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Overruled: Chapter 2

One year later

She was too precious, Stanton,” Jenny laughs. “She didn’t want to touch the icing at all, didn’t like it stickin’ to her fingers, so she just planted her whole face right in the cake! And she was so mad when I took it back to cut it. I wish you could’ve seen her—this child’s got attitude that puts Nana’s to shame!” She dissolves in a fit of giggles.

Could’ve seen.

Guilt rides me hard. Because I should’ve seen the way Presley tore into her first birthday cake. The way she squealed over the bows and was more fascinated by the wrapping paper than any present it covered. I should’ve been there to light the candles, to take the pictures. To be in the pictures.

But I wasn’t. Couldn’t. Because it’s finals week, so the only place I can be is here—in New York. I force a smile—trying to infuse my tone with enthusiasm. “That’s great, Jenn. Sounds like it was an awesome party. I’m glad she enjoyed it.”

Try as I might, Jenny can still tell. “Baby, stop beatin’ yourself up. I’ll email you all the pictures and the video. It’ll be like you were right here with us.”

“Yeah. Except I wasn’t.”

She sighs. “You wanna say good night to her? Sing her your song?”

In the short time I spent with our daughter after she was born, and the weeks I was able to have with her over Christmas break, we discovered that Presley has an affinity for the sound of my voice. Even over the telephone, it soothes her when she’s teething, lulls her when she’s fussy. It’s become our ritual, every night.


It’s amazing how two tiny syllables can have so much power. They warm my chest and bring the first genuine grin I’ve had on my face all day.

“Happy birthday, baby girl.”


I chuckle. “Daddy misses you, Presley. You ready for your song?” Quietly, I sing,

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy when skies are gray . . .

In her sweet, adorably garbled voice, she tries to sing the words with me. After two verses, my eyes are misty and my voice cracks. Because I miss her so much.

I miss them.

I clear my throat. “Time for bed. Sweet dreams.”

Jenny comes back on the line. “Good luck with your exam tomorrow.”


“Good night, Stanton.”

“Night, Jenn.”

I toss the phone to the foot of the bed and stare at the ceiling. From somewhere down below, there’s raucous laughter and calls to chug—most likely from the marathon beer-pong game that started two days ago. In my first week at Columbia I learned that careers aren’t just built on what you know. They’re built on who you know.

So I pledged a fraternity—to make those lifelong connections. Psi Kappa Epsilon. It’s a good frat, filled with white-collar majors—business, economics, prelaw. Most come from money, but still good people, boys who work hard, study hard, and play hard.

Last semester a member graduated early, then got shipped abroad by his Fortune 500 company. My fraternity big brother lobbied strongly for me to get a room here in the house. A big brother is the guy you’re paired with when you’re pledging a frat. He’s the guy who gives you the hardest time. You’re his bitch—his slave.

But after you become a brother he’s your best friend. Your mentor.

As self-loathing threatens to swamp me, my big brother just happens to walk past my open door. Out of the corner of my eye I see his dark head pass, pause, and back up.

Then Drew Evans strolls into my room.

Drew is like no one I’ve ever known. It’s as if there’s a spotlight on him that never dims—he demands your notice. Claims your full attention. He acts like he owns the world, and when you’re with him? You feel like you own it too.

Deep blue eyes that all the girls go stupid for look down on me disapprovingly.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I wipe my nose. “Nothin’.”

His eyebrows rise. “Doesn’t look like nothing. You’re practically crying into your pillow, for Christ’s sake. I’m fucking embarrassed for you.”

Drew is relentless. Whether it’s pussy or answers he’s going after, he doesn’t let up until he gets his way. It’s a quality I admire.

My phone pings with incoming email—the pictures Jenny sent me of the party. With a resigned sigh I sit up and access the photos. “You know my daughter, Presley?”

He nods. “Sure. Cute kid, hot mom. Unfortunate name.”

“Today was her birthday.” I flash him one particularly endearing shot of my little angel with a face full of cake. “Her first birthday.”

He smiles. “Looks like she had fun.”

