Authors: Gail McHugh
• • •
“Okay, you have to answer two questions for me,” I say as Brock and I drive west on I-68.
“The first is where are we going?”
“That’s a secret.”
“Hey,” I pout, “you said you’d answer
“I changed my mind.” With a smile, he rests his hand on the nape
of my neck, massaging my skin. It takes everything in me to keep my eyes from fluttering closed. “What’s your second question?”
I clear my throat, trying to regain my bearings. “How does a guy who’s twenty-one—”
“Twenty-two,” he corrects. “Soon to be twenty-three.”
I sigh. “Whatever. How does a guy your age afford a brand-new Hummer? One that’s pretty decked out, no less.”
He shrugs. “My parents are two of the most well-known defense attorneys in Maryland. They share the wealth with their kids.”
“You have siblings?”
“I do.” He turns onto Route 219. “An older sister.”
“Aww, you’re the baby in the family.”
“No ‘awws’ required. It was hell growing up with her.” Grinning, he pitches me a sidelong glance. “Between her monthly visitor and fighting over the phone and bathroom, I nearly lost my fucking mind before I hit puberty.”
I giggle, seeing his point.
After a moment, I relax my head against the window, watching the scenery melt into nothing but lush green. Thin ribbons of blue sky cut through an array of trees against a mountainous backdrop. For a brief second, a sense of peace runs through me, something I’m not used to. Before I can settle into the foreign feeling, my attention jolts from the rare beauty when guitar chords from a song I haven’t heard in years begin to strum from the speakers.
I clear my throat, my body instantly plagued with unwelcomed memories. “Is this the radio or your personal playlist?” I ask, hearing the shakiness in my voice.
Brock holds up his phone. “It’s my playlist from Spotify.” He gives me a reluctant smile. “Go ahead, just say it.”
“Say what?” I question, confused.
“That I’m weird for listening to Ray LaMontagne.”
“No, it’s not that at all. I love him. I grew up listening to all his
songs.” The haunting words of “Lesson Learned”
reverberate in my ears, Ray’s smoky voice as familiar as a cozy sweater. “My . . . my father used to play this for me on his guitar.”
?” Brock turns down a barren gravel road, and I already know the question perched on the tip of his tongue. “Is he a musician?”
Shit. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. Still, I had to ask. Ray LaMontagne isn’t an artist many in my generation find appealing. Just another reason my age bracket sucks. They wouldn’t know a good piece of music if it hit them on their heads.
Though he’s unaware of it, Brock Cunningham’s managed to sneak his way into my heart just from being
, in a good way.
“So come on. We’re in the middle of nowhere.” I gesture to, well, absolutely nothing. There’s nothing but nature around us. Pouting my lips for effect, some of the most disturbed horror film scenes spring through my mind as I attempt to change the subject away from my father. “Please tell me where you’re taking me.”
Diversion accomplished, Brock grins and points at a colossal sign saying:
deep creek lake
Duh. “A lake?”
“Not just a lake.” He stops the vehicle in front of the most breathtaking, God-touched creation I’ve ever seen. “It’s the largest, deepest lake in the state of Maryland.”
“It’s amazing.” I jump from the Hummer and with my arms spread wide, I spin in a circle, breathing in the fresh air. I come to a stop, my brow spiked in curiosity. “Do you have fishing poles with you?”
“Why, you fish?” Brock slips from the vehicle. “If ya do, I’m pretty fucking sure you’re the coolest girl I’ve
I take a graceful bow. “Well, then consider me the coolest fucking girl you’ve ever met. Fishing is one of my better addictions.”
“No shit, Miss Moretti,” he says with a smile as he opens the trunk and produces not only a cooler but two fishing poles.
“Would you stop calling me Miss Moretti?” I roll my eyes, getting annoyed with the whole Christian Grey thing. “And do you always carry a cooler with you?”
After he closes the trunk and sets everything on the ground, amusement glides along his face as he leans against the back passenger door. “No, but I had a feeling that a
beautiful girl would show up to my practice. I also had a feeling that a
beautiful girl would take a ride with me to the lake after practice. This here boy came prepared.”
