Posts tagged “popularity

Her Champion: Chapter 20

Posted on 18/07/2013


Dylan dropped back several steps, catching the ball tight at his chest. Shaking his head, he adjusted it until it fit comfortably in his hand.

“Keep it tight, G. You’re giving it too much air. You don’t want to make me work this hard,” he corrected as he threw the ball back and glanced at his watch. He’d agreed to the extra practice but he’d also made it shorter than usual and asked Tamar to meet him at the field so he could spend some time with her.

“Sorry, Ramsey. You need to go?” Garrett asked watching Dylan check his watch as he’d done after almost every toss. He had a good guess as to what had Dylan so anxious.

“Not yet. Give me another throw.”

Tamar self-consciously brushed a curly strand of hair from her face as she approached the door, her heart doing mini-somersaults as she heard male voices on the other side. She suddenly wanted to turn back. With an annoyed frown, she recalled Bekah’s concern that she was getting soft. Shaking her head, Tamar straightened her back and pushed the door open, immediately moving to the wall where she was intent on waiting for Dylan.

Dylan caught a couple of more passes and made several more corrections before shifting down the field to give Garrett an example. It was when he moved to the right that he caught sight of the petite female leaning against the wall just inside the door. A grin spread across his face as he tossed the ball back to Garrett.

“Alright G-man, let’s wrap it up for the day.”

Garrett barely caught the ball before turning his eyes in the direction Dylan’s gaze was fixed. He wasn’t surprised to find the woman who’d been the talk of the campus for the last few weeks. He glanced back at Dylan before looking to her once more. “Do I get an introduction?”

Dylan was already crossing the field toward her when he heard Garrett’s question. He shrugged. “Make it quick,” he tossed over his shoulder.

Tamar happened to look up from her scuffed boots and saw Dylan walking her way. She could feel a goofy grin spread her lips as she watched him stride across the field with his long arms and legs moving powerfully, muscles flexing with every purposeful move. She’d already lost her breath by the time he stood to her. She forgot about their surroundings and who she was compared to him, and just met him halfway. ”Hey,” she greeted Dylan breathlessly, her eyes dancing up at him.

“I do. Cherish you. For the rest of my life, you don’t have to think twice,” he sang softly as he cupped her cheeks and drew her in for a light kiss. “Hey pretty girl,” he returned with a crooked grin once he pulled back.

Tamar smiled wider and moved back into his arms. Screw popularity, she wanted to kiss him again. Hooking her arms around his neck, she pressed her mouth against his again. She’d wanted to do that last night but with the strange end to their evening, it seemed only right to do it now… even if it was in front of his entire football team. Pulling back a little, her eyes twinkled up at him. “Am I too early?” Tamar  peered over his shoulder at his teammates, some of them pausing their drills to acknowledge the team captain’s guest. Her cheeks warmed under their open perusal but she didn’t move an inch from Dylan’s arms.

“Huh?” he asked a bit distracted, his focus on her lips and his mind on the kiss she’d just given him. He hadn’t expected it, not in front of the team, and it made him feel a few inches taller. He kept one arm wrapped around her waist , wishing they were already alone. Wolf whistles made him groan and drop his head. “Give me a minute to wrap things up with the guys and we’ll get outta here.”

Tamar playfully wrinkled her nose at his grumbling and laughed. To her surprise, the wolf whistles weren’t nearly as daunting or offensive as they should have been. Than they used to be. The attention with Dylan sure beat jeering and mocking laughs directed at her any day. “No rush. I can stay for a while longer.”

“Just a couple more plays,” he promised and snuck another kiss before jogging back across the field, catching the ball that was thrown at him as he went.

He fell into position, the defense setting themselves up against the offense and running through the play with almost flawless execution. There was something about having his top favorite things at the same time: his girl and the game. The last few plays of practice he was on the top of his game, drawing lots of ribbing from the guys as they wrapped up.

“Hey Ramsey, let me know when you’re done with her. Could use some luck.”

