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“Well, then maybe she should—”

“Stop it, you guys. You can’t fight like this the entire time we’re here. No one will be able to stand it, so please just stop,” I beg, not wanting to take sides between my best friend and my boyfriend.

They look at each other for a few more tense moments. I nearly laugh at the way they behave like brothers despite the fact that they try so hard not to.

“Okay.” Landon says finally, and sighs.

“Fine,” Hardin huffs.

The rest of our walk is silent, aside from Hardin’s boots kicking at the rocks and Landon’s soft humming. The calm after the storm . . . or before it.

Or just between them, I suppose.

“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO wear on the boat?” I ask Landon as we walk up the driveway to the cabin.

“Shorts, I think. It’s warm right now, but I’ll probably bring a sweatsuit.”

“Oh.” I wish it was warmer so I could wear a swimsuit. I don’t even own one, but the idea of shopping for one with Hardin makes me smile.

I can picture him, saying crude and perverted things; he’d probably end up in the dressing room with me.

I don’t think I’d stop him.

I need to stop thinking these types of things, especially while Landon is talking about the weather, and I should at least appear to be listening.

“The boat is insane, it’s so big,” Landon says.

“Oh . . .” I cringe. Now that we’re closer to the boat ride, my nerves are beginning to take over.

Landon and I go into the kitchen to unpack the groceries, and Hardin heads into the bedroom without a word.

Landon looks over his shoulder to where his stepbrother disappeared to. “He’s pretty sensitive when it comes to talking about Seattle. He still hasn’t agreed to go, has he?”

I look around the room to be sure no one can hear us. “No, not exactly,” I say and chew on my bottom lip in embarrassment.

“I don’t get it,” Landon says, looking through the bags. “What’s so bad about Seattle that he won’t go with you? Does he have some sort of history there?”

“No . . . well, not that I know of . . .” I start to say, but then Hardin’s letter comes to mind. I don’t remember him mentioning any hardships he’d gone through in Seattle. Could he have left them out?

I don’t think so. And I hope not. I’m not ready for any more surprises.

“Well, there has to be a reason, because he can’t even go to the bathroom without you, so I can’t imagine him being okay with you moving away without him. I thought he’d do anything to keep you close to him . . . literally anything,” Landon says with emphasis.

“Me, too.” I sigh, not knowing why Hardin has to be so stubborn. “And he does go to the bathroom without me. Sometimes,” I joke.

Landon laughs along. “Barely; he probably installed a hidden camera on your shirt to keep track of you.”

“Cameras aren’t my thing. I’m more of a tracking-device type of guy.” Hardin’s voice makes me jump, and I look over to find him leaning in the doorway of the kitchen.

“Thanks for helping prove my point,” Landon says, but Hardin chuckles, shaking his head. He seems to be in a better mood, thank goodness.

“Where is this boat? I’m bored listening to you two talk shit about me.”

“We weren’t, we were joking,” I tell him and walk over to hug him where he’s standing.

“It’s fine, I do the same when you’re not around,” he says in a mocking tone, although I can’t help but detect a hint of seriousness behind the words.

Chapter twenty-three


Dock’s a little shaky, but sturdy enough. I need to get someone out here to remodel it . . .” Ken muses as we follow him out to the where the boat’s moored.

With their backyard leading directly to the water, the view is incredible. The waves crash along the rocks lining the shore, and instinctively I step behind Hardin.

“What’s wrong?” he asks quietly.

“Nothing. I’m just a little nervous.”

He turns around to face me, sliding both of his hands into the back pockets of my jeans. “It’s only water, baby, it’ll be okay.”

He smiles, but I can’t tell if he’s mocking me or being sincere. It’s only when his lips brush my cheek that my doubt disappears.

“I forgot you don’t like water.” He pulls me closer.

“I like water . . . in swimming pools.”

“And streams?” His eyes glitter with humor.

I smile at the memory. “Only one stream in particular.”

I was nervous that day, too. Hardin only convinced me to get into the water by bribing me. He had promised to answer one of my endless questions about him in exchange for me getting into the water with him. Those days seem so distant—so ancient, really—but the ongoing theme of secrecy still litters our present.

Hardin takes my hand in his as we follow his family down the dock to the incredibly intimidating vessel waiting at the end. I don’t know much about boats, but I think this one may be a giant-sized pontoon boat. I know it’s not a yacht, but it’s bigger than any fishing boat I’ve ever seen.

“It’s so big,” I whisper to Hardin.

“Shh, don’t talk about my dick in front of my family,” he teases.

I love this playful yet grumpy mood he’s in; his smile is contagious. Then the dock creaks beneath my feet, and I squeeze tight against Hardin in panic.

“Watch the step,” Ken calls back to us as he climbs onto the ladder connecting the boat and the dock.

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