One Snowy Night (Heartbreaker Bay #2.5)(9)

by Jill Shalvis

He was waiting on an answer. But there was no way she would admit the truth to him, that she felt compelled to get home with her stepdad’s gift for her mom by dawn when they opened presents or she wouldn’t be forgiven. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said. “It’s not a story I’m willing to tell no matter how much time we have.”

“Because it makes you cry?” he asked.

“I wasn’t crying,” she said. “I don’t cry.”

He arched a brow her way. “Ever?”

“Ever.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why, do you?”

“Sure,” he said with an easy shrug of his wide shoulders.

Sure. Like it was the most natural thing in the world to feel so strongly about something that it made you cry. She let out a low, disbelieving laugh. “When?” she asked. “When was the last time you cried?”

 Max appeared to give this some serious thought. “When I watched The Good Dinosaur with my niece last month,” he said. “Bawled like a baby.” He smiled. “She did too.”

Huh. Maybe he was human after all. “Was it the scene where Disney slayed us all through the heart by killing the dad?” she asked. “Or when Spot showed us how he lost his family?”

“Neither,” he said. “It happened when my niece ate my ice cream.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back to the window.

“Hey,” he said, “it was traumatic.”

She snorted. “Do you even know the definition of traumatic?”

He slid her a look and then gave his attention back to the road, even though they were at a dead stop. “I do,” he said.

“Really? You of the perfect family and college basketball scholarship to Michigan State and—­”

His head whipped back to hers, his expression dark and incredulous.

Accusatory.

“You know what that thing with Cindy cost me,” he finally said. “And I’m over it, long over it, but you can add it to the list of things we’re not discussing. Not that and not your part in it, because back then I had no choice but to believe you were the kind of person willing to hurt whoever you had to in order to win. I can concede that maybe you’ve changed, but history can’t be rewritten.”

She stared at him, stunned. Cindy had been a classmate who’d taken great pleasure in being as cruel and horrible to Rory as possible. She’d been popular, a great athlete, a great student, and the daughter of the basketball coach. Every guy in the school had crushed on her and she could’ve had any one of them.

So of course she’d taken the only guy Rory had ever wanted.

Max.

Cindy had been one of those sweet on the outside, toxic on the inside ­people who were so scary to Rory. It’d been Cindy who in their junior year had lied to their teacher and gotten Rory suspended for cheating when it had been Cindy who’d cheated. Then she’d stolen Rory’s clothes from her locker during PE class and had sneakily taken a pic of Rory in her underwear. Cindy had texted it to everyone in school—­from Rory’s own phone. Just remembering it had her cheeks heating. Her mom and stepdad had been furious at her for all of it, the supposed cheating and the picture. Rory had been devastated and needing sympathy on that in a very bad way, but instead they’d grounded her because they’d actually believed she’d sent that pic herself.

When someone had begun letting themselves into the coach’s office to have sex, Cindy started a rumor that it was Rory, all to deflect blame from herself. After all, it wouldn’t look good for the sweet, wonderful, lovable coach’s daughter to be caught doing it in daddy’s office.

Facing expulsion only a week before finals, Rory had finally resorted to taping Cindy leaving her dad’s office with a guy in hand. The guy had been in shadow, but there’d been no doubt, at least to her, that it’d been Max.

Yeah, her bad, but she’d had to prove herself innocent. And besides, no one else had seemed to know it was him so she had no idea why he was so pissed. She would ask him but the truth was that she was embarrassed. Deeply embarrassed. She wasn’t proud of what she’d done. In her mind, the minute she’d turned the tape into the school proving she hadn’t been the one breaking into the coach’s office, she’d gone from being The Bullied to The Bullier, and she’d hated herself for that.

So much so that she’d left town.

She’d been planning on leaving for a long time anyway. With her mom remarried and having three new kids, it’d been one less mouth to feed, so she’d taken a bus to San Francisco.

Relatively speaking, she’d been one of the lucky runaways. After an admittedly very rough start, she’d taken a part-­time job at South Bark, where Willa had tucked her under her wing, teaching her the business and making her take her GED, and in the process had given her back a life that could so easily have gone wrong.

In any case, she was no longer that same Rory she’d once been. When Max had started working in the same building as her last year, she’d been so nervous he’d want to talk about that time in their lives, the time she’d been so very miserable and unhappy.

She had been so relieved when he hadn’t seemed to want to talk at all.

But now she realized they should have. Because he was over there on his side of the truck emitting animosity in waves and insinuating that she’d cost him something big.

Not that he appeared at all interested in enlightening her on what.

Fine. She could read between the lines somewhat and she’d get to the bottom of this in her usual way—­on her own. For now, he’d turned off the engine to preserve gas, and now it was cold and quickly getting colder. She pulled a blanket from her bag.

He snorted but when she looked at him, he was staring out the windshield, jaw tight, eyes hard, one hand draped over the wheel, the other fisted on a thigh. She figured he was made of stone but she lifted up one end of her blanket in offer. “Cold?” she asked.

“No.”

Sensing the thick tension, Carl whined softly.

Rory reached out to test-­touch Max’s hand.

Cold.

“Seriously?” she asked him and spread half the blanket over his legs.

He didn’t help her but when she was finished, she found him staring at her like she was a puzzle and he was missing half the pieces.