Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Eight

He released her, laughing at the splash she made hitting the water.

Three seconds later she came up sputtering. “Ass.” She swam the couple strokes to reach the dock and held up a hand.

How stupid did he look? Jackson backed up, well out of reach should she try—emphasis on try—to get ahold of him.

She pushed her wet hair back from her face and hoisted herself onto the docks. He might have laughed if his attention hadn’t been snagged by the way her yellow T-shirt was plastered to her chest. The outlines of her nipples were clearly visible through her equally drenched bra.

So help him, that’s all it took and he was hard for her. He didn’t even need to be within touching distance to feel his blood punch through his veins, all the way to his cock.

Jackson spun around and strode for the house. He didn’t stop when she called out his name or when she told him to get his ass back there. He didn’t stop until he reached the porch and yanked the door open.

The short walk didn’t cool him off, not even a little bit. He tried to convince himself to walk straight on through to the kitchen and out the back door. A whole lot less complicated that way.

But he didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay right where he was.

The front door opened and closed behind Hayley, the sound of her bare feet barely noticeable coming down the hall.

“I suppose now you’re ready to call it a night?” She ducked into the half bath next to the stairs and grabbed a towel. Despite the water running down her legs—legs that would look best wrapped around his waist—she focused on wringing out the ends of her hair with the towel.

“You might not want to know the answer to that.”

Something in his voice must have alerted her to what was going through his head. Or maybe it was the undeniable arousal he was sporting, and it wasn’t getting any better with only a see-through T-shirt and skimpy shorts between her and the hands clenched at his side.

“Throwing me into the lake once tonight wasn’t enough for you?”

“That’s the problem. I can’t seem to get enough of anything where you’re concerned.” He paused. “Except maybe the tasing.” Once was plenty.

He crowded her against the wall and took the towel, letting it drop to the floor.

Her voice lowered, like she might not be getting enough air with him pressing up against her. “What about the handcuffs?”

“I’m not ready to rule them out entirely.”

She planted her hands on his chest but didn’t push him away. “I’m going to get you wet.”

“Christ, I hope so.”

Hayley sucked in a breath, the catch in her voice dragging his attention right to her mouth.

Tracing her bottom lip with his thumb, he gave himself a second to absorb the charged current drawing them closer, his mouth a whisper from sweeping across hers. And then he kissed her, slowly. He took his time sinking into the kiss, savoring the faint taste of beer and fresh water on her skin.

Her tongue stroked across his, slick and warm, and he groaned into her mouth. He broke from her lips to explore her throat. She tipped her head, giving him complete access.

Jackson gripped her hips, slipping his fingers beneath the edge of her shirt. Her skin was soft and warm, and he needed to see more of it. Keeping his hands off her until this point had been almost impossible, and he couldn’t stop himself now. He tugged her shirt over her head, letting it drop next to the towel.

Dark nipples showed through the simple white cotton bra she wore. He traced the thin line of lace that decorated the trim. Hayley shivered, her lips parting as if she might say something, but it only made him need to kiss her again, to steal any words that would remind either of them that this was a bad idea in a lot of ways.

He half expected her to find a reason to stop, but he couldn’t bring himself to rush a second of this. He slanted his mouth over hers, ignoring the ball of his nerves in his stomach. Like the last few moments before a fight on the ice, he knew the restless energy would settle, so he deliberately slowed the rhythm of the kiss.

Her body was warm against his despite the wet clothes, and the smell on her skin, lazy summer days spent at the lake, reminded him of his adolescence and all the times he’d been convinced he knew it all.

The only thing he knew for sure right now was how much he wanted Hayley.

Dipping down, he licked his way to the curve of her breast and closed his mouth around a dark nipple straining against the material. Hayley moaned, clutching his shoulders when he gently bit down.

The heaviness between his legs intensified, and he straightened long enough to press himself against her. The pleasure of it nearly made his eyes roll back in his head. He cupped her ass, sliding his palms over the wet denim and then up beneath the hem of her shorts.

