CHAPTER ONE — HUDSON
“It’s good to see ya,” Drake says as he pulls me in for a hug.
“Thanks for picking me up,” I reply, smacking him on the back as we pull apart.
He’s wearing a wide smile, dark eyes shining with the bright summer sun. “Of course. You didn’t think I’d leave my little brother stranded at the airport, did ya?” He picks up my military-issued duffle and tosses it into the back of his truck.
“Well, it was short notice.” I climb into the passenger seat.
He gets behind the wheel and twists the key in the ignition. “What’s your plans now that you’ve been honorably discharged?”
I take a deep breath and shrug. “No idea. I’ve been thinking about trying to get a job with the police or fire department.”
“You know you always have a place at the brewery,” he offers.
I nod. “I know, and I do plan on putting in some time there, but I need something with a little more…”
“Danger?” He laughs out.
I smirk. “I was thinking adventure.”
“Oh, right, right.” He nods along in agreement. “So, where ya staying?”
Again, I have absolutely nothing planned out. “I figured I’d just crash at the motel or something.”
“What? No way! You can stay at the house with me and Celeste.”
“You got the room?”
He nods. “Well, the spare bedroom is now Ty’s, but he usually sleeps in the bassinet in our room anyway. We can blow up an air mattress and throw it down on the floor.”
“How is my little nephew?” I ask, suddenly realizing how much I’ve missed. I’m the only single guy in the family now, and if it’s up to me, it will stay that way for a while. I need to learn to be on my own. I went from living at home with Dad to the military. I’ve never gotten the chance to be an adult.
“He’s good. Growing like a weed. In fact, you have a lot of new family to meet.”
“I know. I mean, I’m gone for a couple of years and the next thing I know, every single one of my brothers is reproducing. Even Wyatt. I never saw that coming.”
Drake laughs. “Yeah, neither did we. He was off the rails for a long time. But Destiny, she knows how to reel him in. So, you’ll stay with us?”
I nod. “Yeah, for a little while. Just until I find a place of my own.”
“You know, you could be like the rest of us and take your plot of land. Build something all your own.”
“I plan to…one of these days. Right now, I just want to relax, unwind, and enjoy catching up with some friends. I want to make sure I want to stay here. I mean, Wyatt went out and traveled the world. I haven’t seen anything worth seeing.” I saw a lot of shit I wish I didn’t though. Most of it still gives me nightmares. Hopefully, I can keep them at bay.
He reaches over and pats my shoulder. “You can stay as long as you’d like. And Colton insisted on fixing up this old truck for Celeste, but she won’t drive the thing. You can use it until you find something else, if you want.”
I smile over at him. “Thanks, man. This was all so spur of the moment that I really haven’t had time to plan anything.”
“No need to thank me. I’m just glad to finally have you back home.”
The rest of the drive to his house is quiet. We talk here and there, but mostly, I just gaze out the window, noticing how much everything has changed since the last time I’ve been home. It seems like forever ago, even though it’s only been a few years.
Drake points out Colton’s new house as we drive by, and he makes sure to show me the new addition to the brewery he’d built. He tells me about some of the business at the brewery, but to be honest, that never interested me much. Growing up and being the youngest, I spent a lot of my time at the brewery with Dad. The other guys had already chased off most of the babysitters that Dad had hired, so when it came to me and Wyatt, there wasn’t anyone around. Dad had no other option but to take us to work with him. I think I spent more time at that brewery than I did our house. The day I was finally old enough to be trusted to stay home alone was a day I celebrated. I never had the heart to argue with Dad about going to the brewery. It was his life’s work. He worked so hard and he was so proud of the company’s growth. And whether I like to admit it or not, I’ve always been the type of person who kept my feelings inside. I’m not into sharing my emotions. I’ve always wanted to do what’s been asked of me and do the right thing. My brothers have always called me a suck-up when it came to Dad and a pushover when it came to everyone else. I just don’t have it in me to fight and argue. You’ll win every time simply because I don’t have any interest in being right or winning.
When we pull into the drive, Celeste comes out holding a baby in her arms. She’s wearing a wide smile and waving, her blonde hair blowing in the light summer breeze. I’ve only met Celeste one time, but I remember her being kind and welcoming.
“Are you sure she’s not going to have a problem with this?” I ask, opening my door to climb out.
“Yes, it was her idea,” he says, stepping out and moving toward the back to get my bag.
