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Resist

Part Two of The Riptide Series



Brooke Page

SMASHWORDS EDITION

Copyright 2018

Brooke Page


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.




Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

- Polaris:National Human Trafficking Hotline



Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Resources on Sex Trafficking

Acknowledgements

Books By Brooke Page



Chapter One




Vance


Lightning flashed behind Marcus, flickering against his tanned skin. His brows were smoothed in a flat line above his eyes, no crinkle of confusion or irritation. Even his jaw stayed stiff, no sign of the devilish plan he was concocting in his head.

“I’ll ask again, Vance. Where’s my Dove?”

Crossing my arms, I tilted my chin upward. “I’ll get you your Dove. Just need to work a few kinks out.”

A sly smile formed on his lips. “Is that what kids are calling it nowadays? If you want to give her a few rides before turning her in, fine. Unless she’s a virgin, then you’re only going to get one shot. Owens would sell for a pretty penny if she hasn’t been broken in yet.”

My jaw clenched to hear him speak so crudely about Lauren. “Owens isn’t for sale. I have another girl who’s even better. I’ll bring her in next weekend like I promised.”

Marcus took me in from head to toe, inhaling a deep breath as he pulled a cigar from the pocket inside his black suit. “I think you’re misunderstanding what this operation is all about, Vancy.”

Putting the stogie in between his lips, he took his time lighting it, puffing it precisely to get it lit. “See, offering to buy the girl a drink, perfectly fine. Driving her home and taking her for a spin, even better. I don’t care if you fuck them, Vance, I really don’t. But--” He pulled the cigar from his mouth. “You can’t keep them for yourself.”

As cool as a cucumber, I said, “Who says I’m keeping anyone?”

Marcus smirked. “You’re telling me there isn’t a blonde lying in your bed right now?”

Crossing my arms, I shook my head and leaned my back against the front door.

Marcus took another puff of his cigar. “I have eyes everywhere, son. I wouldn’t try to hide important product from me.”

“I’m not hiding anything from you, Marcus.” I even offered him a smile. “And as far as what’s in my bed, that’s my business.”

Marcus didn’t like my lackadaisical tone. “Your business is my business. Don’t fuck with it.” He puffed his cigar, glancing at both his bodyguards on either side of me. “You may be my blood, but don’t think I won’t put my foot down when I think it’s necessary.”

Containing my snarl was damn near impossible, but I did it, knowing the beautiful woman fast asleep in my bed would become a victim if I lost my cool. “I don’t think who I decide to sleep with affects your underground operation.”

His tone was low and menacing. “Everything in this town affects my business. You’re treading on dangerous waters, son.”

Without batting an eye, I responded, “I was born in dangerous waters. They don’t scare me.”

His nostrils flared as he blew smoke from them. “You haven’t seen anything yet, boy. If I want something, I get it. I’ll take Owens myself if I have too.”

If my blood could boil, it would be bubbling. Leaving my front door, I paced to the railing, gripping the wood with chipped paint forcefully between my palms. I couldn’t look at Marcus right now. He’d be able to see the rage brewing in my eyes.

Watching the impending storm, I asked, “What draws you to her, anyway?”

Marcus’ footsteps slid against the sand on the porch concrete when he walked next to me. “She matches the description of what a Vulture wants to a T.” I could sense his shark like smile as he spoke. “Blonde, petite, toned, tan, blue eyes, submissive, young…she possesses a lot of the same qualities as another woman who had both of our hearts for a long time.”

He was talking about my mother, and it was unacceptable. “You never had her heart,” I muttered. “You only used her.”

“Love is blind,” he murmured. “She lied to you as much as she lied to me.”

Spinning to face him, I poked my finger at his chest. “She lied because you drugged her.”

Marcus only offered me a smirk. I wanted to rip his head off and feed it to the sharks. “I drugged her because she begged for it.”

“She begged for it because you made her an addict.”

Marcus sighed, taking another hit from his cigar. “I didn’t come here to discuss your crackhead mother. I came here to light a fire under your ass. I want her. Next Friday. No later.”

“Who’s the Vulture that wants Lauren so bad?”

Smoke from Marcus’s cigar fogged across my face. The rich, heady scent caused me to turn my head in the opposite direction. I hated the musky smell of his preferred cigars. Probably because the second the scent hit my nose, I pictured his face. My mother came home with the same smell clinging to her hair and clothes.

“You’ll find out when you sell her at the Cage. I’m sure he’ll want to thank you personally.”

I swallowed then stood tall from the railing, facing the monster that was my father. “Only if I can meet him first. I want to make sure he’s a good fit.”

Instead of backhanding me like I thought he was going to, Marcus stared at me, his jaw ticking with each passing second.

Finally, he spoke. “You know what? Let’s see if you can handle the choosing part of the business. I’ll introduce you to him at the next meeting. I’ll have a driver pick you up from Tankini’s in the city and bring you to the Cage.”

My heart raced in my chest, realizing all of the bullshit and evil I’d put up with my whole life was for this moment he was offering. I’d get the location of the Cage, meet the Vultures, and retrieve the information I’d need to take down the entire operation. Including Marcus.

“I’ll be there.”

Marcus slapped my shoulder. “Wear a suit. I’ll text you a time the morning of.”

I nodded, nudging past one of the bodyguards to stand between them and the front door. “If you don’t mind, I’ve got a few spreadsheets to finish for the shop.”

Marcus grinned, his eyes smirking at me knowingly. “Don’t fall in love, Vancy. It never works out in our line of work. Remember, blood is thicker than the mud the world will drag you through. ”

“I doubt it’s possible to have genuine feelings toward a spreadsheet.”

“I’m not talking about that stupid surf shop. I’m talking about the girl, and life.”

