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Except maybe a shirtless Stone, or a stern-talking Stone. I’d make sure to memorialize those moments.

Good Lord. I had a concussion. I was finding Stone attractive. I pondered that, and no. Not at all related. Finding someone attractive and being attracted to someone were totally different. I could recognize Mia and Savannah from the house were both gorgeous, but I didn’t want to jump either of them. It was the same deal here.

And speaking of my housemates, “How long am I staying here?”

“You’re here until I deem you’re able to function in the real world again.”

He was saying that all imposing-like. Two days ago I would’ve considered his face smirking and arrogant and pompous, but now I saw the thinly veiled concern.

He stood and straightened away from the counter. His eyes flashed, dropping from my face. “Listen. You have a concussion, and that shit’s no joke. That means ensuring you have the least amount of stimuli as possible. After today, no homework. No phone. Try to keep the television stuff to a minimum. I feel bad that I even invited you to watch a movie with me last night. Just until you’re okay to travel, stay put. I already cleared everything with your job and your college. They all know the deal. If you want it, they said you could take a leave of absence for the first semester and there’d be no penalty or impact to your tuition or your GPA.”

My heart sank. I’d already lost so much, I couldn’t lose a semester of school.

“No way.”

I’d have to restart all over again. I could only handle so many restarts. “I can’t do that.”

“You lost your father. You lost your stepmother. I know you still haven’t called your stepbrother yet. You are barely managing to get through a day here. And yeah, your job called me, said some bullshit that you’d be in tomorrow. I told ’em to fire you if you tried that shit again.”

“What? Stone, you can’t—”

“I can and I will!”

I was wrong. It was evident we were back to the ‘I hate you’ phase.

I shouted, “Why is this your business?!”

He didn’t answer, his face twisting, his mouth snapping shut. He stared at me, something fierce flashing in those eyes until he backed down. I felt it in the air. He eased back and I was at a loss. What just happened here?

But he was saying, more quietly, a lot more restrained, “Your lawyer. Then the stadium. If you’re hungry, we can stop and grab food on the way back. You need to head to your house, pick up anything left there?”

Maybe it was the concussion, but I wasn’t able to keep up with him. He was soft, hard, soft, hard, and yeah. Were we now not back to the ‘I hate you’ stage? Damn, this revolving door was making me dizzy.

I slunk down in my chair, suddenly more exhausted than I’d ever felt. “I thought you got all my stuff?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I just asked those girls to pack a bag. We can swing by, make sure you have everything you might need. Then after that, your ass doesn’t leave this house. It’s my one day I can drive you around, so I’m offering to make a pit stop.”

Yeah. Okay. But he was already walking out of the kitchen.

Chapter Eighteen

There was no house.

I gaped at the lawyer. He was all trussed up, a black suit, black tie. Even a black suit jacket. Black briefcase. Black shoes. Black fucking socks. The only thing not black was the shirt. That was a cream color and I knew the quality was expensive. And there was not one iota of hesitation as he nodded to my question.

“Indeed, Miss Phillips. Your father was behind on his mortgage for the last year. He was going into foreclosure. We’d already had a meeting the week before…” Now he seemed to remember to be human, hesitating, “before the accident.”

I had no words. Nothing. This wasn’t as bad as when we lost the house the first time because of my mom’s chemo treatments, but it seemed similar. No. It seemed worse. I had Dad with me then.

Stone leaned forward, sitting next to me. His leg pressed against mine, and he left it there. His elbows went to his knees. “What was owed on the house?”

“Seventy-five percent of it.”

I sucked in my breath.

I had no idea they owed that much on it.

Stone gazed at me. “You want the house?”

The lawyer straightened. “Mr. Reeves, I don’t know…”

“No.” I was thinking, concussion be damned. “If you take the house back, what do they still owe?”

He hesitated again, the second time acting like a human. “They still owe us a hundred thousand. They took out a second loan to pay for some items for her son, I believe.” His mouth pressed in before he said, “There’s no money for you. There was a small amount they set aside for Jared, a fund that Gail had separate. His father’s not in the picture, correct?”

