house with the cigarette. “She and Logan got a thing going? She texted me from your phone earlier. I forgot to mention it to you.”

“She did?”

Heather murmured, “Said you could use a friend, but I was already coming.”

“Oh.” I sat back. That’d been nice of her. Remembering her question about Logan and Summer, I shook my head. “Not yet anyway. Why?”

“She got all quiet when he came over after the game. I caught her looking at him a bunch during dinner, too.”

“Really?” Summer’s football boner was for Mason, but I shrugged. “She’s a big football fan. If she’s got something for Logan, I have no clue about it. Logan hit on her the first day I moved in, but that was it. She used to be a model—”

Heather’s top lip curved up. She spoke around the cigarette, “I was going to say, she could be a model. She must have guys galore crawling all over her.”

“She does.” Come to think of it… “I know she gets hit on a lot, but she doesn’t talk about the guys.”

With Dex, there’d been no word about him until the night we needed the gym, but there were other incidents. Pizza would be delivered from guys when we hadn’t ordered any. She would have flowers show up, too. I’d teased her the first few times, but she’d claimed there was no card. She’d said the flowers were for both of us, but I knew Mason never sent them. I’d asked him the first few times, and he’d denied it and asked if he needed to worry about another guy being in my picture. The whole thing was laughed off.

Now that Heather was bringing it up, I frowned. “Is that weird? I think she gets gifts from guys, but she doesn’t make a big deal about it at all.”

“Nah.” Heather tapped on the end of her cigarette and leaned back in her chair. “Just means she doesn’t want to deal with jealous chicks. She doesn’t have to worry about you, though. You ever been jealous?”

Marissa. “Yes,” I said matter-of-factly and quickly.

Heather was startled by the vehemence in my voice.

I added, “She got to go to school with him when I couldn’t. I hated her for that.”

“Oh.” Heather grew quiet. “Well, the chick got hit by a car. I’d say that was karma.” She grinned, waiting for my reaction.

I thought about it. I envisioned the truck hitting her and the look on her face in the hospital when she’d told me she loved Mason. I pressed my lips together. “I never thought that was funny.” But the laughter was boiling up in me. I tried stifling it. It didn’t seem right. I couldn’t. I laughed. And I didn’t stop. “You’re right.” Some more came out. I shook my head, wiping at the tear in my eye. “That’s hilarious to think about.”

Heather chuckled with me before she grew serious again. “Okay, for real. Where is that chick? Tell me you don’t have to see her, do you?”

“She was going to come back, but Mason told me she transferred. She’d e-mailed him during the summer to let him know he wouldn’t have to worry about seeing her.”

Heather groaned, throwing her head back. “That’s the worst. What a passive-aggressive piece of shit. Good riddance. The psycho chick can move on to someone else.”

It was nice. Marissa was a headache last year, but she’d been quickly forgotten with the migraine of Park Sebastian.

That reminded me. I said, “He cornered me at the post office on campus.”

“Who?”

“Park Sebastian.”

Heather swore under her breath. “Did Mason rip his head off?”

I started to feel a little numb as I shook my head so slowly from left to right. “I didn’t tell him.”

“You didn’t?” Heather lowered her arm. It had been propped up on her elbow, her cigarette dangling in the air. As she watched me, she took notice. She swore again before asking, “Are you going to tell him?”

More numbness. My head moved again from left to right.

I was lying to Mason by not telling him. I should. We should have a united front, but it wouldn’t have worked. Mason would’ve been upset by that mere conversation. I was scared of what he might do.

I asked Heather, my voice slipping to a whisper, “Was it the wrong thing to do?”

She frowned. Her eyebrows bunched, and she studied me, thinking. “No.”

I held my breath. “Really?”

I didn’t need the validation. It was me, myself, and I. I was the only one making these decisions, and the terror was almost paralyzing. I hadn’t been thinking about it because I couldn’t deal with it. But what if I were wrong? What if I were playing into exactly what Sebastian wanted? There was a wedge between Mason and me. It was small, and it was on my side, but it was there. I lied to him. The other choice was to let Sebastian win. He would hurt Mason.

No. There was no choice.

I said to Heather, “I think Logan’s doing the same as me.”

“What’s that?”

“We’re both keeping things from Mason.”

“To protect him?”

“Yeah.” That was it. It really was all about protecting Mason. That helped reaffirm my decision. “I was right with what I did?”

“Fuck yeah.” She scowled, but it wasn’t meant for me. “That asshole Sebastian needs to get fingered by some big-ass convict. It sounds like he’s playing mind games. Meeting you at the post office or wherever it was. You’re screwed either way. Don’t tell Mason, and it’s a lie between you two, or tell Mason and worry that he’ll go bonkers and do something to ruin his career. This dickhead isn’t normal from what I’ve been hearing. Is that what happened with Logan?” She gestured to her face. “All his bruises? He got in a fight. That Sebastian guy was in the parking lot, too, right? He was bruised up.”

