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Authors: Sophia Henry

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BOOK: Interference
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“That's what they say,” she said.

That was Auden for you. Her boyfriend has a multimillion-dollar contract playing hockey in the NHL for the Charlotte Aviators, yet she thinks in terms of pulling her weight and paying her own way.

No gold-digging puck bunny there.

—

When I got home from work, I ran upstairs to drop a kiss on Holden's forehead and change into comfy pj's. I found Mom and Damien sacked out in the living room, so I squeezed onto the end of the couch where Mom was curled up, wrapped in an afghan. I tucked my legs under me, lifted the bottom of her blanket and draped it over my lap.

“Do you work on Monday night?” I asked her.

“Nope,” she mumbled sleepily, her eyes still on the TV screen.

“Can you watch Holden?” I weaved my fingers through the small holes of the multicolored, crocheted blanket.

“Did you pick up a shift?”

“No. I have…” I paused. “I have a date.” The words sounded so foreign coming out of my mouth. My first, and only, proper date had been during freshman year of high school when Tim asked me out.

Mom sat up. “You have a date?” she asked, doing nothing to keep the surprise from her voice. “Who would ask you out?”

“Geez, Mom.” I kicked her under the covers. “You act like I'm a freaking leper.”

She kicked me back. “I didn't mean it that way. I just wondered who the lucky guy was.”

“Good save, Mom.” I rolled my eyes.

“Come on, Linden. Who is it?” she pressed.

I glanced at my brother, sprawled out in our recliner, sleeping. “Damien's coach,” I whispered.

“What?”

“Shhhhh!” I hushed her and checked to make sure D hadn't woken up. I didn't feel like dealing with his wrath.

“How did that happen?” Mom said, lowering her voice and leaning toward me.

“He came in to Peak City to eat with his mom and he asked me.” I shrugged and twisted the afghan.

“He asked you in front of his mother?”

I shook my head. “Not exactly. She was in the bathroom, but she knew he asked me.” I paused, contemplating how to express my next thought. “I don't think it was a coincidence that he brought her to Peak City to eat. I think he knew I'd be there.”

“Didn't you walk in here a week or so ago ranting about him pulling you over and escorting you home?” Mom said.

“Yes.”

“So why the change of heart?”

“It felt good to have someone interested in me,” I admitted.

“A lot of men in this town have been interested in you, Linden,” Mom reminded me. “You're a beautiful girl with an amazing heart.”

She hit the nail on the head when she said “men in this town.” That was the point. I wasn't interested in any of the men in this town. Everyone here saw me as a stupid girl who got pregnant hoping to trap the high school football hero. They didn't see me for who I'd had the potential to be before I'd gotten pregnant. I'd received an academic scholarship to the University of Michigan, where I planned on studying pharmaceutical sciences.

But instead of sympathy when I couldn't accept my scholarship and continue on my career path, I was seen as another sad, single mom with no ambition. Stuck in Bridgeland for another generation.

Not that I had any intentions of leaving Bridgeland, since I could be a pharmacist anywhere, but unless more new people like Jason Taylor moved to town, I was destined to be a spinster.

“He doesn't know my background. Doesn't have any preconceived notions about me.”

“Fuck what people think about you, Linden,” Mom said in her usual blunt way. “It doesn't matter.”

“I know,” I said softly. And deep down, I did know that. But it's hard to remember when you grew up in as small a town as I did. “I don't even know how to act on a date. Tim and I never really dated.”

New all-time low: asking my forty-something mom for dating advice.

“Be yourself and have fun.”

“Those two don't go together in my world, since being myself these days is running around stressed-out and frazzled.”

Mom leaned forward and pushed my hair out of my eyes. “No, it isn't. You are strong and responsible.” She let go of my hair and pinched her thumb and index finger together. “And a little bit snarky. I bet that's what attracted him to you.”

“Guys like raging bitches who yell at them during hockey games? Huh. Good to know.” I nodded.

“What are you talking about?” Damien asked with a scratchy voice. He sat up in his seat.

“Jason Taylor asked me out,” I admitted. No reason to hide it. He'd find out soon enough.

“You are not going on a date with my coach.” His voice was an octave away from a growl.

“Go back to sleep and mind your own business,” Mom said.

He slammed the footrest of the recliner down. “It is my business. You could date anyone in this town and you chose my coach?”

