He holds himself so tightly, the pain and humiliation he feels so evident that I see red. “Fuck him, Drew.” Never have I wanted to punch someone as much as I want to hit his professor. “Fuck anyone who does that.”


Drew’s cheek presses harder into my flesh. “I know. I just don’t like thinking my academic career has been a lie.” His voice drops to barely a whisper. “It means something to me.”

My fingers dig into my forearms as I glare at the herringbone-patterned bedspread. “You did the work, you have the intelligence. No one can take that away from you.” I swallow past the thickness in my throat. “And if you never even went to one class, you’d still be one of the smartest people I know. The most dedicated.”

Silence follows my statement, and the soft caress of Drew’s breathing tickles my skin. When he finally speaks, his voice is rough. “You always make me feel better. Like myself again.”

A pang shoots through my heart, sweet and aching. Drew doesn’t make me feel like myself. He makes me feel better than myself. As if there is a little broken part in me, rattling and loose, and whenever he’s near it falls into place and tightens. The thought has me withdrawing, sinking into that cold, thick place that chokes me. I’m beginning to need him too much.

And because he is smart, and knows me now, knows my stupid fear, his hold suddenly shifts. One hand eases up to cup my breast while the other hand drifts down. Long, calloused fingers slide between my legs, and I close my eyes, my muscles clenching in that delicious way that makes me feel like an addict, wanting to beg for more and more. Always more.

“Again?” I ask as if half-exasperated, but I’m not. I’m grateful, and my heart falls that much further into his keeping. Which terrifies me.

I don’t get a chance to plummet into terror. Drew is turning me over, his lips following the path of his hand. “Just proving my earlier point of your irresistibility.” It’s a murmur against my skin.

I close my eyes. Don’t think. Just feel. And he lets me, because we both are excellent liars now.

16

AS QB, I lead my team. I set the tone of the game, lighting a fire under my guys’ asses or making them fall flat if I’m not on top of things. I never really felt the pressure of that responsibility because it isn’t in me to sit back and be subordinate in a game. I love leading my team. But it can get lonely.

The backs and receivers, the linemen, both defensive and offensive, form their own close-knit groups. They can talk strategy and technique among themselves and often hang out together. Quarterbacks? I don’t hang out or commiserate with the backups. There’s only one QB who gets the job, while the others warm the bench and wait for a chance to take over.

I’m lucky in the fact that our team is close. Coach makes sure we are. But as I sit alone on the bus to Florida, surrounded by the deep rumble of my guys chatting it up, the gulf between them and me stretches wide. Which is f**king maudlin and stupid and annoys me. I have no reason to feel lonely. Any second now, Gray will be tossing his ass into the seat next to me to talk my ear off. And if not Gray, someone else will. I know this. Only it isn’t enough right now.

Outside my window, the landscape blurs by in streaks of brown grass, blue sky, and gray road. All I want to do is turn the bus around. I want it so badly that my stomach hurts.

“Fuck me,” I mutter, rubbing my hand over the afflicted area.

The seat next to me dips with a squeak. “You’re not my type, Baylor,” says Dex.

I push myself out of my slouch. “Good thing,” I quip, “you’d snap me like a twig.”

He chuckles. “You know it.”

Three hundred pounds of pure muscle and quick speed, he really could snap me in two. But he’s the least aggressive guy I know.

He offers me a stick of beef jerky out of the bag he’s demolishing, and I shake my head.

“What’s doin’, Battle?” His gray eyes scan my face as if he’s seeing under my skin. “You seem…subdued.”

Keen powers of observation and constant awareness of his surroundings are what make Dex an excellent center. But I’m not appreciating those skills now. I’m thinking of Anna, who kissed my bruises with a tenderness that made my heart flip over in my chest before she sucked my c**k until I lost my mind. Anna who, with her plain speaking and fierce declarations, gave me back a piece of my pride. Anna, who still won’t kiss me on the mouth or let me kiss hers.

I want to be with her so badly right now, to claim that mouth once and for all, it takes effort to respond with a calm voice. “As compared to who? Rolondo?” I glance at the man in question, who is currently showing off his new touchdown victory dance in the aisle. “Or maybe Lloyd?” I give a nod toward the massive defensive end sleeping in the seat across from us. A line of drool hangs from his lips, and Marshall—running back and all around knucklehead—is leaning over him, dangling a dirty shoelace before Lloyd’s nose. That won’t end well.

Dex snorts at the antics but isn’t deterred. He turns his attention back to me. “I mean subdued for you.”

During the games, it’s his job to watch over not only my ass but also every man on the field. He can read an impending blitz, call a play change if he senses a shift in defense. His instincts have been honed like a blade, which means he notices anomalies before, during, or after any game.

“Headache,” I say with a shrug. This is a major concession, because no one wants to admit to physical pain. But I prefer that over the truth, which will lead to endless hounding.

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