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“Lill gets so pissed off when I say that. She thinks I’m claiming her as property or something,” Riley says next to me, but all I can focus on is Tessa. The way she gathers her long hair in one hand and moves it to one shoulder. My anger is rising, my annoyance is growing, and my focus is blurring. How does she not know that I’m here? I can always tell when she enters a room; it’s like the air changes and my body can literally feel hers coming near. She’s too busy paying attention to him; he’s probably telling her the proper way to pour water into a damn glass.

Still looking at my girl, I say, “Well, Tess is mine, so I don’t care what she thinks about being claimed.”

“Spoken like a true asshole,” Riley says and looks over at Tessa. “You have to compromise, though. If she’s anything like Lillian, she’ll get sick of it and you’ll end up with an ultimatum.”

“What?” I tear my eyes away from Tessa for a moment, and it’s torture.

“Lillian got sick of my shit and left me. She”—she lifts her glass toward Tessa—“will do the same thing if you don’t listen to what she wants sometimes.”

It’s amazing how much cooler Lillian is than her girlfriend. “Okay, you don’t know anything about our relationship, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I look back at Tessa, who is now sitting alone at the table fiddling with a stray lock of hair and moving her shoulders to the music. After a second, I locate her waiter friend at the end of the bar, and my nerves calm slightly because of the distance between them.

“Look, man,” Riley says. “I don’t have to know the details. I’ve spent the last . . . almost hour with you. I know that you’re a dumb-ass and she’s a needy . . .” When I open my mouth to cuss her out, she just continues: “Lillian is, too, so don’t get all pissy over it. She’s needy, and you know it. But you know what the best part about having a needy girlfriend is?” She gives a wicked smile. “Besides the frequent sex, of course . . .”

“Get to the point.” I roll my eyes and look back to Tessa. Her cheeks are red and her eyes are wide in amusement as she watches the women finishing up their dance on the bar. Any second she’ll see me standing here.

“The best part is that they need us, just not in the way you expect them to need you, though. They need us to be there for them sometimes, too. Lillian was always so caught up in trying to save . . . me or whatever the hell she was doing . . . that her needs weren’t being met. I mean, I didn’t even acknowledge her birthday. I didn’t do shit for her. I thought I was, though, because I was around her and sometimes telling her that I love her, but it wasn’t enough.”

An unwelcome chill travels down my spine. I watch as Riley finishes the rest of her first drink. “But she’s with you now, right?”

“Yeah, but only because I showed her that she can depend on me and that I’m not the same bitch I was when she met me.” She looks over at Tessa, then back to me. “You know that saying all the stupid girls are always posting online? I think it’s like, ‘While you’re making . . . if you don’t’ . . . fuck. I can’t remember, but basically it says treat your girl well or someone else will.”

“I don’t treat her bad.” Not all the time, at least.

She barks out a disbelieving little laugh. “Dude, just own it. Look, I’m no saint. I still don’t treat Lillian the way I should, but I own that shit. You are in some hard-core denial if you’re sitting here thinking you don’t treat her like shit—if you didn’t, she wouldn’t be sitting over there with that douche, who happens to be the exact opposite of you and pretty damn hot.”

I can’t even argue with her; she’s right, for the most part. I don’t treat Tessa like shit all the time, only when she does something to get me going. Like right now.

And earlier.

“She’s looking,” Riley tells me, and my blood runs cold. I turn my head slowly in Tessa’s direction.

Her eyes are focused on mine—blazing—and I swear I see a hint of red in them as she looks at Riley and then back to me. She doesn’t move, she doesn’t even blink. Her stare turns from surprised to primal in an instant, and I’m taken aback by the murderous glare directed our way.

“She’s so pissed.” Riley laughs next to me, and it takes everything in me not to pour her backup drink over her head.

Instead, I mumble, “Shut up,” grab the drink, and walk toward Tessa.

Her douchey waiter is still at the end of the bar by the time I reach her.

“Whoa, I never thought I’d find you here, in a bar, drinking with another girl. Surprise, surprise,” she quips with a sarcastic smile.

“Why are you here?” I ask, stepping closer to her.

She leans away. “Why are you?”

“Tessa,” I warn, and she rolls her eyes.

“Not tonight, Hardin, not happening.” She climbs off of the tall chair and pulls her dress down.

“Don’t walk away from me.” My words come out as a command, but I know they’re really a plea. I reach for her arm, but she pulls away.

“Why not? That’s what you always do to me.” She glares at Riley again. “We’re both here with other people.”

I shake my head. “Fuck, no. That’s Lillian’s girlfriend.”

Her shoulders instantly relax. “Oh.” She looks into my eyes and pulls her bottom lip between her teeth.

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