He again went silent for a few moments. I drank my water and looked up at the stars visible in the night sky. It was peaceful out here away from the party. I could forget my past and focus on the fact I’m alive. Even if it wasn’t fair and I didn’t deserve it. I was here. Breathing and able to see the moon as it lit the night sky. These were things I once didn’t think about or appreciate. I was too busy trying to find happiness in ways that only lead to bad things. Terrible things.

“You’re right,” he finally said. I took my gaze from the moon and gave him my full attention.

“Of course I am. I’m a girl. She’s a girl. I know how we should be treated. What we deserve. And what you deserve. Life is short. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow—as cliché as it sounds, it’s very true. I know.” I paused before I said more. I didn’t want to tell him the hard truths that proved I was right.

He moved so quickly I didn’t have time to register what was happening until the warmth of his lips covered mine and his hand slipped into my hair. Then I was fully aware.

Curiosity won the very mini brief conflict in my head. Brady was a friend, and I wasn’t anyone that someone could have a relationship with. I was damaged beyond repair. But I wanted to taste this. To give the little girl who had thought she loved Brady Higgens a glimpse at what it was like to be touched by him. Then the little girl could move on from that and live her life. My fantasy complete.

His lips were soft but firm as they moved over mine. His fingers tangled in my hair like they wanted to be there. As if they had thought of this moment, and now they would relish it.

I sank into him, craving his warmth and the feel of his skin on mine. Inhaling his scent. The cologne he wore was subtle but attractive. I was sure many girls had clung to him just to get near it. It wasn’t until his tongue slipped past my lips and into the heat of my mouth that I understood the repercussions of what I was allowing.

Brady was here with another girl. He was my friend and could only ever be my friend because I could never be anything more to anyone. I had demons that haunted me and would my entire life. I had a family I wanted to win forgiveness from, and Nonna had said Brady was off limits. She was all I had left, and I couldn’t lose her, too.

Placing both hands on his hard chest, I felt the ache of loss before I pushed away from him. My lips were instantly chilled by the evening air, and I wanted to touch them to hold the warmth there. But I didn’t. This was all the fantasy I could get from Brady Higgens.

I stood up, and without a backward glance, I ran.

Where’s Willa?

CHAPTER 17

GUNNER

Willa was not here. I’d been gone back to the woods with Serena for about thirty minutes.

Now I was back, however, I couldn’t find Willa. Dammit.

“She left with Brady. Went into the woods,” Asa said, walking up to me. He sounded as annoyed as I felt.

I started to ask which direction when I spotted Brady coming out of the woods. Alone.

Not waiting for more information from Asa, I went to meet Brady before he got back into Ivy’s view and she sidled up to him again.

He held a bottle of water in his right hand, so at least he hadn’t been drinking with her. Didn’t help the fact he was back and she wasn’t. He’d better not have left her in the woods.

“Where’s Willa?” I asked with an angry bite in my voice.

Brady turned his eyes to me, and I could see concern there. That calmed my anger down real fast and replaced it with my own worry.

“She okay? Where is she?” I repeated, my voice verging on frantic.

He shrugged and looked back to the woods. “She left. I tried to follow her but lost her. I was hoping she was back here.”

He lost her? What the fuck!

“How the hell did you lose her? Was she fucking running?”

Brady didn’t respond, and my anger was back. Had she been running? From him? I stepped up until I was in his face. “What did you do?” I demanded as my hands balled into fists at my side.

“We had a conversation. She disagreed with me. Then she took off.”

He was lying. His stupid ass made a move on her. I could see it all over his face. “Liar. You fucking kissed her or tried to.”

He didn’t respond, and I knew I’d guessed right.

“Where’veyoubeen?” Ivy ran her words all together, slurring, and now clinging to Brady’s arm to hold her up.

I didn’t have time for her shit either. “Which way did she run?” I demanded.

He looked back at the woods. “She ran to the left from where I’m parked. I hoped she’d come back this way. I followed her trail. But she must have turned and headed for the main road instead.”

Motherfucker!

I took off running in that direction instead of bashing Brady’s face in. He was so damn calm about her being out there in the dark alone. What was he thinking?

“I’ve got to get Ivy home,” he called out after me as if that was an explanation as to why he had let Willa run off alone. I didn’t reply.

I just went after Willa. If she was on the road, I’d find her faster in my truck. Heading toward it, I kept my eyes open for her anywhere in the darkness of the parked vehicles, but there was nothing.

This Place Will Turn on You without Question

CHAPTER 18

WILLA

The red Mustang was fairly new, and the girl with long dark hair driving it seemed safe enough. At least I wasn’t going to have to walk the seven miles or so back to Nonna’s. Although I’d been ready to when the girl pulled up and asked me what I was doing walking in the dark on the deserted road.

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