Check out this excerpt from the book!
She limped toward him, waving frantically. “Hey! Wait! Over here!”
“What the heck were you doing in there?” The annoyed words tumbled out and Bobby regretted them instantly. As she hobbled closer, he could see her white teeth and red-gold hair that gleamed like a coin in the sun.
“I was running. I wrenched my ankle.” The girl extended a hand. “I’m Gabe.”
Bobby took the girl’s hand and shook. “Gabe?” he stammered, his face gone hot.
“It’s short for Gabriella.”
Bobby dared a longer look at the girl. She was tall, only a few inches shorter than him, leanly muscled, with freckled-all-over milky skin that looked like it couldn’t withstand very much sun. Just the same, the fragile skin was stretched over sinewy muscle, an athlete sculpted from a bar of Ivory soap. This girl, Bobby decided, was durable. She didn’t look like she’d break too easily. His heart picked up speed of its own accord and he had to struggle to keep the tremor out of his voice. “You shouldn’t be talking to strangers.”
The girl laughed and shielded her light eyes against the sun. “You don’t look all that strange.”
Bobby shrugged. “You can’t always tell.”
“Well, tell me your name and then you won’t be just a tall, handsome stranger who picked me up on the side of the road.”
Bobby felt himself blush. She had called him handsome. But words came easily to this girl, words she probably didn’t mean, while for him finding the right words was like panning for gold. “Bobby. Bobby Pendell.”
“Short for Robert?”
“Uh, yeah. But no one calls me that. Except my dad when he gets pissed off.”
“Well, Bobby Robert Pendell, right now I have no choice but to rely on the kindness of tall, handsome strangers. My cell gets no reception out here and if I’m not back at the restaurant for dinner my dad’s going to kill me.”
Bobby peered at the girl from under his trucker’s cap. Definitely a weekender. She was too buffed and polished to be anything else. “Which restaurant? There’re three in town.”
Gabe snickered. “That many, huh?”
Bobby stuck his hands in his pockets and looked down at his scuffed work boots. It was a waste of time worrying what this girl thought of him. She was clearly way out of his league. And he had more important things to think about. “Look, I, uh—I got to get somewhere. I’ll give you a ride, if you want. But I got to hurry.”
“Where are you going?”
“My brother’s Little League game. Which is probably over by now.”
“Isn’t that the ball park right up the road?”
Bobby nodded. “Yep. That’s why we got to hurry if you want me to drop you at your restaurant. Would help if you just told me which one.”
“Why don’t I come with you?”
The girl was beginning to irk him. Maybe, like the cat that toyed with its injured prey before it pounced for the kill, she sensed her power. Like the girls at school. His high school was located in the bigger town of Waterbury, and the girls there all looked down on the so-called “hicks” from the more rural towns like Graxton and Fernville.
“To the game? Thought you were in a big hurry. I don’t mind driving you to the restaurant, though, if you’d just tell me which one.”
“I love baseball.”
“It’s just a Little League game.”
“I love kids.” She leaned down to pet Pete, who’d been circling her, wagging his tail. “I love dogs, too. I have plenty of time, if you’re giving me a ride.”
“Insistent, aren’t you?”
“I just got up here for the summer and I don’t know a soul. Basically, I’m lonely and bored. Besides, I throw a mean curve ball.”
The girl’s face broke into a wide smile and Bobby’s knees buckled a little. She was pretty. Really pretty. And she seemed a little desperate for company. He supposed it couldn’t hurt to let her join him.
“It’s not even summer yet. Don’t you have school?”
For a flash of a second, Gabe looked fidgety. Then she straightened and tossed her hair behind her shoulders. “My school’s out for the summer.”
“What kind of school gets done in May?”
Gabe looked him square in the eye. “The kind of school I go to.”
“What kind of sch—?”
She brushed past and, interrupting him, said, “C’mon, then. Get in the truck.”
He watched Gabe through the smeared glass of the truck windows. As she opened the door, Pete leapt past her and took his place on the seat next to Bobby.
She laughed and climbed in. “Looks like someone is used to having you all to himself.”
“Guess so.” Bobby started the truck, wishing he weren’t so damned tongue-tied all the time. He cleared his throat and forced out words, hating how gruff his voice sounded. He wished Coco were here. He would know how to talk to a girl like this. Coco could talk to anyone. “What restaurant were you going to?”
The girl smiled and patted Pete on the head. “The Graxton Grill, of course.”
“The Catskill House is where all the weekenders go.”
“Are you implying I’m a weekender?”
“You’re not from here. So that means you’re a weekender.”
The girl rubbed her ankle, then turned back to Bobby. “I’m here for the whole summer. So that makes me more than a weekender.”
“Why the Graxton Grill?”
“What are you, the local food columnist?”
Bobby’s mouth quirked up in a half-smile. “I think I have the right to know, since I saved you from the corn stalks.”
“My dad owns it.”
The air rushed out of Bobby’s lungs. “Your dad? Your dad is Max Friend?”
“That’s me. Gabe Friend. Sadly, also known as Gabby Friend. Welcome to my nightmare.”
“Gabby Friend?” Bobby stifled a snort. “That’s harsh.”
Gabe fixed him with a wry smile. “Imagine my life in middle school. Especially since I was too shy to utter a peep.”
Bobby didn’t talk much at school, either, but he couldn’t imagine this girl ever being bashful and shy.
“I work at the Graxton Grill,” he said finally. “Your dad is my boss.”
“Is that so?”
