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Authors: Komal Kant

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BOOK: First Chances
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“Neither are you,” he responded with a wink. “I have a feeling there’s a whole side of you that you don’t even know about.”

The funny thing was, he was right. There was a part of me that I was waiting to explore. It was the part of me that could maybe learn to cope with the death of my boyfriend. The old, fragile Hadie couldn’t handle it, but maybe I didn’t need to be her anymore. Maybe I had to be what I needed to be.

Maybe Three was exactly what I needed to help me get there.

Chapter Two

-Two Weeks Later-

Eddie

 

The radio hummed softly in the background as I drove down the long, boring road that led back to the small town of Statlen.

Statlen, Iowa was my hometown. Population: ten. That’s what it felt like, anyway. There couldn’t have been more than twelve thousand people in this tiny, Midwest town. There wasn’t a whole lot to look at or do out here, so people had to entertain themselves somehow, and that was by knowing everyone else’s business.

It was a little after midnight, and I was on my way home after dropping my mom, Jean, off at the hospital where she worked. My six-year-old sister, Hailie, was fighting sleep in the backseat of the car, even though I’d told her it was okay to take a nap until we got home. She was about as stubborn as they came and had tried to stay awake the entire time.

It was a school night and I felt horrible for keeping her out this late, but right now we only had one functioning car. She was too young to stay home this late by herself—even though she’d probably just sleep—while I was gone for forty minutes.

It wasn’t ideal, but somehow we had to make things work until I could save up to buy another car. I had my eye on a $3,500 piece of shit at
Jack’s Dealership
that I was very close to buying. Working late nights and extra hours at
Belle’s Diner
had finally paid off.

A deserted motorcycle on the side of the road caught my eye. What the hell? Was there a member of the Madden or Allbrook motorcycle gang wandering around?

My eyes fell on a male figure walking along the side of the road. About twenty feet ahead of that figure was another figure, more petite—it was a girl.

I slowed down just in case there was trouble brewing. Maybe she was trying to get away from that guy.

The girl stumbled a little and turned her head at the sound of the approaching car. In the flash of the headlights, a familiar face came into view.

Holy shit. It was Hadie Swinton.

Immediately, I slammed my foot down on the brakes and the car screeched to a halt just past Hadie.

In the rearview mirror, I saw Hailie jerk awake. “What’s going on?” Her bright blue eyes sought me out in concern.

“Everything’s fine. Stay right here,” I ordered, jumping out of the car and running back towards Hadie who had stopped walking and was staring at the car.

The guy was still several feet behind her, but was gaining on us quickly.

Hadie was a girl from school, but she wasn’t just any ol’ girl. She was
the
girl. She was the girl I’d been crushing on since freshman year; the one who would never be mine.

Hadie stared at me in confusion for several seconds before her chestnut brown eyes finally widened in recognition. “Eddie?” she mumbled, her voice slurred.

“Hadie, what are you doing out here?” I stopped a couple of feet short of her. “Are you alright?”

“Oh, yeah, I’m great. I just, it’s weird, we were going home, but-” she rambled incoherently, trailing off.

She didn’t sound like herself and she looked like a complete mess. Her wavy brown hair was windswept, which would make sense if she’d been on the bike with that guy. And her outfit was definitely not something I’d ever seen her in—tight jeans, a top that showed her cleavage, and a black, leather jacket.

Then it hit me.

“You’re drunk,” I said, staring into her face and noticing her eyes were glassy. “Where are you coming from?”

This was not the Hadie I knew. The normal Hadie didn’t go out and get drunk on a school night; she stayed at home and studied.

She was visibly shaking as the December air settled in around her. “Um, a friend’s house.”

“Hadie!” the guy called out as he reached us and stopped beside her.

My eyes shot to him, taking in the tattered jeans and the ratty, flannel shirt. His brown hair was spiked up and there was a tattoo on the back of his hand, though I couldn’t make it out in the darkness. He definitely didn’t go to our school and looked a little older than us.

Who the hell was this guy? Was this the friend she was referring to? I didn’t know Hadie had friends like him.

“I’m fine, Three.” She waved the guy away with a hand.

Three
? What kind of a name was that?

“Are you sure?” he asked, staring me down.

He was acting as though I couldn’t be trusted when he was the one who looked like he had just gotten out of prison and shouldn’t be alone with any females.

“Hadie, get in my car,” I said, pointedly ignoring him. “I’m taking you home.”

“Take a hike, buddy,” he said, narrowing his eyes at me. “I’ll take care of her.”

I snorted in disbelief. “Yeah, right. Like I’m gonna trust you with her.”

Three took a step towards me that was probably intended to be threatening. I knew I didn’t look like much of anything with my 5’6” height, stocky build, and average features, but I refused to budge. We continued to stare each other down until Hadie pushed in between us.

“Will you two stop it, please?” she begged, sounding strangely sober. Her brown eyes fell on me. “You can take me home, okay?”

Three let out a sound of disagreement. “How do you know this guy?”

“From school.” Hadie turned to him. “He’s a friend.”

And there it was. The word that no guy ever wanted to hear from the girl he was in love with.
Friend.
The girl I’d been in love with since I was fourteen continued to relegate me to the goddamn friend-zone. Story of my freaking life.

Yeah, I’d said “in love”. I was in love with Hadie Swinton and I was pretty sure she didn’t even know it. She was still in love with a ghost; a boy she could never be with. Two months ago she’d tragically lost her boyfriend to cancer. She’d never been the same since.

I didn’t blame her, but it hurt that I had been there by her side the entire time, yet she chose to spend her time with a guy like this.

