A Perfect Ten

Page 77

“It wasn’t about the money. I didn’t do it for the money.” Noel nodded, believing me, so I added, “They threatened you. They said they’d hurt you, and Colton and Brandt too. You were doing so well with football, headed for the pros. And Colton and Brandt... Why should you or they have to pay for something stupid I had done?”

He snorted and shook his head. “And just how in the hell did they think they were going to hurt us?”

I shrugged. “They didn’t say, but they were rich and powerful. I knew they could if they wanted to.”

“Bastards,” he hissed.

I nodded. “Yeah. They were, but I still didn’t have to…” When my voice failed me, Noel kissed my temple.

“It’s over and passed,” he assured me. “I know it’s going to keep haunting you for quite a while, but I want you to know, from here on out, you’ll always have my support…no matter what.”

I nodded and swallowed hard. “Thank you,” I whispered. But now I felt like crap. I think I would’ve preferred it if he’d just yelled at me. Nice Noel knew how to pile on the guilt without even trying.

I hugged him because I just couldn’t look him in the eye, knowing I was keeping so much stuff from him, knowing he still wouldn’t support me if only he knew where I’d spent the night.

“Well,” I started. “I have finals to study for, so…”

“Oh, before you go.” He grabbed a slip of paper off the table. “Tad called.”

I paused and whirled back, snagging the sheet from him. “Did he? Oh, thank God.” Then I scowled thoughtfully, wondering why he’d called the house phone. “Hmm. I must’ve given him the landline number instead of my cell.”

Noel lifted an eyebrow. “Is he who you were with last night?”

The question made me stumble to a stop. “What? Good God, no.” I wrinkled my nose into a frown. “He’s in my film class. Our final is a group project, and I had to be the group leader. He was supposed to do the sound effects, and I was starting to worry I’d have to take care of it myself.”

I’d already had to take over Blaze’s job to write up the dialogue for the short skit we’d had to film. She was still pissed at me for calling her a loser at Forbidden, but it boggled my mind why she’d shoot herself in the foot and not even participate in the group project. Not only did the professor grade us, but we had to turn in reports on all the other group members too. No one was going to give her a good grade.

“So, this Tad guy isn’t who—” When I glanced at Noel and lifted an eyebrow, he paused and cleared his throat. “It’s just that you’ve been gone a lot more lately. I figured you might be…seeing someone.”

“Oh, you did, did you?”

“If you are,” he went on, emphasizing his words through gritted teeth, “then I want to meet him.”

It was obvious that Aspen had gotten to him and strongly advised him as to what he should and shouldn’t say to me. It was kind of funny to see him hold back and not blurt out what I knew he wanted to say, but it only made me feel worse because he was being this considerate.

Still. “If I was seeing someone,” I smiled and patted his cheek, “I’d wait a good long while before letting the poor guy meet you.”

He snorted. “Yeah, probably after you’re married and pregnant with your second—”

When my face paled, he realized what he’d done. Gnashing his teeth, he closed his eyes and cursed softly. “Shit, Caroline. I’m sorry. I forgot.”

“It’s okay.” But honestly, it hurt. It hurt like hell. “I think the whole idea is going to take us all a while to get used to.” I just had to concentrate on everything else—school, my family, Oren—and I could survive this.

Noel didn’t seem to believe my forgiveness, so I hugged him tight.

“We’ll make it through this,” he told me, “one way or another.”

I was going through Caroline withdrawals.

After she’d stayed all night with me on Friday, I woke up every morning after that reaching for her. It sucked ass that she was never there. We hadn’t even been able to sneak her over for the next four nights because of her work, my work, and fucking school assignments coming due. So, not only did I just want her around, I was starting to get horny, too.

When I spotted her sitting under a tree on campus on Wednesday, wiping her hair out of her face as she read something on her phone, no way was I staying away.

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