My brow rose in question, but I wasn’t fooling him.

“Falling in love makes you weak. It takes away your independence and screws with your decision making. This operation needs you to be at the top of your game, all the time, every moment, of every single day. A woman will fuck with that.”

“I know,” I responded, wanting him to think I was on his wavelength, but I didn’t agree. Not one bit. The woman in my bed was keeping me alive, helping to steer me in the right direction, but in a positive way and not a vengeful one.

“I’m not in love.”

I wasn’t sure if I was trying to convince him or myself. Love was a big word, and I’d never felt like I was in love before, but then again Lauren was like a new form of oxygen, giving me breathe I didn’t know existed.

Marcus put his hands in his pockets. “Right.” Taking the few steps down the stairs, he tilted his head to the side, a signal for his bodyguards to follow him. Stopping at his door, he turned to me, putting his sunglasses over his eyes and throwing the butt of his cigar to the ground. “I’ll be back next week. And I won’t be as nice as I was today. I’ll drag her from your bed, naked and all.”

I crossed my arms and watched him climbed into his truck and drive away into the storm. The rain pounded down, lightning running across the skyline, thunder booming instantly as it flashed. I fell back into the wicker chair, resting my head in my hands. If I wanted to protect Lauren, I was going to have to go to extremes I didn’t want to do.

There was one person who was close to Lauren, one person she let abuse her repeatedly, and she would do everything and anything for them. Including leave me, the man who had captured her infatuation in the place that gave her solace.

Reaching into my pocket, I grabbed my phone, knowing the call I was going to make would crush the only person who made me feel alive. I had to do it; I needed her to go as far away from the Shore as possible.

The phone rang twice, and I was greeted with a huff. I didn’t expect them to be happy, at least none of my father’s henchmen were, but I didn’t expect him to sound put off for my calling. “I need you to do something.”

“I assumed. Marcus couldn’t call me himself?” the other person on the line sneered.

I stood from the chair and paced across the front porch. “I need you to take care of someone for me. And soon.”

“I’m listening.”

I closed my eyes, hating myself for allowing the monster deep in my soul to take over, but it was the only way. “You need to give her a big hit.”

I heard clanking of glasses on the other end of the line. “Big enough to be her last?”

My body tensed as I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Yes.”



Chapter Two




Lauren


I was floating freely, the warm sun tickling my stomach and legs. The beach towel was cozy underneath me, the cool breeze caressing my bare skin. Every nerve in my body was relaxed; no fear or apprehension was attached to my thoughts. I was on the beach, opening my eyes to see a gorgeous man jogging in my direction, his kite resting in the sand behind him next to his board.

You going to join me?” the tanned man flirted, dripping water on my stomach.

I giggled from the cool, salty liquid dropping on my sensitive skin. “You going to hold the bar for me?”

His brows wiggled. “I’ll do more than hold the bar.” He reached for my hand, pulling me upright then spun us, pressing kisses along my shoulder.


Real kisses were being peppered along my bare back, pulling me from the marvelous dream I was entranced in. I groaned appreciatively, rolling so the lips that caressed my back were now nipping at my stomach. Keeping my eyes closed, I ran my hand through Vance’s hair, pleased with the pressure of his mouth moving lower down my abdomen. Just as I thought he was going to tease me with his tongue as he did hours before, he hovered up my body, bringing his mouth to mine. The giggles escaping from my mouth vanished as he deepened the kisses.

His movements were smooth, yet passionate, a desire he hadn’t expressed with his body. Wrapping his arms underneath my waist, he pulled me as flush to him as he could. He was strong and demanding, but he wasn’t impatient, he was possessive. As if I’d fall through the cracks and disappear if he didn’t hold me tight enough.

He slowed his kiss, nuzzling his head into the crook of my neck. His weight was heavy on top of me, his erection resting anxiously at my entrance. “Vance…?” I asked through a heavy breath, twisting my fingers into his hair. He only squeezed me tighter.

“Shh.” He molded his lips with mine once again. Grabbing my thigh, he wrapped it around his waist, entering me slowly.

I sighed, loving the tenderness of his hips and the delicious pleasure they brought me.

Our stomachs were sliding against each other’s, sweat forming from the heat of our passion. The intensity of his love making was at a high, almost to the point it scared me. My hands found his jaw. Unclenching my eyes, I found he was gazing at me, his features tight while he inched deeper inside.

“What am I going to do without you all week?” I sighed, rolling my eyes back when he rotated his hips in a circular motion, then opening them again when he continued the same rhythm he had before. He hadn’t moved his gaze from my face, watching me intently during each subtle stroke.

“Think about this,” he whispered, pressing his hips down so he was completely filling me. “Remember how good it feels to be so connected.”

Our breaths mingled while we stayed immobile, bodies clinging to each other. The rain pattered against the window, making music with our short gasps.

“I don’t think I could ever forget this,” I hummed, running my hands across his shoulders and down his spine.

“Me either,” he exhaled against my lips, kissing me tenderly. Our tongues danced as he began to move at an agonizingly sluggish rate, rubbing my core, completely intoxicating my senses.

I came, murmuring his name into the stormy night, clenching him with all of my warmth, but he didn’t stop, he only continued. His hips still moved at the same pace, his eyes never leaving mine, his arms still snuggly tucked under my arched back holding me as close as possible.

And that was how the night went. He’d build me up again, only for my body to quake with pleasure over and over, until he’d finally gave in, filling me, but never disconnecting our bodies.

My eyes rolled to the back of my head after he released the second time, my body unable to take any more pleasure. Vance sagged on top of me then rolled to his side, pulling me with him. He was spent as well, but his arms stayed tightly locked around me. I sighed into his clammy chest, resting my sweat-covered forehead against his shoulder. His breathing evened, but the grip he had around me never faded.

