Chapter One

Livia Crosby discreetly picked at the seat of her swimsuit, dislodging it from its wedgie state, and eyed a group of pre-teens splashing recklessly near the buoys. She chanced a quick glance at her wristwatch before returning her focus on the kids. Figures, ten minutes left and they decide to be daredevils. She didn't need the paperwork today of all days.

She tightened the band holding her dark hair back and contemplated yelling at the boys to move to a safer depth. The lake was large but not as large as one of the Great Lakes and didn't have an undertow, but its floor was home to many varieties of seaweeds that loved to tangle around legs and prevent a swimmer from getting very far. It had happened a few times already this summer and she'd had to swim out to cut struggling swimmers free and help them back to the sandy shores. And every time a 'rescue' occurred, she had to write up a report. She loathed paperwork.

She sighed as she watched the boys, praying Nina, her relief, wouldn't be late.

And then she saw them, jogging to the volleyball net the Park Director had erected when the parks officially opened for the summer. Derek Kendel and Kane Markson were accompanied by two other guys she recognized from her high school class. She groaned and adjusted her sunglasses, wishing she had a better disguise. She didn't want to be noticed and certainly wasn't in the mood to engage in conversation with her former classmates.

"Help! He's stuck!"

Liv jumped up and scanned the waters, her eyes stopping on the pre-teen boys waving frantically near the buoy. She swore viciously, grabbed the encased diving knife, and leapt from her perch, grabbing her board as she ran through the sand and splashed into the cool waters.

Once she reached the terrified boy, she gave him her board to keep afloat before taking a deep breath and submerging. She avoided his flailing legs and found his left ankle wrapped with weeds. She quickly sawed through the plants and thrust her body toward the surface, her lungs burning for oxygen. When she emerged, the boy smiled through the frightened tears on his cheeks and she couldn't help but think that he was a cute kid.

"What's your name?" she asked.

"Trevor Lang," he said with a tremor in his voice.

"You're fine, Trevor. Let's get you to shore."

She tugged him toward the beach and helped him to the sand where his frightened friends waited. She located a parent and explained what had happened, doing her best to ignore the spectators crowding near.

She finished with the parent and was relieved to see Nina hovering near the lifeguard stand. She hurried over and Liv filled her in on what had happened.

"Your shift is over now," Nina said. "Go do you paperwork. I have things here."

"Good. See you tomorrow," Liv said as she trudged through the sand toward the square, wooden building that served as the lifeguard office and locker room.

"Liv Crosby?"

She closed her eyes and released a long, low groan. She stopped and slowly turned, dreading every second of the confrontation she knew was about to happen.

"Hey, Derek. Hey, Kane," she said as she forced a smile to her face. "I think I heard somewhere that you guys were home for the summer."

"You look great, Liv," Derek said as a smarmy smile raced across his lips. His eyes raked her body, making her feel as if she was inappropriately dressed even though her modest lifeguard swimsuit covered more skin than half the women on the beach.

"Thanks," she said suddenly feeling shy. "You guys look great, too. College life must be good to you."

"Where are you going to school?" Kane asked as his eyes touched hers briefly before darting off into another direction.

"I am a student of the River Bend Park Department," she told them with a hint of sarcasm. "I work the beach in the summer and run all the other cheesy stuff for the rest of the year."

Derek's brown eyes darkened as his lips tightened. "Do you like it?"

"I do," she said with a smile. "The people are nice. I'm learning a lot. The pay isn't too bad."

"That's cool, Liv. I'm happy for you," Derek said with a smile. "Hey, we're going to a party on the beach tonight. We met these gir …um people who are renting a house on the beach and they invited us to a party. You should come."

She pushed her sopping wet ponytail off her shoulder and offered a lame smile. "I don't think I was invited, but thanks."

"I just invited you," Derek said. "Come on, Liv. We haven't hung out since graduation."

Liv bit her bottom lip and scrambled for an excuse. But she knew that Derek would continue to wheedle her until she gave in to his invitation. And she owed him, anyway – although he didn't know that.

"Fine," she groaned.

"Great!" he smiled as he yanked her into a hug. "I'll pick you up at your place around five. There's going to be plenty of food there, you know."

