Fair Trade (Bold Brew #7) - Cate Ashwood
“Close, you stubborn, piece of shit motherfucker.” I glanced up at my friends. “A little help here?”
“Right,” Hunter said, adding both hands to the effort.
Using the bumper as leverage, I hopped up, heaving my entire body weight onto the trunk, willing it to latch shut. How I’d accumulated this much shit in two short years, I had no clue, but here I was, ass bouncing the entire back end of my beater, just about ready to embark on the cross-country journey home.
My feet itched with something somewhere between anticipation and dread. My soul belonged in California, but it was long past the time I needed to man up and step boldly into the responsibility I’d been dodging with style my whole life.
“You’re sure you don’t want to stay a few more nights?” Hunter asked.
I shot a mock glare in his direction. “Seriously? I spent all week second-guessing this decision.”
“If you’re not sure you wanna go—”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. In fact, I didn’t want to go at all, but I couldn’t spend the rest of my life bouncing between minimum-wage jobs, hoping something stuck. It was the reason I’d gone back to school.
Unfortunately, it was time for me to grow up.
And it wasn’t that I hated the thought of going home or seeing my sisters. I loved them as any dutiful brother did. I missed them, even. But this all felt… premature. I’d left Laurelsburg to figure out who the hell I was, and I still had no idea.
“I know.” Hunter pouted. “I just thought you’d be here longer. I wasn’t ready for you to abandon us yet.”
“So did I.” I’d barely made it to graduation before getting the call. But with a little meddling from my sister, I had a job and a place to live and very few reasons not to go. “But I gotta do this. Pacific Point has been awesome, and you and Andrew have made me feel like part of the family from the minute you hired me, but I gotta.”
“I know.” He sounded as resigned as I felt. “Just make sure you keep in touch, all right?”
I nodded, my throat feeling a little tighter than it had a moment earlier. “Good luck getting rid of me now. You’re stuck with me for life.”
He pulled me into a bear hug, his arms wrapping around me tight enough that the tips of my fingers started to tingle. “We’re gonna miss you around here.”
“I’m gonna miss you guys too.”
And I was. Like crazy. When I’d first arrived at the Pacific Point Wellness Ranch, I’d felt immediately like I’d found the place I belonged. Hunter and Andrew—brothers and co-owners—had instantly felt like my brothers too. I hated leaving.
Andrew pulled Hunter. “You’d better get going before he chains you behind the bar and never lets you go.”
“I would,” Hunter argued. “No one else makes cocktails like you do.”
“Ah, so that’s why you kept me around all this time. Your addiction to mojitos.”
“As if that was ever up for debate.”
I hauled Hunter into another hug, looping my arm around Andrew’s neck and forcing him to join in the lovefest. In a rare case of sentimentality, Andrew squeezed back. He might seem all gruff and unflappable to the untrained eye, but I knew him better than that, and without a doubt, he was going to miss the shit out of me.
“I’ll call you when I get to Laurelsburg.”
“Do you need any snacks for the road?” Hunter pointed over his shoulder. “I could get the chef to whip something up for you to take. Should only take a couple of hours. Three tops.”
“Quit stalling and let him go already,” Andrew grumbled. “The longer you procrastinate, the more likely you are to devolve into a weeping mess.”
I wasn’t sure if he was talking about Hunter or me. Either was possible.
“I’m covered,” I assured them both. “Half the back seat is snacks.”
“Okay. Fine. Get going. Before I give any more serious thought to the chaining idea.”
I climbed into my old Honda and slammed the door shut. The engine started up with a rattle and a purr, comforting and familiar. It had carried me across nine states when I’d left home in the first place, so it seemed fitting it was the car taking me back now.
As I pulled out from beneath the porte cochere, the lightness I’d felt talking to Hunter and Andrew faded, leaving a weight in its place, cloying and dense in my chest. In my heart, I knew this