Authors: Lila Felix,Rachel Higginson
A Forged in fire series novel
Text Copyright ©2014, by Lila Felix and Rachel Higginson. Striking and Brazing (The Forged In Fire Series). The series, characters, names, and related indicia are trademarked and © by Lila Felix and Rachel Higginson.
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To our families for putting up with our rowdy hours, our incessant craving for coffee, and for measuring our and your time in words instead of hours. Thanks for sticking with us. It means the world.
To Rob, if you were a girl and didn’t have Maggie, this would be your story. Okay, maybe not. I’m sorry you went through what you did, but look! It’s now fiction. So worth it. Love you, brother.
“Come on, man. Get your ass in gear. You’ve been studying too hard. Everybody needs a break. You’re making
I heard his words, but I wasn’t listening. My little brother had become quite the partier, but I just wasn’t interested. Partying was nothing but trouble and the last time I’d been to one, was the one time I’d wished I hadn’t gone.
I’d taken a chance on Jesse, even though she was my sister’s best friend—even though it felt wrong—she swore she wouldn’t do to me what she did before. And I’d looked into her deep brown eyes and somehow saw some truth.
I walked into a big, white mansion, more plantation estate than animal house, but the bass pumping from inside was louder than a freight train. She’d made friends with some of my college buddies and they’d invited us all to a party. I was kind of stoked. It was gonna be great to see Jesse in my world instead of having to go back home to see her.
I walked into the front door and weaved my way through the hordes of dancers and drinkers, some loners, some plastered to each other in the thralls of lustful rhythm, others happy enough to dance with their beer. I saw my friends but didn’t see Jesse. I figured she must be late. I grabbed my own cup of the cheap stuff from the keg and explored the house. One room held a piano, with a girl passed out underneath the bench seat. I didn’t dare venture upstairs. Instead, I finished my beer walking around the enormous house.
I made one last pass of the back of the house and stopped to look at the partiers in the hot tub. And that’s when I saw Jesse. It seemed innocent. She had the same red cup as me in her hand and she was talking to everyone in the bubbling tank. But then the guy next to her, looking like some kind of Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious wanna-be, ran his finger under the string of her bikini top. And that’s when she leaned forward, practically crawled on top of him—and ruined me for parties and women for good.
“I hate parties. You know that.”
“You just hate them because of Jesse. I won’t even drink. I’ll be the DD and you can get sloshed.”
I looked back at my desk. It looked like it belonged to an accountant instead of a college student. I was way too stuck up. Business ethics textbook or beer?
“Ok, I’m in. Let me get showered and changed.”
I showered and threw on some clothes, nothing too nice as beer didn’t need to be impressed to give it up—just a simple t-shirt and jeans would suffice.
“Hey,” my brother, West, threw me a cell phone when I got back in the room, “Stock.”
I put the phone to my ear while pulling on my Chucks, “Hey, Stock, what’s up?”
“I want you both to come home for Thanksgiving. Will’s coming home too and Cami and Mallory are cooking. And there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Yeah,” I looked at West who was spraying some gunk in his hair. The boy always overdid it with the hair products, but the girls seemed to love it. “We’ll be home.”
“Good. Y’all be careful tonight. Love y’all.”
Stockton had gone from being a more stoic version of Oscar the Grouch to a big, muscled lump of goo. It still shocked me from time to time.
“Gross, you’re so sappy now.”
“Love you too, Stock.”
Six techno songs and countless beers later, I had glued my back to the wall. The wall and the floor were always safe bets. I knew if I tried to move too fast without a specific target, my drunken legs would fail me. Even in my wobbly state, I could see a girl across the way with brazen, red curly hair; her arms in the air, her hips popping back and forth. She captured my attention and every mans’ eyes in the room. She was perfectly content to dance by herself in the middle of the room. The corner of my mouth rose in a smile while I watched her. The air was thick with the longing from the men in the room for her curves and the women in the room for her brazenness. Gorgeous—that’s what she was. As if she heard my thoughts, she opened her eyes and looked my way. She crooked her finger in my direction, inviting me to join her in her scandalous gypsy-like display. As beautiful as she was, she was just another one of
And I was a fool for love—always had been. I’d fallen for Jesse, and she’d broken my heart.
