She nods and grins. Her cheeks are pink from the cold air.
“Are you too cold?” I cup her cheek in my hand.
“No, I’m just right. We should invite Jill to come with us to the pumpkin patch.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do, take my little sister along on a date.”
Lo slaps my arm and scowls at me. “Be nice. It’s the pumpkin patch, not a date.”
“Easy, slugger.” I offer her my most charming smile. “Every day is a date with you.”
“That was really cheesy, Ty.” She rolls her eyes.
“A bit too much?”
“Just a smidge.”
“Oh, hey, Lauren.” Our heads turn to see Jack, holding hands with Misty, Lo’s former friend and the bitch of all bitches.
I look down at Lo to catch her reaction. Her eyebrows climb on her forehead and then she pastes a fake smile on her lips. “Hello.”
“I was sorry to hear about your pool.” Jack’s lips curl, evidence that he’s not sorry at all. “I know how much you love it.”
“Aww, poor Lo can’t swim.” Misty offers a fake pout and then the two laugh together.
“It can be fixed.” Lo shrugs and tilts her head, watching them scornfully. “You both look like you could use a swim. Have you gained a few pounds, Misty?”
Misty gasps and glares at Lauren. “You know I work hard every day to stay in shape.”
“Don’t worry, baby”—Jack wraps his arm around Misty—“she’ll get what’s coming to her.”
“Are you threatening her?” I step toward him and get in his face, nose to nose.
“Ty, it’s okay.” Lo pulls on my arm.
I stand firm. “No. It’s not.”
“You might want to listen to her. There are a lot of people watching, and I’ll press charges if you so much as touch me.” Jack’s eyes are crazy, staring into my own. I back away from him, and just as we’re about to walk away, Jack just can’t keep his mouth shut.
“So”—Jack looks over at me and looks me up and down scornfully. I want to punch him so bad I can taste it—“how does it feel to fuck my sloppy seconds?”
Lo’s grip on my hand tightens and I want with all of my being to tackle this smug-faced motherfucker to the ground and make him bleed, long and hard. To feel the satisfaction of my knuckles breaking his nose.
But I can’t. The last thing I need is this pussy pressing charges for assault.
Misty has begun to laugh, finding Jack to be the funniest thing she’s ever seen.
Lauren’s eyes glimmer as she turns them to Misty and, steady as can be, says, “I could ask you the same question.”
Atta girl. I smile down at her and kiss her temple.
She grins up at me. I’m relieved that despite being afraid of Jack in the past, she doesn’t allow him to bully her.
“Also, I do believe you’re violating the protection order that I filed. I know you received it. You’re not allowed to come near me, or my property.”
Both Jack and Misty lose their smiles and glare at both of us.
“You used to be so much better than this,” Misty spits out.
“Better than what?” Lo asks.
“Better than the bitch you are now.” Misty flips her hair behind her shoulder.
“No, I was a doormat before, Misty. I’m never going to be that again.”
“Just pay me my money,” Jack sneers. “I don’t give a shit about anything else.”
“Wow, you two are just perfect for each other,” Lo murmurs. “But then again, assholes should stick together. We have better things to do than waste our time with you.” She looks up at me and grins. “Let’s keep shopping.”
“After you.” I kiss her hand and follow her around a pissed Jack and Misty toward the heart of the market, where a band is set up on the stage, playing country music.
“I feel nothing for him.” She sighs. “It’s sad to me.”
“Yeah. I once loved him with everything in me, and now when I look at him, I feel just . . . emptiness. Nothing.” She shrugs and glances up at me with worried eyes. “How is that possible?”
“It’s not just a matter of falling out of love with someone, Lo. He is cruel to you. I suspect he has been for a long time.”
She just nods, and I want so badly to march back there and beat Jack bloody.
Instead, I pull Lo close to my side, my arm wrapped around her back and hand resting on her hip. We nod and wave at the people we know, and Lo buys a jar of huckleberry jam before we walk closer to the stage.
“I love this song,” she murmurs with a small smile.
“Blake Shelton fan, are you?”
“Have you seen his dimples? He’s hot.” She shrugs and bats her eyes up at me.
“Come on, smart-ass.” I tug her to the grass before the stage, set our bags down, and pull her in my arms. We sway back and forth and she begins to sing along under her breath, more than a little off-key, to “Mine Would Be You.”
“Mine is you, Lo.” I kiss her temple and ignore the stares and smiles of our community as they watch us dance across the grass.
“Everyone is watching,” she murmurs, but doesn’t pull away.
“I don’t give a shit. Let them watch.”
She relaxes her tall, lean body against me and the music carries us away. Before long, other couples, young and old, join us.
When the song ends, Lo cups my face in her hands and pulls me down for a soft kiss, which shocks the shit out of me, but I definitely don’t complain or try to pull away.
“Let’s go home.”
I grab our bags and Lo takes my hand, leading me toward the bridge.
“It’s dark, sweetheart.”
“The city installed lights over the bridge. There were too many kids getting into trouble at night, so it’s all lit up now.”
“How do you know this?”
“It’s my bridge.” She shrugs as we follow the path to the bridge, walking side by side and hand in hand. When we get to the center of the bridge, she stops and looks over the side; her hair fans around her face and she takes a long, deep breath. “I love it here.”
She glances up and smiles. The music from the band in the park drifts to us in the cold fall night. “You’re not looking at the water.”
“I’m looking at exactly what I love about it.”