“Do you even know this guy?”

She smiled even wider. “This is Ethan.”


Ethan extended his hand. “Nice to meet you. “

I couldn’t take my eyes off of Abby while she stared at that sick and twisted fuck across from her. I left Ethan’s hand hanging, waiting for Abby to remember I was standing there.

Dismissive, she waved her hand in my direction. “Ethan, this is Travis.” Her voice was decidedly less enthusiastic about my introduction, which just pissed me off more.

I glared down at Ethan, and then at his hand. “Travis Maddox.” My voice was as low and menacing as I could manage.

Ethan’s eyes grew wide, and he awkwardly pulled back his hand. “Travis Maddox?”

I stretched my arm behind Abby to grip the bar. “Yeah, what of it?”

“I saw you fight Shawn Smith last year, man. I thought I was about to witness someone’s death!”

My eyes narrowed, and my teeth clenched. “You wanna see it again?”

Ethan laughed once, his eyes darting back and forth between us. When he realized I wasn’t kidding, he smiled awkwardly at Abby, and then walked away.

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“Are you ready, now?” I snapped.

“You are a complete asshole, you know that?”

“I’ve been called worse.” I held out my hand and she took it, letting me help her from the stool. She couldn’t have been that pissed.

With a loud whistle, I signaled Shepley, who saw my expression and immediately knew that it was time to leave. I used my shoulder to cut through the crowd, shamelessly knocking over a few innocent bystanders to let off steam until Shepley headed us off and took over for me.

Once outside, I took Abby’s hand, but she jerked it away.

I wheeled around and yelled in her face. “I should just kiss you and get it over with! You’re being ridiculous! I kissed your neck, so what?”

Abby leaned back, and when that didn’t create enough space, she pushed me away. No matter how pissed I was, she knew no fear. It was kinda hot.

“I’m not your fuck buddy, Travis.”

I shook my head, stunned. If there was anything else I could do to keep her from thinking that, I didn’t know what it was. She was special to me from the second I laid eyes on her, and I tried to let her know it every chance I got. How else could I get that across to her? How much different from everyone else could I treat her? “I never said you were! You’re around me 24-7, you sleep in my bed, but half the time you act like you don’t wanna be seen with me!”

“I came here with you!”

“I have never treated you with anything but respect, Pidge.”

“No, you just treat me like your property. You had no right to run Ethan off like that!”

“Do you know who Ethan is?” When she shook her head, I leaned in. “I do. He was arrested last year for sexual battery, but the charges were dropped.”

She crossed her arms. “Oh, so you have something in common?”

A red veil covered my eyes, and for less than a second, the rage inside me boiled over. I took a deep breath, willing it away. “Are you calling me a rapist?”

Abby paused in thought, and her hesitation made the anger melt away. She was the only one that had that effect on me. Every other time I’d been that angry, I had punched something or someone. I had never hit a woman, but I would have definitely taken a swing at the truck parked next to us.

“No, I’m just pissed at you!” she said, pressing her lips together.

“I’ve been drinking, all right? Your skin was three inches from my face, and you’re beautiful, and you smell fucking awesome when you sweat. I kissed you! I’m sorry! Get over yourself!”

My answer made her pause, and the corners of her mouth turned up. “You think I’m beautiful?”

I frowned. What a stupid question. “You’re gorgeous and you know it. What are you smiling about?”

The harder she tried not to smile, the more she did. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

I laughed once, and then shook my head. “Wha . . . ? You . . . ? You’re a pain in my ass!”

She was grinning from ear to ear from my compliment, and the fact that I had gone from psycho to ridiculous in less than five minutes. She tried to stop smiling, and, in turn, that made me smile.

I hooked my arm around her neck, wishing to God I had just kissed her. “You’re making me crazy. You know that, right?”

The ride home was quiet, and when we finally arrived at the apartment, Abby went straight to the bathroom, turning on the shower. My mind was too fuzzy to rifle through her shit, so I grabbed a pair of my boxers and a T-shirt. I knocked on the door, but she didn’t answer, so I went ahead and walked in, laid it on the sink, and then left. I wasn’t sure what to say to her anyway.