It was the most comforting feeling I’d ever had, and for the first time, I felt safe. I was always paranoid, never sleeping restfully with the fear I’d be woken by my drugged-out mother, or one of the men who paid to support her terrible habits.

Right here, in Vance’s arms, was my safe haven.





Chapter Three




Vance


As soon as Colt drove into my driveway, I took one last longing, gaze at the woman sleeping in my bed. Her hair was fanned across my pillow, her shoulders relaxed instead of tensed. She appeared peaceful in her sleep, instead of nervous and anxious like she so often was before. My heart beat wildly wondering if I was the one to bring her such tranquility.

Resisting kissing her one last time, I left her a note and crept out of my bedroom, grabbing my things I’d need for the week.

Colt was at the door, waiting patiently. A sluggishness to his boxy frame, and a gleam in his half-opened eyes. He rubbed at them when he stepped inside. Most likely he and Marcy were out all night. I warned him to catch up on his sleep, but I was in the same predicament as he was. I couldn’t keep my hands off of Lauren. The fear I’d never be able to get the high she gave me would vanish, and the incredible connection we shared might evaporate forever.

I was risking all Lauren and I had for revenge, and it should have made my stomach twist more.

But I hated my father, and the chance of losing Lauren in the chaos that would take place wasn’t acceptable. She couldn’t fall with him. I wouldn’t let that sick fuck drug her and drag her to the Cage.

“You ready for this?” he asked when I closed the door and came down from the porch.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He shrugged his shoulders and put his hands in his pockets. “I’ve never seen you look so… stressed. I mean, you’re always kind of grumpy, but you genuinely seem worried.”

I set my bag down and scratched my forehead. “I’ve got a lot going on is all.”

His lip quirked upward. “I won’t let her out of my sight. I know you’re worried about Lauren. You can admit it.” His quirk turned into a full on grin. “I won’t tell Tucker you’ve fallen for a girl.”

I shot a glare his way and he held his hands up. “Don’t get mad at me for observing.”

My jaw clenched. “Do you have the itinerary?”

He patted his pocket. “Yep. First stop, breakfast, then the Surf Shop. We’ll work half the day then head into the city for dinner at...”

“Monty’s.” I snapped, attempting to hold in my anger for him not memorizing what he was supposed to do.

He took out a piece of paper from his pocket. “Yeah, that’s it. I’ve got it all right here.”

I pointed my finger at him. “Don’t let her see.”

He shoved it back in his pocket. “I’m stealthy, don’t worry.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him. Yeah, he was pretty good at following directions, until a girl got into his brain. That’s when he’d start to think with the wrong head.

“Is there more to this I should know? You’re giving off the ‘this is more than he needs to know’ vibe.”

I covered my eyes with my sunglasses. “That’s because it is. This is serious. You’re working for me now,” I said point blank. “You’re not hunting for girls. You’re keeping Lauren and Marcy safe. Don’t talk to Tucker anymore. I’ll deal with him and get him a new place to stay.” I handed him a wad of cash. “This should be good for the week. I’ll get you more if you need it.”

Colt’s eyes widened at the roll of hundred dollar bills in his hand. “I don’t understand.”

“Don’t go back to the apartment. I’ll meet you outside of YaYa’s tonight. You can come back here and sleep then. Get new clothes from the Surf Shop or buy some with the cash I gave you. You’re days of working illegally for an income is over. I assume you’re good?”

His shoulders relaxed. I knew he was battling with his conscience on persuading and trapping women. He’d be in for a rude awakening once the bust happened. I was giving him a way out. I didn’t want Colt to fall from this either. Tucker could rot in a jail cell for all I cared.

“Where’s Marcy?”

“YaYa’s. I figured she’d be safe there.”

“She is now, but not at night. Don’t come to the shop this morning until I’m gone. Check the app where my burner phone can be traced.”

“Will do, boss.”

I patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll see you tonight.”

“Hey, Vance,” he shouted from the porch when I reached my car. “I don’t know exactly what you’re up to, but call me… if you need help.”

I smiled at him. He was always on the same wavelength as me. “Don’t worry about me. Only worry about Lauren and Marcy.”

He nodded, setting his hands on the railing and watching me drive away.

I had a few more things to get ready for Lauren, then, I’d need to call Abby.


***


“Thanks for meeting me.” We were sitting on the porch of a coffee shop at the Shore.

Abby squirmed in her seat, repeatedly stirring her drink.

I was relaxed, my foot resting on my knee while I watched her. She had the same color hair as Lauren’s, but it wasn’t near as long and thick. Her eyes were blue, but they didn’t sparkle like Lauren’s. I tried to compare them in my brain to prove to Marcus that Abby was a better candidate, but it wasn’t possible. Abby didn’t have anything on my beautiful Lauren.

“You seem uncomfortable,” I added, taking a sip of my coffee.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Can you blame me? I haven’t talked to you in a few months. Odd of you to show up at my work and demand for my phone number, then call me a few days later wanting to meet for coffee.”

“I wasn’t sure if you were ready to talk to me is all. Thought I’d give you some time.”

She sighed. “Yeah… life has been pretty hectic. I’m not sure I would’ve made very good decisions around you the first night we met.”

I swallowed, knowing that night I would have easily convinced her to join the dark side if she would have come home with me. She’d be drugged and chained right, prepping to be sold to a Vulture, or worse.

“I’m glad you agreed to see me today. I want to get to know you better.”

She blushed, her eyes focused on her drink. “What do you want to know?”

“Where are you from?”

“Kansas.”

My brows furrowed. “Really? What brought you here?”

