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Kimmy Loth

Starry Skies, Stolen Kisses, and My Best Friend's Brother (PREORDER)

Starry Skies, Stolen Kisses, and My Best Friend's Brother (PREORDER)

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My best friend’s brother was totally off limits.

But he lived right next door.

And so when a date ended badly, I found myself at his house after midnight ranting about it.

“Is it too much to ask for a guy to kiss me when I clearly want him too?”

Out of nowhere, he had me pressed against the wall. “You shouldn’t have come here tonight. My self-control goes out the window after midnight. And when a beautiful girl comes into my house whining that she didn’t get a proper kiss, I feel obligated to rectify that.”

Synopsis

My best friend’s brother was totally off limits.

But he lived right next door.

And so when a date ended badly, I found myself at his house after midnight ranting about it.

“Is it too much to ask for a guy to kiss me when I clearly want him too?”

Out of nowhere, he had me pressed against the wall. “You shouldn’t have come here tonight. My self-control goes out the window after midnight. And when a beautiful girl comes into my house whining that she didn’t get a proper kiss, I feel obligated to rectify that.”

1st chapter

Chapter 1

Mae

“Rise
and shine, Valentine.” Abi thumps my bunk from below. She’s scared of heights,
so she gave me the top bunk, but she’s obnoxious about it. I’ve been awake for
a while, staring at the rough wood ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stars I put
up.

I
can’t sleep because of the tightness in my chest and the dream I had of a
certain hot brother of Abi’s kissing me.

Abi
pokes her head up and over the side. “Seth’s coming home today.”

I
roll my eyes as butterflies churn in my stomach. “I know. You’ve told me every
five seconds for the last three days.” She and her brother look almost
identical, even though they are twelve years apart. Though Seth has a strong
jaw and thick brows while Abi is much more feminine. I think it’s the same dark
eyes with long lashes and thick, dark brown hair that makes them look so
similar. I’d give anything to have the same striking features. Between my pale
blue eyes, pasty skin, and white-blonde hair, everything blends together.

“He
hasn’t been home since he left for college sixteen years ago.”

Another
fact that Abi keeps bringing up even though I know her brother almost better
than she does. I will never understand why Seth left. Whisper Springs is the
best place on the planet. Now, if he were leaving the planet, then maybe I
could understand. But why would anyone want to leave when we live in paradise?

“It’s
still early. Go back to sleep.” I push on her head, hoping she’ll take the
hint. I don’t want to sleep, but I don’t want to talk about Seth either because
then I might have to talk about how nervous I am to see him in person.

“Yeah,”
someone else shouts from across the room. “Go back to sleep, Abi. We don’t have
to be up for hours.”

This
is likely the last summer with Abi I’ll spend in the bunkhouse at her family
resort, Blackwood Family Farm. We share it with a dozen other girls. Abi and I
are the oldest at twenty-two. Most of the rest are in high school or are freshmen
in college. I could stay at my house, but my dad is a little too meddlesome,
and he’d ask questions every time I came in after midnight even though I’m an
adult, and he still gives me a guilt trip about staying in the bunkhouse every
time I see him.

Which
is a lot because if he’s not at work, he’s out here helping Todd, his childhood
best friend and Abi’s dad. I like that he’s around, but I can’t live with him.
The summer after my sophomore year in college, I realized he had plans for my
life. Plans that I wasn’t even aware of. Plans he seems hell bent on me
following. Plans that don’t involve my dream of eventually working with the
SETI team at Green Bank and living forever in Whisper Springs, which is my heritage.
My great-great-grandfather started the town after all. I don’t understand why
my dad doesn’t want me to inherit it.

According
to him, I’m supposed to go out and see the world and then get married and
settle somewhere around D.C. so he’ll be fairly close to his grandkids. Which
is where I’d probably be if I was still with Rick, and while I miss him even
though he dumped me, I don’t miss the future in the city.

