Page 36 of I Promise You

My almost-seventy-year-old nana flounces in, her two Yorkies, Buster and Betty, behind her, their nails clicking on the hardwood. An unlit cigarette dangles from her pink lips, sponge rollers still in her graying brown hair.

“Nana, those are bad for you,” I warn. She claims she quit smoking ten years ago after her COPD diagnosis, but she sneaks them when she takes the dogs for a walk.

“Just one of those days when I like to have one in my mouth.” She stops at the butcher block island in the middle of the kitchen. “Girls, would you be willing to eat a bowl of live crickets for twenty thousand dollars?”

“Gross! No!” Romy takes a chicken breast and sets it on a stack of paper towels.

“How many crickets are in the bowl?” I ask.

Nana scoops up Betty, the sweeter of the dogs, and scratches behind her jeweled pink collar. “Twenty.”

“Maybe.” Money is always tight. My parents had insurance, but a lot of that was used to pay off the house, Julian’s college loans, mine, Nana’s medical bills, and now Romy’s private school. I’m also socking money away for Romy’s freshman year at college. Julian contributes to her college fund, but he doesn’t live here with us, and sometimes it feels like an uphill battle just to stay afloat with the day-to-day.

She pats me on the cheek. “I asked Turo, and he said he’d eat anything. His eyes got all sexy like and he waggled his eyebrows. That’s a come-on if I ever heard it.” She sucks on the end of her unlit cig. “I’m gonna bang him. Have I mentioned he’s Italian?”

“Yes!” Romy and I say at the same time.

Romy smirks. “Your senior citizen center is a hotbed. Geriatrics are the most likely to contract venereal diseases. Just ask Serena.” Her tone is sharp as she darts her eyes at me and then away.

“Serena!” Julian sticks his head in the front door. “Someone’s pulling up with your car.”

“My car?” My voice rises.

What in the world?

How are they driving it? It’s at the Pig…

I wipe my hands on a dishtowel and head to the front door, then stop. Oh, oh, right! I was distracted when the quarterback showed up in the parking lot. I’ve been meaning to get a ride to grab my keys, but it’s slipped my mind.

My eyes flare wide as I stop on the porch and watch as Sawyer gets out of my car. I have the team profiles and photos memorized. Dillon’s Escalade pulls up behind my car at the curb. Owen Sinclair is in his passenger seat.

My eyes are on Dillon as he exits his vehicle.

He sweeps his gaze over the house, briefly glancing to my apartment over the garage. He’s wearing workout clothes, gym shorts, and a Tigers vented tank. The ends of his hair curl around a ball cap.

His eyes flash over to me, lingering.

I gaze down at my gauzy teal harem pants and orange-striped bandeau top that cups my breasts and loops around my neck. I’m showing a liberal amount of midriff. It’s a far cry from my Piggly Wiggly outfit or my stadium clothes.

This is the real me, football player. A little wild. A little scared of you.

“Serena,” he murmurs as he stalks toward me.

“This is…”—shocking—“a surprise.” My gaze flits to my Toyota. “What’s going on?”

“Your car—don’t you need it?”

“Yeah, but how…” My words stop as Owen comes around the Escalade.

His gaze darts between us. “Hey, Serena. Dillon said I owe you an apology.”

“He did?” I ask, bemused.

“Apparently I was a dick at the stadium.”

“And…” Dillon prompts.

Owen grunts. “And I shouldn’t have said, ‘Pass her along when you’re done.’”

“Ah, okay. You fixed my car?” I glance at my sad excuse for a Highlander, wincing at the rust around the edges of the wheels, the dent Romy put in the bumper.

“Not me. Dillon,” Owen says. “I’ve got no clue what you see in him. He’s the biggest asshole—”

Dillon pops him on the arm, shutting him up. “What Owen meant is, we ran past the Pig this morning and saw your car. We checked it out, spied the keys in the console, so I popped the hood. Turns out, you needed a battery. You should have told me you didn’t have a car. I would have driven you home from the stadium that day.”

“So you decided to drive to AutoZone and get a new battery?” My tone is incredulous. He fixed my car!

Sawyer raises his hand and says, “He called me and I brought them one.” He flashes me a wide grin. He’s handsome, his wavy black hair chin-length, his skin a dark bronze. Small silver hoops hang in his earlobes. “Dillon wanted to repair it and deliver it to you. So, we did. Now that I see you, well, all is clear. Crystal. Nice to meet you.”

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance