Mason caught it, touching it with his finger. He brought it to his lips like it was the most normal thing to do. He slid his other hand up my stomach, lifting my shirt with the motion. Deep flames of lust were licking at me. They were growing more and more, and I bit down on the inside of my cheek. As his hand rested over my breast, my entire body was trembling.

I wanted him to touch me. I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted more.

Arching my back, I moved up against his hand, but he pressed me back down. He was firm but so tender.

I felt like my heart was being shattered into a million pieces, but he was putting each of them back together, one by one.

He pressed a soft kiss between my breasts. “I love how you don’t look at my family with contempt, but you could. You have every right to do so. My mom’s a stuck-up bitch who thinks you’re not good enough for me, but she’s wrong.” He lifted my shirt off me and came back down, cupping the back of my neck. He was still poised above me, so he wasn’t lying on top of me or next to me. He was just above me. He dropped down to nuzzle behind my ear as he added, his breath caressing my skin, “She’s so severely wrong because I’m the one not good enough for you, but she hasn’t figured that out yet.”

He was both wrong and right. His mom was a pretentious bitch, but I could never hate her. I got him from her. I wanted to say those words to him, but my throat ceased working long ago. I was helpless, only listening to the very words I asked from him.

Mason reached underneath me, undid my bra, and slid it off my arms. He drew it out, letting the bra act as a caress as he pulled it from me. He watched me the entire time, never looking away. “I love how you fidget with your shirt or your sleeves when you’re distracted or thinking about your mom.”

“I do?” There. I’d managed to get that out, even though my voice was hoarse.

He nodded and moved to his side. He leaned down, and his cheek grazed against mine from the movement. “You think about her more than you realize, and I know you miss her, even though you hate her, too.”

The tears slid down now. I had no idea that I thought about Analise, but he was right. The tears weren’t going to be stopping anytime soon. Grief hit me full bloom in the chest, but it was the good kind of grief. It was the kind that had been holed up there, submerged so deep that I hadn’t known it had taken root. It was lifted now, pulled up to the surface, and I felt it lessen, even just slightly.

Mason whispered, pressing kisses down my throat, “And I really love how you love me. Completely. Irrevocably. Overwhelmingly. Selflessly. Unconditionally.” He lifted his head, peering right down into me. His lips were just above mine. “Because I don’t deserve it, but somehow, I got it, and I will never, ever do anything to lose it.”

I was a mess.

Tears were flowing down my face.

I was smiling, crying, and trying to talk. All at once.

I wanted to reach up and hug him back. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him back, but no words could get out.

Finally, I just wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him down to me. That was all I could do, but I hugged him with all the force I could summon. He wrecked me, but somehow, I loved this man even more.

Mason laughed into my neck. “I have more to say.”

Oh god. I couldn’t take any more. I couldn’t talk with all the emotions swimming through me. I shook my head and pressed my lips to his.

He got the message, and it wasn’t long after that before he slid inside me.

He’d completely gotten the message.

The next day was low-key. Heather, Logan, Nate, Mason, and I went for breakfast. There’d been no tension or awkwardness, but I wasn’t sure if I should’ve been worried about that or not. Either way, Logan and Heather seemed fine with each other. After Heather left that afternoon, I went back to the dorms to study.

It was during my second class on Monday that I got a surprise.

“Psst.” Logan dropped into the seat next to me and poked my arm with his pencil.

“You’re not in this class.”

He flashed me a grin, raking his hand through his hair. “Actually¸ I am.” He grimaced. “I’ve been going to the wrong hour.” He nodded to the professor, who just came into the room. “She informed me last week, so here I am. Correct hour, and lo and behold, who do I see?” His beaming smile gave me an indication.

I kept my face blank. “Batman?”

“What?”

“You saw Batman? No?” Logan started to say something, but I shot a hand up. “Wait. I have more sarcastic answers.”

He was shaking his head, craning his neck backward. “Who are you? What have you done with my future stepsister?”

I winked at him, settling back into my seat. “Oh, come now, Logan. I’ve learned from the master.”

His hand touched his chest, and he tilted his head, his eyes crinkling as he smiled at me. “Moi?”

“No.” I didn’t bat an eyelid. “Mason.”

Logan burst out laughing and elbowed me in the arm. “College is good for you, Sam. You’re funny. You used to mope way too much last year.”

A shocked laugh choked out of me. Mope?

All the reasons last year and the previous year sucked were on the tip of my tongue. My finger lifted in the air as I was ready to list them off, but Logan shut me down when he grabbed my hand and pushed it back to my desk.

He leaned close and whispered as the professor called for attention, “Jeez. You always have to be the center of attention, don’t you?”

My eyes threatened to bulge out. He thought I had to be the center of attention?

He laughed. “I’m just messing with you, but I actually did come over with something to say.” He grew quiet and more serious.

I waited.

He remained quiet.

“Logan,” I prompted.

“I forgot what it was.”

“Ah, Mr. Kade,” the professor called his name. “It’s nice to see you in the correct hour and classroom this time.”

All eyes turned our way—or at least the rest of the classroom that hadn’t already been watching Logan. He was unfazed.

A lazy grin came over him, and he gave the professor a thumbs-up. “Enjoy it, Stephanie.” He indicated his thumb. “I only reserve this for the superhot professors.”

Her slight grin vanished. Her mouth pressed into a flat line as she said, “It’s Professor Baun, and not only was that inappropriate but it was also not entertaining. Do it again, Mr. Kade, and you’ll be out of this class.”

I closed my eyes. That was like a personal challenge to Logan. I knew what was coming.

He leaned back in his chair, gave her a cocky smirk, and asked, “To clarify, if I hit on you one more time in this class, does that mean I can go back to the other hour? Because I have to say, the other class worked better with my schedule, but this one has my brother’s girlfriend in it.” He threw his arm around my shoulders and patted my head. “See Sam? I’m never inappropriate when she’s around.” His grin grew as he showed his perfect white teeth.

A guy in the back coughed into his hand. “Bullshit.”

Logan turned around and gave him the thumbs-up sign, too, and coughed right back. “Asshole.”

“Okay, Mr. Kade.” The professor snapped her fingers and pointed to the door. “Out. I’m not going to deal with this. You can come by my office immediately after this class ends.” The glare she fixed on him meant business.

Logan stood, and another smart-ass comment was about to leave his mouth.

I clamped a hand on his arm. As he looked down, I shook my head. “Just don’t.”

The cocky smirk vanished, and he straightened, nodding to me. “All right. Wait for me afterward. I still need to talk to you.”

As he went, the professor’s gaze fell on me with a look of disappointment and derision. The old Sam would’ve shrunk back into her seat. I’d changed, and I stared right back at her. I enjoyed this class, and I enjoyed learning from her, but I

’d done nothing wrong. If she was irritated with Logan, that had nothing to do with me, so I lifted my chin.

Mason’s words from last weekend filtered back to me. “You lift your chin, and you get this look, like you’re going to bulldoze your way through a tornado if you have to. No one’s going to stop you.”

I felt the same determination now. She wasn’t going to bulldoze through me or try to intimidate me. I’d stand my ground. A second later, after she’d held my gaze, she dropped hers and pointed to the board behind her. The class continued after that, but tension filled the room from Logan’s departure and my stare-off with the professor. I’d endured more than this awkwardness, so I sat back and gave everyone a silent fuck-you back.

I looked bored throughout the class period. People noticed. Some gave me disgusted looks. Others seemed more attentive to me. There were a few who nodded in approval.

For once, I felt like I could take the Kade name on. I am Samantha Kade. Hear me roar. That confidence lasted until the end of the hour.

“Miss Strattan.” The professor plunged a knife through my daydreaming. She had the same disappointment and derision written over her face. “May I talk with you as well after class?”

A girl who was sitting two seats down from me sucked in her breath.

A guy muttered under his breath behind me, “Damn.”

With that one request, the professor tainted me. Whatever her issue with Logan, it extended to me.

I’d done nothing wrong. Fuck that. I asked, “Why?”

She had forgotten me, gathering her papers, as everyone started to leave. At my question, they sat back down.

She looked around the room. “You can all go.”

They ignored her.

She pressed her lips together and pinned me down with a stare. “I can explain in private, Miss Strattan.”

Fine. My jaw was clenched shut, and I gritted my teeth, shoving up from my seat. I clutched my book, notebook, and bag in my hands. “I’ve not done a thing wrong. I want to make that clear for the rest of the students. I’ve not missed a day. I’ve never been late. All my assignments have been handed in and done well, if I might add, from the exemplary scores you’ve given me up until this point.”

