“Get off me, man!” he shouts as I throw it on the ground. “You ran the play. What did you expect?”
I rear back and hit him square in the face, splitting his lip. Pain shoots through my hand and arm and I flex my fingers to shake it off.
He backs up with his hands out, and I give him a grim smile. He’s not getting away from me this time. Everything rushes at me like a tsunami—the shit from last year, my Heisman snub, the fact that he harassed Penelope. He’s pushed me past the point of caring. “Isn’t this what you want, Archer? You mess with me over and over and want a reaction. You got it.” I hit my chest with my fist and his eyes flare. “Come on, take your shot. Or are you scared?” I grin at him, feeling that rush of power that comes when you know you have the upper hand with someone.
Archer’s face reddens and his lips make a thin line. “Fuck you.”
A sardonic laugh comes out of me. “You’re a pussy. All you want is to ride me about some stupid bet. Look around, asshole. We’re playing football. Not schoolyard pranks. I can’t fucking wait until Maverick is back on the team and you go back to the little nobody you always were,” I say. “And Penelope is mine. She’s always been mine. That bet is won, paid in full.”
The words rush out and part of me wants to tug them back because I know what it means, but I’m running on pure adrenaline. I’ve cracked wide open and everything is spilling out.
Some of the guys from the team edge closer.
“…did he say he won…”
“…yeah, he did…”
My guys whoop and fist-bump each other.
I block it all out and focus on Archer. “You’re the loser. Now take your hit. I’ll even let you.”
His entire team is watching and murmuring as he dives for me and gets in a tiny pop to my face, but I’m back and on him in an instant. I’ve got him up by the collar of his jersey, and I’m aiming for his face again when three of my offensive guys pull me off.
I struggle and fight as they drag me across the field.
“Stop, man. Enough already! We fucking won! Let it go.” It’s Blaze’s voice and he’s tugging at my arms. “Think about your hands, dude! Protect the arm.”
They push me to the other sideline and form a wall so I can’t get to Archer. I fume and pace the field as they murmur at me to settle down.
But I’ve reached a point where they can’t talk to me. I shove them all away.
It dawns on me that I’ve cracked, that I’ve messed up somehow, but I push those thoughts away. Not now. Not now.
The quarterback coach is up in my face, checking my hands, and I grimace as he barks out an order for an ice pack. I don’t even care if I’m hurt.
On the other side of the field, support staff checks on Archer. I see him running his mouth and pointing at me.
Blaze hits me on the back. “It’s cool. It’s over. Slow your breathing, man. Take a breath.”
I ease back as one of the staff puts an ice pack on my hand and then dabs at what I assume is blood around my eye.
Coach Alvarez has gotten Archer’s side of the story, and I watch as he marches across the field to where I am. I’m still pacing when he gets up in my face. “Do you think that solved anything, Voss?”
I glare at him.
My teeth grit and I spit out the words. “It made me feel better.”
He bites down hard on the pen in his mouth. “You got a lot of nerve, son. Is it out of your system?”
My gaze bounces over to Archer. “Not by a long shot.”
“Then get your ass to the showers. I expect to see you in my office in half an hour. Understood?”
He gives me a grim look. “You’re dismissed.”
I straighten my shoulders and shove everyone off me then stomp across the field.
After I shower, I plop myself down in Coach’s office and wait for him to show up. My left hand rubs at the part of my fist that hit Archer’s face.
Coach walks in and takes a seat on the edge of his desk. His eyes are hard as nails as he rakes them over me. “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen you do.”
I straighten my posture and lean forward in the chair. “Sir—”
He holds his hand up. “No excuses. I know it was a late hit. I know you guys have your differences, but that’s what makes being number one so goddamn elusive. You have to want it enough to let that shit go. Do you want it? Do you want to be the first pick in the draft? Do you want to have the world at your fingertips when you leave this shithole of a town?”
I swallow. “Yes sir.”
He gives me a short nod. “Then show some leadership and coolness out there. You looked like a high school kid who’s pissed off that someone’s dating his girl. Get over this…rift you have with Archer.”
Archer doesn’t respect me. He’s the one who should be sitting in here. Not me.
“Life isn’t fair, Voss,” he says, as if he’s reading my mind.
My fists curl. “I didn’t start the shit—”
“Or what?” I say.
His eyes harden. “Don’t make me have to decide.”
Oh, I know what he’s insinuating. That he’ll replace me with the backup, Dillon.
Screw that. I respect the hell out of him, but I won’t be forced into a corner to behave when I’m not the one who needs an attitude adjustment.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that, sir.” I stand up and stalk out the door even though he hasn’t dismissed me.
“Sine, cosine, and tangent are the main functions used in trig,” I explain to the small study group I meet with each week in the library, pretty much my favorite place on earth. In fact, I make sure my study section always meets on the floor right smack next to the romance section. Sometimes I even think if the whole writing gig doesn’t work out, I can always be a librarian and live around books forever.
My phone buzzes for the third time, and I set down my notebook. “Guys, my phone keeps going off. It must be important.” I smile at them. “Let’s take five then meet back here.”
They nod and stand up to stretch as I grab my purse to retrieve my phone. I read the text.
Want me to rescue you?
I grin. Ryker. I didn’t see him last night, and he missed class this morning, but he hasn’t been far from my thoughts.
Being apart from him has given me a chance to catch my breath. Our night together, the memories of it, still swirl in my head. I can’t wait to see him.
From what? I say.
You look bored as hell. I can make that look go away.
I look around the library, but all I see are tall stacks of books and a few study tables. He isn’t at any of them. Where are you?
Next to some books.
I shake my head and smile. There are books everywhere.
Just know that I’m watching you. ?
Are you a stalker?
Maybe. You look pretty by the way.
Nice shirt, he sends.
I look down at his practice jersey. I wore it on purpose.
I’ll give it back to you.
Keep it. It looks better on you. I have a surprise for you.
A couple of the students are tapping their pencils against the table, and I send a quick look at them. One of them gives me a questioning look. “You ready?”
Time to get to work. I have to go, I text then tuck my phone away.