Excerpt Steal You Away by Victoria Ashley

Mar 022020
 

Steal You Away by Victoria Ashley

She belongs to my brother…

I’ve stood back for years watching Dax repeatedly screw things up with Kennedy, as if he doesn’t think anyone could ever swoop in and steal her away.

Breakup after breakup, they always end up back together, even though I’ve always had a thing for her. I’m tired of waiting. He had his chance.

I want mine.

When Dixie’s Alibi — her Grandmother’s bar — needs a new cook for the food truck, I jump at the opportunity, despite the fact that Kennedy Ward hates me. At least, she pretends she does. We both know she secretly wants me and always has.

One way or another, I will get her to finally admit it, even if it involves losing my brother. I plan to play dirty — real dirty — just like he did. This time I’m going to beat him at his own game. I wanted her first, and he knew that, but our age kept us apart. Not anymore.

Now, I’m grown and ready to take what should’ve been mine to begin with.

Excerpt Steal You Away by Victoria Ashley

My shift doesn’t start for another hour, but I figured coming in early would mean missing Colson and not having to communicate with him on my way inside.
As I pull into the back parking lot to find him standing against the door, resting his skateboard above his shoulders, I realize I was wrong. He’s talking to two girls and Travis, but his attention is focused on me parking my car.
He’s cool, calm, and collected, just smoking his cigarette, eyes still on me as I step out of my car and shut the door behind me. Swallowing, my gaze wanders down the plain black T-shirt and ripped-up jeans he’s wearing. No one pulls that look off better than he does. I’ve always found the way he dresses to be so damn sexy. Even back when I didn’t think he was.
The tan blonde standing a bit too close in his personal space says something that catches his attention, and that’s when I notice the ass hanging out of those cutoff shorts belongs to Emery Wilson. No one could mistake it for anyone else’s.
Should’ve known she’d still be on the hunt for his dick. She’s a year younger than Colson and has had a thing for him since she was twelve. She learned how to skate just so she could spend most of her time at the park stalking him.
Keeping his attention on me, he says something to his friends before putting out his smoke and disappearing inside. What the hell is he doing?
I hurry inside myself, my attention immediately landing on Colson behind the bar with a towel now over his shoulder.
“What are you doing behind the bar?”
He smirks and slaps a coaster down in front of me. “Maybe I’m just getting a soda. Want one?”
I place the coaster back on the pile, annoyed. “Where’s my grandmother?”
“Said she had to take off a little early. I was here, so she asked me to keep an eye on things until you arrived.”
“So, you’re here alone?”
“Not anymore.” He looks me over, jaw flexing as if he’s holding himself back. “But I would definitely enjoy it if we were.”
“I can take it from here.” I snatch the towel from his shoulder and make my way behind the bar, ready to get him back outside where he belongs. “You can go out back and skate around for a while or something. Anything but hang around in here.”
“Why was Dax here last night? Did he fuck you on the bar?” he asks, his question catching me off guard. I thought he’d left by the time Dax arrived.
“That’s none of your business.”
“Maybe I want to make it my business.”
Exhaling, I toss the rag into the bucket of bleach water and turn to face him. Instead of making his way outside like I asked, he’s making himself comfortable on a stool. The way he’s looking at me is making me the opposite. I can’t deal with those eyes of his on me right now, so I think of what is necessary to get him outside quicker. “He doesn’t know you’re back yet, but I’m sure he will when he stops in later.”
“Any particular reason you didn’t tell him?” he pushes, grabbing a toothpick and sticking it between his lips. “Guilty conscience?”
“There’s nothing to feel guilty about.”
“You wanting me wouldn’t bother him?”
“You’re delusional if you think I want you.”
“You expect me to believe you’re not thinking about what it’d be like for me to fuck you on this bar right now?” He smirks. I swallow. “We both know my brother isn’t man enough to.”

