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Chapter no 12

The Summer of Broken Rules

Wit convinced me to let him drive the Jeep home, and he faithfully followed the speed limit…until we hit The Farm road. Then he pressed down on the clutch to shift into a higher gear before letting out an excited whoop. I laughed at first, but the faster we flew, the harder my heart hammered. “Can you slow down?” I asked. “Wit…”

He couldn’t hear me, and thick clouds of dust kicked up in our wake. I clenched my teeth, worried Wink’s old car might topple. It had happened before, back when my dad and Uncle Brad were in college. They’d been messing around in one of the fields and accidentally rolled it. No one had been hurt, but still, the car had ended up on its side. My grandfather had been livid.

And Claire—I mostly was thinking about Claire and how fast that SUV had been going when it smashed into Sarah’s car. Even though the lane was barely wide enough, Paqua’s driveway was technically a two-way street. What would happen if we had to swerve around another car?

“Wit,” I tried again, and this time, I put my hand on his knee and squeezed it. “Wit!”

Something flashed in his eyes when he turned and saw the terror on my face, and before I could count to ten, he’d eased on the brakes, pulled onto the side of the road, and put the Jeep in park. “Shit, shit, shit,” I heard him mutter as he hopped out of the car and came around to my side to pop open

my door. “I’m sorry.” He looked up at me, high off the ground in the passenger seat. “I’m an asshole. I’m sorry.”

Don’t cry, I told myself. Don’t cry.

But it had taken him less than ten seconds. It had taken him less than ten seconds to connect the dots, while Ben had never connected them. “No, I’m sorry,” I managed to say. “I just…” I glanced away, unable to look at him. “I like to be in control. Ever since…” A tear escaped, and my cheeks burned. “I feel like I need to be in control.”

Wit gestured to the driver’s side. “Absolutely,” he said. “Please, take over.”

“No,” I told him. “You wanted to drive.” I took a deep breath and settled back into my seat. “I have to get over this.”

Because I did—I couldn’t continue living in fear whenever I wasn’t the one behind the wheel. I needed to trust other drivers again.

“It doesn’t have to be today, though,” Wit said. “It’s okay.” I kept my seat belt buckled.

He nodded, then walked back around the front of the Jeep and climbed up into the driver’s seat. He turned over the ignition, put the car in first gear, then pulled onto the road after Aunt Christine’s Range Rover drove by us.

The speedometer’s needle didn’t go above twenty-five the rest of the way back, and we parked the Jeep outside the tractor barn. Wit walked me back to the Annex, his arm curved around my waist and carrying my Edgartown treasure trove (books, candy, and a new Black Dog T-shirt) like a gentleman. “Anything?” he asked as I checked the mailbox for my new target. When Viv had come up empty-handed last night, I’d texted Commissioner Wink. What a load of horseshit, he’d replied. If you don’t have it by

tomorrow, let me know, and I’ll take care of it.

“Nothing,” I said with a sigh. “Nada.” “Seriously? That’s ridiculous.”

“What’s ridiculous?” someone asked, and we turned to see Luli rounding the cottage.

Wit gave the top of my head a sweet kiss. “See you soon,” he whispered before saying Michael needed him for something.

I thought he was a little afraid of Luli, so I giggled once she and I were alone…but my friend didn’t laugh with me. Instead, she watched Wit retreat to the Cabin. “Bye-bye,” she said, her voice almost wistful. “Bye-bye, Benny Boy.”

My stomach stirred. Again, Luli was bringing up Ben. Why? I picked up my shopping bags and shot her a look. “Could you call him by his actual name, please?” I asked.

Luli laughed. “Meredith, what happened to ‘I’m here to celebrate Sarah and Michael and spend time with my friends and family‘?”

“Nothing,” I told her. “That’s exactly what I’m doing.” I nudged open the Annex’s door, and Luli followed me inside. My parents were gone, probably at the beach. It was h-o-t hot today, at least ninety.

“Yes,” Luli said, “but how about your no hookups thing? You told us—” “Relax,” I cut in, feeling this needling on my neck. “Wit isn’t a hookup.”

Luli raised her eyebrow. “Isn’t he? You guys were the talk of The Farm this morning. Everyone saw you leave the Varsity Room together.”

I fumbled for a good response, because I wasn’t sure what Wit and I were yet.

