Better When He's Bold(6)

By: Jay Crownover



I told her good night and sent a message to my sister to tell her good night as well. Karsen was a good egg, a kid who deserved to make it out of this house unscathed and unscarred from the state the Carters were currently in. She was a small little thing, with the same pale hair I had, but our mom’s brown eyes instead of Dad’s blue like I had. She was as sweet as could be, and when she shot back a smiley face, I finally settled into my routine for the night.

It was while I washed my face and climbed into the shower that I could finally admit that I was lonely, that I was sad, that I was overwhelmed with all the things I was feeling and the battle of always keeping the things churning inside me in check. In the shower I could cry and no one could tell. This wasn’t the life I wanted. This wasn’t where I thought I would be at twenty-one, but I had to adapt, had to change in order to do what was best for everyone, and that was just the way it was going to be. I didn’t have any choice in the matter.

I toweled off, ran a brush through my hair, and climbed into a pair of yoga pants and a tank to sleep in. The adrenaline from everything started to leach out of my system and I finally got to fall onto the mattress face-first. I was letting my eyes drift shut, trying really hard not to relive every flick of Race’s tongue, every scrape of teeth, when my phone lit up with a new message. It was late, and the only person I thought it could be was Karsen, so I bolted upright and swiped a finger over the screen.

It wasn’t from Karsen. It wasn’t from a number I recognized at all. It was five words, no big deal, but the rock that settled in my stomach when I read them told me something was off.

You looked so pretty tonight.

I just stared for a second before answering back.

Who is this?

So sorry I missed you.

What in the hell was that supposed to mean? I asked who it was again, and when I didn’t get a response, I just switched off my phone and tossed it back on the nightstand. I sat there in the dark for a long moment with my pulse thrumming hard and a creepy sense of unease making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I shivered before lying back down on the bed and pulling the covers all the way up over the top of my head.

Talking about “missing” someone when gunshots had been going off wasn’t funny, and I was raw enough not to like it one little bit. I closed my eyes and my brain started to question why exactly Race had pulled me out the back of the house when everyone else had been stampeding toward the front door.

This is why I didn’t have time for a guy like Race. If he had been anyone else, his motivations would have never even been in question. And what had he meant by “you’re the only one I’m worried about”? It was just because he wanted me, liked to play games with me because I was a challenge. But that was it . . . right?

Ugh. I didn’t have the time or the space for any of it. And yet when I finally drifted off, it was his pretty face and his perfect mouth that followed me into dreamland and not the anxiety and apprehension that was gnawing on me after that weird text.





Chapter 2

Race

I PULLED MY FULLY restored and totally tricked out ’66, cherry-red Mustang through the security gates that surrounded the garage that looked like nothing more than a crumbling pile of concrete and rusted metal. If only the outside world knew the treasure trove of monster mechanics that were housed behind the ugly façade. Millions of dollars’ worth of restored muscle cars and sleek foreign imports lined the walls. Some were there to be revitalized and repaired, but most were being housed because I was waiting for their owners to come through on this debt or that loan that they owed me. If the owner didn’t pay up, I kept the car and then let my best friend chop it and turn it over for a tidy little profit.

It was a system that had proven profitable and played to both my and Bax’s strengths. People didn’t like it when you took their ride. It was hard to explain the missing family car to your wife and kids, so my payoff rate was higher than the average number runner and loan shark. Bax had connections upon connections in the world of stolen cars, and when a debtor didn’t come through, it was an easy way to recoup the loss. Besides, I think Bax still needed the thrill of jacking a car now that he was mostly on the straight and living pretty clean. We had a hard-and-fast rule that we never discussed this part of the garage business around my sister.

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