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Copyright Michaela Cole. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author’s Note:

This takes place during the senior bash over the summer before senior year. It picks up in the part where Dacen has walked over to Noah and Trisley, and Ryne and his friends are nearby. Please ignore any typos. :)

Dacen

 

Evie walks up beside me and slips her hand in mine. I give it a squeeze and she smiles up at me.

 

Evan clears his throat. “What’s up, half pint?” I look over at him and while his words are light, he’s staring at our joined hands with a slight frown. He takes a drink from his beer and looks away, then back again.

 

“Don’t call me that, Evan.”

 

“My bad, what I meant to say was ‘What’s up, bite size?’ That better?”

 

“Go take a hike,” Evie huffs out and drops my hand to cross her arms over her chest.

 

Evan lifts his can up and smiles behind it as he takes a small drink. He wipes his mouth off on his bare arm and Evie grimaces. “I’ll take that hike if you’ll come with me, half pint.” Evan waggles his eyebrows up and down.

 

Evie’s hands move down to perch sassily on her hips and she narrows her gaze on Evan. “Y’all need Jesus.” Then she grabs my arm and yanks it, pulling me away from the group. She’s surprisingly strong for such a small person.

 

The back of my neck tingles and I look back over my shoulder, locking eyes with Ryne. His look is almost curious, but he quickly morphs his expression to an angry scowl and flips me off. I roll my eyes and turn back around, shaking my head a little. We get back to our towels and pop a squat. Evie throws her swimsuit coverup on.

 

“Evan is such a gentleman. Remind me again why you’re not still dating him?” I tease her.

 

Evie snorts. “Right? Such a catch. I don’t know what I was thinking when I dumped him.”

 

I smile at her and then gaze over to the sand volleyball net. With a sigh, I turn back to Evie. “Ryne is always flipping me off. I honestly don’t understand what his problem is with me. He’s hot as hell though. He’s got the whole sexy broody thing down pat.”

 

Evie lets out a quiet chuckle and says, “His lips are pretty dreamy, I’ll give you that. But he is definitely a big ol’ jerk sometimes. All of them can be, well except for Tyler and Noah. He’s a good guy, but his own attitude gets in his way more often than he’d ever admit. You’re probably better off forgetting Ryne’s broody face and sexy body exists.”

 

“It’s kind of hard to forget about him given that we play on the same soccer team.” I look over at Evie with a wry smile. She looks over my shoulder and shakes her head. I turn and take a peek, and damn if Ryne isn’t looking my direction again. He quickly looks away and jogs down to the edge of the lake to toss a football around with his friends.

 

A thrill runs down my spine and I turn back to Evie. “Anyway, I know that’s sound advice, but....” My face breaks into a wide grin and I shrug. “I can still enjoy the view. No harm in looking.”

 

I lean back on my elbows, cross one foot over the other and proceed to do just that. Eventually I lie all the way back and prop my head up on my arms. Evie and I chat idly for a few minutes when suddenly a Nerf football bounces in the sand between our towels and rolls away.

 

“Hey, watch it!” Evie yells. I look over in the direction the ball had come from, and tilt my head, enjoying the back and forth exchange between Ryne and his friends.

 

 

Ryne

 

“Dude!” I shout at Evan. “What the hell kind of throw was that? Who were you even throwing to?”

 

He shrugs his shoulders. “I have never claimed to have any sort of football abilities, you know this.”

 

“We played junior pee wee football together for like three years,” I remind him.

 

“And I sucked,” Evan deadpans. I chuckle because, yeah, it’s basically true.

 

Tyler nods his head in the direction of the ball. “Come on, Ryne. Let’s go grab it.”

 

“Because it takes more than one person to pick up a football?” I raise an eyebrow at him but he’s already turned and started to jog away, so I follow. When I catch up to Tyler he’s stopped where Evie and Becker are sitting on towels in the sand. I jog past them and retrieve the ball. Mr. Popular is, unsurprisingly, still talking to the both of them as I make my way back over. Becker laughs at something Tyler says and a few butterflies take flight in my stomach. I walk slowly over to Tyler and stand beside him, holding the ball in one hand at my side.

