Page 27


The expression on Boyce’s face before he turned to yank the refrigerator door open was furious—jaw rigid, eyes sharp as broken glass—and I had no idea why. He couldn’t be angry that I’d brought him food? Maybe he’d reconsidered my idea for burying his dad’s ashes on the sandbar. He’d claimed he couldn’t have any closure, like it was an unattainable thing, but I’d hoped he was wrong. I’d hoped to help him find it.
Now I wasn’t so sure he could find closure. Wasn’t so sure I was the one to help him look.
I gripped the back of the chair, unable to shift my eyes from the broad, defined muscles of his shoulders and the vee of his back, flexing just outside the confines of his ribbed gray tank. His short hair was dark, damp. He must have showered right before I arrived.
“I figured you might be hungry, so I got you two burgers,” I said.
He turned back to me after a strained, silent moment, a ketchup bottle in his hand. “You figured right.” The anger—or what I’d thought was anger—was gone. In its place was raw hunger.
“Let’s eat then.” I took the bottle from his hand and smiled up at him.
He nodded once, more of a jerk of his head than a gesture of affirmation, and stepped around me to sit at the table. He worked hard six days a week, both manual labor and dealing with clients directly. I recalled how exhausted Mama used to be when she’d worked long hours at the pediatric office she managed. By the time she’d pick me up from afterschool care, she was often irritable from masking her annoyance all day. She’d tell me that working with the public was sometimes more taxing than the manual labor she’d done when she first arrived in the U.S.
“Sinks and floors and toilets don’t snap at you for politely requesting a co-pay,” she’d say, hands clenched on the steering wheel. “They don’t insist on seeing a doctor immediately when they show up late, or let their children wipe their snotty noses on the chair cushions in the waiting room.”
Boyce unwrapped a burger and took a huge bite, his eyes closing like it was the best thing he’d ever eaten. His shoulders lowered just a smidge. He inhaled a long, deep breath through his nose and let it out just as slowly.
“Good?” I asked unnecessarily.
Still chewing, he opened his eyes and nodded, releasing a sighed, “Mmmm.”
I compressed my lips to conceal my smug grin at having tamed the beast prowling inside him when I arrived. He smiled back, eyes crinkling at the corners, reading me like my analysis of him had been scrawled across my forehead. His insight was simultaneously comforting and unsettling. For most of my life, Boyce Wynn’s smile had been three things to me: safety, warmth, and home, even as that same smile made my heart throb with longing for some shadowed, unreachable thing.
• • • • • • • • • •
Four years ago
“Just a minute,” I mumbled from the top of the staircase—as if whoever was standing outside pressing the doorbell could hear me. I wasn’t hungover, but I was groggy from lack of sleep. I’d lain awake half the night wondering why Boyce and Landon hadn’t shown and wishing Mel and I had just stayed on the beach with them.
I veered around a girl snoring on the steps, recognizing Shania Fowler, who’d been on the dance squad with Mel and me. Arms folded beneath her face, she made falling asleep in the middle of someone’s staircase look like a perfectly natural thing to do.
I heard the front door open just before Boyce Wynn’s ticked-off voice echoed in the foyer. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
I hurried down the last few steps to see him leveling a homicidal glare at Rick Thompson, who—the hell?—had just answered my front door.
“Jesus, Wynn, come in or go the fuck away, but shut the damned door.” Rick’s hand shielded his eyes from the glare outside as he backed away from Boyce. “I’m not ready for daylight.”
Boyce slammed the solid mahogany door shut, rattling framed prints hanging near the door. He noticed me over Rick’s shoulder at the same time.
“Fuck!” Rick hissed, both hands cradling his skull. Someone on the parlor loveseat whimpered at the noise.
“What’s he doing here?” Boyce asked me. Before I could answer, his gaze skipped over the passed-out girl on the stairs, the girl on the loveseat, and the guy wedged against the media center, drooling on the sofa cushion crammed beneath his head. There were probably people in various states of unconsciousness all over the house.
Arching a brow, I turned and walked back up the curved staircase, sidestepping Shania. I didn’t look to see if he was following, but I knew he was.
I padded down the hall and into my room, kicking a romance novel under my bed as he appeared in the doorway. He filled the space—wide shoulders and broad chest, hands braced on the doorframe, elbows bent, biceps flexed against the sleeves of his close-fitting T-shirt.
My heart thrashed harder than the music had last night.
“Hi, Boyce.” I stared into his dark eyes, unable to distinguish the green. From the opposite side of my room, they looked brown. Black, even. But I knew that up close, his eyes were the dark, multilayered green of a deep, thick forest.
“Hey, Pearl.” He entered the room and slid his big hand over the antique glass doorknob. “Mind if I shut the door?” He watched me closely, his words deliberate.
“Lock it, too,” I said, my voice warbling. I cleared my throat as the door clicked shut and he turned to pin me with those eyes.
He slid the lock into place.
Without moving nearer, he toed off his boots, which were always haphazardly laced at best. He pulled off his socks, one hand on the dresser.
“Why didn’t you come?” I asked, and he paused, frowning in confusion. “Last night,” I clarified.
His brow cleared. “Maxfield didn’t want to mess with Dover last night.”
“So… you went back to the beach?”
When he nodded, my imagination flooded with the probabilities that gesture implied. I wanted to scour those images from my mind. He wasn’t going to come here to me after going there and—stop.
Chin lifted, eyes narrowed, I clenched my fists to keep from hurling things at him. “Did you find what you were looking for there?”
His shadowed smile made me angrier. Until he said, “Course not. I knew what I wanted and where it was. Last night was about bein’ there for my boy. Right now is me bein’ where I wanna be.”