“Well?” Miranda asked. My gaze was still locked with Chloe’s. She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, as if to silently ask me if everything was okay.

“Sorry, Miranda. Like I told you that day in class, I’m not interested.”

She sighed in frustration. “Listen, Rip. You either go public with this weird, twisted relationship with Chloe, or everyone, including me, are just going to assume you’re gay.”

I looked at her and laughed. “Did you ever think for one minute that maybe I’m not interested in anyone here in Oak Springs, Miranda? Hell, half of y’all have slept with most of the guys in town, and the other half have slept with guys from other schools. If I’m interested in taking anyone out, I will.”

Her mouth dropped open and her cheeks flamed up like the bonfire. “You’re a real asshole, do you know that?”

“And yet you keep coming back around like a bee to honey. Asshole, huh? I’ve been told that once or twice.”

Miranda folded her arms and shook her head. “You’re a real prick. Whatever. It’s your loss.”

“And somehow I’ll learn to live with it.” God, she forced me be rude on New Year’s Eve. What a way to start off the new year.

She stormed off to stand with her friends. Most of them were cheerleaders. Even though Chloe and Alyssa were cheerleaders, too, neither of them had gotten sucked into that group of bitches. I was glad; everyone standing in that circle was fake, but Chloe and Alyssa weren’t.

“Looks like you pissed off one of the Barbie dolls,” Mike said with a chuckle as he punched me in the shoulder.

“Yeah, they don’t like being turned down…repeatedly,” I replied to my best friend. Well, best friend after Chloe. Mike had no issues coming in second to Chloe.

“Alyssa and I are thinking of going camping next week for a few days with a few other people. You and Chloe want to come?”

I shrugged. “Maybe. I need to check with Jonathon. He might need me to help him build some cabinets.”

Chloe and Alyssa walked up to us, lost in conversation.

“I wonder if we can make it happen?” Alyssa said as they came to a stop in front of us.

“Make what happen?” Mike asked.

“Chloe wants to study abroad in France. I’m wondering if we can both do that at the same time.”

“That would be fun,” I said.

With a nod, Chloe replied, “It would be.”

“Maybe some French guy will sweep you off your feet, Chloe, while you’re over there,” Alyssa said.

Chloe giggled. “Maybe.”

“Oh, it’s a shame they stopped doing the love locks on the bridge in Paris. How romantic would that have been?” Alyssa was in her own little world now, and it was starting to piss me off.

Jealousy mixed with rage and raced through my veins. I looked away, not even wanting to think what college was going to be like. Once Chloe was able to get away from this small town, would some guy catch her eye? Of course. The thought made me feel sick.

“I was telling Rip it might be fun to go camping next week.”

Alyssa jumped and clapped her hands. “Oh, that would be fun. Chloe, can you go?”

“I can’t next week. I’m helping my father and Uncle Trevor on the ranch. Daddy wants me to start taking on a bigger role. The plan is for me to work there each summer, starting when I graduate from high school.”

A part of me was relieved Chloe wouldn’t be going camping. It was selfish as hell, but the thought of her hanging out with some of these guys, yeah, it made my blood boil.

“Hard to believe they’re grooming you to take it over some day,” Mike stated.

“They know how much I love it. I mean, I’ll do the business side of things, and Gage will handle the daily running of the ranch once he gets his degree and Uncle Trevor steps back some. That won’t be for years, though. He loves that place too much to not stay involved.”

I smiled. Chloe’s father and her uncles Mitch, Trevor, and Wade, lived for that cattle ranch. Her other two uncles, Cord and Tripp, worked the ranch every now and then, but Cord owned a local bar on the square called Cord’s Place, and Tripp was a lawyer, married to Harley, the town vet.

“Yeah, that is years down the road. Gage is still in middle school,” I said.

Chloe laughed. “Yes, I know. According to him, he’s not going to college. Everything he needs to learn he can learn from my uncles, or my dad.”

“He’s probably right,” I said.

Glancing at the ground, Chloe nodded. “I’m worried he’s going to be lost when I leave, though.”

I reached for her hand and squeezed it. She had no idea how lost I’d be when she left, too.

“He’s gonna be fine, Chloe. We’ll all be fine.”

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