This trilogy contains Make it Last, I Choose You, and Trust in Me, along with a bonus ending for each couple.
Make it Last
In a small town, it's hard to recover from being dumped by your high school sweetheart. That's just what Briana has to do after Colin leaves her to follow his dreams. She focuses her energy into her friendships and the pursuit of her own goal of becoming a chef. Just when she finally feels like she's on the right path, he comes back to town.
Colin knew breaking up with Briana before leaving for college was the right thing to do. He was determined to leave small-town life behind forever, and that included his high school girlfriend. But when a sports injury puts him on the sidelines, he's forced to return home. Seeing Briana again brings back a lot of memories, and Colin wonders if he made the right decision. It doesn't take long for him to realize he wants her back, and this time, he wants to make it last.
I Choose You
Up until now, Nicole's life has been mapped out for her. She'd go to college, marry Jake and become the upstanding minister's wife. When she leaves that life to begin again in a small town in Texas, she finally has the freedom to live as she chooses. There, she meets Kent, a guy whose charm and passion make it hard to stick to her morals.
Dodging his father’s fists and protecting his twin sister made Kent into the man he is today. He learned by watching his mother stay by his father’s side that it’s better to keep relationships simple. Then he meets Nicole. Her sweet smile and genuine response to him land like punches to his resolve. After a lifetime of learning to protect his heart, can he finally let down his guard?
Trust in Me
Roni’s dreams of becoming a contemporary dancer were smashed under the brutal rage of her ex-husband's fists. Getting divorced and starting over at the age of twenty-two was never her plan, but maybe in Texas, she'll find her path. When the town's local player, Rich, opens a Rec Center, she sees a way to rekindle her dancing dreams...and maybe have a little fun with her sexy new boss.
Rich never expected to fulfill his dreams in the town he planned to leave behind, but that's just what he's doing. His reputation as a noncommittal ladies' man might make it challenging to earn respect in the business world, but he's willing to prove that he's serious. In fact, when it comes to pursuing Roni, he's more than willing. But she's taking a page out of his book, not wanting to risk another relationship. Can he convince her that his playboy days are over and that she can trust him with her heart?
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Make it Last
I Choose You
Trust in Me
Briana & Colin
Nicole & Kent
Roni & Rich
About the Author
Also by Bethany Lopez
Published March 2013
Reissued December 2019
Cover Design by Makeready Designs
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please don’t participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Created with Vellum
Thanks to Raine, Autumn, Lyn, and Tee. This trilogy wouldn’t be the same without the four of you!
Make it Last
(Briana & Colin)
Briana looked up at him, tears forming in her eyes. Colin felt his resolve begin to crumble, but reminded himself why he’d come to this decision. He was about to leave for college and Bree was beginning her senior year of high school. It made sense to end it now, rather than try to have a long distance relationship. Colin thought about the pro and con list he’d made, and it made sense to break up now, but looking into Briana’s beautiful brown eyes he began to question his decision.
Colin shook his head to attempt to clear the doubt from his mind, he knew he had to try and make a clean break now.
“Look Bree, I just can’t be tied down right now,” he explained, not quite meeting her eyes. He was sure that if he did, she’d see his uncertainty. “I’m leaving tomorrow. Going out together was cool while we were in high school, but we’re about to be on different paths. I’m going to need to focus on football and keeping my grades up.”
She turned her head and bit her lip, the way she did when she was trying to sort things out in her head. Finally she looked back at him, her face full of confusion.
“Is this because I wouldn’t have sex with you?” Tears streamed down her face, and he felt like a complete ass. He should have known she would go there. He’d been trying to have sex with her for the past few months. They’d been dating for a long time, and he was a teenage guy after all. But he understood her reasons for wanting to wait. Especially now.
“Of course not. I just don’t think a long distance relationship will work. A clean break now would be best, you know?” he replied, looking at something just over her head.
“Colin, the least you could do is look at me when you’re being a total douche,” she said tightly.
He looked down at her and his face softened. How could he not love her? She always called him on his shit.
Colin tried to block the thoughts from his mind and stiffened his resolve. “Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Bree.”
“Are you being serious right now?” she asked. “We’ve been dating for over a year. You said that you loved me. Now, all of a sudden, you want to break up? This is coming out of nowhere, Colin.”
Everything she was said true. They had planned to continue dating and seeing each other on breaks and holidays, but after thinking about it, making lists, and talking to his friends and family, Colin realized that it would be best for both of them to go their separate ways now. He just needed to make her believe that he believed that.
He let out a long sigh, as if she was the one being unreasonable. “Bree, I’m about to be thousands of miles away. Don’t you want to be free to enjoy your senior year? I won’t be able to come back and go to dances and stuff with you, ya know?” He shrugged he shoulders in an effort to appear unaffected by his words.
“We always knew you’d be leaving. I don’t know why you’re acting like this is a new development. We’ve talked about having a long distance relationship. What’s changed?” Colin tried not to smile at her words. He should have known that she wouldn’t give up without a fight. His stomach turned. He felt nauseous at the thought of what he was going to say next.
“Fine Bree, you’re right. I want to be free to see other people while I’m at college.” He tried to sound exasperated, and saw her face fall as he continued to speak. “I’m going to be playing football and looking at joining a fraternity. I don’t want to end up cheating or doing something stupid. It just makes more sense to end it now. It’ll be better in the long run, you’ll see.” He put his hand out as if to pat her shoulder, but she backed away.
