My Life as a Pop Album: A Rock Star, Road Trip Romance
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From award-winning author LJ Evans comes a heart-searing, small-town romance between a too-swoony-for-words rock star and a guilt-ridden new college grad…
“He sounded like he looked. Sultry. Intoxicating. Bad Boy. Good Girl Mia was screaming in my head to back away from the boy.”
Bookworm Mia Phillips is back home, trying to pretend she's got it all together while taking over the family car dealership. She’s an expert at hiding her guilt and the regrets she has over a man who never really loved her.
Derek Waters is spending the summer touring with his band and trying to forget everything he left behind in L.A. Falling head over heels for a small-town girl is completely out of the question, and yet he can’t seem to get the enticingly sweet Mia out of his mind.
A spontaneous purchase at a charity auction means Derek has the perfect excuse to ask Mia to go on the road with him, and her guilty secret means she can’t say no.
But when the road trip ends, will they be able to walk away without permanent damage to their hearts?
Inspired by Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Outloud,” My Life as a Pop Album is the second heartfelt standalone in the My Life as an Album series. If you like unforgettable connections, emotional journeys, and beautiful prose, then you just might adore this series.
Also available in the My Life as an Album series box set with exclusive content.
Release date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: LJ Evans Book
Print pages: 399
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Behind the book
Mia and Derek have my heart in many ways because they are like me (always trying to do the right thing and stay and invisible) and my hubby (who tries to pull my out of myself with laughter and love). I hope that you find something about these two people that you can connect with as well.
My Life as a Pop Album: A Rock Star, Road Trip Romance
Hello. I’m Good Girl Mia. Mia Andrea Phillips. You probably don’t know me, but you might know my brother, Jake. You might know Jake because, for a short while, he was plastered all over the sports channels and magazines as the future of the NFL. That was when he was the superstar quarterback for the University of Tennessee, and before his diabetes and his bad kidneys forced him to quit.
My brother, Jake, was the first one to call me Good Girl Mia. It was his way of teasing me about never getting in trouble. And it’s the truth. I am a good girl. There’s nothing I can do about it. I have always been the good girl. I’ve been the friend, the helper, the one you could count on. The one to drive you home if you drank too much. The one to stop you from making monumental mistakes. The one who never gave her parents any problems because her brother and his girlfriend gave them enough.
In fact, I’ve been so good at helping others that I actually gave Jake a kidney. Yep. An actual body part. Unfortunately, that didn’t end very well, so maybe I’m not as good at helping out as I’d like to be…
If you are a good girl also, then you know how it goes. You know that good girls never break rules and that they never, ever run off with the bad boy.
Well then, how in holy potato peels did I end up here, with a sexy-as-all-get-out musician lying naked next to me? Well…that’s the real story, isn’t it?
I’M A MESS
“I’m a mess right now, searching for sweet surrender.”
My best friend, neighbor, and almost sister, Cam, once told me that her life could be played out in a series of Taylor Swift songs. I understood what she meant because her life with Jake was like all the old Taylor songs. Angst and heartache and yearning.
After I had graduated from the University of Tennessee and moved back home to run the family business, my life became a series of Ed Sheeran songs. “I’m a Mess” seemed to resonate with me at first because I felt like I was just going through the motions while secretly looking for a sweet surrender. And I definitely couldn’t figure out how everything was all going to work out.
I guess that wasn’t completely true as I did have one thing going right for me and that was working at my daddy’s car dealership. The one he planned on handing over to me in the fall. Contrary to most people’s opinion of me, I liked running the dealership. I loved the vague idea that we might be starting a tradition where someday I would pass the dealership on to my kids. Not that there was any chance in the near future of me having children.
Because, let’s face it, my personal life was the part of my life in all sorts of disarray. You’d never know that by looking at me. I prided myself on the fact that very few people knew about the emotional turmoil that rolled like waves through me on an almost daily basis. My mama once told me that if you went into someone’s house and the place was nice and tidy but the cupboards were a disaster, that it said something about them. I knew exactly what she meant because that described me to a T. Neat and tidy outside, chaos on the inside.
My life wasn’t going to get any easier that July because that’s when HE entered my world, flipping it on its axis even more.
