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The clearing was shaped like a circle, with the access road on the south side. Directly across from it was an old but clean looking trailer. Before I could ask who’d brought the camper, Elle was darting off to join Braden at the fire pit in the center of the clearing.
I watched as she leaned into him and whispered in his ear. He grinned, nodding at her with an affectionate smile as she ran her hand along his chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her to him and pressing a slow, tender kiss to her lips.
For a moment, a small swell of jealousy pressed down on me. Not because it was Braden, but because I wanted that. I wanted someone to kiss me slowly; I wanted to feel strong arms around me. I wanted intimacy and tender touches.
I glanced around the party, noting there wasn’t anyone even remotely interesting around. These were all guys that I’d gone to school with, or guys that were Braden’s and Tommy’s friends. None of them made my heart beat faster and my palms sweat. Hell, I got a better chemical reaction from shooting a bow and hitting my target than with any of the guys around this lame town.
One reason to really wish the summer away: college meant more of a selection.
Elle saw me sulking and reluctantly pulled away from Braden. “What’s up?” she asked, frowning at the sullen look on my face.
“Nothing.” I sighed.
“I don’t buy that,” she called me out, jutting her hip out and propping her hand on it with her certain brand of attitude.
I fixed her with a serious stare. “I promise that I’m fine. Just…please tell me we’re still sharing a tent and that Braden won’t be in it?” I raised my brows, pleading with her.
Elle smiled at me brightly, her white teeth flashing in the moonlight. “Don’t worry about it! Braden’s sharing a tent with Ezra. Unless you want to share a tent with him…” Elle trailed off, smirking as her hip bumped into mine.
“Um, no. I’m good.” I made a face, my memories drawn to the one time when Ezra and I hooked up. It was a year before the Corbin Little incident. I was sixteen and Ezra was seventeen, his license still fresh in his hand when he asked me out to the movies. We’d mutually decided to skip the movie and drive around in his truck, and one thing led to another. Although Ezra was sweet, he wasn’t experienced and neither was I for that matter. The whole situation was awkward, painful, unpleasant, and completely overrated. Definitely not worth the black eye that Ezra got when Tommy found out. I definitely had no desire to relive that night. “So, whose camper is that?”
She glanced up, looking towards the trailer. A guilty look befell her face. “That’s Braden’s brother’s trailer,” she said innocently, shrugging. She wasn’t meeting my eyes.
“Braden’s brother?” I repeated, blinking slowly.
“Yeah, I think that’s him now.” Elle grinned, nodding towards the headlights that were focused on us as a truck pulled up. My eyes widened as I took in the new Ford F-250 with huge, monstrous tires and floodlights. He parked carelessly with the other vehicles lining our makeshift party area and got out, leaving the lights pointed directly at our little group.
“Hey, Brock! Glad you could make it.” Braden smiled, his entire demeanor changing as his older brother slowly walked up to us. Brock had a dark, grim look on his face, as if this was exactly where he didn’t want to be. He was carrying two ten gallon jugs of water effortlessly. He set them down a little ways away from the fire.
“Get the rest of the water from my truck,” Brock ordered, his eyes narrowing in on Braden’s face.
His voice prompted butterflies to explode in my belly. It was deep, gravelly, and full of authority. Brock had the kind of voice and rugged good looks that made girls swoon.
My eyes drank him in. His dark hair was wet, as if he’d just stepped out of the shower, and bits of it fell across his forehead. He had a strong, chiseled jaw, a five o’clock shadow and the most sensual lips I’d ever seen.
I had the most ridiculous urge to step towards him and run my hands through all that hair. The way his Wrangler jeans clung to his muscular thighs made my mouth water. He looked like a damn cover model for some country living magazine.
He looked a thousand times better than I remembered. Not good, not good at all! I thought, desperately seeking some kind of flaw in him that I could latch on to.
Even his clothes made me drool, or perhaps it was the way he wore them. He was dressed in well-worn cowboy boots and a black t-shirt that clung to the muscles in his strong arms. Arms that looked capable of hard labor; arms that I’d love to have wrapped around me.
Elle elbowed me sharply, giggling. I hadn’t realized I was noticeably gawking at the man standing less than a foot away from me, but I couldn’t help it. The guys I was used to seeing around weren’t built like Brock. They didn’t even come close to being built like Brock.
He glanced over, his brow furrowing as his eyes landed on me. I clamped my jaw shut and tried to force my eyes away from his, but he had some kind of pull on me. I couldn’t stop staring at him and he was staring right back.
His eyes were every bit as intriguing as I remembered, but the easy dimpled smile was definitely not present. Brock Miller looked hostile and every bit as dangerous as they said he was…and still, I couldn’t stop staring.
“Yeah, yeah,” Braden grumbled, effectively breaking whatever strange spell had overcome us. Brock’s eyes tore from my face and he watched as his brother stomped over to his truck. A second later, a menacing deep bark sounded from in the cab. Braden yelped and flew backwards, away from the snarling dog sitting inside. Brock smiled slowly, the dimple appearing just above the left corner of his lip.
He put his fingers to his lips and whistled. The dog leapt from the open window and growled at Braden. Brock whistled once again. Obediently, the dog walked up and sat down at Brock’s feet, still watching Braden carefully. The dog was huge and beautiful, a German shepherd mix from the looks of it. Absently, Brock’s hand dropped down to pat the dog on the head.
“I hope you’re going to control that fucking mutt,” Braden seethed, his face red with embarrassment. “I don’t want it barking all night.”
Brock sent him a single look that had Braden clamping his mouth shut and fetching the rest of the water jugs from the back of the truck. It seemed that Brock had an undeniable power over those around him. Me, Braden, the dog, even Elle watched with wide eyes.
I grabbed Elle’s arm again, dragging her further away from both Brock and Braden. I felt light headed, and I didn’t like it at all. “Why didn’t you tell me he was going to be here? If my father finds out, he’s going to flip!”
“Chill out, Tessa. Your father isn’t going to find out…I promise.” Elle’s eyes were filled with sincerity. “And really, there’s nothing wrong with Brock.”
“Didn’t he just get out of jail for aggravated assault?” I retorted, folding my arms across my chest. I was suddenly cold; the good mood I’d been in earlier had long since evaporated in a puff of smoke, replaced with a swirling number of complicated emotions and reactions that I couldn’t even begin to sift through.
“Yes, but you don’t know the reason why,” Elle said, as if this should make all the difference in the world. Elle noticed my unimpressed are you serious stare. She smiled sadly. “Tessa, your world is always so black and white. Sometimes, things fall in the grey area. Trust me when I tell you, this is one of those things. He is one of those things.”
I wrinkled my nose, resenting my friend for calling me out. “Fine, but don’t expect me to talk to him. I barely tolerate Braden.”
“I know,” Elle said without humor. She pursed her lips as if she had more to say. Instead, she forced a smile. “Let’s go get a drink.”
J.C. Hannigan lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, their two sons, and their dog. She writes contemporary new adult romance and suspense. Her novels focus on relationships, mental health, social issues, and other life challenges.
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