Dylan stood in the center of the lobby. He had no clue what floor Tamar stayed on or how to find her. He groaned. If she’d just waited two more minutes! This wasn’t how he had planned to end their evening.

Tamar lifted a hand to the back of her head and ruffled her hair from its half-straight, half-curled tangled mess. She lifted her head just as she entered the lobby and halted at the sight of Dylan standing a few feet away. Her brow furrowed. “I thought they chased you off finally…” she said in the empty hall.

Dylan whirled around at the sound of her voice, a smile lighting his face when he saw her. “I’ve already told you about having a little faith in me. I told you I’d walk you in. A group of touch hungry girls doesn’t change that.”

Tamar smirked sardonically. Hadn’t he heard what they said? She started for the stairs without a word.

He frowned and jogged after her. “What’s with the look? Did you want them to chase me off?”

“What does it matter? You’re already coming up anyway,” Tamar tossed over her shoulder, hand sliding up the metal railing as they topped each flight of stairs up to the sixth floor. In the back of her head, Tamar prayed Bekah managed to go back to her place but had a feeling that wasn’t the case.

“Yeah. I want to know anyway. Where were you? I thought you were already inside.”

Tamar’s cheeks warmed, not wanting to admit that she was slightly worried. “Went out for a smoke,” she lied, pushing open the door of the sixth floor and stepped into the quiet hallway.

“You don’t smoke, Tamar.” There was no hint of the scent of cigarettes on her and he’d lived with a smoker long enough to spot one. Other than hiding behind ridiculous clothes, he was hard pressed to find much wrong with her. “I’ll let it go if you tell me if you wanted them to run me off.”

She stopped in front of her door and turned to look up at him. “Neecy and her friends… they’re a handful.” She frowned lightly, turning her gaze over his shoulder. “I was just being considerate that’s all. Don’t read into it.”

“You were worried about me. You like me. Just a little. Admit it,” he teased looking into her crystal blue eyes. “I won’t tell.”

Tamar laughed softly and looked at him straight on. “Worried would mean I am intending on protecting an investment. Like I said before, Dylan, I don’t know you well enough to do that.”

The door timely swung open and Tamar didn’t know whether to heave a sigh of relief or tense up as Bekah peered out of the room. “Tammy, you’re ba–” the rest of her words stopped in her throat as she gaped up at the young man standing beside Tamar. Her brown eyes blinked.

Tamar nudged Bekah with her backside, still facing Dylan. “Well, thanks for the evening and for seeing me to my door. Goodnight,” she started to pull the door close once she and Bekah were in the room. Gritting her teeth as her cousin nudged her back with her hip and moved between the door, Tamar grabbed Bekah’s arm to pull her in.

“So you’re our Tammy’s date?” Bekah grinned widely, her brown eyes studying him openly. “I trust she behaved herself?”

Dylan returned the smile, sensing a possible ally. “Yes ma’am, I’m Dylan.” He looked over her head at Tamar. “She behaved for the most part, gave me a hard time but it’s okay.”

“My cousin is a bit of a wild rose,” Bekah teased with a laugh when Tamar poked her arm. “By the way, I’m Bekah. Nice to meet you, Dylan. Wanna come in for a bit?”

“No,” Tamar said quickly, glaring at her cousin before looking back up at Dylan. “I’m sure Dylan has plenty things to catch up on. Right?”

“Nice to meet you too, Bekah.” He fought not to laugh at Tamar. “I’ve got some time. I wouldn’t mind coming in for a little while.”

Bekah nodded and nudged Tamar with her hip, making room for Dylan to enter. She tucked a knowing smile in Tamar’s direction. “Would you like coffee or tea?”

“Tea’s finished,” Tamar mumbled, moving to sit on her bed. Having Dylan stand in her private space was a bit unnerving. He was supposed to drop her off and then be gone. This wasn’t part of the plan. Her eyes wandered around the room and widened at the clothesline above the bathroom door. She quickly rose to her feet and made her way, snatching the line of underwear behind her back.

“Ah yes, tea’s gone. Coffee?” Bekah asked Dylan with expectant eyes, undaunted by Tamar’s strange behavior as if she was used to it.

“Coffee works,” he agreed, raising a brow when Tamar rushed across the room to rip something from above the door. “So you two are cousins. You grew up together, I’m guessing?”

Bekah shook her head, now pouring a small cup of Maxwell House blend. “Nope. Tamar and her family lived in Madrid for most of her young life and I lived in the up-east New York. But she came down when I was graduating from high school to start hers.”