She let out a deep breath. “My ex-boyfriend.”

I gave her a knowing grin. “I see.”

Her forehead knitted. “He wanted to go somewhere new, where no one could come between us…” Her words drifted.

“But… that happened?”

She nodded, her face drooping with sadness. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath as if she were cleansing herself. She shook her head then flashed her lids open, attempting to liven her mood. “It did. He cheated and left me for her. It was for the best I guess. Sucks because I dropped everything for him to uproot myself. I didn’t have an amazing job in Kansas, but it paid the bills. It was a negative relationship to begin with.”

“Why would you say that?”

She met my eyes for the first time since we had sat down. “I distanced myself from everyone. I haven’t talked to my friends in Kansas in… years.”

I bobbed my head. “I guess that happens when you fall in love.”

She shook her head, a frown forming on her lips. “No one liked my boyfriend, and I chose him over them. Same with my family. We were never close to begin with, but it’s been three years since I’ve seen or talked to them.” Her eyes began to water again, but she closed them, trying to find strength to keep it together. “I know this is all happening for a reason, and I’m not going to blame anyone but myself.”

“You ever think about reaching out to them?”

She shook her head. “Can’t. They died in a car accident a year and a half ago. I’m the only child, and I don’t have any desire to find my extended family. I’m trying to figure out my life, but I’m at a stopping point I guess.” She looked up at me, the bags under her eyes becoming more apparent. “If you want to run away, I won’t be offended.”

I should have run. I should have high-tailed it to Lauren, snatching her up to escape to a small island away from this mess, but I didn’t.

Forcing my hand across the table, I stroked Abby’s knuckles with my thumb. Her skin was nowhere as smooth as Lauren’s, and my blood pounded loudly in my ears, pumping from my heart as if it were screaming at me to stop. It was my body’s way of scolding me to be faithful to the one person who made me believe I could have a normal, happy life.

Forcing a smile, I cleared my throat. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She flushed. “Do you like damaged girls or something?”

I hid my turmoil with a grin. That was exactly what I searched for when it came to the Cage. Damaged, hopeless souls--exactly who Abby was.

“I don’t think you’re damaged.” You’ve got potential. “You’ve been through a lot. It’s okay to feel a little lost.” I squeezed the top of her hand for a moment then brought it back to my lap, betrayal slapping it back. She trembled underneath my touch, but she didn’t pull away. My knees bounced under the table, an attempt to control how anxious the situation was making me. My face was smooth, appearing poised and comfortable in my own skin, when really, I was mortified. My sick, fucked-up self was actually going to go through with this.

“What are you doing next Friday?”

Her gaze met mine as she resituated in her seat. She was opening up to me, her body becoming more relaxed instead of being tightly wound. The sides of her mouth lifted, and by the subtle flutter of her eyelids, I knew I had her trust.

I was going to bring her to the Cage.



Chapter Four




Lauren


Vance was gone, only leaving a note next to me on the bed.


Good Morning. I’ll text you tonight.

Colt will pick you up.

-Vance


A smile formed on my lips, but a coldness set in throughout my body. Why wouldn’t he wake me to say goodbye? He’d anchored himself to me as if the sea were going to swoop in and drown us with its angry current.

I curled the thin sheet around my body, clutching the note to my heart. I missed him, and he couldn’t have left but an hour or so ago. The ache in my chest panged throughout the rest of my body. Tingles spread up and down my thighs as I moved, remembering the way his stubble scraped against them. My back arched as it relived the pads of his fingers digging into it while he thrusted his hips into me.

Vance brought out a whole new life I never thought I’d be able to have. The intense emotions flowing inside of me were scary and deliciously addictive. I was going to let those feelings envelope me and embrace them, jumping two feet in and holding no reservations. If my heart broke, it would be worth it.

Vance would be worth it.

Even if he left me naked and alone in his bed.

Glancing at the clock, I lifted my achy arms in the air, stretching the foreign muscles I used for the first time last night. My hips were sore when I stood, my insides clenching with each step. This soreness was one I wouldn’t complain about. I was willing to deal with the side effects of sex with Vance.

Lazily grabbing my clothes that were scattered on the floor, I made my way into the bathroom to start the shower. I was covered in his scent, my eyelids closing heavily when I opened his body wash. It was the same smell which drew me to him when we first opened up to each other a few weeks ago.

The soap glided across my body and I pretended my hands were his. I ignored my conscious telling me he should be the one to wash his scent off of me after our first night together. I understood he was busy and well aware he had an early flight to catch. If he really didn’t care, he wouldn’t have left a note, or let me stay in his home without him being here.

I patted myself with the lone towel I could find, catching my reflection in the mirror in the process. My eyes were bright against my sun-kissed skin, my cheeks holding a lively color. The mousy little girl was gone, and a woman was emerging. The reality rushed through me, and making decisions for myself didn’t scare me like they had in the past.

Dressing in my clothing from yesterday, I ran my hands through my wet hair as if it was a brush, seeing as Vance didn’t have one. I didn’t have much planned for the day and would need to brainstorm to keep myself busy, otherwise I’d be daydreaming about Vance, a constant tingle tickling between my legs.

Colt was sitting at the kitchen table, his head resting on one long arm while the other was sprawled across the table. Not wanting to wake him, I tip toed into the kitchen, rummaging as quietly as I could through the cupboards in search of food. My stomach rumbled, and the memory of how much exertion I used last night made my lower belly tighten.

The sound of a deep inhale and Colt startling himself awake caused me to turn.

“Hey,” he muffled, the palms of his hands rubbing his eyes. “Wanna go to breakfast? We’ll pick up Marcy on the way.”

“I wondered where she was. Thanks for coming to get me. I’m surprised Marcy isn’t with you.”

