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“You were just told your father was murdered, Harper. You shouldn’t be alone, babe.”
“Babe?” she scoffs. “I’m not your girl, Ryker. What I did at the diner, telling your friends we’re in a relationship . . .” She waves her hand. “I did it because I could tell you were bothered by your friend’s question and”—she clears her throat—“I thought my answer would make you less bothered.”
This girl is perceptive.
“After the month is through, I’d like us to be something less.”
“And if I want to hang around? Make certain you’re safe?” Shit, her father was murdered. In prison. How the hell does that happen?
“Safe?” She shakes her head. “No one is safe when the wicked come for me.”
To get to her, the wicked of the world will have to go through me.
“Cut your ties now and never think twice of me. I change my mind. I don’t need you paying to stock my fridge.”
I should listen to her warning, but her words have the opposite effect. My curiosity is stoked.
“If you’ll have me, I’d like to stay with you tonight. You shouldn’t be alone, ba . . . You shouldn’t be alone, short stuff.”
She sputters laughter. I puff out my chest. I made her laugh.
“Short stuff? What does that make you?”
“Thick and Hard?” Shit, that’s crass. “I mean, big and ripped?” Better.
“Hey, now. I don’t have anger management issues or a split personality.”
She laughs some more, and I’m discovering I like when Harper laughs. The sound is carefree and straight from her core.
“Yes or no to me staying over?”
“As long as you let me sleep in, I’m fine with it. I don’t start my shift until eleven.”
I take a left and park in the driveway. The house is blue, like the color of Harper’s eyes. Or it’s the way the streetlights are shining on the house. Wooden steps. White railings. Black front door. Four blocks from campus.
“How’d you find this place?”
“A friend of mine owns it. Gives me a discount on rent.”
“Is this the same landlord April mentioned is a jerk? He’s the reason her dad stops by and fixes things that go broke on you?”
Man, I’d like to have me some harsh words with this guy. Harper laughs, and I want to take credit, but can’t.
“What?” I scowl. “What did I say?”
“She was giving you a tough time. April’s father, Pete, owns the place. He’sthe jerk landlord.”
“Aw, shit. Are you telling me I was royally played by a twelve-year-old?”
“Um, yes?” She wipes at her tears.
“She can be a handful. It’s the reason Pete wants me to keep an eye on her. And, she’s the apple of his eye.”
“So set me straight here.” I shift in my seat. “You say I’m in danger, but she isn’t?”
“Pete is a detective. He has the entire police force of Prescott to back him up should anything happen to April. Who do you have, Ryker?”
“You. You’ll swoop in in your Wonder Woman costume and save my fine ass.”
She stares at me like she’s seeing me for the first time. “You’re something else.”
I collapse my hand and polish an invisible piece of lint off my shirt. “I get that a lot. Thanks for the affirmation.”
Quiet laughter from her. “Okay, big guy. Let’s head inside. I want to get out of these clothes, get comfortable, and binge-watch a few Netflix shows, then call it a night.”
My thoughts exactly. We climb out of her car. Inside her small place, she sets her bag on the kitchen counter and checks her phone.
“I won’t be sleeping in after all. You’ll have to be out the door by seven.”
“Hot date?” I look around. Charcoal-gray sofa. Onyx coffee table. Black floor lamp.
“My friend is overprotective. He won’t like seeing a guy here when he stops by tomorrow morning.”
“Is he your real boyfriend?”
“A good friend.”
“A friend with benefits?”
“Shephard’s complicated. What we have is . . . It’s complicated too. Do you want something to drink? Water? Juice?”
“Got anything stronger?”
“You having some too?”
“I don’t drink.”
“I’ll have water, thanks.” My words are harsh to my ears.
To hell with partaking in her boyfriend’s leftover booze. Yeah, boyfriend. I’m not buying the good friend response. And I didn’t miss the fact she didn’t clarify whether this Shephard guy is a fuck buddy.
She cocks that damn dark brow of hers.
“Don’t what, sprout?”
She rolls her eyes. “That’s your nickname for me? It’s lame.”
“Okay, Wonder Woman.” I turn on the television, find Netflix, and flip through the new releases.
Why do I give a flying care whether she’s involved with someone other than I won’t be winning the bet if she is? Which begs the question, did my buddy Brett lead me astray, sabotaging my focus on playing ball by getting my ass handed to me by a girl’s boyfriend?
“Don’t what, Harper?” I ask again, sans nickname.
She hands me the glass of water and takes a seat next to me on the couch. “Don’t start giving a care about who is what in my life. Eventually, you’ll realize they’re all villains in their own small way.”
What does that mean? I guzzle my water. Set the cup on the table. This girl is speaking in riddles. But she just found out her father is dead.
“What was your father serving time for?” I turn off the television. I’m not interested in binge-watching anything when real-life drama is far more interesting.
My eyes widen. “Murder?”
She shifts in her seat. “I—” Stares at her hands. “Never mind. I should shower and change. Head to bed. We both have early starts to our day.”
She gets off the couch. I stop her with my hand on her knee. “If you want to talk, I’m here. If not, I’m okay with that too. Your personal business is no business of mine.”
“Thanks, Ryker. That means a lot to me.”
On her way to the bedroom, she faces me.
“Ryker, can I ask a favor?”
“Um, will you . . .”
She clears her throat. Sets her hands on her hips. Bends at the waist. Comes up for air and blows out a breath. I’m dizzy watching her. “Will you spend the night with me in my bed?”