“Yeah, okay, Mother Theresa,” K.C. muttered dismissively as she began flipping through some photos I’d taken during my year away. “So can you speak French fluently now?”

“I know some useful words for you.” I deadpanned. She grabbed a pillow from my bed and flung it at me without looking away from the pictures in her hand. After three years of devoted friendship, we could exchange harmless insults as easily as clothes.

Walking into my private bathroom, I called out, “So, can you stay for dinner? We can do pizza.”

“Tonight I have to be home, actually,” she shouted back. “Liam is coming over for dinner. My mom is getting a little anxious about our relationship and wants to see him more.” She enunciated “relationship” as if there was a double meaning.

Liam and K.C. had been dating for two years, and they’d been ha**ng s*x for a while. Her mom no doubt suspected that their “relationship” had progressed.

“Uh oh, is Sergeant Carter on to you two?” I grunted while shoving my now empty suitcase under my bed. I called K.C.’s mom ‘Sergeant Carter’ due to her authoritarian mothering. K.C. had little privacy and was expected to report on everything. However, it only made her want to keep her secrets more.

“I’m sure. She found my nightie and went ballistic.” K.C. stood up and grabbed her purse off the bed.

“I would’ve loved to see you talk your way out of that one.” I shut off my bedroom light and followed her down the stairs.

“If my parents were like your dad, then maybe I wouldn’t be so nervous about telling them things,” K.C. mumbled.

I was pretty sure I would never tell my dad about my first time, whenever it happened.

“Well, we can hook up tomorrow or whenever. As long as it’s before school starts.”


“Absolutely, tomorrow.” She gave me a tight hug. “I need to go get myself cleaned up before dinner. I’ll see you later,” And she rushed out the door.


Chapter 4

“Goddammit!” I bellowed up to my bedroom ceiling, now illuminated by the arrival of another partygoer.

Déjà vu struck me as the house next door roared with music and voices. I’d blissfully forgotten about Jared’s raucous parties. The constant vibrations of engines revving and girls screaming—out of pleasure, I hoped—filled the air for the last two hours and was still going strong. My muscles tensed at every new noise.

I glanced, again, at the clock on my bedside table, willing it to stop ticking away the minutes. It was after midnight, and I had to wake up in five hours to meet up with my running club for their weekly workout. I had to wake up I thought, and that was providing I could get to sleep in the first place.

And that wasn’t going to happen without an intervention.

Isn’t it about time you fought back? K.C.’s words buzzed through my head.

There was almost no chance that Jared would turn down the music if I asked, but the diplomat in me thought it was worth a shot. The “old Tate” would’ve lain in here awake all night, too intimidated by her bully to ask him to turn down his music. Now, bodily fatigue and weariness had chipped away my patience.

Maybe, just maybe, Jared had pulled the corn cob out of his ass and gotten over whatever problem he had with me. It didn’t hurt to hope.

The evenings had turned chilly, so I was reluctant to step out of my warm bed. Throwing off the covers before I chickened out, I slipped on black Chucks and covered my white camisole with my black hoodie. My hair was hanging loose, I was wearing no make-up, and I sported my favorite pair of blue and white pinstriped linen sleep shorts. I could’ve looked better and probably should’ve put on some more modest bottoms, but I just didn’t care. I was too tired, so I just stalked down the stairs and out the front door in all my disheveled glory.

It was either the warm, August evening or my nerves, but I had to roll up my sleeves to cool down as I left my yard and traipsed into his. The front lawn boasted random people, none of whom I recognized, and the beating of my heart relaxed a bit at the knowledge that there’d be few people I might know here. I knew Jared’s list of friends included people from other schools, colleges, and even legal adults from questionable backgrounds. By now, the crowd was so wasted that I slipped by unnoticed.

Inside the house, the carousing was loud and obnoxious. People danced in the living room, or rather some slutty looking girls let themselves get dry-humped, while others sat or stood in various parts of the downstairs chatting, drinking, and smoking. My nose crinkled at the revolting den of underage debauchery and stench…but, I admitted, everyone looked like they were having fun and being normal. It was official. I was a stick-in-the-mud.

Chevelle started pumping through the speakers, which seemed to have an output located in every room. Hats Off to the Bull might make it worth my while coming over after all.

Entering the kitchen in my search for Jared, I immediately halted. While various people lingered around the keg and other, harder offerings located on the countertop, the sight of Madoc sitting at the kitchen table playing drinking games caught me off guard. He was with a few other guys and a couple of girls. It was too late to do an about-face.

“What the f**k are you doing here?” He popped out of his chair and stalked over to me. His sneer was plastic. For show purposes only. I knew Madoc relished any drama that spiced up his night.

And I was drama.

I decided to play it cocky. “Well, I’m not looking for you.” Smirking, I continued to scan the room looking disinterested. “Where’s Jared?”

“He’s already got a girl for tonight. And I doubt he’d be interested in you anyway.” He got in my face with the last.

More than a few girls wanted Madoc’s attention, but I wasn’t one of them. He was good-looking with his bright, blue eyes and styled blonde hair. He had a great body, and his clothes complimented his form. However, I doubted he ever used girls for longer than one night.

I turned to leave and continue my search, but he grabbed me at the elbow. “Actually, I’m a glutton for punishment, but you do look f**king fantastic in your pajamas. If you’re looking for some action, I can take care of you.”

