Dare (Fighting Fate Book 6), страница 1
A Fighting Fate novel
Copyright 2017 Maree Green
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It was official.
‘Couple love’ had definitely hit, and it was spreading through my group of friends like wildfire. Five of my closest friends were now ridiculously, stupidly, crazily in love. They’d found what I considered true love. They’d found their soul mates. Their best friends. The one person who understood them the most. They touched each other. They gave each other ‘the look.’ They laughed with each other. And they exuded something that looked a lot like genuine happiness. Blah, blah, blah . . .
It made me want to punch them.
But not really. I wasn’t a psycho. I was just a teensy bit jealous. You see, that kind of happiness was something I’d been striving for with my boyfriend for the last six months. And just when I thought we might be getting there, I would see all my friends together and realize we’re not even close.
But don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that I was unhappy. I wasn’t. Wyatt was an amazing guy. Seriously. Everyone liked him. But that was kind of the problem. He was liked so much that everyone wanted a piece of him, and at the end of the day, there wasn’t much of him left for me. Or maybe I was just a needy bitch. I had yet to work that one out.
Either way, it got me thinking. What was it that defined love? Was it something you just fell into? Or was it something you built—something you worked on and grew, like a garden that had to be tended to for months before it had a chance of becoming fruitful?
Wyatt and I had been dating for almost six months, yet neither of us had mentioned the ‘L’ word once. Sometimes I thought it—when I was lying in his arms at night, immersed in the contentment of belonging—but I hadn’t felt the true urge to say it. In those moments, I wondered if that meant it wasn’t real—that it was my higher consciousness telling me to wait. It could be better.
Then I usually just told myself to shut the hell up, because—yep, you guessed it—I may have had a slight tendency to overthink things. Just a little. I blamed my mom for that. I may not have carried her genes in the looks department, but, even if I wanted to, there was no denying I copped a lot of her personality traits.
One side of my mouth crept up in amusement as I climbed from my car and looked up at the gray-clad house. Mom had called it her home for the last three and a half years, but I hadn’t even spent one night under its roof. I always thought that home was where you felt the love, but sometimes I wasn’t so sure.
Knocking on the door, I let myself in and closed the door behind me. “Hello?”
A split second later, Mom’s voice echoed toward me. “In the kitchen!”
Following the smell of baking pastry, I moved toward the back of the house and found her behind the kitchen counter. Norman, my stepdad, sat at the table, his nose buried deep in a newspaper.
Mom smiled as I breezed into the room. Wiping her hands on a dish towel, she came to wrap her arms around me. “Hey, there, my sweet girl. I didn’t know you were dropping in today.”
“Spur of the moment,” I said, squeezing her back. As she released me, I glanced over at Norman and smiled. “Hi, Norman.”
I watched his immobile back for a little while before giving a slight shrug and scooping up a baked goody off the counter.
“Norman,” Mom said, a hint of warning in her voice.
It was an argument that ensued almost every time I visited. It was one of the reasons I chose to stay away most of the time. Norman glanced up, his gaze falling to me blandly. “Oh, hi, Jess,” he said, his gaze back on the newspaper before he’d even finished speaking.
Mom’s jaw tightened. Norman’s lack of interest in me and my brother, Austin, had been a bone of contention between them for as long as I could remember. It didn’t really bother me that much. Norman wasn’t horrible. He just hadn’t known how to connect with kids very well when he and Mom had first gotten together. Over the years he’d learned, but it had been with his own kids. Austin and I were still something he just couldn’t quite figure out how to cope with, and it was for that reason I’d decided to move into an apartment when I started college instead of just staying at home.
Not wanting to be the cause of yet another argument, I tossed the cookie into my mouth and moaned. “Oh my God, so good. Why can I not make them as good?”
Mom turned away from Norman and smirked at me. “You’ll get there. You just need practice.” Picking up the container of flour off the counter, she went about cleaning up. “So how’s things?” she said, her voice muffled in the pantry.
“Good. Exams are nearly done, thank God. As much as I’m in no hurry to start adulting for real, I have just about reached my limit with studying.” I shook my head as I nibbled. “I don’t know how Wyatt’s continued to do it for so long. I would seriously die.”
Wyatt was in his final year of law school, meaning he’d been in college for almost seven years now. I hadn’t decided if I admired him for that, or just thought he was completely out of his mind.
“So, you and Wyatt are still dating, then?”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course we are.”
Returning the milk to the fridge, she closed the door and eyed me. “You can’t blame me for asking, Jess. You’ve been dating for how long now? And I’ve only ever seen him once.”
She was right. As much as I’d tried to get Wyatt to join me when I dropped in to see Mom, he was always busy. “Well, he breaks next week, so I’m sure we’ll have time to drop in after Christmas.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, washing the oven tray under the tap.
She may have been right to doubt. I still had no idea what Wyatt’s plans were for the break. I knew his family all lived in Portland and he’d be going home for Christmas, but I didn’t know how long he was thinking of staying at all. And it wasn’t from lack of asking, either. He just didn’t know yet.
