“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dylan said hanging his jacket back up.
Tonio shoved him in the back. “C’mon man. Spit it out.”
Dylan just laughed. “We’re good. We talked. We’re gonna see where it goes. I’ve been making it clear I won’t deal with people badmouthing her. Put a call in to Chris and shut things down on that front.”
Tonio nodded. “Started that on my end too.”
Somehow Dylan had known that was the case. The man had been his best friend for years and even when he hadn’t said a whole lot, Tonio knew where his mind was. “Appreciate that.”
“So…her kissing you at the Hub isn’t a rumor.”
Dylan raised a brow. “That went fast.”
“We run with the people who care enough to talk about it. It didn’t take long to reach me. Or for Neecy to come around.”
Dylan’s jaw tightened as he dropped down on his bed. She was next on his list. “What’d she have to say?”
“She wanted me to talk some sense into you before Tamar ‘ruined’ you.”
He shook his head in disbelief but didn’t bother asking what Tonio’s response had been. “I’ll get to her. Thanks for the heads up.”
“For what it’s worth, I like Tamar. Haven’t seen you like this about a girl in a long time. I had my doubts at first but she stands up.”
“It’s worth,” Dylan assured quietly, smiling at the thought of the woman who had stolen his attention.
Tamar and Bekah approached the Underwood residence building and Tamar’s hand fell to her side, Bekah looking down at her. She sighed. “Don’t worry, Neecy and her crew already left for another night out… I checked before coming to get you.”
Her little cousin gave her a gentle smile and nodded. “Thank you. I know this must be hard for you…”
Bekah nudged her lightly. “Don’t even mention it. You’re the closest thing to a sister to me. I protect my kind, even if I have to tear out that wench’s peroxide tresses.” She and Tamar giggled as they entered the building, taking the stairwell to Tamar’s floor. “So… what do you think?”
Tamar pulled out her key, knowing where her cousin’s thoughts were at. “I like him.”
Bekah grinned widely. “Of course I could’ve told you that. I mean, do you think you can handle this? The attention, the animosity?”
Tamar paused from opening the door, mulling over the question and the possible doubts that it would invoke in her. Then she turned to face Bekah and shook her head. “I’m not that innocent or weak. Neecy, I’ll deal with her.” She smiled when Bekah’s brows lifted. “Besides, if he continues being this… cute, I can handle anything.” She laughed when Bekah crooned in teasing and pushed the door open. “Goodnight, Beks. Thanks again.”
Tamar closed the door, smile in place as she crossed the room to perch on her bed. She pulled out her phone and stared at the screen before shaking her head. Something in her head told her everything was happening too fast, but she felt good. Happy.
Tamar curled against her pillow, her eyes closing shortly afterwards into a dreamless sleep.
Tamar stifled a yawn as she pulled her slingback plaid purse over her shoulders and strolled toward the front of the room.
“Ms. Malek,” Professor Winham stopped her by the door, standing to her feet. Her brow was furrowed as she approached the young woman, holding a stapled document in her hands.
“Is there a problem?” Tamar turned to face the woman.
Winham smiled patiently, extending the document. “I know you heard my announcement about the writing and debate team?”
Tamar frowned, staring down at the document before looking back at the middle-aged, kind-faced woman. “Yeah, I heard you… But I’m not interested.” She started for the door, frowning. How did the professor know about her high school days?
Winham poked the document against Tamar’s arm. “Maybe not now, but later? I think you have the skills and the wit for it.” She waited until Tamar reluctantly accepted the document. “See you next week, Malek.”
“Yeah…” Tamar answered softly, tucking the document under her arm as she exited the building, heading back to her dorm room. She stopped at the end of the street and pulled out the document, reading the bolded title on the front page. Debate team? When was the last time she’d stood in front of a full room of people, and to argue her points with finesse? She shook her head, rolling the document in her free hand as she strode across the street toward the residence hall.
Dylan smiled as he watched Tamar cut across the grass toward the street and casually started after her. It was good to surprise a girl every now and then, he thought. He eased up behind her, peering over her shoulder at the paper she was looking at. “What you reading, pretty girl?”
Tamar felt the warm shiver skitter up her spine at his baritone voice and she peered up to look at him standing over her. “Nothing interesting, trust me.” She tucked the document under her arm before turning to face him, scanning him from head to toe. “How was your day?” she asked, returning her eyes back to his face. He was a sight for sore eyes.
