. “I don’t know what my future looks like,” I say, my voice low and clear. “Maybe lead winemaker at one of the big names. Maybe it’s my own winery. Hell, maybe I’ll get struck by lightning and realize I like selling the stuff as much as I like making it. Maybe I’ll start my own tasting room, or invent some type of aging barrel, or…” Lucy laughs a little, and holds up her hand. “Wow. Big plans there, Sullivan.” “Endgame,” I blurt out. Her smile fades. “What?” I step closer now. Her eyes go wary, but my heart surges with hope that she won’t take a step back. “You asked me what my endgame was.” “And you’ve figured it out?” she asks. “Not with the job, no, but I’m getting there. Things are starting to feel…clear.”

“Well,” she says, forcing a smile. “I’m glad. You’re meant for great things, I’ve always known that, even if you didn’t.” “I know,” I say a little roughly. “But the thing is, the endgame you asked me about…my career goals…they’re important. But they’re not most important.” “They aren’t?” she whispers as my hands reach for her, settling carefully on her waist. Touching her feels so right my knees nearly buckle, and I gain courage. “I’ve made some mistakes with my life, Lucy. Most of them with you. I’ve hurt you, I let you leave, I left you, I didn’t come after you, I’ve picked on you, I’ve snapped at you…” “Quite the résumé.” I can tell she’s trying for levity, but her voice cracks. “Quite. But none of those are what I regret the most.” I rest my forehead on hers and take a deep breath. “What I regret the most is not telling you how I felt about you. I should have told you when I was nineteen. Hell, I should have told you when I was nine.” Her bottom lip wobbles, and I lift a hand to brush my thumb across her trembling mouth. Suddenly, there’s no fear. No terror. There’s only this moment. Late, but still perfect. “I love you, Lucy.” Okay, I may have been premature in my confidence, because saying it out loud is f*cking terrifying. Especially when she doesn’t say a word in response. Lucy doesn’t even move, and her eyes are shiny with tears, and I can’t read them. I can’t tell what she’s thinking, or what she’s feeling, and I’m about to go to my plan B of get on your knees and beg, when she lets out a broken cry and wraps her arms around my neck. I go perfectly still, before very slowly closing my arms around her in relief. Then my eyes close. I am home. Even if this hug is all I get, it’s enough. I’ll make it be enough. At least until I can get better and braver, and demand that she give me more moments just like this one. “I was coming to see you,” she says against my neck. I rub a hand along her spine. “Oh yeah?” I touch her hair, my hand trembling a little as I order myself not to rush her. Not to beg her to say what I need to hear. “Must have been in quite the hurry.” She pulls back and nods, her fingers touching my cheek. “Let’s just say it’s six years overdue.” “Better late than never?” Her smile is slow and tender as she goes on her toes to kiss me softly. “You know that you don’t need to take those classes, right? If you want to for you, by all means. But don’t do it for me.” My heart sinks. This is what she wanted to tell me? I put my heart on the line, and she— “I love you just as you are. I’ve always loved you.” My heart starts beating again, but I’m still needy, and I clasp her to me roughly, giving her a little shake. “Again.” Lucy laughs. “I love you. From the very start. And I never should have left that day. I should have had more faith in you, more faith in us. And the other night, I should have—”

“Let’s make a deal,” I say, cupping her face. “Let’s agree to let all that go. We can learn from those experiences and all that sh*t, but we deserve a fresh start. We’re more than our mistakes.” She gives my chest a happy little pat. “I like that. A fresh start, hiccups forgotten.” I snort. “ ‘Hiccups.’ Is that what we’re calling them?” “Nope.” Her arms are around my neck again, and she’s looking up at me. “We’re not calling them anything, remember? And I just realized why it was that I was coming after you.” “It wasn’t to tell me that you loved me?” “I was maybe going to mention that. But mostly, I was going to tell you that I need a roommate. And you need a roommate…the current one’s no good for you.” My eyes narrow. “This place is a one-bedroom.” She bites her lip. “I’m aware.” My eyes narrow further. “Lucy Hawkins. Are you asking me to move in with you?” “Well, it’s the only way we won’t have to worry about joint custody of Horny,” she says pragmatically. I smile. “True. He needs to know that both his parents love him very much.” “Do you think he knows that his parents love each other very much?” “He should,” I say as I begin backing her toward the bedroom. “After all, he’s the one that watched us fall for each other all over again.” Lucy puts a hand on my chest, halting my progress. “Well here’s the thing, Reece. I don’t think I ever stopped. I think I’m one of those crazy-stupid girls who’s loved you this whole time.” I can’t help the happy grin that spreads over my face as I bend my knees and hoist her over my shoulder and expedite our movement toward the bed. “Well that’s convenient,” I say, giving her butt a playful swat. “Because I’m that crazystupid guy that loved you the whole damn time too.”


