He jerked back, bending down to rub at the spot where her foot connected. “What did I do now?” he demanded, glaring up at her. “You’re too violent. Did you skip anger management this week?”

Tamar placed her hands on her hips, glaring back at him. ”Kiss me again without my permission and I’ll box your ears.”

“You’re just now reacting to that?” He straightened, his eyes never leaving her. He figured that wasn’t a good moment to point out she’d seemed to like it. “Fine, I promise I won’t kiss you without your permission. Satisfied? You could’ve ruined me for this week’s game,” he grumbled.

”Not nearly enough,” she replied tersely. ”What were you thinking feeding my father lines? I’m not in the mood to explain you to my father. Delete the number I gave you right now.”

“You’re the only one who still thinks I’m playing games, Tamar. And maybe you should’ve thought of that before you gave me his number. You set this up.”

”And I’m fixing it,” she snapped back at him. “Delete the number.”

“No. I think your father deserves to be kept in the loop. Besides, we’ve already gotten a chance to talk to each other a little.”

Tamar threw her hands up and dropped it to her sides, glaring up at him. ”What’s it gonna take for you to get it? I’m not interested in being your friend or anything else.”

“Really? That kiss the other night said otherwise. Don’t lie to me, Tamar. Admit you don’t have the guts to see this through, but don’t lie.”

Her cheeks flamed on command and Tamar bit down. ”You didn’t give me a chance to react, you big ape,” she said through clenched teeth. ”Don’t challenge me. I’m not scared of you or anything you think you can offer.”

“If I had we wouldn’t have stopped at one kiss,” he told her simply. “Funny, your mouth’s saying one thing but your actions are saying another. I don’t have to challenge you. I’m just calling it like I see it. I know what I can offer. There’s nothing to think about. You’re scared. I can’t figure out what of, but you’re scared. I get it.”

Tamar poked a finger at the space in front of his chest. ”You don’t go off making assumptions about people you don’t know. And guess what, you don’t know me. I am not scared of anything you have to offer, I just don’t want it. Now that I’ve made myself clear, you can leave.”

He looked her straight in the eyes and laughed. “You wanna talk about making assumptions? That’s all you’ve done since the second you met me and it got worse when you found out I played football. Don’t talk to me about making assumptions, Tamar. Tell me. At what point since we met have you even made an effort to get to know me before deciding I was some ladies’ man playing a game with you? You keep talking about not wanting what I have to offer and you haven’t even heard the offer yet.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, her ears smarted by his pointed words. ”Excuse me, were you not the one spitting lines the second you met me? Don’t tell me you expect me to believe you were all about knowing me then?” Tamar shrugged. ”I don’t need another date or whatever to tell you what’s going to happen next. So take your offer and your bruised chin, and move on to the next one. We’re done here.” She turned on her heel to walk away but stopped herself. She turned around to face him. ”Just because we kissed and it was a good one, doesn’t mean anything else good can happen between us.” Shaking her head, Tamar turned away toward the jogging path.

“Doesn’t mean anything else good can’t either,” he returned quietly as she turned her back to him. He wouldn’t chase her, wouldn’t beg her to look past the football star and see the man. He’d never begged for a thing in his life. He wouldn’t start now. It was up to her to take it or leave it. He’d gone out of his way to prove this wasn’t a game, more so than he had with any other woman. If she still believed that, it was by choice.


”You still think he’s playing with you?” Bekah said over the phone after Tamar recanted the heated encounter. ”He seemed serious to me. He even called Uncle–”

”That’s precisely why I had to put a stop to it,” Tamar answered quickly, her brow furrowed. ”He had no business getting my dad involved.”

”You gave him the number.”

”He was supposed to chicken out, not goad me by perking my dad’s curiosity and concern. I already have enough troubles.” She folded her arms across her chest, staring out the window.

”Him not chickening out shows he’s serious. Tamar, it’s time to stop running,” Bekah said softly. ”Deep down, you know you’re curious about him.”

She wrinkled her nose. ”I’ll get over it. A guy like him has no business doing anything with a girl like me.”

”He sure didn’t think so after that k–”

”End of discussion. I’m off to class.” Tamar disconnected the call and pressed a hand to her flaming cheek. She needed to stop thinking about him and that blasted kiss. It would do her no good thinking about things that couldn’t be.

Pushing off the bed, she pushed her feet into her Doc Martins and reached for her bag before heading out to her last class of the day.

Again with the staring, Tamar begrudgingly noted as she stepped out of the stairwell and an onslaught of eyes were on her. Mentally she checked her reflection; white and yellow paisley dress cinched at the waist and skimming her knees with a brown leather belt, an oversized gray cardigan over her dress and her brown Doc Martins. Normal Muffet Malek attire, so what was with the heavy staring this time?

Shaking she head, she forged onward through the door and started walking down the street. Her footsteps slowed, noticing that even the passersby had gotten the memo to stare at Muffet Malek, for whatever reason.

Finally making it to the other side of the street, Tamar suddenly spotted Bekah racing toward her. ”Where’s the fire?” She drawled as her cousin staggered to a stop in front of her.

”You…” Bekah gasped for air. ”You have to come with me, now.” She grabbed Tamar’s arm and pulled her back toward the dorm building.

Tamar dug on her heels but Bekah was not to be deterred. ”What on earth is going on?”

Five minutes later, Tamar stared warily at the front page of Covington’s Review, the school’s paper. ”Muffet Malek, school outcast has a past of mental problems…” She paused to take a deep breath. ”It must be a slow news week.”

Bekah rubbed the back of her neck, staring down at the before and after picture of Tamar. ”I swear, I don’t understand why they just can’t leave you alone.” She looked up at her cousin, frowning at Tamar’s blank face. ”You okay?”

”So much for laying low,” Tamar said with a wry smile. ”Well at least it’s all in the open now.” She stepped away from the desk and reached for her bag. ”I’ll see you later, alright?”

Bekah watched her cousin leave the room and sighed heavily before dragging her eyes back to the school newspaper.

Neecy and her posse were ready for the kill at the entrance of the building. Tamar rolled her eyes but kept walking toward them.

”Who would’ve thought it?” Neecy crooned as Tamar walked forward. ”Who would’ve known you were mentally unstable? We’re so sorry for making fun of you…”

The insincerity could cut someone’s skin. Good thing Tamar’s skin was thick enough. She turned to face Neecy and her girls, her jaw set tight at the mocking laughter in their eyes. A cold shiver ran down her spine but she steeled it. ”You must be extremely bored and have nothing to do with your time… Or you want to bring others down to your level.”

Neecy narrowed her green eyes. ”You shouldn’t talk about being low, Mental Malek, when you’re trying to bring others down with you.”

”What is this about?” Tamar could already picture his face and clenched her jaw.

”Stay away from Dylan, you’ll ruin his reputation with your mental past. Stop taking advantage of his niceness,” Neecy cut deep. ”Just because he’s a good person doesn’t mean he has to help every scuffed-up stray that comes his way.”

Stray… Tamar smirked up at Neecy. ”I hear you. We done here?”

Neecy scoffed in disgust, eying Tamar with disdain. ”Bye,” she said, placing her hands on her hips.

Shaking her head, Tamar turned and walked out the building to her class, shoving everything far far away from her mind.

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