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A Fourth of July with Mia

COPYRIGHT © 2016 K.C. LYNN

 

 

Mia - Cade and Faith's Daughter

Parker - Sawyer and Grace's Son.

 

 

 

Mia

 

Fifteen-years-old

Laughter drifts through my open bedroom window as I exchange my wet swimsuit for a pair of cutoff denim shorts and a white eyelet halter top in preparation for the fireworks.

 

I love days like today when all of our families are together, which happens more often than not since we all live on the same land. Even extended friends came out to celebrate Independence Day with us, including Anna and Logan’s family, Katelyn and Nick’s, and Kolan and Sophie’s.

 

However, it will be just us teens heading to the beach for the fireworks show, something my father only allowed because Braedyn, Beckett, and Parker agreed to take us…

 

Just thinking about the last name has my heart dancing to a new beat. I’m around that boy almost every day, but no matter how much time passes, my feelings never fade, they only grow stronger. That’s because it’s not some ridiculous crush like most of the female population in this town has on him. It’s so much more than that for me.

 

I’m in love with him. 

 

I have been for as long as I can remember, and I fear I always will be.

The kicker? He sees me as a little sister—a child. He’s only two and a half years older than me, but to him, I may as well be ten.

 

Only my closest friends know about my feelings for him. Ella, Annabelle, and Hope. Although, my mom and Ruthie have always suspected.

 

Parker, on the other hand, is too wrapped up in all the female attention he receives to even notice and I have no intention to ever tell him. I’d like to keep my heart intact, thank you very much.

 

“Yo, Country!” the deep sound of his voice drifts into my open bedroom window, breaking into my thoughts. My body hums in response to the use of my nickname. Something he has called me for as long as I can remember because even though I look like my father, I’m a country girl just like my mother. “You almost ready?”

 

“Coming!” I yell back. 

 

After a quick fluff of my long damp wavy brown hair, I slide on my flip-flops, bound down the stairs, and head outside to see everyone waiting for me next to Braedyn’s truck.

 

“There she is,” Beckett announces.

 

Parker swings around, gracing me with that sexy face of his and it has my heart tumbling in my chest. He’s changed into black board shorts and a grey T-shirt with the brand name written across the chest in black. It stretches across his broad shoulders and lean muscular frame that comes from working out and playing hockey. The backward hat he wears pushes his usually messy hair away from his handsome face, making his strong-cut jaw more pronounced.

 

He takes me in from head to toe, his gaze traveling over every inch. By my body’s reaction, it may as well be his hands touching me. If I was naive I’d think he was checking me out as hard as I was him, but I know better. 

 

Flashing me his famous lopsided grin, he starts toward me, his gait easy and confident. 

 

My breath traps in my chest as I become rooted to my spot; my head craning back to keep contact with those amazing sea-green eyes of his as he closes the distance between us.

 

Before I can anticipate it, he tosses me over his shoulder in a quick move, tilting the world upside down. All the breath that was trapped in my chest explodes with a whoosh of air.

 

“’ Bout time, Half-pint, thought maybe you were bailing on us.”

 

“Yeah right, Evans. You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” I toss back, putting as much muster into my words as I can manage. 

 

Chuckling, he lays a playful hand across my butt before placing me on my feet.

 

I swear, the boy wreaks nothing but havoc on my hormones.

 

Hope, Ella, and Annabelle all flash me a knowing smile. 

 

Just as we’re about to climb into Braedyn’s truck my Dad calls out to us “Hold up!” He walks toward us with Uncle Cooper, Uncle Jax, and Uncle Sawyer following.

 

All of us girls groan, knowing what’s coming.

 

“You stay together at all times,” he says, starting in on us. “No drinking, no boys except for the ones you’re with. Come back right after the fireworks are over. Got it?”

 

“Yes, Sir!” Ella salutes, mocking him in a deep tone. “And don’t worry about the boys. We’ll take good care of them. Protect them with all the moves you guys have shown us over the years.”

 

The four of us girls snicker while the boys grunt, knowing the warning is for only us. It always is.

 

Our fathers are just as unimpressed as the boys. My father’s eyes harden on me, making the pain he keeps buried deep inside more prominent. It’s a pain he always has whenever he looks at me. Because he doesn’t see me. He doesn’t see Mia, his daughter. 

 

He sees Mia, his sister. 

