Authors: Holly Hood
My phone rings.
I hit answer and back out of my parking spot.
“I see someone’s running late this morning,” Jackson sighs. I don’t know if it is a friendly sigh or an I-am-really-annoyed-with-you sigh.
“I am so sorry.” I check my mirror and pull onto the road. “I slept through my alarm.” I don’t mention my overnight guest.
“Well, the meeting is over, but I have some property I’m about to look at.”
I frown. “I am so sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Because I’m late for work. Why are you not mad?”
“I am not mad because I understand these things can happen sometimes, and I believe that you’re sorry.”
I go ten over the speed limit easily. “Are we still meeting at the shelter?”
“If you want to ride with me, yes.”
“I do.” I’m willing to do anything to make up for being late on my first day of work.
“Alright. Well, I just finished restocking supplies, and I am about to head out. I’ll wait for you.”
Five minutes later I pull into the shelter’s parking lot. I check my hair in the rear-view mirror and adjust the collar of my dress shirt. I am going for professional, but because of the morning rush to get out the door, I’m not quite pulling that look off at the moment. Looking in the mirror, I apply a dark red lipstick, get out of my car, and head into the shelter.
The dining room is full. Just like every other time I am anywhere near Lee he pops up out of his seat and comes over to me.
“There she is.”
I search for Jackson, keeping a smile on my face. “Yes, here I am.”
He takes my hand. “Did you talk to Jackson about my room?”
“Yes, I did.” I lie. “And there is one with your name on it.”
“That’s my girl.” He kisses my hand. “You’ve always made me so proud, Sara Rose.”
I pretend he didn’t just call me someone else’s name. ”I’m glad.”
“Even when you were struggling. I still was proud of you.”
I tilt my head. “Lee, who is Sarah Rose? You know that I am not her.”
“You have to do your homework, Sarah Rose.” It’s like he doesn’t even hear me.
I pull away from his grip. “Is Sarah Rose your daughter?”
He nods, his blue eyes clouding with sadness.
“What happened to her?”
Jackson comes up behind me. He places a hand on my shoulder. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” I say a little sad the conversation ended with Lee.
“Lee, your food is going to get cold if you keep chatting with Savy.”
“I can’t get enough of those eyes. Those are the same eyes as my Sarah Rose.”
He grins at me and walks back to his spot at the table.
“What happened to his daughter?” I ask Jackson.
“I’m not sure. It’s hard to say with Lee. Every year on the same day he lets the entire place know when she died and how long it has been.”
I cross my arms. “How long has it been?”
Jackson does most of the talking the entire drive. He tells me about his goal to have a homeless shelter on every street corner, so nobody ever has to go without food or a place to sleep. It’s probably the sweetest thing I ever knew a man to do.
We pull up to the parking lot of a big shopping plaza—now overgrown with weeds--once the home to department stores long gone. A black truck is already parked, and two men are at the door talking.
“It’s so big,” I tell him.
“I hear that a lot.” He smirks.
I shake my head. “Where is your professionalism?”
“I didn’t think I needed to have it with you. I thought you were the fun one.”
I smile when the men stop talking and look our way. “Who are these people?”
“My father and my brother,” Jackson tells me.
“Jackson,” the older of the two says, “so nice you could join us. You’re thirty minutes late.”
“Caught a little snag this morning.” He focuses his attention on me. “This is Savy Arnold, my new assistant.”
He shakes my hand. “Savy, nice to meet you.”
“Same to you. And Jackson is being polite. It was
fault he was late today. It won’t happen again.”
His brother smiles. “She’s a keeper. Anyone willing to take an ass kicking for my brother should be a permanent fixture on the payroll.”
Jackson grins. “This is my brother, Chuck.”
“Nice to meet you.” I smile, and Chuck smiles back. He’s equally handsome, very similar in style and obviously not afraid to speak his mind.
Jackson’s dad pulls keys from his pocket. “Well, let’s have a look at this place.”
We all go inside. Old shelving is piled up on every side, and there are even old shopping carts still in the cart corrals. It needs a lot of work.
I step around litter and dirt on the floor.
“What do we think?” His father asks, adjusting his tie. “Is the space worth our time?”
Jackson leans in. “It’s always worth his time. My old man wants to own every property in the entire state.”
I smirk. I turn my head, and my hair grazes his face. “Sorry.”
“For what?” He keeps his eyes on his father.
“For brushing you with my hair.”
“It was kind of a turn on,” he whispers. I giggle, ending the conversation Jackson’s father and brother are having. They both look at us.
