BOOK 1 in the Love in Montana Series
Talk of the town…
Skye Wolcott planned to marry, have children, and live happy ever after in her hometown of Marietta, Montana. Then her marriage imploded in a cloud of scandal. Now she’d be happy if people would just stop talking about her.
Chase Goodwin worked hard to get away from Marietta, where poverty colored his past. Living his dream as a major league baseball player, he has no reason to return beyond helping his half-brother escape as successfully. The last thing Chase would consider is staying.
Then he sees Skye Wolcott, a girl he always had a thing for in high school. They get off to a rough start, but are soon carrying on like high schoolers. Chase wants her to join his fast-paced, larger than life world, but Skye’s a small town girl at heart. Can she convince him that Homecoming is more than a game, and he’s back where he belongs?
BOOK 1 in the
Love in Montana Series
is BOOK 1 in the Love in Montana Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
"What I’m saying is, if things had been different back then, things would have been different."
— Chase Goodwin, Hometown Hero
I can’t say it was on my radar to write a small town novella set in Montana. First of all, the length scared me. It’s funny that thirty thousand words might sound harder to write than fifty, but trust me, it can be. Also, Presents novels are pure escapist fantasy—which is why I love writing them. I can visit Paris and St. Petersburg, while wearing Versace, and incur neither the cost nor the jet lag.
I genuinely love living in our small town, though, which made writing Hometown Hero somewhat of a love letter to our little community. I felt both Chase’s ambition to make his mark in the bigger world and Skye’s devotion to Marietta, where she has deep roots. I struggled right along with them as they tried to figure out how they would make their relationship work when they were so far apart in their geographic wants. (Literally I struggled—I didn’t know how I was going to end this story.)
After it was all done and dusted, I was really pleased and found myself reluctant to leave Marietta and the characters I’d created. So I signed up for a second book. And a third. Then a fourth and a fifth in a series that’s now branded as Love In Montana. There’s even a spin-off book, Scorch, with Piper and Bastian from book four visiting the firefighters in Glacier Creek. I like to call Scorch book number four-point-five.
Be sure to check out the bonus scenes.
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Chase Goodwin was in the one place he had never wanted to come back to, especially in September: Marietta Senior Secondary.
At least he was in the gymnasium, the part of the school he could tolerate if he wasn’t on the field. Watching a basketball game would have been his preference, but it was a school dance complete with the kind of club music he hated. Not that he’d minded the dances so much ten years ago. The girls were as giddy and nubile as he remembered, but so young. They nearly leapt out of their skin to land on a boy. The boys were all limbs and pimples. Had he overflowed with that much fascination coupled with terror back then?
“It’s like watching kittens and puppies,” he said to Max beside him, one time catcher to his pitch when it wasn’t football season. Max was a good four inches taller than his own six two and was twice as wide. He’d taken over Mr. Kelton’s job running the P.E. department and watched the poorly lit, gamboling teenagers like he was watching the progress of a game, ready to shout orders to pass.
Max flashed a grin. “You said you wanted to know what your brother was up to.”
No, what he’d said was, If you want some help with the teams, I’d love to keep busy while I keep an eye on my brother. Max had put in a good word for him with the new football coach, Mitch Holden. In exchange, Max had roped Chase into chaperone duty. So here he was, suckered into reffing body contact at a dance to raise money for the homecoming float.
Another slender, ripening body swished across his field of vision. Don’t look, he reminded himself, but—hold the phone. He recognized that ass.
Deep in the back of his brain, where a crew was supposed to be working to retrieve her name, every single cell dropped his tools to take a long drink of the female that had paused about ten feet away to talk to his old classmate, Chelsea Collier.
The woman was a knockout, athletic and tight beneath a red plaid shirt knotted at her waist. Faded blue jeans hugged her firm round ass and were painted against long thighs before they disappeared into sassy red cowboy boots. Her shiny brown hair cut a precise line across her shoulder blades, held off her face by a headband like Alice in Wonderland’s—exactly the way she’d always worn it and it was still too innocent a look for a body like that.
