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  To everyone who fell in love with Fallen Crest High and have continued to love this series! The support has been amazing and I don’t know what I’ll do when that last book is done.

  To my readers, just thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  I got back from running early in the morning. Everything was still dark, the slightest hint of light was starting to creep over the lawns and the pavement where I jogged.

  The last two weeks I’d gotten into the habit of waking around four in the morning, rolling out of bed, and pounding the cement five minutes later. I didn’t know what it was—running in the dark, running when no one could see me, or even just knowing I was out ahead of everyone else—but I’d become a dark figure blending in with the other darkness.

  I loved it, and when I’d return to my stepmother’s house, I was usually still feeling that running high. I’d start the first pot of coffee, and as the machine began to spit and churn, I’d slip out to the front porch to finish stretching. The first morning, I was just about done and planning to head back inside to pour myself a cup when the door opened. I think Malinda had been woken by the coffee smell, like a vampire rising at the first whiff of blood.

  My stepmother appeared, her rich chestnut hair looking like she’d hastily raked her fingers through it, and a glaze of sleep still over her eyes. She had two cups and handed me one, sinking down onto a porch chair before tightening her robe.

  This morning was the same as that first time.

  I was just lowering my leg from behind me when she appeared, giving me a warm smile. “Hey there, my little chickadee.” She pulled the ends of her plush robe tighter together before sitting.


  I sat on the chair next to her, propping my feet up so I could rest my coffee cup on my knees. It warmed my hands, and I inhaled the smell.

  “You ran extra long today?”

  I stiffened. I hadn’t realized Malinda knew when I got up or that today had been an extra hour earlier. But I should’ve known. She was the stepmother extraordinaire.

  “Don’t say anything, would you?” I asked her.

  She gave me a knowing look over her mug. “To your father or to those two young men who protect you like they’re guard dogs?”

  “Both?” A girl could hope.

  She laughed, sipping her coffee. She patted my knee. “Does Mason know?”

  “That I got up early?”

  “That you’re running so much every morning. I know you’re going in the afternoons, too.” A second knowing look. “And why you did a two-hour run this morning.”

  Ah. There it was. “I didn’t know anyone else knew.” I shifted on the seat, ignoring the pounding that was starting behind my temples. Every time I thought of her, it would start.

  It’d been with me the whole run.

  “I overheard a phone conversation between Mason and his father, and it didn’t go well.”

  I glanced over to her. Did that mean Mason knew, too?

  She sipped her drink, getting more comfortable on the bench. “Did you know James is forcing him and Logan to be his groomsmen?”

  I did. “I’m worried the same will happen to me.”

  “No, no, no.” Malinda shook her hand in the air. “She’ll be lucky if you even attend the wedding. Analise won’t push her luck. She might have…” She paused. “…issues, but she’s one smart cookie. Trust me. You don’t need to worry about that.”

  Her words should’ve been a relief, but they weren’t. Only two people fully understood the lengths Analise would go if she wanted something: myself and Malinda’s husband, David—otherwise known as the man who raised me. There was a reason we were both scared of the woman. Malinda, though I loved her dearly and was so grateful she’d come into my life, hadn’t been around during Analise’s darkest hours. Yes, my mother had gone away for almost two years to get help. Yes, she seemed to be doing better and had been back in Fallen Crest for an entire year and a half, and yes, she’d left me alone, for the most part. But she’d left the treatment facility and was living not just in Fallen Crest, but across the road, and I was here now, too.

  I avoided her this long, but time was up. I couldn’t anymore.

  Mason and I were spending the summer in Fallen Crest because he had an internship with his father’s company to fulfill a requirement for his business degree. He even had approval to return to school later than normal—not until the week before classes instead of earlier for football training like usual. A personal trainer was supposed to come out to make up for any practice he was missing, but it wasn’t needed. If I was insane with my running, Mason was equally crazy with his training. He was in the gym for three or four hours a night, and I felt the proof every time he was on top of me, under me, and inside of me.

  My body heat rose now as I thought of our lovemaking the night before. It had a different feel to it. There was a desperation and hunger I hadn’t felt in a long time. Like we couldn’t get enough of each other, like we knew there were things set in motion that could tear us apart.

  I didn’t believe that was true, but it still made me tense.

  Mason’s dad and Analise had been on a trip to London for the past three months, but they would be home sometime today.

  Malinda sighed, yawning. Her smile was tired, but filled with warmth. “You really don’t have to worry about her. I’ve talked to Analise over the last year and a half. She’s accepted that everything has to be on your terms. You choose when and if you want her back in your life. She won’t pressure you. She won’t even say hello to you in public if you see her. You can approach her if you want to do that. It’s all you.”

