“She owns this car.” I knocked on the hood of the sickest car ever.
His eyes widened. He hadn’t been expecting that.
“And trust me,” I added. “I know her parents. She’s loaded.”
“Oh.” He nodded, accepting that, which surprised me.
I would’ve thought he’d want to argue just to argue. He seemed the type. Anything I said he’d have to go against, but maybe I was wrong on that.
“As long as you don’t mess with her,” he said. “Bren cares about her. And Bren cares about, like, five people. You get me?”
We shared a long, menacing look. But I got him.
If I hurt Aspen, for whatever reason, that would piss Bren off, and then he and I would have problems.
I was about to tell him to fuck off or that he didn’t need to worry—I hadn’t decided which yet—when another car sped into the gas station.
Cross stiffened. His friends straightened up too, and the tall one came over. “Dude.” His eyes were trained over my shoulder.
Looking, I cursed. Zeke. But before I could even figure how I wanted to play this, since I knew Zeke did not get along with my brother, Jamie came hurrying over.
“Your girl’s freaking,” he said.
“What?” I looked, and Aspen’s face was a white color that didn’t seem good to me. I could see tears rolling down her face.
What the hell?
I remembered how she’d freaked before when she started to tear up. It’d been the one thing that broke her, and she got out of there immediately. Right now her eyes were glued to Zeke’s truck, and as Zeke got out, frowning at us, I could see Mara and Penny climbing out too. And Brian and Branston.
“We can run interference, or I can let Bren handle your girl,” Cross said.
My brother had assessed the entire situation as quickly as I had, and knowing his rep, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Zeke meandered over, his gaze landing on Aspen’s car. “Sweet ride, man. Whose is it?”
His friendly, but cautious grin faded fast when no one answered. “Blaise?”
Aspen didn’t want to deal with them. I could see that.
So I decided. I took her keys and gave them to my brother. “Get her out of my Wagon and drive her somewhere safe. Tell her I’ll call as soon as I get rid of them.” I hesitated, then added, “She doesn’t like people seeing her cry.”
Cross took the keys, his eyebrows shooting up, but he nodded. A second later, we broke away.
I turned to Zeke. “Can we talk inside?”
Jamie seemed to be on my same wavelength because he hollered, “Yo! I gotta show you guys something inside.”
Mara and Penny had started to scowl, eyeing Aspen in my Wagon, but at Jamie’s shout, they smiled. The guys brightened too, and they all went inside the gas station. Zeke watched them a moment before turning back to me. “What’s going on?”
I motioned ahead. “Inside, man. Okay?”
He went with me, but slowly, and he glanced back over his shoulder. As soon as we were heading toward the gas station, I sensed movement behind me. Once we were in, I looked back over my shoulder, and Cross and Bren had Aspen surrounded.
Good. I didn’t know why seeing my friends had put her in a panic, but it had. I’d have to get that figured out as soon as I could. But first, damage control.
Zeke went to grab a soda and water before finding me again. “Okay. Your diversion worked. Whatever chick was in your G Wagon is gone. Want to tell me why you’re wearing that shirt?”
I looked down. “You aren’t pissed?”
He gave me an incredulous look, and then smirked. “Your problem ain’t me. Daniels saw your chick.” He whistled, shaking his head. “You got problems if you’re hoping to get head tonight. I’m sure you could still pull out a finger bang, but not head.” He flashed me a grin and patted my arm before heading to pay for his purchases. “Good luck with that, and just to be clear, we are partying tonight, right?”
I looked back outside. Aspen’s car was gone now, and Cross’ friends were coming inside. Bren and Cross were behind them. I sighed. That meant Aspen had taken off alone.
Zeke was waiting.
“Uh, yeah,” I managed.
I locked eyes with my brother, but he didn’t say or do anything. He stared back for a split second, his face a blank wall. Bren was the same as the other two loaded up on food and beverages before heading to the front to pay. My friends were in the same section. A few smartass comments were exchanged. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Bren and Cross hated Zeke, and they hated anyone who was friends with him. After the insults grew heated, the manager sent Cross’ group packing.
