“I bet she did. She’s hot. Your dad’s hot. I bet they had a whole fling.” He jerked his head back to me. “Oh, that reminds me, too. Well, he’s not the reason, but Mama Malinda is. She called this morning. They’re coming for parents’ weekend this Friday.”
“Malinda and your dad—your real one, David—are coming up. She wanted to surprise you.”
“Why are you telling me?”
“Because you hate surprises.”
I scowled. The fact that he knew they were coming up before I did pissed me off. No, that wasn’t right. I was jealous. They were my family, not his.
I sucked in my breath. They weren’t my family. They were his, too. I had no reason to be jealous.
“Sam?” Logan was watching the myriad of expressions cross my face.
I shook my head. “I have to go.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I tried to wave off his concern and pointed to the office. “Tell her I’ll talk to her later. I…have to go to the bathroom.” I needed a lie that Logan wouldn’t hammer at me about, trying to figure it out. My mouth turned down, and I grabbed at my stomach. “Diarrhea.”
“Ew, Sam. We’re family, but I don’t need to know details like that.”
“Uh-huh.” I raised my voice before turning and hurrying away. “Okay, yeah, gotta take a shit. See you later, brother dearest.”
“Okay.” He sounded confused. “Enjoy taking your shit.”
I rushed around the corner, then stopped and slowed down, but my heart didn’t. It was pounding against my chest, trying to break through it. I stopped altogether.
Logan was my family. Mason was my family. I had no right thinking they weren’t. Malinda, David, Mark—we were all family. I blinked back some tears. The sudden feeling of being lost wafted up, and I shoved it down.
I needed to go on a run.
I was waiting in my Escalade when Sam returned from her run. Logan said that she was upset earlier and lied about it, so I expected that she would go on a run. She was crossing the parking lot with her roommate clutching a book next to her. Sam was counting her pulse with her finger to her neck while gripping a water bottle in her other hand. They’d see the vehicle in a second—or Sam would. I took that moment to study the roommate.
Sam mentioned that she met the family. She mentioned a stepmother. My attention sharpened on the roommate as she glanced in my direction. Our gazes caught and held, but she didn’t mask the fear that flashed for a split second. It was there and then gone, and her face went back to being pleasant. She murmured something to Sam, who looked in my direction. Sam said something to the roommate, and the two parted ways. The roommate headed for their dorm while Sam came my way.
I sat back, my eyes trained on the roommate, until Sam opened the door and climbed inside.
“Hey.” She’d probably been running for two hours, but she wasn’t winded. She had a glow to her face.
I grinned back at her and leaned over. She met me halfway, her lips fitting perfectly to mine. I held there for one more second. She was a break from reality.
With her hand coming to rest on my cheek, she pulled back with a slight frown. She asked, her hand falling to my chin and staying there, “You okay?”
I had two objectives in mind. I went with the easiest one. “Logan said you committed the ultimate crime.”
“What?” A quick laugh left her, but her eyes narrowed.
“He said you brushed him off.”
“Oh.” A second laugh came out, more relieved. “It was nothing.”
“It was stupid.” She sat back, facing the front. Her head leaned back against the headrest. “I just freaked for a second. It’s ridiculous.”
“What was it?”
She groaned before saying, “I got jealous.”
She fell quiet again.
I prompted, “Of?”
I frowned. I hadn’t expected that answer. “Of what?”
“Because Malinda told him, not me, that they were coming up for parents’ weekend. I…” She faltered again. “I got jealous.” A sheen of tears were on her eyelids. “They’re my family, not his, and I got jealous about that.” She wiped at the tears with the back of her hand, even though they hadn’t fallen yet. “It’s so, so, so dumb. You guys are my family, and so are they. I shouldn’t have felt like that. I have no right.”
She was beating herself up over wanting a family.
I said softly, grabbing her hand, “You can feel like that. You’re right.”
She turned to me. The side of her mouth dipped down. “What are you talking about?”
“Malinda, David, and Mark—they are your family. They’re your legit family.”
I stopped her with a gentle grin on my face. “No matter what, yes, Logan and I are your family. We always will be…even if something happens to you and me.”
Her eyes got big.
