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Authors: Rebecca Yarros

Ignite (Legacy) (3 page)

BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
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It should
, I told myself. River deserved everything. A beautiful, kind wife who would give him little boys with his eyes and little girls with his hair and courage.

How was I going to put on a brave face while he prepared to move? I couldn’t make him choose—and it wasn’t like I had much to offer.

Here, River. You have the world at your fingertips and every woman in the country to choose from, but pick me. I come complete with a little sister to raise and an invalid, drunk father. Aren’t I a bargain?

I pulled my pillow into my chest, like it could fill the emptiness threatening to make me implode, simply crumple into myself until there was nothing left.

My phone rang with his ringtone and I swiped to answer.

“Hey, Riv.”

“Hey, Ava. You ran out of here pretty fast this morning.”

Silence stretched along the line while I composed my answer. It wasn’t fair to unload on him, to take all of my insecurities, all the responsibilities in my life, and thrust them on him. “Yeah, I just had a lot to do, and it sounded like you did, too.”

“My head is kind of swimming, honestly.”

My teeth sank into my lower lip. “I bet.”

“I never thought they’d restart the team,” he said quietly. I knew what it meant to him, his father’s literal legacy.

I wanted to talk to him. I did. I just didn’t know how to bury my misery deep enough to not lay it on him. He didn’t need my selfish shit on top of everything else.

“I totally get that. But hey, can we talk later? I have to run by the office.” I congratulated myself on not letting my voice crack.

“Yeah, of course. Avery, are you okay?” he asked.

My eyes slid shut as a sweet pressure settled in my chest at his concern. He always made me feel precious, protected. In a world where I spent almost every waking moment taking care of everyone else, he was the only one who cared for me.

And now it was my turn to take care of him.

“Absolutely. I’m fine.”

The lie was sour on my tongue and nauseated me the moment it left my mouth. This was anything but fine. The thought of losing him hurt so deeply that I was almost numb with shock, afraid to look at the damage or see the hemorrhage.

But he could never know that.

3
River

C
ould
this day get any fucking worse?

The realtor told me the state of the housing market up here meant I was going to lose money when I sold my house, I’d just had to tell Midnight Sun that I needed to give notice, and Avery was fucking
avoiding
me.

Even when I’d been in my most serious relationship, she’d never pulled that shit. It had been two days since she’d told me she was “absolutely fine” and ran off to work.

In those two days I’d signed a listing agreement with a date to be determined, arranged to stay an extra day in Legacy for house-hunting, and contacted a moving company about getting my crap down there.

I’d been so busy that I’d pushed every emotion onto the back burner. That plan had actually been pretty successful until this moment. But now I was standing in front of Avery’s house and every single doubt came crawling back to the surface. How could I leave her? How could I move to Colorado and never see her again? Never put my arms around her? Never help her out when she protested but so obviously needed it?

I swallowed and knocked on the front door.

A few moments later, Adeline answered. “Hey, Riv.”

“Hey, Addy. Is Avery around?”

“She’s just getting off work from the paper, but she called to say that she was on her way. Want to come in and wait?”

Normally I’d say no, that I’d call her, and then I’d intercept her drive home in order to steal a couple quiet moments with her. But since she hadn’t answered any of my calls and had replied to my texts with one-word answers, this was probably the only way I’d get any face time with her.

“Yeah, that sounds great,” I said, walking into the house. It was nice, spacious enough for a family, and had been built with care, but the last eleven years had been tough on it, and it wasn’t like her dad was going to jump up and volunteer to grab a hammer.
Speaking of which, I should fix that bannister while I’m here.

“Avery? Is that you?” her dad yelled from the living room.

“Nope, Mr. Claire, it’s me—River.”

“Get in here, boy.”

I rolled my eyes at not just his word choice but his tone. I sure as hell was not his boy. My father would have kicked this guy’s ass ten times over for the man he’d let himself become. But for Avery, well, I could handle him.

“Sir,” I said as I entered the living room. Jesus, there was shit everywhere. Dishes on the coffee table, trash on the floor, and he smelled like he hadn’t seen water in at least a week…if not two.

As much as I longed to pick everything up before Avery got home, I knew she’d die of embarrassment. So I did what I learned to do the first year we’d been friends—ignored it.

“You’re leaving for Colorado, eh?” he asked, shifting his weight enough to reach for the beer on the floor.

“That appears to be the plan.”

“Find greener pastures?” He took a swig, and I briefly wondered if he was mixing the alcohol with his meds, or if Avery had successfully hidden the bottles before she left for work.

