Behind Tate, I could see my mom crossing over from the sidewalk.

She looked right as rain in her light pink cotton skirt and sleeveless white blouse. Her hair hung down, though, in loose waves, sprayed to perfection.

My stomach twisted for the first time in days, and I met her in the middle of the quiet street. She’d been agreeable when I was over to the house, but looking at her pressed clothes and perfect face, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t want her embarrassing me or being cruel to Jax.

“Is everything okay?” I asked, guarded.

Her eyes fell, and her breathing turned ragged. “Yes, everything is fine. I just …” She reached into the shopping bag she held by the handles and pulled out an envelope.

“The funds from your college account.” She handed the envelope to me, her hand shaking. “It’s a cashier’s check, so keep it safe.”

My college money? I swallowed, taking the envelope and for some reason feeling that I wanted to either cry or throw it back in her face.

She narrowed her eyes, still looking down as her lips trembled. “And, um …” She licked her lips. “I was at the salon yesterday,” she said, reaching nervously into the bag. “I got you this shampoo for sun-damaged hair and sunscreen and some lip balm, and I didn’t know if you’d be going out for the evening on your trip, but if you wanted … maybe some hair products or, um … makeup, I can … I can send you—”

“Mother.” I touched her arm, leaning in. “This is fine. Thank you,” I said, seeing her shoulders relax.

“I’ll see you in a few weeks.” I took the bag.

She glanced up, straightening her shoulders and face. “Jaxon.” She nodded somewhat kindly.

I looked to my side, seeing Jax there.

“Mrs. Carter.” His deep voice sounded like a warning as he put his arm around me. I twisted my lips to hide my smile. I doubted Jax would ever call my mom anything other than “Mrs. Carter.”

Her timid eyes fell back to mine, and she gave a half smile before turning and walking away. I still didn’t know what to think. Maybe she was up to something. Maybe I should stay home and get her to a doctor.

Or maybe I was finally happy, and I just had to go with it.

Jax pulled me in. “Are you ready?” he taunted. “Hostels and roughing it?”

“Are you?” I challenged, smiling up at him. “Do they have Wi-Fi on these multiday hikes and rafting trip you’ve signed us up for?”

He turned me around, pulling me into his chest. “No showers. No beds.”

“And no bikini,” I singsonged.

His eyes widened, and I nodded smugly. “Yep. I didn’t pack it.”

“What if you decide you want it?”

I wiggled my eyebrows. “That’s part of the excitement.”

He picked me up, staring up into my eyes as he carried us to Jared’s car. “You’re a wild little thing—you know that?”

I pressed my lips to his forehead, whispering, “Don’t worry. You can keep up.”

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