“You’ve put on some love chub.”
She hadn’t expected anymore from her older brother, Lucas. Eight years older than her but none the wiser. He’d looked the same since he graduated seventeen years before. His career in the military had only added to his good looks. Turns out girls really like big arms, tattoos and Marine cuts, who would have thought?
Plus having a purple heart because you saved someone’s life really gets ‘em hot.Hence the nice farm house he lived in with four-wheelers and ATVs, on top of owning the small lumber store down town, he had done well for himself, which put a lot of pressure on her to do so, too.
“Yep,” he said, picking her up a bit from the floor. “Definitely love chub.”
“Wow, I feel so beautiful. Thank you for that.” Sadly, he wasn’t wrong per se. She had put on some weight in the last few years but it had turned into deep curves, and she’d started to love the way it made her look.
Finally, grown up.
He chuckled deep, and dropped her to the floor. “It looks good on ya. You just look like a grown up, but I know better so …”
She went to kick his shin but he dodged her, swiping her bags and starting toward the spare bedroom upstairs. “Can’t I stay downstairs?”
Lucas stopped on the first step and looked back over his shoulder. “Nah, I have a roommate.”
Delaney gave him three lazy blinks and looked around. “You what?”
He shrugged his shoulders like it wasn’t a big deal. “It’ll be fine, swear.”
Frankly, she’d felt too tired to argue. She just drove fourteen hours from Boulder to the one doorstep she knew wouldn’t land her a speech. Bradley had taken it easy when she said it wasn’t what she wanted anymore. She hadn’t felt that freshman romance that kept her out past curfew, sneaking in through a bottom dorm room window, in years.
It just faded away like her small town had when she rushed to the college farthest away from home.
“I don’t even care. I’m so tired. Can I crash on your couch? Do you still have that soft blanket?”
Lucas tossed her bag over his shoulder and smiled. “Yeah, be right back.”
She walked over to his big sectional, admiring the wall her brother had knocked out and the amount of space it had given his bachelor pad. Her candle warmer still sat on the corner of his mantel next to a family picture of them from when their parents were still together.
There was no denying a man had decorated. She put both of those things there the last time she visited and they hadn’t moved.
She pulled her blonde hair free from her ponytail holder and made herself comfortable on the couch; her brother tossed the blanket at her a few moments later. “Don’t wake me up. Let me sleep, please.” He was known to wake her up spontaneously to go somewhere crazy with him. It’d been his thing with her since they’d been brother and sister.
“Okay, baby sister.”
She didn’t let him see but she smiled into her pillow. Staying with her brother for a bit would be a piece of cake. Going to Dad’s would be a problem she would think about when she woke up, because the urge to close her eyes outweighed her urge to care.
Someone’s shout brought her up from what felt like death. Her neck caught tightly and she groaned, stretching to ease the kink out. Her hair fell into her face, and through the strands, her eyes locked on who sat across from the couch, on the love seat.
That name had always tasted so warm in her mouth that she dare not say it. That couldn’t be the roommate her brother talked about. She had to leave… like now. There were escape routes forming in every part of her brain. The idea of going to her dad’s house didn’t seem so bad after all.
Speech anyone? Judging? Annoying step-mom?
You shouldn’t have moved in with what’s-his-name, Delaney, she could taste the hostility already.
Anything sounded better than continuing to gape at that masculine jaw covered in a five o’ clock shadow, with lips that made her squeeze her knees together. Was that a lip ring? That was new.
The hard part in the top of his hair, with those stupid dark eyes—she needed to have already left. Like yesterday. He lifted his big arm covered in a too-tight white T-shirt and ran his fingers into the soft waves of his chocolate hair.
Oh no …
“Well,” he said abruptly, leaning forward with his elbow braced on his knee. “Somebody’s all grown up.”
Those few words cemented her to the couch, but it left a honey warm feeling in its path.Had she grown up? She still felt like the little eleven year old girl that annoyed both Patch and her brother growing up.
His best-friend? Why hadn’t she put it together? He’d rode away after high-school graduation on his motorcycle, to go to trade school for welding and hadn’t looked back, the last she heard.
She saw him a couple times around the holidays but it was only a quick visit.
That still left the question why was he here, and why hadn’t he taken his eyes off of her? Did he always have that heavy brow? Or all those tattoos? Normally it made her ears hot to be in the same room with him, maybe she’d missed something over the years. Her wondering eyes could only take in so much at once.