A sound of uncertainty left her lips.

“You’re thinking. Should I be worried?” There was a good chance she’d need those fifty thousand volts to make him let go of her at this point.

“No.” Hayley shook her head, wondering if that meant she had to be a little out of her mind. The more he kissed her—faster, deeper, consuming her—the tighter she held on to him. It had been so long since she felt such a rush of heat simmering in her belly, far more intense than she could remember.

And so freaking delicious.

Jackson settled his hands back on her hips and she almost grabbed them to stick them back on her behind. She wanted him holding her there, pushing against her so she could feel every inch of him through his pants.

His finger brushed across her stomach, circling her navel. Eyes locked on hers, he undid the button on her shorts. His finger closed around the zipper, and she felt one notch after another give way.

His dark head bent, his mouth finding the sensitive spot at her collarbone, and her eyes slid shut. Edging closer, he planted a hand flat on the wall next to her head, leaving the other to slide into her shorts.

The heat from his palm burned all the way through her panties, and that was before he moved it in agonizingly slow circles.

Hayley pitched her hips, grinding into his hand just as slowly. Warm, sweet flames curled through her, and between her legs kept getting hotter and hotter.

His thumb brushed her clit in passing, and she shifted to recapture the touch. Jackson laughed against her lips, the sound rich and seductive. Like other times before this, he was playing with her, teasing, and she both hated and loved every second of it.

“How long has it been?”

It was her turn to laugh. “You want details?”

“What I want is inside you. But I don’t want to hurt you if it’s been a while.” His finger slipped beneath the edge of her drenched panties to stroke along her wet folds.

Her breath shuddered out. “Does it feel like you’re hurting me?”

He shook his head. “You’re soaked.”

She closed her hand over his. “Then I guess you have nothing to worry about.” She guided him to her opening.

Jackson didn’t need any more help. He pumped a finger inside her. Her whole body clenched in sheer pleasure. In and out he thrust, filling her up. Her lungs worked to drag in more air, her body already straining toward the release skimming the edges of her nerve endings.

A slow swirl across her clit had her moaning. Then he did it again, circling a little slower, then faster.

Oh god. She tucked her face against the strong column of his neck, nearly panting with the need to come.

He found the perfect rhythm, stroking back and forth across her clit, waiting until she moaned before thrusting his fingers inside her all over again. A little bit dizzy, she leaned in to him, seeking his mouth and another kiss that just might finish her off completely.

Jackson gripped her shorts, tugging them all the way down. She reached for his zipper, and everything inside aching at the thought of him sliding inside her.

A sound registered at the back of her mind, but it took a second for her to notice the house phone was ringing.

“Ignore it,” Jackson pleaded, the words barely audible between their mouths.

His button was undone and she ran her hand along his lower belly, following the faint arrow of hair that disappeared into his boxers. Her shorts pooled around her ankles, his hand still teasing and stroking along her slick center.

She yanked at his boxers, and he didn’t even wait to shove them down before he tucked the tip of his cock against her, sliding along the seam of her.

“Hayley!” Her grandfather's voice boomed through the answering machine. “I need to see you. Now. It’s important.”

“Forget the damn robe. I’m not here to fulfill your Hugh Hefner fantasies.”

Hayley stopped in the doorway of her grandfather’s hospital room. Gramps stood opposite Trudy, a four-foot-eleven nurse. His cheeks were flushed, his big bushy eyebrows slanted in a fierce frown. Although he’d lost nearly thirty pounds since his chemo treatments, he was still just as overbearing and grumpy as ever.

Trudy was used to it, though. Even though Gramps towered over the fortyish nurse with her meaty arms, wide hips—which had accommodated seven children and she didn’t let anyone forget it—and wicked mean streak, Hayley’s money was on Trudy.

“Maybe you can reason with him.” Sighing, Trudy walked past Hayley.