PROLOGUE

Kennedy
TWO YEARS AGO
“…even his jeans are sexy, Kennedy. Look at him.”
My best friend Blaire is lying on the chair beside me going on about the new guy hanging out next door at Travis’s house, but the only thing I’ve been able to concentrate on is my best friend’s younger brother doing tricks on his skateboard from the other side of the wrought iron fence.
Watching him skate around Travis’s pool makes me feel guilty, but apparently not guilty enough to stop ogling the way his abdomen flexes every time he works his board. I’ll admit—as much as I hate Colson Bennett at times—the ink peeking out of his jeans just above his waistband from where they’re hanging dangerously low on his waist has had me wiping drool on multiple occasions since we started sunbathing over an hour ago.
He’s just riding around now, not even doing tricks anymore, yet here I am still watching him like some pervert. His wild, dark hair is wet from sweat and hanging in strands around his face as he reaches for a cigarette and lights it with a match.
After extinguishing the flame with one flick of the wrist, he places the smoke between his lips and leans his head back, pulling in a long drag. He’s oblivious to the fact that he’s being watched; either that or he just doesn’t care. You can never tell with him.
“Thank God Travis decided to drain the pool next door. Look at that Paxton guy move,” she continues. “That ass is incredible; so firm and tight. Oh, the things I’d do to it. Do you think he has a girlfriend?” Blaire pauses for a moment as if to consider it. “Shit, I hope not. There hasn’t been a guy that hot to come through town in years. I call dibs.”
“You don’t have to call dibs, Blaire. I’m not interested.” I pull my eyes away from Colson the moment I realize he’s watching me watch him. Every single girl next door is watching him, dying for a chance, yet it’s me who gets caught doing it. He’s barely looked their way since they arrived over twenty minutes ago. In fact, he barely gives any girls the time of day. I’ve noticed, even though I shouldn’t. I’d love nothing more than to not notice Colson, or anything about him for that matter. “He’s cute and all, but Dax and I are just on a small break. I’m not looking for any guy trouble. One guy is enough to deal with.”
Blaire releases a sound of disapproval and sits up in her lounger. “Just because you and my brother have dated since you were sixteen doesn’t mean you have to stay with him forever. I love him, don’t get me wrong, but you guys have broken up how many times now? Four… five? He may be my brother, but you’re my best friend. I’ll always choose your side. Dax can be a dick. Everyone knows it.”
“Three times, actually. Not that I’m counting. And all couples have issues, Blaire. Stop being so judgmental when it comes to Dax.” I pull my sunglasses down to cover my eyes, not wanting her to see me get emotional. Dax confuses me, with his back and forth and negative attitude at times. I’ve thought about us breaking up permanently in the past, but every time I say I’m done for good, I stay, because I love him and have since we were teenagers. “I can’t just switch off my emotions for a guy I’ve known since I was a kid. Some couples just need a break from time to time to work through things. It’s not like we’re dating other people while we do it. We just take some personal space. That’s all.”
“And I get that, I do, but it’s been two weeks since you guys have seen each other. It has to get old. I mean… come on. You’re twenty-two and you’ve only dated one guy. You’re taking over management at your grandmother’s bar someday and there are plenty of guys who would die for a date with you. There is nothing wrong with showing Dax he needs to fight for you.”
“Might be taking over the bar,” I remind her. “Dixie doesn’t seem to think I’m ready yet, even though I’ve been busting my ass day and night to prove to her that I am. Today is the first day I’ve taken off in months.” I pause to exhale. “And I’d rather not talk about mine and Dax’s break. I want to relax and enjoy my time off. No more talk about your brother. Got it?”
“Okay, babe. All I’m saying is to keep your options open before deciding if you want to get back together with my brother. Like I said, you deserve someone who’ll fight for you. I don’t see Dax being that guy. Hell, Colson has fought for you more than Dax ever has and he’s not even the brother you’re dating.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask, confused.
“Nothing really. I’ve just seen Colson knock a few assholes out for mentioning you in inappropriate ways. You have no idea how many guys in this town talk about wanting to hook up with you whenever you and my brother take a break. It just never gets around because Colson puts them in their place.”
“I didn’t know that.”
Our conversation dies out, me not wanting to talk about her brothers anymore. Especially after learning what I just did about Colson. I came to her dad’s to relax and clear my head, not talk about her two insanely hot brothers. Okay, and maybe because I secretly wanted to watch Colson skate at Travis’s now that I don’t go to the park anymore.
I know I’m wrong for enjoying the view. But looking is all I’ll ever do. I have eyes. Dax has eyes. Everyone looks on occasion. At least that’s what I like to tell myself when I find myself looking at his brother for an extended period of time.
“Speaking of my other brother. If you keep staring at him the way you have been, he’s going to think he has a chance with you. I’m pretty sure my brothers would never speak again if that happened.”