She walked in, swallowed by my clothes, and fell into bed, a residual smile still on her face.

I watched her for a moment, and she stared back, clearly wondering what I was thinking. The trouble was, even I didn’t know. Her eyes slowly traveled down my face to my lips, and then I knew.

“Night, Pidge,” I whispered, turning over, cussing at myself like never before. She was incredibly drunk, though, and I wasn’t going to take advantage. Especially not after she’d forgiven me for the spectacle I’d made with Megan.

Abby fidgeted for several minutes before finally taking a breath. “Trav?” She leaned up on her elbow.

“Yeah?” I said, not moving. I was afraid if I looked into her eyes, all rational thought would go out the window.

“I know I’m drunk, and we just got into a ginormous fight over this, but . . .”

“I’m not having sex with you, so quit asking.”

“What? No!”

I laughed and turned, looking at her sweet, horrified expression. “What, Pigeon?”

“This,” she said, laying her head on my chest and stretching her arm across my stomach, hugging me close.

Not what I was expecting. At all. I held up my hand and froze in place, unsure what the hell to do. “You are drunk.”

“I know,” she said, shameless.

No matter how pissed she would be in the morning, I couldn’t say no. I relaxed one hand against her back, and the other on her wet hair, and then kissed her forehead. “You are the most confusing woman I’ve ever met.”

“It’s the least you can do after scaring off the only guy that approached me tonight.”

“You mean Ethan the rapist? Yeah, I owe you for that one.”

“Never mind,” she said, beginning to pull away.

My reaction was instantaneous. I held her arm against my stomach. “No, I’m serious. You need to be more careful. If I wasn’t there . . . I don’t even want to think about it. And now you expect me to apologize for running him off?”

“I don’t want you to apologize. It’s not even about that.”

“Then what’s it about?” I asked. I’d never begged for anything in my life, but I was silently begging for her to tell me she wanted me. That she cared about me. Something. We were so close. It would just take another inch or so for our lips to touch, and it was a mental feat not to give in to that inch.

She frowned. “I’m drunk, Travis. It’s the only excuse I have.”

“You just want me to hold you until you fall asleep?”

She didn’t answer.

I turned, looking straight into her eyes. “I should say no to prove a point,” I said, my eyebrows pulling together. “But I would hate myself later if I said no and you never asked me again.”

She happily nestled her cheek against my chest. With my arms wrapped around her tight, it was hard to keep it together. “You don’t need an excuse, Pigeon. All you have to do is ask.”



ABBY PASSED OUT BEFORE I DID. HER BREATHING evened out, and her body relaxed against mine. She was warm, and her nose made the slightest, sweetest buzzing noise when she inhaled. Her body in my arms felt way too good. It was something I could get used to far too easily. As scared as that made me, I couldn’t move.

Knowing Abby, she would wake up and remember she was a hard-ass, and yell at me for letting it happen or, worse, resolve to never let it happen again.

I wasn’t stupid enough to hope, or strong enough to stop myself from feeling the way I did. Total eye-opener. Not so tough, after all. Not when it came to Abby.

My breathing slowed, and my body sank into the mattress, but I fought the fatigue that steadily overtook me. I didn’t want to close my eyes and miss even a second of what it felt like to have Abby so close.

She stirred, and I froze. Her fingers pressed into my skin, and then she hugged herself up against me once before relaxing again. I kissed her hair, and leaned my cheek against her forehead.

Closing my eyes for just a moment, I took a breath.

I opened my eyes again, and it was morning. Fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have.

Abby was wiggling around, trying to unwedge herself out from under me. My legs were on top of hers, and my arm still held her.

“Stop it, Pidge. I’m sleepin’,” I said, pulling her closer.

She pulled her limbs out from under me, one at a time, and then sat on the bed and sighed.

