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Authors: Rebecca Yarros

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BOOK: Ignite (Legacy)
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“Would you want to come with me? Get out of here? The Rockies are just as gorgeous, and the sun is a little more dependable. And best of all, you’d have me.”

Her eyes flew to mine. “But I’m not free, no matter how pretty you make it sound.”

My thumbs lightly stroked the insides of her wrists. “I know our lives aren’t prefect, but I’m asking you, in a perfect world—I’m asking you to pretend—if you didn’t have the obligations you do, if it was just you and me making this decision, would you want to come with me? Would you take that leap?”

“To Colorado?” she asked.

“To Colorado,” I affirmed just in case she thought I meant back to my house for tea.

Her eyes slid shut. “Yes,” she whispered.

My breath abandoned me in a rush, my entire body letting go of the tension that had plagued me since Bishop told me we’d have to go. “Oh, thank God.”

“But it doesn’t matter,” she cried, her face distorting as she fought tears. “What I want doesn’t matter. That I would give anything to move somewhere new with a fresh start where I’m not ‘that drunk’s’ daughter, or to have the chance to keep you as my best friend…none of it matters. My life is what it is.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” I took her face in my hands, cradling the back of her head.

“It does. What about Adeline? What would she do?”

My chest tightened at the way she always put everyone else first. “She’d come with.”

Avery’s jaw went slack in my hands. “What?”

“Legacy has a great high school. Brand-new facilities. It’s a small town, but there’s a kindness there I haven’t seen anywhere else. Addy would be welcome there, with us, and so would you. Stop looking at me like I’m dreaming. This is possible.”

“You’d bring her with you? With us?”

“Of course. She’s a part of you, and she needs to get out just as much as you do.”

“And my father?”

My jaw flexed. This had been the one point that had been hard to swallow, but I knew I had to if I wanted to keep Avery in my life. And she was worth any hurdle I had to jump, or any length of broken glass I had to walk across barefoot. I had no doubt the girl standing in front of me was the key to the rest of my life.

“He can come, too,” I said softly.

“Now I know you’re joking.” She tried to pull her face from my hands, but I wouldn’t let her. “You hate him.”

“I hate how he treats you,” I corrected her. “I’ve never understood why you take it.”

“He’s Addy’s guardian,” I explained. “I could never abandon her.” No matter what I’d promised my mom—to keep quiet, to keep family business private—Addy came first, and if that meant I had to live at home and commute to college so I could provide some kind of future for her, then fine. It was a small price to pay.

“Then if he’s what I have to put up with to keep you in my life, to keep you near, then fine, I’ll do it. There are treatment facilities in Colorado, and maybe if we can just get him clean—”

She sobbed—one long whimper, which was the one reaction I wasn’t expecting.

“Avery,” I whispered. “Don’t cry.”

“Why? Why would you do that? Drag the worst part of my life into yours?”

A smile tugged up the corners of my lips as I wiped away her single tear that escaped. “Because I get you. I can’t leave you. It’s never been Bishop keeping me here. It’s always been you.”

“But why?” she squeaked.

“God, don’t you know by now?”

“No,” she whispered as something that looked like hope passed through those blue eyes.

“Yes, you do. You’ve always known, just the same as me.” I sent up a quick prayer that she wouldn’t smack the hell out of me, and then I kissed her.

She gasped in surprise, and I kept the caress light, taking my time with her lips as I waited for her response. She was so soft. I ran my tongue along her lower lip, savoring the delicate curve. I sipped at her lips with soft kisses for so long that I was about out of hope. While she was letting me kiss her, she wasn’t responding.

I pulled back slowly, scared to see what lingered in her eyes, and prayed it wasn’t disgust. What the hell had I been thinking to kiss her like that? We’d never shown any signs of crossing the line, and I’d just jumped across it. Her eyes were closed, giving me no hint of what she was feeling. “Avery?” I asked softly.

Her pulse raced under my hand.

Her eyes fluttered open and there was no anger, just surprise. “You want me?”

“I have
always
wanted you.”

With a soft cry, she met my mouth, opening hers in a hungry kiss. My tongue swept inside the mouth I’d dreamed of for years, and
holy shit
, she tasted even better than I’d ever fantasized. She tasted faintly of the peppermint tea she loved and pure, sweet Avery.

I explored her mouth with sweeping strokes of my tongue, and she rubbed back against me with every one, creating a friction that sent heat streaking through me, pooling in my dick.

My hands shifted, tilting her head so I could kiss her deeper. If this was the only time I’d get to kiss her, then I was sure-as-fuck going to leave her with a memory that haunted her at night the same way she already did for me. She melted against me, our bodies molding effortlessly into each other.