He couldn’t hear her over the music, but the way she leaned close to Chelsea and gestured gave an impression of animation and humor. From her profile, he could see pale, clear skin without so much as a freckle to mar it. Her cheek rounded and he glimpsed perfect teeth, braces gone. She smiled and nodded.
Brown eyes, he recalled, even though he couldn’t see them. She had melty brown eyes like a baby animal. The kind that made you want to cuddle her to your chest so she wouldn’t get stepped on. She used to look at him like that when he came up to his locker and she was already at hers. She’d hide behind her door and watch him like she didn’t quite trust him.
Maybe she’d known she made him hard.
God, he hadn’t thought about her in years. He’d made a concerted effort to forget everything about this town except to send money home and check in with his brother as often as possible. His reaction to Skye was as strong as he remembered, though. He tried to turn it off, exactly the way he had intentionally resisted the lure of her then. She’d been taken and so had he. She’d also been a lifer, obviously intending to die here in Marietta. He’d been determined to get a scholarship, preferably baseball, and leave. He’d set her on the out-of-bounds shelf and barely chucked her a Hey when he saw her.
He was ready to talk now. Hey girl. Damn.
“You’re staring, dude,” Max said, keeping his own eyes forward.
“That Skye Wolcott?” he asked, pretending he wasn’t sure. Pretending that was the only reason he was asking. Pretending he wasn’t blindsided by old lust that threatened his well-developed, no distractions, determination.
A blank pause before Max gave a jerky nod. “Yeah. She goes by her married name, Mrs. Baynard. It took me a sec to remember that’s who she used to be.”
Oops. Where the hell had that come from?
Wait, “Terry Baynard? She married him?” Dusty pieces of history fell together, reminding him of the other reason he’d held off pursuing her.
“Yeah. People are saying she turned him gay.” Max rolled his eyes at the small-minded concept. “They’re divorced now. He moved to San Francisco, but she still uses his name. I don’t get how they’re still friends when he lied to her all that time and she was as shocked as anyone when he came out, but I guess they are.”
Chase stared at Skye’s back, dumbfounded. And a tiny bit uncomfortable. She must have known Terry was gay. Maybe the guy had been deep in the closet, but he’d known Terry was gay. He’d honest-to-God believed she was Terry’s beard. He had thought she was being nice to a guy who was obviously terrified of being found out, which had made him like her even though he barely knew her. He hadn’t totally understood why a girl like Skye Wolcott, with so much to offer, would tie herself up like that, but he hadn’t seen the point in going after her, wrecking Terry’s setup, when he wasn’t sticking around.
“So she’s not married,” he said, grasping at the most important detail.
“Yeah, but she’s not interested,” Max said matter-of-factly. He was married with two kids so his dismissive warning wasn’t male possessiveness. It was the tone they used to take when out-of-town players thought they could hit on the local girls. Small town wasn’t all small minds. There were things about it, people here that were nice. They were a community, a team. They looked out for each other.
Chase knew that and respected it.
“I’m not interested either,” he drawled. “Especially if she has the power to turn men gay—”
Oh shit. The music stopped. His voice, pitched to carry over the pulsing beat, came out nice and loud and hit Skye right between the shoulder blades. He saw her back jerk like an arrow had struck the middle of her spine. She turned and her vulnerable brown eyes weren’t the least bit soft and helpless.
Her eyes narrowed, dark and ferocious, wounded and angry. They fixed on him like the dark spiral of a tornado seeking its touchdown point.
Skye was trying very hard to pretend she wasn’t on pins and needles. Chase Goodwin was back. Dear God she’d had a crush. Such a deep, terrible crush. One so everlasting that whenever she crossed paths with Flynn, his half-brother, and Flynn smiled his good-natured Goodwin smile, she always wanted to ask, How’s Chase? Like she and Chase had been friends or something.
