“Sorry to interrupt, ladies,” he said as he straightened and walked into the room. “Mrs. Talbot, you’re looking very well.”

“I, uh … Well, um, thank you,” my mother stuttered, apparently picturing my boyfriend naked, which was oh so Jerry Springer of her.

When I’d first seen my mother in the recovery room ten days earlier, Noah had been right by my side, and I remembered the way her jaw had nearly dropped to the floor and how she repeatedly rubbed her eyes as if she couldn’t possibly have been seeing what she was seeing. She beamed like the mother of a beauty pageant contestant who’d mopped the floor with all those other wanna-bes. Not that my mother had ever treated me that way, but she knew who Noah Crawford was, and she was stoked that her baby girl was dating him.

“I missed you.” Noah squatted behind me and leaned in to give my neck a very sweet, chaste kiss. Then he wrapped his arms around my shoulders from behind and addressed my mother. “I spoke with Mr. Talbot on the way over and he said all the medical equipment arrived today and has been set up. Looks like you’re good to go when Daniel gives you the green light.”

“Actually, Dr. Crawford said that, barring any unforeseen complications, I can go home tomorrow.” Faye beamed excitedly. “I want to thank you for making all of this possible. I know you’ll probably never claim responsibility, but I also know that if it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t be here right now, and my daughter wouldn’t be nearly as happy as she finally seems to be. You’ve touched the life of each member of our family, Noah, and we can never repay you for that.”

He hugged me tighter. “I’d do anything for Lanie. Besides, I only did what any decent human being would do if given the resources, Mrs. Talbot. I’m no saint.”

“Well, in my eyes you are, and I won’t soon forget what you’ve done,” my mother said with misty eyes. She took a deep breath and collected herself before starting again. “Now, Lanie, what are your plans? Are you going back to school?”

Yeah, she and Mack still thought I was legitimately enrolled at NYU. How was I going to get out of that mess?

Lexi came to the rescue. “Actually, I pulled some strings with the dean’s office and got him to agree to let Lanie drop her classes for this semester and reenroll for the next, without it affecting her scholarship,” she said, giving me a look that said I should go with what she was saying. “So she’s free to stick around here for a while.”

My mom clasped her hands together. “That’s great! You’ll be coming home, then?”

“Um …” That caught me off guard. I hadn’t really thought about what I would do, or where I would go once she was free to leave. I turned to look at Noah, hoping he’d saddle up on his white horse and come to my rescue yet again, but his defeated expression offered me no solace or hope of being able to go back home with him. I could tell by the way he nodded and offered a smile that our separation wasn’t what he wanted, either. But at the same time, he had to have known this would happen, which meant he was sacrificing, yet again, for me and my family. I wished he’d been selfish and demanded I stay with him, but I knew he wouldn’t.


I turned back to my mother so that I wouldn’t have to see his pretty face, in hopes that I’d have the strength to say what he and I both knew I had to say. “Yeah, Mom, I’m coming home.” I gave her a halfhearted smile that I hoped looked convincing enough.

What kind of daughter had I become? I should’ve wanted to be there to help her on her road to recovery because she still had quite a way to go. But I couldn’t fathom the idea of sleeping in my cold bed—the very same bed in which I’d spent night after night wondering if I was doomed to never know what it felt like to have a warm body cuddled up next to me, to never know the fire that boiled in my veins from a lover’s touch, to never know what it felt like to be adored by someone of worth.

I could feel Noah’s warm breath on the shell of my ear as his husky voice spoke from just over my shoulder. “If it’s okay with you, Mrs. Talbot, I’d like to steal her away from you for the evening. Unless you need her here, of course.”

Always the fucking considerate gentleman. Throw me over your shoulder like a Neanderthal, damn it! Whisk me away to your cave with grunted warnings for anyone who might dare try to take me away from you! God knew the man didn’t seem to have a problem behaving that way when he’d decided he knew what was best for me time and time again before. It may have been seriously fucked up of me, but part of me wanted that Noah back again. At least in that moment.

“No, no, no. Lanie’s been with her sick old mother every single day and night since I got here,” Faye said. “She needs to get out. You two kids go and, um … have fun.” She tried to contain her giggles, but then Dez, Polly, and Lexi started snickering, and all bets were off.

How very junior high of them, I thought. But it became very evident that I was never going to live down the whole Noah-is-a-sex-god rant. I imagined the episode of The Jerry Springer Show we could all appear on: “My Mother Wants to Sleep with My Boyfriend, but He’s Too Busy Boinking His Cousin, His Married Assistant Dreams of His Penis Size, and My Best Friend Might Be Pregnant with His Baby.”

Intent on capitalizing on my newfound realization and making them all suffer for embarrassing me, I shook those disturbing thoughts out of my head and stood. After kissing my mother on the cheek, I grabbed Noah’s hand and dragged him behind me as I turned for the door.

“Where are you going?” Polly asked.

I stopped short, looked back over my shoulder at my friends, and with a knowing smirk said, “The Smithsonian. Envy me, bitches.”

“The alpha and omega of cocks everywhere, huh?” Noah asked as we stepped into the empty elevator and the doors closed behind us.

I inhaled deeply, letting the scent of him that had permeated the air in the small space envelop my senses. I think I purred. “Something like that.”

Noah suddenly had me pinned against the wall, his body pressed firmly to mine, and his mouth engaging my own in a searing kiss. His hands were everywhere: fondling my breast, cupping my ass, stroking the sweet spot just under the crotch seam of my jeans. His attack was so fast and furious that I hadn’t even had a chance to take a breath. Oxygen was overrated, right? I was pretty sure I could live without it because as long as Noah continued to do things that made my pulse race, it meant my heart was still beating. Sure, I would probably be a little brain-damaged from the lack of oxygen to the old cranium when he was done, but it would be worth it.

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