Page 47

“Get bent,” I shout in a voice way too high-pitched.

With a snarl, he pounds once more, and adds a “Fuck!” for emphasis. Then he’s gone.

I’m pretty sure if his leg weren’t broken the f**king bastard would have kicked down the door and physically tossed me out by now. Like he did my clothes. God, that hurt. It still does. Our dresser drawers are tilting haphazardly, half hanging out from their housing. T-shirts, and one of my bras, hang from them like streamers. I focus on that lone bra. A ridiculously expensive La Perla sky blue bra that Iris gave me on my twenty-first birthday. The bra Drew slipped his fingers under the night he’d asked me to move in with him.

He emptied my lingerie drawer? That dick. My f**king bras are on the street, probably being ogled by some f**king frat boy.

The thought, for some inane reason, makes the damn burst. I sob, great big hulking sobs that I try to contain by shoving a pillow into my face. Smothered by down and hunched over on the floor, I almost don’t hear him.

“Anna.” His voice is ravaged, but so close and clear, he has to be leaning on the door. “Anna, baby. Let me in.”

I hate myself that my whole body vibrates with the need to do as he asks. I just want this fight to end. I want him to hold me. I want to hold him. And then I remember that my panties are likely hanging on the bushes and curl tighter into myself.

“Anna.” It’s a long plea. “Please, honey. I just… Please.”

God, he sounds so broken. He is broken. And I don’t know how to fix him. He doesn’t want me. But he’s on the other side of the door. Calling my name.

Snot-nosed and red-faced, I crawl across the floor, flick the lock and then scurry back to the safety of my pillow. A second later, he opens the door, but I can’t look at him. I’m too raw. Too humiliated.

Only his legs, one bare and the other in a cast, are in my line of sight as he limps over to me. With each step he takes closer, the more I tremble. I will not cry in front of him. I will not. But it costs me to keep it in. My lip throbs against the clench of my teeth.

He hunkers down next to me, his cast making the descent ungainly and slow. I don’t look. But I feel his body heat. And I smell him, clean and warm and delicious. Drew.

It takes him no effort at all to pick me up and put me in his lap. Tears start streaming again as he wraps his arms about me. Arms so thick and corded with muscle they feel like iron. His hands are in my hair, on my back, as he nuzzles against my neck.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so f**king sorry. I’ve never lost it like that. I don’t know what…” He’s kissing me. My eyes, my cheeks, my swollen lips, all the time saying, “I’m sorry.”

I don’t kiss him back, just let him do what he will. My hand falls against the hard swell of his chest where his heart beats fast and strong.

“I’m so messed up.” The words are pulled from him, a raw agony. “I’m so f**king messed up about this, Anna. I’m afraid. Every time I think of holding the ball, or playing, I feel sick. And it pisses me off. It’s just an injury. I shouldn’t be freaking out like this. I—”

I move then, wrapping my arms around his neck and pressing my cheek to his. “There’s never going to be a right way to feel. And you don’t have to go it alone. I’m here.”

He holds me tighter. Tight enough that he trembles, that I can barely breathe. I squeeze him harder, wanting to be his anchor. “I’m here.”

We hold each other, our breath steaming in the small space between us.

Drew sighs. “I don’t want you to leave me. Ever.” His voice is muffled against my hair. “I’m just terrified that you will. How can you not when I’m this pathetic mess? And I’d rather…” He takes a ragged breath. “I’d rather it happen now if it’s going to happen.”

Now. So he can hit rock bottom. I kiss him then, clasping his face in my hands. I kiss him like he kissed me, over his cheeks, his closed eyes, his chin. He’s doing the same, and it’s a fumbling mess of lips trying to make contact. But then our mouths meet, and I melt into him. The kiss is tender yet fierce. There is no end to it, just a slow liquid glide and a gentle exploration. I put everything I am into the kiss. And I am rewarded. I feel his love down to the soles of my feet.