Gramps looked at her. “She wouldn’t let me watch the NHL draft, and I’m the unreasonable one?” His voice rose on the last part, guaranteeing Trudy heard him, along with everyone else in this wing.

“I’ve got Ativan and I’m not afraid to use it,” came the threat from down the hall.

To prevent her grandfather from engaging in a verbal sparring match, Hayley closed the door. It wasn’t the first time she’d walked in on him giving one of the nurses a hard time. Usually it stemmed from boredom on his part, and torturing the nurses was how he entertained himself. Trudy had caught on long ago and dished it out as much as he did.

Gramps sat on the end of his bed, staring at the blank TV screen.

“Matt is recording the draft for you.”

“Not the same,” he grumbled, then focused all seventy-two years of weathered face and perceptive eyes directly at her. “You haven’t been by the last couple days.”

“I dropped by yesterday. You were napping.” Granting her another reprieve from talking about the bar fight at Stone’s and taking Jackson away in cuffs. The longer she could avoid the subject, the better, as far as she was concerned. Her time looked to be about over though.

“Hmmph.” He took a sip of water from his glass, crunching on a piece of ice. “Heard you arrested Jackson.”

She’d known it was coming, but she still winced. One of his friends had probably called him on speed dial the second she left the bar with Jackson in cuffs.

“Hayley Delilah Stone.”

Sighing inwardly at the use of her middle name, she squared her shoulders. “No charges were filed.”

His brows crumpled together in a familiar expression that usually preceded a threat to take the stick and show the kid which end he was supposed to be shooting with. Instead he surprised her by bursting out laughing.

Wondering if she’d slipped into the Twilight Zone, Hayley could only stare. He was amused by that? His laughter triggered a nasty cough that rattled his chest hard enough to break a rib.

She handed him the glass of water, and he sipped from it until his coughing subsided.

“That’s my girl.”

“You’re not mad?” She had assumed he would be at least disappointed. Annoyed had been more likely, and it turned out she was wrong on both.

“Boy probably had it coming.” Gramps sounded anything but surprised.

“Wasn’t his fault, really.” She’d seen Jackson dive into fights with far less provocation, and although most of those had been on the ice, at least he hadn’t been the first one to make a move this time.

“He always did think with his fists first.”

Hayley shook her head. “The other guy got in his face, Gramps. Didn’t leave him with much of a choice.” Hadn’t left her with much of one either.

Gramps amused smile vanished. “It’s true then.”

“Yeah,” she answered vaguely, unsure if they were talking about the same thing.

“Goddamn it.” He bolted to his feet, moving faster than Hayley had seen him go in years. He nearly knocked her backward in his rush to get to the small closet across from his bed.

He riffled through his clothing more efficiently than a fashionista at an outlet store.

“Trudy has eyes in the back of her head and will be shooting you full of Ativan if she thinks you’re trying to make a break for it.” Gramps had always insisted on staying in the hospital, refusing to be a burden to her or Matt, or any private nurse her mother would have hired for him. She couldn’t imagine it was the NHL draft that had him so determined to go now.

“Slippery son of a bitch.”

“Who, Gramps?” Hayley frowned, trying to figure out how she was going to get him back in bed before he hurt himself. Her fingers hurt just watching him slam the hangers along the rod that threatened to give under the force.

“Boy needs his ass kicked.”

Jackson? “What are you talking about?”

“You wouldn’t be defending him unless he seduced you. I’ll cut off that All-Star pecker of his for nailing my only granddaughter.”

Hayley wasn’t sure whether she should cover her ears or laugh. Though she and Jackson had come close before the phone call, they’d managed to pull away from each other. Or she’d managed to pull away from him. She’d been so caught up in the moment, so hungry for the waves of pleasure his touch unleashed, she hadn’t thought about the fact that neither of them was prepared for sex until they’d been interrupted.

“Jackson is not nailing me.”