The two of us walk up to the porch. Celeste quickly kisses Drake before moving over to me. She gives me a one-armed hug as she holds the baby with the other.
“It’s good to see you again,” she says, squeezing me tightly.
I hug her gently, afraid of hurting the baby in her arms. “It’s nice to see you again too. How have you been? How’s this little guy?” I take his small hand in mine and shake it gently back and forth. He offers up a toothless grin.
“Good, getting bigger every day. You guys hungry? Dinner is ready,” she says, looking between the two of us.
I nod. “I’m starving. I haven’t eaten real food all day.”
We all move into the house where the kitchen table is already set for three. In the center is a platter that holds grilled chicken that looks to be smothered in garlic butter. The chicken sits on a bed of mushrooms and onions. There’s mashed potatoes, some fresh vegetables, and dinner rolls. Just smelling the food makes my mouth water. I can’t tell you the last time I was able to just sit down and eat good food with good company.
Celeste goes to lay the baby down while Drake and I start making our plates.
“This all smells delicious,” I say, scooping out a big portion of mashed potatoes.
He laughs as he watches me. “Been a while since you ate real food, huh?”
“That’s okay, Hudson. You eat all that you can handle,” Celeste says, taking her seat between Drake and me.
I offer her a kind smile. “Thank you, Celeste.” I shoot Drake a look that causes him to laugh.
Once I have my plate made, I sit down and start eating. Being in the military, I’m used to scarfing it down. I’ve done it so long now that I don’t know how to eat at a normal pace anymore. When I look up, Celeste and Drake are both starting at me.
“What?” I ask, mouth full of food as I look down at my nearly empty plate and then to their full ones. “Oh, I forgot I’m not in the mess hall. Sorry.” I forced myself to swallow the food in my mouth.
Celeste, being the sweet, kindhearted woman she is, smiles sweetly. “You’re just fine, Hudson. I’m sure all you need is just time to adjust to this new life. What do you plan on doing next?” She places the smallest bit of chicken in her mouth.
I wipe my mouth with the cloth napkin on my lap and take a drink of the beer I was given. I shrug. “I honestly have no idea just yet. I wasn’t exactly planning this. I mean, in a weird way, it feels like I just got out of high school and I’m trying to pick a path all over again. I never thought I’d be out of the military this early in my life.”
She nods, understanding. “Well, I’m sure Drake has something for you down at the brewery,” she mentions.
Drake speaks up. “I already offered. Hudson needs something a little more, what word did you use? Adventurous,” he says, the corners of his mouth lifting upward.
Celeste lets out a giggle. “I’m sure sitting behind a desk doesn’t seem like much fun compared to dodging bullets as they whiz by your head.”
“I’m just…very active. I’m not good when it comes to sitting down for a long period of time and having to concentrate on paperwork. In fact, I think I’m going to go for a jog. That was a long ride home. I can’t remember the last time I sat still this long. Thanks for dinner, Celeste. It was delicious,” I say, standing and pushing my chair back.
I grab my bag out of the living room floor, and Drake points me in the direction of my room. I walk into the room and close the door behind me, breathing in a deep breath of relief. I look around the room to find everything set up for a nursery. There’s a crib, changing table, rocking chair, and more stuffed animals than any one kid needs. Looking around this room only confirms my thoughts. I shouldn’t be here. This is Drake’s life, his family. I need to find my own place, my own life.
I quickly change into a pair of basketball shorts and tennis shoes. I hook up my wireless earbuds and slip in my armband, and loud music begins to blare. On the porch, I take a minute to stretch before pushing myself forward.
As I jog down the old gravel road, I start to relax. As my lungs work for oxygen, my heart beats faster and faster. This is how I like to live my life. Fast. Alone. Nothing is standing in my way, and I’m not standing in anyone else’s way. There’s no one to answer to. No one to worry about. It’s just me, the road, and the sound of my heart.
My first order of business will be to find myself a place to live. I don’t like bumming off my brothers. I don’t like feeling like I’m interrupting their lives. I need to find my own place, my own way.
A car speeds past me, and I don’t think anything of it until I see the car stop up ahead. I continue on with my jog until I come to a stop at the open passenger side window. I bend down, wondering if whoever is driving is okay.
“Hudson?” a guy’s voice asks.