That day, it was hotter than blue blazes with the humidity like a wall you could almost see if you squinted hard enough, and I contemplated lying down on the tile showroom floor to cool off like our dog, Sparky. Instead, I lifted up every last hair on my head and stood under the air conditioning vent trying to dry the sweat off my neck.
And, of course, it was then, when I had my hair, bangs and all, swept up like a Conehead, that he sauntered into our dealership. While I was a sweaty puddle, he looked like a Jamie McGuire book boyfriend come to life.
He was lean and muscular in a blue t-shirt and just-tight-enough ripped jeans that accentuated every sculpted line. Lines of gorgeous muscles that belonged in an underwear ad. He was tall, but not too tall, around about six feet, and had sexy, bed-tousled looking brown hair that highlighted his pale gray eyes. Eyes that were the color of the winter skies right before a tornado. I was a sucker for a boy with tattoos even if I thought I’d never date someone who had them. And this piece of gorgeousness had them.
There were words wrapped around each wrist and some sort of bird on his neck. None of it was easy to make out over a distance, but that made me think about how, if I was close enough, I could brush aside those curling ends and investigate more. I suddenly wanted to do that very much. Every fiber in my body was aching to drop my grossly sweaty hair and sweep up his, just so I could get a good look at him and his tattoos while inhaling his scent.
Of course, this had me rolling my eyes inwardly at myself. And it was then that I remembered how ridiculous I must look with no hair and a sweaty grimace. So, I slowly, ever so slowly, let my dark hair drop down, wishing I wasn’t as absurd as I looked.
On most days, I was proud of my hair. I’d just spent thirty minutes in normal Tennessee two o’clock humidity, however. So I was pretty sure it was flat where I didn’t want it to be and curling funny where it shouldn’t. But better down than cupped in my hand like a swim cap.
“Ms. Phillips?” he asked in a voice that was lyrically smooth, like a chord from an Ed Sheeran love song. He sounded just like he looked: sultry and intoxicating. The Good Girl Mia side of me was screaming to back away from the boy.
“Yes?” I was surprised to hear my own voice sound so normal while looking at this stunning human being. I’ve read a lot. I mean hundreds upon hundreds of books, and this guy could certainly be on any cover and attract sales like flies attract fish.
He proved that even more when he smiled, and the smile took over his entire face. It was a smile that showed off the cleft in his chin and eyes that sparkled like rain hitting those clouds inside them.
“Really?” he asked while his smile spread more.
“Um. Yes, why?” I asked.
He threw a thumb back over his shoulder. “Those folks back there said I should talk to the owner. They sent me to pick up the car for the charity auction at the Abbott farm tonight.”
I didn’t know what to address first. That he didn’t believe I was the owner, which—to be fair—was a completely normal mistake as I was only twenty-two, or the fact that he was supposedly picking up Jake’s cherried-out Camaro. The Camaro that my family and Cam had agreed to auction off for the American Diabetes Association.
I wasn’t expecting a dark-haired bad boy to be picking up Jake’s Camaro. I was surprised that Daddy or Cam would let anyone drive it. They were having a hard enough time giving it away. But then, I guess it shouldn’t really be a surprise as none of us wanted to drive it. It was still too emotional for both our families. It had sat in the dealership’s showroom since his death. The mechanics kept it running, but that was it.
“Who exactly told you that you were to pick it up?” I asked, making a beeline for the management offices in the back with him tagging along behind me.
“Blake. Well, I guess it was Cam. But Blake said to take her orders as if they were his own. I kind of think it’s really the other way around with those two sometimes.” He winked at me. “Do you know them?”
Again, I didn’t know what to respond to first. The wink that left my still upside-down heart pattering like a kitten who’d just chased a bug, or the absolute nonsense he’d asked about me knowing Blake and Cam.
“She’s pretty much my sister,” I told him flatly as we reached the office. And she pretty much was. We’d grown up next door, and our families shared everything, including Sunday dinners. And if Jake had been alive, she would have married him and made the sister thing legit. Instead, she was with Blake who was also from our town but lived in Nashville now as an entertainment lawyer.
I pulled out my iPhone from the desk drawer and texted Cam.
ME: There’s some moron here who says you told him to come get Jake’s car?
I waved the book boyfriend into a chair, buzzed the intercom, and asked Mary Beth for an iced tea. “Would you like anything?” I asked the man.
