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Then I frown, not able to come back with another joke because I’m thinking about her again. The woman I don’t need to double-wrap for. The one woman who I wouldn’t mind getting pregnant. Hell, I even wish she already was, that way she’d be more likely to come back to me.

Damn—that makes me a hypocritical douchebag, wanting to trap a woman that way.

“Hurry up, Taylor,” I say on my way to the shower. “I really need that drink.”

~ ~ ~

“Does it hurt?” Brady asks, slurring his words after five shots.

Even half-wasted, I know what he’s asking. “Like hell,” I tell him.

“That’s nothing,” he says, downing another shot. “The pain you feel right now? It’s nothing compared to how you’d feel if you went after her, found her, married her, maybe had a couple of kids and then it all gets ripped to shreds. Because one minute you’re happy and you’re planning things like Easter egg hunts and costumes for the spring play and then in the blink of an eye it’s all gone. All the planning, all your hopes and dreams for the future. Gone. Gone because of something you did. Something so fucking trivial …”

He takes another shot, his eyes glazing over, and I’m not even sure he’s aware of what he’s telling me.

He points at me. “So, get out, bro. Get out now before you’re in so deep you can’t come up for air.”

“I can’t get out, Brady. She is my fucking air.”

I make a split-second decision and pick up my phone to make a call. “Melanie, I know it’s late, but I need a huge favor. I need to get to Okoboji, Iowa in the morning. Get me the first flight out, I don’t care how early. In and out the same day. Back by game time. I don’t care what it costs. Can you do that?”

A half-hour and two shots later, Melanie texts me the details of my flights.

When curiosity gets the best of me and I can’t stand it anymore, I finally ask the question that’s been burning my brain. “Brady, do you have kids, man?”

“Kid,” he clarifies. “As in one. And not do. Did.” He throws back another shot and slams the glass on the table. “I don’t talk about it, Kessler. Not ever.”

Damn. How did I never know this? He has a kid? Had a kid? What does that mean? Is the kid dead or just not in his life? So many more questions churn in my head, but with the way he’s looking at me, I know better than to ask. He’s already said more than he wanted to. More than he’s ever said in the three years I’ve known him.

I get up to leave. “Can you find your way home? I have an early flight to catch.”

~ ~ ~

I make my way to the gate and see Brady standing there with a smirk on his face.

“Why are you here and how did you get past security?”

He holds out his ticket for me to see. “I’m going with you. But I upgraded us to first class, screw that coach shit. You’re paying, by the way. Your girl—your dime.”

I smile, knowing that even if he disagrees with me, he’s still got my back. But I have to know anyway. “Why the change of heart?”

He gives me a sad nod. “When I sobered up, I realized that you’re already as wrecked as I am, so what could it hurt? Plus, you suck playing ball. And just so you know, we owe Melanie big time for keeping her up all night.”

“I’ll take care of it,” I tell him. “Thanks for coming, Brady. I don’t know what’s waiting for me when I get to Iowa, but I sure do appreciate the support.”

They call our flight and he nods his head towards the gate door. “Come on, let’s go get your girl.”

Chapter Fifty

Murphy

I walk into the coffee shop and see Austin sitting at a table in the front by the window.

He stands up and greets me. “Murphy, glad you could make it. Can I get you a coffee?”

“I’m getting coffee and a danish. They are so good here. But you’re not buying.”

“Right. Because you can take care of yourself,” he says, jokingly, reiterating what I told him yesterday.

I laugh. “Something like that.”

When we go back to his table, he takes the seat across from me. “You look great, Murphy. The past five years have been good to you.”

“Thanks,” I say, absently touching my scar. “You look good, too. I can’t believe how much you’ve changed since high school.”

He laughs. “I don’t think I hit my growth spurt until I went away to college.”

“Where did you end up going? I remember you saying you wanted to go out west.”

“I did go out west. UCLA. In fact, I’m still there working on my MBA. I just finished spring semester so I decided to come home for a week for a change of pace.”

