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“I’m just hungry,” I replied, standing up and reaching for his arm to tug him up too. He stood up beside me willingly. I tried hard not to let my hand dwell on his arm too long. The hard, defined muscles under my palm were a little distracting, so I dropped my hand. “See you later, Amanda. Let Rock and Trisha know that I had to leave.”

She nodded and gave me an understanding smile.

When we reached the bottom of the stands, I glanced over to see if Hank had noticed me. Or worse, if Carrie had. She hated me and was very verbal with her hate for me. I didn’t want to go near that with Jason here to see and hear it.

“You gonna tell me what’s going on, or do I get to guess?” Jason said close to my ear.

Hank’s eyes found me at that moment. I stopped walking and reached for Jason’s hand. Shit. The anger in Hank’s eyes wasn’t good. This was going to be one big mess. I turned to Jason. “The guy’s truck I bashed. He’s here,” I explained.

Jason’s eyes went wide, and then a grin tugged at his lips. “Good thing I didn’t drive the Porsche.”

This wasn’t funny. Why did he have to look so dang sexy and amused?

“Yeah, well, he knows it was me. Let’s go.”

Jason’s hand found mine, surprising me. I glanced down at our hands as his fingers threaded through mine. What was he doing?

“You’ll be fine. I promise,” he said in a firm, calm voice that soothed me. Even if he didn’t know how insane Hank could be.

“Thanks,” I whispered, straightening up as we walked toward the parking lot. Hank had stopped walking. I wasn’t going to make eye contact with him. Maybe he’d just let us walk by without saying anything.

Jason didn’t say anything as we got closer, but Hank’s heated gaze felt like it was burning a hole in my head. He was pissed. I didn’t even glance at Carrie. I knew she’d go to screaming if I gave her any reason to think I wanted Hank.

I heard Hank’s angry snarl. “Shut up.” Fantastic. Carrie was saying something about me being here. I picked up my pace, and Jason tightened his grip on my hand but refused to walk faster. He forced me to keep his steady pace.

“Take the baby, Hank. I mean it. If you talk to that skank, I’ll walk away. I won’t have it. I swear I won’t.” Carrie was talking loud enough for people around us to hear her. She loved making scenes.

“Shut up, bitch,” he roared, and I winced. I knew what that felt like. Hank’s angry words. I also knew what Hank’s fist felt like. Surely she realized getting him worked up was not safe.

“Excuse us,” Jason said smoothly as we walked past them. Jason moved me to his other side so that he stood between them and me. It wasn’t even obvious, he did it with such a casual ease.

“Who the fuck are you?” Hank demanded, and I thought Jason was going to ignore him. But he didn’t.

He stopped, and moved me to stand behind him before he turned back to look at Hank. “Excuse me?” he replied. The warning edge in his voice surprised me. Jason was always so nice and easygoing.

Hank took a step toward us, and I tried to move in front of Jason but his hand held on to me tightly as he pulled me back behind him. The only way I could get free was if I jerked and shoved him. I wasn’t going to do that unless I needed to keep Hank from hitting him.

“I asked who the fuck you are,” he snarled.

“I don’t see how that’s your business,” Jason replied.

Hank’s hands fisted beside him and his face turned red. “Jess is my business, and if you don’t get your fucking hand off her now, I’m gonna remove it from your body.”

Okay, I had to do something. Carrie was screaming at him, and he was either going to slap her or punch Jason.

“Last I checked, Jess wasn’t yours,” Dewayne’s voice suddenly warned. “Ain’t been yours for a long time now. Why don’t you go take your baby and his momma and move on along before I remind you just who the fuck her friends are.” I looked back to see his cold, scary-as-hell expression focused on Hank.

“Stay out of this, Dewayne. Ain’t your shit,” Hank growled.

“I’ve been looking for a reason to smash your face in for a year now. Go ahead and piss me off,” Dewayne replied, walking past us and toward Hank.

“Please, piss him off. I’d love to see him beat your ass,” Preston drawled as he walked up to us. Amanda must have gone and told him what was going on. The playboy smirk that he always wore was gone. His eyes were locked on Hank. “Your boy’s crying. Best take care of that.”

“Hank, please, come on,” Carrie begged, pulling on his arm. Her ugliness toward me was gone now that they were sandwiched between two of my cousin’s best friends.

“Ain’t over, Jess. Won’t ever be over, baby. You know that,” Hank said, staring straight at me.

I straightened my shoulders and glared at Hank over Jason’s shoulder since he wouldn’t let me get around him. “It’s been over, Hank.”

He shook his head. “We’re endgame, baby. Remember. We are fucking endgame. Always have been.”

I had told him that once. Back when I was young and foolish. Back when I thought he really did hate it when he hurt me. Not anymore. I didn’t want that life. And I didn’t love him anymore.