My eyes lock with Brad Olsen, an old pal of mine. I smile wide. “Hey, man! What have you been up to?”
He laughs as he throws the car in park and gets out. He heads around the front of the car where we meet for a handshake and a hug.
“I can’t believe you’re back here! Where ya been? How’a been?” He runs his hand through his dark hair, pushing it away from his forehead.
I nod. “I’m good. I was just discharged, so I came back home to pick up where I left off. How about you? Last I heard from you, your mom was moving your family upstate.” That was when we were still in high school. I had no idea he’d moved back.
“I’m good,” he says, nodding his head. “I moved back a few months ago. Got a job at the brewery. I got an apartment in town. Where you staying?”
“I just got back today, so I’m crashing with my brother until I find a place.”
“I got an extra room if you want it. I’ve been looking for a roommate, but most of the guys I work with already have a place. I don’t know many people in town anymore.” He slides his hands into his jean pockets. The action only draws my attention to the fresh ink on his tanned arms.
I want to ask about them, but figure now isn’t the time. It seems that Brad has changed quite a bit over the years. The Brad I knew was a straight-A student. He didn’t have many friends and never got in trouble. He was in charge of all the academic clubs and always made honor roll. I thought he would’ve gone to college and been sitting at the top of a skyscraper by now, not standing in this small town, working for my brother, and covered in ink.
“Yeah? You care if I swing by tomorrow? Check it out?”
“Yeah, man. Absolutely. I work the midnight shift at the brewery, so you could swing by around three in the afternoon after I wake up?”
I smile and nod. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Let me get your number and I’ll text you the address.”
We quickly exchange numbers before we go our separate ways. I turn around and jog back to Drake’s as he climbs behind the wheel and heads toward town.
It’s going on eight when I make it back. The house is quiet, with the two of them cuddled up on the couch. Drake asks if I want to join them to watch TV, but I turn them down, opting to take a shower to get out of the house for a little while. As long as I’m staying here, I’m going to try to be as scarce as possible. I don’t want to cramp their style. The less they see of me, the better.
I shower quickly, then pull on a pair of jeans, my boots, and an old fitted T-shirt before climbing behind the wheel of the beat-up truck. The engine turns over with the first try, the roar cutting through the silence of the evening. I pray that the loud motor doesn’t wake the baby, so I back out of the drive as fast as possible.
I roll the windows down and let the country air blow through the cab of the truck. With every bump of the gravel road, the body squeaks and squeals. The scent of honeysuckle fills my nose, mixing with the smell of the dry earth and sunbaked asphalt.
I drive through town and find nowhere to go other than a bar. With it being a Friday night, there are already several cars in the parking lot. I pull up to the side of the building and climb out, heading inside. The sound of loud country music fills my ears as I walk in. The smell of stale beer washes over me. I take in the place, noticing a few guys playing pool in the back, a couple of people sitting at the tables around the room, and a few older men sitting at the bar.
I take a seat by myself and order a beer to kill some time. I was hoping to run into some old friends, but it doesn’t seem like many are left. Most of them went away to college and I can only assume that once they finished, they moved on to bigger cities for their dream career or to start a family of their own. Sitting alone makes me wish that I’d asked Brad to join me, but I’m sure he probably has to work tonight.
I sit and drink beer after beer, randomly talking to the men at the bar and, sometimes, the bartender when she throws in her two cents. There’s no serious talk. It’s all just random shit about the town or the shape of the economy and the state of our county. The place never fills up, but I keep an eye on the door, watching as people go in and out.
I can’t help but notice when a woman walks in. I’ve never seen her before, but when my eyes meet hers, something familiar I can’t place washes over me. She’s tall and thin. She has dark hair that’s stick straight and hangs down to her round ass. Her dark eyes are almond-shaped, and her plump lips turn up into a grin as she takes me in.
My eyes travel from her tanned legs to her big tits, which she’s managed to trap under her tight white tank top. She comes to a stop beside me, setting her purse on the bar as she digs out some money while ordering a drink. When the bartender comes back with a pink drink, I slide a twenty over to her.
“It’s on me.”
The woman at my side smiles. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” I nod my head in her direction. I turn my attention back to the beer in my hand and tip it back, taking a long drink.
She scoots over, taking the empty barstool between us. “I’m Danielle,” she says, holding out her hand.
“I’m Hudson.” I shake her hand and the moment we touch, every hair on my body stands on end. “You from around here?”