Lucy LUCY , TWENTY -SEVEN, REECE, TWENTY -EIGHT I rest my hand on Reece’s shoulder, tugging his ear down to me so he can hear me as we mingle with the crowd gathering around the makeshift stage. “You know that if one of us wins, it means that the other loses,” I say. Reece gives my hand a pat and grins down at me. “Oh, Luce. That’s cute. No, no, sweetie, it means that when I win, you’ll have lost.” I roll my eyes. co*cky bastard. We’re at one of wine country’s most-hyped events…an impromptu wine tasting where the top wineries bring what they think to be the best of last year’s vintage for a blind tasting. It’s one of my favorite gatherings. No tourists, no wine snobs, just winery employees and the people who make the stuff. The party’s been going all night. It’s finally down to five finalists, and the winner is about to be announced. The winery Reece works for is in the finals. So is the winery I work for. My boss catches my eye across the room and holds up a hand with crossed fingers as the judge tallies the final vote. I do the same, although truthfully, I want Reece to win almost as much as I want to win. I love my job. I mean I really love it. I love Reece more. Way more. “All right, ladies and gentleman,” a short lady with spiky blond hair says into a microphone that squeaks. The sound reverberates off the rafters of the large barn where we’ve all congregated. “We have our winner!” Beside me, I feel Reece shift nervously, and I take his hand, noticing the way some of the people around us smile at the gesture. I don’t want to brag or anything, but in the three years we’ve been in Napa, Reece and I have become something of wine royalty. We both made Wine Magazine’s Thirty Under Thirty list—he for Innovative Winemaking, I for my guerrilla marketing tactics. Reece’s words, not mine. He’s just jealous, because I’m not selling his wine. Yet. Let’s just say we have plans.

“And the winner is…” Blond lady pulls the paper bag off the bottle of the winner. “Abbott Vineyards!” My heart leaps in joy. Reece’s wine. Reece’s only reaction is to clench his fist, giving the smallest pump of victory, before he turns and grins down at me. “Told you.” “Such a gracious winner.” I go on my toes to kiss him. “Congrats. Go ahead, wallow in this, because next year…” “Next year I’ll win again, and all the years after that, soooooo…” I laugh and push him toward the stage. “Go. Get your prize so we can go home and drink the stuff.” My heart nearly bursts with pride as I watch Reece shake hands and smile at his colleagues. I shake some hands of my own, smiling and working the crowd as I always do, even as one eye follows Reece, loving the pure joy on his face. I think my pride might kill me. Nearly an hour later, he meets me at the coat check, helping me into my trench as I make a grab for the award-winning wine bottle in his hand. “Now do I get to see the bottle?” I ask, knowing that Abbott Vineyards has the unique quirk of letting each winemaker pick the name of the wine beyond the type of grape. “You’ve been so weird about it!” Reece hesitates for only the briefest of moments before letting me pry the bottle from his hand. I take in the familiar Abbott logo, the cabernet sauvignon descriptor, and then I see the name of the wine itself, and my happy smile turns into stunned wonder, and I look up at him. “Love Story,” I say. “You named it Love Story. And there’s a little cartoon car that looks suspiciously like Horny.” His face is embarrassed. “Don’t turn it into a thing.” I catch his arm when he tries to turn away. “Love Story. Like…our story?” Reece scratches his cheek, before finally meeting my eyes. “Is it dumb? It just came to me, and it seemed…fitting.” “Are you kidding me? It’s pretty much the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.” His eyes light up, and I can tell he’s pleased by my reaction. “I was going to name it Endgame, but…” “But what?” I say as we walk hand in hand toward the car (a secondhand Toyota sedan, since poor Horny is needing more and more naps these days). “Well, because much as I love my work, I realized that a bottle of wine was never going to be my endgame,” he says. “No? What is?” I ask, climbing into the car as he opens the passenger side for me. “Reece?” I prod, when he doesn’t reply. Instead of answering, he ushers me in, gives me a mysterious smile, and shuts the door. I bite my lip, trying desperately to get a grip on my euphoric smile before he opens the driver’s-side door. I’m pretty sure Reece’s real endgame has to do with the diamond ring I spotted in his sock

drawer. And I want that ring on my fourth finger so bad, I’m practically levitating. But, hey, I can be patient. If our story has taught me anything, it’s that the wait is always worth it.

