CHAPTER 1“Your baby brother called. Three times.”My eyes snap up from the mail I’m holding in my hands to meet Brea’s dark ones. She’s just a few feet away from the foyer, sitting on the other side of the Formica countertops and fidgeting with the rim of a supersized shot glass. Even my roommate knows my brother well enough to realize something is up. It must be important because Seth wouldn’t stop avoiding me for anything else. He’s owed me two grand since July, six months ago, and the last time I actually spoke to him was Labor Day.Damn . . . this can’t be good.“Did he say what he wants?” I croak. I press the back of my body to the steel door behind me. Crisp envelopes crumble between my fingertips, but I’m powerless to stop myself from totally obliterating the stack of bills and post cards from Brea’s parents. I’m too worried about why Seth would call me.Three times.Brea shakes her head slowly, glances down at the splash of clear liquid at the bottom of her glass. There’s no bottle in sight, but I know she’s drinking peppermint schnapps. The telltale bottle of chocolate syrup is next to her phone. Plus, schnapps is our usual Friday night pre-gamer, though I’m in no mood to even consider touching the stuff right now. There’s already a migraine building in that frustrating spot between my eyes.“He just said call him . . .” she says. But as her voice trails off, I know she’s thinking the same thing I am.What the hell has my mom done this time?Giving Brea a fake smile, I ask, “You going out tonight?” The answer is obvious. It is Friday night, and even though only her upper body is visible, I can tell she’s dressed to kill. Immaculate hair and make-up, check. Strapless red dress that’s probably no longer than my top, check. Mile high, screw-me shoes, double check.“Vanguard with Ben, Stacy, and Micah.” Her dark, perfectly arched eyebrows knit together, and she parts her M.A.C -painted lips to say something else. I shake my head, and she immediately snaps her mouth shut. We both know that her inviting me is pointless. Whatever Seth’s about to tell me will ruin my night and probably the rest of my year, too. I swallow hard, trying my best to get rid of the burn in the back of my mouth.Brea reaches across the counter to grab her phone. “I’m calling to cance—” she starts, but I lunge forward and pluck it out of her hand, dropping the balled up mail beside of her glass.“Ugh, no. You look way too hot to spend your night with me. I’ll be fine.” She doesn’t seem convinced because she purses her lips into a thin, scarlet line. I slide her phone into her hands, plaster on an even brighter smile, and tell her in the calmest voice I can muster, “Y’all have a good time, okay?” She says something else, but I can’t hear her. I’m already walking down our narrow hallway to my bedroom, my own phone clutched in my fist.Seth picks up on the second ring, just as I’m closing my door behind me.“Thank God,” he hisses. “Where’ve you been, Si? And why the hell didn’t I have this number?”I slam my oversized bag onto my bed. My wallet along with a bunch of tampons and makeup spill out onto the lavender cotton sheets and some fall on the carpeted floor. I decide to clean it up later. “I work. And I’ve tried to call you from this number several times. You just choose not to—”“Sienna, it’s Gran,” he says.And this—this is when I literally freeze in place, between my bed and my desk. My heart feels as if it’s stopped. The first thing I’d assumed when Brea told me Seth was trying to reach me was that my mom was in trouble again. I hadn’t even thought of my grandmother because she’s so strong and resilient and wonderful.She’s also 79 years old.I try to say something, anything, but there’s a lump the size of a lint-flavored golf ball clogging the back of my throat. I’m choking and wheezing when Seth sighs and finally replies, “She’s fine, Si. Well, physically fine.” Then, he tells me what’s going on. He says words like foreclosure and eviction notice. New owner—some douchebag musician from California. Court on Monday. And then he tells me that I need to be there for her, for him.“I have work,” I say, but I’m already sitting in front of my laptop with my online bank statement pulled up on one tab and Travelocity on the other. I’m already entering in my debit card information for an early Monday morning flight, despite my balance being a few dollars short of three thousand—half of which I’ll have to give up to Brea for the bills we share.And before I hang up with my little brother, I’m already shoving my belongings in the worn Coach suitcase my grandparents had given me five years ago, as an eighteenth birthday present.*It’s mind-numbingly cold in Nashville—33 degrees to be exact—and snowing lightly when I slide into Seth’s Dodge pick-up a few days later. From the way I’m sweating, though, you’d think it’s early August. I spent the entire flight from Los Angeles going over how I’d convince Gram to come back with me. And the more I thought, the more doubtful I became. My granddad had given her that cabin and land as a gift after my mother was born in the 70s. There’s no way in hell she’s giving it up without a fight, even though from what Seth has said, it’s already gone.