“You don’t get to touch me anymore, Colin,” she stated, wiping her face with the back of her hand.
He hated the thought of hurting her and tried to think of something to say that would soften the blow. “Bree, don’t be upset. I’ll always love you. This is just the way it has to be.”
She sniffed and continued wiping her cheeks. She stood up as tall as her five-foot, four-inch frame allowed and looked him in the eyes. “You’ll regret this, Colin. One day you’ll come back looking for a second chance, but it’s never going to happen. I’m not going to forget this day.”
He felt a lump form in his throat at her words.
Wavering about his decision, he reached his hand out to touch her again, then stopped himself.
“You're right,” he said softly. “I wouldn't deserve a second chance.”
He looked at her one last time, memorizing her delicate features. Her long hair flowed around her shoulders, just the way he liked it. His thoughts were tinged with regret, but he knew that breaking it off now was the only way to make sure they didn’t end up hurting each other even more in the long run. Dropping his hand to his side, he walked away and left her behind.
Four Years Later…
Briana hated Wednesday nights. Twenty-five cent wings meant that not only was the Bar & Grill packed all evening, but that the fryers were absolutely disgusting. Although she loved good wings as much as the next person, it was her job to clean the fryers, so she dreaded her shift anytime she was scheduled for a Wednesday night.
She watched as Kara locked up behind the last customer, and then went behind the bar to turn up the music.
Other than the cleaning, Briana loved closing time. That’s when the employees got together to chit-chat about their customers, made plans for what they were going to do after shift, and finally had the chance to enjoy their night.
The night manager, Pam, was pretty cool. She stayed in the back, counting the money and making sure everything balanced out, and then put it in the envelope to make the drop at the bank on her way home.
As long as they didn’t leave until everything was spotless, she didn’t give them a hard time about hanging out.
Briana joined Kara and Pete, one of the bar backs, over by the bar once she set the fryer to drain.
“What a night,” Pete started, putting shots in front of Briana and Kara as they settled onto the stools.
“You can say that again,” Kara replied, a big grin on her face. “I made two hundred in tips tonight. Gotta love twenty-five cent wings.”
Kara worked the front of the house, not the back, so her view of Wednesday was a lot different than Briana’s. As a waitress, Kara got to turn on her charm and flirt with the customers, one of her favorite pastimes, thus reaping the rewards of a busy Wednesday night.
The view from the back of the house was a lot different. During shift, Briana cooked all of the orders, so she spent her evenings covered in grease, ketchup, and everything else she spilled while making the food.
Her job was nowhere near as glamorous or profitable as Kara’s, but she didn’t think she could ever be a waitress. Just the thought of making a mistake and having a customer yell at her or something was enough to keep her in the back.
She didn’t mind being a short-order cook though; she figured it was giving her experience that would only help her once she finally gained the courage and the funds to apply for culinary school.
She and Kara toasted each other’s amber colored glasses, then Pete’s, before downing the shot.
“Holy shit,” Briana exclaimed, as the whiskey burned its way down her throat.
“Oops. Sorry, Bree. I forgot you don’t like whiskey.” Pete chuckled, not looking a single bit sorry as he took out a bottle of the vodka she preferred, and poured them each another shot.
They took the shots and then separated to start cleaning. Briana and Kara were having a party of sorts at their apartment after work, so they wanted to finish up quicker than usual.
Once the stainless steel of the fryer gleamed and the floors were scrubbed down, Briana took one last look around the kitchen and deemed it spotless.
She went out to see if Kara, Pete, or any of the others needed her help getting their side work done.
Kara was just finishing up rolling her silverware and Pete was turning off the radio when she walked up.
“You guys ready?” Briana asked.
A chorus of “Hell, yeah’s” were shouted and they all headed out, calling goodnight to Pam.
She and Kara rode together back to their apartment over the flower shop. Their Texas town was small enough that getting to the other side meant they only had to drive for five minutes to get wherever they needed to go.
They parked and ran up the stairs, racing to see who would get to the shower first.
Briana won by half a foot and yelled, “Sorry, sucker,” as she began stripping off her clothes, eager to get rid of the greasy stench.
She showered as quickly as she could, while still scrubbing the smells of the kitchen out of her hair and off of her body.
When she was done, Kara was waiting for her turn, and handed Briana a towel as they switched spots.
Briana ran down the short hallway to her room, rubbing the towel over herself as she mentally went through her wardrobe.
She decided that cutoff shorts and a frilly tank would do quite nicely on this hot summer night, and dug through her dresser trying to find the pair she was looking for.
Once she was dressed, she brushed out her chestnut colored hair and pulled it up into a high ponytail. She put minimal makeup on, then threw on her flip flops and hurried out to the kitchen to check the status of their provisions.
It was BYOB, so most of the people would have their own drinks, but a random moocher always showed up and needed some alcohol.
They had a bottle of wine, a twelve pack of Bud Light, and a bottle each of cherry vodka and Sprite.
They were good to go.
She took out a couple bags of chips, put them in bowls, and placed them around the living room.
She threw the blankets, a random sock, and the magazines that were littering the floor into the big hope chest that served as their coffee table.
She was considering running the vacuum when Kara came out, dressed in a sweet sunshine yellow sundress, her blond hair tousled around her face.
“Thanks, Bree, the place looks great. Do you think we should vacuum?”