“Sure, iced tea sounds great.”
My phone buzzed back.
CAM: LOL So you’ve met Blake’s pride and joy?
I stared at the text like it should make sense. She hadn’t really answered.
Mary Beth, who’d worked for my daddy for almost as long as I’d been alive, brought in two sweet teas. She fluffed her hair that was ratted tall like she still belonged to the eighties while she took in the BB—the book boyfriend—in front of her.
“Thanks, Mary Beth.”
“That’s such a southern name.” The BB’s grin returned with the cleft in his chin stretching in a way that made it seem like it was smiling too. “I’m really glad I came to Tennessee.”
He took a big gulp of the sweet tea and choked almost as if he’d slammed back a shot of whiskey. “Holy shit, that’s sweeter than cotton candy.”
Mary Beth smiled politely at him. “Thank you.” Then she turned to me. “Anything else you need?”
Mary Beth seemed to think that any time the parts manager, a mechanic, or one of the male salesmen came into the office, she had to chaperone me like a debutant. It was both pleasant and smothering at the same time.
“I think we’re good. Thanks. I’ll buzz if I need anything,” I said as I texted Cam back.
ME: You’re telling me the moron is allowed to drive Jake’s prize possession?
I took a sip of the tea and turned to find the keys of the Camaro on the wall behind me. When I turned back to the BB, he was watching me carefully, and I literally fought the urge to wipe at my eyes and fix my hair. I’d never been a girl overly concerned with the way I looked. I didn’t go overkill with the makeup. I fixed my hair in the morning and typically forgot about it until it went up into a messy bun at the end of the day. But this man, this BB, made me want to appear as good as any book girlfriend could look.
My phone buzzed.
CAM: Maybe you’re right. Can you bring it? And bring the pride and joy back with you. Blake will never let me live it down if he gets lost.
I sighed. “They’ve had a change of heart. I’ll give you a ride.”
“What? They don’t want me to pick it up or the car isn’t being donated?”
“Don’t take it personally. The car. It’s just… special,” I said with a pang of emotion in my voice that I hadn’t expressed aloud in a long time.
“But the dealership is donating it anyway?”
“No. My family is donating it.”
He grinned. “Oh. I see.”
“I doubt it.”
I finished my sweet tea quickly. I suddenly needed to get all of this over with. The car and the BB would both be deposited safely, and I could go home where, hopefully, they would both stop pulling at the scabs inside me.
“I’ve been asked to give you a ride back out to the ranch. Seems there is some fear of you getting lost,” I told him.
The BB chuckled. “Damn Blake. He never lets anything slide, does he?”
The BB’s laugh made my insides go squishy again. I suddenly resented it. I didn’t want this temptation to Mary coming into my life and stirring up the pot. I had enough on my plate with taking over the dealership, starting my MBA classes in the fall, and trying to recover from a broken heart. I didn’t need him here making me feel anything. Especially not the desperate longing that hit me when I watched him.
“Let’s go, Lost Boy,” I said as I grabbed my purse, my phone, and the Camaro keys. I stopped by Mary Beth’s desk.
“I’m off. I’ll be at the Abbott’s ranch if you need me for anything.” I looked over at the sales folks that were waiting in the air-conditioned room for a new customer that wasn’t going to show in the summer heat. “I guess I’ll have to leave Denise in charge for now. She’s the only one that can sign contracts while Ben is on vacation.”
Mary Beth patted my shoulder. “Don’t you worry, sugar. We’ll keep this place rolling. Remember, we’re closing early, anyway. Everyone in town will be at Jake’s fundraiser.”
I swallowed back the lump in my throat, nodded, and walked out of the showroom with the BB following me.
“Promise that I’ll not take it personal baby
If you’re moving on with someone new,
Cause baby you look happier, you do.”
As I rounded the corner of the building, I stopped suddenly at the sight of Jake’s Camaro. It wasn’t like I hadn’t expected it. I’d come out to drive it for goodness’ sake, but it was still hard to see.
Daddy had had the body department take it out and detail it. It looked sparkling red in the shimmery sunshine. It was so Jake that it was hard to even look at, let alone drive. Jake had loved this car. Even more, he’d loved Cam sitting next to him in it.
“You okay?” The BB seemed to sense that he had stepped into the middle of something but wasn’t quite sure what.