“Like Mom said, he's got a nice ass,” I joked, to rile him up even more.

Mom giggled. Damien shot us both murderous glares. Which made me laugh harder.

“You two are so freaking hilarious.” He stood up and stomped out of the room.

“Too far?” I asked Mom.

“You are so my daughter,” she responded.

Her comment made me smile, even if the joke had been at my brother's expense.

Before Mom met Mr. Kelso, she was a serial dater. She enjoys going on dates and meeting new people. But as much as she liked all of that, she also takes pride in being able to take care of herself. She taught me that I could be with a man without having to rely on a man. Happiness should come from within, not because a guy shows interest. And I agree with her, even though it felt good to have the interest.

I'm convinced that was why, despite being left with two kids to take care of on a waitress's salary, she always maintained a good attitude. She never complained. She loves living her life with no one to answer to.

Her philosophy suited me.

Chapter 9
Jason

Indie greeted me with a smile when she met me halfway down the walkway leading up to her house.

“You look amazing,” I told her, placing my hand on the small of her back and leading her to my truck. I couldn't help myself. I'd wanted to touch her since I'd met her. Watching her trot down her front porch steps in a siren-red peacoat with a silky, blue top and tight, black skirt peeking out from underneath only increased that need.

I opened the door for Indie and boosted her up, allowing her time to straighten her coat and skirt before closing the door and rounding the front of the truck to the driver's side. I'd taken an extra second to watch her long limbs stretch out from beneath that tiny skirt. When I'd told her to dress for anything, she had the right idea. All I could think about was pushing up that skirt and doing anything—and everything.

Maybe going to a drive-in for dinner wasn't such a good idea. I wasn't sure how I'd be able to keep from touching her while trapped in the cramped cab.

“Nice truck,” Indie said as she pulled her seatbelt over herself.

“Thanks. I wanted to fit in.”

Indie giggled.

“What?” I asked. “Isn't it mandatory to own a pickup truck in this town?”

“Um, this is not a pickup truck.” Her eyes met mine. “This is a you-must-be-from-out-of-town truck.”

“How so?” I asked. I wanted her honest opinion. I wanted to hear everything her smart mouth had to say.

Indie reached out, her fingertips skimming the dashboard. “You can't haul hay in the back. Or cows or anything. You don't want to scratch a beautiful truck like this…” Indie said and trailed off. Then she brought her hands back to her lap as if embarrassed she'd been caressing my truck while going on about its abilities.

I liked that she called my truck beautiful, but she was wrong. The truck was nice. She was beautiful.

“How many cows have you seen hauled in the back of a pickup?” I asked.

“You know what I mean.” A curtain of hair covered her face, but I heard the smile in her voice.

I shook my head, top lip twitching as I held back laughter. I knew my vermillion-red F150 Platinum was not your everyday truck for working on the farm. I'd always wanted a truck, and this baby had serenaded me from the lot.

“Okay, maybe not cows—” Indie began.

Before she could finish, I leaned in and brushed her hair out of her face. Then I leaned even closer and…grabbed her hand. I thought of it at the last minute, realizing what I'd almost done. “It's a city-boy truck. I get it.”

Fucking lame recovery from my initial impulse to kiss her.

“You almost surprised me there, copper.” Indie touched her lips with her fingers. A smile curved under them.

“I've got more where that came from.” I started the truck and backed out of her driveway. The soft hitch of her breath made me smile. “Surprises,” I clarified. “But we can play tonsil hockey later if you want to.”

Indie stared at me but didn't say anything. I caught her shifting in her seat. The telling glow in her cheeks made me shift as well. This wasn't going to be a comfortable ride.

“I'll stop flirting so you'll be able to speak again.”

“I just…” Indie shook her head and pushed through her embarrassment. “You make me smile. And laugh. It's refreshing.”

“I'll take refreshing pig over jackweed pig any day,” I said.

Indie groaned. “I'm never going to live down the pig thing, am I?”

“Probably not. As the oldest in my family, I'm good at tucking away information for future use.”

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” she asked.

“Um…” Answering questions about my family was sort of like solving a math problem for Mensa members.

“Is it a hard question?” She tilted her head to the side.

I chuckled. “Well, technically, I have three brothers and one sister, but my parents have taken in more than thirty foster kids over the years.”

