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“Garrity’s.”

One of the sleazier agents. Oh, there are some who are subtler. They show up at games with company reps, promising massive advertisement deals they can work for you. Or they arrange for girls to take personal care of you. I touched my first pair of fake tits courtesy of an agent’s special room delivery. Lesson learned? Plastic is never as good as real flesh.

Rolondo shakes his head, sending water scattering from the ends of his dreads. “Harrison better not get hurt or he’s gonna miss that ride.”

“He shouldn’t have taken it at all. It’s stupid. Not to mention he’s playing Russian roulette with the Committee on Infractions.” Who have brought down bigger and better players for lesser violations.

Hearing my tone, Rolondo glances at me, and his expression goes tight, rain bouncing on his shoulders. “You think it’s so easy? You already have money.” He frowns. “You didn’t share a shithole room with two siblings or search your sheets for roaches at night.”

His words wrap around my neck, choking me. Should I feel guilty? Maybe I should. Maybe I should nod and shut up. Not like he’d notice; he’s still laying into me.

“You didn’t have to deal with any of that. You had a family who—” Rolondo stops short, his eyes wide with horror, and worse, pity. “Damn, man, I didn’t mean that.”

“No, you’re right, I had it good.” I refuse to be pitied about the loss of it. “And you can call me a patronizing bitch if you want. But Harrison, you, me, we’ve got the talent to do it all on our own. Not suck some agent’s dick cuz he’s got fancy toys.”

Rolondo’s nostrils flare, his mouth hard, but then he breaks out into a wide grin and laughs. “Shit, you don’t need to go all After School Special on me, Battle.”

“Me?” I snort. “You’re the one expounding the disparities of our upbringing.”

His feathery brows lift, and he gives me the amused look he always does when I fall into what he calls “Professor Mode.”

A flush works over my cheeks and grows when Rolondo says, “And here I thought I was pointing out the impact of our divergent socio-economic status when faced with potential agent induced incentives.”

We both look at each other for a second then laugh again.

“Fucking Sociology major,” I mutter.

“Henry-muthafucka-Higgins. You gonna Eliza Doolittle me?”

“There you go again, trying to get me to do you. Let the dream die, man.”

‘Londo puckers up, blowing me the finger, and then he sobers. “Besides, you got it turned around. They’re sucking our dicks.”

“Who’s sucking dick?” Gray comes between us and slaps a hand on both our shoulders.

“Harrison,” we say together.

“Sounds about right.” Gray gives us another pat. “We going? Or are you two going to sit in the rain and wax lyrical about dicks?”

There’s talk of heading out for a pizza. Others are going to watch NFL games at Dino’s Bar.

I don’t want to do either. “I’m going home to get dry and take a nap.”

“Pussy.”

“One that’s going to get some sleep.” I sling my bag over my shoulder and head for my car. I’m soaked through, and my body aches with a general tiredness that never truly goes. But it’s the emptiness centered just behind my ribs that bothers me the most. It’s getting worse these days. Growing.

I don’t really want to go home. There’s no one waiting for me, no one to talk to. The guys are like brothers to me. I’ll have fun hanging with them. But lately I find myself wanting to just… be. No shit-talking, no expectations, just be me. Which makes dick-all of sense. But the need is there all the same.

Running a cold hand over my wet face, I fish out my keys and flop into my car as soon as the door is open. Inside, the sound of rain is louder, the interior dim and musty. A lump rises in my throat. I hate this feeling of isolation. Rubbing my aching chest, I move to turn the ignition when my phone buzzes.

A smile breaks hard over my face at the sight of the name on the screen. Anna.

It grows when I read the text.

This message is brought to you by the BCBS [Booty Call Broadcasting System]. If you are back in town, get your wet ass over here.

Only Anna can make me laugh and get me hard in one fell swoop. I turn on the car and peel out, my day suddenly brighter than the desert at high noon.

RAIN TAPS WITH hard nails against the window as I hug the bed. Drew has just taken me from behind and, after taking care of the condom, is now a comforting weight against my back, his arms bracketing mine, our fingers linked. We breathe as one, a light pant as we come down from the high sex took us to. My face is smashed in my pillow, but I don’t care. I’m a boneless mass of well-pleasured flesh. And so warm with him on me that I want to beg him not to move. Ever. We could just lie like this and listen to the rain. Never get up.

Only I’m the one who is supposed to be kicking him out. A knot gathers just below my breastbone as I try to gather the will to say the words. And then he does it.

His lips press against my shoulder in a gentle, reverent kiss.

Instantly, I tense. And so does he. I can feel him growing tight along the length of my body. But he doesn’t move off. No, he tenses further and then deliberately kisses me again, as if daring me to protest. Another loving kiss upon my shoulder. Then another one.

My heart turns over in my chest.

“What are you doing?” I can barely get the question out, and it sounds too soft, too weak.

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