I
want to spend the rest of my life here so I can be here the first time the SETI
Lab makes actual contact with another planet. I want to be in the tiny lab and
be a part of it. I believe in aliens.

But
he doesn’t know about that.

No
one else does either. It’s a secret I keep from most of my friends and family
because I don’t want to be called the crazy one.

I’ve
been a lifeguard at Abi’s family’s campground for years, and I wanted one more
summer before I have to go out and be a real adult. My internship in D.C. starts
in the fall, and it’ll probably turn into a real job.

Unfortunately,
I don’t like cities. Or crowds. They make me anxious. I like the peace and
quiet of home. There just aren’t any social media marketing jobs here, and I
have no money to renovate anything in my grandfather’s [SR1] old
town. But I love it here. I’ll never understand why Mom left and why Dad thinks
I should move away.

Tucked
away in the rugged Appalachian Mountains, deep within the radio-free zone of
West Virginia, lies my home. Surrounded by a thick forest of pine and oak
trees, the only sounds that break the quiet are the rustling of leaves and the occasional
chirping of birds. Whisper Springs is nestled on a hill, adjacent to the
rushing river. With no cell service, this place feels different than the rest
of the world, less busy and connected. Years ago, Whisper Springs was a
bustling logging community, but all of those businesses long ago moved on. Now,
the only buildings utilized are the ten or so homes Dad rents out to tourists.

If
it were up to me, we’d fix up the small town that my dad still owns. It’s right
next door to Abi’s family’s property and has fifty-seven small houses, a
church, an old company store, and a few other buildings. And so many stars.
Which are better outside than on the ceiling of the bunkhouse.

“Y’all
are party poopers,” Abi says and plunks back onto her bed.

None
of us will sleep now. And I realize Abi’s excited, but I’m exhausted. We stayed
up way too late last night making cookies and talking with her mom. We didn’t
really sleep the night before either with all the Fourth of July festivities.
It’s my favorite holiday. Adding to that my nervousness over seeing Seth in
person, and I’m not sure I got more than a couple of hours of sleep.

I
see the glow of phones all around the bunkhouse, one of only two places on the
property where we can get wifi. A few of the beds are missing girls. Animal
caretakers and food service workers leave early. But the rest of us—lifeguards,
housekeepers, groundskeepers, and front-office staff—don’t have to get up for a
while.

I
scroll mindlessly through TikTok videos. I shouldn’t be so nervous. But I am. I
talk to Seth daily—sometimes multiple times a day—but I’ve never seen him in
person. At least not that I remember since he left when I was so young. The
guy’s practically a chiseled Greek god with dark hair and eyes, and he’s the
most charming man I’ve ever known. If he wasn’t Abi’s big brother, I don’t know
if I’d be able to coherently speak two words to him. I might not be able to in
real life anyway.

I’m
scared he’ll recognize my infatuation with him. I’m nothing like the women he
dates. They’re gorgeous, sophisticated, and smart. I’m a seven on my best days,
I prefer jeans to dresses, and smart is never the word people use when they
describe me. Plus, with my white-blonde hair and baby face, sometimes I still
look like I’m twelve. Which is how old I was when my crush developed on Seth.
Though we didn’t become real friends until a few years later.

Our
friendship began one night seven years ago when I needed dating advice. Once a
week, Abi and I would hide out in her family’s internet room in the outbuilding
with offices—the only place on the property at the time with wifi—and Facetime
Seth. I always loved her big family. She’s the youngest of eight and the only
girl, and all of her brothers became mine. As an only child, that was important
to me. Seth was always the least intimidating because he was on the other side
of a screen, and so when I needed advice about a boy, I asked Abi for his
number.

And
somehow, he became my best friend from afar. It’s silly, though, because until
I was in college, he just saw me as a second little sister, not his best friend.
Our friendship was pretty one-sided. He rarely told me things about his life
but listened to my drama and offered advice.

But
I’m not a kid anymore, and he’s coming back home.