I shake my head, a smile lifting my lips.
“And you don’t like when I call you Miss Moretti?”
I shrug and lean against the vehicle too. “Maybe if I were close to retirement I would.”
“It’s settled, then.” He sidles up next to me, lightly jerking his hip against mine. “I’ll kill calling you Miss Moretti, but I’m all for nicknames, especially for cool, beautiful girls who have a fishing addiction.”
“Are you?” My voice comes out thin, gauzy. I turn to look at him. Jesus. He’s as beautiful as they get, an eye-orgasm-worthy blend of rough and rugged, hard and soft.
Another jerk of his hip against mine, his breath curling over my neck as he dips his head to my ear. “I am,” he says, candy-shop seduction melting from his voice, the look in his eyes breaking down my battlements as a slow smile works his lips. “And I’ve decided my nickname for you will be . . . Ber.”
” My breath falters as he steps in front of me, resting his hands on top of the Hummer. “Now you’re just being a wiseass.”
“Why? Besides never forgetting the cute embarrassment on your face when you said it, I think it fits you. I loved it the day we met, so I’m simply making it permanent.” His smile widens, the fire in his eyes imprisoning me. “It’ll be our private little joke. You might not like it now, but I’m gonna make you ache to be called it.”
“You think so, huh?” Every cell in my body rebels, exploding into
a fight for self-control. It’s not working, the merciless work of art before me making the battle in vain. He’s stripping away my defenses, not only buckling my knees, but also the promise I made to myself to never fall. “I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you.”
“I wouldn’t be so
sure . . . Ber.”
Brock’s smile collapses into something so indescribably male, fierce, and primal, I want to bare every inch of myself to him—emotional scars included. His gaze is undecided on where to settle, skidding between my lips and eyes. Along with mine, his breath hitches as he leans down, stroking the side of my nose with his. My back’s pressed to the hot vehicle as I attempt to think, but I can’t. My thoughts are chained, frozen in this moment. Want quakes between my thighs, its strength growing as Brock barely touches his lips to mine.
But that’s all he gives me.
Before I know it, his lips are suddenly at my ear, his whisper teasing my senses. “Are you ready to get your fishing on,
Disappointment kicks through me as he slowly backs away, stacking the fishing gear on top of the cooler. I give an unaffected smile as I try to quell the shaking that’s taken over my body. Heart stuck in my throat and unable to do otherwise, I simply nod.
Brock watches me intently, his eyes creased in amusement with every step we take toward a graying, old wooden pier. I move to the edge and look out over the water. It’s huge, its ending nowhere in sight. Miles upon miles of nothing but pristine lake, filled with small boats, families in canoes, and people fishing for as far as my eyes can see. Though we’re surrounded by life in every sense of the word, we’re in our own world, tucked away in a private cove.
I take a deep breath, relishing the sun on my skin as Brock sets everything up. Nevertheless, it’s sweltering out, so I do what I deem necessary to avoid succumbing to a slow, heat-induced death. I kick off my Chucks and slip my T-shirt over my head, leaving me in only a bra and red cotton shorts.
From behind me, Brock roughly clears his throat.
I turn and find him staring, wide-eyed, his mouth parted. “Stop. A bra is the
as a bikini top. Besides, the little schizophrenic
inside of my head is telling me you’ve seen your share of bras.”
He smiles and reaches into the cooler for two beers. “Want one?”
“You’re going to serve alcohol to an underaged girl?” I take the ice-cold Heineken and slide it against my neck, enjoying the temporary chill it brings to my flesh. “Such a
“How old are you?” he asks, his eyes playfully narrowed.
to be twenty.” With no luck, I attempt to twist off the cap.
Brock takes the bottle and de-caps it with an opener. However, he doesn’t hand it back. Instead, he takes a long gulp, emptying half its contents.
“What the heck?” I snatch the bottle from him. “Not cool. I just deducted a point.”
He turns and jogs toward the Hummer, calling over his shoulder, “Well, you
underage, my beautiful Ber. But it’s all good. I’ve got a few million points left.”
