I immediately feel guilty for downplaying the run with Holder. I just haven’t figured him out and I’m not sure I’m ready for someone to infiltrate mine and Breckin’s twenty-hour old alliance just yet.

“If it makes you feel better, I found out from some chick named Shayna that I’m a product of old money and I’m filthy rich,” he says.

I laugh. “Good. Then you won’t have a problem bringing me coffee every morning.”

The classroom door opens and we both look up, just as Holder walks in dressed in a casual white t-shirt and dark denim jeans, his hair freshly washed since our run this morning. As soon as I see him, the stomach virus/hot flashes/butterflies return.

“Shit,” I mutter. Holder walks to Mr. Mulligan’s desk and lays a form on it, then walks toward the back of the room fiddling with his phone the whole time. He takes a seat in the desk directly in front of Breckin and never even notices me. He turns the volume down on his phone, then puts it in his pocket.

I’m too in shock that he showed up to even speak to him. Did I somehow change his mind about re-enrolling? Am I happy about the fact that I may have changed his mind? Because I sort of feel nothing but regret.

Mr. Mulligan walks in and sets his things on the desk, then turns toward the blackboard and writes his name, followed by the date. I’m not sure if he honestly thinks we forgot who he was since yesterday, or if he just wants to remind us that he thinks we’re ignorant.

“Dean,” he says, still facing the blackboard. He spins around and eyes Holder. “Welcome back, albeit a day late. I take it you won’t be giving us any trouble this semester?”

My mouth drops at his condescending remark right off the bat. If this is the kind of shit Holder has to put up with when he’s here, no wonder he didn’t want to come back. At least I just get shit from other students. I don’t care who the student is, teachers should never be condescending. That should be the first rule in the teacher handbook. The second rule should be that teachers aren’t allowed to write their names on blackboards beyond third grade.

Holder shifts in his seat and replies to Mr. Mulligan’s comment with just as much bite. “I take it you won’t be saying anything that will incite me to give you trouble this semester, Mr. Mulligan?”

Okay, the “shit giving” is obviously a two-way street. Maybe my next lesson, beyond talking him into coming back to school, should be to teach him the meaning of respecting authority.

Mr. Mulligan tucks his chin in and glares at Holder over the rims of his glasses.

“Dean. Why don’t you come to the front of the room and introduce yourself to your classmates. I’m sure there are some new faces since you left us last year.”

Holder doesn’t object, which I’m sure is exactly what Mr. Mulligan expected him to do. Instead, he practically leaps from his chair and walks swiftly to the front of the room. His sudden burst of energy causes Mr. Mulligan to take a quick step back. Holder spins around to face the class, not an ounce of self-doubt or insecurity about him.

“Gladly,” Holder says, cutting his eyes toward Mr. Mulligan. “I’m Dean Holder. People call me Holder.” He looks away from Mr. Mulligan and back toward the class. “I’ve been a student here since freshmen year with the exception of a one and a half semester sabbatical. And according to Mr. Mulligan, I like to incite trouble, so this class should be fun.”

Several of the students laugh at this comment, but I fail to find the humor in it. I’ve already been doubting him based on everything I’ve heard, now he’s showing his true colors by the way he’s acting. Holder opens his mouth to continue with his introduction, but breaks out into a smile as soon as he spots me in the back of the room. He winks at me and I immediately want to crawl under my desk and hide. I give him a quick, tight-lipped smile, then look down at my desk as soon as other students begin turning around in their seats to see who he’s staring at.

An hour and a half ago, he walked away from me in a pissy mood. Now he’s smiling at me like he’s just seen his best friend for the first time in years.

Yep. He’s got issues.

Breckin leans across his desk. “What the hell was that?” he whispers.

“I’ll tell you at lunch,” I say.

“Is that all the wisdom you wish to impart on us today?” Mr. Mulligan asks Holder.

Holder nods, then walks back to his seat, never pulling his gaze from mine. He sits and cranes his neck, facing me. Mr. Mulligan begins his lecture and everyone’s focus returns to the front of the room. Everyone but Holder’s. I glance down to my book and flip it open to the current chapter, hoping he’ll do the same. When I glance back up, he’s still staring at me.

“What?” I mouth, tossing my palms up in the air.

He narrows his eyes and watches me silently for a moment. “Nothing,” he finally says. He turns around in his seat and opens the book in front of him.

Breckin taps his pencil on my knuckles and looks at me inquisitively, then returns his attention back to his book. If he’s expecting an explanation over what just happened, he’ll be disappointed when I’m unable to give him one. I don’t even know what just happened.

I steal several glances in Holder’s direction during the lecture, but he doesn’t turn around again for the entire period. When the bell rings, Breckin jumps out of his seat and drums his fingers on my desk.

