top of page

Chapter One


Life was not all that it was cracked up to be. They said to go to school so you can have a better job. Guess what? Thanks to said degree, I was up to my ears in debt.

Whatever, though—I would not let that bring me down.

As soon as high school ended, I packed my bags and said goodbye to my small town.  

Before becoming persona non grata, I planned to go to community college. I loved my parents and knew I would be homesick; back then, I didn’t think I was ready to spread my wings.

 Since I was little, I knew I wanted to become a journalist. I was that weird kid who would watch the news—not really for the announcements but more for how they broadcasted. Watching how they reported everything in a few minutes so eloquently and without missing a beat was fascinating.

The plan for after college was simple: I would go to community college for two years, and my best friend, my ex-best friend now, if we were being technical, would go with me to get his associate’s.

Not that said ex-best friend needed to go to college with me. His family owned their own business, and since he wasn’t too keen on higher education, he was only going because he was tired of hearing me nag about it.

Unfortunately, life had other plans.

When you were your graduating classes  enemy numero uno, there’s no point in sticking around. So, that’s what I did. I packed my bags, said Bon Voyage to the parentals, and made my way to a four-year school. 

The place I was too scared to be homesick of was the place I was trying to outrun.

There would be no friends to miss me since they all turned their backs on me. Let me just say that avoiding people when you lived in a small town wasn’t easy, but damn, if I didn’t make that a work of art. In the four years I had been at school, you might as well have called me Houdini.

Luck had been at my side.

Sadly, you couldn’t have too much of a good thing. It’s like with sex. Sometimes, you had guys who were great at it and made you believe that you were one orgasm away from heaven when others had no idea what they were doing, that even if you drew them a map with an X marking the spot, they would still be too blind to see it. 

The balance of life demanded that we must go through trials and tribulations.

So here I was now—it was time to pay the piper.

I was too calm for someone whose car had been stranded fifteen miles from town. Way too calm. I looked down at my phone—twenty minutes had passed since my car broke down on me, and I couldn’t force myself to dial a number I knew all too well.

Maybe he’s not even there.

You know life was all about balance. My car breaking down was already negative, so the positive had to be that someone else would be coming, right?

Fuck it.

The number to Kane’s Auto Shop had long been erased from my phone along with all the other Kane family members. But when you grew up dialing the shop for rides because you and the youngest of the Kane brothers ended up in trouble, you memorized it.

It rang once.


By the third time, I almost gave up.

“Kane Auto Shop.”

I didn’t realize how nervous I had been to make the call. My hand shook as I listened to the voice on the other end of the line.

"Hello?” they spoke again, this time grumpier than before, and I shook my head because that deep, growly voice was not the one I was avoiding.

“EZ,” I said with relief. “My car broke down.”

There was a slight pause on the other end of the line.

“Who’s this?” he barked.

If it were anyone else, I would have been offended, but Ezekiel Kane was not the friendliest of guys.


“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “I need a tow back into town.”

Now, this was more EZ’s speed. He didn’t like to talk more than necessary, and hell, if he didn’t tell his dickhead brother I was back, it was a bonus. 

I pulled the visor mirror so I could fix my hair. After six hours in my car, it wasn’t doing me any favors.  Once that was done, I looked at myself. If you were to put the girl who lived here with the one returning, it would seem like two different people. 

I guess that’s why no one cared that my best friend was a guy. When I lived here, I looked like a tomboy. My circle of friends was small, and the girls didn’t like me much, not because they were jealous of me–none of them would think I could pull a guy like him. When your best friend was one of the hottest guys in town, it came at a price. 


Being one of the guys was never a compliment.


Lucky for me, one of the girls I had roomed with in college was getting her cosmetology license, and I was all too happy to be her guinea pig. My light brown hair was brighter and had more dimension. Thanks to the black mascara rimming my eye, my green eyes popped off more. I found more confidence in myself in leaving my small corner of the world. Crazy how a supportive group of girls could lift you up. I had only experienced them cutting me down. 