My stomach turned and my body stiffened. Was he joking? Didn’t he have any pride? Freshman and sophomore year, he and Jared made my life hell. I was suffocated everywhere I went. Even at home. Now, he wanted to take me upstairs? Now, I was good enough?

“Hey, man, Jared says she’s off limits.” Sam Parker, one of Jared’s nicer cronies, chimed in from the table.

Madoc’s eyes glided down my body, lingering at my legs. “Jared’s upstairs f**king Piper. He’s got other things on his mind right now.”

My mouth went dry. Unwanted images of the boy I used to share a tent with in my backyard flashed in my mind. Jared was upstairs, in bed right now, screwing some girl. Blowing out a breath, I turned to leave. I just needed to get out of here.

Madoc jerked me backwards into his body and wrapped his arms around me. I briefly registered Sam bolting out of his seat and out of the room. My body twisted and my muscles tensed, but I held off on any serious struggling for the time being. I wanted to see Jared, and hopefully that’s where Sam went. If I could get out of here without major drama, I’d prefer it that way.

But Sam had better be quick, because Madoc’s nose was about to meet the back of my skull.

“You don’t learn, do you?” I stared straight ahead. A few feet away, some guys were playing pool, but paid us no attention. Clearly, the game was more important to them than a girl being assaulted.

“Oh, my nose? It’s healed well, thanks. And I think I owe you for that one, by the way.” His words were muffled as his lips glided down my neck. My shoulders wiggled from side to side as I tried to pry myself out of his grasp.

“You smell good,” he whispered. “Keep fighting me, Tate. It turns me on.” His snort was followed by his tongue darting out and licking my ear lobe before grabbing it between his teeth.


My pulse raced with anger, not fear. Fire surged in my arms and legs.

Play the game. I forgot if those were K.C.’s words or mine, and I didn’t care.

Let’s see how he likes being handled. I worked my hand behind me, in between our bodies, and grabbed Madoc by the crotch. I squeezed just enough to get his attention but not enough to hurt him....yet. Madoc didn’t release me, but he stilled.

“Let.Me.Go,” I gritted out. Onlookers were beginning to take more notice of the scene, but still stayed out of it, looking amused. No one made a move to help me.

I applied a little more pressure, and he finally released his hold. I quickly stepped away before turning to face him, forcing my anger down. Until I got Jared to turn down the damn music, I wasn’t leaving.

Madoc raised an eyebrow. “You’re probably still a virgin, aren’t you?” he took me off guard. “Guys sure wanted to f**k you, but Jared and I took care of that.”

Isn’t it about time you fought back? K.C.’s voice egged me on.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Pulling my hoodie back into place, I stood my ground, my body a wall.

“What the hell is it between you and Jared anyway? I mean, when I first met him, and he wrangled me into sabotaging all of your dates freshman year, I assumed it was because he had a thing for you. Like, he was jealous or something. But then after a while, it was pretty clear he wasn’t pursuing you…for some reason. What did you do to him?” Madoc looked at me accusingly, cocking his head to the side.

My fingers curled into fists. “I didn’t do anything to him.”

Our confrontation was becoming a scene. My raised voice forced people to start clearing out. I circled around to the other side of the pool table to give myself distance.

“Think.” Madoc goaded with a cocky smirk. “You’re gorgeous, and speaking for myself, I’d have screwed you every which way by now. A lot of guys would’ve, if not for Jared.”

My thighs tightened together. The idea of this asswipe thinking he could get into my pants reached a new level of grossness. “What do you mean ‘if not for Jared?’” The hair on my arms stood on end as my breathing got heavier.

“It’s simple. Every time we’d get word that someone was interested in you or had asked you out, we’d set out to make sure it ended as quickly as it’d started. We were pretty lame about it for the first few months. Todd Branch asked you to that bonfire freshman year, but he heard you were receiving lice treatments and never called you. You never wondered how he heard that?”

That particular rumor was one of the least hurtful ones over the years, but at the time, it was devastating. I had just started high school, was trying to make friends, and then I realized people were laughing behind my back.

“Daniel Stewart asked you out for the Halloween dance that year, too, but never picked you up because he heard you had lost your virginity to Stevie Stoddard.” Madoc barely finished the last word, he started laughing so hard.

I grimaced uncontrollably as heat rose up my neck. Stevie Stoddard was an incredibly sweet kid, but he suffered from serious acne and ate his boogers. Every school had a Stevie Stoddard.

Madoc continued, “Yeah, we were pretty busy at first. A lot of guys wanted to get in your pants, but by sophomore year our rumors got more sophisticated. People had pretty much caught on that you were a social leper. Things got easier for Jared and me…finally.”

And things had gotten harder for me.

Movement was impossible. What had I been thinking? Of course, it was all Jared!

I knew he was behind some of the pranks as well as all the parties I was shut out of, but I didn’t think he’d been responsible for all of the rumors, too. I never knew why Daniel Stewart stood me up, and I’d never heard the Stevie Stoddard rumor. How much else escaped my notice? He pulled pranks on me, leaked some lies, and was an all-out dick throughout high school, but I never suspected he was so active in my unhappiness. Had he just gone ballistic for no f**king reason?

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