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The night was warm, a harvest moon glowed behind a thickening layer of clouds and there was excitement in the aira sense of adventure that caused Rachelle's seventeen-year-old heart to race. The football field shimmered green under the lights, the crowd loud and anxious and yet there was more: an undercurrent of electricity that seemed to charge the atmosphere.
Maybe it was because tonight was homecoming and the parade of students had serpentined through town. Maybe it was because the Tyler High Hawks were taking on the rivals from Coleville. Or maybe it was because Rachelle, after spending her life doing exactly what was expected of her, was about to step out of her quiet, studious, "good-girl" image. She'd already unwittingly lied to her mother and felt more than a tiny twinge of regret.
But she wasn't turning back. It was time to experience life a little, walk on the wild sidewell, at least touch a toe on the wild side; she wasn't ready for out-and-out rebellion yet.
With an earsplitting shriek, feedback whined from the speakers.
Rachelle winced, but aimed her camera at the plywood platform that had been set up for the pregame ceremony. As a reporter for the school paper, she sometimes took pictures and tonight, because Carlie, the staff photographer, was scouting out drinks at the refreshment stand, Rachelle was stuck with the camera. She didn't mind. Looking through the lens sometimes gave her a clearer view of the person she was interviewing and actually helped her write her article.
She zeroed in on Principal Leonard, who, with a big show to the packed stands, turned to one of the students operating the public-address system.
And I want it on now! Oh. Testing, testing. Uh-oh, there we go." He managed a foolish-looking grin as he tapped the microphone loudly and his voice boomed into the stadium. "Well, now that we worked out all the bugs in the PA system, let's get on with the festivities." He droned on about Tyler High for a minute, then added, "I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Thomas Fitz-patrick for his generous donation to the school."
Across from the stands on the far side of the field the new electronic scoreboard flashed with a thousand lights. Fitzpatrick Logging was scripted across the top of the scoreboard and the company insignia was stamped boldly across the bottom. No one who ever witnessed a football game at Tyler Stadium would forget the Fitzpatrick name. Not that anyone in Gold Creek could, Rachelle thought with a wry smile.
Click. Click. Click. She snapped off several shots of the new lighted display and a few more of the small crowd in the middle of the field. Short and round, Principal Leonard was going on and on about the generosity of the Fitzpatrick family. Rachelle grimaced. The Fitzpat-ricks were one of the wealthiest families in Gold Creek, and Thomas Fitzpatrick never passed up an opportunity to show off his philanthropy.
The two men shook hands. Fitzpatrick was tall and handsome. With broad shoulders and black hair shot with silver, he looked like a politician running for office. It was speculated widely that with all his money, he would someday enter state politicsall the better for Fitzpatrick Logging, the primary employer for the town. And therefore, all the better for Gold Creek, California.
A roar of applause rippled through the stadium as Fitzpatrick flashed his often-photographed grin and hugged his wife, June, who stood, along with her three children, next to her husband.
Yep, Rachelle thought, rewinding the film, the Fitz-patricks looked exactly like what they werethe royal family of this California timber town. June was a tall, blond woman with delicate features, haughty brows and sculpted cheekbones. Her firstborn, Roy, was blond, as well, but solidly built, like his father. Just the year before, Roy had been the star quarterback for the Tyler High Hawks. Now his younger brother, Brian, was leading the team. Brian stood with the family. He dwarfed Roy because of the thick padding beneath his uniform and he carried his helmet under one hand. The youngest Fitzpatrick, a girl named Toni, stood a little apart from the family. She was only fourteen, but already promised beauty, and was rumored to be more trouble than both the boys put together.
"Rachelle. Hey, get a load of this!" Carlie sang out as she balanced two soft drinks and wended her way through the ever-thickening throng of people standing on the sidelines. Some of the soda had sloshed over the rim and she was licking her fingers. "Here's your Coke."
"About time you showed up," Rachelle teased. "You're supposed to be responsible for the pictures"
"I know, I know," Carlie replied, her blue-green eyes dancing merrily. "Now, come on, there's something you've got to see."
"Just a minute." Rachelle finished taking her shot, then traded her camera for the cup. The Coke was cold and slid easily down her throat.
"Look to the north of the field. Here, use these." Carlie stuffed her camera into her oversized bag and withdrew a small pair of binoculars. "No, no, not there. North! Now, see over there?" She pointed toward the far side of the stands.
Rachelle peered through the glasses. She swung her gaze past the green turf shimmering beneath the floodlights and the track surrounding the playing field. Beyond the track was a chain-link fence separating the athletic facility from the parking lot.
"You see him?"
Exasperated, Carlie gently grabbed Rachelle's chin and swiveled her head slightly. Rachelle's gaze landed on a motorcyclist straddling a huge black bike.
