Page 25 of Tight

His mouth twitched. “What a sad soul I’d make, hopelessly lost in unrequited love, tied to a girl with a police chief father.”

I tilted my head and took another sip, hiding behind the clouded glass. “It may be reciprocated,” I mumbled.

“What’s that?” His hand gently pushed the glass away.

“Maybe. Maybe I do have feelings for you.”

“Maybe,” he repeated. “Maybe you love me?”

“Yes. Kinda.”

“You can’t kinda love someone.”

“No?” I returned the glass to my mouth for a conversation-stalling sip.

“No. I won’t allow it.” He stood, placing both hands on the table and leaned forward, across the space. Next to him, Dorothy stared at us and clapped excitedly like she was about to win something. “Say it, Riley Johnson, and I’ll march down to the precinct right now and let your dad take a pint of my blood.”

I stood and leaned forward, our mouths whispers away from each other. “Bold words, Mr. Jacobs.”

“I got a whole town of men to fight through.” He grinned. “Say it and let me kiss you.”

Love. Was I ready to say it? How could I not? Wasn’t love what I had been feeling? The breathless high, the tug at my heart, the obsessive want for more of him, all the time, as much as I could get? Wasn’t love the yearn I felt when our phone calls ended, the need I felt as soon as he touched me, the crack of my barriers every time he smiled?

It was, it had to be, and I didn’t stop the words; they flowed like blood, scary and exhilarating all at the same time. “I love you.”

Then, there, in Beverly’s diner, he grabbed the back of my head, claimed my mouth with his kiss, and the restaurant erupted in cheers.

It was a Hollywood moment, one that would make its way down every dirt road in Quincy that night.

We didn’t go to the precinct. For one, it was nine on a Friday night. Dad was at home, his feet already up in the recliner, Mom in her pajamas and rollers. For two, it’d be the most unromantic follow-up to a confession of love in the History of Great Love Stories and Brett’s comment had been, for the most part, made in jest. For three, Brett’s mouth was on my neck, his hand up my shirt, my ass shifting against the car seat as I fought to keep my hands on the wheel. “Brett, let me focus. I’m gonna drive off into the ditch.”

“Would that be so bad? Ditches sound like an excuse to bend you over this hood.” He pulled at the straps of my tank top, and I squirmed when my breasts were exposed.

“Trust me, it’ll lose all sex appeal when we have to call one of my exes to pull us out. That’ll put a hole in your ego.”

He groaned, sitting back in his seat, his hand instead gripping my thigh, his thumb brushing against the denim. “Good point. How many exes do you have in this town?”

I squinted, ticking back through the years. “Well ... I was a hot little ticket in elementary school.”

“I knew it. A loose woman.” He clicked his tongue. “I don’t blame them all for still being crazy about you. If something happens to us, feel free to call me if you’re ever broke down in South Florida. I’ll puff out my chest and drop everything to come to your rescue. And I’ll do my best to steal you from whoever’s heart you happen to—at that point in time—hold.”

“That’s so...” I tilted my head. “Sweet? Creepy? Depressing?”

He laughed. “Sweet. Romantic. Chivalrous.”

“Hmmm.” I slowed, a blinker unnecessary, no souls for miles, and turned down my driveway.

“This is you?” Brett glanced out the window at the house, the front porch light on, the fields around it dark in the night.

“Yep. Home sweet home.”

“Pretty desolate.”

“It’s the country. Everything’s desolate. I’m only three miles from town.”

“You own it?”

“Not really. It’s my grandma’s—was one of their worker’s homes, back when they farmed. I’m sure I’ll inherit it, but for now, I’ve got it as long as I want it. I pay the taxes and repairs on it.”

I pulled to a stop, the headlights shining on the front porch, one that sloped a little to the right, the rusted tin roof giving it an extra layer of character. Brett leaned forward. “Repairs are gonna include a new roof pretty soon.”

“Oooh ... a boat salesman and a roof expert. Looks like I hit the jackpot.” I undid my seatbelt and popped open the door.

Throwing my purse over a shoulder, I grinned at Miller, who had ducked out the doggie door and stood, all four feet flat on the porch, his head low, shoulders hunched, teeth bared. An intimidating protector, as long as the trespasser didn’t have a Milk-Bone in hand.

“Easy Miller.” I moved past Brett. “Wait a second.” I walked up the stairs, crouching next to the black lab, his posture unchanging. Rubbing his back and ears, I cooed to him while beckoning Brett closer. “It’s okay, Miller. Brett is friendly. We love friends, don’t we?” Underneath my hands, his muscles relaxed, his vigilance broken with a giant lick in my direction, the tongue catching me square on the lips. I laughed, wiping my mouth with my forearm and shoving at the dog.

“Am I safe?” Brett asked, coming to a stop at the bottom of the steps.

“You’re safe. Just come say hi so he knows you’re a good guy.”

Brett climbed the steps and crouched beside me, Miller giving him a tentative sniff before leaning into his scratch, one big paw lifting and resting on Brett’s knee. “That’s it?” He chuckled. “I’m in?”

“You’re in. Bring him a bone tomorrow and he’ll be committed for life.”

I stood, brushing off the dog hair and headed to the door, Brett’s hand on my elbow when I opened it. “You don’t lock it?”

“You’ve lived in a big city too long. We all know each other here. And Miller guards the place. If something was up, he’d tell me.”

He frowned at me, his hand still on my elbow, his eyes sweeping over the dark fields before returning to my face. “Lock up. For me. I won’t be able to sleep another night in Lauderdale knowing you’re coming home to an unlocked house.”

I elbowed loose. “Fine. I’ll lock up. I don’t even know where the damn keys are, but I’ll lock up. Happy?”

“Hardly.”

I bit back a response, shutting the door, the one with the giant doggie door on it, one that a man of any size could crawl through. He wanted the door to be locked? Whatever. I set my purse on the counter and flipped on the lamp.

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