“No. He’s your endgame,” I replied, pointing to the little boy now in Carrie’s arms. “Let’s go,” I said, tugging on Jason’s arm. I had no doubt he was going to want to take me home now and drop me off. This wacked-up mess with Hank would send any guy running from me. But I wanted to leave anyway. I couldn’t stay here.

Jason nodded and turned around, still holding my hand tightly in his as we walked back to his Hummer without a word. I wanted to apologize, but how could I explain that? Admitting that I had once been in love with that insane man didn’t say a lot about me.

He opened my door and helped me up before closing it and walking around to get in the driver’s seat. When he got in and closed the door, he didn’t reach for his seat belt. Instead he looked over at me. I braced myself for his brush-off. I could handle it. I was used to it.

“I wish I’d gotten a chance to see his truck after you beat the shit out of it,” he said.

I sat there and stared at him. What? I was confused.

A small grin tugged at his lips. All the worry and stress that had me wound tight released. I let out the breath I had been holding.

His expression had softened. “I want a good burger. You good with that, or do you want something else?”

He wasn’t taking me home. I leaned back and smiled at him. “Burgers are good with me.”

“You’re the local. Where do I get a good burger?” he said as he started the engine and shifted the gear into reverse.

“Pickle Shack,” I replied.

“Put on your seat belt,” he said with a wink, then pulled out onto the road.

My heart did a little fluttery thing. Startled by my reaction, I reached for the seat belt and put it on.

“You want to talk about that back there?” he asked.

He didn’t sound angry, nor was he demanding it. I wasn’t sure what to do with him. He was so different. I didn’t want to explain Hank to him. I never wanted him to see Hank again. That part of my life was embarrassing. “Not really,” I replied honestly.

Jason nodded. “Okay. How do you feel about night swimming legally?”

I studied his profile for a moment. Was he really just going to drop this and not ask questions? I had been prepared for him to try a little harder, but he was changing the subject completely.

“I’m good with staying on the right side of the law if possible,” I replied, wondering where he was going with this. I didn’t do night swimming in the gulf, though. But then again, he might possibly change my mind.

“So you would be up for coming back to my brother’s place after we eat? He’s got a heated pool.”

His brother’s place. As in Jax Stone’s vacation home? I was nervous. Over a guy. For the first time in my life, a guy was making me nervous. He was asking me to come to his place. Not the back of his Hummer. “Yeah, I’d like that.” I hoped he hadn’t heard the small stammer. I wasn’t used to this.

“I’d offer to take you back to your house so you could grab a swimsuit, but I like the other option better,” he said, sending my heart pounding faster in my chest.


It had been that small shudder when I held her behind me and faced off with her insane ex that had done me in. She’d been scared. It was like someone had flipped a switch in me. I had decided that she came with too much baggage and drama when Hank had sent her bolting out of her seat, ready to leave. I didn’t like drama, so I had been preparing myself for how I was going to back out of her life just as quickly as I had stepped into it. That had all changed, though, the moment the terrified tremble had gone through her. All I could think about was protecting her. I wasn’t letting the asshole near her.

Why would someone who looked like her settle for that asshat? He’d obviously mistreated her. The way he was treating the mother of his child was proof enough he had no idea how to treat a woman. Thinking about him getting near Jess pissed me off.

Jess had finally started smiling easily again while we ate. I did everything I could to get her mind off what had happened. I didn’t want her worrying about it. I liked hearing her laugh. When she was relaxed, she was herself. The confident, flirty female who knew exactly how sexy she was.

“I’ve never been on the island,” Jess said as we drove past the main gates and over the bridge that connected the private island to the mainland.

“I’m your first, then?” I asked teasingly.

She laughed and unbuckled her seat belt. I glanced over at her scooting closer to me. The self-assured girl I’d first met was back. “Guess you are,” she said as her hand slid up my arm until her fingers wrapped around my bicep. I was immediately thankful for my personal trainer.

“Thank you,” she said in a breathy voice as she moved closer to my ear.

“For what?” I asked, enjoying her warm breath against my neck.

“Today. Protecting me. Not judging me,” she said as her hand moved from my arm to my chest.

As incredibly good as her hand on my skin felt and the images running through my head of her naked and in my bed excited me, I wasn’t going to let her do this. She was used to guys expecting it from her. Or, from what I saw tonight, Hank expecting it of her. He seemed like he was a bit possessive. I wasn’t sure many guys had been able to get too close to her and live.

“Don’t thank me for that. Besides, it was Preston and Dewayne who kept him from doing anything.”

Jess turned and slid a leg up higher on her seat as she pressed her chest against my arm. Damn, she was making it hard to be noble. “You stood in front of me. No one’s ever done that,” she whispered before her lips touched my neck. I gripped the steering wheel tightly with one hand and tried hard to remember she was doing this because she thought she had to. Not because she wanted to.

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