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Driven (Page 97)

He nods his head, a noncommittal grunt. “Am I in trouble?” He looks up at me from beneath lashes spiked wet from tears with trepidation in eyes.

I wrap both my arms around him and squeeze his little body that’s known so much hurt and abandonment in its short time. I hold him to me, trying to reassure him and let him know that it’s okay. That getting in trouble doesn’t mean a severe beating and food withheld for days, as he’s known in the past. “Yeah, bud, you are … but I think that icky feeling you have might just be the worst of it.” I feel his shoulders sag in relief as a plan forms in my head.

“I knew you couldn’t stay away from me for long.” Colton’s resonate voice fills the other end of the telephone line, arrogance redefined. His sexy voice alone makes my pulse race, but I have to put how I feel aside as I put my plan to help restore Aiden’s self-confidence and self-image at school into motion.

“I’m not calling for me, Ace.” I keep my voice all business for I know that he can distract me so easily, and I want him to know I’m serious.

“Ooooh, I love it when you’re all business and straight to the point. It’s such a turn on, Ryles.”

“Whatever!” I say but I can’t help the slow smile that creeps over my face.

“No, seriously, what’s up, sweetheart?”

Why do I love when he calls me that? Why does it make me feel like I’m special to him?

“It’s Aiden,” I tell him filling in the details as he listens attentively despite the various voices I hear in the background. “Is it possible that I can get some kind of signed picture of you or something he can bring to school tomorrow to prove that he’s met you and actually was there on Sunday?”

Colton laughs loudly, and I’m confused at his reaction. “That’s only going to get his teeth knocked in, Rylee. That’s something only a geek would do … those brats would eat him alive.”

“Oh … um … I had no idea.”

“You wouldn’t,” Colton chuckles, slightly offending me.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“And please don’t go have a conference with the teacher or principal,” he groans. “Inevitably someone will see you and then it will only make things harder for Aiden.”

“I wasn’t—”

“Oh yes, you were,” he kids me, and I’m shocked he has me pegged so well. “I just know you were one of those preppy kids who had their homework done before it was due, helped the teacher in class, and was part of the ‘in’ crowd. No offense, Rylee, but you have no idea what it is to be a misfit kid on the verge of puberty who gets the crap beat out of him just because.”

I’m flustered that he has such a good read on me, but more than that, his words about understanding the misfit crowd give me more insight to him as a child. To his state of mind. When I don’t respond to him, he laughs again at me. “You were like that, weren’t you?”

“Maybe,” I answer slowly, heat flushing my cheeks despite the fact that he can’t see me.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Rylee … it’s just different for kids like Aiden.”

And like you were. “What do you suggest I do then since I obviously don’t understand?” I try to hide the hurt in my voice at the idea that I don’t know what’s best when it comes to Aiden.

“Are you on shift there tomorrow?”

“Yeah … what does that have to do with anything?” When he remains silent, I prompt him. “Colton?”

“Give me a second to think,” he snips at me and I blanche at his tone. I hear someone call his name in the background. Of course it’s a female. “What time do you leave for school in the morning?”

“At eight. Why?”

“I’m tied up right now,” he says innocently, but my mind drifts to braided velvet ropes and cold counters. I jolt from my thoughts, chastising myself at their direction. “Okay. I’ll have something for him at The House before you leave.”

“What are you—”

“Relax, control freak,” he sighs, “I have something in mind. I just have to move some things around to make it happen.”

“Oh, but—” I protest wanting to know what he’s bringing.

“Rylee,” he interrupts, “this is the part where you let someone else handle the details. All you have to say is ‘Thank you, Colton. I owe you one,’ and hang up.”

I pause momentarily, knowing he is right but wanting to know anyway. “Thank you Colton,” I acquiesce.

“And?” he prompts.

I remain silent for a few moments. I can almost feel the smirk I know he is smiling through the open phone line. “And I owe you one.”

“And you can bet I’ll collect on it.” His seductive laugh fills the phone until I hear the dial tone on the other end.

CHAPTER 22

Damn it! I knew I shouldn’t have said anything to Aiden. I shouldn’t have told him that I had something to fix what had happened yesterday. I shouldn’t have depended on someone like Colton to come through when I am so used to relying on myself. He hasn’t even answered my texts or calls this morning.

I glance at the clock and another minute has ticked by. It’s seven fifty-two and I need to get the boys into action in order to get them to school on time. Mike’s already left to take Shane and Connor to high school. Bailey has already come and left to take Zander to his therapist’s appointment and Kyle to the eye doctor before dropping him back off at school. I’m left with the remaining three elementary school kids and I know that getting them in the car should have started ten minutes ago.

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