 

A girl whose baby picture is a replica of mine. I’ve heard him tell my mother before that if she would have lived he has no doubt she would look exactly like me.

 

It’s a dagger straight to the heart. He’s the most important man in my life, and even though he will never admit it, I know it causes him pain to look at me. It hurts even more that I’ll always be compared to her in his eyes. He will never really see me.

 

Swallowing back my emotion, I walk up to him and lift to the tips of my toes to hug him. All of the other girls follow suit, each one giving their dad a playful kiss on the cheek. They’re eventually released with a warning to be careful, but my dad doesn’t let go. His arms are like a steel band; locking me in the protective cage he has always kept me in. I can sense the fear and desperation in his tight muscles, an unhealthy fear of worrying that every time I leave I may not come back.

 

I make no effort to break that hold, allowing him all the time he needs, because as hard as it is to feel imprisoned, his pain hurts so much more.

 

“I love you, Dad,” I whisper, turning my face to the side so he can’t see my emotion.

 

“Be careful, Mia.”

 

I try not to let it sting that he didn’t return the words. “I will.”

 

He kisses the side of my head before forcing himself to step back. When I turn to walk away he snags my upper arm. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath before twisting back to him.

 

“I love you.” The pain in his voice is as dark as the one in his eyes, proving how hard it is for him to say those words to me.

 

I give him a small smile but my chin quivers. “I know. I’ll see you in a bit.”

 

Everyone’s eyes are on me as I climb into the back of Braedyn’s truck. I slide in next to Hope where Annabelle sits on her lap because there is only so much room.

 

“You okay?” Hope asks quietly, reaching for my hand.

 

I give her the same fake smile I gave my dad and nod before adverting my gaze to the floor. Ella grabs my free hand where she sits on the other side of me, silently offering comfort. My friends don’t need to say anything. They know how it is with my dad and me. 

 

Once we’re far enough down the country road, Annabelle leans over Braedyn’s seat and wraps her arms around his neck.

 

“No!” he says, already knowing what she’s going to ask.

 

“Come on, Brae, please? It’s only down the road. We’ll sit on our butts and lean flat against the cab. Promise.”

 

A few moments of silence pass before he relents. “Your dad is going to fucking kill me if he ever finds out I let you do this,” he grumbles, pulling off to the side of the road.

 

He’s never been able to deny her. 

 

Excited, Annabelle peppers his cheek with kisses. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Ella adds as we all jump out. “And don’t worry, I have ties to the sheriff. If we get busted I’ll put in a good word for you.”

 

We giggle at her commentary and jump into the bed of the truck, sitting with our backs against the cab as promised.

 

Parker slides open the back window, giving us a view of his handsome face. “Keep your asses planted, ladies, and enjoy the ride.” He gives me a sexy wink that makes my heart pitter-patter before turning back around.

 

Moments later, we’re moving again. As the truck picks up speed, I tilt my head back and bask in the warm wind on my face. 

 

Ella’s cheering draws my attention over to her. Her hands are thrown in the air, the American flag scarf she has tied around her head blowing wildly behind her.

 

“Do you feel this, girls?” she yells through the whipping wind. “This is what freedom feels like.”

 

“Amen,” the rest of us say in unison, then share a look that has us bursting into laughter. It’s exactly the remedy my heavy heart needed.

 

The air becomes saltier the closer we get to our destination. When we pull up to the beach, Ella hands each of us sparklers and then reaches into her pocket for a lighter. We shield her enough from the wind to get them lit then find the guys waiting for us at the tailgate.

 

Braedyn grabs Annabelle’s waist to help her down, then they’re locked in a fiery kiss; something I’m sure they have been dying to do since leaving my house. No one knows about their relationship except for us, especially Uncle Jax. I think we’re all a little afraid of his reaction. He loves and cares for Braedyn like a son, but when he finds out they have been together behind his back I’m worried it will destroy that relationship. I know Annabelle is too, which is why she’s keeping it a secret.

 

Beckett helps Hope down, and I smile when he holds her longer than necessary. Those two think they fool everyone, but we all know better. Whenever we’re together and they suddenly go missing for a few minutes, we all know they’re sneaking in those kisses they think none of us know about.

 

Parker reaches for Ella but she sidesteps him and jumps down on her own. “I don’t need a man to help me down, but thanks anyway.”

