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Since becoming a single father, Mac Edwards has struggled to keep his small family together. But now his custody of his twelve-year-old daughter is threatened by the secrets she? s keeping.
His last hope
In a bitter twist, their new social worker is the one person he can? t trust?Rachel Filmore. Thirteen years ago she was his world?until she deserted ...
Since becoming a single father, Mac Edwards has struggled to keep his small family together. But now his custody of his twelve-year-old daughter is threatened by the secrets she’ s keeping.
His last hope
In a bitter twist, their new social worker is the one person he can’ t trust—Rachel Filmore. Thirteen years ago she was his world until she deserted him. How can he trust her not to destroy his family? And how can he trust himself to leave the past where it belongs?
"They'll think I jumped just to get out of this dumb town. I swear, Mac. New Springs is like a noose around our necks."
"That's not funny," Mac murmured, and Rachel turned to face him. He sat on the hard-packed earth, his own graduation gown in a heap beside him. He still wore the cap, though. He had tilted it at what he called a "rakish angle." He was always trying to be like Humphrey Bogart or some other old actor. Mac said they had class. Rachel didn't know one way or another; she never stayed awake during those boring old movies.
But Mac looked cute with his hat like that. Something weird was going on with Mac these days. Weirder than normal. His face was changing. He suddenly had cheekbones and a jawline and his eyes...well. Rachel found herself unable to look too long into those eyes.
He seemed older, like a man.
His body had changed last year. Almost overnight, it'd gotten bigger. Where he'd been skinny he'd developed muscle. He must have grown five inches in the span of two months.
The coaches had tried to get him to go out for the football and basketball teams. He didn't do it, but she knew he was flattered that they'd asked. She also knew that Margaret McCormick had been coming to his locker between classes, tossing her hair around and bending over to pick things up from the floor in front of him. Rachel had caught him looking at Margaret's butt.
Margaret had joined the Science Club and had even asked him to tutor her, since everyone knew that he was a science genius. He'd helped Margaret one night, but Mac wouldn't tell Rachel what had happened. He said they'd just studied, but he'd blushed when he said it.
Maybe that was what was weird, Rachel thought as she studied her friend. Mac is a little mysterious.
Her belly did that long slow roll it'd been doing whenever Mac was around. That was weird, too. She had known Mac since freshman year and now she was hot for her best friend. Seriously hot — as in "let's make out and get naked" hot. She didn't know what to do about it, except of course ignore it, which she had been trying for a few months now, and that just made her more crazy.
She wanted to do whatever he and Margaret had done.
But she didn't know how to get from best friend to naked all in one night. And one night was all they had left. "You gonna toss your gown in, too?" she asked, sitting next to him. She flipped her skirt up over her knees and thought about grabbing her sweatshirt from the bag, but it was still hot out and the tank top she wore was fine.
"Nah." He reclined against the smooth, round rock at their backs. "Thought I'd burn it. Someone said you can get high off the fumes."
She chuckled and leaned back with him. She brushed his shoulder with hers — totally on purpose — and her breath caught at the zing that raced along her skin.
Touch me. Touch me. Touch me.
If she opened her mouth, she was sure those words would come pouring out like sand.
"Look what your brother gave me today" Mac dug into his own bag and pulled out a small piece of wood.
Her vision blurred with hot tears.
She wished she could pretend there was no Jesse, no little brother she was being forced to leave behind. Maybe then it wouldn't feel as if she was drowning all the time.
She picked up the piece of avocado wood that Jesse had whittled into a four-inch-high tree with branches and roots using his twenty-year-old SwissArmy knife.
She ran her thumb along the ridges and the veins in the leaves and felt her heart breaking.
"It's amazing," Mac whispered. "I mean, the kid is eleven. What eleven-year-old can do that?"
Rachel shrugged and handed it back to him. "He's something," she whispered.
"Rachel — " Mac's tone was soft and sympathetic, and the hand that cupped her shoulder burned her to the bone. An ugly mix of emotions inside of her — a seething, poisonous combination — tried to leak out.
Don't ruin this night. It's my last night. Don't cry. Don't, Rachel. She pressed down all the impotent anger and raging sadness and turned a bright smile to her old friend.
"Hey, I brought something." She remembered what she had pilfered from the back of the fridge. Since she was leaving tomorrow she didn't need to worry about her father finding out and losing his mind. She rummaged in her backpack. "It's probably warm by now," she muttered, and pulled out the bottle of champagne she'd wrapped in towels to keep cool. "Ta-da!"
"Wow, champagne," Mac nodded. "Awesome. Since we're not having graduation parties — "
"Who needs crappy cake when you can have lukewarm champagne, huh?" she asked. She knew just how sad this was, which was why they had to joke about it. All of their classmates were having parties with volleyball nets set up in the backyard and coolers of pop and beer. But Rachel's and Mac's parents just couldn't get it together to put a special dinner on the table to celebrate their kids' achievements.
