Authors: Molly O'Keefe
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #United States, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #American, #General Humor, #Sagas
“Thank you,” he said.
He shrugged. “Listening.”
“Well.” Her pale skin glowed pinker and he loved it. Loved that reaction. Loved that he’d somehow caused a ripple across her calm surface. “It’s … it’s no problem.” She opened the yellow file and took out a business card. “These are the therapists that I’ve worked with in the past. Dr. Osmond is my favorite. Kids respond very well
to her, but I’m sure she’ll put Casey on a waiting list. In fact, most of these counselors are going to put you on a waiting list. No one, unless it comes with a court order, is going to see you right away.”
He was drowning, and every single piece of floating wood that drifted by sank when he grabbed it.
“Probably a month.”
Ty wasn’t sure Casey had a month. Not at this rate. Suspension from school loomed and Ty didn’t have any tools to make sure it didn’t happen.
Frustration boiled through him.
But he said, “Thank you.” She handed him one of each of the cards from the files.
“Please use my name when you call them,” she said. “I don’t know if it will help, but I doubt it would hurt.”
She had this habit of catching the corner of her lower lip under her tooth. Just a little, just enough that she seemed somehow less … removed. Less cold. It made her seem doubtful or worried. Human. And he liked that. He liked it a lot.
Because all of his wires were crossed these days, because nothing was as it had been or what he was used to, the sight of that full, pink lip caught under the edge of a perfect white tooth turned him on.
She was a hot mix of stern and tolerant. Reserved and open. The humanity of her: of her tennis shoes and ponytail. The color-coded folders, that flower wall behind her that was somehow the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. The cling of her pants on her long legs, the way he had to work for her smiles but never had to work for her attention—it all joined forces against him and made him think of sex. With her.
“I wish there were more I could do for you.”
What he’d told her, he’d only told a few people. Counselors. A few friends. And suddenly this barn was the
most intimate place he’d ever been. Which said probably way more about how sad his life was than the everyday magic of this barn.
He was attracted to her because she was decent. Because she’d listened to him.
Because the way she bit her lip made him think about sex.
Because he was so damn frustrated with his life, he needed a release or someone was going to get hurt.
He imagined her letting him in. All the way in. Opening her arms, kissing the anxiety from his head. The doubt and worry and fear. He imagined her letting him work out all his aggression inside of her willing body. He thought of causing more than just a ripple across her calm surface. He thought of her screaming under him. Sweaty and undone.
The thought spread like spilled motor oil; thick and viscous, it covered everything in his brain. And he couldn’t think about anything but her.
You could do that for me
, he thought.
You could help me forget just for a little bit that so much is at stake
That electrical current that traveled through his body, making him crazy, making him want to leap out of his skin half the time, it lit him up from the inside. Focused and hot, vicious and violent, it roared through him. He wanted to fuck all the ice from her, sort through all the different and surprising pieces, the sharp edges and hidden softness, until he got to the heart of her. The animal of her.
He shifted in his chair, hiding his hard-on.
“Mrs. Jordal says he doesn’t have many friends.” She pushed the edges of the blue file in front of her, to match up with the yellow file. Perfectly straight. He wondered what she would do if he pushed all those files to the floor and laid her out on that table. Pulled down those yoga pants and fucked her with his tongue, his fingers.
Messy and hot and wild.
“Hmmm?” He jerked himself away from the porn running in his head. Stoic and silent, she blinked at him, and his filthy thoughts shamed him, utterly shamed him. She was lovely and smart and kind and … serious. The opposite of every single woman he’d ever dated or fucked or looked twice at. He pulled the reins on his thoughts, his animal lust.
“Does Casey have any friends?”
“Not that I know of. Not that he talks about.” He’d been so worried about school and houses and counseling and court dates and starting fresh he didn’t think about friends. Another check under the total fail column.
“Does he like sports or anything?”
Ty shifted again in the chair. His butt was now totally numb, which combined with the semi hard-on was a deeply uncomfortable feeling. “I … I don’t really know.”
