Sinner's Steel

By: Sarah Castille

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To Monique, Alex, and the team at St. Martin’s Press for the magnitude of what you do, and to my agent, Laura Bradford, who never gives up hope that I will learn American spelling. To my fabulous Street Team, Sarah’s Sassy Readers, for all your enthusiasm and support, and to Danielle Gorman for keeping me organized. To Danielle Barclay and Mandy Lawler for your boundless energy and creative ideas. And, finally, to my own little tribe for their patience, love, support and blueberry and cucumber kebabs.





ONE

Nine Years Ago

“Zane. Stop. Please.”

Evie’s cry rang out in the forest, the distress in her voice spearing Zane’s chest. He ground to a halt, just a few feet short of Stanton Creek, sucking the warm Montana summer air into his lungs. He would do anything for her, even if it meant having his heart broken all over again.

She caught her breath as she came up behind him, her steps barely audible in the soft grass. “What’s wrong? Why did you leave?”

For a moment, he couldn’t speak. How could he explain the emotions he’d kept bottled up inside for the last nine years, the hopes and dreams that shattered when he saw her in Jagger’s arms, the desperate need that would never be fulfilled? He wanted them to be happy, but he couldn’t fight the sense of jealousy he felt toward his best friend, and the utter despair at losing Evie before he had a chance to tell her how he felt.

“I’m losing you both.” Slowly, he turned to face her.

“You aren’t losing me, Zane. You’ll never lose me.”

Her pale green dress fluttered in the breeze, clinging to her sweet curves. Evie rarely wore dresses, preferring clothes that didn’t hamper her ability to run and climb, jump creeks and walk fences. His Evie had a wild streak. But when she’d walked into the graduation party tonight looking like an angel, his breath caught in his throat. So beautiful he ached inside. He’d been desperate to give her the present he had slaved over for the last three months. A good-bye present. A don’t-forget-me present. A tiny glimpse into his heart.

If only he hadn’t waited.

She stepped out from under a willow tree, its thin leaves already fading to bronze as summer came to a close. The evening sun caught the golden highlights in her long red hair as it spilled over her shoulders. In the nine years he’d known her, he’d only seen it down a few times. Ponytails were more her style. He wanted to run his hands through those silken waves, follow them down the gentle curve of her back, smooth his hands over her perfect ass …

Jagger’s ass now. Jagger’s hair to touch. Jagger’s girl.

A black hole opened in his chest. Gritting his teeth, he looked away. “I saw you and Jagger together. I’m happy for you. Really—”

“Zane.” She took another step forward and he backed up to the creek, his foot skirting the gravel edge. He couldn’t be near her simply because he didn’t know what he would do if she came too close.

“There’s nothing between me and Jagger. We’re friends like always. It was a friendly kiss.”

“Didn’t look friendly to me.”

A pained expression crossed her face. “And I put him straight. I love him like a brother. But someone else has my heart.”

Hope flared in his chest and he immediately stamped it out. Who was he to hope? How dare he hope! He was nothing and came from nothing. No family, save for a deadbeat drug-dealing father. No money. No future. No friends except for Evie and Jagger, and by next week, they would both be gone—Evie to college and Jagger to the army. And yet his lips still formed the question. “Who?”

“You, silly.” She closed the distance between them until she stood only a few inches away. His hands shook with the need to touch her; his body ached with longing. Nineteen years old and he still wanted the girl he’d met when he was ten.

“It’s always been you,” she said softly. “Ever since the day we first met. But I never thought I’d have to wait until I was seventeen before I could tell you.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

So soft. So sweet.

His world shifted, darkness becoming light, despair turning to desire. Although he had dreamed of this moment, wanted her with an intensity that took his breath away, he reigned it all in and brushed his lips over hers, returning her kiss with a gentleness that belied the torrent of emotions flooding through his body.

She sighed into his mouth, and he slid his hands around her, struggling with the need to crush her against him, make them one instead of two. Sensation overwhelmed him: the minty taste of her lips, her scent of jasmine and the warm summer breeze, the softness of her body. His knees trembled and he pulled the present from his pocket, now less of a gesture and more of a distraction to give him a chance to regain some semblance of control.

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