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Pain sliced me.

“He wanted to meet my family. That was the last thing I wanted. I didn’t even want to go back there, much less bring someone else with me. The fighting started then. He didn’t like that we were meeting his family and not mine, but he didn’t have family. I found out later it was a work buddy of his. He was an older guy, and Mark had something on him. Mark grew up in the foster system. He blackmailed this guy’s entire family. They had to act like they were happy and adoring, meeting the girlfriend for the first time.”

Stone cursed, moving on the bed.

I kept on, wincing at how hollow I sounded, “He began pressuring me for sex.”

A savage curse from Stone now.

“The first time was fine. I wanted to. I thought I loved him, but it wasn’t enough. Then things got bad, and I couldn’t stay with him anymore. So I ended things.”

“Are you fucking serious?”

“You’re nothing.”

“You’re fucking white trash.”

“He researched me. I have no idea how he found out, but he did.”

“Don’t think I don’t know about your old neighbor? Stone Reeves.”

His laugh still made me taste acid.

“Were you fucking me while thinking of him?”

“I left him, and that night he broke into my apartment. I had a roommate by then, a girl from one of my classes, and she called the police.”

I could smell the acid.

“I filed a restraining order, and it worked for a while. Until it didn’t. He became obsessed. He was obsessed about you, that I knew you, that he had to live up to you. He kept taunting me, how he was better than you, how he was going to drive down here and beat you up. He was going to come and break your leg so bad that you’d never play football again. And then, in his warped delusion, he was going to take your place. He wanted your life.”

I was in my bed again back there. The window was open. It was summer by then.

“He broke in again, but this time my roommate wasn’t there to call the police. She’d moved home by then. Her family was scared for her.”

My voice broke.

I was not going to tell him about that night. I would never tell another living soul, but I could recount the aftermath.

“I had a dolphin paperweight on my desk. It was a gift from Gail, and when he was in my room, I focused on that paperweight. I only saw that dolphin. I vowed to myself. I vowed that night that if I survived, I’d find the best marine biology program I could and apply to get into it. I’d go into that program and I would study them save them, just like how they had saved me.”

Stone jerked on the bed, but I didn’t look.

“They arrested him the next day. He never got bail and he’s been in prison ever since. Or I thought he was until I saw that article tonight. I called one of the officers before you got here. He told me that Mark was dead. Bar fight. He was mouthing off about you and some of your fans took offense.” I turned now, saying before I saw him, “Apparently you have some dangerous fans and…” I stopped talking.

He was completely white, his eyes glazed over, glued to me, and his fists so tight blood was seeping from his palms.

“Stone!” I was over to him in a flash. “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

He couldn’t hurt his hands. Not his hands.

I ran to my bathroom for a first-aid kit I stashed there. Bringing it back, I didn’t ask. I didn’t speak. I tended to his hands as he sat on the edge of the bed and he let me. The cuts weren’t too bad. He had crushed a pin in his hand. I didn’t know where he got it from. I don’t think he knew it was there either, but his eyes never left me as I finished cleaning his hands.

Some antiseptic, dressings. His hands would be okay.

I ran a hand down the side of his face, smoothing his hair back. “You’re going to be so tired for tomorrow.”

“I don’t give a fuck about how tired I am,” he grated out. His eyes flashing hot and fierce.

“I do.”

He grasped my hand before it would’ve fallen away. “I don’t have words for you right now. Colby sent me the article. I was sleeping. I didn’t hear my phone go off, so he called me. I was starting to chew him out, but he told me to stuff it and check my texts. Said I would want to know as soon as possible. He was right. I read that article and the next thing I know, I’m in my truck, heading over here. I don’t remember leaving the house, or the drive over. I was just here. I was in a blind panic. If you got hurt? If you were taken away from me?” His voice cracked.

“Stop. Sssshhh.”

“If anything had happened to you.” He cut himself off. “Something already did happen to you.” He looked up, his eyes haunted. “If I was the cause for that…”

I shook my head, my thumb running over his mouth to silence him. I didn’t want to debate what had or hadn’t set off that guy. I didn’t even want to think his name. He’d already taken up too much time and energy between us. Tomorrow, I promised myself. Tomorrow we’d figure it out. We’d talk about it more, but not anymore.

