The Color Of Grace by Linda Kage by Linda Kage - Read Online

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Summary

Young Adult Romance. When my mother remarried after thirteen years of being a widow, I had to move to a new town and enroll in a new school. Suddenly thrust into an entirely different kind of life, I just wanted to go home. I didn't want to meet new people, didn't want to leave my old friends, didn't want to become a third wheel to my mom and her husband....and I really didn't want to see Ryder Yates again. Ugh, I still don't know why I turned down that too-good-to-be-true boy who flirted with me when we were attending separate schools. But honestly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It was worse. Who knew becoming lost in a new life could help a girl find her true colors?
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611603071
List price: $3.99
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The Color Of Grace - Linda Kage

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me.

Chapter 1

Through the lens of my camera, I zoomed in on the flood of purple and white blanketing Southeast High School’s fan club as they swarmed my home school’s bleachers on the visitors’ side.

Their mascot, a violet dragon, danced and pranced past the Southeast cheerleaders, flipping up the skirt of one girl as he went. She chased him a few steps, swatting him away from her, giggling the whole time. I groaned, cringing as I watched the Barney wannabe wiggle his backside, inviting the cheerleader to spank him for his misdeed. Yeah, yeah. I know. Barney’s a dinosaur and their mascot was a dragon. Big diff.

But, come on. "Who in their right mind has a dragon for a mascot?" I muttered aloud. Honestly.

An arm came around my shoulder and Bridget, my best friend in the entire world, tilted her head sympathetically to rest her temple against mine. You will…soon.

Too right she was. The massive pretzel with cheese I’d just gorged down roiled in my stomach; I thought I might toss it back up. I let out another moan and lowered my face. Those would be my people over there, and I didn’t know one of them. They’d be my classmates, and to me, they looked like total morons.

Why, oh why, had my mother married a man from Osage, home of the Southeast Dragons?

Worse yet, one of the last home basketball games my school hosted before I had to become a purple and white dragon just had to be against them.

They were having a good ball season. We were not.

Let me rephrase.

Hillsburg hadn’t had a good basketball team for going on about, oh, five years now, while Southeast was blooming. Frankly, they were undefeated. Both boys and girls.

Their team was going to flatten ours and stomp our remains into dust. And I had doomed myself with the task of immortalizing the event with pictures. Since I was on the yearbook staff, I’d signed up to shoot all the home games with Bridget.

Next to me, she patted my back dolefully. So, are you packed and ready to move yet?

I drew in a deep, fortifying breath and sat up to once again catch sight of the dragon’s progress. He was flirting with some other girl now, sitting five rows up in the Southeast fan section.

Bridge waited quietly for my answer.

She and I were part of the nerd herd, as her older brother Joel liked to call us. A total of four, we nerders had banded together years ago and bridged a friendship I knew would be unbreakable no matter how far away I had to move. But leaving them was still going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done.

I stole a quick glance her way.

Some, I said.

Okay, I’d packed hardly anything at all. But I just couldn’t do it. How could I go? How could I leave the people I’d grown up with since kindergarten and known my entire life? And how could I admit to her how hard this was for me? Seeing my dejection would only multiply her gloom and make everything ten times more miserable for both of us.

So, I lied. Mostly.

She nodded and straightened her shoulders as if she was relieved I wasn’t suffering.

The buzzer went off, making me jump and worry the entire building was ousting my fib with its strident screech. Glancing toward the record-keeper’s desk where the scoreboard controls sat, I spotted Hillsburg’s janitor, Mr. Velter, cringing. He bowed his shoulders like a kid who knew he’d just been caught stealing cookies and glanced around to realize he’d gained the entire gymnasium’s attention. Giving a half wave and a rueful grin, he set the scoreboard time to let both teams know they had ten minutes to warm up.

Relieved the buzzer had interrupted my conversation with Bridge, I hefted the camera bag onto my shoulder. I’m going to scout out a good spot on the end line to take pictures. Maybe I’ll catch a few dunk shots while our guys warm up.

She snorted. "As if anyone on our team could make a slam dunk."

I agreed wholeheartedly but started off anyway.

