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“Challenge accepted, Rylee Kennedy.”

“Game on, BrayTay.”

“If you keep impersonating Lenny, I guarantee you’ll never beat the record.”

I watch her bounce up and down on my chest as we share another laugh, and for a moment, I feel something I haven’t felt in what seems like forever.

I feel happy.

Chapter Twenty

“Did you have a good weekend?” Matt asks, after we go over this week’s strength and conditioning plan.

I smile as I think back to Friday night. Never did I think after going to the funeral that I would come back to have one of the best nights I can remember.

Matt laughs and holds out a hand to stop me from saying anything. “Forget I asked. I can see by the look on your face it must have been epic.”

He breaks my balls this morning with all the squats and leg presses he has me do. But that’s one of the reasons I like working out here instead of the hotel gym. And I can say one thing for sure, after following his plan for the past six weeks, my legs and core have never been stronger.

He sends me over to the complex pool to do laps before my appointment with Rylee. Matt and Rylee both agree that swimming is very therapeutic for my shoulder. Not pitching day in and day out makes my shoulder tighten up. Swimming helps keep it strong and loose. It’s something I’ve come to enjoy and plan to continue doing at the gym back home.

My arms and legs guide me through the water and the laps tick away as my mind wanders. I can’t help but think of Friday and the shirt Rylee wore in my bedroom. When she left, the shirt lay in a crumpled heap by the bed. When I picked it up to add it to my laundry, I realized how much it smelled like her. I remember sitting on my bed, looking at the shirt. I remember putting it to my nose and burying my face in it. Then I held it up, studied it, and looked over at my closet, where another such shirt lay on the shelf.

I couldn’t bring myself to put Rylee’s shirt in the closet. Not when another one was in there that meant so much to me.

But I also couldn’t bring myself to throw it in the laundry.

That night was beyond any expectation I ever had of being with a woman. We broke all kinds of records. We laughed so hard that we cried. I’d never felt so much like myself and not like the celebrity ball player I’d become.

And when it was over, and she got up to leave, I almost asked her to stay the night. It was on the tip of my tongue. Like it was only natural for me to ask it. But I didn’t. Staying the night is not what we do. Staying the night leads to feelings and expectations that I’m not allowed to have.

Still, I wonder if she’d have stayed.

She’s never asked to stay. She’s never hung around long enough for it to be a possibility. She’s the only one who hasn’t. All the girls ask to stay eventually. But not Rylee. And it makes me wonder if it’s because she has someone to go home to. And the thought of it has me seeing red.

I finish my swim and head over to the PT building when I hear Ry’s voice. I walk to the side of the building where the employees park their cars and I see Rylee talking to Alex. Well, talking is not exactly what I’d call it. It’s more like she’s yelling at him.

“Alex, stop it!”

She has to pull her arm out of his grip and I go ballistic. I run over to him and push him against Rylee’s car. “What the fuck is going on here?”

Alex looks at my hands that are holding him captive. “You mind getting your hands off me, Taylor?”

“Only if you don’t mind telling me why your hands were on Rylee.”

He shrugs my hands off him and I take a step back.

“I was only helping her out of her car,” he says smugly.

“That’s not what it looked like from where I was standing.”

“Are you stalking her now?” he asks. “It’s not enough that you see her every day and go to the fair with her? I’d say you’re the one breaking the rules, not me.”

“You need to back off, Alex. Rylee isn’t one of your interns. She’s not interested in you. So if I were you, I wouldn’t try to help her out of her car again if you get my meaning.”

“Don’t you have somewhere to be, Taylor? As in New York? Or, maybe you don’t. It’s not like you’ll ever play for the Hawks again. Maybe you will end up here. Maybe being a single-A player is all you’ll amount to anymore. But hey, I hear Little League needs coaches – there’s always that.”

I lunge forward, fire running through my veins, but Rylee steps between Alex and me. “Brady, don’t. Please. You don’t want to risk re-injuring your arm.”

No matter how mad I am, I realize she’s right, and I reluctantly let her drag me away to the front of the building. I also realize that Alex has just voiced every fear I’ve thought but have been unable to say.

“Don’t listen to him,” Rylee says. “He isn’t your PT.”

