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“By your mom.”

Relief tamped down some of the pain. It was a little more manageable.

I reached for his phone again, then typed, “Costs?”

He took his phone back, blacking the screen, and put his phone in his pocket. He looked away and sat back in his chair.

He wasn’t going to answer.

I hit my hand on my bed rail, a wince leaving me because it was too unbearable, but I had to know.

He swung those stormy eyes back my way, hot and angry. “What? What do you want me to say? You’re going to freak the fuck out when I answer you, but I don’t even care.” He shot forward, scooting to the edge of his seat. “I don’t give a fuck. You want to know about the costs? There are none. Wanna know why?” His chest was rising up and down, his eyes almost going wild. “Because I fucking paid for everything. Hospital, too. No. Not my parents. No, not your aunt. And goddammit, no way in hell, not you. Because after you lit all that shit up for me about what happened, I did my own digging and found out what my father did to yours. And I’m sorry, okay?!” He was almost shouting.

A nurse came to the door, peeking in, worried.

He shoved back in the chair, sending it scraping against the floor a few inches. “I paid for goddamn everything, and you don’t get to sit there and hate me because of it. Not another thing on the list. You want to pay me back? Because I know you probably will keep a fucking tally till the day you end up in an old folks’ home, fine. You can pay me back. I’ll set it up with my lawyer, but you don’t have to pay me back. I know you hate me. Fine. Dandy. Whatever the fuck. I’m not the biggest fan of yours either, but it’s done. So now you do your thing and heal. Get better, then we’ll deal with everything else.”

I…had nothing.

No words.

No emotions, angry or sad, or even relieved.

I was just empty and after hearing all of that, I closed my eyes and lay there. Stone remained, and for the next hour until I fell asleep, we sat together in silence.

Chapter Twelve


“Fuck’s sake. Why not?”

Same dance. Different day.

It was the day I was being released from the hospital. They kept me another day, just to be safe, but I got the clear bill of health, and now here we were. On the front steps of the hospital. A crowd was starting to gather, more than a few recognized Stone, and based on conversations I’d overheard with the nurses, word had been building that he was a frequent visitor. The nurses wanted to know who I was, and the nurses who worked with me directly bit their tongue because they knew I wasn’t a fan. In fact, more than a few times when Stone tried to help me, and I snapped at him to give me space, a nurse had to leave the room.

I got it. I did.

They thought I was being ungrateful and rude and I’m sure they had worse names to call me behind my back. Whatever. That was my attitude.

Whatever to them.

Fuck ’em.

They didn’t have the history I did with Stone’s family, and yeah, an argument could’ve been made that it hadn’t been Stone who fired my dad, who blacklisted him, who tried to push him out of town when we were starting chemotherapy. That’d been his dad, but there’d been six years prior to that where Stone had been cold to me growing up, where I hadn’t been ‘good enough’ for him, and I sat and watched my former best friend become this entirely new person.

Arrogant. Wealthy. Privileged.

A jackass.

And no one knew what I’d had to endure to put me in this position where I decided to pursue a dream I never thought I could go after, and now here we were. Again.

I was sans my dad. There were no more annoying texts or calls from Gail, and I was three seconds from losing it.

“I don’t need you to take care of me.”

We were standing outside the opened back door of his truck. I was able to stand from my wheelchair, because that was their policy, but I needed to be driven home by someone. The nurse left. I was free and clear to grab a taxi, and I was trying to do that when Stone started in.

“You’re the most stubborn bitch I have ever dealt with.”

I ignored him, my hand in the air. There was a taxi two cars down. Stone just needed to move his vehicle and the cab would have a clear path to me.

Stone saw my dilemma, too. “I’m not fucking moving. Get in my truck.”