I said quickly, “Not that I want that to happen, but if anything were to happen, I’ll still be your family. Logan will still be your family. You’re in with us. No one gets in with us, and you did. But, having said that, David and Malinda are parents to you. Your real mom’s a bitch. You finally got what you’ve always wanted—a loving mom and a loving dad. It is normal for you to want to defend that. You’ve reached gold, as far as I see it. Protect the gold. Shit. Hoard the fucking gold. Loving families aren’t as common as some people think. And since we’re sharing here, I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of your setup with David and Malinda.”
“You are?” A tear slid down her cheek, but she ignored it.
I didn’t think she noticed it. Her eyes went back to sparkling. A little bit of pink moved back to her cheeks, too.
“My parents love me, but they’re a mess. James is off with your mom. I’ve not seen him in months, and Helen’s gone back to traveling ninety percent of the time since Logan and I are three hours away. You got parents coming for parents’ weekend, and they aren’t coming with an agenda.”
I saw the sympathy creeping in and shook my head. I didn’t want to see that in her. “Don’t pity me. I’ve got a trust fund in the millions. I’m hoping to go pro football, but if I don’t, I’ll still be fine. I’m best friends with my soul mate and my brother. I’m damn blessed, too. I’m just reminding you that you shouldn’t feel guilty about protecting your family.”
She started to reach for my face, and I caught her hands, bringing them to my lap, as I laced our fingers.
“I know. We’re family, but you can have two families. You can enjoy having a mother, too.”
More tears slid down her face, but she only gazed at me. She was sitting sideways, and she rested her head against her seat. “It’s a weird feeling.”
And right there, that word from her, took my breath away. Fuck the dorm deal. I shoved the other concern away. I’d deal with it on my own terms.
I started the vehicle.
“Where are we going?”
“You’re staying the night.” I flashed her a grin.
She smiled back, and the sight of it was a gut punch. She was damn beautiful. My dick was already hard, and I couldn’t think about all the positions I wanted her in, or I’d be pulling over in some other lot. Instead, as I left the lot, I glanced up where Sam’s room was, and I wasn’t shocked to see the roommate there.
She’d been watching us, but as I met her eyes, she shifted back and let the curtain fall.
A cake, balloons, groceries, flowers, and an inflatable chair greeted Summer and me on Friday morning. They were piled in front of our door when Summer got up to leave for the restroom.
Uh…” She stepped back and cleared her throat. “Sam?”
I had no words. “Um…”
“Oh.” A bright laugh came from the hallway. The inflatable chair was picked up and lifted before Malinda’s flushed face was seen. “Happy parents’ weekend, Samantha!” She shoved the chair behind her and waded through everything else.
Her arm was thrown up, and I had a second’s notice before she crossed the room’s threshold, grabbing me in the tightest bear hug I’d experienced in a long time.
She rocked me back and forth, smoothing a hand down my hair. “You look surprised. Good.” She pulled back and patted me once on both shoulders with her hands. “Mission accomplished. I wanted to have you wake up with a delight. Now,” she leaned forward, took a sniff, and wrinkled her nose, “I see I really did beat you to the punch. You need to brush your teeth, honey.”
“Malinda,” I started.
“Nope. I won’t have it. Mom…” Her voice faded. “Well, maybe Mama Malinda? I don’t want to push you. I’m sorry. Malinda is just fine.”
She was hurt, and I was a dipshit.
“Sorry.” But I couldn’t bring myself to say the mom word.
And Mama Malinda was Logan’s nickname for her. Knowing I couldn’t appease her that way, I hugged her once more. This time, it was me who held her for a moment longer than necessary.
She melted and murmured under her breath, “Oh, sweetie.”
The tears were there. I heard them in her choked voice, but she cleared her throat and stepped back.
Wiping at the corners of her eyes, her smile never wavered. It was from ear to ear. “Thank you for that. I do love you, my new daughter.”
“Should I…” Summer was still studying the pile of gifts in the hallway. She was clutching her shower caddy in one hand, and a robe hung over her other arm.
“You must be Summer?” Malinda didn’t give her any choice.
Summer looked a little alarmed, but Malinda swept her up in a hug similar to mine. She released Summer right away though and started grabbing the items one at a time.
“It’s so nice to meet you. Here. Let me grab all of these and get them out of the way.” She grabbed the flowers first and passed them to me as she said to Summer, “I’m Malinda, by the way. I married Samantha’s father.”