At some point I was hit with the stunning realization—
Holy shit. I’m kissing Avery.
And she was kissing me back like her life depended on it. One of my hands left the curves of her face and drifted down her back, giving her every chance to protest—she didn’t—before I grasped her ass and lifted her up to set her on the table. I stepped between her outstretched thighs, and she ground against me, moaning into my mouth when she discovered my erection.

I’d never been so hard so fast for any woman in my life. But Avery wasn’t just any other woman. She was everything I’d ever wanted. The woman I’d compared every girl to since I met her. The only one who had my heart without ever knowing it.

She threw her head back, and I pressed kisses down her neck, careful not to mark the tender flesh. We weren’t eighteen anymore, and I wasn’t going to paw at her like an inexperienced teenager no matter how loudly my body screamed at me that she was finally in my hands.

Her fingers threaded through my hair, and she rocked against my hips and whimpered my name. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

I brought my mouth back to hers for one last, long, luscious kiss, pouring everything I had into it. I almost forgot my own name as I gave myself over to everything Avery was.

Then, with the patience of a saint, I pulled back from her. She looked up at me with hazy, passion-filled eyes and kiss-stung lips.
Yup, sainthood.

“River?” she asked, her voice husky and so damn sexy that I had the immediate urge to see what color her panties were and how they’d look on the floor of the bar.

Instead I kissed her forehead and took my hands off her—before I fucked my best friend in the bar that she worked at. Avery deserved so much better than that, and for how long I’d waited, I did, too.

“I want you,” I said, my voice so low I barely recognized it.

Her mouth opened to speak, and I pressed my thumb against her tempting lips.

“Don’t say anything. I just wanted you to know that you have options. That
I
am an option. And whether it’s in friendship or something more, I want you in Colorado with me. I leave next week for a weekend there, and I’ve already bought you a ticket. It’s just a weekend—not a lifetime commitment, but I want you to come and see if you could make a life there. A life with me or without me—that’s your choice.”

I stroked her lip with my thumb and leaned forward, stealing one more kiss. “God, I’ve waited so many years to do that.”

“River…”

“Don’t,” I ordered softly. “Don’t talk. Just think. I’ll wait outside for you to lock up, and then maybe we can talk tomorrow?”

She nodded, and I backed away slowly, refusing to notice the rapid rise and fall of her breasts, or that her lips were still parted like she was waiting for me to come back and kiss the hell out of her again.

Maybe I’d just fucked everything up. Maybe I’d thrown away the best relationship of my life by pushing for something that she didn’t want, but when I looked back and saw her touching her lips as I walked out the door, I couldn’t help but smile.

Maybe I’d just made the best decision of my life.

4
Avery

I
flipped
through the magazine at Dr. Stone’s office, not really seeing the print on the pages. My mind was too focused on River.

He’d kissed me. My eyes slid shut as I remembered his lips against mine, the feel of his tongue, his hands, his sweet taste. My fingertips slid over my lips like I could still feel him there.

How could one moment change everything?

Just like that.

It had been the best kiss of my life—hot enough that had he not stopped us, I wasn’t sure where we would have ended up.

On the table. The bar. His bed.

I felt heat rush to my face and opened my eyes, smiling. God, he just made me happy, which was something I hadn’t been in such a long time. Kissing him hadn’t been the awkward first kiss of friends trying out something more. It had been like two magnets finally flipped so they were unable to do anything but collide.

“What has you all happy?” Dad grumbled, sitting on the exam table.

“River,” I answered honestly. He’d texted me all day yesterday from work, but our schedules hadn’t meshed and we hadn’t gotten a chance to see each other.

His eyes narrowed. “Don’t get too attached to that boy, Avery. He’ll just break your heart when he leaves, and you’ll be downright bitchy. Hell, it’s bad enough already.” He pointed at me. “Watch yourself.”

I soothed my hackles, which begged to go up in my own defense. “Actually, I think I’m going with him next weekend to Colorado.”

Dad’s mouth hung open, his eyes ready to shoot fire. “You. Are. Not.”

“I am,” I said with a certainty I hadn’t felt this morning when I woke up.
Guess you made that decision.
“It’s just for a weekend, Dad. Aunt Dawn already said she’d come up and stay.” She’d actually been all too happy to do so when I’d called her this morning.

“You can not put her out like that!”

“Dad, she lives thirty minutes away and she’s retired. It’s hardly putting her out to ask her to spend a weekend with her brother.”

He grumbled, tapping his foot against the side of the exam table. “And what about Adeline?”

“What about her?” I closed the magazine, giving up any pretense of reading.

“Are you thinking of moving there? With him? Why else would you go?”

I should have waited until we were home to say anything, or told him before this appointment. “Let’s just talk about this later.”