 

Dacen is propped up on his elbows and the muscles of his cut shoulders pop even more from the way he’s positioned. My gaze drifts down his body, landing on his chiseled stomach, and I suck in a breath and look away.

 

Evie is talking to Tyler, saying something about the lake, but the specific words are lost on my ears as I’m preoccupied by trying to ignore the feel of Dacen’s eyes on me.

 

“What did that thing ever do to you?”

 

My head whips back to Dacen. “What?” I ask him curtly.

 

“What’s with the death grip on the football?” he asks me sarcastically.

 

I stare down at the ball. It does look like I’m trying to squeeze it death, so I loosen my grip but don’t answer his question. I just slap Tyler on the back and say, “let’s go, man,” and turn and head back toward the rest of the guys.

 

Not going to engage with him. Not going to talk to him. Not going to look at him. Nope. But two seconds later, I peer over my shoulder for one more look. Tyler’s following behind me, and beyond him I see Evie and Dacen with their heads close together, looking like they’re whispering to each other. Evie pinches Dacen in the shoulder and Dacen shrugs in response to whatever she said, laughing. Annoyance flickers in my stomach, and it’s definitely not because of how close Evie and Dacen are. Again, nope. I turn to face forward and smack straight into Evan.

 

“Um, ouch,” Evan says, rubbing his shoulder with one hand.

 

“Sorry,” I mumble and then look around to see where Roman’s disappeared to.

He calls out from near one of the sand volleyball courts. “Come on asshats, let’s play volleyball.” Roman spins the volleyball on one finger and then tosses it up in the air and catches it. We gather around him and look at the other side of the court, where a couple of people, including Matt and Lucy, some okay-ish seniors, are gathering to play. Ah, fresh victims, I mean, new competitors. I may or may not be a tad bit competitive, so any chance at a potential victory and I’m in. I could also really go for smacking something around right now. Win win.

Tyler, who has caught up with the rest of us says, “We could play six on six and ask Evie and Dacen to join us.”

I give him a sharp glare. “And why the hell would we want to do that?”

 

“Well, let’s see. Evie likes playing, and Evan won’t stop drooling at her, so I figure if she’s on the same side of the net as him, his drooling will be less detrimental.”

 

Evan smacks Tyler on the back of the head. Two more people enter the other side of the sand court, joining the two already there and I momentarily feel relieved that we didn’t have to ask them, but then I see that it’s actually Evie and Dacen that just joined Matt and Lucy to play us. My nostrils flare as I watch Dacen take a spot on his side of the court. I walk over to the spot opposite him and decide it looks like as good of a spot as any for me to start in.

 

Noah and Trisley are reclining in lawn chairs off to the side of the court. “Come join?” Evie shouts over to them, but they hold up sodas and magazines and wave her off. She shrugs and turns back toward everyone else.

 

“May the best team win!” Matt calls out.

 

“We will,” Roman and I retort in unison.

 

Dacen smirks at me through the net. “Dream on, Sutton. We’ll wipe the floor—uh, the sand—with you guys.”

 

“We’ll see.”

 

“Yeah,” Dacen agrees, his eyes sparkling. “We will.”

 

The game gets started and it becomes apparent pretty quickly that the two teams are fairly evenly matched. There’s varying degrees of skill, with both sides scoring and making mistakes in about equal measure. I’m in the zone though, other than the glances I keep sneaking at Becker. I look over at him again as Lucy walks back to prepare to serve the ball, and he’s staring at me too. He gives me a cheeky little wave and then focuses on Lucy’s serve. We volley back and forth for a while, and the score remains close. It’s Matt’s serve now, and once again Becker and I are each in the front directly across from each other. I sneer at him and he just smirks and looks away. Matt serves, sending the ball sailing over the net. Evan gets behind it and sets up Tyler, who spikes it back over. His palm seems to connect with the ball oddly though, because he ends up hitting it without a ton of heat behind it and he doesn’t place it well.

