He was staring back at me, pinning me down.
A memory came back.
“My dad has a weakness for weak women.”
Again, there was no judgment. It was a fact, and he said it as such. The truth of it held more power because of the lack of emotion with him.
My throat went dry. “You called my mother weak.”
His gaze was searing into mine.
My chest tightened. My throat clamped up. “I, uh—”
He snorted in disgust. “You think so, too, but you can’t say the words, not to me. That’s all right. I understand. She’s your blood.”
He looked away, and again, my whole body almost fell from the chair. It was as if he had pinned me in place, but now I was free from the hold.
My hands curled in on themselves, and I couldn’t stop my fingers from trembling. I tucked them between my legs and took a breath. I needed to gain control of myself again.
In that moment, I realized that he always had that effect on me. The ice façade I reined over myself would be plucked away whenever his attention was on me. He’d reach over and take it away, like I was a baby with candy.
“Does my mom know you don’t like her?” It was a weird question, but I wanted to know how he thought. I wanted to understand him.
He grinned at me. The power of that look with his piercing eyes, perfect teeth, and square jaw had me pinned against my chair again. I couldn’t breathe for a moment.
Mason could always see inside of me. Of course, he had known. Of course, he’d had a plan.
I closed my eyes. “What do you know?”
“I didn’t hire someone to spy on you. It was for security measures, but he came to me before break and gave me those.”
He opened the envelope and began lying out the photographs. It was what I’d thought. The first one was Summer and I going into her father’s house. The next was of Sebastian arriving. I was leaving the house in the third. My face was pale. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I touched them now. I hadn’t realized I was crying. Summer ran after me. The two of us were talking in the next few.
We walked back to the house where Garrett and Sebastian were waiting for us. Both of them were sitting down, their elbows resting on their knees. They’d stood as we approached. All four of us stood in a group, but that’d been when I was saying good-bye. I had Garrett drive me back to the dorm, and even after I’d decided to use Summer to get close to her brother, I had my phone out. I was about to call Mason and Logan to help me move out of the room. I sat in Garrett’s car for thirty minutes, trying to decide.
I said to Mason, “He went to school with Summer’s parents. There’s a professor here they know, too.”
“The one who asked to see you after class?”
I nodded. It stung to tell him everything I kept secret, but it was freeing. The more I told him, the faster it came out. I was rushing at the end, barely able to get a breath. I felt bad. I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to protect him—at any cost. Summer could be trusted. Summer loathed her brother.
Mason was unreadable, which was never good. But he was waiting.
I nodded. “I’m going to be a big sister, Mason.” I grabbed his hand. “I’m going to have a little sister.”
He was quiet. No congratulations came. No, I’m happy for you, or, That’ll be great. He was just silent, watching me. My eyes fell back to the envelope, and one more picture was in there.
I kept one item to myself.
He took it out and laid it before me. I sucked in my breath. My chest was tight. It wanted to implode in me, but there it was—the one picture I knew Mason would be livid about. It’d been taken through my window from outside. Sebastian was inside my room, standing next to my desk, and I was coming into the room. The door looked closed behind me, even though it hadn’t been. I put a shoe there, but the picture hadn’t caught that.
I couldn’t talk.
My throat was burning.
“Did he touch you?”
My head whipped up. I was horrified. “No!” Did he think that? “No. God, no, Mason. He was there, but I think he wanted to intimidate me. That was it. All he said was that he wasn’t the bad guy.” I told him the rest, “Summer tried to get the locks changed that day. He had a key. When she came back that night, I told her about it, and she looked like she wanted to cry. I think him showing up was more about scaring her than me. He said to tell her that she should’ve used someone new, that she wasn’t the only one with connections at the school. I assumed the whole thing was about changing the locks.”
“She went against him?”
“Yeah.” I frowned.
He was still so cold. There was no heat in his tone. He didn’t touch me, to reassure or comfort me. He was like a stranger.
An ice-cold shiver wound down my spine.
This was the dangerous and calculating Mason everyone was scared to go against. I was with him in the room. For once, I wasn’t protected by him. I knew Mason loved me. I knew he wouldn’t do anything to harm me, but I felt what others felt. It was within his ability to destroy them.
My pulse was pounding. I could barely hear over it. And Mason was still withdrawn from me, lost in his thoughts now.