“Who’s the girl?” someone asked from the kitchen.
She shrieked, pulling the blanket closer to her, and noticing for the first time that another guy stood in the doorway, and didn’t look familiar at all.
“It’s Lucas’ baby sister,” he drew.
Baby sister. She hated hearing that from him, it left an awful flavor in her mouth. It was one thing for her brother to say it, but not Patch.
What sane twenty-seven year old wanted to be called a baby? Not this one … not in that context at least.
Patch didn’t come off as the typical southern boy that she grew up with, nah, not by his looks. He had an edge about him that rocked her tiny inexperienced thoughts as a junior high girl. But that slow, southern drawl, she was sure, could talk any straight girl out of her clothes.
Roughneck came to mind when she thought of Patch Larson. Bad boy. Troublemaker. Heartbreaker.
And it had been on her mind more than she’d like to admit over the years.
He’d been her crush growing up, raised on the opposite side of the tracks. Vaguely, she remembered him taking care of his drug addicted mother because his dad was a deadbeat that hadn’t cared about either of them. He’d spent a lot of time at their place, because he never knew when his next meal would come.
Dad always called him son, and Lucas considered him a brother.
Not me. I’d never been able to think about anything other than him taking my virginity and riding away into the sunset with a man eight years older than me on the back of his motorcycle. Delusional? Sometimes.
But there he sat, after all the years it took for her to try to forget him, legs stretched wide with his arms extended behind him, and what looked like a leather vest? Were those gang symbols? Some kind of group? What in the—
“Patch is back,” was all her brother said.
She drug her gaze away from his to her brother standing in the doorway with a cereal bowl in his hand. The idea to knock that cereal bowl out of his hands tempted her. How could he not prepare her for this?
“I see,” she said weakly.
All too well.
“He is my roommate. This other fool is Dillon. He comes over and watches the game and plays cards with us.”
She hadn’t even given Dillon another look, she couldn’t, she tried. Her attention was drawn to the opposite side of the room. Swallowing the nerves in her throat, she looked around and saw a small poker table in the corner of the living room with a deck of cards and a few beers.
That was her cue to leave.
Dropping her gaze, she grabbed the blanket twisted around her, and started toward the upstairs room, hoping she could slither into nonexistence.
“Where are you going?” Lucas asked over a mouth full of food.
“To unpack my bags.”
She whipped around and gave her brother a look—the look. He knew the one.
He held his hands up in surrender, sloshing milk from the bowl in his hand and he laughed. “I didn’t tell him you were coming but he drops by occasionally for card night, and he drops off food from Beth. You may want to hide your car.”
Now you tell me? “Why didn’t you tell me this when I called and asked to come stay for a bit, or tell me you already had a roommate?”
Lucas shrugged. “Because I knew you wouldn’t, and I didn’t want you to be stuck there with him. Plus, you have a whole floor to yourself up there, I have the room. Always for my baby sister.”
He was right; she wouldn’t have come if she’d known her father drops by often. She wanted to have a plan before he knew she was back.
“Should I park it around back or around the curb?” she asked.
“The corner, Dad goes outback to smoke.”
“I thought he quit?” she asked. The idea of her dad smoking made her skin crawl. She’d never thought it was attractive, and their uncle passed away from lung cancer.
“Ah, Beth’s probably driving him crazy,” Lucas said through a bite of food.
“True,” she whispered.
“She makes bomb cookies though,” Dillon said taking a seat where she’d just slept. “And cakes.”
Delaney didn’t want to think about Beth. She hadn’t been mean to her, ever, just overbearing.From what she remembered of her real mother, she’d been kind and quite, their conversations were effortless.
When she’d been pulled to Heaven after a fatal run-on with a semi, Delaney thought her life was over, but now she could hardly remember her mother’s voice, but that didn’t mean she needed a new one.
Delaney felt the heat of Patch’s stare from across the room. The urge to meet his eyes overpowered her rational reaction to just go pull her car around. Patch’s eyes were dark like night—they’d always been a deep, deep chocolate. But this wasn’t a look he’d ever given her before, and it melted her bones.
