Eight months ago. . .
It was really happening. I was going to finish college. I had a full-ride scholarship,thanks to baseball. It wasn’t SEC, but it was still a NCAA college. Only problem was I had to move to Tennessee. Eva would go with me. I’d make that happen. Her dad wasn’t my biggest fan, but he’d send her to college in Tennessee if she asked him. I ran up the steps to our apartment, taking them two at a time. I couldn’t wait to see her. I had to tell her. I was going to get a degree. I’d be able to have a real job one day. I wasn’t the loser her dad thought I was.
I flung open the door to the apartment. Eva was sitting at her piano when my eyes found her. She stopped playing and smiled up at me. In that moment life was perfect. Everything was okay. I had my girl and I was going to be able to give us both a future.
She studied me a moment then stood up and ran over to me. “You got it,” she said, looking up at me as she wrapped her arms around my waist.
“Yep. I got it,” I replied, hauling her against my chest then lowering my mouth to hers. She was proud of me. Damn that felt good.
I enjoyed the taste of her before pulling back and staring down into her eyes. I loved her eyes. The way they lit up when she was excited. Knowing I’d put that look there made it even better.
“Where to?” she asked.
“Hill State,” I replied. Her smile didn’t falter. The small sliver of fear that she wouldn’t be happy or that she wouldn’t go with me disappeared with her smile.
“Oh, Cage! I’m so happy for you. This was everything you wanted! You did it!” I slipped my hands in her hair and cradled her head.
“No, Eva. You’re everything I wanted. This is just the insurance that I can provide for you the way you deserve.”
She slid her arms up my chest and locked her hands behind my neck. “As sweet as that is, I want you to do this for you, too. Not just for me. This is what you wanted. You’ve wanted it since before I met you. Don’t forget that you’ve been working for this long before I came into your life.”
There were still times that it surprised me that she didn’t get it. The moment she walked into my life, nothing remained the same. My reasons for doing things changed. My life had a much bigger meaning. “You’re the center of my world, girl. Don’t forget that.”
She ran a finger down my chest and stopped at my pierced nipple, playing with it through my shirt. “Hmm, if you were trying to talk me out of my panties with that line, then congratulations, because you just did.”
I chuckled as she grabbed my shirt and pulled it up. I lifted my arms to help her out. She threw my shirt down on the ground and then flashed a wicked smile up at me. “This will never ever get old. You know that right? Seeing this perfectly sculpted body decorated with piercings is hot, Cage York.”
When I’d gotten my first nipple pierced, it had been strictly for pleasure. Never had I imagined that proper little Eva would be so turned on by it. I’d gladly gotten the other one pierced for her. Whatever made her hot, I was willing to do it.
“You talking naughty while you undress me never gets old either,” I growled, picking her up and carrying her back to our bedroom while she giggled. Her tongue flicked at my nipple and I groaned. I needed to get her nak*d.
“I liked it on the bar the other night,” she said, looking back toward the kitchen.
I stopped walking toward the room and turned and headed for the bar instead. If she wanted it on the bar, then the bar was where she would get it. “What’d you like best about the bar, hmm? Me licking that hot little p**sy or me putting your legs over my shoulders when I slid inside you?”
Eva shivered in my arms and squirmed. “Both. Always both.”
“Good. Me too,” I replied, standing her on the kitchen floor before pulling her shorts down to pool at her feet then jerking her T-shirt off. She wasn’t wearing a bra. It was a rule: When we were home, no bra or panties. Smiling, I pressed a kiss to one of her hard n**ples before slipping my hand behind her neck and claiming her mouth again.
This was going to work. I was going to be worthy of Eva’s love. Her dad had been wrong. I wasn’t going to be Eva’s biggest mistake.
I lay wrapped up in Cage’s arms, watching him sleep. After we’d had naughty fun sex on the bar, we had moved it to the bedroom, where he’d gotten sweet and gentle. He’d been so excited. I was proud of him. This was what he’d been working for. I had known he’d do it, but he hadn’t been so sure.
Without his steady gaze watching me, I could let the worry seep in. I wasn’t sure my dad was going to pay for me to transfer all the way to Tennessee with Cage. Even if I got a job, I wouldn’t be able to go too unless my dad helped me financially. Dad had grudgingly accepted my choice to be with Cage, but that was it. He hadn’t approved. He was sure that Cage was going to break my heart.
I needed to go talk to him without Cage. Telling Cage about my concern before I’d talked to my dad was pointless. I didn’t want Cage worrying about how he could get me there while he was so high on his achievement. He had made this scholarship happen. He didn’t need the pressure of getting me there too. That was my problem.
I pressed a kiss to his shoulder before easing out of his arms. I needed to go call my dad and see if he wanted to have lunch with me tomorrow. I’d talk to him then. He wanted me in college. Maybe he’d like this idea.
I closed the bedroom door quietly behind me and headed outside before calling my dad. I wanted to be far enough away from Cage that he couldn’t wake up and hear me. I was nervous as I stood under the raised apartments we lived in that sat directly on the beach. I tried to focus on the waves and the beauty of the gulf in front of me.
“About time you called your daddy” was my dad’s gruff greeting. I had called him two days ago and talked to him. It wasn’t like I didn’t call often. He just liked to fuss about it.
“Hello, Daddy. How are things?” I asked first, always. I felt disconnected to life on the farm now that I lived in Sea Breeze with Cage. I worried about Daddy without Jeremy or I there to watch him. He wasn’t exactly old, but he wasn’t young, either. I hated thinking of him all alone.
