“I can’t explain it, but being with Asher makes me feel different.”
She stares at the ceiling and shakes her head.
“And Beau’s the guy who used to come stay with you every time you were sick. He’s the guy who took you to prom when you didn’t have a date. Don’t turn your back on that because you never know when you’ll need him again; when he might need you again, Kate. Friends like that are rare.”
“Mom—” A knock at the door brings our attention to the door. “Look, I’ve got to go. We can talk about this again later.” I grab my purse and head for the door before my mom has any time to sink her teeth into Asher. I would love for her to get to know him so she can see what I’ve seen, but it won’t work if all she sees in my future is Beau.
“Are you in a hurry?” he asks, after I slam the front door.
I skip down the stairs, only looking back once to make sure my mom isn’t following. “I’m just excited to go fishing again.” I say, opening the passenger door.
“Are you okay?” he asks, drawing one of his eyebrows up.
“I haven’t felt this good in a long time.” I turn and smile at him as he turns the ignition. He shakes his head at me and links his hand with mine.
The drive to the lake is short and quiet. I’m trying to center my emotions, and Asher’s probably trying to figure out what exactly is going on inside my head. I don’t even know if I could answer myself. My mom made me feel like crap for letting someone other than Beau into my life. I love Beau, but Asher’s who I need right now.
“Are you going to get out of the car?” Asher asks, interrupting my thoughts.
I look at him. “How long have we been sitting here?”
“Long enough for me to see how cute you are when you’re daydreaming.” He smiles.
I turn my face so that he won’t see the slight blush in my cheeks. Asher Hunt is always keeping me on my toes. “Let’s go fish before you start reading my mind.” I listen to him laugh as I exit the car and walk toward the lake.
As we approach the lake, he points to an old boat on the side of the dock. “We’re taking that today.”
“We’re actually fishing on a boat this time?” I ask, staring at the beat up fishing boat with nothing but two seats inside.
“Fuck yeah, my dad said we could use it as long as we brought it back in one piece,” he replies, placing the fishing poles and tackle box in the boat.
Looking at the boat again, I can’t help but laugh. I don’t think the boat is even in one piece as it sits tied to the dock. Asher climbs in first, holding his hand out for me to climb in. The way the boat wiggles back and forth when I put my first foot in makes me hesitate, but Asher grabs my h*ps and lifts me until I’m standing next to him.
“I won’t let anything happen to you.” He kisses me before turning to untie the knots that hold the boat in place.
I carefully sit down on one of the two seats and watch his muscles flex under his tight grey t-shirt. It’s a nice distraction from the pile of lumber we’re about to take out into the middle of the water. It’s been cloudy and windy all day with temperatures hovering in the sixties. My grandpa used to call this perfect fishing weather, but I fail to see the perfection.
“Ready?” Asher asks, wiping his hands on his jeans.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
He grins at my reluctance and points. “There’s a life jacket under each seat, but my job is to make sure you don’t need one.”
“Have you taken this thing out by yourself before?” I ask, biting nervously on my nail.
“Kate, trust me,” he says, giving me a warning look.
“It’s not you I have issues with . . . it’s the boat.”
He shakes his head and turns back to the rope that keeps the boat connected to the dock. Deep down, I know he wouldn’t be taking me out on the lake if he couldn’t return me to shore in the same condition.
He pushes away from the dock and takes his seat, grabbing the two oars that rest along the side of the boat. This thing doesn’t even have an engine!
“Do you want me to help you get this thing going?” I ask, watching him as he starts to move his arms back and forth, moving us further and further into the water.
“I got it,” he says with a smile, never taking his eyes off me. The way he looks at me makes warmth pool in my stomach. The more I’m around Asher, the more I realize he could really hurt me if things didn’t end well between us.
“So, who’s going to catch more fish today?”
“I didn’t know it was a contest,” I reply, tucking some loose strands of my dark hair behind my ears.
“Everything with me is a contest. It’s the only way I can motivate myself to do anything,” he says, letting his lips turn up on one side.
I sit forward, resting my elbows on my knees so that my body is a little closer to his. “Oh yeah? What other contests do we have going on that I don’t know about?”
He stops moving his arms and pulls the oars into the boat. I glance around and notice we are already in the center of the lake; the boat feels so much smaller, and so much more vulnerable out here.
