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One after another, they come forward, give me a pat on the arm or the shoulder with a murmured, “Get better,” or some equivalent. And each time, if feels like another nail on my coffin. By the time it’s just Gray, I want to be alone so badly, I’m sweating. Scratch that, I want Anna. I want to get lost in her warm scent, her syrup-sweet voice, or just her smooth skin.

But Gray lingers. He frowns, opens his mouth, closes it, and then tries again. “We won because our defense shut them down. We didn’t score another f**king point. Our offensive productivity went to hell when you were taken out.”

My throat closes, and I study the waffle weave of my thin hospital blanket.

“You’re one of the greats, Drew. Don’t you forget it.”

“Was,” I mutter.

He takes a step closer, getting into my field of vision. “Are.” His expression is fierce. “You aren’t done yet.”

Anna walks in but halts, her gaze going to me and then Gray, and she hovers, clearly worried she’s interrupted something. Gray glances at her but then looks back at me. Moving faster than I expect, he reaches out and musses my hair, giving my head a little shove at the end.

“Love you, you thickheaded bastard.” Gray’s voice is uneven, and I realize then how freaked out he’s been. I would have been too, had I seen his leg broken like a twig.

“Same here,” I say, something stuck in my throat.

He backs out quickly, giving Anna a small smile. “Take care of our boy. See you tomorrow, Drew.”

Tomorrow. When I’ll finally break free of this place. Even though I’m counting the seconds, a wave of black panic washes around the edges of my vision.

Anna sits back down in her seat. I take her hand and don’t let go.

AT NIGHT, WHEN I’m kicked out of Drew’s room once again, I grab his keys and head to his house. Yes, I’m basically breaking in, but things need to be done. Drew’s car is in the drive, one of his teammates presumably having dropped it off with the spare key earlier. The porch light is on, as is the kitchen light, just visible in the back. It heartens me that someone cared enough to protect his house that way.

Hauling up my load of groceries with one hand, I brace a hip against the door and let myself in. I’m halfway across the living room when a massive shape looms up from the kitchen. Naturally, I scream my head off and launch my keys at my attacker. With a loud jangle they bounce of the center of Gray Grayson’s forehead before clattering to the floor.

“What the ever-loving f**k?” He clutches his head and glares.

Sheepish, and my heart still racing, I glare back. “Most people duck.”

“Yeah?” Still frowning at me, he scoops the keys up with one hand. “Most people don’t break into houses and launch keys at innocent victims’ heads.”

Since the groceries are cutting off the circulation to my hand, I push past him and set my bags on the counter. “If I have keys, it isn’t breaking in, now is it?”

Gray comes into the kitchen where a pot of something is cooking on the stove. It smells fantastic. “I don’t know.” He gives me the gimlet eye. “Did you ask Drew if you could use his keys to get into his house?”


I shrug. “Drew was otherwise occupied.” I begin to unload the groceries. “I’d meant to come here, clean up and make him some food to get him through the week. But I didn’t know he already had a resident chef.”

Surprisingly, Gray smiles wide. “It’s a simple barter system. I cook and Drew lets me hang out.”

The idea that Gray feels the need to barter for Drew’s company has my heart squeezing for the guy. I know he doesn’t much trust me, but I like him.

I take another look at the pot. “Whatcha cooking?”

“Soup.” Gray stirs it like it’s a fragile brew.

“Kind?” I prompt, my lips twitching.

“White bean with sausage and corn.”

My stomach actually growls. I haven’t eaten all day. “God, I love soup.”

By Gray’s pleased expression, I’ve said something right.

Leaning forward to catch another whiff, I almost dance with impatience. “When’s it gonna be ready?”

Gray’s blond brows rise in mock offense. “This here is for Drew, woman. Get your own supper.”

“Oh, come on. One bowl isn’t going to hurt. Besides,” I pull out a bag of apples, “I plan to make pies. I’m pretty sure I can share one in exchange for dinner.”