Patch was thirty-five to her twenty-seven, and in those few shorts years of hers, she’d never been looked at like that. Bradley had made her giggle, and waggled his eyebrows at her occasionally. There was nothing goofy or sensitive about Larson, there never had been, in all the years she knew him.
He was all man.
Manlier than she’d ever been with for sure and it intimated her.
She squeezed her thighs together, and the shame hung over her like an umbrella. What was wrong with her? She hadn’t seen him in years, and every twelve year old fantasy that was tucked down inside sprung up like a sprinkler system, wetting her in brand new ways.
“I’ll be back,” she spat out, grabbing her keys from the table and hurrying out to move her vehicle.
The thought to drive away into the sunset lingered.
She wasn’t sure being in the same house with Patch for an extended amount of time was a good idea. Especially since her emotions were all over the place, not really, her emotions for Bradley died a few years before when she became too comfortable.
They felt out of control just by seeing Patch for five minutes, and that was the reason she felt she needed to leave. His stare—God, she could hardly walk. Had someone turned up the sun? Sweat beaded along her hairline from the nerves forming in her tummy.
Hurrying, she pulled her vehicle around toward the other side of the block, and jogged back toward the house. Their card game had started when she walked back inside which gave her an excuse to go upstairs and unpack her things.
“Hey,” her brother hollered when she made it to the stairs. “Come here.”
She walked back toward the card table. “What exactly happened with Bradley?”
She’d told Lucas a washed up story about them not working out, but left out the nitty gritty because explaining it again felt exhausting at the time.
She stopped by the table, accidentally meeting Patch’s stare that was curious at best. “I—It wasn’t going anywhere. Why waste time?”
Lucas looked at her over a heavy, concerned brow. “I thought you liked him. I didn’t,” he laughed. “When you brought him home for Christmas a few years back, I thought the guy was a pussy.”
Delaney couldn’t argue there, but the smile that rose from the corner of Patch’s mouth aggravated her. Him knowing she’d picked a titbag to spend years with embarrassed her.
“What are you smiling at?”
She hadn’t meant to say it, but it slipped.
That happened sometimes—or at least when the occasion called for it.
Patch turned his full attention to her, letting her eyes wonder down her wrinkled UCB sweatshirt and short jeans shorts. “When did you get such a smart mouth?” he asked, a heavy brow lifted. “I make it my personal challenge to handle a smart mouth.”
Lucas’ cleared his throat so loud Delaney felt it in her chest, which was a relief from the heavy feeling between her thighs. “Now, Patch, that’s my baby sister, don’t make me whoop your—,”
“You could try,” he said.
Lucas clenched his jaw. “You promised.”
Promised? Promised what? Had Patch known she was coming the entire time? Obviously she was the only one that hadn’t been informed of the living arrangements for the summer.Patch pressed his tongue against the inside of his cheek and nodded.
“I did,” he sat back slowly in his chair. “And I’ll keep it.”
They shared a long stare down with each other before Dillon knocked his knuckles against the table. “Come on dimwits, I got somewhere to be tonight.”
They continued their game of cards, ignoring the fact Delaney stood there staring at them. What had he promised?
She debated on whether to sink into the floor or demand to know what they were talking about.
Deciding not to draw any more attention to herself, she walked up the stairs and into the spare room. The best thing about the room was the balcony that overlooked Lucas’ back yard which was pretty impressive. A small in ground pool sat to the right with a gazebo for grilling to the left. Most of the acreage was mowed nicely with plenty of room to ride his atvs, and play football with his friends.
If it hadn’t been for Bradley not wanting to come, she would have taken a vacation every summer and came down to visit.
Now it didn’t matter what Bradley thought.
Which was a relief for her.
Delaney unpacked her bags into the chest-of-drawers and the closet, leaving little room.
There were more than enough clothes for the summer, and she knew that. Part of her didn’t want to go back to Boulder. There were colleges in Texas that she could go to for a master’s program, but the prideful part of her didn’t want Bradley thinking he scared her away, or he was the reason she stayed as long as she did.
Sighing, she pulled off her shoes, and laid back onto the soft bed, looking up at the vaulted ceiling.
She needed a summer job to keep her busy, and put a little money in her pocket. Her dad would be mad she’d come down with no plans, but she’d find something. Delaney could ask her brother for something part-time at the lumber store, but living with your brother is one thing, and working for him is another.
