A roadie said something that made everyone laugh.
Check wandered over and took the guitar. “Thanks for playing tonight.”
“My pleasure.” Then Devin said, “Good night,” to everyone before he turned and they started the long walk toward the bus.
Liberty broke the easy silence between them. “Thanks for pestering me to sit by the campfire. Fresh air did do me some good.”
“The last time I just chilled out beneath a starry sky was last spring. A year ago, I was home for a week during branding. Hank and Abe Lawson put me to work. So did Kyle and Celia Gilchrist. I usually help Bran out, since they all brand right around the same time, but I had to get back to Nashville and missed it.”
“I was there that year. First and last time.” She shivered. “Not my idea of fun. I conveniently had to work this year.”
“I actually enjoy it. Seems to be the only time I can really catch up with everyone.”
“I mostly stayed in the house and took care of Jake.”
“You’re close to Harper.”
“Very. Are you close to your older sister?”
A beat of tense silence passed. “Not really. It’s not like we had a falling-out or anything.”
“That’s too bad, especially since you both lost Michelle. I’d think that loss would’ve brought you closer.” When she realized how judgy that sounded, she quickly said, “Because I lived apart from Harper for so long, it’s good to be within driving distance. It surprised me she’s not the way I remembered her.”
“I always thought we were polar opposites. I was tough; she wasn’t.” She shook her head. “My beauty queen sister with the soft heart and the soft voice . . . I thought she’d have a soft will. But nope. She’s made of strong stuff.”
He bumped her with his shoulder. “Must run in the family.”
“I am a marshmallow around her boys. I love how she is around them.”
“Happy. She’s exactly where she’s meant to be. For the longest time, neither of us thought we’d ever have that. A place of our own.”
The ground crunched beneath his boots. “Do you have it?”
“I’m working on it.” And you’re helping me achieve that goal, even though you don’t know it. “How’d we get on this subject?”
“Does it matter? I like talkin’ to you. We were on track to getting to know each other before the truck stop—”
“I’ve moved on from that incident,” she said in a rush.
Devin slowed their pace. “Personally? Or professionally?”
“Both.” What was it about the dark that made it easier to talk? “I just didn’t . . . don’t know how to bring it up.”
“How about . . . Devin, I miss our witty banter on the long bus rides. Or more accurately: Devin, I miss insulting you at every opportunity.”
She snorted. “You need someone to insult you to keep your head from swelling like a Macy’s parade balloon.”
He reached for her hand and squeezed. “See? I missed this. Give me another one.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t have an arsenal of insults.”
“Damn. ’Cause some of them were really creative. I heard you muttering under your breath last week, callin’ me an arrogant asshat.”
Liberty laughed softly.
“Maybe you’ve built up a store of compliments for me?” he asked hopefully.
“Not any of those either.”
“Double damn.” He swung their joined hands. “So I’ll give you one. Thanks for takin’ bullets for me today.”
“I hope paintballs are the only kind I’ll ever have to take.”
“Me too. But I am gonna drop a note in the suggestion box about not using red paint. Because that f**ked me up. Bad.”
Her too, but she wouldn’t admit that to him.
Once they were locked in the bus, she said, “I’m tired. Think I’ll call it a night.”
Devin looked as if he didn’t believe her.
“I dunno. Five minutes ago you seemed . . . restless.”
She wouldn’t admit to him, either, that being so close to him had her all kinds of revved up. But her usual ways of dealing—booze, sex, grappling—weren’t feasible, so she’d go with option four: playing Call of Duty for a few hours. She faked a yawn. “Sorry. I’m fading fast. I’ll see you in the morning.” Halfway down the hall, she stopped. “Don’t forget to—”
“Leave my door unlocked. Yeah, I know the drill by now.”
Liberty grabbed her pajamas and changed in the bathroom. By the time she finished brushing her teeth, flossing and coating herself with lotion, Devin had turned off all the lights in the front of the bus. She listened at his door, expecting to hear the muted sounds of his TV or guitar, but it was quiet.
Her excitement level was still high when she crawled in her bunk and cracked open her laptop. While she was waiting for the connection, she fluffed her pillows and slipped on her noise-canceling headphones.
Cracking her knuckles might’ve been a little over-the-top, but she kept that superstition before she jumped into the fray.
Ready, set, go.
It was like coming home. Kicking ass and stomping over the dead corpses on her way to empty a rebel safe house. She’d cleared the space of civilians and had tossed in a grenade to keep the rebel forces from returning to reclaim the structure when Devin ripped back the curtain.