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“But why would they be? Because you’re dating a single mom?”

Tyler tossed her a forced smile as he backed up. “They probably think that I’m taking advantage of you.”

Dani laughed at the absurdity of it. “They don’t know me very well, or they’d never think that. Or you, for that matter.”

Tyler didn’t say anything else, just turned up the music, and all the joy and fun of the day seemed to wither as he sang along to a Daughtry song.

TYLER DROPPED DANI off with a kiss on her cheek, leaving her in her doorway with a confused look on her face. What could he say to her? He was humiliated. It was one thing to have doubts about whether he could hack it with Dani, but for his friends to share those doubts?

His friends had thought the worst of him, without even asking him what was going on.

He’d at least expected Martinez, the mother hen of the group, to give him the benefit of the doubt, but even his mouth had been pinched with disapproval.

And that look had quickly popped his happy, delusional bubble.

An hour after he got home, he shouldn’t have been surprised that his three best friends came into his place without knocking. Duke barked excitedly until he recognized them, but he didn’t relax.

Maybe he sensed the crazy tension in the air.

“What the hell are you doing?” Sparks boomed.

“Having a beer and watching The Negotiator. Wanna join me?”

“Dude, be serious. What are you fucking doing?”

Tyler stood up, going toe to toe with his friend. “Like I said, chilling. You’re the one who burst into my place with an attitude, so how about you explain to me what your problem is?”

“Okay, okay, put your dicks away, we’re all friends here.” Kline stepped between them, pushing Sparks back.

“Best, what is the deal with Dani?” Martinez asked bluntly.

“I brought her geocaching. I’m dating her. What part of that is hard to grasp?”

“Except you don’t date. You hook up and take off,” Sparks snapped.

Tyler glared at him. “Not this girl. Not this time.”

“Dude, you were just telling me a few weeks ago that you weren’t interested in settling down, and now you’re dating a woman with a kid? You should know better.”

Before he knew what he was doing, he was holding the front of Sparks’s shirt, and their faces were inches apart. “Fuck you. Just because I don’t share every thought going through my mind doesn’t give you the right to come in here and preach at me.”

“It’s not fair to lead that poor girl on, make her think you’re serious, and then drop her like she ain’t shit—”

Putting all his weight behind the blow, Tyler punched Sparks right in the face. He felt his friend’s cheek crack against his knuckle painfully, as if it was all happening in slow motion, and still he kept moving, tackling him to the floor. The sound of Duke’s barking and his own blood thrumming in his ears flooded his senses, drowning out the inner voice yelling at him that he was attacking his friend. He was too far gone to think straight, shaking with rage and uncertainty.

Martinez and Kline were grabbing at him, trying to pull him off Dean, and he shouted, “You don’t call her shit; do you understand me?”

“I didn’t, you crazy asshole! I was talking about the way you treat women like toilet paper!”

“Well, she’s different!” At this point, Kline and Martinez were holding onto both his arms as Sparks climbed to his feet.

Sparks’s hand cupped his cheek, and he wiggled his jaw before answering. “Yeah, I can see that.”

All the fight seemed to drain out of Best, and he sagged between Kline and Martinez.

“You good, bro?” Kline asked.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

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