“I was just thinking the same thing. Then I remembered who was coming over, and realized we’ll probably have countless items spilled on the carpet before morning comes, so what’s the point?” Brian laughed.
“Very true,” Kara said. “Pre-game?”
“Absolutely,” Briana replied, following Kara back to the kitchen to make herself a drink.
She’d barely taken her first sip of cherry vodka and Sprite when the front door opened and a group of people piled in. It didn’t take long for the music to be turned up and the sound of laughter and chatter to fill the room.
Briana was talking to someone she had taken a college course with a few years ago, when she felt someone come up behind her and softly kiss her neck.
She turned and looked up at Kent over the rim of her glass.
“What’s going on, Hot Stuff?” he asked with his cocky grin.
At six feet, he towered over Briana, and his unruly blond hair and self-assured manner always drew her to him.
“Not much, Kent, just getting the party started.”
She and Kent enjoyed each other when neither of them was in a serious relationship. Briana hadn’t had one since Colin broke up with her in high school, so she was always ready to enjoy Kent.
Sometimes he tried to get too serious for her, and that was when she would tell him it was time to get him a girlfriend.
They weren’t an item, and they weren’t exclusive, but he was the only guy in this town with whom Briana knew she could enjoy an uncomplicated relationship.
“You here alone?” she asked him.
“Not anymore,” he replied, taking her hand and leading her into the kitchen, where he made himself a drink.
Once Kent had his Captain and Coke mixed, he leaned down to give Briana a quick kiss before they headed back into the living room.
“That’s a promise of things to come,” he whispered against her lips.
Briana mingled and got caught up on all the town gossip. She was going back to fill up her glass when she caught site of Kara going into her room with Pete.
“Well, that’s new,” she thought with a smile.
As she was filling her glass, the girl she had been talking to earlier when Kent interrupted, came into the kitchen.
She couldn’t for the life of her remember the girl’s name. Kendra or Kylie, maybe. She’d just think of her as Kendrie.
“Hey, Bree, I didn’t get a chance to tell you earlier because that gorgeous guy pulled you away, but I’d wondered if you’d heard the news.”
“What news?” she asked absently.
“About Colin.” Kendrie seemed unable to control the glee that came out with that statement.
Briana ran into this a lot. In high school, most of the girls were jealous of her because she was dating Colin. Once he left for school, dumping her in the process, those same girls pretended to feel sorry for her, but she could tell that they really loved the fact that he’d dumped her.
Since their town was small, she knew anytime Colin came home on break. Everyone was more than eager to tell her about it.
Judging by the girl’s tone, she figured Colin must be home for the summer. It didn’t matter. She had successfully avoided him so far. She could manage to do so for another summer.
“What about him?” she asked, making her voice sound as bored as possible.
“He’s moving back for good.” Briana’s stomach dropped to the floor. She only half listened as Kendrie rambled on.
“He hurt his knee during the last game of the season and can’t play football anymore. He graduated and everything, but his dream of going on to play professional ball is over, so he’s coming back here. They say he’s going to work with his dad or something. I think he got in last night.” Kendrie continued to prattle on, not realizing that Briana was no longer listening to her.
Briana topped off her drink and walked out of the kitchen, leaving the girl to stare after her, her words still hanging in the air.
She walked in the opposite direction of the crowd in the living room, down the hall and into her room. She didn’t bother to shut the door, but opened her window and crawled out onto the roof. She sat down and leaned back against the roof tiles, looking out over the lights of her town.
She drank from her glass as she thought about Colin.
How dare he come back here permanently? This was her town. Sure, he’d grown up here, but he’d always planned to get out and never look back. He wanted to go off to school and play football, then make it big and move off to a city somewhere. He’d always planned to visit once he’d left, but he’d never planned to live here forever.
She’d taken comfort in that fact, and now he was coming back to stay.
Well, things had changed, and Colin had better watch his step where she was concerned. She had no plans to welcome him back with open arms.
Briana rolled out of bed at two in the afternoon, a headache giving her grief. She wandered out of her room and groaned at the sight that met her in the rest of the apartment.
Plastic cups and paper plates littered every surface, and just as she’d predicted, the carpet was a mess of spilled drink and food. Some moron had even used one of her favorite Aggie mugs as an ashtray. Gross.
She went into the kitchen and grimaced at the mess in there, but figured it was best to focus on one thing at a time. She grabbed a trash bag to get started in the living room.
She was about halfway done cleaning up when Kara came strolling in through the front door.
“Hey, Bree, you’re up. Thanks for getting started in here. I just ran out to get some provisions,” she stated, holding out a to-go coffee cup.
“Oh, thank God,” Briana exclaimed, grabbing the cup and drinking as if her life depended on it.
Kara chuckled. “I knew that would brighten up your day. Gosh, what a bunch of slobs, huh? I can’t believe this place looks so nasty. I’ll just put these muffins in the kitchen and help you out.”
“Wait… there are muffins? The kitchen is just as bad. You don’t want to put them in there. We’d better just eat them now.” Briana grabbed for the bag that Kara was keeping just out of reach.
Kara laughed again and took out a steaming banana nut muffin, Briana’s favorite.
“I’ll give you this on one condition.”
“Anything,” Briana said.
“We don’t mention what happened last night with Pete. Like, ever.”
“Deal,” she said, grabbing the muffin and finding a clean corner of the couch to sit on.
