Clawing myself together, I stand from Brent’s lap and face him head-on. Stanton reaches out to touch me, but I step back. “I’m fine.”
“You’re obviously not. What the hell happened?”
I shake my head. “I don’t feel well.” That’s true, at least. “I want to go back to the house.”
“All right, I’ll—”
I step further back, bumping against the bench. “No. Not you.”
The thought of being in the closed space of a vehicle with him is horrifying. I need more time to collect myself, so I’m not reduced to a quivering mass clinging to his leg, begging him to love me.
Wouldn’t that be attractive?
Confusion displaces the concern clouding his eyes. “But . . .”
“I’ll drive her.”
We all turn to the door of the bar, where tiny, blond, and perfect Jenny Monroe stands beside her fiancé. I didn’t realize we’d drawn an audience. And although she’s not exactly my favorite person at the moment, I’ll take her.
Brushing past Stanton, I follow Jenny as she fishes keys from the purse slung across her shoulder, walking briskly to the parking lot.
Stanton doggedly trails us. “Hey! Just wait one damn—”
“Go back to the bar, Stanton,” Jenny calls. “Have a beer with JD and talk about how y’all are gonna keep your brother from takin’ his clothes off.”
In a conspiratorial tone, she tells me, “Carter tends to get overheated when he’s drunk, and his nudist tendencies come out. The idiot’ll be bare ass by midnight.”
With a touch to her key ring she unlocks the doors on the shiny black Ford pickup, and I scramble into the passenger seat like a teenager fleeing a machete-wielding maniac. The engine roars to life, she shifts into drive—and the headlights illuminate Stanton Shaw, stubbornly bracing his hands on the hood of the truck, blocking our way.
Jenny opens the window. “Boy, if you don’t move, I’ll run you down. Won’t kill you, but you won’t be nearly as persuasive hobblin’ around a courtroom on crutches.”
Keeping distrustful hands on the truck, he moves around to Jenny’s open window. I keep my eyes trained straight ahead, but I feel his gaze on me.
“Sofia.” His voice is harsh but pleading at the same time. “Sofia, look at me, damn it!”
Jenny leans forward, obscuring his view. “Let her be, Stanton. Sometimes a woman just needs another woman. Give her space.”
From the corner of my eye, she pats his forearm, and after a moment his hands fall away from the truck. She doesn’t give him a chance to change his mind; the spinning tires spit gravel and dust as we pull out of the parking lot.
• • •
Except for my occasional sniffle, it’s quiet inside the cab of the truck as we drive down the dark, empty roads. I don’t quite know how I’m supposed to feel about the woman beside me. In basic terms, she’s my competition. I’m well acquainted with rivalry; I live it and breathe it in my career—outperforming the prosecutors at trial, outshining my fellow attorneys as we all vie for a coveted partnership. There are moments when I know I’m better than my opposition, and times when I have to dig deep to surpass those who are my equal, if not more talented.
The difference here is I actually like Jenny. If circumstances were different, she and I could’ve been friends. She’s smart and fun to be around. I understand why Stanton loves her. And the part of me that’s his friend—that wants his happiness more than my own—doesn’t want her to marry JD.
But then there’s the other part—the one who loves Stanton—who wants to scratch Jenny’s eyes out. Who wants her to disappear, or even better, to have never existed in the first place.
“How long have you loved him?”
The question is gently posed, like a pediatrician would ask the parent of a sick child how long they’ve been like this.
“From the beginning, I think. I didn’t . . . admit it. I thought it was just physical attraction . . . friendship . . . convenience. But now . . . I realize it was always more.”
She nods. “There’s just somethin’ about a man from Mississippi. Damn southern charm is in the DNA—they don’t even have to work at it.” She pauses as she turns the truck onto an equally desolate road. “And Stanton . . . he’s even more overwhelming. Brilliant, hardworkin’, handsome, and he fucks like a beast.”
I bark out a shocked laugh.