Did you kill Cassie? the voice said from behind me.
Spinning around, I tried to breathe. Faces blurred. My vision darkened at the corners. Tremors ran up my legs. I was going to pass out here, in front of everyone. How lame…
A strong hand found mine in the mess of people and squeezed gently. That scent—his scent—surrounded me. I inhaled deeply, expanding my lungs. I lifted my head, and my eyes met startling blue eyes.
Carson looked grim. “You want to get out of here?”
In Carson’s father’s old red pickup truck, which smelled faintly of cigars, I pressed back into the seat and continued breathing deeply, hands clasped against my stomach. My pulse had finally started to slow down.
“If I had known what was going on, I would’ve come inside sooner,” Carson said quietly.
I swallowed. “It’s not your…your problem, and it’s okay.”
“It shouldn’t be your problem, and it’s not okay.” He reached over, gently pulling my hands free. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” I let out a shaky breath. “I think I was having a panic attack. I thought I heard…”
“Heard what?” His hand smoothed over mine, then folded over it.
When he was touching me like that, I’d probably admit just about anything. I turned my head toward him. A fine current of electricity shimmed between us. “I thought someone asked me if I’d killed Cassie, but I was…hearing things.” Forcing a weak laugh, I looked out the window. Kids streamed out the barn doors. Del was among them. “Or maybe some of them do think I killed her.”
“They don’t think that.”
I shot him a dull look. “It’s not like I’m a fan favorite here—then or now.”
His lips twitched. “Well, if they do think it, then they’re idiots.” He let go of my hand and started the truck. It rumbled to life. “So, want me to take you home? Or do you want me to go get Scott for you?”
“Actually, do you have plans? I was wondering if you’d like to do something with me today.”
He arched a brow. “The answer is yes and always, probably for a very long time, too.” His gaze dropped to my lips. “But unless you’ve kicked Del the Dick to the curb, I’m going to have to refuse.”
My cheeks burned, and my stomach warmed at his teasing. “Um, that’s not what I’m asking, but good to know.”
“Hmm. It wasn’t?” Carson’s lips spread into a half grin. “So what were you asking?”
Images of us together occupied my mind for a couple more seconds. “I was wondering if you would take me up to the cliff.”
“I can do that.” Carson shifted the gears. His hand brushed along my thigh, and I jerked at the contact. “But you probably want to change first.”
The images were still there, in a lot more detail than before. Us kissing. Touching. Talking.
Carson slid me a look. A knowing, smug grin split his lips. “Sam.”
I blinked. “Change of clothes. Got it.”
He chuckled as he shifted gears again, grazing my leg with the side of his hand. I doubted it was accidental. Then he threw his arm over the back of my seat and turned his head toward me. Because I was staring at him, the movement put us within kissing distance. My heart leaped into my throat. For a moment, I thought he was going to say “screw the good-guy thing” and go for it. A second later I realized he was backing up.
Carson met my eyes and winked. I let out the breath I was holding, so aware of him that I felt as if I’d climb out of my skin at any second. And he knew it. That smug half grin was on his face the whole way to my house.
I snuck in and quickly changed into hiking-appropriate clothing. The house seemed empty, but I didn’t stick around to find out, doubtful that either of my parents would’ve been down with me hanging out with Carson.
We stopped at his house, and he changed out of his dress clothes. Returning in under two minutes, he’d thrown on a pair of jeans and a light sweater.
The trip to the state forest was bumpy. The truck rocked, and my phone slipped out of my fingers, falling to the floorboard. Reaching down, my hand knocked into something soft, and I grabbed it with my phone.
It was a hat—the black baseball cap I’d seen him wear before.
An image of the man in the woods flashed before me. He’d been wearing a black cap, but that…that was only a memory or a stress-induced hallucination. It couldn’t be…
“Your hat?” I said hoarsely.
Carson glanced at me, brows raised. “Yeah, had it for years.”
I put it on the dashboard, quickly dismissing the irrational fear. As we drove up the narrow dirt road, I glanced at him. “I tried to talk to Del before Veronica turned on me.”
He gave me a sidelong glance. “Sam, I don’t want to be the reason why you leave him.”
“You’re not,” I said honestly. “Things aren’t the same between Del and me, and that has nothing to do with you.”
“Okay.” One of his fingers tapped on the steering wheel. “Has he told you anything about your relationship?”
I shook my head. “Other than our relationship was perfect? No.”
Carson let out a choked laugh. “He said that? Wow.”
“What?” My interest was immediately piqued.
“Your relationship was far from perfect.” Turning onto a gravelly, bumpy road put us right into direct sunlight. He reached over, grabbed the baseball cap, and slid it on. “You guys were like Cassie and Trey, fighting all the time.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yep.” He squinted, making a sharp right. “You guys didn’t break up like Trey and Cassie did all the time, but you two fought like crazy.”
I slumped back against the seat. Del had lied to me, and I’d believed him—believed in this perfect, fairy-tale romance. Feeling stupid, I glared out the window. There were more than enough signs that things weren’t perfect. The looks the girls gave me, the times Del had slipped up.
“You doing okay over there?” he asked.
My hands balled into fists. “I’m pissed! It’s bad enough that I don’t remember anything, but lying to me? He took advantage of me. I feel like an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot, Sam.”
Pressing my lips together, I shook my head. Maybe I wasn’t stupid, but I’d been incredibly naive. How many more people were lying to me? And about what? About things that were far more serious than the status of my relationship with Del, no doubt. My chest ached at all the possibilities. What if I was a murderous teenage brat and all the signs had been there? And no one wanted to tell me?