Fast beat hip-hop filled the speakers, and the Hillsburg players made their big entrance, causing the home side of the gymnasium to roar with applause and the Southeast stands to boo. I shuffled my way to the end line where my team was warming up and crouched down directly behind the basket, lifting my camera and taking aim.

On the other side of the arena, the Southeast fans stood and cheered. I figured their team had finally made their way to the floor. Little did I know they’d entered the gym on the Hillsburg end until I heard, Hey, get out of the way!

I looked up just in time to see a dozen purple and white uniforms charging straight toward me.

To say the least, I didn’t get out of the way in time.

Losing my grip on my camera, I tumbled backward against the padded wall mat, landing on my rump. The camera fell and skidded across the hardwood floor with a sickening thud.

Oh, no! I gasped and began crawling on hands and knees toward it as the visiting team streamed by, dodging around me. One size fourteen shoe tried to pulverize my fingers; I snatched my hand back just in time to save all five digits.

Only a single player paused. Are you okay?

The camera, was all I could croak. The yearbook teacher would kill me if I broke a piece of school property.

The Southeast player crouched next to me and picked it up since he blocked my way of reaching for it myself. I caught sight of his purple and white jersey out of the corner of my eye, but the rest was pretty much a blur because I focused all my attention on the Nikon.

Thanks. I snatched it from his outstretched hand and made cooing noises as I turned the lens this way and that, checking for cracks, scratches, and bruises.

Lingering at my side, the boy asked, Is it broken?

I was finally able to let out a relieved breath. No. Thank God. Thank God, thank God, thank God.

His hand, the same that had rescued my camera from the floor, flooded my field of vision as two fingers reached for the camera’s neck strap and gave it a wiggle to get my attention. You know, this thingy here, he said, that’s to put around your neck so you don’t drop your camera when you get jostled.

He was teasing me. I could hear it in the timbre of his voice. The jerk was trying to make light of my near camera-death experience.

The nerve.

I frowned and muttered back, Really? And here I thought that was its carrying handle.

Instead of turning as huffy as I had, he laughed. And, sweet mercy, that laugh went straight through me, tingling up the back of my spine and running along my nervous system to come out the ends of my fingers and toes. Its tone, its mere melodic quality, had me lifting my head so I could see its owner’s face.

As soon as I saw him, I jerked back and landed on my butt. Yeah, again.

His beauty was unreal. I had to blink repeatedly to make sure my fall hadn’t jostled my eyesight. But every time my lashes flickered open, I saw the boy clearly, in faultless, spectacular detail.

Perfection.

Still grinning over my sarcastic crack, he pushed to his feet and held out his hand to help me up. I glanced at his fingers, gaped as if I had no idea what they were, then shifted my gaze up to his face again because, well really, I couldn’t stop gawking at those stunning features.

He had the greenest eyes I’d ever seen, a pale, sparkly, jewel-kind of green, like the birthstone for August. Peridot. Yeah, he had peridot green eyes. And his smile was absolute flawlessness—flawless full lips, flawless teeth, flawless laugh line wrinkling the corner of his flawless mouth, which was framed in wider cheekbones with a slimmer jaw. He had the longest lashes known to humankind and fixed his silky-straight, sandy-colored hair in a fashionable manner with the shaggy bangs pushed to the side just far enough to see out from under them. His eyebrows were a shade darker, which only seemed to highlight his peridot eyes with a vivid intensity instead of detracting from his overall looks. He had to be flawless inside and out.

He was all things handsome and unattainable.

And way out of my nerdy league.

Need some help up? he asked, reminding me he was still waiting for me to take his hand.

I glanced at his fingers again, finally inspecting them in detail. A scratch ran across his knuckles from his pinkie to his middle finger. The thumbnail had a bruise under it, as if he might’ve hit it with a hammer. They were one hundred percent boy hands. Nothing girly or feminine about them.

Repressing a shiver of interest, I cleared my throat. Thank you, I said and gingerly took his fingers.

At the contact of skin against skin, a sharp, prickling sensation sprouted out the center of my palm, spreading through my wrist and arm, tickling my elbow and every sensitive nerve ending I possessed.