“What?” I shake my head when she pulls my sunglasses off to look me in the eyes as if to confirm she’s right. “I haven’t been watching him, Blaire. That’s in your head. Even if things never worked out between Dax and I, there’s not a chance in hell I’d be interested in Colson. I’ve made sure he’s very clear on that. We used to be friends and nothing more.”
“Is it in my head? Then how come your head follows his skateboard? I’ve been watching you for two solid minutes, and guess what? My brother is the only one on that side of the pool.” She drops my sunglasses in my lap and shakes her head. “When I said you need to keep your options open, I didn’t mean my younger brother. There’ll be a damn war in my family if you cross that line.”
“I don’t have a thing for Colson,” I say a little too defensively and way too loud. “Please don’t ever say that out loud again.”
As if Colson can hear our entire conversation, he hops off his skateboard in front of the fence. The muscles in his arm flex as he grabs his board and tucks it under his arm. His eyes stay on me as if he can read my thoughts about wanting to touch him, and it has my heart working overtime. It’s as if he’s telling me with his eyes that he’ll get what he wants someday, and I hate it.
The dickhead is very aware of how sexy he is. There isn’t one male in our town more attractive than him, Dax included. I know it, he knows it, and so does everyone else with eyes.
Lucky for me, his asshole ways are enough to keep me from giving in to that aching need that’s been hitting me right between my legs lately.
Giving myself away like an idiot, I keep my eyes on his dark ones, unable to turn away until Jett Garrett rolls up beside him on his board and says something to him.
Instead of responding to whatever Jett said, Colson flexes his jaw, before stepping into his personal space, towering over him. There’s a moment of complete silence between them, all eyes on them – mine included – before Colson slams his forehead into Jett’s nose, sending him to the ground.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, dude?” Jett immediately covers his bleeding nose and attempts to jump to his feet, seeming a little disoriented as he stumbles before catching his balance.
Without a word, Colson backs away, his eyes meeting mine for a split second before he turns and heads for Travis’s sliding glass door.
“What the hell did Jett do this time?” Blaire mumbles beside me, sitting up in a hurry. “Can my brother go a day without making someone bleed? Or can his friends at least go a day without pissing him off?” She’s silent for a moment, before adding, “You’re staring at my brother again.”
“Blaire,” I scold, pulling my attention from Colson right before he disappears through the door. “Of course I’m staring. He just smashed someone’s face in. Who isn’t staring?”
“Yeah, except they’re all staring at poor Jett, watching him bleed all over the concrete. Even those half-naked girls over there that have been trying to get my brother’s attention since the moment they showed up.”
“I don’t like Colson like that. Do I find him attractive? Yes. Every girl does. Lots of guys are hot. That doesn’t mean I like or want to date him.”
“But you want to sleep with him just like every other girl in this town has been trying to do since the day he turned nineteen and developed muscles?”
“God no, and I’m disappointed that you would even insinuate that. I’d never touch your other brother and you know it. I’d never do that to you or Dax, so drop it. Now.”
“What about letting him touch you? Because the way you were just looking at him–”
“No, Blaire,” I say more sternly this time. “Can we drop this ridiculous subject?” I sit up and face her, pretending to look interested. “So, what about this Paxton guy? Did you get his number at the skatepark earlier?” I lift an eyebrow. “He watches you whenever he thinks you’re not looking.”
“Ha!” She gives me a suspicious look and flips her phone over to send a text to someone. In fact, I think she’s been texting someone this whole time. “Now you’re interested in what I have to say? Is it because my brother is out of sight or you’re afraid that I’m right about you wanting him?”
“Neither. Tell me about Paxton. When did he move here? I’ve never seen him until today.”
She gives me a questioning look, before going into more details about their conversation from earlier at Underground Pit. I only manage to concentrate on some of what she says, because I’m too busy questioning my sexual desire for Colson and when the hell it started.
He went to California to help a friend’s dad’s business for the summer and came back a couple of weeks ago with the body of a man and facial features that resembled every girl’s wildest fantasy. He somehow grew into himself in the months he’d been gone, and just like every other girl who isn’t related to Colson, I noticed. Such a shit thing to do.
I should’ve stayed far away from this house the day he came back looking the way he did—all grown up and sexier than hell—but since Blaire is moving into my place tomorrow, I told her I’d help her pack.
“Looks like you were right. Maybe you weren’t staring at my brother. Not the entire time at least.” She shoots up from her seat in a hurry and opens his message. “He wants to take me to a movie.”
“Are you going to say yes?”
“I think so.” Her smile widens. “He’s super-hot. It’d be crazy for me to say no, right? I haven’t been on a date in six months. I need some fun.”
“Then say yes. What could it hurt?”
“But what about you? Are you going to be okay if I leave you alone for a few hours? Clearly, my brother is in a shit mood.”
I nod. “Yeah. I’ll just stay upstairs and catch up on some shows until you get back. It’s cool. Go and have fun with Paxton. I’ll lock myself in your room.”
“Good, because I already told him yes like two minutes ago. Looks like the skating party ended early. Not that I’m complaining.” She stands up. “I should shower and get ready. I’m all sweaty and smell unladylike.”
