Lovers, Losers, and You

By: Skylar M. Cates

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





For making this book shine, I want to thank my beta readers and the amazing Dreamspinner crew, especially the lovely and talented Sue Adams. Hugs to my understanding and supportive family for letting me escape once again into my “zone.” And finally I want to say a huge thank-you to all the readers who asked me if there would be more books in this series. I’m inspired by your kind words. I hope you enjoy their story, and I do plan two more in this series. You all make me dream bigger and brighter.





Dear Owen,

Yeah, it’s me again. Here to bother you with another letter. I know you’re busy with your job and your family in Georgia, but how can I persuade you to visit us? I didn’t mention it in my earlier letters, but there have been a ton of changes here. For one thing, I moved out of the house and in with my boyfriend, Ian. Mostly, this was due to loving Ian like a crazy lunatic, but if I’m totally honest, living in the house without Brendan there was too hard for me. The other guys remain, but again, I’m not sure how long they’ll stay. Especially River, who is more elusive than ever. Although you and Brendan never met, I can tell he’d have loved you… quite a lot. And maybe meeting you would have made him less broken inside. Eased his struggles with his family. I don’t know. All I ever wanted to do was be his best friend and protect him, but I failed.

I’ve always believed a person can make his own family. I did it too, for a time. Before Brendan’s senseless death, I had that with him and my other housemates.

I admit, meeting you is another chance for me. You’ve said you will come to visit us “someday,” but as the months fly away, I wonder if someday is “never”?

We are all still grieving here. The guys are a great group with giant hearts, and not an asshole among us. I know you’d be glad if you came and met them. And most importantly, Brendan is here—in every room in our little house, he’s still here. Take a chance and visit, won’t you? I’m not above begging.

Best,

Cole





CHAPTER ONE





IT HAD been Owen’s idea to ask for his contract a week early. St. James Academy usually delivered them in the faculty mailboxes a day before spring break, but he had been eager to see if he would be offered an increase in salary. The students had voted him teacher of the year, and Owen had single-handedly slaved over the new schedule that would rotate their classes more like a college and create a more flexible day for students and faculty alike. Everybody had been excited and full of praise for his suggestions. It wasn’t mere ego to think he’d earned the 5 percent that more experienced faculty received. Owen tore open the manila envelope and quickly scanned its contents, his heart thumping hopefully.

Instead of an increase, though, he found something else entirely.

A morality clause.

Owen had spent years telling himself all of it mattered: awards, student reviews, hard work. But did any of it? Because more often than not in this world, one misstep resulted in wiping out all the rest of the path.

Son of a bitch.

Now he was blindly heading down the highway in his beat-up Honda, and Owen had the words playing over and over in his head as he drove to the outskirts of the small coastal town of Ocean Vista, Florida. He pulled off to the side of the road to think. Ahead of him was the town and behind him the highway. The day was without the mercy of the slightest breeze, and Owen felt a hot trickle of sweat at his neck.

He’d come to learn about his biological brother’s life. Each time his brother’s best friend Cole wrote to him, it had torn at Owen’s heart until he finally couldn’t ignore the need to visit. If he’d also come to avoid possible threats to his career as a teacher and hide out in a place where nobody knew him or expected anything from him—well, that was a fact he could keep to himself.

His stomach growled. First things first. He needed a good meal. Owen was normally of solid build, but he’d lost some weight. Bone-tired most nights, it was too much bother to cook. If his mama knew how he’d let things slide with his meals, she’d be all over his ass. Cooking good food and teaching manners were the cornerstones of his mama’s parenting skills.

His mama could also pack a suitcase like nobody’s business, having followed Daddy’s career from one place to another. She folded with military precision. Not so Owen, who haphazardly tossed in three pairs of khaki shorts, one pair of jeans, and some random polo shirts. He packed white socks, sensible underwear, and toiletries. At the last possible second he remembered a nicer outfit and a bathing suit, but he had little occasion for other clothes beyond school functions.

Owen gave all of himself to his job at St. James Academy. Hell, he lived at his job. The private school encouraged the faculty to use their tiny campus apartments or be in their dorms as a “parent.” He’d had a plan, mapping out his entire future. He was going to be head of the history department, then assistant headmaster. He’d move into the headmaster’s big sprawling house by the lake one day. Nothing had changed. Only….

Faculty could be dismissed for any reason deemed “immoral” or “unacceptable” behavior not reflecting the values of the school. Private schools sometimes did this, but this was new for St. James Academy. A pushy member of the board of trustees, Mrs. Wilma Temple, or “Mrs. Moneybags,” as the staff secretly referred to her, insisted on it. “The world is more and more filled with degenerates,” she warned as she pointed a bony finger. “We all need to protect the St. James Academy proper way of life.”

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