 

Beckett shakes his head, knowing how his sister is. 

 

Parker raises his hands in mock surrender. “By all means, Miss Independent.” He turns that charming smile on me next and offers me his hand. “How about it, Country? You going to let me help you so I can tell my mom what a gentleman I was?”

 

I roll my eyes playfully. “Like you have a problem telling anyone about how great you are, Parker Evans.”

 

He chuckles, not the least bit offended. “But in all fairness, I do always speak the truth.”

 

I shake my head but am unable to hide the smile taking over my face. Moving in closer, I let him help me down, bracing myself for the jolt of electricity that I know will come with his touch. 

 

My hands remain at my sides, each sparkler still burning as he spans my waist, his fingers gripping my hips. My breath catches as he slowly slides me down the front of his hard body, keeping me close as my feet touch the ground. I stare up into his handsome face, his sea-green irises more pronounced due to the moonlight reflecting in them.

 

“Thanks,” I whisper, my voice hoarse.

 

He gives me his signature wink before slinging his arm around my shoulders as we make our way to the congested beach. I absorb his body heat as we walk side by side and try not to get lost in how right it feels to be with him like this.

 

My euphoria is short-lived, because as soon as we reach the crowd he and Beckett are swarmed by the partygoers. Just like that, he’s gone from my side. 

 

All the guys welcome them with knocks to the shoulders or a fist bump while all the girls rub against them like dogs in heat. Braedyn used to be in this circle until he and Annabelle officially started seeing each other; now the girls keep their distance from him. 

 

Annabelle may be as sweet as her mom but she also has her father’s temper. No one messes with Brae and he’s just as protective over her. No guy in their right mind would mess with him, not with his fighting skills. He’s the best fighter in the circuit right now and it’s only a matter of time before he’s the champion. Uncle Jax works hard as his manager.

 

“Typical,” Hope grumbles next to me, the same pain in her eyes that I feel in my heart. What she misses is the way Beckett’s eyes remain on her the entire time. Parker, on the other hand, eats it all up and is oblivious to anything else.

 

Since my sparklers have fizzled out, I walk over and toss them into one of the dumpsters and that’s when someone calls out to me.

 

“Mia, wait up!”

 

Turning around, I see Stephan Brooks striding toward me, a guy I go to school with. “Oh, hey, Stephan.”

 

He gives me a quick one-armed hug. “Good to see you.”

 

“You, too,” I respond, flashing him with a smile as he steps back.

 

His hands find their way into his pockets. “Are you enjoying your summer so far?”

 

“I am, thank you. How about you?”

 

He shrugs. “Yeah, it’s all right. I don’t have much going on. I’m heading to Hawaii for a week with my family at the end of the month, but other than that it’ll be pretty low-key. How about you? Going anywhere?”

 

“Not really. I have a few riding camps lined up, and I’m going to Nashville for a weekend,” I tell him, excitement rushing through me. “I’ve been invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry.”

 

“Wow, that’s cool,” he says. “I’m not surprised, though, we all know you’re going places with that beautiful voice of yours.”

 

My smile turns shy. “I don’t know about that, but it’s always been a dream of mine to sing at the Opry, so I’m pretty excited about it.”

 

“Trust me, Walker, you’re going places. I’ve never heard anyone sing like you.”

 

My heart warms at his words. “Thanks.”

 

An awkward silence descends before he breaks it. 

 

“Do you want to come watch the fireworks with us?” he asks, jerking his thumb behind him to the group of friends he’s with.

 

“Oh, thanks, but I—”

 

“She’s good,” Parker interrupts, sliding in next to me. He drapes an arm around my shoulders as if he has some sort of claim over me. “Who’s your friend, Country?”

 

Biting back my annoyance, I introduce them. “This is Stephan, a friend of mine from school. Stephan, this is Parker.”

 

“The famous hockey star, Parker Evans,” Stephan comments. “I know who he is.” By the bitterness in his tone, it’s obvious he doesn’t like him.

 

This seems to amuse Parker. “And yet, I have no idea who the hell you are.”

 

“I’m not surprised.” 

 

I glance back and forth between them, wondering where all this tension is coming from.

 

Stephan breaks it moments later by bringing his attention back to me. “I’ll see you around. Maybe we can meet up one night this summer.”

 

I don’t get the chance to respond before Parker cuts back in. “Sorry, bud, but she’s busy all summer.”