That’s
something nobody saw coming. No one knows why he never came home before. I’ve
asked him a couple of times, but he always evades the question, usually with an
invitation to come see him wherever in the world he is.

My
phone buzzes, and a message pops up.

Seth:
I’ll need you to hook me up.

Mae:
With what?

Seth:
Women. If I’m gonna be stuck in the boondocks for the summer, I need
entertainment.

Mae:
What??? Abi and I aren’t enough?

Seth:
You two can entertain me during the day, but after midnight, I want something
other than my little sisters.

I
glare at the phone. I’m a long ways from my stupid teenage years. Not that I
have a chance in hell with him.

Mae:
Most of the women I know are too young for you.

Seth:
As long as they’re legal, I’m good.

Mae:
SETH!

Seth:
Age is just a number. Come on. Surely you have friends who aren’t looking for
something long-term.

Mae:
Most of those girls are my friends. They’ll all fall at your feet, and you’ll
leave them heartbroken and alone. Go over to Roanoke or Staunton on the
weekends. I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for there.

Seth:
Plane lands in a few minutes. Are you picking me up from the airport?

Mae:
Abi said you were getting a car.

Seth:
I am. I was hoping for my fan club screaming at the fence.

Mae:
Nice try, buddy. I’m working today.

Seth:
Whatever. You work for my brother. You could get off if you really wanted to see
me.

Mae:
Your ego does not need screaming fans. See you in a few hours.

Seth:
I’m on the ground. I’ll see you in fifteen minutes.

Mae:
Roanoke is two hours away.

Seth:
And I flew into Green Bank.

Mae:
Green Bank does not have an airport.

Seth:
Sure it does. But only if you’re willing to fly on a small jet.

Mae:
Like a private jet? How much money do you have?

Seth:
Enough. See you in fifteen minutes. Screaming fans are encouraged.

He
doesn’t mean it. Seth actually hates attention like that.

Fifteen
minutes isn’t that much time, but I’m pretty sure Abi and I can raid the arts
and crafts shed.

I
scramble out of my bed. “Girls! We’re gonna be late for work today.”

*

Seth
definitely underestimated me. The airport is actually thirty minutes away, and
he still had to grab a car and everything. That was more than enough time. Abi
got the posters going while I got everyone else out of bed. I thought about
heading to the boys bunkhouse and recruiting them as well but figured that
might be a bit much.

“What’s
going on here?” Mark, my boss and one of Abi’s other brothers, climbs out of
his golf cart and hovers over us. All of us will need to head to work soon, but
since it’s a Tuesday, the campground isn’t that busy.

We’re
sitting in the gazebo in the middle of the property, surrounded by posterboards
and glitter. The air is filled with the sharp scent of craft glue and markers,
along with the sweet fragrance of flowers and freshly cut grass, and the smell
of breakfast wafts from the nearby kitchen, making my stomach growl. The girls chatter
as they work on their projects, occasionally squealing or giggling.

A
few guests have gathered around as well, coffee cups in hand. Some of them have
joined in the making of posters, but most just chat with each other.

“Excuse
me, but do you work here?”

Mark
and I both spin around. A young couple stands a few feet away from us, phones
in hand.

“Sure
do,” Mark says. “How can we help you?”

“Is
there any place I can get service?” The woman holds her phone in the air.

Mark
rubs the back of his neck. “You do know where you are, right?”

“I’m
not sure what you mean.”

“Where
are you from?”

“Missouri.
We’ve been driving through the mountains and enjoying the beauty. We got in
late last night.”

“I
see. We’re in the radio-free zone. It’s 13,000 square miles of no cell service
and no radio waves. And you’re right in the middle of it. Most people come here
to get away from it. You would have to drive two hours to get service.”

The
man looks horrified. “Why so far?”

