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Staying For Good (Most Likely To #2)
Author: Catherine Bybee

Prelude

The walls of a double-wide were the dividing factor of separation between a trailer and a house. Technically, it was her home, her house . . . but everyone in River Bend who wanted to dig at Zoe’s status made sure they referred to it as a trailer. Her BFFs, Mel and Jo, never said trailer. Even on nights like this . . . when the calendar said it was early summer but the evenings in River Bend, Oregon, didn’t get the memo. Those paper-thin walls that lacked insulation and girth didn’t do a good job of keeping away the cold.

The rain had held out for her high school graduation but had started to dump buckets after her friends arrived to celebrate their freedom.

Zoe glanced over at Mel, who was fast asleep on her half of the pullout sofa bed that did a shitty enough job as a sofa and had no business being a bed. It was, however, off the floor, and if Zoe thought the walls were thin, the floor was worse. Jo curled up on herself in a recliner that should have been taken to the curb a decade before . . . but that was probably when her mom had swiped it off the sidewalk.

Between the three of them, they’d managed to down half a bottle of tequila and polish off an entire pizza. The night swam with emotions. First the reality of finishing high school, then Mel’s bombshell that her parents were getting divorced and she would likely leave River Bend for good.

High school Zoe could say good-bye to, not a problem . . . but not Mel. It was always assumed one-third of the River Bend trio was going off to college. Mel was the smart one, great grades, strong family. When she waved her acceptance letter to USC in front of Jo’s and Zoe’s faces, both of them joined their friend in her excitement. Neither of them thought for a minute Mel’s parents would announce their divorce and move from River Bend when Mel reached for her high school diploma. The divorce was anyone’s guess . . . but the fact Mel’s parents were moving away essentially cut off Mel’s ticket to return to River Bend on holidays and summers.

And that sucked!

Zoe lay there with Jose Cuervo swimming in her head, and the conversation that had stuck with the three of them until they’d passed out.

Their fellow high school seniors had voted their predictions on what the graduating class was going to do with their lives.

Mel managed top honors with most likely to succeed. A USC education would propel her to the top of whatever chain Melanie Bartlett decided to climb.

Jo found herself at the bottom of the honor roll with most likely to end up in jail. Considering JoAnne Ward was always the one to score the liquor and did a bang-up job of pissing off her father, Sheriff Ward . . . and doing just about every delinquent thing a teen could do and not end up in jail . . . yeah, it was only a matter of time. Seemed Jo was always trying to prove she was more than a cop’s daughter. Because Sheriff Ward had the ultimate respect of the citizens of River Bend, everyone looked the other way at Jo’s shenanigans. Eventually always managed to catch up, and one day Sheriff Ward wouldn’t be able to help his little girl.

Then there was Zoe . . . her most likely to was the most disturbing of all.

Zoe Brown: Most likely to never leave River Bend.

Zoe had felt physically ill when she’d read the yearbook with that spelled out in print.

The thin walls of her mother’s home felt thinner, the air thicker, the temperature colder. This was not what Zoe wanted for her life.

She wanted to see the world. Wanted the ability to wear clothes that matched. She wanted furniture that wasn’t cast off from someone else. And a car. She wanted a car. Working for all those things in a town as small as River Bend would mean nothing but long, hard hours at two or three jobs, and then maybe by the time her ten-year class reunion came around, she would have a couple of them. Or maybe she wouldn’t. What happened if her father managed parole? That asshole was doing fifteen to life for armed robbery, and her mother had yet to divorce him. Her younger brother and sister were just entering junior high. Zane had been angry since birth, or so it seemed, and Zanya was syrupy sweet to the point of falling for the wrong guy as soon as she noticed boys existed.

If Zoe didn’t leave River Bend to find a life outside of her family, she would probably be raising her own kids under a roof that made rain sound like hail and with chairs that stank of cigarettes even when no one in the house smoked.

Zoe shook her thoughts from her head and closed her eyes.

That’s where she saw Luke.

Her knight . . . her savior. The only reason she managed to keep her chin high through the halls of River Bend High. Well, Jo and Mel helped with that, but being Luke’s girlfriend for the better part of two years had kept her sane. Outside of her BFFs, she shared everything with Luke. Well, almost everything. Her fear of never leaving River Bend was something she shielded from him. His father owned the auto repair shop in town, and Luke was super talented with everything that required oil and gasoline to run. His family reminded Zoe of what a family should be. His mom taught Zoe the basics of cooking and baking, things she loved to do. Luke’s father’s even temper and kind spirit gave her faith that not all men beat their families.

Luke was a big reason River Bend thought Zoe would never leave town.

High school sweethearts marry young in small towns.

Zoe admitted, if only to herself, that marriage to Luke would grant her so many things her life wouldn’t have without him. A family. Some stability . . . maybe even a house with real walls and thick carpet.

But what happened if Luke fell off his bike, crashed a car? What would happen if five years from now, with two point five kids, and all the bills that came with that life, something happened to the man she married? Her entire life could blow up in the span of one day, one bad accident . . . one bad anything! How would she survive?

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