Delaney took a shower in the bathroom across the hallway, hearing the boys below hollering at one another. When she finished getting ready for bed, she heard the front door close, and figured Dillon went home.
“Hey!” her brother’s voice rang from down the stairs.
“What is it?” she answered.
“Pizza is here.”
The grumble in her stomach started her toward the door, and she met her brother and Patch in the kitchen.
She fought it, she really did, but Patch’s presence always drew her to him. He’d lost the leather vest, and only wore a white T-shirt and low-slung jeans.
And did he wear them.
Patch was never the huge football player type. He’d been the musclebound, tattoo having, chain wearing, motorcycle driving and sly talking bad boy.
That was probably her attraction to him, and also the reason she’d be wary of him.Those types of men didn’t make good husbands or boyfriends. They were good for a rump in the bed or a wild night you’d never forget or get again.
A stack of pizzas sat on the dining table, a few already opened and plastic plates sat to the side. She couldn’t stop her laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Lucas asked, stopping his onslaught on his pizza.
“Plastic plates? Are y’all that lazy?”
Lucas rolled his eyes, and continued piling his plate with pizza.
She watched him walk toward the living room knowing he couldn’t eat without watching something on TV. That left Patch taking his time in the kitchen, his eyes turned on hers, but he moved carelessly to fix his plate.
“Boulder?” he asked.
It’d been the first time he’d spoke to her directly and she felt it deep in her stomach, skating down to no-man’s-land. Hadn’t she heard his voice before? It felt foreign, deep and it hit her in places a voice shouldn’t.
What else could she say? There was no telling what would come out of her mouth if she let it loose for a bit. Maybe some of the thoughts she shouldn’t be having.
He went still for a moment, which gave her anxiety and a small smile curled at the edge of his full mouth. Why was he smiling?
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“You,” he said. “You’re … different.”
Different? What in the—
No woman on the planet wanted to hear that she was different. She pretended she didn’t care, picking at her nail bud. “What does that mean?”
Patch sucked his teeth a bit, grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and walked right past her, and chuckled.
Delaney stood for a moment, her toe tapping against the tile of the kitchen, wondering what he meant by that?
“Are you coming? I’m about to start the show,” Lucas yelled.
She hurried and made her a plate, finding a seat on the couch by her brother, so her back was toward Patch on the loveseat.
The silence that took over the room when Lucas played the movie settled her nerves a bit.
Three months wasn’t too long. Everything would be fine.
She’d find her a part-time job; make some cash and a decision. She’d be out of Grave Cove before anything bad happened … she was sure of it.
Sweet, little Delaney … Patch placed his empty plate on the edge of the coffee table, and leaned back against the loveseat so he could look at her without drawing attention. Delaney wasn’t what he remembered of her, not even in the last few years when he stopped by for the holidays. There was an evident few pounds she’d gained, he was sure because she’d gotten too comfortable with what’s his name, but damn him to hell, if she didn’t wear it well. She’d definitely matured since the last time he’d seen her … when was that again? The latest he could remember was around Christmas in 2019. She hadn’t brought her boyfriend—well, ex-boyfriend with her that year--which, had been fine with him. He had no desire to meet the guy, especially since Lucas filled him in on his lack of knowing how to do anything but study. Entitlement came to mind from what Lucas told him. Patch never imagined Delaney being with a man that couldn’t take car
“Breakfast!” she shouted.It didn’t surprise her that no one answered. She’d gotten into the grove of getting up early for classes for a while. Her brother was used to waking up when he wanted since he hired a manager to look after the lumber store for him.“Lucas!” she shouted again.Nothing.She took the last piece of bacon off of the griddle and put it on the paper towel with the rest to drain. Lucas made a grunt from the other room after a few moments, which gave her a few minutes before he actually made it to the kitchen.She wiped her hands on the kitchen towel and looked out of the blinds. Patch’s motorcycle wasn’t there which shocked her. Where did he have to go that early in the morning, not that it was her business, but she was a little curious.Lucas’ shuffled in a few short minutes later, no shirt and a pair of basketball shorts riding lo
