“Yo! We’ve got a team to destroy!” calls Sawyer as he slaps me on the ass and runs past me.
I take in the formidable Alabama defense, huge linebackers with mean faces as they run onto the field.
“Teamwork, D,” Sinclair says as I put my helmet on. “Show ’em who’s the best quarterback!”
I cock an eyebrow at him. “You’re encouraging me?”
A smirk spreads on his face. “Be the thermostat, not the thermometer, yo.”
“So you do listen.”
“Kill that defense, D.” He tosses a football in the air. “If you can’t, I’ll take over, ’cause I’m awesome, but I think you’ve got this. They’re ranked four and it’s a mountain of a team to climb, and your focus has been shit, true, but now’s the time to set it straight.”
I look up at the press section, taking in the television cameras, the ESPN guys, the scouts on the sidelines. Coach said I was starting, but to be prepared for Sinclair to come in. That familiar pressure sits on my chest, but this time, this time, it’s not as heavy. The critics may be right—I may always be second best—and so be it. Failure might come, but I’ll never accept it; I’ll keep training and working and pushing myself. I’ll never be Ryker, and that’s okay. I am talented. I know how to lead. I care about the people I play with. Any NFL team would be lucky to have me.
I look at my dad again. He’s here, he loves me, and it’s enough.
“Let’s roll the Tide out of our stadium!” I shout, and we take the field.30A tall, ripped man wearing snug jeans walks into the Piggly Wiggly Saturday night.
He walks in alone, no entourage in sight. Well, except for the cashier who squeals and leaves her customers hanging as she runs over to him, arms flailing. He signs the paper she thrusts in his face. His usual wicked smile is missing, but she doesn’t notice, swooning as she walks away, clutching the paper to her chest.
He’s wearing a Waylon hat. It creates a slice of diagonal shadow on his chiseled face, giving me a partial view of one bladed cheekbone and the side of a full, pouty mouth. Dark stubble covers his diamond-cut jawline, and a pair of expensive silver-mirrored aviators shields his gaze. He wipes them off and tucks them in the neck of a faded blue lucky Tigers shirt.
Stomach jumping, I turn before he sees me, my head down as I move to another aisle. I touch my face, hands trembling. No makeup to speak of, but at least my hair is down. My pants are camo, and my shirt—well, it isn’t a Four Dragons one. I threw them all out.
Somehow I find myself in front of the cookies. My head tumbles around, my skin prickling when I feel him behind me.
He’s close to me, the heat from his body emanating through the air around us. It crackles with tension, the sound of his breathing a symphony to my heart.
His voice, when it comes, is husky, layered with emotion. “Someone told me once that it takes fifty-nine minutes to bake an Oreo.”
I keep my eyes forward. “Sounds like an interesting individual.”
“She’s incredible.” A long breath comes from him. “She doesn’t need me the way I need her. She’s never going to forgive me because that means making herself vulnerable.” He shifts, coming closer to me, and when his hands land on my shoulders, my lashes flutter. “I’ve thought of a hundred ways to make some kind of grand romantic gesture, even begging her, but this girl…ah, she’s seen guys beg before, and it doesn’t work. She kicked a rock star to the curb. She’s a goddess with armor. Tough as nails.” He pauses and drops his hands. “She thinks I’m a shallow asshole.”
My hands clench. He isn’t that. Never.
“Please. Just look at me, Serena.”
I turn and face him. The beauty of him takes my breath. He’s gorgeous, with his chiseled face and towering body, all rippling muscle. His eyes, framed by thickly curled lashes, hold mine. His full lips part, devastation growing on his face as he hungrily takes me in. He’s a man whose edges have been ripped apart.
“How did you know I was here?”
“Romy. I went to your house.” He pauses, swallowing. “You’re wearing my shirt.”
I nod. “I watched you beat ’Bama by fourteen points on the TV. Had to show my school spirit. You played the whole game—congrats.”
His chest expands. “Wish you’d been there. My dad came. We’re working on things.”
My heart swells. “Oh, Dillon. That’s great.”
“I miss you so much,” he whispers as he shakes his head and looks away for a moment. He bites his bottom lip and fidgets as if he wants to touch me. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I, um, don’t know what else to say. I’ve never been here, never felt this, like I had a taste of something real and it was yanked away.”