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The Dixon Rule by Elle Kennedy

The Dixon Rule

by Elle Kennedy

Published by Bloom Books

Book 2 in The Campus Diaries Series

Diana Dixon has a lot going on this summer.

She’s rehearsing for a ballroom dance competition, juggling two jobs, and dealing with an ex-boyfriend who can’t take the hint it’s over. Yet despite all that, she still has plenty of time and energy to tell Shane Lindley to screw off.

Shane just moved into her apartment building and seems dedicated to sleeping his way through her entire cheerleading squad. Sure, he’s a tall, gorgeous hockey player, but he’s messing with her turf. This calls for some ground rules: no parties in her apartment, leave her teammates alone, and—most importantly—leave her alone.

What Diana doesn’t realize is that Shane’s sick of hookups and tired of being on the rebound after his long-term girlfriend called it quits. He wants a relationship. And when his ex comes back into the picture, he pretends he has one to make her jealous…and who better to play the girlfriend role than his sassy new neighbor?

Despite Diana’s reluctance to break her rule, a fake relationship is the perfect solution for her own ex issues, and soon she can’t deny something is sizzling between her and Shane. Something hot and completely unexpected.

And it might just be getting a little too real.



Domestic Abuse, Trauma from Abuse, Death of Parent


Elle Kennedy deserves all the praise she gets for her work.

Especially her books involving Briar-U, because they are all so much fun to read. The Dixon Rule is no exception.

It had everything I love in a new-adult romance.

Banter. So much excellent, hilarious, tension-inducing banter.

Seriously, Elle Kennedy can write excellent banter that highlights her wit.

Storylines that resonate with the reader, but are balanced with emotional content, and lighthearted entertainment.

Well written characters that can stand alone, but have so much chemistry that when they are together on page, it's explosive.

Last but not least - sexy. Elle Kennedy writes steamy scenes that just have you waving your hands in front of your face to cool down from the heat. Because when you combine great storylines, well-written characters, witty dialogue, and chemistry, even regular sexual encounters are just hotter.

If the regular sex scenes are hotter, you just know the more risqué stuff is on fire.

Not to spoil, but our leads don't mind an audience.

The Dixon Rule isn't the only book Elle has written that involves a difficult, yet common arc. I appreciated her tackling the issues she did in this book. Sadly, domestic violence is all too common. It's also common to hear women say "I would never let that happen to me", or "why didn't she do this or that". It's refreshing to see an author tackle these thoughts from the point of view of the victim.

It makes you reflect.

And Elle does a great job, in my opinion, representing that the victim is not weak. The abuser is.

Another thing she does a great job at is telling a story that brings forward the pain of losing a parent. Now, I'm lucky. I have good relationships with my parents. They are both still alive. I still have two grandparents, and I'm 36. I wasn't super close with my other grandparents, so I haven't experienced that soul crushing loss yet. But reading Elle's words, I understood the pain that she was conveying. I was a mess.

The Dixon Rule was a beautifully balanced blend of lighthearted fun, and emotional devastation. While I loved the spice, it wasn't the highlight of this story. It was a bonus. The story could stand alone. While I'm sad that Elle has announced the last book - The Charlie Method - will be the last in The Campus Diaries series, I'm happy that she ensures us it's not the last we will get from this world. Which makes sense, as most of the original character's kids didn't go into hockey, or even attend Briar-U.

Regardless, I can't wait to see what's next.



The fat goldfish glances back at me with that deathly, unnerving stare.

Diana: “I don’t like that you can’t blink. It freaks me the fuck out.”

Diana: “I mean it. You were brought here from hell, personally delivered by the cold hands of Satan. Be honest—did he send you up here to torment me?”

Lucy: “Meow,”

she says smugly. Unblinking.

My jaw drops. Bitch basically just confirmed it!

Will: “Don’t worry, we didn’t see a thing.”

The reassurance comes from the boy-next-door face of Will Larsen.

Beckett: “I saw your tits and one butt cheek,”

Beckett Dunne says helpfully.

Diana: “I’m going to change. But we need to talk, so don’t go anywhere.”

Shane: “I can help you get dressed,”

I offer innocently.

Diana: “Ew. Never.”

I smother a laugh. Diana and I have a love-hate relationship. As in, she hates me, and I love to annoy her.

Some might lose sleep over the notion that someone might not like them—and I know for a fact Diana doesn’t like me. But I’m not averse to confrontation, and for some reason, her dislike only makes me want to bother her even more. It’s the preschooler in me. All men regress to their kindergarten days every now and then.

Diana: “Let’s summarize the rules. Go easy on the parties. Wipe the equipment down after you use the gym. Don’t have sex in the pool.”

Shane: “What about blowjobs in the pool?”

Diana: “Look, I don’t care who you want to suck off, Lindley. Just don’t do it in the pool.”

April: "What about your neighbors? Have you met any of them?”

Shane: “Just one. She was outside her apartment buck naked when we got here.”

April: “What? You’re joking?”

Mom gasps.

Shane: “Nope. She was chasing after a cat and dropped her towel. Best accident I’ve ever witnessed.”

April: “Don’t be gross, Shane.”

If someone wants to be in a relationship with you, they will. They won’t string you along. They won’t hit you up in the middle of the night for sex. They won’t feed you endless excuses about how they’re “not cut out for relationships” or how “you deserve so much better.” They would be with you, plain and simple.

Diana: “All right, my little bunny rabbits. Let’s get in position.”

Tatiana, the ringleader of the 11–12s, sticks up her hand.

Tatiana: “Diana. We all took a vote and decided we don’t want to be called bunny rabbits anymore.”

I bite my lip to keep from laughing.

Diana: “I see. Any particular reason?”

Tatiana: “Because they poop everywhere.”

The laugh slips out. From the corner of my eye, I glimpse my co-counselor, Fatima, grinning.

Diana: “I mean, that’s a fair point. But the poop thing only occurred to you now?”

Avery: “My little brother got a pet rabbit this weekend,”

Avery explains, her face glum.

Avery: “I hate that thing with all my heart.”

Shane: “Also, I heard this camp’s got you making bottle rockets. What if you mix all the ingredients wrong and accidentally create a biological weapon?”

Maryanne thinks it over for a beat.

Maryanne: “Then I guess we kill everyone at camp.”

Shane: “Wow. Kid. That’s dark.”

Ryan: “Thanks for taking her out. We’re excited to have a quiet night in.”

Dad winks at Mom.

Shane: “Seriously, gross. I don’t want to think about the activities you have planned while we’re gone.”

Dad offers a wolfish look.

Ryan: “Probably a good idea.”

Shane: “A what?”

Maryanne: “Agate. It’s a gemstone.”

She huffs at me.

Maryanne: “Don’t you know anything about Vermont geology?”

Shane: “Nope. And I’m insulted that you think I would. I was popular in school.”

Tom: “We’re good.”

I stare at him incredulously.

Diana: “Do you realize I watched hours’ worth of how-to videos to try to fix that stupid thing and you did it in minutes?”

He shrugs.

Tom: “Just had to adjust the control valve.”

Diana: “I hate that after all those online tutorials, I still don’t know what you’re talking about. I feel completely useless right now.”

Dad grins at me.

Tom: “It’s okay, kiddo. I’ll never ask you to fix my shower temperature, but you’re still the first person I’d want by my side in a fight.”

Diana: “Obviously. Thomas would never have your back.”

Tom: “Nah, he would. He’d throw down. But then he’d feel guilty and start patching up the enemy’s wounds. You, on the other hand…”

Diana: “I’d crush their skulls to dust,”

Tom: “That’s my girl.”

