Crush, p.35
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       Crush, p.35

           Lacey Weatherford
 

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Cami-

  He was buried a week later. Sadly, there were not many people in attendance besides his family, my parents, and me. I didn’t cry—I couldn’t. I was still in shock over everything. I couldn’t seem to make the pieces fit together in my mind. I kept trying to figure out the moment when my best friend had turned into a monster.

  His parents felt horrible—said they had no idea he’d become so deluded. They thought we were dating from the things he’d told and shown them—everything from fake letters and emails, to pictures he’d photo shopped of the two of us together. He’d been living a totally phony relationship with me in his own head. The police profiler told me Clay was delusional—he really believed us to be a couple—and none of this was my fault. But he was dead now. That felt like my fault.

  I’d woken up in the hospital attached to I.V.’s, which had been used to help flush the strong date rape drug Clay had given me from my system. Hunter was the first person I asked for. They said he’d been flown by helicopter to a larger facility, but no one would tell me how he was doing. I tried calling his cell phone, but it said the number had been disconnected.

  Chris came to the hospital when he heard I’d awakened. He asked me a lot of questions about what had happened with Clay that night. I kept waiting for him to tell me something about Hunter, but he never did. I finally asked him.

  “I can’t discuss Hunter with you, Cami, since this is part of an ongoing investigation.” He looked really sad. “But I promise you’ll get answers as soon as possible. You’re going to have to trust me, okay?”

  I snorted. Trust. Who knew what that word meant anymore?

  “Can you tell me if he’s alive, at least? He did get shot trying to protect me after all.”

  “He’s alive.”

  Relief washed through me.

  “Is he going to be okay?” I had to know.

  He stood and went toward the door. “He was listed in critical condition the last I heard. I’m on my way to see him now. Is there anything you want me to tell him?”

  A million things raced through my mind, I love you being first and foremost. “Tell him I . . .” Confusion raced through my heart, making me second-guess everything. What if he didn’t really feel the same? What if it was just an act? He’d pulled away from me so many times. He had to be several years older than me. Could he really be in love with a teenager? “Tell him thanks.”

  “Is that all?” Chris asked, his eyes full of concern.

  “Are you really his uncle?” I wanted to hear the truth about something from someone for a change.

  He shook his head. “No. I’m actually his brother-in-law. At least I am until his sister gets ahold of me. She’s gonna have my head for allowing him to get hurt.” He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “The whole family is in quite an uproar over everything.”

  “I’m sorry he got put in danger because of me.” The tears began leaking from my eyes without my permission, and I tried to rapidly blink them away. I felt like I was barely clinging on to my sanity by a thread.

  Chris came over and grabbed my hand, squeezing it. “None of this is your fault, Cami. Hang in there, okay? I’ll see to it you have the answers as soon as I’m able.”

  He walked out the door, and that was the last I heard from anyone. The next Monday at school a dozen kids were arrested in a giant drug sting. I knew Hunter had to be alive then. Someone had given them names.

  Yet, still I heard nothing from him.

  I walked into my room when I got home and threw myself on the bed, desperate to escape all the stares and whispers that followed me the whole day.

  “Can I get you anything, Cami?” my mom asked, coming to check on me. She’d hardly left my side, coming home from work early so I was never home alone.

  “No thanks, Mom. I just want to take a nap.” I was doing a lot of sleeping lately. It was sometimes the only relief I had—when the nightmares didn’t get me.

  “All right.” She gave me a concerned look. “I’m here if you need me.”

  “Thanks,” I said as she closed the door behind her, and I rolled over to face the wall, finally allowing myself to shed tears—over everything. I couldn’t wrap my head around it all. I was hurt—sad—angry with Clay. He’d been my best friend my whole life! How could he betray me in the worst way possible? He’d destroyed everything good I could remember about him in just a few moments . . . a lifetime worth of happy memories forever tainted with the stain of his final acts. But despite the trauma he’d put me through, he wasn’t the reason I woke up gasping for breath in the middle of the night.

  I missed Hunter—craved him—longed to be wrapped again in his embrace. I missed his kisses, the way he stared at me, eyes smoldering as his hands trailed hot caresses over my skin. I missed the tender words he often whispered in my ear and how beautiful they made me feel. Hunter—the one I’d imagined my future with—only to find out he wasn’t even real, nothing but a character contrived to deceive others. Ironically, that seemed the worst betrayal of the two, constantly spinning one question over and over in my head.