“Yeah, I agree on the shower part,” I joke, causing her to give me the middle finger. “I think I’ll lie here for a bit longer while the sun is still out. It’s not like I’ll be able to do this in a couple of weeks. We don’t have many warm days left.”
“Whelp, enjoy it while you can, because the sun is about to go down soon, babe.”
After she walks away, I close my eyes and take in the warmth of the sun, enjoying what’s left of it. It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over. It sucks, because we’ll probably be spending the rest of it moving and unpacking.
I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here when I smell food coming from the house. If it wasn’t for my stomach rumbling, I’d ignore the mouthwatering smell and continue to wait out here for Blaire. But as much as Colson frustrates me, he’s an incredible cook. There’s no denying it. It’s the only thing that keeps me in his presence willingly for any amount of time these days.
Grabbing my towel, I wrap it around me and push my sunglasses on top of my head as I make my way to the sliding glass door that is cracked open just enough to entice me inside.
I stop at the door and exhale, before opening it. The asshole knew I’d come inside, wanting a taste of his food. I always do.
“What did you cook this time?” I slide the door shut behind me and mentally curse myself when he flashes a cocky grin my way.
“They’re leftover pork tacos from yesterday. Cooked these bad boys for over twenty-four hours. So fucking good…” He brings one to his mouth and growls out his pleasure while taking a bite. I hate with everything in me just how sexy that little growl sounds. “Go ahead. Make yourself one, babe.”
My stomach twists into nervous knots at being called babe by Colson. Not that it’s the first time, but it’s a foreign feeling from when his brother calls me it. “I’m not your babe, so don’t call me that.”
He shrugs, watching me make myself a taco. “You say that now… but I have ways to change your mind.”
“I doubt that.” I bring the taco to my lips and desperately take a bite. Holy shit. This is the best taco I’ve ever eaten. “And if you think this is the best taco I’ve ever had, it’s not.”
“It is,” he says back quickly, so damn sure of himself.
“Maybe in your opinion, little Bennett.”
A smirk graces his lips as he pushes away from the counter and walks over to stand in front of me. He’s close. Too damn close. I play it off as if his closeness has no affect on me. “I’m not so little anymore, Kennedy. And from the way you’ve been checking me out recently, you see it too. Trust me, I’m bigger than most men. I’ll show you before I go back to California if you want.”
“Fuck you, Colson.” My pulse races as I unwillingly look him over in his form fitting jeans, before quickly pulling my eyes away. That V of muscle leading down to his jeans is enough to make any girl stupid. “I don’t want you to, and I doubt your brother would either.”
“Really? From what I can tell, you and my brother are on a break… again.” With his eyes locked on mine, he moves his hand down to unbutton his jeans. The movement has my insides going wild with excitement. “I know you’re lyin—”
“How does this outfit look?”
The moment Blaire appears in the doorway, I step around Colson and hurry my way over to Blaire to check out her cute little embellished jumpsuit with a ribbon on the waist and the black heels that she paired it off with. Her strawberry blonde curls are pulled into a messy side bun that tops the look off nicely.
“You look beautiful, Blaire. Let’s go upstairs to your room and throw on some of that new perfume you got for your birthday. I’m sure Paxton would love it on you.”
Really, I just want as far away from Colson as I can get. It’s so hard to resist him when he’s looking and talking the way he is. He’s a disaster waiting to happen. A huge one. I’m not sure what has come over him suddenly, but it’s fucking with me big time. He’s always flirted in ways, but not to this extent. If he’s trying to piss his brother off, this will definitely do the trick.
“Oooh. Good idea. I almost forgot about it.”
I loop my arm through hers and hurry her out of the kitchen. I can practically feel Colson’s eyes on me, and I know he has that cocky little smirk on his face that I want to slap right off.
He and I both know if Blaire hadn’t have come downstairs that he would’ve had me right where he wanted me—me wanting him and that’s the last thing I should do.
***
Blaire left an hour ago, and instead of catching up on some shows as planned, I started packing some of her stuff by myself. The quicker we can get her stuff out of here, the better. I haven’t talked to Dax in weeks and being here with his brother alone feels like a very bad idea.
In fact, I know it’s a bad idea after that happened downstairs earlier.
It’s not until I’ve packed a few boxes that I realize the packing tape previously on her dresser when I started is now gone, along with the permanent marker.
Colson’s room is down the hall, which means the little asshole probably creeped in here on the way to his room just to piss me off and make me believe I misplaced them. I don’t think so. I’m not going to spend my night searching this room like an idiot just for him to get a kick out of it. He’s always liked hiding things from me just to work up my nerves.
“Sneaky little fucker…”
Pissed off and ready for a fight, I storm my way down the hall and enter his bedroom without knocking. I immediately wish that I didn’t just barge in the way I did, because the sight of him sitting on the bed with his hand down the front of his jeans has my entire body lighting on fire.
I’m unable to move for a second. I can’t react at all, because the sight of his perfectly sculpted body covered in sweat has me paralyzed.