Gramps paused, mulling that over. “Didn’t think he was the submissive type.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m not nailing him either.”

He stared at her, waiting for an explanation.

“Eric is back in town and Jackson was just helping me out.”

“That one definitely needs to have his pecker cut off.” He went back to rummaging through his clothes, tossing a shirt and pants on the bed.


He shot her a disbelieving look, his face more flushed than before. His blood pressure was probably skyrocketing.

She scrambled to find a way to reassure him that Jackson wasn’t out to make her another notch on his bedpost. There was no way she was letting him leave the hospital looking for a fight with the one player he’d always been so proud of. Even after the accident, Gramps had been confident Jackson would get back on his feet, and she refused to be the reason Gramps lost faith in him.

“We’re dating,” she blurted out.

“Dating?” He wasn’t buying it. “He just got back in town.”

“We have a bit of a history.” One kiss qualified as a history, right? She despised the thought of lying to him, but she knew how stubborn he could be if he thought anyone was hurting his family.

If he refused to let her mother help with his medical bills, even if it meant selling the home he’d built from the ground up, she knew full well he wouldn’t let anything like a terminal illness stop him from confronting Jackson.

Gramps searched her face. “Is it serious?”

Hayley hesitated, torn between telling the truth and saying whatever she had to, to keep Gramps from taking off. “More serious than anything I’ve felt before.” At least that part was true in terms of the way Jackson made her feel whenever he touched her.

Not entirely convinced, judging by the heavy set of his brows over his eyes, Gramps allowed her to put the clothes back in his closet and lead him back to bed.

Relieved that no one would be losing a pecker tonight, she held the covers back and waited for him to settle back against the pillow.

“Jackson hasn’t been by to see me.”

She had a feeling Jackson was having trouble accepting that Mitch Stone was dying. Though she wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening more days than she could count, she didn’t have that kind of luxury when Gramps was counting on her.

“He’s been helping out with stuff. At the house.”

“He is?” Gramps closed his eyes, apparently a little worn out from his run-in with Trudy and getting fired up to turn the town’s golden boy into a eunuch. “Bring him to see me.”

“I will.” Even if he was kicking and screaming the whole way.

“Be careful with that one, Hayley. He’s not like Eric. He cares too much.”

Confused, she tucked her gramps in and shut off the light. First he was gunning for Jackson and now Gramps was protecting him? She started to ask him what he meant, but his eyes were already closed.

Her gramps’s snores echoed through the room by the time she reached the door.

She lingered in the doorway, wishing she could fall asleep that quickly. At least then she wouldn’t have to worry about going home and replaying every moment that had passed between her and Jackson from the towel hitting the floor to the phone ringing.

Hayley managed to avoid Jackson the following morning by heading off to the station long before he arrived to “work”. Although she’d been pleasantly surprised at what he had accomplished the day before, she’d half assumed he wouldn’t start working until noon. At least she had until her mother phoned to say that she’d just passed Jackson picking up coffee for the two of them bright and early.

Getting her mother off the phone without getting into an argument had been nearly as tricky as finding a reason to be away from the station all morning in case Jackson planned on stopping by to deliver the coffee. Thankfully, Phil hadn’t minded getting out of the office to follow a couple random leads.

No further in their robbery investigation, she’d gotten back to her desk just as a tip on a months-old breaking and entering case came along from a source Hayley had used before. She and Phil had made the arrest that afternoon, hopefully proving to her captain she wasn’t as overwhelmed as he seemed to think.

With her shift over for the day, she swung by the hospital, grabbed one of the veggie smoothies that Gramps grumbled about but secretly loved, and popped in to see him. Seeing as he was deep in concentration watching the NHL draft, she didn’t stay long.

On her way out, Gramps stopped her. “Are you in love with him?”

“Jackson?” she asked, realizing a second too late who he meant.

He arched a bushy brow. “Are you dating any other hockey players I don’t know about?”