“Wiseass,” I mumble, watching him open the driver’s-side door. I enjoy the view when he leans in to flip on the stereo, his cargo-short-covered ass in my line of sight as The Script’s “Broken Arrow” pelts from the speakers.
Brock leaves the door open and jogs back to the pier. “We needed music.”
I nod in agreement.
“You like The Script?” He unbuttons his shirt, his smirk letting me know he’s about to torture
with his bare skin.
A second then third sporadic nod, a nervous swallow greasing my throat as he peels the material from his body. The dick’s beating me. I may have to reconsider not flawing his gorgeous teeth. Left only in his cargo shorts and Nike Free Runs, Brock smiles, and
who’s staring now. I’m also pretty sure my mouth is hanging open, drool possibly involved in this embarrassing, mathematical turn of arrogant equations.
His chest is cut, layered with slabs of lean muscle from the hollow of his glorious neck down to the delectable V between his hips. He has the kind of chest I can lick without getting my tongue twisted up in wiry hair. Not that he doesn’t have any, but he has just the right amount of hair a girl such as myself can appreciate while she rubs oil or chocolate all over it. As he turns, reaching for a fishing pole, my eyes land on a tattoo covering the top half of his right bicep. Barbed wire encases a heart, a skull’s evil, flaming eyes peeking out from the bleeding organ.
He attempts to hand me the fishing pole. “Good. So do I.”
“So do you what?” I ask, my attention still on his chest.
He tucks his finger underneath my chin, lifting my gaze to his. I exhale the breath I’m well aware I’m holding.
“I also like The Script,” he says with a knowing smile. “And stop. It’s just a chest. The little schizophrenic man in my head’s telling me you’ve seen
share of them.”
“I wasn’t staring,” I blurt, yanking the pole from him.
“Whatever you say.” He laughs and squats next to the tackle box.
I sigh, hating that he caught me ogling.
He peers up at me, dangling a helpless worm between his fingers. “You might love fishing, but are you willing to get your hands dirty for it?”
“Everything has to die, right?” I take the slimy worm and hook it onto its awaiting electric chair.
An impressed grin shadows his lips. “Yeah. You’re definitely the coolest girl I’ve ever met.”
With the worm swinging in misery, I bat my lashes, deposit myself on the edge of the pier, and dip my bare feet into the cool water. After removing his sneakers, Brock sits next to me, also dipping his
feet in the water. A pleasurable chill runs along my spine when I feel his bare flesh against my ribs.
“I can tell you’re not from around here,” he says, breaking me from the stupidity that seems to have made a cozy nest within my brain.
I cast my line into the water. “How so?”
“You have a West Coast accent.”
“I’m not from the West Coast, and I
don’t have an accent.”
you’re from the West Coast, and you sure as fuck have an accent.” He casts his prisoner into the lake, a lazy smile on his face. “But don’t be embarrassed by it. It’s a part of your sexiness.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” I scoff. “
the one with a Southern twang.”
He throws his head back and laughs. “Maryland’s far from Southern, but if you say so, I’m nothing but a Southern boy for you, Miss Ber.”
“Oh my God. Would you stop with the whole ‘miss’ thing?” I giggle, knowing this dude, this beast of a competitor, just might shake my faith in all I’ve ever believed in.
“For now I will, but I’m not making any long-term promises on that one.” He grins, and I shake my head. “So what’s the deal with you and
? I did a little research, and no one I know grew up running home to watch that shit.”
Do I choose honesty and tell him that between the ages of four and eight, when my parents were looking to score their next fix, they’d leave me unattended for hours on end with nothing but a bag of Doritos and VHS tapes of
to keep me occupied, or do I go with the classic lie?
“My parents worked a lot, and the babysitter had a thing for Henry Winkler.” I shrug, trying to downplay the only good memories I have of being left alone. “She was a bit of an outcast in the social department.”
He smiles, suspicion glimmering in his eyes. “Right.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
were the one who had the crush on Henry Winkler. Not the babysitter. Nice try.”
I might’ve grown up with Henry keeping me entertained, but that’s about as far as my noncrush went. “Are you nuts?” I ask over a laugh, positive he lost his mind long before I stumbled into the picture.