Tamar swallowed a groan as Bekah basically relayed her life before this man without asking her permission. She discreetly shoved the contents in her hand inside the hamper and moved to stand by Bekah. “Really, Beks, there’s no time for all this chit-chat. We all have class tomorrow. It’s getting late. Give the man his coffee already.”

Bekah merely smiled up at Dylan, stirring the coffee. “What about you, Dylan aka Sinatra, do you have siblings or cousins?”

He made note of that. Madrid? The more he learned about Tamar, the more interested he became. He grinned at Bekah who was clearly ignoring her cousin’s protest and when she used the nickname Tamar had given him, that grin deepened. So she’d been talking about him. “I have a younger sister. A distant cousin or two.”

Bekah nodded, taking note. “A sister. So I’m going to assume you know how to take care of a woman then–”

“For Pete’s sake, Rebekah,” Tamar said sternly as she glared up at her cousin, her cheeks flaming visibly under her freckles.

Bekah chuckled. “I’m teasing, Dylan.” She extended the steaming cup of coffee. “Here you go.”

She was adorable, he couldn’t help but think when he saw her blush. He’d have to make her blush more often. “Thank you,” he said to Bekah, taking his eyes off Tamar long enough to accept the coffee. “And for what it’s worth, I’ve got a little experience with it.”

Tamar stepped around Bekah to perch on her bed. “He’s being modest, Bekah. Trust me.”

Bekah raised a brow at her cousin, taking note of the hardness in her tone, before she turned back to look up at Dylan. “Ladies man?” she asked, a teasing lilt in her voice.

“I’ve dated but not nearly as many women as she seems to think.”

“Relax, Dylan, I won’t ask for your dating history…” Bekah smiled, gesturing to a chair opposite the bed. “Please, have a seat and enjoy your coffee. Don’t let my cousin’s sharp tongue make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s your questions,” Tamar muttered quietly, folding her arms as she warily watched Dylan.

“I think I’m starting to get used to it,” he said with a smile as he took the offered seat.

Both Bekah and Tamar exchanged a quick glance at Dylan’s declaration before Bekah laughed. “Well that’s refreshing.” She leaned back on the heels of her hands. “So what are you studying in Covington and what year are you?”

“Why don’t you ask for his social security while you’re at it, Bekah,” Tamar asked, exasperated.

“It’s okay, Tamar. I don’t mind.” In truth, he would have been more concerned if Bekah hadn’t questioned him. “I’m an applied physiology and kinesiology major in my third year.”

“What do you plan on doing with that degree?” Bekah asked, tilting a brow. “Physical therapy?”

He hesitated then. Tamar seemed to think he was just a handsome guy who drew a lot of attention. She hadn’t said anything that indicated she knew he played football. She would figure it out eventually, he knew, but he wasn’t sure how that would change things. He was already having a hard enough time reaching her. “I want to focus more on training but that’s an aspect I haven’t crossed off yet,” he answered honestly. The plans were for after a career in the NFL, but they were his plans nonetheless.

Tamar frowned, eyes now taking his form in as the hairs on the back of her neck stood. “Training?”

Bekah nodded. “I see. What sport do you play? You look like you might play one for the school. Am I off in my assumption?”

Dylan bit back a sigh. Dancing around the truth was one thing, but he wouldn’t lie. “I play football. Baseball if the schedule allows,” he said looking straight at Tamar to gauge her reaction.

She couldn’t swallow, her throat constricted instantly as she recalled the people waving at him, their eyes taking her in. It all made sense now. “You’re a college athlete?”

Bekah grinned wide. “That’s pretty cool. I wish I knew sports but tell me anyway, what position do you play? My parents watch football for the school all the time.”

His lips twitched in a partial smile, his focus still on Tamar. She didn’t seem as thrilled as her cousin. “Quarterback. I’m the guy who throws the ball.”

Not only was he a handsome nice guy who attracted every lady with sense on campus, he was also famous! No wonder the girls’ heads were rolling. Tamar quickly rose to her feet. “Time to go.”.

Bekah frowned up at Tamar. “Oh come on, it’s only nine o’clock. Relax.”

“No, it’s time for Dylan to go now.” She padded across the room and opened her door.

“Sorry Dylan, she’s a little high-strung…” Bekah said, standing to her feet.

“No apologies necessary.” He drained the rest of the coffee and rinsed the mug out in the sink before walking toward Tamar. “Do you mind if I talk to you for a minute? Alone?”

Tamar’s lips pursed and she tilted her stubborn chin, glaring up at him. “I don’t have anything to say to you. So no.”