Gigi: “The party at your apartment complex? Beckett’s goodbye thing.”

Diana: “What! Is he moving? Why didn’t I know about this?”

She grins.

Gigi: “He’s not moving. He’s going on vacation.”

Diana: “Oh. Wow. That’s extra.”

Gigi: “Beyond extra.”

I purse my lips for a moment.

Diana: “Eh. I’d still suck his dick.”

She bursts out laughing.

Lily is up first. She stands and waits for Gia to flash the phone screen at her. The first command is written in big, bold letters, and the timer starts the moment it appears. Sixty seconds begin to count down.


Lily: “Easy,”

she says, grinning as she yanks Beckett out of his chair.

Lily: “Doggy-style.”

We’re all laughing as she bends over the table and Beck steps up behind her, hands clasping around her hips.

Gia: “Girl, you finished that in four seconds.”

Gia sounds impressed. Lily shrugs.

Lily: “I know what I like.”

I snicker.

Beckett then has to tell his best joke to our opponents and get at least one laugh for the point. His contribution is solid.

Beckett: “What do you call a pool boy that doesn’t fuck the lady of the house?”

Diana: “What?”

Diana says warily.

Beckett: “Will.”

Diana: “That’s not a joke! It’s a statement of fact!”

Diana sputters, but Gia ruins it for the women by guffawing.

Diana: “Traitor,”

Diana accuses her.

Gia: “It was funny,”


Lily: “Do Diana,”

Lily says with a chortle. The countdown starts, and I make a big show of studying Diana’s face. Tilting my head, squinting, taking a good, hard look.

Diana: “Oh, fuck off. We all know you’re going to say something sleazy, like my⁠—”

Shane: “Your smile.”

Her suspicion is palpable.

Diana: “Are you serious?”

Shane: “You have a really pretty smile.”

My voice suddenly sounds a little gruff to my ears.

Gia: “The prompt was sexiest feature, not prettiest. You guys don’t score the point.”

Shane: “Oh, in that case, I love her ass.”

Diana: “And there he is,”

Diana says, sighing.


Will and Beckett: “Shane!”

Will and Beckett say in unison, then exchange grins. Diana stares at them in horror.

Diana: “How could you?”

Shane: “Told you. She won’t do it. She knows she’ll enjoy it too much.”

Her eyes flare.

Diana: “Oh, you wish. If my tongue was in your mouth, only one of us would be enjoying it.”

Shane: “Yeah. You.”

Maybe I did feel a teeny, tiny tingle of arousal from that kiss. How could I not when his erection was pressing against me? And it was…substantial. A generous penis, as my friend Brooke described a boyfriend’s package once.

Unfortunately, that generous penis belongs to the cocky, insufferable Shane Lindley. Therefore, I will not be partaking in that penis, thank you very much.

Will merely shrugs.

Will: “Sorry, bro. I’ve got other plans.”

Shane glares at his teammate.

Shane: “Don’t do this, man. She’s going to eat you alive. There’s still time to make the right decision.”

Diana: “He’s just jealous. I swear, this guy is obsessed with me.”

Shane: “You wish. And don’t forget who kissed who.”

Diana: “Don’t forget whose penis got hard and whose vagina got dry.”

Shane: “You were wetter than the Atlantic,”

Diana: “Dryer than the Sahara. But it’s okay. I’m positive you’ll be able to turn on a woman someday. Just keep practicing on your sex doll.”

Fluttering my free hand in a careless wave, I pull Will away from the pool area toward the path home.

He smiles, drawing my attention to his boy-next-door looks. He’s just that classic all-American guy, the one who wears his letterman jacket in high school, graduates college with a very practical degree, and marries a woman who’ll give him 2.5 kids and bake cookies on the weekends. Then in the fall, they go to pumpkin patches together and take family pictures, posing in matching orange sweaters.

Will: “You okay there?”

I snap out of my reverie.

Diana: “Sorry. I was picturing you at a pumpkin patch.”

Will: “Was I naked?”

Diana: “Of course not. That would scare the other families.”

He’s puzzled.

Will: “I was there with family?”

Diana: “Long story.”

In the bottom drawer, I find a pair of plaid boxers. I hold them up by the waistband and study Will’s hips.

Diana: “He’s around your size, so these should fit. Might be a little tight, but that just means I get to stare at your bulge.”

Diana: “Is that what we do now, we lie to each other? We’re supposed to be best friends, William.”

He snickers.

Will: “No we’re not.”

Diana: “Fine. Best friend adjacent. You and Gigi are close. Therefore, you and I are close.”

I flop down beside him on the mattress.

Diana: “Spill the tea.”

Will: “Nah. I’d much rather discuss how you made out with Lindley tonight. I think he enjoyed it.”

Diana: “Oh, definitely. Things were poking out of his swim trunks for sure.”

Will: “Things?”

Diana: “Well, only one thing. His dick,”

Will snorts out a laugh.

Will: “Yeah, I got that.”

Diana: “This is our finishing move. The best moisturizer you’ll ever experience. It has collagen in it, but that’s basically the only confirmed ingredient. The manufacturer keeps the exact recipe a mystery, so for all I know it’s made from zebra tears and alligator semen⁠—”

Will keels over with a howl.

Diana: “—but whatever it is, it’s life-changing. Trust me, you’ll love it. Give me your face.”

Will: “It can’t become a habit.”

His tone remains firm.

Will: “I want a girlfriend at some point. If I’m with someone, I can’t exactly be like, hey, can my best friend fuck you?

Diana: “Good point. If my boyfriend said that to me, it’d be a huge turnoff.”

Shane: “I was thinking about it last night and decided that if I’m not allowed to sleep with cheerleaders, then you can’t sleep with hockey players. New rule. The Lindley rule. You can’t screw my teammates.”

Diana: “Why not?”

I counter, even though absolutely nothing happened between me and Will.

Shane: “Spite. And vengeance. This is purely retaliatory.”

Diana: “You’re such a child.”

Shane: “Takes one to know one.”

Diana: “Oh my God, that’s literally what a child would say.”

Shane: “Oh, and another rule. You’re not allowed to turn the building against me.”

Diana: “Too late,”

Shane: “So you did say something to them!”

Will’s gaze swings between us like a Ping-Pong ball.

Shane: “Are you flirting?”

Diana: “No,”

I say in horror.

Shane: “What did you do to the neighbors?”

Diana: “Nothing, I swear.”

He scowls.

Shane: “Are you lying?”

Diana: “Of course.”

Will starts to laugh. He claps Shane on the arm, then glances at me.

Will: “Um. I think I’ll leave you guys to it. Thanks for letting me crash here.”

Diana: “Please don’t leave me with him,”

I plead, but Will is already heading for the door. I turn back to Shane.

Diana: “See what you did? You drive everyone away with your personality. I have no friends because of you.”

His lips twitch.

Shane: “You’re such a fucking drama queen.”

Diana: “Takes one to know one,”

GIGI: Did he try to feel you up?

DIANA: No. But I felt something.

GIGI: OMG Like you caught feelings?

DIANA: No, I literally FELT something. He was rocking a boner, and it was…impressive.

GIGI: Oh, I know. I bumped into him in the middle of the night once on my way to the bathroom and he was naked.


GIGI: No, no. He was flaccid. But even flaccid it was eye-catching.

DIANA: I don’t know why, but I’m weirdly affronted by the word flaccid.

GIGI: Agreed. It’s so unpleasant. Let’s switch to “not hard.”

DIANA: Okay, so he was big even while not hard?

GIGI: Oh yeah. Comparable to a not-hard Ryder, and Ryder’s massive.