“Well, I run some after-school and evening classes here for all different ages and there are a few of his classmates that come. Most of the other kids go to his school, too, so there would be some familiar faces.”
“You’re talking about art classes?”
She nodded. “If you’re interested.”
. “Sign him up. When is it?”
There were plenty of women who were prettier when they smiled. His last girlfriend … Christ, a year ago? She’d had a smile that loosened his knees. Shelby didn’t just get prettier … she changed. Her face, her whole vibe; it was as if a door opened and he got to see inside for just a second.
And inside, Shelby Monroe was radiant.
“Well, there’s one tomorrow after school.”
“He’ll be here. What’s the cost?”
“Let’s see if he likes it first,” she said and stood up. He was being dismissed, and that was okay. He stood up, too, blood flow returning to his ass with a hot rush.
“I don’t know what to say.” It was unusual for him to be at a loss. Casey got his mouth from him and there was no such thing as speechless for either of them. “The way we started out, I never would have expected you to stick out your neck for us this way.”
“It’s a small town, Wyatt.”
“Please, call me Ty. My grandfather was Wyatt. It’s weird to hear that name.” Sad, was what it was.
“Okay. Ty, it’s a small town. Sooner or later we’re all sticking our necks out for each other.”
He shrugged into his coat and Shelby picked up her folders.
“You’re working with Brody Baxter?” she asked.
“Yeah. We’re working on Cora’s back deck, plus doing some stuff for The Pour House.”
“That’s gotta be dangerous,” she said. “Spending your day at Cora’s.”
Ty laughed, tucking the cards in his back pocket. “It’s torture when she makes those fritters.”
“I have to walk on the other side of the street when she makes them. I usually go in on Sunday mornings with my mom.”
It wasn’t surprising she had a mom; everyone did. But it struck him that he’d told her so much about himself and he knew nothing about her. It was awkward, as if she was fully dressed in a snowsuit and he was totally naked.
He had never let a person like Shelby into his life, never wanted someone like her in his life before. His past was littered with drama queens and women of a certain
what you see is what you get, asshole
mentality. It wasn’t just the obvious good girl, bad girl nonsense,
though she was very clearly a good girl. It was the containment of her; she was a universe unto herself. A mystery.
“You want to go out for dinner?” he asked.
He nodded, very aware that as much as he liked the idea of a woman like her in his life, she probably had zero interest in stepping any further into his chaos. He had an image of him and Casey clinging to her boots like mud as she tried to figure out how to shake them off.
“Okay,” she said at the same time. She had that corner of her lower lip caught under her tooth and his blood sizzled at the sight.
“Okay never mind? Or okay let’s have dinner?”
“Let’s have dinner.”
Well, holy shit. Look at that
. He grinned at her. “Great. Saturday night?”
“Saturday night is perfect. I’ll meet you at your house. Seven thirty?”
He nodded, wondering how he was going to handle Casey. Did he need a babysitter? It was already weird leaving him alone in the house to come over here for ten minutes. Dating was complicated all of a sudden.
At the door, he turned back to wave at her and wondered how a guy dated a woman like Shelby Monroe.
Friday morning, Ty put down the drill and stood, twisting to get rid of the kinks in his back.
Half of the deck was framed and it wasn’t even noon. He’d spent an hour in the morning getting Sean’s awning to work and then he’d hightailed it over here to put up the posts and start framing. He could keep going and knock out most of the rest of it before quitting time, but inside Cora was frying chicken. And if there was a better, more distracting smell in the world, Ty couldn’t think of it.
“Going to lunch?” Brody asked.
Ty rolled his eyes. “I can’t take it anymore, man.”
Brody’s lip lifted, about as much expression as Ty could get out of him.
“All I’ve been thinking about is chicken for the last half hour,” Brody said. “I’m waiting for—”
“Brody!” a woman called, and Ty didn’t have to turn around to see that it was Ashley Montgomery. Brody, that silent, serious former Marine, just relaxed. It was as though he carried a load every minute of every day that he was away from that woman. And then at the sight of her, he was finally able to put it down.
