Tamar paused again and stared at the phone carefully. Then a smile crossed her lips as she relented, tugging the phone from his hand. Leaning back on her heels, she slowly inputted the number she’d memorized since she was a child before handing it over. “There you go,” she said, eyes focused on his face. “Happy now?”

“Only if you promise it’s not a number to some rejection hotline. I’m not sure if I trust how easily you gave in,” he added staring at his phone suspiciously.

One shapely brow curved up. “You don’t trust me?” She shrugged her shoulders, eyes still on his face. “Then delete it.”

“You like challenging me, don’t you?” He shook his head and slipped the phone back in the pocket of his jeans before helping her pack everything back up.

She could hear the cheering down the hill and almost turned around several times to check the game.

He watched her from the corner of his eye, noting the way her head seemed to come up with each bout of cheering from the soccer players and remembering her own soccer antics. He nudged her. “Why don’t we head over there for a few minutes? Kick the ball around a little?”

Tamar stiffened. “No, but thanks.” She rose to her feet, lifting the bag with her. “I’m ready to go now.”

He climbed to his feet as well and after folding the blanket, eased the bag from her hand. “To your chariot then, mi’lady.”

The tenseness in her shoulders eased away at his teasing tone and Tamar snorted a soft laugh before turning to walk down the hill. She trained her eyes in front of her so as not to see the young men racing across the field to score their first goal.

“You said you didn’t play. Was that only for school or do you not play at all?” he asked curiously, following her. It might make good second date material.

“Long time ago,” she said tersely, feeling her body stiffen all over again. Why couldn’t he just leave well enough alone. They reached his car and she walked to the passenger’s side. “I don’t play.”

“Maybe you should pick it back up,” he suggested easily, switching the bag over to open the door before she reached for it. “You looked good from what I saw.” He glanced over her body again. “You’ve got the figure for it. I think.”

Tamar smirked despite herself. “All you have to say is I have a nice shape. I already know that. You don’t add soccer to your list of ready-made compliments, Casanova.” She slipped into her seat.

“I meant the morning we met up jogging,” he reminded her pointedly in defense. “You had some good moves. Having the figure for it is just a bonus. That’s the first comment I’ve made about the body you’re trying to hide in your grandmother’s shirt.”

Her cheeks pinkened visibly but Tamar stared hard at him. “This happens to be one of my favorite shirts, thank you very much.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Go about your business, please. I would like get home on time.”

He wanted to reach out and tickle her, anything to get her to loosen up and drop that shield. “And it’s a nice shirt. Two sizes smaller would’ve worked though.”

“Thank you very much, Tim Gunn. Next time I want to put on my clothes, I’ll call you for your excellent expertise.”

“I’ll make sure I’m available.” He smiled and gently shut her door before loading everything else up.

Tamar’s smile waned as he shut the door before she realized she’d basically given him an open invitation to watch her dress. Her face fired and she shook her head. “This guy… is trouble.” She straightened her back as he opened his door and she focused her eyes on the windshield.

Dylan slid the key into the ignition but hesitated in turning on the car. He rested an elbow on the console and turned to look at her. “Okay, so be honest with me. Did you have a good time?”

“You want to know if you get another gold star?” Tamar asked, glancing once at him. Even in the dark, she could still feel his eyes on her and her cheeks warmed again. She bit on her bottom lip, pushing off the strange feeling.

He chuckled. “Gold stars are always good. Seriously though, did you like this?”

Tamar shrugged her shoulders. “I’m still trying to process it. Why did you like… this?”

He leaned back, thinking it over. Most girls never cared whether he’d enjoyed himself on a date he’d spent trying to cater to her. “Yeah. I liked it.”

Again with the shiver tickling her spine. Tamar smirked at his soft reply. “Worth risking a second one?”

“Oh yeah, definitely worth the second date,” he told her with a grin as he started the car.

Her entire body went warm at his declaration. “I see…” she said quietly, turning her eyes back to face the front, her arms uncrossing to rest her hands on her lap.

“You don’t yet, I don’t think. But you will.”

That’s exactly what I’m afraid of, Tamar said inwardly, not replying to his last words. For now she’d let him think what he wanted but intended to figure this strange feeling as soon as she stepped out of his car.

He didn’t want to take her home, he realized as he drove back to campus. He hadn’t spent a night with a girl like this in a long time. She matched him barb for barb, challenged him the way few people ever did. He shifted in his seat. She was getting under his skin and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Maybe it was a good thing she was still considering the second date. He needed a chance to regroup, figure out what was it was about her that was pulling him in when he’d already told himself he didn’t have time for a steady relationship.