"No, I didn't know but thanks for telling me," she quipped. "I have a report to fill out so I'll see you later."

"Okay," Derek said as he waved and turned back to his buddies who were hitting a volleyball over the net.

"See you, Liv," Kane whispered as he ducked his head and jogged off to join the game.

She watched them both run, admiring the toned and muscled backs that had come from hours of LaCrosse playing, and wondered what she'd been thinking when she agreed. She didn't want or need to get involved with either of them again.

With a heavy sigh, she continued on her way into the building, filled out the necessary forms, and clocked out. She hurried to her aging car, anxious to get away from the beach before Derek spotted her again and tried to persuade her to stick around for a game of volleyball.

The stale stench of alcohol greeted her when she walked into the house. Liv searched the rooms for signs of her mother but couldn't locate her anywhere. Liv shrugged – it was Saturday and her mother more than likely had hit the bars early, looking for her next conquest. Liv could care less.

She showered and then dug through the meager contents of her closet, looking for something appropriate to wear to this party. She wasn't sure what Derek expected since it was obvious that some out-of-town girls had invited him – was he thinking he could use Liv as a shield? Maybe he wanted Liv there to play loving girlfriend so he could imbibe in the free food and drink and not feel obligated to the girls who had invited him. That would be something Derek would do – he'd find it amusing. And Kane, Danny, and Rusty would go right along with it.

Liv pushed her thoughts away and chose a pair of pink shorts and layered two camis atop. She brushed her hair but let it hang down her back in a smooth, dark curtain.

The sun had turned her skin a golden brown, but brought freckles to her face. Nevertheless, she only slapped on eyeliner and mascara, not wanting to slather on the makeup.

She stuck her feet into a pair of flip-flops and clomped to the kitchen to do the dirty dishes and clean up before Derek arrived. She didn't much care what the place looked like when he picked her up – he'd seen it all before – but she did want to keep busy. Unfortunately, it was the type of work that only occupied her hands and not her mind and she was forced to remember her last year of high school and how it was supposed to have been the best year of her life. Well, it had been, for the most part, until she'd screwed it up like she always did. Her mother had snorted a laugh as she poured a drink and grinned, pointing a finger at her only daughter.

"I knew it was only a matter of time, Livie," she'd said.

Liv bowed her head in shame and nodded all the while fighting the tears that threatened to pour on her cheeks. "It was an accident."

"Always is nowadays," Eliza Crosby said as she lit a cigarette and slurped the bourbon from her glass. "You girls can't keep your legs crossed when some boy smiles and says the right words."

Liv wanted to point out that the same could be said of her mother but she didn't think petulance would go very far in the current situation. It would most likely lead to violence on Eliza's end.

"Well, I raised one kid, Livie. I am not raising another. And I ain't paying for it, either. You do whatever you want with it but don't expect nothing from me." With that, Eliza finished her drink, poured another, and drifted into the living room with the bottle in one hand and the glass in the other, leaving her daughter to face a scary and uncertain future alone.

Pounding on the front door ripped her from her thoughts and she raced to answer it. Derek stood on the porch, grinning like mad.

"I'm ready," Liv said as she grabbed her purse and slipped out the door.

"Isn't your mother here?" Derek asked. "I wanted to say hi."

"She's not here, Derek," Liv said in a huff. "It's Saturday and you know what she's like."

She pounded down the steps and strode angrily to his car. He jogged after her.

"Hey, Liv, I'm sorry. I just thought…"

"You thought what?" she asked as she spun around, her eyes blazing. "You thought that because you went to college that my mother would miraculously change into some sort of super parent?"

He sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, maybe. I don't know. I'm sorry, okay? Can we not fight tonight?"

Her anger drifted away only to be replaced by embarrassment. He'd just been trying to be nice and she'd taken her bitterness and turned it into fury and unleashed it upon him.

"Don't worry about it," she said as she opened the car door. "I guess I let my temper get the best of me."

"It's okay. Let's just go have a good time, all right?" he asked as his reckless grin reappeared and made her heart flutter.

"Sure, Derek," she said.


