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“Well, I got three Google alerts. I think it’s out there.”

“I’m just letting you know that since you’re big on privacy, there’s probably a whole sector of nerds on campus who don’t know. So you know that much.”

That was comforting. “Thank you.”

“But I mean, like the regular sixty percent of campus probably knows. And when you come back, only maybe thirty percent will remember. And from even that, ten percent will recognize you. From that, maybe three percent will say something.”

Around sixty-nine-thousand students went to our school. I got to look forward to a little over two thousand of them mentioning something about Stone and myself.

Two weeks in isolation at his house suddenly started to look good.

“So, yeah.” Nicole’s smile was still awed. “I just, I can’t get over how much you know Stone. I mean, coming in and seeing you in his lap, and I know you said you and he aren’t, you know, but man. Mia and Lisa are such bitches. They were saying you sucked his cock somewhere, but this—” She motioned to the bed where she’d seen me in his lap. “That’s not what they’re saying. I don’t think they know how to handle this. It’s awesome.”


My dad and Gail died.

So awesome.


There was nothing else to say. I was fine letting Nicole think what she thought, and I picked up the rest of my stuff. “Okay. I’m going to go.”

“You need homework gathered for you or anything?”

I went to the door, but looked back. I thought about it, really thought about it. “No. I don’t need that, but I do need to come back here after these two weeks are done. I need to be a normal student, and I need Mia and Lisa to continue being bitchy to me. I need that because—well, I don’t know why, I just need it. Please don’t say anything about me being in Stone’s lap. We have a weird history.”

“Oh.” She blinked. “Yeah. Yeah, okay. No problem. I won’t say a word.”



Chapter Twenty

“Your friends are just great.”

Stone greeted me with that biting comment as I slid into the passenger seat, shutting the door. I knew what he saw. He knew I knew what he saw. There was no point in arguing. I just sat back and held my bag on my lap. “I told you before, I didn’t know anyone before I moved down here.”

A few of them were sitting on the steps outside, pretending to talk, but mostly still watching Stone. They waved as Stone pulled from the curb.

“Yeah.” His hand flexed over the steering wheel. “Let’s talk about that.”

Which was code where he said the command and I was expected to confess everything.

Fuck that. I wasn’t his bitch. I looked out the window instead.

“Dusty.” A low growl from him.

A snap back from me, “Stone.”

A second growl. “I care. Fucking hell. I care, okay? I wouldn’t be doing any of this shit if I didn’t still care about you. Those people didn’t give a fuck about you, except the one girl. Not a goddamn one of them, and you’re asking me to look away from that? I can’t. Me being a guy and caring about a girl, I can’t do that. It’s not how I was raised.”

He cared?

I couldn’t.

That statement was swimming around in my head, but I couldn’t. Not right now.

I focused on what I could process. “There’s a big fucking debate that could be had for your last statement, so I’m not sure I’d be all high and mighty over that comment.”

“I am trying to make up for that.”

Low and quiet and controlled by him. I’d pushed a button and he was reacting, but he was trying to contain it. And I knew that was just another extension of the whole ‘I’m trying to make up for that’ part.

But still.

I wanted to clip out, wanted to throw it in his face by saying, ‘Do better.’

I didn’t, but I wanted to. “A movie. A blanket. We shared snacks. Then the next day, I was a stranger to you.”

He sighed, his shoulders falling down. “Dusty.”

“That was years ago.” It was pent-up, and I had to get this out. “You were my best friend growing up. I loved your dog like he was mine. I know you were hurt when you walked away from me. I know you missed my mom, but since then, during those years, I lost my best friend. I lost my mom. I lost my childhood home.” I had to skip a beat. He didn’t need to know what else I lost before coming here. “And I have now lost my father, my stepmother, my car, and the second home that was never really a home to me. But I got you back? Is that the takeaway for me? The consolation prize?”

He cursed silently under his breath, hitting the turn signal and easing onto the interstate ramp.