“Because
of Green Bank. It’s less than a mile from here as the crow flies. It’s a
complex of massive satellite dishes that are searching for life out there.”
Mark points up at the sky. He’s not exactly right. Most of the scientists at
the Green Bank Observatory just use the dish to study outer space. People just
assume it’s all about aliens, but it’s only the scientists in the SETI lab who
are looking for alien life. “The government controls the radio waves so there
is no interference.”

The
woman chuckles nervously. “Is there any way to get service?”

“My
dad’s a bit of a luddite, so we don’t have many places with wifi, but the
office building has it.” Mark points across the lawn to the campground office.
“It’s not open yet, but you can still connect on the porch. It’s open. There is
no password.”

There
are a few benches on the porch for that very reason, with guests already
sitting on them.

The
office building has wifi, and so does the girls bunkhouse, but that’s it. They
ran one line of fiber onto the property, so only buildings on that line were
able to tap into it. Mark’s parents’ house has internet as well, but his dad
refuses to put in a router, so they have to hardwire in. Cellphones don’t work
there.

The
couple both still look a little shell-shocked, but they trudge across the lawn
anyway.

Mark
shakes his head. “You’d think people would know what they’re getting into when
they come here.”

“You
know they never do.” I’ve seen this scene play out many times.

Mark
glances at the posters. “What are you doing anyway?”

“Seth’s
gonna be here in a few minutes. We plan to embarrass him,” Abi says.

Mark
chuckles, but there’s no humor there, and he seems to be warring with something
in his head. Finally, he speaks. “You might want to grab a few bras to throw at
him.”

Abi
jerks her head up. “That’s brilliant. Mae, go get a few of yours.”

My
face colors, but the idea of Seth holding my bra both excites and embarrasses
me. Embarrassment wins out.

“Why
me? You get yours.”

“Because
Seth’s my brother, and that would be weird.”

“He’s
my second best friend. Still weird.” I once called Seth my best friend, and Abi
didn’t talk to me for a week because she said she was my best friend. I’m not really
sure who knows me better—her or Seth. He actually listens more than she does,
so probably him.

“Just
go get one. Mark, will you film it? I want to post it on Instagram and tag
him.” It’s amazing how we’ve all adapted to the lack of cell service here. We
still have our phones out all the time, mostly for pictures, videos and games,
and then in the evenings, we find places with wifi and get our social media
fix.

“You
two are the worst. But of course I’ll film it for you. I can’t believe Sethy’s
coming home.” Mark runs a hand through his hair and scowls. I’ve never actually
heard him use the name Sethy, but Seth has mentioned a couple of times how he
hated that his younger brothers called him that.

Abi’s
excited about Seth coming home, but none of his brothers have been acting that
way. In fact, most of them get that same grimace as Mark on their faces when
anyone mentions Seth.

Abi
continues to glitter a sign that says: Marry
me. I want to have your babies.

“I
know. I don’t think it’ll last, but Dad needs him.” Abi doesn’t look up, but I
can see the worry on her face. I fiddle with my ring, which has a stone that
looks like a starry night sky.

I’m
not privy to all the family business, but over the last few months, there have
been mutters of financial troubles. This place is my childhood, and I’d hate to
see it shut down. Two generations ago, it was just a farm nestled in the hills
that provided produce to my grandf[SR2] ather’s
logging town. Now it’s a river resort with a campground, petting zoo, pumpkin
patch, and Christmas tree farm. A couple of days ago, we had a massive Fourth of
July party. In September, they’ll do a fall festival, and Christmases here are
magical. The gazebo and pole barn make a gorgeous wedding venue as well.
Terry—Abi’s mom—is a master event planner.

During
the summer, Blackwood Family Farm becomes a hub of activity for all water
sports enthusiasts. Right next door, my dad’s property is for people who don’t
want to stay in cabins or tents. Despite the wear and tear on some of the
buildings, he manages to rent out ten fully furnished houses to kayakers and
winter skiers. He also renovated the little church for the weddings that Terry
books because some people want to be married in the church instead of the
gazebo or barn.

I
check my phone. “He’ll be here in five minutes.”

