“Bud?” He makes a strangled sort of half-laugh.
“I’m not ‘big’,” I snap. There’s more hurt in my voice than I’d like to admit. I hate that too.
His head jerks back like I’ve surprised him. It’s a small movement, one that he tries to hide by putting his hands low on his narrow hips. “I wasn’t trying to insult you. Believe me, I was referring to the best of places.” His butterscotch gaze drifts down and roves over my chest. Instantly, my br**sts feel exposed, heavy yet tight. And to my utter humiliation, my ni**les go stiff. As he is staring, he sees and sucks in a sharp breath.
Fuck this. “Eyes up, ass**le.”
He flinches again, his eyes snapping up to my face. “Sorry,” he says, not even a little sheepish. “I’d like to say it won’t happen again, but I honestly can’t promise that, Red.”
“Jesus, you’re unbelievable.”
He scratches the back of his neck, squinting at me as if I’ve become a painful sight. “Look, can we start over?” He thrusts out a massive hand attached to a forearm corded with muscle. “Hi, I’m Drew.”
I don’t take his hand, and he’s forced to let it fall.
“I know who you are.”
His smile returns. This one far too pleased.
“You said your name less than an hour ago,” I remind him.
His confident attitude falters, but he tries again, I’ll give him that. “Well, at least you remembered. I remember too, Anna Jones.”
I ignore the flush of surprise washing over me and cross my arms in front of me. “And I don’t need to start over. I’m not interested in talking to some egotistical meathead who ogles my br**sts and calls me idiotic names.”
I ought to walk away, but I’ve worked myself into a lather now. “I mean ‘Red?’ Seriously?”
He just gapes at me. This time dumbfounded, as if he can’t believe some mental chick is berating him.
“Why not be original?” I go on as if I’m not mental. “Why not call me Blondie?”
White teeth flash in a quick smile. “An esoteric approach, eh? Could work. Though it veers a bit too much toward sarcasm for my taste.”
I blink. His response sends a tingle through me. A pretty face is one thing. A quick mind is nearly irresistible to me. Especially when paired with that grin he wears. No anger there or even triumph, he simply waits for the next volley, enjoying it.
Stranger still, I enjoy it. I fight to maintain my bland look as I respond. “I’m not sure if anyone’s told you, Baylor, but there’s this thing called a person’s name.” I find myself leaning in closer, and as if on cue, he does too. His scent and his heat surround me, making my knees weak as I finish. “You might try using it.”
Little white lines fan out at the corners of his eyes from where he’s spent months squinting in the sun. Those lines deepen now as his voice drops to a murmur. “So no to Red Hot, then?” It’s clear he’s fighting a laugh.
I grit my teeth. “You’re just f**king with me now.”
Wrong. Thing. To. Say.
His nostrils flare on an indrawn breath, and his gaze goes liquid hot. “Not yet, Jones.”
Point two to Baylor, because he’s managed to unnerve me and give me a nickname in one stroke. And somehow I walked right into his trap. Heat rises to my cheeks as I stand there, staring back at him. Like a moron. But then I’m saved from further comment when a professor walks in to start up the next class.
The next day, a box of Red Hots sits on my desk. Baylor doesn’t say a word or look my way, but when I get up and chuck them into the trash, he ducks his head and studies his notes. Good. Now we’re clear.
Only I ruin this later, when, in the privacy of my room, I open the box of Red Hots that I bought and pop a handful into my mouth. Candy-sweet heat melts over my tongue, and all I can see behind my closed lids is Drew Baylor’s slow perusal of my body. I go so hot and achy with need that I moan into my pillow and don’t sleep for the rest of the night.
MY MOTHER ONCE told me that the most important moment in my life wouldn’t be when I won the National Championship or even the Super Bowl. It would be when I fell in love.
Life, she insisted, is how you live it and who you live it with, not what you do to make a living. Given that she told me this when I was sixteen, I basically rolled my eyes and worked on practicing my pass fakes.
But my mother was insistent.
“You’ll see, Drew. One day, love will creep up and smack you upside the head. Then you’ll understand.”
My mom, it turns out, was wrong in one regard. Love, when it came for me, did not creep. No, it walked up to me, bold as you please, you know, just in case I wasn’t paying attention. It did, however, slap me upside my head.
And while I’d be happy to tell my mom that she was right about that, she’s dead. A fact that hurts even more now that I’ve been struck down. More like shot down. Cut off at the knees. Totally f**ked. Whatever you want to call this disaster. Because the object of my affection hates me.
I am man enough to acknowledge that the cluster f**k that is my current love life is entirely my fault. I wasn’t prepared for Anna Jones.
I still cringe at the memory of when I first laid eyes on her at the beginning of the semester. Being late for class, I’d rushed to a seat in the back row, and was trying to remain unnoticed. I can’t go anywhere on campus without getting attention. And though it sounds like an awesome thing, it gets tiring.
When the roll call reached the back row, a soft voice, rich and thick as maple syrup, slid over me.