If she had any clue what it did to him every time she ran those wide blue eyes over him he doubted she’d do it as often. “Much better now that I’m about to take my favorite girl out. Debate team sounds interesting to me. Tell me about it while we head to the car.” He smiled at her. He hadn’t been able to make out much more than those words at the top of the page.
She laughed even as she followed him toward the parking lot across the street. “Favorite girl? I wonder what your sister would think about that…” Tamar sighed. “Debate team is something I let go a long time ago. It’s kinda out of my system now.” She raised a brow at him. “I don’t need a ride to my dorm, Dylan. It’s only a block away.”
“Crys doesn’t need to hear everything I say, does she?” he asked innocently. “You let it go, why not pick it back up again? Maybe if you did, you wouldn’t argue with me as much.” He smiled as he said it, pulling his keys from his pocket.
Tamar snorted softly, placing her free hand on her hip. “Now wait a minute. I was under the impression you liked me arguing with you. Now you tell me you rather I argue with someone else?” she rolled her eyes in mock annoyance. “Make up your mind, Sinatra.”
“You can argue with me about which song you want me to sing but save stuff like whether a cardigan is a sweater for the debate team,” he suggested unlocking the car and swinging the door open for her.
Tamar’s blue eyes skimmed over his mouth before lifting to his gray eyes, the corner of her lips tugging in a knowing smile. “Cardigans are sweaters. Any one, debate team or no, will agree with me.” She ducked into the car and drew her legs before her.
“Ask any man and he’ll tell you that’s not true.” He shut the door behind her and rounded the car to slide in. “Seriously, what’s wrong with picking it back up? You’d probably beat an entire team by yourself.”
She frowned slightly, pulling the seatbelt over her. “I didn’t even give joining a debate a second thought… Standing in front of people, arguing about things I could care less about now…” Tamar shrugged her shoulders and leaned back in the chair. “It’s not important to me anymore.” She glanced over at him. “Where are you taking me, Sinatra? I know it’s not my dorm room.”
He looked over at her and smiled. “You’re too observant. It’s a surprise. Sit back and enjoy it. If debate isn’t your thing anymore, what is?”
Her eyes scanned his face, mulling over his question. She wasn’t sure he was ready to hear any of the answers that popped up in her head. Tamar pushed them back into the dark corners of her mind and smiled. “Finding out where we’re going.” She poked him in his side. “Spill. I’m not good with surprises.”
He reached out to capture her hand with his free one, squeezing lightly. “You’ll learn. It’s an acquired thing or so they say. Now be fair. You already know sports is my thing. What’s yours?”
Tamar twisted her mouth in thought. “Old movies… Country music sang by the school’s most popular guy,” she grinned impishly, tugging her hand from his.
“Now you’re just playing dirty. I’m gonna have fun getting my payback.”
“Tell me where we’re going first,” she insisted, cheeks warming.
“Do you know the definition of the word ‘surprise’?”
“Sorry, no. I’m afraid it’s not in my vocabulary,” she answered easily, peering out the window for a clue.
“It means an event Dylan planned that Tamar will not know about until the planned time.” He laughed as he pulled into the parking lot of a plaza. “I should have blindfolded you.”
Tamar wrinkled her nose. “Sounds lame,” she teased, scanning the front of the plaza building. “You’re taking me shopping?” She peered up at him, eyes dancing with mirth. “Like a sugar daddy?”
“Sometimes I can’t believe the stuff that comes out of your mouth. Focus more on the left side,” he instructed as he drove closer to the end of the plaza where the Coldstone Creamery was located.
Tamar’s eyes fell on the ice-cream shop and she smiled softly. Cute. “You know you like that I’m unpredictable…” She unbuckled her seatbelt.
“As much as you like that I’m sweet,” he assured getting out to open her door.
“Sinatra,” Tamar peered up at him from her seat. “I can get out of the car by myself, you know…” She shook her head, stepping out to stand beside him. “But thanks, all the same.”
“I know you can, smartie. I just like to spoil you a little. Enjoy it.” He turned for the shop to keep from bending down and kissing her. He didn’t know what was worse; that it had been two days since he’d kissed her or if he knew it had been two days.
“I’m trying…” she mumbled, entering the building. The sweet smell of caramel and candy assailed her nostrils and she smiled inwardly, recalling the last time she’d had an ice-cream cone. Her eyes scanned the front of the counter, spotting the waffle cones stacked high and her stomach twisted in anticipation for the sweet crunchy taste.