Then I remembered what my dad had said earlier when I mentioned Wit and I were going to Dock Street. That’s a good move, Mer. Get him off The Farm, make him feel comfortable, get him to open up.

“Relax,” I said again. “Yeah, we’re having some fun, but I’m also pumping him for information.” I straightened my shoulders. “Assassin information, to help our alliance.”

It felt so wrong to say, but when Luli’s lips curled into a scheming smile, I knew it was the right thing to say. At least for now. “Ooh, that’s so evil.

Getting personal with the enemy. I love it.” She flopped onto the sitting room’s couch. “Speaking of which, I need your help this afternoon. Obviously, I still have Margaret, but I’m thinking I can get her—”

“I’m sorry,” I said, stomach twisting. “Wit and I have plans later…so, um, can Pravika or Jake sub in for me?”

“They’re both at work,” Luli said flatly. “Eli?” I suggested.

“Sure, I guess so,” she said after a beat and then, “Do you know Wit’s target?”

“That’s my goal for today,” I lied. She smirked. “Good.”

I winced.

“Text us when you find out?”

“Yes.” I nodded quickly, trying to muster up enthusiasm. “Of course.”

* * *

Instead of joining everyone on the main stretch of beach, Wit and I headed for Paqua Pond. “You’ll like it,” I said when he met me back at the Annex. “Hardly anyone goes there. Claire and I call it Secret Beach.”

“Sounds awesome,” he said and slung my canvas tote over his shoulder. It was packed with all the beach essentials: towels, sunscreen, books, ice-cold waters, sandwiches, and other snacks. Wit winked. “You had me at secret.”

We walked across the fields but veered onto the wooded pathway in the opposite direction from the ocean and the Oyster Pond. Both of us had our water guns, just in case. I listened as Wit relayed the new intel he’d collected from the other groomsmen. “The bridesmaids are dropping like flies,” he said. “Uncle Brad bombarded their breakfast and took out Danielle.”

“Ouch, really?” I said. Birds were chirping, and sweat was already dripping down my back. “The maid of honor?”

“Uh-huh. She tried to argue that it was an official wedding event, since they were all there, but Wink rejected that in about three seconds.”

I laughed.

“Ian is still in, so we gotta watch out for him, and I think you should text Sarah to get that nightmare’s number.”

“Calm down,” I said and pretend-punched him in the arm. It was slick with sweat, too. “Viv isn’t a nightmare. She’s just—”

“—the worst,” Wit finished. “Sarah and Michael have dragged me to dinner with her before in New Orleans. Trust me, she’s the worst.” He shook his head. “Of course she hasn’t delivered her target.”

“Mmm,” I mumbled, not exactly eager to reach out to Sarah. “Wink said he would take care of it.”

Wit nodded, then slipped into silence with a pensive expression on his face. “Who do you think has me?” he asked, sounding unnerved. “I’m starting to freak out a little.”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “My dad is picking off cousins, my mom has Nicole, Jake’s new target is a groomsman, Uncle Brad now has whoever Danielle had, and Luli…” I bit my lip. “Your name hasn’t come up at all.”

“Sorry about Luli, by the way,” Wit said. “I totally abandoned you back there.” He chuckled. “Part of me suspected she had me, and the other part is scared of her.”

“She does not have you,” I assured him.

Although I’m supposed to tell her who you have…

Wit and I had agreed to neither confirm nor deny any alleged Assassin allegiance, but where did that promise to Luli fall? I already knew who Wit’s next mark was, so I technically could’ve told her right then and there. Ugh. I wasn’t actually going to break Wit’s confidence, was I?

Either way, I couldn’t tell him.

“Hey, this is a cool tree,” he said, snapping me out of my thoughts. He’d stopped in front of a tree with thick branches and outlandish vines twisted

around its trunk. My heart flipped. Dad had taken Claire and me on so many walks when we were little and always pointed out the “jungle tree.”

“Watch this!” I broke into a grin and sprinted past Wit to scramble up the tree in record time. Using one branch as a balance beam, I pushed through a patch of leaves to see him staring up at me. “What?” I asked.

He smiled. “Nothing.”

I laughed. “I love climbing trees.”

“Yes,” he said, the corners of his mouth curling. “Just like you love climbing me.”

My breath caught.

Just like you love climbing me.

