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Mari smiles in that girlish way, with the shy eyes, before she slips off the bed. She walks over to her dresser and pulls something out. When she comes back, she sits on the edge of the mattress, and takes his hand. Trystan sits up as Mari drops something cold into his palm—a ring. It’s a thick silver band with strange letters etched onto it. Holding it up between his thumb and forefinger, Trystan asks, “What does it say?”

“It’s ancient Greek. It says…” her cheeks redden and she looks away.

When she lifts her gaze, Trystan feels the pull to her. It starts in the center of his chest and travels deep into his bones. Those eyes, that hair, and her voice—there isn’t a more wonderful sound. Leaning in slowly, Trystan lingers within a breath of her lips. He can feel the heat from her skin and although he longs to touch her, he doesn’t. “What does it say, Mari?”

Her eyes lift and she tenses, seeing how close he is. If her heart is pounding like his, they’re in trouble. Trystan leans in and closes the space, pressing his lips to the corner of her mouth. Mari’s dark lashes close and when she lifts her gaze again, those pink lips curve into a beautiful shy smile.

“Tell me,” he breathes.

“It says ‘my soul is your soul.’ It means you’re part of me and that our friendship is eternal.” She presses her lips together hard and adds, “And it means I love you. When you’re famous and miles away, you can look at it and remember me.”

“As if I could ever forget you,” He pulls her against his chest and says in her ear, “I love it.”

“Trystan, I know our lives are about to change and I want you to do what you need to do, to become who you need to be. But the thought of waking up every morning and not seeing you—”

He silences her worries with a kiss, and then pulls away. Both of his hands find her face, and slip back into her hair. “Come with me. Whatever I do, wherever I go—come with me, Mari. You don’t have to stay here.”

“I’m seventeen, Trystan. I can’t—”

“You’ll be able to leave for college.”

“Yeah, but I can’t leave to live with a guy. Add in the fact that you’re a rock star and my dad will throw your ass in jail for kidnapping me.” Her dark gaze falls between us and when she looks up again, there’s pain in her eyes. “It works better this way. You can come see me and I’ll start college. I can catch up with you when I’m eighteen or stay here and graduate. We’ll have more choices then, Trystan. But right now, we both get to start over. We both get two shiny new lives and they’re going in different directions. That’s why I want you to have the ring. Remember me when things get rough, because they will. I’ll always be there for you, no matter what happens between us.”

Her words are like a stake through his heart. She’s talking about them like they’re already over, even though they’ve barely started. The idea of losing her, of going through his life without her, is more devastating than anything he’s ever felt. But she’s right and he knows it. Their time together is limited and he wants to treasure the few moments they have.

They stay like that, embracing each other, on the side of Mari’s bed. He can’t tell if it’s seconds or hours, but the tug inside his chest is demanding. Everything within him is making Trystan want to kiss her senseless and hold her in his arms.

Suddenly, she pulls back and takes his cheeks in her palms. “Kiss me, Trystan.” Her voice is soft. Mari doesn’t have to ask twice.

Trystan lowers his lips and presses them softly to her mouth. Fighting to maintain control, he plans to kiss her slowly and take his time, but then Mari sinks back onto the bed and pulls Trystan down with her, which changes things. The kiss becomes all hot lips, and he can’t get enough. His hands travel down the sides of her body, grasping her tighter, as he presses himself on top of her.

The moment is perfect, and his head is filled with the sounds Mari makes in the back of her throat and the way her nails scrape the back of his neck. Her scent fills his head and he’s utterly lost, unable to think or focus on anything but her.

That’s why he doesn’t hear the door or the footsteps until it’s too late. A hand is on the back of his neck and a second later, Trystan is ripped away from Mari. He’s pulled to his feet and then a fist connects with his stomach. Mari’s father manages to keep a hold on his shoulder. The man is screaming incoherently as he tries to throw another punch, but Trystan is ready this time. He moves at the last moment. Mari screams drown out her father’s angry words, as his fist connects with the wall, and goes straight through.

Trystan steps back, and pulls Mari to her feet, shielding her. When her father pulls his hand free and turns back, his jaw is clenched tight and his fists rise again. Trystan thought the man was yelling at him, but he isn’t. He’s giving Mari a verbal lashing that’s worse than anything his old man ever said.

Her father is growling, his back curved, his arms ready to strangle her. “I gave you everything and this is how you repay me? You cut school and sit at home, playing house with this piece of shit! You’re a goddamn whore! And no daughter of mine is ever going to—”

Trystan knows he shouldn’t do it, but his fist is already in motion, making a bee line straight for the doctor’s jaw. On contact, the man staggers, and his back hits the wall. Hard. The picture frames that her mother so neatly displayed in a little row crash to the floor and shatter.