When the kiss ends, our lips still touch, and we share the same breath, soft and slow. His big, rough hands are cradling my jaw, and I’m holding onto his neck so I can feel his life’s blood move through his veins.

“I love you so much it hurts,” he says. “But everything I love gets taken away.”

My breath hitches in a choppy hiccup. “You can do a preemptive strike, Drew. You can try to throw me away—”

“No.” His forehead presses against mine, his grip growing tighter. “No, I don’t want that. I don’t—”

I speak over him. “Just listen.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and nods. And the sight is an arrow through my chest. “I love you, Drew. All of you, the good and the bad.” My thumb glides along the high crest of his heated cheek. “I won’t leave you. But if you treat me like shit, it will be you leaving me.”

“Shit,” Drew says brokenly. “Shit, Anna.” He gathers me up again, secure in his arms. “I was an ass**le. A huge, f**king ass**le.”

“Yeah,” I say, but I’m smiling now. “But I was one to you long before.”

Drew stills, and I know he’s remembering the words he tossed at me. I’m remembering them too. He’s wanted me from the first. My whole body grows tender at the thought, then hurts at the way I had rejected him.

“You should know,” I say against his shoulder, “I wanted you from the first too. The second I saw you, I thought, yeah, that guy, he’s the one. I just didn’t let myself believe that I could have you. Because of my own shit. Not because of you.”

His hand is so big it encompasses the back of my head. “Anna.”

I go on. Because it’s important he knows. “I was coming to tell you that before you got hit. Because I had realized that you were the best thing that had ever happened to me or ever would. Because what I felt for you was stronger than my fear. You won, Drew. You’ll always win with me.”

He swallows hard, and then pulls back. His smile is golden. It’s a true Drew smile. And I’m so glad to see it return that I almost miss his next words.

“Good. Because I’m keeping you, Anna Jones.”

ASKING GRAY TO meet me outside the stadium was a mistake. I can feel the damn place looming over me, pressing upon my back in a silent taunt. Turn around. Look at me. And when I don’t, Coward.

A cold sweat breaks over me, and I press my ass back against the cab of Gray’s pickup, as if it can anchor me. An early frost has sugared the world with ice. I draw in a deep breath and welcome the burn in my lungs.

My attention drifts to a bubblegum pink Fiat headed my way. The lot is fairly empty, which makes me wonder if the person driving has spotted me in particular. If it’s a fan, I swear to God or to whoever’s listening that I’m leaving. I can’t deal with that now. Not even a little.

When the car parks next to mine, my fists curl within the pockets of my jacket. Shit.

A second later, Gray awkwardly unfolds his long bulk from the tiny car, and I. Lose. It.

I laugh so hard, I double over, my hand braced on the side of my cast.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” Gray grouses as he slams the pink door.

Wiping my eyes, I try to stop, but can’t.

“Man…” Gray sighs, but I can see his lips twitching. “Asshole.”

I clear my throat, sputtering, but managing to choke down my snorts. “What the absolute f**k?”

Gray’s scowl grows. “I needed a car, didn’t I?”

That sobers me. God, I’ve been a jerk. I love this guy. He is my brother in all ways but blood. And I’ve treated him like shit.

“We can switch,” I offer with thick awkwardness. I don’t deserve to be driving Gray’s truck anyway.

He snorts. “Like you’d be able to squeeze into that f**king box with your cast. Besides, it’s a stick shift.”

“Uh… why are you driving that particular car?”

Gray leans against his truck. “Got it from an agent.”

“An agent?” I bobble as I whip around to fully face him. “What? Why?” Neither of us has interacted with them on the level of asking for things. We’ll make our choice free of any obligations.

He doesn’t look at me as he answers, but squints into the pale winter sunlight. “It’s like this. I needed a car, so I asked my top three agent picks for a loaner.” He shrugs. “Have to whittle down my choices anyway, so why not see how they’d react, you know?”

Stiffly I nod.

“So I get an offer for a Merc. A sweet ass AMG SLS coupe.”

I whistle. Now that is a car I’d love to drive.