A few guys waiting to grab Stone’s autograph heard the exchange, and a couple of them chuckled. One cheered Stone on. A passing lady cheered me on, saying, “You tell him, Missy. We don’t need no men.” And still there were a few other women who I knew thought I’d completely lost my head. I heard one whispering, “I’ll take her spot.” Her friend laughed back. “Me, too. I’m feeling faint right now and I’ll gladly get into his truck to recuperate.”

Stone growled, ignoring our growing audience. “Dusty. Now.”

I just raised my hand higher for the taxi driver, pushing up on my tiptoes.

“Do not think I won’t pick you up and throw you in my truck, head first and everything. I’m two seconds away.”

I stopped and stared at him.

Shit. He meant business. He was glaring at me with eyes that said, “Do not fucking fuck with me, you fucking twit.”

Well. Then.

I sighed. I’ll try reasoning instead. “You’re going to drive me to your house, and then I’ll pack whatever I need and call a cab to take me all the way back to where I’m paying rent. It’s not worth it. Just let me grab a cab now.”

A savage curse bit out, and then his eyes flashed.

His singular warning had been when he told me he was two seconds away. In a flash, he grabbed me, and I was airborne, right into the back of his truck. But he wasn’t done. He leapt up, grabbing the seatbelt over me, and pulled it around me, clicking it in place. He had the door shut, locked, and he was already going around the front before I could even push myself upright and then start to reach for my seatbelt.

By then, he was inside, the engine on, and he shoved off into traffic.

“This is stupid.”

“You’re right. You’re being stupid.” Cursing, he ducked down as a car sped past us. They knew he was driving because they came up on his driver’s side, their phones up and ready to go. It was a car full of teenage girls. “Dammit.”

“Where do you live?”

He opened his mouth, then caught himself. His eyes narrowed in the rearview mirror. “Why?”

I just smiled. “No reason.”

He continued to study me in between still watching the road, and with a soft growl, he shook his head. “I’m not buying it. What? You’re going to tell those girls who are trying to get a picture of me?”

“What’s the difference? I’ll know when you take me to your house. What’s stopping me from posting it on Twitter, or even posting your phone number?”

A litany of curses spewed from him, and the back of his neck was getting red. I was having a heyday with this. It was more fun than I could remember having in a long time.

Until he announced it, “I liked your mom.”


“Your mom.” He moved into the far lane, settling back.

I was thinking we had a bit of drive from here, and he settled an arm back on the passenger seat headrest.

“I always liked her. She made me cookies and muffins. And I remember when she tried to teach us to bake cakes from scratch. You were horrible and your cakes tasted terrible, but we’d lie to you. Both of us.”

“You did not—” But I was remembering, and even I hadn’t wanted to taste my cakes.

A tug at my mouth. “She’d wear that ugly yellow apron. She hated that apron.”

“What? I loved that apron. Always felt like it was sunshine. Made me feel warm, even in the winter.”

I noted softly, “That’s why she wore it. For you.”

His eyes lifted to the rearview mirror, holding mine a second again. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Yeah.” His voice came out raspy. “She was a good woman, and a good mom. She was a good wife. I could always tell.”

I snorted. “Why? Because she wasn’t wasting away like yours?” Then, I winced. That sounded even bitchier to my own ears, more than I thought it would be. “Shit. I’m sorr—”

“Because you guys laughed.” He kept on talking about my family, ignoring what I’d so blatantly pointed out about his own, his face hard. “My parents laughed when they were drunk, and only when they had a party. When there were other people there to laugh with, never the two of them, never the three of us. I was their only kid. I wouldn’t have known better except I half grew up in your home, too, and what I remember the most about growing up was that you guys laughed.”

My throat burned.

“Yeah, we did.” I looked out the window. A hollow feeling starting to dig in my chest. “Until she died. We didn’t laugh much after that.”

“You laughed until then?”

I nodded. I felt the chinks in my armor widening.

I remembered how he did adore my mom. The two acted as if they were conspiring together during our baking lessons, and any time he was in the house. He congregated around her. She congregated closer to him.