I slid my hand across the bed, reaching the tips of her small, delicate fingers. Her back was to me, and she didn’t turn around.

“What’s wrong, Pigeon?”

“I’m going to get a glass of water. You want anything?”

I shook my head, and closed my eyes. Either she was going to pretend it didn’t happen, or she was pissed. Neither option a good one.

Abby walked out, and I lay there a while, trying to find the motivation to move. Hangovers sucked, and my head was pounding. I could hear Shepley’s muffled, deep voice, so I decided to drag my ass out of bed.

My bare feet slapped against the wood floor as I trudged into the kitchen. Abby stood in my T-shirt and boxers, pouring chocolate syrup into a steaming bowl of oatmeal.

“That’s sick, Pidge,” I grumbled, trying to blink the blur from my eyes.

“Good morning to you, too.”

“I hear your birthday is coming up. Last stand of your teenage years.”

She made a face, caught off guard. “Yeah . . . I’m not a big birthday person. I think Mare is going to take me to dinner or something.” She smiled. “You can come if you want.”

I shrugged, trying to pretend her smile hadn’t gotten to me. She wanted me there. “All right. It’s a week from Sunday?”

“Yes. When’s your birthday?”

“Not ’til April. April first,” I said, pouring milk on top of my cereal.

“Shut up.”

I took a bite, amused at her surprise. “No, I’m serious.”

“Your birthday is on April Fools’?”

I laughed. The look on her face was priceless. “Yes! You’re gonna be late. I better get dressed.”

“I’m riding with Mare.”

That small rejection was a lot harder to hear than it should have been. She had been riding to campus with me, and suddenly she was riding with America? It made me wonder if it was because of what had happened the night before. She was probably trying to distance herself from me again, and that was nothing less than disappointing. “Whatever,” I said, turning my back to her before she could see the disappointment in my eyes.

The girls grabbed their backpacks in a hurry. America tore out of the parking lot like they had just robbed a bank.

Shepley walked out of his bedroom, pulling a T-shirt over his head. His eyebrows pushed together. “Did they just leave?”

“Yeah,” I said absently, rinsing my cereal bowl and dumping Abby’s leftover oatmeal in the sink. She’d barely touched it.

“Well, what the hell? Mare didn’t even say goodbye.”

“You knew she was going to class. Quit being a crybaby.”

Shepley pointed to his chest. “I’m the crybaby? Do you remember last night?”

“Shut up.”

“That’s what I thought.” He sat on the couch and slipped on his sneakers. “Did you ask Abby about her birthday?”

“She didn’t say much, except that she’s not into birthdays.”

“So what are we doing?”

“Throwing her a party.” Shepley nodded, waiting for me to explain. “I thought we’d surprise her. Invite some of our friends over and have America take her out for a while.”

Shepley put on his white ball cap, pulling it down so low over his brows I couldn’t see his eyes. “She can manage that. Anything else?”

“How do you feel about a puppy?”

Shepley laughed once. “It’s not my birthday, bro.”

I walked around the breakfast bar and leaned my hip against the stool. “I know, but she lives in the dorms. She can’t have a puppy.”

“Keep it here? Seriously? What are we going to do with a dog?”

“I found a cairn terrier online. It’s perfect.”

“A what?”

“Pidge is from Kansas. It’s the same kind of dog Dorothy had in The Wizard of Oz.”

Shepley’s face was blank. “The Wizard of Oz.”

“What? I liked the scarecrow when I was a little kid, shut the fuck up.”

“It’s going to crap everywhere, Travis. It’ll bark and whine and . . . I don’t know.”

“So does America . . . minus the crapping.”

Shepley wasn’t amused.

“I’ll take it out and clean up after it. I’ll keep it in my room. You won’t even know it’s here.”

“You can’t keep it from barking.”

“Think about it. You gotta admit it’ll win her over.”

Shepley smiled. “Is that what this is all about? You’re trying to win over Abby?”

My brows pulled together. “Quit it.”

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