“What’s going on?” Chantal says, darting her eyes between us.
I break my gaze with Dillon to look at them. “You didn’t know about the challenge?”
“What?” Bambi asks.
“No,” Chantal retorts, crossing her arms. “Explain.”
Thank God they aren’t part of this.
“The way I understood the conversation in the hallway, I was Dillon’s mission,” I say as I turn to him and hold his eyes. “Let me guess, to work me out of your system so you’re focused on the game?”
Doesn’t he know who I am? This is reprehensible. Stupid college boy games.
Chantal pokes him in the chest with a long pink fingernail. “Is that true?”
Bambi joins her. “Fix this now and tell Serena you’d never do that.”
He hasn’t moved or spoken, blue-green eyes on me.
“Wait, Serena,” Sawyer says in a rush as he joins us. I assume he’s heard us. His hands are up in a placating manner. “I suggested the challenge after he saw you at the Pig—”
Bambi gasps. “Sawyer—”
“And I accepted,” Dillon says in a low voice. “Let me explain—”
The dominoes fall, crashing into each other. “Oh, I’ve heard enough tonight.”
I dart for the kitchen.
Romy meets me as I grab my purse and keys from the hooks in the kitchen. “Get your stuff. We’re leaving.”
“Leaving?” Zena rushes over. “The dance is still going. There’s still cleanup in the kitchen, and we’ll need to push the tables aside and clean the floor—”
We’re in a hidden hallway that leads to the back exit when I hear someone bursting into the kitchen. “Serena, wait! Dammit!” A clattering sound reaches our ears, and I imagine Dillon’s stumbled into one of the tables set up by the catering service. Low voices sound as someone asks him what he wants.
Zena sighs. “The football player from yoga?”
Please, my gaze tells her. I can’t let him get close to me. Not right now.
I grab Romy’s hand, seeing she’s already retrieved her backpack. I look back at Zena. “I’m sorry we have to leave you. Just dock us, whatever. I’ll explain it later. ”
“Go.” She motions to the back entrance and we slip away.26Dillon bangs on my door. He’s been here for the past ten minutes. I barely had time to get Romy in the house and get into my apartment before I saw the flash of his headlights in the driveway.
“Go away.” My throat is tight, tears itching to fall.
“I know exactly what this seems like, but that isn’t what—we—are.” His voice is coarse. “I’m sorry you had to overhear it like that. Please just talk to me.”
I whip the door open. His hair is a mess, his jacket gone, his shirt unbuttoned at the cuffs and rolled up. He makes a move to step inside, but I cut him off. “You’re not coming in. Say what you need to, Dillon.”
His eyes shut then open. He licks his lips, emotions flitting over his face, ones I can’t define. “At the bonfire, Serena…” He inhales a deep breath and scrubs his face.
“You were so beautiful.”
“All your women are.” I have to be tough, hard.
His hands clench as if he’s steeling himself. “Stop, please. I’m trying…trying to say this right, and I don’t know what I’m doing.” He exhales. “I saw you at the bonfire and it was more than just how you looked, okay? It was like déjà vu, like I already knew you. I loved how you danced. Your feisty attitude. It sounds crazy, okay, it’s ridiculous, but after I kissed you, I dreamed about you afterward, I couldn’t get you out of my head…”
He dips his head, and when he rises up, his eyes cling to mine. “Serena, I fell in love with you over a kiss.”
There’s a stunned silence. My head tries to process his declaration.
He rushes his words. “I looked for you for months, asked people if they remembered you, searched for you at every party, every class. I didn’t look at another girl for months, hoping to find you. In my head, I had this idea… That I’d find you and we’d be together.”
My chest tightens. Part of me wants to cling to the idea that he’s been carrying a torch, but the other side of me aches at what I overheard. “Then you took something good and made it ugly.”
Agony ripples over his face. “Serena—”
“I’ve heard about your bets.”
Frustration flashes and he rushes his words. “No, the team doesn’t do those. It’s just Sawyer and Troy trying to amp me up. They only know we had sex because I didn’t come back to the hotel room until late at LSU. Sawyer took one look at me and guessed. I haven’t talked about us to them. I’m not like that—”
“You agreed to it.” The thought slices like a knife and I clutch my chest. “I’m not one of your silly contests.”
He winces. A long breath comes from him. “I know you’re not. I’m sorry. The challenge is wrong, it’s demeaning, and it wasn’t the reason I pursued you. Sawyer kept asking, and I agreed to appease him, but it was never in my head.” He fidgets, his jaw popping. “I know what you’re doing. You’re running scenarios in your mind, all the times we’ve been together, all the things I’ve said, but I never faked with you. I was real; we are real. Don’t turn what we have into something sordid—”