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A Single Kiss (Irresistible Attraction #2)
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From USA Today bestselling author Willow Winters comes a heart-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat gripping, romantic suspense.
I should feel shame for not wanting this to end, but he doesn’t want it to end either.
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“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
It’s odd the things you remember in the midst of fear. Fourteen years later, and I still recall the cracks in the cement; the sidewalks were littered with them. This particular one though… I remember it in vivid detail, probably because of what happened immediately after.
Against the old brick building of the corner store, a green vine had found its way through the broken cement and climbed up the wall. I remember thinking it had no business being there. The crack belonged, but the new life that had sprouted up and borne what looked like a closed flower wasn’t supposed to be there. Nothing beautiful belonged on that street.
The dim streetlight revealed how lively it was, even that late at night. With shades of green on the perfect vine and its single leaf with the bud of a flower just waiting to bloom, it made me pause. And in that moment, I hated that it was there.
I was almost eleven and maybe that childishness is why I scraped my shoe against the leaf and stem, ripping and tearing them until the green seemed to bleed against the rough and faded red bricks. I know I wasn’t quite eleven, because Mama died right before my birthday that year. It was her medicine that almost fell out of the overfilled paper bag I was gripping so tight as I continued to kick at the wall before feeling all the anger and hate well up and form tears in my eyes.
Life wasn’t fair. Back then I was just learning that truth, or at least I’d felt it somewhere deep in my bones, although I hadn’t yet said it out loud.
Mama was getting sicker. Dad’s condition was getting worse too, although he couldn’t use cancer as an excuse. Thinking about the two of them, I continued to kick the wall even though my sneakers were too thin and it hurt to do so. The bottles the clerk had given me to give my dad clinked against one another in the bag, egging me on to keep kicking until I felt a pain that I’d given myself. A pain I deserved.
All the while, the bottles clinked.
That’s what I had gone out to get, even as my stomach rumbled. I had enough money left over to get something to eat, but Dad always demanded the receipt. If he saw that I spent his change, I knew it’d be bad. I knew better than to take his money. Times were hard and I would eat what I was given to eat and do what I was told to do.
I picked up the medicine and beer for my folks on the way home from dropping off something at a classmate’s house on the other side of town. Maybe a book I’d borrowed. Those details are fuzzy over a decade later. I didn’t have many friends but a couple of students pitied me. I was the smallest one in the class and we couldn’t buy everything I needed for school. The other kids didn’t mind letting me borrow their things every once in a while. I never asked the same person in the same week and I always gave stuff back promptly. Mama always smiled when I told her I’d just gotten home from giving things back to my friends. I told her they were my friends, but I knew better. She didn’t though.
I’m not sure what I’d returned that night or to who. Only that I had to go by the corner store on the way home.
None of that mattered enough to remember, but the damn flower I’d killed, I remember that.
It was the shame of nearly crying that made me take that detour, right at the damaged sidewalk that was free of what wasn’t supposed to be there anymore. I cried a lot and that’s why everyone looked at me the way they did. The teachers, the other kids, the clerk at the corner store. They always got a certain look on their faces when they saw the dirty, skinny kid whose mother was dying.
They didn’t look at my older brothers that way. They were trouble and I was just… not enough of anything other than a kid to feel sorry for.
I stalked down the alley to hide my face in the darkness, only to meet a man I thought was a figment of everyone’s imagination.
He was like the boogeyman or Santa Claus; all myths I didn’t believe in.
A lot of people called him the Grim Reaper, but I knew his name was Marcus. It’s what my brothers called him. I thought they were messing with me when they’d told me stories about him, right up until I looked into Carter’s eyes and he shook my shoulders because I wouldn’t listen.