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“Do you want to talk about him?” she asks me softly, surveying me with the keen perception only a best friend could have.

I nod and I have to lean closer to her in order to be heard through the crowd. “When I don’t have to scream over these ass**les!”

When the fights are over for the night, Pandora and I take a cab to our hotel, which, unfortunately, is not where the Tates are staying—their hotel is much too expensive. Pandora didn’t want to take anyone’s “charity” and I’m a world past broke, so we’re staying at a small three-star hotel a couple of blocks away.

Pandora, however, decides to opt out of visiting Brooke’s suite for the evening.

“Why?” I ask her, nudging her in the back of the cab. “Come on, it’ll be fun. I need to see Racer! Last time I saw him he was growing just a little buzz of hair and he smelled like talc and grinned at me with this one lone dimple that’s going to kill a lot of ladies someday. Come on!”

“Nah, I’m tired. You two should catch up. I’ll order pay per view and wait for you later.”

“You sure you don’t want to come?” The cabdriver seems to be getting impatient, so I open the door and wait for a second longer.

“Yeah I’m sure. You know I’d rather pet a dog than a baby.”

I nod slowly because I think I get it. I get her more than she knows. She thinks because I try to have fun, that I don’t hurt, or want anything, or take anything seriously. I laugh away my hurts, but she uses anger as a barrier. And I know it hurts her too when she sees Brooke sometimes, because Pandora used to be in love.

All I can guess is that she loved him very much. “Pan,” I say softly, “the guy who hurt you so bad . . . he wasn’t the only guy you’ll ever love.”

I don’t even know what else to say because I’m no expert on feeling like this—I can barely stand the way I feel for Greyson and I’m afraid to call it love. I feel even more awkward when we stop at Brooke’s hotel and the cabdriver complains, “Ma’am, you either in or out?” so I quickly step out and shout at her, “I’ll see you later. Watch a comedy!”

She flips me off as the cab takes her away, and I smile and wave. But as I get on the elevator, I just don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore except that a couple of months ago I didn’t know Greyson King. How can I miss him so bad now?

You’re in my veins, you f**k.

You’re in me one moment, you’re lost the next. You take me, you leave me, and I still wait, trembling for you to come back and do it again.

Ugh. When are you coming back?

Brooke swings the door of her suite open and babbles out, “I want deets and I want them now!” pulling me into the first bedroom, away from the group of guys in the living room.

She sits me down at the edge of a bed and then plants her hands on her h*ps like some demanding angel-bitch, her eyes gleeful with excitement. “Tell me. Tell me all about him!”

I laugh in excitement but then I groan and jab a finger into her chest. “I’m experiencing some déjà vu, except the poor sucker thinking she’d fallen for a guy who may be wrong for her was you.”

“Omigod, you love him, Mel?”

I can’t believe how hard it is to talk about him, even with my best friend. Sighing, I drop on the bed and pat the place next to me so she settles down close.

Love didn’t feel like this when I imagined I’d fall in love. Love was exciting and precious in my mind, not frightening and unexpected.

Brooke and I lie on our sides facing each other, smiling like we’ve done the thousand times we’ve spilled out secrets and fantasies and more. “Brookey, am I lovable like that? The forever kind? I’m good for fun, but do you think . . . Sometimes I think Greyson just doesn’t want to involve me in other parts of his life. I wonder if I’m just a sex toy to him, like I’ve been to every other man, but then he calls me, or then he gives me this . . .” I touch the diamond necklace hiding under my silky shirt. “He just looks at me in this way . . . I don’t know, there’s not even a word for that look. But Remy gives it to you too. It’s the BEST look. It gives me heat and heart palpitations and butterflies. And if you saw him with my parents, how he was laughing while we did our stupid Sunday games. I just refuse to believe that I don’t mean something to him, you know? He says I’m his girl.”

Brooke laughs and sits, hugging me briefly. “Mel, you’re fun and sweet, loyal and honest. You’ve got so much love to give. You love everyone, even strangers. You’re my little love bug. He’s lucky you not only get to love him, but you get to fall in love with him.” Her eyes light with excitement as she squeezes my shoulders. “Melanie, you’ve found your prince. He’s not even a prince, turns out he’s a king. Do you realize you’ve talked about this faceless, nameless guy since you were seven?”

