Rebel Hart should be at home taking care of her father after his breakup with his boyfriend, not tromping through the woods at summer camp. He
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Wolf Wilks's Survival Tip #5: "When life gives you lemons, make some good shit to drink with them."
"Yes," she said into the phone, keeping her voice low so her dad wouldn't overhear the conversation. "A male stripper, preferably of the Magic-Mike variety. Hot and jacked." She curled her fingers into a tight fist and bit down on the fleshy skin so she wouldn't laugh. She'd come up with some good pranks over the years, but this one might just push her into legendary status. Yeah, what Rebel lacked in useful skills like math, or writing, or even music, she more than made up for in the art of revenge.
And though she might not be around to see her latest scheme unfold, the biggest dick to ever grace the fine city of Atlanta would certainly not forget her while she was gone. At least not anymore.
That was the worst-case scenario. She still had time to turn this thing around.
"A sexy football player?" she repeated to the woman on the other line, giving herself a fist bump in the bathroom mirror. "Yes, yes, that's perfect. Let me give you my credit card number."
Rebel finished her business and beelined to the kitchen for some coffee. Her time was running out, she knew that. And if she didn't get her way, if she couldn't be convincing enough, she would not only miss Justice Brody's strip-o-gram during summer football practice, she would be without her life's essentials for more than a month, which is why she had to get her fill before she left. Like this cup of freshly ground gourmet coffee — a roast that Dad had made especially for her. Sumatra with a touch of hazelnut and raspberry.
She breathed in the sweet, nutty fragrance and sighed. She couldn't start her day without it and blamed her father for that. They'd shopped at every organic store and farmer's market before she could walk and regularly frequented all of the city's it restaurants so Dad could recreate the recipes at home. It was how they bonded, and by age six, Rebel was a full-fledged foodie. Her sophisticated palate would make even Jamie Oliver proud. Though at the moment all she cared about was getting the caffeine into her bloodstream as quickly as possible, especially after skipping last night's beauty rest for The Walking Dead marathon while she stuffed her face with sushi. Like she said, essentials.
This morning, she spent her remaining hours at home planning a summer full of surprises for Justice Brody. From the practice-field entertainment, to embarrassing deliveries and social media pranks, it was all taken care of. She might be stuck in the wilderness for the next month, but her name would live on. She spent exactly $241.87, half of her savings, to make sure of it.
Worth. Every. Cent.
"Hey, roadie," Dad called from her bedroom. "Are you going on tour with a band or to summer camp?"
She took a soothing sip from her mug and rolled her eyes before joining him. Some days, he really tried her patience.
In her room, she looked on as Dad riffled through her drawers, and that was almost as mortifying as what she had in store for Justice. Her perfectionist of a father didn't trust her packing, so he was checking and re-checking her bags to be sure she didn't miss anything. And he wondered why she was so neurotic.
"Don't you have any T-shirts that aren't black?" He flipped through a pile of her clothes on the bed. "Or don't have some obscure band name on them? You're going to roast at camp."
She didn't say a word.
Rebel had no trouble living up to her name. She rebelled against everything. Girly clothes, lace, and pink? Na-uh. Weekends shopping with friends and talking about boys? Try again. Binge watching Pretty Little Liars? No. Just ... no. Whatever was expected of her, she usually did the opposite. Her other motto (she had a few) was: my way, or the highway. Yep, she was a badass with a capital B.
So if anyone had witnessed the current scene in her bedroom, she would've died. Because her very bad ass was on its way to summer camp. And her daddy was packing her bag!
Crap, it's now or never.
"I was thinking about skipping camp this year," she finally said, unpacking the suitcase her father was filling with her favorite band tees. For every one shirt he added to the pile, she pulled two out. "All that time in the sun? Not a good idea. Do you want me Botox-dependent by the time I'm twenty?"
"Botox-dependent?" He cocked his head, raising his eyebrows. "Don't worry, I packed the sunscreen."
"Don't you know sunscreen actually causes cancer now?" she quipped. "I read —"
"Rebel." He interrupted before she could tell him about a recent sunscreen-related death.
"Trevor," she mimicked his tone, and though he tried to hide it, the side of his mouth turned up in a tiny smirk. Yet he kept stuffing her suitcase.
Over the next several minutes, they continued the stupid little dance — packing and unpacking. And that was fine with her. She could dig in and hold her own with the best of them.
"You're going," Dad finally said, tugging the Girlpool shirt from her hands.
"No, I'm not." She pulled back, and a little tug-of-war ensued ... until he made one last yank of the cotton.
