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While It Lasts Chapter One Eighteen months later . . .
“Thanks for giving me a ride,” I said, reaching for my duffel bag holding my entire summer wardrobe.
“I did it for Low,” Marcus Hardy reminded me for the second time. My best friend, Willow, was a chick—a smoking-hot chick. Marcus, her fiancé, was an elitist ass at times, but I dealt with him. Had to if I wanted to keep Low in my life. All that mattered was that he understood that Low walked on fucking water. As long as he kept that in mind and treated her as such, I could live with the prick.
“I never questioned that,” I replied with a smirk, pulling the straps of my bag up onto my shoulder. Turning my attention from Marcus, I looked at the large white-and-tan farmhouse in front of me. It was surrounded by miles and miles of green grass, trees, and a helluva lot of cows—my purgatory for the entire summer. Glancing back at Marcus, I nodded and started to close the door. I knew he was ready to get back to Sea Breeze, where Low was waiting on him. No one wanted to be stuck in this fucking cow town.
“Cage. Wait,” Marcus called out before I could completely close the truck door. Slowly, I opened it back up and arched an eyebrow in question. What else could Marcus want with me? He’d barely spoken to me on the hour’s ride up here.
“Don’t screw this up, okay? Stay sober. Don’t drive a car until you get your license back, and try not to piss off your coach’s brother. Your future is riding on this summer, and you’re upsetting Low. I don’t want her worried about you. Think about someone other than yourself for a change.” Well, hell, I’d just got a parental lecture from Marcus fucking Hardy. Wasn’t that sweet?
“I know what happens if I screw things up, Marcus. Thanks for the reminder, though.” I let the sarcasm drip from my voice.
Marcus frowned and started to say something more before just shaking his head and putting his truck in reverse. Conversation over. Good. The guy should learn to mind his own damn business.
I slammed the door and turned my attention back to the house while Marcus’s tires spun out of the gravel drive. Guess I’d better go meet my warden for the rest of the summer and get this party started. All I had to do was make this guy happy. I’d take care of his cows and do manual labor for two and a half months, and then my coach wouldn’t kick my ass off the baseball team. The DUI he’d had to bail me out of jail for would be forgotten and my baseball scholarship would remain intact. I only had three problems with this plan:
1. No girls.
2. I hated manual labor.
3. No girls.
Other than that, this wasn’t all that bad. I’d get Sundays off. I’d just have to get my fill of sexy little sorority girls in tiny bikinis on Sundays. I reached the front door of the house. The wraparound porch was pretty damn nice. I wasn’t into the farm thing, but this place wasn’t half bad. I bet the bedrooms were a nice size.
“You must be the fella Wilson hired for the summer.” A guy in a pair of faded jeans and some worn-looking, badass boots started up the steps of the porch. He was smiling like he was really glad to see me. Must be the guy’s son. I’d be shoveling hay and cow shit all summer instead of him. Bet he liked me a lot.
“Yeah,” I replied, “Cage York. Coach Mack sent me.”
The guy grinned and nodded, sticking both his hands into his front pockets. All he needed was a damn piece of straw hanging out of his mouth to look like every stereotypical country boy.
“Ah, that’s right. I heard about you. DUI. Man, that sucks. ’Specially since Wilson is a damn slave driver. My brother and I worked many a summer for him through high school. I swear you’ll never drink and drive again.”
Guess he wasn’t the old man’s kid after all. Nodding, I turned to knock on the door.
“Wilson ain’t back from the stockyard yet. He’ll be here in ’bout an hour.” The guy held out his hand. “I’m Jeremy Beasley, by the way. I reckon we’ll see enough of each other over the summer, seeing as I’m the next-door neighbor. And, well, then there is Eva.” He stopped and his eyes shifted from me to the door. I started to ask him who Eva was when I followed his gaze to find the light at the end of the tunnel standing in the doorway.
Long brown hair that curled loosely was draped over one bare shoulder. The clearest blue eyes I’d ever seen, framed by long, thick black eyelashes and full red lips, completed the perfect masterpiece of her face. My gaze slowly traveled south to take in smooth, tanned skin that was barely covered by a bikini top and a pair of tiny shorts that hung on her narrow hips. Then legs. Legs for miles and miles until two small bare feet with red toenails finished the fucking ridiculously perfect package in front of me. Damn. Maybe I should have come out to the country more often. I didn’t realize they grew girls like this out here.
“Eva, you aren’t ready yet? I thought we were going to make the six thirty show,” Jeremy said from behind me. Ah, hell no. Surely not. This goddess was with that guy? I brought my eyes back up to her face to find her blue eyes staring directly at me. They really were the bluest damn eyes I’d ever seen.
“Who are you?” The icy tone to her voice confused me.
“Down, girl. Play nice, Eva. This is the guy your daddy has helping him this summer.” Her eyes flashed something that looked like disgust. Really? I’d seen that look in a girl’s eyes, but never before I’d used her and then tossed her. Interesting.
“You’re the drunk,” she stated.
