My stomach dropped, and just like everyone else, I froze until Trenton stood her upright and gently pushed her toward Clay.

Clay made a face, but he didn’t react. Kylie was more than pleased, and turned to give Trenton one last flirtatious glance while Clay dragged her by the hand toward the entrance. Kody followed them out, but not before making a what the f**k face to Raegan, and then to me.

It wasn’t until then that I realized every muscle in my body was tense.

I approached Trenton and pointed at his chest. “You pull that shit again, and I’ll have you thrown out of here.”

One side of Trenton’s mouth turned up. “The punching, or the kissing?”

“Is your ass jealous of the amount of shit that comes out of your mouth?” I said, walking around the bar.

“I’ve already heard that one!” Trenton called back. He grabbed his beer off the bar, and then strolled over to the pool tables like nothing happened.

“Not to piss all over your parade, sister, but you look angry,” Raegan said.

I began washing mugs like I hated them, because in that moment, I hated everything. “I couldn’t stand him in high school, and I can’t stand him now.”

“You’ve been hanging out with him a lot for someone you can’t stand.”

“Apparently not,” Raegan deadpanned, popping the top on three beer bottles, one after another.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” I chanted, trying to drown out her words. I didn’t want him, anyway. What did it matter to me if he was a man whore who stuck his tongue down someone’s throat just to piss off her boyfriend?

The fast pace behind the bar continued, but fortunately the fights died down just before last call. It was always a huge pain in the ass trying to get out of there when the whole place broke out into a brawl at closing time. The lights came on, and the crowd dispersed. For once, Kody and Gruber didn’t have to go into ass**le mode to get the stragglers out. Instead, they politely encouraged people to leave, and Raegan and I closed down the bar. Lita and Ronna walked in with brooms and other cleaning supplies. By 3:00 a.m., the bartenders were all ready to leave, and per policy, Kody and Gruber walked us to our cars. Walking Raegan out every night and filling those short moments with subtle charm was exactly how Kody had finally convinced her to let him take her on a date. Gruber walked me to the Smurf, both of us pulling our coats tighter to ward off the cold. When Trenton’s car, and then Trenton standing next to it, came into view, Gruber and I paused at the same time.

“Need me to stay?” Gruber asked quietly as we continued walking.

“What are you going to do?” Trenton hissed. “Nothin’.”

I wrinkled my nose, disgusted. “Don’t be a dick. You don’t get to be an ass to guys who are mean and nice to me.”

“What about those of us who are both?” he said, his eyebrows moving in.

Gruber nodded, and walked back into the Red.

“You’re drunk,” I said unlocking the driver’s-side door of the Jeep. “Did you call a cab?”

“So you’re walking home?” I said, pulling on the shiny red bottle cap opener key ring sticking out of his jeans pocket. His keys came along with it.

I opened my car door, and then sighed, pulling out my cell phone. “I’ll call you a cab.”

“Kody is going to give me a lift.”

“If he keeps taking you home, you’re going to have to make it Facebook official.”

Trenton laughed, but then his smile faded. “I don’t know why I did that. With her. Habit, I guess.”

“Weren’t you the one talking about nasty habits earlier?”

After a short pause, I shook my head. I couldn’t bring myself to lie out loud.

“Are you in love with him? Your guy?”

Trenton’s face compressed. “You and me . . . we’re just friends, aren’t we?”

“Sometimes I’m not sure if we’re that.”

Trenton nodded, and then looked down. “All right. Just checking.” He walked away, and I huffed in frustration.

“Yes,” I called out to him.

A small smile touched his lips, and then it spread into a full-blown grin. “I know.” He shoved his hands into his pockets as he strolled across the parking lot like he owned the world.

Once he hopped inside Kody’s truck, my stomach sank. I was in trouble. Big, disastrous, Maddox trouble.

STILL NO WORD ON THANKSGIVING?” I HATED ASKING, BUT he wouldn’t mention it if I didn’t, and at that moment I was nearly desperate to know. I was beginning to forget what it felt like to be near him, and I was getting confused about things I shouldn’t be confused about.

T.J. didn’t make a sound for several seconds. He didn’t even breathe. “I miss you.”

“I won’t know until the day before. Maybe the day of. If something comes up . . .”

“I understand. You warned me. Stop acting like I’m going to throw a tantrum every time you can’t give me a straight answer.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry. It’s not that. I’m just worried the next time you ask, and I answer . . . you’re going to say something I don’t want to hear.”

I smiled against the phone, wishing I could hug him. “It’s nice to know you don’t want to hear it.”

“I don’t. It’s hard to explain . . . wanting this promotion and wanting to be with you just as much.”

“I get it. It’s not easy, but it’s going to be okay. We won’t always have to miss each other. We just have to get over the tough part in the beginning, right?”

“Right.” His reply was immediate and without hesitation, but I could hear the uncertainty in his voice.

“You know I do,” he said. “Have a good night, love.”

Knowing he couldn’t hear, I nodded, but it was all I could manage. We hung up without discussing Coby, or my second job, or that I’d been spending so much time with Trenton. My weekend tips had helped my brother pay most of one payment, but I worried it would just be a matter of time before he dropped out of his program.

I slipped a long-sleeved lacy black top over my head and fought with a pair of my favorite ripped jeans. Then I dabbed on some lip gloss before running out the door before I was late for my Friday night shift at the Red.

As soon as I walked into the employees’ entrance, I knew something was off. Everyone was dragging ass, and the bar was quiet. Too quiet. Normally I would treasure that first hour before everyone poured in through the doors. Friday was ladies’ night, so the rush began even earlier, but the bar was dead.