I am so excited to share with you a sneak peek from my upcoming book, Give You Up, set in the same world as my Kiss Starter Series. Welcome back to Dumas University!
It’s hotter than what I’m used to for June. Sweat beads along my upper lip. My bangs stick to my skin. I fan my face, thankful for wide brim straw hats, bikinis and flip flops. It’s what I’ve been living in for the past week.
“Doing okay, kiddo?” I tip up my hat and glance down at the little boy next to me. We’re standing in line for my little brother’s newest favorite ice cold treat, Hawaiian shaved ice.
“I know, sweetie.” I remove my sunglasses. His cheeks are flushed. “Why don’t you wait on that bench?” I point to the spot in the shade beneath an awning.
“Are you sure? Your mouth and tongue will turn blue.”
Walking backward with his hands shoved in the pockets of his khaki shorts, he sticks out his tongue. Smurf blue, leftover from yesterday. Awesome. I laugh. He smiles.
God, I love that kid.
The line moves and soon I’m next. The lady behind the counter, her eyes light up.
“Yes, thank you.”
She rings up my order, and I hand her cash, my attention sliding to Gunner. He is sitting on the bench with his hands clasped on his lap and his legs hanging off the edge. He swings them, looking cute and carefree as can be.
The lady looks where I’m looking. “He’s a good kid. How old is he?”
“Five. He starts kindergarten in the fall.” She hands me my change and I drop them in my bag.
“Where are you two from?”
“He lives with his dad in San Diego. I live in Washington state.”
She starts the ice machine and Gunner hops off the bench and runs over, the sweltering heat forgotten in his enthusiasm. He loves watching her shape the ice and then pour the flavoring, the color bleeding into the ice until there’s nothing left of the white. I pick him up by the waist and prop him on the counter.
This boy is excited for that first bite. Sweet. Cold. Cooling. Hopefully, he takes it easy. Brain freezes are not fun. The first time he had one, Gunner’s face reminded me of my friend, Gwen’s, bitter beer face.
After the lady is done pouring the flavoring, she sticks a spoon in the ice and hands Gunner his treat. He runs back to the bench. Picking up on the vibe that she has more to say to me, I hang around but keep the conversation short. More customers show up, a man and a woman, from their shadows. He’s tall with wide shoulders. She’s slender and her hair is in a topknot.
“What part of Washington are you from? My daughter is looking at a college in Dumas.”
“That must be Dumas University. It’s the only college in Dumas. That’s where I go. I’m in my last year.”
“What a small world! Do you like it?”
“How’s the weather?”
“She likes cooler. It’s too hot here for her.”
Here is Bayside, an island off the coast of Southern California. This “family trip” is my father’s idea. I normally don’t go along with Beau’s ideas, but he wanted to help me celebrate my monumental twenty-first birthday in style. The main reason I agreed though is having more time with my little brother. Gunner is the best thing to come out of our attempts at becoming a family since I found out four years ago Beau is my biological father.
“So you recommend?”
“Highly.” In the corner of my eye, a glob of blue ice slides down Gunner’s chin. I grab a napkin. “It was nice meeting you. I should go. His dad is waiting for us.”
“Will you be back tomorrow? My daughter would love to hear more.”
I give her an apologetic smile. “Today’s our last. I hope your daughter looks into DU more. Thanks again.”
I move out of the line and make my way to Gunner. His attention drops to the napkin in my hand. Understanding his dad well for a five-year-old, Gunner hops off the bench and tips up his face. I dab at the blue flavoring.
“Clean. Dad will be happy.” I plant a kiss on Gunner’s forehead. His tongue and lips can be stained blue but not his face. Beau Huntington adores his only son’s face and would rather perfection remain flawless. His words.
“Yes, kiddo?” I mirror his whisper.
“That guy’s giving you a mean look.”
They’re looking at you. They’re staring. Why do they stare? Why do they look? That’s what Gunner said when we made the dumb mistake of going past the shaved ice shack and into town. With as progressive as the world has become and the progress women have made with regards to their bodies, face piercings and sleeve tattoos shouldn’t be an issue.
I was wrong. The people that live in or visit Bayside are conservative, stuffy and snobby. They peered down their noses at me. Gave me a wide berth. Looked at Gunner with wonder and me with disdain as though I’m a trouble maker underserving of my baby brother’s angelic face.
We didn’t go back into town after that.
I straighten and look where Gunner is looking. It’s the couple that was behind me in line. She’s beautiful, a slim, tall redhead that looks great in a strapless blue and yellow dress. Put that same dress on me and I would be mistaken for a teenage boy with my straight as a board body, nonexistent breasts, and short hair.
My attention swings to the guy next to her. His eyes lock with mine, and I suck in a quiet breath, never imagining that in a million years, I would run into my ex-boyfriend in front of a frigging shaved ice shack.
Taron Vaughn. Eyes so dark it’s like staring up at the starless night sky. Hair the shade of my favorite hour, midnight. I haven’t seen him in four years, and he is taller, more muscular, and from how he fills out his simple white t-shirt and jeans, more man than boy.
His gaze bores into mine. Unspoken questions hang in the air between us as this palpable crackling of electricity like lightning in a heat storm. Gunner slides his hand in mine. The woman with Taron sets her hand on his arm.
He and I continue to look at one another. We’re adversaries wondering what the hell is wrong with the universe that it put us here. Wrong place, wrong time. Or right place, wrong time? One thing I’m certain of, this is not the time or the place for catching up.
Without a word to him, I hurry Gunner out of there. From the looks of it, Taron has moved on with his life and . . . I glance down at the boy staring up at me with questions on his cute-as-a-pie face, I’ve moved on too.
Then why is my heart breaking all over again like it did when I kissed a boy that wasn’t Taron?