I know that I must have a cocky grin on my face, but damn it’s nice to know how much I seem to affect her. “Well, I guess I’ll be the pitiful guy at home, waiting for a girl to call him,” I say, winking. “Bye, Audrey.”

She needs to walk away now before I kiss her. If I do, I’ll kiss her so hard her lips will bruise. She needs to walk away, but instead, she’s just staring at me with that hopeful look on her face. Then all at once, the look dies and she says, “Bye, Jace.”

Was she hoping that I would kiss her too? Before she can get out of arm’s reach, I pull her back in front of me. I need to know that I’ll see her again. “You know that party Cole West throws every year before school starts?” I ask, throwing out the first thing I can think of.

She doesn’t say anything for a long time, and I start to think about what I asked. It doesn’t seem like a hard question. Everyone knows about Cole’s parties. People in town gossip about them for weeks afterward. Every August around this time, his parents fly up to DC for business purposes and that giant house of his just begs for a party. I can picture Audrey now, wearing a bikini and all wet from swimming. Shit, she needs to answer me so I can divert my attention away from thoughts of tiny bikinis, water, and her body. She nods her head.

“Uh… if you want me to,” she replies.

“I want you… there.” I mostly just want her, but I also want her at that party with me.

“Okay, I’ll come. Where is it?”

This girl is hard to comprehend. Cole’s parties never change their venue. I c**k my eyebrow up at her and ask, “You’ve never been?” When she shakes her head, I’m floored. Cole is everybody’s friend, he knows no stranger. How has he missed this one? And thank God he has, because she might have been the one exception to the bro-code of not hooking up with your buddies’ girls, current or past. “It’s at Cole’s house, which is the biggest one on Lincoln Court. You can’t miss it.” It’s a monstrosity. Way too big for three people.

For a fraction of a second, I see her face fall, but she quickly picks it back up and says, “Wow, okay… I’ll be there tonight.”

I can tell she’s uncomfortable about something and that she’s only agreeing to go because I want her to. Problem is, this girl even looks cute when she’s uncomfortable. I can’t hold out any longer. I reach out and situate her bag of groceries on the passenger seat again. Then before she even realizes what’s happening, I grab her arms and pin her against the side of the truck.

I can feel her heart beating wildly against my chest, so I lean down and press my lips against hers. Damn, she’s sweet. I shouldn’t have started this, because how the hell can I stop kissing a mouth that tastes like honey? With a little bit of persuasion, I coax her lips open and instantly my tongue is slowly dancing with hers. I still have her arms in a tight grasp against the truck, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s letting me control this.

My right hand slides away from her arm and over her waist, and I have to hold on tightly, afraid this enchantress will disappear. When my other hand leaves her arm, she instantly laces her fingers through my hair, which pulls a moan from my mouth. Our kiss deepens, both of us needing more. Then, damn it all… she lifts one of her legs and wraps it around my waist. I can’t stop myself from shoving her back further into the truck and grabbing the warm skin on her thigh to hold it in place. She fits me perfectly.

After a couple of heated beats, I realize that I’m about to rip this girl’s clothes off in the middle of the parking lot. My mom might be the coolest parent ever, but she would kill me if she heard about this from the old lady gossip in this town. So reluctantly, I break the kiss. Her eyes remain closed and she’s trying to catch her breath, as am I. Who knew making out could be so damn hot?

“Wow…” she says in the same moment.

“You’ll be there tonight.” It’s not a question anymore.

She nods her head and I hand her back the groceries. Without another word, I watch as she walks away carrying her paper bag, even though everything within me is saying she shouldn’t go. Call it the ‘White Knight Syndrome,’ but there’s just something about a beautiful damsel in distress, and I sure as hell want to be the one to save her.

When I sit down on the city bus, I finally get a chance to breathe in and out. How did a simple trip to the grocery store just rock my world off its axis? Did Jace really exist, or was he purely made up of too many library-loaned romance novels?

If I had a best friend, I would be running to her right now to tell her everything. But I don’t, so I’ll just have to replay that make-out scene over and over in my head. Lord knows it’ll never get old. Maybe I’ll sneak over to Mrs. Thomas’ to call my cousin, Kennedy, who lives in Connecticut. We’ve been getting closer these last couple of years, and she always tells me she can’t wait until I get my own phone so she can call whenever she wants.

I could use another girl’s perspective, since I’m still really confused about the whole incident. One minute he’s taking me to coffee because he feels bad about ruining my groceries, and the next he’s pinning me up against his truck and owning me. I’ve kissed plenty of guys. It’s what you do when you’re bored out here; you mess around and get into trouble. But I can definitely say that I have never been kissed like that.

I can’t even call that a kiss because it was on a whole other level. He made me forget about everything…where I was, where I’m from, and even where he’s from. It was just my lips and his, dueling for more. I don’t know what came over me when I lifted my leg, but that moan he made spurred me on.

At the thought of my groceries, I quickly grab the bag from the seat next to me and glance inside. Shit! No! Damn, why hadn’t I been more specific? First of all, the whiskey is some top-shelf brand that I know cost about seven-times more than the cheap one I always buy my dad. The milk is organic, the spaghetti is whole-wheat, the peanut butter has added omega-3s, and to make matters even worse, the ramen is the low-sodium kind. This grocery bill had to have been way more than mine typically costs because all of this stuff is the freaking healthier version! My dad is going to murder me and I’ll never make it to the party now.

A few weeks ago, I caught the tail end of my mom packing up all of her things and throwing them quickly into a beat-up old suitcase. A fancy black car pulled up out front and my mom rushed inside without even a second glace my way. I don’t care where she went or even why she left, but I do care that I’m getting the short end of the stick yet again. Ever since that day my dad has been strung tighter than usual and flying off the handle in the blink of an eye.

