And then, while the stadium has quieted down, someone yells, “Stay strong, Murphy!”
The umpire taps me on the shoulder, reminding me I still have a job to do. I step behind the plate, unsure if I’ve ever played ball with a bigger smile on my face. Brady nods at me even before I give him the sign. He nods because he knows my prayers have been answered.
I give him the sign for a breaking ball. I need this game to be over and his breaking ball is the fastest way I know to get that done.
After three up and three down, Spencer gets up to bat and hits a hard ground ball to left field for a double. Then it’s my turn.
I don’t look at her as I take my up. I can’t have the distraction. Just knowing she’s here is enough. I rub my tattoo as I step up to the plate. I foul off four balls to the left. Then, on the fifth pitch, he throws me a fastball. My favorite pitch. I hear the sound. I feel it in my hands. I close my eyes briefly as I fling the bat behind me and jog my way around the bases.
When I round third base and I’m heading for home, I find her in the crowd. Just before I reach home plate, I pound on my chest, right over my heart, and then I point to her. I think she’s crying. But I can’t be sure, because, damn it, I just might be crying, too.
~ ~ ~
I take the quickest shower in history in my haste to get to her. When I emerge from the clubhouse, camera flashes blind me. Reporters fire questions at me as I make my way over to where Murphy is waiting with Lexi and Scott.
Thankfully, I see that Drew is already on top of things, keeping reporters away from her. Everyone wants a piece of her. People want to know how she’s handling being front-page news. I can’t believe she showed up here. She had to have known this would happen.
Before I get to her, a woman shouts over the crowd. “Stay strong, Murphy! Don’t let that bastard ruin you. Not many people could show their face after what he did to you. You go, girl!”
Women start chanting, “Stay strong. Stay strong.”
Murphy turns bright red. Damn, she’s adorable when she blushes.
I sweep her into my arms, not caring how many people are taking pictures. I want the world to know I’m behind her one hundred percent.
I kiss her before we even say a word. Her lips taste better than I remember.
I pull away and stare into her alluring eyes.
“Hi,” she says shyly.
Her eyes get misty. “I have so much I want to say …”
I nod. “Me too. Come home with me?”
A smile overtakes my face. “Drew, can you please find us some transportation?”
“Right this way,” he says, motioning for us to follow him.
“Lexi, can we drop you and Scott along the way?”
She laughs. “I wouldn’t dream of it, little brother. We can find our own way home.”
We say our goodbyes and let Drew usher us away.
~ ~ ~
When we walk through the door to my apartment, all I want to do is take her in my arms. But we need to talk. We didn’t talk in the cab. That wasn’t the right place. We didn’t even talk in the elevator. But she did let me hold her hand. And she did smile a lot.
“I’m sorry,” we say at the same time and then laugh about it.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, Murph. What happened to you is unimaginable. You needed a minute to take a breath. And if you need longer than a minute, that’s okay. Just say where you want to go and I’ll take you there. I meant it when I said we could leave New York.”
“You are not quitting baseball, Caden. But you offering to is why I’m here.”
I motion for her to sit at the bar while I open a bottle of wine. “You might need to help me understand that,” I say.
“I wish you could have met my dad. He was wonderful. He always had so many words of wisdom to offer. Words that didn’t mean much to me at the time, but now I understand.”
I hand her a glass and sit next to her. “I wish I could have met him, too.”
“When I was little, he would warn me about boys. He would tell me that a lot of boys will say things to get you to like them, but when it came right down to it, most boys were not willing to change for a girl. He said the only way to know if a boy really loves you is if he’s willing to give up his dreams for you. He said when that happened, I would know I’d found the right one.” Her eyes fill with tears and she starts to choke up. “Then he told me that the way I’d know I truly loved him is that I would never let him do it.”
I pull her onto my lap and wipe her tears. “Damn, I love your father.”
“Me too,” she says, nodding. “He’s right, Caden. I love you. I love you more than I thought I could love anyone. And I would never let you give up baseball. It’s what makes you you. It’s what brought us together. And when I really thought about it, I realized I don’t care what anyone else thinks. If people want to watch me and that loser have sex, they are sick and twisted and aren’t worthy of me caring in the least.”
