Read Torch: The Wildwood Series Online

Authors: Karen Erickson

Torch: The Wildwood Series

BOOK: Torch: The Wildwood Series
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Contents

Chapter One

W
REN
G
ALLAGHER WASN

T
the type to drown her sorrows in alcohol, but tonight seemed as good a time as any to start.

“Another Malibu and pineapple, Russ,” she said to the bartender, who gave her a look before nodding reluctantly. She’d known Russell Fry since she was a kid. Went to school with his daughter Amelia, who’d moved the hell out of Wildwood the minute she graduated high school. She’d received a full scholarship to some fancy Ivy League college and never looked back.

Many times over the last few years, she thought of Amelia. And envied her tremendously.

She’d gotten out.

And Wren hadn’t.

Not that Wildwood was a bad place. She was happy here. She had a great job as a bookkeeper for various businesses around town, plus she’d invested in her friend Delilah’s dance studio. She had her family. She had her friends . . . friends who were all pairing off and finding love. All she could find was the bottom of an empty glass at a bar on a Monday night.

Woe is me and all that jazz. She’d roll her eyes at herself if she could guarantee it wouldn’t make her head spin. She was sort of spinning already, despite her internal promise not to overdo it.

“That’s your third drink,” Russ said gruffly as he plunked the fresh glass in front of her.

She grabbed it and took a long sip from the skinny red straw. It was her third drink because the first two weren’t potent enough. She didn’t even feel that drunk. But how could she tell Russ that when he was the one mixing her drinks? “And they’re equally delicious,” she replied with a sweet smile.

He scowled at her, his bushy eyebrows threaded with gray hairs seeming to hang low over his eyes. “You all right, Wren?”

“I’m fine.” She smiled, but it felt incredibly false, so she let it fade before taking another sip of her drink. No way could she tell this old man she’d known forever all her troubles. He’d tell her mother, who’d tell her father, and then they’d give her a call, asking her to come over so they could “talk.” Forget it.

Forget. It.

Her problems were hers and hers alone. Plus, they sounded ridiculously selfish when she voiced them out loud. People lost their jobs, marriages broke up, children got bad grades and failed school, people were diagnosed with fatal diseases, for God’s sake. What did she have to complain about? That she was feeling lonely? That maybe she felt the teeniest bit . . . stuck?

Yeah, she’d remained in her hometown versus running off to the big city, which had been her original after-high-school-graduation dream. She’d wanted to escape her tiny life, her family, all of it, but that never happened. She stayed home instead and worked and played and dealt with her family.

So her dad was a jerk. So her mom was a doormat. She still loved them. Her brothers were a pain in her ass, but she knew without a doubt if she asked any one of them—and she had three—for help, they’d drop everything to be there for her. No questions asked. That was nice. That fact alone made her feel safe.

And most of the time, she liked feeling safe.

She had good friends. Two best friends who each happened to be dating one of her brothers. What were the odds? Harper and West were serious. Lane finally came around and he was now in a full-blown relationship with Delilah. They even said they loved each other out loud. In front of other people and everything.

It kind of blew Wren’s mind.

Oh, and it depressed her. A lot.

Sighing, she pushed the wimpy straw out of the way and brought the glass to her lips, chugging the drink in a few long swallows. Polishing it off like a pro, she wiped her damp lips with the back of her hand as she set the glass down on the bar. Her head spun a little bit and she blinked hard, pleased to finally experience the effects of the alcohol swimming in her veins.

A low whistle sounded behind her and she went still, her breath trapped in her lungs. No way was that whistle meant for her. It was a typical Monday night at the bar. Well, what she assumed was typical considering she didn’t normally hang out here on Monday nights. She was literally the only female in the place beyond the waitress who had worked here forever. Helen was sixty-five with an old-fashioned beehive hairstyle that was dyed an artificially bright red. So she sort of didn’t count in Wren’s book.

“Trying to get drunk, Dove?”

That too-amused, too-arrogant voice was disappointingly familiar. Her shoulders slumping, she glanced to her right to watch as Tate Warren settled his too-perfect butt onto the barstool next to hers, a giant smile curving his too-sexy mouth as he looked her up and down. Her body heated everywhere his eyes landed, and she frowned.

