Keeping Happy Ever After (A Silvervale Second Chance Romance Book 2)

 

 

 

Nine years earlier…

 

WELCOME TO SILVERVALE.

My mother knew how I felt about Mason asking the love of his life to marry him; which is to say I was skeptical. Given their past, my reservations were justified. When she strongly suggested I come spend the rest of my summer with their family, I agreed, but did so reluctantly.

As I packed my bags, she took her time doling out unneeded and unsolicited advice.

Give them a chance, Jax. Mason’s happy. He’s waited a long time for the life he’s always wanted. We’re still part of that life. So have patience and be the man he helped raise you to be.

I accepted this, deciding my mother was right. In many ways, I owe Mason.

However, the last twenty minutes has told me all I needed to know about the Dyer women.

Every one of them is certifiably nuts. I was raised by my mother and grandmother. The two were flighty in their own right. But they have nothing on these girls.

“A nice dinner together. That’s all this was supposed to be,” Mason grumbles, standing from the table and tossing his napkin on his unfinished plate. “But no. You two can’t reel your shit in for twenty minutes,” he pointedly scolds the oldest daughter, Amelia.

When Mason said we were going to spend the summer relaxing, I thought he meant it. That the invitation to come visit my only uncle would be a good idea. That spending three weeks in the company of the man who helped raise me, before I went off to college in the fall, would be as it always has been—comfortable and easy.

I’m certain nothing will go as I’d hoped and planned. Not if these girls have anything to do with it.

How the fuck can Mason stand being centered in the middle of all this teenage bullshit? For fuck’s sake, I’ve been here an hour and I’m ready to bolt.

Katherine stares up at Mason and bites her bottom lip to keep it from quivering.

Katherine.

By Katherine I mean, Katherine Margret Dyer, the recently divorced, single mother of two. The love of my uncle Mason’s life. Also his recently announced fiancée.

Katherine, the same person who tormented his heart and tested the resilience of his soul. The fiery, spirited woman did this for-fucking-years. He took all the heartache and pain, accepting that as part of his life, because he loved her. Truly loved her above all else.

Growing up, his advice to me was always the same. Find a woman that meant to me, what Katherine’s always meant to him. He went on to say his Katie always gave him what no one else ever did before. She lent him her understated support. She ensured he always knew someone cared about him. Most of all, she gave him what he needed the most: unconditional love.

The shit of all this was, for the last fifteen years, she was married to another man. And Mason still fucking loved her.

Before coming to Silvervale to meet this family, I’d already decided I hated them all. I didn’t need to know them to understand why I felt the way I did. I was a witness to Mason’s devastation. I watched Katherine Dyer nearly destroy one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.

Being here, sitting at their dining room table in the cabin they share at Silvervale Lake, my loathing for this family is quickly waning. It’s been made clear that no matter the chaos he’s forced to suffer, Katherine Dyer makes him happy.

However, I wonder how my uncle Mason is expected to hold a grain of sanity in the face of all this crazy.

“She’s really not normally like this,” Katherine excuses her youngest daughter’s behavior. “Averie’s just…”

Oh, I know exactly how Averie is. I wasn’t around but for ten minutes before I recognized pieces of myself in her.

Averie’s lost somewhere between the life she wanted with her parents, kept safe and happy, and trying to decide how to feel about how her life with her new family has come to be. She’s also not sure where she fits inside any of it.

Averie’s loud, but not intentionally. That’s just part of her makeup. She’s assertive, straightforward, and cares little about what others think. Her calling her sister out, for being a bitch, at the dinner table proves this point.

At her mother’s loss for words, Amelia pipes in, “Averie is exactly always like this. She’s a spoiled brat.”

“Amelia, no,” Katherine calls, her face fuming with irritation.

“She is!” Amelia shrieks. “I’m older than she is. I should get to do more than her. Besides, if she wasn’t such a big baby, and did what she’s supposed to do, maybe you and Dad would let her do more.”

“Amelia Terese, not now,” her mom orders.

When Amelia bragged to Averie that her plans for the weekend included an unsupervised trip to the mall with friends, in exchange for passing her lifeguard certification, the proverbial shit hit the fan. That’s when Averie stood from the table, threw her napkin on her plate, and took off out the back door.

I have no siblings, so my understanding is nil regarding the dynamics of sharing my life with someone so closely related.