She shakes her head. “Nah, I live in Denver. I just graduated college. I’m just here spending the summer with some family before real life kicks in.” She offers up a smile of her perfectly straight, white teeth. Her lips are painted a deep red, making her teeth sparkle that much more. “What about you?”
“I was born and raised here. I managed to get out for a few years. I was in the military. But I’ve been discharged and just got back today.”
“Mmm, I’ve always loved a man in a uniform,” she says, running the tips of her fingers around the rim of her glass.
She’s flirting with me, and it makes my dick harden. It’s been a long time since I’ve been with a woman—at least six months since the last random fling I had back in Germany. I wish I had a place to take her to, but it’s not like I have my own apartment yet.
“Wanna dance?” she asks, looking at me from beneath her long, dark eyelashes.
I down the rest of my beer and stand up, holding out my arm for her. She slips her arm around mine and follows as I lead her to the dance floor. The song is soft and slow as I spin her around to face me. She lands perfectly in my arms and I pull her close. Her big tits press against my chest, and I breathe in her scent of jasmine and vanilla.
She wraps her arms around my neck and her breath blows across my neck, only teasing me more. Every muscle in my body hardens as I try to hold off the flood of need and want that holding her brings on. It’s been so long, I would fuck her in the bathroom if she’d let me. With that thought, my dick twitches.
Her eyes widen and leap up to mine. She must have felt me harden against her. Her tongue comes out, wetting her bottom lip. “Wanna go someplace little more quiet? Just the two of us?” Her fingers thread into the back of my hair. Her touch is so soft, my eyes want to flutter closed.
“I just got into town. I don’t have a place yet,” I say, wanting to kick myself for letting Drake talk me out of getting that motel room.
Without warning, she presses her lips to mine, her tongue coming out and pushing its way into my mouth. My eyes close as my hands pull her closer. She kisses me fast and hard, one hand tugging at my hair while the other falls down between us, fisting around my shirt.
My hands move from her hips around to her ass, which I squeeze. She lets out a gasp before pulling away.
“You drive here?”
I’m breathless from our kiss but I nod.
She flashes a teasing smile. “Then let’s go.”
CHAPTER TWO — DEVEN
The moment I walk into the bar, my eyes land on Hudson Slade—a guy I’ve had a crush on for as long as I can remember. He and my brother were the best of friends back in high school, back before Mama moved us to Denver. I was only a little girl then, someone that wasn’t even on Hudson Slade’s radar. It’s easy to see that he doesn’t recognize me. If he does, he doesn’t let on. Instead of telling him my first name, I give him my middle name and he seems to accept it. I know that if I tell him my first name, he’ll place me in a heartbeat. Not many girls have the name Deven. I don’t know if he and my brother are still close, but I know he won’t ever go for his old friend’s little sister.
But it’s not like I’m expecting a lifelong relationship here either. I just want the one thing I never thought I’d get. Him, for one night. It’s been years since we’d seen one another, and I grew up a lot in that time. I’m no longer the geeky little girl with braces and Coke-bottle glasses. My ugly duckling phase is over, and it seems like Hudson is turned on by the swan I’ve become. If I was still the good little girl he remembered, I’d insist on a real date: dinner, dancing, a bed. But I’m not that good little girl anymore. I’m an adult now. I’ve had more boyfriends than I can keep track of and more hook-ups than I should be willing to admit. Leading him out to the parking lot, I only have one thing on my mind: showing him what I’ve become.
He seems to pick up on where I’m going. He tugs my hand, spinning me around to face him. In the same second, he pulls me to his chest, his mouth finding mine. I wrap my arms around his neck, kissing him hard and fast, blind passion boiling between us. His strong hands find my hips, and he picks me up against him where my legs wrap around his waist. He presses my back to the cool metal truck door, giving his hands the chance to tour my body.
The side of the bar doesn’t have any lights, so it’s rather dark compared to the front of the building. There’s only a little light that makes it to the far back corner, just enough to give a little glimpse here and there. But with his mouth on mine and his hands touching my body, I couldn’t force my eyes open if I wanted to. Hudson Slade was the sexiest guy I’d ever laid eyes on, and time has only intensified his good looks. His dark hair is kept shorter than he used to keep it, but I’m sure that’s more about the military than his personal preference. He’s tall and thin, but rock hard, his biceps nearly the size of my thighs. And they’re covered in black and gray ink. His face, that’s what’s always gets me though. His eyes are blue, the bluest blue I’ve ever seen. They’re like ice water on a hot summer day. His angular jaw has a five o’clock shadow that gives me goosebumps when it scrapes against my soft skin. Hudson Slade has always been untouchable to me, and just knowing that he’s soon going to slide into me makes me want to come undone with the slightest touch.
