Storm Page 16

They were talking, their voices carrying, though she couldn\ get any words yet.

She stood frozen, feeling danger though she couldn\ identify why. Casper ran in circles around them, stopping every lap to growl.

Then the men drew close enough to the fire drum for her to begin to make out features.

Tyler. Seth.

And five other guys.

CHAPTER 12

Becca grabbed Hunter\s hand and spun him around. His back was to the fire now, and he was tall enough to block her from view.

Her palm was sweating, but she didn\ let go.

Hunter didn\ , either.

He leaned in close, keeping his voice low. It probably looked like they were about to make out. ’’Those are the guys from the pet store?’’

She swallowed and nodded, ducking her head a bit to make sure she was hidden.

’’Did they see you?’’ he asked.

’’I don\ think so.’’

Casper growled again.

’’Casper!’’ Hunter hissed. ’’Platz!’’

The dog whined and dropped to the ground beside them.

’’Are they coming toward us?’’ asked Hunter. ’’Can you see?’’

Fear had her stomach in a vise grip. Her tongue felt like rubber. ’’I can\ see.’’ She didn\ want to see.

Hunter pulled her closer, then slipped that hand behind her back. His fingers splayed along the bare inch of skin, and she sucked in a breath. Her eyes flashed up to his.

’’Shh.’’ He dropped his head and pressed his cheek against hers.

For an instant, she completely forgot about Tyler. Her entire awareness centered on the inch of space between their bodies, the warmth of their shared breath, the strength in that hand on her back. His free hand found her neck, his fingertips threading through the loose hair there.

She should pull away. She would. In a second.

Make that a minute.

But then he turned her, so quickly that she almost stumbled. His hand held her upright. She felt the warmth of the fire at her back.

He spoke against her cheek. ’’They\ e heading toward the house. They didn\ see us.’’

He slid his hand from her neck and straightened. His eyes were following Tyler and his crew, not looking at her at all.

That was all some kind of ... espionage? Her brain couldn\ do a 180 that quickly. She stared up at him, feeling her mouth working, though no sound was coming out.

But his hand was still on her back, his fingers five points of warmth against her skin. She didn\ want to move.

’’I don\ think they were looking for you,’’ he said.

’’There are a bunch of college guys here,’’ she said, finally finding her voice. ’’Maybe they\ e just here for the party. Chris said Tyler used to go to our school ’’

Chris!

She pulled away from Hunter and whirled to look up at the house. The group had made it to the back patio, where they appeared to be talking to the guys by the grill. She glanced right. The basketball game was still going on.

Becca grabbed Hunter\s hand. ’’Come on.’’

She sprinted across the sand as well as she was able, heading diagonally toward the driveway. Hunter kept up with her easily, Casper bounding at his side.

’’What are we doing?’’ he said.

’’Warning Chris.’’

Hunter caught her arm and hauled her to a stop. ’’You can\ be serious.’’

She stared up at him, surprised by his tone. ’’Yeah actually, I am. They almost killed him ’’

’’Yeah, so I heard. I also saw the way they treated you at the pet store. Those guys aren\ screwing around, Becca.’’

’’No kidding.’’ She craned her neck to see if Tyler was still on the patio. He was. ’’You weren\ there when they were beating him up ’’

’’You were?’’

They were wasting time. She shook free of his hand. ’’Look just if you don\ want to be involved, it\s fine. But I have to warn him.’’ She took a step back, then turned toward the driveway again.

The air felt colder with his absence. For two steps, she felt the wind lift her hair and taunt her for being alone.

Then Hunter was beside her. ’’Fine. We\ll find him. But don\ be surprised if he\s an ass about it.’’

They clung to the darkness and approached the driveway from the opposite side. The scent of beer hung thick in the air, and half the guys were playing with bottles in their hands.

Becca spotted Drew right off, so she sucked back into the shadows behind Hunter.

She didn\ see Chris at all. Or his brothers.

’’Becca?’’

She froze. Drew had stopped at the edge of the makeshift court and was peering into the darkness. The ball hung under one arm. Light from over the garage caught his gelled hair and made it shine, leaving his face in shadow.

It didn\ matter. She remembered the angles of his cheekbones, the depth of his brown eyes, the line of his jaw. He looked good. It pissed her off.

He\d already seen her. What was she going to do run? ’’Hey, Drew,’’ she said.

’’What\ e you doing here?’’

He looked honestly perplexed. Like maybe he\d put her out of her misery five weeks ago, and couldn\ imagine she\d show her face now.

’’I slipped the bouncer a twenty,’’ she said. ’’He let me jump the line.’’

He frowned, then his expression turned furious. He\d always been the type to get mad when confused. ’’What the hell are you talking about?’’

’’It was a joke,’’ she muttered, knowing her voice was too low for him to hear.

’’He\s trashed,’’ said Hunter. His voice wasn\ low at all. His presence at her side gave her courage. ’’Want me to give him your rocks?’’

’’Definitely not.’’

’’Dude, are you talking about me?’’ said Drew. He came a few steps closer. ’’Who the hell are you?’’

One of the guys on the court swore. ’’Christ, Drew. Let\s just play ball.’’

Hunter didn\ move. ’’I moved down here last weekend. This your house?’’

Drew\s eyes narrowed, as if he sensed a trap in the question. ’’Yeah.’’ But then he snorted. ’’Lemme guess, Bex. You rolling out the, uh, welcome mat?’’