I nodded, unlocked the door, and slid into the driver’s seat. I reached across and unlocked the passenger side, and the BB got in as I adjusted the seat. Daddy was pretty much the only one to drive it after Jake, and they’d been close to the same height at a lean, mean six feet two inches or so. My short frame made it a stretch even with the seat as close to the dash as I could get it. The truth was, sixties muscle cars weren’t made for short girls.
I adjusted the mirrors and then finally, unable to delay it anymore, turned the ignition. It roared to life and instantly brought back memories of me in the treehouse with a flashlight and the sound of Jake coming home from the lake. You could hear the car all the way down the street, typically, with the music blaring. And yet, our neighbors had never complained. No one had ever told my parents that he drove too fast or had his music too loud. They all looked the other way. I guess that was mostly due to his superstar status in town.
“You sure you’re okay?” the BB asked.
“Stop asking that,” I said with a huff that I didn’t really mean. It was bad enough that I had to drive Jake’s car. I didn’t need some perceptive hunk delving into my emotions.
“Okay,” he said with a grin that said he found me slightly humorous, and I didn’t know if I hated that or liked that.
I pulled out of the lot and headed down the street, making the turns automatically till we got out to the pastures and farms. We passed the turnoff for the lake, and I couldn’t help but let my head be drawn that way ever so slightly; wondering if Jake was watching over us all from his place by the tree with branches like a goalpost that he and Cam had loved.
“So, you know Cam well then?” he probed further.
“We grew up together,” I said, not wanting to be rude, but definitely not wanting to talk.
“You know Blake, too?”
I just nodded.
“Don’t feel like you have to elaborate or anything,” the BB said.
I didn’t want to elaborate, but I could also sense my Southern manners kicking in. It wasn’t polite to let your guest do all the talking. Not that he was really my guest. I hadn’t invited him to Jake’s fundraiser, but if Blake and Cam had, then it was pretty much the same thing.
I sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little emotional today. This was Jake’s car.”
I could feel the BB’s eyes boring into me, but I didn’t look over. “Jake, as in the guy the fundraiser is named after?”
I just nodded.
He seemed to be putting it all together, which meant I didn’t have to spell it out for him. “You’re his sister?”
I nodded again. I am his sister, but it still felt like it should be said in the past tense. I was his sister. He’s dead. God, I couldn’t believe I had tears in my eyes. What in bejesus was wrong with me? I hadn’t cried over Jake in a long time, and especially not openly in front of another human being.
“Wow. I’m sorry. That sucks,” he said.
As we neared the ranch, I tried to get my emotions back under control by turning the attention back to him.
“And who are you exactly?”
“I was hoping you’d ask,” he said with that infectious, knowing smirk that simultaneously made me want to wipe it off and join along. “I’m Derek Waters. Musician. Songwriter. My band is playing tonight.”
Of course this beautiful BB would be a musician, I thought to myself with a whole pile of sarcasm. Cam had said he was one of Blake’s protégés so I should have put two and two together instead of being stunned brain-dead by his gorgeousness. Blake did specialize in writing contracts for up-and-coming musicians after all.
“I can’t believe they were going to let you drive Jake’s car,” I groused before I could help myself. Then I flushed in embarrassment because that was definitely not something a polite Southern girl was supposed to say.
To my surprise, he laughed at me. A big laugh that seemed to come from his belly and had me glancing in that direction, taking in how awfully good he looked in those snug jeans of his. This made me want to rip my eyes off and stuff them away where they couldn’t do any more damage.
I pulled into Blake’s grandparents’ farm and was taken aback by the volume of trucks and cars. A massive tent had been put up near the barn, and people were busy hanging twinkle lights and setting up tables with flowers.
Somewhere in the middle of all that would be Cam, going a mile a minute even though she was eight months pregnant. It hadn’t been a planned pregnancy. She and Blake weren’t even married yet. Like all things Cam, stuff happened before she thought about it. She appeared to be taking it in stride, which seemed so not the Cam that Jake and I had grown up with that it made me sad once more.
Old Cam would have been kicking walls at the idea of carrying anyone’s baby, and especially the idea of carrying anyone’s but Jake’s.
“Shall I go see where they want the car parked?” the BB asked, and I realized that I needed to start thinking of him by his real name, Derek.