 

Matt bumps the ball to Evie, and I can see the play they’re forming before it happens. I scoot up to the net in line with Becker. Evie sets the ball to him, and he winds up for the hit. I jump up high to block the upcoming spike. It’s like time slows down and our gazes lock as Dacen’s arm swings forward. I’m distracted by Dacen’s annoyingly bright blue eyes and miss that instead of a spike he makes a roll shot. It goes spinning down into the sand at my feet.

 

“Fuck!” I shout gruffly and turn around, tugging my hair roughly.

 

Tyler slaps me on the back. “The game isn’t over yet, Ryne. Chill.”

 

I nod briskly at him and take my position again. Matt sends his next serve into the net, so now it’s my serve.

 

Evan hands me the ball and says, “No pressure or anything, but we only need one more point to win.”

 

Right. No pressure, I think to myself, as I walk back to the serving zone. I know this is just a stupid sand volleyball game, but I really don’t want to lose to Becker. I swipe my foot across the sand a few times to fill in any holes, and walk around the area and then back up a few steps. I close my eyes and take a big breath in and out. A light breeze passes by and kisses my damp, sweaty skin, cooling and centering me. I do a running serve, jumping up to meet the ball in the air, and my hand makes perfect contact. I hear that solid crack I was hoping for as my palm connects with the ball, and it rockets through the air and over the net. I land on two feet and watch where the ball goes.

 

 

Dacen

 

I can’t take my eyes off Ryne. He yanked off his shirt a few points ago, haphazardly tossing it to the side, and his body is a masterpiece. His long, lean muscles glisten with sweat and it takes all of my willpower to remain on this side of the net instead of running over to him and tasting him. Oh my God, the thought of licking Ryne Sutton literally makes my mouth water. A jolt of desire shoots through me and I actually shiver. Right here in the hot sand on this hot-ass day, I shiver. I’m so focused on Ryne, staring intently as he moves, that the game itself fades to the background. He tosses the ball high in the air and runs and jumps up to meet it. His abs contract as he connects with the ball. Oh shit, the ball. It wizzes over the net and I have to dive for it. I dive forward with an outstretched hand, trying to at least connect to the ball with the top of my hand to pop it up, but I’m a half-second too late and miss. Sand sprays out around me as I land.

 

“Damn it,” I mutter quietly into the sand. I hear Ryne and his friends cheering on the other side of the net. Evie helps hoist me up off the ground and I brush my stomach, arms, and legs off.

 

“Sleeping on your feet, Dacen?” Matt cracks in a friendly, teasing tone.

 

Lucy laughs lightly and says, “Oh hush up, Matt. You bit the sand not two minutes ago yourself.”

 

Matt claps me on the shoulder. “You know I’m just kidding, man. Good game anyway. Better luck next time.”

 

I look across the net and see Ryne smirking at me.

 

“Good game, guys,” I call out in congratulation.

 

Better luck next time? Yeah, maybe. But that sure doesn’t help me right now. It feels like I’ve started some sort of push-and-pull game with Ryne, and I’m not sure exactly how to come out ahead…

 

[This is where the scene moves to Dacen and Evie dancing during the senior bash.]

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Copyright Michaela Cole. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author’s Note:

This takes place during Spirit Week, on Iconic Duo Day. They’re working on their speech topic again, only Nick Callahan has since joined the group. It ended up cut because it wasn’t necessary to the plot, but I still like it, so here you go. Please ignore any typos and any minor timeline inconsistencies. :)

Trigger warning: bullying behavior from a homophobic asshole in a brief flashback

 

Dacen

“How are we supposed to demonstrate planning a surprise party as a speech? This is a dumb topic. Why did we pick this again?” Nick rakes a hand through his hair with a huff.

“Majority rules, Callahan. It is what it is.” Ryne sits back in his chair and drums his fingers on the arm of it. “Besides, you joined the group late.”

“It’s not my goddamn fault that my group partner got mono,” Nick grumbles.