  Despite what Malinda thought, to say Analise was mentally stable would’ve been an overstatement. To say she wasn’t a danger to me was another overstatement. There was a laundry list of things she’d done, and hitting me and threatening to destroy Mason’s life were among the last she’d gotten to before she went away to the hospital.

  The one silver lining was James Kade, Mason and Logan’s father. When Analise left David, she and I moved into the Kade mansion, and two families were born: I joined Mason and Logan, and Analise partnered with James. Both Analise and James were cheating assholes, but at least James proved how much he actually loved her. Theirs was a match made in heaven as far as I was concerned.

  Mason and Logan had their own issues with their father, but the relationship was a bit more congenial than mine with Analise.

  The exhaustion from my run was starting to set in when a pair of headlights lit up the street. My hands tightened around the mug, but years of training took over. I always froze up when Analise was near, but that transferred to a ready feeling. Okay, Mother Dearest, I thought. My lips parted and a half snarl formed. I could feel my lungs expand with my deep breathing. I was ready. I was willing, and whatever she was going to send my way, would get sent right back at her.

  Two black SUVs slowed before the Kades’ gate. It opened slowly, and both SUVs pulled into the driveway. The gate closed behind, and our view was obstructed, but I knew what that meant.

  My mother was officially back.

  My shower door opened and Mason’s hand touched my hip, sliding across my back as he stepped in behind me. I felt the cool draft for a mere second before his heat warmed me and he closed the door. His arms came around me, and I leaned back against him. I moved my head so the water wouldn’t blind me, and there he was.

  Strong jaw. Beautiful green eyes. Black hair cut short, and a physique toned to perfection from all his training. Gorgeous.

  His eyes darkened as his hands slid around my waist and up over my ribcage. I gasped, but didn’t look away. I couldn’t. Moments like these, Mason felt like my life force. If I broke contact, there went my strength. It wasn’t a regul
ar feeling now, not like it had been before when Analise tried to break us. But in this moment, I felt it. I inhaled it, arching my back to give him a better hold on me and myself an opportunity to savor this connection.

  So many had tried to come between us. So many had failed.

  It would be Mason and me forever.

  I turned around, pressing against him. Every inch of me fit into him, like a glove. All his hard ridges and muscles were home to me.

  I wound my arms around his neck. “Morning.”

  His eyes darkened even more. “Morning.” One hand fell to my hip. “You ran this morning again.”

  A delicious shiver zipped through me. “I’ll still go with you later, if you want.”

  His other hand crept up to the back of my neck. He held me there, anchoring my head as he studied me. I saw a slight trace of concern.

  “You’re running too much.”

  So he had known. I tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let me.

  “Don’t.” He added a soft plea, “Please.”

  I stayed in his arms with the water beating down on us.

  “Malinda said something this morning, too.”

  He nodded. “Your mom’s back, isn’t she?”

  “You knew?”

  “I figured. I was supposed to start my internship with one of my dad’s partners, but he texted this morning saying he’d be there.” A corner of Mason’s mouth lifted. “He asked if I wanted a ride to work.”

  I matched his half-grin. “Did you reply?”

  “Right,” he mocked. “Because I’m the perfect, good son who drives to work with his father.”

  “Well, James can always dream.”

  Mason chuckled, pressing his lips to my forehead. He swept his hand down, tucking my hair behind my ear. For a moment, he held me, resting his cheek to my forehead. I could feel his tension. He was worried, and I couldn’t fault him. Analise had been out of my life for two years, and things had been good. They were damned good, but now we were back home. Back on her turf. A wedding was happening in two months, and everything good could be unraveled.

  It wouldn’t be, though. I was bound and determined not to let anyone hurt us.

  “Everything will be all right,” I said softly. “You know that, right?”

  He smirked. I felt his lips curve against my skin. “You haven’t even seen her, and you’re already running like you used to.”

  That was true. I let out a breath. “Okay. I promise I’ll stop running…” I looked up at him. “As much.”

  “I don’t care how long you run. I just want you to be healthy.”

  “I will.”

  He gazed down, still studying me intently. Then he softened and his lips came down to rest on mine. “Don’t let her in your head.”

  “I won’t. I promise.”

  He cursed. “I’m already sick of her.”

  “Let’s forget all about them, her and him.” I lifted myself up on my toes, sealing my mouth to his, and he answered by clasping his hands under me. He raised one of my legs so I could feel him right there, and just like that, everything was gone. It was just he and I. The way it should be.

