“You’re the most stubborn bitch I have ever dealt with.”
I ignored him, my hand in the air. There was a taxi two cars down. Stone just needed to move his vehicle and the cab would have a clear path to me.
Stone saw my dilemma, too. “I’m not fucking moving. Get in my truck.”
A few guys waiting to grab Stone’s autograph heard the exchange, and a couple of them chuckled. One cheered Stone on. A passing lady cheered me on, saying, “You tell him, Missy. We don’t need no men.” And still there were a few other women who I knew thought I’d completely lost my head. I heard one whispering, “I’ll take her spot.” Her friend laughed back. “Me, too. I’m feeling faint right now and I’ll gladly get into his truck to recuperate.”
Stone growled, ignoring our growing audience. “Dusty. Now.”
I just raised my hand higher for the taxi driver, pushing up on my tiptoes.
“Do not think I won’t pick you up and throw you in my truck, head first and everything. I’m two seconds away.”
I stopped and stared at him.
Shit. He meant business. He was glaring at me with eyes that said, “Do not fucking fuck with me, you fucking twit.”
I sighed. I’ll try reasoning instead. “You’re going to drive me to your house, and then I’ll pack whatever I need and call a cab to take me all the way back to where I’m paying rent. It’s not worth it. Just let me grab a cab now.”
A savage curse bit out, and then his eyes flashed.
His singular warning had been when he told me he was two seconds away. In a flash, he grabbed me, and I was airborne, right into the back of his truck. But he wasn’t done. He leapt up, grabbing the seatbelt over me, and pulled it around me, clicking it in place. He had the door shut, locked, and he was already going around the front before I could even push myself upright and then start to reach for my seatbelt.
By then, he was inside, the engine on, and he shoved off into traffic.
“This is stupid.”
“You’re right. You’re being stupid.” Cursing, he ducked down as a car sped past us. They knew he was driving because they came up on his driver’s side, their phones up and ready to go. It was a car full of teenage girls. “Dammit.”
“Where do you live?”
He opened his mouth, then caught himself. His eyes narrowed in the rearview mirror. “Why?”
I just smiled. “No reason.”
He continued to study me in between still watching the road, and with a soft growl, he shook his head. “I’m not buying it. What? You’re going to tell those girls who are trying to get a picture of me?”
“What’s the difference? I’ll know when you take me to your house. What’s stopping me from posting it on Twitter, or even posting your phone number?”
A litany of curses spewed from him, and the back of his neck was getting red. I was having a heyday with this. It was more fun than I could remember having in a long time.
Until he announced it, “I liked your mom.”
“Your mom.” He moved into the far lane, settling back.
I was thinking we had a bit of drive from here, and he settled an arm back on the passenger seat headrest.
“I always liked her. She made me cookies and muffins. And I remember when she tried to teach us to bake cakes from scratch. You were horrible and your cakes tasted terrible, but we’d lie to you. Both of us.”
“You did not—” But I was remembering, and even I hadn’t wanted to taste my cakes.
A tug at my mouth. “She’d wear that ugly yellow apron. She hated that apron.”
“What? I loved that apron. Always felt like it was sunshine. Made me feel warm, even in the winter.”
I noted softly, “That’s why she wore it. For you.”
His eyes lifted to the rearview mirror, holding mine a second again. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Yeah.” His voice came out raspy. “She was a good woman, and a good mom. She was a good wife. I could always tell.”
I snorted. “Why? Because she wasn’t wasting away like yours?” Then, I winced. That sounded even bitchier to my own ears, more than I thought it would be. “Shit. I’m sorr—”
“Because you guys laughed.” He kept on talking about my family, ignoring what I’d so blatantly pointed out about his own, his face hard. “My parents laughed when they were drunk, and only when they had a party. When there were other people there to laugh with, never the two of them, never the three of us. I was their only kid. I wouldn’t have known better except I half grew up in your home, too, and what I remember the most about growing up was that you guys laughed.”