“That would be great,” I said.
He jumped out of the car, and I literally sighed with relief. I thanked God that I could go back to being my normal self instead of the drooling Neanderthal girl I seemed to have become around him.
Blake found me sitting in the car. He leaned his shaggy, blonde-haired head into the window to give me a half hug. “Hey, Mia! Why don’t you get out, and I’ll drive the car over to where we want it set up?”
“You don’t trust me?” I asked, teasing.
“She seems completely trustworthy to me,” Derek said, coming up behind Blake.
I couldn’t help the visible eye-roll. Blake saw it and grinned his joyful smile that was never far from his face. I could tell why Blake and Derek got along. They both seemed like generally happy guys. I wondered what it must be like to be that happy all the time.
Blake turned to Derek and waved his finger at him. “No.”
Derek grinned. “I didn’t—”
“No!” Blake cut him off.
“Hey!” I protested because I was a good driver. I was as careful driving as I was with almost everything in my life.
Blake took me in and then started backpedaling, “That’s not what I meant. Honest.”
I realized I was missing something, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what it was. Not with Derek belly laughing again. It made my stomach flop like when you flipped backwards over the top of the monkey bars for the first time.
I got out of Jake’s car, grabbed my bag, and headed for the tent. “I’ll leave you two children to whatever it is you’re doing. I’m assuming Cam’s inside?”
I didn’t wait for a response. I could still hear Derek laughing, and it sounded like Blake punched his shoulder, but I didn’t bother to look back. I was glad to be leaving gorgeous with gorgeous behind me.
In the tent, I found Cam going a mile a minute like I had expected, which was still good to see because for a while after Jake had died, she’d come to a full stop like she never had in her whole life. Now, with Blake and the baby, she was almost back to normal, except that it was a different normal.
Her dark hair, with its chestnut highlights, was shorter than it used to be when we were growing up, but she still had it in a ponytail in acknowledgement of the heat. She was in a t-shirt dress which, again, was so anti the old Cam that it was hard to take in. It was probably much more comfortable than jeans due to the little round ball sticking out of her middle, though.
“Cam!” I said and hugged her. She hugged me back, and this stupid, emotional me got teary-eyed, causing Cam to notice.
“Hey, kiddo!” She pulled back, taking me in. “What’s wrong?”
I waved her off. “Nothing.”
“Did the moron upset you?”
“No. No. I think it was just driving the Camaro.”
As I said it, Blake drove it up onto the grass near the tent, and the beefy engine got to us both. “He really loved that car,” Cam said quietly.
We both stared for a moment, taking it in. Cam had ridden in the car way more than I had. She’d been Jake’s sidekick and soulmate from the time she was born, and even my birth, two years after her, had never come in between them.
Blake exited the car, smiled at her, and then went off in a different direction once Cam had smiled back. It made me wonder, like I had a million times before, what Jake would think of Cam and Blake. Would he be like Ed Sheeran in “Happier”? Would he be happier to see her with someone new rather than with no one? I thought he would like to see her being taken care of and with someone that knew them as well as Blake had. I thought he would like to see her able to smile once more, but I also thought he’d hate the idea of her in anyone’s arms.
Cam was never one for tears, and even though the Camaro had momentarily gotten to her, she’d already turned back into her normal, bossy self which was good because it kept her from punching something instead. She handed me a box of mason jars filled with candles.
“Here, they go on all the tables, according to the event planner.”
“Okay, but I have to leave soon to get ready. I’m sweaty as sin,” I told her.
“You’ll just get sweaty all over again. We’ve got the misters and fans set up, but today had to be one of the muggiest days of July, didn’t it?”
“Are you wearing that dress?” I asked her.
“You don’t think it works?” Cam gave me her mischievous smile that used to mean she was plotting against Jake, but now was aimed at me.
“Yes! You look beautiful. I’m just trying to decide what I should wear.”
“I’m just teasing. I have a purple dress in the house.”
She was referring to Blake’s grandparents’ house here at the ranch. She and Blake were staying with them for all the fundraiser shenanigans. Honestly, though, they stayed here a lot when they visited from Nashville. Blake’s grandparents had more rooms. Plus, I think it was easier for Cam to be here than at our house or her house where everything reminded her of Jake. Or, really, of her and Jake—the one being they used to be.