I murmured, “You protect me.” My voice was a hoarse whisper. “I wanted to protect you back.”
He shoved back his chair.
He was leaving. I already felt the sting of his absence.
He stuffed his textbook, his notebook, his pen into his bag. His laptop was last, and he paused, holding it, as we heard laughter coming from the bookshelves. Logan and Summer were coming back. The door was made of glass, so I turned, keeping my head hidden so that they couldn’t see signs of my distress.
Mason was still guarded. “I don’t want a word of this to Logan.”
I nodded, but I didn’t respond. It hurt too much to even attempt to talk.
“If you think you can trust her, you’re wrong.” Mason finished putting his laptop into his bag.
He was acting calm, which made the pain press even harder down on me. Sliding his bag onto his back, he went to the door, but he held it, so Logan and Summer couldn’t get in at first. I couldn’t look, but I knew he looked back at me.
“I know—fuck it. I need time.” His voice was clearer.
“Dude.” Logan knocked on the glass. “She won’t let me go for another round, so can you let us in? I’m finals-stressed, too.”
Mason didn’t let them in. He said to me, “She’s his family. Don’t assume that wasn’t a big act for you, showing that she was going against him.”
I frowned. “But—”
And it didn’t matter.
Mason opened the door, an easy grin on his face, as he waved Logan and Summer back in.
Logan clapped him on the shoulder. “Record time, big brother.”
“I wouldn’t brag about that.”
He shrugged, dropping back into his seat. “She said to stuff it in and pump until she came. I meant, a record time for her.” Logan didn’t down his cocky smirk. “I do believe I made the Kade name proud tonight.”
Summer groaned, coming in and sitting beside Logan. “Don’t tell me you measure your manliness by your lengths.”
“Uh,” Logan held a finger in the air, “again, I wasn’t lying when I said my name was Long Duck Dick, but we don’t. We measure our manliness in how satisfied our women are.”
“Shut up.” Summer moaned again, shaking her head. She grabbed her book and got busy highlighting it.
She was not looking at the rest of us, so Logan turned to Mason, and his grin slipped a bit. He looked to me, and his grin vanished completely. He lingered on Summer’s bent head.
Nothing was said, but Logan knew.
We weren’t that great of actors.
Mason met my gaze. He
was still holding everything back, but I caught a glimpse of his rage. I saw anguish, too. I hurt him, and that had a lump forming in my throat again.
I never wanted to hurt him. I only wanted to protect him.
He left, and Logan looked back to me. He was going to demand to know what just happened, but I had no clue what I was going to say to him.
I was suddenly so very tired.
Logan waited until we got back to the dorm. Summer stayed behind, claiming she needed to study more, and she might’ve, but I caught the uneasy look she cast in Logan’s direction. I had a hunch she wanted to avoid that whole situation. When we went inside the lounge, I thought he’d start in or go home. He walked with me upstairs.
Ruby’s door was open. She saw us, and immediately shoved it closed.
It swung open a second later, and Blaze popped his head out. His eyes lit up when he saw Logan. “My man!” Wearing only gym shorts, he came out with his fist up and ready to be pounded. “How’s it going?”
The two bumped fists. Logan threw me a look. He was annoyed, but he replied with an easygoing grin, “Hey, man. It’s good. How are you?”
Blaze patted him on the shoulder. “Are we partying anytime soon?” He stepped close and lowered his voice. “There’s a rumor that Sebastian’s having a big end-of-finals blowout. The location’s secret, but I think we can find out where. You up for it?”
“Are you kidding me?” The fake easygoing facade was dropped. Logan stared at him, long and hard.
Blaze’s smile slipped, and he stepped back. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re going to seek out a party and do what?”
Blaze glanced to me. He was asking me if Logan was playing with him. He wasn’t. I leveled him with a dark look, too. I didn’t know what was going on, why Logan was acting like this, but I had my own problems. Mason had been cold to me. Mason was never cold to me. I had to make that right.
Blaze was laughing again, a forced note in there. “Nah, man. I mean, like last time.”
“Last time wasn’t planned. Sebastian’s crew wasn’t prepared for us.”
“Yeah…I mean…” Blaze’s eyes darted around. He lifted a hand to scratch his chin. “We could do it again. More guys, too.”