He sits forward and grabs my chin between his index finger and thumb. “We’re also going to see who can steal the most kisses today,” he growls, brushing his lips against mine, “I already have the lead. And I don’t like to lose.”
My heart is racing as he sits back in his seat and grabs the oars again. His cocky grin and the way he runs his tongue over his bottom lip before pulling it between his teeth are enough to spin my hormones out of control. He laughs and shakes his head. That boy . . . he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Let’s catch some fish. I think this is a good spot,” he says, throwing a metal anchor into the water. “My dad says this is the best location, so let’s test that theory and see how right he is.”
My fears about the boat have started to dwindle; it seems to be okay as long as we don’t move too much. Asher doesn’t even ask me if I want to put a worm on my own hook this time. He just does it and hands me my pole, loaded with the bobber and all. His hand brushes against mine when I grab for the handle, sending a tingle up my arm. It doesn’t get past Asher because a dimple-bearing smile lights up his face as he reaches for his own pole.
“Do you want to make a bet?” he asks out of the blue.
“It depends on what kind of bet you want to make, Mr. Hunt,” I smile. He has this way of making me think of nothing but him. I kind of rather like when he takes over that part of me.
“Well, Miss Alexander, I think the person who catches the most fish should get a little prize.”
“And what’s the prize?” I ask, watching the glimmer in his blue eyes.
“Winner’s choice.” He shrugs. The smile falls from my face as I think about what he probably wants from me if he wins. I’m not ready for anything more than what I’ve given him. I don’t know if I ever will be.
“Hey, come back to me. What are you thinking about?” he asks, running his thumb across my cheek.
I lean into his touch and take a deep, cleansing breath. “I’m sorry. I just get lost in my thoughts sometimes.”
“When I wagered that bet, I didn’t mean whatever it is that you’re thinking,” he whispers, lowering his hand from my face.
“Not everyone is out to get you, Kate. I’m not the guy who needs to make bets in order to get something like that from a girl,” he says, his eyes searing into mine like a blade.
I glance up at the grey skies to pull my eyes away from him. “You don’t know my whole story. You wouldn’t understand it even if I told you.”
“Even if I don’t understand, I can listen,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Then tell me why you’re really in Carrington because I don’t believe all this simple life bullshit, Asher,” I say, not even trying to control my growing temper anymore.
“You know what? Let’s forget I mentioned listening, or any of the other shit, and just fish. The person who catches the least amount of fish gets to paddle this boat back to the dock.” He doesn’t wait for me to reply before turning back to look over the side of the boat. I don’t know how he expects me to open up to him if he can’t seem to do it himself.
I find my bobber floating above the water and focus my eyes on it. When I finally glance over at him, his shoulders are visibly tense. I’m starting to resent myself because I always turn his sweet gestures and teasing into something it’s not.
“Well, it looks like we’re both going to lose,” I say, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
He turns his head in my direction. “The way this is going, I’d say you’re probably right,” he says. The serious expression on his face makes me feel as though we may not be referring to the fish anymore.
For a long time, I’ve made myself believe that it’s okay to push all the people who care about me away. I did it to most of my high school friends, although now that I look back on it, I don’t think they were ever true friends to begin with. And Beau . . . well, I’ve had him dangling off the edge of a cliff for over two years, and he’s still holding on for dear life.
I still haven’t quite figured out where Asher fits in. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m more free and happier when I’m with him than when I’m without him.
Something cold hits my nose like a dagger breaking me from my thoughts. Darker clouds have moved in and I notice pouring rain off in the distance. This is one situation I never envisioned myself being stuck in. I can’t even stand being locked away in my room when it rains much less out in the middle of the lake trapped in a small boat that requires paddling to get us from one point to another.
Drops of water start to fall more frequently and it feels as if someone has sucked the air right out of me. My mind takes me back and I feel Drew’s repulsive fingers all over my body again. I hear his voice yelling things at me that I’ll never forget. I smell him . . . even through the scent of rain and lake water. I pinch my eyes closed, place my hands over my ears and bury my head between my knees, letting my tears mix with the water pooled on the floor of the boat. The rain is falling so hard on my back that I don’t realize that a hand is gently moving up and down my spine.