Tamar found that she wasn’t as anxious as she probably would’ve been two years ago. He was hardly scary though an overwhelming mass of flesh and bone, all 5 feet and lot of change. He towered over her yet didn’t seem imposing. And that mouth of his. Her cheeks warmed, recalling every direct word he’d spoken to her. One glance at the glowing clock under his dashboard told Tamar that Bekah wouldn’t let her sleep without finding out the details of the evening. She’d prepared herself to go through Covington without making one single friend, content with only her cousin as her only companion… and now this guy wanted a second date. She shifted in her seat. He was getting under her skin without her permission and Tamar wasn’t sure whether she wanted to risk a chance that he’d get closer instead of further away, a safer alternative.

Dylan sighed as he pulled into the parking lot behind her residence hall and turned off the car. Despite the talk he’d given himself, he still wasn’t ready to just let her go inside. “Did you want the rest of the marsala?”

She was already unbuckling her seatbelt. “Nope. I’m fine.” Tamar paused to look up at him. “Thanks for dinner and your company was… interesting.” She gave him a smile. “Enjoy the rest of your evening.” Then she turned and pulled at the door latch, stepping out of the car.

Dylan was out of the car just as quickly. “There’s that smile I was looking for. Come on, I’ll walk you up.”

Tamar’s eyes widened, knowing Bekah would have a field day. “No, it’s alright. I can find my way upstairs.” She raised a brow, looking him up and down. “Besides, you may have to ward off the hundred females in my building.” She stepped over the curb. “I’ll be fine. Go on home.”

He shook his head and walked up beside her. “At least to the door then. Let me have this moment,” he said before she could protest. “My mother would have my head if I let you walk up by yourself.”

Tamar refrained from rolling her eyes and bit back a retort as they approached her building. Right away she could see a group of girls waiting at the side of the building, dressed to the nines as though they were heading out for a night in the town. She swallowed a groan and continued forward, eyes focused on reaching the door.

One of the girls, a resident on the third floor, Tamar’s floor, glanced up just as Tamar and the young man strolled toward the building. She gasped. “Oh my–is that?” She squinted in the dark, taking in the young man’s athletic build and easy stride. “It is. Hi, Dylan!”

Dylan sighed and tried to rack his brain for the young woman’s name. He wasn’t even sure if he knew her to know her name. He settled for a brief wave and took a side step closer to Tamar.

Tamar clenched down on her teeth as the girls shuffled forward, their stilettos clicking on the pavement as they moved toward Dylan. She rolled her eyes and walked around them, not bothering to look back to the guy who offered to escort her upstairs. Just as well, she didn’t want Bekah to see him. Not until she figured out why the heck she was annoyed by what just happened. Quickening her pace, she ducked into the building.

“Dylan, what are you doing on our side of campus?” the girl asked, appreciative eyes roaming over him. She placed her hands on her hips. Her girls giggled, surrounding Dylan as they looked him over. “You smell nice. Where you coming from?”

“Look girls, I’d love to talk but I’m busy right now.” He tried to ease out of the circle that had almost immediately closed around him, searching for Tamar. Where had she gone? One minute she was right beside him and the next he was being fawned over and she was nowhere in sight.

“Aaw, why?” She pouted, reaching to drape her hand on his arm, leaning in. “We’re about to head over to Kix. First two drinks free. You know you want to,” she batted her lashes at him.

“Dylan, come with us,” another girl crooned, pressing herself against his back.

He took her hand and eased it off his arm even as he slid from under the girl leaning into his back. Popularity had its cons and the longer he spent trying to get away from the girls, the less likely it was that he’d be able to find Tamar. “Busy,” he repeated. “I need to find my friend. Maybe another time.”

“What friend?” the first girl scoffed, recalling the curly-haired riot beside him. “You’re kidding right?” She eyed him curiously. “Is this some kind of after-school project, Dylan? What could you possibly be doing with Muffet Malek?” She grinned proudly as the girls cackled with glee. “Come on, Dylan. You’d do well to leave her well enough alone. Consider it a favor from us.”

“Her name is Tamar,” he corrected firmly. “It doesn’t matter what I’m doing with her. I’m not interested in your little outing. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He didn’t wait for a response, pushing through them to the door of the residence hall.

The girls watched him stride purposely through the door and the leader of the posse clucked her tongue. “He’s too nice for his own good.” She turned away just as a cab pulled up in front of the building and her smile reappeared. “Girls, let’s go.” Their heels clicked rhythmically, entering the car.

Tamar stepped out of the shadows, staring at the taillights of the cab as it pulled out onto the street. She frowned, recalling the horrid nickname. “So that’s the new name for the month, huh?” The string of names were colorful, creative but equally hurtful. She smiled dryly, “Well at least she has some sense in that empty head.” She’d stopped from going upstairs, curious about Dylan and how he’d handle the most popular, sharp-tongued girls in Underwood, but he seemed to have handled himself without any help from her.

Silently berating herself for putting herself in a position she could certainly not afford to be in, Tamar turned toward the door of the building.

<<Chapter 4 || Chapter 6>>