“No, sir. My father’s old Hotshot crew is restarting, and they can’t get the job done without me.”

“Well, aren’t you just important.”

I wanted to sigh, to curse him, to steal Avery away from this life he thought she owed him. Instead, I offered him a tight smile and said, “It’s just a numbers game, really.”

He grunted. “Well, I imagine Avery will be a little put off.”

“I imagine so.”

An awkward silence settled over us, which was—thank God—soon interrupted by the sound of the door opening.

“Riv?” Avery’s voice carried through the downstairs.

“In here,” I answered.

She came through the arch of the living room, all frayed ponytail and well-worn Beastie Boys T-shirt. “I saw your truck out front. Is everything okay?”

“He just came to see you,” her dad answered.

“Oh,” she said, looking between the two of us. Then she nodded toward the door.

“It’s always a pleasure to see you, Mr. Claire,” I said.

“You, too, River. Good luck in Colorado.” He hadn’t even looked away from the television.

I followed Avery through the hallway and up the stairs, my eyes front and center on the way her shorts hugged the sumptuous curve of her ass. Trying hard to do the right thing, I looked away, but that only took me to the tight, toned thighs that I was already picturing locked around my hips.

She led me into her room and shut the door behind us. I took in the space that still boasted high school and college pictures. “Nothing here changes much,” I said.

“It’s my own personal time capsule,” she replied, sitting on her bed.

I took the chair from her desk, swinging my leg over and sitting on it backwards to keep some kind of barrier between us. Ever since I knew I was leaving, it was like the control I showed around her—the constant checks I kept on myself and my need for her—was fraying, like my sex drive knew our time was limited. “I like it. It’s you.”

She laughed in a self-deprecating way that I hated. “Never changing, stuck, and gathering dust.”

“Steady and loyal.”

We locked eyes, and the zing of electricity between us was palpable. Did she feel it, too? If so, why would she deny it?

Because you’ve never given her a reason not to, asshole.

“I’ve been avoiding you,” she said, her eyes open and honest.

“I know.”

“I don’t know how to handle this, and it seemed easier to bury my head in the sand and just not deal.” She hugged her pillow to her chest.

“You talk to me. I talk to you. That’s how this friendship has always worked.”

“But how is it going to work with you in Colorado? I know I’m supposed to be happy for you. This is your dad’s crew, and I know what that means to you. But selfishly…” She shook her head.

“What? Don’t clam up on me.”

She shrugged. “It’s just… The day you bought the land to build your house was one of the happiest days of my life.”

I blinked. “Wait. What?”

“Stupid, I know.”

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t understand.”
Talk to me, Avery.

“That was what? Three years ago?” she asked.

“About. You were dating that dickhead math major.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Good memory.”

“I remember everything when it comes to you,” I said, then cursed myself when her eyes widened even more.
Smooth. Real smooth.
“The land?” I prompted.

“Right. You buying that land felt like you were putting down roots. That you’d stayed when you graduated—when everyone else left—it felt solid. Dependable.”

“Are you talking about me or the house?” Those weren’t love words, or even attraction words. Hell, she’d just described my truck.

“You, and it’s a good thing. That moment felt like you would always be here, that you were the person I could lean on. I’ve never looked into my future and not seen you in it. This scares the shit out of me.”

I gave up the chair and sat down on the bed next to her. “Me, too. But I can’t not go.”

She leaned her head on my shoulder, and I rested mine on hers. “I’d never ask you to stay,” she whispered. “I know you can’t.”

“But I can’t imagine leaving you, either.”

“Then it seems, we are at an impasse.”

* * *

T
he clock
on my dash changed to 1:36 a.m. I’d been sitting in my truck for the last hour in front of the Golden Eagle Saloon, trying to figure out how to explain the crazy plan I’d concocted between the hours of leaving Avery’s house and sitting here now.

The bar closed in twenty-four minutes, so I had exactly that long to pull my shit together before I went in.

The door opened, and I stopped breathing until I saw that it was just two local girls. Kris waved and I unrolled my window.

She climbed up on my running boards and leaned her pretty face into the cab, reeking of alcohol. “Hey, River,” she slurred.

“Hey, Kris. What brings you out tonight?”

“It’s my birfday.”

“Happy birthday. So you’re legal now, huh?”

She slow-winked a brown eye at me and then blew her hair out of her eyes. “Yep! What are you doing?”

“Waiting on Avery.”

