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Authors: C.J. Fallowfield

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BOOK: Torn
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“Great,” I confirmed, for once
wanting to talk about anything but baseball. I wanted to hear all about her.

“I’d … I’d really like to see you
play sometime.”

“You would?” I felt my face light
up like a seven-year–old’s on Christmas morning. “First official game of the season
isn’t likely to be until February, though we usually have an exhibition game in
the fall. But you can come and watch practice one day if you want? The boys
come sometimes and we hang out after to mess around on the field.”

“How come you practice now? Don’t
you get the summer off?”

“Coach is a good guy, he
schedules in some time for those of us that are local throughout the break.
Anything to give us an edge.”

“You have a lot on your plate,”
she observed. “Man of the house, mechanic, student, baseball player. I’m
surprised you have time to date.”

“I don’t really, but for the
right girl I’ll find the time.” I shot her a look that made it clear I thought
she was worth the hours of sleep I’d likely miss to see her. My free time was
limited as it was without fitting in a girlfriend as well. That was why I’d
stuck to casual hook-ups for the last few years, I hadn’t met anyone I was
prepared to put myself out for. But Sky? Somehow she seemed to have bewitched
all three of us Hudson boys in a seriously short time.


“Thanks for a great day, guys,”
she smiled, as she straddled her bike and gripped the handlebars, the tips of
her toes on the floor to balance herself.

 “I’ll text you this week to plan
a gaming night,” she directed at Billy and Josh, who nodded their approval. “I’ll,
ermmm … text you about tomorrow, Nate.”

“Tomorrow, what’s happening
tomorrow?” Josh immediately asked.

“You two got to hang out with her
all day today, so I’m taking her on a bike ride up Bootleg Canyon tomorrow.
I added firmly when both of them opened their mouths.

“It’s not an easy ride, Sky,”
Josh warned.

“I have a feeling that Sky’s up
for the challenge,” I confirmed, raising my eyebrows as I looked to her for
confirmation. She nodded her agreement, then gave us a wave before pulling out into
the bike lane and heading off. All three of us stood watching her silently
until she disappeared out of sight.

“Don’t know why you can’t find
your own girl to pester,” Josh muttered as he spun around to go and get his

“Not like you’ve got dibs on her,
she’s a free agent. See you back at home,” I called. Billy shot me a look that
told me he was in agreement with Josh and jogged after him, leaving me to head
over to JT’s to retrieve my car from the back parking lot.

If they thought I was backing
down, they didn’t know me very well. I hadn’t gotten where I had by not
fighting for my dreams and desires and proving everyone wrong. I’d been warned
I was taking on too much, looking after Josh, Ma, Billy, and his ma, working,
and going to university, but I wasn’t one to back out of a challenge,
regardless of who my competitors were. And I was under no illusion that I was
in competition with them both for her attention. Particularly Josh. I’d seen
the way she looked at him, how relaxed she was around him, compared to how
unsettled she was around me. My damn brother was my rival, and I wasn’t happy
about that. Not in the slightest.

Parental Approval




I brushed my hair back into a ponytail
and checked myself in the mirror. I was wearing my black Lycra cycling shorts
and a white tank top. I’d debated the benefits of mascara, but discounted it. I
was likely to get extra hot riding and it would run. Plus, as pretty as I
wanted to look for Nate, I needed the reassurance that he liked me for me, not
because of how well I could clean up. My backpack was loaded with my helmet, water,
an apple, sunscreen, and a lightweight windbreaker, and my sunglasses were perched
on top of my head. I was ready, though being up at this hour, seven a.m. on a
Sunday, was a killer. Nate had insisted we needed to start early to miss the
worst of the afternoon heat, and he was picking me up at seven-thirty. I headed
up to the kitchen to grab a coffee and an apple, and was surprised to see Pops
sitting at the kitchen island.

“What are you doing up?”

“Good morning to you too, Sky,”
he chuckled, as he put one arm out for me to go and give him a hug and kiss.

“Good morning, Pops,” I greeted,
as I snuggled in and kissed his cheek. “My question still stands, you’re never
up before nine on a weekend.”

“Neither are you,” he reminded
me. “You think I’m going to let some guy come and pick up my only daughter
without meeting him for myself first?”

“Pops,” I groaned. “Really?”

“Really,” he said firmly,
reaching for his coffee as I wriggled out of his hold.

“I spent all day with two guys
you didn’t know yesterday, why is this different?”

“You were in crowded places with
them, they weren’t picking you up in a car and driving you to God knows where.
Besides …” He stopped mid-sentence and shook his head, sipping on his coffee as
I poured myself one.

“Besides what?” I prompted.

“Look, I didn’t want to say this,”
he said hesitantly, “but I’ve asked around about these Hudson boys, and this
Nate has a reputation. I’m not all that comfortable with you seeing him.”

