Colton Mathews will only see her as his best friend’s little sister for the
rest of their lives. After all, he made that clear the night before she left
for college. But four years later, her brother is getting married and Colt’s
the best man—and guess who is the best man’s last-minute date?
firefighter’s heart or douse this torch for good. When Max—her best friend from
college, who may be carrying a torch of his own—crashes the party, they devise
a plan to make Colt see what he’s missing. But after Colt catches on, he
decides to cook up his own revenge.
Max’s questionable acting methods, an unfortunate trip to jail, and a maniacal
fiancée, what could possibly go right?
“I can’t believe you’re really going to college, Milo.” Colton’s teasing smile flashed right in front of me, rendering me temporarily blind. Man, he was beautiful. His normally dark-brown hair had shots of gold from the summer sun. Dimples peeked out from his mega-white smile and I was pretty confident that I saw a twinkle in his green eyes meant just for me. He’d been home for two months since graduation and was already off saving the world one fire at a time. I watched his full lips curve around the mouth of his Corona. He and my brother Jason had organized a going-away party for me. Apparently me getting accepted into NYU was a big deal: they’d even gone so far as to get a Star Wars–themed cake from Dairy Queen and a princess tiara that said “Pretty” across it. It was always their joke with me. I was a complete and total tomboy—I loved picking fights and getting muddy—yet still demanded they treat me like a princess.
With a sigh I leaned back on the picnic blanket and looked up at the stars. My crown fell to the side of my head, causing my hair to fall all over my face. The party had been over for a few hours, leaving me, Colt, and Jason. I should have been happy: after all, who does that for their little sister? What brother would even care? Furthermore, the fact that it had all been Colt’s idea, someone who wasn’t even family, was huge. But . . . maybe that’s the part that left me feeling empty. I might as well be family to Colton. I was the little sister he’d never had—and secretly, I’d always wanted to be so much more.
“Aw, you messed up your hair,” Colton teased, lifting the crown with the tip of his finger and giving me a sexy wink.
“Whatever shall I do?” I huffed.
“I’ll save you.” His voice was just above a whisper. “I’ve always wanted to save a princess.”
“You did.” My grin was huge. “You saved me a least a hundred times when we were little—slew the dragon at the top of the stairs and did it all without getting a scratch.”
“Messy job.” He let out a long, exaggerated sigh. “I don’t know how I made it to my twenty-first birthday without getting singed.”
“Donald didn’t breathe fire. He was a fireless dragon, remember?”
“Oh, right.” His eyes twinkled. “How is the old dragon anyway?”
I shrugged and chewed on my lower lip. “Haven’t been in the attic since you guys left for school. I’ve been busy.”
“Too busy to play?”
I rolled my eyes. “Too busy graduating to play, yeah.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Fun.” I snorted. “The last time I had fun was when we snuck into your parents’ pool and—” I clamped my mouth shut before the words could tumble out on their own. Crap. Crap. Crap.
“Skinny-dipped.” He finished my thought. “Yeah, that was a blast.”
“Hey, guys!” Jason called as he ran out of the house. “Dad needs me to grab Mom from work so I’ll be right back! Don’t do anything fun without me! I mean it!”
The loud roar from his truck drowned out our conversation for a brief second and then slowly dissipated as the vehicle barreled down the driveway.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Colton asked.
If his thoughts were along the line of finally getting him alone, away from my brother? “Absolutely.” I grinned as he grabbed my hand and helped me off the blanket.
“Come on. Let’s go have fun.”
Curious, I followed Colt as we ran through a few backyards and finally ended up at his house.
“What are we doing?” I asked in a hushed voice.
“Having fun.” I swear his grin made my heart almost stop. “Now strip, Milo, we don’t have all night and Jason’s going to be pissed he isn’t with us.”
Laughing, I took off my shirt and shorts—I’d spent years swimming with the guys in my sports bra and underwear, though as we got older it became weird, but only on my end. It felt strange to strip down to nothing, knowing that my feelings for Colton were very real whereas his were nonexistent. I mean, it was Colton. Sure, I had a crush on him, but he never, ever thought of me that way. Ever.
“Last one in’s a rotten—”
I didn’t hear him finish—but I did beat him into the water. His mom and stepdad’s pool was always my favorite place to swim. It had a little waterfall in the deep end that you could swim under that always made me think of fairy tales and the movies. Then again, that could be because every time I broke through the water it was Colton’s face I saw, and his smile that drew me. He was my own personal Prince Charming.
Laughing, Colton splashed around, then hauled himself out of the pool and did a cannonball right by my face. I was glad that it was dark—I must have been beet-red. Man, the guy was ripped.
“Wanna race?” he asked, out of breath.
“Wanna lose?” I countered.
“Um, it’s an everyday occurrence.” I swam over to the edge. “Ready, set—”
“—go!” He ran instead of swam and then dove under water.
Bastard! Arms burning, I tried to make it to the other end of the pool. I usually didn’t open my eyes under water, but this time I did to see where I was going.
His body was a blur in front of me. All I saw was hard-lined muscle.
I stopped right in front of him and jumped to the surface. “You cheated.”
“I like to call it winning.” He beamed triumphantly.
“Cheating.” My teeth ground together as I pushed against his chest. Laughing, he fell backward, pulling me with him. Our bodies ground together, heat against heat, skin against skin.
And suddenly sneaking away from Jason wasn’t funny anymore.
Neither of us was laughing.
His hands moved from my waist slowly up my body until they rested on my face. With a curse he pulled my head toward his. “We should . . .”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
Neither of us pulled away.
His lips brushed mine, just enough to make me strain toward him—I needed him like I needed air.
“Kids!” His stepdad’s voice rang through the night air. “You out here making noise?”
Colton pushed me away and I nearly hit my head on the waterfall rocks.
“Yeah, just . . . hanging out!” Colton called. “I’m with Jason’s sister.”
I froze. He’d never called me that before. He even said it in such a final way, as if that was all I would ever be. Period. My heart didn’t just sink . . . it shuddered, then combusted, as all the hopes I’d harbored since I was thirteen came to a crushing world-altering halt. My suspicions were finally confirmed. Out loud. On the day the boy I liked had thought enough to throw me a party.
The line had been drawn. And I might as well be on the other side of the universe.
That was the day I lost Colton Mathews—forever.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com