“I would give you up in a heartbeat to get them back.”

Still, he remained silent. A beat. Then, “So would I.”

Oh. Damn.


That broke the wall. I felt it crack in two, heard it even, and everything I’d been stuffing away and suppressing, I had a second’s notice before I turned to him. I knew the tears were already shining in my eyes.

He saw, and his jaw firmed as he reached over for my hand. He kept a death grip on me. “Just let it out. You have to let it out.”

The hole inside me was there. His words, my words, had punched a fucking fist through it and I felt as if the roof was caving in. The entire building in me was crashing. I was demolished inside and I’d been holding onto a thin fucking frame to keep me upright. That was gone now, and I was crumbling.

No. It was worse than that.

I couldn’t keep it together.


His hand tightened on mine. “Just hold on. I promise.”

I tried. I did. I was failing.

But then we were pausing. The gate was opening. And we pulled into his garage.

I didn’t have to think about moving. Stone was out of his door and mine was thrown open in a flash. His arms went under me, and he scooped me out. Cradled to his chest, he maneuvered us through the house. Me, I was useless. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear what he was doing until we were in a room, on a bed.

A phone was ringing.

It was silenced.

He moved us both back so he was sitting against the headboard. It was similar to the other night, but this time, crying wasn’t enough. My insides were being ripped out. One organ at a time. One tendon being slowly pulled from inside, shredding and being dropped on the floor.

I couldn’t handle it.

My dad.


All her texts. Her calls. She just wanted to be helpful and I thought she’d been annoying, and now there’d be no more calls. No more texts.


I couldn’t… I screamed, the sobs choking me.

A rough hand brushed down my face and I felt Stone’s forehead to mine. “What do you need? What do you need right now?” He was breathing so hard. “Dusty. Please. I can’t take hearing this from you. What do you need?”


Not to feel.

I couldn’t think. Feel. I couldn’t live. I didn’t want to live. I needed to go, but I didn’t dare say those words. Another scream came out, tearing out of me of its own volition.

I couldn’t handle any of this. It was too much.

“Stone,” I was sobbing, my hand on his chest. “Stone. I can’t!”

I was clawing at his chest.

An invisible hand took a knife and was sheathing at my skin, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t a clean cut. And that hand just kept going, digging in, trying to tear me open, and the more it wasn’t working, the harder that hand was stabbing me. Twisting.

I was being tortured.

He adjusted me, throwing me up in his arms. A firm arm clamped around my back and his other hand was behind my head. “Dusty. What. Do. You. Need?!”

Finally. His words pierced through and I opened my eyes, to see his. They were wild. He was almost manic, desperate, but the hunger. I saw it in there. It was covered by something else, fear, maybe? Horror, more likely.

His hand dropped to my hip and he was kneading into my skin.

That other hand, the invisible hand, was trying to pry me open. I felt every inch, centimeter, millimeter, and I couldn’t live through this.

I just knew it.

I gasped out, “Please. I can’t feel. Not this.”

“What do you want?” He was almost shaking me from the force of his own need. Savage. His eyes were filling with rage, but he was blanketing it. He was containing it. “Drugs? Alcohol? What do you need from me?”

I stopped just as the invisible hand opened me enough and was reaching in, all over again.

“I can’t feel what I’m feeling—”

His mouth was on mine.

Hot. Hungry. Angry.

I gasped, and everything stilled. The world paused and I sat back, dragging in oxygen. A moment of peace, but the hand was coming back for more destruction. I could feel its impending reach and I acted, not thinking. I couldn’t do that either, and I almost launched myself at him.

My mouth was on his. Desperate and starving.

He paused, pulling back. “Are you sure about this?”

I crawled up on his lap, my hands going right to his pants and I was frenzied in my movements. That was my response, and he took it as such. His arms swept me up again, he rolled us so he was on top and he paused above me, his eyes on mine.