I crane my neck to look out the window, and I chuckle. “Yeah, I guess this is about the opposite of both L.A. and New York. And, wow, a master’s in business, that’s great. I never made it past my A.A. But I still have a good job.” I wipe an invisible spot on the table. “Or I did. I kind of left in a hurry.”

He gives me a sad smile. “I’m really sorry about what’s happening to you, Murphy. I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

I close my eyes. “Please tell me you haven’t seen it.”

“I haven’t. I heard about it on the news. I wouldn’t sink so low as to try and find it on the internet. What you do behind closed doors is private and nobody’s business. I hope they hang the guy who did it to you.”

“Thanks for not watching it. I hope they hang him, too. I talked to the New York City police again this morning. They keep calling me to ask me the same questions over and over. They said he’s going to be charged with a bunch of stuff. Something like three felonies and over five thousand misdemeanors.”

“Five thousand?” he says, his jaw dropping.

“One for every minor who was in the stadium when he played the video. They said that in reality, those charges will boil down to one charge, but hopefully the other things will send him to jail.”

“So, what are you going to do? Will you go back there? You have a good job and I know you’re dating Caden Kessler.”

I shrug. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I came here to get away, but it seems everyone here knows everything about me anyway. And I’m not sure I’m dating him anymore.”

“Really?” He looks confused. “He wasn’t mad at you for the video, was he? I saw the press conference he held. It didn’t seem like he was mad at you at all.”

I sigh. “Yeah. I saw it too. But it’s complicated. There’s more to it than that.”

He laughs. “There always is, isn’t there?” He looks behind me, out to the street, surprise overtaking his face. “Uh, Murphy, if you’re not dating Caden Kessler anymore, why is he here in Okoboji?”

My heart thunders as I turn to see Caden and Brady standing on the sidewalk outside the coffee shop. Caden’s eyes dart between Austin and me. His jaw twitches and he runs his hands through his hair.

“Austin, I really have no right to ask this of you, but I’m not ready to talk to him. Would you mind telling him I want to be left alone for a while? Tell him I’ll call him when I’m ready.”

He thinks about it for a second, his mind probably racing with thoughts of what could happen if he goes out that door and is confronted by two rather large professional baseball players.

“Please?” I beg.

He nods. “Okay.” He stands slowly and makes his way out the door.

I watch Caden try to keep his cool as Austin presumably tells him to back off and give me some space. I wonder if he thinks we’re on a date. Caden looks at me but I look away. Then Brady gets my attention and points to himself, I suppose asking if I’ll talk to him if not Caden. I nod my head. He has some words with Caden, who looks frustrated if not pissed, and then Brady and Austin come into the coffee shop, leaving a brooding Caden on the sidewalk.

I turn my chair so my back is to the window. I can’t sit here and watch him stare at me.

“Are you okay with this?” Austin asks.

“Yeah.”

“I’ll be right over there if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Austin.”

Brady motions to the chair Austin was sitting in. “Mind if I sit?”

“Go ahead.”

“I’m not very good at this kind of thing anymore,” he says. “But that man out there loves you. He wants to protect you. And no matter what you say to him, he’s always going to want to protect you.”

I don’t miss that his voice cracks while he’s talking. It cracks as if he’s speaking of something personal to him.

“Brady, I understand that. But there are ways he could have protected me without lying to me. Without going behind my back. How can we build a relationship if he keeps deceiving me?”

“He didn’t deceive you, Murphy. God, why are females so infuriating sometimes? He didn’t lie to you either. He did what he thought was best to protect you and keep you safe. And now you want to go and ruin what you two have? I’ve only known him for three years, but I’ve never seen him so happy. And now, since you left, I’ve never seen him so goddamn miserable. He can’t even play ball. Did you know that? Have you bothered to watch any games to see what your leaving has done to him?”

“He’s a grown man, Brady. I’m not responsible for his happiness. And I’m certainly not responsible for his job performance.”

“That’s bullshit,” he says, raising his voice so that some patrons turn our way. “You two are the best couple I know. You guys live for each other. Hell, he told me last night that you are his fucking air. That’s some deep shit, Murphy. He loves you. Like forever love. Take it from someone who had everything and then lost it—you want to hold onto what you have for as long as life will allow you to have it.”

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