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His eyes were glowing, almost glittering from a small bit of moonlight shining through my window.

And they were kind. I saw how kind they were, and my heart folded. I was gone. Donzo. The L word was coming and I couldn’t stop myself.

“I fucking love you.”


It was him who said it, and he said it fiercely. He said it as if his life depended on me knowing it.

My heart was folding all over again, jumping up, doing a skip, hop, and a somersault, and my knees were just boneless. I could’ve melted into the bed.

I raised a hand, cupping the side of his face. “You do?”

I had a tear there. It was falling. I was helpless from stopping it from falling.

“Yeah.” Just as fierce, with every bit of conviction as the first one. “I fucking love you.” His hand raised, cupping the side of my face, but mine was steady. His was shaking. “I love you so much that it’s ripping me apart, knowing what you went through. Knowing I couldn’t be there to help take some of that pain away, but I can’t go back in time. I wish I could. You have no idea how much I wish I could, but I can’t. All I can do is make it right from here on out, from today and forward.” His head dropped. He moved more over me, his forehead resting on mine, and he whispered again, so fiercely that I swear it was starting to heal old haunts. “I love you and I want you to let me love you and I want to make you mine. My woman. Just mine. All mine. I don’t care what you want. I can’t let you be someone else’s. Mine, babe. Mine.”

He was waiting, not letting himself fall down on me, but I just pulled him the last bit toward me.

I needed him. “I was going to tell you that I love you. That I didn’t care what you were planning for your future, because I am your future and that I loved you and that was that, but you beat me to it.”

“You do?”

I was smiling and I nodded. “Yeah.” My hand applied more force, still holding his cheek, and my thumb rubbed down over his mouth. “I love you.”

“Thank fuck.”

“Thank you for the vehicle.”

He chuckled, running his hand down my arm, then curling around my hip. “Yeah, babe. You need some wheels. You need to be safe.”

And because I needed to know, “You were dating, when we were, you know. Those other women—”

He shook his head. “No dates. Group events. Things for the football team, fundraisers.” He cupped both sides of my face, his fingers sliding into my hair. “There’s been no one since you. There couldn’t have been. My dick stopped working unless I only thought of you.”

Best. Words. Ever.

But shit. I cupped his hands, holding still. “I have my own confession. That thing I said about your dad—”

He cut me off again. “A fucking lie. I’m not stupid. My dad’s a lot of stuff, but he’s not dirty like that.”

I had tensed, then let out a breath. “You’re not mad?”

“Oh. I was furious when you told me, but I knew what it was. You were pushing me away for a final time.” He grinned. “Good thing I don’t give a shit when it tends to come to you. You’re mine, Dust. You can’t push me away, not anymore.”


I thought about what he said earlier. Safe. I was more than safe now. I had some grief to get through, but I felt a clearing in the sky. Light was shining down. I would be happy. He already made me happy.

And that was everything.


Life changed after that, but for the better. It was something I wasn’t used to.

As for my stuff and what all happened to me, a few people brought it up on campus. Not many, though. Less than what I expected and more than what Stone wanted. Siobhan had resumed being my friend. It was a slow-go at first. It meant something that she came to the house, she found me, she apologized, and she further apologized for staying away one time during a study session.

“I was hurt. You didn’t tell me you knew him and all the people you live with. They’re just so not what I am, and I felt insignificant. I felt foolish.” Her head bent down. She was picking at her pen. “But I thought about it and realized you didn’t need to tell me. You didn’t owe me anything. I was insecure, and it was all me. Not you. You were this ‘big’ person and I had no clue. Thought you were like me.”

“Like you?”

“Small. You know?”

I covered her hand with mine and squeezed. “You’re not small. No one’s small, and it doesn’t matter who you know. That doesn’t make you not small. I am like you. I just know a few people you don’t, that’s all.”

She looked like she had more to say, but Trent came back to the table then and we went to studying.

My housemates, they were ecstatic.