I could tell just by her gait what kind she was. If one of her friends described her, they were bound to say she was wild and free. Wild and free was a layman’s term for “gonna cheat on you.”
I pushed off the wall and went for a refill—I was thinking way too much. This was supposed to have been a thoughtless night. My mind wanted to be filled with nothingness—anything but Jesse.
“Hey, can I get one too?” A female voice chirped as her arm swished against mine.
“Sure,” I refilled the cup next to mine without even looking at the owner—I was an equal drinking opportunity kind of guy.
“So, you don’t dance or you’re not into chicks? I didn’t see you with a guy—or a girl.”
That got my attention. I looked up to find the questioner to be the redhead. Her nose and the apples of her cheeks were speckled with freckles and it made her look a little less wild, a little more innocent—such a farce. And her long pink skirt and white tank top tried to prove her case more.
But I knew the truth.
There were no innocent girls.
They were all out to eat my heart.
But she was a rarity.
I wasn’t so lucky.
“Nah, I’m not into guys. But I’m not into random screws either.”
And with that, I walked away.
I found West out back after dodging shady conversational bullets on the way. One guy tried to wrangle me into a conversation about aliens. Though, it was partly my fault. I did ask him if he’d seen my brother after spotting his X-Files t-shirt. Drunken conversations with people about aliens never ended well.
I also spent a lengthy amount of time scouring the meaning behind that particular frat’s emblem. I’d never seen one that had an actual goat in it. What did they call themselves—the goat heads? It hung by the back door with pride. They were proud of their horns, maybe?
Probably just horny.
Like I said, I spent way too much time analyzing it.
Finally spotting a blurrily familiar shirt outside the back door, I proceeded to find my brother and ask him to take me home. I was dulled enough not to even think about the J girl. He was hunched over a rail talking to someone below. I touched him on the shoulder and he spun around laughing. I knew that laugh. My brother was hilarious most of the time. But he had one particular kind of cackle, it was reminiscent of a hyena being slowly castrated by a clown that was reserved for only special occasions.
Like when he was gassed at the dentist’s office.
And when he was pissed beyond measure.
So when he spilled half a bottle of whatever liquor he was holding in his hand all over the front of my shirt, I wasn’t a bit surprised.
“West, shit, you were supposed to stay sober.”
“I did,” he smiled at me, showing way too much gums for a normal person. For some reason when West was drunk, his smile was downright menacing. His upper lip rested on top of his teeth and it reminded me of a horse.
“You’re an ass. Now, we have to walk home. You’re an ass.”
He turned to whomever he was talking to below the railing and thumbed my way, “You see how he talks to me. He called me an ass—twice.”
“Who is it?”
“Audrey Hepburn is in the bushes? Wait, how do you know Audrey Hepburn?”
“Cami was watching Dinner with Beth or some shit. She was on it.”
I knew he was wrong about that movie. Maybe I wasn’t as drunk as I thought, or as drunk as I wanted.
“Let’s get walking,” I said.
“No. I’m not ready,” he shook the bottle in my direction, sloshing more of the stuff everywhere. He was a messy, loud-ass, weird drunk. Which is why I’d agreed to come here only if he were sober.
Instead of waiting for him to begin another imaginary talk with Audrey, I grabbed the shoulder of West’s shirt and dragged him down the weathered steps of the back porch, trying not to stumble down and have him crash on top of me. I made it, barely, but found that West was now ass up in one of the flower beds.
“Get up!” I screamed at him and kicked his boot.
Eventually, he got up after more prodding and yelling. At least I think it was yelling. It may have been all in my mind. We’d walked at least seventeen miles when I noticed a car coming up beside us. I figured it was another group of loopy people such as ourselves out to have some fun. I imagined any minute now I would be covered with some substance—or vomit.
“Hey,” someone hollered. I turned, still firmly grasping West’s shirt and looked.
And hanging outside the window, with flames of wild, red curls flailing in the wind was not the ride I had hoped for.