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That’s all I had in me, just that one word.

He was watching me, reading me. “You woke up today, huh?”

I knew he wasn’t asking about the actual physical act of waking, more like the mental version. “Yeah. I woke up.” My voice trembled.

“Right. Okay.” He pulled a chair forward, sitting and resting his elbows on his knees. He was sitting, facing me. “What do you want to do?”

“How much were the funeral costs?”


“My parents died.” All three of them now. “There was an accident. The car would’ve needed to be towed. The funeral costs. Coffins. The burial sites. Headstones. You said you covered my costs, but what about those?”

“I meant everything.” A soft curse under his breath. “Dusty, you don’t need to worry about that.”

I looked at him, really looked at him. So much was weighing on him. He’d taken all of my shit on without a second thought to what exactly that entailed. Why? We hated each other.

“Why are you doing all this for me?”

His head lifted. The torment there cleared into wonder. His eyebrows dipped together. “Because I considered you family at one point. And I liked your mom.”

My mom. Right.

That was why.

Some of the confusion cleared. “I need to know how much everything costs, Stone. I have to know.”

He was saying one thing, but he wasn’t being honest. I could feel it. It was driving me nuts.

“Your aunt took care of it all.”

Another lie.

“Bullshit.” I knew there’d been a contentious relationship between Gail and her sister. She had called twice asking Gail for money, and I knew Gail turned her down both times. “Did my aunt even travel for the funeral?”

I was watching him, and I saw it. His nostrils flared. Guilt flared before he swallowed, dipping his head a little. “No. She was contacted by your parents’ lawyer, said she wasn’t in the will, and when asked about Jared, she couldn’t have given him away quicker than she did.”

That sounded right this time.

“Who took care of everything? I know you’re lying.”

He hesitated.


His chair jerked back, but a deep wariness just passed over his face. “My parents did. My father, to be exact.”

Fuck. It was worse than I thought.


“Because I made him. Because I threatened to never come home again unless he manned up and righted every fucking wrong he ever did to your family. My dad took care of mostly everything, and no, you will never know how much any of it cost. He also took care of your schooling for the next two years. Your campus got a sizeable donation in your name, along with a check for your schooling costs.” He shoved out of his chair, his eyes flashing. His face hard. “Consider it done, and honestly, I don’t want to hear another goddamn word about it again. It’s the least my family could do.”

His phone started blaring, but he looked down on me. “And with all that said, I’m going to make myself something to eat, head into the theater room, and put on something mindless to watch. You’re welcome to join me, or not. I don’t give a shit, just don’t leave, because in your state, you’d probably walk into oncoming traffic.”

He wasn’t wrong.

But it would’ve been on accident, not intentional, and admitting that much to myself, I found my room and curled under the covers again.

I’d call Jared in the morning.

Chapter Seventeen

Stone was shirtless.

Stone was only wearing sweatpants.

Those sweatpants were hanging seriously low over his hips.

And, he had a lot of bruises on his back. I was guessing they were from his game.

Oh, and he was making breakfast when I walked into the kitchen.

He stopped, his coffee cup in hand, the other manning the toaster, and glanced at the clock. “It’s five in the morning.”

“You say that like I’ve not been awake most of the night.” I grunted, sliding onto one of those many barstools of his. He was clear across the counter and the island. I noted, “Kitchens shouldn’t be this big. Who else lives here? What’s the need for this much size?”

He stared at me, his mouth flattening. “Good morning to you, too.”

Another grunt from me. “Sorry. I’m a bit bitchy.”

He hid a grin. “That a new development or…?”

“Fuck off.”

He didn’t hide the grin this time, laughing as the toast popped up. “You want one?”

I considered it. I did, but I shook my head. “Coffee?”

He paused, his eyes narrowed on me. “When’s the last time you ate?”

“When did that feeding tube get pulled out of me?”

He swore under his breath, buttering one of the pieces of toast for me. Placing it in front of me with a firm thud, he leaned over the counter. “Eat. Now.”

“I’m not hung—”

“I don’t give a shit.” He pointed at it. “You don’t eat, you’ll end up right back in the hospital. I, for one, am sick of picking you up there. The nurses got more forward the second time I was there.”

Now I hid a grin. “The hardships of being a football god.”

And it was his turn to grunt, finishing the other toast for himself. “There’s the perks, but trust me, there’s cons, too. A shitty pic of you is on Page Nine’s website today.”

“You’re lying.” But I was pulling my phone out, typing in Page Nine, and then swearing. He hadn’t minced words. It was a shitty pic of me. I was pale. My hair a mess. I groaned. “You look like you’re picking up a drug rehab reject.”

The headlines weren’t far off. Mysterious New Love Interest for Reeves? And the article went on to detail how he’d been a regular visitor at the hospital, spotted several times going in and out. Half my face was hidden by his truck, but enough they caught enough of me where it made me think hospitals needed to offer a spa day to patients before allowing them to be released.

“I’m surprised they didn’t get the other shot. That would’ve been better.”

He poured my coffee, took it to his fridge and glanced back. “You still like milk in your coffee?”

“I never drank coffee when we were friends. How’d you know that?”

“I might’ve had a conversation one time with your mom in the grocery store. I was picking up flowers for graduation and she was there.” He lifted his milk from his fridge. “Buying this for you.”

I—I swallowed over a lump. “You have a lot of secret conversations with my mom?” I took the cup as he handed it over, then watched as he poured some green juice in a glass and placed it right next to me.

He pointed at it. “You can’t have coffee if you don’t drink that, too, and maybe a couple more. Random times I saw her. We liked to buy groceries at the same time.”

“Saturday morning.”

He added, “Nine in the morning.” Leaning his back against his counter, he sipped his own coffee. “Course once I realized that was her usual time, I might’ve made sure to always have to pick something up for my mom during that time.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “It’s like you had a secret affair with my mom, hopefully in a platonic sense.”

He barked out a laugh, his hands going to his shoulders, making his entire chest area bulge up.

Jesus. Those biceps. They flexed just as I was watching them.

Then I stepped into the equivalent of a cold shower as he said, “Your lawyer is coming this morning.”


Because for thirty minutes there, the image of a shirtless Stone had distracted me from what plagued me all night. “Right.”

“You want me here?”

“Yes.” I said it almost before he finished. I not only wanted him here, I needed him here, too.

I was past trying to be prideful.

A soft chuckle from him. “Can I make more food for you?”

I shook my head. I still hadn’t started on the toast. “Why are you up this early? Isn’t the day after your games for resting?”

“Technically, but I usually get up and head to the gym. I gotta run into the stadium today, too. And speaking of,” He moved to his phone, hitting the screen and scrolling. “Your lawyer will be here around nine this morning, so I’ll plan on going in after that.” He paused, tilting his head to the side. “You want to come with me?”


“To the stadium. I just gotta go in and talk to my coach, then do a few other things. I won’t be there long.”


He cleared his throat, setting his coffee aside and coming to lean over the counter across from me. He was almost staring down at me. “Let me put it this way, both times I’ve left you, I’ve not enjoyed the myriad of phone calls I got later. You’re coming with me where I know you probably won’t get into trouble.”

It was yes, sir. Right away, sir. No, I can’t talk back, sir.

I lifted up the toast, nibbling at the end. My stomach was growling and protesting, but I took a few bites. I knew there’d be a time I’d look back at this day with fondness, where I was trying to make myself eat. Not about all the other stuff, all the reasons why I didn’t feel like eating to begin with.