We came to a stop at a dead end blocked off with a chain and a weathered sign that marked the property private.
Carson killed the engine and sat back, looking at me. “There’s a trail that actually leads straight from your parents’ house to the cliff. I only know from helping Dad do stuff around the summer home. You could’ve made it at night, though.”
Looking around and seeing nothing but thick wilderness, it was hard to imagine wandering around here at night and not getting eaten by a bear. “Who owns it?”
“The state, I guess. Not really sure, but you and Scott used to hang out up here a lot when you were younger.” He paused. “I would tag along when your parents let me. You used to love to stand on the edge of the cliff. Freaked me and Scott out.”
I smiled faintly. “So this place meant something to me?”
“I think so.”
Reaching for the handle to open the door, I drew in a deep breath. “Ready?”
“Can you wait a sec?” Carson asked, pulling off the cap. He ran a hand through his hair, then tossed the hat onto the dashboard. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Dismay stirred inside me, and my heart dropped all the way to my toes. Nothing good came from statements like that. Letting go of the handle, I twisted toward him. “What?”
He stared straight ahead, eyes narrowed and jaw clenched. “I haven’t been completely honest with you about some things.”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out except a ragged breath. The ache was back in my chest, but different this time. It was centered over my heart, raw and worried like an overexposed wound. Part of me didn’t want to know what he hadn’t been truthful about, but I couldn’t—wouldn’t—run from this. Squaring my shoulders, I braced myself for whatever he was about to say.
“Okay,” I finally said. “Tell me.”
His gaze slid toward me. “Remember when I told you that you were my first kiss?” When I nodded, he let out a long breath. “Well, you were also my last kiss.”
I cocked my head to the side, unsure I heard him correctly. Out of everything I was expecting him to say, that wasn’t even near the bottom of the list. “Come again?”
Carson’s lips twitched into a tiny half smile that quickly faded. “I saw you the night you disappeared.”
Forcing myself to not climb across the seat and throttle him, I gripped my knees as anger pricked at my skin. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s complicated. And I know…I know that’s not a good-enough excuse. I told the police, so I’m surprised that they never told you.” He looked away, working the muscle in his jaw. “But what happened between us…”
I sucked in a sharp breath. Between us could mean only a few things. If he’d lied to me about that…well, the pressure building in my throat and behind my eyes said enough. “What happened?”
“I was hanging around with Scott, watching a movie down in the basement. It was close to ten when I left. The house was completely dark. I don’t even think your dad was home. I headed out the back way, through the sunroom, just in case your mom was roaming around. I didn’t see you at first.” His forehead creased as he ran the tips of his fingers down his face. “I heard you—you were sitting on one of those damn window seats, crying. I should’ve turned and went in the other direction, but I couldn’t walk away. Not when you were crying.”
My fingers loosened around my knees as some of the tension eased off. Carson wasn’t the kind of guy who could walk away from a crying girl. Recalling what I did know about that night, I felt a sour taste in my mouth. “I was with Del until nine.”
Carson nodded slowly. “I asked if you were okay, and you got up and turned on the light. You weren’t wearing that…necklace. So I figured you had a big blowup with him.”
“He said I took it off to shower after…uh…”
He arched a brow. “Unless crying is something you typically do after having sex, I have a feeling that’s not why you took it off.”
Mortification turned my entire body red. That was so not the conversation I wanted to have with Carson. “Okay, good point. Moving on.”
“Well, you acted like you normally did. Got in my face, and we started arguing, but it was different.” He leaned his head back against the seat, closing his eyes. “As pissy as you were being with me, you were still crying. And I’d never seen you like that. I don’t even know what I was thinking, but I grabbed you to…comfort you or something, and you just came at me.”
“I came at you?”
One side of his lips curved up. “You kissed me. No warning whatsoever. You just laid one on me.”
Oh dear god. I slumped against the seat. Not only was I a mean girl, but I’d also molested Carson. Nice.
“I was kind of shocked at first…and then I kissed you back.” He sighed again. “It was all pretty intense—angry, actually. Kind of hot, too. Then you got a text message, pushed me away, and stormed off. That was the last time I saw you.”
Having no idea how to respond to any of that, I stared at him. Being upset had to have something to do with Del and then my phone going off.…Cassie? My thoughts lingered on that for a moment and then flipped right back to the fact that I had kissed Carson—really kissed Carson.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I asked quietly.
He tilted his head toward me, meeting my stare with crystalline eyes. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m not proud of it. Even though you didn’t have that damn necklace on, as far as I knew, you were still with Del. And I’m not big on making out with another guy’s girlfriend. I know I have a reputation—maybe you don’t remember it.”
“I’ve heard,” I muttered.
Carson snorted. “And you were upset. Shit, that’s, like, taking advantage of you. My mom would’ve knocked me upside the head if she were alive.”
I smiled faintly at that, but then I thought of Candy and Trey. Had they been messing around before Cassie and Trey broke up? Possibly not very important now, but something about that nagged me.
“Are you pissed at me?” he asked quietly.
Good question. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. Del had lied to me. My friends had lied to me. And now Carson had. Part of me could understand why Carson had felt he had to lie to me, but it didn’t make it okay. I looked away, putting my thumb to my mouth and gently chewed at the nail. “I don’t know.”