“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.