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“Your sister died. You quit your career, took Nova in, and now we’re gearing up to fight your father in a yet-to-be-determined custody battle. Give yourself a break. You deserve some leeway. Besides, Dierek wants to talk to you. That’s a good sign, or he’d be long gone by now.”

“You think?” She’d been biting down on her lip but now seemed reassured.

“Yeah.” Unfortunately.

“Good. That’s a relief then.”

Fuck no. “Right.”

My phone buzzed again.

Logan: Give M a congratulatory lap dance for me. Make it raunchy.

I ignored Logan, but another text came in right after.

Mason: Um…

Alarms went off in my head.

Me: Um what? Why um?

Mason never used “um.” I didn’t know that was in his vocabulary.

Mason: Don’t hate me, but…incoming.

I looked up, watching the crowd.

I wasn’t seeing anyone I knew. And for some reason, I drew Quincey closer to me, my free hand rounding to her hip and anchoring her in front of me. She stiffened in surprise but then molded back into me.

I hit call and put the phone to my ear.

Mason answered the next second. “I’m sorry, man.”

“What are you sorry about?”

Quincey stiffened again, overhearing me. She glanced back but was keeping an eye out, too.

“You’ll find out. I’m sorry, but I’m also not sorry at the same time. So, yeah.”

“What the fuck, Mase?”

“That’s Mason?” Dierek had found us and overheard. He lifted his chin up. “Remind him about our meeting next month.”

Yeah. No.

I ignored that. Dierek wasn’t my agent, and okay. I was going to be a douche about him and Quincey. Apparently, I still had this side in me.

“Your agent’s here. I’ll talk to you later.”

I ended the call before Mason could say anything and pocketed the phone, ignoring Dierek’s slight confusion. I kept my hand on Quincey’s hip and moved her ahead of me. “Ready?”

Another pause before Dierek bent his head and gestured for us to lead the way. He saw where I was holding Quincey, and understanding dawned before he gave me a slight nod.

Well. Good.

I tried to relax my hold on her, not that it was hurting her, but it was possessive. She might not register it, but Dierek did, and every guy who noted Quincey as we moved through the crowd also registered the touch. We were sweeping through the doors when I caught a photographer aiming a camera lens our way, but it was more positioned toward Dierek.

I was hoping it was for him and not us; but there was also nothing I could do about it now.

Even knowing that and trying to tell myself to relax, I kept my hold on her, maneuvering her through the crowd. She never questioned my touch or fought against it. She went with me, moving as I directed her, and it hit me a second later. She was a dancer. She was probably used to this sort of thing, her body easily following commands.

That made sense.

That was what I was going to tell myself, and once we hit the pavement where the crowd had finally thinned out, I forced myself to let her go.

A low chuckle sounded from my right. I ignored that but did ask him, “You know why Mason was apologizing to me on the phone a few minutes ago?”

Quincey had moved, so she was walking on my right side.

Dierek was on my left, and his eyebrows shot up. “Mason Kade? Apologize? I didn’t know he had that in him.” He whistled under his breath. “Nice to know miracles do exist.”

I gave a look. “You could just say you don’t know.”

He flashed me a smile, now fully amused. “I have no idea why one of my best athletes is apologizing to you.”

That made sense. Why would he know?

I was probably being paranoid.

Spotting my SUV, I unlocked it. The lights flashed, and everyone turned for it.

Once inside, with Dierek taking the back seat even though Quincey tried to have him sit in the front, I was starting to reverse when my phone lit up.

Matteo: Hey! Where are you? Come to the family/friends entrance and pick me up.

Me: You’re ready? I thought you’d be another hour. We were going to go to the restaurant.

Matteo: No. I have some interviews, but we’re guests. It won’t take that long.

Me: We’re in the vehicle already. I’ll swing over. Just let me know when you’re coming out.

Matteo: Got it.



When I saw Nate’s friend on the football field, I knew he’d be huge. That made sense with his position. He was one of the big guys, but when he came out to the vehicle, and when Nate got out to greet him—I hadn’t been prepared. I didn’t think he’d even fit into the SUV.

Dierek started laughing, noting my reaction. “They’ve been friends for a long time. Prepare for little boy giggles.”

He wasn’t on the same wavelength as me, but now that he mentioned it, I was seeing a young Nate out there. He was all smiles, and he jumped into the football guy’s arms.

“Matteo, right?”

“Yes. He’s a big Hawaiian. That’s usually how he introduces himself to people.”

I nodded. Got it. Matteo. I didn’t want to mess up his name. Unlike Nate’s other friends, Nate said he hadn’t shared with Matteo what was going on. That meant there was a clean slate when he met me. He might like me at first.

He’d probably start not to like me after the initial meet because most people didn’t, but still. First meeting. First greeting. This one could be a positive one. That was my goal. I straightened in my seat, a polite but engaging smile on my face, and waited.

And watched.

And waited some more.

The football guy was juggling Nate a little like we’d do with Nova.

A giggle broke out. I couldn’t help myself.

“I told you,” Dierek drawled from the back. His tone was full of fondness and envy at the same time. He was watching them, his eyes overcast. One of his arms were crossed over his chest, the other resting on the doorframe. “If I join them, we’ll miss our reservation completely.”

“How long have you known everyone in Nate’s group?”

“I scooped Mason up right away, and everyone else came with him. It must be, what? Almost ten years by now? Nine, maybe?” He glanced at me but turned back to the window. “It seems like a lifetime. I know there’s a Channing near where they grew up, and I’ve not met him. I’ve met Heather, though. She came out for a visit one time to see Mason’s wife. Have you…?” He trailed, seeing me again.

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