Beneath the Stars (Falling Stars #4) by A.L. Jackson



Prologue





Rhys





Six Months Earlier


Have you ever experienced a moment in your life that should have been commonplace?

Seemingly inconsequential?

No big deal?

Yet you couldn’t shake the feelin’ that it might change everything? That you were on some path you shouldn’t have been traveling, but you couldn’t stop yourself from doing it, anyway?

I guessed that was the way I was feeling when I sat tucked into a booth at the back of the rowdy, dank bar in my hometown of Dalton, South Carolina, sipping at a beer while I watched Maggie Fitzgerald, the baby sister of one of my closest friends, guzzle the last dregs of her margarita from the straw pursed between her lips.

The girl grinned around it in some kind of drunken ecstasy while I tried to pretend like I didn’t notice how fuckin’ gorgeous she was.

“Ahh, look at you, little miss drunkey drunk. You better watch yourself there, sweetness. You’re looking way too happy right about now,” I told her, voice rough with the tease and the assault of lust that took me over just looking at her. “Don’t want to have to carry you out of here.”

“Mmhmmmm…” Maggie hummed around the straw, barely loud enough that I could hear over the din. “I think I’m in love.”

I itched in my seat, dying to reach out and touch a girl who was so off-limits that just sitting there felt like committing a mortal sin.

See, I wasn’t exactly the type who got an A+ for good behavior.

I loved playing with fire.

But this?

It was different.

This was dancing into treachery. Treading into perilous waters.

It wasn’t like we were doin’ anything illegal.

Okay, at least we hadn’t been until the girl had gotten up to go to the restroom and had somehow managed to return with a full pitcher of margarita and a five-thousand-watt smile on her face.

Way too pleased with herself for being able to swindle some unknowing sucker into buying it for her, but not yet quite as pleased as she was right then.

She groaned around the straw as she slurped up the last bit. “Oh my goodness …why does this taste so good? This is the nectar of the gods,” she sang-slurred as she fumbled to pour the last of the pitcher into her glass.

I stretched my arms out on the back of the booth and pointed at her where she sat across from me. “Come tomorrow mornin’, you’re gonna realize tequila is actually the devil’s poison. Pretty sure you’re gonna be rockin’ a hangover like nobody’s business.”

“Will you hold my hair if I get sick?” She seemed way too eager by the prospect.

A rough chuckle climbed my throat. “You’re really tryin’ to get me in hot water, aren’t you, Mag Pie? Your brother finds out where you’re at tonight, and he’s gonna chop off my dick, and then what am I supposed to do with my life?”

I tried not to grin at the way her eyes bugged out when I brought attention to my cock.

“That would be bad,” she whispered the scandal before her expression shifted to something fierce. “But don’t you think it’s time I started thinking for myself? Started doing what I want to do?”

I knew Royce, Maggie’s older brother, wanted to keep her in a gilded cage, especially in light of the horrible shit that had gone down in her life.

On some level, I got it. I had this crazy need to protect her, too.

The other half of me?

He wanted to open the latch and set her free.

There was no question this girl was itchin’ to fly. Spread her wings, step off the ledge, and soar.

My gaze devoured her where she sat across the table.

Black waves cascaded over her delicate shoulders and ran like a river of seduction down her back.

Her charcoal eyes were big and round, the unique color like the dusting of a pencil across a page, soft and shadowed and somehow piercing at the same damned time.

Maggie Fitzgerald always looked both curious and shy.

But the thing that stood out most about her was she seemed furiously real, which considering I was nothing but a sham and a fake, only amplified the fact that I most definitely shouldn’t be there.

Her nose was sharp, almost as sharp as the defined angle of her jaw, but her cheeks were somehow full and forever pinked, the lips of her sweet mouth three shades darker and verging on red.

There was a tiny dimple in her left cheek that had already driven me halfway to mad.

She was like looking at something magical.