He stood and stretched, his eyes still heavy from lack of sleep. “I dropped her back at YaYa’s around three this morning.”

“She’s going to be fun to wake up,” I laughed, following him to the front door and slipping on my sandals.

“I can handle it,” he grinned, opening the door for me.

Colt was growing on YaYa, and she probably wouldn’t mind him waking her. “If you want to drop me off at the shop then go pick her up.”

“No.” His tone was sharp. “I mean, I’m sure she’d like to see you. Besides, I figured we could all sit down and have breakfast.”

“Alright, then you’re for sure waking her up and not me,” I joked, knowing Marcy wouldn’t be a monster if Colt woke her, and instead would talk about how sweet he was non-stop.


***


“Colt, I still don’t understand why we needed to go to the IHOP forty-five minutes from town. The one on the strip would have sufficed,” Macy muttered.

“Babe, I told you, this place has the best French toast.”

“It’s a chain restaurant. They’re all the same.”

I smiled at their banter, twirling my straw wrapper around my finger.

“Whatever,” she conceded, her gaze finding me. “You’ve been awful smiley,” she prodded. “What did you do last night?”

I shrugged my shoulders to be nonchalant, but I couldn’t stop the ear-to-ear grin from forming on my lips. Colt smirked, snatching the bill and standing from the booth. “I’ll go take care of this.”

Marcy blew him a kiss then focused on me. “You did it, didn’t you?”

Red must have struck my face, because Marcy began to snicker. “I knew it! How do you feel?”

I closed my eyes and stirred my orange juice. “It’s hard to describe.”

Marcy squealed then whispered, “We did it last night, too. Colt was…” She sighed in bewilderment before finishing her sentence… “Amazing. I’ve never gotten off during sex.”

Finally, I thought. They’d been playing grab-ass the past few weeks. I was impressed Marcy held off for as long as she did, although I knew Colt was the one dragging it out, even though Marcy made every excuse in the book for why it hadn’t happened yet.

“I had an orgasm last night, too.”

She leaned across the table and hit my forearm. “Shut up! Are you serious?”

I giggled. “I’m pretty sure. I mean, I’ve never had sex, so I guess I can’t compare it to anything, but there were definitely a few climatic points.”

Marcy’s brows shot upward. “A few? You got off more than once? How? During sex? Did he go down on you?”

My grin was still wide. I glanced around the restaurant as if people were listening to our conversation, then hushed across the table. “Both. At first I didn’t really want him to kiss me there, but now I keep imagining it, and I can’t get it out of my head.”

“Never say no when a guy wants to go down on you!” Her eyes softened with sincerity. “So he was good? Gentle?” Her first time was horrible. I’ll never forget how long she cried afterward.

“It hurt a little at first, but he went really slow. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”

She tilted her head in understanding. “It is supposed to be like that, Lo. I’m so glad he was sweet to you.”

I nodded and swallowed. “I wish he would have been there when I woke up.”

She frowned. “He wasn’t?”

I shook my head.

“He really didn’t wake you up to say goodbye?”

“No. Is that bad? He left me a note.”

“What did it say?” she asked curiously.

“Good morning, text you tonight.”

Her frown deepened. “That’s it? Did he leave a heart by his name or anything?”

Now I was frowning. “No. Should I be worried?”

Her features smoothed over. “Nah, he wouldn’t have left a note at all if he didn’t care. Whenever I ask Colt about Vance and you, he says Vance is smitten.”

It was reassuring knowing others thought the same. “I really like him, Marcy.”

She grinned. “I can tell. Just, be careful.”

My whole life I was careful, never stepping on a crack and always hiding in the back. For the first time, I didn’t want to be careful. I wanted to fall, hard and fast, and quite frankly, it was already too late. I was both feet in, eager to experience all Vance was willing to show me.

She shook her head, her smile still in place. “I thought you were walking funny today.”

I busted out laughing. “I am not!” Calming my laughter some, I wiped my eyes, grin still in place. “It did hurt at first.”

She nodded. “Hurt for me some last night too. Colt is fucking huge!”

I grabbed my stomach, the laughter erupting from me yet again by how Marcy held her hands out to display his size. Colt came back to the table, looking between the two of us with a knitted brow. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, baby,” Marcy cooed, standing from the booth and on her tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for breakfast.”

“Yeah, let me give you some cash for my portion.”

He smiled down at Marcy, then met my flushed from laughing face. “It was on Vancy.”

“He always pays,” I muttered, grabbing my bag and throwing it over my shoulder.

Colt shrugged. “He likes to.”

I frowned. “So, he doesn’t have to. He already pays me way more than he should for working at the shop.” I glanced down at my phone to see the time. “We should go. Is Tucker at the shop to open it?”

Colt waved his hand and scowled. “Tucker is out of town this week. Don’t worry, Vancy said it’ll be fine to open at eleven today.”

“Oh. Did he call you?” I tried to hide the disappointment in my voice. My phone hadn’t beeped all morning.

“He texted me yesterday. Come on, let’s get out of here.”



***


“Lauren, wanna grab the cash drawer from the safe in Vancy’s office?” Colt asked on his way to unlock the front door.

I strolled into his office, stopping in my tracks at the sight of balloons and a large box wrapped in seashell-covered paper.

Worry swept over me. Did I miss Vance’s birthday? Someone must have come in here to leave him this gift. Insecurity swept in as I inched closer to his desk. Was this from another woman? It had crossed my mind dozens of times when he said he was busy and couldn’t hang out, but I trusted him when he told me it was for work and nothing else.

Taking a deep breath, I passed by the package and headed straight for the safe. I was still shocked Vance gave me the code.

