I didn’t think it was a big deal to leave the school. I’d be home before curfew, so what did it matter? But one of the girls who works for my aunt was at the dance and decided my absence merited a text to Lori. Which means that while I was driving Brinley to Lake Blackledge, Lori was driving into town to the high school. And while I was driving Brinley home and trying to do the right fucking thing for once in my life, Lori was searching for me and convincing herself I was dead on the side of the road somewhere.
We pulled into the driveway at about the same time, and she read me the riot act, complete with a guilt trip about how worried she was.
Now I’m grounded. Almost eighteen years old, and grounded for the first time in my life. Mom never cared enough to bother with discipline to begin with—and grounding me would’ve kept me in the house when she wanted our place to herself.
I always assumed being “grounded” meant you stayed home, but Lori said she wasn’t rewarding me with laziness and told me I had to work with her all weekend. At the Knox house.
I managed to stay in the kitchen through breakfast, and I’m currently using a mop to take my frustrations out on the floor. If it was up to me, I’d hide in here all day. I’d clean the floors with a toothbrush if that was what it took.
“I think that spot’s clean.”
I stop scrubbing but don’t turn around. I dunk the mop in the bucket and get to work on a new area.
“It all looks clean, really,” Brinley says, “which is great, since I need you for something else.”
I tense. I’m trying to do the right thing and stay away from this girl. Doesn’t she get that? “I’m working.”
“I want to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom. Ms. Lori mentioned at breakfast that you’d be working here all weekend and could help me. So, I thought, no time like the present, right?”
I slop the mop back into the bucket and turn to face her. And . . . damn. Last weekend she stole my breath in that short polka dot dress, but today she’s doing it in sweatpants and a loose T-shirt that’s falling off one shoulder. Her hair’s piled on top of her head, and she’s wearing glasses. All things considered, her outfit says she’s not trying to impress me, but she’s still so fucking gorgeous that she doesn’t have to try. “What do you want from me?”
She cocks her head to the side, unfazed by my mood. “Today or in general?”
She sighs, then pastes on that sweet-girl smile. The one that’s half saintly patience and half gracious hostess. “I want to move my bedroom furniture, and I’d love if you were the one who helped, because I like spending time with you.”
Her smile falls away and she steps forward, toeing the line between friendly and intimate. “Hasn’t anyone ever wanted to spend time with you just because?”
I look her dead in the eye. “The only friend I ever had was my mom’s dealer when I was eight, but it turned out he just wanted me to be his drug mule.”
Her jaw drops. “Oh, Marston. I’m so—”
“It’s a joke, Brinley. I have friends. I just don’t understand why you want to be one of them.”
She folds her arms under her breasts and—dammit, I’m not going to stand here and look at her chest. “That’s not very nice, you know.”
“I never claimed to be.”
“Marston,” Lori says, pushing into the kitchen. My aunt is a big woman with chin-length black hair and the kind of eyes that always make it look like she’s smiling even when she’s not. I’d never guess she and Mom were sisters if I didn’t know—and not just physically. It’s hard to believe that two women so different could’ve grown up in the same house. “Oh, good. Brinley found you. I want you to help her cousin rearrange her bedroom furniture today, okay?”
I lift a brow. Her cousin?
“Smithy’s a football player,” Brinley says.
Smithy. Great. A rich jock. On the bright side, at least I won’t have to endure the temptation of spending the day alone with Brinley.
“You’ll like Smithy. Anyway, it’s solid wood furniture,” Lori says, “so you’ll want the extra help.”
This time, there’s nothing about Brinley’s smile that says “Little Miss Perfect.” Instead, her lips curl into something more like a self-satisfied smirk. “Come on. I’ll show you my room.”
Lori shakes her head. “No, Brinley, honey, I’m sorry. Your mom wants to take Brittany shopping today, so she needs you to go to the nursing home and check on your grandfather.”
* * *
Lori was right about Smithy—the dude’s cool. But “heavy lifting” doesn’t quite cover the experience of moving Brinley’s furniture.