I don’t smile. “She did. But I missed it.” I scrub my eyes with the palms of my hands. “What the fuck am I doin’ here, man? It’s hard . . . harder than I ever thought it’d be.”

I’m good at everything I do—always have been. Football, school, bein’ a kick-ass boyfriend. In high school all the girls envied Jenny. Every one wanted to screw me and all the guys wanted to be me. And everything about it was too easy.

“I just feel . . . I feel like I’m failin’ . . . everythin’,” I confess. “Maybe I should throw in the towel, go to a shit community college back home. At least then I’d see them more than three times a year.” With anger I bite out, “What kind of father misses his child’s first fuckin’ birthday?”

Not all guys feel like I do. I know boys back home who knocked up girls and were perfectly content to walk away and never look back. They send a check only after their asses get hauled into court, sometimes not even then. Hell, neither of Ruby’s kids’ fathers have seen their children more than once.

But that could never be me.

“Jesus, you’re a mess,” Drew exclaims, his face horrified. “You’re not going to start singing John Denver songs, are you?”

I stew in silence.

He sighs. And perches himself on the edge of my bed. “You want the truth, Shaw?”

Evans is big on the truth—the harsh, crude, dick-in-your-face truth. Another quality I respect, though it’s not much fun when his critical eye is aimed at you.

“I guess,” I reply hesitantly.

“My old man is the best father I know, no contest. I don’t remember if he was at my first birthday party, or my second . . . and I really don’t give a shit either way. He put an awesome roof over my head, he’s proud of me when I deserve it, and kicks my ass when I deserve that too. He took us on fantastic family vacations and pays for my tuition here—pretty much setting me up for life.

“What I’m saying is: any asshole can cut a fucking cake. You’re here—working on the weekends, carrying a full class load, busting your balls—so one day your kid won’t have to. That’s what a good father does.”

I think about what he’s saying. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. Now dry your eyes, take some Midol, and stop with the premenstrual pity party.”

That earns him the flip of the bird.

Drew raises his chin toward my pile of notes for Statistics 101, the first-year requisite final I’m taking tomorrow morning. “You ready for Windsor’s final?”

“I think so.”

He shakes his head. “Don’t think—know. Professor Windsor’s a dick. And a snob. He’ll bust a nut if he gets to fail a redneck like you.”

I flip through the stack of papers. “I’ll look it over one more time, but I’m good.”

“Excellent.” He smacks my leg. “Then be ready to leave in an hour.”

I glance at my watch: 10 p.m. “Where are we goin’?”

Evans stands. “If I teach you only one thing before I graduate let it be this: before any big exam, you go out for a drink—one drink—and you get yourself laid. Standardized test-prep courses should add that to their rule book. It’s infallible.”

I rub the back of my neck. “I don’t know . . .”

He holds out his arms, questioning, “What’s the problem? You and your baby mama are doing the whole open relationship now, right?”

“Yeah, but . . .”

“That was a brilliant move on your part, by the way. I’ll never understand why any man would tie himself down to one woman when there’s so many to choose from.”

I don’t tell him it wasn’t my idea. That Jenny insisted on it after we talked—argued—when I was home for Christmas break. I don’t tell him the only reason I agreed is because the horny bastards in my hometown know Jenn is my girl, the mother of my daughter. I may only come home two or three times a year, but when I do I’ll happily rearrange the face of anyone who makes a move on her.

I also don’t tell him that I haven’t taken advantage of the new open-door policy in the five months since.

Not once.

Instead I explain, “I’ve never tried pickin’ up women in a bar before. I don’t know what I’d say.”

Drew chuckles. “You just drop a few y’alls, a few darlin’s—I got the rest covered.” He points at me. “One hour. Be ready.”

And he cruises out of my room.

•   •   •

Ninety minutes later, we walk into the Central Bar—a favorite student hangout. It has good food, a dance floor with a DJ upstairs, and no cover charge. Even though it’s finals week the place is wall-to-wall drinking, laughing bodies. “What are you having?” Evans asks as we make our way to the bar.

“Jim Beam, neat.” If I’m only allowed one drink, better make it count.