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach. He cared about me, and I had no reason to be upset over someone else giving him a gift. If it were his birthday, I’d figure out a way to make his day.

I opened the safe and grabbed the deposit bag, rounding his desk and proceeding to the cash register. Marcy was leaning on the front counter and playing with a strand of her hair. She hated working, and only came because Colt was here.

“Colt, it’s not Vance’s birthday, is it?”

Colt stood from his crouched position by a bin full of rubber wrist bands. His brows knitted together. “I don’t think so, but then again, he isn’t an over-sharer.”

I frowned. “Someone put balloons in his office and a gift on his desk.”

“Really?” Marcy asked curiously, pushing off the counter and heading toward Vance’s office.

I followed her. “Marcy, what are you doing?” Even though I already knew the answer.

“Wow,” she smiled, charging toward his desk. “I wonder who it’s from.”

I hurried and stood between her and the balloons, trying to block her from being nosy. “Marcy, don’t. That’s none of our business.”

Colt leaned against the threshold of Vance’s office, his arms crossed, a knowing grin on his lips. “I think you should see who it’s from.”

I bit my lip, unsure what to do. Marcy took advantage, snatching the card on top of the gift while I contemplated. I tilted my head and scowled at her.

She studied the card then puckered her lips in my direction. “It’s for his love interest.”

My forehead scrunched in confusion and worry. Both Colt and Marcy laughed. “It’s got your name on it, silly.” She swatted me with the card on the head and handed it to me. My cheeks flushed and warmth spread throughout my body.

Marcy laughed her way to Colt, wrapping her arms around him. “Did you really think it was from someone else? Lo, I’m pretty sure Vance is crazy about you.”

Colt kissed the top of her head and pulled her into the store. “Let’s let her open her gift in private.” They both snickered, and my nerves kicked in. What could Vance have possibly given me?

Even though I was uncertain, it made my heart happy he went to the trouble of leaving me something before his unexpected business trip to California. Slipping my finger in the crease of the wrapping paper, I ripped it open, pulling the top with both hands of the big box.

My eyes widened with the plethora of goodies and little notes. It was filled with all kinds of things, tickets to attractions and concerts, gift cards to restaurants and stores. He literally filled a box full of things for me to do besides man the surf shop and sit on the beach.

The best part of the box was the leather bracelet that had seashells on either side of a metal bead saying, Trust the sea.

Wear this and think of me was written on the piece of paper it was folded around. I instantly wrapped the leather around my wrist and attached the clasp. I couldn’t stop looking at it.

Taking my phone from my back pocket, I needed to thank Vance for the incredible thought he put into this for me.

But the phone only rang and rang, and when his voicemail picked up, I figured he was already busy at the expo. I snapped a picture of my bracelet covered wrist, putting it into a text message for him to open when he had a chance.

Thank you. For everything.

Those simple four words meant so much more.


Chapter Five




Lauren


“If I spend another day holed up in this shop, I’m going to go insane!” Marcy grumbled, tossing a hanger in a box. “I say you and I skip and go hang out on the beach.”

I laughed. We’d been here every day since Vance had left for California. “I’d feel bad leaving Colt here all by himself. It’s been pretty busy.” Colt was currently helping a new customer who had never surfed before. The guy had been firing off questions left and right when he first came in, and I was of no help. Poor Colt, Marcy and I were only good at sorting and helping with inventory, not with knowledge.

“He can handle it,” she waved. “Besides, we haven’t had any girl time. Colt is great and all, but he’s been really clingy.”

I laughed. “Since when do you complain about a guy wanting to spend time with you?”

She watched him animatedly explaining surfing strategies with the customer, a grin forming on her lips. “You must be sick of us,” she sighed. “Especially with Vance being gone. When’s he coming home, anyway?”

My smile slipped into a frown. “I’m not sure. He hasn’t been very responsive.” I’d gotten a few text messages the past six days, and although I had only called him twice, he didn’t return either call and texted he was busy and would talk to me later.

No “I miss you.”

No “I’m thinking of you.”

No sign our feelings for each other were mutual. I was leery to give him my heart, but I couldn’t choose to feel a certain way.

It sucked. Big time.

She dropped the box of hangers on the ground next to the register, reaching underneath the desk for her purse. “Well screw him, and screw Colt. We’re going to ditch out and go across the street to the beach.”

“I don’t have a bathing suit.”

Marcy rolled her eyes then stomped toward a rack filled with bikini’s, yanking a yellow one from the middle. “Here. Go change.”

“I can’t just take one,” I hushed, refusing to grab the bathing suit from her hands.

She shook her wrist with the bikini furiously. “I’ll pay for it now. Go! Use Vance’s office.”

I looked down at my watch. “Marcy, we’ve only got a few more hours.”

Her eyes bugged out. “I need the sun. Please, put on the teeny bikini, then we can sneak out the back and catch some rays. I’ll take a sexy photo of you and send it to Vance. I bet he’ll respond to that.” She winked, tossing me the fabric, then lifted her tank top up to reveal she was already prepared to escape to the beach.

Taking a deep breath, I went into Vance’s office to change. The suit was tiny, only a few scraps of fabric barely covering all of my privates. Half my ass was hanging out of the sheen material. I huffed, pulling my shorts over it along with my tank top. Maybe I’d sit in my clothes.

Marcy yanked on my arm the moment I stepped out of his office. I yelped, but she shushed me, tugging me along to the back door, the towels over her shoulder whipping from our speed.

“We had to leave without Colt noticing. He’s been so weird lately.” She huffed as we practically leapt down the steps. “I swear, it’s like he can’t let either one of us pee without being two feet away.”

Looking both ways, we ran across the road, tossing our flip-flops off once we hit the sand.

“He does seem a bit paranoid. I hope everything is okay.”