“Thirty? Wow.” Indie paused before speaking again. “Were you one of the foster kids?”

“No, but I was adopted,” I admitted. I rested my elbow on my door and held the wheel with my fingers. “It was a crazy situation, actually. After years of trying, my parents didn't think they could have kids, so they adopted me. Four years later, Mom had Landon. He was the miracle baby. It was just us for a while, then my parents started taking in foster kids. I don't think my parents liked being empty nesters, because they adopted twin boys a few years ago.”

Indie's eyes had widened, the telling look of someone surprised I'd share my story. But I didn't hold back. I wasn't ashamed of my upbringing or my family. Actually, I was damn proud. Call me the poster boy for adoption.

“That is amazing,” she whispered.

“They're amazing people.” I made a sharp turn into a small lot off Mason Street, Bridgeland's main drag. Hank's Drive-In's neon sign covered my truck's charcoal dashboard in a light-pink glow.

“Here we are,” I announced, pulling alongside an old, steel pole with a metal, skull-shaped speaker.

“Hank's?” Indie asked.

Tiny, black-plastic letters spelled out Hank's numerous offerings on an oversized, yellowed board that loomed behind the speaker. Despite competition from the brand-new Sonic Drive-In around the corner, Hank's had done little to update its decor since the fifties, when it first opened in Bridgeland. I doubt the menu had changed much since then, either.

I shifted my truck into park. “I love this place.”

“How do you stay so fit?” Indie asked, without taking her eyes from the menu. She looked slightly disgusted and I wondered if I'd made the wrong choice in selecting a dinner location.

Was she one of those girls who ordered salads with dressing on the side?

“I don't have much of a social life, so I spend most of my free time at the gym or on the ice.” After I answered, I realized how lame I sounded, and hoped Indie didn't have a snarky comment to knock my ego down even further.

“You ready to order?” a male voice crackled through the ancient speaker.

Without hesitation, Indie yelled into the speaker. “I'll have a plain hot dog, chili-cheese fries, and a root beer float. Large.”

I scanned Indie's lithe body, from her sparkly, silver stilettos to her big, brown eyes, wondering where in the hell she was going to put all of that food.

“And I'll have the—” I began.

“Double cheeseburger, extra pickles, onion rings, and a Coke. We know, Officer Taylor,” the voice in the speaker cackled back.

“Uh, okay. Thanks.” I nodded to the speaker.

Indie burst out laughing. “Come here often?”

“I can't cook.” I shrugged. “It's here or Johnny's.”

“Creature of habit?”

“It would appear so.”

“You should try something new,” Indie said.

“I've been told that before.” I rubbed the back of my neck and changed the subject. “Geez, I need a haircut.”

Indie reached out and touched my hand. “Not too much.”

I lifted my eyes to hers and dropped my hand to the gearshift. “Wow. I've never heard someone so opinionated about hair that wasn't theirs before.”

Indie's face flushed Traverse City–cherry red, and I mentally cursed myself for embarrassing her. Especially since I liked the feel of her hands on me.

“Do you know how to cook?” I asked. First-date conversation at its finest.

“I love it. I record cooking shows and re-create recipes when I have a chance.”

“So, on our next date, you're cooking me dinner?” I said teasingly, leaning toward her slightly.

She held up her hands as if pressing me back. “Let's get through this one first and we'll see.”

“I like that about you.” I sat back.

The smile slid from Indie's face. “Like what?”

“You aren't afraid to bust my balls.”

“Oh.” Relief flooded her face and her smile returned.

A waitress on roller skates delivered our food within ten minutes, which was why Hank's topped the list of my favorite places. The quick delivery, not the uniform. Hank must be a super-huge jerk to make his servers wear roller skates and hot pants to serve food to patrons waiting in their cars during winter in Michigan.

Like a gentleman, I waited for Indie to take her first bite before I began eating. Once I'd dug in, I barely looked up, famished from going almost the entire day without a meal.

Indie sat up and peered out the windows, her head darting to the left and then the right. “Where's the fire?”

Stopping midchew, I lifted my eyes to hers and saw the smile.

“Busting your balls again, copper. You look like you haven't eaten in a week.”

Silence filled the air as I finished chewing. “I'm starving. I haven't had anything except for a measly bowl of oatmeal this morning.”