“I’m not ‘seeing him.’ It’s not a
date, we’re just friends going biking. And I know his reputation already, he’s
not tried to hide that from me. Did your sources tell you anything good about

“He works hard, plays harder, and
he’s covered in tattoos and piercings. Not the kind of guy I really want around
my daughter,” Pops confirmed, with no apology in his voice.

“He does work hard,” I bristled,
not sure why Pops was acting so out of character. “And I’d think a man who took
responsibility for his family when he lost his dad at eighteen, who didn’t take
the easy option of quitting his studies or his part-time job, who also keeps an
eye on his aunt and cousin, is
the kind of guy you’d want me to
be around. He has integrity and high family values. Isn’t that more important
than the fact he’s never settled down with one girl for long and has a few
pieces of body art?”

“I didn’t know about his family

“Yeah well, the gossipmongers
always focus on the negatives, don’t they. I’m surprised at you, Pops. You
taught me better than to be so judgmental. Didn’t you get bullied as a kid for
your Mexican heritage when you came to the US? I thought we did better than to
make snap judgments about people based on gossip or first looks.”

“I’m sorry, you’re right. I’ll
give him the benefit of the doubt then, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to
meet him for myself, Sky. Friend or suitor, he’s still older and more experienced
than you, and he’s taking out my most prized possession. I need to know I can
trust him with you.”

“Fine,” I sighed, turning around
to face him as I took an apple from the fruit bowl. “But you don’t get to say
who I can be friends with. I’m an adult now. I appreciate the concern, but I
don’t need your approval anymore.”

“When did I raise such a stubborn
girl?” he muttered.

“Around the time you raised her
to be hardworking, independent, and tolerant. You already got the trifecta
there. So I can be stubborn and vocal sometimes, hardly the worst traits I
could have picked up.”

He grinned at me and shook his
head, then picked up his paper to read as we drank our coffee in silence and I
chewed on my sweet, crisp apple. I was getting more nervous by the second. It
was bad enough I was going to be spending the day with Nate, but now Pops was
going to be vetting him at the door? Regardless of my little speech, I may not
need Pops’ approval, but I wanted it. I never wanted to let my parents down or
disappoint them. Their opinions mattered to me. I swallowed a ball of acid in
the back of my throat when the doorbell rang at exactly seven-thirty.

“I’ll get it, you wait here,”
Pops ordered, with a stern glance that made me roll my eyes and sigh. I did as I
was told though. I craned my neck as I tried to see around Pops’ frame as he
opened the front door, but he was blocking my view. They were also speaking too
quietly for me to hear what was being said. I’d have loved to have been a fly
on the wall. I quickly washed my hands and wiped my mouth, using the shine of
the stainless steel fridge to check my face and my teeth. No way did I want to
go out with apple skin stuck between my front teeth like some kind of dork. I
already felt like one around him, I didn’t need any extra, unwanted help. “Ok,
you can go, but I’m not one-hundred percent happy,” Pops advised as he came up
behind me. “He reminds me of Danny Zuko.”

“Who the hell is Danny Zuko?” I
replied, my heart soaring to know that Pops wasn’t objecting.

“Your mom and I need to dig out
the movie
for you, and then you’ll know exactly what I mean. He’s
got that bad-boy look about him.”

“What people project on the
outside isn’t always what they are on the inside, Pops. You taught me that.
Thank you, I’ll see you later. I’ll be back for dinner.” I kissed his cheek,
grabbed my backpack, and skipped over to the front door, which Pops had closed,
leaving Nate outside.

“Keep in touch by text, so we
know you’re ok,” Pops called.

“Will do if there’s a signal,” I

I opened the front door to find
Nate leaning against his Impala, the early morning sun behind him making him
look like some kind of crazily sexy angel. He was in a white form-fitting Henley
tee and a pair of loose black jogging pants that clung to his lower hips,
showing off that inverted triangle shape of his toned body. He’d teamed it with
black and white sneakers. I suspected he’d look hot in anything.

“Hey,” he called, unfolding his
arms and uncrossing his ankles to straighten up as I approached him.

“Hey, sorry about the
interrogation, he’s overprotective.”

“Don’t worry about it. I would be
if I had a daughter and she was picked up by a guy like me,” he shrugged.

“Was he at least polite?”

“Polite, but firm. Anyway, it
can’t have gone too badly. I’m still here, aren’t I?” He held out his hand to
take my backpack from me and went to deposit it on the back seat of his car. It
was gleaming, like showroom clean. If I was Pops’ most prized possession, this
Impala was obviously Nate’s. I dug out my keys and opened the garage. I’d already
gotten my bike down from its hooks this morning, so I wheeled it out and Nate
took it from me as I locked up again. By the time I walked back over, he’d
secured it against his on the rack on the back of his car. “Ready?”