When I saw the truck pass, I immediately sat up straighter. I waited for them to park behind me and then got off. I went around to the passenger side and leaned against my car. 


“It’s about damn time, EZ!” I yelled as he opened the door to the tow truck. 


Except the person who got off wasn’t Ezekiel Kane. He moved towards me without looking up from his phone. 


Please let it be Adam. 


I don’t know who I was praying for, but with the unease in my stomach and the way my nerves seemed to go haywire, I knew it wasn’t Adam either. 




I immediately stood straighter as if I was ready for battle. 


Tyler Kane was walking towards me. It had been four years and three months, give or take, since I had last seen him. 


He didn’t look the same either. He gotten taller in the years since we had last seen each other. Although he wasn’t as muscular as his older brother, I could see he had filled out. The crew neck long sleeve fit him to perfection. His dark hair lacked the spikiness he preferred in high school, and now it was more of a tussled mess. He still had his gauges in, but they looked smaller than how he used to rock them.


It was totally unfair that he looked even better than I remembered.


He put the phone away and slowly made his way up my body. I fought the urge to shift under his gaze. I wore leggings, a cropped cream top, and an oversized cardigan. He raised a brow when he got to my midriff, and I felt my cheeks get hotter. He had been staring at my hip piercings. I instantly crossed my arms, blocking his view. I saw his lip twitch, and then he made his way up my cleavage and, lastly, towards my face. 


For all the changes that I made, it took him about five seconds to recognize me. 


“Astrid.” He breathed my name like it sounded foreign on his lips. I wondered if the betrayal had hurt him an ounce of what it had hurt me.


Tyler Kane used to be my best friend, that’s until he broke the number one rule, and he didn’t have my back. That was not the only thing Tyler broke, but if I kept count of every broken promise, we’d be here until nighttime, and I just wanted to get home.


“You’re back?” he asked.


My eyes refused to meet his. Instead, I looked through my phone while I spoke.


“I need my car towed to eighteen fifty-sev—”


“Are you fucking kidding me?” he muttered.


“I’ll call EZ and pay online.”


“Astrid,” he growled.


“Thanks for your help, Mr. Kane. Please hurry,” I told him, putting my phone in my side pocket. I turned around, intending to make a run for it.  


I never ran. I was a firm believer that there was no need to run when you had legs capable of walking—walking was safe and practical, but I wondered if this warranted as the perfect opportunity to start.


Damn fucking small town.


I barely got three steps in when I was being pulled back. Tyler’s hand went to my shoulder, spinning me so I could face him.


“What the fuck,” I hissed.


“Yeah, what the fuck Astrid? It’s been four years,” he spat right back as if he had a right to get mad at me.


“If you don’t let go of me. I’m calling the cops,” I threatened.


It took four seconds, and then I felt his grip loosen from my arm.


“Astrid, look at me,” his voice was soft—almost pleading. “Beautiful.”


My throat constricted, and I felt rage begin to course through me. He did not go there.




Everyone searches for the meaning of their name, and back then, mine felt like such a joke.  Divinely beautiful was the meaning of mine—I found this out back in a time when I always felt like an ugly duckling.


For the first time in four years and three months, give or take, my eyes locked on Tyler Kane’s.


There were a thousand and one things I could tell you about Tyler. I knew that he slept on the left side of his bed. He would never admit it, but a part of him had always left the right spot open for his momma. Mrs. Kane passed away when Ty was six, and the thing he remembered the most was her putting him to sleep—she was always on the right side of his bed. He hated coffee with a passion. Give him a cold-as-hell coke, and he was good to go. He was the youngest of three siblings, all of them tight even if they gave each other shit every chance they got. Growing up, he had always known he belonged in this town. He wanted to take over his father’s business and make it grow.


Now, looking in his green eyes, I was reminded of the stupid pain I thought I had forgotten.


Out of the thousand and one things I knew of Tyler Kane, there were a thousand more I would never know.


