Author: Kristi Cook
Date of Publication: August 5th 2014
In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived. Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist. But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.
Tonight, the guys are wearing the standard dress uniform of khakis with a white oxford-cloth shirt and colorful tie. Their jackets—navy blue, of course—have long since been discarded, their ties loosened and hanging untidily against their shirtfronts.
Only Ryder, discordant in his charcoal suit and French-blue tie, remains jacketed and fully buttoned up, not even appearing to break a sweat despite the oppressive heat. He’s also the only one without a beer, I notice.
That doesn’t mean he’s quiet, though. They’re loud and raucous, all of them, shouting and cursing at each other as they discuss—what else?—football.
“You’ve gotta see this dude’s arm to believe it,” Tanner is saying. “I’m talking perfect spiral.” He mimes a throw.
“So? You need receivers who don’t suck ass for it to make any difference.” Mason tips back his beer and downs nearly half its contents in a single, long gulp. Mason is Ryder’s other best friend. He also happens to be Morgan’s twin brother. Back in elementary school, he wore his hair so long that people often mistook them for identical twin girls—a little factoid I like to revisit whenever he gets too annoying, which is often. He can be a jerk sometimes—hot-tempered and a little crude.
“Let’s see if you’re still singing the same song in two weeks, after we kick your sorry asses,” Tanner says sourly.
“Just thinking it ain’t gonna make it so, bro. Where’d you say this kid transferred from? Holy Cross?” Mason shakes his head, chuckling. “Yeah, I’m not worried. You worried, Ryder?”
All the guys’ heads swivel toward Ryder. He tosses the football he’s holding into the air and catches it. “Nope,” he says with a cocky grin.
“Maybe you should be.” Tanner is glaring now, his arms folded across his scrawny chest. Tanner is my cousin, on my mom’s side. He goes to West Lafayette High, our big football rival. It’s some kind of weird districting thing, because he went to elementary and middle school with us. He probably could’ve applied for a waiver or something, but he didn’t. Mason claims it’s because Tanner knew he wasn’t good enough to play ball for Magnolia Branch, and who knows? Maybe he’s right. Either way, things have a habit of getting pretty heated whenever he’s around nowadays.
“Hey, did y’all catch the Alabama-LSU game this afternoon?” Ben asks, obviously trying to defuse the situation.
“They’re such morons,” Lucy mutters as the boys’ conversation steers toward more neutral ground.
Morgan nods. “Mason brought his shotgun, by the way. In the boat with the beer. They’ll probably go off and shoot stuff before the night is over.”
“So long as Jemma doesn’t go with them.” Lucy directs a stern glare in my direction.
Because I’m the best shot in all of Magnolia Branch—an indisputable fact. I’ve got trophies to show for it. Not that I would ever shoot a living thing—it’s just targets and skeet for me, thank you very much. But yeah, Mama taught me to sew, Daddy to shoot. That’s the way we roll here in Magnolia Branch.
“Not in this dress and not with boys who’ve been drinking,” I say, stealing a glance over my shoulder at the boys in question.
At that exact moment, Patrick turns toward me and our gazes collide. He smiles at me—a goofy, mischievous grin.
Inexplicably, my stomach flutters in response. I swallow hard, my pulse racing.
If there’s one thing I know about Patrick Hughes, it’s that he’s trouble. Big trouble. The Hugheses are old money—and I mean way old money—and Patrick is their little prince. Like Mason, he’s prone to having too good of a time, as evidenced by not one but two DUIs in the past year alone. Lucky for him, his daddy’s a lawyer, a partner at Marsden, Hughes & Fogarty, along with Ryder’s dad.
Nope, my parents would definitely not approve, despite his wealth and pedigree.
Who knows? Maybe that’s why I smile back.