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Some things are easily forgiven. Other things… not so much.

Lenny DeMaio made herself a promise: she was done.

Done thinking about him.

Done worrying about him.

Done reaching out to a man who clearly didn’t want to be found.

Too bad no one gave Jonah Collins the memo.


EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: The Best Thing

Mariana Zapata

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We have all the details of Mariana Zapata’s next novel, and you can read the first two chapters right here.

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Chapter One

“Hey, it’s me, Lenny.
Where the hell are you?”

I knew it was a shitty idea to click on the link on my home screen.

But I did it anyway.

Because as I’d learned over the course of my life, I liked pissing myself off.

Hadn’t I just told myself to clear the damn cookies and the history on my computer? Yeah, I had. I knew I had. It had just been a few weeks ago when the last article had popped up on my home page, and it had ended up forcing me to jump on a stationary bike so that I wouldn’t do something stupid.

Except that time, all I had done was give my screen the middle finger and then clicked on a different article to read… cussing under my breath the whole time.

Unfortunately for me, I was grumpy, petty, and a little bored, and that’s why I followed the link for the first time in a while, watching my computer screen blink for a second before it led me to a website, that in the past, I had been on more times than I would ever be willing to admit.

. . . Months ago. A year ago. Not lately. Not in a long time.

There was that at least.

It’s not a bad idea to have an idea of what this asshole is up to, I told myself as the same subject line that had reeled me in reappeared on the screen in big bold letters. I read the title of the article, and then read it again.

The words on the screen weren’t going to affect me in any way, even if my stomach soured and my fingers jerked around the mouse under my palm because I suddenly wanted to throw it at someone who was across an ocean from me. I wasn’t going to do that, because I didn’t care.

The last few months had made it easier to read the name featured on the headline without wanting to go break something. If anything, all I felt was the slightest hint of aggravation. Just the smallest little baby hint of aggravation.

JONAH COLLINS TO DITCH RACING CLUB DE PARIS

Honestly, I was really proud of my eyelid for not twitching. At least not like the first time I had seen that name after a one-year blackout. Luckily I had been home with just Mo, and she would never rat me out for how I’d said “motherfucking asshole” at the sight of it.

Or tell anyone about how I’d put a pillow up to my face and screamed “FUCK YOU” into it.

And if I swallowed just a little hard as I read a few more words on the New Zealand news site, it was only because I hadn’t drank enough water yet and my throat was dry.

Jonah Hema Collins has confirmed that he is leaving Racing Club de Paris but has not confirmed any future plans.

Former All Black Collins has just completed a rocky two-year deal with the famed Paris club—

And, for the sake of the rest of my day and the life of my mouse, I hit the red icon at the top left of the window and exited out of the page, coming face to screen again with a list of news articles that I matter.

So he wasn’t staying in France. Who cared? It didn’t mean anything.

Fucking asshole.

I pushed that thought away instantly, feeling my back teeth grinding down, and focused on the list of news that I should have been focusing on. News that actually affected my life and the lives of my loved ones and friends. This news was work.

MACHIDO SET TO RETURN TO UFL 238

But it only took a second for me to decide that I didn’t give a single shit about Machido coming back to the United Fighting League—or any of the other news on the, arguably, most popular MMA—mixed martial arts—website I was on daily. I should care. MMA was my business, my family’s business, but right then, I didn’t give a single fuck. My mind just strayed right back to that damn article about The Asshole not signing a new deal in Paris.

And that did it.

My eye started fucking twitching.

I didn’t have to look at my desk to open the top drawer, grab the stress ball that my best friend had given me a year ago, and squeeze the hell out of it with all my strength.

All of it.

I could feel the tension at my elbow from how hard I was choking the innocent ball that had never done anything to me but had probably saved more than a couple of the people at the gym from murder when they screwed up or were just flat-out dumbasses. The soft yellow ball was honestly one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone had ever given me. It was a decent replacement for the nut sacks I wished I could squeeze the hell out of when someone pissed me off.

I had promised myself eight long months ago that I was done. That I was over this shit. That I had moved on with my life.