“Me. You. Lunch,” he says, raising his eyebrow at me. He walks out of the classroom and I turn my gaze to Holder. He’s watching the classroom door that Breckin just walked out of with a hard look in his eyes.

I grab my things and head out the door before Holder has a chance to strike up a conversation. I really am glad he decided to re-enroll, but I’m disturbed at the way he looked at me like we were best friends. I really don’t want Breckin, or anyone else for that matter, thinking I’m okay with the things Holder does. I’d rather just not associate myself with him, but I have a feeling that’s going to be an issue for him.

I go to my locker and switch books, grabbing my English text. I wonder if Shayna/Shayla will actually acknowledge me in class today. Probably not, that was twenty-four hours ago. I doubt she has enough brain cells to recall information from that long ago.

“Hey, you.”

I squeeze my eyes shut apprehensively, not wanting to turn around to see him standing there in all his beautiful glory.

“You came.” I adjust the books in my locker, then turn around and face him. He smiles, then leans up against the locker next to mine.

“You clean up nice,” he says, eyeing me up and down. “Although, the sweaty version of you isn’t so bad, either.”

He cleans up nice, too, but I’m not about to tell him that.

“Are you here stalking me or did you actually re-enroll?”

He grins mischievously and drums his fingers against the locker. “Both.”

I really need to cut it out with the stalking jokes. It would be funnier if I didn’t think he was actually capable.

I look around at the hallway clearing out. “Well, I need to get to class,” I say. “Welcome back.”

He narrows his eyes at me, almost as if he can sense my discomfort. “You’re being weird.”

I roll my eyes at his assessment. How can he know how I’m being? He doesn’t even know me. I look back into my locker and try to mask the real thoughts on why I’m being “weird.” Thoughts like, why does his past not scare me more than it does? Why does he have a temper so bad that he would do what he did to that poor kid last year? Why does he want to go out of his way to run with me? Why was he asking around about me? Instead of verbally admitting to the questions inside my head, I just shrug and go with, “I’m just surprised to see you here.”

He leans his shoulder against the locker next to mine and shakes his head. “Nope. It’s something else. What’s wrong?”

I sigh and lean against my locker. “You want me to be honest?”

“That’s all I ever want you to be.”

I pull my lips into a tight line and nod. “Fine,” I say. I roll my shoulder against the locker and face him. “I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. You flirt and say things like you have intentions with me that I’m not willing to reciprocate. And you’re…” I pause, searching for the right word.

“I’m what?” he says, watching me intently.

“You’re…intense. Too intense. And moody. And a little bit scary. And there’s the other thing,” I say, without saying it. “I just don’t want you getting the wrong idea.”

“What other thing?” He says it like he knows exactly what other thing I’m referring to, but he’s daring me to say it.

I let out a breath and press my back against the locker, staring down at my feet. “You know,” I say, not wanting to bring up his past any more than he probably does.

Holder steps in front of me and places his hand on the locker beside my head, then leans in toward me. I look up at him and he’s staring down at me, less than six inches from my face.

“I don’t know, because you’re skirting around whatever issue it is you have with me like you’re too afraid to say it. Just say it.”

Looking up at him right now, feeling trapped like I’m feeling, the same panic returns to my chest that he left there after our first encounter.

“I heard about what you did,” I say abruptly. “I know about the guy you beat up. I know about you being sent to juvi. I know that in the two days I’ve known you, you’ve scared the shit out of me at least three times. And since we’re being honest, I also know that if you’ve been asking around about me, then you’ve probably heard about my reputation, which is more than likely the only reason you’re even making an effort with me. I hate to disappoint you, but I’m not screwing you. I don’t want you thinking anything will happen between us besides what’s already happening. We run together. That’s it.”

His jaw tightens, but his expression never changes. He lowers his arm and takes a step back, allowing me room to breathe again. I don’t understand why anytime he steps within a foot of my personal space, it sucks the breath out of me. I especially don’t understand why I like that feeling.

I tuck my books to my chest and begin to shove past him when an arm goes around my waist and I’m pulled away from Holder. I glance next to me to see Grayson eyeing Holder up and down, his grip tightening around my waist.

“Holder,” Grayson says coldly. “Didn’t know you were coming back.”

Holder doesn’t even acknowledge Grayson. He continues to stare at me for several seconds, only breaking his gaze from mine to look down at Grayson’s hand that’s gripping my waist. He nods his head slightly and smiles, as if he’s come to some sort of realization, then brings his eyes back to mine.

“Well, I’m back,” he says bluntly, without looking directly at Grayson.

What the hell is this? Where did Grayson come from, and why does he have his arm around me like he’s staking claim?

Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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