Attempting to bring us back to civilized conversation, Katherine queries, “Jaxson, have you decided on where you’d like to go to college?”

“Not yet,” I return. “I have a few offers, but I’m not interested in any of them. I’d like to stay close to home if I could.”

“That must make your mother happy,” Katherine replies, side-eyeing Amelia sitting to her right.

My decision to stay close to home has nothing to do with making my mom happy.

Tiffany Ann Cole has made making stupid decisions, when it comes to the men she gets involved with, her life’s hobby. Starting with my drug dealing father, who is currently serving his second stint in prison for pushing his product on another unsuspecting innocent.

My mom is pretty, and as her son I hate to recognize this. Still, I’m not blind to how my friends look at her when they’re over. I’m not oblivious to how men of all ages stare at her ass and chest when they think no one knows they are.

Even the male teachers at my school continually spend more time ‘discussing’ my academic career than necessary. My grade point average is 4.0. These discussions are pointless.

Mom is younger than Mason, shorter and slimmer, but she has the same dark blue eyes and dark hair. She’s also a lot fun to be around.

I’m not bitter as to where my life started, though. Honest to God, I’m not.

Truth be told, if my mom hadn’t been such a fuck up in her younger years, I never would’ve had Mason in my life the way I did. He left Silvervale and came to California to help Mom. As soon as he got word she was pregnant, addicted to heroine, and utterly alone, sans my grandmother, he made the decision to be a part of my life. And he stuck to that decision.

For this, I’m eternally thankful.

“Amelia will be applying for colleges herself soon,” Katherine brags, running her hand down her daughter’s long, dark blonde hair.

Amelia drags her gaze from mine. She focuses on her half-empty glass of water on the table and blushes before biting her top lip.

Katherine’s oldest daughter is fifteen in years, but much younger in life experience. That’s obvious. Whether Amelia admits this or not, she’s also been sheltered and spoiled. Maybe she doesn’t act out the way her sister does, but she has a lot to learn in way of the world.

“She’s in a mood,” Mason growls, slamming the sliding back door of his cabin shut. “I’m not touchin’ this.”

Amelia scoffs in her chair and is reprimanded by a scathing look from her mother. Pissed at her daughter, Katherine punishes, “Amelia, your choice, you take the higher road a girl of your age should take, or you can continue how you are and stay home with Averie this weekend.”

“I did nothing,” Amelia boldly denies. “But I’m not about to coddle her like everyone else.”

“We have company,” Katherine informs the obvious. “So, for the rest of the summer, you two will get along or one of you can stay with Dad and the other stays here.”

“Averie can go,” Amelia gives freely.

“That wasn’t a decision you were offered to make,” Mason asserts, supporting Katherine as he sits back down at the table.

“Let me go out and try,” Katherine insists and starts to stand. “She can’t sit out there all night. Dinner will get cold.”

Dinner will get cold?

Jesus Christ.

If I pulled as dramatic of a routine as that little shit just did, Mason would’ve slapped me out of my chair the moment the word ‘bitch’ came out of my mouth.

He merely shook his head and tensed his jaw upon hearing this from Averie. Girls are different, I guess.

Wanting the fuck out of here, I push my plate to the center of the table and offer, “Want me to go out there and talk to her?”

Mason’s eyebrows lift. He doesn’t refuse, but he directly notes, “Averie doesn’t know you from a can of paint.”

“Nope,” I tell him. “But maybe that’ll help.”

“Do you have any experience with teenage girls?” he questions next.

I smile. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Plenty.

“Never mind,” he utters. “Don’t answer that.”

“Want me to give it a shot or not?” I press when he doesn’t answer.

“Couldn’t hurt,” Katherine tells the table.

“More attention,” Amelia snaps, sitting back in her chair, crossing her arms and scowling. “Figures. Averie’ll just love this, won’t she?”

“Amelia,” Katherine warns. “Enough from you.”

Amelia rolls her eyes and stands. She pushes in her chair and doesn’t look to anyone as she sets her dishes near the sink before stepping away down the hall.

“Are they always like this?” I ask whoever will answer.

I get a soft “no” from Katherine and a clipped “yes” from Mason.

“The change hasn’t been easy for either of them,” Katherine excuses.

I nod my understanding. I imagine the change not being an easy one. Nothing at Averie’s age is easy anyway, but coming to the realization that your parents aren’t just parents, but living breathing humans who make mistakes, like anyone else, is tough.