Kara sat on the edge of the hope chest and began nibbling on her blueberry muffin.
“What happened to you last night?” she asked. “Kent was looking for you, but I had no idea where you went.”
“After that weird girl from my Literary Dimensions on Film class dropped her bomb on me, I kinda disappeared for the night.”
Kara sat up, looking interested. “Do tell.”
“I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but she told me that Colin is moving home for good. Or, I guess he already did, a couple days ago.”
“Get out. I noticed you were gone when I came out of my room last night.” Kara just looked at Briana. “At first I figured you were with Kent, but then he came up to me and asked where you were. I didn’t know and I didn’t see you in your room, so I told him so. He hung out for a bit and then I lost track of him. I wondered if you two had ever hooked up. Wow. So…Colin, huh?”
“Yeah. I was on the roof. I just couldn’t stand the thought of that girl watching me and waiting for me to break down or react to her news. She was so excited to tell me, you know? It just pissed me off.”
“You should have told her to get lost,” Kara said, getting angry for her. “It’s our place. She can take her gossiping ass someplace else.”
Briana laughed. Kara always made her feel better when she was down.
“Anyway, I stayed out there most of the night. I wasn’t in the mood to see Kent, especially when I was thinking so much about Colin.” Briana was starting to lose her appetite.
“Look, I know this town is small as hell, and you’re going to run into him. But, Bree, it’s been four years. You’re a grown woman with a job, and apartment, and a hot man at your beck and call. You don’t need his shit. Just ignore him.”
Kara had never met Colin. She moved to town their senior year, after he left for school, and they had been best friends ever since. She never knew Briana and Colin as a couple; she just saw how Briana was affected after he left. She wasn’t his biggest fan.
“That’s easier said than done, Kara. That girl said that he was going to be working for his daddy. That means he’ll be working right down the street and he’s gonna come in to eat all the time.” The thought made Briana’s stomach hurt even more.
“Stop, Bree. You’re not seventeen anymore. Let him eat where he wants. Don’t let him bother you. You have the upper hand here.”
“You’re right. I know you are. I’m just scared to see him. It’s been so long. What if when I see him I feel just like I did when he left? I never want to feel that way again,” Briana said softly, looking up at Kara and hating how pathetic she sounded.
“Then don’t,” Kara said sternly. “In fact, we’ve spent enough time on the topic already. Let’s finish cleaning this pigsty up so we can relax a bit before work tonight.”
Once they had everything spic and span again, they threw on their bikinis and went outside to lie out. They didn’t have a pool or a yard, so they laid their towels out on the driveway and made do.
Kara brought out her iPod and Briana brought the tanning oil and the water. They relaxed, enjoying the music and the sun, until the alarm went off, signaling it was time to go in and get washed up for work.
They reluctantly headed into work, motivated by the fact that it was Thursday night, so shouldn’t be too crowded, and that they had plans to meet up with some of their friends and go to the gravel pits after work. They brought their bikinis in their bags and sported fresh tan skin to show off in the moonlight.
It looked like it was going to be a pretty good night.
About two hours into her shift, Briana realized just how wrong she had been.
She’d just finished an order and was rounding the corner to tell Kara that the burger and fries were up, when she caught sight of Colin’s family coming in the front door.
Mrs. Grayson looked as sweet as ever, holding her husband’s hand and smiling up at him as they waited for the rest of their party to come through the door. He bent over to say something to her, then they both looked over towards the entrance.
Briana had been swept up watching them, remembering a million different conversations that she’d had with the Grayson’s, so she didn’t immediately follow their gaze. When she did, her breath caught in her throat. She froze.
Kara came up beside her to check on the order. She started waving her hands in front of Briana’s face when she saw how still Briana was.
“Hello? Earth to Bree. Is my order up?” Kara chuckled lightly, and turned to see what had caught her attention. “Who’s that?”
Briana squeaked, so overcome by emotion that she couldn’t form a thought. Then Colin looked up, catching her stare, and she was released. She took off in a flurry of movement, anxious to get back to the safety of the kitchen.
Once behind the swinging door, she braced herself against the stainless steel table and hung her head, breathing in and out.
“Was that him?” Kara asked, scrambling in after her. “Colin?”
“Yup,” she managed.
“Crap. I have to take out this order,” Kara added a side of ketchup and mustard to the plate before picking it up. “I’ll be back, though. Maybe I’ll tell Nicole to seat them in my section.”
“No,” Briana said loudly. “Don’t make a scene, please.”
Kara tried her best to look innocent. “Who, me?” Then she walked out with a smile on her lips and a swing to her hips.
“Oh, God.” Briana held her head in her hands for a moment. “Pull it together, Bree. It’s been a long time,” she whispered. She stepped back from the table and shook her head, as if to shake the memories out.
She busied herself with the incoming orders, and was just starting to breath normally again, when Kara came back into the kitchen.
“So, Nicole did sit him in my section, but I swear I didn’t ask her to,” Kara said. “Holy crap, Bree, he is freakin’ HOT.”
“Shut up, Kara.”
“No, seriously… tall, dark, and freakishly handsome! I mean, those dimples… I just want to lick him,” Kara said dreamily.
“Jesus, Kara,” Briana snapped, “Are you kidding me right now?”
Kara laughed wickedly. “Not about the fact that he’s crazy hot, but yes, I’m kidding about wanting to lick him. You know I’d never poach.”