Six months ago, when I had seen that first, middle, and last name on my tablet screen and my blood pressure went up, I had confirmed to myself again that I was over giving a shit—after I’d screamed into the pillow and punched my mattress a few times.

I had done everything I possibly could.

I was done wasting time and energy being pissed.

And it was totally fine that I hoped someone tripped and landed face-first into a pile of warm, fresh dog shit at some point in their near future, wasn’t it? If it happened, awesome. If it didn’t happen, there was always tomorrow. All I did was cross my fucking fingers that eventually the day would come, and I’d find out that it happened, and if there was visual proof of it, fabulous.

Everything was great. I didn’t need to look around the office I was working in to know that. The office that had been the equivalent of my grandpa’s throne. The same grandpa who owned the building it was located in and the building next door to it. The same building that had our last name plastered on a giant sign outside.

MAIO HOUSE
FITNESS AND MMA

Our family legacy.

That sign alone made me smile every day I saw it. It was home, and it was love. It might not be the same building I had grown up in before Grandpa had moved the business, but it was still a place that was directly linked to my heart and more than half the best memories in my life. I now ran this MMA gym, and I always would.

I took a breath in through my nose, one that I didn’t hold for longer than a second, and then let it right back out.

Fuck it.

What that dipshit did with his life was none of my business and hadn’t been… ever. He could go wherever he wanted and do whatever and whoever he wanted. In short: he could go fuck himself.

Dumbass.

That thought had barely entered into my brain when the office phone beeped with an incoming call from another phone in the building. I didn’t even get a chance to say a word before a familiar voice said, “Lenny, I need your help.”

I instantly forgot the article, that fucker’s name, Paris, and everything associated with my computer screen. I sighed, knowing there were a few reasons why Bianca, the full-time front desk employee, would need me, and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of them. Every reason stemmed from one truth: someone had to be acting like an idiot.

As a kid, I had spent what felt like half my life at the original Maio House building. It had been small, dark, and a little rough around the edges. And I had loved the shit out of it—from the way it smelled after a long day of sweaty, musky bodies to the way it smelled after Grandpa had put me to work, not giving a shit about child labor laws, mopping down the floors and wiping equipment. Back then, I hadn’t been able to envision a job better than the one Grandpa Gus had, owning a gym, managing it, getting involved with fighters’ training. It had seemed so cool and laidback, especially after he’d gotten a computer that had been loaded with solitaire that I got to play for hours while waiting around to go home if there was nothing else to do. When I’d gotten older and discovered chat rooms, it had gotten just that much better. Hanging around the floor with people I loved or messing around the computer had been the best.

I had looked forward to managing Maio House when I’d been younger.

For some reason, my brain had chosen to block out most of the other shit that went along with the job—specifically, the moments when I would get yelled at to go break up an argument or a fight between two grown-ass men. Or act like I gave a shit when members complained or threatened to cancel over really basic-ass reasons like when the butt blaster machine was out of order.

“What’s up?” I asked, feeling almost exhausted even after sleeping a whole six hours.

“John just came by and told me he was in the locker room in your building and he saw two of the MMA guys getting ugly with each other,” Bianca said, not bothering to explain what that implied because we both knew damn well what it meant.

Someone had to go stop it, and none of the employees got paid enough to want to get involved with two grown-ass men arguing.

That was my job.

I just didn’t get why John, the custodian, didn’t just stop by my office and tell me. I hadn’t been an asshole to him or anything that morning… I didn’t think. I’d have to make time to go talk to him and make sure we were good later, when I didn’t have two idiots to go deal with.

“All right, Bianca, thanks. I’ve got it,” I told her with another sigh as I got to my feet.

“Sorry! Good luck!” she replied in her happy, likable voice that had won me over when I’d interviewed her four months ago.

Who the hell was dumb enough to be arguing right now and over what? I left the office and headed out to the main floor. I looked around for a clue, taking in the empty sea of blue mats. There were four guys hanging around the cage, but they were in their own little worlds. Just about everyone from the morning session was gone.

I made it to the doorway that opened into the hallway that led into the showers and lockers and didn’t slow down my pace as I yelled, “Hide your ding-dongs. I’m coming in!”