I gave an inward sigh.

He began to help me upright, so I pushed with my legs to assist, except we both put a little too much oomph into our efforts because momentum kept me going until he tugged me against him. Literally.

Bumping noses, we each sputtered a harried, Sorry, sorry.

I scurried backward just as he reached out to steady me, grasping the side of my shoulder. Utterly embarrassed, my face flamed red so fast, I was surprised the blush didn’t explode out the top of my scalp through the roots of my dark hair and turn me into a carrot top. Or maybe it had. I didn’t exactly have a mirror handy to see if I’d flushed myself from a brunette into a redhead.

Are you okay? he asked in harmony with my third apology. Then he laughed that delightfully musical laugh of his, drawing my attention back to his face. As our gazes caught and held, his smile dropped, as did the chuckle in his throat.

Hi, he said, his voice breathless as if staring at me affected him the same exact bulldozing way it affected me.

Hi, I wheezed back and looked away before I melted into a puddle of adoration at his feet.

Determined to act as if nothing earth shattering had just happened, I discreetly wiped the floor grime off my backside and then clicked off a blind shot so it’d look like I was concentrating on my job. Later, I learned I’d taken a picture of the free throw line and three pair of Hillsburg players’ shoes.

I’m Ryder.

Startled because he hadn’t shrugged me off for a loser and left, I jolted and glanced up to take in his purple and white Southeast uniform. He was number forty-two. I had no idea why that detail stuck in my head but it seemed easier to focus on his jersey than to look back into his too-beautiful-for-his-Southeast-jersey green eyes.

He flashed his pearly whites with a knowing grin as if he realized exactly how awestruck I felt. And you are… he prompted.

My mouth opened. Then closed. Then opened again. Not a word came out. My vocal chords had failed me. The most handsome boy I’d ever seen wanted to know my name.

As my brain wrapped around that fact, my thoughts fizzled and spurted out.

Run.

That was the only word to flash in bright neon lights through my head. I needed to get out of there before he realized I was a nobody.

Not interested, I blurted, more in a mummy trance than from actually thinking my answer through, because why, oh heavens, why I said not interested I still don’t know.

Not interested was exactly the opposite of what I really felt. But geez. This was more than I could handle. This guy—this Ryder—was one smooth worker. He was too much for me. Too bold, too cool, too beautiful. If he knew I belonged to a nerd herd, he’d probably smack himself in the forehead for even looking my way, then flee as fast as his beautiful, tanned and toned legs could carry him.

But he knew nothing about me. And there he continued to stand, smiling as if I was something special.

I floundered in his presence—his sparkling, overwhelming, gorgeous presence. Glancing down at my camera, pretending I was trying to figure out a setting on the control knobs, I stalled, hoping he’d give up on me and scram.

Really? Forty-two answered, sounding surprised, and not moving on at all. Not interested, huh? Well, that’s…interesting. Unable to help myself, I looked up. He grinned, unaffected by my brush off. What is ‘Not Interested’ anyway? A family name? Irish or something? Hmm. It sounds…German?

With no other witty lines left in my arsenal of comebacks, I panicked. Tucking my camera close, I spun from Mr. Perfect and scampered off.

Hey, where’re you going? His voice, confused yet curious, called after me. Hey. Why didn’t your mother name you Maybe, or We’ll See, or What’s-Your-Number? That way, we could call our first born Absolutely.

Chapter 2

My face flaming hot and my hair no doubt molten lava by this point, I kept half-walking, half-sprinting from number forty-two, a complete—but totally hunky—stranger who’d just suggested we have children together someday.

But. Oh. My. God. The most beautiful boy on the planet had just hit on me. Wait. The universe. Yes, the most beautiful boy in the universe wanted to know my name.

Except…

One of his friends had probably dared him to approach me.

Yo man, flirt with that homely-looking Hillsburg chick there taking pictures when we run by her. I dare you.

In answer, he had surely rolled his eyes and snickered. Yeah, right. I’ll pass.

No, seriously, man. Beer’s on me the next party we have. I got a fake ID to pay and everything.

