Bringing Home the Bad Boy(5)

By: Jessica Lemmon

Darian had changed his mind.

Which had the unpleasant side effect of making Charlie feel like she hadn’t been enough.

She’d taken what was behind door number two and moved on as intact as she could. Some nights, the hurt and the fear of being alone lingered. The fact she’d been unable to achieve the seemingly simple goal of having a family and settling down had haunted her enough that on those nights she became practically nocturnal.

Taking in a deep, humid breath, Charlie centered herself on the here and now. June was nearly July and the hot and sticky had both settled in at the Cove for the long haul. Sunlight danced on the surface of the lake, sending waves rippling in the wind. Behind the lake, in the sea of evergreens lining the hills, there were a few hidden homes, but that was too “deep woods” for her taste.

From her coveted porch—yes, even her fancy neighbors with their large, enviable homes admitted to coveting her porch—a patch of grass gave way to shore and led into the water. Her aquatic neighbor, Earl, stepped out onto the deck of his beaten houseboat off to the left where it was anchored in the deep, and raised a hand to wave. She could make out his pipe, handlebar white mustache, and sunglasses from here. He was tanned and brawny and made the best clam chowder she’d ever tasted.

Murmuring from the side of her house brought her to her feet as the smile spread her mouth.


The voices grew louder as they closed in and she strode across the porch to meet them. She couldn’t make out the exact words, but she knew the boy’s voice as if he were her own.

“Aunt Charlie!” Lyon appeared around the corner and burst into a run. Before she had a chance to take the three steps to the grass to meet him, he bounded up them and straight into her arms. She caught him against her, savoring how small he was, knowing it was a battle with time she’d lose, and bent to kiss his head. His tight curls had grown out some since she saw him last. They tickled her nose.

Pulling away, she flattened his hair with both hands. It sprang up again, refusing to be tamed.

“You need a haircut,” she teased.

“I knoooooow.” He rolled his green-blue eyes. Lionel Downey was a stunning kid. He had Rae’s chocolate-brown skin, a touch lighter than hers had been, and her genuine, full smile. He had his father to thank for his eye color: ocean blue so striking against his dark features.

“That’s a tired subject, if you can’t tell.”

Her eyes went to Evan, who’d crossed his bare arms over his chest and leaned a hip into the column at the bottom of the steps to watch their interaction. His presence wasn’t overbearing or intimidating, but easy. Evan matched his laid-back, live-and-let-live attitude with a lazy swagger that was anything but. He’d worked hard his entire life and as a result, confidence oozed from every pore. The thinning pair of Levi’s, the casual T-shirt hugging his chest, his array of tattoos, and devil-may-care smile he showed to the world were him through and through, but Charlie knew Evan ran deeper than his outer layer.

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.

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