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Driven (Page 66)

But it does, and I’m left to grip my fingers onto his biceps to steady myself. He kisses my nose softly before murmuring, “You ready to have some fun?”

I don’t know how he expects me to respond since he just stole my breath, but after a moment I manage to say, “Definitely!” as he releases me to open the rear door. He pulls out a black baseball hat, well worn with a threadbare spot on the tip of the bill. The logo is a sewn-on patch of a tire with two wings coming out from the hub, and it’s curled up at the edges, the stitching giving way to obvious use.

Colton tugs it down on his head, using both hands to adjust the brim properly before turning to me with an embarrassed grimace. “Sorry. It’s just easier in the long run if I go try to go incognito from the start.”

“No problem,” I say reaching up to tug on the lip. “I like it!”

“Oh, really?” he grabs my hand, and we begin weaving through the parked cars toward the entrance.

“Yeah, I kinda have a thing for baseball players,” I tease, looking over at him and keeping my face straight.

“Not race car drivers?” he asks, tugging on my hand.

“Not particularly,” I deadpan.

“I guess I’ll have to work a little harder to persuade you then,” he responds suggestively.

“That might take a lot of persuading.” A playful smile is on my face as I look over at him, his eyes hidden by the shadow cast from the lid of his cap. I swing our hands back and forth. “Do you think you’re up for the challenge, Ace?”

“Oh, Rylee …” he chides, “Don’t ask for something you can’t handle. I told you, I can be very persuasive. Don’t you remember the last time you dared me?” He tugs me closer and puts his arm around my shoulders.

How can I forget? I’m here right now because of that pseudo-dare.

We approach the ticket booth, and Colton releases his hold on me to buy our tickets as well as a wristband giving us complete access to all rides and games at the carnival. We enter through the gates, Colton tugging his hat down low, covering his eyes before placing his hand on my lower back. The smell of dirt, oil for frying, and barbeque fill my nose, while my eyes take in the dazzling, blinking lights. I can hear the rush of the small roller coaster to the right of us along with the screams of its riders as it plunges downwards. Little kids wander around with dazed looks, clutching balloons in one little hand, holding tightly to a parent with the other, their excitement and wonderment palpable. Stuffed animals hang ceremoniously from game stations guaranteed to catch the eye of grade-school children. Teenagers walk hand in hand, not caring that they’re actually at the carnival but rather thinking they’re so cool that they’re here without their parents. I can’t help my smile because despite my age, I’m excited—I haven’t been to a carnival like this since I was their age.

“Where to first?” Colton asks as we stroll lazily hand in hand down the midway, smiling and politely refusing the offers to “win a prize” from the game vendors.

“The rides definitely,” I tell him as I look around. “Not sure which one yet, though.”

“A girl after my own heart!” He pats his free hand against his chest, smiling at me.

“Adrenaline junkie!” I tell him, bumping my hip up against his thigh.

“Damn straight!” he laughs as we approach what appears to be the center of “Ride Alley” as the sign above us advertises. “So which one, Ryles?”

I look around at the rides, noting several different women staring at us. At first I worry that they recognize Colton, but then realize they are probably just looking in pure female appreciation at the man that stands beside me.

“Hmmmm,” I contemplate all of the rides, settling on a long-running favorite. I point toward the ride closest to us, “I used to love this as a kid!”

“Good old Tilt-A-Whirl,” Colton laughs, tugging me in its direction. “C’mon, let’s go.” His enthusiasm is endearing. A man who whirls hundreds of miles an hour around a track, rubs elbows with some of the brightest stars in Hollywood, and could be somewhere upscale right now, is excited about going on simple carnival ride. With me. I have to pinch myself.

We get in line to wait our turn. He bumps me softly with his shoulder. “So tell me more about you, Rylee.”

“Is this the job interview part of a date?” I tease playfully. “What do you want to know?”

“What’s your story? Where you’re from? What’s your family like? What are your secret vices?” he suggests grabbing my hand in his again and raising it to his lips. The simple sign of affection sneaks over the protective wall around my heart.

“All the juicy details, huh?”

“Yep!” His grin lights up his face and he pulls me toward him so that he can casually lay his hand over my shoulder. “Tell me everything.”

“Well, I grew up in a typical, middle-class family in San Diego. My mom owns an interior design company and my dad restores vintage memorabilia.”

“Very cool,” Colton exclaims as I reach my hand up to link it with his that’s casually resting over my shoulder. “What are they like?”

“My parents?” He nods his head at me. His question surprises me because it’s beyond just the superficial. Its as if he really wants to know me. “My dad’s a typical Type A, everything in its order, whereas my mom is very creative. Very much a free spirit. Opposites attract, I guess. We’re really close. It killed them when I decided to stay in Los Angeles after college.” I shrug, “They’re great, just worry too much. You know, typical parents.” We move forward some in the line as the current set of riders vacate their cars and the next set moves on. “I’m very lucky to have them,” I tell him, a little pang of homesickness hitting me for I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks.

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