“I love you too, babe. More than you could ever know. And you don’t have to worry, Ethan is pretty sure we got all the videos taken off the internet.”
“Really?” she asks, looking surprised. “You can do that? You did that?”
“We sure as hell did. Nobody gets to see my girl that way except me. And I’ve got a lot of people working to make sure that prick goes to prison for what he did to you.”
She sighs and I can feel some of the tension leaving her body. “Thank you, Caden.”
I cup her chin with my hand. “Don’t you know by now that I’ll do anything for you?”
“Anything?” she asks with a sultry grin.
I laugh. “Just name it.”
“Take me to bed, Kessler, and I’ll tell you exactly what to do.”
I immediately spring to life underneath her. Then I get up, lifting her into my arms before I carry her down the hallway.
She giggles as I practically run back to my bedroom. “Don’t drop me,” she jokes.
I put her down on the bed and take a minute to look at her.
“What is it?” she asks when I don’t immediately climb on the bed with her.
I shake my head. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever have you in my life again, let alone my bed. I’m a very fortunate man.”
Her hand moves up to her face and she runs a finger across her scar. “I’m the fortunate one.”
I crawl on top of her and lean down to kiss her. I kiss her scar. Her cheeks. Her neck. She’s moaning beneath me before I even get to her lips. And when I do, she grabs the back of my head and holds me to her. We kiss each other breathless. We make each other understand that the words we’ve spoken are truer than any other words.
“Please, Caden,” she begs, squirming under me.
I smile as I hastily remove my clothes and then take my sweet time removing hers. I peel her top off, kissing and licking inch by inch of her stomach as I do. I unclasp her bra and take her glorious breasts into my hands and then into my mouth. I unbutton her jeans and remove them slowly, taking care to give attention to every curve of her legs.
“I plan to take my time with you and make you come in every way possible. But right now, I need to be inside you. I need to feel you and know you’re mine.”
“Yes.” She reaches over to my nightstand but I pull her arm back.
“Murph, I want to feel you with nothing between us. Is that okay? We’ve both been tested and you’re still on the pill, aren’t you?”
She nods, a slow smile creeping up her face. “What if I try and trap you, Kessler?”
I laugh, leaning down to devour her neck with my mouth. But before I do, I whisper in her ear. “I’ve never wanted anything more.”
My hand wanders down her soft skin and through her fine curls to find her wet for me. I slip a finger inside her and run my thumb across her clit. Her breath catches and she moans under my ministrations. I work my fingers faster on her until I know she’s on the brink. Then I climb on top of her and glide myself in, reveling in the incredible feeling of flesh on flesh.
I have to control myself so I don’t come too quickly. But the sensation of having nothing between us is almost too much for me to take. The sweet friction builds inside me like a tsunami, and I’m about to explode. I stop moving and reach up to grab both sides of her head. “I love you, Murphy Brown,” I say, looking into her eyes as our bodies are joined in the most intimate way possible.
“The way I feel …” she chokes up as tears pool in her eyes. She reaches her hands around me to thread her fingers through my hair. “Love is not a strong enough word, Caden.”
That did it. This woman owns me lock, stock, and barrel. If I had the ring with me, I’d propose to her right this very second. But I left it in my locker—the same place it’s been since the first day I put it in my pocket.
“It’ll always be you,” I tell her. “It’ll always be us.” Then I let myself go as I reach a hand between us and make sure she is right there with me.
Our salacious cries echo off my walls as we drag every last ounce of pleasure from each other. I collapse down on top of her, thanking my lucky stars she came back to me.
When I catch my breath, I rise onto my elbows. “I hope you slept on the plane, because you aren’t getting any sleep tonight.”
She giggles and looks around my room. “I like it here,” she says. “Mind if I stay?”
“Stay the night? Hell no, I don’t mind.” I wink at her. “I wasn’t planning on letting you leave until I’m done with you.”
She looks up at me with her gorgeous blue eyes. “Not just the night. I was thinking I might stay a little longer than that if the offer still stands.”
I study her in astonishment. “You want to move in with me?”
She nods. “I was just waiting for Trick to find a new roommate and now she has. I always wanted to move in with you, Caden.”