Some of the other guys snickered and catcalled, but two stepped off the driveway to flank Drew. Greg Connolly and Mark Durant, both boasting more testosterone than brains. Wind blew in off the water again, carrying some sand with it to sting her ankles.

She watched Hunter size up the competition. He did it slowly, deliberately, as if memorizing each guy on the court. ’’Chill out.’’ His voice was careful. ’’We were just looking for someone.’’

Oh. Right. They had a purpose here.

’’Have you seen Chris Merrick?’’ she said quickly. ’’Or his brothers?’’

’’I forgot you were into that.’’ Drew smiled wolfishly, then glanced at Hunter. ’’Well, send her back here when you all are done.’’

High fives all around.

’’Hey.’’ Hunter took a step forward. ’’Lay off.’’

’’Hunter.’’ A gust of wind caught her hair and kissed her neck, making her shiver. ’’Forget him. He\s not worth it.’’

She turned on her heel and started toward the house, not even waiting to see if he\d follow. She didn\ want to see them fight;she didn\ want to hear any more comments. She\d rather face Tyler than Drew.

But she felt Hunter behind her, and her shoulders tightened. It was one thing to shrug off some girl\s bitchy comments entirely another to hear a guy\s trash talk.

Especially when Drew called after them, ’’Wear a rubber, dude.’’

She was practically running when she made it to the side door.

’’Becca,’’ said Hunter. ’’Becca. Wait.’’

She stopped in front of the door and didn\ turn. Something cold thrust under her hand.

Casper\s nose. He was licking her fingers.

She couldn\ resist a dog. She half turned and rubbed him behind the ears. Hunter\s gaze felt like a lead weight on her back, but she couldn\ look at him yet.

’’F*k \em, right?’’ she said flatly. She buried her fingers in Casper\s fur.

’’The hell with that,’’ Hunter said, heat in his voice. ’’I wanted to punch him in the face.’’

She glanced up, then. His jaw was set, and a bit of color heated his cheeks.

’’Thanks,’’ she said. He was still staring at the court, as if considering going back to lay into Drew.

She held out her wrist. ’’Here. You want the calming one back?’’

He faltered for a second. Then his eyes warmed as he smiled back at her. ’’You hold on to it.’’

Behind him, one of the basketball guys stepped to the edge of the court, staring out at the patio. She recognized him after a moment Drew\s older brother. ’’Tyler! Hey, man. Come play.’’

Becca felt the blood drain from her face.

Hunter reached around her and turned the knob. ’’Come on. We\ll find Quinn and go catch a movie or something.’’

She sucked in a breath to protest. ’’But we have to ’’

He rolled his eyes and cut her off. ’’All right, all right, you get Quinn. I\ll take a walk through and \warn\ Chris if I see him.’’ He sounded as though he were volunteering to change the litter box. ’’Meet me at the car.’’

Quinn was making out with the Latino guy in the corner of the living room. They weren\ being subtle about it, either his hand was up her shirt.

Becca jerked her eyes away. What the hell was she supposed to do with that?

Then again, they were in the middle of the living room. Not like she couldn\ walk right up to them. Becca edged closer. Hopefully, Quinn would feel the heat radiating from her cheeks and look up.

No such luck.

Once she was close enough to yell over the music, Becca said, ’’Hey. Quinn. I think we need to leave.’’

Quinn didn\ even break the liplock. She just reached into her pocket, pulled out Becca\s keys, and held them out.

Wow.

Becca took her keys, but fidgeted. She cleared her throat. ’’Aren\ you ... ah ... supposed to be staying at my house?’’

’’Don\ worry about it.’’ Quinn broke free. Her cheeks were flushed, leaving her eyes bright and her voice breathy. ’’Rafe will drive me home.’’

Rafe. Seriously?

He mumbled something against Quinn\s neck that sounded like, ’’Yeah, later.’’ But at least his hands had found their way to the outside of her clothes.

’’Quinn ...’’ Becca hesitated, not wanting to mortify her friend, but not wanting to leave her with some guy who seemed determined to get into her pants right here in the middle of the McKay living room. ’’Do you even know this guy\s last name?’’

Quinn\s eyes lit with irritation and maybe a little embarrassment. ’’Gee, Bex, do you know Hunter\s?’’

Oops. Touché. Becca looked away. ’’That\s a little different.’’

Rafe lifted his head and grinned. ’’It\s Gutierrez.’’

Quinn clapped him on the shoulder. ’’There you go.’’ She flashed annoyed eyes at Becca. ’’I\m good.’’

Becca stared at her for a long moment, then opened her mouth to protest again. ’’I\m just trying to make sure you\ e okay ’’

’’Jesus, Becca,’’ said Quinn. ’’I have a mother.’’

Rafe turned his head and looked at Becca. ’’She\s all right,’’ he said. ’’I\ll get her home.’’

To his credit, he appeared straight sober. He was one of the first guys she hadn\ smelled alcohol on all night. He had a se*y smile, too, and his tongue did nice things to his R\s.

’’I\ll talk to you tomorrow,’’ said Quinn. She traced a finger down the side of Rafe\s cheek. He obligingly leaned in to kiss her again.

Becca shoved the keys into her pocket. ’’Whatever. Have fun.’’


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