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The Bad Boys of Summer Anthology

By:Selena Laurence

Prologue

Seven Years Ago



For the second time in less than half an hour, the ancient hotel television flickers twice and then shuts off. I hold down the remote’s power button until pain shoots through my thumb. Finally, the TV turns back on, static taking over the screen for several seconds before the picture is clear enough to watch.

“Piece of crap,” I complain, before flinging the oily remote onto the bed. Everything about this place is worn down, barely functional.

Out of all the places in the country that I could have driven to get away from home—Atlanta—I came to Livingston, Texas. And out of all the hotels where I could have spent the night, I picked the same discount inn that I’d stayed in a year and a half ago when I’d tagged along with my brother’s rock band during their tour of a bunch of bars in the Southwest.

If anyone asked, I would claim I picked this place at random, but that’s not the truth, and I absolutely refuse to lie to myself regarding the reasons. Yesterday, when I was driving, I chose the sentimental route. I came to the place where I’d spent a few of my happiest moments with one man right before diving blindly into a different relationship—and a hasty, but thankfully brief, marriage—with someone I barely even knew.

Liz Phair’s “Extraordinary” blasts at full volume, startling me. Scooting up into a sitting position, I grab my phone, which is lying facedown beside me on the full-size bed, buried under a corner of the bedspread. My older brother Lucas’ name blinks rapidly on the display. “What now?” I growl, staring menacingly at the tiny screen.

He’s been calling for the last several hours to check up on me, blatantly ignoring all my requests to leave me the hell alone.

I irritably accept the call. “Lucas.” My voice holds a note of warning, which he’ll probably ignore, knowing him. Before I continue, I suck in a harsh breath to avoid coming right out and telling him to piss off. I love my brother—really, I do—but I also love my space. Which, at the moment, I’m not exactly getting, even though he’s eleven hours away. Grabbing the TV remote, I jab a button on it to mute the sound of Veronica Mars even though the damn television is probably going to give out at any moment anyway. “I’m fine. Please…stop.”

“I’m worried about you. You and Brad are completely done, and that’s a good thing because I couldn’t stand that shithead. But then, you leave? And you go to Texas? What the hell are you doing in Texas, Kylie?”

I sift my fingers through my long black hair, letting it cascade over my right shoulder. Why does Lucas have to overanalyze everything? Doesn’t he have his own relationship with his crazy-ass wife, Samantha, to fuss over?

“I’m not a kid. You don’t need to take care of me. Don’t you have Sam and Falling Anarchy crap to deal with?” Like always, I cringe when I say his band’s name. It’s the worst name I have ever heard, and I’ve been bugging them for a couple of years to change it.

“Are you fucking with me? You’re barely nineteen. I’ll always want to take care of you. You understand that?”

When I grumble that I do, he adds, “Besides, Mom and Dad are freaking out, too.”

I work the outside of my upper lip between my teeth and glower up at the dingy water stains on the popcorn ceiling above me. I should have expected Lucas to bring our parents into this mess, and of course, it only makes me feel worse. Doing this is a low move on my brother’s part because he knows I hate letting them down. My parents have never judged me, never gave me anything but love, but my fear of disappointing them had been my negative driving force for years, forcing me into an unnecessary prison of my own making. Lucas doesn’t know this, but he also shouldn’t use my mother and father against me.

I swallow hard. “Tell them—tell them I love them, and I’ll call in the morning, okay?”

Just as I’m about to abruptly end the call by flipping the phone shut, so I can go back to the high school angst playing out on screen before the TV decides to screw up again, Lucas says smoothly, “Wyatt’s worried, too.”

The instant I hear Wyatt McCrae’s name, I freeze. I haven’t seen him in months, since before I met and married Brad in a spur of the moment decision that had been fueled by a broken heart and too many shots of vodka, but the mere mention of him still shakes me to my core. Wyatt was my first everything.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I shake my head and remove my thumb from the phone’s power button. “God, Lucas,” I snap. Why does my brother have to be such a sneaky, traitorous ass? “You told him I left, huh?”

