Torch (Wildwood #3) - Karen Erickson

Chapter One

WREN GALLAGHER WASN’T the type to drown her sorrows in alcohol, but tonight seemed as good a time as any to start.

“Another Malibu and pineapple, Russ,” she said to the bartender, who gave her a look before nodding reluctantly. She’d known Russell Fry since she was a kid. Went to school with his daughter Amelia, who’d moved the hell out of Wildwood the minute she graduated high school. She’d received a full scholarship to some fancy Ivy League college and never looked back.

Many times over the last few years, she thought of Amelia. And envied her tremendously.

She’d gotten out.

And Wren hadn’t.

Not that Wildwood was a bad place. She was happy here. She had a great job as a bookkeeper for various businesses around town, plus she’d invested in her friend Delilah’s dance studio. She had her family. She had her friends . . . friends who were all pairing off and finding love. All she could find was the bottom of an empty glass at a bar on a Monday night.

Woe is me and all that jazz. She’d roll her eyes at herself if she could guarantee it wouldn’t make her head spin. She was sort of spinning already, despite her internal promise not to overdo it.

“That’s your third drink,” Russ said gruffly as he plunked the fresh glass in front of her.

She grabbed it and took a long sip from the skinny red straw. It was her third drink because the first two weren’t potent enough. She didn’t even feel that drunk. But how could she tell Russ that when he was the one mixing her drinks? “And they’re equally delicious,” she replied with a sweet smile.

He scowled at her, his bushy eyebrows threaded with gray hairs seeming to hang low over his eyes. “You all right, Wren?”

“I’m fine.” She smiled, but it felt incredibly false, so she let it fade before taking another sip of her drink. No way could she tell this old man she’d known forever all her troubles. He’d tell her mother, who’d tell her father, and then they’d give her a call, asking her to come over so they could “talk.” Forget it.

Forget. It.

Her problems were hers and hers alone. Plus, they sounded ridiculously selfish when she voiced them out loud. People lost their jobs, marriages broke up, children got bad grades and failed school, people were diagnosed with fatal diseases, for God’s sake. What did she have to complain about? That she was feeling lonely? That maybe she felt the teeniest bit . . . stuck?

Yeah, she’d remained in her hometown versus running off to the big city, which had been her original after-high-school-graduation dream. She’d wanted to escape her tiny life, her family, all of it, but that never happened. She stayed home instead and worked and played and dealt with her family.

So her dad was a jerk. So her mom was a doormat. She still loved them. Her brothers were a pain in her ass, but she knew without a doubt if she asked any one of them—and she had three—for help, they’d drop everything to be there for her. No questions asked. That was nice. That fact alone made her feel safe.

And most of the time, she liked feeling safe.

She had good friends. Two best friends who each happened to be dating one of her brothers. What were the odds? Harper and West were serious. Lane finally came around and he was now in a full-blown relationship with Delilah. They even said they loved each other out loud. In front of other people and everything.

It kind of blew Wren’s mind.