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I let out a deep breath. “Ginger.”

The door opens behind Kyle, and the officer steps in to collect him. He stands up, and I can’t resist any longer. I pull my brother into my arms and hold him tight. “I love you, little brother.”

He laughs and slaps me on the back. His voice is deep and filled with emotion. “I love you too, big brother.”

He gets to the door and turns around. “I know you don’t want to bring her here, but when I get out, I’d like to meet this Ginger.”

He walks out, and I tell him truthfully, “I’d like you to meet her.”

9

Ozzie

I drive straight from Syn City to the Ranchlands and don’t stop until I pull into the parking lot of Ginger’s produce stand. She’s there helping a customer, and she waves when she sees me. I stand off to the side and wait as the man she’s helping flirts with her. Ginger laughs but doesn’t flirt back. She’s bubbly and smiling, and most likely the man is taking it as flirting, but it’s not. She actually is very nice to him but deflects any attention he gives her.

When he finally leaves, I walk up to her. “How many times do you get hit on in a day?” I ask her.

I wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing out of my mouth, but it is what it is. Ginger tenses as she looks at me. “I don’t know.”

I walk around her makeshift counter and corner her against a table full of vegetables. I grab the hair that’s hanging over her shoulder and twirl the curl around my finger. “Once a day, five times a day, what is it?”

She’s staring up at my mouth. “Yeah, something like that.”

I shake my head and put my hand at the base of her neck. “Fuck, you need a full-time protector.”

Her hands go to my waist. “Are you wanting the job?”

I can’t take my eyes off her. “Yeah, I think I do.”

Her smile is almost heart-stopping. “I’d like that.”

“Go out with me tonight,” I say to her in a demanding tone.

She’s shaking her head, and I wait for her to tell me she’s going dancing or her ex is coming over or something like that. Already, I’m wanting to claim her as mine.

“I’m about to close. If you will help me, we can go from here.”

I breathe easier. “So, yeah, you’ll go out with me?”

She wraps her arms around my waist. “Yeah, only you.”

I take a deep breath. It’s going to be easier saying this without her looking at me. “There’s things you need to know about me. I don’t know what all you know, but I was in prison...”

She interrupts me and rests her chin on my chest to look up at me. “I know. Your mom told me everything, and I’m still here. I still want you, Ozzie.”

“I went and saw my brother today.” I don’t know why I tell her, but I feel it’s important. Finally, after what seems like forever, I’m able to let go of some of the guilt. Now I just have to work on feeling that I’m worthy of Ginger. I’ll do whatever I have to in order to prove I am, though.

She looks concerned. “How is he?”

I tighten my arms on her. “He’s good. He’s got plans for getting out and getting his life together. We worked out a few things. He wants to meet you.”

She looks surprised. “You told him about me?”

I nod, and her smile deepens. “I’ll go meet him anytime you want me to.”

But already, I’m shaking my head. “No, not there. When he gets out, I’d like you to meet him.”

“Is he getting out soon?”

I look at her closely. “A few years actually.”

Her hands slide up my chest. “And you want me to meet him then. When he gets out?”

“Well, I’m hoping you’re not sick of me then because yeah, I want you to meet him when he gets out.”

Her hands wrap around my neck, pulling me down to her. “It sounds good to me.”

We kiss, and when someone drives by, blowing their horn, I pull away. “C’mon, I’ll help you close up shop and then we can go out.”

She nods and starts giving me jobs to do. We finish putting things away, covering and tarping the tables we don’t move, and when we’re done, she grabs my hand, and we walk toward my car. “Where do you want to go?”

She fidgets her hands in her lap. “Well, if you don’t mind, I’d love to go home and change clothes first.”

I want to tell her she looks perfect, but I nod and let her in. “Do you walk here in the mornings?”

She nods. “Yeah, it’s a little less than a mile, and it forces me to get exercise.”

We make small talk, but the closer we get to her house, the quieter she gets. “Do you want me to stay out here while you get ready?”

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