Bobby stole a glance at her, but she just stared out the window, suddenly disinterested. Had he offended her? He really had no idea how to talk to this girl. And, though he was pretty sure it was a bad idea, he really wanted to. Max Friend had a policy against employee dating—knives, fire, and romance are a bad combo, he had told them all the day the restaurant reopened. His daughter would be off-limits for sure. “Um, how’s your ankle?”
“Better. It was just a twist.”
It only took a minute to get to the ball field where Aaron’s Little League game was at the end of the sixth inning. Aaron was pitching a shutout, and in minutes the game ended. His team erupted in a roar, ran to the mound and mobbed the triumphant pitcher, but Aaron had already spotted Bobby watching from the sidelines and broke away from the tangle of bodies. Picking up speed, he barreled into Bobby’s arms, a bundle of sweaty hair, grime, and sparkling blue eyes.
“Dude! We won! We won! We made it to the playoffs!”
“I know. I saw!”
Aaron pulled away, noticing the stranger in their midst. “Who are you?”
“She’s,” Bobby stammered, “…a friend.”
Gabe smiled, all freckles and sunshine, and extended a hand. Bobby’s heart revved up inside his chest, but he kept his expression placid and flat, like the waters of Scratch Lake—before the weird turbulence earlier that morning.
“Literally. I’m Gabe Friend,” she said.
Frowning, Aaron looked from her hand to her face. “I never saw you before.”
“No, you haven’t,” Gabe said. “But I’ll bet I can hit any kind of pitch you can throw at me.”
Pete had picked up a stray ball and hunkered down, gnawing contentedly at it on the grass. Barely limping, Gabe strolled over to a bat that had been flung aside in the chaos. “We could go up on that hill and have a practice.” She gestured toward a sloping tract of mown grass that flattened at the top.
“Thought you were in a big hurry,” Bobby said.
“There’s always time for baseball.” Gabe glanced at her watch. “Besides, I still have time, if you’re giving me a ride. It’s only two-thirty and I don’t actually have to be at the restaurant until four for the dinner rush.”
Bobby glanced at Aaron. “It’s laundry night, but I guess it’s okay.”
Pensive, Aaron’s upper lip quivered into a sneer. Bobby laughed under his breath. Aaron never could walk away from a challenge or a fight. Which was why Bobby needed to show up from time to time at Aaron’s school playground at recess. “Bet you can’t.” Aaron wrestled the slimy ball from Pete’s jaws. “Give me that, Pete.”
Gabe gathered her hair into a hasty ponytail, revealing the sloping curve of her pale neck. Bobby tried to ignore the corresponding shiver that rushed from his thighs to his throat. “We shall see, won’t we, Little Pendell?” she said, hefting the bat over her shoulder.
“My name is Aaron,” his brother said emphatically.
Bobby chuckled as they trudged up to the hill, Aaron and Gabe in the lead. Aaron had no problem dealing with Gabe. Sometimes Bobby wished he were eleven again. In his memories, with Mom still around, those were golden times. But, then again, Aaron was much tougher than him, struggling with things eleven-year-old Bobby had never dreamed of.
Pete straggled behind, investigating the tall grass and weeds that marked the boundary between the neatly mown grass and the woods. The clearing at the top of the hill was bordered on three sides by state land, woods that stretched for endless miles to the east, and ended at the reservoir to the west.
“Go easy on her, A-man,” Bobby said when they’d reached the top of the hill.
“No need.” Gabe was already crouched in a batter’s stance, tapping the ground with the tip of the bat.
“You asked for it,” Aaron said, and let loose a fast, low-riding pitch. Gabe stepped quickly out of the way as it whizzed past.
“What are you, scared?” Aaron called out, laughing.
“That would have been a ball,” Gabe said, back in position, bat slung over her shoulder. “A little higher next time. I’m seventeen, not eleven.”
“Nice and easy, Aaron,” Bobby cautioned. All he needed was for the boss’ daughter to get hurt.
Gabe laughed and blew a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “Oh, c’mon. I’m not made of glass and fluffy stuff. I play softball.”
Focusing, Aaron drew his pitching arm back and hurled the ball hard. It sailed cleanly toward Gabe at waist level and Bobby cringed, imagining it slamming into her stomach. But Gabe took a fierce swing. The bat connected with a loud crack and soared above Aaron’s head, clear into the woods.
“Hey! That was our only ball!”
“Pete’ll find it,” Bobby said. “He’s a hunting dog. Get it, boy! Go get the ball!”
The dog tore through the weeds into the woods, the three of them bounding after him. Gabe, apparently recovered from her strained ankle, was right on Aaron’s heels as they crunched between the towering oaks through the underbrush after Pete.
Pete had already stopped, sniffing at the ball, which had come to rest at the base of a large tree, when a strange tightness in his skull tugged Bobby in the opposite direction. His gaze fell on a faded strip of material snagged in the bark of a dead tree trunk. Drawn inexplicably toward it, he crunched through the ferns and dried leaves, the sounds of laughter and Pete’s barking muted, drowned out by the thump of his heart in his ears.
Standing at the base of the tree, his boots rooted to the forest floor, the back of Bobby’s head had begun to throb.
Not this again.
He reached for the strip of cloth as if sticking his hand into fire, and…saw the vague form of someone running wildly, breathing hard…
Crashing through the woods. Heart speeding, each beat like the swing of an axe. Can’t do it. Can’t run anymore. Have to stop. To stop.
Bobby yanked back his hand from the bit of cloth as though it had burned him. The vision still fluttered in front of his eyes like the final images from a broken movie projector. It was as if he were that person, hearing fragments of their frantic thoughts, yet he could see them as though he were watching from a distance.
It was like a memory. A vividly terrifying memory.
But it wasn’t his memory.