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“Why were you mad?” I ask. “They wouldn’t let you change your number after he left?”

“Oh, they would, but I would have had to buy out all the inventory they had made with my name and number on it – about thirty thousand dollars’ worth. And as a rookie, I wasn’t in a position to afford it.”

“But you can now,” I say.

“Yeah. I can. But now I don’t want to.”

“Why?”

He shrugs. “Because maybe someday, some kid will want my jersey hanging on the wall. And number fifty-five has kind of grown on me.”

“Someday? Sawyer, kids already have your jerseys hanging on their walls.”

He looks over at the wall again. “I can only hope.”

“Well, I know it for a fact, Speed Limit.”

He rolls his eyes. “And how is that, Penny?”

“I’ve done some research,” I say, laughing at his awkward use of my nickname.

“On me?”

I nod. “You don’t think I was going to agree to live with a guy who could be a serial killer, do you?”

“So you decided I’m a decent guy?”

“Decent enough to be roommates with,” I say, nudging him with my elbow.

He grabs my elbow and holds it. “You’re different, Aspen.”

“Different from what?”

“The girls I usually hook up with.”

I look into his eyes, torn between wanting this and wanting to be one of those girls. Because my body is screaming to be touched by him. “But I’m not one of them,” I say. “And that’s why this is different. It’s different because I’m your friend, Sawyer.”

“Is that what we are? Friends?”

We stare at each other in the dim light, him running a finger across my arm, sending pulses straight to my core. His touch is electrified. His gaze is on fire.

The line is being blurred. I wonder if there even is a line anymore. And if so, is it bending? Breaking?

He leans closer, his eyes taking in my bare legs like he’s never seen a woman before. His gaze moves to my chest and I know he can see my nipples hardening under the thin material of my top.

He reaches out and touches the hem of my shirt. “I like this. I think I like this a lot,” he says.

My mind goes crazy with wonder. What does he like? The shirt? Me? This?

Even in the relative darkness, I can see that he’s getting an erection. There’s no hiding it and I don’t get the idea that he cares to.

He brushes a hair behind my ear as he moves even closer. His lips are mere inches from mine. My body is humming with anticipation. And I realize that I want him more than I want to stand by my morals. I want him even though he’d make a fool of me. Even though I can’t have him forever. But maybe just having him now is enough.

His hot breath mingles with mine. I close my eyes and surrender myself to him. Yes, I think. Yes.

Then I feel his weight shift away on the couch and my eyes fly open.

“I – I’m sorry,” he says. “Sometimes I forget.”

Forget what? I want to scream. Forget we have a binding contract? Forget I’m not one of his hussies? Forget he says he will never have a girlfriend?

He gets up off the couch and throws his beer in the trash. He looks back at me and runs his hands through his hair. From this angle, I can just make out the tattoo on his rib cage. It’s mysterious. It’s dangerous. It’s sexy. Just like him.

He turns away and climbs the stairs to his room.

I sit on the couch and look at the wall. But not at the jersey. I look at the large wooden butterfly illuminated by the moonlight coming through the window. I study it and know that it has everything to do with why he didn’t just kiss me.

Chapter Twenty-five

Sawyer

I stare at the email she sent me. She’s on the plane and she’s bored. I should email her back. But I don’t. Because if I do, I’m likely to fuck up and say something I shouldn’t. Something like she hasn’t even been gone a day and I miss her. Less than two weeks she’s been living with me and I already miss her.

It’s different when I’m on the road. I’m busy. I’m practicing, playing, traveling, partying. There’s no time to think about anything. But here, when I’m at home before a game just sitting in my townhouse, it’s seems so … empty.

How in the hell is that even possible?

I look over at the piano. I can almost hear her playing. I love to watch her play. She doesn’t even know I do it. When she plays, her back is to the living room. She has no idea I sometimes sit and stare at her. She has no idea that when she closes her eyes as she plays, I walk into the room and study her. She has no idea how beautiful she is when she’s playing. That she looks at the music, the keys, the strings, with as much passion as I’ve ever seen.

Then it dawns on me, as I remember the night we talked, that she was looking at me the exact same way.