“Listen, Tile Maker—” He snorted, but I ignored it. “—I’ve been driving for hours, and I really want to get home and crash, so take my car home.”


“We’re not playing this game,” he murmured.


“See you never,” I told him as I stepped away, intending to make it home without ever having to cross paths with him again.


That was wishful thinking on my part, really, but a girl could dream.

“Okay, we are doing this,” he mumbled.


I didn’t turn around because we weren’t doing anything. I was already a few steps ahead, not letting myself think about how badly I had just handled the situation. I would just gaslight the shit out of myself because there was no other way to do things.


 You go, queen—pop off.


Three things happened at once. The first, instead of moving forward, I was moving backwards. The second was that I almost had a heart attack, leading me to my third point. Tyler Kane had his arm around my waist.  Every cell in my body was aware because no matter how many years had passed, my muscle memory remembered what it was like to be wrapped in his arms.


My throat constricted, and my heart finally decided it would not go into cardiac arrest, but instead, it would begin to beat out of my chest.


I had forgotten how good it felt to be wrapped in his arms. It was as if everything in the world would be alright. Ty had always been my safe place—until he wasn’t.


“Let go of me.”


I began to thrash around, trying to get out of his hold. That arm that was around me became tighter. His fingers dug into my skin. Out of all the days to wear a crop top, I had to go and pick it up today. The feel of his skin on mine was something I didn’t need a reminder of.  


“No,” he stated as he dragged me all the way to the passenger door of his tow truck.


His hold on me loosened, but not enough to wiggle out and take off running.  


Ty opened the door and looked down at me expectantly. I did what any self-respecting woman would have done, crossing my arms while I glared at him.


If it weren’t for the goosebumps that quickly spread across my arms, I would say I imagined the way Ty’s thumb caressed my hip bone.


“Either you get in, Astrid, or I do it for you,” he firmly told me.


He opened the door wider, and I refused to look up at him as I climbed into the tow truck. This truck was no, and I thanked God I had no nostalgic feelings towards it. Ty took my car keys from me and before locking my car he pulled out the weekender bag I had on my passenger seat.


The ride would be quick, or so I hoped, since Kane’s Autos shop was right at the town entrance. From there, I could beg Ez to take me home. He tolerated me enough to give me a ride.  


“Come on, Astrid. We've been best friends since we were six. We even swapped a handshake full of spit to make it official.”


In my peripheral vision I could see him grinning at the memory while I scrunched my nose at the disgusting things tomboy me did.


Maybe that’s why his betrayal hurt me more than it did him. I considered him my best friend. I was always there for him whenever he needed me, but after the incident, all I could think of was all the time he wasn’t there for me.


Tyler bypassed the auto shop, and I immediately sat straighter.


“Where are you going?”


Since he was essentially kidnapping me, I was forced to look at him. My question made him smile.

“Are you talking to me now?”


My jaw clenched, and I glared at him.


This made him chuckle.


I was so mad at him that I didn’t take in the familiar roads I had missed. People knew what they were talking about when they said there was no place like home.


At that moment, I was made aware of a void I didn’t know I had been carrying; I had been homesick.


My anger for Ty was forgotten for a few minutes as my hand touched the windowpane while I took the familiar path toward my childhood home. The last thing I wanted was to cry in front of Tyler. I could feel the burn in my eyes and quickly blinked away the tears.


I had never wanted to leave—but after everything that had happened, there was no way I could have stayed.


Tyler pulled up to the side of my house.


“Get some rest, Astrid. Come pick up your car tomorrow.”


I only nodded when my “thank you” refused to come out. I stepped out of the car and looked at my parents’ house, dying to run inside and hug my daddy. He always made everything better.


I was about to close the door when Ty spoke.


“I’m real glad you’re back home. I’ve missed my best friend.” 


And that right there was the root of my problem. Why, after years, did everything still hurt? I fell in love with my best friend while he had put me strictly in the friend zone.

bottom of page