  Is it possible to love someone who never really existed?

  It was my birthday. I didn’t feel much like celebrating, though. My parents must’ve understood this, because they didn’t pull out the extravagant hoopla they usually did. There were the traditional birthday pancakes, complete with bacon smiley faces—despite the fact I was turning eighteen—and a small wrapped package at my plate.

  “What’s this?” I asked, tucking some of my wild, wayward hair behind my ear. I hadn’t bothered changing out of my pajamas—what was the point when all I did was spend my time in bed these days.

  Mom shrugged. “Who knows? It was delivered here this morning.”

  I reached for the small box and shook it. “It feels empty.”

  “Why don’t you open it and find out?” Dad suggested, and he looked like he was trying to hold back a sly smile.

  I undid the ribbon and lifted the lid. “It’s a piece of paper.” I glanced between them, confused.

  “Well, read it,” my mom said.

  Picking up the paper, I opened it to find two words scrawled on it:

  Forgive me.

  I recognized the scrawling loops of his handwriting immediately and my stomach dropped. “Where is he?” I asked, my breath catching as tears sprung to my eyes.

  Dad smiled. “He’s in the living room waiting for you. We’ll be outside on the patio if you need us.”

  I turned and ran through the doorway, coming to an abrupt halt just inside the room. My heart raced when I saw him standing at the fireplace with his back to me while he ran a finger over a framed photo of me resting on the mantle. I closed my eyes and opened them again to make sure he was still there and I wasn’t dreaming.

  He chose that moment to turn around, and for a few seconds I couldn’t look away from his sorrowful eyes. I didn’t notice the sling until I glanced over the rest of him. “What’s that for?” I asked, concerned. “No one told me your arm was injured too.”

  He looked down. “It’s not. I just have to keep it still. The bullet nicked my lung and lodged into the shoulder blade. It’s going to take a little time to heal correctly.”

  All of a sudden I was angry, my worry over the last few weeks boiling to the surface. “Where have you been, Hunter? The last I heard from anyone, you were in critical condition. Not one word since! I didn’t know if you were dead or alive. I didn’t even know who to ask to try and find out about you. Nothing! From anyone all this time!”

  He sighed and gestured toward the couch. “Do you care if we sit? I’m sure this will take a while, and I get tired easily.”

  Trying to calm myself, I exhaled a deep breath and sat down. He joined me, giving me plenty of space by sitting on the opposite end of the sofa. It was strange to see him purposely keep his distance. After all the times I’d fantasized about being back in his arms—it hurt.

  “Tell m
e everything,” I demanded, unable to take my eyes off him. He appeared tired, stressed—maybe a bit thinner too, but he was still capable of making my insides flip-out just by looking at him.

  “Okay.” He seemed so stiff and formal. “First things first, I guess. My name is Dylan Hunter Wilcock, and I’m twenty-one years old. I’m a newly graduated police officer from the Tucson Police Department in Arizona. I haven’t been on the force very long. When the Copper City police contacted us for help on this case I was recruited as part of an interstate team.”

  “What case?” I asked, curiosity taking the place of my annoyance.

  “Jordan Henley’s family felt there were suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, and according to other witnesses, he wasn’t one to use heavy drugs like methamphetamines. Not only did he die from an overdose, but he died with an obscene amount of the drug in his system. There were enough questions brought up by the autopsy that it warranted further investigation. I was sent here to gather information and profiles on the students in this school and to see if I could infiltrate the drug scene and find who was making or selling the meth. When I got here, I was trying to get in friendly with Derek Johnson to see if I could discover who he was supplying and buying from. It was important I appear involved in every aspect of the lifestyle to keep from raising any suspicions.”

  “That’s why you were using? You were trying to keep up your cover?”

  “Yes. I couldn’t make you understand why without blowing it. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t.”

  That stung. “I would’ve kept your secret. Or didn’t you trust me either?”

  “I trusted you, but it was safer for you not to know. Besides, had you known, it could’ve changed the way you acted around Clay, and he was on my list of potential dealers after you told me about how he’d suddenly come into money. I didn’t want you to tip him off.”