Oh how she’d ached to be something with him.
But he’d been a year ahead of her, dating a cheerleader, and focused. So incredibly determined to play ball. And he’d done it. Like everyone in town, she was incredibly proud of the local boy done good, drafted out of high school and playing for the majors, doing stints on talk shows and even cheesy sketches on Saturday Night Live. Chase Goodwin had been a legend in high school. The full package of brains, brawn, and backbone. Now he was epic and even further out of her reach. Well beyond her small-town after-school league.
No, she’d gone after good, solid, comfortable Terry. Who’d had orientation issues he hadn’t confronted until she had begged him to start a family. That’s when he’d finally admitted he wasn’t in her league either. He was playing for the other team.
After a loss that big, she’d quit the game.
But when she’d heard whispers that Chase was back in town, her inner teenager had tingled back to life, hoping to catch a glimpse of him, just like old times. Then she’d walked into the gym, caught an eyeful of his muscled silhouette against the strobing colors of the dancing bodies and a whoosh of excitement had nearly knocked her off her feet.
Nothing wrong with going to the stadium to watch, right? It wasn’t like she actually wanted to take the field with him.
Except she couldn’t resist getting close to him. It had taken supreme concentration to walk naturally as she crossed to Chelsea and tried to hold a normal conversation, all the while aware she was reverting to high school tactics, using her friend to put herself in a particular male’s line of sight. It was juvenile and she felt immature and uncertain, yet so thrilled to be near him again.
Aware. Chase Goodwin had energy so intense it practically gave her a tan, filling her with warmth and making her heart race with excitement.
Not that she expected him to notice her. He’d rarely made eye contact with her back in the day, never mind actually talked to her. She had always frozen like a bunny whenever he had arrived at his locker beside hers. He had usually acted like he didn’t even see her.
This moment of regression was silly and she didn’t need to look a bigger fool than she already did, given how the last two years had gone, but she stood there aching for him to notice her and—
The music stopped. Chase Goodwin’s deep voice stated in his confident way, “—not interested either. Especially if she has the power to turn men gay.”
The rest of the world stopped.
Chelsea’s face fell in shock before her. She reached out, like she was trying to catch Skye from falling off a cliff.
It was Skye’s worst nightmare, the acknowledging of the elephant that had been running amok in this town since Terry had come out. Sure the talk shows could tell people that being gay wasn’t a choice, but there were still plenty of folk who believed that Terry had chosen to become a homosexual and Skye must have done something to drive him to it.
Why it had to be Chase Goodwin who brought it all to the surface she didn’t know, but it was the final straw. Her wall of I’m Fine crumbled. All the whispers, all the suspicions, all the lies Terry had told her over the years as he denied something he didn’t want to admit, all the minutes of all the hours she’d spent holding his hand, telling him it was okay while she died a death of a thousand cuts, all of the tears and years empty of the babies he refused to give her… It all detonated under that one flippant comment by Chase Goodwin.
Chase Goodwin, with his perfect life, his money and smarts and stupendously wrong summation of her life, was the final kick from life that made her turn and fight back. She spun and charged toward him.
“What the hell do you know?” she choked.
“Hey—” he started, holding up forestalling hands. “I—”
“You what?” she demanded raggedly, fists pounding into the air beside her hips. Distantly she recognized he was a lot bigger than her. She shouldn’t pick a fight with a guy this big, but the toxic spew wouldn’t stay inside. “You have a tiny dick to match your tiny mind! I didn’t turn him gay, okay? He was always gay, but jocks like you kept him in the closet, afraid to tell me or anyone else in case of ignorant statements like that. Terry and I don’t blame each other, but I blame you—” She stabbed a finger in his direction, “—and you—” she pointed at Max, ready to condemn every straight man in the room for her pain, “—and every other prejudiced asshat who made him afraid to admit who he is. That kept me in a marriage doomed to fail and all because you enjoy being cruel to someone who can’t help being who he is. Go to hell, Chase Goodwin. Go to hell and rot there.”
