Page 31 of Eight Dates

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“Are you going to do something about Charlie?” Ben asked.

Nova snorted a laugh. “I might go knock his ass out for the way he grabbed you twice, but I also don’t want to go to jail, and he seems like the kind of guy who would press charges.”

Ben knew Nova was right, and that was the last thing he wanted. “He’s not worth it,” Ben told him softly.

Nova let out a small hum, then took a step back. “Ten minutes,” he repeated.

Ben had no choice, really, but to turn on his heel and head inside.


The ten minutesfelt like ten years. Ben’s message notifications had blown up with Charlie calling him every name in the book, but Ben quickly blocked him and deleted everything that had come through. He spent five of the minutes staring at his remaining three dates and trying to come up with a kind excuse to cancel without hurting anyone’s feelings. He wasn’t even so sure why he cared about total strangers, but he supposed, at the very least, they deserved a polite kiss-off.

And he wasn’t quite sure he had the right yet to tell them he’d met someone.

Putting his hands over his face, Ben breathed slowly and started to drift a bit when he heard the office door open. He gathered himself before he sat up and stared at Nova’s contrite expression.

“Okay, it’s time for a better apology,” Nova said.

Ben flushed and nodded. “You’re right. I’m so, so sorry for—”

“What?” Nova interrupted. He stalked forward and set a covered plate and a small bag on his desk before dropping to a knee and putting both hands on Ben’s thighs. His touch was warm. God, it was so warm. “Are you serious?”

Ben blinked rapidly, confused. “Um. Yes?”

“No,” Nova said, squeezing tighter. “The apology is mine. I can’t believe I expected you to ditch your date because of some cryptic story about a high school bully I told you. I wasn’t even sure it was him from the photo, and you were right. He could have bettered himself and become someone worth knowing. I have no idea what the fuck came over me.”

Ben let out a slow breath. He didn’t really know what to say. Nova was right, of course. There was no way in hell Ben could have known that Charlie had beentheguy Nova was talking about. And by his profile, there was no way to tell that Charlie was still the piece of shit he’d been all those years ago. Of course he was, so all of those hypotheticals were moot points, and Ben still couldn’t shake his guilt because he’d come to realize that none of these people were more important to him than Nova.

“I accept your apology,” Ben said after a long beat.

Nova laughed, a little startled. “I didn’t even give it yet.”

“You don’t need to. I think if I’d been traumatized by an asshole like that, I would have overreacted too,” Ben said. “I mean, I had a complete meltdown when I ran into my former TA the other night, and I’m not even sad the relationship ended. Hell, by the time I caught them together, I couldn’t remember what it was like to love Taylor.”

Nova sighed and pushed himself to stand, grabbing the chair in the corner of the office and dragging it close. Their knees knocked together, and neither of them moved. “Obviously, we have baggage.” He stopped and laughed. “But hey, who doesn’t have baggage, right?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah. Some heavier than others.”

Nova bit his lip, then said, “I think, um…” He blew out a breath and looked actually nervous. “I think I need to tell you something before this goes any further.”

Ben’s heart sped up. “Okay. You can tell me anything.”

Nova gave him a weak smile, then dragged his fingers through his hair, disordering a few curls. “I think you should know…I’ve been trying to flirt with you. I want to get that out in the open before I say everything else I need to say.”

Ben’s heart was hammering so loud he could hear it in his ears. “Oh. Okay.”

“You look like you’re going to pass out,” Nova told him suddenly, dropping to a crouch. He reached up with both hands and pressed impossibly warm palms to Ben’s cheeks. “Is this too much?”

Ben had to fight to keep his eyes open, to keep from leaning into Nova’s palms. “No. Please finish.”

Nova nodded and dropped his hands, but he didn’t pull away. “I was kind of obsessed with you from the moment you forced your jacket on me like you thought I was actually going to freeze to death. You were so kind—I’m not sure anyone has ever been that kind. And you’re so gorgeous…”

At that, Ben scoffed. He hadn’t really meant to, but he knew better. He was fine. Really. But he wasn’t gorgeous.

“Please don’t,” Nova whispered. “You really are.”

“Okay,” Ben told him. It wasn’t a fight he wanted to have.