“I love seeing you there,” Kash said roughly as he crawled in with me. He wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me close to him. “Are you okay after that?”

I snuggled in closer to his hard chest and sighed happily. “Much better than okay. I—” I broke off and kissed his warm skin.

“You what?” When I didn’t respond, he tilted my head back and searched my eyes. “What, Rach? You can tell me.”

Wishing I’d kept my mouth shut, I smiled softly and internally cringed, hoping I wouldn’t ruin this night. “I was afraid I’d end up breaking down during. I was afraid he would find a way to ruin this for me.”


“No!” I cut him off quickly and tightened my hold on his waist. “No, everything with you is just—it’s perfect.” I shrugged and hoped he could see the sincerity in my eyes. “It was just you; I felt safe and cherished, like I always do with you.”

He kissed me softly. “I do cherish you. I love you, Rachel.” My chest warmed as I whispered my love for him back. He held me close and I was almost asleep when he said softly, “You begin school again soon. He’ll be there, and I—I don’t know how to protect you if I don’t know who he is.”

“It doesn’t matter. He won’t do anything at school, and you wouldn’t be able to protect me from him anyway. You can’t go to my classes with me. It just—it doesn’t matter. He won’t bother me there.”

“I wish you would tell me.”

“Why, Kash? So you can have a name? It won’t change anything.”

He opened his mouth but then shut it and breathed heavily through his nose. “Okay, I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t have asked again. I don’t want this between us right now. I just want you.”


I kissed his jaw and silently cursed myself for saying anything. Relaxing into his embrace and the pillows, I tried to go over every second that I’d just shared with Kash and attempted to push thoughts of Blake away. After a few minutes of my internal battling, Kash began humming “Fall into Me” by Brantley Gilbert and I felt my body fully relax into him. I hadn’t even realized I’d tensed up again.

His lips brushed across my cheek and he broke off humming to whisper in my ear, “Sleep, Rach. I’ll keep you safe.”

When he continued, he wasn’t humming anymore; he was whispering the words, and my heart swelled. Sleep came quickly in Kash’s arms as he softly sang to me. If I hadn’t been sure before, I was now. I wanted to spend forever with this man.



WORK WAS PICKING up now that summer was coming to a close and more people were returning from their vacations. I didn’t have time to sit there just talking with Kash at the bar, but it didn’t matter. The steady flow of customers made the work hours fly by, and then it was just Kash and me when it was all over. We didn’t spend every night together, but more often than not, we both ended up in one of our beds. I preferred those nights. I’d never slept as well as I did with him, but with how raw our relationship was, it was good that we still spent some nights apart.

I grabbed for four bottles of beer and giggled against his lips when Kash leaned over the bar and pulled me in for a slow kiss. A few of the people around us hollered and a couple jokingly told us to get a room, and my face was bright red by the time we broke apart. We didn’t show affection often at work, but we had an understanding: if someone was hitting on one of us, the other made sure to let him or her know we were taken and not interested. My eyes glanced over the people sitting at the bar and spotted a few girls at the end who had witnessed the exchange and were whispering to each other. I couldn’t hide my smile and winked at Kash as I grabbed the bottles and turned to take them to the awaiting group of businessmen.

My phone vibrated in my pocket as I checked to see if they were ready to order yet, and after getting their order put in, I walked back toward the kitchen. As soon as I was around the corner, I pulled my phone out and my blood ran cold.


I saw that

Oh my God, he’s here. My body started shaking and my breathing turned shallow. I looked around the empty, short hallway and had begun putting my phone back in my pocket when it vibrated again. I squeezed my eyes shut and pulled in two deep breaths before looking down again.


And I didn’t like it. You seem to have forgotten whom you belong to.

A whimper escaped my throat and I turned to run into the women’s restroom. I threw up bile and continued to dry-heave for a few minutes before sliding down the wall to the ground.

“Rach? Are you in here, sweetie?” Tina appeared in the stall—I hadn’t had the time to shut and lock it when I ran in there—and her hands flew up to her mouth, then shot out in front of her. “Oh no, are you okay?”

Was I okay? No. I was definitely not okay. I was the opposite of okay. I was freaking the fuck out and coming dangerously close to hyperventilating and dry-heaving again. My hands shook as I pushed a few loose strands of hair away from my face.