Just that quickly, Dylan’s smile dropped and he stepped toward the man. “Watch your mouth. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t exist to you. Keep her name out of your mouth. Got it?”

“Whoa Ramsey, take it easy.” One of the guys wrapped his arm over Dylan’s shoulder and drew him back a few steps. “Josh didn’t mean anything by it. Go on and get outta here. Rest the golden arm.”

Garrett watched with interest. His eyes darted from Dylan to Tamar. He’d never seen him so riled up about a woman and he made note of it. It seemed things were heating up. At least for Dylan.

Tamar had lowered her head to answer Bekah’s text but quickly glanced up again to check on Dylan when she spotted the entire team huddled in the middle of the field. Curiosity piqued, she lowered the phone and tried to find Dylan in the crowd.

When Dylan didn’t show any signs of backing off, Luke tugged harder. Dylan almost lost his balance but his eyes never left Josh. He felt another hand grab him.

“Dang, Josh. Apologize or something,” someone muttered.

“Hey, I didn’t realize it was serious. My bad.”

“Yeah, make sure it’s not your bad again,” Dylan warned as he shrugged off Luke’s hold and started to break away from the crowd.

“What in the world…” Tamar mumbled as she finally spotted Dylan flanked by two guys, both with their hands on his shoulders as if to stop him from lunging forward. The stormy look on Dylan’s face sent her heart racing and her hyperactive imagination immediately started again, wondering what his teammates had said to offend their beloved quarterback. In the back of her mind, Tamar knew it had something to do with her. Tamping down a sigh, she waited for either Dylan’s stormy expression to ease off or for him to tear away from the crowd.

Garrett broke away from the crowd, following after Dylan who was already taking off his gloves as he strode toward Tamar.

She finally allowed herself to breathe again when he started toward her. “What was that about?” she asked, frowning up at him as he approached her.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” he assured her with a faint smile. “Let me hit the locker room and I’ll be ready.”

“I’ll be here.” She shrugged, watching his forced grin before he turned away. He was lying to her but she wasn’t going to nudge him further, knowing she was keeping secrets of her own.

Garrett watched Dylan let himself inside before strolling up to her and offering a hand with a warm smile. “Tamar, right? I’m Garrett.”

A bit distracted by Dylan, Tamar jumped slightly at the unexpected company and squinted against the sunlight at the man standing before her. She blinked momentarily and then managed a smile, recognizing him instantly. “Yeah, I remember you… from the eatery.” She nodded her greeting before peering over his shoulder at the dispersed crowd. “What was that about back there?”

He dropped his hand and slipped it into his pocket. He couldn’t fight the grin when she remembered him. That was something. “Ramsey didn’t tell you? One of the guys had something smart to say. He needed to be corrected.”

She tilted her head to look at him, her brow furrowed. “At whose expense?” she said quietly before looking over her shoulder to where Dylan retreated. If he reacted like that every time someone had something “smart” to say about her, his revered popularity on and off the field would be jeopardized. She swallowed a sigh and shook her head. They would have to discuss that later.

He waved off her concern. “Ramsey’s alright. Besides, a pretty girl like you deserves to be defended.”

Tamar blinked up at him, surprised by his words. Then she scoffed lightly. “No need for the brown-nosing, Garrett…” She shoved her hands in her pockets and eyed him curiously. “How long have you known Dylan?”

His smile was easy, genuine.“No brown-nosing. I’m just being honest. Dylan’s known me for about a year. We met when I joined the team last year.”

“Hmm, I see…” she muttered under her breath, deciding that he wasn’t the person to ask the question nagging her all day. “He’s a good guy, isn’t he?” Tamar asked instead, smiling back at him.

“He can be.” He smiled to offset his words and glanced over her head to see Dylan heading back their way. He took a few steps back, starting to return to the field. “I’ll see you around, Tamar.”

Tamar merely waved and quickly turned to greet Dylan with a weary look as he approached her. “You okay?”

