Back behind the bar, I spotted Cole glaring at the back room door from a barstool. I grabbed a rag and started wiping down the already clean bar top. I scanned the building to see if I could see Ed anywhere, thank goodness he must still be in his office.

“About damn time Em, I had to cover for you while you were back there,” Cole said angrily. “Are you okay, or do I need to go back there and take care of him?”

I came around the bar and collided into Cole with a big hug. “I don’t think you will ever understand how much I appreciate your protectiveness or how thankful I am for you loving Quinn so much, Coley.”

He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed tight. I felt him lay his cheek down on the top of my head. “You’re like my sister, Em. I’ll beat up any guy that does you wrong, even if he is my best friend.” Speak of the devil, Jaxon walked out of the backroom right then. “I don’t think I need to guess what you guys were doing back there. Just be thankful Jace went and turned on the jukebox right after he followed you or we probably would have heard it all. Seeing your faces now though, do you really think that was the best idea?” he whispered, still holding on to me.

“No, I don’t. But I missed him so much.” The tears were starting to come so I began to pull away but he just squeezed me in tighter.

“Get your hands off of her and let’s go,” Jaxon grated out from behind us. I stepped back from Cole, wiped my eyes and he sighed in a frustrated tone.

I went back behind the bar and started getting everything cleaned up for the night.

“Stop being a jackass,” Cole said, slapping Jaxon on the back of the head as he walked by. “And don’t think I’m not going to kick your ass for what you said to her earlier either.”

Jaxon whipped around and looked at Cole with wide eyes.

“That’s right, asshole, I heard it. I almost pummeled you into the ground right there, but I wanted Em to take care of it first.” And look at what a great job I did…

“Don’t worry, I already told Mom, she’ll do it for us,” Jace laughed.

“Fuck… I’m such an idiot.” He turned toward me with sad apologetic eyes. I quickly turned away to tell Quinn goodbye and give her a hug.

He started coming back over to me, when Jace cut him off, “Come on, Romeo, you’ve done enough for one night.” He grabbed his bicep and steered him for the door. “See ya later, Emmy.” Jace called out.

We had everything ready and set up for the auction to begin. Micah helped me set up a stage with a runway coming out from the middle. Cole had agreed to be the “auctioneer.” I had asked him because he knew how to be loud and capture a crowd. Cole and Jace came early to finish with the set-up and heavy lifting. Quinn was in the back helping all the girls finish getting ready to walk the stage.

I lifted up a stack of three chairs to carry over to tables that still needed them when they were unexpectedly lifted from my hands. Jaxon stacked them onto another set of four chairs and carried all seven behind me as I showed him where they went. I didn’t have anything to say to him, so he just followed silently. We kept up this silent exchange for four more tables and twenty-four more chairs. He didn’t say a word and I didn’t either. I pointed to the banner that stated the football team was sponsoring the event and he hung it up above the stage. He looked down at me from the ladder to check his work and I just gestured my hand upward to indicate that the left side needed to be a bit higher.

After he fixed it, he looked at me for approval and I turned to find something else to do. I heard his feet hit the stage as he jumped down off the last couple of rungs on the ladder. He came up right behind me and followed me around lifting anything he deemed heavy, although I didn’t think a box of napkins weighed too much.

“It looks good guys, thank you,” I called across the room. “Might as well grab a drink from the bar before everyone else gets here.” I pointed to the bar set up in the back of the room.

“Want something, Emerson? I’ll get it for you.” I shook my head at him. “Tequila? Beer? I’m sure I can find something you like.”

“I don’t drink,” I replied, walking out of the ballroom. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him jogging up behind me.

“What do you mean you don’t drink?” he demanded.

“It means that anything that contains alcohol doesn’t go into my mouth,” I retorted, annoyed with his dumb question.

“I understood that part, it’s the ‘why’ that I’m curious about.”

I continued walking down the hotel hallway looking for the closest bathroom. “I don’t drink since it ruined the best thing I ever had.” With that, I finally found the bathroom and walked in, leaving him behind. Thank God there was no one else in here.

Without missing a beat, Jaxon came in right behind me and locked the door behind him. He bent down to check for feet under the stalls and when he didn’t see any, he stalked forward toward me.

I continued walking until I reached the last stall. “Jaxon, this room is for women only. I’m sure you saw the sign.”

He grabbed my waist before I could enter the stall and pushed me up against the wall next to the paper towel dispenser. He stared at me, inspecting my face. I needed to stay strong. I couldn’t let him think that he could just seduce me whenever he felt like it now. Yesterday was a one-time thing to get each other out of our systems, no matter how much of a lie I was telling myself. He ran the pad of his thumb along my bruised bottom lip; the friction made me wince slightly.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “It looks a little better today though. Why do you only injure your lips?” His voice was reaching that dangerously low level that made me do things I would regret later, but I was frozen up against the wall. “These are my favorite; you should take better care of them.” He bent down and started his spellbinding tender kisses, back and forth across my lower lip. All I could do was open my mouth a little wider and let him.

“Would you rather I injured something else?” I gasped.

His lips moved down my jaw and across the edge of my neck. “Of course not. I’d rather you not be damaged at all, but I love to kiss it better.”

At the word ‘damaged’, I pushed him off of me. “Stop doing this to me. I don’t like to be teased.”

“I’m pretty sure there was no teasing last night.” He eyed me with mischief.

“You know what I mean. You can’t keep kissing me…” Oh hell, the damn tears. I tried to sniff and wipe my eyes discreetly, turning away from him. “Please stop trying to ‘talk’ to me.” I said, using air quotes.