“Ugh, I know.” Briana closed her eyes. “She really sat them in your section?”
“Yup, all twelve of them. Can you say, ‘Big tip?’” Kara said, doing a little booty shake around the kitchen.
“Did they see me? Did they say anything?” Briana asked, hoping the answer was no.
“Well…” Kara began, finally standing still and twirling her finger around a lock of her blonde hair. “I did hear Colin mention that he saw you, and that you looked good.”
“He did not.”
“Uh, yeah, he did.”
“Oh, my gosh. Is that all he said?”
“So far,” Kara replied. “I just put in their order, and I have to get back to my other customers. But I’ll come back with updates.”
Kara sauntered back out into the dining room, leaving Briana momentarily distracted by what she’d just told her. Briana knew that she didn’t want to see Colin or talk to him, but she couldn’t help but feel some satisfaction upon hearing that he thought she looked good.
Good. Maybe he’d regret breaking her heart.
Briana went back to filling orders and waited for the next update from Kara. The word must have spread, because as the other servers came in to pick up their orders and grab condiments, they couldn’t help but make comments to Briana about Colin being in the other room.
“Damn, Bree, you used to date him?”
“That man is fine, Bree. If you don’t want him, I’d like to take him out for a spin.”
“Colin is lookin’ good, Bree. You sure you don’t want to relive the high school days?”
Briana was starting to lose it when Pete walked in.
“Don’t say it, Pete. I swear to God, I’ll kill you if you say anything about Colin,” she said.
Pete put his hands up, as if he were under arrest. “I wasn’t going to, I promise,” he answered. “Kara is over there with them now. Rich just walked in and joined them.”
Rich and Colin had been best friends growing up. Briana got to know Rich pretty well when she dated Colin, and they both went to Texas A & M together. Rich was one of the only people she’d known when she got to college, so they were pretty close during her short stint there.
Pete went to high school with all of them, too, but he hadn’t run with the same crowd they did, so they’d never hung out. But he knew Colin and Rich.
“Oh, yeah?” Briana asked. “I haven’t seen Rich in ages. I didn’t know he was back in town.”
“I overheard him telling Mrs. Grayson that he was home for the summer. He only has one year left at A & M.”
Briana paused for a minute, trying to ignore the ache in her chest when she realized that she would also be that close to finishing college if she’d stayed.
“Anyway, I didn’t come back to talk about Colin and Rich, although I should have realized you were back here freaking out,” Pete said.
“I’m not freaking out,” she tried to play it off. “What’s up?”
“Um…I wanted to ask about Kara,” Pete said, his skin starting to match the shade of his hair. “You know, um, if she said anything to you about last night.”
“Not really, Pete. You know Kara. She doesn’t take that stuff seriously.” Briana said. “She’s not a relationship kind of girl.”
Pete looked over her head and nodded. “Yeah, that’s kinda what I figured.”
He walked back out.
“Pete,” Briana called, but he didn’t turn back.
She hoped he didn’t end up getting hurt. Kara made sure that the guys she was with knew the score before they did anything, but Briana knew that Pete was different from the guys that Kara usually hung out with.
Pete was one of the good ones.
Kara came in a few minutes later. “Okay, Mr. Hot Stuff has an equally gorgeous friend. This is his order. Can you make it up now so it goes out with the rest of the orders?”
“Sure,” Briana replied. “Mr. Gorgeous is Rich. We were all friends in high school. He and I went to A & M together, actually.”
“Wait. A. Minute,” Kara stated, pulling Briana so that they faced each other. “Is Mr. Gorgeous the A & M guy that you told me about?” she asked, eyes wide.
“Yes, “Briana admitted. “But you have to keep that to yourself. Seriously, no one else knows about that.”
Briana shushed Kara when a couple of servers walked in to pick up their orders. She looked over as Bert came in from the back to join her for the night shift.
“So happy you could make it, Bert,” she said sarcastically, watching Kara as she backed out of the room.
“What?” Bert asked, stoned as usual.
“You were supposed to be here two hours ago. I’ve been slammed.”
“Whoa…chill, Bree. I just walked in and you’re going all ‘Nagging Mom’ on me,” Bert countered, holding up his hands.
What was with the guys at work today?
“Okay, well, since you’re here now, I’m going to take a quick break,” she said, trying to decide if she should go out the back door, or stop being a chicken and go through the dining room.
She held her head up and walked out the swinging door into the dining room. She tried to look straight ahead, but could hear the sound of Colin’s dad’s laugh and had to smile. She turned her head slightly and caught Rich’s eye.
He put his hand up as if to wave, then stood and pushed away from the table. He said something to Colin, causing him to look over at her. He kept looking at Briana as Rich walked up to her, but she focused on Rich.
“Hey, Bree,” Rich said as he got closer, opening his arms to pull her into a hug.
She let herself be enveloped by his arms, her head barely coming to the middle of his chest. She smiled as she smelled his familiar cologne and was surprised by how happy she was to see him.
“Hi, Richie,” She said as she pulled back and smiled up at him.
“Girl, you’re the only one who can call me that and live,” he said, returning her smile.
He really was hot, she thought, studying his shaggy brown hair, hazel eyes, and the sweet little cleft in his chin. He put his finger under her chin, holding her face up so she kept looking at him.