I catch my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Nondescript blue T-shirt, stubbled jaw ’cause I couldn’t be bothered to shave, and a thick blond head of hair that needs cutting. It’s practically immune to gel, so I’ll be pushing it back from my forehead all night.

Drew passes me my bourbon and takes a sip of his own—looks like whiskey and soda. Wordlessly we survey the room for a few minutes. Then his elbow nudges me and he cocks his head toward two girls in the corner, by the jukebox. They’re good-looking in the way that appears effortless but in reality takes two hours of primping to achieve. One’s tall, with long, straight blond hair and even longer legs, wearing ripped denim jeans and a cropped tank top that shows off a lacy black bra and a twinkling belly-button piercing. Her friend is shorter, with curly jet-black hair, a pink halter top, and dark jeans so tight they look like they’re painted on.

Drew walks purposefully toward them and I follow.

“I like your shirt,” he says to the blonde, gesturing to the writing across her chest: Barnard Women Do It Right.

After looking him up and down her lips stretch slowly into a flirty smile. “Thanks.”

“I’ve got one at home just like it,” Drew reveals. “Except mine says Columbia Guys Do It All Night.”

They giggle. I gulp my bourbon while the dark-haired girl checks me out—and seems to like what she sees.

“You guys go to Columbia?” she asks.

Drew nods. “Yep. Go Lions.”

Even though I have no real idea what the hell I’m doing, I try to follow Drew’s instructions, asking the most unoriginal question ever. “What are y’all majorin’ in?”

The brunette giggles again. “Y’all ? You don’t sound like you’re from around here.”

“I’m from Mississippi.”

She eyes my bicep appreciatively. “How do you like New York?”

I think for a second . . . then it comes to me. With a lopsided grin I answer, “Right now, I’m likin’ it a whole lot.”

Drew nods almost imperceptibly—approvingly.

“We’re art majors,” the blonde offers.

“Seriously? Art?” Drew smirks. “Guess you have no interest in making an actual contribution to society.” He raises his glass. “Here’s to graduating without a marketable skill set of any kind.”

I know he sounds like an insulting ass, but trust me, it works for him.

“Oh my god!”

“Jerk!” The girls laugh, like they always do, eating up his cocky attitude and sarcastic humor with a spoon.

I take another drink of bourbon. “What kinda art do you do?”

“I paint,” Blondie answers. “I particularly like body painting.” She trails her hand up and down Drew’s chest. “You would be an amazing canvas.”

“I sculpt,” her friend tells me. “I’m really good with my hands.”

She finishes the pink drink in her hand. Even though I’m not twenty-one and don’t have an ID that says I am, I hook my thumb toward the bar. “You want me to get you another round?”

Before she can answer, Drew intercedes. “Or we could get out of here? Go back to your place?” He makes eye contact with the blonde. “You can show me your . . . art. I bet you’re extremely talented.”

The girls agree, I down the rest of my bourbon, and as easy as that, the four of us head out the door.

•   •   •

Turns out the girls are roommates. I’m quiet as we walk the three blocks to their apartment—distracted by the uneasy feeling churning in my stomach like butter gone bad. It’s a mixture of nervousness and guilt. I imagine Jenny’s face in my head, smiling and sweet. I picture her holding our daughter in the rocking chair my Aunt Sylvia gave us when Presley was born. And I wonder if what I’m doing—what I’m about to do—is the right thing.

Their apartment is a lot nicer than what two college girls could afford alone. A doorman, third floor, a spacious living room with unstained beige couches and gleaming hardwood floors covered by an Oriental rug. A full-size kitchen with oak cabinets and granite countertops is visible from the living room, separated by a breakfast bar and three white bar stools.

“Make yourselves at home,” the dark-haired girl says with a smile. “We’re just going to go freshen up.”

After they disappear down the hallway, Drew’s head whips to me. “You look like a virgin on prom night. What’s the matter?”

I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. “I don’t know if this is a good idea.”

“Did you not see the brunette’s tits? Getting a closer look at those bad boys could never be anything but a good idea.”

My lips tighten with indecision, then . . . I spill my guts. “The thing is . . . I’ve never had sex with anyone except Jenny.”

