The sound of her thumping heart beat hard and fast in Caitlin’s ears. Maybe a little too fast, she thought, and quickly checked her watch to make sure her heart rate wasn’t edging toward explosion. 177. Fine. Not at the exploding threshold but still really freaking high. No wonder Caitlin wanted to keel over and unceremoniously e grunted as her breath caught in her throat and wheezed out in an extremely sexy choke. This sucked. She hated running, absolutely hated it. But after gaining thirty pounds during The Divorce to End All Divorces, Caitlin had learned to tolerate the feeling of her feet pounding gravel and pavement. The physical payoff had been nice too, but it was the mental cleansing—the inability to think about anything other than whether or not her heart was going to up and quit—that kept her hooked.
Caitlin wiped the sweat from her brow and dug deeper into her stride. The only way out was to finish the lap because she, Caitlin Gregory, was not a quitter. Okay, that wasn’t exactly true, but she didn’t like quitting, and she had come too far on today’s run to give up before hitting her final lap in five…four…three…two…
Just before one, just before her feet crossed over the line that indicated freedom from this physical hell, another body soared past her, kicking literal dust into Caitlin’s face. And so it was that Caitlin finished her run—her longest run so far since starting this hellish exercise regimen—sputtering and choking on the debris of someone who just had to be faster than she was.
“So rude,” Caitlin muttered, glaring at the other runner as she continued her fast trek on the decrepit track around the football field. Caitlin needed to find a new place to run, but she’d lost her running virginity here, hit all her goals here, and as much as the track sucked and was in desperate need of a total overhaul, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the safety and familiarity of her old high school’s shitty, gritty oval.
Caitlin reached the bench where her water bottle and keys were stashed and let her body collapse onto the aluminum surface. It was nearing eight p.m. and the sun was doing its delicate disappearing dance. Earlier in the summer, Caitlin had pushed herself to get up early and run before the heat and humidity struck her small town in New Jersey. Lately, though, she’d discovered the joy of evening running. There was something calming about driving one’s body to dark, painful places while watching the sun calmly set in the background. It was a juxtaposition Caitlin found she enjoyed, even if it was somewhat masochistic.
The other runner on the track sprinted the final thirty feet before coming to a slow jog in front of Caitlin.
“You were totally checking me out,” she said, barely out of breath, which did not endear her to Caitlin.
“That’s disgusting,” Caitlin replied as she tossed another water bottle at her best friend. “Don’t ever say that again.”
“Just admit it. You found it unbearably hot that I passed you right before you finished your lap.”
“Hot? Seriously? I should have tripped you, sent you flying into the dirt. That was rude as fuck, Lina.”
Lina grinned winningly. “You’ve always been a sore loser.”
Caitlin glared at Lina as she stood and collected her things. She started walking away, not bothering to wait for Lina. “And you can’t do anything without making it into a competition. Let’s go.”
Lina jogged after Caitlin and gently nudged her shoulder once she caught up to her. “You looked good out there, kid. New distance?”
It was impossible to stay mad at Lina. Twenty or so years of friendship taught you a lot about a person, and Caitlin would say with bitter honesty that even after having been married to someone else for four years, Lina was still the person who knew her best and vice versa. Of course, Lina and Caitlin’s friendship wasn’t always smooth sailing; they fought just like any other close friends and had infamously and unknowingly dated the same woman at the same time once, which hadn’t ended well at all.
“Four miles. And I don’t ever have to do that again.”
Lina laughed and bumped into Caitlin again. “You don’t have to but you probably will. I warned you about how addictive running is.”
“I’m not addicted to the act, but I may be addicted to the payoff.”
“And that payoff! Damn girl, you’re looking…” Lina paused, the words not coming easily.
Caitlin snorted. “You can’t even finish that sentence.”
“No, I can! I’m just waiting for the right adjective to come to mind. Sexy? Hot? Gorgeous? Irresistible?”
“Stop. Please. Stop. We both know compliments don’t come naturally for you.” Caitlin smiled at Lina and patted her shoulder with just enough condescension. “So let’s not stress you out.”