This is the first time she’s alluded to Ryder having a large package, and my curiosity is naturally sparked.

DIANA: How massive?

GIGI: None of your business.

DIANA: Come on. Share with the class. I won’t ever bring it up to him. Define massive.

There’s a long delay. Then:

GIGI: 10 inches.

I almost choke on my coffee. Oh my fucking God. Look at this guy. Six-foot-five king walking around with a ten-inch cock.

I’m never going to be able to look him in the dick again.

Priya: “Are you serious right now?”

Priya asks her, twisting her head to glare at our resident cougar.

Priya: “We’re all wasting our time with pool services because of you, and you’re going to waste it further?”

Veronika: “Because of me?”

Veronika questions with an exaggerated gasp.

Veronika: “But what did I do?”

Carla joins in on the attack.

Carla: “You made poor Niall witness your indiscretion next to a urinal, of all places!”

Veronika: “I still don’t see the issue.”

Brenda: “Diana, can you please read the minutes from last meeting so we might remember what exactly transpired between Veronika and the pool boy? Since she is unclear as to why we have to hire a new one.”

Brenda doesn’t bother to hide her exasperation. I flip a page in my notebook and clear my throat.

Diana: “Well, Niall detailed that he walked into the men’s bathroom during our community barbecue to find Arvin, the pool boy, hoisting Veronika up between two urinals. She yelled out, and I’m quoting, ‘Clean up this dirty hoe like you clean up our pool.’”

This sends Shane over the edge. He bends toward me, his head practically glued to my arm as he shudders with silent laughter.

Later that night, there’s a rap against my door. I answer it to find Shane’s scowling face. His expression is as dark as the black T-shirt hugging his muscular chest.

Diana: “I’m sorry, I don’t do solicitors,”

Diana: “Dude, it’s fine. You don’t have to justify why you’re still mooning over your ex.”

I grab a tall plastic cup out of the dishwasher and walk back to the blender.

Diana: “On that note, you can leave now. I have a margarita to drink and four episodes of Fling or Forever to catch up on.”

Shane: “Cool. Wanna order a pizza? I’ll grab some beer from my apartment.”

I stare at him.

Diana: “I didn’t invite you.”

Shane: “Oh, I invited myself. Was that not clear?”

Shane gestures toward the pizza box, the beer, the TV.

Shane: “This is a truce, right?”

Diana: “No.”

I snicker.

Diana: “And you’re naive for even asking that.”

Shane: “I know. I felt stupid the moment I said it.”

He lets out a sigh.

Shane: “Let me grab those refills.”

Diana: “Where are you going this morning?”

Diana asks with a sidelong look.

Diana: “You’re not wearing your dorky golf clothes.”

Shane: “My golf clothes aren’t dorky.

I put the car in park so she can get out.

Shane: “Later, Dixon.”

Diana: “Thanks for the ride, Daddy.”

Shane: “Don’t turn me on this early in the morning, please.”

Diana: “Oh. Oh no.”

Shane: “I can hear you smiling, Dixon.”

Diana: “I mean, you cleaned the house for her.”

Shane: “No, apparently, I cleaned the house for them. It’s cool, though. I did some damage control.”

Diana: “What kind of damage control?”

Shane: “I told them I had a girlfriend.”

I start to laugh.

Diana: “This is the greatest day of my life.”

Shane: “Oh, it gets better, Dixon. I told them it was you.”

I’m pretty sure this girl hates me, but I don’t know how much sympathy I can muster for her. She’s sitting there with her boyfriend at her side. She has no right to be overtly hostile to her ex-boyfriend’s fake girlfriend.

Honestly, this is fun. I’m absolutely nailing this role. And I’ve only just begun.

Shane’s going to kill me.

I’m going to kill Diana.

Diana: “Why are you staring at me?”

Her cheeks are flushed, either from the whiskey or the dancing. She doesn’t seem wasted, though.

Shane: “Have you always been this hot?”

Her mouth falls open. Then a laugh slides out.

Diana: “Well, yes. I have.”

Shane: “You look good, Dixon.”

Diana: “I know.”

I lock my gaze to hers. My mouth feels a bit dry. She lifts a brow.

Diana: “Are you waiting for me to return the compliment?”

Shane: “No. I know I look good. I always do.”

Diana: “You don’t have to like your dance partner.”

Shane: “I’m not doing it.”

Diane: “How about a blowjob?”

Shane: “I’m listening.”

I grin at him.

Diana: “Great. I’ll find a good escort service and see if they’ll give you one on the down low⁠—”

Shane: “From you, Dixon,”

he interrupts with a smirk.

Shane: “It’s your mouth or no mouth.”

Diana: “Perv. I will never blow you.”

Shane: “I know. That’s why I’m satisfied I’ll never have to be your dance partner.”

Shane: “I’m not a fuckboy.”

I lift a brow.

Shane: “I know it seems like it. I’m sure Gigi told you I went a little sex-crazed this year.”

Diana: “You single-handedly tried to bang the entire cheer team.”

Shane’s amusement returns in the form of a loud laugh.

Shane: “What? Why would you do that?”

Diana: “Because apparently this is a thing we do now, okay? We tell our exes that we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.”

Ryder narrows his eyes.

Ryder: “Gisele said it was girls’ night.”

Will: “What can I tell ya? Diana invited me.”

He flashes me a smug look.

Will: “Your girlfriend likes me better than you.”

Shane: “Probably. I annoy the fuck out of her.”

Shane: “She is so lame.”

I groan.

Will: “I think she’s cute,”

Shane: “Why don’t you date her, then?”

Will: “I’ll make sure to tell her you said that when we’re having drinks tonight. Anyway, yeah, I gotta go.”

He glances at Ryder.

Will: “Don’t expect me back tonight. I’ll probably crash at my cousin Rob’s in Boston. I think he’s joining us for drinks.”

I shake my head.

Shane: “How are you and ‘Rob’—”

I make quotations.

Will: “Why are you using air quotes? Are you implying that Rob is not real?”

Shane: “—on a double date with Ryder’s wife and my girlfriend, while he and I are here, not on a date with them?”

I finish in disbelief.

Will: “I don’t know. Some guys have all the luck.”

Will gives an exaggerated shrug and saunters out of the living room.

Diana: "I’m meeting Gigi again tomorrow after my breakfast shift for a dress fitting and then she’s coming over for a swim.”

Shane: “Excellent. Make sure you both wear your skimpiest bikinis.”

Diana: “Only if you wear your Speedo.”

Shane: “Deal.”

The pants are a thinner material than sweatpants, and although they’re not skin tight either, they do pull tight against his groin when he walks, outlining his generous penis. I still think about how it felt pressed against me when I was in his lap. Why is this thing so big? And—oh my god, something occurs to me. What if it’s even bigger? What if he only had a semi at the pool party? Like, he might have the largest penis of anyone on earth. It could be like twenty-five inches.

Shane: “Dixon.”

I snap out of it.

Shane: “What the hell’s the matter with you? Your face is redder than a tomato. Are you having an allergic reaction or something?”

Lovely. My face turned red thinking about Shane’s twenty-five-inch penis.

Diana: "Look at me, not your feet.”

Shane: “But then how do I know if they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing!”

He sounds frazzled, his forehead creased with frustration.

Diana: “Your quick steps need to be quicker.”

He groans.

Shane: “This is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

He turns toward the camera.

Shane: “Don’t judge me.”

Diana: “Just a little more hip movement,”

I encourage.

Diana: “You can do it.”

He growls at me.

Shane: “I’m a hockey player. My hips don’t move that way.”

Diana: “I guarantee they do.”

