Ginger's Heart - Katy Regnery


Chapter 1

~ Ginger ~

“Ginger, jump to me!” yelled fifteen-year-old Josiah Woodman, shoving a hand through his dirty-blond mop of hair. Gold as wheat in the late-afternoon sunlight, it was a perfect match to the pieces of straw that fell from the hayloft opening where she stood staring down at them.

Beside him, Cain Wolfram elbowed his cousin in the side as he grinned up at her. “Now, Miss Virginia, you ignore ole Woodman here and you jump to me, baby.”

Bae-bee. The confident new twang in his voice made her twelve-year-old heart clutch and clamor. His black hair was almost blue, backlit by the sun, and his smile was as devilish as ever.

They were cousins, born to identical twin sisters not a week apart, and on account of their last names both starting with W, the whole town of Apple Valley, Kentucky, called them Double Dub or the Dub Twins. Well, the whole town except for Ginger. Because if anyone else knew Woodman and Cain as well as she did, they’d know that the cousins were nothing alike.

“Be smart, Gin,” said Woodman, his voice low and earnest, his moss-green eyes beseeching her as he beckoned her to come with a twitch of his callused fingers.

“You think your scrawny arms gonna catch her?” asked Cain, snorting.

He shucked off his jean jacket and threw it on a pile of hay outside the barn door, revealing a Harley-Davidson T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. His upper arms were well defined, thicker muscles as new as his twang, and Ginger eyed them greedily. He’d worked in her father’s barn for as long as she could remember, but just this past fall she’d noticed what every other girl in Apple Valley had noticed too: Cain Wolfram was filling out.

His blue eyes sparkled. “Jump to me, sweet thing.”

Only it sounded like “sweet thang,” and she gasped lightly, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth. Her legs felt a little like jelly as his eyebrows jerked up a fraction of an inch flirtatiously.

“Gin,” said Woodman, his familiar voice grounded and certain. Her eyes slid from Cain’s dark beauty to Woodman’s golden-boy handsomeness. “Come on, now.”

Cain looked askance at Woodman, his dimples caving his cheeks in a smirk that Woodman didn’t see. He was too focused on Ginger, never taking his eyes off her, not allowing anything to distract him from her.

But from two stories higher, Ginger could see them both perfectly, and when Cain fixed his eyes back on her, her belly swarmed with butterflies. He licked his lips and winked.

“Jump to the one you love the most, darlin’.”

Cain, Cain, Cain.

He had always played dirty.

“Dang it, Cain!” she cried, stomping her foot on the wooden plank and frowning at him. “Now you went’n wrecked it!”

“What’d I do?” he asked, his arms open, his eyes wide, the very picture of surprised contrition.

“You know I can’t choose between y’all. Not like that. That’s not how it works!”

“Nice goin’, jackass,” said Woodman under his breath, exhaling a satisfied breath and chuckling at Ginger’s sour puss.

They were supposed to catch her together. It was her annual birthday tradition, for heaven’s sake!

When she was only six, she went missing when it was time to cut the cake, and her mother sent the cousins to look for her. They found her sitting in the hayloft door, two stories high, insisting that she was a princess trapped in a tower. Cain encouraged the birthday princess to jump into their arms so they could take her back to the party. That stunt led to the first of Ginger’s many broken body parts wrought from Cain’s brash suggestions, and gave her parents a convenient excuse to bar Cain from future parties unless he was giving pony rides.

Her mother also forbade Ginger to ever go into the hayloft again.

Of course she did.

Every year. And every year since her seventh birthday, the cousins had somehow managed to actually catch her, safe and sound.

Crossing her arms over her chest, she shook her head disapprovingly at Cain, then turned around and marched through the dusty, dimly lit hayloft, which smelled of old wood, hay, and horses. Turning at the ladder, she backed down the rungs quickly, jumping to the floor when she was a little more than three-quarters of the way down. Walking through the drive bay, her riding boots clicking on the concrete floor, she passed six stalls on each side before exiting out the side door where she found the handsome cousins waiting for her.

“Ain’t jumpin’ this year?” asked Cain,