Ugh.
She hated him. His new favorite thing was to call her every bird name besides her own. It drove her crazy, and he knew it. It didn’t help that they ran into each other all the time. The town was too small and their circle of mutual friends—and family members—even smaller.

Tate worked at Cal Fire with her brothers Weston and Holden. He was good friends with West and her oldest brother, Lane, so they all spent a lot of time together when they could. But fire season was in full swing, and Tate had been at the station the last time they all got together.

She hadn’t missed him either. Not one bit.

At least, that’s what she told herself.

“What are you doing here?” Her tone was snottier than she intended and he noticed. His brows rose, surprise etching his very fine, very handsome features.

He was seriously too good-looking for words. Like Abercrombie & Fitch type good-looking. With that pretty, pretty face and shock of dark hair and the finely muscled body and
oh, shit
, that smile. Although he wasn’t flashing it at her right now like he usually did. Nope, not at all.

“I’m assuming you’re looking to get drunk alone tonight? I don’t want to get in your way.” He started to stand and she reached out, resting her hand on his forearm to stop him.

And oh wow, his skin was hot. And firm. As in, the boy’s got muscles. Erm, the man. Tate could never be mistaken for a boy. He was all man. One hundred percent delicious, sexy man . . .

“Don’t go,” she said, her eyes meeting his. His brows went up until they looked like they could reach his hairline, and she snatched her hand away, her fingers still tingling where she touched him.

Whoo boy, that wasn’t good. Could she blame it on the alcohol?

Tate settled his big body back on the barstool, ordering a Heineken when Russ asked what he wanted. “You all right, Bird?” His voice was low and full of concern, and her heart ached to say something. Admit her faults, her fears, and hope for some sympathy.

But she couldn’t do that. Couldn’t make a fool of herself in front of Tate. She’d never hear the end of it. It was bad enough how he always managed to give her a hard time.

So she’d let the “Bird” remark go. At least he hadn’t called her Cuckoo or Woodpecker. “Having a bad day,” she offered with a weak smile, lifting her ice-filled glass in a toasting gesture. At that precise moment, Russ delivered Tate’s beer and he raised it as well, clinking the green bottle against her glass.

“Me too,” Tate murmured before he took a drink, his gaze never leaving hers.

Wren stared at him in a daze. How come she never noticed how green his eyes were before? They matched the beer bottle, which proved he didn’t have the best taste in beer, but she’d forgive him for that.

But yes. They were pretty eyes. Kind eyes. Amused eyes. Laughing eyes. Sexy eyes.

She tore her gaze away from his, mentally beating herself up. He chuckled under his breath, and she wanted to beat him up too. Just before she ripped off his clothes and had her way with him . . .

Oh, jeez. Clearly she was drunker than she thought.

T
ATE CONCENTRATED ON
drinking his beer, trying his best not to look in the direction of the beautiful girl who always acted like she hated him. But it was proving difficult, considering she was sitting so close. As in, he-could-smell-her close. She’d-actually-voluntarily-touched-him close.

Even kissing close.

Not that he could kiss Wren. She’d probably sock him in the mouth if he ever tried. She’d seemed irritated by him from the very first moment they met. He had no idea what happened, what exactly made her act that way toward him, but her rude behavior became a sort of game. He’d even named the game, just for fun.

How fast can I piss off Wren?

Pretty damn fast was always the answer. He loved giving her a hard time, considering she always reacted so strongly, like he was the bane of her existence. Calling her whatever bird species came to mind instead of her actual name? Pure genius on his part. She hated it.

He loved it.

More like he loved driving her crazy.

If he was being truthful, he loved her name too. It was pretty. Unique. Much like the woman herself.

Yeah, that thought got him nowhere.

All his life, women had never been much of a challenge. He’d smile, he’d flirt, and the next thing he knew, they were giving him the eye. Letting him know in no uncertain terms that they were up for anything. Lucky for them, he was always up for anything too. But he kept it simple and easy. No complications, no commitment, no unnecessary emotions getting in the way. He liked it that way.

No, he fucking
loved
it that way. Commitment was for sissies.