I plant my hands on his waist, then bring them around to the top of his butt.

Shane: “Dixon,”

he says in amusement.

Shane: “What are you doing?”

Diana: “It’s all in the ass and glutes. I promise. Can I touch your butt?”

Shane: “Obviously.”

I slide my hands down so I’m cupping his buttocks. Jesus. This is the tightest, most muscular ass I’ve ever felt. I’ve dated athletes before, but Shane’s butt is something else.

Diana: “You have the ass of a marble statue,”

I marvel. He smirks.

Shane: “I know.”

Diana: “All right, not to be crude”

—I peek over my shoulder at the camera—

Diana: “cover your children’s ears, people. But dancing is basically vertical sex. You’re too rigid, Lindley. You need to move your hips the way you would if we were…you know.”

His eyes gleam.

Shane: “Are you asking me to vertically fuck you?”

Diana: “Shane,”

I lightly smack his butt.

Diana: “C’mon, let’s repeat that step.”

Shane: “While you squeeze my ass?”

Diana: “Yes, trust me. I’ll be able to show you how to relax the hips.”

Shane: “This sounds like the premise for a really bad porn scene.”

Diana: “You wish.”

Diana: “Are you asking me to have sex with you?”

Shane: “You don’t have to look so repulsed.”

I snicker at him.

Diana: “We don’t even like each other.”

Shane: “We tolerate each other,”

Diana: “Oh, what an endorsement to get me into bed! I tolerate you, Diana. Please, let me make sweet love to you.”

Shane: "I mean, if we already have to pretend to be all over each other this summer for Percy’s sake, we might as well put our hands on each other for real. What do you have to lose?”

Diana: “My patience. My dignity. My purity.”

Shane: “So…about this friends-with-benefits proposal?”

I slap my forehead in mock remembrance.

Diana: “Oh, shit, I forgot to tell you. I actually screen all of my friends with benefits very, very carefully. There’s a whole application process.”

Shane plays along.

Shane: “Oh, is there. May I have a copy of the application?”

Diana: “Unfortunately, I’m in the process of editing it to make it more in-depth, so I’m not open to applicants at this time. But maybe you can apply next year.”

He nods solemnly.

Shane: “Please let me know when a slot opens up again.”

Diana: “You will be the first person I notify. And by first, I mean dead last.”

Shane: “What are we looking at?”

Diana: “That cloud up there is shaped like a magician. He’s wearing a top hat and holding a rabbit in one hand and a huge butcher knife in the other.”

Shane: “That’s dark,”

Diana: “Hey, I didn’t do this. That’s what the clouds are saying today.”

I roll my eyes at her.

Shane: “You have issues.”

Diana: “You didn’t even try to see it,”

Shane: “Why would I? It’s not there.”

Diana: “Try.”

Shane: “Fine. Where?”

Diana: “See that break between the two clouds just left of the sun?”

I suck in a breath.

Shane: “Holy shit. That rabbit’s about to get his throat sliced.”

Diana’s entire face brightens.

Diana: “Do you really see it?”

Shane: “No. No, Dixon. Of course not.”

Shane: “What kind of thoughts do you think a cloud would have if it was sentient?”

Diana: “I can’t even begin to answer that question.”

I absently play with the end of her wet ponytail.

Shane: “I think he’d think, what the hell am I doing up here?”

There’s a beat of silence, and then Diana bursts out laughing, waves splashing everywhere as she shudders in my arms.

Diana: “Oh my God, why are you so weird?”

Shane: “Shut up.”

I hear Gigi giggling from her chair.

Gigi: “Okay, I take it back.”

Diana: “What?”

Diana says, glancing over.

Gigi: “You two are kind of perfect for each other.”

Diana: “Why are you staring at me?”

Shane: “I was thinking about the swirl move you did with your tongue when we made out.”

She lightly punches my shoulder. Droplets of water splash onto my arm.

Shane: “Hey, you asked.”

I teasingly drag my fingers over the swell of her ass.

Shane: “Don’t tell me you haven’t been thinking about it.”

Diana: “Not one iota of brain power has gone toward that kiss.”

Shane: “Bullshit. I’m not the only one who was affected.”

Diana: “Sorry to break it to you, but you were.”

I give her ass cheeks a discreet squeeze. When her lips part, I take full advantage and press my mouth to hers, sliding my tongue through that seam. Despite her surprised noise, Diana kisses me back. I’m rock-hard within seconds, and I know she can feel it. I pull my mouth away when I hear a loud slapping against the deck. We turn to see Percy’s retreating back as he leaves the pool.

Gigi: “Point made,”

I hear Gigi say from her chair. Fuck. To be honest, I totally forgot about Diana’s ex. There was no point being made. I simply wanted to kiss her and to prove I turn her on.

Shane: “See. It affects you as much as it affects me.”

She reaches down between us, and my lips barely contain a groan when she lightly squeezes my erection.

Diana: “Really… Because the way I see it, if we’re both so affected…why am I the only one who can get out of the pool?”

She laughs and swims off toward the ladder.

I startle when Logan suddenly growls.

Logan: “Nope. No fucking way, Dean. This is not fucking happening. Go get your boy.”

I follow his gaze and see Beau Di Laurentis hugging the girl in the crop top. They’re clearly happy to see each other.

Dean: “Chill. It’s just a hug,”

Dean replies, unbothered.

Logan: “His hand grazed her lower back.”

Dean: “His hand didn’t graze shit.”

Logan’s tone remains deadly.

Logan: “It’s not happening. I’m not letting a Di Laurentis corrupt her.”

Dean: “He’s only sixteen, and he’s not doing anything.”

Trying not to laugh, I interrupt their heated exchange.

Shane: “I take it that’s your daughter and that’s his son?”

Logan: “No, that’s my daughter, and that is his future fuckboy.”

Diana: “I mean, the kid’s old enough to already be one,”

I hedge, while Will snickers softly. Logan glares at me. So does Dean.

Shane: “Sorry.”

I hold up my hands.

Shane: “It’s true. Sixteen is old, bro. I mean, when did you lose your virginity?”

Dean: “I didn’t. I’ve never had the joy of laying with a woman.”

Will, Tucker, and I start laughing, but Logan’s expression lacks all traces of humor.

Logan: “I was fourteen.”

He’s visibly upset.

Logan: “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Why did we ever have a child? We knew there was a fifty percent chance it would be a daughter.”

Dean grins at Logan’s dramatics.

Dean: “Relax. Look—Blake’s hugging AJ now. Go bother Connelly.”

Logan: “My daughter will never date a hockey player,”

Logan says ominously.

Logan: “I know what they’re like.”

Jake: “He was over the line, asshole!”

Connelly growls at me. I skate over politely.

Shane: “One more outburst from you, and I’m throwing you out of this game, Coach.”

Oh my God. I can’t believe I got to say that to Jake Connelly. This is the greatest day of my life.

As I walk to the kitchen, Shane ambles toward the fish tank.

Shane: “What’s up, Skip?”

he greets the goldfish.

Shane: “Hey, Dixon. Are we sure he’s in good health? He looks fat.”

Diana: “Oh, he’s in terrible health. He’s on diet food.”

Shane: “There’s diet fish food?”

Diana: “Yeah, I have to special order it from some weird lady in Florida. She makes it herself. But it doesn’t matter what I do to try to help this asshole. He doesn’t lose weight.”

Shane: “Aww, leave him alone. He’s just a husky boy who loves his pirate’s chest.”

I grin when I see Shane peering into the tank, his face pressed up right against the glass.

Shane: “He’s got, like, dead eyes.”

Diana: “I know. It’s very unnerving.”