I wasn’t in the mood to see any dicks flapping around or anybody’s buttholes winking at me. I could go the rest of my life without walking in on someone bent over naked. If I was going to see any balding, brown-eyed demons, I wanted to choose whose.

No one called out in response. All right then.

Maybe it was my lucky day and they had left, but I still had to check to make sure nobody was knocked out unconscious on the floor. That had fortunately never happened, but it was only because the rules at Maio House were so strict about fighting. The smart ones knew better than to do something that stupid, and even the cocky idiots could usually be reasoned with before they did something they’d regret.

Usually.

I barely had to clear the short hallway into the locker rooms when I immediately spotted the two guys standing in front of each other, silently, face-to-face. Forehead to forehead more like it. Really?

There were a lot of things I had always loved about having Maio House be a part of my life. About it being in my heart. In my blood. About knowing it was mine as much as it was Grandpa Gus’s. Like princes and princesses who knew the kingdoms they would inherit, I had always

known what would one day become mine too. So I had known, even back when I had been about Grandpa’s hips’ height, what happened when you got into a fight when it wasn’t for training purposes.

Time and time again, he had made me sit at the tiny foldout couch he’d had in the corner of his office back in the old building where Maio House had been born while he suspended one person after another for violating the rules. The rules that were posted right in front of the main doors everyone walked through to get into the building. The very same rules that had been around since before I was born.

1. NO BRAWLING
2. NO DRUGS
3. NO CHEAP SHOTS (LEAVE GENITALS AND NECKS/SPINES ALONE)

***Violating the rules is cause for suspension or termination.

It had always seemed easy enough for me and for most of the people who had come and gone throughout the years to follow them. They were common sense. Don’t fight without a reason— which, hello, you had to be an idiot to cross that line. Don’t take drugs on the premises that weren’t prescription or over-the-counter painkillers. Leave each other’s ding-a-lings, egg sacks, and spinal cords alone. We wanted people to be able to walk out of the gym and reproduce if they wanted to. Basic shit.

It was rare that anyone broke the rules, but it happened. Just two weeks ago, I’d had to suspend one of the guys for purposely hitting the guy he’d been sparring with in the balls. Needless to say, he’d been fucking pissed and had tried to play dumb.

I really didn’t want to have to suspend someone else again, not so soon.

I recognized the smaller of the two as a nineteen-ish kid with cornrows named Carlos. He was bucking his chest out. The other man was Vince, who topped the younger guy by about fifty pounds and four inches and was five or six years older. He hadn’t been a member of Maio House for long. And they were both lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes.

Not.

“Are you two for real right now?” I asked, honest to God disappointed in both of them. What the hell could they possibly get so mad over that they were in the locker room millimeters away from being able to kiss each other? “Would at least one of you fucking stop?”

It was Vince who blinked first, maybe being the first one to have some fucking sense in him.

“Now, please.”

Vince blinked again, but he still didn’t take a step back, and Carlos, if anything, puffed out his chest even more.

I rolled my eyes. These two idiots might make their livings fighting people, or at least make part of their living doing that, but I had been in more fights than either of them… even if mine were always with a referee and for points, not because someone made me mad, and I wanted to prove something. Thank you, judo.

“Look,” I told them, reaching up to tug on the corner of my eye from how annoying these two were being, “I don’t give a shit if you get into a fight with each other, I really don’t, but I’m not going to feel bad suspending either of you if you do. And it’ll be for a month, and, Carlos, you have a fight coming up, and, Vince, you’ve got one in two months. So… what do you want to do?”

It was Vince who reacted first. Him being a light heavyweight, I was relieved he snapped out of it, taking a step back and opening his mouth, loosening his jaw. Meanwhile, Carlos stood exactly where he was, tipping his chin up higher than it had been and basically fucking asking to get popped. His choice in friends suddenly made a hell of a lot of sense.

God needed to grant me some strength. Soon.

“Do I need to ask what happened or are you both good?” I asked, not giving a shit which of them replied.

“We’re good as long as he shuts the fuck up and minds his own business,” Carlos answered, and I didn’t miss the way Vince shook his head just a little bit in what seemed like disbelief. “I don’t need your advice, Vince.”