My brain catches up. “Holy shit! I’m sorry. I didn’t…” I throw my hand up to cover my eyes and begin backing out of the room, but before I can make my escape the door slams shut, trapping me inside.
His heavy breathing hits my neck as he moves in closer, surrounding me with his body. His scent, his heat, everything that is him envelops me and it’s so damn intoxicating. Colson Bennett. The guy that every girl wants a taste of. “You didn’t knock,” he growls out.
“Obviously that was a mistake,” I breathe out, panic setting in. “I didn’t see anything. Just move and I’ll leave and we’ll forget this ever happened. Okay.”
“Maybe I don’t want that.” I hear his zipper slowly move down, the sound teasing my body, because I know what he plans to do right here in front of me. “I’d rather you stay for this.”
“Let me out, Colson,” I say quickly, unsure of how to react right now. My body wants one thing while my head is screaming at me to run, to get as far away from his room as I can. Dax and I may be on a break, but I still consider him my boyfriend. This is wrong. So wrong.
But he doesn’t listen to my demand. Instead, I open my eyes long enough to see him slide his hand back down his jeans, before it begins moving up and down in a slow, steady rhythm.
This cannot be happening right now. He’s not jerking himself off just inches away from me!
But he is, and with each growl of pleasure he releases into my ear, the pulsing between my legs becomes stronger. I can barely breathe without moaning out, so I hold my breath and pray that I don’t pass out.
“There’s nothing wrong with me touching myself for you, Kennedy.” He runs his bottom lip over my ear, causing goose bumps to break out over my entire body. “I won’t tell anyone you enjoyed it if you don’t. My brother never has to know… unless you want him to.”
Fuck me.
I squeeze my eyes shut, the sounds of his heavy breathing haunting my mind the closer he gets to his release. Why are you still in here? I can’t force my feet to move. Instead, I stay planted, listening as he strokes himself. His movements are slow and a perfect rhythm to my breathing. It’s so incredibly hot that my skin is on fire. I’d probably burn anyone who touched me right now.
Within minutes, he growls out his release, his heavy panting against my neck causing the muscles between my legs to throb. It’s no longer just a pulse. It’s a full-on throb, just waiting to explode. This is bad. Very fucking bad.
“Fuck…” He runs his lips against my cheek, stopping close to my mouth. My heartrate speeds up when I feel his thumb trace my bottom lip. On reflex I run my tongue over it, not expecting the taste of his release on it. It’s almost enough to make me come without even being touched. “Does it feel good to know you’re the first person to get a taste of me?” He grips my throat with his free hand and speaks close to my mouth. “Think about that later when you’re fucking yourself to thoughts of me. Not my brother.”
Just like that, he backs away and I’m left standing here, fighting to catch my breath. Swallowing, I open my eyes in just enough time to see him zip his jeans up and toss one of his shirts across the room. “I told you to let me out, Colson. That was fucked up and you know it.”
“From what I could tell you enjoyed it just as much as I did.” He calmly nods to his dresser as if nothing inappropriate just happened. “There’s the tape and marker you came in here for. Need any help?”
“Fuck no, Colson! Not from you. Just stay away from me for the rest of the night. I mean it.” Angry at myself, I snatch what I came for from his dresser and step out of his room, slamming the door shut behind me.
Then I go straight to the bathroom and wash his taste off my lips, hating myself for letting him get to me just now. I just listened to Dax’s younger brother touch himself. I could’ve yelled until he let me out, but I didn’t. And because of that, I now know what he tastes like. I know what he sounds like when he comes and it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever experienced.
And now, I’ll be fucking myself to thoughts of him, and not just tonight like he said, but probably for a long time to come, and he knows it. He made sure of that, and I hate him for it.
I’m supposed to be trying to figure things out with Dax, and in all the years we’ve dated, he’s never once made me as hot as I am this very moment. All Colson did was confuse me more. I love his brother. Just because I’m not as sexually attracted to him doesn’t mean shit. Right?
Minutes later, I’m still standing in the bathroom trying to gather my thoughts when the doorbell rings. Blaire’s dad is gone — he’s always gone — so I’ll let Colson answer it. I’m in no condition to face anyone at the moment. I’m too ashamed to even look at myself in the mirror.
Turning off the water, I stand here in my messed-up thoughts for a few minutes before I exit the bathroom. I’m just about to head to Blaire’s room when I hear Dax’s voice come from downstairs, yelling about how the door was locked. “Shit. What is he doing here?”
Since Colson and Dax don’t get along—haven’t in years—Dax only comes here when he has to. Dax is just asking for trouble by coming here right now. He knows not to come here when Colson is around. And usually he stays away when I’m hanging with Blaire. It’s just my luck that he’d choose now to show up. As if this night isn’t already messed up enough.
Wiping my hands over my face, I take a second to compose myself before rushing down the steps in hopes of stopping something between them before anything can start. I need to get Dax away as quickly as possible, because if he finds out what his brother just did, they’ll kill each other.
