I hadn’t expected Elle. I’d kissed her and immediately felt my plans shift, my future realigning, my dreams diluting as she came into sharp focus.
“Fuck me.” She looked up from her spot on the stained oak floor and blew a breath upward, her dark hair blowing out of her eyes. “You won’t believe this, but I think we put this on backward.” She held out the instruction package, her finger pinned on a diagram, her massive wedding ring flashing under the chandelier’s delicate light. “Look at the feet. Ours are facing left.”
I studied the diagram, comparing the cramped image with the maze of pieces laid out on the floor before Elle. “These are the screws we just put in?”
“Yeah. All of them.” She groaned and leaned back on her hands, tilting her head back at an angle that exposed her throat. God, I loved that throat. Loved feeling the pulse of her heartbeat as I kissed down its length. Loved the flex of its muscles as she took me down its gullet. Loved the stiffening of it when she got mad. “Maybe we should run up and get that bit.”
The fourteen screws that held the IKEA dresser’s back piece on were all some sort of eight-sided Allen wrench that we didn’t have a drill bit for. The dresser’s instruction package had included a wrench for manual tightening and it had taken almost twenty minutes for us to affix the screws to the wrong side of the teal board. She’d chosen the dresser for its color, the blue shade almost a perfect match for the uniforms that hung in my closet.
“Almost straight to the pros,” my agent had crowed. “Do you know what this means? They have big plans for you, Easton. Big plans. Settle into Miami. You’re going to own this town.”
I’d believed him, my faith confirmed by the million-dollar contract. I’d believed him when we’d bought this house. When we’d charged my new American Express card with almost forty-thousand dollars of furniture. When I’d put my beautiful wife behind the wheel of a new BMW.
Big plans for me. Right. I tossed the instructions down and held out my hand to help her up. “Yeah, let’s go.”
“And while we’re out, maybe we can get ice cream.” She pulled on my hand and my vision spun for a moment.
I steadied myself and glanced at my watch. “We better hurry if we’re going to get there before they close.”
She looked down at the clusterfuck of pieces, laid out like a jigsaw across our master bedroom floor. We were almost four hours into the assembly, our progress interrupted by sex, then a check-the-mail and social media break, then a walk to the neighbor’s house to return the dolly we’d borrowed. “It’ll be quick once we have the drill bit.”
“Super quick. We can knock it when we get back.”
“Maybe we should just do it tomorrow. Fresh minds and all.” She grinned at me and I was so fucking lucky this woman loved me.
I forced a smile. “Tomorrow sounds like a good idea.”
“What time do you have to be at the field?”
I reached into my pocket, checking for my keys and wallet. “They’re giving me tomorrow off.”
“Really?” She brushed the front of her pants off. “For your concussion? I thought you still had to be at practice.”
A lie sat at the tip of my tongue, heavy and wet. I watched the way she stepped carefully over the dismantled dresser and ached at the thought of losing her.
What would she say when she found out? How would she feel? Would she have the same crushing fears that I had? Would she look around this huge new house and that diamond on her finger, and see it all as a mistake?
I’d been afraid of her since the first time she laughed at me. Instantly addicted to that smile, instantly wary of what my chemical and mental attraction to her meant. I’d found it and lost, then gave into it and was—in a sense—found. And she’d been the very first thing I thought about when the X-ray was lit.
The very first thing when the doctor called Coach Wade into the room.
The very first thing when I placed the call to my agent, desperate for a reassurance that everything wasn’t lost.
But it was. I’d been in baseball since I was seven. I’d studied the greats. Inhaled ESPN. Knew the long list that could instantly kill a career.
For a pitcher, a skull fracture was lethal.
“Hey.” She stopped in front of me and smoothed down the front of my shirt, her fingers outlining the muscles in my chest. “You okay?”
I swallowed. “I need to tell you something.”
She paused, and her gaze snapped from my chin to my eyes. “Okay,” she said cautiously.
I loved every expression she gave but that look. That apprehensive linger of her eyes. The fear behind them. The pinch of her brows and flattening of her lips. She’d bristled in the same fashion when she’d slid the receipt across the table at Red Lobster, the waitress’s number in bubbly print across the bottom of it. I’d seen the tightening of her hands on her purse, the idea of flight in her eyes. It hadn’t been my doing, and it wasn’t the first waitress who tried to give me her number, but it had scared the absolute shit out of Elle.