He opens the passenger side door of the truck and lowers me on the seat with him between my legs. His hand slides up my inner thigh, making me call out. My hands find the hem of his shirt, and I pull it up his chest. He breaks our kiss for a moment, just long enough to pull the shirt off and toss it into the footwell, then his mouth is back on mine.
As his hand climbs higher up my thigh, I pull my tank top over my head. Our kiss slows and breaks completely. He watches with fire in his eyes as I unclasp my bra and let it fall to the floor. He swallows, causing his Adam’s apple to bob in his throat. He wets his lips, and without warning, he moves in, capturing my nipple in his mouth.
My head falls back as a moan leaves my lips. He sucks my nipple before flicking his tongue against it. While his mouth stays busy on my breast, his hand moves up, finding my panties and pulling them down my legs. I lift my hips up, allowing him to slide them off me. He tosses them into the floor next to the rest of our clothing.
“Do you have a condom?” I ask, breathless, enjoying the way his mouth works.
He pulls away completely and reaches behind him for his wallet. Seconds later, he’s taking out the foil packet and tossing his wallet onto the dash. After checking around us, he unbuttons his jeans and lowers his fly. Ripping the package open with his teeth, he removes the condom and pushes his jeans past his hips. His long, thick cock springs free.
My muscles tighten in anticipation as I watch him roll the condom over his length. Seconds later, his hands are back on my hips, pulling me to the edge of the seat. My skirt slides up to my waist as he positions himself at my entrance. With his mouth on mine, he pushes into me, making me gasp at the pain and the pleasure that surges through my body. He lets out the softest of moans into my mouth before sliding out and pushing back in.
With each thrust, I get closer and closer to my release. Every time he pushes into me, he uses more force. My arms, which are stretched out behind me, supporting me, give out and I have no choice but to lay back in the seat as he claims my body. Waves of pleasure wash over me, lighting my body on fire and causing tingles to spread over me. I tighten around him and he doubles his efforts, pushing me over the edge. My release hits me like a brick wall. I crumble and give in to the pleasure coursing through my veins. I can’t do anything but hang on for dear life as I ride out every last wave of my release.
He pulls out of me quickly and for a moment, I’m worried that our time is over, but then he flips me over so I’m bent over the seat with my feet on the ground and he slides back into me, claiming me in a whole different way. I call out his name. In this position, he seems even bigger than before. He thrusts into me forcefully, never slowing or easing off. Before I know it, I’m coming undone again. He lets out a deep moan as his hips become more erratic, less precise. With one last grunt, his hips come to a stop and he bends over and rests his head against my back to catch his breath.
I’m completely breathless, my heart pounding a million times a minute. I can’t move, can’t feel my toes. It feels like every hair on my body is standing on end, like every nerve ending is tingling and vibrating. Without warning, he removes himself from me. I feel cold and empty without him, and a little sad that our one night together is over. I pull my skirt back down into its rightful place as I watch him remove the condom. He tosses it into a trash can at the corner of the building before replacing his clothes.
I pull on my bra and tank top as he turns to face me.
“Do you need a ride home?” he asks, grabbing his wallet off the dash and sliding it back into his pocket.
“No, I have my car here,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around myself. I suddenly feel a chill as the summer breeze blows against my sweaty skin.
He nods once. “Okay, well, I should get going. It’s getting late, and I’m crashing at my brother’s. I don’t want to come in late and wake them up.”
“Okay,” I say, nodding my head the same way he is. Things feel awkward now. I wonder if he’s realizing who I really am.
“Thanks for the good time. I hope we run into one another again in the future.”
I force a smile onto my face. “Me too,” I reply, backing away from his truck, toward the front of the building where I parked my car.
I turn around to make the journey a little quicker, and I hear his loud truck start up, the roar of the engine cutting into the quiet night. I suddenly realize that I’m not wearing my underwear, but when I look up, he’s turning out of the parking lot. I guess I’ll never get those back.