“No, the doc is late as usual. Let’s talk about it now.” He crossed his arms around his chest. His fingernails were too long, but at least I’d gotten him to shower this morning.

For the smallest second, the potential of a different future washed over me—a future where every day wasn’t fighting with him, where I could live for me, step fully into the independent adulthood I’d always been so scared to want. A future where River kissed me, where I finally allowed myself to really examine my feelings for my best friend.

“What if I wanted to move?” I asked softly. “What if I wanted to have an actual life, Dad?”

“One where you’re not tied down by an invalid father? Is that what you mean?”

“You’re not an invalid. And River already said you could come with us—”

“Enough!” he snapped. “I’m not moving to Colorado and neither are you. Your life is here, with me. I know it’s not the life you wanted, but this isn’t what I wanted, either. We’re in this together. It’s always been you and me, Avery. What would I do without you? What would Adeline do? You know we can’t make it without you. So you can go for the weekend and live out your little fantasy, but you know you’ll come right back here, because you’re not the kind of girl to walk out on her family.”

He lifted his eyebrows, challenging me to say that I was.

Was he right? Did it matter what I wanted?

The doctor knocked, saving me from going down that tunnel.

“Mr. Claire,” Dr. Stone said as he sat in front of the computer on the desk and flipped through the screens. “Okay, so how have you been feeling this month? Your weight is up.”

“I like to eat,” Dad joked, bringing out his charming side, the way he always did with Dr. Stone. After all, he had something Dad wanted.

He’s playing you, too.

I kept my thoughts to myself as Dr. Stone examined him, prodding and asking the same questions he did every month.

“And how is your pain level?” he asked.

They had my full attention, now.

“It’s bad, doc,” Dad said, grimacing as he pushed against his lower back. “It’s getting worse.”

Dr. Stone nodded thoughtfully, rubbing his goatee. It was hard to believe he was the same age as my dad, or maybe it was just that there were healthy men that age, in general. “I’m not going to lie to you, Jim. The pain is always going to be there. There’s no guarantee with a spine fused where yours is. I know it hurts.”

“Can we up my meds? Give me a little relief?”

Dr. Stone sighed and sat back at the computer, going through the screens again. “I really think you’re at your max on the opioids. I can’t safely prescribe any more without putting you at risk for overdose.”

“It hurts,” Dad snapped, startling me. He never showed his angry face outside the house. No, that side of him was reserved for Adeline and me, of course.

“I know,” Dr. Stone said, leaning back in his chair. “Maybe it’s time to discuss other options.”

“Something stronger?” Dad suggested.

For the love. If they got Dad any higher, he’d be an astronaut.

“No, but there are new methods out there. Ways of going directly after the nerves.” He tilted his head. “And we should look at your weight. Other patients with this same fusion live relatively active, normal lives. Yes, they’re still in pain—that is absolutely real, but we’ve been able to decrease pain meds by natural means.”

“Well, I’m not interested in that. I want it to stop hurting. Now. So can you help me?”

Dr. Stone looked at me, and I dropped my eyes. The repercussions from outing Dad would be disastrous at home. “Avery, can I talk with you outside?”

"Why do you want to talk to her alone?” Dad questioned.

“Just some caregiver stuff. She still has your medical power of attorney, right?”

“Yes,” Dad grumbled.

“Then there shouldn’t be an issue, right? Unless there’s something you don’t want me to know?”

“It’s fine,” Dad answered.

Shit.

I didn’t need to look at Dad to know that his eyes bore into me. Hell, I could feel the heat from here.

Dr. Stone shut the door behind us as we stepped into the hallway. “How is he, really?” he asked.

Angry. Drunk. Verbally abusive. Legally Adeline’s guardian.

“Fine.”

“Avery?” He gave me the Dad tone he’d probably used on his daughter Michelle…Michelle who’d gone to college in Texas after we’d both graduated. Michelle who, no doubt, had a life.

I could lie, send Dad further down the rabbit hole. Or I could take the smallest step to force some change into his life. If not for my own good, then Addy’s.

“He’s angry,” I said, my eyes dropping to the floor as I betrayed the only parent I had left. “He drinks too much, he won’t get off the couch, and the farthest he’ll go is for the remote unless we’re coming here on our monthly trip to refill his meds.”

“Jesus,” he muttered.

“You asked,” I said, raising my eyes. “He’s destroying himself.”

“And taking you down with him,” he noted.

I shook my head. “It’s not about me. But it is about Adeline.”

He nodded slowly.

“I need you to keep this between us,” I whispered.

He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Okay. Thank you for being honest with me.”

I took a deep breath and hardened my defenses as we walked back in. Between this and the bombshell of going to Colorado that I’d just dropped on him, I might need some of those pain meds for the headache all his yelling would give me.

