A low blow. Because, when I’d agreed to play under Coach’s program after he’d vowed to do right by me, I’d promised my parents that I’d respect the man’s rules. Now there’s nothing I can say that will not make me look defensive. I pinch the bridge of my nose, pushing against my aching eyes. I just want to sleep.
Coach’s heavy hand lands on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze. “Just think about it, okay?”
Dully, I nod, but it’s an empty promise and we both know it.
It might have helped if Anna came home. She can distract me better than anyone. In truth, she’s the only one I want around me these days. Something I know I ought to be worried about.
The only distraction I can find is doing some upper bodywork on the weight bench. When I hear the phone ring, I set the weights down with a clang. Unfortunately, it isn’t Anna but Grey.
“Hey, man. I’m coming over and making lasagna tonight. And before you say no, Anna says you’re free. Shocking, isn’t it?”
I frown down at my cast. “You talked to Anna first?
“Uh, yeah. How else am I going to get an invite anymore?” The annoyance in his voice is thick, and it irks me.
“Then why bother telling me? Why not just show up?”
“Because I’m not a dick?”
“You sure about that?”
The silence on the other end of the line is total.
Okay, that was shitty. But I can’t help it. The little f**ker is plotting behind my back. With Anna. My chest clenches tight. Fuck it, did they know Coach was coming over too? Heat crawls up my neck. I’m pretty f**k-all sure they did.
When Gray finally speaks, his voice is sharp with anger. “What’s your problem, Drew?”
I have a long list right now. “Forget it.”
“Right,” Gray snaps. “I’ll do that.”
Which means he’ll glare at me when he gets here and make me feel like shit. I rake my hand through my hair, pushing down on my scalp. My head is a steady throb of pain now. “You need a ride?”
Because it occurs to me, with a sinking feeling, that not only has the punk offered to cook for me again, he’s also lent me his truck so I’m not stuck in the house. Guilt sucks.
“Naw,” Gray says, lighter now. “Anna said she’d bring me.”
My teeth meet with a loud clack. Right. Because they’re communicating. My grip on the phone goes knuckle white. “Gotta go. See you later.”
There’s another awkward pause, then Gray speaks. “See you.” He hangs up.
The phone is a brick in my hand. I want to call Anna and ask her why she thinks it’s okay to sic my friend on me. Is this some sort of sympathy party? Or does she no longer like hanging out only with me? Is Gray here as a buffer?
I hate being paranoid. Hate this feeling of dissatisfaction crawling through me at all hours. I need to get out of the house.
Taking Gray’s truck—which brings on a fresh wash of guilt—I head out. Anna likes wine, so I’m going to get her some for dinner. Unfortunately, once at the store, it’s clear I have no idea what I’m doing. I know she’d like red with lasagna, or at least that’s what my parents always drank with it. But there’s like five hundred bottles of red. What type would she prefer? Merlot? Cabernet? Pinot Noir? What’s the difference?
“Can I help you… Drew?”
I turn to find Jenny staring up at me. Double hell.
I’ve managed to avoid seeing her for over a year. Which was fine by me. It’s strange seeing her now. Every inch of her is both familiar yet strange.
Jenny has that flawless type of beauty. Perfect bone structure, brilliant blue eyes, glossy dark hair, and a model’s body. These were the things that drew me to her in the first place.
I saw myself as a demigod back then, and thus needed to have the proper window dressing to go with my elevated status. Goes to show you what being an arrogant dick will get you.
“Do you work here?” It’s all I can think to say.
She blushes, ducking her head, and her hair falls over her shoulder in a wave of shinning brown. “No. I… well, I saw you standing here frowning at the wine…” She gives me a helpless shrug, pressing her arms close to her sides as she does it, which makes her br**sts thrust out and her ass lift.
The ducking of her head, the shrug. I’ve seen these moves a thousand times. I used to wonder if she did them to highlight her looks. Now I’m almost sure.
