CALEB MARTIN LEANED against the Fresco Club bar, watching as Shay White celebrated being old enough as of today to dance the night away at the over-eighteen hot spot. Trying his best not to notice the way her red, silky dress accented her tiny waist and each sultry move of her slender but curvy hips. Oh, yeah, he thought, watching her dance with some guy from her school, it hugged those hips and her heart-shaped backside in a far too seductive way. And when said “boy” slid his hand to her waist and sidled up close to her, Caleb tightened his hand on the beer he held until he thought he heard glass crack.
“Should I go take care of that, or do you want to?” asked Kent White, Shay’s big brother and Caleb’s best friend since grade school. The fast pop tune changed to a slow, sultry tune, and the boy’s hand slipped to Shay’s backside.
Kent set his beer down so hard it splattered. “Oh, hell, no.” He charged toward the dance floor, and silently, Caleb cheered him onward, watching as Shay flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder and shoved her hands onto her hips to square off with Kent.
Caleb had wanted that hand off Shay’s butt and now it was, thankfully—and if he was honest with himself, it wasn’t brotherly protectiveness fueling that desire when it should have been. After all, the Whites had taken Caleb in six years before, and treated him like family after he’d lost both his parents in close progression at the ripe young age of fifteen. He felt like family, too. Heck, in a family filled with fair hair and eyes, he even looked like family with his sandy brown hair and light green eyes.
But for the past two years, since about the time Shay had turned sixteen, she’d been flirting with him. Even back then, he’d been smart enough to know nineteen was too old for a sixteen-year-old, regardless of the fact that she was like a sister to him. And so, Caleb had quickly, and frequently, discouraged her advances.
Tonight though, her teasing looks and purposeful smiles, when combined with that dress—that sexy-as-hell dress—had the man in him standing at attention. Had him wondering what she would taste like, what she would feel like in his arms.
As if she sensed what Caleb was thinking, her gaze whipped to him, and he felt that gaze like a punch right in the groin. Oh, yeah, he would have been a fool to believe he was going to resist Shay when she joined him at the University of Texas next month, and one thing Caleb Martin was not—was a fool. Thus why he’d made a long-debated decision official. He was leaving in a week. And not to head back to campus. She just didn’t know it yet. She was the only one who didn’t know. He’d sworn the family to secrecy until after she’d celebrated her birthday. He’d just found out his enlistment orders and he didn’t want anything to ruin her party, or the bond he had with her or the family. And the temptation that was Shay White was a one-way ticket in that direction and he knew it. He had to say goodbye.
Emotion welled in his chest, and he tore his gaze from hers. With a scrub of his face, Caleb sat his beer down and headed to the bathroom. Tomorrow he became a soldier, exactly like his pops, who’d died a hero saving another soldier’s life. It was the right decision for Caleb, one that had called to him for a good while, and he was finally answering.
It was several minutes later, when he exited the bathroom into the tiny hall, his cowboy boots scraping the wooden floor, that he found Shay waiting for him.
“The Army?” Shay demanded, waiting for him in the narrow hallway. “When were you going to tell me?”
“Thanks, Kent,” he mumbled under his breath. “I was going to tell you, Shay. Just not on your birthday, and Kent knew that.”
“Don’t,” she said, and flung herself into his arms, all soft and warm and emotional. “Don’t leave.” Her chin tilted upward, her eyes filled with tears. “I can’t bear the idea of something happening to you.”
More of that damnable emotion welled in his chest. “Nothing is going to happen to me,” he promised.
“Like nothing happened to your father?” she said. “No. I won’t let you go. I…” She pushed to her toes and pressed her lips to his.
Caleb froze for an instant, but then that emotion, that deep burn he’d had for her, rose to the surface. She was right. His father had died in war. Hell, his mother had died of a heart attack. He could die, too. Once he left, he might well never come back, and he wasn’t going to die with any regrets. And never kissing her would be a regret.
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