Mason growled. “I punched you back then. I will do it again.”
“What?” Logan gestured to his face. “Not this. It’s gotta stay pretty. Mama Malinda will have your ass in a sling otherwise.” He paused, his eyes alive and sparkling as they skirted between Mason and me. His lip curved even higher. “What do you think, Sam? What would they have called us? You and Mason are Samson. We could’ve been…Samog? No. That doesn’t sound right. Sagan? Lotha? Those don’t sound right either. What about just SamLo? Nah, still not right.”
Mark poured himself a glass, and he was now watching Logan. His eyes kept glancing from one side of the table to our side. His hand tightened around the glass, and his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down.
Mason reached for his pen and leaned closer to his brother across the table. “Shut up.” He moved with lightning speed, bringing down his hand and slamming the pen into the table. As he sat back, the pen stayed upright, wedged between two of Logan’s fingers.
Everyone’s eyes got big.
Mason moved so quickly. We realized the precision of his aim after it was already done.
Logan was the first to react. A laugh came from him. It got louder and stronger. He was shaking his head at the same time. “I love messing with you.”
“You’re going to regret it.”
The laughter died. Logan grew still. “What do you mean?”
“When you get a woman who you love…” Mason glanced sideways to me. “When she means the world to you and you’re ready to do anything to keep her safe, I’m going to enjoy doing the same shit you’ve been doing all summer.”
“Well,” Logan’s eyebrows bunched together, and the corners of his mouth curved down, “that won’t be very nice of you.”
“Karma’s a bitch.” It was softly spoken, but it was a taunt, and everyone knew it.
Logan looked at me. A question was there. He wanted to ask me something, but I shook my head. I was annoyed too.
Yes, there could’ve been a Logan and Sam, but it hadn’t happened. Logan could’ve been a boyfriend, but Mason was my soul mate. The tension of that question, if Logan had feelings for me or not, had been plaguing us for a while. It was dealt with last year, right before the fraternity burned down. That truth came out, that there could’ve been an us with Logan and me. Mason took it easier than I’d realized.
And what Mason said was true. Logan had been making jokes about us a lot more lately. I couldn’t help to think it had more to do with the fact that Kris and he were finally done. They’d broken up, gotten back together, and repeated that chain of events throughout the entire year. Their final, final breakup was four months earlier. Weeks before our graduation, Logan dumped Kris at a party, and he’d gone back to his man-whoring ways that night. There were rumors he’d gotten blow jobs from two different girls that night, at the same party, and he’d gone home with someone else.
Girls were friendlier to me now than they’d been when Logan was serious with Kris. I wasn’t dumb. I’d learned to recognize the I-want-to-use-you-because-you’re-close-to-Logan-Kade looks from a distance. I was able to evade their hooks. When I couldn’t, my best friend, Heather Jax, had no problem removing the hooks for me.
Thinking about Heather now, I glanced at the clock on the wall.
I needed to go for hair primping with Malinda, her two sisters, and her best friend. I knew their daughters would be there, too. But no Heather.
“What?” Mason asked.
I asked back, “What?”
“You sighed. What’s wrong?”
“Oh.” Images of hairstylists, the smell of hairspray, and the sound of giggles and whispers all plagued me at once. I cringed. “I was just wishing that Heather didn’t have to work today.”
“Nate’s coming tonight. He has some meeting at Cain U, but he’ll be driving down later. Jax is coming tonight, isn’t she?”
I nodded at Logan. “Yeah. She’ll get off in time for the wedding dance.”
“Thank god.” He raked a hand through his hair. “She and Channing are on the outs now, aren’t they?”
I stiffened. It was true. Heather and her off-again, on-again boyfriend from Roussou, Channing, were in one of their off times, and the feisty back and forth between her and Logan increased over the last three weeks.
The look in Logan’s eyes didn’t sit right with me. Still. If Heather wanted to sleep with Logan, there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t like she didn’t know what she would be getting into, but I heard myself saying, “If you do what I think you’re going to do…” I paused to make sure Logan knew I was being serious.
He did. He moved in slow motion, so he was sitting at his highest height. The wicked glint he’d had when he came into the dining room now dimmed slightly. A more sobering look replaced it, and as he held my gaze, his head lowered just a bit. He was on my same level now.
I said, “You need to remember that she is the one female who’s been a true friend to me. Do not shit on my friend’s doorstep. You got that?”
His jaw clenched. “Jax isn’t like the others, Sam. I respect her.”
“Make sure to keep that respect afterward, too.”
A phone buzzed from the counter, and Mark went to grab it. After he read the text, he looked up. “Uh, Sam?”
I already knew what was coming, and I started to stand from the chair.
He was still hesitant, glancing from me to Logan, as he said, “It’s my mom. You’re wanted at the house.”
I nodded. “Hair appointment.”