He rubs his forehead. “Oh Jesus.”

With a sigh he drops his hand and asks, “But she’s good with you hooking up with other people? I mean, she agreed?”

I lift my shoulder and explain, “Well yeah—she’s the one who suggested it in the first place.”

Evans nods. “Sounds like my kind of girl. So what’s the problem?”

I rub the back of my neck, trying to relieve some of the tension that’s taken up residence there. “Even though we talked about it . . . I’m not sure . . . this doesn’t feel . . . I want to do right by her.”

Drew’s voice loses its edge of irritation. “I admire that, Shaw. You’re a stand-up guy. Loyal. I like that about you.” He points at me. “Which is why I think you owe it to yourself, and your Jenny chick, to have hours of dirty, sweaty sex with this woman.”

Not for the first time, I wonder if Drew Evans is the devil—or a close relation. I can picture him offering the fasting Christ a loaf of bread and making it sound completely acceptable for him to take a big ole bite out of it.

“Do you actually believe the horseshit that comes out of your mouth?”

Drew waves me off. “Pay attention, you’re about to learn something. What’s your favorite ice cream?”

“What the hell does that have to do—”

“Just answer the fucking question. What is your favorite ice cream?”

“Butter pecan,” I sigh.

His eyebrows rise sardonically. “Butter pecan? I didn’t think anyone under seventy liked butter pecan.” He shakes his head. “Anyway. How do you know butter pecan is your favorite?”

“Because it is.”

“But how do you know?” he presses.

“Because I like it more than—”

I stop midsentence. Understanding.

“More than any other flavor you’ve tried?” Drew finishes. “Better than vanilla, strawberry, or mint chocolate chip?”

“Yeah,” I admit softly.

“And how would you have known that butter pecan was the flavor for you—not just your default choice—if you were too afraid to ever taste anything else?”

“I wouldn’t have.”

He waves his hand, like a magician. “Exactly.”

See what I mean? The devil.

Still . . . it’s similar to what Jenny said, the questions she raised. Can we really mean it when say we love one another if all we’ve known is each other? Are we strong enough to pass that kind of test? And if we’re not, what kind of future do we have together anyway?

A slap to the arm snaps me from my introspection. “Look, Shaw, this is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having a good time, if you’d rather take off, I won’t think any less of you.”

I snort. “Sure you will.”

The corner of his mouth twitches. “Yeah, you’re right, I will. But . . . I won’t tell the guys you pussed out. It’ll stay between you and me.”

Before I can answer him the girls walk back into the room. They’ve changed into loose-fitting, strappy pajamas, shiny in satin. I can smell the mint on her freshly brushed teeth when the blonde leans over and says to Drew, “Come on, there’s something in my room I want to show you.”

He stands smoothly. “Then there’s something in your room I want to see.” Before they advance to the hallway, he glances my way. “You good, man?”

Am I good?

The curly haired brunette stares at me expectantly—waiting for me to make my move. And the realization finally sets in that . . . there’s not any reason to say no.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”

Drew takes the blonde’s hand and she leads them into the room at the end of the hall.

Left alone with my dark-haired companion, I take a minute to look at her—really look at her. She has breasts larger than I’m used to, a tiny waist, and a firm bubble bottom that balances out the whole package nicely. The kind of ass a man could hold on to, knead with his fingers and guide forward and back, up and down. Her legs are smooth and toned, her skin flawless and tanned.

For the first time tonight, genuine attraction unfolds low in my gut, stirring my poorly underused dick from his five-month hibernation.

I don’t ask her name and she hasn’t requested mine. There’s a thrill in anonymity, a freedom. I’ll never have to see this girl again—what we do and say tonight won’t leave this apartment, won’t come back to haunt me, won’t find its way to judgmental ears in a small town far, far away. A thousand fantasies, each more deviant than the last, flit through my brain like smoke coming off a campfire. Acts I’d never dream of asking Jenny to perform—things she’d probably smack me for even suggesting.

But a beautiful, nameless stranger . . . why the fuck not?

“You want to see my room?” she asks.

My voice is deep, rough like my thoughts. “Okay.”