“Since I’m the sugar daddy I guess I’m supposed to tell you that you can have whatever you want.”
Tamar tapped her lips in thought and nodded. “Waffle cone and caramel ice-cream… Thank you, sugar.”
She kept him on his toes and always laughing. He’d grown addicted to her company and for once, didn’t mind it. “Caramel ice cream in a waffle cone for the outrageous lady over here and a love it sized cake batter with yellow cake,” he told the young woman behind the counter. “You don’t want anything else on it, pretty girl?”
The woman behind the counter raised a brow, no doubt recognizing the college football star. Tamar noted this but ignored it to smile at Dylan. “Just that, plain and simple.”
“Whatever makes you happy. You want it outside or in here?”
“It’s a decent day outside… Besides, I think Ms. Stare-A-Lot would appreciate us staying out.” She shoved her hands in her baggy jean pockets, eying the young woman as she scooped their orders quickly.
Dylan turned to look at the woman, frowning. “I don’t mind taking you somewhere else if there’s a problem.”
“It’s not a big deal, Dylan. Outside is fine,” Tamar turned to glance outside, spotting a low hill surrounded with young oak trees, a few feet away from the plaza.
It was a big deal and he was beginning to get seriously pissed off with the way people treated her. “I think I want to run my own article,” he grumbled, taking the cone from the woman to hand to Tamar before grabbing his own and handing off his card.
Tamar smirked wryly at his furrowed brow, feeling a bit sorry for the unassuming girl behind the counter. “Relax…” She reached up with her free hand and rubbed at his back. “Getting worked up over something silly won’t do any good. They’ll find a way to blame me for it, good or bad, remember?”
His frown softened at her touch and he turned his head to her, his focus shifting immediately. “That’s seriously starting to annoy me. I chased you. Not the other way around. It’s not like I have any money for you to be gold digging for.”
Her brows lifted, a teasing smile tugging at her lips. “How would you know that?”
“You did get all excited about me being your sugar daddy. You planning on using me for my money?”
Tamar could feel the girl’s wide eyes darting from her to Dylan. She could already feel the newspress machines warming up but teasing Dylan was worth it. The look in his eyes encouraged her, made her smile wider. “Now you get it, Sinatra.” She tapped him lightly in his chest. “So get back your money card and come with me. I have grand plans for you now and later…” She took one step back, her fingers pinching the fabric of his shirt to pull him with her.
Dylan plucked his card from the stunned cashier and let Tamar draw him away, a grin splitting his face. “Mhmm, I love it when you take control like that. You’re gonna get me in trouble.”
“We’re both in trouble, Sinatra,” she said, releasing his shirt once they stepped out of the shop. Her eyes danced over his face before peering out past the parking lot. “Let’s eat there,” she pointed toward the lone hill shaded by trees.
“You started it. Lead the way. I’m just following you and all your little plans.”
“I’m used to the consequences that come with it,” Tamar said over her shoulder. “Can you handle?” She licked at the corner of her waffle cone, leading the way across the parking lot to the grassy hill circled with slender oak trees.
Dylan lost use of his tongue for several seconds, following wordlessly behind her. She could drive him insane and he wasn’t even sure she realized she had that power. He spooned ice cream in his mouth and after a moment, regained his voice. “She’s my kinda rain. Like love from a drunken sky. Confetti fallin’ down all night. She’s my kinda rain.”
Tamar’s lips stilled over the cream, her eyes flicking over to Dylan’s face. Then she gave him a slow smile as she leaned back, studying him openly. “Now you’re just showing off…”
“And you like it. Pay up,” he said quietly, eyes sparkling as he grinned at her.
She bit her bottom lip even as she conceded silently, leaning forward to meet him halfway. Pursing her lips, she closed her eyes and waited for him to take the kiss this time.
Just the trust and openness in that simple action threatened to send him reeling. He stepped into her, taking her lips in a slow kiss that re-acquainted him with the feel and taste of her. Any leftover annoyance faded as all of his focus went to her and the crazy warmth she shot through his body. One hand rested loosely against her side as he fought the urge to draw her in tighter.
Her fingers resting on the grass curled in, nails digging into the dirt as Dylan’s lips beckoned her in. A slow burn rose from within and Tamar inclined her head, pushing her mouth against his own, parting her lips to pull at his own. For that brief moment, she forgot all about them being out in the open.