A familiar arm came around her, mashing her into commiserating softness. Chelsea’s kindest tone, the one that had been Skye’s lifeline through the breakup, murmured, “Okay, Skye. That’s enough. Let’s go home.”
She firmly steered Skye’s wilting body out of the gym. They left a silence so profound that the one whispered, “Holy pajamas,” was like a shout.
In the office, Chelsea got Skye’s purse out of her desk drawer and said, “Give me your keys.”
Beginning to shake, Skye protested she could drive herself, but Chelsea assured her Jasper would help her get her car later. She picked up a bottle of wine on the way to Skye’s place even though it was a school night. Then she stuck around to share it with her and, one more time for the cheap seats, fed Skye tissues while Skye cried her eyes out over a dream that had been seared into a pile of ashes.
Skye woke to the buzz of her mobile on the bedside. She was just hung over enough to consider calling in sick, but she couldn’t. It would be bad enough facing the students and teachers snickering behind her back. She’d learned through the scandal-heavy months of her divorce that the first day after each horrid revelation was always the worst so she ought to just get it over with. Face the music.
But honestly, that tinkling ringtone was more than she could stand at the moment. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, wanted to pull the blankets over her head and die. What had possessed her to lose it like that? Wolcotts were good, solid, normal people with manners. If they had a complaint about something, they wrote a polite letter and requested a refund. When they had a disagreement with someone, they were the first to make apologies and amends. They didn’t pitch a scene in a public place.
The phone stopped and started again.
Snaking a hand from beneath the quilt, she snagged it and glanced at the face. Her brother’s photo glared at her. Sliding her thumb across the strip, she brought it to her ear. “Hey, Stan.”
“Why are you on the internet calling a major league pitcher a homophobe?”
“Whaaaat?” Her heart stopped. “That’s not funny.”
“Some kid posted it last night. It’s gone viral.”
“Noooo,” she cried softly, the sting of humiliation bleeding into her veins as she realized how easily that could have happened. Every second day, there was a new workshop or bulletin about kids and technology and cyber threats.
Still, she tried to will reality from manifesting.
Squinching her eyes shut, she curled deeper under the blankets. “Please tell me you’re joking,” she whimpered.
“Someone from Channel Nine’s news desk just called the house.”
“I’m not kidding. Mom just got off the phone. I looked it up. It’s you and Chase Goodwin.”
“Oh Ga-awd. Remind Mom I love her, would you? Because I have to go throw myself off the back of Copper Mountain now.” She curled tight as a pill bug into the space under her blankets. “I hate my life, Stan. Why does it keep getting worse?”
He sighed, both sweetly protective and impatient at the same time. He hadn’t wanted her to marry Terry, especially so young. He hadn’t wanted her to stand by Terry while he sorted out his life, then keep living in this big, empty house. After their father died, he’d begged her to move back to the ranch. I’m not squeezing you out of your share, he had insisted a million times. This will always be your home, too.
But this house was her dream home, the one piece she had left of the Happily Ever After pie she’d been baking when she’d married Terry. Terry had felt guilty enough to sign it over to her, so why should she sell it?
“Goodwin’s a big deal,” Stan said. “You might wind up with quite a bit of attention. Come out here for a week or so until it blows over.”
Tempting, but along with everything else, she and his wife lived better apart. And if growing up on a ranch had taught her nothing else, it was that you didn’t let a bit of hardship defeat you. When you landed in the dirt, you got on your feet and back in the saddle before fear had a chance to take hold. It sucked. It meant feeling the bruises while you rode out the pain, but it had to be done.
“No, I’ll…figure it out,” she murmured, not even trying to imagine how. Get out of bed, shower, dress, drive to the school. Pretend everything was normal and fine.
Seriously? The internet? Why did God hate her?