They went to a couple of Stone’s games. Stone went to a couple of their games with me, Colby and Jake, too. I was learning that the three of them had a friendship dynamic that I didn’t think I’d ever understand. Colby and Jake razzed each other. Stone was quiet, but somehow, the three were always so in tune with each other that it was a little freaky. Stone told me later that that wasn’t normal. Guys on the teams didn’t get close to each other. It was a job. People showed up. Did their job. Went home to their family. A few times, a couple guys might get close, get friendly, but with the threat of being traded to a different team always looming, most didn’t let themselves get super attached.

It was too late for him, Colby, and Jake. They were attached. Cortez came over to Stone’s house a few times, too. He was like an appendage, like an arm to the body of the three.

Noel. Wyatt. Nacho. Dent. The four lost it every time the three or four of them sometimes showed up.

Colby had started mentoring Noel.

Stone sometimes gave Wyatt pointers, but I could tell there was something there. The pro-ballers were a little detached from the college footballers. I didn’t know why, except Jake made one comment that they shouldn’t be partying as much as they were. Colby and Stone didn’t rebuke him. They both just got a nod and that was it. Made me wonder if maybe my housemates weren’t as dedicated as they should be, but Colby mentioned they had one more year before the Combine.

No clue what that meant, but again, the other two just nodded and said nothing else.

“You’re fidgeting.”

We were driving in his truck, and he was right. I kept playing with my hands, moving around in the seat. I was not comfortable, and I’d try to get comfortable and I just kept doing that. It was a whole cycle. Over and over again. Cursing, I stuffed my hand under my leg. I was about to do the same with my other hand, but Stone reached over. He grabbed my hand, laced our fingers, and threw me a smile. “Okay. Let’s not get hasty here.”

I laughed, and it was enough, just enough. No. It was perfect because it calmed some of the nerves.

We were driving to Acquiesce, a more upscale restaurant that bordered on a club. I’d heard about it. Stone mentioned it in passing, that we should go because we’d never been on an official date. I relayed the name of the place to Nicole, and she and Savannah went apeshit, claiming how prestigious the place was. Mia’d been walking through the living room, overheard our convo, and paused to give her two cents. “I’ve been there. It’s cool. They have dancers.” That’d been it. She kept moving, reminding me of the first time I met her and thinking she was a gazelle in human form. Her long legs striding forward, but moving as if she were delicately prancing. It worked for her. Me. I’d look like a goose trying to pretend it was a flamingo. Just couldn’t pull that one off.

But I was nervous because one, it was our first ‘out’ date together. People knew. Blogs knew. Half the male population on campus knew, and not because of me, because of their love for Stone. This was different, though. Felt different, more official, and I was sweating buckets. Hence, the fidgeting.

“What’s in your head?”

I tried to pull my hand from Stone, but he only tightened his grip and squeezed me back.


“Tell me.”

He was swinging into the parking lot, and it was a circle drive-up thing. There was a line of cars in front of us, and they had valet. Stone was glancing around, making sure he didn’t have anything expensive laying out. Wasn’t supposed to happen with valet, but let’s be real. It happened. I just went right back to fidgeting and smoothed my hand down over my dress.

I was wearing a pink dress that Savannah insisted on. There was a sheer covering up my top, with green beading that made it look like I was wearing a fairytale garden. The bottom was pink tulle and she’d thrown on a long necklace of white beads at the last minute. I’d done away with the blue hair, and my hair was now dyed back to my dusty blonde color. I thought it was appropriate. It was up in half curls and a half braid. According to Mia, the only housemate who’d been to Acquiesce with Wyatt because they had dinner with his parents there, the dress was perfect. I wasn’t sure, or I hadn’t been until now. Stone was wearing a nice button-down shirt and nice jeans. He could’ve stepped off a yacht in Cannes and fit right in, but the couple in front of us got out of a fancy car and I settled even more. The woman had on a gold sparkling dress, top to bottom. Diamonds dripped down her neck, so yeah. I was probably underdressed.