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He grimaced. “Didn’t know I was dealing with one of Chester’s royalty. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by your stupidity then.”

“That’s not very nice,” I said softly.

“Yeah, well, I’m not a very nice guy.”

“I know you, too,” I said, nodding his way. “You’re Mike Emery’s kid, Jackson.”

He had to be at least five years younger than I was, but with the wrinkles around his frown and his five-o’clock shadow, he appeared older.

“Trust me, sweetheart, just because you know my name doesn’t mean you know me.” He swiped his hand beneath his nose. “You don’t know anything about me.”

I’d never been called sweetheart in such a demeaning tone.

“You don’t know anything about me either, but it seems you have your own judgments on my family.”

“With good reason.”

“And what reason is that?”

He blinked, and once again, the cold, isolated stare returned. He placed his cap back on his head before he parted his lips again. “Your car’s a piece of shit. You could’ve really hurt someone today.”

“I didn’t know.”

“There’s no way a car in this bad of shape didn’t give you any signs.”

Well…he wasn’t wrong about that.

As he spoke, intense annoyance painted his words. “You knew it was pretty bad off. You made a choice, and it was stupid,” he replied. “Don’t worry, though, I’m sure your daddy will buy you a new one soon enough.”

The nerve of this guy. He sure did live up to the fables I’d heard about him.

“I bought this car on my own,” I said, somewhat annoyed. It had been the first grown-up purchase I’d ever made in my life, and she’d been through the good and bad days with me. My pink Rosie. It was one of the only things I could claim I’d done on my own, other than my teaching degree, though, even with that, my parents had helped pay. Jackson didn’t have a clue how much that car meant to me, how much doing something for myself meant, so screw him for judging me. “Just because my family has money doesn’t mean I do.”

“That’s the type of shit rich kids say to make themselves feel somewhat human.”

“Are you always such an asshole?” I asked, placing my hands on my hips.

“Oh, the Bible girl cusses. You better repent,” he barked, popping open the hood of the car.

“What are you doing?” I asked, but he ignored me as he began fumbling around.

“What does it look like I’m doing? Trying to fix the shit you let break.” Smoke seeped from the engine, and he pulled and pushed things around as I studied his every movement.

“Just be careful. I don’t want it worse off than—”

He tilted his head and cocked an eyebrow. “Trust me, you can’t get worse off than this. I found the problem.”

“What is it?”

“Your car’s a piece of shit.”

I blew out a hot breath. “Is that the technical term?”

“Something like that.” He stood straight and wiped his grease-covered fingers on his jeans. “If you want my opinion?”

“Is it a jerky opinion?”

“Yup, it is.”

“Go for it.”

“Never step foot in that car again. There’s a ninety-five percent chance it will blow up. I’ll have my tow guy pull it into the shop.” He took out his phone and began sending off a text message. When he looked up at me, his eyes grew even gloomier. “Jesus, I didn’t mean to…” He paused and brushed his fingers over his temple, leaving black oil marks. “Come on. For fuck’s sake, don’t do that,” he groaned, gesturing toward me.

“Do what?”


“I’m not.”

He cocked an eyebrow and stared at me as if I were insane.

I lightly touched my cheeks and felt the wetness.


I am crying.

I choked on my next breath and began sobbing, covering my mouth with my hand.

“Can you just…not do that right now? Can you not fall apart?” He asked it in a way that sounded more like a demand.

“I-I’m t-t-trying not to,” I mumbled, unable to control myself. I hated this. I hated not having control over my emotions, over my feelings. Lately, the smallest thing could send me into a whirlwind of sadness, and I hated it. Losing my car—losing the one thing that was mine and mine alone—was breaking my heart.

He sighed again. “You should really pull yourself together.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” I sobbed, annoyed by him being there and annoyed that I couldn’t stop crying.

“You look like a hot mess.”

“I’m not a hot mess!” I snapped. I just had hot-mess tendencies…

He grimaced, something I assumed he did often. “Well you sure look the part.”

“Can you just go away? Please?”

“Not till Alex gets here to tow the car. It’s on the house.”


“That means you don’t have to pay for it.”

“I know what ‘on the house’ means.”

“Then you shouldn’t have asked.”

I was offended by him, and by his offer to help with my car. How could he be so rude to me and then try to be helpful? That wasn’t how things worked in the real world. Life wasn’t a Sour Patch Kids commercial—you couldn’t first be sour then shockingly sweet. “I don’t want your help.”