Dax’s eyes widen the moment they land on me as I enter the living room. “I thought you said she wasn’t here, asshole. Is that why the door was locked?”
Colson runs a hand through his hair, a cocky grin on his face. “I lied.”
“Fuck you, Colson.” Dax turns to me, hurt evident on his face. “Why are you alone with my brother? I know Blaire isn’t here, because I saw her with some guy a few minutes ago.”
“Blaire left to go on a date. I’ve been packing up her things. Besides, it’s not like I’ve heard from you in two weeks. Don’t give me a hard time.” He moves in close enough to wrap an arm around my waist, but I push him back a little, feeling guilty about what I just witnessed his brother do. How can I touch him after that? “You wanted this break, remember? You need to calm down.”
“Not anymore I don’t. Fuck that.” He yanks me closer to him, not giving me a choice but to touch him. “Break is over,” he says, mostly to his brother.
“You heard her. You’ve got five seconds to release her and walk the fuck out of here before I throw you out.” When I look over, Colson is leaning against the island, pulling out a match. He’s calm and collected as he strikes it and lights up the cigarette between his lips. “Your five seconds starts now, Brother.”
“Shut the fuck up and let me talk to my girl. I’m here for her and I’m not leaving without talking to her. You stay out of it.”
Colson takes a long drag off his cigarette before exhaling the smoke and putting it out on the island behind him. “Time is up.”
Before I can make out what’s happening, Colson grabs Dax by the back of his neck and yanks him away from me, before swinging out and punching him across the face.
They both get in a few swings, before Blaire and her date walk in and he manages to separate the two.
“You’re lucky you’re leaving again, you piece of shit!” Dax spits blood into his hand. “Hopefully you stay gone for good this time. I’m not an idiot. I know you’ve always wanted what’s mine. And as long as you’re around, I’m going to want to hurt you.”
“Dammit, Dax! Just go!” Blaire shoves him toward the door, so I help her get him outside before anything worse can happen. Once he’s outside, I join him and slam the door shut behind us.
“Dammit, Dax! Why did you come here? We’re on a break. Why start shit with your family? You know what happens every time you and Colson end up in the same room together.”
“Because I fucking miss you. That’s why. It’s been two weeks. I was sitting alone, thinking about you. About us. The fight we had was stupid. I should’ve never asked for a break.”
“I can’t do this with you right now. I have too much shit on my plate with the bar and helping Blaire move. This is bad timing. You can’t just show up here, start shit, and then expect us to work things out on the spot. I’m tired.”
“Stop it, babe. Come here.” He grabs my face, but I back away, unable to handle his touch right now. Not when Colson’s taste was just on my tongue. It’s incredibly messed up and I know it. And I should probably tell him, but I know what’ll happen if I do. Colson has always been hot-tempered. It’ll be Dax who ends up with a broken nose. Besides, it’s not like Dax didn’t do worse on our last break.
“Don’t babe me, Dax. And don’t come looking for me until you’re ready to commit to us.” I shake my head and take a step back, needing to be strong. I’ve given in too many times and it’s time I put my foot down. “No more fucking around. If we get back together this time, there will be no more goddamn breaks. I mean it. This is the last one. I’m so sick and tired of not knowing where we stand. It plays with my emotions too much.”
He flexes his jaw. “If we get back together? What are you saying? That you don’t want to? Did my brother get to you?”
“No. And I’m not saying that. But I’m tired of this same shit. There will be no getting back together unless we’re both all in. This shit ends now. Make a choice, Dax. Either commit or walk away for good.”
After a few seconds, he throws his arms up in defeat. “Fine. No more breaks. It’s you and me for good this time. I promise.” He moves forward and grabs my face, kissing me before I can stop him.
My heart hammers out of my chest from guilt of what happened in Colson’s room just less than ten minutes ago. I might’ve washed away his taste, but I can’t erase it from my mind. Truth is, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to for a long time.
“I want us back, Kennedy,” he says the moment our lips part. “Tell me I have that and I’ll leave. I won’t cause a scene. I’ll let you and Blaire finish packing so you can get far away from my brother. You have my word. I’m in no mood to fight with him tonight. I have an early morning at the bank.”
“Fine. You have that,” I force out, unsure I’m making the right decision. “You have me. I promise.”
He smiles and kisses me on the forehead. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow night after work. I’ll be at your place waiting.” He backs down the steps but stops, his jaw hardening. “But if Colson touches you… I’ll kill him. I won’t be able to stop myself and you know it. Don’t let him get to you. Promise me that.”
“I promise.” I swallow and watch as he turns and walks away. It’s not until he jumps into his car and drives off that I feel like I can breathe again. I take a few minutes to compose myself before walking inside, straight past Colson, avoiding eye contact.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to face him again. Especially since Dax and I just made a deal. It’s what I always wanted. No more breaks. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the one to fuck that up and ruin it. Colson is about to leave town again, and possibly for good, so it couldn’t have come at a better time. “Let’s finish getting you packed.”