"Mom always says it's supposed to be for a special occasion, but the dumb bottle's been sitting in the back of the fridge forever." There's no such thing as a special occasion at my house, she thought, and fumbled with the top of the bottle. "How am I supposed to open this dumb thing?"
"Let me have that," Mac said, and tore off the foil. He stuck his thumbs under the cork, and his arm, pressed against hers, flexed, the veins that had suddenly appeared in his forearms strained against his skin. Rachel swallowed hard, swamped with new painful feelings.
"How do you know how to do this?" she asked. Maybe he and Margaret had champagne.
"Cary Grant," he muttered, preoccupied with the bottle.
The cork popped and the spray shot all over their feet. Rachel screamed and jerked her sandals out of the way. Mac took a giant swig, catching most of the foam.
"Perfect," he said, and wiped his mouth. His eyes were sparkly and filled with fun and they made her drunk enough. She didn't need champagne. He handed her the bottle and Rachel took it, all too aware that she was pressing the glass that had been on his mouth against her lips.
The champagne fizzed, sweet and cool down her throat. It was perfect.
"So?" He bent his knees and slung his long arms around them. He looked up at the stars and she knew he was searching out the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia.
He always looked for those first. Gotta get my bearings, he'd say.
Rachel took another gulp of the fizzy booze. "Tomorrow, huh?"
"Yeah." She handed him the bottle. "I can still give you a ride. San Luis Obispo isn't that far."
"Right, like The Jerk is going to give you the car."
"Screw him," he muttered, kicking at a rock that shot off the ledge. Rachel heard it clatter to the bottom. He took a long pull from the champagne bottle. She filled her lungs with as much air as possible and promised this would be the last time she tried.
"Come with me," she said in a rush.
"Rach — "
"You've got awesome grades — "
"And zero money." He rolled his head against the rock. "We've talked about this like a dozen times."
"I'm going early so I can get a job. You can get a job, too. We can bag groceries, or work with a landscaper. You'd like that. Working with the..." She trailed off. She knew begging wasn't doing any good. She had gotten the scholarship and he hadn't even applied. Even bagging groceries wouldn't make enough to cover books.
And Mac wasn't going to leave his mom, not while she was married to The Jerk.
Rachel nodded and took another swig of the champagne before handing it back to him. What am I going to do without you? she thought, staring up at the sky. The world suddenly loomed too large without Mac beside her. All the spaces inside of her that she thought would be filled with excitement and hope and joy about college were vacant. Empty. All she felt was an anguished longing for her best friend and a sickening wish that things were different.
"It would be stupid to ask you to stay, huh?" he whispered, and her eyes flew to his in surprise. "I mean you — "
"I can't, Mac," she breathed, wondering what brought this on. "He kicked me out. He said after I graduated he — "
"He didn't want to see you," Mac finished, nodding. "I know." He drank some more from the bottle. She watched the shifting muscles in his throat as he swallowed. They were about three-quarters through the champagne and he'd had most of it.
Must be why he's saying such crazy things, she thought. Stay? What would I do?
"We can get married," he said, and, for a moment, Rachel thought she was dreaming. "That way you could stay." He looked at her, his blond hair gleaming white in the moonlight. His face was so handsome to her, so full and real and tight with a want that her body answered.
Heady, reckless desire bloomed in her. "Married?" she breathed, unsure of what she thought or felt past the solid thumping of her heart.
Mac put down the bottle and turned toward her, and Rachel was caught by the expression on his face. That was why she couldn't stand to meet his eyes these days, because everything he felt about her was right there.
"I...ah...I love you." He swallowed hard. "I mean, you are my best — "
Rachel didn't know why she did it. To stop him from saying such things, or to stop herself from answering with promises that she might not be able to keep. She didn't know but she leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his.
She closed her eyes tight and listened to him gasp. Please, please, please. She didn't know what she was asking for, but there was some nameless ache in her that had to be met. I need you. I've always needed you. What will I do without you?
"Rachel, what are you going to do?" He pulled away from her and the cold air between them felt like a knife against her skin. "I can't do this if you're just going to leave...."
"I'll stay," she lied, knowing she couldn't, but she couldn't let him walk away from her right now.
"Rach — " His smile was beautiful and it killed her. She kissed him and closed her eyes.
His tongue touched her closed mouth and his arms came around her, brushing the bare skin of her arms and her shoulders. His fingers found the sensitive nape of her neck and she moaned.
Mac's tongue licked slowly into her mouth as they carefully leaned back on the ground.
She was seventeen and Mac was going to be the first boy she ever had sex with. Tonight. Her shirt came off and his hand cupped her breast, and that was a first, too. He peeled off his T-shirt. He was lean and beautiful and her fingers touched him, traced the muscles of his chest, his stomach. It was all new.
This didn't change what would happen tomorrow. But tonight, in the moonlight, held tightly against Mac's body, she was able to pretend it didn't matter.