Mel is standing there like she wants to rip Sean’s head off. “He had her pinned to the floor, Ferro. And where the f**k were you?”

“Too far away,” he finally answers. Looking directly at Mel, he says, “It won’t happen again, and thank you.”

“For what?” Mel spits out.

“For pounding that guy into the ground. If I did it, well, let’s just say it was better that you walked in and not me.”

“Hmm. Meaning Naked Guy would be a smear by now.” Mel nods and rolls her eyes, like Sean is all talk. The blood on his shirt the other night would suggest otherwise. I’ve wondered what that was about and what he did, but I’m very certain that it wasn’t Sean’s blood and that means I don’t want to know. Mel reaches into her jean’s pocket and hands me a piece of plastic.

“What’s this?”

She grins. “Naked Guy’s cell phone. I swiped it from him while I was kicking his ass.”

CHAPTER 9

My eyes go wide as I clutch the phone in my hand. The screen is cracked, but it still works. I turn it on and find my videos. Oh thank god. I flick through and only see some of my pictures, and a few of the videos are missing. Glancing at Amber, I ask, “Where are the rest?”

For once Amber is helpful, and just answers the question. “I deleted them.” She grins like a five year old in a candy store, showing way too many teeth. “What can I say? I’m the jealous type.”

“Who knew,” Mel snorts and shakes her head.

“I know, right?” Amber laughs and plops down on her bed. “He doesn’t have copies anywhere. I asked.”

“He could have lied to you,” Sean says bluntly.

Amber shakes her head. “Not him. He likes to show off, and if he uploaded them to his computer in his dorm, let’s just say that more videos would have shown up this morning. Plus, he tends to keep stuff like that on him at first because he doesn’t like to share. Speaking of which, give me the phone.” She holds out her hand, but no one hands it to her. Amber sighs dramatically. “My videos are on there too. I want to delete them before the asswipe posts them everywhere.” I hand her the phone and let her find her files in silence.

Sean watches her and from the tension in his arms, I can tell that he wants to smash something. My nerves are totally gone and I feel like I’m going to lose it and burst into a ball of snot and tears. Amber tosses me the phone, which I hand to Sean. He pockets the thing and looks down at me. “Come on.” He tilts his head toward the door, like I should automatically follow.

What am I? A dog? Woof. Here I come Sean. Pant. Pant. Fuck it. I fall into step behind him, and walk down the hallway with him and Mel. She’s still pissed. I know how much she wants to bite his head off. Her jaw is locked and she finally comes unhinged in the stairwell.

“I don’t trust you with her.” Mel snaps as she stomps down the metal steps.

“No one asked you to.” Classic Sean response, and like always, I’m caught in the middle.

“Guys, stop it.” I’m so diplomatic. I could have ended the Cuban Missile Crisis in a day. Did you just see that massive about of diplomatic action? Sha’zoom! Yeah. Okay, I suck at stopping fights and I can tell that they’re both brimming with stress and ready to kill anyone that steps into their path, including fuzzy bunnies. God save the bunnies.

They stop on the landing one floor down, ready to duel—verbally or with weapons—it’s hard to say with these two. “You had one job, Ferro, and you left her alone! How f**king stupid are you?” Mel bites her lips as they curl into a sneer.

Sean faces off and steps directly in front of her. “You’re not the only person who cares about her, so stop acting like you are. There was no way to know who was trying to hurt her.”

“It was him, ass hat!” Mel yells and points up the stairs toward my room.

“Seriously, guys, cut it out.” No one listens to me. I could toss my ass over the railing and jump. I wonder if I could grab one of the railings in a Spiderman fashion. I’d probably rip my arms off, which means Peter Parker is cooler than me.

Mel and Sean are in each other’s faces, growling like rabid animals. I hate listening to people fight. It makes my mind wander down slightly insane routes, so I don’t have to endure the yelling. My mom must have dropped me down a flight of stairs when I was a baby.

Awh, what the hell. I throw my leg over the metal railing and they don’t notice until both feet are on the wrong side.

Sean turns and looks at me wide-eyed. “What are you doing?”

Mel glares at me like I’ve lost my mind. Maybe I have, because I’m afraid of heights and I don’t really care that it’s a long way down. “Get your scrawny ass back over here right now. I ain’t even playing with you, Avery. So help me God!” She actually stomps her foot. On me it would look ridiculous, but on Mel it looks scary. It probably has to do with the anger in her eyes and the fury on her face. Think Rumplestiltskin right before he fell through the floor. Hissy fit to the max, man.

“I hate this,” I say, not looking directly at either of them. Instead, my eyes wander to the cement floor in front of me. It’s really dirty. “I hate not knowing what’s happening or who’s trying to hurt me. I hate that you two think you have to watch out for me, that I’m too stupid to look after myself.”

“Avery,” Mel laughs my name, “you’re standing on the wrong side of the railing to ask questions like that.”