That’s what this was over? I tugged on the corner of my eye again. “Vince?”

The bigger guy smiled smugly, and after a moment, he shook his head and glanced back at me, his face intense. His eyes slid toward Carlos once more before yet again coming back to me. “I’m fine,” he responded after a second. “I’ll keep my advice to myself next time, Carlos.”

God help me.

“You’re sure you’re both done then?” I asked again.

Carlos didn’t look at me, but the hand holding his phone twitched as he mumbled, “Yeah.”

Vince nodded.

Good enough for me. With that, I turned around and headed back toward my office, hearing them trade muffled words with each other and not giving a single fuck. Maybe I should have eavesdropped, but… it didn’t really matter, did it?

I was going to need to tell Peter about that little scene so he’d keep an eye on them.

By the time I made it back to my office and sat down in my chair, I convinced myself to try and focus again. Shoving the rest of my thoughts and feelings about everything other than work aside, I refreshed the page of the MMA news site I was on and instantly regretted it.

POLANSKI REQUESTS REMATCH, IS READY TO REGAIN TITLE

Noah.

Ugh.

I had already forgotten he’d lost his fight three days ago. I’d fallen asleep watching it, and the only reason I knew he’d lost was because my grandfather had mentioned it—with a gleeful little look in his evil eyes.

I fucking loved that man.

I snickered at the memory and clicked on another link, not in the mood to even read Noah’s name, and made myself read the next post down the list on the MMA site’s homepage. Then I made myself read it again because I couldn’t remember a word of it once I had finished.
Something about an upcoming event between two well-known fighters that I didn’t have history or beef with.

It was at the end of the second read through that a soft knock on my door had me looking up and smiling at the man already coming in, hands shoved into the pockets of his black track pants. I could tell instantly by the expression on Peter’s face that he had already heard about the two idiots in the locker room. No surprise there. He had a radar for stuff like that.

I wrinkled my nose at the man who was basically my second dad. “At least nothing happened,” I told him, knowing exactly what he was thinking.

His face, his coffee-and-cream skin still youthful looking even in his sixties, twisted up into a look of distaste. “What was it over?” asked the man who emphasized the importance of discipline and control on a regular basis. He stopped behind one of the chairs in front of the desk that Grandpa and I shared.

I shrugged, feeling a familiar pinch at my shoulder again. Damn it. “Vince said something to Carlos. Carlos got butthurt.” I rolled my eyes.

That got me an eye roll out of the deceptively serious man. There were a handful of lines at each of his eyes and down the sides of his mouth, but he was still almost as fit as he had been almost thirty years ago when he’d come into our lives, unaware that he was going to become the third leg in our family. “I don’t know what to do with these children sometimes.”

“Let’s call their moms and tattle.”

Peter snorted in that laidback way that was everything about him. You never would have figured that this almost slender, just slightly above average height man could take down just about any man’s ass if he wanted to. I had always thought of him as kind of being like Clark Kent. Quiet, kind, and laidback, he seemed like the last person who would have a seventh- degree coral belt—black and red actually—in Brazilian jiu-jitsu by day and had helped me with my math homework at night.

“Did you see Gus this morning?” Peter asked.

“Just for a second. He was on the phone with someone talking about joining a basketball tournament for the elderly.”

My second dad grinned and shook his head before the expression dropped away and he asked, “Are you okay?”

I shrugged both my shoulders.

The way Peter narrowed his eyes told me he knew I wasn’t exactly lying or telling the truth, but he didn’t pry. He never pried too hard. It was one of my favorite things about him. If I wanted to tell him something, I would, and he knew that. And there were very, very few things I didn’t tell him.

Just the big shit.

I had just grabbed my stress ball from where it was sitting beside my keyboard so I could put it back into its drawer when Peter snapped his fingers suddenly. “I got this message from the front desk a minute ago, saying you referred him to me,” he said as he stood there. “But I’ve never heard of the guy.”

“What’s the name?” I hitched my shoulder up again and rolled it back, feeling that pinch again. Since when did I get all these random aches and pains from just sleeping wrong? Was this what happened when you hit your thirties? I needed to start going to my physical therapist. Maybe the chiropractor too.