Mason grabbed my hand and pulled me back. He cupped the back of my head and kissed me. He murmured in my ear for only me to hear, “Have fun with your new mom. She already loves you.”
A wave of something else went through me, and my throat closed up. I nodded and kissed him back again before pulling away and heading out of the house.
As I walked across the street to my dad’s and Malinda’s home, I wiped at my eye. No matter the undercurrents in our group, Mason was right. This was the day I was getting a new mom who actually loved me.
A weight lifted from my shoulders. I found myself grinning as I walked inside, already hearing shrieks and laughter from the kitchen. Today was the day Malinda would become Mrs. Malinda Decraw Strattan.
Malinda was there, her arms wide open for me, and she hooted, “Hot holy cannoli! It’s my daughter. Come here, you beautiful, beautiful woman!”
Standing at the front of the church, as Malinda and my dad, David, made their vows to each other, I couldn’t help but look at Mason. We were watching each other during most of the ceremony. It was a good feeling, being here, being a part of David’s wedding, knowing he would get a good wife now, and also having Mason and Logan standing as groomsmen. It was like we really were a family now, like Malinda adopted all of us.
When it was my turn to walk down the aisle, after the minister proclaimed David and Malinda husband and wife, Mason tucked my hand over his arm. He leaned close, brushing his lips over my forehead.
The fairy-tale sensation took root, digging deep in me. As we walked together, the yearning to find the minister and make it official between Mason and myself was powerful. My fingers sank into Mason’s arm, taking hold as if I were clinging to him so that I really wouldn’t go and find the reverend.
A lot of Mark’s friends were in the pews, and as Mason and I moved past them, Cass leveled me with a glare. I moved Mason to the side, and my bouquet narrowly missed her head. She drew in a breath, and I heard a curse from her, but we were moving beyond the others, like Miranda Stewart. Peter was her date. That was interesting. And there was Adam. Beside him were Becky and Lydia. I glanced to Lydia’s side, but no Jessica. That was a shock. Jeff was there, too, and he lifted a hand to wave. Mason laughed under his breath, but Jeff just kept waving.
Jeff called out, “Looking good, Logan!”
Laughter pealed out over the visitors. Some girls giggled and whispered together, like they always did with Logan, but I knew others were still captivated by M
ason. He’d been the prize when he was in high school. Mason was always the one they never got to grab. A part of me wondered if they were going to try tonight. There’d be dancing, music, booze, and probably some drugs. I wouldn’t partake, but I knew others would. The old feeling of wanting to drag Mason away and keep him all to myself was filling me up again.
When we got to where Malinda and David were waiting to greet everyone, Malinda pulled me in for a hug, her hand rubbing over my back. “Hi, honey.”
She squeezed me once more before letting David hug me. Mason hugged Malinda behind me, but when it was time to let me go, David didn’t let me go. He whispered, his words choked up, “I love you so much, Samantha. You have no idea how much, and I am so blessed to have you in my life. I want you to know that.”
More emotions were swimming in me, and tears were sliding down my cheeks. My god. I pulled back and saw the same wetness on his cheeks. We’d been through so much. I wanted to say that to him, but all I could say was, “Thank you for coming back for me.”
I looked at Malinda, who was watching our exchange. She smiled at me, tears in her eyes, too. Her hand rested on her throat. “Oh!” Malinda threw her arms around us and hugged both of us. A second later, she motioned behind me. “Marcus, Logan, Mason—all of you, get in here. Family hug, everyone.”
Mason hugged me from behind. Logan was beside him, and Mark brought up the rear, right behind his mother. All of them held us in one strong hug before we heard clapping from around us.
I stiffened. This was always the time when a taunt was thrown our way, but for once, none came.
Malinda pulled back and pressed her hand over her hair, making sure it was in place, before she waved her hand to the group that formed. “Come on,” she said. “I’ve got a hug for each of you guys. Let’s get it going, one big hug train here.”
I asked David, “Do you need us to stay and greet people?”
He patted my shoulder. “Go ahead and have fun. Pictures are done. You guys are free to relax and enjoy. Just come to the reception in two hours.”
“Wait, wait.” Logan jostled, pressing up against my elbow so he could hear better, “We got two hours, you say?”
The easy grin slipped from my dad’s face, and he tugged at his tuxedo collar. “Uh, you be there, and you be sober, Logan.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Logan slid his arm over my shoulder and bobbed his head up and down. Excitement seemed to be radiating from him, and he was barely containing it. “I don’t want to piss off Mama Malinda. We’ll be back, and we’ll be sober…or we will appear to be sober.”
He put his fingers to his forehead and saluted my father. “See ya later, Señor Strattan.”
“Mason,” my father spoke over Logan. “I want my daughter back, and she has to be sober. The chief of police will be at our reception.”
Mason stepped up to my side. He removed Logan’s arm from my shoulders and patted it as he guided it back to Logan’s side, making a show of the gesture. He nodded to my father. “She will be. Logan’s got a bee up his ass today, but don’t worry.”