“So, have you heard if Austin’s coming over yet?” I asked, trying to avoid discussing the awkwardness that was my life.
Austin was one of those brothers who pissed their siblings off by being complete over-achievers. Three years ago, at the age of twenty, he became one of the youngest people to be drafted into the NHL when he was picked up by the New York Rangers. Back then, we’d been close, despite the fact that he’d chosen to spend most of his time with our dad in Wisconsin. But, with his schedule being so busy these days, there weren’t many chances for us to catch up.
Mom tossed a spatula in the sink and smiled. “He gets here Christmas Eve and leaves Boxing Day. Not long, but it’s better than nothing.”
I knew the limited time she got to see Austin upset her, but I also knew she was proud of him beyond measure. She just didn’t like the reported ladies’ man he’d apparently become. Dad, on the other hand, was more upset over the fact that his grand plans of growing his snow plowing business into Montgomery and Son was now unachievable.
Mom glanced up at the clock and raised a mischievous eyebrow. “Wait for it. In three
I had exactly one second to laugh before the sound of the front door being thrown open echoed through the house. A few moments later, my two half sisters swept into the room.
Taylah beamed at me through her blonde bangs, dropping her bag on the floor and coming to hug me tight. “Jessie!”
“Hey, squirt. How was school?”
She screwed up her freckle-splattered nose and giggled. “Mr. Turner made us touch a cow heart. It was gross.”
I released her and grimaced with sympathy. “That is gross. I hope you washed your hands.”
Her eyes rounded. “Oh, I did.”
Glancing over at Bianca, I watched her wrap her arms around Norman’s shoulders from behind. His smile as he twisted to look up at her lit up the room. “Hey, gorgeous. How was your day?”
Bianca straightened and shrugged. “Same as every other day.”
Turning, she met my gaze with an easy smile. Even though she’d stopped rushing to greet me when she turned thirteen, she still, thankfully, went out of her way to hug me. “Hey, B,” I said as she walked into my arms.
As I squeezed her to me, I watched Norman with Taylah, his gaze taking in her every word as she explained to him what a cow heart felt like.
“Are you staying?” Bianca asked as she stepped back to grab a handful of cookies, stuffing one into her mouth before I could even blink.
It always surprised me just how much she ate. I had no idea where it went. There was seriously nothing of her. “Not tonight. I have an exam tomorrow.”
She cringed. “Yuck. I’m not looking forward to college at all.”
Mom scooped the plate of cookies up away from Bianca and gave her a warning look. “Leave some for your sister.”
Taylah rounded the counter and snatched a cookie with one hand before wrapping the other around my waist. “Yeah, Bianca. These are my cookies, remember? You owe me.”
Bianca rolled her eyes. “Whatever, squirt.”
I shook my head as I gazed down at Taylah’s cheeky face. She wouldn’t have lasted a week growing up with Austin. He always ate everything before I even made it to the kitchen after school.
“When are you taking me to the movies, Jess?” Taylah asked, her little eyes pleading with me.
Kissing the top of her head, I pulled her closer. “I’ve already marked it in my diary for next weekend, squirt. If it’s okay with Mom, you can have a sleepover too.”
Her eyes widened before her hopeful gaze swung to Mom. “Mom, please!”
I watched Mom draw in a deep breath before slowly releasing it and shaking her head. “Of course I can’t say no,” she said. “I’d be the worst mother ever, wouldn’t I?”
Taylah jumped up and down with excitement, while Bianca scowled. “That’s not fair. I want to stay at Jess’s too.”
“You can stay a different night, if Mom says you can,” I offered, knowing it was most likely going to be a drama.
As both the girls beamed and danced around, I sighed with contentment. I may not have grown up with them like I had with Austin, but they were still my sisters, and I loved them all the same. Even Norman.
Sliding the drip pan under the bike, I unscrewed the rest of the bolt and let the oil run free. “That should do it,” I said, pushing myself up to sit.
Dad nodded and tossed me a rag. “You replacing the filter while you’re at it?”
Wiping the grease off my hands, I smirked, knowing he was testing me. “Yeah, I’ll undo the lug after she drains for a little while.”
“Are you boys racing next weekend?” he asked, lowering himself down to sit on a crate.
“Nah, I’ve given up on the racing,” I said in all seriousness. “I’ll still go out to Prairie City to practice, though. I just can’t afford to take the risk anymore. The bar exam is only six months away now.”
He narrowed his eyes in thought as he looked me over. “Do you think you’ll be ready for it?”
“I goddamn hope so,” I said, resting my arms on my bent knees. “I didn’t sacrifice my dating life to fuck it all up in the end.”
One side of Dad’s mouth curled up. “Even the most well-laid plans can come crashing down sometimes, Son.”
I groaned. “Jesus, Dad. Don’t jinx me.”