Eyes gleaming, Gray licks his lips. “Can you truly bake?”

“Can I bake? Did you seriously just ask me that?”

“Ah…” He holds his hands up in surrender. “Ask you what? I don’t recall saying anything other than we have a deal.”

Smart guy. I smile then. “Good. And when we’re done, you can help me clean.”

“He had to fall for a bully,” Gray mutters under his breath. But he’s smiling too. And we get along just fine after that.


DREW IS CLEARED to leave, and he acts like he’s been sprung from jail. “Finally! Where are my clothes?”

The doctor laughs at his enthusiasm. More so when Drew leaves his bed and hobbles toward the bathroom, the back of his hospital gown flapping in his haste and flashing his bare ass to the world. I roll my eyes while Gray snorts. He and Drew’s coach are here.

Drew returns, dressed in baggy basketball shorts and a long-sleeved cotton shirt that hugs his lean frame. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”

“I’d worry about you if you enjoyed the hospital,” says Coach Smith with a small smile. He’s a stern man, but I can see his affection for Drew.

All is well until a nurse arrives with a wheelchair. “Ready to go home, Mr. Baylor?”

Drew eyes the chair as if it were a snake. “Yeah. But I’m not getting in that.”

She gives him a patient smile. “Hospital regulations, I’m afraid. Even for you.” There’s steel in the look she pins on him, and Drew’s scowl grows because we all know he isn’t going to argue with her.

“Fine.” He hops down from his bed and spins into position on one leg. He doesn’t look at anyone as the nurse props his feet on the footrests and gives him a friendly pat on his arm. “All set?”

“Yes.” He hates being in the wheelchair. Every line in his body, his sullen glare, radiates that fact. Spitting nails mad is what my grandpa would have called Drew’s expression.

“Good. Now I just need to know that you have someone taking care of you at home for the next few days.”

Drew’s chin jerks up as a dull flush washes over his cheeks. “I do not need someone taking care of me. I’m fine.”

Again, the nurse uses her patient-don’t-fuss-with-me smile. “And I do not want to see you back in here, Mr. Baylor. Allow yourself time to become accustomed to your crutches before you go it alone.”

Drew flushes darker, his hands curling to tight fists. His teeth flash in a grimace. I’ve seen that look before. Just before he blew up at me. I step in. “I’ll be taking care of Drew.”

His glare cuts to me like a swinging scythe. “No.”

It echoes through the air, hard and ugly. And my back grows so tense it feels as though my spine is a steel rod. “Yes, I am.”

Drew’s nostrils flare. “I do not want your pity.” If words were nails, I’d have been punctured.

I affect a long sigh. “All right. Gray, cross ‘pity Drew’ off my To-Do list, would you?”

Gray chokes off on a smothered laugh, and Coach Smith has a sudden interest in his shoes. Drew’s eyes narrow into slits and, for a long moment, I’m sure he’s going to yell, but his mouth starts twitching.

“I told you she was a smart ass,” he says to Gray.

“Huh,” Gray scratches the back of his head, “I could have sworn you said ‘pain in the ass.’”

The nurse picks the moment to cut in. “Are we all set then?”

“I’ll bring the car around,” I say. Bad enough that Drew has to be wheeled out. My watching will not sit well with him.


I cut Drew off before he can resume his anti-pity objections. “If it were me,” I say, “would you do the same?”

Everyone goes quiet. If I thought things were awkward before, I was severely underestimating the concept. Because what if he says no? What if he doesn’t want to be with me anymore? Does he feel anything for me?

“Yes.” He says it so softly yet with such force that my breath hitches. His darks eyes stare into mine. “Yes.”

And suddenly everything else fades. It’s just us in the room.

“And if I needed help but didn’t want to ask for it?” I ask.

His chest lifts on a breath as he looks at me. “I would never leave you.”