Patch slammed his fist against the kids jaw once again, watching blood fly out of his mouth and sling against the concert. It’d been easy to say that this would be an easy distraction from what he’d seen in his best-friend's kitchen the night before, but sadly, it wasn’t. Patch hadn’t stopped thinking about the way she looked in her swim suite, and the way it clung to her, and the curve of her breasts. She’d turned into one hell of a woman Patch had promised to stay away from. Go figure. That bright pink suite would be engrained into his head for the rest of his life. He knew she wasn’t the most experienced girl in the world, and it turned him on so badly it ate at him. He could show her how to feel good. He wanted to be the one to show her. That stupid promise he made buzzed into his view, every time he even thought about looking at her, like a gnat. The guy picked his head up and slobber slung from his tongue, the bandana he wore was some kind of South Side stuff they cam
The house was quiet when Delaney arrived home that afternoon. Her brother left a note for her not to wait up, he had plans, which gave her some time to herself, not that she needed it but a little time to drink a glass of wine and cool down didn’t sound too bad. Delaney opened the chicken wrap she’d grabbed from the corner store on the way home and poured herself a glass of red wine. She curled her feet underneath her and turned on some rom-com she’d passed when channel surfing. By the middle of her glass she could feel it in her toes. It’d been a while since she drank, with finals she used every free moment to study. She hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep, or how tired she had grew at the store. The girls were crazy busy, but a lot of fun to work with. Delaney didn’t even mind the work they had her doing. Seeing her work on the display shelf made her proud, and she’d missed that feeling. The sound of a truck door slamming woke her from where she’d fallen asleep on the couch
Patch shut the hood of the woman’s convertible and watched as the twins relentlessly flirted with her in the lobby. She seemed vaguely familiar from high-school, but he knew one thing for certain, she hadn’t ran with their crowd. It was evident by her perfectly straightened hair and the nice whip he’d just changed the oil for, not to mention the clothes he would have never even dreamed of having growing up. If she did ever consider dating or sleeping with one of them it would be done in secret. It was the socs and the greasers all over again. Snake raked his fingers through his dark black hair, and gave the girl a sheepish smile. “I’m free any night for you, Princess.” The girl liked the attention, it was apparent, but Patch could see the worry in her eyes. What would her parents think about her dating someone like Snake, or even someone that went by name of Snake? “Your car is ready,” Patch said. She stood up from her chair
The night air was thick with humidity from being in Texas, but the fun of the party distracted her from her drenched dress. Her brother obviously knew how to throw a party, as a badly as she didn’t want to like it, she had a good time. People began to crash and leave around two, so she took a chance to walk back up to her room. She’d shower in the morning before work, and wash her sheets sometime before the weekend was over with. Running her fingers into her hair, she walked into her room and sat on the corner of the bed. Her shoes were gone, she hadn’t remembered where she’d left them, and those wine coolers had fogged her brain faster than they used to. She blamed it on college, because she wasn’t a partier in then, she was there to graduate. An occasional wine glass at dinner, but definitely not a drunkard. Delaney began to unzip her dress when her door opened, and she shrieked trying to hide herself. At first she thought it was some drunk person trying to find a place to sl
Patch revved his engine and sped down the small road that would lead him to town. He’d been in shock to see her standing there on his mother’s back porch. Her Fat Bottomed Chicks T-shirt neatly tucked into a pair of expensive jeans, looking more out of place than anything else.The look of fear on her face made him angry, and the slew of curses his mother tossed her way, not even realizing who Delaney was or why she was there.Patch groaned and shook his head slightly. He never imagined staying away from Lucas’ sister would prove this difficult. He wanted nothing more than to go get a shower and sleep off his bad day. He’d dropped his mother off at the rehab center being she passed out on the couch, and it would buy him a few days before he had to worry about her getting out.Those short two days that she would make it in drug rehab were the best days of his life because he didn’t have to worry about her.&nbs
So much had happened that it was hard for her to believe. She’d woken up the next morning with Patch’s scent on her brain, an overload of skin on skin action and the image of his naked mom.Not to mention the fire. Someone call Smoky Bear because Delaney is on a roll. What’s next? The forest, you say?Delaney sat at the dining room table, eating one of the donuts she’d gone out of her way to get that morning, and stared at the front page of their little paper.“What a show I am,” she whispered to herself between another bite.A door behind her closed and she turned to see Patch coming out of the house with his work clothes on. He had a James Dean, Soda Pop kind of look and it fit him well.There was that hard edge about him but something about that slow talk and gentle heart that made her want to know more.He’d been clear, but oh how his face betrayed