“Go
get a couple of bras. Seriously.” Abi slaps me on the arm.

I
can never tell that girl no. I should stand up for myself more, but it’s easier
to just give in. I jog to the bunkhouse and grab a lacy black one that I don’t
like wearing because it itches. Once I get back, the girls gather in a circle.
I shove my bra into the hands of a river raft guide and take a sign from Abi.
Mark stands a few yards away, phone at the ready.

The
car comes around the bend in the driveway, and I don’t even have to cue the
other girls. Everyone starts screaming and races for the car. Someone behind us
yells, “Woo hoo.”

I
hurry forward with the rest of the girls.

Seth
had gotten a convertible—of course—and even though I can’t see his eyes behind the
sunglasses, his face turns full-on red. He stops the car, and we swarm him. His
Doberman, Deka, jumps out of the car and takes off after Gilbert and
Bisbee—Terry’s collies.

A
few girls hop onto the hood of the car, and my bra makes it into his lap. I
jump into the passenger seat and hold my sign high.

Within
seconds, it’s over, all of us dissolving into giggles.

“Time
to get to work,” Mark calls out, and everyone scatters except me and Abi.

“You
are the worst,” Seth says. He glances past me, and I know he’s checking on
Deka. She’s probably never seen this much land before. But Gilbert and Bisbee
are the friendliest dogs on Earth, so I’m sure she’s fine.

“You
asked for it.” I know he didn’t mean it, but it was still fun to tease him.

He
brings his gaze back to me, and I remind myself to breathe. This is a man who
listens to me sincerely and gives the best advice. He’s smart, business savvy,
and dang near perfect. He stares at me, and I’m grateful he still has his
sunglasses on. I might go comatose if I see his eyes.

He
swallows. “I didn’t really expect you to come up with screaming fans.”

I
grin at him and press my shaking hands into my lap. “Welcome home.”

Abi
jumps into the back seat and squeezes him from behind. “I can’t believe you’re
here.”

Seth
swivels around and looks between her and me. “You two are all grown up.”

I
take a moment to study him while he’s distracted. He’s wearing a dark suit with
a black tie. While I appreciate the view, he won’t fit in here dressed like
that. Besides, it’s too hot.

“And
graduated from college.” Abi preens a bit for him, and he laughs.

“But
you both look like you’re ready to star in a Girls Gone Wild spring break
edition. Can’t you put on clothes?” He scowls at the both of us, looking just
like his brother earlier, except he has longer hair than Mark does.

Abi
giggles. “Oh no. You can’t get all big brother on us now. Mae and I have guys
to impress. By noon we don’t even wear our tanks and shorts. It’s bikinis all
day, every day. I’ve landed four dates this summer so far this way.” Abi
started string-bikini summers after we got out of college. Mark was a little
concerned at first because he didn’t like us wearing only bikinis, but Abi’s
pretty forceful. I prefer one-piece suits because they stay on better in the
water, but Abi insisted we match, so I got used to it. I’ve only lost my top
once. Which is more than I can say for Abi. She loses hers on a weekly basis.

Seth
raises a brow. “Is she for real?”

I
nod. “I’ve gone out with six guys so far. She’s upset because I’m beating her.”

His
mouth drops. “You’ve slept with six different guys this summer?”

I
reach over and close his mouth, my fingers tingling with the touch. “I don’t
sleep with all of them. Get your mind out of the gutter.” I haven’t even slept
with any of them, but no one else needs to know that detail.

“I
thought you had a boyfriend.” His tone is casual, but I can hear a note of
surprise that he’s trying to hide.

“We
broke up.”

Seth
gives me a look but doesn’t say anything. I usually tell him everything, but
for some reason, I didn’t tell him about my breakup with Rick. I was sad that day,
but surprisingly, the next day I was fine. Maybe I didn’t love him as much as I
thought I did. He was a good guy. Everyone loved him. Even Abi, though as soon as
she found out he dumped me, she hated him. Maybe I’m so used to people leaving
me, so I expected it. I try not to think about the other reason I didn’t really
care—the fact that no man will ever be like Seth.