“You know, you’re allowed to be angry, Skye, but you should take it out on Terry. He’s the one who cut you the raw deal.”
She was, but not enough to hurt him. He was her best friend. She loved him. Not as a husband, but as much as she loved Stan. Terry had tried so hard to be what everyone wanted him to be, to give Skye her dream—which hadn’t seemed like a big ask at the time, but it had turned out to be impossible.
Which was why she was so angry, she supposed. She came from simple folk and her dream hadn’t been far-fetched. All she’d asked for was a steady man who wanted to make a family and a good life. If things hadn’t worked out, it should have been due to a normal problem like money or cheating. She didn’t understand why her marriage had had to explode in such an extraordinary and public way. Wolcotts weren’t flashy. They didn’t demand attention. Why did her private business have to wind up in the spotlight?
On social media, for heaven’s sake. Really?
Her phone buzzed with a second call. Terry.
This was going to be a long, hard day in the saddle.
“She’s not a wing-nut. I won’t say that,” Chase insisted wearily to the team’s publicist.
His phone had exploded last night, about fifteen minutes after they got home. Flynn had elbowed his lanky, teenaged frame into Chase’s room and said, One of the guys got Ms. Baynard’s meltdown on his phone. He posted it while we were at the dance. I just told him to take it down, but it’s already been shared like a hundred times.
Chase had just stared at his brother. He was here to keep Flynn’s life under control, not lose his grasp on his own. The players in the series were the ones under the media microscope right now, not the guy who was out with an injury, leaving his team at the bottom of the standings. He’d been so relieved by the idea of coasting under the radar for the next few months, he’d actually been pissed when he’d learned the town wanted to honor him with Quinn Douglas and a handful of other outstanding local athletes. Quinn deserved it, but not him. He felt like a tool as it was.
Now they were up into the hundred-thousand territory of shares on YouTube. Network news was asking for a statement.
“So you don’t want to refute anything she said?” the publicist demanded in a surly voice.
“I don’t have a tiny dick! Let’s get that straight,” he growled.
An hour later he dropped Flynn at school and met up with the physiotherapist he was supposed to visit twice weekly while he was here. The scar from the surgery to repair his torn rotator cuff was healing nicely, but bringing all the muscles back to full strength and range of motion was taking more time. The kind of time that had already been making him antsy when he’d thought Flynn and everything else in Marietta was fine. He hated downtime, preferring the intensity of being caught up in the season: the training, the need to keep his head in the game. Some found the demands exhausting, but he found them a perfect distraction from the mess of real life.
Messes like Flynn taking up drinking and getting kicked off the football team.
All his life, Chase had had one goal: Don’t grow up like the old man. That had meant leaning toward baseball over football, which had been his father’s first love and ultimate downfall. Not making the cut for a college team had sent his dad into a bottle and he’d never come out.
Chase and Flynn had inherited their father’s natural athleticism, but now Chase worried Flynn had inherited the same destructive thirst as well.
He wanted to believe that one Friday night of being a jackass did not a drunkard make, but he’d been out with his injury so he’d flown home to yank his half-brother back onto the straight and narrow. A few heart-to-hearts with Max, Mitch Holden and the other coaches, and he’d earned Flynn a chance to keep up with practice on his various teams. Flynn would bench-warm through the next few games, but sport had been Chase’s salvation through high school. Flynn had potential if he would only keep at it. If nothing else, Chase prayed that having a sober father-figure show up and act like he gave a damn would carry some influence.
The fact he was a god to some of Flynn’s posse was a plus. They wanted to hang with him so Flynn didn’t have to make excuses or feel torn between his brother and his friends. He and Flynn got on well, regardless. Flynn’s mother—and her pregnancy with Flynn—might have been the reason Chase’s mother had left, but he didn’t blame his kid brother. At least Flynn’s mother had stuck with their dad.