“You’re wicked,” I said.

“And you go wild for it,” he said back as I jumped to the ground.

* * *

Secret Beach was beautifully deserted. Paqua Pond shimmered in the sunlight, with its wooden float just waiting for Wit and me to wade into the water and swim out to it. “We need to let the sunscreen soak in first, though,” he said and sighed when I gave him a look. “Listen, I can’t get burned.” He pointed to his bruise. “Michael told me that Aunt Christine is still debating cutting me from the wedding photos. If I’m both maimed and fried, I’d say the odds won’t be in my favor.”

I grumbled. “Fine.”

So we spread out our beach towels, ate our roast beef sandwiches, and read our books for a while. I’d bought the final installment in Claire’s favorite fantasy series, but I kept peeking at Wit, shirtless and all stretched out with his New Zealand and Australia books.

“Okay,” I said eventually, “when do you leave?” He glanced over at me. “Oh, Michael told you?”

I shook my head. “No, but you’re obsessed—I mean, you got another one today.” I laughed. “When do you go Down Under?”

“The end of the summer.”

“And when do you return?”

Wit hesitated, slowly closing his book. “Next May.” “Wait,” I said, sitting up on my towel. “What?”

Wit sat up, too. “My adventure,” he said. “Remember? The one I want to go on?”

I nodded silently.

“Well, this is it,” he explained, holding up his guidebook. “I’m taking a year off school and going to New Zealand. My parents and I agreed that it’s the best thing for me right now.” He paused. “Because Tulane…” He shrugged. “I don’t know…maybe I’ll go back there, maybe I’ll transfer. I need to think.”

Again, I just nodded.

Wit looked at me. “Meredith?” “A whole year?” I blurted.

“No, not a whole year,” he said. “Just late August to late May. A school year.”

For some reason, my head was spinning. Perhaps it was the extreme heat. “What are you going to do there?” I asked.

“Everything,” he answered. “Travel, of course, but first I’m going to work as a tour guide at a national park. One of Michael’s friends did that in college and helped me set it up. I’m going to Australia, too.” He smiled. “It might sound ridiculous, but I want to work on a farm for a bit. It’s on my bucket list.” His lips quirked. “Don’t laugh.”

I didn’t laugh. Because it was hitting me now, really hitting me. “Wit isn’t a hookup,” I’d told Luli, but yes, that was exactly what he was—exactly what we were to each other. After Sarah and Michael said “I do” on Saturday and drove off into the sunset, Wit and I would go our separate

ways, him halfway around the world and me to Hamilton. Suddenly, I felt like I was treading in unfamiliar waters, and I didn’t like it. Ben and I had dated for four years—I had no true understanding of or experience with casually hooking up.

“Hey,” Wit said now. “Sunscreen be damned. Let’s take a dunk.”

“Yes, finally.” I jumped up from my sweat-soaked towel, sighing contentedly when the cool water hit my skin. Wit immediately submerged himself in the shallows and did a goofy handstand before taking off for the pond’s float. I flipped onto my back and did my best backstroke to follow him.

He pulled himself up onto the float first, and once on the edge, he stretched out a hand to help me before we swiftly fell back against the worn wood planks and kissed. The float was warm from the sun, but I shivered a little. Wit’s slick skin felt so good against mine. His fingertips danced up along my waist as I tangled my hands in his wet hair, and our kisses sent slow spirals through me before I had to break away for air. “Holy fuck,” I breathed.

“Payback for this morning,” he said.

I laughed when he fiddled with my bikini strings. “You are so not subtle.” He shrugged. “Only if you’re comfortable.”

“Yes, of course.” I ran my hands over his shoulders, down his wiry arms. Because yes, with him, I was comfortable, and if we only had a few more days together, I did want this. “Just not here,” I said and kissed his collarbone. We might’ve been the only ones at Secret Beach, but it wasn’t like we were really in private. “Later?”

“Mmm, yeah,” Wit murmured. “Later. Right, all right.” He sounded like he wasn’t thinking straight. “Good, all good.”

And then he just stiffly rolled off the float, flopping into the pond. A type of cold shower, I supposed. It was hilarious.

“You are wicked,” he said when he broke the surface.

“And you go wild for it,” I said back, moving to dangle my legs off the float.

Wit splashed water at me. I kicked water at him.

How did we only have four days left?

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