 

I glare up at him, annoyed that he thinks it’s okay to answer for me.

 

Stephan ignores his outburst. “Enjoy the rest of your night, Mia,” he says, starting away.

 

“You, too,” I call out to his retreating back. Glaring over at Parker, I punch him in the shoulder. “What the hell was that about?”

 

“What?” he asks innocently, rubbing his shoulder.

 

“That!” I point at Stephan. “Why were you such a jerk?”

 

“Me? He’s the one who has a problem with ‘the famous hockey star.’” He laughs, finding it funny.

 

Shaking my head, I start back to the others.

 

“Whoa, hold up.” He grasps my arm, spinning me around. “What’s with the attitude?”

 

“Next time, I can speak for myself, Parker. I don’t need you answering my questions for me.”

 

He shrugs carelessly. “I’m just following the rules. Remember, no boys except for the ones you’re with… like me.” He flashes me that dimple of his, trying to be cute.

 

“I’m surprised you even noticed since you were so wrapped up in your fan club.”

 

He gapes at me, affronted. “Can I help that I have a fan club? No, I can’t. God and my parents blessed me with these genes, Country. I can’t help it if I’m this awesome and everyone loves me.”

 

I try so hard to keep a straight face, I really do, but it’s no use. A laugh bubbles up my throat and explodes past my lips. He graces me with that sexy lopsided grin of his, proud of himself for achieving what he set out to do. 

 

Make me laugh.

 

He has a huge ego, but he also has a huge heart. Something a lot of people don’t know about him because they only see the good-looking hockey star. They don’t see what’s on the inside. They don’t see the son, brother, and friend that he is.

 

“I knew you couldn’t stay mad at this face,” he says, tapping his chin.

 

Refusing to let him off the hook too easily, I walk up to him and poke him in the chest. “Next time, Evans, I answer for myself. Got it? No one speaks for me, not even someone with a face like yours.”

 

“Got it,” he complies. “Or…maybe next time you just don’t talk to any boys and then there won’t be a problem.”

 

My eyes narrow on him. “Parker,” I growl.

 

Chuckling, he slings an arm around my shoulders again. “Come on, Country, let’s go join the others.”

 

We find them already sitting out on the beach, stretched out on the large blanket we brought.

 

“There you guys are,” Annabelle says from where she sits between Braedyn’s open legs. Ella is on one side of them while Beck and Hope are on the other.

 

“Half-pint got lost, but don’t worry, I found her.” 

 

My gaze darts to his in annoyance. “I ran into a friend,” I tell them, taking the spot beside Hope. 

 

“A friend who seemed to really like me,” Parker adds, his tone amused as he sits next to me. “He wants to join my fan club.”

 

My elbow meets his ribs again, the two of us sharing a laugh. The others look at us in confusion. Just as I’m about to explain, a loud crack echoes through the air, cutting me off. The entire beach erupts into cheers as the sky lights up above us with the first set of fireworks.

 

All seven of us drop to our backs to enjoy the show. I watch the sky light up red, white, and blue and think about what today represents. About how blessed we are to live in one of the greatest countries in the world, and have the freedom that we do. Not everyone is as lucky. And it’s all thanks to honorable people like my father and uncles who fought not only for our freedom but also for my mother’s life. The scars they bear a constant reminder of their sacrifice.

 

The thought has me losing myself in the moment, and before long, I begin singing the national anthem. 

 

Hope reaches for my hand as she, Annabelle, and Ella follow my lead. Eventually, more begin to follow suit until most of the beach has joined in and it has a smile dancing across my lips.

 

When I get to the final chorus I don’t hold back, belting out the last of the lyrics, letting it flow from the depths of my soul. Everyone else trails off until my voice is the only one penetrating the humid air and mixing with the explosion of light. 

 

As the song comes to an end, the entire beach erupts in applause. 

 

My cheeks burn and smile spreads. I keep my gaze on the beautiful sky above me, a sense of peace warming me right down to the tips of my fingers and toes.

 

Feeling someone’s gaze burning into the side of my face, I turn my head to the left and find Parker staring at me. My breath catches at the intensity reflecting in his green eyes.

 

For the first time, I see no amusement on his handsome face. He's not looking at me like a sister. 

 

He’s looking at me as if I’m the only other person on this beach right now.

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