“Well, Avery says nothing much has changed,” Dr. Stone forced a smile. “We’ll keep you on the same dose you’re at. I don’t want you in pain, but let’s explore some of those other treatments, shall we? I really want you to go back to physical therapy. Really make a go of it this time.”

“No,” Dad said simply, like the doc had asked him if he wanted mashed potatoes with dinner.

Dr. Stone scribbled on his pad and then ripped off the sheet as he gave Dad a smile. “Well, I’m not asking. If you want me to refill this prescription next month, you’ll call this number,” he said, adding a business card to the sheet as he handed it to Dad. “Dr. Maxwell is great, and I’ll check in with her to make sure you’re attending whatever sessions she recommends before we meet again next month.”

Dad’s eyes snapped toward mine. “What did you say?”

“Dad,” I pled. It was shitty enough having the hermit, drunk dad who everyone talked about, but public embarrassment? That was a new level of hell I hadn’t had since I’d had to pull him off a barstool at the Golden Saloon when I was sixteen.

Now I worked there.

“She said you’re doing well on these meds, but your pain has you uncomfortable, Jim,” Dr. Stone answered. “This isn’t a punishment. We’re looking for a long-term solution for you to return to feeling fully functional. Physical therapy is going to help strengthen your back muscles and maybe lose a little of that weight. It will be good for you. Good for the girls who are taking such good care of you, too.”

Dad grunted.

Because the truth was he hadn’t cared about us in such a long time that I wasn’t sure he knew how to anymore.

* * *


O
h em gee
!” Adeline squealed and danced around me, acting every single day of her thirteen years.

“Shhh!” I said as we made our way out to my car.

“You can’t shush me!” she said, taking the passenger seat as I climbed into the driver’s side.

“I can, too.”

“No way! You and River! Finally!”

I could practically see the hearts dancing above her head. “Stop!” I laughed. “Look, I only told you because I need to make sure that you’re okay with Aunt Dawn coming up next weekend to stay with you.”

“Absolutely. Dad will be on his best behavior with her in the house.”

She chatted on, stating easily a dozen times that she couldn’t believe it took us this long to get together. I reminded her every single time that it was just a kiss and we weren’t together.

“Yes, you are. You’re going away together!”

“I’m going with him to check out his home town and see where he’ll be living. He doesn’t know how soon he’ll have to move.”
Too soon.

“You should go with him,” she said, playing with her phone.

“What?” I said, my hands tightening on the wheel.

“You. Should. Go. Get the hell out of here.”

“Don’t swear,” I said automatically. “And that’s a huge thing to even think about.”

“Why? Because life is
so
great here?” She snorted. “Seriously. If you have a chance to get out, do it. I’m leaving the first chance I get.”

“You’re not happy?”

She shrugged, her eyes still on that damn phone. “Sure. But it’s not like I have a ton of friends. Everything is”—she shrugged again—“stagnant. Nothing changes. It feels like one of those ponds that just grows crap and mosquitos.”

“But there are good things, too, right?”

“Yeah, of course. You’re here, and it’s nice to see Aunt Dawn when she comes around. But I’m not going to stay here. I’m leaving for college, and then once I’ve seen what’s out there, maybe I’ll come back. But I don’t want to feel like I stayed because it was the only option. You’re not mad, are you?” She looked over at me.

“Not at all,” I said as we turned onto her friend’s street. “I had those exact thoughts at your age.”

“But then Mom died.”

I nodded slowly. “Then Mom died.”
And my entire future went with her.

I pulled into the driveway and put the car in park, quickly touching Adeline’s wrist before she could open her door. “Addy, if it was your choice, would you go? If you were me?”

“In a heartbeat,” she said without blinking. “Dad puts you through hell. Once River leaves…I just think you deserve a chance to be happy. Both of you do.”

My heart stuttered, knowing I needed to ask her. I couldn’t make these kinds of choices without her. “Okay, and if there was a way for you to come with me? Would you? I know it’s more complicated than that, and that you have friends and a life, and Dad, but just for the purpose of this conversation, would you?”

She tilted her head in a way that reminded me so much of our mother. “I’d pack a box tomorrow. In theory.”

“In theory,” I repeated.

She lunged across the console of my SUV and kissed me on the cheek. “Don’t hurt your brain, sis. Catch you later?”

“Yeah.”

A couple I-love-yous later, I left her at Mandy’s for the sleepover. My thoughts raced as I drove. What would it even take to bring her with me?
If you go.
I couldn’t leave Adeline. I could barely process the thought of leaving Dad. It didn’t matter how far he’d sunk, he was still my dad.

I would have given anything for five minutes with Mom. What would happen if I left here, lost him, and had that same regret?

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