scooted back but remained in the room.

I scowled at her. “Get out.”

“Uh…”

A snore sounded from behind me. Sam was curled on the couch, her knees pulled up to her chest. She was almost falling off, and I took a moment to stare at her. How she slept like that, I’d never know, but the girl could fall asleep whenever and wherever.

Wherever…

The couches weren’t familiar.

I scanned the room and remembered we were in her dorm’s basement. “Fuck!”

“What? Huh?” Sam flew alive, jerking upright on the couch. Her hand raked through her hair. She blinked at me and blinked at the chick, and her hand dropped to land with a thud against her side. “Summer?”

“Yeah. Hi.” She moved closer a few steps, glancing nervously at me. “Uh, I got woken up this morning. Ruby came down to grab more coffee from the kitchen. She saw you guys and told me that maybe I should check on you. Here I am.” She gestured between all of us, back to herself, and around to Sam and me again in a wild flying motion. “Checking on you. My job is done.” She began edging to the door, backward, her gaze skirting to me and jerking back to Sam. Right before her back hit the door, she paused, and her hands did another abrupt movement. She looked like she was doing a cheer that was failing miserably. “So…okay. Anyway, in case you needed to be somewhere…”

The last statement was directed to me, but she wasn’t meeting my eyes. Her head hung down, and she kicked at the floor.

I could almost hear Logan laughing in my head. Dude, you broke the model. You scared her fighting spirit right out of her. Damn, you’re good.

I grunted, running a hand over my face, feeling my scruff. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I had to go. I gently touched Sam’s shoulder, leaning over to press a kiss to her, and I whispered against her lips, “I have an early morning run.” My lips moved to her ear, adding, “Love you.”

She nodded, grasping the back of my head, and she moved, so she could kiss me again. “Love you, too. See you.”

“Uh…” The roommate opened one of the doors. Her back moved, holding it open as she waited for our exchange. One arm was crossed over her chest with a firm grip on her other arm hanging down. It looked like she was holding on for dear life.

I had no time for her. I touched Sam’s arm once more, and then I was off. It was seven in the morning. I’d missed my run with Drew by an hour. Fuck.

I called him as soon as I was in my car and on the street, heading home. He didn’t pick up after the first time.

He did after my second call. “Shit, Kade. Where were you?”

“I’m coming now.”

“Fucking hell. We’re done. The guys and I are heading to get breakfast now.”

I gritted my teeth. The urge to yank my steering wheel off and throw it at the nearest car was powerful. I let out an irritated breath instead.

“Dude, don’t get pissed at me. You asked for the run and didn’t show.”

“I know. Something came up.”

“Yeah?” His irritation eased.

Mine didn’t. I took a turn rougher than I needed to, and I forced myself to slow down. I wasn’t mad at Drew. I was mad about Nate. I was mad that I had to leave Sam—no, I was mad that I’d lied to her.

“Sorry. Okay. I’m going for a run by myself.”

“You need someone to time your sprints.”

“I’ll make my brother do it.”

“Okay.” Drew sounded cheery all of a sudden.

I frowned. The asshat sounded too happy to get out of that.

Whatever. I shook my head, turning onto our street.

As I pulled into my driveway, Drew came out of the football house with his phone to his ear. He saw me and waved, heading over.

“Hey.” Drew pointed to the football house. “If you want, we can wait. You could eat with us and do sprints this afternoon? Nick and Rome didn’t join us this morning either.”

The idea had merit, but as I was considering it, the door to my house opened. Logan stood there with a scowl. He waved at me to get inside.

“Or,” Drew noted, “maybe not?”

“I should do my run anyway. I have a nine am class. I can get it done before.”

“Okay. We have practice at three today.”

I nodded. “I got the schedule. I’ll be lifting in the evening with the guys, too.”

“Good.”

Some of the guys from the team were coming out of the football house. They all nodded in hello to me but waited on the sidewalk for Drew.

He started for them, pointing at me. “The guys miss you. They want to rib you about Sebastian. You know that, right?”

The group overheard him, and Rome yelled over, “Yeah, when are you going to finally smash that pretty face of his? I thought you were the all-star fighter, Kade?”

I shot back, heading for Logan, “You hit like a two-day-old kitten, Rome. You’d have better luck sneezing on him.”

He groaned. “I should. That’s my new weapon if someone gets in my face. Watch out. Here come my germs.”