CHAPTER ONE

Kennedy

I look around the bar. It’s hard to believe that I’ll be managing it in two weeks. It’s small — not even big enough for a kitchen — but to me, it’s perfect. Ten stools around the bar. Six round tables for chilling with friends and one pool table for the regulars that like to hang out and play all night. This place is like a second home to me.
My grandmother opened Dixie’s Alibi when I was seven, and I can still remember the day she brought me here and sat me on this old mahogany bar top, telling me that one day I’d manage this place when I was older. It should’ve been my mother to take over, but I guess Dixie knew way before the day came that she wouldn’t be sticking around long enough to run the place for her. She was right because on my fifteenth birthday my mother left to buy me a birthday gift and never returned. That was nine years ago.
So the day I turned twenty-0ne — Dixie as she likes to be called — waltzed into GiGi’s, the tanning salon I’d been working at with Blaire and told me to grab my shit, because I had a bar to run, and that would take time to learn. To say I’m anxious about taking over is an understatement. I’ve been working hard to prove to her that I’m ready.
“Everything good, child? You’re thinking too hard over there. It’s scaring me.” Dixie looks me over and brushes her graying hair out of her face.
I close the lid on the fruit and move on to stock the straws that sit at both ends of the bar. “Stop worrying. I’m just thinking about the huge changes coming soon. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for months now. I’m ready. I promise.”
“Good.” She motions for me to stand up straight, before grabbing my shoulders and looking me in the eyes. “You should be thinking about them. I won’t be around much once you take over. I’ll only be here once a week to check in on things. You sure you can handle that? It’s a lot of responsibility. We have other options if not. Sally can take over for a couple of years if needed. Just say the word and I’ll make the arrangements.”
“No, I’m more than ready. I’ve been working my butt off to make sure of it. It’s not that. It’s just going to be hard replacing Roger with someone who can run the food truck. He’s been cooking for this bar since you opened it. I don’t even know where to start looking. I’ve checked online, in newspapers, and looked through applications, and I haven’t liked anyone I’ve interviewed. They’re all wrong for the job and I’m running out of time.”
My grandmother’s smile widens as she gives my left cheek a light tap. “Don’t you worry about that, child. I’ve already found the perfect replacement. He’s out front training with Roger right now. That was about to be our next conversation.”
“Really?” I question, relieved. “He has experience on a food truck?”
“No.” She walks away to pour herself a glass of Jose Cuervo. I know this before she even grabs the glass from the shelf. It’s something she does often before leaving for the evening. “But he’s a hell of a cook.”
“How do you know this? You’ve tasted his cooking before?”
“Oh yeah.” She laughs and sets her glass down in front of her. “You have too. It’s just been a while.”
I narrow my eyes at her, my stomach twisting into knots at the first person that comes to mind. He’s the last person I would want working here. Outside in the food truck or not, it’s still here. “He’s back?” I swallow nervously.
“You haven’t heard?” She finishes off her tequila and cracks her knuckles. “He got back the other night. Do you have a problem with him working here?”
The way she’s studying me as if she knows something has me uneasy, so I lie, pushing that night from two years ago out of my head. “Nope. I just didn’t know he moved back. Apparently, Blaire forgot to mention that little detail to me.”
“Maybe it was a last-minute decision. Either way, I’m glad he’s back. That kid has always been good in the kitchen. Bad everywhere else, albeit, but I know you can handle him. You’ll prove me right.” She winks and snatches her keyring off the hook above the register. “Plus, that one is a looker. It’ll bring in business, which we need. We all know Roger’s old butt wasn’t luring the ladies in. This place needs a change. A younger crowd is what will keep it going. I’m counting on you to make that happen.”
Perfect, even my sixty-five-year-old grandmother finds Colson Bennett attractive. “Not if he chases them away with his attitude. You know he’s a smartass and always has been. He’s short tempered and uncontrollable.”
“I think we both know that won’t be a problem with you keeping an eye on him,” she says, mostly to herself, already making her way for the exit door. “Call Libby if you need backup. She called earlier asking for extra hours, so I put her on call.”
“I’ll be fine. It’s a Tuesday night. I’ll be lucky to get a handful of customers.” I don’t know what she’s thinking. As if Colson just being here is going to magically bring in the entire town.
“If you say so,” she says, seeming to know something I don’t. She’s clearly delusional. “Have a good night and… good luck.”
“Not that I’ll need it, but thanks anyway. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The moment my grandmother exits the bar, I get an urge to go out to the food truck for a glimpse of the new Colson. I’ve gone two years avoiding him at all costs. I’ve even gone as far as to block him on social media accounts, so I wouldn’t have to see the man he’s grown into. Just last week he turned twenty-one, and based on the talk of the town, apparently into a God as well.
I’ve heard the rumors. Supposedly, he’s sexier than he was when he left town and that’s just by going off his social media posts. If that’s true, then seeing him will be bad; very fucking bad, and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to ever again. Things have been rocky between Dax and me again and if he’s anything like he was before he left, it could be bad news.