“You doin’ good, Bree?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“I miss you at school,” he admitted dropping his hand and putting both hands in his pockets as he rocked back on his heels.
“I’ve missed you, too.” She looked at him for another moment, then said, “I only have a couple minutes left on my break, so I’ve gotta run. But we need to catch up while you’re home.”
“Sounds good. See ya, Bree,” he said, grinning as he walked backwards towards his table.
Briana grinned back, then looked over and saw that Colin still watched her. Her grin vanished. She walked out the front door, hoping to get some air before going back into the kitchen.
Luckily the rest of the night was uneventful, and after dealing with a hangover that morning and the craziness of her shift, Briana opted to go home rather than go out.
“So, what was all of that last night with Bree?” Colin asked Rich, who was pulling himself up into Colin’s truck.
Rich looked over at him and shrugged. “Nothin’ much. I just haven’t seen her in a while. She left A & M pretty abruptly and I haven’t been home a lot since then, so I wanted to see how she’s been doing. Why?”
Colin looked at him thoughtfully, then back out at the road as he pulled away from Rich’s folk’s house. “I don’t know. You guys seemed pretty tight is all,” he said. “I’ve never seen you hug her like that.”
“It was no big deal, man. Just sayin’ hi.” Rich shrugged again and propped his boots up on the dashboard.
Colin knew that he should just let it go. He’d lost any claim he had on Bree four years ago, but he couldn’t help but feel like there was more to the story.
“Okay. Did she say she was doing all right?” he asked. Despite his vow to leave her alone now that he was back home for good, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Seeing her at the restaurant last night had brought back all sorts of memories, and he couldn’t help but notice how good she’d looked. He also couldn’t forget the sick feeling he got in the pit of his stomach every time he thought about the way he’d ended it between them.
“Yeah, she’s cool,” Rich responded. “We’re supposed to hook up before I head back to school.” When Colin looked sharply at him, he amended his statement. “I just meant that we’re going to hang out.”
Colin didn’t know how he felt about Briana and Rich being buddy-buddy. Rich was a good guy, but a real player. He didn’t want Briana getting tangled up with him.
“When?” he asked, trying to keep his tone light.
“She invited me to go to a party at the gravel pits on Saturday. You know, to catch up and stuff. Some of the people she works with and guys from school will be there. No big deal. You should come,” Rich said, as laid-back as usual.
“Yeah, right,” Colin said with a laugh. “I don’t think Bree would be too happy about that.”
“Dude, you guys broke up like a million years ago. I doubt she’ll be upset if you show up at the same party as her.”
“I’ll think about it,” Colin answered, as they pulled into the parking lot of his dad’s store. “You sure you want to work here for the summer? I thought you’d be looking forward to a summer of parties and girls.”
“Oh, I am, brother, don’t you worry.” Rich said with his signature grin. “There will be plenty of parties and girls, but I need to have some extra cash. When your dad brought it up last night, I figured, why not?”
Colin turned off his truck and opened the door, ready to start the job that he’d always told himself, he’d never do. He’d always dreamed about leaving this town and making it big, whether it was in football or doing something else. He hadn’t cared, as long as it wasn’t this.
The General Store had been in this town since it was first settled, and it had always been run by Grayson’s. When he was little, he used to think it was wonderful to come in and help his dad stock the shelves and clean the store, but when he got old enough to work there every day after school, the store lost its appeal.
Colin tried to appease himself by saying that working there was only temporary, but everyone knew the truth. He was back now, His father could retire in a few years, and Colin was going to end up behind that counter for the rest of his life.
“Come on, man. You look like you’re going to a funeral,” Rich said, waiting for him at the entrance to the store. “We’re gonna have a great time.”
Colin looked up at the building he had loved as a child, then down the street at the Bar & Grill. Well, at least he’d have an excuse to see Briana, since he’d be right down the street.
With one last sigh, he followed Rich into the store, ready to begin his sentence.
“Howdy, boys,” Colin’s father boomed. “It’s been pretty slow this morning, so why don’t you show Rich the ropes, Colin? We’ll have him running the soda fountain so he can talk up the customers. With his pretty face behind the counter, I see sales a-risin’.”
Mr. Grayson let out a big laugh and then turned back to the counter as Colin ushered Rich into the back room to show him around.
“This is pretty cool, dude. I mean, I’ve been in the store a million times, but this time I’ll be serving the kids at the counter, just like Roberta used to serve me.” Rich looked tickled at the thought and Colin just shook his head. He wished he could be as excited as Rich about being there, but he couldn’t help but think of all of the possibilities that were lost to him now.
“Come on, man,” he said. “Let’s get you set up before the customers roll in and Dad loses it because we’re not ready.”
Colin took him around the back room and showed him where they kept the inventory, specifically, everything Rich needed to run the soda fountain. They offered only shakes, malts, and ice cream sundaes, so it was a pretty easy gig for Rich.
Once they had the cart loaded with the supplies they needed, Colin took Rich out to show him how to stock the counter and make the items on the menu. Just as they finished, they heard the jingle of the door opening and saw a lady come in with her little twin girls.
“Ice cream. Ice cream, Mama, please,” the girls sang in unison, as they made their way to the back of the store.
“Okay, girls, but you have to sit there and eat it all while mommy gets her shopping done, all right?” the young mother answered.
“Okay, Mama, we promise,” they said.
As they got to the counter and boosted themselves up on the stools, Rich turned on the charm.