It hurts to swallow, and my voice comes out rougher than it should. “Then don’t ask it of me.”

When he nods, he doesn’t meet my eyes, but I know it’s because there are too many people in the room. “Get the car.”

COMING HOME HAS never felt so good. Not since before my parents died have I experienced such relief when entering my house. It’s warm, quiet, and the scent of leather and general cleanliness surround me as I hobble into the living room, my crutches thudding against the polished wood floor. I halt and look around before turning to Anna, who has taken an extreme interest in a remote spot on the wall.

“You cleaned.” The whole house gleams.

She shrugs. “Who likes returning to a messy house?”

“Anna, you didn’t have to—”

“If you tell me I don’t have to help you one more time, I’ll…” Her cute nose wrinkles as she trails off at a loss.

“You’ll what?” I tease. “Punch me? Knee me in the balls?”

An auburn brow rises, as she looks me over, her gaze stopping at my chest. “Give you a purple nurple.”

I snort, but my chest grows hot. Christ, the idea of Anna pinching my nipple is getting me off. “As long as I get to return the favor, Jones.”

Just as I’d hoped, she blushes. “Perv.”

“I prefer egalitarian lecher.” I thump further into the room and set aside my crutches before plopping on the couch. The padded leather gives around me, a familiar comfort that I sink into. I expected Anna to follow; she’s been hovering over me like she was afraid I’d topple. But she’s still standing by the door and looking at me with a strange expression, her mouth titled on a nervous half-smile.

“What?” I shift a bit in my seat, hauling up my injured leg to rest it on the chaise. Now that we’re alone and not distracted by things like hospital monitors, nurses coming and going, and my intense pain, there’s a certain amount of awkwardness between us. She’s broken my heart, and I vowed to stay clear of her. A statement that crumbled like dry sand the second she walked into my hospital room and looked at me as if I was the most important thing in her life. I’ve been waiting months for that look. But it doesn’t erase everything.

“Nothing,” she says, still watching me. “I just missed your humor.”

I’ve missed a lot more from her. “Most people don’t really get my humor,” I say instead.

And then she smiles full out. “I’d believe that.”

Finally, she comes into the house, closing the door behind her. It’s then I notice the small bag in her hand. She flushes when I spot it. “I thought maybe I’d…” Her flush washes down her neck. “Well, maybe you’d like some company for a while.”

So she’s unsure as well. I should ask her right now what she expects from me. If she wants what we had before, it will kill me. I can’t go back to that. But she has to know that. And she’s stayed by my side in the hospital, when before she would have run in the other direction.

The moment stretches, and she shifts from one foot to the other, her expression going pinched and pale as if she’s scared I’ll tell her no, tell her to leave now. Not happening.

“I want you, Anna,” I say in a low voice. “I always have. If you want to stay, you have to know I’d want that too.”

Her lashes sweep down, hiding her eyes from me as she gives a brisk nod. “That’s what I want.” The answer is barely above a whisper, but I hear it and my body responds with a flush of warmth and satisfaction.

“Well then…” I don’t know what to say exactly. Get your sweet butt over here and sit in my lap would probably sound too needy, even if that is what I crave. Hell, it’s been over a month since I’ve properly touched her.

Anna, however, has other things on her mind. “You want something to eat?”

Behind the familiar scent of home, something savory and something sweet linger in the air. “Was Gray here?”

She snorts, moving into the kitchen. “Figures you’d think it was Gray who cooked. Yeah, he was here too.”

I imagine Anna and Gray in my house together and frown. While doctors were putting me back together, they were going on with life. Neither of their lives has been smashed to pieces. And the difference between them and me is painfully clear.

Unaware of my growing anxiety, she eyes me slantwise. “You ought to have told me you had a personal chef. I wouldn’t have bothered.”

I twist in my seat to look at her fully. “You cooked for me?”

“Don’t look so shocked. I have before.” She’s scowling now.

“I’m grateful every time, Anna.”