This short story can be found in the anthology 12 CHRISTMAS ROMANCES TO MELT YOUR HEART.
100% of the proceeds from sales of this anthology go to the Autism Society of America and straight into support groups for families touched by autism.
My contribution to this anthology is called YES, YOU, and it’s the story of how Reagan’s parents met. (You remember Reagan from CCC, right?)
Keep reading for a sneak peek at chapter one!
He leans against the side of the building with a cigarette dangling from his lips. His boots are crossed at the ankles as he leans against the brick wall. Scrunching up one eye to keep the smoke out, he looks almost unapproachable, and the thought of actually going up to talk to him scares me to death. Yet, I’m going to do it anyway.
He comes out here every day and sneaks a cigarette, glancing furtively left and right like he’s afraid someone will see him.
I see him.
I see him everywhere I go, it seems.
He doesn’t really fit in here, with his tattoos and his perpetual bad attitude. I know from class that he would rather grunt than speak in full sentences. And people let him, mostly because they’re afraid of him. But the only thing I’m afraid of…
Well. The only thing I’m afraid of is that I won’t get to meet him. That he’ll turn away and refuse to talk to me.
I take a deep breath and start in his direction, but just as I do, he drops his cigarette butt to the ground, grinds it under the heel of his boot, and then he throws his backpack over his shoulder and starts walking in the other direction.
He’s walking away. Seriously?
“Excuse me,” I call to his retreating back. I sound like I swallowed Kermit, so I clear my throat. “Excuse me,” I call again. I run to catch up with him and tug on his backpack. He looks back over his shoulder, but then he keeps right on walking. “Wait!” I say, trying to keep up. “Damn it, would you stop?”
He stops very quickly and I slam into his back. He rocks forward and I grab onto his pack to stay upright, feeling like I have two left feet. I am usually more graceful than this. My mother would kill me if she saw me right now, making a public spectacle of myself in the quad.
He turns, grabs me by the shoulders and steadies me, then he bends down to look into my eyes. His are bright blue and full of questions. “Are you all right?” he asks, his voice gruff. I’ve never heard him do more than grunt in class, so hearing him make a full sentence, albeit a short one, is startling.
“I’m fine,” I gasp, a little winded from chasing him. “You’re really fast.”
He grins. “Sweetheart, you haven’t seen fast.”
My heart skips a beat. I am in such big trouble. I don’t know why I thought I could approach a man like this, but I did, and now I don’t know how to ask for what I want.
“Cat got your tongue?” he asks. A grin tips one corner of his lips. He’s pretty enough to take my breath away. His blond hair flops across his forehead and he shakes his head to swing it back from his eyes.
I open my mouth to speak, but only a squeak comes out. He looks around the quad, looking behind me like he’s trying to figure out where the hell I came from.
When he sees that no one is chasing me, he takes my shoulders in his hands and gives me a gentle squeeze, bending so he can stare into my eyes. “Hey,” he says softly, like I’m a stray dog he’s trying to trap. “Are you okay?”
I thrust out my hand. “Madison Wentworth,” I say. “I just wanted to introduce myself.”
His eyes narrow and he stares at me, but he doesn’t stick his hand out to shake mine. I let mine hang there in the air between us until it becomes so heavy with disappointment that I have to tuck it into the pocket of my jeans.
“Guess not.” I sigh. “I’m very sorry for taking up your time.”
“Which one of those fuckers put you up to this?” he asks. He grinds his teeth as he waits for my response.
“Those frat boys you hang out with, the ones with more money than sense. Which one put you up to this?” He glares at me.
“No one put me up to this,” I say.
“Listen, sweetheart,” he says, his face very close to mine. I can smell the cigarette he just smoked and the coffee he must have had before it. “You don’t want to mess with a man like me.”
“Okay,” I whisper. I clear my throat. “Fine. Have a nice day.”
I am one hundred percent ashamed of myself. I had imagined that going so differently. I had imagined him being devastated by my…well, by me. But he isn’t. He just looks at me like I’ve gone off my rocker. And maybe I have.
I turn to walk away, my feet heavy as leaden weights. Trudging across campus never took me this long before. I walk toward my car and pop the trunk, tossing my backpack inside. I stand there staring down.
All my life, I have gotten everything I ever wanted. I have a mother and father who are incredibly successful. We live in a big house in upstate New York where my parents own a horse farm. I’m attending this prestigious college and I don’t have to worry about anything. To everyone looking on, I have it all.
But no one knows how very lonely I am. No one knows that my parents work every minute of every day. No one knows that I’m having trouble fitting in at school. I work really hard to hide my need for more. More what? I have no idea. But I need more.
I don’t know why I thought I’d find it by befriending Bob Caster. Bob Caster, the bad boy. Bob Caster, the dreamy man who makes me want to ask him a thousand questions and just sit back and listen to the answers. Bob Caster, who, although he is incredibly poor—you can tell by the quality of his clothes and shoes—probably has more than I do. He probably even has friends. Real ones. Not just the ones who want to be around me because I can buy the shots.
The rev of a motorcycle behind me jars me out of my pity party. The pavement rumbles under my feet.
“Hey, you,” a voice calls out.
I turn to look, and find Bob Caster perched on a gleaming motorcycle with wide, shiny handlebars. I point to myself and ask, “Who? Me?”
“Yes, you,” he says. He squints at me like he’s trying to look inside me. I cross my arms under my breasts to block his piercing gaze, and his eyes drop down to my boobs. He licks his lips ever so slowly, and then his eyes travel back up. Heat creeps up my cheeks, but I refuse to fidget on my feet. I stare straight at him. “You want to take a ride with me?” he asks. He revs the bike.
I point a finger. “On that?”
He grins that sideways grin again. “Well, I wasn’t offering my personal services.” He glances down at his button fly, and then he laughs. He runs a hand lovingly down the shiny chrome handlebar, his touch reverent and respectful. “Of course on this.”
I point to the center of my chest and then at the bike. “You want to take me for a ride on that?”
He stares at me.
I finally let that feet fidget thing happen and want to kick myself. “Is it safe?”
He shakes a cigarette out of a pack and takes his time lighting it. He inhales deeply and holds it for a moment. Then he blows it out and says, “I won’t let you get hurt.”
I look at my car and then at him. He revs the engine again.
“Where are we going?”
“For a ride,” he says with a shrug.
“When will we be back?” I step closer to him and his eyes light up a little. And I like it.
“When we get done.”
Be still my heart.
He flicks his cigarette into the grass. “Are you coming or what?”
“Okay,” I say.
He looks surprised. “Yeah?”
He takes the helmet off his head and holds it out to me. I pull my ponytail free and tug the helmet on. He reaches out to buckle the strap for me, his fingers gentle. “How old are you?” he asks, his voice strong but quiet.
“Good.” He grins.
He motions for me to climb on behind him and I do, my thighs spread around his hips. He lifts my feet and shows me where to put them.
“Why is that good?” I ask close to his ear.
He looks back over his shoulder. “Because I don’t want to go back to jail.”