“Dude, I’ve waited all my life to feel like this and now that I do, I don’t want to. I feel unstable, unsafe, vulnerable, happy, and yet worried it’s not going to last.”

“No! No, no, no, don’t hold back. Is Pandora poisoning your head? Mel, OWN THIS. Own how you feel. Tell him. Go after him. Go after what you want. You’ve always gone after it—you won’t back down now that you found it!”

“You say that now ’cause you’re no longer a chicken! You know Remington loves you. You know he loves you so much he’s never letting you go. If something happens, you’ll work it out and you both know it. He’ll fight for you and you will for him. But me? I don’t know what Greyson feels. He wants to be with me and then he’s gone for days. Whatever we have, it could be real or it could be something passing like—”

“Lust,” a low voice by the door says.

I lift my head to spot Riley Cole at the threshold, Remington’s coach’s second, looking cute as ever. Riley and I are great friends. We’ve gotten into a lot of mischief in the few times we’ve met after a Riptide fight, and not just sexually.

He’s a guy used to guarding secrets. I know, because when I tried to dig out all of Remington Tate’s secrets when he was pursuing Brooke like a battering ram, all Riley said to me was that he’d never seen Remington go after a woman the way he went after Brooke.

So Riley’s definitely a man who knows how to keep a secret. Including, thank god, mine.

Brooke has always said he looks like a sad surfer boy, and she’s right, he does. Which works for him. But tonight he looks more like Pandora’s angry blond twin brother, scowling at me with the same scowl he wore the day he first met me.

“What’s up with you?” I ask him, returning his scowl with one of my own.

“If this boyfriend of yours ever hurts you, we’ll take care of it.” He cracks his knuckles, and instead of making me scared on Greyson’s behalf, the sound makes me laugh.

“You mean you’ll take care of it, or Remy?” I say as I stand, hearing his quiet, familiar chuckle.

“Okay, you got me. Maybe I’ll bring Rem along just for intimidation purposes,” he says jokingly, but his smirk fades into a flat line of displeasure. “No one hurts you, Melanie. Or I punch him. I don’t care how many times I need to punch him to make him bleed, but I’ll make him bleed.”

I laugh as Brooke pulls me out to the living room so I can see her precious baby.

“Barbies don’t hurt, remember. Don’t worry,” I toss past my shoulder at Riley, kicking him playfully as we pass. He’d called me Barbie when we met, and not in a nice way, so flinging it back at him makes him simmer a bit.

Then I hear a baby sound and am filled with glee. I spot Racer proudly sitting on the curled arm of the bodyguard-nanny, Josephine. But he doesn’t want to stay there. Racer throws himself at his father, who was chugging down a blue sports drink, but when he sees his son coming, Remington catches him in one arm and slam dunks the empty sports drink into the kitchen sink.

Lifting Racer up high, he makes a growling sound, then carries him in a football hold, which makes Brooke groan at my side.

“Remington, he’s going to puke up all his dinner,” she chides.

“Ahhhhh,” he says, the sound incredibly cocky as he twists his son into a sitting position and avoids the catastrophe. Looking at Brooke, his smile flashes two sexy dimples at her, making her forgive the transgression, and I swear I’m almost dead.

And then Racer grins and flashes his mom one dimple too.

“Urgh! You’re both killing me!” I tell them. “Remington, I need to touch this baby or else!” I go and grab Racer and as I hold him to me, I make cute baby sounds as I nuzzle his little tummy.

He protests like he’s not exactly thrilled about it, and he looks at his mother, then at his father, then at Pete, with a new, sad dimple in his chin.

“What? He doesn’t like me?” Racer looks at his mother and his father again and makes a face that deepens that dimple on his chin. “OMG, I’m making him cry!”

I pass him to Brooke. “What a failure!” I laugh.

“You’re fine,” Remington says as he drops on a chair and pulls Brooke to his lap with one arm while he passes a nearby squeaky toy to Racer with the other.

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