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Hopeless: Chapter 5


I don’t know what startles me first. The feeling of an unwanted hand taking a firm grab of my ass or the crash of glass against the floor.

“Remove your fucking hand. Or I’ll do it for you.” Beau’s voice is lower than usual, quieter. More menacing.

I lurch away from the table, shaken, cheeks hot, and realizing shit could be about to go bad. I don’t know who Seth is, but if my brothers are here to wine and dine him, chances are he’s not a good dude.

All it takes is a few long strides for Beau to be towering over Seth. His lean wrist twists in Beau’s impossibly big hand, and a high-pitched squeal spills from his lips.

“Let go!” one of my brothers shouts. I’m not sure which one, because I’m too busy staring down at the heavily corded arm that’s extended across my body like a barrier. Protecting me. And his touch is nothing like the hand that was on me before.

His touch soothes.

A screeching sound draws my attention across the bar as chairs drag across the floor. It’s my last patrons. They abandon their final round of drinks, dropping their cash and scurrying out. Not wanting to get caught in the crossfire of whatever is clearly about to go down.

It hits me as I watch the situation unfold in slow motion that it doesn’t matter if it’s one against three. Beau was special forces.

“Let go?” His tone is smooth and eerily unaffected. This clash should feel chaotic, but Beau is the eye of the storm. “I could drop you with one touch.”

This man, who’s been calmly sitting at my bar night after night, is in his element. His gray eyes, all polished silver, are heated and … excited.

“Make a single move and I’ll snap this fucker’s wrist like a twig.”

Beau has spent years portraying himself as a happy-go-lucky goofball and it’s at this exact moment I realize that was part of his cover. Part of how he protects everyone he loves from the fact this is who he is.

Beau is lethal.

“Hey, hey, hey. Relax, relax.” Aaron’s hands go up like someone is pointing a gun at him. I suppose, given the number of times he’s been arrested, it’s a natural position for him. “It’s all in good fun.”

Beau’s head tilts. His eyes narrow. He looks every bit the predator he is. And when Seth tries to wind up to hit him, Beau twists his hand incrementally, dropping him to his knees with a wail of pain.

Aaron shifts in his seat, licking his lips, eyes volleying between Beau and Seth. Lance is too fucked-up to react to the situation. I can tell by the size of his pupils, by the way he’s slumped against the table like it’s the only thing keeping him upright.

I grew up learning to recognize that posture and then hiding from it.

“My idea of fun is breaking this asshole’s wrist. How about yours?”

“You already broke it!” Seth wails, losing his menacing demeanor from mere seconds ago.

Beau doesn’t even give Seth the gift of his gaze; instead, he keeps his eyes locked on my brothers. “Nah, you’re fine. If I broke it, I would have felt it snap. You’ll hear it when it does.”

“Okay.” Aaron shoots me a scowl before getting up and backing away from Beau. He taps Lance on the shoulder, urging him to move. “We’re gonna head out. Find another bar.”

Beau nods, dipping his chin to an impossibly broad chest, one that barely moves as though he’s stopped breathing altogether. “Perfect. I’ll walk you fellas out.”

And he does. Literally. With Seth’s brutalized wrist in his grip, he walks him out like a dog on a leash. My brothers stay ahead of them, checking back over their shoulders with both fear and rage painting their features.

No one has ever walked in acting like they rule the fucking world and then left looking so disgraced.

Looking so weak.

Beau tosses them out the big, heavy doors, then yanks them shut and flips the deadbolt.

He turns back around, chin tipped up, shoulders pressed back. “You okay?”

I nod, not sure that I am. “That’s going to come back to haunt us,” I say, knowing my brothers and how they work. Flying under their radar has been my general tactic until I save enough money to go somewhere beyond their reach. Then I plan to just—poof—disappear and never speak to them again.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Beau grins as he walks back toward me. “I know, but it was really fun.”

He’s always been handsome, but the swagger right now, the glint in his eye … the way he leapt to my protection. He’s mouth-watering in a way that has heat pooling low in my belly. And for a beat, I let myself stare. I let myself bask in the knowledge he just blew up for me.

To protect me.