“Fine. How was your day?”

She scoffed again and reached up to tousle his damp hair. “Fine but you’re pouting?” Tamar shook her head, deciding that even with his lips pursed like that, she wanted to kiss him soundly. Rolling her eyes at her wanton thought, she nudged him with her elbow. “Can we get outta here now?”

“I don’t pout.” Watching and feeling her play in his hair erased the pout he claimed not to have and a smile peeked out. He held the door open for her before he did something to warrant more wolf whistles.

Tamar laughed softly, stepping around him through the door. For now she’d forget about the curious glances from his quiet teammates and focus only on his cute expressions. Spending time with him was definitely the highlight of her day. “Where are we going now?” she called over her shoulder, walking ahead of him. “Are you hungry? Lunch on me.”

“Pretty girl, lunch is never on you. You know that but lunch is good.” He’d worked up an appetite but no matter what she’d suggested, he would have willingly gone along with it just to spend time with her.

“Bend the rules this once, Casanova,” she countered gently, drawing back to walk beside him. Her eyes scanned his chiseled face and she smirked. Although it was just a night ago, Tamar had missed being with him. “Consider it a thank you for last night…”

“That would work if I wasn’t the one who owed you a thank you for last night. Nice try though.” He linked his fingers through hers as they left the stadium and started down the sidewalk.

“It seems there’s never a point to argue with you…” The feel of his fingers entwining with hers sent warm shivers down her spine and Tamar bit her bottom lip. The warmth that exuded from him comforted and assured her that she was doing the right thing; standing up against Neecy and whoever else dared to tell her she wasn’t worthy of Dylan’s attention. In that moment, with his fingers laced through hers, Tamar felt safe and wanted. She didn’t want that feeling to ever go away, if she could help it.

“Ahh, finally she sees the light.” He laughed and squeezed her hand. “What’s for lunch?”

Tamar twisted her mouth in slight protest. “Well, let’s see. I’d invite you back to the dorm for lunch but Bekah would have my hide…” She fought back a wince, realizing that she’d spoken too soon. Shrugging, she delved in. “We’re moving off campus, by the way.” There was no point delaying the inevitable.

“Am I not allowed in the room anymore?” He slowed his steps when he heard her last words. “Kind of sudden, isn’t it? Why the move?”

“Living on campus is kinda lame.” She smirked up at him. “I mean, it can be a bit suffocating living in that studio room,” she replied, eying him carefully.

He thought it over and finally just shrugged, lifting her hand to his mouth for a kiss. “If that’s what you want then do it. Tonio and I will help get everything moved in and out.”

Tamar laughed, just realizing that she’d been holding her breath. Her gaze lowered to his lips pressed against her skin and felt her cheeks flush. “Thanks for your approval… I think it’ll be a good move. No more curfews and I can have sleepovers.” The corners of her mouth lifted impishly as she eyed him openly, retrieving her hand.

He looked over at her then, laughing at the mischievous look on her face. “People really have no clue how wicked you are. You know, we could get started moving stuff in today…”

She giggled. “We have to find the place first, Casanova. Slow your roll.” Peering over his shoulder, she smirked. “What are you in the mood for?”

“I’m just trying to let you know the kind of service you’ve got on hand. We wouldn’t want you wastin’ time.” He stepped out onto a crosswalk then. “I could eat pretty much anything. A lot of anything.”

“Don’t take back your offer when it’s time,” she warned him good-naturedly before sighing. “That’s not narrowing down anything. Pick something to eat, besides burritos or ice-cream.” She was in no mood to run into either Neecy or any of Dylan’s fan base members.

“Are you gonna call me a cheap date if I tell you I really just want some burgers and fries?”

“Cheap, no. Boring, yes.” Tamar squeezed his hand, giving him a teasing wink. “Honestly, I want that too, so it’s okay.”

“I can take boring. I can always make that up.” Changing direction, he started for the Checkers. “You gotta love an agreeable woman. You get a gold star for that.”