“You think that when I kiss you or… make love to you, that’s what I mean by ‘we need to talk’?” He grabbed me and spun me to face him. “Shit, you’re crying.” He pulled me into his chest and rubbed along the length of my hair. “Please, Beautiful. Please don’t cry. I really do want to talk to you.”

I couldn’t do this. I needed to leave this bathroom. He bent down and grabbed me around the waist to lift me up. I kept my legs hanging down, no matter how much they wanted to squeeze around his waist. He grabbed one leg and curled it around himself and when he reached for the other, I let that one fall back down.

“Please, Emerson, put your legs around me,” he begged.

I stayed there, slack in his arms with my feet dangling a foot off the ground.

His familiar words hit me and I wiggled out of his hold. “I seem to remember saying, actually yelling, begging, pleading, those exact words to you a month ago. Let me respond the same way you did…” I saw him flinch right before I turned and walked out the door.

Halfway back down the hallway toward the ballroom I heard Micah say, “Dude, that’s the chick’s bathroom. Gents are that way.” Jaxon didn’t respond.

The ballroom filled up fast. Professor Patterson was beaming ear to ear at all the attendees. Even the Dean made it tonight to donate to our trip, although obviously he wouldn’t be participating in the auction. I weaved through the people, thanking them for coming, when Cole’s booming voice came through the speakers to welcome everyone. He handed the microphone to Professor Patterson so he could let everyone know what this event was for. He explained our trip to Africa and what we would be learning. I noticed Jaxon walk in and take a chair a few tables away from the stage. When Patterson began talking about the dangers of Africa and how we needed to be prepared, I noticed the stress on his face and his hands fisting the tablecloth. He looked over at me with a nervous expression and I turned my attention back to the stage.

“Okay guys, I hope you packed your wallets because we have twenty beautiful women back there ready for you to bid on them. Cash only, pay before you leave or I’m giving them to someone else. Treat them with respect or Jace and I will pay you a little visit.” He pointed to the back of the room at Jace.

I’d never thought of Jace as anything but a teddy bear, but he looked different with his tall body leaning up against the back wall. He had his muscular arms crossed over his wide chest. He looked dangerous and mean standing there glaring at everyone. I wanted to giggle at the apprehensive looks the other guys were giving him.

“Alright, get your wallets out and raise your paddles high. If I can’t see your paddle, then you aren’t working hard enough for these beauties. Sorry Quinn, you’re still my number one beauty!”

Someone in the crowd shouted, asking if Quinn would be auctioned off and I burst out laughing at the face Cole gave him.

“I’ll see you after, McAdams,” he growled in a low tone.

Cole began introducing the girls, one by one, and calling out for the auction. Each girl had an admirer and these guys came prepared to duke it out with their wallets. We were all laughing and having a great time watching the guys get extremely competitive over the girls, who were perfect. They were eating up the attention and taunting the guys from the stage. I was right to choose Cole as the emcee because he knew exactly how to egg on the guys. He knew what their weak spots were and how to get the most money out of them. When it came to Tatum’s turn, I saw her eyeing Jaxon from the stage, silently begging him to bet on her. I was thankful he never bid on any of them; I wouldn’t have been able to watch that. Each girl went for two hundred to four hundred dollars. With twenty girls, we were making a good amount for our trip, plus all of the donations we had gotten on the side. After the last girl was auctioned off to Garrett for $250, Cole thanked everyone for participating.

“I have a surprise for everyone. Don’t put your wallets away just yet. I have one more pretty lady to auction off for you gentlemen.”

I whispered up at him, “Cole, there are only twenty girls!”

“No there’s not, Emmy, because I’m going to auction you off! Emerson Moore, gentlemen!” he hollered into the microphone.

Jaxon shoved his chair back and walked right up to the stage where Cole was standing, “What the hell are you thinking right now, man?” he snapped in a harsh tone.

Cole ignored him and smiled. “I present the elusive, Em. You guys had better take advantage of this opportunity, because I’m sure you won’t get another. Em doesn’t do dates, but I’m sure for a good price, she’ll go out to a movie with you. She’s beautiful and tons of fun!” Cole gestured for me to get on the stage and I shook my head back and forth. Micah came up behind me and lifted me onto the stage.

Guys in the crowd began rising in their chairs and clapping their hands together. Jaxon was fuming. I decided to work with this because it was nice to see him getting riled up for a change.

“I hear she’s been wanting to go for a ride on a motorcycle if any of you riders are interested,” Cole teased, knowing it was a weak spot for Jax.

Dalton Fisher, the quarterback, moved right up to the stage then. Coincidentally, I knew that he owned a motorcycle. Jaxon’s teeth were bared now. Dalton was a sexy guy and he knew it. He was almost the same size and build as the Riley boys.

Cole began shouting out for bids, and they were coming from all corners of the room.

Cole clapped his hands at the rising dollar signs. I gasped at the amount of money we had reached in less than ten seconds.

“Dude, I will kick your ass again if you don’t back away,” he sneered at Dalton. What did he mean by that? It seemed like Jax got into more fights than I knew about.

“$400, Cole call it,” Jax said, sounding more pissed by the second.

“Stop it, Jaxon!” I yelled at him in a whisper. He continued looking at Cole.

“$450,” Dalton countered, raising his paddle and smiling up at me. I gifted him with a brilliant grin in return.

“Fisher, if you don’t back away from this stage right now, I will rip your f**king throat out.”

Jaxon slammed his fist on the stage in frustration. “$1,000, Cole you better call it.”

My eyes went wide at his bid. Cole laughed, “Alright, let’s put the poor bastard out his misery. Going once… going twice…”

Dalton stepped forward to raise his paddle and Jaxon reached over and smacked it from his hand. Dalton bent forward laughing at his antics.