I nodded. “Uh. Yeah. She never talked about him. I don’t think he had parental rights to him. But I wasn’t around that often. I was at college, then I moved here. Jared never mentioned him either. It was a secret. I guess. I never thought to wonder about it.”

He frowned, pulling out some papers from his briefcase. “Paternal rights were taken away when Jared was two. There was a domestic abuse issue.”

Jesus. My chest stopped working for a moment.

Two? What happened to my stepbrother and Gail?

I whispered, “Two years old?”

“Hmmm, yes.” He put the papers back. “The file’s closed. I don’t believe Jared even knows what happened, but in my career, if rights were taken away at that age, it’s with good reason.”

I needed to call Jared. I’d been putting it off for too long.

“So.” He read through the last of his papers and handed me the last one, along with a pen. “As for your father’s personal effects. They’ve been put in a storage facility and I have the key for you. Mr. Reeves has said you’ve been ill yourself. The storage’s been rented out for the next three months. Once those months are done, you’ll have to take over the payments, or his effects will be sold. All rights revert back to the storage owners.”

He reached into his pocket, pulling out a key on a keychain, and slid it over the table to me.

Stone took the key, asking, “You have their business card?”

“Oh, yes. Here it is.”

Stone took that, as well, standing up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

I already knew what he was doing. He was taking over payment after the ninety-days were up, but once I was better, I was traveling there and going through everything. I’d have to do it over a weekend because no matter what, I wasn’t missing out on any more college classes.

“If you can sign here, Miss Phillips?” He pointed to the bottom of the paper. “This just says that I’ve gone over the last will and testament of your father.” As I signed, he stood and collected the rest of his stuff, putting it into his briefcase. “I truly am sorry that we met under these circumstances. Your father spoke very highly of you the few times I met him. I looked up to him as a man, and as the kind of father I’d like to be one day.”

The words sounded nice, but after signing, he almost bolted for the door.

“What a dick.” Came from the side.

I grinned but looked down. It was all so neat and tidy. He’d left me a copy of everything and told me the extent of my father’s belongings were in a storage shelter.

“I took care of the payments, and what was still owed. I’ll set up everything tomorrow.”

I had nothing to even fight him on that. A hundred thousand was too much, and I knew that it would take me probably my entire life to pay him back. But I would. I would.

“Thank you.”

Stone didn’t respond, and I was grateful.

I could hear my mom’s laughter. It was faint, but I heard it and I was back there. “She liked to twirl sometimes.” I looked up. “When she was baking with us. She’d wear that yellow apron, especially when she was making something for you. I don’t have those memories of him.” Those memories were the hard ones. “We survived together after she died. We were roommates in that apartment. I went to school and worked. He worked. We just survived side by side. Then he met Gail three months after we buried Mom, and he was with Gail after that.”

Then I graduated. Then I went to community college, but I had to take time to work before starting classes.

There were other memories. Had to be. “I don’t have those same memories of him. He taught me to ride a bike. And throw a baseball.”

Stone said, “I taught you to throw a baseball.”

“Oh.” That was right. “Yeah. He went fishing with me—”

“I took you fishing. I hated the worms, remember? You didn’t care. You hooked the bait for us.”

Another memory I got wrong. I flashed him a smile, feeling the back of my neck heating up. “My concussion. Fucks with the head.”

He grunted. “That’s the definition of a concussion.” Checking his phone, he looked up. “I should head in. You ready to go?”

Change of subject. Thank God. Someone else might’ve done it to save me from the embarrassment of remembering how little I had with my father, but I could tell with Stone, he was done with the conversation. Sometimes he was thoughtful. This giving side was a throwback to our childhood, to the friend I used to remember, but right now, knowing he truly wanted to get going, this was the newer Stone. And his change of subject had nothing to do with me and was completely all about him.