Laughing, she shook her head. “No to both questions. We haven’t been…together long enough,” she settled on, ignoring the guilt greasing her stomach.

“Are you sure? Could have sworn you were in love with him years ago with the way you were hanging around the rink all the time.”

“I loved watching you coach. Loved the game.”


She returned long enough to press a kiss to his cheek. “It’s a little premature to be dreaming about mini Stones and Knights lacing up and scooting around the rink like future All-Stars, don’t you think?”

He made a sound of disagreement, but let the subject drop. Thankfully.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

After leaving the hospital, she drove past Stone’s, pulling into the parking lot once she confirmed that Jackson’s car wasn’t there. She really needed to stop avoiding him, or at least figure out if she was more afraid of him taking advantage of their dating arrangement, or taking advantage of it herself.

Two feet inside the bar, she stopped. Jackson was behind the counter. He leaned against the bar, that effortless smile in place as he chatted to Bernice Cabot.

On instinct she turned away, thinking about joining one of the regular tables, only to change her mind. The days of flying under the radar and avoiding direct confrontation had been over for a long time. She’d learned to face everything head-on, and that included what had happened between them last night, something she’d found plenty of reasons to not think about after she went to the hospital.

Promising herself that she’d think about it later had seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe even a practical one. Except later had expired half a minute ago, and last night was suddenly all she could think about.

Decision made, she walked toward the bar. She regretted it three seconds after the fact, and it had nothing to do with last night and everything to do with the oversize bear costume sitting on the other side of Bernice.


“Hayley.” Jackson called her name, making it impossible to go hide with the regulars after all.

Ignoring the mascot costume that still looked faintly tie-dyed, she forced a smile and approached the bar. She chose a stool a couple down from Bernice, giving the former high school gossip queen a polite nod.

Bernice returned the gesture, looking mildly annoyed when Jackson moved closer to Hayley.

“Look what Bernice brought in.” He snatched the bear head off the body and planted it right on the bar in front of Hayley. “Remember this guy?”

“Is that Fuzzy Wuzzy?” Laughing, Matt emerged from the kitchen. “He’s looking good for having his ass glued to a Beamer and his tail set on fire.” True to form, Matt hopped over the bar to show everyone the scorched spot where the costume’s stubby tail used to be.

“I don’t remember hearing how his tail caught fire.” Jackson looked directly at Hayley.

She turned to Bernice. “How did you end up with him?”

“After we graduated, the principal decided he couldn’t be cleaned well enough for the next school year and ordered a new one.”

“And he’s just been collecting dust in your closet since then?”

She couldn’t help but grin at Matt’s crack, which only made Bernice scowl harder.

“No.” Bernice snatched the bear suit out of Matt’s hand and repositioned him on the stool. “I had him in the attic. I just thought Jackson might like to see him since he didn’t make it to the reunion.”

Matt frowned. “You brought him to the reunion? Must have been a cheap date.”

“He was on display.” Bernice’s patience was running on fumes.

Sliding onto the stool next to Hayley, Matt shrugged. “I don’t remember seeing him that night, do you?”

“I only remember having to leave early because some jackasses decided to take the party to Sunset Bluff and were setting off fireworks.” Not that she’d minded leaving as she’d stupidly let Matt talk her into going to the reunion to begin with. She would have preferred listening to Gramps and Trudy bicker all night over pretending she’d been friends with most of the kids she’d graduated with.

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Jackson said.

Hayley snorted. “They ended up setting a car on fire.”

“Hayls just hated missing out on a good time.” Matt grinned.

“It was a wonder one of you didn’t drive right off the cliffs that night.” More than a few, including two other cops she worked with, had certainly drunk enough to do something that stupid. Ten-year reunions were apparently a reason to be ten times crazier than they had been in high school.

“Wasn’t there a time you would have been leading the pack?” Bernice inquired, smirking just a bit.