Author’s Note Here’s a little something nobody told me about being a professional author: The further you get in your career, the more choices you’ll have to make. What to write. When to write. How to write it. Who to listen to. Where to publish it. The tricky part? Sometimes you get pulled in contradictory directions, and before you know it you can become paralyzed with all the sparkly options! It took me a while to figure it out, but the best way to work through this is to know your priorities. Mine? Writing the story I want to write. The freedom to tell the story that’s loudest in my imagination, the story that’s begging to be told. Sounds obvious, but the truth is, it’s sometimes hard to find a home for these stories! Which is why I need to start out my acknowledgments by thanking the following three people: Nicole Resciniti, Sue Grimshaw, and Gina Wachtel. Right there you have my creative muse’s holy trinity, because these are the ladies who make stories like Love Story possible. I tell Nicole (my agent) that I’ve got a story in my head that won’t let go, and without batting an eye, she says, “Let’s find a home for it.” Sue and Gina are that home, enabling characters like Reece and Lucy to find a way to your e-reader. Not a day goes by that I don’t think how lucky I am to have this sort of support. And it doesn’t stop there. Huge shout-out to Erika Seyfried and Madeleine Kenney for their marketing and publicity prowess, as well as being so friendly and fun to work with. To Janet Wygal and her copyediting peeps for polishing my gibberish into a readable book. To Lynn Andreozzi for continuing to be one of the best in the industry when it comes to creating gorgeous covers. Thank you to Matt Schwartz for his brilliance with strategy and numbers, and knowing the answers to all my questions before I even ask them. And to everyone else on the Penguin Random House side who’s touched this book in ways I don’t know about, thank you. Of course I couldn’t do any of this without the support and patience of my husband, who doesn’t even flinch when I don’t shower on deadline, and to Lisa Filipe, my amazing assistant whose capacity for details continues to blow my mind on a daily basis. Thank you to my street team, who continues to be there for me even when I’m in the cave and don’t pay as much attention as I should. To Annie Selak, who continues to be my biggest cheerleader, seeming to know exactly when I need an encouraging text on a bad day. To Rachel Van Dyken, Kate Meader, Jessica Lemmon, and Jennifer Probst, my author friends who let me sob on their shoulders about authory stuff. And as always, thank you to my readers. I know your time is limited, your book budget precious, and I’m grateful every day that I found a spot on your TBR list. If you enjoyed Love Story, I think you’ll adore the rest of my Love Unexpectedly series!

Blurred Lines, Good Girl, and Walk of Shame (available April 2017) don’t have connected characters, but they’re all told from a sassy, first-person POV with plenty of laughs and swoons. I often get asked the best way to stay up to date on my books, and that’s absolutely the LL Weekly—my Thursday newsletter, where you’ll get the first look at new covers, sneak peeks, behind-the-scenes details, writing tips and more, direct to your inbox! You can find me on the usual social media spots, although Instagram’s most assuredly my favorite, so if you’re a fellow fan of the ’gram, you can find me there! Lastly, before I was a writer, I was a website manager, which means I’m all about my website! Swing by to check out my upcoming releases, as well as exclusive content.

For Annie Selak—your constant support means more than you know!

BY LAUREN LAYNE Oxford Series Irresistibly Yours I Wish You Were Mine Someone Like You I Knew You Were Trouble

Love Unexpectedly Series Blurred Lines Good Girl Love Story Walk of Shame (coming soon)

Sex, Love & Stiletto Series After the Kiss Love the One You’re With Just One Night The Trouble with Love