A couple of the other guys started laughing, but I got inside. Logan shut the door, crossed his arms over his chest, and lifted an eyebrow. He didn’t say a word. I felt like I was being schooled by Mama Malinda.

I asked, “What?”

The corner of his mouth curved up. “Where have you been all night, son? I’ve been worried sick. I’ve been sitting in this living room, waiting for you, since the crack of dawn.”

“I’m fighting the urge to slap you on the back of the head.”

He dropped the facade and moved back, holding his hands up. “I surrender. Sorry. Thought some parental acting might make you feel loved.”

“Is that Mason?” came from the second floor. “Is it? Logan? Is that Mason?”

I jerked a thumb up the stairs. “I take it Nate’s awake?”

“Yeah.” Logan’s scowl came back. He glared up to the ceiling and gave it the middle finger. “That’s what has had me up since the crack of dawn. He’s been yelling for you half the night.”

“Really?”

“Mason, I want to talk to you…if that’s you.” He paused. “Come up here if it is!”

A roar ripped from Logan, “Shut up!”

There was silence.

“You shut up! Mason? Is that you?”

Logan drew in an angry hiss and let loose, “Mason died! You’re stuck with me, Monson! How are you going to handle that?”

Another beat of silence.

“That’s not funny! You’re not funny all the time, Logan! You’re not funny half the time. How’s that? You think that’s funny?”

“Oh.” Logan went to the stairs, but he waited at the end. He continued to shout upward, “So original, Nate! You know what else is original? If I flushed your pain pills down the toilet. That’d be real original.”

“You—” he choked off. He sputtered out, “That’s horrible. That would really be horrible. I can’t even—I’m like this because of you and Mason. All the time, it’s me. I get in the car accident. I get blackmailed. I get threatened. I get beat up. I’m sick of it! I want you guys to finally get hurt and feel what it’s like…” His voice faltered.

Logan jabbed his finger in the air. His glare didn’t lessen from when Nate was yelling back at him. Logan said to me, “That’s his attitude. He said he’s fed up with being the punching bag. He’s taken our beatings for the last time. He’s been griping about this shit since three. Where the hell were you anyway? Seriously. I am ticked that you’ve been gone.”

Dropping my keys on the table, I figured it was time to deal with this. No early morning run and no breakfast with the team. It was time to do damage control with my own best friend. I said to Logan, “I went to see Sam. She called yesterday, and I never returned her calls.”

“Oh.” He frowned. The hostility was instantly gone. “Is she okay?”

“Yeah. She went on a run. Her roommate somehow got her into the gym where there?

??s a running track.”

“Yeah? The model roommate?”

I gave him a look. “The chick you want to bag, yes. But I doubt it’ll happen. She’s infatuated with me.”

“No way.” He was quick to protest. “She’s got a football boner for your stats. That’s it. The chick is cool.”

I gave him a questioning look. “The chick is weird and awkward.”

“See? Football boner.” He pointed to my junk. “Show her the goods, and it’ll probably cure her of her stupids.”

I punched him. “You show your dick.”

“Ouch.” He shot me a dirty look. “What was that for? And she doesn’t have a football boner for me. Seriously, Mase, the girl is wacky about football. That’s all it is. She doesn’t like you like that.” He quieted, his eyebrows pinching together. “At least, I hope not. Otherwise, you really can never bone Sam in her own room.”

“Mason?”

I glanced up the stairs. Nate was right about some of it. He got the brunt of a lot of payback that was headed our way. Some of it was accidental, and some of it was because he was the nearest link on our chain. He was owed an apology, at least from me.

I pointed upstairs. “I should go deal with him.”

Logan crossed his arms over his chest.

“You’re not coming?”

His only response was, “Good luck with that.” He dropped the clipped tone. “I have to go to class anyway.”

“Okay.”

I started up the stairs. As I got to the floor, a girl came from Logan’s room. She was freshly showered and was straightening her shirt. She didn’t notice me at first, so she almost walked into me. I caught her by the shoulder and pushed her back. She gasped, her eyes wide in shock, and then she relaxed when she saw me.

“Oh. Sorry.” She sounded breathless. “You’re Mason, right? Logan’s brother?”

I nodded.

“Mason?” Nate didn’t sound as agitated. “You out there?”

“Yeah. Hold on.”

“Oh, good.” He was relieved. “Finally.”

The girl tilted her head to the side, studying Nate’s closed door. “He’s been yelling for most of the night. Logan gave me some earplugs, so I could sleep through it, but I didn’t know he was still yelling.”

