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My heart fluttered like a little bird. “I think you kind of picked yourself.”

“Whatever,” he chuckled, and then leaned over me, placing what was left of the cheese and his soda on the nightstand.

“You know, there’s a stand on your side,” I pointed out.

He leaned back against the cushions and gave a lopsided shrug. “Yours is better,” he said, and I laughed at the absurdity that was all him. “But it’s hard to believe that you don’t do this.”

“I don’t.” I lifted a shoulder and something really stupid blurted out of me. “I liked doing what I did to you.”

A slow grin curled his lips. “I did too. I really, really liked it. Basically, whenever you feel the need to do it, you just let me know. I don’t care where we are or what we’re doing. I’ll make sure you can do it.”

Laughing, I shook my head. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You do that.” He paused as he crossed his legs at the ankles. “Seriously, though, I didn’t expect that. Made it all the more sweet.”

There he went again, saying possibly the most correct thing in the world. I looked away, staring at my soda. “It never felt like that. I mean, anytime I did that before, I kind of felt like I had to, you know?”

A moment passed. “No. I don’t know. Explain?”

“Guys just kind of expect it,” I said, toying with the tab on the can. “No one goes home from bars expecting to chat.”

There was another stretch of silence. “Maybe people shouldn’t go home with others if they think they’ll owe someone something.” His words were clipped, stern.

My head jerked up and our gazes met. “I’m not sure if that was an insult or not.”

He frowned. “It’s not an insult. You should never feel like you owe a guy that. No matter what. I don’t care if they ate you out or gave you a million dollars.”

I raised my brows. “Ate me out or a million dollars? Nice use of examples there. I don’t know, Tanner. I think if someone gave me a million dollars, I’d be down for just about anything.”

His frown turned into a scowl.

“I was joking,” I added softly.

Tanner’s stare was unnerving. “Have you ever been… forced into doing that, Andrea?”

His question caused me to flinch back. “What? No! That’s not what I meant. It’s just sometimes…” I trailed off as what I was saying really sank in. The soda curdled in my stomach, and I wished I hadn’t shoved the huge chunks of cheese into my mouth. My head raced back through the nights that I’d gone home knowing the guy expected to get laid, but not wanting to. I’d done that, because at that time, I’d thought there were no other options. Stupid. There were always options. Like “no,” for example.

Then there were those nights I really couldn’t remember.

Jesus. I felt sick. I didn’t like where my head was going with this. Sweat dotted my palms. It wasn’t like I’d been… I couldn’t even finish that thought. I didn’t know what that meant—doing things because I felt like I had to, or not remembering what I did sometimes. Or maybe I did, and I just didn’t want to grab hold of those thoughts.

I needed a drink.

Okay. That was probably not the best response to the situation.

Tanner reached over, tapping his fingers along my arm. “I’m thinking some pretty bad things right now.”

I couldn’t look at him.

“I hope it’s just my head jumping to conclusions unjustly,” he added.

The next breath I took hurt for some reason. “It’s jumping to conclusions.”

His hand stilled and he wrapped his fingers around my wrist and squeezed softly. “Hey,” he said gently. “Look at me.”

Drawing in a shallow breath, I lifted my gaze and our eyes met. Held. A heartbeat passed, and I felt stripped bare, more exposed than I had been earlier.

“I just want you to know that if you ever need to talk to someone, I’m here. No matter the time of the day. You got that?”

And then I saw it plain as day in his gaze. There was no mistaking it. Not just sympathy. Part of me could’ve dealt with that, but there was more lurking in those blue eyes.


He stared at me, full of pity. Every muscle in my body tightened. Skin prickled with uncomfortable heat. The urge to get away rushed through me. I couldn’t do this.


I saw the exact moment Andrea shut down on me. As soon as I told her that she could talk to me about anything, shutters closed over her eyes. The girl who’d sat next to me and laughed was gone. The girl who opened up about her parents had left the room. And the girl who had cried out, surrendered herself, was nowhere to be seen.



“I’m really tired.” She swung her legs off the bed and stood before I could respond. “I think it’s time for me to get some sleep.” She started toward the door, seemed to remember that we were in her room, stopped, and placed her soda on a dresser. Her back was to me.

Heart dropping, I scooted off the bed and held myself back. I had a feeling that going to her would somehow make this worse. “Andrea, I didn’t mean to—”

“You didn’t do anything.” Slowly, she faced me and plastered a smile across her pretty face. Fake. Plastic. “I’m just really tired all of a sudden. You wore me out.” Her laugh was brittle-sounding. “I need my beauty rest.”