Addie and I watched the guys play round after round of Skee-B all, while Chloe jumped and cheered and stole the occasional ball from each of their rows. No matter what my state in life was, I was happy the three of them had found one another.
“Here, let’s get our picture drawn.” Knocking me out of my woolgathering, Addie guided me toward one of the caricature sketchers who sat just outside the carnival gates. The man had a unibrow the size of Lake Michigan’s shoreline, and his mustache was curled at the end, handlebar style. But his work was amazing. Charcoal sketches with colored eyes, balloon- shaped heads with movie-s tar hair.
“How much for both of us?” Addie asked, fishing through her purse. We sat on the stools, as directed, our shoulders touching.
“Thirty- five,” the guy said, his fake French accent too thick to be believable.
I groaned and looked at my friend. “Seriously? That’s too much.”
“Seriously. We have to do this.” Addie mocked me. “Look at how cute those are.” She pointed to a couple with a heart surrounding their heads. Little doves swooped in the air around them, carrying heart balloons in their beaks. Had to hand it to the guy. He was talented.
“I’ve got this, ladies.” I looked up at the sound of Max’s deep voice, finding him searching through his wallet. He pulled out the money, handed it to the artist, then lifted his gaze to meet mine. A soft smile covered his bow-shaped lips, and everything inside me stirred to life at the view.
Addie faked a cough, then pressed a hand over her stomach. “Oh…oh no. I don’t feel very good, guys.”
I faced her and narrowed my eyes as she stood. Don’t, I mouthed, already knowing her game.
Ignoring me, she looked at Max and said, “You’ll take my place, won’t you, Max?” She batted those brown eyes and twirled a lock of her dark hair. No doubt her way of getting anyone and everyone to say yes to her. “Lia here was dying to get her picture drawn.”
Oh, the little liar…
Max nodded, immediately taking her empty seat to my right. With an extra hop in her step, Addie walked away, her ponytail swinging back and forth more the closer she got to Collin and Gavin and Chloe. I wanted to pull it out of her head.
“All right, look this way.” I blinked at the sound of the artist’s voice, my body far too aware of Max’s heady scent.
God, why did he have to smell so good? Fit so perfectly against me?
“You’re much too stiff.” The artist tsked from behind his easel. “Here, wrap your arm around zee pretty lady’s waist, like so.”
I sucked in a breath as Max’s hand was guided along my back, ending at my side with his fingers tucked just under the edge of my T- shirt. I swallowed, shifting in my seat and instantly remembering our kiss— the way he’d moved his mouth over mine.
Warmth pooled low in my stomach, drifting in between my thighs. His touch was like adrenaline, kick- starting my orgasm-starved body to life.
“Chin on her shoulder, lips close to her ear…” I shuddered as Max followed the artist’s directions to a T, the stubble on his chin igniting a stormy thunder inside me. Max seemed unaffected, his chest rising and falling at an even rate, while mine was suddenly in asthmatic mode.
“Relax,” Max whispered in my ear, his warm breath grazing my neck. “I’m not gonna bite ya.”
I shut my eyes and shifted once again, the ache between my thighs becoming unbearable. “I didn’t want to do this,” I finally murmured, refocusing on the artist.
Max laughed softly, his chest vibrating against my back and shoulder. “I know you didn’t.”
My eyebrows pushed together in annoyance. “Then why did you agree to sit here?”
“Because Addie wouldn’t give up until I did.” He sighed, far too relaxed compared to me.
I was jumping, itching, crawling with…something, yet he was unaffected. Which only further emphasized that he didn’t want me the way I did him.
“Plus, she folds my underwear, remember? Gotta make sure she doesn’t stick ants in them or something.”
“Yeah, like Addie would ever stoop to your level.” I couldn’t help but grin, my nerves easing slightly.
He squeezed my ribs. “You would.”
I turned to face him, our noses inches apart. “Damn right I would.”
A slow nod later, he moved even closer, our bodies in sync…
My smile fell away. “Maxwell,” I whispered, so lost in his dark eyes that I couldn’t concentrate. The apology was there on my tongue like earlier, but the need weighing me down was even heavier. How could I ever be just friends with a guy who was likely to break my heart, no matter what we were to each other?
“Tell me why you kissed me that night.” He looked at my lips, a serious glint in his eyes.
Blood rushed to my face at his out-o f- the- blue question. My composure slipped as confusion took its place. Why was he asking me this?
“Because I…” I gulped. “I owed you, remember? For bailing me out and for keeping me safe from those guys.”
Something shifted in his eyes. Disappointment? I squeezed my eyes shut at the thought. When I looked back at him, I knew I was imagining things, because flirty, fun Max was back, winking at me. “Well then.” He cleared his throat. “That’s good to know.”
“What’s good to know?” I frowned.
“That you still owe me.”
Heather Van Fleet is stay-at-home-mom turned book boyfriend connoisseur. She’s a wife to her high school sweetheart, a mom to three little girls, and in her spare time you can find her with her head buried in her Kindle, guzzling down copious amounts of coffee.
Heather graduated from Black Hawk College in 2003 with an associate degree and has been working in the publishing industry for over five years. She’s represented by Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary.