Aflame Page 3

Amusement threatened, and I could feel the corners of my mouth turn up.

I slid out of his shadow, hopped up on the center bench behind him, and stood over him, loving his wide-eyed expression as he turned around to face me. Placing both of my hands against the lockers, now behind him, on either side of his head, I bore down, crowding his space as I leaned in close.

“If I ever lay my hands on you,” I whispered his same words to me from all those months ago, “you’ll want it.”

He let out a quiet laugh as his lips grazed mine.

I cocked my head, playing with him. “Do you?” I prompted. “Want it, I mean?”

He cupped my face with both hands and begged, “Yes.” And then he snatched up my lips. “Hell yes.”

And I melted.

I always melted.

Chapter 1


Present Day

Kids are crazy.

Batshit, certifiably, without-a-brain-in-their-head crazy. If you’re not explaining something to them, then you’re reexplaining it, because they didn’t listen the first time, and as soon as you explain it, they ask the same damn question you just spent twenty minutes explaining the answer to!

And the questions. Holy fuck, the questions.

Some of these kids talked more in one day than I have in my entire life, and you can’t get away from it, because they follow you.

Like, take a hint, you know?

“Jared! I want the blue helmet, and Connor had it last time, and it’s my turn!” the half-pint blond kid whined from the track as all the other children climbed into their go-kart cars, two rows of six each.

I tipped my chin down and inhaled an aggravated breath as I gripped the fence surrounding the track. “It doesn’t matter what color helmet you have on,” I growled, tensing every muscle in my back.

Blondie—what the hell was his name again?—scrunched up his face, getting redder by the moment. “But . . . but it’s not fair! He had it two times, and I—”

“Get the black helmet,” I ordered, cutting him off. “It’s your lucky one, remember?”

He pinched his eyebrows together, his freckled nose scrunching up. “It is?”

“Yes,” I lied, the hot California sun beating down on my black-T-shirt-clad shoulders. “You wore it when we flipped in the buggy three weeks ago. It kept you safe.”

“I thought I was wearing the blue one.”

“Nope. The black,” I lied again. I really had no idea what color he’d been wearing.

I should feel bad about lying, but I didn’t. When children got more reasonable, I could stop resorting to rocket science to get them to do what I wanted them to do. “Hurry up,” I shouted, hearing little go-kart motors fill the air. “They’re going to leave without you.”

He ran for the other side of the gate to the shelves of helmets, snatching up the black one. I watched as all the kids, ranging in age from five to eight, strapped themselves in and shot each other excited little thumbs-ups. They gripped their steering wheels, their thin arms tense, and I felt a grin pull at the corners of my mouth.

This was the part that wasn’t so bad.

Crossing my arms over my chest, I watched with pride as they took off, each kid handling his or her car with increasing precision every week they came here. Their shiny helmets glistened in the early summer sunshine as the tiny engines zoomed around the bend and echoed in the distance as they sped off. Some kids were still pushing the pedal to the metal for the entire race, but others were learning to measure their time and assess the road ahead. Patience was hard to muster when you just wanted to be in front the entire race, but some quickly caught on that a good defense was the best offense. It wasn’t just about getting ahead of that car; it was also about staying ahead of the cars already behind you.

And more than just learning, they were also having fun. If only a place like this had existed when I was that age.

But even at twenty-two, I was still grateful for it.

When these kids first walked through my door they knew next to nothing, and now they handled the track like it was a walk in the park. Thanks to me and the other volunteers. They were always happy to be here, full of smiles, and looking to me with anticipation.

They actually wanted to be around me.

What the hell for, I didn’t know, but I was certain of one thing. As much as I complained or escaped to my office, struggling to scrape up just a little more patience, I absolutely, without a doubt, wanted to be around them, too. Some of them were pretty cool little shits.

When I wasn’t traveling and working the circuit, racing with my own team, I was here, helping with the kids program.

Of course, it wasn’t just a go-kart track. There was a garage and a shop, and lots of drivers and their girlfriends hung out, working on bikes and shooting the shit.

Godsmack’s “Something Different” played over the speakers, and I looked up at the sky, seeing the sun beat down, blinding me.

It was probably raining back home today. June was big on summer thunderstorms in Shelburne Falls.

“Here,” Pasha ordered, shoving a clipboard into my chest. “Sign these.”

I grabbed it, scowling at my black-and-purple-haired assistant from under my sunglasses as the go-karts roared past.

“What is it?” I unclipped the pen and looked at what appeared to be a purchase order.

She watched the track, answering me. “One is an order for your bike parts. I’m just having them shipped to Texas. Your crew can sort through it when you get there in August—”

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