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I shouldn’t be here, mooning like some groupie. A clamor in my head that grows as people slip away and I become more exposed sitting alone on the bench. But I can’t find it in myself to leave. I like watching him move, like seeing the way his team and coaches interact with him. They love him. It’s clear to see. As is the joy he feels. He’s lit up from within. And it’s only a practice. I envy him. Never in my life have I felt that way about something I’ve done.

The team breaks up again, moving into clusters, and Drew starts some strange squat-then-jump-into-a-lunge exercise with a group of guys who must be backup quarterbacks, because they’re all holding footballs and pretending to throw them with each lunge. It ought to look ridiculous, but it’s more like a dance: graceful, powerful. None more than Drew. God, he’s fast. My thigh muscles would rip away from my bones if I tried to move that quickly. But he just keeps going, as if it’s effortless.

My butt goes numb from sitting, but inside, a calm steals over me. I take a deep breath, drawing in the scent of grass, the metal seats, and a faint trace of clean, male sweat. A loud whistle rings, and they’re jogging off, leaving the field.

All but Drew. He’s pulling his helmet off, his eyes on me, as if he’s known all along that I was there. Maybe he has. I don’t know. My breath surges, my ni**les tightening as my heart rate increases. I find myself rising, my legs taking me down the concrete steps as he walks my way, his stride long and confident.

By the time I reach the emerald green field, he’s grinning. And while part of me wants to grin back, suddenly I am nearly in tears. Shit.

He draws close, still holding a football in his hand as if it’s an extension of himself. “Miss Jones.” His voice is light with teasing. “For a while, I thought you were a mirage.”

I can’t quite look him in the eyes. Not when mine are burning and my lips want to quiver. Inside, I’m shaking. Drew is so near now, I could reach out and touch him with ease. I could press my cold palms to the dense muscles of his chest, where I know it will be warm.

I need you. I need you so badly…

I think of smug, f**king Terrance, his hands roaming over my mother’s ass, and I shove my hands deep into the pockets of my light jacket. “And here I thought I was being stealthy.”

“I thought I told you, Jones. I always notice when you’re around.” His smile wavers as he sees my expression. “Something wrong?”

I blink hard and look away.

“There is.” He takes a step closer, the ball dropping at his feet. “Are you okay?”

“No.” Shit, shit, shit. I’m going to lose it. “I, ah… No.”

On the next breath, his arms are wrapped around me, holding me against his lean body. For a moment, I tense, feeling exposed in too many ways. I’ve never been held like this by a man. Not one of my supposed boyfriends or hook ups has ever really hugged me. And I certainly haven’t been hugged by my father. The knowledge is a shock, as is the all-encompassing comfort I feel in Drew’s embrace.

I burrow my nose into the center of his chest as I wrap my arms around his lean waist. He’s damp with sweat, reeks of it. I don’t care. He feels so freaking good, his hard body solid and warm against mine, that I want to stay this way until he has the sense to let me go.

But he doesn’t. He holds me. Not weaving or speaking, just holding me strong and secure, his lips pressed into the crown of my head. I’m tucked into the shelter of his body. Safe from the entire world.

When I fully sink into Drew’s embrace, my body relaxed, he speaks. “Want to talk about it?”

I love this particular tone of his voice. I’ve never heard him use it with anyone but me. But I ease away from him. I can’t talk about this and cling to him at the same time. Not if I want to maintain my dignity.

Thankfully, he lets me go, but his expression is fierce, as if he’ll go kick someone’s ass if I ask him. Were I not so drained I’d smile. “I went to visit my mom.”

Fear, stark and deep fills his eyes, and I curse myself. “She’s fine,” I say quickly. “It was…She just… Ah…” Shit-fuck, how can I be complaining about my mother’s antics to him when I know he’d kill to have his mother back?

Somehow he reads me too well, and a wry look comes into his eyes. “You’re allowed to be in a fight with your mother, Anna. I promise, it’s not going to upset me.”

My shoulders fall on a sigh. “It just seems stupid when…” I trail off again, flushing with irritation.

He touches my cheek, brushing back a lock of my hair. “What happened?”

I rock back on my heels as I stare down at the fresh-cut grass. There’s a bit of chalk on the toe of my boot. “She’s selling the house.” Bitterness fills my mouth. “So she can go on a world cruise with Terrance-The-Ass-Fuck.”

Drew braces his hands low on his narrow h*ps as he peers at me. “Shit, Anna. I’m sorry.”

Yeah, because he knows how it feels to lose his childhood home. Again, I cringe. I shouldn’t be complaining, but he doesn’t seem upset. In fact, his nose wrinkles a bit along the high bridge. “Er… Who is Terrance-The-Ass-Fuck?”

I fight a smile. “Her boyfriend of the moment. I wasn’t being literal, thank God.” My smile falls flat. “Though I really should call him ‘He of the Roving Hands.’”

Drew’s brows snap together, his nostrils flaring as he straightens. “He hasn’t touched you, has he?”

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