Lina grumbled something incoherent—she couldn’t argue the fact that she was truly terrible at complimenting people—as she and Caitlin walked onto their shared driveway. They’d ended up purchasing condos right next to each other in their hometown even though they’d both sworn in high school that they would never live another day in this place. And yet, here they were, both thirty-five years old, living less than a mile from their old high school. They weren’t the only ones, either; Seabrooke had a large population of people who simply did not leave the town once they were able to, so Lina and Caitlin ran into their classmates more than either of them desired.
The condo development, at least, was quiet and mostly free of ghosts from high school. Lina had moved in first, after returning from her deployment to Afghanistan several years earlier. Caitlin had spent a lot of time at Lina’s over the years, and while she hadn’t planned on being Lina’s exactly-next-door neighbor, when the condo next door went up for sale during her divorce, Caitlin had taken it as a clear sign that she needed to be as close to her best friend, her rock, as possible. This was proving to have its ups and downs… Especially the fact that the decks off their living rooms were connected, and the slatted wall between them offered very little privacy. In the five months that Caitlin had been living here, that slatted wall had made itself both an up and a down many times over.
Lina dropped her phone and keys in the driveway and began her elaborate stretching routine. She’d been in killer shape in high school, and her seventeen (and counting) years in the Army had only improved her physique. Even Caitlin, though it mildly repulsed her, could admire Lina’s impressive muscles.
“So…are you nervous yet?”
Caitlin sighed as she perched on her front steps. She’d known this was going to come up, and she also knew Lina wouldn’t let her dodge it.
“No. I’m not nervous. Nervous isn’t the word for what I’m feeling.”
“Cait, it’s okay to be nervous. This is a pretty big change for you.”
“It’s not though, remember? I’ve taught high school English before.”
“Yeah, and you hated it.”
This conversation was like an old record that would not quit spinning: scratches, skips and all.
“I didn’t hate the teaching aspect. I hated the environment I was teaching in.” Caitlin paused for effect. “Big difference, Lina.”
Lina finished her stretches and sat down next to Caitlin. It was annoying, her lack of sweat and how she looked like she’d just come back from grocery shopping, not the six miles she’d run. That effortlessness was part of Lina’s whole look. Lina had, as she liked to say, “grown into her butchness” during her twenties. It was true; Caitlin remembered meeting Lina in high school and wondering how hard it must be for a fifteen-year-old to be so wildly uncomfortable in her own skin. Neither of them had been out in high school, and whereas Caitlin had several boyfriends and was generally clueless about her sexuality, Lina was very aware of how gay she was but didn’t have the strength to act on it. They’d both blossomed in their twenties and Caitlin had watched Lina evolve: she’d cut her long hair into a faux-hawk, a lesbian rite of passage for many; gotten rid of her mainstream, I’m-only-wearing-this-to-fit-in clothing; and adopted a whole new style that was so butch and so hot—to every woman other than Caitlin, that is.
Even now, in her post-run state, her hair grown out to a shaggy asymmetrical cut with an undercut, in those perfectly fitting running shorts and that tight muscle tank, Lina was undeniably hot.
Caitlin saw it. She did. But it did absolutely nothing for her and she couldn’t have been happier about that because Lina was her best friend, and she intended to keep it that way.
“Where’d you go?” Lina’s voice crept into Caitlin’s thoughts, reminding her that they were midconversation about the major transition coming up in Caitlin’s life in, oh, a week.
“Just thinking about how lucky I am to have you.”
“Christ, running makes you soft.”
“Nah, I think it’s the whole ‘my entire life has been uprooted in the span of a year’ situation that’s making me extra thankful for you.” Caitlin punched Lina’s shoulder, which, thanks to Lina’s push-up regimen, hurt Caitlin’s knuckles and left no impact on Lina. “But I’m never saying anything like that again, so cherish this moment.”
This book is exactly what I needed on my day off! I love a book with an amazing ice queen, and as a bonus the ice queen in this book is a teacher! Sexy right!?! The characters in the book are well written and believable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and spending the day with Caitlin and Mallory.