Peter didn’t hesitate to stick a hand in his pocket and pull out a bright pink Post-it note. He drew the scrap of paper away from him before squinting at it. “A… Jonah Collins?”

I dropped my shoulder back into place and stared at him.

Fucking shit.


Chapter Two

“Hey, it’s Lenny again.
Where the hell are you? I went by your apartment and banged on your door for half an hour.
Let me know you’re alive, okay?
I’m worried about you.”

I hadn’t known when I’d woken up that morning that my life had been about to change with that name coming out of Peter’s mouth.

But it happened.

And he had to have known when I stared at him silently, feeling almost faint for probably the second time in my life.

I had no idea what to say. What to think. How to even react.

Growing a magical penis out of nowhere would have been less surprising than Peter saying the Fucker’s name.

But what hit me the strongest—the hardest—was the knowledge that time had finally run out.

It was a testament to how well Peter knew me that he reacted the way he did. Carefully, being watchful as he did it, he pulled out the chair in front of the desk and took a seat, neatly, an example of the effortless control he had over his body. I doubted it was my imagination that he seemed to almost brace himself.

“You don’t like him?”

Like it was that easy. Whether I liked him or not.

I didn’t even realize I had raised my hands up to my face before they were scrubbing over my cheeks and forehead, sliding back through the ponytail that I had thrown my hair into that morning because I hadn’t been in the mood to do much else. I hadn’t appreciated all the years that I’d made it a priority to sleep eight to ten hours a night; that was for fucking sure.

The “Elena” that came out of Peter’s mouth was the gauntlet he threw down between us.

Not Lenny. Not Len.

Peter had gone with Elena, pulling out the dad card he rarely used.

I was fucked.

The option to lie to him didn’t even pop into my head. We didn’t do that. None of us did. There was just stuff we… didn’t say to one another. We didn’t ask each other certain questions because there was that underlying factor that we knew we didn’t lie. If you didn’t ask, you didn’t know. And if we wanted you to know, we would tell you. It was the way that Grandpa Gus, Peter, and I had always been. We didn’t ever have to say it, but the trust between us was reinforced with miles of rebar and concrete.

Because in thirty years, there were only a handful of things I hadn’t told them about. And I was sure that there had to be a handful of things they hadn’t told me too.

Slowly, I dropped my hands away from my face and straightened in my rolling chair, shoving my shoulders back and meeting Peter’s dark brown gaze. I took in the face that had cheered for me at nearly every judo competition I had been in—the exception being the time he’d had pneumonia and the other time when his sister had died and he hadn’t wanted me to miss out on the tournament. Peter’s face was the one that had tucked me into bed for countless years, right along with Grandpa Gus’s. The face that had reassured me more times than I could ever count that I was loved, that I could do anything, and that I was always capable of doing better.

So I told him the two words that would need to be enough. Two words I didn’t want to let out but had to. Because time was up.

It was one thing to try your hardest and pretend someone didn’t exist, and a totally different thing to lie in order to keep that charade going.

“It’s him.”

His eyebrows furrowed.

He wasn’t getting it. Not yet at least. But he was going to need to because I didn’t exactly want to go into details. Not with the door open. Not here. So I raised my eyebrows and stared at him, trying to project the words back into his head.

It’s him. It’s him, it’s him, it’s him.

I saw the moment it clicked. The moment he realized what the hell I was trying to get across.
It’s him. Him.

Peter shifted in his seat, crossing one leg over the other and leaning back as he asked with a funny look on his face, like he didn’t want to believe it, “Him?”

“Yeah.” Him.

Peter’s dark brown eyes shifted over the bluish-green wall behind my head as he processed even more what I was saying, really thinking about it and what the hell it all meant.

Because I already knew what it meant for me, at least to a certain extent.

It meant I needed to start saving up bail money for Grandpa Gus for when he got arrested for either aggravated assault, harassment, conspiracy to commit murder, or whatever the charge for acting a fool in public was.

That idea shouldn’t have amused me, but it did. It really fucking did. At least it did until the other half of what that would entail really hit me.