Her head cocked to the side, and she came around, standing beside her podium with an arm resting on the side. “Are you challenging my request to meet with you in private?”

“I’m making my record known to the rest of the class.”

“Why?”

“Because, at the beginning of the hour, I was just another student. Logan came in, and he challenged you. He did that. Not me. Now, you’re requesting to see me after class. I don’t know why, but if you start downgrading my assignments, I want to make my history known to everyone else in case I might have to challenge you in the future.”

Her nostrils flared. “Based on what?”

“Based on discrimination.”

Her chest jerked up and held. Her fingers wrapped tighter on the podium, and her free hand pressed into her hip. “Discrimination of what?”

“Whatever feelings you have toward Logan. I don’t want them projected to me as well, not unless I’ve earned them.”

“I think you’re earning them right now.” Her lips were pressed tightly.

I had nothing more to say. I stated my case. I’d stood up for what I felt was coming my way, and I’d made it known. If she were going to paint me with the same disdain that she had for Logan, it wouldn’t be fair treatment. I’d been treated unfairly by classmates but never teachers, so I wasn’t going to let it start in college.

“Class dismissed.” She swung her head around, giving the entire group a pointed look.

They’d all remained, waiting for the end of our exchange, and when I didn’t say anything more, they began collecting their things and leaving the room.

A couple of girls walked by me, grinning at me over their shoulders. The professor noticed but didn’t move. She didn’t say a word. She stood in silence, just like me. A couple of guys walked by as well and nodded at me before slipping from the room.

Respect.

I earned theirs, and though it hadn’t been my intention, it felt good. It felt liberating.

Once the last student was about to leave the room, she said to him, “Close the door, Frederick.”

He paused and shot me a look, but he did as she’d said.

From the other side, he mouthed the words to me, Good luck, and he gave me his own thumbs-up sign before leaving.

I held my breath. I had a feeling I would need it.

“You think I’m going to treat you unfairly?” she clipped out.

“Yes.”

“Because of one person?”

“Because of Logan, yes.”

She paused, studying me. The disappointment and derision that I’d felt earlier seemed to fade. Her eyes swept me up and down. I raised my chin higher and felt like I was a chicken offering its neck for the slaughter. I lowered my chin but steadily gazed right back.

“Has that happened before?”

“Yes, but not by a teacher.”

Her eyes narrowed. She grew thoughtful. “You’ve had other students treat you unfairly?”

“Because of Logan and because of Mason, yes.”

The tension was gone. She dropped her attitude, and her tone softened as she said, “Well, I’m sorry to hear that.”

I—

Wait…

I frowned. “What?”

“The reason I asked to speak to you in private was because I’d finally put two and two together. You’re Garrett’s daughter, aren’t you?”

My head was swimming. “What?”

A low chuckle escaped her, and she grabbed the pile of books and papers from her podium. Gesturing to the door, she said, “Walk with me. And, no, Samantha, I’m not going to treat you unjustly because of your connection to Logan Kade or his brother.”

She reached for the door and held it open for me. I went past.

She said, falling in line beside me, “I know your biological father. I went to school with him. Garrett Brickshire, right? You were raised by David Strattan. Analise is your mother? Garrett told me last year Mason Kade was dating his biological daughter.”

I winced. I hadn’t talked about my mother in so long, but she’d been mentioned twice in the last three days. “Yeah. You know my dad?”

“I do.” She pointed down a hallway, and we turned.

Logan was waiting outside a room, sitting on the floor. He stood to his feet as he saw our approach. His eyes narrowed, taking in my face.

She nodded to him, pulling out her keys. “Mr. Kade.”

He ignored her and asked me, “You’re upset?”

“I…” I was, but it wasn’t warranted.

She looked between the two of us and nodded. “Ah, yes. Garrett did say the three of you, Mason included, were exceptionally close. I’ll give you a few minutes to reassure him that you’re fine, Sam, but come inside when you’re done.” With those words, she went inside.

Logan pulled the door shut. “What did she say to you?”

“Nothing.” I waved at him. “For real. I’m okay. I…jumped to conclusions. She knows my dad.”

“Garrett? Not David?”

“Yeah. She said she put two and two together when you came to class today.”

He looked inside, watching her through the small window in the door, and smirked. “I bet she banged him.”

“Logan!” I smacked his arm.

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