Standing from my place, I push in my chair and start on my way to the door.

“Tell her she has ten minutes, then she’s talkin’ this out, whether she wants to or not,” Mason orders.

“Got it,” I return, reaching the door.

Once I’m outside, I turn to find Averie sitting in a wooden porch swing attached to an overhang. Her feet are propped on the deck’s railing. She’s still wearing the soccer gear she came home in. Her hair is barely together in a falling ponytail. Long strands of loose hair dance around her face in the summer breeze.

I don’t say anything.

Truth be told, I don’t want to talk to her. She is spoiled. She’s also a pain in the ass.

I knew this before coming here, because there were times when Mason had mentioned Averie in passing, and he used that name in reference to her. Not Averie. Not darling or sweetheart.

Pain-in-the-ass.

“I’m not talking to you either,” Averie snips, peevishly. “So, if they sent you out here to get me to apologize to Amelia, you’re wasting your time.”

Leaning my hip against the railing of the deck, I cross my arms over my chest and look out onto the lake.

The water is silent. The backdrop serene. The area they live in is quiet, peaceful. With only a few neighbors in the distance, I imagine Mason loves the home they’ve made for him just by coming to live inside of it.

A few seconds of silence passes before I acknowledge, “You and your sister don’t get along.”

Averie’s eyes come to mine. With surprise she replies, “Uh, no. You met her, right?”

“I met her,” I assure, but add, “Met you too, though.”

When I turn to rest my ass on the railing close to Averie’s feet, she doesn’t make any effort to give me room. Rather, she clears her throat at my intrusion and pierces me with mental daggers. She’s scowling, eyes narrowed, and jaw tight, directly at me.

I hide my smile at her insolence.

Stubborn shit.

“There are other ways to get what you want,” I suggest.

Quickly, she says again, “I said I’m not talking to you.”

“Then don’t,” I reply. “But sooner or later, you’re gonna have to go back in there and face them.”

Averie shrugs. For only being thirteen, she’s not far from hot. Athletic frame, tall, toned, but not without what will soon be curves. Her face is angelic, soft in expression if she wanted it to be. Her nose is small with a scattering of random freckles. And her eyes are so goddamn blue they rival the clearest sky.

If I had to guess, which of course I do, I’d say she has a pretty smile. But, being that she’s not once extended one to anyone here since I arrived, I can’t be certain.

I will say, she’d be a fuck of a lot cuter if she’d stop mean mugging the world as she’s doing. Averie needs a reminder. She needs to see and appreciate all she has for what it is.

“My mom was going to give me away,” I confide, unable to take the words back after I’ve said them. “After I was born, she thought about giving me up for adoption.”

Averie looks up, her expression blank.

“She was pretty young. Around the time she found out she was pregnant, she was an addict. Know what that is?”

“I’m thirteen,” she clips. “Not stupid.”

Nodding, I lean my hands to the railing behind me and continue. “My dad would keep her pumped full of heroin. He controlled her. He was an addict, too. Misery loves company and all that. My grandmother tried to intervene, but Mom was too far gone to care.”

“Do you talk your dad now?” she questions, genuinely curious.

“Don’t know him. Don’t care to ever know him.”

“I’m sorry,” she returns with sincerity.

“I’m okay,” I assure. “My mom is a nut, but I had Mason. In all my life, he’s the one man, the one person, who was constant.”

“I like him,” she gives, but as if under duress.

“I don’t care how you feel about anyone,” I tell her bluntly. Averie winces at my curt tone, but I power on without apology. “Your family is good. They care about you and each other. You don’t believe this now, but one day you’ll be thankful for them.”

“I’m thankful for them already,” she corrects. “But Amelia—”

“Amelia is your older sister. Doesn’t take a genius to recognize you two are jealous of each other.”

“I’m not jealous of Amelia.”

“No?” I point to the sliding glass door. “Then what the hell was that?”

Shrugging, she justifies, “She annoys me.”

I don’t laugh, but fuck I want to.

Mason, already having lost patience, pops his head out the door.

“You’re showing Jax around the lake this evening,” he tells Averie.

Her head whips around so fast, Mason falters with whatever he was about to say next.

“I’m tired and sweaty from practice,” she excuses. “Why can’t Amelia do it?”

“Amelia’s on dinner cleanup. You’re on showing Jaxson around,” he answers.

