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Boston was stripping my sheets when I returned to my bedroom. Upon hearing my approach, he slowly turned to acknowledge me. His eyes widened as he took in my face. It was soaked with tears. I cried the whole time I spoke with Officer Dudley, and I couldn't stop no matter how hard I tried.

"Oh, Hazel," he murmured before I rushed into his arms. "Shhh. Don't cry."

A sob racked my body, and I clutched his tee to ground myself. I felt dirty still, though I knew now that I could trust him. Boston would protect me. He wasn't Mateo. He'd been trying to prove that to me all along.

"I wish you would have told me sooner." His hands smoothed down my distressed hair. "I could have protected you. I want to protect you, if you'll just let me."

I didn't know what was happening or why I was allowing myself to feel like this, but I felt myself leaning back to peer up into his eyes. Those intelligent, thoughtful blue eyes that glowed with affection. Why did he have to be my former teacher? Why did I have to be so afraid of what everyone else would think?

"I love you," he told me for the second time, his voice low and sultry. His thumb ran along the edge of my bottom lip, eyes staring at my trembling mouth.

Maybe it was because I was so confused or perhaps I had decided to no longer care. But I stretched up onto my toes and felt my eyelids flutter shut. Within a breath's take, his warm lips were on mine. I kissed him back, running my hands up his chest and around his neck. My fingers curled into his hair. We hardly paused long enough to breathe before he was pulling me flush to his body with an arm around my back. His tongue reached out to flick my bottom lip, eliciting a slight gasp from me. A smile was pecked to my mouth and then he pulled away.

Our gazes locked. My heart was thundering like a storm inside of me. I couldn't believe I'd kissed him back. All I knew was that it felt good and that he felt safe. Sighing, I dipped my forehead to his chest. He rubbed my back in soothing circles and rested his chin atop my head.

"What is going on?" demanded my mom.

I jerked out of Boston's hold to whirl in the direction of my bedroom door. He, however, turned more slowly. My stomach dropped at the sight of my mother standing just outside the door, eyes widened in disbelief.

"Mom, I—" I started before Boston grabbed my hand, distracting and silencing me.

"Are you okay?" she asked before rushing to my side to envelop me in a hug. "Boston called me and I came as fast as I can. What happened, Hazel?"

So she didn't see us kiss. This was about what happened with Mateo. I shuddered, and her grip tightened. My arms wound around her, recognizing my safeness with her. She would protect me, but I didn't know if I could even explain this all to her.

"Was Officer Dudley still outside?" Boston queried calmly.

"An officer?" She sounded alarmed. "What happened?"

I could feel both of their eyes on me. My teeth burrowed into my bottom lip, eyes watering. Boston touched my shoulder.

"Mrs. Barrett," he said, "maybe you and I should have a word."


Knowing I couldn't stand to here him relay the incident, I pulled away from my mother and glanced between them. "I'll, uh...I'll be in the living room."

Boston squeezed my shoulder one more time before I fled the room. I made my way to the living room and sunk down onto the couch. Memories of the first time he pinned me down came back. Glaring down at the floor where he had held my hands above my head, I curled deeper into the couch.

A few minutes later, two sets of footsteps moved down the stairs. I bit the inside of my cheek until I felt pain explode inside of my mouth. My mom knew now. She knew about Mateo and all the things he'd done to me. A shudder rattled me. Would she think it was my fault? Did I somehow incite all of this onto myself by breaking up with him? Or by upsetting him by liking Boston? Taking a deep breath, I swallowed down the fear. This was not my fault. I had to remember that.

"Honey?" she called softly.

"I-In here," I responded as loudly as I could. My pulse roared in my ears.

She and Boston entered the living and, judging by the gleam of the lights off her cheeks, she'd cried too. I uncurled myself from the couch and rose to my feet. Boston's jaw was clenched and he held my gaze rigidly. It was clear he didn't like talking about what had happened.

"I'm so sorry." The apology spilled from her mouth before I was captured in her arms again. "You should have told me. I knew something fishy was happening...I just wish you'd have known you could trust me. Is it my fault you don't trust me? Did I do someth—"

"No!" I hushed her, tightening my grip around her plush waist. "It's me. I couldn't...I didn't trust anyone. It's not about you."

"Oh, Hazel," she cried into my hair.

We stood together for several prolonged moments until she pulled away to cup my face. Her eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

"Why didn't the police call me?" she asked. "I'm your mother, after all. I should know about these things."

"I..." My mouth hung open. "I don't know, actually. Maybe because Boston was here?"

"Maybe because they were trying to get him away from here as fast as they could," he suggested, shrugging.

"It doesn't matter, anyway," I said. "They took him away, and you're here now."

My mom rubbed my cheek with a forced smile and nodded. "Yes, honey. I'm here. How can I make this better?"

"Um." There wasn't a way this could really be better except with time and healing, but food was a temporary solution. A yummy temporary solution. Smiling a little, I said, "Grilled cheese?"

Both she and Boston smiled genuinely. He took my hand as she started for the kitchen, rambing about making the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever eaten. Staring down into my eyes, Boston lifted my hand to his lips and kissed the skin. His eyes held a promise.

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