“And when do you think it will all become clear?” —Lily Allen
Sweat trickles down my spine. My bones ache, and my legs are wobbly jelly as I slowly walk over the bright green turf, now marred by long gashes and deep divots.
Around me other guys amble, their uniforms streaked with sweat, blood, and chalk. Thousands of cheering spectators create a dull rumble that I feel in the pit of my belly.
Welcome to Monday Night Football. Prime time sports at its finest. And my team has just won. I’ve done my job, and now that the adrenaline is wearing off, my high is crashing down. I want a shower, a hot meal, and devote a few hours to painting in the small studio I’ve made in my townhouse. But I have a dinner date and houseguest to meet.
Teammates slap my pads, tell me “good game” as I make my way across the field. A few of the guys from the other team seek me out, shaking my hand. But I’m looking for one guy in particular.
I see him, his head above most others. He catches my eye and grins. But his face is wan, deep circles marring his eyes. I know it’s not because his team lost. We weave through the crowd to come together.
“Dex!” Gray Grayson, my former college teammate and one of my best friends on Earth, catches me up in a bear hug. It’s awkward with both of us in pads, helmets in hand. “Good game, man. But we’re totally gonna kick your ass next time.”
“Better tell your D to get their heads out of their asses, then,” I say, giving his head a light tap. “Good to see you, Gray-Gray.”
God, I miss playing with him. He’s the best tight end I’ve seen in years. And our college team had been a well-oiled machine.
The NFL isn’t the same as college. Ego, money, high stakes, all of it is just more. It’s a job now. I love it, but the carefree joy is gone.
We walk toward the sideline together.
“How’s Ivy and the baby?” I ask. They had a baby about a month ago and named him Leo, after Leonhard Euler, one of Gray’s favorite mathematicians.
“Man,” Gray says with a slow shake of his head as he grins wide. “I must have done something really right in another life.”
“That good, huh?” I’m happy for him. Even if his exuberant happiness reminds me I have no one.
“Best family a man could ask for.” Gray runs a hand over the back of his neck and squeezes. Despite his declaration, he sounds worn out.
“Not that I don’t believe you, Gray, but you kind of look like shit. What’s going on?”
His smile is tight. “Only you would notice that.”
We’re almost at the sideline, and he’ll be going to the guest locker rooms. So we slow down.
“Leo hasn’t learned to sleep through the night. Ivy and I are feeling it.” He grimaces. “Mostly Ivy, unfortunately, because I’m on the road a lot.”
If Gray is admitting he’s losing sleep, it must be bad.
I brace his shoulder with my hand. “You got a bye week after this, right?”
“Me too. Mind me coming over for a visit?”
Gray lives in San Francisco, and though I’ve been meaning to go out there, I haven’t yet done it. While I’m happy to actually visit Gray, I also know I can help him out. Not that I can tell him as much or he’d insist he has everything covered.
Gray’s smile is wide. “I’d love to have you. I know Ivy would too.”
“You sure about that? Ivy might not want visitors when she has a new baby.” It has to be said, because Gray also tends to react before he thinks.
“Naw, she’s been kind of lonely.” His brows gather. “Neither of us likes solitude very much.”
Tell me something I don’t know. I give his shoulder another squeeze. “Great. Let’s get something to eat.”
Gray gives a long groan. “Oh, man, I’ve been looking forward to this. We’re hitting up Cochon, right?” His eyes gleam at the prospect of eating at one of New Orleans’ best restaurants. And, frankly, my stomach growls too.
“Yep. I told them we’re coming, and they’re planning something good for us. I believe I heard mention of the whole hog.”
Gray groans again. “I might cry.”
He often gets weepy over food, so I don’t blink an eye. “Meet me outside the locker rooms in thirty?”
Gray is staying at my place tonight before he heads back home with his team.
He gives a nod and starts to trot off, but then turns back. “Oh, hey, Fi’s also gonna be staying the week with us. That cool with you?”
Everything inside of me stops—my heart, my breath. Then it all kicks up again, hard and insistent.
Fiona Mackenzie. Ivy’s little sister. And I do mean little. Five foot three if she’s an inch, her frame is petite but curvy. She caught my attention and kept it from the first time I laid eyes on her two years ago.
Bright green eyes, wild blond hair, smiling full lips, and a lilting laugh that, whenever I hear it, makes my dick hard. This is how I picture Fi—when I allow myself to picture her in the lonely hours of the night.
I haven’t allowed myself in quite some time. Dreaming of Fi is a special type of torture. Sure, she’s beautiful, but more than that, she’s one of the most direct people I’ve ever met.
As someone whose career depends on analyzing false plays and misdirection, being around her is like stepping out of the stifling darkness and into a fresh, sunny day. Every time I’m in her presence I can breathe easier, see clearer. And I crave that more than I’d like to admit.
I’d say she was the girl who got away, but we were never that close. Fi has failed to notice me past the casual friendliness of an acquaintance.
Fiona Mackenzie. In the same house. For a week.
Gray is waiting for me to respond. I give him a nod. “Looking forward to it.”
And suddenly I am. More than I’ve ever anticipated anything in my life.