She scoffs first, then queries, “Why am I being punished?”

All right, fuck. That’s going to leave a mark.

Mason slams his eyes shut and inhales. Probably praying for patience.

“Deliver me,” he mumbles.

Katherine appears at my uncle’s side. He drops the handle to the door and walks away.

The mother of two teenage girls doesn’t have to say a word. She continues to stand there, silently waiting and staring at Averie with expectation.

Averie sighs. She stands from the swing and walks past me to her mother, where she wraps her arms around her waist and utters a quick, “I’m sorry,” then moves into the house.

Three weeks of this? I’m not sure I’ll survive.

Because honest to God, these girls are nuts.

 

My God.

When I walked in the front door of the cabin, sweaty from soccer practice and surprised to find our late summer guest had arrived early, I dropped my bag to the floor.

Moments after, my jaw followed.

Jaxson Cole had been sitting on our couch, a bottle of cold water in one hand and the television remote in the other. Our dog Titan was laying on the floor at his feet. Rather than running toward the door to greet me as he usually does, he merely wagged his tail and lifted his head.

Traitor.

Sweat dripped from Jaxson’s temples, neck, and chest. He was wearing only a pair of black running pants and high dollar athletic shoes. His hair, a little longer in front than back, was disheveled, sticking up at all ends. His cheeks were flushed against his tanned skin. And his breathing appeared uneven.

A dirt covered basketball was being held still beneath one foot.

When he slowly turned his curious gaze to mine, I forced my mouth to close.

To be fair, I had been warned. I’d seen countless pictures. Along with this, I was already aware that Jaxson was Mason’s nephew. So it was safe to assume he’d be good-looking—if not beautiful.

But nothing could’ve prepared me for this.

His wayward smirk. His bright, smiling eyes. His body.

My God, that chest.

When Jaxson furrowed his brow at my lack of proper greeting, I was taken aback. Sitting there, clearly having made himself comfortable in my home, he not only resembled Mason, he could be deemed his universal twin.

The two, even being so far in age, mirror one another. Except Jaxson’s eyes are green verses Mason’s dark blue. Jaxson’s hair is shorter, cut high. His jaw is clean, shaven close. And Jaxson doesn’t have the colorful array of tattoos Mason does.

At least not yet.

Take Jax to the lake. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if your mother or I were there, Mason said, standing in my mess of a bedroom while I searched for a clean tank top.

Rummaging through my dresser drawers, I tossed all I wasn’t searching for to the floor. My anger at my sister continued to intensify.

No swimming without an adult. You know the rules, he all but scolded. Then he scowled, ensuring his point was made.

As Jax and I got ready to leave, Amelia stood in the kitchen with her foot kicked to the side and her arms crossed over her chest. She smirked snidely as if she’d won some ridiculous, imaginary game.

My mom stood there, worried and impatient. She nodded her encouragement, her small smile pleading for my compliance.

I continued to fume.

So, as Jaxson and I made our way to where I was told to show him around, we did this in silence.

Now, here we are, sitting side by side on the sandy beach of Silvervale Lake. For the last twenty minutes, we’ve been quietly looking out onto the water.

There’s not a swimmer in sight. Not one boat can be seen or heard floating along the water. No seasonal wind is blowing through the surrounding high grass or trees. Even the birds seem to have skipped town, aiding in making the silence between Mason’s Mini-Me and me all the more awkward.

I have no idea what I’m supposed to say to him, and I’m getting the sense he’s as bored with this as I am.

“How old are you, anyway?” he finally questions. When I force my gaze to his, I narrow my eyes at his stupid smirk.

He’s enjoying every bit of my punishment for acting out.

“I’m old enough,” I hastily return.

His smirk turns to a grin and he prods, “And how old is that again?”

“I’m thirteen.”

“Thirteen,” he repeats. “Young.”

“I guess,” I reply. “How old are you?”

“Seventeen,” he tells me.

This I knew, because Mason had told me.

Jaxson’s tall, taller than any of the boys I go to school with. He’s also more confident in the way he carries himself, so sure of who he is and where he’s going.

Jaxson picks up a stray piece of grass sticking out of the sand and twirls it between his thumb and index finger.

Curiously, he probes, “So, what do you do for fun around here?”

“Annoy Mason as much as I possibly can,” I hastily reply.