I wake in the morning when Brad makes it home from work. He walks into the apartment and slams the door closed behind him. I’m asleep on the couch, so I jump awake.
“What the hell, man,” I mumble as I rub my hands over my face.
He looks down at me on the couch and then to his watch. “It’s going on seven. Why are you still in bed? I thought we had an agreement?”
“I know, I know. I was just up late. I have my alarm set for seven-thirty,” I promise. “I’m going job hunting today.”
He snorts. “I hope so. I can barely support myself, let alone you too. You want to crash here, you’re going to have to help out with the rent.”
“I know. We already talked about this, remember?” I roll my eyes as I swing my feet off the couch and onto the floor.
“I may have a roommate. He’s coming to check out the place this afternoon, so get your shit out of there, will ya?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I mumble, pushing myself up from the couch and heading for the bathroom.
I quickly take a shower and get out before Brad comes banging on the door. He works midnights at the brewery, and he always comes home in the mornings, eats breakfast, then takes a shower before going to bed. I know me taking a morning shower could really interfere with his routine, and I’ve listened to him bitch enough lately.
I wrap myself in a towel and head to the guest bedroom to get dressed and fix my hair and makeup for the day. I hate job hunting, but Brad is right. He can barely afford this place on his own, and I’m an adult now. I shouldn’t expect him to take care of me. I’ll find a job and help pull my weight around here until I have enough saved up to get a place of my own. I just need a little time, that’s all.
I dress in a pair of skinny jeans and pull on a brown pair of knee-high boots. It’s probably way too hot out for jeans and boots, but I don’t think going job hunting in a pair of cut off jean shorts will help me land a job. I find a cute short-sleeved top and pull it on before checking myself over one more time. I add a little makeup, but not a lot. I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard.
By the time I’m leaving the apartment, Brad is already in bed and the place is dead quiet. I close the door behind me as silently as I can before rushing down the stairs to my car. When I start my car, I see that I only have a quarter of a tank of gas left. I open my purse and dig out my wallet, finding fifteen dollars and sixty-four cents. That’s all the money I have.
I let out a long breath and shift into drive to hit up the gas station. I put ten dollars worth of gas in my tank, leaving me with five dollars and sixty-four cents for breakfast. I know the diner will cost more than what I have, so I settle with a small cup of gas station coffee and a sleeve of mini donuts. After everything is paid for, I have exactly twenty-three cents to my name. I climb back behind the wheel and drop the change into the cup holder.
I pick up my phone, thankful that the bill was just paid, and start looking for any place in town that may be hiring. As I scroll, I sip my coffee and nibble on my donuts. A car pulls up behind me and honks their horn, suddenly reminding me that I’m still parked at the gas pump. “Okay, sorry,” I mumble, even though I know they can’t hear me. I drop my phone into my lap and start up the car to pull away from the pump.
I drive down Main Street, looking at all the businesses. I decide to just pull over and inside to ask if they’re hiring or if I can fill out an application. I pull to the side of the road and finish up my breakfast before getting out and going into the nearest business.
I spend my morning walking up and down Main Street. I fill out application after application, talking with managers and business owners. All of them promise to call as soon as they have something come up, but nobody is in need of help right now. I feel dejected as I’m walking back to the car down the street. When I look up, I notice a little boutique that I haven’t been in yet. The store looks cute with its dressed-up mannequins in the window. On the other side of the door is another window that holds a big table full of sparkling jewelry. This looks like the perfect place for me.
I look both ways before crossing the street and heading inside the boutique.
“Welcome to Destiny’s Boutique,” a little blonde says from behind the register.
I smile and head for the counter, noticing that the woman behind the register is holding a baby to her chest. “Aw, how cute!”
She smiles. “Thanks, he just fell asleep. Let me lay him down and I’ll be right with you.”
“Take your time,” I tell her, moving down the counter to look at the racks of earrings.
Everything in this little store is adorable. There’s jewelry, shoes, purses, perfume, candles, and clothes. I wish I had my own store like this. I want to laugh at that thought. Maybe I’ll open one with the few cents I threw in my cup holder.
“How can I help you?” she asks, moving back to the register. “Are you looking for anything specific?”
“Yes, actually,” I say, heading back her way to stand directly in front of her. “I’m looking for a job. You wouldn’t happen to be hiring, would you?”
