“I knew she was working her butt off on it. She mentioned she’d found something to Quinn and Charlie and Vi, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was.” He put his mouth on her ear. “To be honest, I thought she and Boone were using just doing research as an excuse to hang out together these last few months.”
Sierra fairly bounced over after being waylaid by questions. “Dad, can I go now?”
“Where are you going?”
“Where is the only place I ever go?” she said with exasperation.
“To meet Marin.”
“So can I?”
“Where are you and Marin going?”
“To a graduation party at the lake. And no, we won’t be drinking, smoking weed or having sex.”
“No swimming at night either,” he warned.
“I know. And Boone will be there.”
That didn’t exactly alleviate his worry. “You haven’t had any issues with your new car?” Maybe he had gone a little overboard, buying her a Mercedes M Class SUV, but he couldn’t put a price on her safety. A little peace of mind was worth a lot.
She rolled her eyes. “Dad. We studied the manual together. You read the manual to me when I was driving. I read the manual to you when you were driving. I’ve studied the manual more than I have for my English final. So can I go?”
“Okay. But drive careful.”
“I will.” She kissed his cheek. “I love you. I know my curfew’s at midnight. There. I saved you from saying it.” She gave Rielle a half-hug. “See you later.” She practically skipped across the gravel driveway.
“So…she’s gone for a few hours,” Rielle said.
“What do you say we head home? School will be out in two weeks, ending our mid-morning quickies.”
“And our afternoon delight.” Rielle threaded her fingers through his. “Since we have two vehicles, and I know how competitive you are, let’s have a race.”
“What’s the prize?”
“Hot damn.” He whispered, “Your ass is mine tonight, honey.”
“Don’t bet on it.”
But Gavin beat her home by a full two minutes.
He was feeling pretty cocky after a spectacular bout of raunchy sex, until Rielle whispered, “So, for the record, I let you win.”
The bright moon glow sent silvery light across the clearing. Sierra bumped over the cattle guard and saw him shielding his eyes from the glare of her headlights. Seemed a little strange, Boone calling her out of the blue and asking her to meet him. She hoped it meant something more than he was bored.
Sierra ignored Marin’s snarky voice in her head, asking why she went running every time Boone crooked his little finger at her. But she hadn’t seen him since his graduation and he’d slipped back into the not-returning-texts zone. School had ended two days ago, and her summer plans were still up in the air.
She put her car in park and killed the ignition. Butterflies danced in her belly. Where had her nervousness come from? She was out here with Boone. Mr. Trustworthy. Mr. Oblivious.
His butt rested against his motorcycle seat. His booted feet crossed at the ankle. His arms folded over his chest. He wore a super tight T-shirt which displayed the ripped muscles in his arms and the ridges in his lower abdomen. She’d seen that shirt on him a dozen times, and every time she whispered a little thank you to the T-shirt gods.
Stop gawking at him.
Nothing wrong with being attracted to her best guy buddy.
No. Especially when he still didn’t have a clue how she felt. She walked up to him, her hands jammed into the back pockets of her jeans. “You summoned me?”
Boone frowned at her attire. “Wasn’t tonight the dance?”
“No. It was last night.”
“Oh. Was it fun?”
“I don’t know. I skipped it.”
“But…you said that night at the lake you wanted to go.”
She shrugged. “Marin is at her grandma’s for a week so she wasn’t going. Besides, they probably only played country music.”
“You should’ve gone.”
But I knew you wouldn’t be there.
“You asked me here to chew my ass about a dance I didn’t go to?”
“What are you doing out here, anyway? Did your bike break down again?”
“Funny. It was a great night for a ride. I lost track of time. When I pulled over, I realized I wasn’t far from your place.”
“So you called me.” Instead of just showing up at her house. That made no sense. Especially if Boone thought she was at the dance. What was going on with him? He acted…jumpy.
“You got any decent tunes in that piece of crap car you’re driving these days?” he asked.