I took the box as instructed and placed the jars on the tables near the flowers that were already wilting in the heat. When I’d made it about halfway through, I was surprised to find the box lifted out of my hands.
I turned to find Derek smiling at me again. “Let me help.”
“Don’t you need to be practicing or something?” I asked with a wave to the stage because the last thing I needed was this BB by my side again.
“Won’t make any difference this late in the game. We’ll either suck or be a hit,” he said. He gave a self-deprecating shrug accompanied by yet another sexy smile.
For some reason, this time the smile reminded me just a little of Hayden’s smile when he wanted something. And I was trying to forget all of Hayden Hollister’s smiles, even though they lived with me most nights. This had me narrowing my eyes at Derek in a way that probably wasn’t fair to him but I was sure was well deserved anyway.
“I’m sure you have something better to do than help me put out mason jars, unless I’m not trusted to do that either.”
“I’d trust you to do anything you wanted to my… tables,” he said. My stomach did that monkey bar flip again because he was definitely flirting with me. It had taken me awhile to really figure it out for sure because I wasn’t used to guys flirting with me.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I was used to slimy guys hitting on my size E’s and talking to them more than my face, but gorgeous BB musicians weren’t normally the kind to do anything with me, much less flirt.
I tried to grab the box back, but he easily shifted it away from me and moved to the next table where he handed me a jar. There wasn’t much I could do unless I wanted to make a huge scene, so I just took the jar and placed it on the table. Thankfully, we were done in no time.
“What are you doing now?” Derek asked as he twirled the empty box in his hands. He seemed wound tight with inner energy. It was like Cam and Jake, and even Blake. But never me. I was a read-a-book-and-bake-cookies kind of girl, not a run-until-I-broke kind of girl.
“Going home to shower and change,” I said with a shrug.
His grinned widened, if possible, cleft stretching even more, and then he said, “You can’t say things like that to me.”
He gave me a once-over, and I suddenly hated my dark pantsuit with a passion, even though just that morning I’d loved it as much as I’d loved Hayden. As president of our business fraternity, Hayden had been all about business fashion, setting the tone with his custom-made suits.
I was just about to say something sarcastic back to his sexy innuendo when the box he was spinning flew out of his hands, and the corner hit me in my right breast before falling to the ground.
“Holy profanity!” I gasped, covering my injured part with my hand.
“Shit!” he said at the same time. He reached out to touch me and then stopped, realizing where I was hurt.
“I’m…” He didn’t even know what to say as he stared at my hand and the breast it was covering.
Blake and Cam took that unfortunate moment to come up to us, with me clutching my boob, and Derek acting like he had permanently maimed me.
Blake put his arm around Derek’s shoulders. “I thought I made myself clear on this matter.”
Blake was smiling, but there was a tone to his voice that was deadly serious.
Cam took it all in.
“No way in hell, Derek. She’s off limits,” Cam said. Suddenly, I got what it was all about earlier with Derek and Blake.
I was used to Cam protecting me. She’d been my shield when it came to boys ever since I’d entered high school and Jake had gone off to college. The only boy to date me then had gone through her, which was no easy feat. But I wasn’t a fourteen-year-old virgin anymore, and their protectiveness was just humiliating.
“You guys are embarrassing,” I said.
Cam looked dubiously at my hand on my breast. I removed it even though it was still smarting. “It was an accident.”
Everyone stood there for a moment, Blake sending “back off” vibes to Derek, me still mortified, and Cam looking like she was ready to start a fight, baby bump and all.
“You guys are awful. Anyone able to give me a ride back to town?” I asked, changing the subject.
“I have to go back to the hotel and get ready too. You can ride with me,” Derek said. The three of us groaned.
“It’s just a ride,” Derek said with a smirk that really suggested it might be something else entirely. It seemed that he was egging Blake and Cam on because it wasn’t like he was going to attack my sweaty, suit-clad body in the back seat of whatever vehicle he owned.
“You have the rental here?” Blake asked.
“Shit, no. Owen dropped me off at the dealership on his way back to the hotel.”
Blake sighed. “Take my truck.”
