“Do you often hide behind exposing other people’s insecurities?”

He freezes. A frown pulls at his mouth. I don’t want to look at his mouth. It gets to me every time.

For a moment we’re silent, and then Leo makes a small snirddling sound. Dex goes back to drawing. “Touché,” he says in a low voice, his body tense in his seat.

I take a sip of my now-cold tea. “I don’t trust men in general.”

His hand makes a short stroke across the page, but his shoulders visibly relax. “When I analyze others, I find it easier to figure out my own bullshit as well.”

“So you’re sitting there figuring out my weaknesses while simultaneously thinking about your own?”

“Something like that.”

Finishing my tea, I stand. “Come on, Ethan. Let’s walk.”

Chapter Five

Dex

What is it about Fiona Mackenzie that makes me say things I shouldn’t? Do things I wouldn’t? She sees right through me with her grass-green eyes.

Five-foot-three and the tiny terror intimidates the hell out of me. That it’s also a turn on is kind of disturbing.

We’re walking through maple trees, now scarlet and carnelian with their fall foliage. Fi’s head barely reaches my shoulder. I’m a giant next to her, my feet hitting the walkway with dull thuds. Against my chest, Leo snuggles, a warm but light weight. I rest a hand against his little butt as we walk over a footbridge.

“Why do you play football?” Fi asks, her voice soft in the quiet of the garden.

“The pain,” I answer without thinking, and then wince. Shit. Again, she has me confessing.

Her doe eyes peer up at me as her lips twist in a frown.

“Aggression, release¸” I feel compelled to add, somehow struck with verbal diarrhea after one glance from Fi. “It’s a way to go outside of my usual self. To perform on a physical level.”

I hold a hand out to guide her over the stepping stones dotting a pond. She takes my hand—though I know she doesn’t need the help—and I don’t let it go once we’re back on the path.

“A center doesn’t just cover the quarterback and create lanes. A good one reads the game, what each player, both offensive and defensive, is planning. He anticipates, adapts, protects.”

“Perfect for you,” she murmurs.

New warmth floods my chest. “Yeah.”

Most girls I’ve been around are divided into two camps: those who want me because I’m a football player. I could be ugly as a mole and a total asshole, and they’d still want to fuck me. Then there are ones I’m interested in who, ironically, don’t get what I do and don’t really want to.

Amy was like that. A fellow fine arts major, I’d fallen hard for her during the beginning of my junior year. She hadn’t reciprocated. To her, I was a big oaf obsessed with a violent sport.

Fi has outright told me she doesn’t date athletes. But she’s here now. And she gets me. I like her. Always have. She’s honest in a way that’s never cruel, only pure and unfiltered. It’s so refreshing. I find I can truly breathe easy around her.

Her hand in mine is slim, the bones delicate and so easily breakable. I hold onto her carefully, let my thumb stroke her wrist. And though I’m the one stroking her, a shiver of awareness runs along my arm and straight down into my cock. Because I’m touching her. She’s letting me.

I want to run my fingers all over her small, curvy body. My gut tightens with that need, my heart pounding against my chest, because I’m royally fucked up. I don’t know what the fuck to do with women—I’ve avoided getting close to them for years.

Which flat-out sucks for me now.

Fi notices I’ve gone quiet, and glances up at me. “Get out of your head, Ethan.”

“I live there,” I say, trying for lightness. “Not that easy to escape.”

She gets me enough to understand that about me, but I’m happy she doesn’t know why I’m stuck in my head.

“Last night,” she says in a conversational tone, “I went to sleep wondering how your beard would feel between my legs.”

I stumble over a paver. The baby snorts, but I right quickly.

Fi isn’t even looking. She’s walking a few steps in front of me, her voice light and unaffected. “I wondered, would I feel its tickle if you sucked on my nipples?”

Heat floods my lungs. I can’t breathe. My cock is a throbbing shaft in my jeans. Maybe I make a sound because she turns, glances at me over her shoulder. Whatever she sees in my expression has her smile fading and pink washing over her cheeks.

Her steps slow, but mine don’t. I stalk forward, keeping my eyes pinned to hers. Still flushing, she backs up. I think I grin. I’m not sure. My goal is clear.

I shepherd her toward the bench set beneath the curtain of a weeping willow. My hands easily span her waist, and it’s nothing to lift her up. She stands before me on the seat. Her breath comes in soft, audible pants, her pert breasts at my eye level.

She doesn’t say a word as my hand slips beneath her sweater. Satin-smooth skin greets my palm. I slide it up, over her flat belly, past her ribs—watching her eyes the whole time. I love the way those eyes grow wide, the shock and the heat that glow in them.

She doesn’t say a word when I run my fingers over the swell of her breast and catch hold of her lace bra, tugging it down. A small sound escapes her, though, as I slowly lift one side of her top.

“The baby—”

“Is asleep. Don’t wake him.” I’m so close that I can see the flutter of her pulse against her neck. Her warm scent floods my nostrils, woman and sweet, green tea.

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