The Mercedes was hardly a piece of crap and he knew it. Boone also knew that the only reason her dad had bought it was for the safety features, including an excess of air bags. “I’ll play music as long as you don’t bitch about what it is.”
She rolled down the windows and plugged her iPod into the stereo system. She mimicked his pose against the car, standing opposite him.
Boone grinned when the music started. “Foo Fighters. Cool.”
“Don’t get used to it. The next song might be by Flogging Molly.”
“I don’t even know what the hell that is, McKay. You’re more ur-bane than me.”
“Right. Seriously, West, what’s up? It’s not like you to text me, demanding I meet you out in the middle of nowhere. Especially this late.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Since when is ten late?”
“Since my dad grills me about where I’m going at ten at night and who I’m going with.”
“Did you tell him you were meeting me?”
“Yeah.” She smirked. “He said not to let you drive my car.”
“Smartass.” Boone paused and tipped his head toward the sky. “As much as I love how bright the moon is, I miss seeing the stars on nights like this.”
Neither said anything for several minutes.
“But this moon-gazing shit is killing my neck.” He moved to lean next to her. “Much better. So, what are your plans for this summer?”
“I’ve thought about becoming a carny.”
“Yeah? What’s the appeal? Getting hooked on meth? Hooked on pot? Hooked on fried food? Or is it getting to rip off little kids every day? Maybe you’ll grow a mustache and get a bad tattoo.”
She laughed. “You’ve weighed the pros and cons way more than I have. I was just in it for the unlimited cotton candy.”
“What’s option two for your summer?”
He was more persistent than usual, so she hedged, in case he had a specific reason for asking her plans—like he wanted to spend the summer with her. “I don’t know. It depends.”
“How much my mom and dad argue over me and where I should be. My mom’s boyfriend bought a place in Paris with an extra bedroom, so she wants me to stay at least half the summer with her.” She shot him a sideways glance. “I haven’t mentioned this to my dad yet.”
“I just found out yesterday. He’ll ask me what I want to do, and like I said, I’m not sure.”
“But he gives you a vote in your options?”
“Yes. What about you? Now that you’ve graduated, what are your plans?”
“Well, that’s the reason I asked you to meet me.”
Her stomach performed a hopeful summersault.
But as usual, he didn’t elaborate. He just kept looking skyward.
“Boone? I’m lousy at guessing games, remember? So just tell me.”
“I won’t be here this summer because I joined the army.”
Sierra gave him a ten-second pause and hip-checked him. “You have a bizarre sense of humor sometimes.”
He faced her. “I’m not joking. I joined the army.”
A sick feeling took root as she realized he was serious. Then she exploded. “Why would you just up and do that?”
“It wasn’t an impulsive decision. I’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
“Almost three years. Since my youth forestry counselor suggested it when I was sixteen.”
And this was the first time he’d mentioned it? After all the time they’d spent together? “But we’re at war! The military sends the newest recruits over there.” Another horrible thought occurred to her. “You’ve got medical training, which means they’ll put you on the first cargo plane and drop you right in the middle of a combat zone.”
“Sierra. That’s what I want.”
“To get yourself killed?” she demanded.
“No, to help keep others from dying.”
“But you do that every day as an EMT.”
“It’s not the same. I can’t make a living as an EMT in rural Wyoming. I’m tired of being broke and there are a lot of things I’d like to do with my life that I can’t do if I’m stuck here.”
“Then go to college like normal people do.”
Boone scowled at her. “If I don’t have money for a car do you really think I’ve got money to go to college? Or that anyone will lend me the money?”
“Then we’ll ask my dad. He’ll float you a loan. Heck, he’d probably just give you the money since you saved my life.”
He pushed off the car. “I don’t want your money or your charity.”
“What? I’m only trying to help. You took that the wrong way.”
“Did I? What part of making it on my own is confusing to you? I have to do this. I want to do this.”
“So there’s no talking you out of it.”