I clamp my lips together a few seconds to hold back the words that I’d like to say until I’m certain they’ll stay put. “This is not a difficult topic, guys.” My voice is strained. “Organizing anything is relaxing, and organizing parties is fun. There’s a process to it that is easy to follow and easy to explain.”

Between the two of them bickering over this assignment, and the hot and cold from Ryne, my nerves are shot. I pull out my planner because apparently the big guns are necessary in order for us to complete this assignment. I flip it open to a section in the back where I’ve written a ton of notes and plans for the homecoming dance. Those of us on the committee are decorating tomorrow after school and I have very detailed notes, particularly on the decoration plan because I’d been the note taker on that particular sub-committee.

“Look. We can explain using something like this. It’s really not that complicated.”

This whole assignment is basically one long, glorified list. I am the king of lists. Lists and I are BFFs. We go way back. If you look up list in the dictionary, you’ll likely find a picture of me beside it, holding up a list of lists.

Ryne sits up and gently drags my planner across the table and then scans the page, flips, and looks over the next couple of pages. He brushes his fingers down the color-coordinated tabs along the side, and then pushes my planner toward Nick. Nick glares at him but takes it and looks it over. He hands it back to me and nods to both of us.

“It’s a good idea,” he begrudgingly agrees. “Let’s write down the steps so we can work through what the presentation looks like.” Nick rips out a sheet of paper—from his own notebook, thank God, because had he ripped anything from my planner I’d have a heart attack—and taps his pencil against the blank sheet. “All right, step one.” Nick writes the words on the paper and then looks up at us expectantly. “Step one is to what?”

“Step one is find a hot guy who is annoyingly organized and obsesses over his planner,” Ryne answers, totally deadpan.

Were I not just rendered completely speechless, I would find Nick’s subsequent reaction hilarious. He’s bent over the sheet of paper, writing again, and freezes mid-pencil stroke. Without moving any other part of his body, he turns his head to stare up at Ryne like he’s just announced that the world is indeed flat, and then turns his head just as smoothly and stares at me like I’ve just announced that lizard people have taken over that flat Earth. He blinks a few times and looks back down at the paper, and what follows is not so hilarious.

In a low voice he growls out, “I’m so sick of this shit.” He throws his pencil down on the table.

Ryne looks a cross between confused and annoyed. I’m confused by Nick’s outburst and still haven’t regained my ability to speak after Ryne set my heart on fire with his step-one comment.

“What?” Ryne snaps at him.

“I need a good grade on this project to keep my GPA high enough to keep my brother off my back.”

I stare silently and continue to let Ryne talk.

“Okay? We’ll get a good grade, Nick. Chill the fuck out.”

Nick glowers at Ryne. For a split second I wonder if Ryne’s finally met his match when it comes to the ability to take someone down with a single glare. “We’re running out of time, and you two sit here tossing glances back and forth and doing your thinly veiled flirting.

 

We’re still on step one of this goddamn thing.” He waves the sheet of paper around and slams it back down on the desk. “Y’all need to quit dicking around. Actually, what you really need is to go dick each other down and THEN maybe you’ll be able to focus long enough for us to get a passable grade.”

Nick shoves away from the desk and stands up, hovering angrily above us. “I’m serious.” He hisses the words through clenched teeth. “Figure this shit out.” He points back and forth between me and Ryne. “If I end up failing this class because of this stupid project, I swear to God I will kick the ever-loving shit out of the both of you.”

Ryne scoffs and rolls his eyes. “Sit your ass down, Callahan, and shut your fucking mouth.”

Nick sneers at him and then sets his glare on me. A chill runs down my spine. “Piece of advice, Becker. Lose the stupid costume first, unless you’re both into that sort of thing. You look ridiculous.”

I freeze and then my face falls and shoulders slouch. It’s Iconic Duo Day today, and Evie and I dressed as Batman and Robin. I’m Robin, decked out in a green t-shirt with a red vest thing, a yellow cape, and green shorts that I’d paired with white running leggings rather than the cheesy white tights the costume came with. I’ve got a mask too but took it off once classes started this morning.