Okay, fine. You’re on. I’ll get her name.

But poor Ryder—or whoever he really was—hadn’t gotten squat from me. No free beer for him, ha, ha.

My shoulders straightened with pride for preventing myself from helping him win his dare, if it had indeed been a dare, which I felt certain it had to be because, well, come on. He was from Southeast. I was still technically a Hillsburger. We were adversaries.

Right?

I raced around the sidelines, back to the safety of Bridget’s side, where she still sat in the pep club section, clicking off pictures of Hillsburg cheerleaders and students with painted faces.

I plopped down next to her and stared straight ahead as I spoke out the side of my mouth. Don’t look, but number forty-two from Southeast just… Just what? I wasn’t too sure what he’d just done. He just…asked me for my name.

Bridget gasped and looked.

I said don’t look!

Whoa, Bridget answered, her jaw coming loose and her mouth gaping open.

I elbowed her. Stop looking.

She didn’t. "Gracie, I don’t think it matters. He wouldn’t see me right now if I ran out into center court and did a line dance in my bathing suit. He’s too busy ogling you."

He…he what? Right now? I spun and looked too.

Bridget wasn’t lying. Number forty-two had returned to his team and stood in line behind three players, waiting for his turn to throw a figure eight with two other teammates. But he wasn’t paying a lick of attention to his warm-up drill. He really was staring across the floor directly at, yep, me.

I gulped. Whoa.

He smiled. I’m not sure how I could tell he smiled from where I sat all the way on the other side of the court, but something about the change in the atmosphere around him told me everything in him brightened. He lifted his hand and gave a quick, little flick of the wrist, waving as if acknowledging he saw me watching him. The player behind him nudged him in the back, making him return his attention to his warm up just in time to catch a ball flying toward his face.

I spun away and sucked in a breath. Oh, my… Oh, my… I looked to Bridget for guidance. What do I do?

Well, what happened? Details, woman, details. She snapped her fingers in front of my face like that would speed along my brain.

It didn’t. As shaken and mixed up as I was, I didn’t know up from down.

I… Feeling absolutely rattled, I could only stare at her. I…

You what?

Well, I... And he… But then I turned him down and he…he…

"You turned him down? Him?" Bridget spun to point at forty-two.

By the scandalized way I grabbed her hand and jerked it toward the floor, one would’ve thought she’d just aimed a gun instead of her finger. I didn’t…I didn’t…I…

Bridget thumped me on the back, right between my shoulder blades as if I were choking and needed air. And like some kind of old record player that had slipped back on track, I was able to stop sputtering. I spilled out the entire encounter in hyper speed, not even pausing to breathe.

Technically, I couldn’t really turn him down. He never asked me out. He just asked for my name, and I said, ‘Not interested,’ because, well really, what else could I say? Then he went totally weird on me, talking about the words ‘not interested’ as if they were my real name, asking if it was from German or Irish decent. I looked at Bridget and sucked in air since my head had gone a little light from lack of oxygen. Then he said we should name our firstborn child ‘Absolutely.’

Bridget’s eyes widened to the size of marshmallows—not the minis but the big marshmallows you put on s’mores. He did not, she whispered.

I nodded. He so did.

Holy Hosanna, Grace. That’s just awesome. Totally awesome. What’s his name?

Ryder, I uttered in a hollow voice. He said his name was Ryder. Not that I believe him. But that’s what he said.

Ryder, she murmured huskily. I like it. Ryder what?

I shrugged.

Oh, for the love of— Snatching an abandoned roster off the bleacher seat behind us, Bridget ripped it open and bit her bottom lip as she ran her finger down the column. Forty-two. Forty-two. I don’t see a forty-two.

I glanced over her shoulder and found her scanning the wrong team’s list, so I helpfully suggested, Probably because you’re looking at Hillsburg’s roster.

Bridget growled out a sound of irritation and turned the page. Hey, here it is. Forty-two. His name really is Ryder. Ryder Yates.

Ryder Yates, I repeated in a reverent manner.