“Actually, I was just about to start looking. One of my girls had to leave, and I’m looking for fill her position. Have you ever worked at a clothing store before?”
I nod. “I’ve worked at a few stores in the mall back in Denver.”
“Denver? Are you planning on staying here a while?”
I nod again. “Yeah, I recently made the move here. I’m staying with my brother right now, but I’m wanting to get my own place…sooner rather than later.”
She holds out her hand. “I’m Destiny. This is my place.”
I shake her hand. “I’m Deven. It’s nice to meet you. I’m really loving your store.” I look around at all the cute clothes I wish I could buy.
She smiles sweetly. “Thank you. Would you like to come back to my office and we can have an impromptu interview?”
“Yes, thank you,” I say, following her back to her office where the baby is asleep.
“Don’t worry, he’s a deep sleeper. You have any kids?”
I shake my head. “No, no kids.”
“Married?” she asks.
“Nope, not that either.” I laugh out.
I press my lips together. “I hope this isn’t me failing your quiz,” I joke.
She laughs. “Not at all. I was just trying to determine how busy you are. Most people who have kids or are married prefer to work only Monday through Friday only so that they can enjoy a little time with their loved ones on the weekends.”
“I will take anything you have open. I’ll work nights, weekends, it doesn’t matter. I just really need a job.”
She smiles and holds out her hand. “You’re hired.”
I smile wide. “Really?” I ask, lifting my hand to shake.
“Really. Can you start right now? I can walk you through the register.”
“Yes, please,” I say, standing back up to follow after her.
I notice an envelope on her desk that reads: Destiny Slade. I can’t hold back my burning questions. “Are you related to Hudson Slade?”
She nods. “That’s my brother-in-law. How do you know him?” she asks, glancing back at me as she heads toward the register.
“Oh, he and my brother used to be really good friends back in high school. Which one are you with?”
“Wyatt,” she answers.
I nod. “I was so young, I barely remember Hudson,” I lie. “I never met any of his brothers.”
“How old are you?” she asks.
“Eighteen. I just graduated high school in Denver.”
“Any plans for college?”
I shrug. “I still haven’t made up my mind yet. I can’t really afford it right now, and I don’t want to worry about student loans. If anything, I might pick up some online classes or something until I make my decision.”
The rest of the day, Destiny walks me through using the register and how to open and close the store. We talk and get to know one another throughout the day. She’s super nice, friendly, and funny, and I can easily see myself becoming good friends with her. The store closes up at five, and she walks me through everything that needs to be done before giving me a key to open in the morning.
I get back to the apartment around five-thirty. I open the door and rush inside. “I got a job!” I cheer.
Brad is sitting on the couch, a beer in his hand. Another guy, I’m assuming the friend who’s looking at the apartment, is sitting in the chair with his back to me.
Brad’s eyes stretch wide. “What? That’s great news! Where at?” He rushes up to hug me.
“Destiny’s Boutique,” I answer, hugging him back.
When he pulls away, he says, “Dev, this is my friend, Hudson. You remember him, right?” He points toward the man, and he turns his upper body around to see me.
I’m face to face with Hudson Slade. His blue eyes stretch wide and his jaw drops as he looks over at me. I watch as his eyes take me in from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Finally, he stands and moves to Brad’s side. “This is Deven? Your little sister?” he asks, eyes bouncing back and forth between me and Brad while his index finger stays pointed at me.
Brad smiles. “Yeah, it’s been a while, I know. She’s really grown up, hasn’t she?” Brad puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me to his side. “She just graduated high school and moved here to be with her big brother.”
“High school…” Hudson says, eyebrows skyrocketing. He holds out his hand to shake, a little smirk playing on his lips.
“Good to see you again,” I say with a knowing smile as I reach out and shake his hand.
He shakes his head so lightly that only I see it, and he lets out a little puff of air as the corners of his mouth stay turned up. “Yeah, you too. It’s been a long time. I didn’t even recognize you.”
“Hey, let’s celebrate. How about some pizza and beer?” Brad offers. He nudges my side. “As long as you won’t tell Mom that I’m letting you have a beer.”
I scoff, my eyes never leaving Hudson and his never leaving me. “I don’t even talk to Mom,” I reply.
“Good. I’ll be right back. Hudson, you good?” he asks as he starts to turn for the door.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Hudson says, finally forcing his eyes off of me.
