Misty’s eyes shift left and right, looking at all the people watching the scene unfold, her cheeks pink and mouth agape as she pants in embarrassment.
“I never fucking touched you, and I regret the two dates I was stupid enough to take you out on before I realized what a toxic woman you are. Leave. My woman. Alone. Do you understand me?”
She finally finds her voice, sneers at Josh, and tosses her hair over her shoulder in Misty fashion. “Best thing that ever happened to you?” she asks incredulously. “Bullshit. Look at her. She’s nothing but a fat, ugly bitch!”
“Ignore her,” Zack whispers in my ear as he wraps his arm around my shoulders. “You’re gorgeous.”
Before Josh can respond, Lauren stands, sending her chair crashing behind her, her eyes flashing in anger.
“Shut the fuck up, Misty! The only ugly bitch here is you. I’m so done with your bullshit. Give it a damn rest!”
Misty’s mouth opens and closes in shock, and she watches in horror as Lo marches from behind the table and over to me, pulls me into a hug that shocks the shit out of me, and smiles down at me before stalking away from the scene. As I watch her go, I spy Ty leaning against a tree, watching her go as well, his eyes narrowed and jaw clenched. He looks back over at me and raises his eyebrows, and I just shrug back at him.
“Well, I never!” Misty exclaims, but is drowned out as people begin to clap and whoop and holler.
It seems everyone is sick of Misty’s shit.
Josh turns back to me as Zack lets his arm drop and backs away. Josh cups my face in his hands and kisses me long and slow, his lips soft, claiming me in front of all of these people.
“You’re staying with me this weekend.”
“I can’t. I have to be here all weekend.”
“I’ll cover for you, dear.” Mrs. Baker winks at me, her eyes sparkling with humor. “You should be with your man.”
Josh kisses my cheek and then whispers into my ear, “You’re staying with me.”
He scoops me into his arms and carries me off, garnering more applause and whistles.
I smile up at him and shake my head. “Caveman.”
His eyes grow serious and he shakes his head sharply. “I love you. It’s about time everyone knows it and respects it. I won’t have anyone telling you lies about me, or about what I feel for you.”
“I knew it was all lies, babe.” I kiss his cheek and then rest my head on his shoulder. “But you can carry me around whenever you’d like.”
“Get used to it.”
* * *
“Wake up, baby.”
I’m pleasantly warm, cocooned in Josh’s blankets.
And in Josh.
My brain clears enough to realize that I’m waking up with Josh still in bed, naked, wrapped around me.
“Carolina,” he croons to me, kissing my neck and shoulder, his hand roaming up and down my side. “Wake up.”
“You’re here,” I murmur, and turn to face him.
“Where else would I be?” he asks with a grin and drags his fingertips down my cheek to my neck.
“I’ve never woken up with you before.” He brushes his thumb over my chin and then leans in to plant a soft kiss on my lips. “This feels so good.”
“You have to wake up.” He kisses me softly again, pushes his fingers into my hair at the nape of my neck, rubbing rhythmically.
“Why? What time is it?”
“Five.” He winces as my eyes widen.
“Are you waking me up to say good-bye before you go do your morning work?” I sigh as he continues to massage my neck.
“No, I took the weekend off.” He smiles softly, his dimple winking at me, as he leisurely rubs the tip of his nose over mine.
“How is that possible?”
“I need some time with you.”
“Okay,” I whisper.
“Good.” He smiles down at me. “Because I have something to show you.” He kisses my shoulder.
“I’ve seen that before,” I remind him with a laugh.
“Not that.” He laughs. “Let’s go.”
“But this is so nice,” I pout, and tighten my arms, trying to keep him still, but he easily pulls away and rolls out of bed. “We should stay here and take advantage of this soft bed and our lack of clothing.”
“Come on, up. It’ll be worth it.” He grins again and winks. “We’ll finish this later.”
“Promise?” I yawn, sit up, and let the covers fall around me.
“I promise.” He pulls his jeans up over his hips. “Hurry, or we’ll miss it.”
“What is it?” I ask, curious now, and pull on my own clothes.
“You’ll see. Come on.”
He pulls me out of the house and to the barn, where Magic is waiting with Louie, wearing a bridle and a blanket draped over her back.
“Mornin’,” Louie murmurs, and smiles down at me.
“Do you people ever sleep?” I ask incredulously, earning laughs from both men.
“Not much.” Louie hands the reins over to Josh. “See you on Monday, boss.”
“Up you go.” Josh lifts me easily onto Magic’s back, then swings himself up effortlessly.
“That was kind of hot.” I lean my head back so I can look up at him and smile.
“You’re easy to please, honey.” He kisses my cheek and urges Magic along, out of the barn and across the pasture.
The air is cool in the early morning and dew covers the tall grass brushing my feet. It smells clean, woodsy, as I take a deep breath and inhale it all, the forest ahead, the horse, and the sexy man curved behind me.
“Lean on me, baby. We have about a thirty-minute ride ahead of us.”
“Can I nap?”
“You do enjoy your sleep, don’t you?” he asks wryly.
“Doesn’t everyone?” I ask with a frown.
I lean back, my head resting on his shoulder, and he kisses my cheek, his arms wrapped loosely around my waist, the reins in his fists.
The rhythm of the horse soothes me, but I don’t sleep. We ride in silence, and as twilight breaks overhead, casting everything in gray and blue, Josh stops Magic near a tall maple tree in the middle of a field. The mountains are ahead, dark in shadow, and as we sit on the horse, Josh wrapped around me, the sun begins to rise, sending a riot of color down over the mountains.
Red, orange, and yellow bleed through the sky, interrupted only by a few white clouds.