Gray’s knowing look says the same. “Next guy says he’ll send over ‘his own, personal’ Ferrari California, and a girl to keep me company.”

“Two ladies for the price of one. That’s…ah…generous.” I still can’t believe some chicks go along with that shit.

“Yeah.” Gray crosses his legs at the ankles and then gives a dark laugh. “So the next guy, Mackenzie,” he adds for clarification, “tells me, ‘look, kid, I’ll go to the mattresses for you come draft day, keep the press off your ass, and bail your sorry butt out of jail if you’re ever stupid enough to get thrown into one, but I don’t like the taste of dick, so don’t expect me to suck yours.’”

I blink for a second, and then grin wide. Gray does too.

“So,” Gray finishes, “Mackenzie says I can drive his daughter’s Fiat for few weeks because she’s studying abroad. And there you go.” He extends a hand toward the pink nightmare. “One hideous bubblegum clown car at your service. Oh, and if I wreck it, I bought it.” Gray rolls his eyes. “It’d be so worth it to drive the thing off a cliff, but there aren’t any around.”

“The guys must be giving you hell.” I try not to smile as I say this.

Gray’s brows draw tight. “They’re calling me Glamour Gray.”

“Ahh…” I glance at the car, which is far from glamorous, “is that supposed to be ironic?” Whatever their inspiration is, I know it will be evil.

His cheeks go ruddy. “No. Marshall, that f**kstain, said that his kid sister plays with these tiny dolls called Glamour Gals, and that they drive a car like mine. Hence…” He rolls his hand in the air in an irritated fashion.

I won’t laugh… I crack up.

“You’re a f**kstain too,” Gray mutters.

“Whatever, Glamour.”

Reluctantly, Gray grins, but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Seriously, though,” I say, “good on you for not selling out.”

“You should consider Mackenzie too. I know he’s interested.”

My laugh dies on a breath. Mackenzie had been my top choice, mainly because he seemed a straightforward guy, and Gray’s story certainly nails that down. But I can’t stop the uncertainty within me from rearing its ugly head. I force myself to nod. “Yeah.” I clear my throat. “Yeah, he sounds like a good fit.”

We go quiet, the faint sounds of activity from within the stadium filling the space between us.

“About last night. I’m sorry.” I can’t look at him. Not yet. A hot pressure builds behind my nose and lids. “I was a dick.”

From the corner of my eye, I see Gray turn his head my way. “Yeah, well, you’re a pretty good dick as far as dicks go… Fuck.” He grimaces. “That did not sound right.”

We both laugh, strained. And then I face him. “I mean it, Gray.”

He colors, his mouth going into a straight line. “I know.”

“I never thought you’d make a play for Anna. Never.”

Absently, he nods. “I know, man. And I know you’re freaking. I’d be doing the same.”

“I…” Words get stuck in my throat, and the prickling pressure grows. “You’re… Hell.” I grab onto him, likely shocking the shit out of him, and haul him close. My hug is hard. “I love you, all right?”

He hugs me back, just as hard, a fist pounding into my shoulder. And then we both shove each other away with a laugh.

“Shit,” he says, surreptitiously wiping at the corner of his eye, “you’re going to have me bawling like some stupid man-baby.”

“Cuz you are a man-baby,” I answer, rubbing my forearm over my own eyes.

The wind blows again. It’s too cold to be standing around.

“Well come on, then.” Gray goes to his Barbie car and grabs something from within. My insides dip but my heart speeds up when I see the football.

Gray gives me a challenging look and throws me the ball. I either have to look like an idiot and let it fall or catch it.

I catch it.

“We’re tossing around the ball.” Gray’s tone brooks no argument.

The ball feels so good in my hand that I want to clutch it to my chest like it’s a baby. “You going long?” I ask.

“You gonna throw down?”

My arm tightens with the need to let the ball fly. “Like a hammer.” Some of my cockiness leaves as I glance back at the stadium. “But not here.”

“We’ll go to the park.” Gray moves to the passenger side of the pickup.