Mason interlaced our fingers, tugging me to his side. He spoke over my head, “She’ll be fine. Won’t she, Logan?”
Logan rolled his eyes and jerked a hand over his shoulder. “Let’s head out before the crowd gets here.” As soon as we were outside, he made a beeline for Mason’s Escalade.
He started to head for the driver’s seat, but Mason called out, “Hell no. Back, buddy.”
There was no argument.
Logan slid into the backseat but waved for us to hurry. “Come on. Hashtag Logan’s thirsty, get a move on it.”
“Oh god.” Mason’s hand released my elbow.
I went around to the front passenger seat.
As we got inside, Mason added, “Not the damn hashtags. I can’t take them today.”
Logan ignored him and began tapping on the ceiling. “Whatever. Let’s go. I’m in the mood, the mood for booze.”
As Mason started the engine, I saw Mark hurrying from the church. “Stop. Mark’s coming, too.”
Logan groaned. “Come on.”
Those two words sent a new feeling in the air. Mason and I shared a look. Something was going on with Logan, more than the need for drinking, getting laid, and fighting. This was Mark, who was adopted into the group because he was my now stepbrother. The core was still us three, but those words were going to exile Mark.
He was almost to the vehicle.
I murmured, “Mason.”
He nodded, already turning around and lowering his window. “I got it.” He called out to Mark as he began to go around the vehicle, “Hey, can you give us a minute?”
Mark braked, and he frowned. “Uh, sure…”
He looked at me through the windshield, and I held a finger up, indicating one moment. His eyebrows furrowed together, but he leaned back and shoved his hands into his jacket pockets. I didn’t like keeping him out, but this was our family business.
Mason twisted around in his seat. “What is your problem?”
“Nothing. I want to drink.” Logan continued to tap on the vehicle’s ceiling. “Let’s head out.”
“And Mark can’t come?”
He jerked up a shoulder. “He can come. I was wrong to say that.”
I was dumbfounded. Logan hadn’t been this back and forth in a while, but he was pissy earlier when he and Mark got back from whatever they did. That made me wonder. “Did something happen with your prank earlier?”
“Nah. Malinda wanted a bunch of doves to be set loose during the reception. We talked the guy into a few white pigeons, too—ones that will drop some water balloons on people.” He laughed to himself, but the sound came out sharp, edgy, and abrupt. “We thought some of the doves could do that, but he said pigeons would be better. They can be trained for that stuff.”
“Who’s getting the water balloons?” Mason asked.
Logan shrugged again. “Some bitch-ass people.” He stopped tapping the roof and met Mason’s gaze. “Quinn.”
Mason flashed him a grin.
Logan looked to me. “Miranda Stewart.”
That was fine with me.
He added, “I wanted one to be dropped on Cass, but Mark refused. Said it would mess up his chances of getting it in tonight.”
“If nothing’s wrong with Mark because of the prank, what then? What’s going on with you?” I asked.
“Nothing. Like I said, I was wrong to say that.” He let out a soft curse and opened his door. “Come on, man. The interrogation’s over.”
Mark was hesitant when he got in.
Mason glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “Sorry. Logan was being an ass. We wanted to hash it out quickly.”
Mark waved his hand in the air in a dismissive motion. “No problem. I get it.” He snuck a look over his shoulder. “But, um…can we get going? I’m pretty sure my girlfriend is going to be looking for me soon.”
I groaned. “Punch it, Mason.”
I looked too, and as Mason pulled out of the church’s parking lot, Cass came out from the front doors, squinting with a hand shielding the sun from her eyes as she looked all around the lot. Miranda, Peter, and the whole Academy Elite group were right behind her, and they began scanning, too.
I faced forward in my seat again. Yeah, no. I did not want to hang out with that group again. Dealing with Cass being Mark’s girlfriend was bad enough. Now, I needed a drink and when we got to the Kade mansion, Logan went behind the bar in the basement. I was heading for the bathroom, when he held up a shot he had poured. “Sam, get over here.”
“I’m going to the bathroom.”
He shook his head. His eyes darkened, and he held the cup higher in the air. “You can piss later. Let’s drink first.”
I glanced at Mason, and saw that he was fed up. He moved to stand in front of me, saying, “Okay, that’s enough. What the fuck is up your ass?”
Mason reached for the c
up, but Logan moved it out of the way. He extended it to me again. “Sam, come on. Team player here.”
My chin lifted. That was a direct burn against me. Logan didn’t do that shit. He didn’t take his anger out on me—others, yes, but not me.
Mason took the cup from Logan’s hand. “You want to explain that little dig right now?”
Mark moved farther into the background. He was glancing between all of us, and I didn’t blame him. Mark was family, but he wasn’t in the core three. All our disagreements were normally held until