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What the fuck.

The man’s gravelly voice matches his appearance when he asks with some awe, “This is your daughter’s place?”

This man is no drunk.

“Yeah. Nice, huh? I’m proud of her.” Richard smiles, and the guy pats his shoulder, nodding in agreement.

“Who’s this?” the man asks.

They both look over at me. Richard smiles. “Oh, him? That’s Hardin, Tessie’s boyfriend.”

“Cool, I’m Chad,” he states, saying it almost like he’s a local personality I should somehow know.

Not a drunk. So much worse.

“Okay,” I say, watching his eyes as they move around our living room. I’m relieved that Tessa’s in the shower and doesn’t have to meet this creep.

When I hear the bathroom door open, I curse at myself. I spoke too fucking soon. Chad lifts his long-sleeved shirt to scratch at his arms, making me feel like Tessa for a moment as I get a sudden urge to mop the fucking floor.

“Hardin?” Her voice travels down the hall.

“You should go now,” I tell the scraggly pair before me in the most threatening tone possible.

“I want to meet her,” Chad says with a dark twinkle in his eye, and I have to concentrate to keep myself in my place and not throw both these bags of bones into the hallway and out the window.

“No. You don’t,” I say.

Richard looks at me. “Okay . . . okay . . . we’re going,” he says and starts ushering his friend out. “I’ll see you later, Hardin. Thanks again. Stay out of jail.” And with a smirk and that parting shot, he leaves the apartment.

“Hardin?” Tessa calls again as she enters the living room.

“They just left.”

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

“What’s wrong? Hmm . . . let’s see. Zed came to your office, and your drunk of a dad just brought some creepy fucking dude into our apartment.” A brief pause, and I add, “Are you sure your dad only drinks?”

“What?” The shoulder of her T-shirt—well, my T-shirt—slips down to bare her shoulder. She pushes it back up and sits down on the couch. “What do you mean, ‘only drinks’?”

Looking at her, I don’t want to plant the seed that her dad’s not only a homeless drunk but a drug addict, too. He doesn’t look as bad as the asshole who just came to pick him up, but I still have a weird feeling about this shit. Even so, I just say, “I don’t know. Never mind, I was just thinking out loud.”

“Okay . . .” she quietly answers.

I know her well enough to be certain that the thought of her father being on drugs hasn’t crossed her mind and that she’d never guess I’m thinking it from what I said.

“Are you mad at me?” Her voice is soft, too timid.

I know she’s waiting for me to explode any moment. I have been purposely avoiding conversation with her for a reason. “No.”

“Are you sure?” She looks at me with those big, beautiful eyes, begging for me to say something.

They do the trick.

“No, I’m not sure. I don’t know. I’m really mad, yeah, but I don’t want to fight with you over it. I’m trying to change, you know? Keep my shit together and not flip out on you over every little thing.” I sigh, rubbing the back of my neck. “Even though this isn’t a little thing. I’ve told you time and time again not to see Zed, but you still do.” I look at her coldly—not to be mean, but because I have to see how her eyes react when I add, “How would you feel if I did that to you?”

She practically crumples before my eyes. “I would feel terrible. I know I’ve been wrong for seeing him,” she says without defense.

Well, I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting her to yell at me and stick up for that shithead Zed, like always. “Yes, you have,” I say, then sigh. “But if you say you told him it’s done, then it’s done. I’ve done everything I can do to keep him away from you, but he doesn’t stop. So you have to be the one to keep him away.”

“It’s done, I swear. I won’t see him again.”

She looks up at me, and I shudder at the thought of her on the phone earlier, her crying over their goodbye.

“We aren’t going to that party on Saturday,” I say, and her face falls.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Actually, I know it isn’t.

“I want to go.” She presses her full lips into a line.

“We aren’t going,” I tell her again.

Her spine shoots up a little, and she pushes back. “If I want to go, I’ll go.”

Fuck, she’s so fucking stubborn. “Can we please just discuss it later? We have shit to do if you want me to go on this fucking stupid-ass boat shit.”

She smiles playfully. “Could you fit any more curse words in that sentence?”

And I smile as I have a vision of her bent over my knee for being so smarmy. She’d probably like that, actually: lying across my lap, my hand hitting her skin, not too hard, just hard enough to turn the skin pink . . .


My perverted thoughts interrupted, I push them away . . . for now. She would hide behind her hands if I told her what I was daydreaming about.

Chapter twenty-one


I shake his arm again, roughly this time. “Hardin! You have to get up—now. We’re going to be late.”

I’m already dressed and ready, our bags have already been placed in the car, and I’ve given him as much time to sleep as possible. Heck, last night I even did all the packing, not that he would’ve done a very good job of it anyway.