Her room is a swirl of dark reds, browns, and burnt orange, not overly feminine. I sit on the edge of her bed, feet on the floor, knees spread.

Any trace of indecision has left the building.

As she closes the door she questions, “What’s your major? I meant to ask earlier.”


She moves in front of me, standing an arm’s length away, regarding me with an angled head and hooded eyes. “Why do you want to be a lawyer?”

I smile. “I like to argue. I like . . . provin’ people wrong.”

Taking a step closer, she picks up my hand. Then she turns it over and traces my palm with her fingertip. It tickles in a stimulating kind of way that gets my pulse hammering.

“You have strong hands.”

There are no soft hands on a farm. Tools, rope, fences, saddles, lifting and digging makes for tough palms and hard muscles.

“You know what I like best about sculpting?” she asks on a breathy sigh.


She drops my hand then lifts a dark, daring gaze to mine. “I don’t think at all while I’m doing it. I don’t plan, I let my hands . . . do whatever they want. Whatever feels good.”

She grasps the bottom of her top and slides it over her head. Her breasts are pale and ripe and gloriously new to my eyes. She stands just inches away, bare and proud. “You wanna give it a try?”

She puts her hands over mine, skimming them up the warm velvet of her rib cage. When she places my callused palms on her breasts, I take over. Cupping their weight, massaging gently, brushing my thumbs across the peaks of her nipples. They tighten and darken from pink to dusty rose and I scrape my lip with my teeth to stave off the immediate urge to latch on, lick, and bite.

My last coherent thought is six quick words:

I could get used to this.

•   •   •

Three weeks later

“You lying, cheating sonofabitch!”

Jenny’s hands fly out, wild and whipping, striking my face, shoulders, and anywhere she can reach.


Slap, slap.


“Jenny, stop!” Finally I get a grip on her forearms, holding her still. “Fuckin’ stop!”

Hot, angry tears cover her cheeks and her eyes are puffy with betrayal. “I hate you! You make me sick! I hate you!”

She pulls out of my grasp and runs up the porch, slamming the screen door behind her as she disappears into the house. I’m left standing on the lawn—shredded. Feeling like I’ve been flayed open, my heart not just broken but ripped out. And there’s something else—more than regret—there’s fear. It makes my palms sweat and skin prickle. Fear that I’ve messed up, terror that I just lost the best thing that will ever happen to me.

I push a hand through my hair, trying to keep it together. Then I sit on the porch steps and brace my elbows on my knees. I keep an eye on Presley, on the blanket twenty feet away where she plays with her cousins near the swing set. Her white-blond curls bounce as she giggles, thankfully, completely unaware.

Out of nowhere, Ruby, Jenny’s older sister, appears on the steps next to me. She smooths her denim miniskirt then pushes her wavy red locks off her shoulders.

“You certainly got yourself locked in the shithouse this time, Stanton.”

Normally I wouldn’t go to Ruby for any kind of advice—least of all about relationships. But she’s here.

“I . . . I don’t know what happened.”

Ruby snorts. “You told my sister you fucked another girl, that’s what happened. No woman wants to hear that.”

“Then why did she ask?”

She shakes her head, like the answer is obvious. “’Cause she wanted to hear you say no.”

“We agreed to see other people,” I argue. “We said we’d be honest with each other. Mature.”

“Sayin’ and feelin’ are two different things, lover boy.” She picks at her manicure. “Look, you and Jenny are eighteen, y’all are babies . . . this was bound to happen. Only a matter of when.”

I can barely get the words past my constricted throat. “But . . . I love her.”

“And she loves you. That’s why it hurts so bad.”

There’s no way I’m giving up, no way I’m goin down—not like this. It’s the fear that pushes me to do something, say anything. To hold on like a man clinging to a boulder in a current.

I walk up the oak staircase to the room Jenn shares with our daughter and through the closed door that tells me I’m not welcome.

She’s on the bed, shoulders shaking, crying into her pillow. And the knife sinks deeper in my gut. I sit on the bed and touch her arm. Jenny has the smoothest skin—rose-petal soft. And I refuse for this to be the last time I get to touch her.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Don’t cry. Please don’t . . . hate me.”