“I’m not saying you could fuck up the bar exam,” he said, waving his hand in front of him. “I’m just saying that sometimes you don’t get to control when people come into your life. Things happen when they’re supposed to happen.”
I knew he was speaking from experience on this one. It was a story my brothers and I had heard many times over. He’d had grand plans to be the number one cop in the city, with no attachments to distract him from doing his duty. But along came Mom with her mesmerizing smile and bewitching laugh, and the rest, as they say, is history. The whole thirty years and five sons worth.
“We still think she did some voodoo shit on you, Dad,” I said. “I think you could break the curse if we take you to see the voodoo king.”
Dad threw his head back and laughed. “You boys just want a free trip to New Orleans.”
The door to the yard creaked open, a shadow appearing in the gap. “Hell yes I want a free trip to New Orleans. You paying, old man?”
I chuckled as my two oldest brothers sauntered in, Isaac with a bowl of chips and Adam with a case of beer. I met Adam’s gaze, not able to hold back the shit-stirring grin that molded my lips. “How’s the chicken bone stash coming along? Think we’ve got enough to bust the old man free yet?”
Adam grinned as he moved behind Dad and dropped the case on the workbench. “We’ve got plenty of chicken bones. It’s the mummified monkey hand that’s the problem.”
Dad shook his head with a laugh. “Yeah, yeah. I raised a bunch of comedians. You’re all hilarious.”
The door creaked again, and my two closest friends appeared. “Not as hilarious as this clown,” Brad said, sticking his thumb out at Jordan.
Jordan frowned. “I’m not sure if I should take that as an insult or a compliment.”
Brad patted his shoulder. “Take it as a compliment, Bro,” he said. “I’m not up for a dead arm right now.”
Bumping my fist to each of them as they passed, I tossed the rag I was holding to the ground and quickly undid the filter lug to drain the rest of the oil.
Brad nodded to the bike as he sat on the crate beside me. “How is it?”
I looked over my new Kawasaki and pursed my lips. “So far, so good. The skid plate was all bent out of shape, but there’s no damage underneath.”
Adam hollered at me from across the room. “Brew?”
Brad signaled Adam for a beer as well before checking under my bike. “Are you still keen to head out to Prairie City next week? Jordan says Pauly and the boys are ready.”
Interest immediately sparked. Pauly and his team had been my favorite challenge back in my amateur racing days. A little friendly race would be awesome. “Fuck, yeah. I can’t remember the last time I went up against their crew. How long are they in Cali for?”
Jordan plonked down next to Brad before handing us both a can. “Just for the week,” he said, cracking his open. “They’re touring the West Coast again.”
Isaac snorted as he straddled his bike next to mine. “I remember the last time you went up against Pauly, Eli. You sure you want to do that again?”
“Fuck off,” I said, flipping him the bird. “You know it was a faulty valve.”
He chuckled. “It’s okay, little brother. I’ll make sure I’m there with the truck in case it’s you who catches on fire this time.”
I rolled my eyes at him. Isaac was the smart ass of the family. He was also a fireman, so there was no way of escaping the constant reminder of the one day my racing bike caught on fire after a small crash.
Dad groaned. “Don’t even joke about it, Isaac. I had to listen to your mother go on about cursed motorcycles for a mo
Adam huffed as he sank down next to Dad, handing him a can. “She nearly did. I had to bribe her by promising that Isaac and I would be at every race after that.”
Adam was a paramedic. In our early racing days, he volunteered his time to man the track with his ambulance. But those days were over now. Not only had we all given racing up, Adam and his wife, Kara, were now expecting their first child, so he tried to be at home as often as he could be.
Isaac laughed. “And to think Mom was happy when Noah didn’t get into racing.”
I tried not to laugh, but it was a little bit funny. Noah was the youngest of all us Murphy boys, and while he’d been just as wild as the rest of us, he’d chosen his career young. As soon as he graduated high school, he more or less went straight into the police academy, graduating top of his class. Mom had been over the moon. Until she found out he’d earned himself an undercover gig infiltrating a drug ring . . .
The eighteen months he was gone was the hardest thing our family had been through. We rarely got updates of his well-being—despite the fact that Dad was also a cop—and sometimes went months without knowing if he was even alive. I swear Mom went an entire week without eating one of those times we hadn’t been able to get any news about him. She was just that sick with worry.
But he was home now. Had been for a couple of years. In fact, he was only ten units away from finishing his degree in criminal justice. I was beyond proud. We all were. His sacrifice was a large part of the reason I had decided to study law. I wanted to make sure the bad guys they caught got put away for a long time.
“Where is Noah, anyway?” I asked, starting the process of removing the old oil filter.
Adam chuckled. “Where do you think?”
“Thumbelina’s got him wrapped up tight,” Isaac said with a smirk.
Thumbelina was Isaac’s nickname for Noah’s girlfriend, Kaeli. And she really did have him wrapped up tight. He would do anything for that girl. But she was a nice chick. They deserved each other.