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I blink and force myself to focus on something other than his eyes. “You don’t see how never being told ‘no’ isn’t a problem?”

His smile deepens. “Stop being obtuse. You’re talking about my irresistibility. I’m talking about my honesty. Two vastly different topics.”

My lips twitch. Damn it. “I don’t recall saying you were irresistible.”

“Besides,” he goes on as if I haven’t spoken, “I can’t see what sort of culpability I have in girls wanting to get to know me. It’s not like I’m bribing them or lying to have my ‘wicked way’ with them. It is what it is.”

I stare at him a long moment, one in which he grins his stupid grin and I fight the stupid urge to return it.

“You know what? You’re right.”

“Finally!” he says to no one in particular before smiling down at me.

I give him a bland look. “So let’s put it this way.” I step into his space, glaring up at him. “I could not care less about football. I don’t give a shit who you are or what you do or—”

My tirade dies when he leans so close that our noses practically touch. The look in his eyes isn’t angry. It’s triumphant. “Exactly, Jones.”

Two words and he’s knocked the wind out of my sails. His not wanting me to fawn all over him is the last thing I expect. I start to frown. Maybe I even do. I can’t stop myself from saying, “Well, hell.”

And he bursts out laughing. A rich, full laugh that’s so infectious, I respond to it, snorting a little as I try to keep from laughing too. Our eyes meet, and the air between us abruptly shifts. Base heat swamps me so fast that I lose my next breath. Maybe he does too because he goes absolutely still. A lion about to pounce. I blink back, the gazelle caught out in full sunlight.

But then a lumbering form comes up to us, and a big hand slaps down on Baylor’s shoulder. “Battle, my man,” says the hulking guy who has to be one of Baylor’s linemen. “Sandra here wants to say hello.”

It’s like I’m not even there. Not to The Hulk, who actually bumps me back with his arm as he gestures to some eighteen year old with over-bleached hair and a coy smile. Not when she slinks up to press herself against Baylor’s arm. “Hey, Battle,” she breathes—breathes it, because I’m not sure I heard any actual consonants—“will you sign my shirt?”

Of course she’s wearing his jersey, the number eleven splayed across her br**sts. It’s no shocker when she points directly to that area, in case he wasn’t sure where he should sign.

I want to roll my eyes but don’t. She’s not the problem here. Baylor isn’t even the problem. I am.

“Well then,” I say. “I’ll leave you to it.”

I turn and flee, hearing him call my name. But I don’t look back.

I nearly reach the hall when he steps in front of me, halting my progress. “Hold up.” Baylor’s lips pull in a pout, which should look emasculating but simply makes him hotter. “I thought we were having a conversation.”

“I think it was more like bickering,” I say, and when he starts to smile, I hurry on. “And it was clearly over.”

His lush mouth flattens. “Why? Because of that interruption?” He gives a little jerk of his head in the direction of his number one fan.

I shake my head. “Don’t let me keep you, honestly.”

Instead of backing off, he takes a step closer, and his voice lowers. “But I’d rather be talking to you.”

My heart is beating so hard now I feel it in my fingertips. I don’t know where to look or what to do. My gaze settles on the leather cord he wears around his strong neck. I’ve never seen him without it. A small rectangle of polished wood hangs from the cord, dangling just below the hollow of his throat. My fingers itch to touch the pendant, to trace along the cord up to the stubble that starts just below his jaw. I lift my hand to do just that when a masculine shout snaps me out of it.

“Baylor!” Yet another one of his teammates seeking his attention. The freshman is still there, waving to get his attention.

I glance that way. “You’re obviously busy.”

A frustrated breath escapes him, and he runs a hand through his hair. “What was I supposed to do? Tell her to get lost because I’m trying to impress another girl? Pretty counterproductive to act like an ass**le, if you ask me.”

I’m kind of stuck on the whole “impress another girl” part. In fact, the moment he said it, my heart stopped altogether and heat rushed my face. Why me? What is he thinking?