“What’d your boss say?” my brother asks as he veers the truck onto the interstate. He squints at the road—the same as our dad used to do when he drove in crappy weather. With his dark blonde hair, brown eyes, and persistent tan, Seth even looks like Dad now.Balling my hands into the hem of my tweed pencil skirt, I shrug. “I worked through Christmas and New Year, so he didn’t have much of a problem. Besides, I’m just an assistant.” I don’t add that Tomas had pointedly said I better take care of my family drama and have my ass back in L.A. before the end of the month—two and a half weeks—or he’d be looking for a new wardrobe girl. Seth would either not get why I can’t neglect my job whenever I please or simply not care. Knowing my brother, it would be the second.“Got anything I can wipe my face with?” I ask.“Center console.”I find a package of wet wipes between a half-empty box of condoms and a completely empty bottle of Cuervo. Before I can stop myself, I whirl on him and blurt, “I hope you’re not stupid enough to drink and drive. You’re only nineteen and you—”“Don’t start, Si, okay? Today isn’t a good day for your bitching.”It’s only an eight mile drive from the airport to the courthouse, but the trip ends up taking 45 minutes thanks to the traffic and bad weather. Seth and I spend every minute of it in silence—just as we usually do when we’re around each other. As I dab at my face with wipes and smooth my long, red hair back into a low ponytail, I mentally kick myself for being dumbass enough to lend him money. He’s not mentioned it and I doubt he will. There’s a reason why I rarely come to town and baby brother is just the smallest part of it.*By time Seth and I arrive at the courthouse, the hearing is coming to an end. We sit on opposite ends of one of the back benches—him with his arms crossed tightly over his chest and me leaning forward, listening intently.From what I manage to piece together, this is the second hearing. The new purchaser, who I’ve decided to call Asshat, and his lawyers are both here seeking a formal eviction. My grandmother and her lawyer Mr. Nielson—the same one she’s had since the 70s— are across from them, on the left side of the room. I find myself glaring death rays at Asshat’s back, even though I know I shouldn’t really be angry at him.Just like I shouldn’t be checking him out.Asshat’s back is turned to me, so there’s a limit to what I’m able to see, but I know he’s built. And probably gorgeous. Dressed in an impeccable black business suit that molds a little too perfectly to every inch of him, he’s got dark tousled hair that brushes his neck and long fingers—he’s tapping them in some type of rhythm on the mahogany table in front of him. I’m tall, but Asshat trumps me by a good six inches—he’s 6’3” or 6’4”. And his ass . . . ugh, I’d bet the last thousand dollars in my account the attorney beside him would be staring at it too if she could get away with it. Or if she could stop beaming up at him with her chest poked out for longer than five seconds.Hot-faced and utterly reluctant, I drag my gaze back to Gram’s side of the courtroom. “Mr. Nielson, your client has ten days before the court issues a possession order,” the judge is telling Gram’s lawyer. “After that the sheriff will carry out the eviction within a week.” When my grandmother’s shoulders sag and she grips Nielson’s shoulder for support, it takes every ounce of my willpower not to bolt out of my seat. I hate this. I hate my mother for this, because at the heart of things, it really is all her fault.I was right when I assumed she’d done something stupid. Mom’s the reason my grandmother is losing her home.And then, the hearing is over. Gram’s eyes widen in stunned surprise as she makes her way to the back of the room toward me and Seth, but then her face softens. She gives me a sad smile that’s full of defeat. I’ve only seen her look at me like this once before, and there’s a sour taste in my mouth when I realize it was in this exact courthouse. Before Gram has a chance to utter a single word, I pull her to me and bury my face into her puff of gray hair.“Did you drive?” I ask. When she nods into my shoulder, I continue, “I’ll take you back home then.” I tighten my grip around her, glaring over my shoulder at Asshat. But now, his back is no longer turned to me. Instead, I have a side view.He’s speaking to the female attorney, laughing. She’s got her hand on his arm and her boobs are still jutted out and if we were anywhere else I’d snort at how ridiculous she looks. He’s probably thanking her. And she’s more than likely suggesting they celebrate the easy win against an old woman and her equally ancient lawyer over drinks and then snowy afternoon sex at her place. I’m about to pull away from Gram and get her away from the courtroom when Asshat turns his face, lifts his eyes. Our gazes connect.I was right, he is gorgeous. And when I decided to unaffectionately nickname him “Asshat,” I was being much too lenient.My chest seizes up. I pray like hell my grandmother doesn’t feel the change in my heartbeat, the hitch in my breathing. This isn’t one of those love-at-first site moments—no, it’s nothing like that. This is one of those moments where fate roundhouse kicks you in the face. Why is he here in Nashville? In the same courtroom as me?God, please don’t let him remember me.For a moment, I’m sure he has no clue who I am, that he’ll go back to chatting it up with Boobs McBeal. Then, a slow, animalistic smile stretches across Lucas Wolfe’s face.It makes me feel like he’ll devour me whole at any second.And it’s the exact same grin he gave me two years ago, right after I refused to let him cuff me to his bed, and just before he literally told me to get the fuck out of his house.
Copyright © 2012 Emily Snow.All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without written permission.