Hayley went with the same tactic she’d used back in high school when Bernice wanted to get a reaction out of her. She ignored her completely.

Bernice lifted a shoulder at the dismissal, her attention predictably drifting back to Jackson.

He nodded at the mascot. “And how did his tail catch fire?”

Damn. He just wasn’t going to let it go, was he?

“Not everyone respected that he was a symbol of school spirit,” Bernice put in, her disgusted tone probably meant to hurt Hayley’s feelings. The gossip-queen-turned-real-estate-agent wasn’t making it hard to remember why the two of them had never clicked.

“Hayls, how did his tail catch on fire?” Matt, not clueing in that she’d rather talk about anything but the mascot costume and impulsive high school pranks, bumped her arm.

“That was Gavin.” She honestly didn’t have a clue which one of them might have been responsible, but it was an answer. At least Gavin wasn’t here to mind being thrown under the bus.

Before anyone could poke holes in her explanation, she slid off her stool and went behind the bar to pour herself a beer.

Another regular, Tim, motioned her down the bar. The woman next to him, Sarah, was only a year or two younger than Tim’s fifty-five. Both of them had lost their spouses to cancer a few years back, and as far as Hayley knew, the pair had been dating for a few months now.

A few people would occasionally grumble about how affectionate the two were in public, insisting they needed to get a room, but Hayley thought they were cute together and lucky to find someone else to share their lives with.

“So how’s the torrid romance going?” Tim asked.

Hayley smiled and leaned a hip against the counter. “I’m not sure torrid is the word I’d use.”

“So what word would you use?”

The question came from behind her, just loud enough for Tim and Sarah to hear, and close enough to Hayley’s ear to shoot a warm shiver straight up her spine.

Jackson waited for Hayley to turn around, enjoying the way she brushed across his chest as she turned. Intentional? He really hoped so.

“It’s almost perverse how much you enjoy making me squirm.”

The other couple grinned, and Jackson only cocked his head. “Are we talking about now or last night?”

Heat filled her cheeks, and she gave the other couple her back. “Excuse us a second.” Hayley grabbed Jackson’s hand and dragged him into the kitchen.

“Gavin wasn’t really wearing the suit, was he?”

She gave him a bewildered look. “I thought we were talking about last night?”

“We certainly can, though I got the impression a second ago you didn’t want me to talk about it.” It shouldn’t have been so much fun to tease her. It was even more fun to see how she’d retaliate when he pushed her too far.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“You seem confused.” Jackson smiled. “Maybe a little refresher will help clear your head.” He hooked a hand around her hip, drawing her closer. She smelled incredible, and the sweet scent only reminded him of exactly what she didn’t want to talk about.

Them. Nearly naked. Thirty seconds from finally burying himself deep inside her.

Jackson missed her lips by a breath. It should have been an impossible feat since he hadn’t been able to stop staring at her mouth since she walked into Stone’s.

“What are we doing?”

That worried look was back in her eyes, but somehow he didn’t think he was getting around it this time. “Kissing.” At least that was his plan.

“Not what we’re doing right this minute.”

Knowing this couldn’t be a great conversation at any point, certainly not when he was this close to coaxing her tongue into his mouth, he knew they needed to get it over with.

“I’m not… We shouldn’t…” She blew out a breath. “I don’t do casual sex,” she finished with.

There was nothing casual about how much he wanted Hayley or how he found himself constantly thinking about or looking for her. But that definitely wasn’t a conversation they needed to have right at the moment. “I didn’t think we were doing anything we needed to put a label on, were we?”

She cocked her head, her cop expression making him wary. “Someone might say that’s a line spoken by a true player.”

Where the hell had that come from? “Whoa. I’m automatically the bad guy because I don’t have any more of a clue than you do about what’s happening here?”

She frowned, looking just as uncertain as he felt. “What are you looking for?”

