I looked down at his hands and saw they were clenched into tight fists. The silence stretched even more.

“Because being a bastard toward her is only going to get your teeth kicked in.”

Ryan chuckled.

I used a little pressure on Cannon’s chest and pushed him backward. “It’s time to go.” Thank God he didn’t fight me on it.

Once we were outside, I exhaled slowly. I was also thankful Ryan hadn’t followed us out, which I’d half-expected him to do.

Cannon said nothing as we walked to his car, as we climbed in, and as he started the vehicle. The silence was deafening.

I didn’t know what to say, didn’t even know if saying anything would help the situation. I looked out the passenger side window, watching the town go by. I looked over at Cannon again, the light from the dashboard washing his face in this low glow, the fact he was still upset very clear.

“Cannon, can we talk about this?” I heard the tightening of his hands on the steering wheel, felt that knot in my throat grow even more.

“There’s not much to talk about, Stella.”

I licked my lips, wanting nothing more than to reach out and place my hand on his arm, try and calm him without saying a word. But he wasn’t in a good place right now, his emotions very volatile. I could feel it, sense it in the air, this thickening feeling that was almost suffocating.

“I think there’s a lot to talk about, Cannon.” After a moment, I heard him exhale. He pulled off to the side of the road, the gravel crunching under his tires. He left the car running, the sound of the car idling not able to mask the silence that descended.

We sat there in silence for a long moment, maybe neither one of us knowing exactly what to say.

“I was two seconds away from beating his fucking ass, Stella.” Cannon’s voice was pitched dangerously low. He turned his head and looked at me, the shadows obscuring part of his face, his blue eyes piercing right into me. “I can only imagine how far he would’ve gone if I hadn’t shown up.” He still had his hands on the steering well and he squeezed it tightly, the sound loud in the interior of the car.

He was grinding his teeth, maybe trying to control himself, but his anger was evident.

“He wouldn’t have done anything. We were at the shop.” I said that but I didn’t really know if it was the truth. I don’t know much about Ryan, and I’d certainly never thought he would stoop to that level.

“Stella, you and I both know he would have done exactly what he’d said. The kind of fucker he is always wants what he can’t have.”

Cannon faced forward again and I could see his jaw working, his gaze leveled on the road before us. He pulled back out without saying anything, and we rode in silence for the remainder of the trip. When we finally got to my house and he parked by the curb, I was about to climb out, not sure what to say, how to make things okay … how to make him feel okay.

I’d never seen him this upset before.

“Sorry about how tonight ended. If you want I can find someone else to pick me up and take me to work.” I was about to open the car door when Cannon reached out and grabbed my wrist gently. I stopped and looked over my shoulder at him, our gazes clashing, holding. His expression looked distant. He shook his head slowly.

“I’m the one who’s sorry,” he finally said and let go of my wrist, placing his hands on his lap, looking forward again. I shifted on the seat so I could face him fully, shaking my head slowly.

“You have nothing to say sorry about.”

We sat there in silence for a moment and I could see Cannon was at war with himself over something. I wanted to ask him about it and be there for him, help him through it, but I didn’t want to push. I didn’t want to invade whatever he was going through. I figured if he wanted to be honest with me, he would. If he wanted to share what was bothering him, he would.

He stared out the front windshield for long seconds, but now he looked at me again, this strange expression on his face, this weird feeling consuming me. I felt as though the air was being sucked out of the car, out of my very lungs. I wanted to reach across the seat and take his hand in mine. I wanted to tell him all the things I felt, how I was not feeling this friendship anymore.

How I was feeling something much deeper.

I was feeling love.

I was in love.

It was this controlling emotion, taking hold of everything in me, twisting inside of me, growing. It wrapped its fingers deep inside of me so there was never a chance of escape.

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