“Do me a favor—don’t tell Cathy no just yet. By the end of the summer you’ll probably be more than ready to get out of Wyoming.”
“Is that why you’re leaving here?”
Thomas didn’t speak until he’d parked in the lot behind the ball field. Even then he stared straight ahead instead of meeting her gaze. “There’s no place for me here. Harland is trying to run a ranch. Darren is helping his father-in-law in his sheep business. Marshall has a great job with the railroad. Stuart is happy as a carpenter. I only took the job at the coal mine after I graduated from high school because I didn’t have other options. Now I do.”
As much as she hated the thought of Thomas not being around every day to annoy her, she understood his need to set himself apart. “Have you said anything to anyone about your plans?”
He shook his head. “Not until I get the final application approval paperwork from the college.”
“Well…I can probably keep that information to myself, but it’ll cost you.”
Thomas’s soft gaze sharpened. “Cost me what?”
Carolyn poked him in the chest. “I don’t want to be stuck doing all the dishes all summer. You help me and I’ll keep quiet.”
Thomas twisted her finger, like he did when they were kids. “Fine, you little extortionist. Let’s watch the ballgame.”
The baseball game was boring. So boring Carolyn found herself yawning a couple of times.
Thomas’s friend Randy seemed decent, he was definitely nice looking and had the build of an athlete, but he stayed focused on the game as if it was the World Series. He sat next to her and every once in a while he’d pat her leg. His touch didn’t cause that fluttery feeling in her stomach like when Carson McKay had gently stroked her face. A shiver rolled through her, thinking about Carson’s rough-tipped fingers gliding across her skin.
“You cold?” Randy asked.
No. Just imagining another man’s touch.
She shook her head.
“It’ll be plenty hot at Dusty’s tonight,” Thomas said.
The game finally ended and all three of them crammed into the front seat of Thomas’s car. Since she had to straddle the hump in the center, her right thigh pressed against Randy’s left leg, and he considered that a sign she wanted to get closer. He stretched his arm across the back of the seat and curled his hand over her shoulder.
Randy said, “Who all are we meeting here?”
“Everyone that went to Buddy’s last weekend.”
Thomas tensed beside her. “Probably.”
Randy leaned in to whisper, “Your brother’s got it bad for her. I imagine the two of them will sneak off somewhere to be alone, so I’m glad you’re with me tonight.”
Carolyn didn’t like the way Randy assumed they were together. She definitely didn’t like the way he placed his wet lips directly on her ear. She discreetly scooted closer to Thomas.
“We’re here,” Thomas announced.
The bar looked packed to capacity. She paid the cover charge—over Randy’s objections—and immediately headed for the bar. She recognized a few people from the dancehall the other night. Several women gave her outfit a sneering once-over or laughed.
They’re just a bunch of Wyoming hillbillies and wouldn’t know trendy clothes if they bit them on the behind, she repeated to herself as she waited for her Coke. She decided to practice her wallflower impression when she heard a familiar shriek behind her.
“Carolyn West, I didn’t know you’d be here!”
She faced Beverly. “It was a last-minute thing.”
“Good Lord, what are you wearing?”
Carolyn cocked her hand on her hip. “Jeans. They’re the height of fashion every place besides backwards Wyoming,” she said very loudly.
Beverly hooked her arm through Carolyn’s. “I gotta get me some of them. So who are you here with?”
“Thomas and a friend of his.”
“Randy Peeler?” she said with a gasp. “He is so dreamy.”
Not as dreamy as Carson McKay.
Seemed she’d set him up as the gold standard.
“But watch Randy,” Beverly warned. “Evidently he uses those fast hands for more than just pitching, if you know what I mean.”
“I already figured that out. But thanks. Where’s Mike?”
“Talking to some guys who are here on leave. I’m glad you showed up.”
They gossiped for the next half hour. Mike returned and claimed Beverly for a dance. Just as Carolyn spied the perfect hiding spot, Randy loomed over her.
“There you are. Let’s dance.”
Carolyn barely had time to set her drink down before Randy was dragging her onto the dance floor. He pulled her flush to his body and would’ve tried to slip his knee between hers if she hadn’t clamped her legs shut.
Randy laughed. “There it is.”
“There what is?”
“The Catholic school upbringing. Loosen up.”
Her brother actually liked this creep? She managed a fake smile. “I’d be a lot looser if you quit holding me so tightly.”
She was ready to escape after one dance with Randy, but he kept blathering on. When the third song started, she begged to take a break. He kept his hand in the small of her back as he escorted her off the dance floor, acting like they were together.