My head falls back against the couch cushion. Bass was right. She is into me. I’m not paying her to look at me that way when nobody else is around. Another thing he’s right about is that she’ll get hurt. She’ll get hurt if I let her stay with me. If I let her into my life beyond the arrangement we have.

I can’t let that happen.

I dream of Aspen – her and my mom. They are the only women I’ve ever dreamed of. And they are the only women I’ve ever had nightmares about.

The night I woke up and she heard me, I wasn’t dreaming of my mom dying like I usually do. I wasn’t dreaming of the agony she was in for years. I was dreaming of Aspen. I was dreaming of what it would be like to be with her. What it would be like if I let her stay. And the dream was the best one I’d ever had – right up until it turned into the nightmare that woke me.

I’ll end up hurting her. I know I will.

My phone vibrates with a call. It’s Lucy. Lucy never calls me.

“Is he okay?” I ask, answering the call.

“Daniel is fine. He’s getting a swimming lesson now, so I had some time to call you. I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while now.”

“A while? I was just there last Sunday. Has something come up since then?”

She sighs into the phone. “Yes and no. I mean, this is something I’ve been contemplating all year, but it’s just been finalized recently.”

“What’s been finalized?” I ask, warily.

There is a very pregnant pause.

“Lucy, what is it?”

“We’re moving,” she says so quietly that I almost can’t make out the words.

“You’re moving? Where?”

“To Arizona.”

“Arizona?” I yell, standing up and pacing around the room. “Are you fucking kidding me? That’s all the way across the country.”

“There’s no need to use that kind of language, Sawyer.”

“The hell there isn’t. You’re taking him away from me, Lucy. Did you even think for one second how this would affect me?”

“I have thought about it. It’s why it took me so long to tell you.”

“Why are you moving?”

“You know why,” she says. “It’s hard being a single mom. He’s a handful. I need help. My family is down there. My sisters. My mom. They can all help out when I need them.”

“I can help out if you need it. I can hire you a damn nanny if you want, just say the word.”

“You are not hiring anyone, Sawyer. You do too much already.”

I shake my head. “I don’t do nearly enough.”

“Quit it. Stop blaming yourself for how things are. I’m a big girl and he’s my responsibility.”

“He’s mine, too.”

“He’s not your responsibility. He never has been, Sawyer. I appreciate all you’ve done for us. But it’s time for us to move on.”

“Jesus. What the fuck do you expect me to do now? I love that kid.”

“I know you do. But the silver lining is that you play in Arizona a few times a year and you can fly down for a few weekends in the off-season. It’ll work out. You’ll see. And maybe, once we’re gone, you won’t feel the need to burden yourself with us anymore.”

“Burden myself? Are you kidding, Lucy?”

“I know you feel guilty.”

“You have no idea what I feel.”

“Fair enough. But I’m sorry. I have to do what I think is best.”

“When will you go?”

“I have a lease on the house through the end of the year. We’ll go then.”

I breathe a sigh of relief knowing I can still see Danny anytime I want for the next six months. I start to make a mental list of all the things I want to do with him before he leaves.

“Will you let me fly him up here sometimes?”

“I don’t know about that,” she says. “We’ll see how he does on the flight to Arizona. He’s never been on a plane before. But even if he’s okay with it, I’m not sure I’d want to put him on a plane by himself.”

“They have escorts for that sort of thing.”

“We’ll see. That’s all I can promise for now.”

I look at the time and see I have to get to work. “I have to go, Lucy.”

“I’m really sorry,” she says again.

I blow out a painful sigh. “Yeah. I know.”

On my way to head out the door, I walk past the kitchen table. I stop when I see the stack of hundred-dollar bills that has accumulated. For two weeks, I’ve given Aspen money for groceries. For the incredible food she cooks to feed me. And for two weeks, she’s not taken it.

She is different.

I take a detour on my way out and decide to write that email after all.

Chapter Twenty-six

Aspen

Denver nudges me when he sees Sawyer come out of the dugout with his bat. “I still can’t believe we’re going out clubbing with them tonight.”

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