Broken glass glitters as Trystan steps forward, crunching it under his boot. “No one talks to Mari like that. I don’t care if you’re her father or if you sue me. You daughter loves you, even though you don’t deserve it. You’re vicious words are destroying her and I’m not going to let you do it. So, go back to your ivory tower and complain about how the world doesn’t recognize how smart you are, just like you don’t recognize what you’ve done to your own child, you pathetic waste of life.”

Trystan holds out a hand for Mari. Sweat drips from his brow as he sucks in air, trying to slow his heart rate back to normal. Every muscle in his body is tense, ready for an attack that never comes. Instead, Mari’s father sits on the floor, glaring. He doesn’t stand when his daughter walks past him with tears glistening on her cheeks. The doctor sits there, rigid, utterly still, like he’s in shock. Trystan and Mari walk out of the house together in silence.

CHAPTER 7

~MARI~

I can’t stop crying. Trystan’s arm is around me as he guides me to a picnic table and sits me down on top. My mom took me to this park when I was a little girl. It’s a few blocks from my house. Trystan’s hands are on my knees as he tries to look up into my face. “Are you all right?”

Frantically rubbing tears out of my eyes, I look up at him. “I’m so sorry, Trystan. He wasn’t supposed to be home. Dad never comes home. I—”

“Shhh,” he pulls me against his chest and holds on tight, and strokes my hair. I can hear the steady beating of his heart and it soothes me.

When I finally pull away, I feel embarrassed. We weren’t even doing anything, but that’s not what it looked like. “I’m sorry.” I say it again, because I don’t know what else to say.

“You have nothing to be sorry about, Mari.” I give him a weak smile and glance away, but Trystan doesn’t let me. He takes my chin in his hand and lifts my gaze until our eyes meet. There’s so much affection in those blue eyes, so much love. “No one will hurt you when I’m around, okay?”

I lean into him again, holding on tight. “No one has ever talked back to him before, and you yelled and punched him.”

Trystan kisses the top of my head and rests his cheek there. “I’m sorry if I made things worse. I couldn’t stand there and watch him rip you apart.”

“He didn’t get up, Trystan. I expected him to fight back, but he didn’t. Dad seemed more shocked than anything.” The look on my father’s face when Trystan defended me wasn’t anger, it was something else. It was almost like he was shocked that someone had the nerve to talk back to him. No one ever talks back to my dad. He’s above everyone at work and at home. He’s always right, and a teenage rock star just told him he was wrong, and followed it up with an undercut. “Oh, god. He’s going to kill me later.”

Trystan pulls away and takes hold of my upper arms. He lowers himself so we’re eye to eye. “Then don’t go home.”

The thought brings a smile to my face. Stay with Trystan. I would love that, but I can’t. “Trystan, I can’t. They’ll tear the town apart looking for me, and say horrible things about you when they find me.”

His gaze falls to the ground as his hands slip down to mine. “I can’t let you go back there alone. What if we figured out how to get you a room, so you’re not with me?”

“A room?” What is he thinking?

Nodding, Trystan says, “Yeah, a hotel room. I’m kind of homeless and all of my regular go-to spots aren’t going to be possible because of the media. Especially not after tonight.” He takes my hands and pulls me to my feet. “I need to call one of those record labels about a deal. I’ll tell them that they need to give me a place to stay, and I’ll get a room for you, too.”

I’m not sure I should do it. It feels like he wants me to run away. It’s strange, but if I was a year older, I wouldn’t be a runaway, I’d be a smart woman leaving an abusive home. Trystan knows what’s going through my mind before I even speak.

The wind catches my hair and blows it across my face, leaving little strands stuck to my drying tears. Trystan reaches for me and yanks me to him by my waistband, before he smoothes away the stray strands. When he’s done, his gaze lifts. The way he looks at me makes my heart race. Every pain, every piece of anguish that I felt a moment ago fades until there is only me and him. A tingling sensation starts in my chest and awakens the butterflies in my stomach as Trystan leans in and presses his lips to mine. I’ll never get tired of his kiss, because I can’t believe he’s kissing me. And it’s not fake, it’s not from rehearsal, and it’s not part of a play.

For once, I don’t hold back. I trust him completely and it shows. The kiss changes somehow and becomes hotter and more breathless. By the time I pull away, my entire body is searing and I’m gasping for air.

He tilts his head forward and rests it against mine. Trystan’s breathing as hard as I am. He laughs and smiles at me. “I’ve never had someone kiss me like that.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. It changed. It wasn’t just kissing. It’s like I could feel how much you care about me right here,” his fist lands on the center of his chest. Trystan takes a deep breath and shudders, like it scares him. When he looks up, he adds, “It’s like you’re part of me and always will be. It’s awesome, and utterly terrifying.”

The way he smiles fills me with joy. There’s vulnerability in his gaze, as if he wants me to reassure him, so I do. “I love you, Trystan. I always will.” I pull him against me and resist the urge to continue kissing him since we have some practical issues that need to be figured out quickly. “I think you’re right about calling someone, but I think it should be Tucker.”

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