Crushed Page 38

Mariana smiles warmly at me, shaking my hand, before Tim Patterson extends a hand. I force myself to take it. Force myself to meet his eyes, searching his face for recognition. Paternal intuition. Anything.

I see nothing.

Nothing but polite disinterest.

He gives me a bland, indifferent smile.

“My, you’re a long way from home!” his wife says. “What brought you all the way to Dallas?”

I can’t seem to bring myself to answer.

Chloe gives me and my awkward silence a strange look. I’d been making decent small talk all day.

But now, with these people, I can’t.

“I think it was us cowgirls,” Chloe says, with an exaggerated drawl. “They don’t have girls like us in Manhattan, right, baby?”

She pinches my butt. The Pattersons laugh, apparently used to her bald, inappropriate humor, but I can barely respond.

“Manhattan, huh? What neighborhood?” Tim asks. “I used to do a fair amount of business there in my younger years.”

Yeah, I know exactly what kind of business you used to do. Other men’s wives.

“Upper East Side,” I manage to grind out.

He nods. “Classic New York.”

I say nothing in response. Chloe gives me an exasperated look, but the Pattersons barely seem to register or care that Chloe’s new friend is a conversational dud.

“Well, head on back, you’ve got to catch up on the margaritas,” Chloe says brightly, gesturing in the general direction of the bar in back.

“Oh, I’m always getting myself into trouble with those margaritas, aren’t I, Timmy?”

“Eh, what are holidays for?” he says with a wink. “We’ve only got a two-minute walk home.”

They start to move past, his wife pulling playfully at one of Chloe’s curls while Tim nods in my direction. “Welcome to Texas, son.”


It’s just a phrase.

A harmless, patriarchal, old-school way for an older man to address a younger one.

But the word rips through me, and I turn on my heel and barge through the front door of the Bellamys’ house, taking the stairs two at a time until I reach my temporary bedroom.

I shut the door.

I shut out the world.

Chapter 16


Um, what the hell just happened?

Up until this point, I’ve been pretty impressed by Michael’s people skills. Sure, he is a little gruff, a bit scanty with words, but it’s obvious he knows his way around social niceties.

So why has he just gone bat-shit crazy on the Pattersons?

Devon’s parents turn to me in confusion after the three of us watch Michael turn and go into the house without a word of explanation.

I open my mouth, scanning my brain for an easy lie about what’s going on, only to realize … I’ve got nothing.

“Sorry,” I say, putting my hand on Mariana’s arm. “I better go see what’s going on.”

“Could be an upset stomach,” she says, with a kind smile.

“Yeah, maybe.”

They both smile politely as we head into the house, me toward the stairs and them toward the back.

“Oh, Chloe?”

I turn back to Devon’s mom.

“Have you talked to Devon lately? He’s been kind of on edge.”

It’s a harmless question, but for some reason it sort of pisses me off. Why not ask his girlfriend? Why am I always the one that’s expected to know what’s going on with Devon? It’s like I have all the burden of being in a relationship and none of the perks.

Then I remember … Devon doesn’t have a girlfriend.

Not anymore.

I’m guessing from their happily clueless expressions that he didn’t exactly go running to tell his parents the news.

And I’m sure as hell not going to be the one to drop that bomb. I’m pretty sure the Pattersons and my parents have Devon and Kristin’s wedding half-planned.

And honestly? None of this is my problem right now.

I need to get to Michael.

“I haven’t seen him,” I lie, giving them a little shrug.

“Okay, well, if you do see him …”

I pretend I don’t hear this as I take the stairs two at a time.

Michael’s door is closed. I knock.

No response.

I knock again. “I know you’re in there.”


My hand goes to the doorknob. “I’m coming in, Beefcake. Unless you want me to ogle your muscles, you’d better not be naked.”

Still nothing. My wrist twists, prepared for the door to be locked, but it’s not—a clear reminder that Michael didn’t grow up with siblings, in which case a locked door is the key to survival.

He’s sitting on the edge of the bed. His back is to me, but the way he’s hunched forward, head in hands, says plenty about where he’s at.

Not in a good place.

But why?


He doesn’t move a muscle. I enter the room uninvited, quietly shutting the door behind me. His window is open, and since the room faces the lake, there’s a not-so-quiet background hum of increasingly loud conversation (thank you, tequila).

But I don’t think he’s aware of any of this.

He looks … lost.

“Michael?” I say again.

Still no response, but he doesn’t tell me to get the hell out, which is what I’m expecting, and probably what I deserve, considering I’ve entered a sullen-man zone uninvited.

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