I didn’t want to know anything. Not where she came from. Not who she was. Not how she came to be in our house or how Logan picked her up. The girl looked too chatty.

I pointed downstairs. “He’s down there. Hurry. Catch him.”

“What?”

“Please.”

I wanted her gone. Having randoms in the house was normal but not when we just brought Nate home from the hospital.

She didn’t move, though. She seemed frozen in place.

“Go find Logan. Now.” I was being harsh, but I didn’t care.

“I—”

My patience was gone. I heard it snap. “Better yet, get the fuck out of this house.”

“Mase?” Logan came to the bottom of the stairs. His mouth formed an O as he saw his friend, and he grimaced. “Shit. I forgot.”

“See?” I grated out to the girl. “We don’t chat in this house. My brother fucks and forgets. That’s what you are to him. You’re a forgotten. Now, get out.”

“Asshole!” she seethed.

I nodded. I’d take it.

She swept down the stairs and jerked around Logan, shoving out the door in the next second.

I scowled at my brother. “We just brought Nate home.”

“I know.” He cringed. His hand lifted and grabbed a handful of his hair. He pulled at it, making it stick up, before his hand dropped back to his side. “She called me at two. It was a booty call. I thought she left, and I got distracted by Nate yelling.” He frowned to himself. “Where the hell did she sleep last night?”

“In your bed?” I grated out. “Just a guess.”

“Huh.” He grinned, shaking his head. “I thought that was just a really big pile of blankets, even though I couldn’t remember having that many. Makes sense now.”

“You gave her earplugs to sleep.”

He waved that off, smirking. “That was right after I came on her. I was feeling friendly. I came back from the bathroom, and I thought she was gone.”

“Mason?”

I groaned. This shit was too much. “Go to class. I’ll take care of him.”

“Oh, hey.” Logan stopped me before I went into Nate’s room. “The school called his parents. They’re heading here.”

Fucking déjà vu. Nate gets hurt. His parents get called. They sweep in and take him away from us.

I sighed. Maybe this time, that would be for the best. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks for letting me know.”

“Mase!”

I opened Nate’s door. It was time to deal with my best friend.

His arm jerked in the air, and I ducked back. I just saw the motion. I didn’t see the book that he’d chucked at me, but it hit the wall by me. Catching it off the bounce, I tossed it back at him. Nate didn’t duck, and it clipped him on the shoulder.

“Fuck you.” He grabbed the book and hurled it as hard as he could toward his closet. The doors were shut, and the book went right through one of them, splitting a hole in the door.

I pointed at the hole. “You’re paying for that.”

“Fuck you!” One arm lifted, and his other arm clapped down on the opposite forearm. He gave me the fist and the middle finger. He collapsed against his headboard and groaned, cradling his head with his hands. “I hate this. I hate being like this. I hate being in pain. My parents are coming, Mase. You know what a headache they’re going to be?”

He seemed calmer, so I eased farther into the room and perched against his dresser. I started to fold my arms over my chest, but I caught myself and let them hang at my side. I needed to be ready in case anything else was sent soaring my way. Nate had a right to be pissed, but I didn’t want to get injured.

“My parents. My fucking uptight and self-righteous parents.” Nate continued to grumble, “I feel like I’m in high school, and I’m going to be chastised. They’re going to want me to move out. I’m going to have to fight them on that and screw that. They don’t remember me until they get some phone call from the hospital, you guys, or jail. I’m an adult now.”

If Logan had been in the room, he would’ve pounded his fist in the air, cheering Nate on. I did nothing. I waited for him to be done.

“They can’t come in here and threaten me. That’s what they always do.” He lifted pained eyes to me. “If they cut me off, you’re sharing your trust fund with me.”

“Fuck that.”

“Mason.”

“That’s my trust fund. No way. Stand up to your parents. If they cut you off, get a job.”

“Right. Because that’s what you’d do,” he retorted.

“I can tell you one thing I wouldn’t do,” I grated out. My jaw clenched. “I wouldn’t buckle under any threat. The only one that’s come close was Sam’s mom, and she could’ve screwed my entire future if she wanted. If my dad threatened to take away my trust fund, I’d go to the bank and put a bag of shit in his safety deposit box.” I thought about that. “Or I’d have Logan do it. He’d do it.”

“You don’t get it.”

“Yes, I do. Your parents are assholes. So are mine. Deal with

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