I quietly step into the house, relieved to see he isn’t home yet from the farm that he works on when he’s sober enough to show up. I might actually have a chance to get out of here unscathed. My dog, Chuck, saunters over with his tail wagging to greet me. Chuck, who we think is some kind of cattle dog, is the only loved member in this house. Everybody loves Chuck. He found us last year and never left, and thankfully he did, because he’s my only saving grace in this godforsaken house.

“Hey buddy,” I say while scratching behind his ear. “I gotta leave again soon, but I’ll be back later.”

I rush through my shower and put on the makeup Mrs. Thomas passed down to me a while back. Right as I’m slipping my feet into a pair of sandals, I hear my dad’s truck backfire out front. Quickly, I open the window in the bathroom and slip out into the knee-high grass. I can’t let him see me right now. Once he gets a look at those groceries, he will blow a gasket from the amount of money I ‘wasted.’

Just as I’m rounding the corner, I hear the old screen door slam open, loudly crashing into the metal siding. Before I can hide somewhere, he’s grabbing me by the arms. Coincidentally, it’s in the same exact spot Jace held me not even two hours ago, except this is nothing like how Jace touched me. This is malicious and meant to leave a mark. Well it was nice knowing you, Audrey.

“Just who do you think you are, and why the hell do I see a bottle of whiskey on my damn counter that cost more than I make in a month?” I have no words; they’ve all dried up. “You think you’re better than me, girl? You’re too f**king good to buy the cheap one? You gotta go and waste my money?”

His money? I’m pretty sure I’m the one working fifty hours a week in the back of a hot kitchen. Not that it matters to him though.

“The store was having a sale,” I manage to squeak out, without looking up at him.

“You think I’m some kind of idiot?” Yes, yes I do, I think. But I don’t say that because I’m kind of attached to my face.

Just then, Mrs. Thomas steps out of her trailer with a broom in hand. “Knock it off, Lee!” she hollers over at him.

Mrs. Thomas is about sixty years old, but I wouldn’t underestimate her and what she can do with a broom. When my dad hears her, his grip loosens a fraction, and he turns to glare at her for interrupting.

“You’re out there on your damn porch with that nonsense. I haven’t called the cops on your shit yet, but that don’t mean these other people won’t,” she says, pointing out our inquisitive neighbors.

When he realizes we have an audience, he reluctantly releases me. All the blood rushes back to my upper arms, and they begin to tingle from the return of blood flow. I immediately step away from him and head toward the bus stop at a clipped pace.

As I’m walking away, I hear his deep baritone say, “You can bet your ass we’ll talk later.”

I have roughly two hundred and eighty-three days until I graduate. On day two hundred and eighty-four, I hope to have at least a thousand miles between us.

“Dude, did I just see you molesting some chick on the side of the truck?” Jaxon asks with an irritating laugh, as he climbs up into the passenger seat.

“I don’t think you can call it assault when she’s a willing participant,” I defend.

“Damn man, you had Mrs. Jones blushing. I had to distract her on the other side of the store to get her away from the window. Looked like you were into her, whoever she was.”

“She was hot, right?” I ask, as I pull the truck out of the parking lot.

“I couldn’t see her since you were too far down her throat. I did see her leg hiked up though… whoo… wait until mom hears.”

He holds his hands up in surrender. “Hey, she won’t be hearing it from me.”

Shit, the last thing I need is someone hounding me about the mystery girl I was practically screwing up against my truck. Mom will be the worst. I typically never show interest in girls, at least not publicly. So far, every girl I’ve come across has been… dull, un-yielding, and just plain pushy. I don’t have the patience for that crap.

Holy hell though, Audrey made the blood begin pumping in my veins again. She lit me up the way a defibrillator re-starts a heart, providing a much-needed shock to my system.

“I want to meet this chick. She has to have a golden pu--”

Instantly, my fist slams into his bicep before he can finish that statement and victoriously, I watch as he sucks in a harsh breath of air and grabs his arm. I know it wasn’t my hardest blow because it wasn’t coming from a decent angle, but I’m glad it inflicted pain.

I point right at him and say, “You’ll stay away from her, and shut the hell up about her body.” End of story.

I hear him whistle while shaking his head. “Man… I need to meet this girl. I mean, you don’t hook up with chicks EVER, and this one had you practically marking your territory for all to see.”

“Might as well be,” he responds drily.

“Just because I don’t screw every girl that walks past me and in public, I might add, doesn’t mean anything.”

“That chick last weekend was fine as hell and you know it,” he says, grinning.

I don’t even answer. Sometimes I feel that if I respond in any way at all, he thinks it justifies his actions. Ever since dad died last year, Jax has been uncontrollable. Mom said he’s going through his own grieving process, but in my opinion, it’s getting out of hand.

Last weekend, he hooked up with a girl from our school at a party, right outside on one of the pool loungers for everyone to see. Granted, it was pitch-black outside and most of the party was inside, but they still gained a small audience. The weekend before, he got in a fight when Grayson Jones accidently bumped into him at a party and spilled his beer. A couple days later, he beat Kyle Martin’s face in when he thought the dude had touched his Camaro, which it turned out he hadn’t. Jax has just become a loose cannon.

“So on a scale of one-to-getting-arrested, how crazy are you going to be tonight?” I ask as I pull into Cole’s driveway. He called earlier asking for help with set-up, so I’m dropping Jaxon off to pull our share of friend-duty.

He tugs the door handle and scoots out of the truck. “Hmmm….” He rubs the scruff on his chin, being his typical as**ole self as of late. I put the engine into reverse because I don’t have time for his bullshit. “Chill dude, I’ll be good tonight.”

I have no idea what his idea of ‘good’ is anymore. “I’ll be back later. I need to run all this stuff back to mom.”