Actually she let him, because, hell, he looked absolutely pitiful. And that was so not his M.O. Nerdy? Maybe. Hipsterish? Sure ... though his black-rimmed glasses and courier bag were used more out of necessity than fashion. Point was, Trevor Hart, one of the top restaurateurs in A-town, was always put-together. Younger than the majority of Rebel's friends' parents, he had a certain style that always had people staring — especially her girlfriends and their mothers. Her pops was somewhat of a hottie, not that he had any clue.
Today? Not so much.
He was going for more tortured-artist-meets-homeless fashion than the hot-urban-dad look she'd become accustomed to, and it really put her on edge. His short brown hair was far from its usual expertly disheveled state. In fact, ew, it was seriously matted down with what she suspected was actual man-made grease and not salon products. And rather than his stylish weekend wear, he paired stained sweatpants with a ratty old jersey that had so many holes in it, she'd witnessed an unfortunate — and rather unsettling — nip slip while he was making the coffee a few hours earlier.
How could she leave him like this?
Plus, Rebel wasn't exactly thrilled about the idea of going to camp anyway. She'd really outgrown it two years ago but hadn't had the heart to tell her dad. This year, she only agreed to the ridiculous plan because she thought he needed space to get his new restaurant up and running. Well, that and seeing Aubrey. Her heart ached just thinking about her friend. But now? Forget it. Dad needed her more.
"But Dad —" She began to frame her argument. As long as she remained calm and spoke with conviction, she could get him to agree to just about anything. It was her superpower.
"Dad nothing," he interrupted again, falling into some sort of lazy parental speak. Well, that was new, but she realized it was just the pain talking. Though she worried that if she didn't watch it, the next words out of his mouth would be, because I said so, and then the entire conversation would be a lost cause. "Rebby," he continued. "I need you to go and do this. It's important to me."
She failed to see his point. After all, he was city through and through, and probably would've been happier with her enjoying the arts this summer — seeing plays, spending time in museums, or rapping along to Hamilton in her room — instead of kayaking across some wooded lake miles away from civilization. It had been all fine and dandy when she was a kid, but at this age, she had a certain lifestyle. And camping in the woods would definitely cramp it.
"Dad." She stopped him and his busy work, gently placing her hand on his. "You shouldn't be alone. Not after Stephen." Yes, she knew it seemed opportunistic to mention his breakup when she was trying to get out of something, but she really was worried about him. Her dad was the only family she had, and anyone who messed with him would answer to her.
Like Stephen's son, Justice Brody. Aka the dick.
"Hey, now." He gripped her hands and gave them a little squeeze. "I'm supposed to be the parent here, remember? The father takes care of his offspring, not the other way around."
Rebel raised a brow and said a silent, really?
"Make that demon spawn." He nudged her away from the suitcase and resumed packing. "Yes, you've been taking care of things on the home front lately. I admit that. And I appreciate the shopping, and organizing, and reminding me to send out bills so our air-conditioning and lights stay on. We're a team, and I know you always have my back, just as I'll always have yours. But this is different. There are lines that have to be drawn, and I don't need my daughter picking me up because my boyfriend dumped me."
"Asshole," she muttered, and her dad cringed. For all his modern parenting ways, he detested profanity. "Sorry, but he is. And so is his family. Did he even give you a reason for ending it?"
Rebel had known Stephen Brody was trouble the minute her dad had introduced him and his two perfect kids, Justice and April, over dinner last winter. But she already knew all about Justice. They were both juniors at Eastview (well, about to be seniors now), though they didn't travel in the same circles. So when Dad invited the whole Brody crew for a meal, it was beyond awkward. Worse? She knew the relationship was serious. Her father rarely dated and had never introduced her to anyone he was interested in. But the more she found out about Stephen, the more she worried. Honestly, the guy had been married for almost twenty years ... to a woman! And that kind of denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
In her humble opinion, relationships never did anyone any good in the long run anyway, which is why she swore off getting involved. Going to a cheesy school dance or hanging out with a group to watch slasher movies was one thing, but the promises and the lies were another.
She'd been there before.
As far as she was concerned, love was the worst kind of disease, coming at you gently at first, tricking you into letting it in, until it took hold, gnawing on your organs and bones until there was nothing left. Yes, she'd seen it with her own eyes — friends, family, strangers. Once the disease seeped in, they were never the same. And in the rare cases where one did find the real deal, like her dads did, it still wasn't safe. Death, illness, abandonment would eventually take it all away. That's why she avoided it at all costs.
"I really don't want to get into this with you." Dad combed his fingers though his greasy locks and made a disgusted face. At least he wasn't too far gone to realize the state of gross he was currently wading around in. "I'll just say Stephen realized that he wasn't ready for a relationship, and neither were the kids."
And there it was. She knew it! Justice had a problem with his dad dating another man. Wasn't ready? Mmm-hmm. That was code for: my son is homophobic. A star football player at Eastview, he probably couldn't risk anyone finding out. He had a precious reputation to protect.