Jaxson laughs, the sound rich and full of trouble. His dimples dig deep on each cheek. His easy smile and dancing eyes force me to as well.

Damn it, why? Why does he have to be so cute?

Still smiling, but this time aiming it toward the water, he notes, “Mason said you were a fucking terror.”

What?

“Mason didn’t say that. Mason loves me,” I huff in defense.

Nodding, Jaxson adjusts his position. He brings his legs up, resting his elbows to the tops of his knees where he continues to talk to the water. “My uncle does love you, but he really did say that.”

Mentally, I note to have a word with Mason. Likely, I probably won’t though. I know he considers me a pain in the ass. He tells me this all the time.

Inquiring, I ask, “How long are you staying in Silvervale?”

“I’ll be here about three weeks,” he explains. “I start college in the fall.”

“Do you come to Mason’s house a lot?”

Shaking his head, he answers, “No. But my mom thought I should come hang with him before I leave home.”

“Why?”

Turning his gaze to mine, he replies, “Because he’s Mason. I told you. Without him, I wouldn’t have all I do.”

“You’ll be bored here. There’s not a lot to do this far from town,” I tell him. “Other than swim, sleep, or watch television.”

“I’ll find something,” he tells me. “If I don’t, I’ll do whatever you do.”

I fight to swallow.

I’ve always been awkward around boys. Especially cute ones. As I’ve gotten older, I notice them more but I sense they never notice me. The one guy in my history class I’ve crushed on forever, Jarrad Marshall, still doesn’t know I exist.

I also can’t say I have a lot of friends. Mason comes as close to a best friend as I’ve ever had. It’s likely he doesn’t even know this. I should tell him.

“What do you do for fun?” I question back, oddly curious to know.

“I play basketball.”

This explains the ball at his feet as he sat on the couch in the living room.

“That’s all you do for fun?”

Twisting his neck, one side of his mouth tilts in a slow grin. “I’m considering another hobby, I guess.”

My brows furrow, and I don’t look away from his mouth. I can’t. Thick lips, red in color with a dip in the middle of the bottom one, hold my attention.

“Considering what other hobby?” I get out.

“Maybe I’ll annoy you as much as you annoy Mason.”

Hearing him spin my sarcasm back, my face flushes and I turn to look the other way. Jaxson not only looks like Mason, but his direct approach mirrors that of his as well.

Double trouble.

“You don’t have boyfriend?” he queries seriously.

I fight a scoff.

Even if I wanted one, I’m not allowed.

So far, after the divorce, Mason and my dad haven’t agreed on much to include: when we’ll be at Dad’s, where we’ll go to school, what activities we’re allowed to participate in, etc.

Yet, the two had no problem coming together to conspire against me.

I don’t get to drive until I’m eighteen. I don’t get to date until I’m twenty-five.

“Why do you assume I don’t have a boyfriend?”

“No reason,” he answers. “But I’m right, aren’t I?”

“Boys are stupid,” I respond with God’s honest truth.

“Give it a couple of years,” he oddly returns.

“Couple of years for what?”

“Boys won’t be so stupid then.”

Confident he’s wrong, I tell him, “Pretty sure they’ll always be stupid.”

Without hesitation, he asks, “Have you ever been kissed?”

I don’t respond. Yet.

Truth is, no. I’ve never been kissed. A few of the girls in my school have though. But who wants to kiss the awkward girl?

Avoiding his gaze, I study my years old pair of flip-flops. They’re black with glittery straps. I love them. When Amelia threatened to toss them out, I threatened to set her hair on fire. Fair to say, my sister slowly backed away.

Picking at their seam, I answer, “If I’m positive boys are stupid, why am I gonna let one kiss me?”

“You’ve never been kissed,” he surmises, his voice smiling but his words a whisper.

“Anyway,” I interrupt his torment, extending my hand for all there is to see. “This is the lake. Have you seen enough?”

“Not yet,” he denies.

“What more is there?”

Ignoring my question, he asks, “How’s it you’re thirteen, but Mason let’s you walk to the beach with a boy so much older than you?”

Technically, he doesn’t. Another quaint little subject he and Dad agree on is that Mason keeps me on a firm tether. So firm, that even if I wanted to mess up, tried with all my might to cause chaos, I couldn’t. I’m not being given enough room.

After our house sold, and the addition to Mason’s cabin was complete, Mason made no wasted effort to ensure Mom, Amelia, and I were settled in with him. And by settled in, I mean settled in.