My throat burned.
“Yeah, we did.” I looked out the window. A hollow feeling starting to dig in my chest. “Until she died. We didn’t laugh much after that.”
“You laughed until then?”
I nodded. I felt the chinks in my armor widening.
I remembered how he did adore my mom. The two acted as if they were conspiring together during our baking lessons, and any time he was in the house. He congregated around her. She congregated closer to him.
“You’re the son she never had.” Then, feeling bad about my shot at his mom, “Your mom cooked for us. I remember that one time she tried to teach us to make lasagna.”
He cracked a grin, barking a laugh. “You sucked at that, too. I never knew lasagna noodles could come out hard like rocks until yours.”
Fuck him, but I was grinning. I couldn’t help myself.
Those were good times, good memories before the shit ones came. And they came soon after that lasagna disaster.
He quieted. “It wasn’t the same. My mom versus yours. We had baking lessons at your house once a month, every first Sunday. My mom tried to teach us how to make Caesar salad, the only second cooking session she gave us, and that one we all got fine. It’s hard to screw up.”
“Says you. You’re perfect at everything.”
He didn’t reply.
I didn’t expect him to. It was true. He knew it. I knew it. The entire nation knew it.
Then from him, “Not at being a friend.”
My stomach kicked.
Hell no. No way. He wasn’t getting back in. No fucking way.
“Oh. God.” I groaned, throwing a hand up to hit my forehead. “Can we not? Can we save the dramatics until I’m able to call a cab to take me back to my place? For real. Enough bonding or whatever it is we were just doing.”
He growled, “You are such a goddamn bitch.”
I retorted, “And you are such a goddamn prick. Drop me the fuck off!”
“With fucking pleasure!”
He gunned the engine, shooting forward in traffic, and weaving until we were nearing my exit. When he took it, I relaxed. The rest of the way was tense and silent, and I knew both of us couldn’t wait to be rid of the other. Then he pulled over to the curb. He didn’t make a move, his only action just unlocking the door.
His head was turned halfway to me, his jaw clenching over and over again.
I shoved forward, my head only swimming a little bit as I climbed out of his truck. Once I shut the door and turned around, he’d already hit the engine, tearing away from the curb.
I only had the clothes on my back, on the side of the street, but I’d never been so fucking grateful to be away from him.
Now, turning to the house I wasn’t sure I was still invited to live in, I saw that all the lights were off. Lovely. It was then I remembered the day—Saturday. Game day. They’d be gone the entire day, but I had two things working in my favor. It was hella hot out, so I wouldn’t freeze in only my shirt, jeans, and flip flops. Stone had all my things at his house. I had nothing with me. And it was a home game, so they wouldn’t be staying overnight somewhere.
Slinking to the backyard, I climbed over the fence and took a seat on the picnic table. I’d wait it out here, maybe even nap stretched out on top if need be. Either way, I was just fine on my own.
I saw black when I opened my eyes. No. Stars. I was seeing stars.
It took a bit, then turning my head—I reared upright, scrambling backwards. I was on the edge of the picnic table. My head was woozy, and I was seeing two of someone.
It was Savannah and Mia? Both were staring at me, eyebrows raised, and looks of confusion on their faces. Both were decked out in Texas C&B gear, the white and blue colors displayed loud and proud, seventeen and thirty-seven on their cheeks in sparkly blue paint. That’s right. Their boyfriends were on the team. I’d forgotten.
And what was I doing here?
Stone. Me being a bitch. Him charging off from the curb, and a part of me couldn’t blame him. I’d be frustrated with me, too, if I were him.
“What are you doing?”
Mia was staring at my feet.
I looked, too. The flip flops had fallen off.
“Sorry. I was sleeping and…” I sat up, but whoa. The blood didn’t go with me. It rushed downwards instead, making me lightheaded and I was teetering on the edge of the table.
Savannah rushed forward, grabbing my arm.
Mia’s top lip just lifted even more in a sneer.