“Good morning, ladies, what can I get for you on this fine day?”
The twins giggled and looked back at their mother, as if asking permission to speak.
“Go ahead, girls, tell the young man what you’d like,” she coaxed with a smile.
Colin gave Rich a slight nod and then walked off to find his father. The girls’ giggles followed him, as Rich laid on the charm. He couldn’t help but laugh at the sound.
“Hey, Pop,” he said as he approached the counter.
“Rich all set up?” his father asked.
Colin looked back over his shoulder where Rich was making up a couple of sundae’s, talking to the girls as he worked.
“Oh, yeah, he’ll be fine.”
“I thought he’d be a good fit,” Mr. Grayson replied. "It's just too bad he’ll only be here for the summer.”
“It’s not like he’d want to work a soda fountain for the rest of his life, Pop. It’s a temporary kind of job. I was thinking rather than trying to hire someone on like Roberta, we should focus on kids. No one wants to work a job like that for as long as she did, anymore. I think we should look at it as more of a temporary position.”
His father looked at him and smiled. “You’re probably right. Roberta was one of a kind, that’s for sure. I know that no one wants to work for minimum wage for long if they don’t have to, I just hate the thought of constantly having to train new people.”
“If it’s a part-time position, we could hire a few kids to work. That way, we’d always have someone with experience and they could do the training as the job turns over.”
“See, Son? I knew you’d take to running this business like a dog to water.” His father grinned, slapping his hand on his back.
Colin couldn’t help but chuckle. “I don’t think that’s the expression, Pop.”
He couldn’t retain his foul mood with his dad so happy that he was there, and the sounds of Rich smooth-talking the customers coming from the back. He just hoped he could find a way to retain that happiness.
Briana started her shift, happy that not only was it Friday, but that it was actually her Friday. Getting weekends was rare, and rarer still was getting weekends off with her friends so that they could barbecue at the gravel pits.
Pam had allowed Briana, Kara, and Pete to switch shifts with some of the more seasoned workers, who had the prime shifts already locked. Most of them were happy to pick up a weekend now and then. It was a lot more packed and they usually made better money.
It was busy, even for a Friday, but Briana had plenty of help in the kitchen, so she didn’t feel like she was overwhelmed. Just busy, which was how she liked it.
Kara came sauntering back into the kitchen to pick up an order. “So, Bree, is Mr. Gorgeous going to be at the pits tomorrow?”
“Rich?” Briana asked absently, putting the finishing touches on the grilled chicken wrap for Kara’s order. “Yeah, he said he was going to stop by.”
Kara walked up to her, forcing her to look up and focus. She had an odd look on her face and didn’t say anything for a minute.
“What?” Briana asked her. “I’ve got a lot of orders to finish, Kara. Why are you acting weird?”
“I’m not, I was just wondering if you would be upset if I talked to him, that’s all.”
“Who, Rich? No. Why would I care?” Briana looked at her and Kara gave her a look that said, “You know why.”
“Kara, I told you about that. It was just a one-time deal. We never dated or had a relationship. It wasn’t like that. I have no claim on him. It’s fine, I swear.”
“Okay, cool,” Kara said with a smile and a bounce. “I didn’t want to poach. I just wanted to make sure there was nothing there. You know I’d never do that to you.”
“I do. Now get this wrap and get out of here. I’ve got work to do,” Briana said, trying to push her back out into the dining room.
Briana worked diligently, getting orders out as fast as she could until it was break time. She decided to go out into the dining room. Pam didn’t mind if they took their breaks out there, as long as it didn’t cause a problem for the customers.
Briana grabbed a Coke from Pete and was about to find a seat when she found herself face to face with Colin.
This was the moment she’d been dreading, but now that it was there, she found that she knew just how to handle it.
“Hi, Colin,” She replied, and started to walk around him.
“Wait,” he said, putting his hand on her arm to stop her from walking away. “Can’t we talk?”
She looked pointedly at his hand and then up at his face, not saying anything until he removed it.
“We don’t have anything to talk about, Colin,” she said, hoping her face looked bored because her nerves were bouncing all over the place. “Besides, I’m working.”
“Looks like you’re on break,” he replied. “C’mon, Bree, just give me a couple minutes.”
She was about to tell him to shove it, when she felt someone come up behind her and two strong arms wrapped around her.
“Hey, Babe, I’ve been wondering if Pam was ever gonna give you a break.” Kent whispered in her ear
He said it loud enough for Colin to hear, and Briana noticed him stiffen at Kent’s words and his obvious familiarity.
“Yeah, I’ve got a quick one.” Briana turned and gave him a grateful look, before going up on her tip toes to meet him for a brief kiss.
She thought she heard a grunt or something come from Colin, so she turned to give him a smile and an introduction.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, though she wasn’t in the least. “Kent, this is Colin. We went to high school together. Colin, this is Kent.”
“What’s up, man?” Kent asked, extending his hand for a shake.
Colin looked at the offered hand, then back at Kent who may have been an inch shorter than him and shook it.
“Not much. You must be new around here.” Colin said.
Briana tried to hide a smirk at Colin’s discomfort. It looked like he wanted to punch Kent in the face.
“I’ve been here for about two years. I work over at the paper. You know, just temporary, to gain some experience and move on to a bigger gig.”
He seemed happy to hear that Kent was just a transient and that he’d be moving on eventually.
