“I know,” Shep drawls.


“Yeah, and that sucked, man. I’m uh, I’m sorry.” I’ve never been very good at apologies and my stumbling over the words shows it.

“It’s all good, man.” He studies the two women who are now laughing together. The sound literally lifts my heart and I tell myself to get a grip. Who knew I could become such a sap in such a short amount of time? “You understand now, I’m guessing.”

“I get it,” I say, my voice soft, my body going tight when Lucy lifts her head, her gaze meeting mine. Something passes between us in that moment, an unspoken message and the sweet smile she offers me makes my chest expand.

Damn it. This girl is twisting me up inside and there’s nothing I can do about it. Not like I want to stop what’s happening between us but I feel like I’m in free fall and there’s no net to catch me. I just keep tumbling head over feet, not sure where I’m going to land.

Wondering if Lucy is the one who’s going to catch me.

“Jade baby, we need to go,” Shep calls. He doesn’t bother hiding the affection in his voice. This new, softer side of Shep used to scare the crap out of me. It meant he was changing and I hate change. We’ve had it good for the past three years. I didn’t understand why he wanted to do something different. It made no sense.

But now I’m beginning to understand. When the right girl comes into your life, you just can’t let her go. You have to work your damnedest to keep her. Prove to her that you’re worthy.

That Lucy is still here after every stupid thing I’ve done, I must be proving something to her.

Jade walks toward where Shep and I are standing, Lucy accompanying her. Jade gives me a hug, whispering darkly in my ear, “You better not fuck this up, Walker,” before she lets me go.

Then she turns to Lucy and hugs her tight. “I had fun tonight. Please don’t ruin this, Gabe. I like having another female I can hang out with. And I don’t like it that Shep’s the only attached one out of the three of you. You and Tristan are a bad influence.”

“You’re calling me a bad influence?” The three of us together have always been bad influences on each other. I can’t deny that. But Shep’s been on his best behavior since he’s found Jade and I haven’t been tempted to do shit since I met Lucy.

“Not any longer.” The smile Jade flashes me is full of approval. “Treat her right. She’s a keeper.”

“I know,” I say seriously, causing Lucy to look over at me with surprise. “But thanks for confirming my suspicions.”

Lucy remains quiet as we send Jade and Shep on their way, though she hugs them both. The moment the door shuts she bustles into the kitchen, gathering up the various bottles and soda cans still scattered on the table and counter. “Do you have a recyclable bin?” she asks, her hands full.

“When you open the door to the garage, you’ll see it on the right,” I tell her.

She takes off before I can say anything else and I clean up the rest of the kitchen, not that there was much left. We’d tossed all of the paper plates and garbage into the pizza boxes. I contemplate grabbing another beer but decide I want to keep my head relatively clear tonight.

The moment Lucy reenters the kitchen I notice she won’t look at me and I don’t like it. What happened? Did Jade something? Hell, did I say something? “Are you mad?”

She comes to a stop, her gaze finally lifting to meet mine. “No. Why would I be mad?”

“Did Jade say anything? Tell some awful story involving me and a girl? Because I can’t lie, I wasn’t a saint before I met you. I messed around. I met a lot of girls. I fully embraced college life.” I pause, wondering how far I should go with this confession. “But I haven’t been tempted by any other girl since I met you, Lucy. And that’s the God’s honest truth.”

She watches me, her hands curled around the back of one of the kitchen chairs so tight her knuckles are white. “I believe you.”

Relief hits me so hard I swear my knees wobble. “Good. You need to know, Lucy, that I don’t…I don’t let girls meet my friends, not if I can help it. It opens up all sorts of problems that I don’t want to mess with.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. They have expectations and I just…I don’t want to disappoint them. So it’s best I keep my distance.”

“You never kept your distance with me,” she murmurs. She lets go of the chair and starts making her way over to me, her hips swaying, reminding me just how long it’s been since I had my hands all over those delicious curves.

My heart starts to pump, the blood rushing through my veins hot and fast. She draws closer, I can smell her, see the glow in her dark gaze and I curl my fingers into fists so I won’t reach out and grab her too fast.

I don’t want to rush this. Rush her. I need to take my time.

“Because you’re different, Luce,” I say, my voice low and scratchy. “You always have been.”

A dark brow arches. “I thought you were a total pervert the first time I saw you.”

I start to chuckle. “I was. Sitting on the balcony watching you by your pool all afternoon.”

“I eventually realized you were too pretty to be a pervert.” She steps closer, resting her hands on my chest. “And I wanted you to keep watching me. I kept putting on a show, just for you.”

“I appreciated every moment too,” I say, resting my hands on her hips and giving them a squeeze.

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