“Motherfucker,” someone curses from inside.
The big guy peers past me. “Fitzgerald? That you?”
Fitz reaches the porch. “Hey, Rex. How’s it going?”
“Shitty. I thought your girl was the pizza guy, but she ain’t got pizza.”
“Sorry.” I’m trying hard not to laugh.
Fitz seems to be doing the same. “You realize it’s barely noon, right?”
“You saying you can’t eat pizza at noon? Boy, you can eat pizza whenever you want to eat pizza. Noon, midnight. Dinner time. Breakfast time. It’s fuckin’ pizza.”
“It’s fuckin’ pizza,” I echo solemnly. Then I stick out my hand. “I’m Summer Di Laurentis. I forced Fitz to bring me here because I need a favor.”
“I’m intrigued. You’re forgiven for the pizza snafu.” Rex holds the door open for us. “Come inside. I’m cold.” We enter the house, and he gestures to the scary amount of coat hooks and shoe racks in the front hall. “Ditch your gear. We’re playing Madden. You want next round, Fitz?”
“Naah, I don’t think we’re staying that long. Are we?” he asks me.
I shake my head. “I’ll be quick. I need to get home and work on my paper.”
We follow Rex into a massive living room with a U-shaped sectional that is currently bearing the weight of four football players. I estimate about eight or nine hundred pounds of muscle.
“Fitzgerald!” one of them exclaims. He waves his game controller. “You want in?”
“Another time,” Fitz answers.
Rex flops down in an easy chair and gestures to the only other free chair. “Sit down, cutie. Summer, you can stand.” He laughs loudly at his own joke before saying, “Kidding. Fitz, your ugly ass can remain standing.”
I sink down on the chair he indicates and find myself drowning in brown leather. This is the biggest armchair on the planet. I feel like a toddler trying to sit in the big-people chair.
Rex introduces me to his teammates, and it’s hard to keep up with all the names and positions he spits out. Turns out they’re all offensive players—two tight ends, a running back, and a wide receiver. Rex is also a receiver. “Lockett, Jules, Bibby, C-Mac. This is Summer Di Laurentis. She needs a favor.”
“I’ll do it,” one player says instantly. Jules, I think. He’s really cute, with chin-length dark hair, dimples, and a diamond stud in one ear.
I grin at him. “You don’t even know what I’m asking.”
“Doesn’t matter. Ain’t none of us gonna say no to a face like yours,” drawls C-Mac, who has dreadlocks and the cutest baby-face I’ve ever seen. If it weren’t for his tree-trunk biceps and huge pecs, I’d think he was fourteen years old.
“Girl, for real. You could be asking me to let you wax my balls and I’d say yes.” This comes from Lockett, the smallest guy in the room. And by small, I mean he’s probably five-eleven instead of six-five, and one-hundred-and-eighty-pounds instead of two-fifty. As in, a normal-sized human male.
“Oh.” I swallow my laughter. “Well. I mean, that’s a big commitment.”
“If you agree to help me, there is a chance I’ll be handling your balls, though.”
“What!” Fitz sputters, turning to scowl at me. “Dean said you just needed models.”
“Dean?” Lockett leans forward, recognition filling his dark eyes. “Oh shit. Dean Di Laurentis? Heyward-Di Laurentis? You’re Dean’s sister?”
“Yup. And I need six models for my fashion show,” I explain to the football players. There are only five of them in the room, but if at least two or three agree, I’m sure they could recruit the number I need. “We’ll have to take measurements and do some fittings. And like I said, I might accidentally touch your junk. Sorry in advance.”
“Never apologize for touching a man’s junk,” Rex tells me.
Bibby, a tight end with a bushy red beard, looks curious. “What would we be modeling?”
“Dibs on the Speedo!” Lockett says immediately.
C-Mac’s hand shoots up. “Dibs on the thong.”