“Tamar…” Bekah started to say but judging from Tamar’s clenched jaw, she swallowed her protests.

“Alright. I can talk and you can listen. I can do that with or without an audience,” he offered.

“I’ll step out,” Bekah suggested even as she shuffled toward the door, ducking out from seeing Tamar’s glare thrown at her as she closed the door.

Tamar pushed away from the door and walked to the edge of her bed. “I’m not interested in anything you have to say. You got your date, now leave.” What was she thinking? Why did she not notice it before?

“What? Now that you know I play a sport, suddenly I’m unworthy?”

She threw a glare at him. “Don’t even start with me. It’s not just any sport, Dylan. You’re the star player. Publicity, lights, popularity.” Her blood turned cold and she gaped at him. “That’s why. That’s why you approached me, isn’t it? That’s why I’m… interesting.” She choked out a laugh. “Because I was too ignorant to know who you were. Mr. Popularity, Big Man on Campus.”

“The only time I make headlines is during a game. I play for the school, Tamar. Not an NFL team. I already told you why I talked to you that first day but that’s not why you’re interesting. There are probably hundreds of other girls on this campus who have no idea who I am but I’m not standing in their dorm room, am I?

She didn’t even want to hear the rest of it and held up a hand. “Please save it. Just stop it already.” Tamar clenched her jaw at him. “Playing for the school, isn’t NFL the next step?” A shiver ran up her spine, imagining the million people vying for his attention. “Isn’t that why you’re playing anyway?” She sighed. “Look, I’m sure you’re a great guy. You’re funny, you’re nice and I’m sure some girl is dying to get your attention. I’m just not that girl.” I can’t and won’t be that girl, she said vehemently to herself.

“The NFL isn’t a guaranteed gig. I’m not asking you to drool over me or beg for my attention. I don’t need or want that. I’m asking you to give me a chance to get to know you, to let yourself get to know me. You were considering it,” he reminded her. “Don’t tell me you weren’t. Why does that change because of my extracurriculars? Don’t you think you’re being a little unfair?”

Tamar choked out a laugh, throwing her eyes to the ceiling before returning her gaze back to his face. “This isn’t about fairness. Be reasonable. You’re the most popular personality in school and I’m… I’m not.” She pushed out a breath from her lips. “Like I said earlier, I’ll think about it.”

He threw his hands up in the air. When had his popularity ever been a reason for a girl not to date him? “That doesn’t have anything to do with this, with us. My popularity doesn’t dictate who I spend time with. I want to spend more time with you and I think you want to too. The rest isn’t important.”

Only influential people would dare to downplay their influence. “Just because you say that doesn’t mean it’s true,” Tamar muttered begrudgingly, knowing he wasn’t budging one bit. She was still very angry with herself for not realizing the truth and a little with him for not being forthright with who he was. She sighed heavily and eyed him sideways. “I said I’ll think about it. Take that or leave it. I don’t care.”

He hadn’t put a dent in her thoughts at all. He could sense it. He’d be lucky if she answered his calls after this. Frustration threatening to boil over, Dylan strode across the room to her. Before he could figure out exactly what he was he was going to do, he leaned in and captured her lips in sweet, tantalizing kiss. The second their lips touched it became a fight for focus. There was a point to the kiss but he was hard pressed to remember it as his hand framed her cheek. Her lips were softer than he’d expected and he wanted to sink in deeper. Instead, he forced himself to pull back despite his body’s protest. “Think about that,” he challenged softly.

Tamar blinked at him, her parted lips tingling from the feel of his pressed against hers. Her face, she was sure, was as red as a cherry tomato. She couldn’t even think of anything to say, couldn’t even move her hand as she stared up at him, her eyes drifting to his mouth, wondering why his lips felt as soft as… Tamar squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, releasing it through pursed lips. Then she opened them again and frowned at him. “If you’re done, kindly leave,” she said in an even softer voice than his own.

“We’re far from done, Your Highness. But I’ll let you get started on all that thinking,” he said as he turned for the door. “Goodnight, Tamar,” he added over his shoulder before ducking out of the room.

Bekah almost stumbled over him as she leaned her face against the door. She blinked up at him and pressed her lips to keep the mirth in. “Goodnight, Dylan.”

Dylan’s brow furrowed. He’d forgotten about Tamar’s cousin and if the expression on her face and her proximity to the door were any indications, she’d heard more than enough. Still, his mind was too preoccupied with the kiss that had come from nowhere for him to offer more than a mumbled goodnight.

<<Chapter 5 || Chapter 7>>