Hadie and Three had a staring match of their own until finally he simply shrugged. “Okay, if you’re sure.”

“I am,” she said with a firm nod.

“Don’t try anything funny, pal.” He shot me a dirty look before heading back in the direction of the bike I’d driven past.

I wanted to call out a smart ass comment after him, but resisted the temptation. There was no point in creating a bad situation just because he’d rubbed me the wrong way.

Hadie was shivering as she stared after him, and I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of jealousy. Was there something going on with those two? What exactly was she doing with a guy like that?

It was taking a lot for me not to be affected being this close to her. Her slim body looked incredible in the out-of-character outfit she was wearing, a far cry from her usual conservative look. It was unfamiliar to me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

For a second I thought about running my hands over the curves of her body, letting my mouth graze her soft skin. Hey, I was a guy. I could appreciate a hot girl even if I was a little annoyed with her.

I knew I should be grateful to have her friendship, but man, I was getting pretty damn sick of being overlooked all the time. First, she’d dated this asshole jock, Bennett Anderson, and then she’d been with the new guy, Lincoln Bracks—who was actually a good person. It was sad that she’d lost him, but I wasn’t sure if being with someone who appeared to be the polar opposite of Lincoln was the best thing to do.

“C’mon.” I gestured towards my car and started walking back to it.

I pulled open the passenger side door and waited for her to get in, before walking around to the other side of the car and climbing in myself.

While Hadie warmed her hands, I turned back to see my sister watching us with wide eyes. She had met Hadie before, but I wasn’t sure if she recognized her out of the Belle’s Diner uniform.

“You remember Hadie, right? She works with me.”

Hailie nodded shyly. “Yeah, she gave me a free sundae once. It had extra chocolate sauce on it.”

Hadie turned around in her seat, smiling kindly at her. “You just looked like a girl who loved chocolate sauce.”

I tried not to laugh as I started up the car. In reality, I’d made that sundae, but I let Hadie take the credit for it. It was nice to see her smile, even if it was over dessert.

We were all silent for the first few minutes until Hadie finally cleared her throat. I darted a quick glance at her and saw a huge crease on her brow as she watched me.

Uh-oh. This couldn’t be good.

“Eddie, I need to tell you something,” she said, quickly checking to see if Hailie was listening in on us.

She’d actually fallen right back asleep again.

“Yeah?”

I heard her take a deep breath. “I appreciate you looking out for me, but I really don’t need you to.” She sounded strangely sober now, and I wondered if the situation had helped clear her head a little.

My jaw tensed. “Okay.”

“I mean it,” she hurried on. “It’s just, I know what I’m doing, and to others it might not look like I know what I’m doing, which is all very well, because sometimes I do wonder if I could be doing something differently and I freak out and question myself, but that’s not the point.”

She was doing that rambling thing she always did.

“What
is
the point then?” I asked.

Hadie took another breath as though she was trying to regain her composure.

“My point is that you don’t need to look out for me. I really do appreciate the way you’ve stuck by me the last few months, but you can stop now. I can take care of myself.”

“Huh.” I mused. “So hanging out with a thug is taking care of yourself?”

“He’s not a thug,” she said a matter-of-factly. “He’s in the Madden gang.”

I nearly slammed on the brakes. “What the hell! You’re hanging out with a random guy from the Madden gang? How do you even know a guy from the Madden gang?”

The Madden gang was a notorious motorcycle gang based out of Penthill, which was about a thirty minute drive from where we lived in Statlen. They were responsible for all the criminal activity that occurred in Penthill and its surrounding areas.

“He’s friends with Vincent,” she said, her voice soft.

Ah. Now it made sense. Vincent Madden was the guy who was dating one of Hadie’s best friends, Estella Markson. And, yes, the gang had been named after Vincent’s family.

“Hadie, just because Estella somehow managed to find the only decent member of a dangerous motorcycle gang doesn’t mean that you will too.”

I didn’t care that I sounded harsh. I was so frustrated at the ridiculous situation Hadie was putting herself in. How could she not see how stupid she was being?

“Three’s not like that,” she said, but her voice wavered a little and I could tell she wasn’t entirely confident in what she was saying.

“Right, if you say so. I’m sure Lincoln would love that you’re putting out to a criminal.”

A stinging sensation and a clapping sound hit me at the same time, making my head spin. My cheek was on fire as I turned to glance at Hadie, who was breathing heavily, red in the face.

I’d crossed a line. I’d just acted like a complete asshole. I couldn’t believe those words had just left my stupid mouth.

“I’m sorry,” I immediately said, but from the deadly look in her eyes I knew the damage was done. “That was a terrible thing to say.”

As Hadie’s house came into view, I slowed down and pulled over, turning my body to face hers. Her eyes were glossy with tears as she met my gaze.

Fuck. I was such a jerk.

Hadie took a shaky breath, and I could tell she was trying her hardest not to cry. “Stop worrying about me. Stop checking up on me. Stop calling me. Just worry about yourself, Eddie. Forget about me.”

With that, she opened up the door, briefly letting the cold air rush in and rousing Hailie in the process, and hopped out of the car without a backward glance.

I completely deserved that. I’d been such an insensitive douchebag. I’d sounded like some overprotective, jealous idiot. She was right. I didn’t need to do all those things for her. I didn’t need to worry or check up on her—but I wanted to. I didn’t want her to lose herself in her grief. I wanted her to see the light again.

As I watched her stumble to her front door, I couldn’t help but wonder who this girl was and how I could get the old Hadie back.

All I knew was that it started by holding onto the memory of her and not losing sight of it, even if she had.

 

 

BOOK: First Chances
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