“Is everything okay over there?”
Jackson nods. “I think we’re going to check out the back room.” He takes my hand and leads me past the old dressing rooms.
“Are we really checking out the back room?”
“No. I just get tired of hearing them crunch numbers.” He opens up the door to the back supply room and checks for a light. “He’ll probably sell this to some high-end fashion line and forget it ever existed.”
I look around. “And that bothers you?”
“Of course it does. We don’t need more fashion outlets; we need more places for needy people to have a place to come to.”
I smile at him. “You’re amazing.”
“Oh, am I now?”
I nod. “I mean it. There aren’t many people like you.”
He slips a hand in his pocket, and says, “You’re going to have to quit complimenting me.”
“Because the more you tell me you like things about me, the more I want to do things to you that I shouldn’t be thinking about doing.” He lifts a hanger off the floor and chucks it in the trash can in the middle of the room.
I swallow. Maybe the thought of him doing “things” to me isn’t the worst thing that could happen to me.
“Maybe I wouldn’t mind.” And there went my mouth before I could stop it.
Jackson looks at me, raising an eyebrow. “I thought you had a thing?”
“I thought I did too.” I just keep making a bigger mess.
“You either do or you don’t.” He moves closer. “Which one is it?”
I lick my lips, and he moves closer, a slight smile playing on his lips.
“I don’t know.” I can feel my face growing hotter.
“Maybe we need to find out.”
“Maybe.” My fingers stroke his chest. I can feel his heart beating through his dress shirt.
We move in, about to give in to our desire and I stop him. “I can’t do this,” I say and pull away from him.
I run a hand through my hair. “You understand?”
“Well no, I don’t, but I’m willing to try.”
I scoff. “Stop—why are you so nice to me?”
Here I am playing hard to get, and he isn’t the least bit upset with me. I want to kiss him more than I’ve ever wanted to kiss anyone. I need to figure out what’s going on between me and Ryker. Kissing Jackson isn’t going to help with that. I don’t need to be involved in a messy love triangle.
“Let’s look at the rest of the place,” he suggests.
“Jackson, will you please tell me what you’re honestly thinking right now?” I follow behind him.
“I honestly think you’re human. And you’re confused. And I am not upset about that.”
I sigh. “What would
do if you were me?”
He shrugs. “I would give in to what I wanted. And not beat myself up about it.”
“But you’re my boss.”
“Then I’ll fire you.”
I shake my head. “I need this job.” I want this job.
“Then you can have it.”
He grabs me by the waist and tugs me to him. “What do you want?”
“For you to stop making this so hard.”
He lets one of his hands travel down my spine. ”That’s all you.”
I laugh. “You’re awful. You know that?”
He pulls me against his hips, and I study him—his smile and piercing blue eyes. I sigh and pull away. I can’t do it.
I moan against Ryker’s mouth as his tongue greets mine. “Are you sure you want to do dinner and not just lay here all day doing this?” He runs his nose against mine.
“I wish. But my dad never agrees to anything like this.” I stroke the back of his neck, staring into his brown eyes. “I think this will be good for you.”
I nod. “You can finally give your side.”
Ryker frowns, letting out a sigh. “I never said I wanted to give my side. I know my side.”
I touch his arm. “That’s not what I am saying. I’m just saying I think it might make things complete, you can finally have a voice in all of this.”
I sit up.
Ryker pushes me back down on the bed grinning. “The only person I care about knowing what happened that night is right here underneath me right now.” His teeth graze my jaw. I kiss him gently, my fingers in his hair.
My phone plinks, letting me know I have a text message. Just like it did five minutes before that and five minutes before that.
trying to get your attention.” He lets me grab my phone and drops down beside me on the bed.
I scroll to messages. “It’s my boss.”
“Your boss texts you?”
“I think I just saw a smirk.” He takes my phone. “You and your boss do lunch often?”
I sit up, adjusting my top. “Once before.”
“I’m starting to think your boss isn’t some balding fat ass.”
I shake my head. “He’s not much older than us.” I’m not going to lie to him.
“Is he married?”
I scoot to the end of the bed. “God, no. Do you really think I am the kind of person who would go to lunch with a married man?”
“I haven’t seen you in four years.” He grabs his shirt and starts putting it on. “I just have one question for you.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Do I have competition?”
I don’t even know what that means. “Do you want competition?”
“Who is this guy?” Ryker takes my phone back. “Jackson Luckman. Why does that name sound familiar to me?”
I shake my head. I’m still caught up on the competition remark.
