He smirks my favorite smirk. “Welcome to Sunshine, Soph—the place where privacy comes to die.”
Stanton backs out and as we resume our journey to his parents’ farm, I see the skeevy cowboy strutting down the sidewalk. “Who’s that?”
Stanton’s eyes harden and his jaw clenches.
It’s pretty hot.
“Dallas Henry,” he growls before looking me over from head to toe. “Did he bother you?”
“He groped me with his eyes—nothing I couldn’t handle.”
With a curse he tells me, “He comes near you again, just tell him you’re with me. He won’t look at you again after that.”
“Friend of yours?”
Shrugging, he tells me, “I broke his jaw a couple years ago.”
“Why’d you do that?”
Stanton’s jade eyes look into mine. “He tried taken somethin’ that didn’t belong to him.”
• • •
When Stanton told me he grew up on a farm, I had a certain picture in my head. A big farmhouse, a red barn, trees. But that mental image pales in comparison to the real thing—to the sheer size and grandeur of the Shaw family ranch. The Porsche kicks up dirt as we cruise up the tree-lined driveway that’s so long, you can’t see the house from the road. The white house is large, with a pointed roof, a welcoming porch, green shutters, and huge windows. Ten red outbuildings are scattered out behind it, interspersed with large pens of brown wood fencing. Up the gentle slope from the house, farther than I can see, are pastures covered with a blanket of lush, emerald grass.
I stand next to the car, turning in a slow circle. “Stanton . . . it’s beautiful here.”
There’s a breathless pride in his voice when he answers. “Yeah, it is.”
“How many acres do your parents have?”
“Three thousand seven hundred and eighty-six.”
“Wow.” My brothers could barely remember to trim the potted hedges my mother grew on our balcony. “How do they take care of it all?”
“From sunup to sundown.”
Together we walk up the gravel path to the front door. Before we reach it, a young man comes around the side of the house, intercepting us. “Looks like someone remembers where we live after all.”
During our trip, Stanton talked about his family—we both did. This blond, handsome boy would be Marshall, one of the twins—eighteen years old and a high school senior. I smile as they hug and laugh and smack each other on the back.
When Stanton introduces us, his younger brother squints shyly, greeting me with a simple “Hey.”
The resemblance is shocking—the same bright green eyes, the same strong jaw and thick golden-blond hair. Marshall’s not as broad in the shoulders, his neck is thinner with youth, but if he wants to see what he’ll look like in ten years, he doesn’t have to look any further than the man beside him.
Stanton lifts his chin, asking, “Where’s my truck?”
Marshall rests his open hand on his own chest. “You mean my truck?” Then pointing near one of the barns to a black pickup with orange flames painted on the rear sides, “She’s right there.”
Stanton grimaces. “What the hell’d you do to it?”
We walk closer.
“Souped it up, bro. Custom paint, new speakers—gotta have the bass.” He demonstrates by reaching in and turning the key—nodding his head in time to the booming music that’s vibrating the ground beneath our feet.
“Tha’s Jay-Z,” he tells us, in case we’re too old to know.
Just then, a blue-and-white older pickup rumbles up to the front of the house, with several boys about Marshall’s age riding in back. He turns off the music. “I gotta go, I got practice.” He taps his brother’s arm. “We’ll catch up later.”
Stanton nods as I call, “Nice meeting you.”
After his brother’s gone, Stanton looks at the truck another minute, shaking his head.
Then we walk around the house through the side door, into the large, bright kitchen. Butcher-block counters, white cabinets, and sage-colored walls make for a warm but simple room. On the wall there’s an antique clock and a framed crocheted piece that reads: Home Is Where the Heart Is.
Stanton’s mother is a beautiful woman, thin, tall, and younger looking than I’d imagined. Her honey-colored hair is tied up, a few strands swinging as she scrubs a black pot in the large sink. Her nose is tiny, her chin the point of her heart-shaped face. When she hears us come in and looks our way, I realize Stanton and Marshall must have their father’s eyes—their mother’s are warm brown.