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.