She sits up and doesn’t bother to wipe the evidence of heartache off her face. “Do you love her?”

“No,” I tell her firmly. “No, it was one night. It didn’t mean anythin’.”

“Was she pretty?”

I answer like the lawyer I’m trying to become. “Not as pretty as you.”

“Dallas Henry asked me to go to the movies with him,” Jenny tells me quietly.

Any remorse I feel goes up in smoke and is replaced with blue flaming anger. Dallas Henry was a receiver on my high school football team—he was always a raging asshole. The kind of guy who made a play for the drunkest girls at the party—the kind who would’ve slipped something into their drinks to get them drunk faster.

“Are you shittin’ me?”

“I told him no.”

The fury cools a notch—but only just barely. My fist is still gonna have a nice long chat with Dallas fucking Henry before I leave.

“Why didn’t you say no, Stanton?” she accuses quietly.

Her question brings the guilt back full force. Defensively, I get to my feet—pacing and tense. “I did say no! Plenty of times. Shit, Jenn . . . I thought . . . it wasn’t cheatin’! You can’t be mad at me for this. For doin’ what you said you wanted. That’s not fair.”

Every muscle in my body strains—waiting for her response. After what feels like forever, she nods. “You’re right.”

Her blue eyes look up at me and the sadness in them cuts me to the bone. “I just . . . I hate picturing what you did with her in my head. I wish I could go back to when . . . when I didn’t know. And I could pretend that it’s only ever been me.” She hiccups. “Is that . . . is that pathetic?”

“No,” I groan. “It’s not.” I drop to my knees in front of her—aware that I’m begging, but not having the will to care. “It has only ever been you—in every way that matters. What happens when we’re apart, only means somethin’ if we let it mean somethin’.”

My hands drift up her thighs, needing to touch her—to wipe this from her mind—wanting so badly for us to be us again.

“I’m home for the summer. Two and half months and all I want to do for every second of that time is love you. Can I, darlin’? Please just let me love you.”

Her lips are warm and puffy from crying. I brush at them gently at first, asking permission. Then firmer, spearing her mouth with my tongue, demanding compliance. It takes a moment, but then she’s kissing me back. Her small hands fist my shirt, gripping tight, pulling me to her.

Owning me. The way she always has.

Jenny falls back on the bed, taking me with her. I hover over her as her chest rises and falls—panting. “I don’t want to know ever again, Stanton. We don’t ask, we don’t tell—promise me.”

“I promise,” I rasp, willing to agree to just about anything at this moment.

“I start school in the fall,” she presses. “I’m gonna meet people too. I’m gonna go out—and you can’t get angry. Or jealous.”

I shake my head. “I won’t. I don’t want to fight. I don’t . . . I don’t want to hold you back.”

And that’s the crazy truth of it.

There’s a part of me that wants to keep Jenny all to myself, lock her away in this house, and know she’s doing nothing else but waiting for me to come back. But stronger than that is the dread that we’ll burn out, end up hating each other—blaming each other—for all the living we missed out on. For all the things we never got to do.

More than anything, I don’t want to wake up ten years from now and realize the reason my girl hates her life . . . is because of me.

So if that means sharing her for a little while, then I’ll suck it up—I swear I will.

My eyes burn into hers. “But when I’m home, you’re mine. Not Dallas fucking Henry’s—no one else’s but mine.”

Her fingers trace my jaw. “Yes, yours. I’ll be who you come home to. They don’t get to keep you, Stanton. No other girl . . . gets to be who I am.”

I kiss her with rough possession—sealing the words. My lips move down her neck as my hand slides up her stomach. But she grasps my wrist. “My parents are downstairs.”

My eyes squeeze closed and I breathe deep. “Come to the river with me tonight? We’ll drive around until Presley falls asleep in the back.”

Jenny smiles. “A truck ride knocks her out every time.”

I kiss her forehead. “Perfect.”

I lie beside her and she curls into me, playing with the collar of my shirt. “It won’t be like this forever. One day, you’ll be done with school and things will go back to normal.”


One day . . .


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