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God. How did I even handle that? I hadn’t thought about it before, but the rest? That was a lot of money I owed someone.

And I kept my mouth shut because Stone would say it was his dad paying back a debt to us, but bullshit. I remembered what that last cookbook said.

“What happened with my dad and your mom?”

I had to know.

Stone didn’t reply, though. He kept quiet, and I saw he was taking me to my house. He pulled up in my old parking spot, turning the engine off. When he opened the door and got out, I went after him.

“You’re not going to tell me?”

He shoved his hands in his pockets, making his shoulders hunch over. “You said you didn’t want to risk hating your dad. I won’t do that to you.”

I gulped. A lump sat in my throat. “So it’s something I’ll hate him for.”

He stopped, turning to look at me. His eyes were kind, and that threw me. Stone was never kind. He was gruff. He could be sweet. He was fierce. He was dead-like, but he was never kind. He might talk kind, but his eyes never matched the emotion. It was just how he was.

“I highly doubt that.”

“Did they have an affair?” That was the worst I could imagine. It would make sense how he was fired.

Stone hesitated.

“Stone.” I grabbed his arm. “Tell me.”

“There was no affair.”

My shoulders relaxed. That was good, but… “What, then?”

“Fuck.” He raked a hand over his head. “Can we do this in your house?”

I led the way to the back exit, going down the stairs and opening the door. Once inside, I went into my bedroom and to the door that opened to the rest of the house. Listening, I didn’t hear anything, not that I expected anyone to be home.

“Who’s all here?” Stone asked, shutting and locking the exit door and shutting the door that opened to where I could either leave or use the bathroom. Once that was closed, I closed mine and we were encased in my bedroom.

My hand fell, lingering. Then I turned the lock.

Stone noticed, his eyes darkening, but he sat down on my bed. Staying on the edge, his hands still in his pockets, he leaned forward. But those eyes, they were tracking me as I moved to the desk, standing, pausing, debating, then going and moving to sit at the opposite end of my bed. My back to the headboard, I pulled my pillow to my lap and hugged it to my chest.

Maybe it was a barrier against whatever he was going to say, a type of armor for the words meant to do damage that he’d volley at me, or maybe it was just against him. I didn’t know.

“Tell me.” I just needed to know everything because I was sick of ‘processing’ goddamn everything.

He cursed again, another hand raking over his head. “There was an incident one night. That’s all.”

“What incident? And why are you evading this question? You don’t evade anything.”

A half-gargled laugh came from him, one that I had never heard. That really sent my eyebrows up.

His eyes closed. His head hung down, and his shoulders lowered. “My mom drove drunk one night.”


“Yeah,” he bit out. “Not a great defining moment for our family, but I’m starting to learn that that pales compared to what my dad did. But yeah, she drove drunk from wine night with her friends. She was fucking trashed. Your dad was driving home, found her on the side of the road.”

“Oh no.”

“She was naked. Car was in the ditch. She was barely able to stand.”

“Oh no.” A whole different connotation to my voice.

“He got her home safely. Went back with my dad and they both got the car out of the ditch, too. Then the next morning my mom said that your dad made a pass at her.”

“What?! He didn’t, did he?”

He shrugged, shaking his head. “I don’t know. I can’t see your dad ever doing that, and I can see my mom trying to make something up to cover up her own embarrassment. She made up that lie and hopefully that’s what my dad would cling to and get mad about, maybe her driving drunk would get overlooked. That was her plan, at least. I knew about the accident, about what my mom said. I didn’t know my dad fired yours. I swear, but now I’m wondering if that’s why your dad got fired. Because of my mom.”

I sat there, letting all that sink in.

My dad didn’t do what she said. I knew it, felt it in my bones, and looking up, I saw shame on his face. He was ashamed of what his mother had done.

I scooted forward, taking his hand. “Hey.”

He shot to his feet, starting to pace. “Don’t!”

“Don’t what?” I sat back, not prepared for this.