A second later, the couple is under the duvet, and it looks like he’s operating a jackhammer in there.

Diana: “That’s ferociously fast. And they went from kissing to super penetration in five seconds. Where’s the foreplay?”

Shane: “What’s super penetration?”

Diana: “That. The entire bed is shaking. How is this fun for her? There’s no way this girl’s having an orgasm.”

Shane: “I don’t know. Maybe she asked for it. Maybe she was like, Don’t go down on me, Juan. I need to be pounded, preferably at a speed of sixty miles an hour, in order to come.

Shane: “You’ve already kissed me thrice,”

A laugh pops out.

Diana: “Thrice, huh?”

Shane: “Mmm-hmm.”

Shane: “So there’s nothing I can say or do to convince you to go into that bedroom with me? Nothing at all?”

Diana: “Nothing,”

I answer, pretending my mouth isn’t dryer than cotton.

Diana: “You’re wasting your time.”

Shane: “What if I kissed you?”

Diana: “You’d have to ask me first, and I don’t consent.”

Shane: “What if I take off my pants?”

Diana: “Well, then you’ll be sitting there with no pants on.”

Shane: “You really don’t trust that I’m attracted to you? Look at this.”

He smooths his hand over his cargo shorts, stretching the fabric taut so I can see the erection pressing against it.

Shane: “I’ve got a semi, and that’s just from you arguing with me.”

Diana: “Lindley, pay attention.”

I snap out of it.

Diana: “The tango isn’t a dance. Got it.”

I pause.

Shane: “Wait. So what is it, then?”

Diana: “It’s a promise.”

Shane: “A promise of what?”

Diana: “The best sex of your life.”

Damned if that doesn’t make my groin clench.

Diana: “You’re dancing, but really, you want to be in bed. But you can’t, so you have to let out all that sexual frustration on the dance floor.”

I don’t mind that she’s still pretending she’s not attracted to me. I need someone who will make me work for it a little. I’m a man who loves a chase. But I hate that the ball’s entirely in her court. I made it clear the other night that I was down for…anything. Literally anything. But Diana’s too stubborn for her own good. I have no idea what it will take to win her over. She just needs to, I don’t know, swallow her pride. And then swallow my dick.

I choke on a laugh.

Diana: “What are you all giggly about?”

Shane: “Nothing.”

Diana narrows her eyes.

Diana: “Are you having impure thoughts?”

Shane: “Of course. Me and everyone else in this gym.”

Shane: “Good form,”

She laughs.

Diana: “Stop talking shit.”

Shane: “Actually, excellent form. And check out this landing technique,”

I rave after I set her down.

Diana: “Let’s do it again, weirdo. I want to see something.”

I grip her hips and heave her up.

Diana: “Don’t put me down yet.”

She looks thoughtful as she studies our reflection. I admire her flat stomach and the perfect lines of her body. The way my fingers curve perfectly around her waist. My cock twitches behind my joggers.

Shane: “Is it just me, or are you picturing us naked too?”

I ask the mirror. Diana groans.

Diana: “Oh my God. Put me down.”

Diana: “He asked me, as a friend, to have dinner with him tonight. It’s not a date, and I am the most loyal fake girlfriend you will ever have. I fake love you, Shane. I want to fake marry you and have your fake babies. Okay?”

I glare at her.

Shane: “Uncalled for. I can’t believe you brought our fake children into this.”

I click the link and almost die laughing on the tiled floor.

It’s an application.

A literal application for the position of my friend with benefits.

Hilarious headings assault my eyes. Name. Penis size. Skills—oh my God. He listed all his favorite sex positions in order of what he considers himself most skilled at, to least skilled. Reverse cowgirl is on the bottom.

My laughter bounces off the acoustics in the bathroom. If I hadn’t just peed, I might actually pee myself. And yet despite the sheer absurdity of what I’m reading, I can’t fight the rush of arousal that floods my bloodstream. Under turn-ons, he wrote:

Calling the shots.

Not against being watched.

My breath catches, heat tickling the tips of my breasts. Under final thoughts, he was more articulate:

As your fake boyfriend and real friend with benefits, I take the duty of pleasuring you very seriously. I guarantee at least one orgasm per session, whether by tongue, finger, or cock.

My entire body clenches. The idea of his mouth or fingers or tongue anywhere on me makes my heart speed up.

I will worship your body, respect it, and fuck you like you’ve never been fucked before. Thank you for your consideration.

I stare at the screen until it times out and turns black. Jesus. I inhale a long, unsteady breath, just as another message pops up.

SHANE: So? Do I have the job?

Diana: "Oh. And condoms,”

Shane: “Obvs.”

Diana: “With that said, I’m on the pill, so if we both get tested, I’m cool going without.”

I heave a sigh.

Diana: “Because I kind of hate condoms.”

He groans again.

Shane: “Are you seriously standing there telling me how badly you want to go bareback? Are you trying to make me ejaculate?”

Diana: “If there are two clean bills of health,”

Shane: “These are cute,”

Diana: “Are you calling my boobs cute?”

His lips quirk in a smile.

Shane: “What’s wrong with that?”

Diana: “They’re not supposed to be cute. They’re supposed to be sexy. Luscious.”

Shane: “Oh, trust me, they’re sexy. And luscious. And perky. And fuckin’ cute.”

Diana: “Fucking hell, Lindley. Give me more.”

Shane: “Ask me nicely.”

Heat flares in her eyes. It’s the first time she’s challenged me.

Diana: “I want it now.”

Shane: “This isn’t your show. It’s mine. If you want to come, you have to ask me very nicely to put it inside you. Ask me for another inch and say please.”

Her throat dips in a swallow.

Diana: “Give me another inch, please.”

I roll us over and pull her warm, pliant body on top of me.

Shane: “That was the best fake sex I’ve ever had,”

I tell her, and she laughs even harder.

On our way to the Sycamore, I muse to Shane,

Diana: “If my aunt hadn’t died, I’d never know the joys of Meadow Hill HOA meetings.”

Shane: “One, that’s macabre as fuck. And two, after the meeting—you, me, naked?”

Diana: “No, I have to go to work. But we will definitely be naked when I get back.”

A groan slips out.

Diana: “Oh my God, why am I like this? You and your stupid dicksand.”

Shane: “Dicksand?”

Diana: “Yeah, like quicksand. But your dick is the trap, and I’ve been sucked into it.”

Shane: “Wouldn’t your pussy be the quicksand ’cause it’s the one sucking my dick into it?”

We stare at each other for a moment.

Shane: “Why are we like this?”

he sighs.

Diana: “I don’t know, but—wait, no, don’t say we. You. You are the weird one.”

Veronika: “Shane, I saved you seat.”

I reach down and give his butt a discreet slap.

Diana: “Go get your cougar, tiger.”

Shane: “I hate you,”

Thomas: “Oh my God. How are you my sister?”

I sigh.

Maryanne: “You mean because I’m way more awesome than you? I know. I wonder that too sometimes, but I don’t question why God decided to give you to me.”

Shane: “So why are we making a volcano?”

Maryanne: “Because Daddy and I watched a really cool show last week about a huge volcano eruption.”

Her eyes go wider than saucers.

Maryanne: “Have you ever heard of a place called Pompeii?”

I try not to laugh again.

Shane: “I might be familiar with it. Why?”

Maryanne: “It was totally destroyed by a volcano. The eruption lasted eighteen hours! And it covered everything in ash. Ash people everywhere!”

Shane: “The more I get to know you, the more I think you really are a psychopath.”

Maryanne: “They died, Shane. I can’t change the past."

Shane: “When we’re there, let’s try to tone down all the fighting, okay?”

