Page 56

Nicole’s the one who swore softly beside me. She patted my leg. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not a mainstream press conference. Most of that stuff will get printed only in sports blogs.”

That was from Dent. He was trying to reassure me, but it didn’t matter. It was out. I hadn’t thought I’d be brought up, but there was always one person, one article that wanted to be more scandalous than the others, and the headline with Stone’s name and stalker would get clicks. I would’ve clicked on it myself, but this was me. This was my life.

I had to deal.

The biggest damage had already been done, and that guy was dead.

I could handle whatever else came out.

I was in my room, on my bed, dressed and just waiting, when my door opened. It was the one to the rest of the house. Stone came in, shutting the door behind him. He didn’t turn the lights on, but I heard him turn the lock before he stopped to take me in.

It was a few hours later. His hair was wet. He’d recently showered. No sweatshirt this time, just a Kings shirt and a hat pulled low. I loved that look on him. Loved how it highlighted his square jaw, how when he clenched it, he made me salivate, my body starting to ache.

I almost sighed. “I wanted to hate you.”

The air around him had been restless, edgy. Like he wanted to fight, but had no target to take it out on. It grew calmer, more pensive at my statement. He didn’t come over. I wanted him to come over, but he sat on the edge of the bed, leaning forward. Elbows on his knees, but his head was turned to me. He was watching me.

He was waiting. Listening.

“I knew you’d be like a god down here, and I wanted to hold onto that hate from when we were kids. ’Cause I did. I hated you so much. Because of him, because of his obsession with you and what he did to me. He got worse once he found out about you, but it wasn’t you. You’re talented. I mean, you’re so talented, but my head, all the crap I went through, I was half-blaming you for him. But it was never you. It was him. He was sick, and I never wanted to burden my dad with what I went through. That’s another reason I never went home. I didn’t want to take that to him, but coming down here, being here, being with you, coming out on this end of the whole process, it hit me tonight.”

My heart squeezed, but it was a good squeeze. It was the kind of squeeze you only got to feel a handful of times, and maybe not even then, if you weren’t lucky.

“I am so fucking proud of you.”

His head lowered.

I kept on, whispering to the dark room. “I am proud that I know you, that I knew you before, that I’ve seen you bring yourself to this stage of success. Most guys, with your family how it is and was, most guys might not get here. They might party, drink, not be so focused. But you. You were only focused. That’s what you did when you left me behind, isn’t it?”

His shoulders rose, paused, and dropped. I heard a soft swear from him.

Yeah. Yeah, I was right.

“You focused. You trained. You sacrificed. I know you didn’t party. It was always football only, wasn’t it? All to get here, to get where you are today.”

His voice was low. “I didn’t know what I was doing.” His tone grew rueful, regretful, “Maybe. All I know is that it was never because you were beneath me. I was in sixth grade. I think I knew it could’ve been you and I looked into the future and I knew you’d pull me. I wouldn’t be so focused, whether it be school or football or… You would’ve tempted me. I would’ve wanted to be with you all the time, experienced life with you, and I knew I couldn’t. I knew even then that I’d have to decide which way to go, and I couldn’t go the route that you traveled because it would’ve been all you. Training. Football. I needed that. I needed to leave, get out of my house. We had money, but we had shit for happiness. Money gives you security. It just pads the walls so you can wallow in how fucking unhappy you are. My mom’s been dying a little bit every fucking day. You’re right. What you said. She is an alcoholic. My dad—he’s not a bad guy, he’s just… All he cares about is maintaining their life. He’s blind to anything else. Keep the company going. Grow it if possible. Keep my mom alive, literally, and that comes in different forms, but not believing your dad, trying to make your family go away, that’s what my dad was doing. He was trying to keep his family together, though he was wrong. He was fucking wrong, and trust me, he’s seen the light.” He moved to me, his arms coming down on both sides of me. He was looming over me now. “I’ll never let another person hurt you.”

His eyes were glowing, almost glittering from a small bit of moonlight shining through my window.

And they were kind. I saw how kind they were, and my heart folded. I was gone. Donzo. The L word was coming and I couldn’t stop myself.

“I fucking love you.”


It was him who said it, and he said it fiercely. He said it as if his life depended on me knowing it.

My heart was folding all over again, jumping up, doing a skip, hop, and a somersault, and my knees were just boneless. I could’ve melted into the bed.

I raised a hand, cupping the side of his face. “You do?”

I had a tear there. It was falling. I was helpless from stopping it from falling.

“Yeah.” Just as fierce, with every bit of conviction as the first one. “I fucking love you.” His hand raised, cupping the side of my face, but mine was steady. His was shaking. “I love you so much that it’s ripping me apart, knowing what you went through. Knowing I couldn’t be there to help take some of that pain away, but I can’t go back in time. I wish I could. You have no idea how much I wish I could, but I can’t. All I can do is make it right from here on out, from today and forward.” His head dropped. He moved more over me, his forehead resting on mine, and he whispered again, so fiercely that I swear it was starting to heal old haunts. “I love you and I want you to let me love you and I want to make you mine. My woman. Just mine. All mine. I don’t care what you want. I can’t let you be someone else’s. Mine, babe. Mine.”

He was waiting, not letting himself fall down on me, but I just pulled him the last bit toward me.

I needed him. “I was going to tell you that I love you. That I didn’t care what you were planning for your future, because I am your future and that I loved you and that was that, but you beat me to it.”

“You do?”

I was smiling and I nodded. “Yeah.” My hand applied more force, still holding his cheek, and my thumb rubbed down over his mouth. “I love you.”

“Thank fuck.”

“Thank you for the vehicle.”

He chuckled, running his hand down my arm, then curling around my hip. “Yeah, babe. You need some wheels. You need to be safe.”

And because I needed to know, “You were dating, when we were, you know. Those other women—”

He shook his head. “No dates. Group events. Things for the football team, fundraisers.” He cupped both sides of my face, his fingers sliding into my hair. “There’s been no one since you. There couldn’t have been. My dick stopped working unless I only thought of you.”

Best. Words. Ever.

But shit. I cupped his hands, holding still. “I have my own confession. That thing I said about your dad—”

He cut me off again. “A fucking lie. I’m not stupid. My dad’s a lot of stuff, but he’s not dirty like that.”

I had tensed, then let out a breath. “You’re not mad?”

“Oh. I was furious when you told me, but I knew what it was. You were pushing me away for a final time.” He grinned. “Good thing I don’t give a shit when it tends to come to you. You’re mine, Dust. You can’t push me away, not anymore.”


I thought about what he said earlier. Safe. I was more than safe now. I had some grief to get through, but I felt a clearing in the sky. Light was shining down. I would be happy. He already made me happy.

And that was everything.


Life changed after that, but for the better. It was something I wasn’t used to.

As for my stuff and what all happened to me, a few people brought it up on campus. Not many, though. Less than what I expected and more than what Stone wanted. Siobhan had resumed being my friend. It was a slow-go at first. It meant something that she came to the house, she found me, she apologized, and she further apologized for staying away one time during a study session.

“I was hurt. You didn’t tell me you knew him and all the people you live with. They’re just so not what I am, and I felt insignificant. I felt foolish.” Her head bent down. She was picking at her pen. “But I thought about it and realized you didn’t need to tell me. You didn’t owe me anything. I was insecure, and it was all me. Not you. You were this ‘big’ person and I had no clue. Thought you were like me.”

“Like you?”

“Small. You know?”

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