She shot her eyes to the sky. “I’m independent. He needs to realize I don’t like to be coddled.”

“Honeymoon phase over?”

She sighed throwing a towel down, closing her eyes and lying on top of it over the sand. “No, he never wants to sneak off with me. We haven’t done anything physical since the night Vance left.”

I frowned, spreading out the other towel and taking a seat next to her. “That’s probably my fault. I’m always the third wheel. Why don’t you and him go out just the two of you tonight?”

She turned to me. “You’re not the third wheel! I don’t want you to sit at YaYa’s all by yourself.”

My hand was buried in the sand, the coolness feeling amazing on my skin. “I don’t mind being by myself. I’ll play cards with YaYa, watch a movie, or go to sleep. We’ve been staying out pretty late the past few nights.”

She shook her head. “No, once Vance comes home, we’ll do separate date nights, but for now, it’s either you and me, or all three of us. To be honest, I could use a night away from Colt. Especially if he isn’t going to make a move.”

I smiled at my friend. She had an odd way of showing I came first. “Tell you what, we can stay in tonight, and I’ll conveniently go to bed early, leaving you and Colt the living room couch all to yourselves, or you can sneak off to the beach if you’re worried about YaYa waking up and walking in on the two of you.”

Her eyes widened and a broad grin formed on her mouth. “Only if you really don’t mind.” Her phone buzzed, her brightening mood being washed away. She groaned and moved her thumbs at a lightning speed, then tossed her phone in the sand.

“Colt?” I assumed.

She shimmied out of her shorts and got comfortable. “Yep. I told him we’d be back in a little while. He’s a big boy and can handle the shop on his own.”

I laughed, resituating to enjoy the sun.

Marcy put her hand to her forehead to cover the sun when she turned to look at me. “Aren’t you going take off your clothes? Your bathing suit looks super cute.”

“Nah, I’m good. It’s hardly a bathing suit. My ass hangs out of it.”

She smirked. “It’s designed so your ass can get some color. Come on, no one is around.”

I gave in, wiggling out of my shorts and tossing my tank top, lying on my stomach and letting it all hang out. Marcy was right, the beach was ghostly, and surfers didn’t normally come out this way at this time of the day. Didn’t stop me from constantly tugging on the fabric to pull it out of my ass crack.

Marcy laughed at me, and soon we both fell quiet, dozing off in the delicious southern beach sun.


***


A large shadow cast over both Marcy and I, a firm voice startling me awake.

“What the fuck are you doing, Marcy?” Colt sneered, glaring down at the two of us.

I flipped to my back to hide my exposed skin, well aware my ass was on full display.

Marcy groaned in irritation. “Oh please, it’s been, what, an hour? You didn’t need us at the store.”

Colt yanked his sunglasses off, his blue eyes daggering into Marcy. “And you decided to leave without telling me?”

She didn’t budge from her spot on her towel, only keeping her eyes closed. Colt was seething, and I couldn’t look at him anymore. “We were going to come back in a few hours. I bet you didn’t even notice right away.”

“Of course I did! I went to send a guy to check out and the two of you were nowhere to be found.”

Guilt washed over me. “I’m sorry, you’re right, we never should have left.”

Marcy jolted upright. “No, don’t you let him give you the guilt trip. He’s used to being in the shop by himself.”

Colt narrowed his eyes at her. “Don’t drag down your responsible friend.”

Marcy’s jaw hung open and she flew to her feet, shoving a finger against Colts pec. His eyes widened in shock. “Don’t be an asshole. Lauren doesn’t have to work at that stupid shop. She’s only doing it for Vance. Not YOU.”

Taking a few steps back, he held his hands to the side. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Can we please go back to the store?”

She crossed her arms and tilted her chin. “No. I don’t want to go anywhere with you right now.”

Colt’s shoulders sagged. “Marcy come on, I was only worried about the two of you. You both disappeared. I only had a head’s up because Lauren sent Vance a photo.”

My brows furrowed. “I what?”

Marcy grinned. “I may have borrowed your phone and snapped a few pictures.”

My eyes bugged out of my head, scrambling to find my phone. I opened up the text trail, mortified with what she sent him.

“Marcy! That’s my ass!”

She snickered. “He responded right away.”

My eyes were glued to my phone.

Wish you were here :-)

Vance: Where’s here?

The beach. Don’t you like my photo?

Vance: Yes, but where are you?

Colt’s eyes were softer, yet still stormy. “Vance doesn’t like it when you’re vague, either.”

I glared at Marcy. “Neither do I.”

I quickly typed on my phone while Marcy and Colt bickered.

Hey- sorry. That was Marcy. We’re at the beach across from the Surf Shop. I didn’t know she took the photo. Not a fan of this swimsuit.

Vance: Ok.

I waited for more of a response, but nothing came through. Not even the three dots acknowledging he was in the midst of typing. My heart fell. Not only had he been barely talking to me, but now he seemed upset.

Was he mad I left the shop? Annoyed I was wearing a bathing suit that revealed a good portion of my butt out in the open for other guys to see? Part of me hoped it bothered him. I’ve never had anyone be protective of me, and why would he call Colt instead of responding to me?

I wanted to call him, but at the same time, I didn’t want to come across as needy and desperate.

“Come on, let me buy you both dinner and we can forget about this,” Colt pleaded with Marcy, chasing her down to the water. He looked over his shoulder as if to ask for help. I only held up my hands in defeat. Marcy wasn’t one to barter with when she was upset. His best bet would be to leave her be.

I sat down on the towel, still debating if I should text Vance back. Then my heart began to pump faster when the three dots appeared, followed by a text from him.

Vance: Is Colt with you?

I frowned.