Summer started helping, putting her robe and caboodle down. As I put the flowers on my desk, she brought the balloons over. Malinda passed by her, starting with the bags of groceries.
Summer said, going back to help bring in the rest of the food, “I’m Summer. It’s really nice to meet you.”
“You can call me Mama Malinda.” She paused next to me, her hand resting on my shoulder. The touch was gentle. “That’s what Logan calls me, and it’s stuck. I like the nickname. I even got Mason to call me that one time.”
“You did?” I asked.
She nodded to me. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes gleamed from excitement. “I about choked on my coffee that morning, but I think he wanted to shock me. He did that usual face when he thinks something’s funny, but he doesn’t want to show it.” She mimicked him, standing like a statue, letting the corners of her mouth lift up and drop back down immediately. Her face was stoic before she broke out laughing. “You know how he is. He looks like a pissed off robot half the time.”
Summer was bringing in the last of the groceries, and she burst out a laugh but muffled it, coughing over it. “Wha—never mind.” She gestured to the hallway, reaching for her caboodle again. “I’ll be back in a bit.” She paused, grabbed clothes from her closet, and disappeared, shutting the door behind her.
“Is my dad coming, too?”
Malinda waved that off. “He was worried about that scene, catching any of the girls too early in the morning, if you know what I mean. My word, Sam.” She blinked several times at me, pressing a hand to her chest. “Your roommate is gorgeous.”
“Oh.” I laughed. “She used to be a model.”
“I had no idea. You talked about her, and Logan said she was gorgeous, but I didn’t realize how beautiful she was. That’s a relief.”
I started to pick at the bags of groceries. If my nose wasn’t deceiving me, I could smell some coffee somewhere. I asked, reaching for another bag that seemed heavier than the others, “Logan? Relief?”
“Well, yeah.” She plopped down on my bed. “I know you’ve had a hard time with girls being jealous of you. I was a little worried about how your roommate would handle your looks and your closeness to Mason and Logan. Not a lot of girls could handle that, but she seems like a very self-assured girl herself. That’s a relief for you.”
Aha! Coffee and a coffeemaker. Mama Malinda was my new favorite person.
I pulled the maker out of the bag and got right to work getting it set up.
“Huh?” I paused and looked over at her.
She fixed me with a look.
I slowly lowered the coffee machine to the desk as I asked, “What did I miss?”
She didn’t answer. She stared at me. Her brown hair was tamed under a red silk scarf. Gold thread weaved through it, somehow reflecting off her complexion. I stopped and really stared back at my new mother. Her love was right there. It was swimming on the surface with a few unshed tears in her eyes. Her lips were struggling not to smile too wide, and she pressed a hand to her cheek.
She huskily murmured, “Nothing. You’ve missed nothing. I’m just being an emotional mess over here.”
“Go ahead.” She stood and waved at me. “I knew you’d find that first. I brought water for you two gals, too. You can use that to make the coffee.”
It wasn’t until later that I realized what happened. My new mom brought me stuff to college, and I’d dug right in, looking for the goodies, while she sat and got emotional.
I had been normal.
I asked Summer when her parents were coming, and she didn’t answer right away. She’d been quiet about her family since the first weekend. Both her mother and stepmother were there, helping her move into the room, but they barely talked to each other. Her father was, too. I hadn’t thought much about it. Who was I to be nosy about someone else’s family? Mine was crazy enough, but now, getting no response from my roommate, I started to wonder why.
I got the answer that night.
I’d just gotten back from dinner with David, Malinda, Logan, Mason, and Nate. Nate’s parents came with us. I hadn’t known they were in town, but they were tight-lipped. There were a lot of looks between Mason, Logan, Nate, and his parents. Malinda and David hadn’t been oblivious. They’d caught on to the undercurrents, whatever they were, but Malinda pretended they weren’t there. I’d caught her studying Nate’s mother a few times with a speculative look in her eyes. I couldn’t be sure what she saw, but I was glad that Malinda hadn’t pushed to know what was going on.
Nate’s parents gave me the chills. They reminded me of Helen—wealthy, pretentious, and just plain stuck-up snobs. However, they couldn’t snub their nose at Malinda. She had her own wealth, coming from her father, and she was connected. She ran in those hoity-toity circles that Mason and Logan’s parents had as well before the divorce and the implosion of my family on them.
At one point, Nate’s mother inquired about where Helen was, if