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Driven (Page 68)

She shakes his hand reluctantly, muttering, “Nice to meet you,” embarrassed at her intrusion, before she turns quickly and walks back to her friends.

“Nice to meet you too, ma’am.” Colton calls after her, the rigidity in his shoulders easing as we turn our backs to her and continue to the bench. He lets out a soft sigh. “I hate doing that. Lying like that,” he verbalizes, “Its just that once one person realizes, then it’s nonstop. Out come the camera phones and the Facebook posts and before you know it, we’re surrounded, the paparazzi show up, and I’ve spent the whole evening tending to strangers and ignoring you.”

His reasoning takes me by surprise, and I’m flattered that he’s put it in these terms. “This is my life,” he explains without apology, “for the most part. I grew by default with a famous family, but I made the choice to be a public person. I accept the fact that I’m going to be followed and photographed and hounded for autographs. I get it,” he says, sitting down on the bench beside me, “and I don’t mind it, really. I mean I’m not complaining. I’m usually very accommodating, especially when it comes to kids. But sometimes, like tonight, I just …” he tugs his hat down further on his head, “I just don’t want to be bugged.” He leans forward, angling his head so that the brim of his hat clears my forehead, and says, “I just want it to be you and me.” He leans in, brushing his lips against mine in a brief but tender kiss, emphasizing his last words.

I pull back and smile tentatively at him, raising my hand to toy lazily with the curls flipping over his cap at the back of his neck. We stare at each other for a moment, exchanging unspoken words: lust, desire, enjoyment, playfulness, and compatibility. My grin spreads wider, “Ace Thomas, huh?”

He grins back at me, the lines at the corners of his eyes crinkling. “It was the first thing that came to mind,” he shrugs, raising his eyebrows. “If I’d have hesitated, she would’ve known I was lying.”

“True,” I concede, taking a pinch of the cotton candy that Colton offers me. “My God, this stuff is over-the-top sweet!”

“I know. Pure sugar,” Colton chuckles, widening his eyes at me, “That’s why its so damn good!” He looks out at the rides, “Man, when I was a kid, after—” he pauses quietly, “after I met my parents, they’d spoil me by taking me to baseball games. I’d get so sick eating this crap.” The corners of his mouth turn up in a ghost of a smile at the memory. And I can’t help but wonder what life was like for him before he met his parents.

We lapse into an easy silence, watching the rides and the people around us, taking small nibbles of cotton candy. I am really enjoying myself and spending this time with Colton. He is attentive and engaging and seems as if he really is interested in me as a person. I guess I was expecting more of a surface get-to-know-you, so being proved wrong is a welcome acknowledgment for me.

Colton moves his hand over to squeeze my knee and points over to the only ride left in our vicinity. “You ready to take on the Zipper, Ryles?”

I blanche at the thought of the small enclosed cage tumbling endlessly through the air. Being jolted and shoved backwards and forwards while being confined. I swallow loudly. “Not really,” I shake my head.

“C’mon, be a sport,” he pressures jokingly.

I can feel the impending claustrophobia of the ride, and I move my shoulders back and forth to ward the phantom feeling away. “Sorry. I can’t,” I mutter, feeling the heat of embarrassment flush through my system. “I’m super claustrophobic,” I tell him, pushing my hair off my face.

“I’ve noticed,” he says wryly. When I raise an eyebrow at him, he continues, “Remember? Storage closet? Backstage?” he says with a suggestive smirk on his face.

“Oh. Yes.” I can feel my cheeks burn red at his comment, mortified at my, then, actions. “How could I forget?”

“Were you always that way or did your brother lock you in the closet and forget about you as a kid?” he chides, laughing with amusement at the thought.

“Uh-uh,” I shake my head and quickly shift my eyes away from his, hoping he misses the tears that fill them momentarily at the memory. Although it has been two years, it still hits me like yesterday when old demons resurface. I reach over to twist my ring around my finger and find the spot empty. I exhale shakily, closing my eyes momentarily to control my emotions that seem to be unraveling. I’m angry with myself for reacting so strongly to the suggestion of a damn carnival ride.

His laugh stops immediately when he notices my agitation, and he places an arm around my shoulder, pulling me into him. “Hey look. I’m sorry, Rylee. I didn’t mean—”

“No, it’s okay,” I shake my head, leaning forward out of his grasp, escaping the heat of him and embarrassed at my reaction, “There’s no need to apologize. I’m the one who should be sorry.” He nods his head in acceptance to me, his eyes imploring me to say more. “I—um, I was in a pretty bad car accident a couple of years back … I was trapped for a while,” I shake my head to clear the vivid memories pressing in on me. “Since then, I can’t stand being in small places. Feeling trapped.”

He places his hand on my back and reassuringly rubs up and down. “The scars?” he asks.

“Uh-huh,” I answer, still trying to find my voice.

“But you’re all healed now?” The genuine concern that fills his voice makes me look back and smile at him.

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