The only other time Ty ever saw that version of love was with his grandparents. And they’d been so rare, so outrageously out of his ordinary, that he never imagined other people had a shot at that. But here it was again. He wasn’t sure if that gave him hope or depressed the hell out of him.
“I thought you could break for lunch,” Ashley said.
“You smelled the chicken?” When Brody smiled at his girlfriend, Ty had to look away, because there was a world revealed in that smile. A secret, warm, loving, sexy world.
“The wind shifted and now the smell is all over town. This place is about to get packed, so we’d better get some now,” Ashley said.
She hooked her arm around Brody’s waist and gave Ty a big grin. She was pretty in a seriously wholesome way. Like she should be on a box of breakfast cereal. “Hey, Ty! Great job on the deck.”
“You want to have lunch with us?”
“You guys go on in—I’ll clean up here.” He didn’t like being with both of them. No matter how nice Ashley was, or how cool Brody was, he couldn’t help but feel like an intruder. He felt like an intruder with everyone, unable to get comfortable with himself, much less anyone else.
Instead of arguing, Brody just started picking up tools and putting them in the lock box. Ashley helped and it was done before Ty even bent over to pick up his drill.
“Let’s go,” Ashley said at the door, her cheeks pink in the cold, her eyes glowing when she smiled at Brody.
“Seriously, you guys go ahead. I don’t want to be a third wheel …”
Ashley leaned forward, grabbed his jacket, and pulled him into Cora’s behind her.
Behind him, Brody laughed. “Ashley kind of gets what she wants, Ty. No use arguing.”
The café was beginning to fill up. In the far corner, Sean waved them over and Ashley made a beeline for the booth.
Ty followed behind, somehow a little grateful that he’d
been forced to come in here. Forced to be social. He’d been a hermit in his garage for too long.
You want friends
, he told himself,
this is how you make friends
Brody slid into the bench across from his brother. Ashley slid in after him, and Ty and Sean exchanged nods before he sat down.
The bell over the door rang and in walked a teenage girl with long blond hair. The way she walked and the look on her face indicated her youth was a lie. She carried herself like an adult.
“Gwen!” Sean yelled, lifting his hand to wave the girl over. Ty shrugged out of the way.
Christ, this was turning into a homecoming party.
She smiled and crossed over to the table. Gwen hugged Ashley and exchanged elaborate hand slaps with Sean. Brody just nodded and smiled.
“I’m Ty,” he said, giving the girl a little salute.
“Gwen.” She nodded as if they were meeting at City Hall or something.
“You meeting Jackson here?” Sean asked.
“Monica.” She glanced around. “This place is packed.”
“Sit.” Ashley scooted over and made room for the girl, who shrugged out of her jacket and sat. All five of them crowded into a booth meant for four.
Ty was ready to be social, but this was a little ridiculous.
“How long you home for?” Brody asked Gwen.
“Jackson’s law school stuff starts earlier than mine, so Monica and I thought we’d hang out here for a few days.”
“How is school going?” Sean asked.
“It’s good. I really like my teachers. My roommate is way better since she broke up with her boyfriend, who was a jerk.” Ty admired how this girl talked to adults. She looked so young, but she met everyone’s eyes instead
of staring at her shoes, mumbling her answers down at her lap.
I wonder if Casey will ever be able to do this
. If he’d ever be able to sit at a table full of adults and just talk. Not sneer or slouch in the corner like he was being tortured. Was it something kids learned? He didn’t remember from his own childhood; it had been torn so badly down the middle that a lot of the little memories had slipped away. But one thing was sure: Casey needed to be around people like Gwen.
“You looking for work for a few days?” Ashley asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
Gwen laughed. “No, I’m doing some stuff with Shelby out at the Art Barn.”
Ashley snapped her fingers. “Rats.”
“You babysit?” Ty’s voice cut through their chatter.
Gwen blinked and looked quickly over at Brody, who nodded as if giving the girl permission to answer Ty truthfully. All up and down Ty’s neck his skin got hot. He totally understood why she would look to Brody for some kind of affirmation of his character, but it still rankled.