“I’m calling the cops,” the freshman girl says.

“Don’t!” Roman growls.

“I should.” Her eyes blaze with anger as she sneers at Marston. “He can’t just go around punching people.”

Roman whips his head up and glares at her. “I have all that weed in my car. Do you want me to go to jail?”

“Marston, come on.” This time when I tug on his arm, he takes a few steps back, but he doesn’t turn to go.

His angry eyes bore into Roman. “Don’t talk about her like that again.”

I lace my fingers through his and squeeze, trying to communicate with the grip of my hand. He doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know us. Don’t let him ruin this.

As if Marston can hear what I’m so desperately trying to telegraph, he finally turns toward the car and we walk away, hand in hand.

I don’t speak until we’re on the road again, headed, I realize with a sinking heart, to Stella’s. “It’s not true.”

He doesn’t take his eyes off the road or reply.

“Marston, I need you to look at me and tell me you believe me. It’s not true. I’ve never let Roman touch me. Not last weekend. Not ever.”

He slows down and pulls into the dark lot of a service station. After throwing the car in park, he leans back in his seat and closes his eyes. “I know.” His voice is gruff, thick with emotion and repressed anger. “But that’s the shit he’s going to spread about you just because you’re with me. You don’t deserve that.”

After unbuckling my seatbelt and then his, I crawl across the console and into his lap. I take his face in my hands and relish the feel of his scruff beneath my fingertips. “Look at me.”

When he opens his eyes, he pulls in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. The rage seeps out of him, the firm set of his mouth softening, the tension in his shoulders melting away.

“Do you want to be with me?” I ask.

“Guys like Roman—”

“Screw Roman. Do you want to be with me?”

“More than anything.” He lifts a hand and skims his thumb along my jaw. “You know that.”

“Remember the night we met? You told me if I were yours, you’d never let me go. Did you mean it?”

He grabs my hips and pulls me tight against him. “I’d never let you go without a fight. Not as long as part of you was mine.”

“I’m yours.” Smiling, I shake my head. “And I don’t mean part of me. I mean every little piece.”

Chapter Five

Brinley

Present day

When I get home from work, the condo smells like heaven. The scent of garlic bread and Julian’s red sauce meet me at the door. I follow the smell to the kitchen, where I find Julian at the counter chopping vegetables.

It’s easy to imagine a life with this guy. He helps around the house—he’s handy with tools and good in the kitchen. He’s good to Cami and has always treated me right. Savvy’s so hung up on passion, but passion makes you reckless. It makes you break your parents’ hearts when they’re grieving. It makes you get married in Vegas to someone who doesn’t want the same life as you. What Julian and I have might not be passionate, but we’ve always had chemistry. Over the last six months, we’ve ventured into new territory and found we’re compatible in more parts of our lives than just the bedroom. Instead of casual hookups, we started dating and spending more time together, and it’s been good. Steady.

“How was your day at work?” Julian asks, flashing me a grin.

“It was all right. Kace came to bid the steam room remodel, but I already know Mrs. Wright is going to shoot him down. He threw out some numbers while we were talking, and there’s no way.” I shake my head and lean on the island opposite him. “That’s tomorrow’s problem, right?”

He pops a piece of raw carrot in his mouth and smiles around it. “That’s right.”

“How was your day?”

“Nothing special. Met with one of my property managers and went over some plans for the apartments on Spruce.”

The front door whooshes open, and the walls rattle as it’s slammed again just as quickly. “Mom, do you know where my dance shoes are?” Cami calls, jogging into the kitchen. Like it always does, my chest swells at the sight of her—dark hair in a high bun, that ever-present smile curving her lips.

I look to Julian. “Duty calls,” I whisper. “I think they’re in the laundry room.” She sprints in that direction, and I follow her. “How was your afternoon with Mia?”

“Fine. We learned a new TikTok dance. Mia recorded us doing it, but she’s going to send it to me.” She bends to drop her jazz shoes into her dance bag. “I can’t believe I’m missing lasagna night.” She straightens and hoists her bag onto one shoulder before rubbing her stomach. “It smells so good, and I want to dive face-first into it.”

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