So his new friend West had fallen hard for Harper Hill. Like he could blame the man. She looked like someone who’d take care of you and rock your world, all at once.

And Lane and Delilah had recently taken a step in the commitment direction too. He could get on board with that as well. Though Delilah scared the crap out of him, truth be told. Why, he wasn’t sure. Wren should scare the crap out of him too. She was a little mean. A lot grumpy. Always giving him shit. Treating him like he was a big joke.

That’s why it blew his mind how attracted he was to Wren when she acted like he drove her crazy. And he sort of did—drive her crazy. Maybe he hadn’t left the best impression on her when he first moved to Wildwood. He’d been extra flirtatious. Extra . . . man-whorish? Isn’t that what Wren told him that one time last summer when she found him in the women’s bathroom at this very bar? His hands on some random tourist’s chest and his tongue down her throat?

The look of disgust on Wren’s face when she saw them together had made him feel bad. Guilty even. And he never did guilty. He wasn’t one to let someone else’s judgment dictate his actions.

Yet with Wren . . . after that one slightly scandalous moment last summer, he’d cleaned up his act. Well, a little bit. He at least became more discreet.

Truthfully? He wanted to get discreet with Wren. But every time he got close to her, she rolled her eyes and gave him endless crap over something fairly menial. What was her deal?

Worse, what was
his
deal when it came to Wren? For some strange reason he wanted her approval. He wanted her to like him, which was just . . .

Odd.

He normally didn’t give a shit what people thought of him.

“When did your eyes get so green?”

He turned to stare at her, stunned by her question. Stunned even more by the dreamy expression on her face as she stared at him like she wanted to . . . gobble him up? “What did you just say?” he asked carefully.

“Your eyes.” She waved a hand in their general direction, and he couldn’t help but let his gaze drop to her chest. She had a nice one, and he was always trying to sneak a peek. Now he just blatantly stared. “They’re so green. Like your beer.”

Jerking his gaze away from her tits, Tate grabbed the bottle and held it to his lips, taking a drink before he said, “The beer isn’t green, Blue Jay. But the bottle is.”

“You know what I mean.” She waved her hand again, nearly smacking him in the jaw. “They’re very sparkly.” When he looked at her like she was crazy, she clarified, “Your eyes.”

“They are?”

“Oh, yeah.” She nodded, a giggle slipping past her lips. “Sparkly and green and so very pretty.”

His entire body went warm, and his dick twitched. Huh. He’d had women tell him he had nice eyes. His mother had always raved about his eyes when he was a kid, even going so far as to force him to wear green shirts to “bring out the color in your eyes.” This wasn’t an unusual compliment.

No, what was unusual was his reaction to it. Maybe it was the way Wren watched him. Or the way she seemed to sway toward him as she spoke, like there was a magnetic force pulling them closer together. One she couldn’t fight no matter how hard she tried.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice low as he contemplated her, skimming the length of her before his gaze returned to hers. “You have very, very pretty eyes too.”

Those very pretty eyes widened in surprise and she pressed her lips together, blinking rapidly. “Seriously?”

Tate nodded, wondering why she’d doubt him. Then again, she would, what with the way they gave each other endless grief. “Definitely. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that before?”

“Not really. You certainly haven’t.”

“I just did,” he reminded her, making her roll her eyes.

Ah, there was the Wren he knew.

She shrugged and turned toward the bar, grabbing her drink, disappointment written all over her face when she realized it was empty. “I should probably go.”

“You wouldn’t let me leave,” he pointed out. “So I think you should stay. Keep me company.”

“What are you doing here anyway?”

That was a good question. Sitting at home on his first full day off in what felt like forever, he’d been bored. Restless. So he’d hopped in his SUV and drove around town, but he soon got bored with that too. He didn’t know what he wanted, what he was looking for, but the moment he entered the bar and saw the back of Wren’s head, he knew it was her.

And his night got magically better. Just like that.

“Bored,” he answered truthfully. “Thought I’d stop by and grab a drink.”

She gave him a look. “Really? Don’t tell me this is your deep dark secret. That you come hang out here on your nights off and drink yourself into oblivion.”

BOOK: Torch: The Wildwood Series
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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