"Oh," she said, her throat suddenly dry.
"'Oh' doesn't do him justice."
Carlie was right. The boywell, nearly a manon the bike was tall, maybe six feet, with hair as black as midnight and harsh features that were drawn into an angry scowl of determination. His skin was tanned, but not dark enough to hide the cut beneath his eye or the bruise on his cheek. Backdropped by the lights of a strip mall, and set apart from the festivities by the fence, he seemed sinister somehow, as if his being ostracized were as much his idea as the rest of the crowd's. He stared through the mesh of the security fence, to the center of the field where the Fitzpatricks were posed like the quintessential family unit. The biker looked as if he'd like to personally tear into the whole lot of them.
Rachelle's heart drummed a little faster.
"It's Jackson Moore," Carlie told her, as if Rachelle didn't know the name of Gold Creek's most notorious hellion.
"What's he doing here? I thought he left town." Rachelle focused the binoculars again, until Jackson's rough features were centered in stark relief. For a second she thought he was handsome with his knife-sharp features and thin lips, but it wasn't so much his looks as his attitude that made him seem mysteriouseven sexy. Wondering if she were out of her mind, she let the binoculars swing from her neck, grabbed the camera and snapped in the zoom lens before clicking off several shots of the bad boy of Gold Creek.
"Print one for me," Carlie said as she lifted the binoculars to her own eyes.
Rachelle ignored her. "So you don't know why he's back?"
"Haven't you heard? He's in trouble big-time with the Fitzpatricks," Carlie said. "That's why he's giving them all the evil eye. My dad's a foreman for the logging company and he's usually up in the woods, but he had to come into the office for somethingto fill out forms for an accident that happened the other day.
"Anyway, it was kinda late and Jackson was there, raising some sort of stink about his mom working for 'dirty Fitzpatrick money' I think was the quote. It's not like she's there all the time. She just puts in a few hours a week doing filing or something. Everybody thinks the old man hired her out of pitythey went to school together, I guess, and he's into causes, you know. Part of his political thing. Anyway, supposedly Jackson objected to his mother being another one of Fitzpatrick's charities."
Rachelle took another swallow of Coke, her throat parched from staring at Jackson.
Carlie rattled on. "It probably has something to do with the fact that Thomas Fitzpatrick gave Jackson a job a couple of years ago, then fired him. No one, not even my dad, knew why, but my dad figures Jackson was stealing tools or something and that Fitzpatrick didn't want to press charges." From the corner of her eye, Rachelle noticed the guilty look that passed over Carlie's face. "I wasn't supposed to say anything"
"Your secret is safe with me," Rachelle replied, but wondered how many other people Carlie had told. Carlie loved gossip, and short of wiring her mouth shut, there was no way to keep her from spreading rumors. The news of Jackson Moore's confrontation about his mother was probably all over school.
Rachelle bit her lower lip and stared openly across the field to the spot where Jackson, balanced on the idling motorcycle, still stood. Suddenly his head swung toward her, his eyes searching the crowd. His gaze landed on her with a force that sent a jolt of electricity through her. Her throat tightened and her hands were clammy. She looked quickly away, then finished her Coke in one swallow.
It was stupid, of course. He couldn't pick her out of a throng; he had no idea that she was thinking about him or had even glanced his way, but when she slid another glance toward the fence, he was still staring at her and her blood seemed to pound at her temples.
Touching her throat with her fingertips, she felt tiny drops of perspiration collecting against her skin. She couldn't help a little feeling of fascination for the boy with the blackest reputation in Gold Creek. He was almost twenty-two, and though he was rumored to have straightened out some of his lawless traits, there had been a time when he'd raised nothing but hell. He lived with his mother on the outskirts of Gold Creek in a rusting single-wide mobile home. He didn't have a fatherwell, none that anyone in town could actually nameand he'd been in trouble with the law for as long as Rachelle could remember. As a minor, he'd stolen gas and hubcaps and shot mailboxes and had been kicked out of Tyler High for fighting on the school grounds. Somehow he'd managed to scrape together enough credits to get his diploma, though no one in Gold Creek thought he'd amount to anything.
He'd joined the navy for a hitch and had disappeared from town for a while. But now he was backdressed in black leather and riding a thrumming Harley-Davidson, his tattered image of the troubled kid from the bad part of town still very much intact.
"Oh, Lord, he's looking right at you!" Carlie whispered loudly. "You know, he's got a face to die for."
"He's dangerous," Rachelle replied, crushing her cup.
Carlie's eyes widened and her blue-green eyes glinted impishly. On a sigh she said, "Of course he is. That's what makes him so attractive."