Across from me, Ryne goes from moderately amused and irritated to livid in zero-point-two seconds. His shirt strains over his biceps. His fist on top of the table clenches so hard it’s nearly white. And Ryne’s forearms are a thing of beauty always, but particularly right now; they’re flexed with veins popping more than usual, running up and down the lines of the firm muscles. Beautiful and deadly, that’s how he looks. He shoves his chair away from the desk just as the bell rings.

Nick grabs his things and frowns down at me, then turns and storms out of the classroom. The room empties around us, people chattering on about their projects and tomorrow night’s game as they head to fourth period. Ryne sits there with his jaw clenched, white knuckling the edge of the desk. With each inhale he takes, his ribcage expands and his shoulders draw back. His racing heart is visible in the flickering pulse at his throat.

He finally stands up and grabs his backpack. And me? I’m still seated, shoulders slumped over. I stare down at the desk, letting my eyes lose focus. Nick’s comment, you look ridiculous, hit me harder than I’d care to admit, pinging off memories of the past and cutting deep. One of those memories shoves to the forefront as I sit here.

“You look fucking ridiculous, Becker. You and your stupid boy toy.”

Andrew knocks me down to the ground, then grabs Christopher by the shirt collar and shoves him back against the brick wall. I can smell the alcohol on Andrew’s breath from here, and wince as he leans down into Christopher’s face.

“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kick your ass right now.”

All we’d been doing was standing under the balcony at Brent’s party kissing when Andrew and his minions stumbled by and decided it was a good time to stir up trouble. Bunch of homophobic assholes. Unfortunately, when those homophobic assholes are nearly twice your size AND angry drunks, you have to pick your battles.

I blink and clear my head, coming back to the present. Though that might have been a flicker of regret I saw in Nick’s eyes as he turned away, his words still hit the mark.

Ryne knocks on the desk lightly. Turning my head, I’m met with his waist. He stands at my side and clears his throat. When I don’t look up he gently grabs my chin and tilts it, holding it until I lift my eyes to meet his. He looks moderately calmer now, though he shoots one final irritated glare at the doorway. His thumb strokes my face once before he lets go.

“Nick’s an asshole, Dacen.” His tone is low, calm, and soothing. “Trust me, it takes one to know one. Don’t listen to anything he says.”

Easier said than done. But still, Ryne’s words make me smile. It’s a small smile, but it’s real.

“And for what it’s worth?” He rests one hand on the desk and the other on the back of my chair, leaning down a little. I bite my lip and his eyes smolder. “I also have a thing for superheroes.”

My smile deepens. “Even if they’re just the sidekick?”

Ryne smirks and straightens up, readjusting his backpack.

“Especially then.”

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Copyright Michaela Cole. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author’s Note:

I changed plot directions toward the middle-end of About Last Knight. Originally, the plot with Jeremy had a storyline where he was jealous that Ryne ended up with Dacen, and in his stupid jealousy, he shoved Dacen aside at school during a minor confrontation. Dacen tripped down the stairs and had gotten hurt, and ended up in the hospital. It didn’t ultimately fit with where the rest of the plot was going, so I stripped it completely from the story. I thought I’d maybe save it to use for some other characters in some random story, but the dynamic of the scene below (where Dacen is in the hospital and Ryne—hellbent on getting some revenge on Jeremy—is visiting him) is so Knoxton Knights, horsemen, etc. that I can’t. This scene still is one of my favorites, so I wanted to share it anyway. Just pretend you’re in an alternate universe for a moment as you read, and enjoy. And please ignore any typos. :)

 

 

Dacen

 

Ryne plants a kiss on my forehead. “You’re not coming. You’ve got a bum leg, you haven’t even been discharged from the hospital, and besides that I’m kinda partial to your face the way it is.” He leans forward and brushes his lips across the bridge of my nose. “A fist to this nose would be bad.”