Redemption Series Isn’t She Lovely Broken Crushed

LAUREN LAY NE is the USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen novels. A former ecommerce and Web marketing manager from Seattle, Lauren relocated in 2011 to New York City, where she left the corporate world to pursue a full-time writing career. Her hobbies include maintaining a designer purse addiction and observing co*cktail hour. Lauren lives with her high school sweetheart in midtown Manhattan, where she writes romantic comedies with just enough sexy-times to make your mother blush. laurenlayne.com laurenlayne.com/​sign-up Facebook.com/​LaurenLayneAuthor twitter.com/​_LaurenLayne instagram.com/​_laurenlayne

Read on for an excerpt from

Walk of Shame A Love Unexpectedly Novel

by Lauren Layne

Available from Loveswept

Chapter 1 Five a.m. Also known as the most heinous hour of the day, am I right? Because if you’re awake to see five a.m., it means one of a few things. You’re on your way to the airport for an early-morning flight. Heinous. It means you’ve been out all night, but last call was more than an hour ago, and now you’re at that oh-sh*t moment where your buzz is fading and you’re realizing that the rest of your day will likely involve Excedrin, carbs, and indoor voices. Heinous. It means you’ve got a crap-ton on your mind, and you’re lying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, hating your life. Maybe hating yourself a little bit, I dunno, who am I to judge? Heinous. Or…and now brace yourself, because this is the most heinous of them all… You could be up at five a.m. because you’re an uptight prick whose schedule is even more rigid than your posture, and your life is an endless string of working out, the corner office. You’re the type of person who subsists on protein shakes and kale smoothies and has been known to utter the phrase The body is a temple, thus solidifying what we already knew: you have no friends. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, it’s almost five a.m. and not only am I still awake, I’m actually kind of… Excited about it. I know. I know. Four months ago, I’d have bet my favorite vintage Chanel bag that there was no chance I’d actually look forward to the ghoul hour of five in the morning. And yet, here we are. “Good morning, Ramon,” I sing, pushing through the revolving doors of the luxury highrise on Fifty-sixth and Park. The concierge/security guard/all-around good guy glances up and gives me a friendly smile. “Ms. Watkins. Welcome home.” Usually the massive front desk has a bit more going on, with an army of concierges in black suits calling wealthy residents to let them know their impatient guests have arrived; those same residents stopping by the front desk demanding to know why FedEx hasn’t arrived yet. There’s dry cleaning being dropped off, mail being collected, and designer-purse dogs letting out sharp, high-pitched barks of greetings from their Louis Vuitton carriers. And so on. This time of day though, the luxury lobby is mostly silent, with just the lone overnight guy

working the front desk, holding down the fort until the day guys arrive to handle the morning crush. My new Tory Burch clutch tucked into my armpit, I lightly juggle the box in my hands and wiggle my eyebrows at the front-desk guy. “Brought you something.” Ramon’s smile grows wider, his brown eyes lighting up. “My wife says you’re going to make me fat.” “Tell Marta that the dad-bod is totally in style right now,” I say, setting the box of donuts on the counter and lifting the lid. “Unless, of course, you don’t want a maple bacon oldfashioned?” Ramon is already reaching inside the box, shaking his head as he lifts the sugary treat. “Still warm.” “Technically my shop doesn’t open until five, but I’m such a loyal customer they let me in a bit early,” I say, surveying the array of donuts and trying to decide if I’m in a chocolate kind of mood, or if I want to risk the powdered sugar one. Since my Alexander McQueen minidress is black (the arch nemesis of powdered sugar, obvs), I reach for the chocolate one, even as I set my clutch on the counter and fish out my phone. 4:58 a.m. Two more minutes. “How’s Marta dealing with the pregnancy of Baby Number Three?” I ask, taking a bite of the donut and shifting my attention back to Ramon, who’s already polished off his oldfashioned, and is contemplating a second. I nudge the box toward him. “She’s good,” he says. “Excited that we’re finally having a girl.” “A girl!” I say, reaching across the counter and squeezing his massive forearm. “Congratulations, I hadn’t heard!” “Just found out yesterday,” he says with a happy smile, apparently deciding the occasion calls for another maple bar. “I have the perfect baby gift,” I say, nibbling at a piece of my donut. “I saw this adorable Burberry onesie in Bergdorf’s the other day, with this precious little red bow—” “Yes, because that’s what every infant needs,” a low voice interrupts. “A four-hundreddollar piece of fabric that needs to be dry-cleaned? Don’t be ridiculous, Georgiana.” I don’t have to look at my clock to know what time it is. Five o’clock. On the dot. With an eye roll, I don’t even bother to turn as my red nails tear off another piece of donut and pop it into my mouth. “Ramon, do you think you could talk to maintenance about adjusting the temp? It just got a little cold in here.” Ramon’s been working here long enough to know my request isn’t for real. Not that it matters, because he’s already set his donut aside and straightened up, practically saluting the newcomer. “Mr. Mulroney. Good morning, sir.”

