I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as I stared at the road signs before me. I had my phone set to GPS, but the gobbledygook instructions it suggested had already seen me drive into a field, a forest, and a freaking quarry. Apparently this town was so backwater even the modern age shied away from mapping it.
I craned my neck, narrowed my eyes, and crept forward in my hire car. I was half on the verge, the tires crunching over the grass and rock. I needn’t have worried about obstructing the flow of traffic though, as there were no other vehicles around.
The road was dead. Because the town was dead. In fact, it had never been alive.
The place I’d grown up and promptly escaped from once I had landed a driver’s license and my first paycheck.
Well, now I was back.
Really, really reluctantly.
My family had long since moved away from this place, and I had no good reason to visit the scene of my uneventful childhood. I had a bad reason though. A rotten one.
A high school reunion.
I took my hand off the wheel for a second and flattened it against my head, pushing my shoulder-length mousy-brown hair out of my eyes.
“Oh man,” I whimpered, blasting another breath up and against my face.
I hated high school. I’d hated it when I’d had the displeasure of attending, and I still hated it now, all these years later.
Yet I was still going to my reunion. Why? Because my mother had convinced me to go, of course. She’d tried regaling me with stories of how much she’d enjoyed her own reunions over the years, and when that hadn’t worked, she’d appealed to my job instead.
“Just think of all the people you can watch and lives you can observe,” she’d said. “Now’s your chance to find out if the popular kids in school made it or crashed and burned. You’ll be able to study their successes and failures for your fabulous books! You’re always going on about how you’re over high school, well now it’s your chance to prove it.”
I’d tried to ignore her advice, but she’d quickly won out. In typical motherly style, she’d appealed to my ego while offering a challenge. I did spend a lot of time talking and writing about how much I’d grown out of high school and grown up in the process.
I had a successful string of romance self-help books on the market. In them, I often harped on about how important it was to move on from your past.
Now was my chance to prove I could do that myself. Hence the hire car and the cynicism.
It took me a long time, but I finally found the right street. Wetlake was up in the mountains, near a lake—a wet one, funnily enough—and the city was like a damn rabbit warren of tracks and winding woodland roads.
With a bit of luck and a couple of foggy memories, I eventually located my motel.
I pulled up into the car park, and took my time before I yanked up the park brake and finally opened my door.
I took a sobering moment to stare at the motel before me.
Drab, styled in shades of '70s brick cladding and brown, plastic window frames, it was an eyesore. Though I could have afforded to stay in better style, I’d booked late, and this was the only place in town with any vacancies.
Narrowing my gaze as I took in the ugliness that was the Lake Motel, I actually let out a snarl. A quiet and private one.
Whispering to myself to “come on,” I finally flipped the button under the dash to open the trunk. Taking angry, mincing steps, I grabbed my luggage and dumped it on the gravel.
Before I could muster the courage to find the front desk to rustle up my keys, I paused again.
This time something caught my eye.
Heels. Sparkly ones. Knock offs too, if I was any judge.
Following the sparkle up to the legs, body, and face, I found myself frowning as something slowly clicked into place.
The woman who had caught my attention was wearing a seriously tight-fitting black dress that was pulled up on one side, and she had a small designer bag dangling off her shoulder, likely another knock off.
Yet it wasn’t the clothes and their trade-mark-infringing origins that got to me, neither was it the sultry, dancer-like walk.
It was the hair.
The blinding blond hair that was backcombed and had so much body you would have been forgiven for thinking it belonged in an '80s music video.
A name came to my lips and pushed its way out in a harsh whisper, “Nancy.”
Holy crap. The chick in the knock-off heels had to be Nancy Harrison. The most popular girl in my senior class. Voted most likely to succeed, she’d been the Prom Queen too. She’d ruled the roost. She’d gone out with Denver and Thorne Scott—Wetlake High School’s hottest brothers. She’d also spent her reign torturing me and the other kids who had never fit in.
Before I could do anything radical—like running over to ask Nancy whether a lifetime of stilettos had caused permanent skeletal damage—a car pulled up beside me. I glanced to the side automatically, and then I stopped.
Well gosh darn.
The Denver Scott.
I recognized him immediately. Of course I did. I’d only spent the majority of English class scribbling out his likeness on the back of my pencil case.
If Nancy had been the undisputed queen of Wetlake High, then Denver was her king. A freaking handsome one too.
Not wanting to be caught staring at the guy, I neatened my luggage and then mucked around in the trunk as I surreptitiously shot Denver a long, calculating look.
He was wearing a suit. Though it fit him well, it was a little too tight around the neck and pulled to the left a bit. It was also a fairly run-of-the-mill style, and while the fabric looked sturdy, it clearly wasn’t from Milan or Paris.
Tucking my hair behind my ears, I reached into my trunk and muscled my suitcase out. As I straightened, I shot him another careful glance.
He was bigger—which wasn’t so much of a surprise considering I hadn’t seen him since our senior year. Denver had filled out though, grown up, and now had his fair share of fine wrinkles around his eyes and tucked in at the edges of his mouth. If the dim light coming in from the room in front of us didn’t deceive me, he also had a few flecks of gray glinting out from behind his ears.
This made me smile. I’d met too many men who’d rolled out of bed at the tender age of twenty-five, only to shriek at the mirror when it had dared to show them their first hint of gray.
Some fellas didn’t handle aging well.
Some did. Denver appeared to be managing the first wrinkles and greys of his creeping maturity in style. Though he was hardly that old at the tender age of thirty, the point was, he certainly wasn’t eighteen anymore.
Before I could continue my in-depth analysis of the man, he hefted a single bag off the seat beside him, slammed his door, and walked off.
While I craned my neck to watch, he marched quickly across the scant lawn beyond the car park and ducked into the main office.
I stood there a moment, pushing my teeth into my lips, and then I finally hefted my luggage and followed.
Far from being angry at the prospect of my impending school reunion anymore, I was now intrigued.
Clearly, my mother had been right. As long as I could keep a level head and remember I wasn’t actually in high school anymore, this could be a lot of fun. I hadn’t seen any of these people for years. Who knew where their lives had taken them of if they’d even made it out of Wetlake?
And far more importantly, who knew if Denver Scott was single?
Chuckling and muttering to myself that I was a very bad girl, I finally got my keys, found my room, and turned in for the night.
Tomorrow the fun would begin. Before it could, I had to remind myself of one thing.
I wasn’t the same spotty, goofy teenager anymore.
It was time to show Wetlake how much.