Crushed Page 41

She glances at her ragged fingernail. “So … he knows?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know.” I hate that my voice is rough. “My mom says she never told him. Not after Mike agreed to claim me as his own.”

“And that’s something, right?” Chloe says, her voice kind. “He wanted you.”

“He wanted to save his pride, Chloe. You don’t know him. He would have died before letting the world know his wife carried another man’s seed.”

“Seed? That’s … biblical.”

We fall silent for a while, her chewing that fingernail and watching me, me staring at the ceiling.

“Are you going to tell him?” she asks finally. “Tim, I mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“He’d want to know you,” she says. “He’s a good man, and—”

“Don’t, Chloe,” I snap. “Just … don’t defend him right now, okay?”

She sighs. “Okay.”

For a blissful moment, I think she’s going to drop it. But this is Chloe, so …

“You know what this means,” she asks, jabbing my thigh with her fist and giving one of those big smiles.”

“Jesus,” I mutter.

“It means,” she continues, “that when Devon and I get married and have seven babies, you’ll be the uncle.”

I turn my head to stare at her. “That’s what you’re taking out of all this.”

“Uncle Beefcake,” she says with a dreamy voice. “A little weird, but it’ll make for a great story.”

My hand finds her wrist, and I grip it. Hard. “Chloe.”

I wait until she looks at me.

“You can’t tell anyone about this. Okay?”

“Okay.” Her voice is quiet.

I squeeze her wrist harder. “Definitely not Devon. I know he’s like the love of your life, or whatever, but he can’t know about this. Not until I figure shit out.”

“Okay,” she says again.


She twists her wrist out of my grasp, but instead of pulling back, she links her fingers with mine. Squeezes.

I feel my shoulders relax.

I feel all of me relax.

Someone to count on.


She looks out the window. “The sun is starting to set. You sure about those fireworks?”

“I’m sure,” I say. “I just need time to think.”

She nods in understanding.

I force myself to pull my hand away from hers, even though what I really want to do is tug her downward so she’s in her former position, curled up against my side.

That had felt more right than anything had in a long time.

In a platonic way, of course.

Instead, I do what I have to for her own good.

Chloe is light and laughter and goodness.

I can’t deal with the thought of pulling her down into my darkness.

“Go,” I say. My voice is a little gruff as she holds my gaze.

She shifts and I force myself not to watch as she walks away.

But she doesn’t shift away from me. She shifts toward me, lying down beside me once again, until her cheek finds its now rightful place on my shoulder.

My arm goes around her once more, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, her arm winding around my waist only after her palm skims my abs. Again.

I smile. “Always copping a feel.”

“Well, one of us has to,” she says in that happy, matter-of-fact Chloe tone.

I turn to frown down at the top of her head. I’m used to a girl’s hair being smooth and silky, but the top of her head is all wild and kinky. I like it.

“What do you mean, one of us has to?”

She sighs. “You really need to watch more movies, Beefcake.”

“I watch plenty of movies.”

Another sigh. “Not like Terminator movies. Like … She’s All That movies. Or How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. Or Two Weeks Notice. Or …”

“Just spell it out for me.”

She tilts her head up to meet my eyes. “It’s like a thing. The guy and girl who are after a different guy and girl, but in the meantime, they’re flirty.”


“Yes, flirty. Touchy.”

“Like friends with benefits?”

She makes a grossed-out face, and I tell myself that I’m not offended, but my ego might be stinging. Just a little.

“Not like that. Just …”

“Never mind.” She looks away.

I rub a thumb over her arm. “Tell me.”

I’m curious, in spite of myself.

She resettles her cheek against my T-shirt and I feel rather than hear her sigh.

“I can’t explain it,” she says. “Not to someone that looks like you.”

I frown again. “You’re being really girly and annoying right now.”

She giggles happily, and it turns my frown into a small smile. “Well, at least I can be girly in that way, huh?”

Great. Another weird nugget that I can do nothing with.

With any other girl, I’d think she was fishing for something, but with Chloe I suspect it’s just some weird complex part of her brain that nobody will ever understand.

I let it go.

“You’re sure you don’t mind missing the fireworks?” I ask, glancing toward the ever-darkening sky out the window.

“Um, I just discovered that you came on a baby-daddy-finding mission to Texas, and that man in question is the love of my life’s father. I got your fireworks right here, Sweetcheeks.”

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