“Yeah, I’m assuming, but I haven’t had time to talk to either Mason or Logan about it.”

Just then, a collective cheer sounded from the house.

Heather looked back over and ground out her second cigarette. “Well, he’s got buddies in there. Whatever happened, I’m guessing it was a win for our team.”

She was right.

Hearing those words helped. My chest felt a little lighter. My shoulders lifted again. They weren’t being pressed down by an invisible weight. Having Heather here and hearing her logic gave me new strength.

This was right. Whatever Logan and I were doing was the right thing to do. We were both protecting Mason in our own way.

“Thank you for coming to visit.”

Heather looked over at me, and she softened. Her eyes opened wider, and some tears pooled there on top of her bottom eyelids. One corner of her mouth lifted as she held out her arm for me. “Aw, Sam. It was the first home game. I had to get up here to support you guys. Now, come here, and hug me again. I’m such a damn sobbing wreck with you. You make me feel all girlie and shit.”

I laughed, but I went over and gave her another hug.

It felt damn good.

“Woohoo, my friends, where are you?” Summer’s voice came from the door. She was peering out into the backyard with her eyebrows scrunched together. “I don’t see anything. Is anyone out there?”

Heather called back, “Yep. Walk straight and go right. We’re thirty yards from you.”

“Oh. Good.” She went down the steps and followed Heather’s directions exactly. She saw us right away and dropped down to the empty seat. “I need to hide out. Ruby is insisting I’m her strip beer-pong partner.” She shuddered. “No, thank you, Mrs. Blaze. And he’s very drunk and hanging all over me.”

“Blaze was?”

She nodded to me. “I’m pretty sure our RA hates us now—or hates me.”

I scratched the side of my face. “But she asked you to be her partner?”

“I’m pretty sure she’s the type who brings her friends close but her enemies closer. Yep, that’s her. And now we know for sure, she’s completely in love with Blaze, who is completely in love with me and Logan. I’m pretty sure he asked Logan for my digits tonight.”

Heather barked out a laug

h. “Typical dude. He could ask the RA, who probably has your number, but he didn’t. He went to the other guy, also claiming bro code at the same time.”

Summer leaned back and snapped her fingers in Heather’s direction. “Exactly. Thank you. I’m not the only one who gets the inner workings of guys.”

“Oh, no. Dudes can be catty, but it won’t faze Logan. He won’t even think about it, Blaze asking for your number. Don’t worry.”

Summer grew quiet.

Oh, damn. I felt a Heather moment. She was going to call out the truth, right here and right now.

Heather drawled, “If you’ve got the hots for Kade—and I’m talking about Logan—you can be reassured.” She turned to me as she said her next part, “Yes, I’ll probably be shagging him tonight, but it’s done. After tomorrow, I’m going to fix things with my current guy.”

“Oh.” Summer’s mouth was pressed in a flat line. Her hands sank into the chair’s armrests before she forced her shoulders to drop back down. “You know, I can’t blame you.”

Feeling influenced by the sharing bug, I dropped my own bomb on both of them. “Not that Logan is exclusive unless he’s in a relationship, but he has been spending time with a redhead.”

Boom. I lifted my hands in the air. The bomb exploded. There it was.

Neither girl seemed fazed.

I slumped back down, my hands still in the air. “I felt like sharing that, even though I can see both of you don’t seem to care.”

Heather pulled out a third cigarette. “Just for that, I’m going to ride him really hard tonight.”

My hands moved back in and fell to my lap.

The bomb just imploded.

The alcohol had me buzzing.

When we went back inside, I curled up on Mason’s lap. He held me through the rest of the night as our whole group took over the basement. Kitty, Nina, and some of the girls from the floor danced in the corner, sneaking glances at the guys. Logan was the reigning champion of the pool table. When he wasn’t aiming for a shot, he was flirting with Heather. Summer joined their conversation as well, which meant Blaze and some of his friends joined, too. The rest of the room was filled with Mason’s football teammates. They were like him, seemingly content to lounge around, play pool, talk, or watch ESPN on the television, even though there was no sound because of the music blaring from the speakers.

After so many shots that Logan kept bringing me, I was relieved when Mason announced he was taking his drunk girlfriend home.

I raised an arm in the air and announced, “That’s me.”

Now, we were back at the house, and he was helping me to his bedroom. Logan and Heather came home with us, too. I wasn’t sure where Nate was the whole evening. I’d forgotten to ask, but I hadn’t seen him a lot over the last month.