“He was with me when Brad called asking if I knew where you went. He was—” Lucas begins.

I don’t hear the rest because there’s a booming knock at my door. It’s rhythmic, and it takes me a second to realize that I know this beat. In fact, I know it well. It’s Chevelle’s “Send the Pain Below.” Only one person I know would be playing that song.

Dammit.

Eighteen months ago, in this same hotel, I had Chevelle playing on repeat when Wyatt McCrae had snuck into my room. I was still seventeen, but something had changed between Wyatt and me during that tour with their band. That night, he’d made love to me, slowly, hesitantly. Perfectly. The Chevelle CD was still spinning when he left early the next morning, well before the rest of the band woke up.

There’s another knock—the same Chevelle song—but this time, each beat makes my heart throb a little more erratically. A wave of nausea crashes into the pit of my stomach, and I rub my suddenly sweaty palms on the comforter beneath me.

“You there?” Lucas demands.

“Oh yeah,” I say, immediately interrupting whatever it is Lucas tries to say next. “And, apparently, you took the initiative to tell Wyatt which hotel he could find me at.”

My brother makes a frustrated noise. “Now, Kylie—”

But I ignore his explanations and all-around bull because I know it will do nothing but make matters worse at the moment.

“I’ll call you back.” I hang up on him before he has a chance to argue with me.

There’s no winning against my brother. There never has been, and I doubt there ever will be. Since he’s bound to call me back, I hold my thumb down on the End button until the phone powers off.

Outside my room, Wyatt knocks on my door again, just a touch more urgently than the last time.

My breath comes out in short, heavy bursts, but I will myself to calm down as I pad barefoot across the threadbare mud-brown carpet. I don’t have any other choice but to pull myself together. I fling the door open and drag my eyes up. Wyatt sags against the doorframe and exhales. That same magnetism that drew me to him over a year ago, making me tell and show him things about myself that now make me flush, is vibrating through my veins once again.

I take a hesitant step forward despite the fact I’m not wearing anything but a tank top and boy shorts.

Wyatt runs the palm of his hand over the top of his short dirty-blonde hair. “You divorced that motherfucker?” he asks in a low voice. He drags his hand down his face and shakes his head to each side before training his vivid blue eyes on me. “Please tell me Lucas wasn’t shitting me.”

Stepping aside, I silently let him in, pressing my back up against the wood paneled wall behind me. I slam the door shut once he’s inside my cramped room. Now that I’m facing him, I try to drop my gaze to the strip of carpet between us, but he tucks his finger under my chin, stopping me.

“Ky, did you really leave him?” he asks.

My hasty marriage had lasted a total of four months before Brad and I both realized how little we knew about each other—like how there was practically no love between the two of us. Wyatt stares me down expectantly, and I force out a hoarse laugh. When I grant him a begrudging nod, he lets his head fall back in relief, muttering a curse.

“Yeah, I left him,” I whisper. “Turns out he was just as toxic as you.”

Wyatt’s mouth drags down into a frown. On him, even something so sour is beautiful, and it nearly yanks my heart right out of my chest.

“Looks like I’m your toxic sequel then, huh?”

Your toxic sequel. For some messed-up reason, the description fits him to a T. “Looks like you are. What are you doing here, Wyatt?”

He takes my hands in his, massaging feather-soft circles on the backs of them with his thumbs as if the slightest touch might break me. It won’t, and I don’t miss how his eyes dip down to my wrists. Angrily, I jerk my arms away from him, crossing them over my chest.

That he would actually look makes my throat feel like it’s shrinking while my heart feels like a clamp is bearing down on it. Months ago, on the way to this very hotel, I told him that I would never cut myself again, and thoughts to do so haven’t crossed my mind since, not even when shit hit the fan with my ex.

“Now that you’ve seen for yourself that I can actually follow through on my promises, will you please get the hell out of my room?”

Wyatt groans, taking a step toward me. I move away from him until the backs of my legs hit the bed, but he places his hands firmly on the slope of my hips, wraps his arms around me, and clutches me to him.

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