Her head lolled back in exasperation. “You two. Ugh. Why she’d keep a fine piece of man flesh like you in the friend zone is beyond me. I’d climb you like a ladder.” She snorted. “Like a ladder. Get it? Because you’re a fireman?”

“Absolutely,” I answered. The girl was three sheets to the wind, but I’d known her since she could barely drive.

“River, I’m sorry,” her friend Lauren called out. “She’s trashed.”

“I am not!” She licked her lips. “Want me to wait with you? I can keep you plenty busy.”

Usually I’d think about it. Kris was a gorgeous girl, and it wasn’t like I was celibate. But first, she was drunk, and that I never took advantage of, and second, well…she wasn’t Avery. I wanted Avery. “Not tonight, but happy birthday. Lauren, can you get her home?”

She nodded and guided her friend off my truck. “Stone-cold sober, no problem. Good to see you, River!”

By the time the girls piled into Lauren’s car and left, it was 1:45 a.m. My heart pounded, my stomach dropping slightly just like it did before I walked into a fire, before I took a step that had the potential to change my life.

I was already out of my truck, climbing the steps to the saloon, before I’d decided that I couldn’t wait until two. I couldn’t wait another second.

I swung the door open and Avery looked up, startled, from where she was washing down a table. “River?”

I didn’t answer her, just looked at Mike, who sat at the end of the bar as usual for a Tuesday night. “Mike, go home.”

“It isn’t two,” he said.

“Close enough.”

The forty-something guy got off his stool, tossing cash on the bar. “Thanks for the company, Avery.”

“No problem,” she answered with a smile.

“River,” he said as he walked by me.

“Thanks, Mike.”

He nodded and left, the door closing behind him. I knew he wasn’t drunk—he came here every night to escape his wife, had one beer around eight thirty, and then sipped soda the rest of the night.

Small towns, man. Everyone knew everyone’s business.

“What are you doing here?” Avery asked, licking her lips nervously.

“Are you alone?”

“She will be,” Maud said as she popped up from behind the bar where she’d obviously been stocking. “You two have fun.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Avery. “I’ll go out the back and lock it up.”

“Maud,” Avery pled.

“Nope, not listening!” she sang with her fingers in her ears like she was five. I knew I liked her for a reason. She sang her way through the back door, and then I heard the exterior door close, too.

Avery leaned back against the table, white-knuckling the edges. “So what’s so important that it couldn’t wait until morning?”

I leaned against the table opposite hers so that there was only a few feet separating us. “I know how to fix our problem.”

“Oh, do you? Because short of you not moving to Colorado, and then subsequently hating me because I took away everyone’s chance to have that team back, I’m really not seeing where there’s an option.”

“Option one: I could go seasonal. Live there during the summers and be back here for the winters.”

She shook her head before I even finished what I was saying. “Nope. You can’t afford that. There are no jobs up here that would take you on that stipulation, even your crew here couldn’t. Next brilliant idea?”

“Okay. Then you move to Colorado with me.”

Now I was the one gripping the table as her face drained of color. “What? Are you kidding?”

Fuck, was that my heart in my throat, or had I just swallowed something huge? “I’ve never been more serious.”

Silence stretched between us as she blinked at me, her mouth slightly agape, her unreadable eyes never wavering from mine.

“I’m serious, Avery,” I repeated quietly.

“I can tell,” she answered.

“I’ve thought it through—”

“Obviously, because I just talked to you twelve hours ago. Seems perfectly thought out.”

“You have always wanted to leave here.” I started laying out the reasons like I had planned.

“And you know why I can’t!” she shouted. “What are you thinking, River? I can’t just pick up and leave. I’m not you. I have responsibilities here. I have Adeline and my father to think of.”

“I know. I’ve watched you struggle every day that I’ve known you, and I’ve seen you grow into an amazing, strong woman.”

“Stop!” She put her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut, little lines appearing between her eyebrows.

I crossed the distance between us, lightly pulling her hands away from her face. “Open your eyes,” I begged.

Her eyelids fluttered open to reveal blue eyes swimming with so much emotion that I nearly lost my breath. “Tell me one thing. If it wasn’t for Adeline, for your father, and every piece of obligation that anchors you to this place, would you want to come with me?”

Her eyes flickered back and forth, her tell for when she was hashing something out in her head.

Avery had always been immovable in her loyalty to family, her insistence that she was responsible for them both. It was something I’d always loved about her, but now I needed that to give just an inch.

BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
10.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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