Logan bit out a laugh. “Really? You think it’s just like that? A bigger crew. You crash his party, and what? You’ll walk out like a man? Because you started another fight?”
Ruby came to stand at her door. I heard more doors opening. Kitty and Nina poked their heads out, too.
Blaze took another step backward. His hand fell from his chin to his shoulder. His arm looked like he was shielding his bare chest. “That’s what you did. Why not?” He lifted a shoulder. “It could happen. What’s wrong with that?”
Logan’s eyes flashed in anger.
I remembered the bruises on Logan’s face at the home game. Sebastian’s face had bruises, too.
“Because there’s been no blowback.”
“Yeah?” Blaze reared his head back. He was clueless. “So? That’s good, right?”
“There’s always blowback.” Logan’s jaw firmed. “Haven’t you ever been in a fight before? You wait for the blowback. You don’t search it out. Whatever he’s got going, he’ll be ready for another fight. Trust me on this.”
“The location is top secret. He’s not going to expect anything.” He jerked his head in my direction. “Sam can get the location.”
I sucked in a breath. Oh, shit.
Logan paused, stiffening, and turned to me. He was suddenly thoughtful now. I knew he was remembering whatever spat I’d had with Mason. He asked in a too quiet voice, “And how would Sam get the location so easily?”
“Because of her roommate. She’s Sebastian’s sister.”
Ruby gasped behind him.
Blaze quieted. The sides of his mouth sank down. He looked from her horrified face to my very still one and to Logan’s darkening expression. One last step backward, Blaze muttered under his breath, “Oops.” He disappeared inside Ruby’s room.
She snapped at Kitty and Nina, “Get back to studying!”
Both of them hurried inside, slamming their door behind them.
More doors closed softly, and at the end, it was Logan and me.
He ground out, his eyes flashing in anger, “Mason knows?”
It was Confession Time 2.0. I jerked my head up and down. “Yeah.”
“That’s what your tiff was about?”
He didn’t reply to that but asked, “How long?”
“Mason told me he knew before the break.”
“That was two weeks ago.”
I swallowed over a knot. “I know.”
“How long have you known?”
“Longer than that.”
“How long, Sam?” he clipped out. A vein in his neck twitched.
“A few weeks.” It’d been three before that—one week where I was scared shitless, wondering what the hell I was doing; a second week where I was racked with guilt and shame because I was lying to my family, and they were the only ones I shouldn’t have been lying to; and the third week where I felt like everyone was going to find out. I wouldn’t have been able to make it all worth it. Everything would’ve been for nothing, which was happening right now.
“A few weeks?” he parroted.
I cringed, hearing the same emotion that Mason had masked in the library.
I’d hurt both of them now.
My door opened. I saw it. I didn’t believe it, and it didn’t register at first.
Wait, my roommate is still in the library.
There was only one other person…
I burst into action. Screw this.
Logan was going to see him. There was no way I could’ve gotten him to leave the hallway, and there was no reason to lie anymore.
I shoved past Logan, going for my room. I was almost there when Sebastian’s head cleared the doorway. I cried out, “You were in there again?”
“Again?” I heard from behind me.
Sebastian saw me. His eyes trailed past me and rounded.
That was all I saw before Logan was around me. He grabbed Sebastian’s shirt, hauled him into the hallway, and slammed him against the wall. “Again? You were in Sam’s room before?”
Time slowed. I ground to a halt, and I saw it happening, but I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t do anything. Someone started screaming, and I might as well have heard a bomb going off.
All the undercurrents of violence, the tension, and everything that had been building over the last month were coming to a head. And it was going to happen in my dorm hallway.
Logan’s face was scrunched up. I glimpsed his eyes. He wasn’t holding back. No matter what Sebastian said, it wouldn’t change a thing. Logan was going to hurt him, one way or another.
But nothing else was spoken anyway.
As soon as Sebastian’s head hit the wall, Logan’s fist was coming up to punch him.
Sebastian saw it. He wore the same look as Logan. Snarling, his nostrils flaring, he brought up an arm to block Logan. He hit Logan with the other hand in a crosscut. Logan’s head snapped back. I was grabbed and jerked out of the way.
Whoever was screaming kept screaming.