 

A scoff rips from my mouth followed by a shake of my head. “I don’t want you fighting because of that dumb ass. He’s not worth it.” My eyebrows knit together and a deep crease forms between them. I scan his face while my fingers worry the edges of the scratchy blanket on my lap.

 

Ryne tightens his arm around me and carefully pulls me closer into his side so as not to hurt my ribs. He leans over slightly to look me in the eyes, putting us forehead to forehead, and grabs my chin gently.

 

“He doesn’t get a free pass, Dacen.” His deep voice is unusually quiet and thick with emotion. “He has to deal with the consequences of his actions. You have a broken leg and bruised ribs. What if you have a concussion in that big, sexy brain of yours?”

 

“I’m not concussed, for the thousandth time, Ryne.”

 

“Even so, me and the guys are having a little chat with him tonight and you’re going to keep your ass in this bed and rest.”

 

As if on cue, Roman pops his head in, peering around the door, and then enters my room. He quietly shuts the door behind him, peeking through the crack before shutting it the whole way. There’s an air of mischief and danger surrounding him. The light from the awful florescent bulbs that cover the ceiling washes his skin out but his eyes still flash brightly. It’s a little eerie and a lot unsettling.

“You’re looking better, Pecker. Glad to see it.” He nods at me and then addresses Ryne. “Dude, are you coming or what? I’m so ready to kick some motherfucking ass.”

 

He bounces up and down on the balls of his boot covered feet and looks entirely too excited and pleased at the possibility of a fight. The depth of Roman’s unruly, defiant, rebellious streak never ceases to amaze me. There’s a darkness in him that makes Ryne look like the Easter bunny in comparison. At least this time it’s working in my favor and not against me. Small victories, I take them as they come.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be out to the truck in just a bit,” Ryne replies.

 

Roman smirks and points at me. “Gotta get the princess tucked into bed first?”

 

My nostrils flare as heat floods my cheeks. “You can take the princess comments and shove them up your ass, Roman.”

 

Roman puts a hand over his heart and staggers back a few steps. “You wound me, Pecker, deeply.” He opens the door again and pauses in the doorway. “We’ll wait for you outside, Ryne. Bye Princess.” He blows me a kiss and begins to pull the door closed behind him.

“Asshole!” I yell. Roman’s laughter floods my ears as the door shuts. “Can’t you just kick his ass instead?”

 

“Sorry, babe. You know he acts like that because he actually likes you.”

 

“Weird freaking way to show it,” I mutter under my breath.

 

Ryne snorts in agreement and we sit there in silence for a moment. The possible events of the evening run through my head, and every awful scenario that comes to mind plays out in vivid detail through my brain and twists my gut into a mess of nerves.

 

“You’re not going to kill him, are you?” I’d like to say that I’m joking, but I need to hear confirmation from Ryne’s lips that things will not escalate to that level.

 

“Roman?” he asks, confused.

“No, Jeremy.”

“That prick’s not worth going to jail for. Possibly getting into a little trouble? Yes. Jail? No.”

 

I sigh and slump back against the pillows. The movement sends a sharp jab into my side and I wince. Ryne tenses next to me.

 

“And that right there is exactly why I’ve gotta deal with that shithead. Tonight. Not tomorrow. Not two weeks from now. Tonight.”

 

There is no reasoning with any of these guys. Yes, the bastard managed to avoid getting in trouble and that royally sucks. But Jeremy knows that everyone who matters to me knows the truth, and that they’ll not hesitate to dole out a little payback as they see fit. That should be enough though, the threat of violence, him looking over his shoulder for the rest of the school year. They don’t need to carry out the actual threat. That just makes them stoop to his level. Although there is a small part of me, a very small part that’s trying to hide in the corner of my brain, that thinks a little retribution wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

 

“My boyfriend sure is a stubborn bastard,” I mumble under my breath. I’d tackle him and pin him to my bed to keep him here, but raising my arms too high pulls on my ribs, and my ribs are not having that right now. That, plus the whole broken leg, has me at his mercy.

 

Ryne chuckles and rubs his palm up and down my right arm softly. “Yeah, but I have it on good authority that he loves you a ton.”