  I closed my eyes, feeling him enter me.

  This. Him. Me. This was all I needed. I wound my arms around his neck and started to move with him.

  In. Out.

  Mason thrust inside of me. This man—he wasn’t a boy anymore. I felt like I’d grown up with him. Side by side. From the first time he touched me until now, it was always the same.

  Dark and primal pleasure filled me, and all I could do was gasp as he kept going.



  Back in again.

  The harder he went, the deeper he slid inside, and I felt my climax coming. A low, guttural scream built in the back of my throat. I arched my back, sweat mingling with the shower’s water, but I couldn’t hold out any longer. I was going to come.

  Mason watched me. I saw the need on his face, just like I felt it inside of me.

  This was the same fervor we’d felt last night. I sensed it in his rough kisses, his grip on my neck, my hips, the way he was fucking me.

  I wanted to let him dominate me, but my knees began to weaken, and I couldn’t hold off any more. I grabbed the showerhead and pulled myself up. Mason’s eyes flashed as he caught me and lifted me the rest of the way. Then he was inside of me again. I rode him this time, with my legs wrapped around his waist and using the showerhead for leverage. When that wasn’t enough, I wrapped an arm around his shoulders and rested my hand against the tile.

  His kisses were demanding, owning me.

  I moved my hips up and down, a delicious tingle making my body tremble. He was right where he was supposed to be: as one with me.

  Soon we were both convulsing.

  A wave hit me hard, making my body jerk, but Mason held me all the while. Pressing a soft kiss to my lips, then my forehead, he tucked his head against my shoulder and waited until we stopped shaking.

  “You okay?” he murmured, nuzzling against my ear.

  I let out a weak laugh. “Is that rhetorical?”

  He grinned, kissing me before lifting his head. His eyes found mine. “Was I too rough?”

  I motioned to be let down, but Mason walked me out and sat me on the bathroom counter. He started to step back, but I caught him, keeping him between my legs. Looping my arms around his neck, I leaned back against the mirror. I didn’t give a damn about anything in this moment.

  “Only in the best way ever, and please be like that again.”

  He laughed softly, bending down to trail kisses over my shoulder. He whispered there, his lips moving over my skin, “I’ve missed waking up next to you.”

  A pang of regret stabbed me. “I’m sorry.”

  He shook his head, looking into my eyes again. “No. I get it. I do. I was just stating a fact.” He frowned, his thumb rubbing over my forehead like he was smoothing out a worry line. “What are you doing today?”

  “You mean while you go off and work with your dad?”

  He groaned, dipping his head back to rest on my shoulder. “Yes, I mean that.”

  I made sure to shrug with my other shoulder. “I suppose you shouldn’t be the only responsible one in this relationship.”

  “You’re going to get a job?”

  I nodded, speaking to my biological father. “Garrett gave me a trust fund, but I need to do something. I’m sure I could work at Manny’s, but I don’t know. I think I might want to do something else this summer.”

  His hand slid up my back. “I’m sure whatever you do, Logan will try to hang out at all the time.”

  I nodded. “He’s in Paris with your mom, right? Did Taylor go with him, or is he seeing her after?”

  “Both. My mom took the two of them on the trip, but when they get back they’re spending a week with Taylor’s dad. I think they’re going camping or something. And that brings up another item—Helen called me this morning. She asked me to move into her house for the summer.”

  Lovely. Wonderful. Stupendous.

  My boyfriend was moving out for three months. It didn’t matter that he was literally going across the road. Helen Malbourne was not a fan of mine.

  I leaned back and let out a disappointed sound. “If it’s not my mom, it’s your mom. Do you realize the only parents who haven’t tried to get between us are our fathers? Does that mean something?”

  He gave me a soft grin. “What are you talking about?”

  “You moving into your mom’s house. How’s this going to work? You’re going to end up sleeping with me every night anyway. What’s the point?” I looked at the floor.

  “Yeah, I will, because you’re moving in with me.”

  I lifted my head again. “What? Your mom hates me. I didn’t think I was allowed to live there.”

  He leaned close to me again. I leaned away until my back was against the mirror and he hovered over me, his lips a mere inch away from mine.

  “And to quote my
pain-in-the-ass brother…” He cupped the back of my neck, his fingers sliding into my hair. “’Fuck my mother.’” He dropped his mouth to mine in a hard kiss, one that had my heart pounding. “What do you think? Want to live with me, just you and me?”