He barked out again, “Don’t make this okay? In the grand scheme of things, I still have my parents. You don’t. You can’t be okay with it.”

I opened my mouth to speak.

He pointed at me, his eyes flashing. “And don’t say some shit about how it’s nothing worse than what my dad did or what I did to you. I get it, okay? I come from a line of assholes. My grandpops was, too. He was rich and he controlled the fucking town, and he was abusive to my grandma. Everyone knew it. No one said a word. I was glad when he died. Everyone was glad when he died. My dad was an asshole. My mom’s an asshole. I am, too. Just like them.”


“I can tell that you aren’t mad about this, but I know you and I know it’s because you have so much shit in your head already, and here I am, putting more in there. Fine. You don’t have to be mad, but I am. I’m furious with what my mom did. And I’m furious that your dad got hurt by it, your mom got hurt, and you got hurt. And I can’t do anything to fix any of it.”


My head was swimming again. I held up a hand. He stopped and I had to ask, “Is this why you’re helping me?”

“Jesus fucking Christ! Are you serious with this shit?” He exploded. Full-out. He completely exploded. “What kind of person do you think—” He stopped short. “Wait. Don’t answer that. I started because of your mom. Okay? Yes. Me coming and telling you about your dad and Gail, that was me being a fucking decent person. I know you. Who else could tell you? After hearing what my family did to yours, that made me see red. I flew up there. I wanted answers.”


“You were in a coma. Doctors wouldn’t let me anywhere near you for a full twenty-four hours. So after I left you in the hospital, I flew home, missed practice to find out what the fuck was going on. And I handled shit.”

“Handled shit?”

“Handled. And yeah, there’s bruises on my dad’s face and I don’t give a fuck how long they’re there for. I’d do it all over again. Him paying for your stuff, them both helping with funeral costs and everything—that was a debt massively owed to yours. I am sorry on behalf of whose blood I share. Then me helping you after that, that was because you had been my best friend until I realized what my dick was for and decided I was too good for the likes of a tomboy a grade younger than me. I am sorry on behalf of what a prick I was back then. And yes, me continuing to help you out was because of your mom. Not because I read that note. Those cookbooks didn’t get to me until a year ago. My mom had them for me, for some fucking reason, and didn’t hand them off. That’s when I read the first note. I didn’t know your mom wrote notes in all of them. I know now because I read every single one after I got back home from my parents’ house, and the ones in the back. Did you see those, too?”

“There’s notes in the back?”

He grinned, still grimacing at the same time. “Yeah. Funny ones. Sad ones. I wanted to beat my dad up all over again after I read one in particular.”

“Wait a minute, back up…don’t you get fined if you miss practice or something?”

“I paid it. Going up there and making things right meant more to me. Don’t tell any Kings’ fans I said that. They can get rabid.” He raised his hands, resting them on his head as he waited for my reaction.

“So this was all because my mom was nice to you?”

His hands dropped down. “You fucking on something for that concussion still? That’s what you got from all of that?”

I jumped to my feet. “That’s what you said! It was about my mom.”

“It started out about your mom. I mean, it started about more than your mom, but yeah. It began because of your mom, but also you. And it became about you—” He cut off, his head moving left to right in a brisk motion. “No. I’m not doing this right now. The whole reason I called you this afternoon is because your stepbrother wants to fly down and see my game on Monday. We’re Monday Night Football this week. He’s coming with his friend, and the guys’ parents. Sounds like it’s going to be a quick trip for them, and I was calling to see if you wanted to come with them? I can get you tickets.”



“Jared’s coming here?”

He nodded, his eyes back to being expressionless. “And in case they didn’t say something, I wanted to give you a heads-up.”

“Are you flying them down?”

“No. The parents are. They reached out about wanting to meet up, see if I’d give him an autograph. I’m just giving them tickets. That’s all. They were going to pay someone they know for the guys’ season tickets and I told them not to do that.” His hands slid back into his pockets. “What do you think? You want to come? Support me?” A faint tug at his lips.