Brad walks out and leaves the two of us alone. You could cut the tension between us with a knife. He watches as I slowly walk around the chair and sit on the couch. Slowly, he sits back down in the chair.
“Danielle, huh?” he asks, brows drawn together in anger or annoyance.
“Deven Danielle,” I say, trying to prove to him that I wasn’t exactly lying.
“Did you know who I was last night?”
This time, I do lie. “I knew you looked familiar, but I couldn’t place you. It wasn’t until later when I connected the dots.”
“And you haven’t told your brother?”
“Tell my brother that his eighteen-year-old sister has a fake ID that I used to get into a bar and then to fuck his friend? No, that must have slipped my mind.” I roll my eyes. How stupid does he think I am?
“Good. He can never know.” His eyes are wide. “Understood?”
I nod once. “Agreed.”
There’s a long silence between us for a couple of minutes. Finally, I feel so awkward, I have to break it. “So, you’re moving in here too?”
“Too?” he asks, eyes bouncing back up to me, surprise filling them. “You live here?” He points at the floor.
I shrug. “Well, I’m staying here for the time being. Just until I have enough money saved up to get my own place. Brad kind of saved me when I got kicked out of our mom’s boyfriend’s house.”
He hangs his head, shaking it as he rubs his eyes. “This is just fucking great,” he says under his breath.
“You. Me. Both of us living here with this huge secret between us.” He balls his hands into fists, causing his knuckles to crack. “He’s going to find out, you know?”
I laugh. “How’s he going to find out? I’m not saying anything. You’re not saying anything.”
“I’m going to have a guilty look on my face every time you walk into the room.”
I shake my head. “Oh, come on. What’s to feel guilty about? I’m legal. It was consensual. Nothing has been broken here. It’s not like you were my first.” I flash him a quick smile. “You were my favorite though. I can’t wait until we do it again.” I’m only teasing him, partly.
He jumps up and paces the floor. “Oh, no! It can never happen again.”
“Why not? Didn’t you enjoy yourself?”
He scoffs. “Of course I enjoyed myself.” He comes to a stop as he slides his hands into his jean pockets. “You’re…I mean, look at you.” He pulls one hand out and gestures toward me. “Any guy would be lucky to have a night alone with you. But me…us, it can’t happen again.” He shakes his head just as Brad walks back in with a box of pizza and a six pack of beer.
“Time to eat,” he says, passing us to head to the kitchen to set everything down.
I get up and walk past Hudson, shaking my ass a little more than necessary. I open the box and grab a slice of pizza. I take a bite and let out a long moan as the cheese pulls into strings from my mouth to the slice in my hand. I look over at Hudson and his eyes grow in size as he watches me.
I set the pizza down onto a paper plate that Brad hands me and grab a beer. I twist off the top and take a long drink from the bottle. When I look back at Hudson, he’s swallowing something down, his Adam’s apple bobbing in this throat.
“Help yourself, man,” Brad says, stepping past him and taking his plate and beer to the living room.
The three of us all sit in the living room, watching TV and talking while we eat. Brad and Hudson have a lot to catch up on, and I sit back and listen as they talk about what each of them have been doing since they last saw one another. Hudson tells us about his time in the army, and Brad tells Hudson about living in Denver, finishing school, our dad passing away, and having to stick around to support Mama and me until she ended up with the loser boyfriend she has now—the one that kicked me out.
As their conversation comes to an end, I look up at Hudson. “So, you have a girlfriend?” I ask, putting him on the spot.
He looks like a deer in the headlights. “Oh, ummmm, no. No girlfriend. I haven’t been home long enough for all that.”
“Shit, man. All you gotta do is say the word and I can hook you up. There’s plenty of single women that work at the brewery with me,” Brad states.
I watch Hudson closely. He looks at me then back at Brad. “Nah, I’m good, man. Thanks. I think, right now, I need to get my life in order before I bring anyone else into it.”
Brad nods. “Alright. Just say the word when you’re ready. I can have them lined up outside the door.”
I stand up. “Think I’m going to call it a night. Gotta open the store tomorrow.” I dispose of my trash in the kitchen trash can before heading for the bathroom to shower. Now that the guest bedroom is going to be occupied, I’ll have to sleep on the couch. I hope that they clear out of the living room soon. I really do need some sleep. I haven’t had to get up early since I lived back at Mama’s. I have a feeling my life is about to change in more ways than one.