My throat closes in on me, and I swallow hard. “Sorry, but you’re paying attention to the wrong girl.” I edge toward the hall and freedom. “I’m not interested.”

A flush of color washes over his cheeks, and his eyes turn bronze. “Bullshit.”

When I flinch, his voice softens and slides through my defenses like a spoon into pudding. “You may think I’m a moron but I’m not blind. I’m in danger of developing a permanent neck kink from checking you out. And if the number of times you meet my eyes is anything to go by, then you are as well.”

My cheeks must be flaming red by now. I’m too shocked to reply, but it doesn’t stop him from edging closer. Close enough that his low murmur rings crystal clear in the small space between us. “Why don’t you tell me what the real problem is and we can address it?”

Address it. Like I’m something he wants to figure out and fix. Something he wants to keep. The whole idea is so foreign to me, and so terrifying, that I end up snapping. “Why don’t you just let it go? Some games you aren’t going to win.”

He scowls but when he opens his mouth to reply, I talk over him. “Disappointment is good for the soul, Baylor. I’m sorry but I have to go.”

This time he doesn’t get a chance to stop me, or maybe he just lets me go. I leave as fast as I can without actually running, and another friend approaches him. Which is all good. And maybe if I tell myself this enough, I’ll believe it.

THAT WENT WELL. Anna Jones’s gorgeous ass sways as she walks away from me. A perfect counterpoint to the swish of her little black skirt and the bounce of her red curls. I want to grab her and press her up against the nearest wall so that I can taste her tart mouth. I wouldn’t even mind if she bit me, just as long as her tongue soothed it afterward.

Fat chance of that. I stay where I am, defeat and disappointment—yes, thank you, Miss Jones, I’m well aware of that emotion now—crashing into me like a bad hit.

“Shit.” I rub my ribs where the phantom pain spreads wide.

It’s even worse when I see Gray sauntering over. Gray is my teammate and best friend. We met when we were fifteen and attending the Manning Passing Academy. We are both from Chicago, though from different areas, and had played against each other before but had never talked until then. When my parents died, Gray was the only one I could stomach being around because he had lost his mother to breast cancer the year before. Which means he knows me better than anyone alive. This is going to suck.

Gray’s obnoxious grin is wide and pleased. “‘Crash and burn, huh, Mav?’”

I glare, itching to punch that stupid smile off his face. “I never should have introduced you to the glory that is Top Gun. You don’t deserve it.”

When he laughs, I roll my eyes. “How long have you been waiting to use that line on me?”

“About four and a half years, give or take.” He slings a meaty arm around my shoulder and attempts to pull my head down for a noogie. I duck away and slap the side of his head lightly. Though it takes restraint not to bap him harder. I’m not in the mood. Not that Gray cares. He’s still grinning.

“What’s the matter? Red didn’t respond to the ‘Battle’ cry?”

“Fuck off, Gray.” There isn’t much heat to my request. My mind is still on Anna, and my body is itching to follow. Shit, I’m so screwed. Something pathetically close to a sigh lifts my chest as I stare in the direction she took—fucking fled—to get away from me. Like I was a disease she needed to stay clear of.

Which is unfortunate. Because it’s still there, that insistent clamor in my head that says: Her, her, her!

Not so great when she seems to have a cry in regards to me that goes: Run, run, run!

I don’t understand it. I wasn’t lying to her, and I don’t think I’m deluded, when I said that we’ve been virtually eye-fucking each other for the past month. Fortunately, I didn’t call it “eye-fucking;” she’d probably have my nuts in a clench if I had. Not that I’m entirely opposed to her touching my nuts…

“Shit.” I pinch the bridge of my nose. Then pinch it harder when I realize that Gray is still there watching.

“Dude,” he says, “let it go. This is getting embarrassing.”

“Why?” I snap. “Because I have to work for it? For once?”