Blake fished the keys out of his jeans pocket and flung them at Derek, who caught them deftly. I would have dropped them. I was not anywhere near the athlete that Cam and Jake had been. Jake had gotten his football scholarship to UTK, and Cam had won a diving medal at the World Championships before she’d been recruited by Virginia Tech, whereas I could barely stand on a treadmill without falling over.
Cam’s eyes narrowed at Derek as he swung the keys in a circle around his slender fingers. “She’s my sister, dipshit, got it?”
Derek looked all innocent, but his eyes were flashing a challenge that said otherwise. It made me tingle all over in a way that was not normal for me. Because, butterbeer, the thought of him treating me in a non-sisterlike fashion was enough to add another layer of sweat to my already sweaty body.
“God, Cam, I’m not twelve,” I said before turning to Derek. “I’d appreciate the ride.”
Derek and I walked away, but I could feel Blake and Cam’s eyes on us all the way to the truck. The passenger door was closest to us, and Derek grabbed the handle and opened it for me. “Thanks,” I said with a gulp. It felt too date-like for me to be comfortable with, even though I knew we weren’t going on a date. The furthest thing from it.
He climbed into the driver’s side, and we took off out of the ranch. I slyly tried to take him in as he drove. He had to be a little older than me. Maybe twenty-four to my twenty-two? But he had a youthfulness to him that made him seem younger. Maybe it was the sense of carefreeness about him. Even before Jake, I hadn’t had a carefree bone in my body. But now…now that I was all that Mama and Daddy had left, I took even fewer risks, which meant literally none.
He turned and caught me staring. He lifted an eyebrow and grinned. “They told me no.”
I flushed and looked out the window. “As if.”
“I haven’t heard anyone use that term since the eighties,” he chuckled at me again.
“You weren’t alive in the eighties.”
“Well, I’ve seen a lot of eighties films.”
“They are the best,” I said with a sigh.
I turned toward him. “You really think that, or are you just appeasing me?”
“Two things I never joke about: music and movies.”
“Those are the only two things?”
“I’m sure there are a few more things, but I can’t think of any at the moment.”
At least not any he wanted to share, because I swear I saw the first look of seriousness flash over his face. But it was gone as quickly as it had come.
“I get the music, but why movies?”
“Well, my brother is Dylan Waters,” he said, as if that was supposed to answer my question.
“Am I supposed to know who that is?”
Surprise washed over his face. “Director. Producer. The Spy Network?”
He named a movie that had taken the world by storm last year. It was liked by fans and critics, and it had won a bunch of Oscars. I hadn’t seen it because I’d been busy with senior year and Hayden, or rather, busy with not having Hayden. Instead, I’d been busy writing love letters to someone who hadn’t chosen me, and burying my head in books as a way of avoiding my reality.
“I heard it was good,” I said with a shrug.
He laughed again. “You haven’t seen it?”
I just shook my head.
“I think you’ve surprised me at least twenty times since I’ve met you.” This time, there was no smile to accompany the words. Instead, there was that quiet, thoughtful look on his face once more.
“Turn left here,” I said as we approached town. We drove down the street in silence. “It’s the one on the right with the green truck.”
He pulled into the driveway behind Daddy’s truck, and I felt like I was fifteen and my only high school boyfriend was bringing me home. As if I should be expecting something but wasn’t sure if I wanted it or not. He turned to me. “Do you need a ride back out to the ranch?”
“Nah, I’ll go with my parents.”
I reached for the handle and was surprised as all get out when he stopped me. When his hand hit my bare wrist, heat seeped from his fingers into my skin like honey into a biscuit. And just like him, that feeling was smooth, silky, and dangerous. Yet it was also soothing, somehow. Like comfort food with a kick.
I thought maybe I needed to stick my head in an ice chest if I was getting this discombobulated over one touch from a boy band star. I looked down at his hand, and he pulled back as if he was as shocked as I was that he’d stopped me.
“I’ll see you tonight,” he said.
It was one of those sexy, more-of-a-statement-than-a-question kind of things that made me swallow hard and look away. All I could do was nod at him and then climb out of the truck, hoping that I hadn’t left my pride on the seat along with the sweat stains.
I couldn’t help but look back and saw him wave as he pulled out of the driveway. Suddenly, I was dreading tonight on a whole new level. And maybe that was good because it would distract me enough that I wouldn’t break down. I’d be able to be the quiet, supportive Mia everyone had come to count on.
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