Sean’s eyes are on me, but he doesn’t move or speak. He doesn’t scold Mel or hold out his hand, but I feel his gaze on the side of my face and feel the worry in his eyes.

“A fall from this height would break my leg or an ankle. Don’t get me wrong, because that would suck,” I say, and come back onto their side of the rail. Sitting on top of the thing, I add, “I can take care of myself most days.”

“Lately, that hasn’t been happening, sweetie.” Mel replies. When I don’t get off the banister, she flaps her arms and squeals like she can’t stand it. “Get off the railing! You’re freaking me out! Get down! Get down! Get down!” The tirade is enough to make Sean glance at her. Mel sucks in a deep breath of air like she’s trying not to cry.

Something stirs in my stomach and I know she’s reacting to something from her past. Someone did something to her and she can’t bear to watch me like this now. I slip off and walk over to her, giving her a hug. “I’m sorry, Mel. I didn’t mean to freak you out.” Releasing her, I step back.

Mel’s tough girl act flies back up as she swipes at her eyes. “Fine. Whatever.”

Sean finally says, “Why don’t you come with us?”

But Mel shakes her head. “Nah, I have work to do, and I need to get a new dress for this weekend. Just keep her safe.” Mel turns abruptly and runs back up the stairs.

Sean presses his lips together and looks over at me. There’s a question in his eyes, but I can’t tell what he wants to know. “So,” he says, and takes my hand. We start to walk down the stairs again. “I would have thought you were a middle child, throwing a fit like that.”

“It wasn’t a fit.”

He smiles at me, but doesn’t argue. When we push through the doors that led outside, he asks, “So, how long?” The shiny bike is parked at the back of the lot. The air is crisp and sunlight on my skin feels good. I wish it were summer and I could spend the entire day at the beach doing nothing. Technically, I guess that’s two wishes. I can’t remember the last time I did nothing.

“How long, what?”

A tight grin spreads across Sean’s face, like he’s trying to hide his judgment. He swallows hard and glances over at me from the corners of his eyes. “How long were you two together?”

My brows scrunch together. “The thought of me and Naked Guy together is barfworthy.”

“Not him. Her.” He jabs his thumb back to the dorm. Toward Mel.

I turn to face him with my jaw dragging on the asphalt. For a moment there are no words. His crystal blue eyes meet mine and seem worried, like I’ve loved someone else all this time, and not him. My chin flops around like I have no jaw bone. “We weren’t together.” I might as well be spitting, because I stutter so much.

He seems surprised. “Really? Like, not at all? Because I didn’t see it until just now, but she cares about you a lot.”

“As a friend!”

Sean shakes his head and looks back at the dorm. “To you, maybe. It’s more to her, a lot more.”

“You’re insane.”

“Like I was insane with Marty?” Sean stops in front of his bike, unfastens his helmet, and hands me mine.

“That’s not the same.”

“It’s totally the same.”

I don’t know what I think about that. I glance back at the dorm and wonder if he’s right. “Mel has never ever given me the vibe that she’s into girls.”

Sean throws his leg over the bike and starts it. “Maybe she’s just into you.” He smirks at me and adds, “A lot of us are. I could make a list, and I hardly know any of the people you come into contact with each day. You’re addicting. Nonstop sex appeal.”

My eyes hit the ground with the compliments. They knock me off kilter since he hasn’t been acting that way around me. Looking up slightly, I say, “I thought there wasn’t going to be any more sexy talk, Mr. Ferro.”

“I never said that, Miss Stanz.”

“You said you didn’t want me.” I nearly choke on the words. They form a knot in my throat that strangles me even after I managed to say them. I can’t look at him, even though I want to. I don’t want to care about him, but I do. I’m still wearing the engagement ring I bought him around my neck. I couldn’t take it off. I swallow hard and feel Sean’s hands wrap around mine and pull me toward him. My eyes are downcast, examining his jean-clad leg and those sexy thighs.

“I said that I didn’t want to f**k you, which is very different.” For a moment, neither of us speak. Sean’s warm fingers feel good on my cool skin. I watch his hands, and notice how they fit over mine, like he was made for me. Ah, the musings of a crazy girl. I don’t think Sean Ferro was forged for anyone. “Ask me why.”

His voice is so soft, so careful, that it makes me look up. Our eyes lock and my stomach dips. “Because you don’t want to buy me anymore.”

“No.” He smiles. “Ask me.”

Parting my lips, I try to ask, but I can’t. What if it’s something horrible? All he’s wanted of me since day one was f**king. Sex isn’t an expression of love for him, so it can’t be that. However, since that’s the one thing I want most, I can’t stand the thought of hearing something else. I’m so damaged, so incredibly messed up, that I’d rather live in my head, so I close my mouth and shake my head.

“No?” He tips his head to the side and tries to catch my gaze. “You won’t ask me?”

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