Ride Wild(3)

By: Laura Kaye

Which she refused to let herself think about just then.

“To me you are,” Sam mumbled, suddenly fascinated with the surface of the table.

What the heck was she supposed to say to that? When it was possibly one of the nicest things any human being had ever said to her . . . She eased into a seat. “Really?”

He nodded and finally met her eye. “You’re kinda funny,” he said.

“Just kinda?” She winked.

Sam’s grin was reluctant in that preteen way of his. “I mean, you have your moments.”

Cora smirked. “You’re really selling my admirable qualities here, Sam Evans.”

He shrugged again. “Okay, fine. You’re funny. You take good care of us. And you make Ben happy. And I heard you’re the one who helped Haven escape from her dad. That was pretty hard core.”

“We did it together,” Cora said, nearly glowing from the praise. Kids’ willingness to just lay their truth out there was one of the things she absolutely loved about being with them. Even if Cora couldn’t really agree with Sam’s view of her. “That’s what friends do for each other.” Especially best friends, which Cora and Haven Randall had been since grade school, back before Haven’s father had become so possessive that he’d withdrawn her from school to control everyone she saw and everything she did. Cora’s father was exactly the opposite—he hadn’t cared less what Cora did, where she went, or who she saw—as long as she didn’t need his time, attention, or money, which he drank or gambled as fast as he made. She and Haven had sometimes debated which more deserved the Worst Dad of the Year trophy. It varied from day to day.

“And you make our house feel . . . alive again,” Sam said more quietly. “Like Mom used to.”

It was such a stunningly beautiful comment that emotion knotted in Cora’s throat. Sam’s mom—Slider’s wife, Kim—had died young from breast cancer over two years before. The boys rarely mentioned her, and never in Slider’s presence. At least, not that Cora had ever witnessed. “Sam,” she said around that knot. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

He blinked up at her, like he wondered if she was teasing him. And she so wasn’t. Instead, she was wondering what she could possibly do to actually deserve that kind of compliment. “So, is that a yes?”

Man, she hoped Slider realized how awesome his kids were, because she would give a lot to have children this amazing. Maybe someday that would happen for her. Though, given that people generally preferred to use her rather than keep her, not to mention how much of a mess her life was right now, she was certain that someday was at least a million days off.

“Yeah, that’s a yes,” she said. “What exactly do you want to know?”

Returning from his only call of the night, Slider parked the tow truck in the lot at Frederick Auto Body and Repair just as the sun turned the morning sky gray. Once, he’d been a master mechanic contemplating owning this place, and now . . . now his life was just like his night had been. A whole lotta nothing punctuated by the occasional unexpected emergency.

He wasn’t sure if that was better or worse than the slow, plodding slog of the fourteen months he’d spent knowing catastrophe was coming right at him and his boys, yet unable to do a goddamn thing about it.

But that was cancer for you. Fuck you very much.

Sad truth was, though, that catastrophe had been coming for the Evans men one way or the other, hadn’t it?

Damn it all to hell.

Slider punched out. Drove home. Heaved a big breath before he went inside.

God, he hated this house.

Its ghosts, its memories, Kim’s touch in every room and on every surface. He couldn’t breathe inside this house.

He went in anyway.

Noise. Voices. Laughter.

He found the source of it all in the kitchen.

Sam and Ben sat at the kitchen table with the babysitter, who was demonstrating how to hang a spoon from her nose.

The babysitter.

That was how he thought of her. How he had to think of her sometimes. Because if he thought of her as Cora, then he might think of her as a woman. And if he thought of her as a woman, he might take note of the soft waves of her sunny blond hair, or the flare of her hips, or the way the playful glint in her bright green eyes matched the mischievousness of her smile or the sarcasm in her voice.

And Slider couldn’t do any of that.

Not when the last time had gone so very wrong—and in ways no one else in his life even knew.

“Dad!” Ben called, shoving up from his seat and sending milk and Cheerios sloshing from his bowl. He rounded the table.