Page 23

She paused, her voice cracking.

“I am so sorry that he actually called, and I am so sorry that he even did this because you lost your father, too, and my heart is just breaking for both of you.” Her voice grew hoarse.

I had stopped. We were right in front of the exit doors of the stadium.

Stone was watching me, moving in closer with his eyebrows raised. He was dressed in jeans with a Kings blazer on, and a Kings ballcap pulled low. His head inclined toward me and his mouth was flat, so I knew he could hear Georgia.

“He’s such an avid fan of Stone Reeves. I think it stemmed because of his family’s connection to yours, and it only got worse the last six months, and now with losing your parents and seeing that you’re actually down there and with him, well, I’m just so sorry about this all.”

I couldn’t speak.

My body had rooted itself in place.

Noting all of this, Stone muttered a curse and took the phone. He turned away. “You’re saying all that bullshit on the phone was for what? To get free tickets to one of my games?”

I couldn’t hear her, but Stone was listening. He had the phone pressed so tight to his ear. I didn’t know if he was doing it on purpose, to block me out and shield me, or because he was that pissed off. I was guessing it was for both reasons.

“Yeah.” Stone.


A longer pause.

“Yeah.” He turned back to me, his eyes holding mine, but his face gave nothing away. “Yeah.” And then, a sigh. “Yeah, I’m sorry, too. I will. Text me your information and I’ll have my manager reach out. Thank you.”

The call ended and he tossed the phone my way.

I caught it at the same time his hand came to the back of my neck. He gripped me and tugged me toward him. Bending down, so his forehead was almost touching mine, he said, “That kid is hurting and he’s thinking of every possible way to avoid feeling even more hurt, so he fixated on me. That fixation grew after the accident, and what you heard from the mom was accurate. What you didn’t hear from the mom is that he does want a relationship with you, but he doesn’t want to actually leave their home. She said they’d put off the adoption if you wanted to wait and see if you did want to take him in. Knowing that, though, you gotta go up there and live there because that boy is adamant that he doesn’t want to leave his hometown.”

His jaw clenched.

His hand tightened on my neck. “All that said, most of that call was to get free tickets to my next Kings game. How are you feeling about that?”

I shook my head, whispering, “I have no idea.”

He stared at me, long and hard, and let go of my neck. He stepped back, his arms going back to his pockets, hunching his shoulders forward. His head inclined again, but he could still see me just under the brim of his hat. “You’re still in college. You’re a kid. So’s he. You take him on now, you got his college debt to take on. I know my dad paid for yours, but I didn’t go three rounds with him just to see you take on debt that isn’t your responsibility. Want my advice?” He cracked a grin, and I swear, the sight actually made my heart skip.

What the fuck was that?

I scowled, more at myself, but nodded. “Yeah.”

“Call him later. Talk to him. Let Apollo’s parents take him on as their own, and then work in a regular relationship with you. I talked to her and she seems legit. Had a few calls put out last week about them, too, and they all said what you said. Bud and Georgia Montrose are good people, good family, genuine. They ain’t bullshitters, and I think her tears were the real deal. Be clearheaded about the future.”

He tipped my head up, making sure I was looking him in the eye. He said, “Promise me.”

My mouth dried.

I didn’t know how to promise, because I didn’t know what was in my head anymore. But I whispered, “Promise.”

He waited, making sure, then let me go. “Good. Now, did you eat in there?”

Finally. Something I had done right. “I had a yogurt. And coffee.” Score for me.

He scowled, “Fucking hell.” He took my arm, walking me out the doors and back to where he’d parked. “Come on. Let’s get food in you before going to that house.”

It was the day after a game, so I hadn’t expected to see a lot of people at the stadium, but there were enough workers milling about, all saying hello to Stone, that it was slow in hitting me. And I got that Stone was a new star in the football world, but seeing all these peoples’ reactions, feeling the curious gazes as they paused wondering who was with him, a couple women shot me dirty looks—Stone was Famous Stone. He was only a year older than me, but acted ten years older. And it was because of this world, because of his career, that he’d grown up faster than most.