I’m surprised at how easy this is. But in case they’re pulling my leg, I offer more details to judge their sincerity. “The show is a month from now, right before spring break. I’m still in the design stage, but if I get a commitment from you, we’ll take measurements in the next few days and start fittings in a couple of weeks. We’ll also do some runway coaching—”
“I don’t need runway coaching,” Lockett interrupts. “I’ve watched America’s Next Top Model.”
“Same,” Jules chimes in. “Tyra’s got nothing on me.”
I bite my lip to keep from laughing. Yup. These are exactly the guys I need. “So you’re in?” My gaze conducts a sweep of the room. “All of you?”
Everyone nods. “We’ll be there,” Rex promises.
“She needs one more, though,” Bibby says. He glances over at me. “I’ll ask Chris.”
I have no idea who Chris is, but I reply with, “Sounds good. Thank you.”
He shrugs. “Anything for a Di Laurentis.”
Rex nods fervently. “Your brother used to chill here all the time. He was good friends with a lot of our seniors.”
“I know.” Before I can stop it, a lump of sorrow rises in my throat. “Beau’s death hit him pretty hard.”
It hit me pretty hard too, but I don’t say that out loud. Beau Maxwell played quarterback for Briar for three seasons and died in a car accident last year. After I’d heard the news, I’d locked myself in my room at the Kappa house and cried my eyes out. Dean doesn’t know this, but Beau and I made out once. It was a stupid drunken thing, and we both swore we’d take it to the grave because neither of us wanted to deal with my brother’s wrath.
My heart squeezes painfully as I realize that Beau really did take our secret to the grave.
“Beau was good people,” Rex says gruffly, and the mood in the room grows somber.
“Anyway.” Fitz clears his throat. “We should be taking off.”
“I’ll start a group chat for us on MyBri,” I tell the guys. “And thank you so much for doing this.”
They don’t let me leave right away—first, each one has to swallow me up in a bear hug, while Fitz watches with resigned eyes.
“Does every single hetero male on this planet fall in love with you on sight?” he mutters when we’re outside again.
“No. Some fall in lust.” I spare him a pithy look. “And some fool around with me and then pretend it never happened.”
He halts about five feet from our cars. “I’m not pretending it didn’t happen.”
“No? So you’re avoiding me for no reason, then? Just for funsies?” Gritting my teeth, I bulldoze past him.
He catches up to me as I reach the Audi. “Summer. Come on. Wait.”
“Wait for what?” I snap. “For you to decide that I’m worthy of your time and attention?”
His brown eyes widen. “What—”
“Isn’t that what it boils down to?” I cut in, bitterness staining my tone. “I’m not someone you want to spend time with.”
“That’s not true.”
“Fine. I’ll amend that. I’m okay to hook up with, but I don’t deserve a conversation about it afterward.”
“Stop saying those words,” he growls. “Worthy. Deserve. That’s not what this is about.”
“What’s this?” I burst out, my frustration levels skyrocketing. “Seriously, Fitz. What is this? You rub up against me outside Malone’s, and then you drive away. I get on my knees for you in the locker room, and then you disappear for two days. I have no clue how you feel about me at all. So forgive me for assuming that you don’t want me.” My mouth twists in a humorless smile. “Why would I ever think that, right?” Sarcasm creeps into my voice. “I mean, a guy runs for the hills after I blow him. That means he’s super into me, right?”
Guilt flickers in his eyes at the mention of the blowjob. But he remains maddeningly silent.
I grind my molars together. Soon they’ll turn to dust, that’s how pissed off I am. “I have a date with Hunter this weekend,” I find myself declaring.
That gets me a response. A muscle in his jaw twitches, and then he mutters, “Since when?”
“He asked me last week.” I hit the key fob to unlock my car. “And you want to know why I said yes? Because it was really frigging nice to be asked on a date by someone who isn’t, I don’t know, ashamed of me.”
Fitz exhales slowly before speaking. “I’m not ashamed of you,” he murmurs. “I’m just…”
“I’m bad at expressing myself.”
“Bullshit. You’re the most articulate person I know.”
“Not when it comes to sharing feelings.” He sounds as discouraged as I feel.
“Feelings? Oh, you mean you have those?”