“I thought I’d talk to you,” she says softly, coming a bit closer.
The scent of artificial strawberry fills my nose. I know it well. Strawberry body butter. After a shower, she’d stand na**d in front of me and rub it all over herself in slow, meditative moments designed to entice. Only she was always coy about it, pretending that she was merely getting ready while not so subtly shaking her ass. One night Jenny jacked me off using a handful of the stuff. Ten minutes after I came, my dick turned bright red and f**king burned like fire. No matter how much I rinsed the poor bastard off, my skin remained irritated for a week.
My balls clench in remembered terror.
“I’m so sorry,” she murmurs. Somehow she’s inches away from me. My back is to the wine rack. “About your injury. I know how much playing meant to you.”
She’s sorry about my injury? The second I’d heard the words “I’m sorry” coming out of her mouth, I’d assumed she was apologizing for showing the world our personal correspondence, or maybe for making people believe I was a whiny pu**y after every game. That still pisses me off.
Then again, I shouldn’t be shocked at her focus on football. Jenny always wanted me to succeed. She wanted to hear my name chanted as much as I did, until it became clear that she would no longer be part of the show.
She wanted to be my wife. Wife. The second I’d heard that word come out of her mouth, I’d wanted to run as fast as I could in the other direction. I had cared for her, liked the way she took care of me, but I hadn’t been in love with her. And in that moment, I knew I never would be. I still don’t know if my rejection broke her heart or simply pissed her off. Jenny always kept her feelings close.
“It is what it is,” I mumble. The back of my neck feels hot again, the perfumed scent of strawberry making my nose twitch.
“You’ll be back.” Her blue eyes gaze up at me sweetly. “I know you will.”
Anna had said the same thing. Only she’d glared at me when she did, as if I’d better not defy her by arguing.
Tentatively, Jenny reaches out. Her fingers are cool, the tips of her manicured nails pressing into my skin. “I’ve missed you, Drew.” One nail traces up my forearm.
Her br**sts are almost touching my chest, her lips parted in invitation. I could have her. I could follow her home and f**k her blind. Sex with Jenny was all about what she could do for me. Which sounds good in theory, but no matter how many times I asked, she’d never give me an opinion of her own. Knowing Jenny, she’d still let me do anything I want to her.
And I feel exactly nothing. Nothing except the ever-present creepy-crawly mix of anxiety and anger that has writhed under my skin since the hit.
She’s looking at me with a glimmer of victory in her eyes. As if she thinks she’s irresistible.
Maybe she is to some. And while she might appear flawless on the surface, looking my fill of her has never given me the visceral punch of want that I get from just once glance of Anna.
Anna who, with her wild curls and generous curves, is more beautiful to me than Jenny ever will be. Anna who smells of exotic spices, warm skin, and home. Anna who brings me peace yet can wind me up hotter and tighter than a suspension coil.
Anna who is staring at me from across the wine rack.
My whole body seizes, going prickling hot then ice cold.
Her syrup-rich voice comes out rough. “I just thought I’d get some wine for dinner.” With a shaking hand, she holds up a bag of wine bottles as I gape at her in mindless horror. “Looks like you were doing the same.” Her green eyes flicker to Jenny before going back to me. “I’ll leave you to your…chat.”
And then she’s walking away, and the floor feels like it’s falling out from under me.
FUCK, FUCK, FUCK a duck. I stride through the parking lot, paid wine in hand, my head pounding in time with my frantic heartbeat. I hate what I just saw. Hate it. My stomach turns and my mouth fills with saliva. I want to go back there and grab that little skank by her hair and smash her face into the cabernet section.
My fingers fumble with the car key, which shakes as I turn the lock and wrench open the door.
I know who she is. Jenny. The nasty little bitch who tried to ruin Drew’s life when he wouldn’t roll over for her. I know because the twat had on a pink football jersey—a size too small—with the name “Jenny” printed along the back. Gag. I cannot believe Drew went out with someone who wears clothes with her name on them.