Shane’s voice draws me back to the present.

Diana: “The fighting?”

Shane: “You know.”

He grins.

Shane: “The way you’re constantly bitching at me about something.”

Diana: “I don’t bitch at you.”

Shane: “Sure you do.”

Diana: “I simply point out truths that you don’t enjoy hearing. It’s not my fault your ego can’t handle it.”

Ryan: “You make him laugh a lot,”

Shane’s dad says, his rough voice jolting me from my depressing thoughts. I crack a smile.

Diana: “I think I just annoy him a lot.”

Ryan: “That too.”

Diana: “Thanks,”

I say with mock hurt.

Diana: “Should we perform our tango for the guests?”

I tease.

Shane: “I’d rather die.”

I press my face against his chest to smother a laugh.

Diana: “And you say I’m the dramatic one.”

Shane: “What was my dad saying to you?”

Diana: “Oh, you know. That I’m wonderful and he loves seeing us together and I’m the best girlfriend you’ve ever had.”

Shane: “Yes. I’m sure he said all that. In those exact words.”

Diana: “Well, he did say he liked us together. That part is true.”

Shane: “You know who else would like us together?”

Shane winks at me.

Diana: “Your penis.”

Shane: “Exactly.”

Diana: “So we’re not doing the whole spending-the-night thing,”

I remind him. I gesture around my living room.

Diana: “This is my space.”

I point to the wall that separates our apartments.

Diana: “That’s your space.”

I point to our genitals.

Diana: “And this is our space.”

Mya: “I can’t believe this is a thing.”

Mya flicks her french-tipped fingers between us.

Shane: “I know, right? She’s really punching up.”

Diana: “Oh, fuck off. You’re the one who’s punching. I’m so out of your league, it’s not even funny.”

Ryder: “Do I need to give you the whole speech, or does it go without saying?”

He glances over wryly.

Shane: “What, hurt her and I’ll kill you?”

Ryder: “Okay, so you know it already.”

Shane: “Trust me, I’ve gotten it from every single uncle, aunt, cousin. Her dad, obviously⁠—”

Ryder: “Obviously.”

Shane: “And even Hannah gave the speech, although hers was accompanied by a hug so I don’t know if I should take it seriously.”

Ryder: “Oh, you should. She’ll cut a bitch.”

Ryder chuckles.

Shane: “No man is allowed to touch you but me, Dixon.”

His voice is low. Thick with desire.

Shane: “And if one tries, I’ll rip his fucking hands off.”

Shane: “Meeting my fake girlfriend’s real family,”

I explain with a grin. Ironically, she didn’t even ask me to come to this end-of-summer potluck at her dad’s place. I invited myself. But what else was I going to do once I heard it’s not just any old potluck—it’s a bring-your-own-meat event. And yes, there are a million jokes I could be making about the kind of meat I can bring Diana, but who has time to make jokes when they can be thinking about all the sausage they picked up from Gustav’s.

Diana: “I mean, I already spent the weekend with yours. At this point, we should be announcing our engagement.”

Shane: “I’m not announcing our fake engagement to your SWAT leader father. He’ll kick my ass when I leave you at the altar.”

Diana snorts.

Diana: “We both know I’m the one who’s not showing up for our wedding.”

Diana: "Even if she and my dad were on great terms—and they’re on cordial terms at best—she’s not a fan of my stepmother. Larissa is too common for her.”

Shane: “What the hell does that mean?”

Diana: “Well, my mom is a pretentious academia snob, and Larissa is a hairdresser, so put two and two together.”

Shane: “I don’t know, if I had to pick, I’d rather get a haircut than a lecture about philosophy or whatever. More practical.”

Diana: “You should tell that to my mom if you ever meet her. Which hopefully you won’t because she’d probably hate you.”

I tense slightly.

Shane: “Why? Because I’m half Black?”

Diana: “No, because you play hockey, and she thinks jocks are dumb. My mom isn’t a racist. She’s a snob.”

Now I chuckle.

Shane: “I guess I’ll take it.”

Diana hits a pothole, making the Mercedes bounce.

Shane: “Hey. Be careful.”

Diana: “Sorry—”

Shane: “We’ve got a cooler full of sausage in the back.”

Diana: “Oh. You’re worried about the sausage. I thought you were concerned about the tires.”

She shakes her head at me.

Diana: “I can’t believe you spent that much money on meat.”

Shane: “You said your father was a meat fan.”

Diana: “You’re such a suck-up.”

Shane: “I mean, he’s your dad and he’s a cop. I’m not an idiot. I don’t really want to get on his bad side. And trust me, once you taste these veal bratwursts, you’ll understand why they cost so much.”

Diana: “Don’t get horny. We’re not stopping for car sex.”

Shane: “Or we could stop for car sex.”

Diana: “We are not stopping.”

She’s laughing again.

Tom: “This is the new boyfriend?”

he says after Diana introduces us.

Diana: “Yeah.”

Tom: “Welcome.”

He eyes the cooler in my hands.

Tom: “What you brought today, son, is really going to determine whether I like you or not.”

I snicker.

Shane: “Trust me, you’re going to love this.”

Diana: “Shane is the sausage king,”

Diana sighs.

Shane: “I’ve got a guy in Boston. Nobody knows about him. He operates a tiny little butcher shop in Back Bay between a laundromat and⁠—”

Tom; “A Korean karaoke place,”

My mouth falls open.

Shane: “You know Gustav?”

Tom: “Kid, I’ve been going to Gustav since before you were born. I know Gustav Senior!”

Shane: “No shit!”

He all but snatches the cooler from me.

Tom: “Ah, I gotta see what Gustav gave you.”

We race into the kitchen like a pair of schoolboys. Tom opens the cooler, his entire face scrunched in concentration as he examines the selection of sausages I brought.

Shane: “Well?”

I say, holding my breath. He lifts his head.

Tom: “We’re best friends now. Diana, please excuse us.”

She rolls her eyes.

Diana: “I’m gonna go find Thomas. You weirdos entertain yourselves.”

Thomas grins.

Thomas: “Did she ever tell you about the time she beat up a kid twice her size on the playground because he tried to make her eat ants?”

Diana’s dad lets out a howl of laughter.

Tom: “Aw man, I forgot about that. She was eleven, I think. Maybe twelve. The school called me at work, and I had to leave a weapons training seminar to pick her up because her mom was out of town. Got to the school and found her sitting in the principal’s office, not a mark on her. Meanwhile, this boy has a bloody nose and there’s all these ants caked into the blood because she shoved his face in the dirt after she hit him. Said only one of them would be eating bugs that day and it sure wasn’t gonna be her.”

Diana arrives in time for the end of story, sighing when she sees my face.

Diana: “It’s not as psychotic as it sounds.”

Shane: “My God. I knew you were feral,”

Diana: “Stop scaring him with stories about me beating people up, Dad.”

Will: “Lindley entered a dance competition,”

Will tells the room. I glare at him.

Shane: “Traitor.”

Will: “What? They were going to find out anyway.”

Patrick: “You’re in a dance competition?”

Patrick doubles over laughing. Nazzy, though, appears oddly impressed.

Nazzy: “No shit.”

Shane: “Yeah, I’m doing it with—”

I stop abruptly.

Ryder: “Go ahead, finish that sentence,”

Ryder says dryly.

Shane: “My girlfriend,”

I mutter. Nazzy gawks at me like I’m a rare zoo animal

Nazzy: “You have a girlfriend now? What the hell. We don’t see you for one summer and you go from Raging Fuckboy to Mr. Salsa-dancing Monogamy?”

