Bringing Home the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon

Her eyes tracked along the tattoos decorating his arms to the new one. His latest patch of artwork was a series of evergreen trees, their dark blue-black bases circling his wrist and branching up his arm, their tops almost reaching his elbow. Each tree was a different height, and knowing his attention to detail, each one had some significance. The whole of the pictorial on his arm had a big one.

His moving to Evergreen Cove.

Unable to keep it from happening, her heart reverted to the state it’d been in at age fifteen, somersaulting in the wrongest way imaginable. Before he was Rae’s, oh, how Charlie had pined for Evan Downey. Must have been seeing him back here, or maybe her earlier thoughts about her life, that caused the mini-backslide.

But she couldn’t backslide. She’d made a vow to herself, to Rae’s silent body, to care for Lyon and Evan.

“Did you guys eat?” she asked.

“Yeah. Dairy Dreem,” Lyon confirmed.

She knew it. She tilted her chin at Evan in reprimand. An accidentally sensual smirk crooked his mouth, surrounded in a one or two days’ worth of stubble.

“We didn’t only get ice cream.”

“Yeah, we had French fries,” Lyon added, earning a headshake from his dad.

“No loyalty.” The smirk slid into a grin and if that didn’t cause her heart the subtlest flutter, the wink would. And there it was, one blue eye closing and opening again—a flutter in and of itself—the blue so bright, it was nearly electric.

Was it any wonder he’d been on her radar when she was a vacationing teen visiting the Cove? There’d been three “bad boys” she and Rae had noticed whenever they sunbathed at the beach. Evan Downey, Donovan Pate, and Asher Knight. For Charlie, Evan stood out the most.

Evan only had eyes for Rae.

At first she was heartbroken, but Charlie had kept that fact to herself. Teenage crushes were a dime a dozen, and predictably, she outgrew it in a few summers. Rae and Evan had been designed for each other. By the time she stood at Rae’s side as her maid of honor, there wasn’t a bone in her body not overjoyed that her best friend had found the love of her life.

After Rae’s death, Charlie had become a more consistent part of Evan’s and Lyon’s lives. Russell hadn’t liked it. More than once, she wondered if her decision to care for Rae’s family rather than prioritize him had ultimately led to their demise.

Staying in touch with Evan had been easy when she and Russell lived close by. After the breakup and relocation, however, her trips to Columbus became less frequent. Once she was settled and had a job, Charlie did make an overnight trip down to visit, and she ended up babysitting for Lyon.

She hadn’t minded the babysitting part. Not at all. But the fact that Evan had gone on a date with an incredibly beautiful blonde, then come home around three in the morning smelling of perfume and sex, had hurt her heart in a way she hadn’t known possible.

When he’d passed her in the hallway, Charlie had ducked her face into her palm to stifle a sob. Evan abruptly turned on his heel to wrap her in his arms and comfort her, and she had just lost it.

Him giving himself to a harlot who didn’t appreciate the things Rae had fallen in love with: his huge heart, his bottomless love for his family, was awful to witness.

Rae and Evan were supposed to live happily ever after. Lyon was supposed to grow up, get married, and dance with his mom at the reception. And Charlie… well, her life hadn’t turned out the way she’d planned, either.

Unable to voice the real reason for her crying jag, she’d blamed her emotions on her breakup with Russell, rather than the way it punched a hole in her chest to see the way she and Evan, Lyon, and Rae had all been shortchanged.

Life didn’t heed plans and dates. Life went on, and left whomever it pleased behind in the wreckage.

The memory caused her heart to ache, and her gut to yearn for what could have been. She flicked her eyes heavenward and sent up a mental, Sorry, Rae.

“Can I go inside?” Lyon pulled away from her and grabbed the handle on her sliding door.

“Knock yourself out,” she answered. “One more hug, though.” He acquiesced, giving her a halfhearted squeeze. She’d take what she could get. Soon, he’d be at an age where he wouldn’t snuggle with her any longer and she thought that might be the day she started crying and never stopped.

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