I’d have to see that prick in court when he pressed charges against my grandpa.

I would have to look at the fucking man who had disappeared for a year, only to suddenly reappear again in the same country I had last seen him. The asshole who had left me hanging. Who hadn’t even had the balls to call, text, or email me back. Not once after the three hundred times I had tried to contact him.

Sure, right after he’d bounced, he’d sent four total postcards that had his signature on them— but only that. There hadn’t been a return address. There hadn’t been shit on them. Not even a message. Not even some kind of code I could have cracked. Just his scribbled signature, a postmark and stamp from New Zealand, my name and previous address in France.

I grabbed my stress ball again, immediately squeezing the fuck out of it.

And if I was imagining it was somebody’s balls… whatever.

“What…?” He didn’t even know what to say. I wondered if he’d written off finding out about
him. “Ah… I… he… does MMA?” he finally got out.

I shook my head.

Peter thought about that for a moment but had to come up with the same question I had: why was Jonah calling him? Peter didn’t understand as well as I did how random of a call it was. He didn’t know who Jonah was or what he did for a living. But what Peter did know was that we were family. And he proved that to me instantly.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked. “Has he… called you?”

I sat there still hung up on the fact that name had come out of Peter’s mouth. What were the chances? Seriously, why was he calling him? Why now?

I squeezed my ball some more. “No. I blocked his number.” Those questions bounced around in my skull. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

I couldn’t help but scratch at my throat and eyeball the framed picture sitting right beside the monitor of my computer.

It didn’t matter why. All that mattered was that he had called.

“I don’t know why he’s contacting you instead of me,” I told him, still eyeing the picture in the frame. “But I talked about you enough when we… knew each other. He knows who you are. He knows my last name. He knows Grandpa owns this place. It’s not a coincidence.”

When we knew each other. God, I could almost laugh at that. And I could only laugh at the idea of him contacting Peter as an accident. There was no way that was possible.

Rubbing my fingers over my face again, I held back a sigh.

Peter leaned forward in his seat, his face even more serious than usual—at least while we were within these walls. When we were out of Maio House, that was a different story. That was the Peter that I knew, the one I had grown up loving from the moment he had knocked on Grandpa Gus’s office door, asking for a job. We had all fallen in love with him. According to Grandpa Gus, I had let the strange man sit by himself for all of two minutes before I’d climbed up onto his lap at the age of three and passed out against him, holding his hand.

None of us had known back then that it would be the first of many, many times I’d do the same thing over the years.

I loved this man as much as I loved my grandpa, and God knows—everyone knew—that I thought that old creature of ancient evil was the greatest thing ever, even when he was driving me nuts, and that was always.

“Why now?”

My fingers made circles against my brow bones. “I don’t know. He hasn’t called or emailed since the last time I saw him.” Fucker. “I stopped trying to contact him eight months ago.” I had to clear my throat because all of a sudden it felt too damn tight and dry. “The last email I sent, I told him that was the last time, and I meant it. I didn’t reach out again.” I would rather cut both my hands off. Sew my vagina shut. Give up caffeine for the rest of my life. But I didn’t tell him that. Not when even his silence was thoughtful as he processed this shit I was laying on him.

“Do you want me to call him back? We can find out what he wants,” he said after a beat.

Fuck.

“Unless you would rather wait and see what he does.” Peter lowered his voice, knowing damn well that I didn’t want anyone else to hear or put the pieces together. “Or if you would rather call him.”

I didn’t want to do shit.

All I wanted to do was tell Jonah Collins to fuck off into another galaxy. But I wouldn’t. Even if it killed me. Even if it went against every instinct in my body. I was done with wanting to scream at him. Beat the shit out of him. Tell him he was a piece of shit. Rip off his balls and soak in his blood. Curse the day we had met on that tour.

But I wouldn’t.

I eyed the picture frame again.

I wasn’t going to do shit.

We don’t always get what we want, Grandpa had told me once when I’d been acting like a brat after losing a match. And he was totally right.