Briana couldn’t help but think that Colin had no right to be jealous of anyone in her life. He was the one who walked all of those years ago.
“Cool, man. Well, I’ll leave you two to your business and I’ll see you around,” Colin said, eager to get out of there. “Bye, Bree.”
“Yup,” was her only response. She pretended to ignore him as he walked away, focusing her attention on Kent. “Thanks for coming to my rescue.”
“Who was that guy?” Kent asked, looking up at Colin’s retreating back before looking back down at her. “At first I thought he was your date or something, but the look on your face changed my mind. It looked like you wanted out of the situation. I hope you didn’t mind me coming up behind you like that. It just seemed to fit the situation.”
“No, I didn’t mind, I appreciated it. We dated in high school and I really hoped I’d never have to see him again. Pretty stupid, considering how small the town is, but he’d never planned to move back here.”
Kent was quiet for a moment. “Oh, so he’s the douche from high school.” He looked up again, as if wishing Colin was still standing in front of him.
“Yeah, but it’s no big deal. It was a long time ago. He just took me by surprise, is all.” As did the feelings she’d had when his hand touched her. It didn’t seem fair that the one person she never wanted to see again was the one person who could set her body on fire with one innocent touch.
“All right, Babe. You know that I’m here for you anytime you need me. If you want to tell him we’re together, feel free,” Kent said with his cocky little grin lighting up his face.
Briana touched her hand to his cheek and smiled, wishing she felt the things for Kent that she’d felt for Colin.
“Thanks, but I’ll be okay. I don’t want to cramp your style and ruin your chance with the ladies,” she responded playfully, trying to soften her negative response.
Kent looked down at her seriously, his heart in his eyes. “Bree, you know all you have to do is say the word, and there will be no other ladies.”
She nodded, wishing she could give him the answer he wanted.
He smiled again, all seriousness leaving his face. “You still want me to pick you up at one tomorrow?”
“You sure you still want to go?” she asked, giving him an out if he wanted one. “If you have other plans, I’ll understand.”
“Nope,” he replied. “I’m all yours.”
“Okay. One o’clock will be perfect.” She tip toed up to give him a quick kiss before turning to go back to the kitchen. “I’ll see you then.”
Briana and Kent were among the first people to arrive at the gravel pits. They parked along the side of the dirt road and unloaded the stuff from the car. Kent grabbed the charcoal grill and started walking.
“Hey, Bree, if you can bring the bags and blanket, I’ll come back for the food and charcoal,” he grunted back at her, as he carried his heavy load.
“Okay,” she replied, grabbing the backpacks and following him down the lane.
Once they reached the end of the path, they walked through a hole in the chain-link fence. It opened up to a large pool of crystal blue water.
Kent walked up to their usual spot by the water and set the grill down. He turned and stopped to kiss Briana’s forehead before heading back to the car to get the rest of their stuff.
She set up their blanket and put their backpacks down to hold it in place. It was a pretty hot day already, so she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and put her sunglasses on, then applied some sunscreen and chapstick. When she saw Kent coming back in through the fence, she went over to grab a bag from him.
“Kara texted and said that she and Pete are almost here. They just stopped to put ice in the cooler,” Briana said.
“Sounds good. I’ll just get the charcoal started. That way it’ll be hot enough to start cooking when everyone gets here. If you want to jump in while you have the place to yourself, go ahead.”
Briana loved swimming, and Kent knew she cherished these moments of solitude in the water. Pretty soon the pits would be filled with people, so she decided to take him up on his offer.
She looked out over the water as she shimmied out of her cutoff shorts, so she didn’t see the look on Kent’s face as he watched her get undressed. She took her top off next, then ran to the water and dove in.
She swam around, enjoying the feel of the cool water on her hot skin. When she came up for air, she turned back to say something to Kent, and saw that Pete and Kara had arrived. They were setting up next to Kent. She swam back towards the shore to get out and join them.
She walked out of the water, her hair slicked back with droplets cascading down her body.
That was the image that greeted Colin when Rich ushered him in through the fence. He stopped abruptly. Rich ran into his back, and Colin stood there, mouth open, as he watched her.
“Dude,” Rich yelled. “What the hell?”
Briana looked up at the sound of Rich’s voice and saw Colin watching her. The look on his face was enough to make her body tingle, and she couldn’t help but feel some satisfaction in the stupefied look on his face.
Kent looked up at Rich’s shout as well, and was less than happy to see the way Colin stared at Briana. The only one who seemed oblivious was Rich, who was still trying to shove Colin through the gate.
“Colin, I can’t walk through you, dude.”
Rich’s voice finally registered, and Colin said, “Sorry, man,” as he got out of the way.
Briana walked over to her friends and pulled Kara off to the side. “What the hell is Colin doing here?” she asked, trying to keep her voice down. “Did you know he was coming?”
“No, I had no idea,” Kara replied. “I’m sure Rich invited him. It’ll be fine. There will be so many people here that you’ll never have to talk to him.”
Kara walked back over to finish setting up her blanket and unpacking her things. Briana watched Colin and Rich go up to Pete and slap hands to say hello. They all started talking, probably catching up since they last saw each other, and she took the opportunity to look Colin over while he was distracted.
He wore solid blue swim trunks with a tank top in the same shade. His arms looked really good, toned and tan. She felt that tingle run through her again and she couldn’t help but remember what it felt like to touch his body.
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