It isn’t my mom.
Not Brenna either.
Conor stands in my doorway. “Hey,” he says roughly.
I’m momentarily struck by him. It’s like my heart had forgotten his face. His aura. His magnetism and spirit. I’ve forgotten the electric air that crackles around us whenever we’re in the same space, my body still a slave to its baser instincts.
“You can’t be here,” I blurt out.
“Are you going somewhere?” He examines me, taken aback.
“I have plans.” As badly as I want to throw my arms around him, I force myself to stick to my guns. Bite down and bear it. “You can’t be here, Conor.”
Already the nerves are tightening my chest, butterflies taking flight in my stomach. The strong urge to slam the door in his face and hide rears its head, as shame and embarrassment join the tangle of emotions I’m already feeling. I’m a war within a war, at odds with myself and losing.
“We need to talk.” Conor takes up the entire doorway, all broad shoulders and wide chest. Tension pounds off him like a palpable drumbeat.
“Now’s not a good time.” I try to shut the door on him. Instead, he muscles his way through like I’m not even standing here.
“Yeah, I’m sorry,” he says, barging in, “but this can’t wait.”
“What the hell is the matter with you?” I charge into the living room after him.
His tone is flat, unhappy. “I know everything, T. Abigail came to my house and explained it all. The video, why you broke up with me. I know.”
Shock flies into me. Is he serious? And here I thought Abigail and I had an understanding. We’re really going to have to work on our communication.
“Well, I’m sorry she involved you,” I mutter, “but it’s really none of your concern, so—”
“I’m not sorry,” he cuts in. “Not one bit. What would ever make you think I wouldn’t want to stand beside you through this? That I wouldn’t want to be here to protect you?”
I ignore the sharp clench of my heart, avoid his imploring eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Come on, Taylor. This is me. You dragged my deepest, darkest secrets out of me because it almost cost us all of this,” he says, gesturing between us. “You can talk to me. Nothing changes how I feel about you.” His deep voice shakes slightly. “Let me help.”
“I don’t have time for this.” Or the emotional bandwidth. I’m strung out, exhausted. There’s no fight left in me this time. All I want is to close my eyes and make it all go away. “My mom is on her way over with Chad and Brenna for dinner.”
“So cancel. Let’s go to the police station. I promise, I’ll be right there beside you.”
“You don’t understand, Conor. I can’t. As humiliated as you were to talk to your mom and Max about Kai and the break-in, this is a hundred times worse.”
“But you didn’t do anything wrong,” he counters. “You’re not the one who messed up.”
“It’s humiliating!” I shout back.
Oh my God, I’m at my fucking wit’s end having to explain this to everyone else. Don’t they get it? Don’t they see?
“I go in there, make a report—then that’s another dozen people who see the video,” I say desperately, starting to pace. “They file a case, go to court—that’s another dozen, two dozen. Every move I make invites more people to see me like that.”
“So what?” he snaps. “You’ve got to be getting sick of me telling you that you’re hot as hell, Taylor. Some poor suckers get a few seconds of joy watching you do nothing more than kiss a girl.”
“And you don’t care if a bunch of strangers see me practically naked?”
“I fucking care,” he growls. “And if you want me to beat the shit out of every dude in a twenty-mile radius who looks at you funny, I will. But there’s nothing about this that you should be ashamed of. You did nothing wrong. You’re the victim. When Abigail came by and told me and the guys, every one of them was ready to throw down in your honor. Nobody was cracking jokes or grabbing their phones. We’re only concerned for you. You’re all I care about, Taylor.”
My heart is breaking. Not for me, but for everything we almost were. How good it could have been if Jules hadn’t thrown a grenade in the middle of our relationship.
“You don’t know how it feels,” I whisper. “I can’t just get over it.”
“No one’s asking you to. Just to stick up for yourself.”
“And maybe for me, that means waiting for it to blow over and trying to trick myself into forgetting. You don’t know what it’s like to feel like the whole world has seen you naked.”
“You’re right.” He pauses for a beat. “Maybe I should.”
I blink and suddenly Conor is yanking off his shirt.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Empathizing.” He kicks off his shoes.
“Stop it,” I order.
“No.” His socks go next. Then he drops his pants in the middle of my living room and pushes his boxers down his legs.
“Conor, put your fucking pants back on.” And yet my eyes can’t pry themselves from his dick. It’s just so…there.
Without another word, he strides out the front door.
“Get back here, you lunatic.”
When I hear his footsteps on the stairs, I grab his discarded clothing and chase after him. But the jackass is fast. I don’t catch up to him until he’s across the parking lot and standing on the grass that abuts the road.
“Get your phones out, people,” Conor shouts into the air, his muscular arms spread wide. “Don’t see this every day.”
“You’ve lost your damn mind.” I watch him twirling, gorgeous and ridiculous. He has a body you only see in airbrushed fantasies, but it isn’t supposed to be wiggling around on the front lawn. “Oh my God, Conor, stop. Someone’s going to call the cops on you.”
“I’ll plead temporary insanity due to a broken heart,” he says.
Fortunately, this is exclusively a college student-infested street. For at least five blocks in every direction from campus, no townies dare to tread. Families long ago escaped the midweek parties and drunks passed out in the bushes, so that means no traumatized children, either.
Doors start opening up and down the street. Window blinds are separating. He’s got an audience now. Shouts and whistles ring out, an eruption of horny banter.
“Stop encouraging him,” I yell back at the spectators. I refocus my attention on Conor and his amazing, swinging penis and groan in frustration. “Will you please stop!”
“Never. I’ve gone completely mad for you, Taylor Antonia Marsh.”
“That’s not even my middle name!”
“It’s a middle name and I don’t care, if this is what I have to do to take away your embarrassment, I’ll do it. I’ll do anything.”
“You need to be hospitalized,” I declare, all the while smothering the laughter threatening to spill over.
This man is…ridiculous. I’ve never met anyone like Conor Edwards, this sexy crazy handful who’s flashing the entire neighborhood just to prove a point and make me feel not as alone.