43. A Few Good Men

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Jake came that night

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Jake came that night. No, not like that.

I had tried to wait up for him, but the psychological stress of the auction followed by two hours of stall mucking had wiped me clean out. I'd had strange dreams too, dreams of my teeth crumbling out of my mouth, one by one. With frantic fingers, I'd scrambled to piece them together and press them back into my gums, praying that they'd hold. In the end, Beth had saved me by kicking me awake with her foot.

"Jake's outside," she'd mumbled, still half asleep. "What the hell? Why doesn't he just text you himself?"

Sitting up, I took a quick inventory of my teeth with my tongue and sighed in relief. "He doesn't have my number. Long story."

Beth rolled over, giving me her back. "Not interested. Be back in twenty or I'm coming after you."

Jake stood in the middle of the crossroads that that separated the barns from each other. He had his back to me. His shoulders were stiff, his arms rigid by his side. With his right hand, he flicked his lighter on and off, once every five seconds.

And I knew.

He's gone.

Well, this had to set a record somewhere- I was about to be broken up with without even getting together in the first place.

It didn't take a genius to guesstimate what had happened after the auction. Miguel had cornered Jake and had successfully talked him down. I mean, if that whole shit show with Gunnar wasn't a textbook demonstration of trouble brewing on the horizon, I didn't know what was.

Jake saw it now.

And honestly, I couldn't blame either of them. If it were me or mine, I would've done the same.

Staying in the shadows, I studied him for a little while.

There was something flighty about Jake. Not just now, under these circumstances, but always. No, flighty wasn't the right word. It wasn't that he was fickle or false, but maybe something like mercurial. He was always fluid and in motion, if not in his body, then in his mind. Ever changing, but somehow always true. A girl could spend a lifetime chasing after a boy like that.

Let him go.

It was unfair to constantly compare him to Peyton, but Peyton was my yardstick, always had been. Peyton was staid. Solid as oak with very little surprises, but in the best way possible. Peyton took responsibility for his actions, owned up to his mistakes. Alice's recent revelations on his extracurricular activities had him stumbling on his pedestal, but I still knew the core of him. Peyton was steadfast. Peyton was good. Peyton was the paragon of male virtue.

And outside of fantasy, money talked. No, money ruled. In the eyes of the world, including Gunnar's, I was now under the protection of Peyton's money and all the power it brought. Mess with me, answer to him, wasn't that the message? It didn't matter how many screws were missing in Gunnar Keith's head, no one was going up against someone who can nonchalantly drop a million dollars just like that. I should be rolling over and thanking my lucky stars. It certainly would be the smartest thing to do for everyone involved.

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