Yes. He just got here.

Vance: Good.

It was sweet of him to have Colt take us to do all of these fun things at his expense, but I wanted to make the memories with Vance, not with Colt. Plus, Marcy was hell on wheels right now. I’d doubt she’d be willing to go anywhere with Colt. He was going to have to kiss some serious ass in order for her to want to touch him with a ten foot pole.

I wish it were you.

No response.

I stared at my phone, willing it to chirp, vibrate, do something to acknowledge he saw my sappy text, but nothing came through. Yanking on my clothes and grabbing both towels, I headed back to the surf shop, leaving Colt and Marcy to hash out their issues on their own.

It was a touch after five, and typically the shop stayed open until six. I’d re-open it for a bit, since Marcy and I took up Colt’s time. Not to mention a car was in the parking lot with people waiting inside.

I ran across the street and took the steps two by two to the back, eager to flip the sign and open the doors back up for the customers waiting outside.

I weaved through the shop and opened up, waving to the car, letting them know we were open. I busied myself with stocking inventory, wanting to keep the shelves filled so we would have less to do tomorrow.

The front door chimed open and I lifted my head from the pile of t-shirts.

“Hi!” I greeted. My grin faltered some when I recognized who it was.

A shark like smile formed on his lips. He was dressed in a sharply pressed gray suit, his salt and peppered hair styled to the side. Taking four long strides, he was standing directly in front of me, slowly removing his sunglasses to reveal a pair of sea-green eyes, eyes matching the ones who had hypnotized me the past few weeks. Eyes identical to the man I would do anything for.

“Hi,” he smiled, putting his sunglasses in his jacket pocket. “Nice to see you again, Lauren.”

I licked my dry lips and tucked my hair behind my ear. “You too.”

His gaze wondered around the shop then found me again. “You all by yourself?”

“Yep.” I skated around the counter, grabbing a box of unpriced keychains.

His grin flattened. “Vance knows better than to leave someone alone in the shop, especially a beautiful girl like yourself.”

I blushed, focusing my attention on the keychains. His compliment rubbed me the wrong way. “Colt’s out at the beach. He’ll be back soon.” I didn’t want Vance to get in trouble with his dad. Deciding to come back to the shop on my own was my idea.

He paced around the shop, his hands on his hips as he took in his surroundings. “Still isn’t acceptable. Vance knows this town isn’t safe.” He made his way to the other side of the counter, staring at me until my head tipped upward to meet his gaze. “I’m sure he’s warned you.”

I fidgeted in place. “He doesn’t like when I go out on the beach by myself.”

“You shouldn’t go anywhere by yourself. You’re a beautiful girl.”

I couldn’t meet his gaze. I didn’t like the gleam in his eye. It’s amazing how some things can look so similar but give an opposite intuition.

He chuckled, putting his hands in his pockets. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

My smile found the ground. “It’s easy to do.”

“Let me start over. Have you enjoyed working here for Vance?”

My head lifted and I smiled. “Yeah, it’s been great. Keeps me busy, and the extra money is nice.”

Marcus grinned. “I’m glad it’s working out for you. Maybe you’d like an advancement? I’ve thought about expanding, opening up another shop a few towns down.”

My eyes widened. “Oh, I’m not sure I’d be good at that.”

Marcus’s brows furrowed. “Why? Vance raves about how well you work.”

My heart raced at the mention of his name. “He does?”

Marcus’s lip twitched upward. “He does. He’s talks about you a lot.”

Goose bumps ran along my arms, and I rubbed them, hugging myself to contain how wonderful it made me feel.

He rested his elbows on the counter, a broad smile on his face. He seemed genuine, not the asshole Vance claimed for him to be, but I still had a funny feeling about him. His cheeks went taut with his grin, and the gleam in his eye mimicked Vance’s. He really did look like his father. Pin pointing their similarities made me miss him more. “Why don’t we go grab something to eat and talk about your future with my company?”

My hands squeezed my biceps. I was caught off guard by his invitation. Even though Marcus was pleasant, I was hesitant. Vance couldn’t stand his father, and deep down, a voice was whispering, telling me to stay put and not go with him.

Marcus stood tall, putting his hands back on his hips. He was still smiling sweetly, waiting for me to respond. Nothing about him was intimidating, and what did I really have to lose? Marcy and Colt needed some alone time to figure out their issues, and it couldn’t take more than an hour or so.

I had no clue what I was doing with my life. Maybe working more permanently for Vance’s father would be something to explore. Maybe he’d make an offer where I could support myself and my mother in a brand new environment. A place where she wouldn’t know drug dealers or need to sleep with men for money. I could finally take care of her and give her the help she needed. This might be my only chance to save her, and my only way to do it in a completely different state.

I looked toward the back door through the storage room. “I’m sure Colt and Marcy will be here any minute. I’ll ask them if they don’t mind me taking off.”

The white of Marcus’s pearly teeth flashed across his face. “You can close up shop early. It’s the middle of the week.” He threw his hand to the side. “No one’s here, and I doubt anyone will come within the next forty minutes.”

I bit my lip. “Okay, if you really don’t mind.”

He winked. “Not at all. I’ll even pay you.”

“You don’t have to pay me. Let me grab my stuff and take care of the drawer.”

“Colt can handle it when he gets back. We’ll lock up and all will be good. Do you like seafood?”

“Sure. I’m good with whatever.”

I made my way into Vance’s office to get my purse, pulling my phone from my back pocket to see if Vance had responded to my text. I frowned, pushing away any negative thoughts about why he wasn’t answering me. Should I tell him I’m going to get something to eat with his dad? Surely, he’d be upset, but he wasn’t exactly communicating with me, so why should I feel the need to let him know what I’m doing?


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