She’d been the main breadwinner until Chase had been old enough to get a real job. That had meant Chase had been the babysitter, dragging Flynn with him if he wanted to go anywhere, balancing him on the handlebars of his bike so he could make practice. Later, Flynn had met him at the feed store after school where Flynn had waited out Chase’s four-hour shift, asking Chase for help with his homework between Chase’s spurts of loading and unloading trucks.
He hadn’t felt good about leaving Flynn when he was drafted, even though his step-mom had had a decent paying job by then. Now he wondered yet again if it had been a mistake, but everything he’d accomplished since leaving Marietta had allowed him to keep a roof over their heads. He and Flynn had talked more than once about Flynn coming to live with him, but Flynn liked his friends here and Marietta was a solid town full of solid people, even if their father wasn’t one of them.
Chase really felt he’d done the best he could and he was here now, when Flynn was struggling. That had to count for something. Flynn was a good kid at heart, he reminded himself, just going through the typical strains and growing pains of approaching graduation and adulthood.
He hoped that’s all it was. He’d find out while he was here. His entire focus for the rest of the month would be Flynn.
If he could work up the nerve to go into the school and collect the forms that would allow him to hang around students and help with extra-curricular events.
Damned background checks. He’d told Max he would go all-in. Parent driver, chaperone, whatever they needed. Just get the forms from the office, Max had said.
It had sounded like a five-minute formality, but that had been before the school secretary had publicly disemboweled him.
Now that formality had become an entry into the Gorgon’s cave. He’d texted Max this morning, asking if he could pick up the forms for him. Max’s response: Hell no. Max had felt bad last night, saying, I shouldn’t have said anything to you about it. I know better. A town like this, you can’t move on if everyone keeps bringing up your shit.
Chase knew something about that, growing up overhearing neighbors talking about his dad, watching people shake their heads with pity and disgust when they heard he was Gary Goodwin’s boy. Just thinking about it brought back the sick knot in his belly, the one he used to get before a game, knowing some jerk from a neighboring team would trash talk about his father, trying to get a rise out of him. Trying to get him thrown from the game for fighting.
It’s why he’d been so anxious to leave town. Hell, he liked Montana. He liked the big sky and the clean air. Sitting in the car in the school parking lot, window open, he took a moment to drink in the sweetly familiar scent of a late summer morning in Marietta. The mower was taking down the grass on the field, the sun was baking dust onto the asphalt, the pines were sweating just enough to tinge the breeze with their faint scent. It smelled like a promise.
Rock music approached with the rumble of an engine. A kid with his mother’s car pulled in and slung a backpack over his shoulder. He gave Chase a double-take and a crooked, slightly puzzled grin. He obviously recognized him and wondered what he was doing sitting in the school parking lot.
Maybe Skye had called in sick.
Maybe he could apologize and smooth the whole thing over.
Maybe he should just do it.
Leaving the rented SUV, he trailed the kid and entered that unique sound of a school with classes in session, teachers’ voices rising indistinctly above the restlessness of students who resented putting their social lives on hold.
They’d painted. He’d noticed that last night. Had a few more trophies in the case.
Quit stalling. He forced his feet to take him to the office.
Ah hell, there she was, turning away to hang up her phone then swing back around in her chair to her computer screen, face pale, expression stoic, gaze lifting as she realized someone was at the open door.
Her eyes widened and he heard her thoughts in the persecution that flashed across her face. Are you serious right now?
If he had come to apologize, she was going to tell him where to shove it.
This had been the worst day of her life, worse even than when Terry came out. Then, at least, she’d been the wronged party. Today people were asking, What were you thinking? Even Terry had defended stupid Chase Goodwin. He’s not a homophobe, Skye. I, uh, think he always knew I had a bit of a crush on him. He was really decent about it.
She had not needed to know her ex-husband had shared her crush on the town treasure.
“I’m not interested in talking to you,” she said to Chase, glancing anxiously toward the open door of the counselor’s office, where Brenda had left to fetch a student, then the firmly closed door of the principal’s office, where he was meeting with the VP and one of the trustees.
