Tristan Lopez is loyal to his brothers. He doesn’t really have a choice, born into a gang that has a chokehold on every kid that roams its streets. He gave his life to them willingly, knowing if he did then one day this kingdom, led by boys drunk with power and ruled by fear, would all be his.
He was loyal through it all. Loyal when prison took his dad away. Loyal when his face was touched by the cold metal of the rival gang’s gun. Loyal even though his mom begged him to run the moment she returned home from rehab.
He thought about becoming someone else. It was hard not to crave the life of a regular 17-year-old. It’s the only reason he stayed in school—to pretend. But he always fell back in line.
Riley Rojas didn’t belong in Tristan’s real world. She should have only been part of the fantasy, one of the many faces he got to pretend with amidst rows of metal chairs and desks and whiteboards with assignments. But there she was, moving boxes from the back of an old pick-up into a house Tristan had shot up on a dare with his friends only a few months before.
Tall enough to look him in the eyes and strong enough to fill his shadow, Riley took up space on his streets, her loud mouth fearless in the face of the gang leaders who terrified everyone else. She pushed Tristan around on the hard court, and she balled better than his friends—better than him
sometimes. She challenged him. She needed him. He liked it. And when her pale blue eyes stared into his, he quit wanting to pretend.
He couldn’t ask her to leave because she’d only dig her heels in deeper. He couldn’t ask because he didn’t want her to go. She was blurring his lines. She was testing his loyalty.
He was falling in love.
And it was going to tear him apart.
The room is so quiet that every small sound sends a jolt of urgency through my body. The refrigerator motor kicks on…then off. The heater rumbles and buzzes a loose vent cover in the hallway. A cricket hidden somewhere inside echoes.
“You get like that when you live here,” he says, bringing me back to the surface.
“Huh?” I shift my gaze to him and he steps close again, this time sitting on the couch, our knees nearly touching as he turns to face me.
“Paranoid, I guess.” His eyes move between mine as I nod, kind of understanding.
Tristan clears his throat then slides against the corner of the couch, gaining a few precious inches of distance. Probably for the best since we can’t be friends.
“You want to listen to some music?” I ask.
He chuckles lightly and cocks one brow, relaxing his expression when he sees that I’m serious.
“Oh…uhm,” he glances around the empty home. I get why—he wants to be able to hear what’s happening…out there.
“I’ll keep it low. I just thought maybe it would help…I don’t know…pass the time you have to sit here with me? You know, since it’s so awful and we aren’t friends.”
My expression grows hard. That was passive aggressive, but I’m still glad I said it. I see him wince, just barely, and I’m satisfied.
“Music’s good,” he finally says.
I pull my phone from my pocket and open my favorite playlist, starting it then setting my phone on the back of the couch. It’s a mix of everything, which is what I was raised on. My dad’s more of the country and oldies type of guy, and my mom like hard rock. I love pop and rap and pretty much anything, so it works. The first song that plays is from the eighties.
Tristan smirks, then turns my phone toward him so he can read, half laughing.
“Hey, I saw your lips moving with the words to that. You can’t make fun of me when you know the words,” I say, mouthing too-ra-loo-ra along with him.
His mouth curves slowly, and when it’s finally smiling for real, everything in the room shifts.
We begin to sing together, both messing up verses in our own ways, nowhere even close to being on key. When the next song starts and it’s country, Tristan groans, but I catch him mouthing the words to this one as well. I throw a nearby pillow at him and he catches it at his chest, holding it to his body and laughing until the sound fades out and we’re both just looking at each other.
Country turns into Elvis, and Tristan’s lip ticks up on one side as he blinks and looks down. His gaze doesn’t fall for long, though, and in a breath he’s studying me again.
“Careful, we might become friends,” I tease. He doesn’t laugh, and his grin falls a little, losing the dimples on his cheeks. I shouldn’t have said that. He took it seriously.
“Every single time I hear a car drive by, I assume it’s someone coming to kill me.”
My throat goes dry at his words, and my heartbeat pounds in my gut. His eyes flirt with me, moving to and away while he chews at the inside of his cheek. I’m frozen on his face, but in the periphery, I can see him wringing his hands.
He looks up and lets his breath slip away until his lip hangs open and his features droop, almost desperate. It’s a surrender.
About the Author
Ginger Scott is an Amazon-bestselling and Goodreads Choice Award-nominated author of several young and new adult romances, including Waiting on the Sidelines, Going Long, Blindness, How We Deal With Gravity, This Is Falling, You and Everything After, The Girl I Was Before, Wild Reckless, Wicked Restless, In Your Dreams, The Hard Count, Hold My Breath, and A Boy Like You.
A sucker for a good romance, Ginger’s other passion is sports, and she often blends the two in her stories. (She’s also a sucker for a hot quarterback, catcher, pitcher, point guard…the list goes on.) Ginger has been writing and editing for newspapers, magazines and blogs for more than 15 years. She has told the stories of Olympians, politicians, actors, scientists, cowboys, criminals and towns. For more on her and her work, visit her website at http://www.littlemisswrite.com.
When she’s not writing, the odds are high that she’s somewhere near a baseball diamond, either watching her son field pop flies like Bryce Harper or cheering on her favorite baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ginger lives in Arizona and is married to her college sweetheart whom she met at ASU (fork ’em, Devils).
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