All For You (Boys of the South)

By: Marquita Valentine

Chapter One





West

There’s a reason why I haven’t been back to a party in Forrestville since I started college, and she’s staring at me from across the room.

I hadn’t expected to see McKenzie Walsh here. Although, I had planned to see her at some point. Judging by the look on her gorgeous face, she’s equal parts angry and surprised by my appearance.

But then the unthinkable happens, anger gives way to indifference. Her pointed little chin tips up in the air and she turns away, dismissing me.

Five years ago, that very move would have made me tenacious in my quest to get her to notice me. To make sure that she unequivocally knew her very existence at Forrestville High depended on my benevolence. Like I was some kind of god.

Shame washes over me, and I feel sick to my stomach. The cold beer in my hand, one of the perks for coming tonight, looks about as appetizing as the condom I’d seen lying on the grass by the poolhouse.

“West Diaz in da HOUSE!” one of my old soccer teammates yells, cupping his hand over his mouth. He grabs the nearest chick and smacks her ass. “WEST DOG!”

A few guys start barking.

Barely managing to suppress an eye roll, I lift up my cup in salute and follow with a chin nod. Someone bumps my arm, jostling my red solo cup. Beer sloshes over the rim, onto my hand.

“Damn it,” I growl, wiping my hand on my jeans.

“Having fun yet?” my buddy, Parker Morgan, asks. He gives me his usual smile, one that’s this side of a smirk. It had been my idea to come here, not his. In all the years we’ve been friends, he has never come to one of these parties, because he either had to work or had family stuff, but a big part of me suspects that he never liked my group of friends.

A girl rushes past me, then freezes and pukes in a potted plant. Something crashes to the floor. The music gets louder and my head actually begins to ache. I search for McKenzie, but she’s disappeared.

I exhale. “Let’s go.” There’s no real reason to be at this party. Coming was nothing more than a habit.

A bad one at that.

Parker visibly relaxes as I set my cup down and start for the front of the house. “We can go to my place or The Double D. Cole’s being weird right now and he’s home with Kelly, so you might want to opt for The Double D.”

I slice him a glance. “You want to go hang out at work, while you’re off work?”

“Practically lived there growing up. Why should things change now?” he jokes, only with him—every joke’s really a statement. But I learned a long time ago not to push it. If Park wants to talk, he will, but because we’re dudes, he won’t.

Shrugging into my jacket, I zip up the front and reach for the front door. It opens and we automatically step back. Two girls walk in, one I recognize and the other I will never forget.

“McKenzie,” I say and her lips thin. “I thought you left.”

I try to take in all of her, but end up getting flashes: Lush lips. Mile long legs. Perfect chest. Pretty grey eyes.

Those pretty eyes widen for a fraction of a second, and then her chin tips up. Again. “So I’m not allowed here?”

“Yes. I mean, no.” Oh yeah. This is going great.

Her eyes narrow even more. “It’s not your house, Weston.”

“That’s not what I meant.” I hold up my hands. “I was surprised to see you… twice.”

McKenzie says nothing, only crosses her arms over her chest. This would be a great time to apologize and leave. Quick, easy, to-the-point, and all this guilt I’ve been carrying would be gone.

But I can’t. The words are lodged in my throat.

Parker coughs and McKenzie’s best friend, Julia Thompkins, glares at him. No help there.

“Um, well, you see…” Smooth, Diaz. Real smooth. “It’s not my party, but I wouldn’t think you’d want to be—”

“With the same people who threw clumps of sod at me, like a really bad Carrie remake the last time I was at a party like this?” McKenzie asks. She’s all defiant now, not at all like the sweet girl I’d used to dream about kissing. Or the one I’d actually kissed. Everywhere.

But I’d done that to her. Yeah, I hadn’t thrown anything, but I hadn’t stopped it either. I’d been shocked, arriving in the middle of it all, watching in disbelief as the party-goers threw dirt and grass at McKenzie. Charlie, my on-again off-again girlfriend, had run to me, tears in her eyes as she grabbed at my arm.

“They’re like animals. I can’t stop them,” she whispers. “We have to get out of here.”

“I have to do something,” I say, rooted to the spot.

Finally, Julia shows up and screams at everyone. They listen and move on. Still, I stand and watch Julia lead McKenzie away while that beautiful girl, covered in dirt from head to toe, assures her best friend she’s okay. That nothing’s broken and begs to be taken home.

Only then did I move, backing into the shadows so McKenzie wouldn’t see me.

A damn coward in every sense of the word.

You’re not that guy anymore, I remind myself. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”

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