He grabs his phone that’s next to his wallet on the nightstand. “That’s why.”
“You’re working for the asshole that demolished four skate parks in the neighborhood to make banks and beauty parlors.” He scoffs. “This is my competition?”
I struggle for words. “I don’t even know what you’re saying right now.”
I plug my flat iron in and stare at myself in the mirror. Ryker is behind me giving me a look of--I don’t know--maybe agitation.
“Are you playing stupid right now?” He crosses his arms. “Because I have known you for a long time now. And one thing you are not is stupid. Maybe Jackson buys this act, but I don’t.”
I slam my brush down and groan. “I see your mouth hasn’t stopped running since the last time I saw you.” I had forgotten just how cocky Ryker can be when he wants to be.
He wraps his arms around me from behind and kisses my neck. The pangs of lust produce butterflies between my legs. “It never has and it never will. That’s why we got along so well. You were never afraid to argue back.”
“That’s because I see past the good looks.” Other girls were more worried about Ryker’s charm and status being with him carried than to ever disagree with him. I pull away from him and start on my hair. “I’m not afraid to disagree with you. And I’m not afraid to make you mad.”
“And I love that about you.” He watches me from the bed. “I know you wouldn’t lie to me. So, is this guy someone you could see yourself dating?”
“I haven’t kissed him,” I inform him, “and I wanted to. But I didn’t because I thought that wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
“But you kissed me.”
“Yes, I did.” I put the flat iron down and run a brush through my hair. “And I don’t regret it.”
“And now you’re bringing me to dinner at your parents’ house. It seems like I’m in the lead.”
I roll my eyes. “You are too cocky for your own good.”
I take off my shirt and put on a clean one. I couple it with a pair of skinny jeans and some silver toms and shoot Ryker a look.
“Hey, we aren’t dating. Who am I to say who you put your lips on.” He follows my every move trying to get to me.
“No, we aren’t, which means we are both free to do and say whatever we want to whomever we want.” I collect my phone, slip on my bracelet and find my keys. “Are you planning on wearing boxers to dinner?”
He lifts the blankets and gets up to finds his jeans. “I did come back to see you, and I probably will again.”
I open the bedroom door. “You say that now. Until some other girl catches your eye just like when we were kids, when you were dating that cheerleader.”
“You caught my eye.” He follows me down Sophie’s hallway. “You were just too stubborn to admit that there was something between us. And now you’re thinking about boning your boss to get back at me.”
I slap him in the arm. “If I sleep with my boss it has nothing to do with you.”
Sophie pops up on the sofa. “I thought you guys left already.”
Monty pops up, wiping his mouth.
Ryker grins. “Are you two doing what I think you’re doing?”
“Like I said I thought you guys were gone.” She pushes Monty’s head back down.
I shake my head. “We are leaving right now. Have fun, Sophie.”
“I already am, darling.”
“Do you think I should have worn something else?” Ryker asks, looking down at his dark denim jeans and black t-shirt.
“I thought you didn’t care what my parents thought of you.”
We’re right around the corner from my parents’ house, and
he’s worried about making an impression.
I look at him. “I’m driving.”
He takes the wheel. “Kiss me.”
“Ryker, you are going to get us killed.” I sigh, grab his face and kiss him on the cheek.
“Do you trust me?”
I brake. “Yes, I trust you. But I would much rather keep my hands on the wheel.” The light turns green, and I hit the gas. Ryker still steers the car.
“So kiss me.”
“I just did.”
“You pecked my cheek. My grandma does better than that.”
I kiss him, only intending on a quick peck but the kiss deepens, and I ignore the traffic and the lights until the car behind us honks.
“Shit.” I let out a sigh. “That was stupid.”
“That was hot.” He allows me to take over the steering wheel.
“That was stupid. Why would you even do that…considering?”
“Considering we almost died in a car before.”
“I’d never let anything happen to you, Sav.”
“We’re here.” I say. “Are you ready for this?”
He nods, looking at my house. “Your mom still enjoys watering her bush I see.”
I laugh. “Ryker! You can’t say things like that. My dad will toss you out on your ass.”
He gets out of the car. My mother looks up when she sees us coming.
“Hey, Savy.” She turns the hose off and takes off her gardening gloves. “Ryker.”
Ryker takes a hand out of his pocket and gives her the most awkward half hug I’ve ever seen. “Mrs. Arnold. Nice to see you again. I
like what you’ve done with your bush.”
I clench my jaw, fighting laughter as he shoots me a grin.