  “So everything you told me was a lie, a way to get closer to Clay so you could find out what he was up to?”

  “No. I wasn’t sure about Clay until the very end, but I’d had my suspicious. I’d caught him sneaking around your house one night after you’d gone to bed. That was the day you accused me of spying on you from my car. I knew there was something off, and he needed to be watched. He honestly was stalking you, but you didn’t know it. I had no solid proof to pull him in for questioning, so I had to sit back and wait. I was trying to figure out a way to clue you in on things without exposing my identity, but you were so certain he was innocent. I didn’t know what else to do at the moment, except stay close and hope I’d be able to properly protect you.”

  There was an awkward pause, and I played with the hem on my pajama shirt. “Well, I guess I was wrong about him, wasn’t I?”

  “I’m sorry about everything involving him. I know this all must be very difficult for you. He was your friend for a long time.” He actually did look sorry, which made me feel he genuinely was. I knew how he’d felt about Clay.

  I shrugged, not wanting to relive the recent horror Clay had put me through. “He shouldn’t have shot you. He’d be fine if he hadn’t started messing around with stuff he had no business being involved in.”

  “He was sick, Cami. I honestly believe he’d never have tried to hurt you if he’d been in his right mind. Something made him snap. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the truth.”

  I narrowed my eyes. “Why do you sound like you care all of a sudden? You never liked him.”

  “No, I didn’t, but that was because I saw him as a threat to you.”

  I snorted, trying to distance myself from the ache and emotion coursing through me. “I was just part of your lie though—your excuse to get close to all those kids. Why did it matter if he wanted me too?”

  “You’re kidding, right?” He looked exasperated. “Do you honestly have no idea how much I care about you?”

  “I haven’t heard from you for weeks, Hunter . . . err . . . Dylan—whoever you are! I had no idea where you were or if you were alive! I think you proved exactly how much you care about me!” I lashed out. “Do you know what that was like . . . constantly worrying and wondering if you were okay? Waiting day after day to hear from you—anyone—and given the courtesy of knowing how you were doing? You left me all alone, without a word to your whereabouts!”

  “I couldn’t call you, Cami! I wasn’t allowed.”

  “Why not?” I yelled, wondering if my parents could hear me outside.

  “Because I’ve been suspended by the department pending an investigation.”

  “What does that have to do with contacting me?” I asked, my mind spinning in a thousand fragmented directions.

  He gritted his teeth. “The investigation is to make sure I wasn’t involved in any sexual misconduct with a minor.”

  “What?” I was completely astounded. And suddenly everything made sense with perfect clarity. “This is why you kept pushing me away, isn’t it?”

  He rubbed a hand over his face before dropping it into his lap. “I’m twenty-one, and a cop. You were seventeen. I crossed the bounds of propriety. I asked to be pulled from the case several times because of it, but the department felt I was right where I needed to be to discover the truth, so I was directed to proceed with caution. I was told not to get involved in anything like kissing or the lines would get sticky.

  “I couldn’t help myself. I tried to stay away, but I couldn’t. Once the investigation was brought up, I was ordered by a judge to have no contact with you until you turned eighteen. You have no idea how many times I wanted to call you or send Chris to tell you what was going on, but that’s all considered contact. I wasn’t free to speak to you until today, and I’ve been here since daybreak, waiting for you to get up. I’ve already explained this to your parents.”

  “What are you saying?” I asked. I was so confused, yet I couldn’t help the bud of hope that was beginning to bloom in my chest.

  “I’m saying I love you, Cami. All of that was as real for me as it was for you. I’m asking if you’ll stick this out beside me. I’m willing to lose my badge and even be dishonorably discharged if that’s the case. I just don’t want to lose you.”

  I wanted to throw my arms around him and kiss him at his declaration, but something held me back. “I don’t know what’s true about you and what isn’t. I thought I knew a lot, but it turns out it was actually very little.”