Scoffing lightly, Tamar nudged him in his side. “By the way… How’s Crystal?” She snuck a peek at his face to gauge his initial reaction. He hadn’t called her after she left the house, so she wondered if they’d managed to resolve whatever it was that had his sister hung up during the night.

He rolled his eyes playfully. “She’s fine. Fine enough that she’s turning into a mini mom. She’ll want to apologize again for last night. Don’t take it easy on her.”

Tamar raised a brow but shrugged it off. “It’s okay… If I had an older brother and he brought a lady friend over for the first time, I’d be a bit wary too.” She flashed him a smile. “Don’t be hard on her.”

“That doesn’t make it okay to be rude and she knows that,” he said firmly. He’d told Crystal as much during their conversation the previous night.

“Relax, it wasn’t that bad…” Tamar rolled her eyes and chuckled lightly. “If anything, she was just being assertive and protective of you. I’m not the least bit offended.” Then she slowed in her step and turned to face him, lifting a hand to pinch his cheek lightly. “Although, I have to admit it’s rather cute that you’d defend my honor like that. But please, let it go.”

“Woman, you’re ruining my tough guy image right now,” he mumbled but made no move to get from under her touch. “I’m always going to have something to say if I don’t like the way somebody talks to or about you. You might as well get used to that.”

At his honest declaration, Tamar’s smile waned and her fingers stilled by his cheek. That pesky warm shiver skittered down to her toes and her blue eyes darted to his own, gazing up at him. The sincerity in his gray eyes threatened to undo her but she managed to remain upright, letting his words wrap around her like a security blanket to ward off Neecy’s scathing glares and contentious words that had filled her thoughts throughout the previous night. “Can I?” Tamar whispered softly.

“Yes, Tamar. You can. Nobody talks about my girl but me.” Just the thought of comments similar to the ones he’d already heard threatened to get him angry all over again. No, he wouldn’t sit back if anybody was stupid enough to say something in front of him.

She lifted a hand to frame his cheek, entranced by the protective glint in his eyes that threatened to turn her into a puddle of goo. Standing in his arms and gazing into those gray eyes made her want to believe that she could finally let her guard down and like him as much as she wanted to, without worrying about the ridicule and scorn of others. He could protect her and honestly, she wanted him to. Tamar lowered her lashes and moved her hand away from his face to his shoulder. “Bekah thinks I’m becoming soft… Do you think I am?” she asked, her voice barely audible.

His brow furrowed quizzically. “Soft how? I think you’re soft in all the right places but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about.”

Tamar bit her bottom lip to keep from smiling, peeking up at him. “That mouth of yours…” Her eyes drifted down to said mouth and felt her cheeks warm. She lifted her gaze back to his. “I’m serious. Before I never used to care what people thought of me, what scornful things they’d say next. Now… not so much.” She frowned slightly, tilting her chin up. “You understand now?”

“You like it,” he said knowingly before growing serious and considering her question. “I don’t think it makes you soft to care about what people say. It makes you human. I think you’re starting to let yourself feel and that means everything, the good and the bad. I wouldn’t call it soft.”

Tamar smiled this time, lifting both hands to brace his shoulders. The words might have seemed casual to him but to her, it meant more than just a simple observation. She was starting to let herself feel again instead of numbing herself to dangers and risks around her. Her smile widened, eyes glinting in admiration as she gazed up at him. “Since when did you get so wise?”

“I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or you’re saying you thought I was stupid up until now…”

“You’d do best to take it as a compliment.” She chuckled lightly and squeezed his arm before stepping away.

“Yeah, I think I like it better as a compliment too,” he echoed after a moment and fell into step with her.

<<Chapter 19 || Chapter 21>>

Her Champion: Chapter 13

Posted on 25/06/2013

metropolis“So what’s up?” Tonio demanded once the door shut behind the women.

“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.”

“Goodnight Tammy…”

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.

<<Chapter 12 || Chapter 14>>

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