Holy Hosanna, Grace. He’s gorgeous. Just gorgeous. She patted me approvingly as if it were my fault Ryder Yates was gorgeous.

I rolled my eyes and clenched the back of my teeth. But I forced myself to relax a moment later, remembering what my new stepfather always said to me about dental care and how bad gritting one’s teeth was. The thought of braces didn’t appeal; I immediately loosened my jaws and ran my tongue over my molars, apologizing to them for the possible harm.

Needing another escape outlet, I glanced down at my fingernails. I didn’t see any dirt or gunk under them but picked them clean anyway. Why do you say Holy Hosanna? I muttered, hoping that’d be a sufficient change of subject. And honestly, I had always wondered. She said it more than I said honestly, which the nerd herd teased was my special catch phrase.

Bridget gave a half shrug, lifting her camera to focus on number forty-two through her lens. ’Cause. She sounded distracted as she concentrated on her task. It’s like cussing, but not. You know. She shrugged again. My dad doesn’t freak if I say Holy Hosanna.

I cast a brief glance across the court only to see him sitting on the bleachers with his team. Not paying any attention to where his coach knelt in front of the group, avidly talking with his hands and pointing at a clipboard on the floor to give last minute instructions before the game, Ryder Yates turned his head my way.

I whipped my attention back to my friend and cleared my throat. But technically, isn’t it still taking the Lord’s name in vain? Her dad was a preacher and didn’t approve of commandment breakage. He’d probably prefer to hear a real curse word than someone deriding God.

Bridget lowered her camera with a dramatic sigh and a roll of the eyes. She swiveled her head to send me a dry stare. I swear, no one held a stare like her. She could get her meaning across on facial expression alone. If I were Bridget, I don’t think I’d ever speak. I’d just look, and people would know.

I just say it. Okay? Holy Hosanna. I’ve always said it. Why are you taking issue now?

I gave my own half-hearted lift of the shoulders. If I told her the truth—I was trying to divert her attention away from Mr. Still-couldn’t-take-his-green-eyes-off-me—she’d read too much into my answer and realize how truly traumatizing this was for me. Best friends sucked that way sometimes. It was nearly impossible for a girl to keep anything to herself with such a close companion like Bridge.

But, Holy Hosanna, Ryder Yates was gorgeous. A gorgeous boy had acted interested in me for the first time in my life. It was the strangest sensation, knowing such a complete hottie was checking me out. Of all the people in the crowded six hundred fifty-capacity gymnasium, I was the one to hit his radar. I had no idea how to deal with the attention. So, I pretty much functioned in freak mode—as in, I was so freaked out I needed a change of subject before I drove myself insane from excitement.

Bridget lifted her camera again, zoomed in, and clicked off a picture of him.

What are you doing? I demanded, utterly panicked. I swung out my arm and whacked her precious mechanical piece of equipment out of her grasp, making her lose her hold and drop the camera, until the strap around her neck caught it and made it thump against her stomach. Yeah, wouldn’t Mr. Forty-two be so proud she actually knew how to use her strap. Don’t take a picture of him!

With an aggravated twist of her nose and mouth, Bridget lifted her camera and inspected it for damage. She blew off a speck of lint and patted it reverently.

Why not? Adam and Schy aren’t going to believe this unless I have proof. Visual, pictorial proof.

I opened my mouth to tell her the other two members of our nerd herd didn’t need to learn about this. Ever. But the buzzer sounded again, letting everyone know it was time to start the game.

Bridge popped to her feet. Ooh! Hold that thought. I want to take pictures of the cheerleaders’ gymnastics when they call out the starters.

As she hurried off, I remained behind, too afraid to move. The announcer boomed the name of the first Hillsburg starter, and everyone around me clapped, roaring with approval. Two cheerleaders did back flips across the floor. I picked up the roster and examined Ryder Yates’s stats.

Number forty-two, Ryder Yates, senior, six feet even.

That was all it said. Staring at that single line, I gnawed on my bottom lip, wishing they could be a bit more descriptive with their player information, something more along the lines of, "Honor roll student, class president, and history club member. Likes spending time with his family and friends and taking long walks down deserted