It wasn’t a question. So I didn’t reply. Instead I flashed her a smile that I knew affected any female’s panties and took a step toward her. “I got a lot of names, baby,” I finally responded.
Her eyebrows arched, and she straightened her stance and shot me the coldest glare I’d ever witnessed. What was this chick’s deal? “I’m sure you do. Let me guess: STD, Loser, Jackass, and Drunk, just to name a few,” she clipped, stepping out of the door and slamming it behind her. She swung her gaze to Jeremy, who I could have sworn just chuckled.
“I can’t make the movie, Jer. I need you to ride over to Mrs. Mabel’s with me and help me get her well working again. It needs to be primed.”
“Yes, again. She really needs a new one.”
Eva walked past me, grabbed Jeremy’s arm, and pulled him toward the stairs. Apparently, I had been dismissed.
“Has your dad called her boys yet? They need to get their asses down here and help their momma,” Jeremy said as they started walking away without a backward glance.
What the hell? Who just walks off and leaves a guy standing on their porch without a word? She was one insanely gorgeous but crazy-ass bitch.
“Hey, do I just go inside?” I called out.
Eva stopped and spun around. The same disgusted expression was on her face as before. “The house? Uh, no,” she replied with a shake of her head like I was crazy. She lifted her hand and pointed toward the two-story red barn that was located back behind the house. “Your room is in the back of the barn. It has a bed and a shower.”
Well, wasn’t that just fucking fantastic . . . ?
I hated guys like Cage. Life was a joke to him. There was no doubt in my mind that females of all ages drooled at his feet. He was healthy, alive, and throwing it all away like it was a game.
“Pull in the claws, sweetheart. You got your point across. He won’t come sniffing ’round you again.” Jeremy reached over and squeezed my leg gently, then turned on the radio.
“He’s a jerk,” I said through clenched teeth.
Jeremy let out a low laugh and shifted in his seat. I knew he was deciding on how to respond to me. The only other person who had known me as well as or better than Jeremy did was Josh—his twin brother and my fiancé. We’d all grown up together. Jeremy had always been the odd one out, but Josh and I had done our best to include him as much as possible.
When Josh had been killed by a bomb just north of Baghdad eighteen months ago, the only person I could stand to have near me had been Jeremy. Josh and Jeremy’s momma said it was because Jeremy was the only one I felt could understand my grief. In a way, we’d both lost our other half.
“And how’d you get that outta the brief conversation we just had with him? Seemed like a nice guy to me.” Jeremy was always optimistic. He always saw the best in people. It was up to me to keep people from taking advantage of his trusting spirit. Josh wasn’t here to do that anymore.
“He’s here because he was drinking and driving, Jer. That isn’t exactly a small offense. He could have hit a family. He could have killed someone’s kid. He’s a selfish loser.” Who really was too good-looking to be real. I’d have to get over that, though. His pretty face wouldn’t get to me.
“Eva, lots of people drink and drive a little. He probably was just going a short distance from the bar to his house. I doubt he was on a road trip. Probably just had a couple of beers.”
Sweet Jeremy. Bless his heart, he had no idea how depraved some people were. It was one of the things I loved about him. I happened to know Cage York was lit up like the Fourth of July when he had been pulled over. I’d heard Uncle Mack talk about what a thug he was and how the only thing he ever took seriously was baseball.
“Trust me, Jer, that guy is trouble.”
Jeremy didn’t respond. He leaned his elbow on the open window and let the warm breeze cool him down. The inside of Daddy’s farm truck was smoldering hot this time of year, but it was the only vehicle I’d drive. My vehicle sat in the garage, untouched. I couldn’t bring myself to drive it, and I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. The pretty silver Jeep that Daddy had bought me hadn’t been driven since I’d gotten the call from Josh’s momma telling me he’d been killed. Josh had proposed to me in that Jeep, overlooking Hollows Grove. Then he’d turned the music up on the radio and we’d gotten out and danced under the stars. I hadn’t laid eyes on it in a year and a half. Instead I drove the farm truck. It was just easier.
“Eva?” Jeremy asked, breaking into my memories. He always seemed to know when I needed someone to stop me from remembering.
“You know I love you, right?”
Tensing, I gripped the steering wheel tightly. When Jeremy started with something like that, I never liked what he was going to say next. Last time he’d asked me that, the next thing he’d said was that I should really start driving my Jeep again because Josh would want me to.
“Don’t, Jer,” I replied.
“It’s time to take the ring off, Eva.”
My hands stung from the death grip I had on the worn steering wheel. The gold band on my finger dug into my skin, reminding me it was there. I’d never taken it off. I never would.
He let out a long, heavy sigh and shook his head. I waited patiently for him to say more and was so thankful when we pulled into Mrs. Mabel’s. I all but jumped out of the truck before it came to a complete stop in my determination to get away from him before he could say anything else. The engagement ring Josh had put on my finger couldn’t be removed. It would be as if I was forgetting him. Like I was moving on and leaving him behind. I’d never leave him behind.