The room seemed to be in high-definition color. The walls jumped out at me, and I jerked back, evading them and giggling at the same time.

Mason caught me from behind, murmuring, “Whoa there.”

I pointed at the wall, wavering on my feet. “It jumped out at me.” I swatted the wall. “Stay there.”

“Okay, yeah. Here we go.” Mason bent down, wrapped an arm around my waist, and picked me up.

Everything went whoosh. Now, the wall really was laughing at me. His arm was secure so I went with it. I was drunk, but it was fun. Ignoring the wall that kept watching me as he carried me to his bedroom, I focused on what was in front of me—his ass.

Nice. Firm. Supple. Ass cheeks.

I could just reach down and grab a firm handful of them, and I did. Oh, yeah.

The cheeks were tight. I could bounce a quarter off them. I kept squeezing them. I tried to lift them up and back down. Even there, not much bounce. My man was hella toned, and he was all mine.

These ass cheeks. I patted them again before grabbing hold once more. They were mine to play with. I could watch them as he walked around. I could lick them if I wanted, and that was a good idea. My eyes lit up, and I started to inch down. He had on his jeans, but that made them even hotter.

“Okay.” Mason clamped down on my own ass. “Where are you going, sweet cheeks?”

“Sweet cheeks.” That made me laugh even more. “I was admiring yours.”

“You don’t say,” he remarked dryly. “Remember what you touch down there, I can touch up here, too.”

That was right. He grabbed ahold of my pants, but his palm was pressed over my own ass cheeks.

I wiggled over him. “Feel me up, Mason. Go for it. Make my night complete.”

I felt the silent laughter from him as his shoulders moved up and down. He nudged his bedroom door wider and ducked inside. I started to lift up, but he caught me. Shifting me down over him, my legs slid down the front of him to the ground, but he caught me before I touched the floor. One of his arms anchored me to his front as he caught the back of my neck. It was a firm and almost possessive hold. It was like I was his. He carried me as if I weren’t human, like I was a doll, but I loved it.

A thrill went through me. His muscles contracted as he stopped right before his bed and looked at me. His gaze held mine, slipping into me and past my walls. It was like he could read my thoughts. Then again, when hadn’t he?

I wound an arm around his neck and tilted his head to mine. “Do you know how much I love you?”

His eyes darkened. I saw his love for me shining right back.

“Same for me.”

“No.” I shook my head. “Say it. I want to hear it.”

I was becoming the possessive one now. He was mine. All mine. This perfect specimen of a man—who held me in his arms, who could make me shudder from ecstasy, who protected me from so many people—was my future. He was my soul mate. He was the only one who mattered. I loved him with a passion that took my breath away. It was more than I ever felt.

He grew serious, letting me stand on top of the bed. I fell to my knees, looping both my arms around his neck. I kept him looking right into my eyes, not that he was fighting it. His grip fell to my waist and was just as strong as mine on him.

“Tell me, Mason.” It was a quiet but commanding urge. “Tonight, I want to hear how much you love me.”

“You do?”

I nodded. The emotion moved up to my throat. It was choking me, and I was holding back tears from it.

“You want to hear how much I love you?”

I couldn’t talk, but I nodded again. The tears were right there. They hadn’t fallen, but they were just waiting to go.

A tenderness came over him, and he laid me down on the bed. His hand gripped behind my shoulders, and the other was on my hip. I did nothing. I was like the most precious being to him as he lowered me down, so my head gently touched the bed. He stood above me, our eyes holding each other’s.

His hands fell to my jeans as he murmured, “I have an entire list of why I love you, so this could take a while.”

Please. I wanted nothing more.

He undid the button on my jeans, holding my gaze, and slid down the zipper. He paused for a moment and tugged them down past my hips. He murmured as he pulled them off, “I love how you crinkle your nose when you need to tell me something, and you’re scared—like if I smell and you don’t want to hurt my feelings, or earlier tonight, when I knew you wanted time alone with Heather, but you didn’t want to make me feel left out.”

I thought he understood I wanted time with her. We hadn’t said the words, but I’d been right.

My lip started to tremble. Emotion like I’d never felt before was pressing down over me. My blood started to feel energized. I was excited for it. I was waiting for it.

Mason knelt on the bed, and his hand touched my flat stomach. His fingers spread out, flattening his palm, and he continued to touch me only there. “I love how your eyes kind of go wild, and you toss back your head when you’re pissed about something.” His other hand touched my chin. “You lift your chin, and you get this look, like you’re going to bulldoze your way through a tornado if you hav

e to. No one’s going to stop you.”

I pressed my lips together, trying to stop the tears.

It was useless. One slid down, making a lone trek to the side of my chin.

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