Knowing all of that though didn’t ease even a little of the frustration and annoyance that set up camp in my chest. “I reached out to him, Peter. Not once or twice, but over and over again. It was his choice; not mine,” I explained.

Peter looked at me for so long, I had no idea what the hell he could possibly be thinking.

“Then we don’t do anything,” he finally said. “See if he calls back. See what he wants.”

See what he wants.

I knew what he didn’t want. Peter and I both did. Just about everyone in my life knew, for that matter.

“If he calls again… if he comes here, we’ll handle it. Are you fine with that?”

I squeezed the hell out of my stress ball again but nodded. We were going to have to handle this, one way or the other. I didn’t exactly have a choice.

That had me getting a small smile from Peter, who still seemed different than usual. I couldn’t blame him. But luckily, this was Peter and not my grandfather.

God, I wasn’t looking forward to that conversation.

“Can we wait before we tell Grandpa?” I asked him, shaking my leg underneath the desk. Why now? Why period? I knew I was a selfish asshole for thinking that, but I couldn’t help it. Why today?

God, and since when was I so whiny? I disgusted myself, damn it. Why, why, why? Boo-hoo. Ugh.

I could see the argument in Peter’s eyes at my request, but fortunately, that quick mind came to the same conclusion mine did too.

We were going to need bail money if Jonah Hema Collins came here—not that I expected him to. All he’d done was call. For some reason I couldn’t even begin to fucking understand.

And if the thought of him coming here raised my blood pressure—and my middle finger—I was going to need to be an adult and suck it up. This wasn’t about me. So I focused on the topic of my grandfather.

“I don’t want him to know unless he has to,” I told Peter. “He doesn’t need to be getting riled up for no reason. He’s finally just now getting over it,” I explained, knowing this was one of those things that fell into the gray area of not lying to each other.

Peter’s nod was tighter than it should have been, but I understood that too. Of course, I understood. I hated putting any of them into this position in the first place. I hated being in this position to start with, but here we were. It was no one else’s fault but mine. “Okay,” he agreed, clearly slightly torn. But we both knew what the greater of the two evils was.

Neither one of us said anything for so long it almost got awkward.

After what might have been three minutes or ten, Peter stood again and shot me an intense look that immediately had me pressing my lips together and forming something close to a smile.

“Everything is fine,” he stated, calmly, projecting the thought into me.

“I know.”

His eyes flicked up toward the wall behind me, where I figured he was probably looking at a framed picture of the three of us on my eighteenth birthday, crowded around a birthday cake with candles that could have been fireworks. His slim chest expanded and then went back down as he came to terms with whatever it was he was worried about. Everything, probably.

Those eyes took their time moving from the wall to me, but when they did, he managed to give me a smile that was definitely a little strained. “Come work out with the team for an hour. You need to get that look off your face.”

“What look?”

He raised his eyebrows. “That one.”

I pressed my lips together, temporarily shoving the why, why, why aside. “I’ll think about it. My shoulder is extra achy today.”

Peter shot me a knowing half smile as he left the room, not needing to insist. We both knew he was right. I was too wound up, shoulder pain or no shoulder pain. No shit.

Jonah had called Peter. Why would he do that? And did it really have to make me feel almost fucking sick?

With a deep breath in through my nose and out of my mouth, I tipped my head toward the ceiling and tried to ease the tension out of my body.

I hated not knowing what was going to happen.

I hated surprises.

There was a reason that jackass had called him. I’d grown up around men with insane amounts of testosterone. When they wanted something, they usually got it.

And when they didn’t want something… well, they didn’t, and sometimes they left without a trace.

I was a lot of things, but I wasn’t dumb or a chicken.

If that fuckface called, he called. Whatever happened, I could handle it.

Chances were, he’d change his mind and keep up his disappearing act, and I could continue to live my life the exact same way I had been.

I was going to work out, maybe hop on a bike so I didn’t aggravate my shoulder more. I was going to fucking calm down. Regardless of whatever else happened, if I was going to have to kill anyone, I had people to help. There was no way for me to stop anything from happening, but I could and would deal with it.

Jonah Collins had no idea what he was going to be walking into, if he did. If, if, if.

If he even walked into anything in the first place.

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