I felt like a fool. “Why wouldn’t it ever happen?”

He shrugged. “She’s not my type. Listen, I still have that Christmas present for you. Want it now?”

I felt my cheeks go hot.

“If you want to give it to me now.”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out an envelope. When he handed it to me, I felt giddy and warm inside, and that was before I even knew what the precious container held.

“What is this?” I asked.

“Open it and see.”

I still felt foolish for how I had acted earlier, but I pushed it aside, and opened the envelope. I stared down at two tickets as I slowly pulled them out. Then my eyes jumped up to meet his.

“Rip, these are tickets to see Tartuffe in Austin.”

He flashed me a bright smile. “In French.”

Staring back down at the tickets, I covered my mouth.

“I wish I could take you to see a play in France, but I’m little short on cash right now, saving up for the future and all.”

My gaze jerked back up to him. “This is… Thank you, Rip.”

I threw myself at him, and he wrapped me in his arms.

“Has your day gotten better, Chloe Cat?” he whispered against my ear.

“So much better.”

“I hate seeing you upset.”

Squeezing my eyes shut to hold back my tears, I whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Rip continued to hold onto me in the middle of the parking lot of our high school. I didn’t want him to let me go. I wanted to confess to him right then and there that I wanted more than our friendship. I wanted him.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my best friend.”

My smile faded briefly before I withdrew. Maybe that was all I truly was to Rip. His best friend. I wasn’t ready to accept that role in his life, though. My heart was still holding out hope for something more.

“It’s on Christmas Eve! How exciting,” I said.

“I’ve got the whole thing planned and have already asked your folks if we can stay in Austin for the night. They agreed because Mike and Alyssa are going, too. The girls can stay in one room and boys in another. I gave your father my word y’all would be okay and nothing inappropriate would go on.”

I smiled. “Sounds amazing.”

Hugging him once more, I kissed him on the cheek.

“I think this is the best present I’ve ever gotten besides Patches.”

Rip laughed. “Damn, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top Patches.”

“No, I don’t think so.” I wanted to add, Unless the present of your heart was finally mine, but I kept that locked deep inside.

“Come on. Let’s head on over to Lily’s Place and grab a few shakes and split a piece of cheesecake. I’m starving.”

With a nod, I replied, “I’ll meet you over there.”

As I walked to my car, clutching my present to my chest, I realized now we were both skipping class. With a smile on my face, I slipped into the car and started it.

All thoughts of how silly I’d acted were gone, and I was looking forward to hanging out with Rip alone.

Rip

I SAT ON the bed of my truck and watched as everyone gathered around the massive bonfire. It had become a tradition: every year on New Year’s Eve, we lit a bonfire at the Parker Ranch and celebrated. Chloe’s grandparents were pretty chill about it. They had one rule—no alcohol—and pretty much everyone respected it. A few jerks would try to take some out to pass around, but Chloe wouldn’t have it. More than once I’d seen her toss a bottle or two into the bonfire, causing it to ignite even higher, usually making everyone cheer.

“How was the play?”

Turning, I saw Miranda walking over to me. Good Lord. Why can’t this girl take a hint?

“It was great. Chloe enjoyed it, so that’s all that matters.”

She laughed.

“Oh, yes. Chloe. You know everyone thinks you two have a friends-with-benefits thing going on.”

“I don’t really care what everyone thinks.” I just wanted Miranda to go away, but I didn’t want to get rude to accomplish that.

She shrugged. “Maybe not. But you know how people talk and how twisted stories can become. What are you doing tomorrow night? Maybe you and I could hang out.”

“I’ve got plans.”

“With Chloe?”

Squinting at her, I replied, “No, with my father. We’re going hunting.”

“What about when you get back?”

I felt Chloe’s stare. From across the flames of the bonfire, I turned and looked directly at her. She was standing next to Alyssa and Lucy. I couldn’t help but remember how she had reacted that day last month when she thought something was going on with Miranda and me. I had replayed it over and over in my head. Had she been jealous, or was she really just having a bad day?

God, women were frustrating as hell. A part of me wanted to admit to her how I felt, but I wasn’t sure if she felt the same. And what if she did and things didn’t work out? I’d lose my best friend and I couldn’t gamble that.

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