Obviously, she wants to try again now that he’s vulnerable. God, the way she looked at him, like some cat all set to lick up the cream. Bitch.
“Anna!” Drew can move pretty fast on crutches if motivated. He practically flies across the parking lot, his eyes wild and his face pale. “Wait.”
I get in the car and turn it on, loving the way it roars to life beneath me. This is Drew’s car, and I don’t really care, because I’m about to drive away from his ass in it. Before I can slam the door closed, however, he grabs it, hopping a little as he leans a hip against the car.
“I can explain.” He is panting now, sweat dripping down his temple.
“Just the words a girl longs to hear,” I mutter. Heat prickles behind my eyes. Not now. I need a breather.
The bitch walks out of the store, hovering there and watching us with interest. She’ll be here to pick up the pieces should I lay into Drew now.
He doesn’t even look her way. His eyes, wide and pained, drill into me. “You have to know that—”
“At the house,” I snap. “Now get out of the way.”
“No.” He leans in, grabbing at my hand with his clammy one. “Talk to me.”
“Not. Here.” I give a pointed look in the bitch’s direction. “I am not doing this with an audience.”
Shockingly, he steps back and gives a short nod. “Okay.” He holds up a hand. “Okay, but I’m following you.”
Good to his word, he follows right behind me as I drive home. Even though I long to do it, I don’t speed but keep a steady pace and take deep breaths the whole way home. My hands are cold and sweaty on the steering wheel.
I want to throw up. I want to cry. Drew is slipping away from me. And I don’t know if I can handle the situation.
Once home, I slam out of the car, only to hear Drew drive up and do the same. I say nothing as I let myself in and set the wine on the kitchen counter. By the time he’s inside and shutting the door, I’m rinsing off my hot face with cool water.
“Anna.” His voice is soft, coaxing as he comes closer. “Baby, I know that looked bad, but—”
“It’s okay.” I turn to face him, taking in his pasty complexion and confused frown. “It’s okay, Drew.”
His heel thumps against the floor as he limps up to me. “Not that I want to fight,” he begins slowly, “but I’ve been close to losing my mind with fear for the past twenty minutes, so can you explain this to me?” His brows rise, but he looks pained as he stares down at me. “Because I’m at a loss here.”
I rest my hand over his cold one, and instantly he captures it, threading his fingers through mine and holding tight as if I might run. The gesture makes me smile even though I’m suddenly so exhausted that I want to lie down. He’s in a panic. Not that I blame him. The scene that I stumbled into looked very cozy to someone on the outside.
“I saw the way you looked at her,” I tell him.
“How did I look at her?” His voice is a rasp, his gaze darting over my face in rampant curiosity.
“Like she was an insect.”
A short, humorless laugh leaves him. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”
With a quick tug, he hauls me into his arms and holds me tight as he burrows his nose into my hair. “Christ. I saw you standing there, and I thought…” He snuggles in deeper, his lips pressing on the top of my head. “I love the way you smell.” It’s a rather odd change of subject, but I don’t question it. I wrap my arms around his waist. Simply doing that settles the rampant jittering within my chest.
“You thought what?” I ask. “That I’d leave you?”
I can feel the tension gathering in his back. “Maybe,” he mumbles into my hair. “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking past the initial panic. Definitely thought there’d be yelling, maybe a wine bottle smashed over my head.”
I laugh against his shoulder where my face is currently being smushed. But I’m fine where I am, warm and secure.
“I trust you, Drew.” If he had been looking at his ex the way he looks at me, there would have been a fight. It would have destroyed me. But I didn’t doubt him for a minute, because I saw his distress and the way he angled away from the little witch.
Surprise ripples over him, and he pulls back a bit to meet my eyes. “Why’d you drive away like that then?”
I shrug. “I needed a moment. Otherwise I might have smashed that little shit’s face in.”
He’s clearly struggling not to smile. Smart guy. “So no catfight jokes?”
“Not if you want to live.”