He groaned into her mouth when she took the kiss deeper and his hand left her side to frame her jaw as he met her hunger with his own. At the moment, everything around him fell to the wayside until all he heard, felt, and saw was her. Only when he felt the push to move more firmly over did he find the strength to draw back, reducing the kiss to brief fleeting ones.
“You’re… cheating,” Tamar said softly in between the light kisses, still trying to catch her breath. She didn’t try to lean back, not wanting to even as she warned him for taking more than one kiss for one song. “You owe me.”
“I pay with interest,” he promised and stole one last kiss before pulling back completely. “We gotta talk about these wages.”
Tamar lifted the melting ice-cream to cool the tingling of her mouth. “Negotiation time?” She smiled behind the waffle cone, eyes skimming over his lips before looking back at his gray eyes. “Name your conditions then…” she bit into the soft cone drenched with cream.
“One kiss per line sounds fair.” He rolled over to rest on an elbow and brought his spoon to his mouth with a choir boy expression on his face.
She laughed. “Cute… But my conditions sound much better. That way, my kisses are more valuable to you.” Her eyes danced with mischief, rubbing the cream along her lips when the tingling wouldn’t stop. Goodness, this man could kiss.
His spoon dropped back into the cup as his eyes fixed on her ice cream covered lips. “Pretty girl, if they get anymore valuable I’m gonna die the next time I kiss you,” he croaked.
Tamar drew in her lips, licking off the cream as she nodded. “Good point. I’ll behave.”
“I like it better when we misbehave together. Let me do that for you next time.”
Her cheeks warmed visibly and she lowered her eyes for a brief moment, picturing the thought clearly. She smiled coyly as she peeked up at him from lowered lashes. “Promise?”
He groaned long and soft, letting his head drop as he tried to banish the vision his own words had created. “You’re trying to kill me. You don’t play fair.”
Tamar only laughed airily, taking another bite of her waffle cone. It was still surreal that someone like him could even want her, but every heated glance, every persuasive nudge of his lips told her he did. Shaking her head slowly incredulously, she worked on finishing the ice-cream.
“Evil, evil woman.” He picked his spoon back up and tried to focus on his ice cream. “I’m never buying you ice cream again.”
She glanced at him from the corner of her eye and smirked at him. “Yes you will,” she said knowingly, imagining many ice-cream kisses together with him.
He couldn’t deny it. He’d be tempted to buy her more just to coax her into another kiss like the one he’d imagined; licking the rich cream from her lips. He closed his eyes. “Behave and finish your ice cream.”
She chuckled lightly and did just that, nibbling at the softened waffle cookie until she was satisfied. Cleaning her sticky fingers with the napkin that came with her waffle, Tamar risked a glance at Dylan and laughed softly. He had such long, dark lashes that curled against his skin and she wanted to touch them. “You can open your eyes now.”
“Are you done trying to tempt me?”
“Not nearly, but this will do. I’m ready to go now,” Tamar said matter-of-factly, though there was a hint of laughter in her voice.
He opened one eye and then the other once he realized her cone was gone. “You need to be arrested.” Scooping the last of the ice cream into his mouth, he glared at her.
She laughed, pulling herself to her feet. “Arrested for what?”
“All that temptation is illegal somewhere. I deserve another gold star.”
Tamar smiled softly. “Let me make it up to you… Have dinner with me tomorrow. My place.” She held her breath, waiting for his reply.
His teasing disappeared beneath a surprised smile. He was used to planning things for them, surprising her. This time she’d caught him off guard. “That sounds good. Real good.”
She nodded. “Good, wouldn’t want to take away all your gold stars,” she said sternly though her eyes danced with unrestrained excitement. She would have to recruit Bekah of course but mostly, this would be all of her work. She couldn’t wait. “After you’re done with class and practice, come over. Seven good?”
“Make it seven-thirty in case practice runs long.” He pushed onto his feet, holding out his cup for her to drop her napkin in.
“No problem,” Tamar shrugged, dropping the soiled napkin in the cup even as she smiled at him. “Thanks for the dessert.”
“You’re welcome. Thought you might like it.”
Her eyes moved over his lips before tugging up to his gaze. “Yeah, I did.” Then biting back a smile, Tamar started back to the parking lot, already drafting her plans for dinner the next day.