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Worth Every Risk by Laine, Terri E., Hargrove, A.M. (1)

One

Andi—Where It All Began

My brother Mark waltzes into the kitchen to grab a milk carton, drinking straight from it. Normally, I would have called him out on it. Today, I try my best to ignore him and continue to stare at the paper in front of me like holes would appear.

“What’s got you pissed off?” he asks. When I don’t answer, his tone changes. “What’s his name so I can kill him?”

I briefly meet his eyes, noticing he’s dead serious, which shouldn’t surprise me. Any guy who glances my way gets one warning that keeps him at a distance … as if I’m interested in any relationship with anyone. It might have been funny if he’d given me that look any other day but today. At my continued silence, he walks around to look over my shoulder. I’m not fast enough to close my book and cover the blank black and white paper-sized map of the continents in front of me.

“Oh, that.” He chuckles. “They still make you guys do that?”

I roll my eyes. He thinks he’s so mature since he’s in college and I’m only in high school.

“It’s no big deal. Mom’s family is from Great Britain and Dad’s …” He trails off, beginning to get why this stupid project has me staring into space.

I push back, the chair screeching over the floor. Then I’m out of it, because I don’t want him to see me cry about being adopted as a baby. I know it’s selfish of me wanting to know who my biological parents are.

He calls my name, but I’m running out the back door, needing air. I can’t seem to catch my breath or see due to the tears blurring my vision. I run on instinct until my legs give out. My destination might not have been predetermined, but after I wipe my face, I’m not surprised to see where I’ve ended up. A swing dangles from a tree branch, mocking me, and I force myself to make the few extra steps to slump into it.

The sky is dark with clouds and it will be a long, wet walk home if I can’t build up the energy to run back the way I came.

I close my eyes, wishing I’d gone to my room instead and had hidden under the covers. Then I could sleep away the ache in my chest.

“Hey.”

I recognize the voice of the only other person outside of my family I’m connected with and snap my eyes open. Why does he have to be the most beautiful boy in school? All the girls think so. Even though I pretend not to notice, I see him, and not in a brotherly way. But it doesn’t matter. He’s also the only boy completely off-limits to me.

“Hey,” I say, feeling stupid for coming to his house.

He moves on silent feet to stand before me and remove strands of hair stuck to my tear-streaked face.

“What’s wrong?”

There’s something so fundamentally different in the way he asks versus my brother. Even though we’ve only ever just been friends, I’ve never had a lot of those.

It’s so hard to open up to anyone when you feel like leftover garbage so easily tossed away. Without answers as to why my real parents abandoned me, that’s how I feel.

I shake my head. “It’s nothing.”

His fingers lightly trace my face from my cheek to reach my chin before gently lifting it so that I can’t ignore his gorgeous eyes.

“You know I can keep a secret,” he whispers, as if anyone were close. Though no one is.

I do know. Our brothers had sworn us to secrecy more than a few times over the years, like when they’d left us in kiddie movies to go hook up with their girlfriends in another one.

“Tell me,” he says.

I’m not sure if it’s something about him or the sheer need to get it off my chest, but I blurt out an answer.

“It’s that stupid project.”

I’ve held in my feelings for so long about that hole deep inside me, any longer and I might have imploded.

He looks puzzled for a second until he pieces it together, nodding his head as he speaks.

“The world history project, where we have to try to show as far back as we can how our ancestry down to our parents ended up here in Waynesville?”

I roll my eyes. “It’s stupid.”

My parents haven’t advertised that I’m adopted, though they never kept it a secret from me. I could easily use Mom and Dad’s family tree to do it. But as much as I hate to feel this way, I want to know who my birth parents are and why they gave me up. I haven’t told Mom and Dad this because I don’t want to hurt them. It’s not like I don’t love them. I do. But …

“I can help you; maybe—”

I shake my head and snap out the next words. “Why should I even care who they are when they obviously didn’t care enough about me?”

My rant surprises us both because we stare at each other for long seconds.

“I care,” he says so softly I’m not sure I heard him correctly.

Then he bends down, and I let out a little gasp when his lips connect with mine. Because my mouth is still parted, his tongue easily sweeps inside. For the second time today, I’m at a loss for oxygen. I’ve never been kissed. Either guys don’t think I’m pretty enough or my brother has left a lasting impression in our town that I’m off-limits.

I’m like a statue, still in shock, when he pulls back.

“I’m sorry,” he rushes to say.

It shouldn’t hurt, but it does. Why is he apologizing? Does he regret kissing me?

“Wait, no, I’m not sorry unless you are. Are you?” he quickly asks.

Chase can have any girl he wants, so I let out a giggle at him fumbling over his words. I cover my mouth when he looks confused.

“What’s funny?” he asks.

He removes my hand, and of course I blurt out the first thing that pops in my head, which isn’t remotely funny. But then maybe he’s short-circuited my brain.

“My brother is going to kill you.”

He scrubs a hand over his head. “True, then my brother will resurrect me and kill me again.”

I watch him pace as I puzzle the consequences of our actions. He abruptly stops and faces me.

“I don’t care. You’re worth it.”

He says the words casually without any clue how much they mean to me. And he’s never lied to me before, so I believe him.

“You’re my best friend,” I say.

And my only true one. How could I risk that?

“I want to be more and everyone to know it.”

I shake my head adamantly. “If we do this, we can’t tell anyone.”

I’m not ashamed of him. In fact, I’d be the proudest girl in school for everyone to know he’s mine.

He stops his forward progress as if he’d planned to kiss me again to seal the deal and realized something.

“Why not?” he asks.

I have two good answers for him.

“One, I don’t want you to die.” He shrugs that off. “Two, if our parents get wind that we have feelings for each other outside of friendship, we will never get another moment alone.”

The truth of my statement dawns on him. Our families spend a lot of time together.

“Fine, a secret. But no other guys. It’s just you and me from now on.”

Suddenly, the project is forgotten and I grin. “And no other girls,” I say saucily.

“That’s a given.”

Then he’s leading me behind the old barn. Every cell of my body is on heightened alert. I can hardly believe Chase is kissing me like I’ve imagined a hundred times over. I want to pinch myself to check that it’s real this time.

But his lips are there, softer than I’ve imagined, and I gasp because I can’t breathe. His tongue slips into my mouth and I want to melt. This is so much better than any fantasy I’ve ever had. He tastes vaguely of mint. I can’t think beyond trying to mark this memory forever.

Chase Wilde is mine. What will the girls think? But no one can know if I want to keep him. So this—us—will just be another secret I hold close, which I’m good at.

Though I trust him with all of my heart, I hope he doesn’t flake out on me. I’m putting our friendship on the line, which means more to me than anything else. He’s my best friend. I don’t want to lose that. But this feels like so much more. It feels right. And he’s worth the risk.