“Ramon.” The voice is low and serious, a touch impatient, although not quite rude. You know that adage that you catch more flies with honey? I’m not so sure it’s true. I bring donuts to the front desk guys just about every morning, and they adore me. I know they do. But they respect him. Giving in to the inevitable, I finally let my eyes flick to the side, my gaze colliding with a stern brown scowl. I put on my widest, sparkliest smile, only because I know it drives Mr. Mulroney crazy. True to habit, I see a muscle in his jaw twitch as I flutter my eyelashes. “Good morning, Andrew.” “Georgiana.” I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Only my late grandmother has ever called me that, and I’m pretty sure that’s only because I was her namesake. Everyone else calls me Georgie. Well okay, not everyone. Ramon and the other guys still insist on calling me Ms. Watkins, but I’m working on it. See: daily donuts. I smile wider and push the box in Andrew’s direction. “Donut?” His lip curls. In case you haven’t already gotten a read on this guy, he’s the type that sneers at donuts. He lifts a boring black travel mug. “Already have my breakfast.” “Blended up quinoa sprinkled with a few bits of spinach and pretension?” I ask. “Whey powder protein shake.” “Sounds immensely satisfying.” He takes a sip of the nastiness and watches me with cold brown eyes. “The body is a temple, Georgiana.” There it is. Full circle to my above commentary about what sort of people are up and about at five a.m. Me? The one just coming in from a night out, although I’m pleased to say that at twentysix, I’m a lot better at it than I was at twenty-two, and no longer feel the need to drink myself into oblivion. A few glasses of champagne is my usual limit, and never past two a.m., so I’m perfectly sober. Him? Well you already know which type of five a.m. person he is. Who is he, you ask? Andrew Mulroney, Esq. I know this, because we moved into the building on the exact same day, and right before we got into a horrendous fight—over whose movers should have access to the building’s loading dock first—he’d handed me his business card. The thick, white card stock declared in bold, no-bullsh*t black letters that he had a fancy law degree to go along with the fancy suit he was wearing on a Saturday. Andrew had handed it over with such superiority, I’d actually wished for a half second that I had a business card of my own that would somehow be better than his. Like, lined with gold, or something. No, platinum. With a diamond in the corner, which would be too heavy

for him to hold, and he’d drop it, thus having to kneel at my feet to pick it up… What a fantasy it was. But then I’d realized it was just as well that I didn’t have a business card. Because it would say, what… Georgiana Watkins…Professional Party Girl? Anyway, I digress. Despite the high temps of that swampy July morning, the encounter had been the start of an epic cold war. Me, the socialite in Apartment 86A, against the uptight esquire in Apartment 79B. I let my gaze drift over him, even though his appearance rarely holds any surprises. The man’s like a robot—a lesson in sameness. It’s like we’re in some sort of uptight version of Groundhog Day. There’s always the black mug, containing some healthy gunk, in his right hand, Tom Ford briefcase and Armani garment bag in his left, enveloping what I know to be a perfectly tailored three-piece suit. His coppery hair is perfectly styled, although I’d swear that there’s some natural curl in there threatening to disrupt his perfect order. Hard jaw, perfectly shaven. Dark brown eyes cold and flat. Black gym bag over one shoulder. I suppose you could say he changes up his attire, because he does alternate between black and gray gym shirts. But considering that they seem to be the exact same cut, both colors molding perfectly to his impressively sculpted upper body, we’re not giving him any points for variety there. Same goes for the lower half. The black shorts in summer have given way to sleek black sweatpants now that October’s upon us, but they’re both black and Nike, so we’ll give him no credit for changing it up. The shoes though… I do a double take. Well, well, well… Instead of the usual black gym shoes, the man’s shoes are red. I don’t know how I missed it before. I drag my eyes back up his body with a grin, and he gives just the slightest roll of his eyes to indicate that he’s noticed my slow perusal and isn’t fazed in the least. “You went shopping, Dorothy!” I say happily. He stares at me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t catch the Wizard of Oz reference. “I don’t shop.” Of course not. Far too frivolous. “No, that makes sense,” I say, pointing at his feet. “Glinda would have given these to you.” Andrew looks down at his Rolex watch. “I’ve got to go. Ramon, have a good day.” “You too, Mr. Mulroney,” Ramon says with a deferential nod. “Enjoy your workout.” “Yes, do,” I say, turning and watching as Andrew moves toward the front door of our building. “What’s on the schedule today? Treadmill, or just skipping down the Yellow Brick Road?” Andrew Mulroney, Esq., doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even turn before pushing through the