It made her furious to think she'd been secretly lusting after him, and his impossibly perfect body, for months. God, she even began to look forward to the days when Stephen brought the family over — or the five times he brought them over — not that she was counting. Not at all. She also hardly ever thought about the time she'd confided in him on that rainy afternoon, before proceeding to cry into the crook of his strong, delicious-smelling neck. She remembered how cool he'd been about it. So kind and sweet, until she saw him again, and he didn't give her the time of day. Asshole!
But hey, this wasn't about her. It was about her dad and how he'd been a wreck for a week, now starting to show signs of broken-heart syndrome. Okay, maybe not. He was as healthy as a forty-year-old guy could get, but she wasn't taking any chances.
She sat on the bed and patted the spot next to her, and her dad took it. "Look, I'm not saying I have to play Dr. Drew or anything, I just think you shouldn't be alone."
"Rebby, I won't be alone." He put his arm around her. "I have a restaurant to open, remember? I'll be working late, and I don't want you to be neglected all summer."
"You can trust me," she said. It wasn't a lie. The relationship with her dad was one boundary she never pushed. It was the only real thing she'd ever had.
"That's not the issue. I do trust you. But you've had a lot on your plate all year. Too much. You need to get out of the city. Unplug and unwind."
"I'm not thirty, Dad. People, and sirens, and noise are comforting to me. Plus, what are you going to do when you run into him?" Stephen was a wine distributor, so they worked with the same people. It was unavoidable that he'd bump into him at some point. And when he did, she couldn't bear to think about her dad coming home to an empty house.
"Stephen's switched territories." Dad slapped his hands on his thighs, like that was that, the answer to all of his troubles. "So he'll stay on his side of the city, and I'll stay on mine."
Rebel met his eyes but remained unconvinced.
"It'll be okay, I promise," Dad said with a nervous laugh. She was pretty sure he didn't believe it, either. "But the issue of camp is nonnegotiable, so get moving. Connor will be here in a few minutes to pick you up."
Rebel looked up at him again, hurt. He called her friend Connor to take her to camp? That was cold. This was not how today was supposed to go. At the very least, she expected him to drive and see her off. Their road trip to camp had been a tradition every summer, but he was clearly pushing her away, creating distance.
"How'd you work that out?" she asked, since Connor was basically on house arrest for missing curfew last week.
"His parents thought he could stay and visit his grandma in Charlotte after he drops you off." Dad threw another shirt into the suitcase. "And I thought you'd both like the extra time together."
That she couldn't argue with. Being away from Connor was almost as bad as being away from her dad. The drive would give the two some alone time before they had to spend a month incommunicado. Camp Pine Ridge was about as backwoods as you could get. No phones allowed. No Wi-Fi or electronics of any kind. When she was gone, she was really gone.
"Okay," she conceded, knowing she'd been defeated.
"Plus, you know me with good-byes." He pulled her in for a kiss. "It's better to do it in private."
With hardly a chance to reciprocate, a honk rang out from the street. She jumped, but Dad didn't miss a beat. Quickly loading up the rest of her bag, he grabbed it, and pushed Rebel out the front door. Meanwhile, she swallowed the lump in her throat, unwilling to admit that maybe she needed him just as much as he needed her, especially this summer.
Outside, Connor waved from behind the wheel and popped the trunk of his MINI Cooper. Dad shoved the suitcase inside, before opening the passenger door. "Thanks for getting my girl off to camp."
"No problem, Mr. H.," Connor said, flashing Rebel a sympathetic smile.
Her dad shut the car door once Rebel was safely inside. She lowered the window and said, "I left some notes about the house stuff, you know, before everything happened — garbage pick-up and stuff like that. It's on the kitchen counter."
"I'll be okay, hon. Seriously. I won't have to see or think about Stephen all summer. The beauty of living on the other side of the city."
"You sure?" She wasn't convinced.
"Positive," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "And you do the same. The camp is huge, so you don't have to spend time with him if you don't want to ..."
"Who?" she said slowly, sensing something was wrong. Very wrong. "Who are you talking about?"
"Didn't I tell you?" Dad rubbed his jaw, looking guilty as shit. "Stephen loved the idea of camp so much, he signed Justice up."
"Wha-whaaat?" she stuttered. No, this can't be happening.
"It's okay, Rebby. Just stay clear and ignore him. It'll all be fine." Her father's words came out so fast, she barely caught them — exactly what he wanted. He gave her a quick peck on the forehead, threw her Wolf Wilks book in the window, and then signaled to Connor before slapping the hood of the car. "Go, go, go."
Excerpted from "Taming the Rebel"
Copyright © 2017 Dawn Klehr.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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