I leaned down, my hair cascading around us and my lips met his.

I loved him. I knew it then.

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” I murmured against his lips.

He held onto me, framing my face, searching me. “I left you before. I gave you space. I’m done with that. Fuck whatever you think. Just fuck it. Fuck this enemies shit between us. That’s done. Got it? I’m not walking, not again. I can’t—”

I kissed him.

I silenced him this time.

It was me. It was my turn.

I didn’t hide. I let him see me. I let him feel me, and he was right. We were done with that. Then he tugged me down on his lap, and he rolled us over on the bed. When we fell asleep, he was still holding me and it was perfect.

Chapter Forty


I sat on the edge of the bed the next morning, actually just five hours later.

I needed to go. I needed to go to my home, start my day. I needed to head to the stadium. I needed to get ready. We had a game tonight, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t leave. My ass wouldn’t leave that fucking bed and I couldn’t stop watching her.

She needed sleep. Not me. I was fucking wired.

This asshole, some asshole, hurt my girl.

Because that’s what she was. Mine.

She was no one else’s and I should’ve shut that shit down long ago. I knew why she walked. I got it, and a part of me wondered if she was doing the right thing, but fuck that. No more. I was done staying away. I was done keeping quiet and not making her talk. We needed to talk. Talking. Shit. We barely talked. We fought, then we went to bed. That’s how we communicated, and I was trying to tell her all the ways I cared for her. I needed to show her, not just say the words, but she was asleep and I had to leave and do my job.

Except I couldn’t make myself leave her room. I couldn’t even get off the bed, and I needed to get off the bed. I’d be fined so damn much money if I didn’t show, but every cell in my body was screaming at me to curl back in her bed, pull her into my arms, and never let her go.

Never ever let her go again.

But, shit. I raked a hand through my hair.

I couldn’t do that. I was a professional. We played through everything. Wind, sleet, rain, pain, blood. We showed up. We played. We dominated.

He was dead. I was trying to tell myself. She was safe. I could leave, do my job, and scoop her back in my arms afterwards. Her. Me. Our bed. Yeah. It wasn’t my bed anymore. It was ours. She just didn’t know it.

Shit. Shit!

I had to go. I had to, but God, I didn’t want to go.

Moving around the room, I went to wash up before dressing, but I wasn’t going out her side way. Hell no. I went the other way, not expecting anyone to be up. I’d been in college, but I hadn’t partied like these guys. I rarely partied. I footballed. That was it. I did football, and if I wasn’t footballing, I was training to football or thinking about footballing. Football was my life. These guys, they were different. They were more normal. If they were planning on pro, they had one last year to get their shit together. But that wasn’t my issue.

Going up to the kitchen, I hadn’t expected anyone to be up.

Someone was up.

A girl was at the counter making toast. She turned, yawning, but seeing me, she shrieked. “Oh, my Jesus!” She pressed a hand to her heart, giving me a shaky smile. “I wasn’t expecting a guy, and then it’s a guy, but it’s not just any guy, it’s you, and yeah. Still getting used to seeing you around here.”

She was the nice one, the one Dusty liked. I was trying to remember her name.


“Yeah. Hi.” The toast popped up and she took one, waving at me before putting it on the plate and reaching for the butter. “I suppose you’re on your way out? How’s our girl doing downstairs? She seemed tired last night. I mean, more than usual considering how much she’s working.”

I had started to walk past her, letting her talk, but hearing the last few words, I paused.

The girl was still rambling, her back to me, still buttering her toast. “Between you and me, I worry about her. She’s not gotten a car and she doesn’t think we notice, but she’s walking back and forth from campus. That means she’s walking after her shifts, but she’s got some hang-up about asking for help. I don’t get it, but she’s prideful. So, yeah. My uncle has a car in the garage. There’s no insurance on it, but I was thinking I could ask him to get some and she could drive that. We could say it’s the house’s vehicle, but poof—like magic—it’s always available only for her.” She turned, the toast done on her plate. “What do you think?” She was smiling at me.