Authors: Ella Sheridan
Secrets to Hide 3:
JUST A LITTLE MORE
Secrets to Hide 3: Just a Little More
Copyright © July 2014 by Ella Sheridan
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Editor: Rory Olsen
Cover Artist: Dar Albert
Published in the United States of America
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I’ve heard depression described as a black pit of hell, and I couldn’t agree more. I know because I’ve been there. Brad and Angel’s story is dedicated to all those who, like me, have been in that pit and struggled to climb out. We wear the bruises and the scars, but we’re not alone, and
we will not be defeated.
My most heartfelt thanks go to my phenomenal editor, Rory Olsen. You have made every book we’ve shared better. You’ve pushed me to grow as a writer. You’ve encouraged me and put up with my neurotic need for reassurance. I will always be grateful
Dirty Little Secret
landed in your lap!
He was eighteen when it happened. No warning at all.
One minute Brad Donovan was staring down at his best friend, Angel, as she coughed up water from Lake Lanier. She bobbed on the surface, swiping at the droplets that clung to her eyes, and then she was laughing. That same laugh he’d heard a million times since elementary school, a laugh full of joy, full of life. All the noise around them, their friends shouting and girls squealing at the shock of cold water, the splashes, the creaking of the dock and rumbling of rock on the radio, it all faded as that one sound, Angel’s laughter, pierced his heart like an arrow.
And changed everything with the realization that he loved her.
It wasn’t best-friend love. He’d loved her that way since the first day of fifth grade. And it wasn’t sister love. They’d grown up together, become the family neither of them really had, but this wasn’t about family either. Definitely not just being horny, though he’d had to hide a hard-on more times than he could count with Angel running around in that skimpy bikini.
No, this was something new, something a hundred times stronger. This was the real thing, real love. The kind a man had for a woman; the kind he had for Angel. The kind a teenage boy wouldn’t recognize, right? But he knew, without a doubt, that she was the one, with that single glance down at her laughing face.
And it scared the shit out of him.
He jerked around to see Michael running toward him, a brown glass bottle in his hand.
“Dude, the beer’s almost out. Need to make a run to the store?”
Ignoring the tug in his chest that demanded his attention, he glanced at his watch. Sundown came late in July, but it was already eight. His friends would start leaving in a couple of hours. “No, better hold off.”
Michael shot him a lopsided grin. “You’re the only senior I know who worries about how much booze his friends drink. Especially seniors whose folks don’t police ’em.”
“Just wanna see you make it to college, dude,” Brad joked, though it really wasn’t a topic to joke about—driving drunk or his parents’ inattention. Most of his friends knew why Brad watched the booze levels at their parties. They knew about Bobby, knew his brother’s death had changed everything, including his relationship with his parents. Although the term
was a stretch. Hard to have a relationship with people you never saw anymore. He was lucky they remembered to pay the staff so he still had a place to live.
No, that wasn’t fair. They loved him, just not as much as they’d loved Bobby. The car accident that had taken his brother’s life had devastated his parents. It was easier for them not to be here, in the home they’d watched Bobby grow up in. He understood that.
Most of the time.
“There’re extra Cokes in the pantry. Grab some of those,” he told Michael.
By the time he turned back to the dock, Angel was out at the diving platform halfway across the inlet, surrounded by a dozen of their friends. Always the center of attention. There was something about her that drew people, made them want to be near her. Maybe it was her constant smile. For a girl who’d grown up with foster parents on the poor end of town, she was “remarkably well adjusted,” as she mockingly put it. He called it happy. He loved that happiness, soaked it in whenever they were together, which was pretty much constantly. She kept him levelheaded too, especially on the bad days. Angel got him in ways his parents never would, in ways they didn’t want to, but that was okay. He had Angel, he had friends, and he had a plan for the future. That was enough for him. Or it had been, until the love bomb had detonated in his gut ten minutes ago.
He scrubbed a hand over his half-dried hair and wondered what to do now. Angel left for college on Sunday; she’d been accepted to Florida State with a full scholarship. He started classes in two weeks at the University of Georgia. They’d been friends for eight years. Why had it taken him so long to realize he loved her?