But
the thing that irked me most about the breakup was that I had done everything
Rick asked or expected of me. I put out as much as he wanted. Even if I wasn’t
in the mood. I changed my appearance so that I could attend important political
events with him. I hid all my weird quirks and fandoms—though most of those were
already hidden from the world. But he would not have approved of or supported
my interests.

That’s
just who I am. I do what I can to make sure I’m exactly what people want me to
be.

And
it still wasn’t enough. I wasn’t good enough for him. But I couldn’t tell Seth
that.

Abi
giggles as she hops out of the back. She jogs over to Mark, and they hover over
his phone. Seth turns his full attention on me, whips off his Bulgari sunglasses,
and gives me the most devastating smile ever. I’m not going to survive this
summer.

“You
want to have my babies?” He raises both brows and gives me a cocky grin. One
that I want to read way more into than I should.

I
read the sign still in my hands and toss it into the back seat. “Abi made the
signs.”

“We’d
make pretty babies. Too bad you’re my mei mei.” He says the last two words in a
high, squeaky voice that I hate and ruffles my hair. He thought it was terribly
funny that my name sounded the same as little sister in Chinese, and he’s been
calling me that ever since.

“You’re
holding my bra, so I sincerely hope I’m not your mei mei. Besides, we’ve been
over this. You’re too old for me.”

It
was a longstanding joke that started last year when Abi was hellbent on turning
me into her real sister. She actually made me go on a date with every single
one of her brothers—including Mark. There was zero chemistry or interest on all
sides.

Seth
is the only one left, but since he lives so far away, we can’t date. And when
Abi pushed the issue, Seth and I used the only argument we could think of.

The
age gap.

He’s
twelve years older than me, and I’m barely out of college.

It
would be too weird. At least that’s what I tell myself so I wouldn’t get hurt
when he rejected me. I don’t really notice the age difference very often.

I
flick the lapel of his suit. “What are you wearing?”

“What
I wear every day.”

“Seth.
We Facetime all the time, and you never have a suit on.”

“Because
you only see me when I’m alone at home. In public, I wear a suit.”

I
find it strange that I didn’t know this about him already. “Why?”

He
shrugs, and frowns in the direction of Mark.

“Are
you happy to be home?” I ask him. We never talk about why he doesn’t come here—ever.

He
gives me a fake smile. “Not really.”

“Why
not?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer, and I don’t push.

“You
guys, this is awesome.” Abi waves me over. We both climb out of the car, but
before I make it more than a few steps, Seth grabs my hand, and my heart races.
He can’t touch me like that. I’m bound to jump him without thinking.

“I
want a proper hug.”

I
twist my arms around his neck, and he pulls me close to him, one hand on the
small of my back and one between my shoulder blades. He smells like soap and
expensive cologne. He buries his face in my hair, and the hug goes a beat too
long, but then he releases me. There’s too much wrapped up in this hug, and I know
he feels it too.

He
looks at me, and for a half second, his gaze is so intense that I think he
might kiss me. But he takes a step back and lifts his pant leg. “I may wear a
suit every day, but I also only ever wear mei-mei socks.”

The
tension breaks, and I laugh. The socks have me and Abi’s faces on them. We send
him socks every month, the uglier or the more obnoxious the better. I don’t
even know why it started, but it’s a tradition I hope we never stop. Finding
new and fun socks for him is so fun.

“Wear
the bacon and eggs tomorrow.” I’d love to see him wearing those socks and
nothing else. My face flushes. Lately, my thoughts about him have become
increasingly naughty. Which is bad, because now I have to face him in person
every day.

He
gives me a little bow. “Your wish is my command.”

If
he had any idea what I was really wishing, he might not say that. But then his
eyes meet mine, and I wonder if he has the same wishes.

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