 

Warmth floods my insides, working into every crack and crevice and filling me up until there’s a steady pulse thrumming through me. I turn my head toward Ryne and his lips immediately meet mine. It’s a soft kiss, slow and languid. His tongue runs along the seam of my lips, seeking entry, and I open to him. Our tongues touch, tease, and caress like they’re performing a choreographed dance. We fit together perfectly. I moan quietly into Ryne’s mouth and he smiles against my lips then pulls his head back slightly.

 

“No fair making those noises when you’re stuck in a hospital bed and I can’t do anything about them.” He reaches under the blanket and rubs his palm on my growing dick, which continues to swell from his touch.

 

“My dick isn’t broken,” I growl out.

 

Ryne lets out a burst of laughter so loud that a nurse opens the door and sticks her head in the room a few seconds later. “Everything okay in here, Dacen?” I look over and see that it’s Charlotte, my favorite nurse. She’s got to be around sixty-five and has a head full of gray hair that’s always pulled back into a tight bun. She’s full of sass and I like her energy.

 

I risk the pain and jab my elbow into Ryne’s side. He quiets down but his shoulders still shake from silent laughter.

 

“Yes, sorry, Ms. Charlotte, we’ll keep it down.”

 

Charlotte tilts her head down and peers at us over the rims of her thick, tortoise-shell glasses.

 

“No hanky-panky on my watch, boys. I’m the one who has to change those sheets.” Her voice is firm but her top lip twitches.

 

Have I mentioned her sass?

 

“Uh, right. Got it,” I stutter.

 

“Holy shit,” Ryne swears under his breath as she raps her knuckles on the door frame and pops back out of the room. “She’s brutal.”

 

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “Yeah, I like her though.”

Ryne cocks a disbelieving eyebrow at me and then his lips curl up into a Grinch-like grin. “Bet I could get you off without sullying her precious sheets.”

 

“No way. I am in desperate need of a shower. I cannot vouch for the state of things down south.”

 

Ryne’s response is to press his palm against my groin, running it down my length. I’d shriveled up faster than a popped balloon at Charlotte’s sudden appearance, but it only takes one stroke of Ryne’s hand to change that again. When he reaches down to grab hold of my balls and massages them I let out a sigh of pleasure. My head flops against Ryne’s shoulder and I keep my eyes closed, enjoying the sensation as he works me over with his hand. I pull my head up and give him a once-over. His own dick is hard as a rock and looks hella uncomfortable with his jeans pulled tight against it. He reaches down and adjusts himself so he’s at least not held captive beneath the zipper.

“Is it the hospital gown that turns you on so much?” I ask jokingly as I cautiously lean over and catch his earlobe between my teeth. I pause a moment and when I don’t feel any pain, I continue. “Maybe the cast? My greasy hair?” I’m definitely not looking my best right now but it doesn’t seem to faze him. I was at least able to wash my face, brush my teeth, and throw on some deodorant before he got here so there’s a point for me on the not-completely-hideous side of the scorecard.

Ryne practically purrs as I lick and suck on his ear. His eyes flash open and—holy shit—what I wouldn’t give to not be in a cast right now with a couple of broken ribs. Those beautifully expressive blue-gray eyes of his bore into me with an intensity so strong they would fly right off the Richter scale. He looks about five seconds away from eating me up. Ryne takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, reining his control back in, and presses another single kiss to my forehead.

“Everything about you turns me on, Dacen. You could be a green alien with a tail and a pulsating dick and I’d still be attracted to you. Hell,” he looks thoughtful a moment. “A vibrating dick might be pretty awesome actually.”

I stick my tongue out at him and he leans forward and tries to nip it with his teeth. It returns to the safety of my mouth before he’s able to catch it.

“You know they make alien sex toys, right? If a vibrating alien dick is really your thing I could snag one online. You’d be in for a whole new world of sexual amazement, I’m sure,” I tease him. The smile he gives me is both mischievous and deliciously seductive. I gulp audibly and his grin deepens. “Guess I know what to get you for your next birthday.”