“I think so,” I nodded, as I
walked around to the passenger side. He rushed over to open the car door for
me, grinning as he shut me in. I took a moment to take in the tan leather
seats, the spotless dash, the chrome trimmings reflecting a mirror-like shine,
and swallowed hard as he slipped into the driver’s seat next to me. I’d never
been in a car with a guy. It suddenly felt really intimate to be in such a
confined space with him. I gave Nate a shy smile.

“She’s beautiful,” I confirmed.

“Like you,” he winked, as he
started the engine and it let out that satisfying roar I knew so well from my
TV watching. “So I changed my mind. Bootleg is a pretty hardcore single-track
trail. It would be reckless to take you there without knowing your skill set.”

“Where are we going then?”

“I’ll park up by the Hoover Dam
and we can follow part of the trail up there. It has great views of Lake Mead
and we head through some of the old railroad tunnels. It’s an easier ride.”

“I can handle tough,” I objected.

“I don’t doubt it,” he confirmed,
as he shifted his stick and pulled out of our driveway. “But there’s not much
point in us hanging out today if we’re both too breathless to talk.”

“I guess not,” I agreed, quickly
using the opportunity to wipe my clammy hands on my bare knees as he focused on
the road ahead. I felt so giddy. It wasn’t a date as such, I knew that, but I
was here. In a car. With Nate Hudson. It was hard to breathe. It was hard to do
anything around him other than stop myself from swooning.

“So, tell me about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?” I
laughed. “I don’t exactly have an exciting backstory.”

“I don’t care, I just want to get
to know you a bit better. Make sure it’s safe for my little brother and cousin
to hang out with you for the next four years.” He flashed a teasing smile my
way, his single dimple coming out full force. I’d never had the urge to lick a
guy before, but I wanted to lick that dimple right now.

I filled him in as best as I
could, but there really wasn’t a lot to tell. We’d moved, often, so I didn’t
have any friends, other than Liam. My life revolved around studying and gaming.
I realized how boring I must sound compared to the sort of girls, and women,
he’d be interested in. I just couldn’t see what he saw in me. He was a good
listener though, asking questions at the right time to make me open up about
how I felt about things instead of just imparting the facts. It was obvious
he’d perfected that skill, probably with his mom, Josh, and Billy, who would
all have needed him after his dad had died. I wondered if he had anyone he
could talk to or offload on. Taking all of that responsibility on your
shoulders wasn’t something anyone should have to bear alone. Sadly it seemed
like I was going to have to wait for my answers, we were already parking.

“Have you been to the dam yet?”
he asked as he pulled his key from the ignition.

“I had the VIP tour on Tuesday,”
I nodded. “Pops just started work there, and part of his induction was an all-access
tour, so he asked if I could join him. Have you been?”

“Never inside. I usually just
come up here for the views, or to bike when I need to blow off steam.”

“I got the impression women were
the way you blew off steam.”

“Not always, my life’s pretty
full and complicated. Sometimes I like uncomplicated and … easy,” he confirmed,
as he faced me with a slight frown. His lips parted as he tipped his head, and
all of a sudden I needed fresh air to breathe. It was like he was sucking it
right out of my lungs.

“I get that.” I shot out of the
passenger door before he had a chance to lean in and kiss me. Not that I was
sure he was going to, but I didn’t want to give him any chances, as I had a
feeling I wouldn’t push him away if he tried. I needed uncomplicated and easy,

 We worked silently, side by
side, to get the bikes off the rack, loading our water bottles and clipping
them in place, then put on our helmets. We helped each other to put on our backpacks
and I donned my sunglasses and straddled my bike. I nearly fell off it, before I’d
even done a full revolution of my pedals, when I saw he was wearing a mirrored
pair of aviator shades. Wow, he was more scorching than the Nevada sun at the
peak of day. He looked like the proverbial handsome, bad-boy rock star. We set
off, Nate insisting I lead while he shouted directions from behind, since riding
side-by-side was forbidden out here. It was great to be out, to feel the slight
breeze on my face, hear birds instead of cars. I really needed to spend more
time outdoors than inside on my Xbox or studying. Nate obviously knew the area
well. He was like an experienced tour guide, giving me a running commentary on
the history of the building of the dam, and how the tunnels had been hewn out
of the rock to allow the railroads to connect the site of the dam to the
various supplies needed from Boulder City, like the quarry pits and cement
mixing plants. Now the railroad was long gone, but the old routes were a
popular hiking and biking trail. By the time we stopped for a break to refill
our water bottles, I was already breathless, whereas Nate seemed as fresh as a

BOOK: Torn
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