“What,” I said, confused, as the door closed behind me.

Gunner’s grip released my wrist; then his hand slid up to cup my face. The light from the hallway barely gave me enough illumination to see. But I saw Gunner’s face as he leaned into me. I knew what was coming, and my stomach did a flutter of excitement just before his lips landed on mine.

Softly he brushed them back and forth over mine. The gentle touch brought a sigh from me that Gunner used as an opportunity to slip his tongue past my lips to tangle with mine. My hands found his upper arms, and I held on to him or drew him closer. I wasn’t really sure with the fireworks of electricity going off in my head.

This I hadn’t expected, but I didn’t want it to end. The peppermint taste of his gum mingled with mine, and I leaned in closer to breathe him in. His hard chest pressed against me.

Cold air met my now damp, swollen lips. And my eyes flew open to see Gunner stepping back away from me. His eyes were on me with a surprise that I understood because I felt it too. There had been a connection there that made me want to pull closer to him. Soak him in and never let go.

I felt complete.

I was an idiot.

Because just as I thought all of this, Gunner opened the door and left me there. Alone in the dark.

Running off after kissing wasn’t a good sign. It was exactly what I’d done to Brady. Was this my payback? The universe showing me how this feels? Because if this was how Brady felt, I owed him a much bigger apology. This feeling wasn’t one I wanted to repeat. Ever again. Kissing Brady had been nice. Kissing Gunner had rocked my world.

It was Brady who met me by my locker at the end of the day. “Gunner asked if I could give you a ride home. He had something he needed to do before practice.”

His something to do was avoid me. That hurt. A lot.

I nodded and swallowed the lump now forming in my throat. “Okay, thanks. I can walk if you need to get to practice.”

He shook his head. “No. I’ve got plenty time.”

I doubted he had plenty time, but I couldn’t argue because my stomach was in knots. I just wanted to get home. Back to my bedroom. Alone. Where I should have stayed instead of opening up and forming friendships again. Especially with Gunner Lawton.

“You okay?” Brady asked, and I lifted my gaze to meet his. I couldn’t tell him what was wrong with me.

“I’m good,” I said, forcing a smile.

He didn’t look convinced. We walked outside toward his truck with some small talk, and just before we got to his truck, I turned and looked at him.

“Brady,” I said, needing his attention.

He glanced over at me. “Yeah?”

“I’m sorry about running off after you kissed me. That was rude and I . . .” Pausing, I wasn’t sure what my excuse for it was, but I had to say something. “I just wasn’t expecting it, and because we’re friends it scared me.”

A slow smile touched his lips. “That’s okay. Next time though I won’t let you run.”

There wouldn’t be a next time. I knew that because my heart wasn’t in it with Brady. He was a childhood crush and a friend. Nothing more. I knew now what the real thing felt like, and what I’d felt for Brady wasn’t the real thing.

Good Ole Stable Brady

CHAPTER 32

GUNNER

I sat in my truck after practice for thirty minutes, staring at the clock. Ms. Ames had said I could come to her house again tonight, but I wasn’t sure I could face Willa. Not after that kiss. Jesus! That kiss was more than I’d expected. It was terrifying, and I had enough shit in my life right now. I wasn’t prepared for the impact of one simple kiss. My head and heart were not ready for Willa Ames. She scared the hell out of me.

I was going to Brady’s. I’d send him to get Willa in the morning or some shit like that. I needed space from her. It was a dick move, but she had messed with my head. That didn’t fit into my world right now. I had family lies and dirty money and a mother who I never wanted to lay eyes on again.

Willa had been through her own hell, and I wasn’t what she needed. Brady was what she needed. Good ole stable Brady. And I knew he wanted her. That plan sounded like a winner to me. Brady could be her strong shoulder to lean on, and I could go on about my life living through my own mess. No need to add hers to it.

After convincing myself I would be fine if Brady went after Willa, I cranked the truck and headed to the Higgens’ house. Coralee would have cookies and milk. That sounded pretty damn good about now.

Blaring the music as loud as it would go helped drown out my thoughts. Especially thoughts about Willa. She didn’t fit into my world right now. Probably never would. I needed the Kimmies and Serenas of this world. Not the Willas. They were too much. They wanted too much. They needed too much. All of which Brady was good at giving. I had never been that guy, and I never would be. Probably because of my breeding. Hell, I was my grandfather’s son. How fucked up was that?

When I was a kid, I daydreamed about having Brady’s life. His family. I wanted that. It was a fantasy, of course, because that kind of life didn’t live within the Lawton world. We were all pretending. It was what we were trained early to do. Act as if things were perfect.

Well fuck all that. It wasn’t perfect, and my life sucked. I wasn’t pretending like being a Lawton was a good thing. I wasn’t conforming to this bullshit life.

Brady’s truck was in his drive, and so was West’s. He was here for Maggie. They were together all the time. It verged on annoying. No, it was completely annoying.

I hadn’t brought an overnight bag, but I figured I could use Brady’s crap. Wear his clothes. I wasn’t going to that house, and Ms. Ames would have brought my things to her house, but I couldn’t go there, either. I should have called her so she wouldn’t worry, but the fear that Willa might answer kept me from it. Maybe later I’d call. If Willa answered, I’d just ask to speak to Ms. Ames. Act like nothing happened.

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