“Your father is inside.” She turns on the hose and nearly sprays Ryker with it. She’s not falling for his charm. She’s a lot smarter than he knows.
He follows me up the stairs.
“Now, please, don’t be an ass.” I tell him.
“I can’t promise anything.” He holds the door, and I go in. “You know me.”
“We’re here,” I announce.
My brother appears in the doorway of the dining room. It feels even more awkward than I had imagined.
“We’re in here.” Ben raises an eyebrow at me.
I clear my throat. “Ryker, this is my brother Ben. I’m pretty sure you remember him.”
Ben steps forward. “My son loves you.”
I shake my head. Instead of acting normal, he goes all fanboy on him.
“Yes, Savy told me.” He runs a hand across his face looking around. “Nice place.”
Ben nods. “My parents have had this house since before I was born.”
Ryker follows Ben into the dining room where my father is sitting.
“I couldn’t believe Savy got him a skateboard. But when I saw who had signed it, I was willing to let it slide.” Ben smiles and takes a seat.
Ryker nods. “Glad I could make him happy.” He looks at my father. “Mr. Arnold. Nice to see you again.”
My father nods. “How have you been, Ryker?”
“Pretty damn good.” Ryker sits when my father tells him to.
I take a spot next to him. My mother already has the table set. I wonder if Ben is here for backup in case my father flies off the handle at Ryker.
My mother comes in the room. “I figure we can start with a salad.” She sets a bowl in the middle of the table.
“So Ryker, I hear you’re planning on opening a skateboarding school here in town.” My brother raises an eyebrow. “Is that true?”
I look over at Ryker.
“We’re in talks.” He smiles at my mom when she pours him a glass of tea. “Thank you, Mrs. Arnold.”
“No problem,” she says, shooting me a look.
“Is there going to be an age limit on who can get lessons?” My brother accepts the glass of tea my mother moves his way.
Ryker takes a drink. “The sooner you start skating, the better is what I always say.”
My dad clears his throat. “Ryker, could you pass the salad dressing?”
Ryker hands it over and waits for my dad to put the tongs down before he starts on his own.
“I see your career is what reunited you and Savy again.” My father looks at him, fork mid-air.
Ryker gives me a little grin and nods. He stabs at his salad. “I never expected to see her in a sporting goods store that’s for sure.”
“Ryker, did you finish college?” My mom cuts in.
“No. I didn’t even attempt it. After school, I already had a sponsor and a few medals under my belt. Skateboarding was the only thing on my mind.” He furrows his brow. “But don’t get me wrong. I think college is a great thing.”
I add some salad to my bowl and look away from my mother.
“We always thought so. And we thought Savy did too--until now,” my father says.
“Can we not do this right now?” I sigh. “Oh, and just so you know, I now have a paying job.”
My dad focuses on me. “What exactly are you doing?”
Ryker tosses his own words in. “She’s working for Jackson Luckman. That’s pretty impressive.”
“Luckman,” Ben says. “Oh wow. That’s a great opportunity, Savy.”
I nod. “It’s going well so far.”
“Luckman is a very successful man. He comes from a well-respected family,” my mother says, making sure Ryker hears.
“As opposed to Ryker and his skateboarding career is that what you’re saying, mother?” I set my fork down and shake my head.
Ryker touches my arm. “I don’t think she’s saying that at all.”
My dad sits back in his seat. “Let’s cut the shit. We know why we’re here. So why not get it all out on the table.”
“Sounds good to me,” Ryker says. “I don’t think this could get any more awkward if we tried.”
“Four years ago you almost took my daughter’s life, and I am still very angry about that.” My dad’s jaw is tight. “Savy might not understand, but the best place for you was far away from me at that time.”
Ryker won’t look at him. “Oh, believe me, I know.”
“So your parents agreed to resolve the situation?”
Ryker’s leg starts bouncing. I can see the agitation building in him. “Yes. They agreed to ruin my life, along with you.”
I swallow. I can’t believe he just said that.
“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way,” my father sits forward. “Maybe when you have a kid of your own, you’ll understand just what parents will do to protect their children.”
I jump when Ryker slams his fist down on the table. He gets up, shakes his head, and takes off out the door.
I glare at my dad and take off after Ryker. I run through the hallway and throw open the front door, afraid he’s already gone. But he’s not, he’s sitting on the porch steps.
I take a spot next to him. “I thought you left.”
“You know, I really wanted to punch him back there.”
I drop my head on his shoulder. “I know.”
“I thought this was going to change things. But now I see it changes nothing.”