Shane: “First of all, we’re not entered in a salsa category,”

I say coldly. Patrick howls.

Shane: “We’re doing the tango and the waltz.”

He howls louder.

Ryder: “Think you might be missing one,”

Ryder drawls. Asshole’s being unusually talkative today.

Ryder: “Isn’t there a third dance?”

Shane: “You know, I preferred you when you didn’t say a word. Go back to being the brooding asshole who doesn’t speak, please and thank you.”

Beckett: “What’s the third dance?”

Beckett’s chuckling as he laces up his shoes. Locks of blond hair fall onto his forehead.

Shane: “The cha cha,”

I grind out. Then I flip up both middle fingers.

Shane: “And go fuck yourselves. All of you.”

Diana: “Calm yourself, big boy.”

Shane: “Okay, little one.”

Diana: “Why would he crash here when he has his own bed?”

I answer for Shane.

Diana: “I don’t need him clinging to me all night and suffocating me with his love.”

Shane: “You fuckin’ love my love,”

Shane grumbles. He gives Will a firm look.

Shane: “She loves my love.”

Will snorts.

Chuckling, Shane tugs his sweatpants up and then cleans me with a soft paper towel, his touch tender. Without a word, he picks my shorts and underwear off the floor and puts them on me. My legs are wobbling as he helps me off the counter. My bare feet hit the floor.

Shane dips his head to plant a kiss on my lips.

Shane: “I’m off,”

he says, winking at me.

Shane: “Night, Dixon.”

A strangled laugh sputters out.

Diana: “Night, Lindley.”

He takes a few steps toward the entryway, then glances over his shoulder.

Shane: “Night, Larsen.”

Lynsey: “Yeah, well, he didn’t do that with me.”

Annoyance clouds her expression.

Lynsey: “No offense to you, but it’s frustrating, you know? It’s like you have this fixer-upper house that you’re pouring all your time and energy into, and then when it’s beautifully renovated, you don’t even get to live in it.”

It’s difficult to keep my jaw closed. Is she seriously comparing Shane to a run-down house that she, what? Slapped a coat of paint on and made better? Bitch.

Shane: “I still can’t believe the cheerleaders held an intervention for you. About me.”

Patrick chortles from the back seat.

Patrick: “For real?”

Diana twists around to grin at him.

Diana: “It was amazing. I wish I’d filmed it.”

Blake: “What, do they all hate you or something?”

Blake asks curiously.

Shane: “They sure didn’t hate me when they were moaning my name,”

I taunt. Diana smacks my arm.

Diana: “Uncouth!”

Blake: “Got it,”

Blake says in amusement.

Blake: “So you broke all their hearts.”

Diana links her arm through Blake’s.

Diana: “Now, seeing as this is your first official college party, don’t let the boys in there give you the wrong idea of men. These are not men—they are overgrown children. They think fart jokes are funny, and their flirting consists of holding your legs during a keg stand and saying ‘nice tits.’”

Patrick: “It’s true. By the way, nice tits.”

She grins at him.

Shane: “Want to go upstairs and sit on my face?”

I whisper in her ear. She shivers.

Diana: “Stop tempting me.”

As the others venture deeper into the party, we remain in the hall, my body pressed against her back. I slip both hands under her skirt and cup her ass. Diana squirms. I rest my chin on her shoulder.

Shane: “You know, considering all the cheerleaders I’ve been with⁠—”

Diana: “All five thousand of them?”

Shane: “All million of them. I’ve never actually fucked anyone while they’re wearing a cheer uniform.”

Grant proceeds to crank it up to another level, going on about the game while throwing in several double entendres to hint that his physical prowess extends beyond the field. He’s midsentence when Blake cuts him off.

Blake: “Wait, are you flirting?”

Isaac looks startled.

I snort into my drink.

Blake: “Oh, you were. Got it. I thought we were all just listening to you tell us how great you were, but then you made that comment about your strong hands and nimble fingers, and I was like, oh shit. He’s flirting.”

She glances at Diana.

Blake: “I’m sorry. That was rude. Is he a close friend of yours?”

I keel over in laughter because this man can get any girl he wants and a freshman just demolished his ego in five seconds.

Isaac narrows his eyes.

Isaac: “What did you say your name was again?”

Diana can’t control her own laughter.

Diana: “Oh, now he’s pretending he doesn’t know your name,”

Giggling, she strokes a soothing hand over Grant’s broad shoulder.

Diana: “It’s okay, sweetie. Just abort. Go somewhere else and lick your wounds.”

Isaac: “What do you want for breakfast tomorrow?”

A frown creases her forehead.

Blake: “Breakfast?”

He winks.

Isaac: “You’re spending the night at my place—it’s only fair I buy you breakfast.”

Diana: “Smooth,”

Blake remains unimpressed.

Blake: “Sorry. I’ve got plans.”

She tips her head at Diana.

Blake: “I think I’ve had enough of this party. Are you ready to go?”

Diana: “You said you were gonna teach me how to golf,”

Shane: “We literally just got here.”

Diana: “Yeah, and I thought we’d get right down to business.”

She pouts.

Diana: “I expected you to do something really hot.”

Blake: “Yeah. I thought you’d lean in real close and put your arms around me very seductively and then whisper, It’s all in the grip.”

I throw my head back and laugh.

Shane: “Okay—one, I’m using that line from now on. And two, I’m pretty sure your father would rip my tongue out if I ever said that to you and amputate my hands if I ever touched you. Therefore, I will only instruct you from a discreet distance.”

Blake flicks up an eyebrow.

Blake: "Coward.”

Diana: “Coward,”

Diana echoes tauntingly.

Shane: “Really, Dixon? You want me to put my hands on another woman and whisper seductively to her?”

Diana: “In the spirit of golf, I would accept it.”

I snort.

Shane: “All right, pull out that driver. Let’s work on your swing.”

Diana reaches into the women’s bag.

Diana: “I’ve been told the key to a perfect swing is all in the grip.”

I wink at her.

Shane: “And I know for a fact you’ve got a phenomenal grip.”

Blake sighs.

Blake: “I know you’re talking about handjobs, and I don’t like it.”

I shrug.

Shane: “I’m not sorry.”

Diana: “He never is,”

I turn to Blake to offer the same advice—in time to see her drive the ball a hundred and forty yards. My jaw drops.

Shane: “What the hell, Logan?”

Blake: “Oh, I’m not bad at golf,”

she says with a smirk.

Blake: “I just said I hate it.”

Shane: “Don’t ever deceive me again.”

Shane: “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t report this. Why did you lie and say you got hurt at cheer camp?”

She told me she took an elbow to the face, for chrissake.

Diana: “Because it’s embarrassing!”

Her voice cracks. So does a piece of my heart. I’ve never seen Diana look so destroyed. She sits in the passenger seat, completely stripped away of the confidence I’ve come to adore, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Diana: “That’s not who I am, okay?”

Shane: “What does that mean?”

Diana: “It means I can take care of myself.”

Her voice trembles wildly.

Diana: “You heard the stories my dad told you. I’m the one who kicks people’s asses. I’m not the woman who gets hit by a man, all right? I didn’t report it because I can’t be that woman.”

Shane: “And one more thing,”

Shane says, tugging on my hand before I can leave.

Shane: “You are unstoppable. Don’t let what this one asshole did convince you that you’re anything other than unstoppable. You’re Diana Dixon, for chrissake.”

I crack a smile.

Diana: “Damn right I am.”

Tom: “I don’t understand why you didn’t tell me.”

It’s hard to speak past the lump in my throat.

Diana: “Because you think I’m so tough.”

Dad watches as I unlock my front door, an incredulous look on his face.