He’d barely come back once he left for college. I knew there had been some time off, but the rumor mill said he spent it at other athletes’ houses and in pre-training programs. This was a different world than even the college football team.

Here, there was a relaxed but professional vibe in the air. Also, a no-nonsense feel, too. Like, there was no room for tries and missteps. You either did whatever you did, or you were replaced by someone who would.

I was a little in awe, but also I knew in the back of my mind that if this had been a normal day for me, no recent trauma or loss happening, that I’d be way more intimidated by Stone—and the Stone in this world—than I was now. I was taking note of everything, almost like I was protected in an invisible car and the frame was made of firm, unbreakable glass.

Sounded weird, but it was what it was. I felt a layer of something that I couldn’t place all around me, so I wasn’t really experiencing every moment to the fullest. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. And I wasn’t going to question it.

He swung through a drive-thru and pulled away with enough food to feed a six-person family. Chicken sandwiches, minus the buns. Fries that he said were for me. Salads galore. A couple burgers, but mostly chicken. Also, grilled chicken.

The attendant fainted when she saw who was at the wheel, and a bunch of other employees came over. Stone handled it all with a polite smile, signing napkins for them, and a hat that had the fast food’s logo printed on it.

I asked when we pulled away, “Is it always like that?”

“No. Nah. Just it’s the day after a win and I don’t usually stop during the day. I’m usually coming or going at odd hours. Team’s local, too. I might get recognized only a third of the time if I were somewhere else, you know?”

I didn’t, no.

He wasn’t waiting for a response, and twenty minutes after that, he was pulling into my neighborhood. I almost sighed a little because finally I could recognize something.

“Forgot how stressful new things are.”

I was half-musing to myself. He spoke up, “What?”

“Coming here. I didn’t know anyone before I got here, and just now, I recognized the street. It made me feel comfort or something. Is that weird?”

“Makes sense to me. A lot of work goes into learning new things, places, people, and that’s not even counting your schooling. My mom said you came down here to study marine biology?”

I felt my face getting warm. It was so far from where we’d come from.


He was side-eyeing me, slowing down to park in front of my house. A few other cars were already there, and those were more things I was recognizing. Like Noel’s car. Wyatt’s car. The girls’ cars were all in the driveway and mine—I had a clear line of sight to my own parking spot from where we were parked. It was completely empty.

“Shit.” I forgot about the car. “I have to get a new car.”

His eyes flicked over, shutting the engine off. “I might know someone who’s looking to get rid of a car. Nice car. He’ll give you a deal.”

“What? You’re not going to buy me one?”

He stilled, his eyebrows pulling low. He had reached inside one of the bags and his hand paused before slowly pulling out one of the chicken sandwiches. “I could… Your debt, your schooling, the funeral costs, that was on Dad to make things right for what he did to your family. Hospital bills, paying for the towing, I took care of that. Those bills aren’t anything anyone in your position should take on, not when someone like me is there and knows you, and it just seems the right thing to do. But actually, buying you a car, I can. Thought that’d be personal, though? You’d like to pick out what you want. I know you have hang-ups about accepting financial help from someone who’s not a bank or a scholarship grant.”

His words touched me. “Thank you, and no. I was kidding. I want to do it myself.”

Just would take me a bit to save up.

I frowned. “How long do I have to take it easy with this concussion?”

“Two weeks. And if you push to be let out of the house, you and I are going to go a few rounds. You’re still struggling with remembering things.” He nodded to my lap. “Case in point, I’ve told you three times to start eating those, and you had no clue I was even talking.”

I looked down. There I was, clutching the small wrapper of fries, and I did faintly remember him telling me to eat them. I also faintly remember saying I would, and meaning to do just that because I liked fries, and then…Yeah. Distraction.