Still, it hadn’t stopped me from trying. I still wanted her, I still wanted her to want me as much as I wanted her. I tried harder in school, got tutors so I’d place at the top of all my classes. Even with all that effort I never managed to get more than a C average. I felt every bit of the dumb jock she thought I was. I just wasn’t any good at school. What I did know how to do was run and dodge, how to tell exactly where a football would land as soon as it left the quarterback’s hands. As soon as I saw the threads on the ball spinning, I became a walking, breathing machine. I could see numbers and angles and trajectories. On that field I was superhuman. It’s why I was the best. It’s why I have more money than I know what to do with. And that made me happy for a time. It made me happy to buy a beach house for my mom out in California. It made me happy to send my little sister off to culinary school and buy her the food truck she wanted so desperately after she graduated. It made me happy to start the Hope Center as well as the other numerous charities I’ve started. I loved going to all of the events and visiting schools when I could. All of that made me happy. Mostly.

But there was always something missing.

The Hope Center brings me immense joy, and not just because I’m able to get Claire back in my life—though that is definitely part of it. A large part of me wants her to see that her “big dumb fuck” is more than just that, of course, but I also want to give back to Chicago. It’s a city that has cheered me on and supported me for the past eight years. I’m coming to the end of my career. I know this. My age and the mild, yet persistent pain in my left knee is a constant reminder of that. It’s time to take more of my money and put it to good use. Getting slight revenge on the woman who haunted my most erotic dreams is a byproduct. The only problem is that her light floral scent still lingers. Her memory is a poltergeist. No matter how hard I work out in the gym, how hard I go at practice, or how fast I sprint the track, I can’t outrun the thought of her.

I had my assistant dig into Claire’s life. I guess some might call that internet stalking. I consider it smart business. I would have done the same for any candidate I had in mind to run a major clinic like the Hope Center. The only difference is that each time my assistant came to me with new information on Claire, I held my breath and shook with anticipation.

I learned that she’s not married and never has been. Social media didn’t reveal any long term relationships or anything serious. After a few months, specific guys sort of dropped out of her pictures. She’s currently single. In fact, being new in town, she’s hardly had the time to socialize and meet new friends. Like me, her job has been her entire life. Everywhere she’s worked she’s received honors and accolades. I guess that’s how people like us get to where we are. She thinks we’re so different. At least I know she thought of us that way in college, but we’re really not different. We’re both driven and passionate and successful.

I go into the bathroom and take a shower. As I let the warm water wash over my shoulders, I decide it’s time to stop pining over Claire Alverez. I’m going to do something about it.3ClaireIt’s been a month since I started my job at the Hope Center. An incredible month at that. I’ve never managed such a large staff before, and I was worried about how they’d react to me. I am pretty young to hold such an important position. The doctors are young, but they’re at the top of their field. I’ve worked in a lot of hospitals and clinics, and the nursing staff here are some of the best. They’re experts in patient care and have a proactive approach to their jobs. I’m finally in the swing of things and couldn’t be happier. In the short time the center has been open, we’ve helped hundreds of patients from earaches to an emergency appendectomy. The only thing that has shaken my confidence in the last month is the appearance of AJ Hargrove.

It’s been weeks since the blue ribbon cutting ceremony. It took me longer than I hoped to get my shit together after seeing him, but I think I’m finally feeling like myself again. With every (relatively) smooth day that passes, I gain just a little more confidence. Running such a major medical center is no joke. It’s a lot like managing a company, but the choices I make can literally be the difference between life and death. Not to mention being in charge of over a forty nurses’ and doctors’ livelihoods. With all the responsibility, it’s easy to let myself fall into dark thoughts, like I don’t deserve this, or that I’m a fraud. But seeing as I haven’t managed to burn the place down in a month or cause a staff riot, I’m feeling less and less like a charlatan.

Tags: Penny Wylder Romance