  He sighed and rubbed his face again. “I’ve made a mess of everything, haven’t I? Let me just say I wanted you to fall in love with me . . . the real me . . . so I tried to tell you the truth as often as possible. I was the hotheaded jock in high school. I partied with the best of them and hooked up with lots of girls. All of that was true, but I never loved any of them. I excelled at sports, and hoped to continue on with them in college. Then my sister got married to this amazing guy who was a cop, and we became best friends. I adored him, followed him around like a puppy, and one day I decided to go into the police academy instead. My parents are alive and very happy, and the only time I’ve used drugs during this investigation was when it was necessary to keep my cover. The first time I kissed you, I was trying to keep you from discovering the pictures I’d taken of Clay so you wouldn’t be suspicious. You were so determined, I couldn’t think of another way to stop you, so I just did it. It was a line I should’ve never crossed, but once I did, I couldn’t go back.”

  I didn’t know what to say. I sat there trying to absorb everything he was telling me, watching him while he sat stiffly on the couch. He looked so uncomfortable. “I don’t know what to call you,” I finally said.

  “Call me Dylan, or Hunter if you want.” He relaxed a little for the first time since he sat down. “Honestly, I don’t care what you call me as long as you’re calling me something. I want you by my side.” He slid off the couch onto his knees in front of me, not touching me at all, but more like an act of submission. “Please tell me it’s not too late to fix this. Tell me you still love me. I’ve never wanted anything as much
as I want you. I’ll risk everything that’s important to me, just to hear you say you want me in your life.”

  My gaze trailed over his gorgeous face, and I longed to touch him. “I don’t want you to risk everything for me. I’m not worth it.” I brushed back the lock of hair that hung over his forehead.

  “You are worth it. I’ve had a near miss with death and it showed me there’s only one thing worth living for and that’s love. I love you. Please give me another chance.”

  I shook my head as tears fell down my face. “My dad didn’t like you before. I wonder how he feels about you now?”

  “Is that a yes?” He looked at me hopefully.

  I nodded, smiling. “Yes, but only if you’re completely honest with me about everything from now on.”

  “Oh, Cami. I never wanted to be dishonest with you in the first place.”

  He leaned forward, wrapping his free arm around me and kissed me, giving me the contact I so desperately craved. The familiar spark ignited hard and fast between us, causing us to clutch each other tighter as our mouths eagerly explored one another. I didn’t ever want him to stop kissing me.

  “Wait,” I said, pulling away, my breathing slightly ragged. “Is there a chance you can go to jail because of our involvement?”

  “I don’t think so. Chris said since I asked to be removed so many times, the department is at fault also. Because I didn’t do anything illegal, and I had your parent’s permission to be with you—and they aren’t pressing charges—everything should be okay.”

  I let out a big sigh of relief. “That’s good, because I don’t want to lose you ever again.”

  “You won’t, I promise.” He smiled.

  I traced my fingers over his lips. “People are going to say I’m too young for you.”

  “I can live with that. Can you handle the ones who’ll say I’m way too old?” His thumb drifted in a lazy circle over my cheek.

  I grinned. “Don’t you know me yet? Since when have I ever cared what people are saying?”

  “There’s my girl.” His eyes drifted down over me with the same old heated stare before returning to my face. “Chris thought I simply had a crush on you.”

  “Really?” I laughed. “Is that what you thought?”

  He shook his head. “I knew the first moment I saw you I was in trouble. I wanted to kiss and do all sorts of unspeakable things to you.”

  “There’s those darn, unspeakable things again. What am I gonna do about those?” I smiled as I lightly kissed his lips.

  He grinned, his caramel flecked eyes twinkling with mischief. “I guess I’ll just have to show you.”

  ***

  Like CRUSH? Download the USA TODAY Bestselling sequel, SMITTEN, for FREE!

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  About the Author:

  Lacey Weatherford is the multi-time #1 International and USA Today bestselling author of the popular young adult contemporary series, Crush, and Amazon Top 100 Teen Best Book of the Year, Chasing Nikki. She is also the author of new adult mega-hit, Allure, and multi-time #1 bestselling paranormal romance series, Of Witches and Warlocks. She has always had a love of books and wanted to become a writer ever since reading her first Nancy Drew novel at the age of eight.

  Lacey resides in the beautiful White Mountains of Arizona. She lives with her wonderful husband and children along with their dog and cats. When she’s not out supporting one of her kids at their sporting/music events, she spends her time reading, writing, and visiting with readers on her social media accounts.

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