Even worse, what if he was wrong?
He’d never thought he was in love before. Lust, sure. Most girls would—and had—jumped at the chance to be with him. From the night he’d lost his virginity to Kari Miller two years ago, he’d had a girl under him whenever he wanted one. But none of them had taken the time to know him. Angel had. She’d always been special, had always seen beneath the popular-guy image to the real him underneath, even when they were kids. Could he risk that on a feeling?
The weight of indecision settled on his chest, driving him into the water. The push and pull of his muscles, the ache in his lungs, the cool relief of the water gliding along his skin, it pulled him out of his head for a few precious minutes. He surfaced reluctantly, snagged a deep breath, and dived again, only for the need for air to force him up a few feet from the platform. He shook his head, flinging water, and blinked bleary eyes at the floating dock. The first thing he saw was Angel—or, more accurately, Angel’s breasts.
She leaned over the bobbing side to trail her fingers over the gently lapping waves as she listened to her girlfriends talk. The position put her chest almost on level with his head, the edges of that so-small bikini gaping open. He could see straight down her top, all the way past full, creamy curves to her tight pink nipples. If he’d had any spit left in his mouth, he’d have gulped.
Angel glanced up, that familiar smile lighting her face, completely oblivious to his dilemma. He swam closer as she sat up. Reaching out to grasp the wooden platform with one hand, he reached beneath the water with the other and adjusted himself in his swim trunks.
“About time you got here,” Angel teased. She scooted to the side. “Come on up.”
“Think I’ll stay here,” he said hastily. “The water feels good.”
He floated on his back, kicking lazily, one hand still gripping the edge, and listened to Angel talk to their friends about college plans. All the classes they were going to take. All the parties they planned to have. All the people they planned to date. Did Angel plan on dating? Of course she did. It wasn’t like she’d had much time for dating in high school, not with working and keeping her grades up. She’d been with her current foster family since the year Brad met her, but though they took good care of her, there wasn’t a lot extra to go around. Angel had earned her way.
The scholarship to FSU meant she wouldn’t have to work as long and hard as she had been, though. She’d have time to date—and plenty of guys to do it with, no doubt.
The thought deflated his hard-on completely.
Angel reached out a toe and tapped him on the chest. “Give you a dollar for them.”
He snorted, sucking water up his nose and choking on it. Angel laughed.
He gave a final cough, clearing the water from his sinuses. “Put it in the college fund.”
“Don’t need it. The scholarship’ll take care of that.”
“It’ll take care of college expenses. You need gas money too. Fun money.”
Just not too much fun, please.
On the other side of the platform, Hannah called, “Last one to shore gets a mud bath!” Brad pushed back as the dock rocked heavily at the mass exodus. When the platform stilled and he didn’t feel like puking from nerves, he lifted himself up to sit next to Angel, who leaned her bare shoulder against his.
They sat in the quiet, watching their friends throw mud pies on the shore.
He didn’t look down at her. He couldn’t. No way could he hide what he was feeling, thinking. He shifted a bit, trying to give himself some room in his too-tight shorts without Angel noticing. “So, two more days.”
Angel hesitated, her cheek rubbing slightly against his wind-chilled shoulder. “Two more days.”
God, he wanted to tell her. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted…
“What if I can’t do this? What if I fail?”
“Hey.” He leaned far enough away that he could raise a hand to her cheek. Even that light touch, a touch he’d given her a thousand times, felt different, powerful, terrifying. He shook with it. He didn’t want Angel to go. He wanted her to stay, to be with him, to explore this sudden need for her. But he couldn’t tell her that. He couldn’t let her see. He wasn’t important right now; she was. Her future was. “You’ll be great. You can do”—the words stuck in his throat, and he had to clear it—“anything. I know you can. You already have.”
A faint blush colored Angel’s cheeks.
“What about you? What’re you gonna do without a partner in crime?”
Brad dropped his hand and grinned. He’d never hidden from Angel, never consciously tried to charm her like he did other girls. With her, he was just Brad. But now, looking into her eyes, he needed every last protection against the emotion as tender as freshly healed burns on his psyche. He winked. “I’ll come up with something.”