“What a shock.” The tall one whistled, rolling his eyes and grabbing his stuff. “The Roussou kids get targeted once again.”
The manager’s face grew redder by the second. He pointed at the door. “Out, or I’ll call the police.”
At the mention of the Fallen Crest Police, everyone snickered. The force was mostly corrupt, so they were laughingstocks around these parts.
Realizing his mistake, the manager yelled, “Someone get out! I can’t have any damages to my property.”
“Yeah, yeah. We’re leaving,” Cross said. He paid for his and Bren’s items and disappeared out the door.
I had moved behind Jamie in line, still needing to pay for my gas.
Zeke stood beside me, watching them go. He shook his head. “Your brother’s an asshole.”
Cross had never once looked at me again. He and Bren climbed into the back of the truck as the other two took the cab. A second later, they barreled out of here.
I grunted. “Fuck him.” And I meant it. He helped Aspen. He helped Bren. He didn’t do that shit for me.
After we all paid for our stuff, Jamie came with me. The rest went with Zeke. Mara had stood beside me for a minute, and I knew she’d been waiting for a nod or some signal. I gave her nothing. I’d been making out with Aspen moments earlier. It felt wrong to do anything with Mara. And I knew she would’ve done anything I wanted, despite what Zeke said. That’s just how Mara was.
After getting in my Wagon, I texted Aspen.
Me: You okay?
I was on my second night camping, and had some distance from the whole gas station debacle now, but I couldn’t shake the Owens. Those are my blues, when I’m sad.
I’d freaked out at the gas station because of Blaise. He was so intense, so right there, so in my face. He cared. He actually, seriously cared, and I’d fallen apart. Then as I’d watched how he faced off against his brother, I was amazed. I couldn’t believe that was his brother, because I knew his brother. I’d met his brother. I’d met his brother’s whole group, and Bren. I remembered her. She was nice.
They’d been in the woods at a bonfire one time when someone called the cops. I helped them out, though one guy had been mean to me.
But back to Blaise.
He’d been pissed that I spent time alone, but I hadn’t had time to explain that I preferred to be alone. Some people are just loners. Since Owen died, that was me. Life was easiest this way, and I’d made my peace with it. I’d accepted it. I’d probably never date or have someone love me, and that was okay. For real.
But then there he was, getting angry—not at me, but for me.
I’d felt myself swooning all over again, and then Blaise’s friends drove up. They were a splash of cold water. I saw Mara looking at me, and there was such sadness in her eyes.
Mara Daniels was gorgeous.
I knew she had a history with Blaise, current history, actually, and if she was looking at me like that, what hope did I have? I already was crushing on him, and now? Now I was gone.
Hook, line, sinker. Actually, I’d already been hooked and lined. I’d just sunk. Kerplop. All the way to the bottom of the ocean. There I was, falling for him.
He was so hot facing off against his brother. And his brother was hot too, but Blaise was hotter than hot. He had this golden, rich-prick aura around him that I knew shouldn’t have made him hotter, but it did because it made him a badass too. Dangerous.
I shivered, remembering how it felt to touch him, be pressed up against him. And man, I had the Owens again because I couldn’t go there.
But because I apparently wanted to make myself even more Owens, I pulled up the text messages.
Blaise: You okay?
No. No, I wasn’t. But I hadn’t replied to him.
Thirty minutes later:
Blaise: Can you let me know if you’re alive?
Five minutes later:
Two minutes later:
Blaise: You scared to text? Or should I start calling hospitals? I’ll do it.
And to that, I had to respond.
Me: I’m camping. I’m fine.
He didn’t reply for five very long minutes.
Blaise: Good to know.
I sighed, replying after that because I was a sucker for punishment.
Me: I freaked. It’s hard to talk.
Blaise: I get that, but I was worried.
Me: I’m not used to people worrying.
Blaise: Well, that’s fucked up. Even my non-bio dad who hates me would worry.
Me: That’s…fucked up too? I dunno.