She didn’t know which was worse, having witnesses to this confrontation or not.
Chase leaned on the counter exactly the way the students did, like they wanted to order ice cream or a beer. “Maybe you can ask someone else to help me, then,” he said without emotion.
He looked insanely attractive, freshly shaved, lightly tanned, his dark brows stern above his intent green eyes, his mouth a sexy male pout that would make any female swoon.
“I need the parent volunteer forms so I can drive students and help with school events,” he added.
Take that, Skye. As if he’d come here special to see you. Like he owed you an apology.
Her throat stung and she feared she might be blushing. Rising, she turned away to open a drawer in the filing cabinet behind her, willing her composure back into place as she took her time fingering through and tugging out the forms. When she turned back, Chase’s eyes swiftly lifted to clash into hers.
Her butt tingled and her stomach swooped. Don’t, she thought. The last thing she needed was to start imagining he’d been checking her out. Hot and hating herself for it, she set the forms on the counter near his elbow.
“I need a copy of your driver’s license,” she told him.
He reached into his back pocket, the move drawing her eye to the way his T-shirt strained across his shoulders and pecs. Dear Lord, he was beautifully built. Were men allowed to have lean muscles like that without carrying a license for them as deadly weapons?
He offered the card in two fingers. Something in the way he did it made her lift her eyes to his. His brows went up ever so slightly.
He’d noticed her checking him out.
Kill. Me. Now.
She snatched the card from his grip and boiled with self-consciousness as she turned her back on him to make the copy. If he was looking at her backside again—but why would he? She didn’t want him to, did she?
What was she doing with her life that she was going off the rails like this? She was basically a happy person. She didn’t have self-destructive thoughts so why would she long for a spark between her and someone who would devastate her in all the ways Terry hadn’t? It was crazy. Literally not sane or logical.
She took the photocopy to her desk and slapped it into her In tray, refusing to look at his photo even though she was dying to. She’d finish processing this later, after he’d filled out the forms. Sitting down, she set her fingers on her keyboard, determined to carry on with her day and be normal.
He continued to stand at the counter, watching her expectantly.
“What?” she demanded.
“Can I have my driver’s license back?”
Oh for God’s sake. Blushing hard, she shot to her feet so fast her chair rolled back into the filing cabinet with a crash. Get a grip, Skye. She scooped the card from under the lid of the copier and when she slapped it on the counter, she only dared lift her gaze high enough to see he was biting back a rueful grin.
“Look, I know my being who I am made this worse—”
“Oh, no, my life is great,” she snarked, managing to keep her tone a level under shrill. “Isn’t it everyone’s dream these days to be an internet sensation? Give the forms to Max when you’ve filled them out. He can leave them in my tray.” Never come back here again, she willed him.
Then felt inexplicably sad, but honestly. This fixation needed to be carved out of her psyche and cryogenically frozen for a future generation to deal with.
“Hey, I didn’t post that clip. And for the record, I was being sarcastic last night. I know you can’t turn people gay.”
“Sure about that?” she shot back, once again finding herself pushing back for the simple reason that he had the gall to say to her what no one else had. “Wanna put it to the test?”
“I’d love to.”
The smoky look in his eyes, the deeply male timbre in his tone, crashed over her like a tropical wave, softening her bones and put a tickling feeling deep in the pit of her belly. A type of yearning.
One that was beyond misguided. Look who he was. He was mocking her. Had to be. Probably because he wasn’t any happier than she was about the way she’d embarrassed him.
“That’s not funny,” she told him. “It’s mean.” And then, because the backs of her eyes were sizzling, she went into Brenda’s office and shut the door.
“Skye!” he called.
She heard a door open and the principal spoke to him, asking if he was looking for her. After a brief exchange, everything went silent, but she continued to hide, bunching a tissue that she dabbed to keep her makeup under control, until Brenda came back and needed her office.