The masochist in me kind of likes it. I sure as hell love it when she’s all snappy and taking me to task. If I could get her to do it while I suck on her neck, feeling the vibrations of her voice as she talks, or maybe have those creamy legs wrapped around my back while she’s doing it, and I’d push into her heat, making her groan just a little between arguments.

I take a deep breath. And another. I’m so screwed if Gray sees me with a hard on. Thank God for jeans. And the fact that Gray is still babbling too much to look down.

“Sex shouldn’t be work,” he insists. “It should be easy. Girls come to us, give us a good time, and we send them on their way with a nice thank you and maybe a pat on the ass if they’re extra special.”

“I pity your bed partners.”

“They have a good time,” Gray says. “A great time.”

“Sure. You let them do all the work while you lay back like a lazy shit. Sounds awesome for them.”

He gives me a sour look. “Well, you sound like a girl.”

“If I was one, I wouldn’t be f**king you.”

“You could do a lot worse—” His face goes red. “Damn. Would you stop that shit? I hate when you make me twist my words.”

I can’t help grinning. Anna seemed to like it when I twisted her words, until she fled that is. And there’s that pathetic sigh again, making me sound like a sap. Damn, but I want to talk to her.

Maybe she thinks I want what Gray’s offering. A simple hook up. Maybe I ought to tell her I want more. I want her. The whole prickly-mouthed, sweetly curved, irresistible package.

Telling her that wouldn’t be stalking, would it? Shit, I don’t even know. Gray’s right in one regard, I obviously suck at pursuing. But if there’s one thing I understand, it’s practice. I excel at perfecting my technique through practice.

Anna still hasn’t come back down the stairs. Which means I’m going up.

“If my efforts bother you so much,” I say to Gray without taking my eyes off the shadowed hallway that leads to the second floor, “I’d look away now.” I give him a light slap on the chest and head off.


THE HOUSE IS bigger than it looks from the outside. Upstairs is a warren of long, dark hallways, stretching out in two L-shaped wings. Several rooms are occupied, the sounds coming from within them leaving little doubt as to why. The hall is empty—people probably going back downstairs as soon as they realized that they aren’t going to get to make use of the rooms themselves.

I walk along, discreetly listening to doors to find one that’s silent. I need the bathroom and am not willing to walk in on anyone before I find it.

Thankfully a small bath near the end of the hall is unoccupied. Once inside, I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. It’s blessedly quiet here, the blaring bass of the music a muted thud. My skin is flush, and my heart is still beating too hard. It’s like I’ve run a mile in a minute. Worse, part of me wants to go back downstairs where he is.

Cursing, I run cold water over my hands and splash some on the back of my neck. In the reflection of the mirror, my cheeks are pink and my eyes are shining. I look excited.


I pat myself dry and, taking another calming breath, leave the bathroom. And practically run into someone. My shoulder hits the cool wall behind me as I step back to get away. Baylor stands there, his expression bemused as if he hadn’t expected me to pop out at him. Then he moves closer, taking my air, and my thoughts scatter. His eyes, intense and determined, are all I see.

And all I can think of is that we are alone together. Utterly. Finally. I can’t look at him then. Not directly. He is the sun, burning bright.

“Why are you here?” My voice is a wisp of sound in the small space.

So is his. “I want you.”

The floor dips beneath me, his confession taking up too much air. Baylor seems just as shocked by his words, his eyes going wide and his lips parting. But he commits to them with a squaring of his broad shoulders. “Tell me you don’t want me too, and I’ll go.”

My mouth opens, a denial on my lips, then he reaches for me. It’s barely a touch, just the tips of his fingers on my elbow, as if he’s planning to guide me back downstairs. It’s the smallest of contact. Nothing really. And yet it’s everything. The small contact burns, ripples outward along my skin with lightning fast intensity, and my breath hitches.

His does too. A quick glance up, and he searches my face as though seeking an affirmation. Whatever he sees must tell him that he’s not alone in this because he doesn’t let go.