I stop walking. “How many times has he touched you, Ry?”

“He hasn’t ever. He doesn’t do that. This was just a fluke.”

“Rylee.” I pin her to the wall with my stare.

“It’s fine. I’m fine,” she says. “I can handle myself. I can handle him.”

“He’s your boss. You shouldn’t have to handle him. That’s sexual harassment.”

“Well, the hope is I won’t have to deal with him forever. I’m trying to get a transfer, remember?”

“I understand that,” I say. “But even if you leave, what about the next person? What if there is ever an intern who doesn’t consent but he takes what he wants anyway?”

She looks at the ground. “I know. I’ve thought of that. It makes me a horrible person to put my career above doing what’s right.”

I lift her chin so she has to look at me. “You are anything but a horrible person, Ry. Just promise me if he ever does anything like that again, you’ll do something about it.”

She nods unconvincingly. “Okay.”

We walk into the back room and get started. I can’t help staring at Alex when he comes out of the office. I can’t stop seeing his hands on Rylee like that and her trying to rip herself out of his grip. I can’t stop feeling like I want to protect her from him and anyone else who might touch her. I can feel my jaw tightening and my temples throbbing.

Rylee must notice it, too.

“So, what have you decided about the modeling job?” she asks.

I shrug. “I guess I’ll do it. But it’s really just a favor for Murphy. That woman could sell ice to an Eskimo. She’s very hard to turn down. Kind of like some other girl I know.”

Rylee smiles. “I’m glad you decided to do it. It helps to keep busy. Even though I’m confident you’ll make a full recovery, these things can be slow.”

I look down at my left hand that still tingles and burns. “Don’t I know it.”

“Do you know who your PT will be back home? I’ll send him or her your progress notes so they can pick up where we leave off. Your elbow is almost fully healed. Maybe by next week when you leave it will be.”

“I’ll find out who it is and let you know.”

We look at each other and I know we’re both thinking the same thing. It’s the first time we’ve ever talked about me leaving and going back to New York.

It’s the first time I’ve ever not wanted to leave.

Chapter Twenty-one

I roll to Rylee’s side, both of us drenched in sweat and laughing. I’ve never known sex to be so funny, but somehow it always turns out that way with us.

I’m glad she’s laughing because earlier, I wasn’t sure she was even having fun. At dinner, she seemed disconnected. Or maybe distracted. There are so many reasons why she could have been, not the least of which is that this is our last Friday night together.

She cuddles up next to me and puts her head on my chest. “I’m going to miss this,” she says, her finger curling in my chest hair. “I mean, I know you’re leaving and I’m not a fool. It’s just … well, I’m going to miss this.”

Part of me wants to pull her on top of me and hold onto her for dear life. To tell her that I’ll miss this too, and maybe we don’t need it to end. Maybe there’s spring training. Maybe there could be even more.

I don’t tell her any of that, however, because I’m not capable of more. More died along with Natalie and Keeton. But if there ever were to be more, I know for a fact it would be with Rylee.

I give her a kiss on the top of her head. “We’ve had fun, haven’t we?”

“I suppose I should thank you,” she says. “These past few months have been great. And I’m not just talking about the sex. I’ve actually been more productive at work. More focused. I think having this outlet has been good for me.”

“You’ve been good for me, too, Ry. I’m not sure I could have had such a good outlook on things if it weren’t for you.” I stare down at her and our eyes lock together. “We’re good for each other.”

“I guess we are,” she says with a sad smile.

Then she gets off the bed and walks towards the bathroom. I want to pull her back. I want to tell her she doesn’t have to go. The words are begging to come out of me. “Ry …”

She turns around and I try to gauge if I see hope in her eyes. “Yeah?”

“You’re not leaving yet, are you?” I remove the sheet and flash her with my nakedness.

She looks at my body and then at the clock on my nightstand that reads 9:00PM. “I don’t turn into a pumpkin until ten o’clock,” she says. “I just have to pee.”

While she’s in the bathroom, I dispose of the condom and make sure there is another handy. Then I go out to the mini-bar and grab a few bottles of water. When I return to the room, I stop dead in my tracks when I see Rylee. She’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking all mussed up and sexy.

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