Everything we’ve ever owned is in his house. My sister and I weren’t given a chance to go through our personal things, as maybe we would’ve liked. Rather, Mason hired a few of his buddies for the day, paying them in pizza and beer. Within a few hours, they had all of our belongings out of our rooms and into the ones he conveniently designed especially for us.

Amelia’s room is on the far end of the cabin. She has a large window overlooking the lake. One she could easily open, pass through, and get to ground to run without injury. Not that she’d ever dare. Going rogue is absolutely not my sister’s style.

My room is closer to the living room, closer to the loft my mom and Mason reside in above. My window is the same shape and size as Amelia’s, however the landscape below is not. Conveniently, my room is higher off the ground, making the fall a risky one should I chose to take it.

I wasn’t exactly annoyed by this. I love Mason. I especially love him for my mom. Sometimes, though, he’s a lot to take. And to be fair, he’s said the same about me—repeatedly. Mostly under his breath or when he thinks I’m not around to hear.

Jaxson takes to his feet and stares out into the water. July in Washington isn’t only hot, it’s also humid. Beads of sweat line his top lip and the arch of his dark brow. A droplet of heat slowly slips down his neck and onto the hem of his worn out Red Sox tee shirt.

“So, what’s your sister’s story?” he questions, and I roll my eyes, hesitating to answer. “Other than how she feels about you, I mean. What’s she like?”

Of course he’d ask about her. My adorable sibling. The smartest one between us. The responsible, compliant, and sensible daughter.

Personally, I hate talking about Amelia. She makes me nuts, and I’ve been told I’m already crazy. She’s partly the reason why.

I could tell Jaxson my sister is far too insistent. Way too insecure in who she is. I could explain that being in the same room with her makes my head hurt. Then again, Amelia could tell Jaxson all the same. So to be fair, I keep my mouth shut.

Mostly.

“My sister is dramatic,” I give for nothing else to say.

“Seems you are too,” he notes.

He had all of an hour with Amelia before I arrived. I’ve had a lifetime of inflicted torture caused by her.

Jaxson brushes the sand from the back of his shorts. His arms flex as he raises them to reach the back of his shoulders. In one quick, fluid move, his shirt is gone and I’m left completely awestruck.

Oh, come on!

Jaxson sitting down made looking away hard enough. Standing, having to watch the muscles of his stomach move in sync with the rest of him is goddamn cruel. The boys at my school do not look like that.

When he tosses his shirt in the sand and positions his hands to his pants, I shout, “What the hell are you doing?”

Pointing to the soft waves hitting the shore, he explains, “I’m goin’ for a swim. You comin’?”

Oh, God no.

“Mason said absolutely not,” I inform him.

“You do everything Mason says?”

Yes, of course.

Well, all right. Rarely. But still.

Looking down, I gesture to my pair of white shorts and hot pink tank top and explain the obvious. “I don’t have my swimsuit on.”

Jaxson hooks his thumbs in the sides of his pants and I quickly turn to look away.

“Think I have my swim trunks on under these?” he goads, an arrogant smile in his voice.

Looking to the heavens, doing my best to breathe steadily, I tell him, “Jaxson, I’m going back to the house.”

“No, you’re not,” he denies then orders, “You’re coming in with me.”

“No,” I refuse again.

“You want to.”

Running my hands through my long pony tail, I repeat, “I don’t.”

“You scared?” he pushes.

“Of what?”

“Me.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

Truth is, I may not be scared but I am uncomfortable.

“Do you need a lift?” he offers and I stop fidgeting.

Do I need a what?

I don’t understand. I don’t ask. Instead, I make to stomp off in the direction of the house.

Before my flip-flopped foot carries me a step away, Jaxson’s sculpted arm wraps securely around my waist.

Hey!” I scream, yelling for attention.

“You’re going in!” Jaxon states, trotting toward the water with me flailing helplessly in his arms. “Maybe that’s what you need. A quick dip to cool that temper of yours.”

“That is not what I need. What I need is to be put down!”

My screams subside and I use the energy to fight his hold, clawing at his wrist around my waist. In the nick of time, I inhale a breath as I’m dragged down into the warm midsummer water.

When I come up for air to see him as drenched as I am but doing this smiling, I’m incensed at how much I enjoyed every goddamn second that got me to where we are.

Maybe all boys aren’t stupid.