Colson Bennett is back it couldn’t be any shittier timing.
Pushing that thought from my mind before it tempts me to go outside, I jump right into taking inventory, hoping that between it and deep cleaning, I won’t think about him so much. He’s outside training with Roger thankfully, so I won’t have to deal with him right away. Maybe I can avoid seeing him for a bit too.
I won’t think about his mouth and how sexy it was that night when he was touching himself. Or what he tastes like, and how I was the first girl to experience it. I’ll admit, on my bad days, I’ve wondered just how many girls have gotten a taste since me. I hate the fact that thought even crosses my mind.
“Ugh, stop thinking about that asshole.”
“What asshole?” Harry, one of the regulars, takes a seat at the bar and sets a container of food down in front of him. He’s an older gentleman in his fifties and hasn’t missed a night of coming here since before I even started working for Dixie.
“No one, Harry. Just someone from my past that I’d like to avoid.” I grab a clean glass and pour his usual, sliding it in front of him. “What’d you order?”
“No clue,” he says, uncovering his food. “The kid in the food truck took one look at me and said he knew what to cook, so I took a chance and let him decide. He was pretty convincing.” He nods in approval while examining his food. “Looks like some kind of steak taco. The guy’s a genius, because you know I love steak. It’s my only weakness.” He holds up his beer. “Other than this, that is.”
“Lucky guess it seems, but I wouldn’t call him a genius.” I grab the notebook from beside the register and open it to the first blank page. “I’ll be doing inventory if you need me.”
He nods and shoves one of the tacos into his mouth, practically dying before me. “This…” he points to his half-eaten taco before taking another quick bite, “is the best goddamn taco I’ve ever tasted. Definitely a genius, Kennedy. Please tell me he’s Roger’s replacement. I could get used to this.”
“For now,” I mutter.
“Well I vote to keep the guy permanently and I might just have all my meals here.”
“Sounds expensive. You already spend enough of your money here.” I laugh and walk to the first cooler, taking a seat on the floor to start inventory. “Maybe that’s a good reason not to keep him. Someone’s got to look out for you.”
Not even ten minutes into inventory, the bell on the door dings, letting me know that I have another customer, so I set my notebook aside and stand up, expecting it to be Benny coming in sooner than usual, but am surprised when I see two girls I recognize from high school instead.
They’re going on about something I can’t make out, and they’re both smiling and acting all giddy as they pull up a couple of stools and sit down with their food. Looks like the Colson trance is starting again.
“Hey, girls.” I smile and place two coasters in front of them. “What will it be tonight?”
“Hey, sweetie.” The brunette I recognize as Amber turns away from Rochelle long enough to offer me a smile. “Colson suggested Vodka and Cranberry with our meals. We’ll take two.”
“Sure thing, ladies.” I work on making their drinks, surprisingly anxious to get back and see what Mr. Genius decided was the perfect meal for them.
“Wow…” Rochelle says on a sigh. “This is delicious. It’s soooooooo good.”
“What kind did you get?” her friend asks, while already jumping in for a second bite of hers, clearly just as impressed as Harry was with his food.
“Pork. You?”
“Chicken.” Amber smiles at me when I set their drinks down in front of them. “If Colson is going to be working the food truck from now on, expect to see us more often. Wow, just wow. I could eat his food and look at him all night. You might need to add a third picnic table out back, Kennedy. Some might decide they want to eat outside from now on. I just might.”
“Same,” her friend adds. “My boyfriend won’t appreciate it, but what’s the harm in looking?”
Yeah, I used to ask the same thing. Then I found out.
“And drooling and fantasizing,” her friend adds. “But at least you’re not touching. I hope to change that someday for myself, because holy hell he’s fine. I didn’t think that man could get any hotter than before he left. I was dead wrong.”
The bell on the door dings again and just like before, it’s another person I wasn’t expecting. Tuesdays are usually for regulars. It’s very rare to get a random person stopping in for drinks.
After serving another girl I recognize from high school, I check on everyone to see if they’re good before picking up my notebook and pen and making my way around to the second cooler. I barely get done counting it when a small group of people walk in. This time two girls and a guy.
“See what I mean?” Harry says. “The kid’s got skills. His looks don’t hurt business either.”
“Apparently,” I mumble to myself, walking off to help my new customers. I don’t know why I’m so angry. My bar is filling up with paying customers and all I can think about is how much of an ass Colson is. I don’t know what it is that he’s doing to get these customers in, but I can bet he’s going to be extra cocky about it later.
Within thirty minutes, seven of my ten bar stools are occupied and there are a few girls sitting at one of the tables talking about how sexy Colson is, as if it’s news.
If this is any indication of how the rest of the night is going to go, looks like I’ll need that backup after all. My other regulars haven’t even made it in yet, and things have been fast moving since the food truck opened tonight.
As soon as I get caught up on everyone’s drinks, I reach into my back pocket and pull out my phone to call Libby. But before I can hit ‘send’ the door opens to her rushing inside.
“I’m here!” she says, rushing behind the bar to get to me. “I got here as fast as I could.”
“How did you…” I shove my phone back into my pocket. “Did my grandmother call you?”
She shakes her head and laughs. “Uh no. Haven’t you seen the bar’s

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