Kane cocked his arm and smoothly released the football, watching as Rusty ran backwards for it. Derek arrived while he was waiting for Rusty to throw the football back and garnered his attention.

Then Liv stepped out of the car and his heart fell. He'd been hoping all afternoon that either Derek would change his mind about bringing her or Liv would cancel. He didn't care who did what he just didn't want to spend the evening around her.

"Dude! Heads up!" Rusty shouted and Kane whipped his head around in time to spot the ball speeding toward him. He stuck up his hands as more of a defense measure and managed to catch the ball before it hit him in the face.

He tossed the ball back and held up a hand to signal that he was done playing. He headed to the blue barrel near the deck that held the keg. He grabbed a cup and filled it with beer, immediately guzzling half.

"Kane, right?"

He turned his head toward the voice and found its owner. She was one of the girls he'd met in town earlier with Derek – the one who'd convinced her rich father to rent the cottage for her.

"Yeah and you're Christy, right?"

"You remembered," she said as she looped an arm through his. She wasn't bad looking – not hot like some of the other girls at the party – but she held her own. Her hair was dyed a startling blonde and her eyes were a brilliant blue that he couldn't be sure was natural. What had caught his attention earlier when he'd met her was her chest and the way she made sure men noticed it.

She wore a black bikini that barely concealed her breasts and some sort of wrap around her waist the fell to her shins and slit up one side. A typical tease in his book but he was willing to see how far she'd go.

"Thanks for inviting us," he said as he took another drink from his cup.

"Thanks for coming," she said. She nodded in the vicinity of the shoreline where Derek had taken Liv to reacquaint with Danny and Rusty. "Is that your friend's girlfriend?"

Kane snorted. "No. Well, they used to date in high school but they broke up right before graduation. We haven't seen her since last summer."

"Is she a friend of yours?" Christy asked.

"Hell no," he said. He finished his drink, shook her loose, and refilled his cup. "She's sort of a friend of mine, I guess. I hung out with her sometimes when she was with Derek."

"I understand," she said. She thrust her bottom lip out in a sexy pout. "I just thought he was single. My friend, Marissa, liked him and was hoping to hook up with him tonight."

Kane shrugged. "I don't know why he brought her."

She inched closer, pressing her breasts into his chest. "You don't have a girlfriend, do you?"

He grinned as he put his arm around her waist. "Not at all."

"Didn't take you long at all, did it, Kane?"

He snapped his head up and found Derek smiling as he led Liv to the keg. They stopped as Derek greeted Christy and introduced the two girls.

Kane observed as Christy quickly scanned Liv, frowning at her choice of clothes. Liv didn't have the money to afford the type of clothes most girls in their snobby town wore – even Christy's swimsuit probably cost more than Liv's entire wardrobe. But Kane had always thought Liv was without a doubt the most beautiful girl in the school. She wasn't the most popular by any means, but other girls paled in comparison when it came to looks.

Liv had tried, though. She'd tried to fit in with the popular groups at first but by the middle of junior year, she'd given up and just went about her own business without a care in the world. That was probably when Derek noticed her because that was certainly when Kane had.

"Help yourselves to whatever you want," Christy said with a naughty smile. Liv rolled her eyes and Kane had to gulp his beer to keep from laughing. "There's plenty here."

"Thanks," Derek said as he took Liv's hand and dragged her to the food table.

"It looks like your friend has every intention of reconciling with his ex," Christy said as she took Kane's glass and refilled it for him. "What do you think?"

Kane's eyes drifted to Derek and Liv picking through the fruit salads and the meat trays. Derek was pointing at different things and was putting them on Liv's plate every time she nodded. It reminded Kane of the high school cafeteria food line and the way Derek would fuss over her back then.

But it was evident now as it was back then that she wasn't enjoying it. She didn't much care for the way he fussed over her but she'd never opened her mouth to say so. That irked Kane still to this day.

It was also quite obvious that she hadn't told him everything, either. He wondered why and had wondered for well over a year now. And if she started dating Derek again, would she tell him everything?

He drained his glass and focused on the girl vying for his attention. He'd just have to figure out a way to talk to Liv alone and pray that she had no intentions of ever telling Derek the truth.