“Do you want me to get Kash?”

“No!” Kash would flip the second he knew who was here. My mind ran wild with different possible scenarios. Kash beating the shit out of Blake and getting fired. Kash making me quit work and hiding me in his apartment. I never wanted to see Blake again, but I knew Kash would try to protect me and would go way overboard. “No, I’m fine, Tina. I just . . . got sick for a minute. But I’m fine.”

“You sure? Do you want me to tell Rod that you need to go home?”

Yes, I wanted to go home. But if Blake was here, he could follow me. And Kash was here; he wouldn’t let anything happen to me. “No, really. I need a few minutes and I’ll be fine.”

She looked at me, a little unsure at first, then smiled sadly. “Okay, well one of your orders is up, but I’ll get it taken out to the table.”

“Thank you, Tina. I’ll be right out.”

Once she was gone, I pulled myself up and had to grip the wall when I thought I’d fall right back down. When I regained my ability to stay standing and breathe normally, I went to the sinks and washed my hands. The cool water felt so good I let it run all over my arms and splashed a bit on my face. After drying back off, I shook out my body and chanted to myself that we were in public. That he wouldn’t do anything to me here, and the worst he could do he’d already done. I could do this.

I opened the door and walked out of the hall and into the packed restaurant, and I realized, no. I could not do this. My eyes darted around the customers in search of a mentally disturbed Adonis, and I silently prayed he’d left while I was in the restroom. When I didn’t see him, I went back into the kitchen, picked up my next order, and delivered it to the table. Checking on the rest of my tables and refilling drinks didn’t ease any of my worry or occupy my mind like I’d hoped it would. I was afraid to look anywhere but straight ahead of me, and my heart stopped each time I had to turn around.

Walking back to the bar for refills, I went over to where Bryce was mixing drinks and gave him my order. I couldn’t face Kash right now. He would know something was wrong . . . he would—

“Babe, you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Did something happen?”

—do that. “I’m fine.” I tried to smile at him, but it felt wrong and his expression told me he wasn’t buying it for a second.

“Rach, don’t lie to me.”

Bryce’s eyes bounced between us as he handed me my drinks.

“I’m fine,” I repeated, and thanked Bryce before taking the drinks to the table.

Making my way across the restaurant to clear off an empty table, my body froze and all the air left my lungs in one hard rush when I heard him directly behind me.

“To refresh your memory, sweetheart, you belong to me.”

Please let this be a nightmare. His large hand touched my lower back as he came up to my side and my body began shaking.

“Long time, no see,” he said, and lowered his voice. “Hiding, Rachel?”

Oh God, did Candice tell him where I work? “Leave me alone.” I hated how small my voice sounded, but I couldn’t force out anything more than a whisper. I refused to look over at him, and when he stepped closer, I dropped my head to stare at the floor.

His other hand came up to my stomach and brushed gently back and forth, just above the top of my shorts, and I prayed I wouldn’t start dry-heaving in the middle of the restaurant. “Never. I gave you the summer to realize that you needed me, wanted me. Obviously you need more time, but make no mistake, you are mine. What I’m not okay with is someone else touching you. Kissing you.”

“Please leave.”

“Who is he, Rachel? Boyfriend? Fuck buddy? And before you answer that, know that either of those two answers would be the wrong one.”

“Rach, everything okay here?” Kash grabbed the arm farthest from Blake and pulled me into him. Blake’s fingers dug into my back momentarily, but he let me go. I still couldn’t take my eyes off the floor.

“Everything’s fine. We were just catching up for a second,” Blake answered. His voice had dropped the threatening tone and was the smooth and silky voice everyone else knew and loved. “I haven’t seen Rachel since school ended.”

“Babe . . . ,” Kash whispered softly.

Blake’s arm shot out in front of me and I cringed back. “Blake West. Rach and I go way back.”

“Logan . . . Hendricks. Rachel’s boyfriend.” He accepted Blake’s hand and shook it hard once before dropping it.

“You’re a very lucky guy,” Blake said tightly. “Rachel is extremely picky when it comes to dating and has broken more than a few hearts with her rejections.”

No one said anything as I was caught in the middle of a testosterone-filled staring contest. Kash’s hand ran up and down my back slowly and Blake finally cleared his throat.

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