Wasn’t that the million-dollar question? “I don’t know.” He hadn’t had any idea before she stared at him, hunting for answers, and was even less sure now. Why did women have to complicate everything? Wasn’t it enough that they were both obviously attracted to each other?

Hayley moved away from him, picking up the knife Matt had been using to cut garnishes earlier, her movements precise as she finished the job. “Gramps wants you to visit him.”

The statement carried just enough annoyance to really throw Jackson for a loop. Was that where this was coming from? Had Coach heard rumors about them dating, and she was worried about what he thought?

He couldn’t decide whether or not to ask about it. He had a feeling he didn’t want to know what prompted her to pull away. It probably fell into the same category of he-should-have-known-better.

The door swung open and Matt poked his head inside. “Hayley, can you stick around for an hour or so? The waitress scheduled to work tonight is gonna be late and I don’t want to get swamped.”


If Matt picked up on the tension, he was too busy out front to worry about it, and returned to the bar. Not sure what to do about the tension himself, Jackson opted to get some air.

A steady stream of traffic was trickling in and someone was setting up on the small stage in the corner. Jackson remembered Matt saying that he was experimenting with some live entertainment.

His earlier eagerness to tell Hayley about the work he’d gotten done at the house today faded, along with his satisfaction of having completed another room. He’d forgotten how much he liked working with his hands off the ice, and the tired muscles were familiar and strangely welcome.

The only thing he’d been looking forward to, besides getting back to work tomorrow morning, was seeing Hayley. And that hadn’t exactly gone well.

Outside, it had begun to rain, and Jackson walked the perimeter of the deck until even that area wasn’t big enough to contain the restlessness twitching under his skin. Maybe he was better off going back and working on Coach’s place some more. Except he’d still have to deal with Hayley’s questions when she got home.

Not exactly a win-win situation. What he needed to do was go back inside and kiss her until there was nothing left to say. It was a solution any smart man could get behind, but Hayley was far from predictable, and there was a good chance she had no intention of anything else happening between them, real or pretend.

That didn’t sit well with him at all, and he became even more annoyed that it mattered so much to him. He was a day or two away from an interview and possible job offer. In a few weeks he could be back in the NHL, back in a world where he belonged, and he was worried about whether or not he and Hayley were going to continue their fake relationship?

Shit, he needed a beer. And definitely more than one.

With the recent events that had put him back in the spotlight, however, he didn’t want anyone wondering if he was off the wagon. He’d never needed to be on the wagon, but when his ex had been interviewed following his accident, she’d implied that alcohol had been a factor. Half a beer was far from a factor, but of course she couldn’t have left it alone. No, that factor had also been one of the reasons he’d supposedly dumped her.

With his mood growing fouler, he decided on a drive. He jogged down the steps, but stopped at the end of a parked Jeep when he noticed the shorter teen from Hayley’s. Brent, he thought.

Unfortunately Jackson also recognized the douche standing opposite Brent, looking more pissed than a guy sent to the penalty box during playoffs for some bogus call.

Jackson took a small measure of comfort in the fact that buddy’s face was still bruised from their fight the other night. His body was just as rigid with tension, his lips cut in a threatening smile—like he was spoiling for another fight, but with his younger brother this time, Jackson guessed. The two had the same unruly auburn hair and freckles. They were definitely related.

The pair talked too low for Jackson to hear, but there was no missing the hard shove that knocked Brent into the car at his back.

“Take it easy.” Jackson moved in their direction, stopping just shy of being considered a threat, but making his presence felt nonetheless.

The douche’s eyes narrowed. “Fuck off.”

Jackson had heard it before, had in fact heard a slight variation of it the other night. It hadn’t taken much to resist the moron’s verbal baiting before, but picking on a kid smaller and younger than him? Not a chance.

Maybe he was still pissed at where their last confrontation had landed him. Or maybe he was still stewing about his and Hayley’s argument. Either way, Jackson didn’t hesitate to make the first move.

He plowed the guy in the face, nailing him in the jaw with his fist.