Ryne laughs. “I’ll try anything at least once as long as you’re a willing participant too.”

“Participant, or spectator?” I ask him.

“I never took you for a voyeur, but if that’s your thing, I’m down.” He teases me back but his eyes flash darkly. “While you’re ordering that alien cock, order yourself a long trench coat. Then you can stand in the shadows wearing that and only that, and touch yourself while you watch me fuck myself.”

Jeeeesus. Both of our phones ding with an incoming text message and it pulls us back into the reality of the evening. Ryne reaches over and swipes my phone from the bedside table and hands it to me, then grabs his own. I fumble a bit, my heart still racing from the sexual tension now—ahem—pulsating around us, and after a few tries I manage to unlock my phone and open up my messages. By the time I scroll to the group chat and read Roman’s question—he wants to know what the holdup is—Ryne’s already texted a response.

 

“You did not just respond with ‘vibrating alien dick,’ you dork.”

 

Ryne glances over at me and his eyes trail to my lips. I tug my lower one between my teeth and drag it through slowly because it drives him crazy and because I can. His shoulders raise up and down once, and his gaze snaps back up to mine. “It’s the truth, ain’t it?”

 

My phone dings a few more times and I peer down at it.

ROMAN: That’s some serious kink, even by my standards.

TYLER: I love you guys, but please keep any and all vibrating alien dicks to yourselves.

EVAN: Speak for yourself, Ty. This is definitely a “pics or it didn’t happen” sitch.

 

“Oh for—“ I dig my fists into my eyes to rub them roughly. Spots appear behind my closed eyelids and I drop my hands. “Apparently Evan’s the voyeur.”

 

Ryne laughs and swoops down to plant a kiss on the top of my filthy hair, and then carefully gets off the bed and stands up.

 

“Yeah, well, too bad for him. He can’t join our trench-coat-wearing, vibrating-alien-dick-loving sexcapades.”

 

He laughs so much more lately and at the risk of sounding like some cheesy romcom character, it makes my heart smile. His happiness makes everything better, brighter, and it eases my anxiety; that sketchy beast that likes to hover just below the surface. Ryne’s laughter, from the honest and genuine sound of it, to the way it lights up his face, it helps to shove that fucker down even deeper below the surface. No actually, that’s not accurate. It’s more that he helps me fight the beast, ripping chunk after chunk from it with each passing day. Maybe someday it’ll be gone altogether. My chest definitely feels much lighter these days. Aside from the broken ribs. Which reminds me again of what my boyfriend and his posse of clowns are about to go do, and I sigh.

 

Ryne gives me a knowing look. “Things are going to be fine,” he tells me. “Just relax.”

 

“There will be no relaxing on my part while you’re out doing who knows what with God knows what, all in the name of revenge.”

 

Ryne shakes his head. “All in the name of love, ya dummy. Now chill the fuck out and I’ll call you later when I get home, okay?”

 

“If you don’t call me the minute you finish doing whatever the hell you’re doing, I will kick your ever-loving ass into the next century just as soon as I’m able.”

 

Ryne has the presence of mind to not laugh at my words, although there’s a suspicious sparkle in his eyes as he responds. “Duly noted.”

 

He gives me one last searing kiss on the lips, rubs my shoulder, and then slips out the door, shooting a smirk over his shoulder on the way out.

 

“What a misguided, romantic idiot,” I grumble to the empty room, giving a heavy sigh as I carefully prop back against the pillows. “And to think there are people in this world who think that Ryne Sutton is a cold, emotionless robot.”

 

The door opens again, and Charlotte pops back into the room. “What’s that, dear?”

 

I shake my head. “Oh, just talking to myself.”

 

“You need new sheets?”

 

“No, Charlotte, I don’t. But thank you.” She shrugs, giving me a cheeky grin, and leaves the room.

Ryne is definitely not a cold, emotionless robot, but southerners and the South in general? Yeah, it still sometimes feels like a foreign planet.