Tom: “You are tough, kiddo. Even after what this fucker did to you, you’re still the toughest person I know.”

Diana: “I didn’t want you to think differently of me.”

Tom: “I would never think differently of you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t invite this. Despite what you tried to put in your report, you didn’t provoke this asshole. You were defending yourself, and his response was dangerously disproportionate. He left marks on you.”

Dad spits out a low, growled curse. I sigh.

Diana: “Are we going to need to get a restraining order against you to keep you away from him?”

Tom: “Probably. It’s requiring all my willpower not to go and gather up the squad. Drive over to his house and disappear him.”

Diana: “Disappearing people isn’t even a SWAT tactic. Stop being so extra.”

Tom: “It is when someone messes with your daughter.”

Tom: "You can handle anything that life throws your way. You will always be the strongest person I know. Hell, way stronger than I am.”

Diana: “That’s not true.”

Tom: “I mean, I divorced your mother. You still have to keep dealing with her.”

I manage a laugh.

Diana: “She’s not so bad.”

Tom: “She isn’t. But I do know you put on a front when you’re with her because she brings out your insecurities. And then you put on this front with me, and with your brother, that nothing bothers you. But things are gonna bother you, and bad things are going to happen. They happen all the time, unfortunately. And it kills me that I can’t stop them from happening to you."

Shane: “You’re gorgeous.”

Diana: “Thank you.”

Shane’s eyebrows fly up.

Shane:“Wow. You said thank you.”

Diana: “What do I usually say?”

Shane: “I know.

He snorts. I shudder out a laugh.

Diana: “You know I’m joking when I do that.”

Shane: “Yeah. And you know I’m dead serious when I tell you you’re gorgeous. Because you are.”

I rap my fingers against his open office door.

Shane: “Hey, Coach. I need to talk to you about something.”

His eyes darken with suspicion.

Shane: “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Jensen: “Because anytime one of you dumbasses comes to talk to me about something, it’s something that fucking annoys me.”

He waves me in.

Jensen: “What’s this about?”

I stand in front of his desk, awkwardly sliding my hands in my pockets.

Shane: “Um.”

Jensen: “Spit it out, Lindley.”

Shane: “So there’s this dance competition,”

Jensen: “Fuck’s sake.”

He puts down his pen.

Jensen: “See? What did I tell you?”

Jensen: “Why would a dance competition be held on a weeknight? Seems like a weekend thing that weird people do.”

Shane: “Hey, I’m doing it and I’m not weird.”

He stares at me again.

Shane: “I think I can be at the game.”

Jensen: “You think?”

Shane: “No, I know I can be at the game.”

God, I fucking hope I can be at the game.

Shane: “I just won’t be on the bus. Our first event is at noon, and then the American Smooth Duo is at four, so I doubt I’ll make it back to campus by six to board the bus. But!”

I flash him a beaming smile.

Shane: “I’ll already be in Boston, so all I have to do is⁠—”

Jensen: “Dance your way to the rink?”

Shane: “I’m doing this because I enjoy it.”

I chew on my lower lip.

Shane: “And because I know how much she loves it.”

Coach leans back in his chair, studying me with those shrewd eyes.

Jensen: “Look, I might come off as a hard-ass sometimes.”

Shane: “Sometimes?”

He ignores that.

Jensen: “But there’s nothing I respect more than a man who values his woman.”

Shane: “Aww. Coach. You’re adorable.”

Jensen: “Shut the fuck up.”

Shane: "I can make it to the rink by six thirty with time to spare.”

Jensen: “Time to spare, huh?”

Shane: “Yes.”

I get a wary feeling.

Shane: “What is it?”

He tips his head, pensive.

Jensen: “Just remembering a conversation I had the other day with my little granddaughter. Morgan. She asked me if I take my guys on field trips.”

Shane: “No,”

I say with dread.

Jensen: “And I said, why would I take them on field trips? They’re grown men, and they’re hockey players. They don’t need to go to the fucking zoo. Well, I didn’t say fuck. But I was thinking it,”

His expression takes on a gleam that I really, really don’t like.

Jensen: “But talking to you, Lindley, has opened my eyes. Made me reconsider my entire stance on field trips.”

Shane: “No,”

I repeat, the dread twisting into horror.

In a rare occurrence, much like a total solar eclipse, Coach Jensen smiles at me.

Diana: “Repeat after me. We are going to captivate the audience.”

Shane: “I’m not repeating that. And I’m not captivating my asshole teammates.”

Diana can’t control her laughter.

Diana: “I still can’t believe Coach Jensen is bringing the whole team to watch us. Why would he do that?”

Shane: “Because he’s the devil.”

Diana: “The waltz is more flowy,”

she explains, noticing me watching her.

Diana: “All those sweeping movements. The pleats will emphasize that.”

Shane: “Of course,”

I play along.

Shane: “And it’ll show off those indecent ankles. Get all the dicks hard.”

Diana: “Exactly.”

Case: “Dude, that was shockingly good.”

Our co-captain, Case Colson, claps his hand over my shoulder.

Case: “And shockingly hot.”

Trager: “Yeah. My dick twitched,”

I snort.

Nazem: “Hey, Coach, Lindley placed fifth in the dance thing.”

Jensen fixes me with a withering look.

Jensen: “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Shane: “Dude. Fifth place is awesome for my first dance competition. Come on, tell me I did a good job. You can do it, Coach—just one good job.”

He glowers at me. But as he’s turning away, I hear him mutter,

Jensen: “Good job”

under his breath. I laugh in delight. I always knew he was a big softie at heart. He shocks me even further when he stops me at the locker room door, smacking my shoulder with a meaty hand. He waits for everyone else to stream out before saying,

Jensen: “It’s nice to see you give the same kind of dedication to all your pursuits, Lindley. I gotta say, though, your cha cha is sloppy as fuck.”

Diana: “And…”

She lifts a brow.

Diana: “I might be falling for you too.”

Shane: “Falling?”

I feign outrage.

Shane: “But I’ve already fallen.”

Diana: “I’m not telling you I love you on the night that you chose to go with your ex-girlfriend.”

Shane: “Fine. I will await it with bated breath.”

Shane: “Don’t worry, I’m not letting this creep anywhere near you. If he shows up here again, he’s gonna have a word with Shane Junior and Shane the Third.”

I raise my right fist and then the left.

Diana: “We need better names for your fists,”

Shane: “I know. In my defense, I’ve never called them anything before, so I was sort of winging it.”

Diana: “We’ll brainstorm.”

I open my arms. The moment she steps into them, her towel falls to the floor. I snicker and peer down.

Shane: “Oh. The seduction has started?”

She snorts.

Diana: “I’m not seducing you. But…now that I’m naked…I guess you can atone for tonight’s sins and give me an orgasm.”

Chuckling, I pick up her naked body, walk to the kitchen counter, and set her ass down on it.

Shane: “I shall begin my atonement.”

Ryan: “I wanted to spare you the pain.”

Shane: “But you can’t. You can’t shield us from this.”

Ryan: “I’ve shielded you your entire life. That’s what I do. I’m your dad. I try to make sure the bad stuff doesn’t reach you.”

Shane: “Can we please stop talking like you’re about to die right this second? You’re not dying right now. Just let me absorb this.”

Ryan: “No. Now is the time for me to say it.”

He weakly raises one arm.

Ryan: “Before this morphine turns my brain into mush. I can think clearly right now, and I can see you clearly, and I want you to know I couldn’t be prouder of the man you’ve become. You are everything to me. You and your sister.”

His voice is finally starting to shake, and the tears now run freely down my face.

Shane: “Please stop saying this,”