revolving doors and stepping out into the still-dark autumn morning. Now, come on. Tell me that wasn’t at least a little bit fun, despite the ungodly morning hour. I turn back to Ramon, who’s once again picked up his donut. “You don’t have to kiss his ass, you know.” Ramon gives the slightest smile. “I do if I want a Christmas bonus.” I lay a hand over my chest in mock affront. “You don’t kiss my ass, and I’ll still give you a Christmas bonus.” “Respectfully, you’re a bit different from most of our residents, Ms. Watkins.” “Does that mean you’ll call me Georgie?” I ask hopefully. He merely smiles wider. “Enjoy your morning, Ms. Watkins.” I sigh. “Thought so.” I push the box of donuts toward him. “Give these to the other guys when they come in. And don’t forget to take one home to Marta.” “Thank you, Ms. Watkins.” I pluck my cranberry-colored clutch off the desk and walk backward toward the elevator, not even the slightest bit unsteady in my sky-high Jimmy Choo’s. “Enjoy your ‘weekend,’ ” I tell Ramon, knowing that although today’s Tuesday, Ramon has Wednesday and Thursday off. The second I step into the elevator—the button for the eighty-sixth floor already lit up, courtesy of Ramon and the building’s fancy tech—I start to anticipate the prospect of crawling into bed, getting a few hours’ sleep before my hair appointment at four. And if for a second my mind registers the depressing thought that the most exciting part of my day has already come and gone, I push it away.

Love stories you’ll never forget By authors you’ll always remember eOriginal Romance from Random House randomhousebooks.com

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(Love Unexpectedly #3) Love Story - Lauren Layne - PDF Free Download (2024)


What is the synopsis of To Sir With love Lauren Layne? ›

Love Is Blind meets You've Got Mail in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy following two thirty-somethings who meet on a blind dating app—only to realize that their online chemistry is nothing compared to their offline rivalry.

What is the sequel of I too had a love story? ›

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To Sir, With Love is a 1959 autobiographical novel by E. R. Braithwaite set in the East End of London. The novel is based on the true story of Braithwaite accepting a teaching post in a secondary school.

Who was the band at the end of To Sir, with Love? ›

The band at the dance, The Mindbenders, was the original backing band for Wayne Fontana. Fontana and the band had a hit with "Game of Love" while the group themselves had a hit with "Groovy Kind of Love". Eric Stewart from The Mindbenders went onto greater success as part of 10cc.

Who is the protagonist in a love story? ›

Editor Tip: It's important to remember that the protagonist in a love story (courtship, anyway) is usually not the pursuer, but is the object of desire of the other character. There are secondary characters representing helpers and harmers. There must be characters for and against the relationship.

What is the meaning of a love story? ›

noun. : a tale of lovers.

Is there a part 2 to love story? ›

In this sequel to Love Story (1970), grieving Oliver is being pressured by his in-laws to move on and take part in the family business.

What was the name of the sequel to love story? ›

Who did Ravinder Singh marry? ›

The book is still flying off bookshelves. Ravinder actually found his wife Khushboo thanks to the book. Khushboo had read his book and prayed he find love again, and he did, in her!

What is the plot of the series To Sir, with Love? ›

Depicts the story of "forbidden love" between two men, which is blocked by Chinese society.

What is the story of the movie "To Sir with Love" about? ›

What is the theme of the book To Sir, with Love? ›

Answer: The main themes of To Sir, with Love are education and racial prejudice. While Braithwaite overcomes the obstacles in his path, a critical reader might view his approach as somewhat egocentric, considering social problems as solved if he is able to stop them from affecting him personally.

How does the movie To Sir, with Love end? ›

The film "To Sir, With Love" concludes on the image of Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) saying goodbye to his students as he leaves their school.

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