“You look like Damien when he gets home from school. He'll devour half a box of cereal for an afternoon snack.” Indie popped a fry into her mouth. “Our grocery bills are huge.”

“You live with Damien?”

“Yeah. Me, Mom, D…” She trailed off, leaving the sentence hanging. “Trying to save money.”

“Totally get it,” I assured her, since she seemed self-conscious about living at home. I offered her my cup of onion rings. “Want one?”

She plucked one out and bit into it. “I love these. I can never decide between onion rings and fries. But I pick fries every time.”

“Guess we're a good match.” Her eyes widened and I continued. “Because I always get onion rings. The best of both worlds, ya know?”

A soft laugh escaped her with her nod.

When Indie finished eating, she balled up her napkin and tossed it into an empty plastic bag at her feet. “Thank you so much for a surprising dinner.”

“Surprising good, or surprising as in you're never letting me pick the restaurant again?” I asked as I revved the engine to life and began backing my truck out of the parking space.

Indie pulled down the visor and held a stick clumped with shimmery, pink goo to her lips. “Surprising amazing. I'd never been there before.”

I stomped the brake so hard she jerked forward. “You're a townie and you've never been to Hank's?”

“Geez, copper! Let me know when you're gonna do that.”

It took everything I had to keep from laughing as Indie used her fingertip to remove the streak of gloss from the patch of skin under her nose. I'd watched her devour a hot dog, chili-cheese fries, half my onion rings, and a large root beer float. And now she was back to primping like the prom queen Tone, the meathead at the gym, said she'd been. I'd never wanted to kiss shimmery, pink junk off someone's lips more than I did right now.

“What?” Indie asked, eyes wide as she looked at me. My obvious staring probably creeped her out.

“Sorry.” I checked my mirrors and blind spots and started backing out again.

My heart sped up when I glanced over and caught Indie tugging down on her skirt. When it bounced back to its previous place I smiled.

“Did I tell you that you look beautiful tonight?” I asked.

“I believe you said amazing. But I'll take beautiful, too.” When Indie smiled I caught a glimpse of her teeth, bright white against her beautiful, shimmery, pink lips.

I wondered if she ever had the ugly-duckling phase that some girls think they go through before becoming the prom queen, or if she was always gorgeous?

“You work at Peak City and you're a townie. Tell me more,” I asked.

“If we're going by the technical definition of a townie, I'm really not one, since I attend the university. Historically, a townie would have no affiliation with the academic institution in the town they've grown up in.”

What the hell was she talking about?

My face must've shown an adequate amount of confusion, because Indie continued. “You know? Town and gown—the origin of townie? Town being the nonacademic residents and gown being the university community.”

“Huh. I never knew there was a historical origin of townie. I just thought it was a nickname for people who stayed in the place they were raised.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Indie's cheeks brighten before she turned to stare out the window.

Shit. Embarrassing her was the last thing I wanted to do.

“I didn't realize you went to the university.” I tried to recover. “What are you studying?”

Indie shrugged. “I'm in the pre-pharmacy program.”

“A drug dealer and a cop. What a match.”

“Opposites attract,” Indie said in a teasing tone. “Believe it or not, I wanted to be a cop when I was younger. Had a fascination with crime and punishment.”

“Isn't that literature?” I joked.

“Don't try to one-up me in useless information, copper. I already won that battle and I will continue to win every time.”

I laughed. I loved a woman who could bust my chops, someone who could keep me on my toes.

“You are the queen of useless information. Got it.”

Indie laughed and glanced at the road. “This isn't the way to my house.” She shifted to look at me. Her shirt swung down, giving me a glimpse of the top of her lacy, black bra. My eyes darted back to the road before I wrecked my truck.

“I know,” I said. “It's the way to the next surprise.”

“Another surprise? How did you know my heart could handle more than one a night?” She clasped both hands over her chest with dramatic flair, which directed my eyes to her boobs again.

Damn it.

“Figured I had to bring my A game to prove I wasn't boring.” I straightened in my seat, effectively rearranging my junk, which had pressed against my zipper. My body really needed to stop reacting like a teenager with his first issue of Playboy every time I looked at her. You'd think I hadn't had sex in years. Oh, wait…I hadn't.

BOOK: Interference
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