“Good. Big Boy finally died. Had to deal with that yesterday. Now that I’m done nursing him, I need to make a trip back to the cattle auction and restock. Time to sell this lot.” Big Boy was a bull. A very old bull. He’d been sick for a few months now. It had been a bull that Josh and I had chosen years ago when we used to go with daddy to the auction. Dad had known I was attached to all things that connected me to Josh, so he hadn’t sold the bull. After Josh was killed, the bull was even more important. I felt a twinge of regret at not being there when Big Boy passed away.
“He lived a long time,” I told Dad, but it felt more like I was telling myself. Reassuring myself that he’d had a full life. The subject of death was still one I struggled with. The fear of losing someone else I loved haunted me.
“Yeah, he did” was Dad’s only response. “How’s things going for you, little girl? That boy still treating you right?”
Dad letting me leave with Cage had been hard. He didn’t believe that Cage was my forever. He didn’t trust Cage, and it hurt me. I wanted him to love Cage as much as I did. But Daddy said he wasn’t the staying kind.
“Things are wonderful. Finals are soon and I’m looking forward to the summer,” I replied honestly. Dad had been so happy when I’d left the small community college back home to go to South Alabama this year. I was still undecided on my major. Once, I’d had my life planned out for me. But then everything had changed when Josh had died.
“Jeremy’s coming home in two weeks. He came by to visit last week when he was home and asked about a job for the summer.”
I felt like sighing in relief at the idea of Jeremy being with my dad this summer. He needed help, and knowing Jeremy would be there with him made it so much easier. “That’s good! You won’t have to look for help this year.”
“Boy’s a good worker. Good young man,” Dad said. It wasn’t just a statement. I understood what he was saying. I just ignored it. I would never be in love with Jeremy the way I had loved his twin brother, Josh. Josh Beasley had been my world. Jeremy was just a good friend.
“I was hoping I could come make lunch for you one day this week and we could visit,” I said, wanting to get to the point and change the subject all at the same time.
“I was wondering if you were ever gonna ask. I miss those biscuits you make,” Daddy replied.
I smiled, and my heart squeezed. I loved my daddy. I missed him so much at times, even though he was just about an hour drive away. “How about Thursday?” I asked, wanting to get to it sooner rather than later. I couldn’t hide my worry from Cage for long. I would need to address this with Dad soon.
“Sounds good. Jeremy will be here on Thursday. He doesn’t have any classes after Wednesday, and he’s coming home for a long weekend. Wants to go with me to the cattle auction Friday.” Good. Having Jeremy with me would be helpful. He would be on my side of this.
“Okay then. I’ll see you on Thursday, Daddy. Love you,” I replied.
“Love you too, little girl,” he said before hanging up.
I slipped my phone back into my pocket and stood there watching the waves. This would be okay. Jeremy would help me convince Daddy that this is what I needed to do. . . what I wanted to do. I was going to miss Daddy though—so much—but I couldn’t be apart from Cage. I wanted to be with him. That outweighed my missing Daddy.
“You okay?” Low’s voice startled me, and I spun around to see her standing behind me with a concerned frown on her face. Willow was Cage’s best friend; he called her Low and so everyone else did also. Telling her what was wrong wasn’t a good idea. I trusted her, but her first loyalty was to Cage. I knew that.
“Yes, just enjoying the water,” I replied.
Low didn’t look convinced, but she smiled. Her long red hair danced in the breeze, and I was once again reminded of the fact I would be completely jealous of her if it wasn’t for the fact that she was happily married to Marcus Hardy, Cage’s former roommate. I wasn’t around when Marcus and Willow had met, but apparently it had been a love-at-first-sight kind of thing. Cage had fought Low on it, but in the end she’d loved Marcus.
“I thought I’d stop by and see if you and Cage wanted to have dinner over at our house tonight. Preston and Amanda are coming too. Marcus and Preston went deep-sea fishing this weekend and brought back a lot of fish. We’re going to fry them up and we’d love for y’all to come too.” I knew Cage would enjoy visiting with all his friends. He’d been so busy with baseball, he hadn’t had time to see anyone but Preston Drake, who played on his team. Preston was the reason Cage had been brought into this circle of friends. It had been Preston’s circle, and when he and Cage had met, he’d set up Marcus moving in with him.
“Yes. We would love to. What can I bring?”
“Cage goes on and on about your biscuits. Could you make some of those and that chocolate pie you made a few months ago when we came over?”
I smiled and nodded. “Sure can.”
Low glanced back at the stairs that led up to the apartment. “And you’re sure everything is okay? I know Cage can be difficult at times, but he has a good heart and he loves you.”
I shook my head and stopped her from going any further. None of this anxiety she was feeling from me was about Cage. He was perfect.
“Cage is wonderful. I’m fine. I was just on the phone with my dad. I need to talk to him about college tuition next year. That kind of thing.”
Low seemed to relax a little. “Okay, good. I just. . . I don’t think that boy could make it without you. Since you walked into his life, he has transformed. He worships the ground you walk on, and I just don’t want him to mess this up. He can make stupid decisions sometimes, but he means well.”
It was moments like this I was reminded that Low was his family. She was all he had, really. She may not be older than Cage, but she defended him like an older sister would. It endeared her to me even more. “I love him. I always will,” I assured her.
Low grinned. “Good. Sorry if I came off a little protective,” she said.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less. I’m glad he has you.”