Then I glance away and get to cleaning up. Because fantasizing about Beau Eaton isn’t a productive use of my time. Especially when he’s so much older, hot enough to turn every head in this town—to set my skin on fire—and a hell of a lot more experienced than I am.

Which, to be fair, isn’t hard to be.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, I’m too amped up to sleep.

Maybe it was the run-in at the bar. Maybe it’s the fact that every time I close my eyes, I see Beau’s bulging bicep held out across me, and the ripple of his back muscles through the strain of his T-shirt. I feel the heat and strength of his body, thrown up like a guard rail across mine.

Or maybe it’s the loud music blaring all the way from the main house.

Which means my brothers have brought their party home.

I stay away from the main house at the best of times, especially since my dad skipped bail and left town. Now my brothers rule the roost. My dad is a piece of shit, but at least he scared them enough to stay a little in line.

Without him? It’s like trailer park mayhem over there.

So I stay far away, living in a seventeen-foot Boler trailer I bought off the side of the road. It’s more or less an old shoe box, but I’ve put some work into it. What I haven’t put in is any type of cooling system. Which means it’s a sauna right now, even though it’s past two in the morning.

The door clangs shut behind me as I step out of the trailer into the hot, muggy night. The light breeze off the river caresses my skin and I sigh, reveling in the feel. Two suspended iron steps bow under my weight as I make my way down them. My flip-flops make that obnoxious slapping noise as I trudge across the grass toward the river.

The river that’s just beyond the barbwire fence. On Eaton land.

Not that the fence has ever stopped me. In the dead of night, it’s always peaceful and private.

I press down on the top wire, avoiding the barbs, and swing a leg over, clearing the line that separates my family land from Beau’s. I know I’m technically trespassing, but I also know that every single Eaton has been nothing but nice to me, even when they’ve had no reason to be.

Within a few moments, I’m at the top of the embankment, where I kick my shoes off and gingerly head down the steep path sideways. It’s easier barefoot. I learned the hard way that flip-flops just twist and turn and trip me up, and the bite of the occasional pebble on the bottoms of my feet doesn’t bother me all that much.

I hobble across the wobbly river rocks, shed my clothes, and slip into the darkened water, desperate to cool down. Is it the smartest thing that I do? Probably not. But it thrills me and soothes me all at once. Knowing I’m on a different piece of land than my brothers brings me an odd sort of peace.

“Hooo.” The mountain water is cold enough to suck the air right out of my lungs, and I blow out a breath as my feet scrape across the rocky bottom of the riverbed, carrying me further into the gentle flow.

The chilly water whips around every curve of my body. In the spring, the current can become much stronger, but by this point in the summer, it meanders lazily through the town before joining up with the Elbow River.

My arms cut through the water, the smell of silt and pine wafting up around me. That fresh, wet rock scent almost overpowers it all.

Immediately, my body temperature drops, and the internal alarm that can make you panicky when you’re overheated stops beeping at me.

After a busy night, it doesn’t matter if I’m checked out and lying in my quiet trailer. I dream about bartending. Like I’m stuck on some sort of fucking infinite loop.

Bar, drink, till.

Bar, drink, till.

Bar, drink, till.

My body knows the motions and the feelings and the pattern so damn well that I can’t escape it.

The river is my reset.

My palm wraps around an offshoot attached to the large log that lies halfway across the river. I grip it and let my body flow back with the icy water.

When I hear the crunching of shoes on pebbles coming from the opposite side of the river, I freeze. I’m fairly hidden, but my heart thunders in my chest at the prospect of being caught. Alone, and in the dark.

I’ve never encountered a single person down here, so, of course, it happens on a night when I’m already jumpy thanks to my shitty brothers.

The world is silent for a few beats as I try to hold my breath. It’s just the soft rush of cool water and the echo of crickets rubbing their legs together.

“Who the fuck is in my river?”

Relief courses through me, and I smile.

Sure, the raspy tone is pissed off, all gravel and steel.

But it’s the voice I’ve come to associate with safety.

And if I had to get caught trespassing naked in a river, I’m glad Beau Eaton is the one to catch me.


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