When he answers the door ten minutes later, hastily yanking a T-shirt down over this bare chest, I’m hit with the same flutter of desire I felt during our kiss, like pin pricks of electricity zipping up my spine. My lips remember his. My skin buzzes with the memory of his hands sliding up my ribs. Oh boy. This is going to be much harder than I expected.
“Hey,” I say, because my brain is still half in the parking lot outside Malone’s.
“Hey.” Conor holds the door open and nods for me to enter. His roommates are either out or hiding as he leads me upstairs to his bedroom.
Fuck. I’d even missed the way his room smells. Like his shampoo that smells like the ocean, and whatever cologne he wore Tuesday night.
“Taylor, I want—”
“No.” I stop him, holding my hand out to keep some air between us. I can’t think straight when he’s in my bubble. “Me first.”
“Okay then.” Shrugging, he takes a seat on the small loveseat while I gather my nerves.
“I was shitty to you the other night,” I say ruefully. “And I’m sorry. You were right—I was embarrassed. I don’t like attention—good or bad. So having a room full of people staring at me is like the fucking worst. But you only did that silly lap dance because you thought you were saving me from a much worse fate, and I didn’t thank you or at least give you some credit for trying. That wasn’t fair. And then with the…” Somehow I don’t think I can say “kiss” out loud without moaning, “…the outside stuff, I panicked. That wasn’t your fault.”
“Well, except for when I started in with the fashion advice,” he points out with a self-deprecating smile.
“Yeah, no, that one was all you, jerkface. You shoulda known better.”
“Trust me, I know. I already got an earful from both Demi and Summer. Friends’ girlfriends,” he clarifies when he notices my blank look.
“You talked to your friends’ girlfriends about our fight?” For some reason, I’m oddly touched.
“Yeah.” He shrugs adorably. “Needed someone to tell me where I fucked up. Apparently the clothing critique was a crime against your womanhood.”
Conor holds up his hands in surrender. “And it wasn’t even what I meant to say. My brain just short circuited after…” Mimicking me a little, he winks and says, “the outside stuff, and I lost all control of my better judgment or the part that stops me from making an ass of myself.” He flashes that cheeky smile that never fails to make my heart race. “Forgive me?”
“You’re forgiven.” I pause. “Forgive me for bitching out on you?”
“You’re forgiven.” Tentatively, he stands, inching toward me. He towers over me with his athletic frame. “So. Friends again?”
Conor pulls me in for a hug and it’s like I never left his arms. I don’t know if I want it to stop. I don’t know how he does it, makes me feel so comfortable with just a hug or a smile.
“Want a ride to campus with me? I’ve got class in an hour. We can grab some coffee?”
“Sounds good.” I sit on his bed as he gets dressed and comes in and out of his bathroom gathering his stuff. “I was wondering something.”
“Yeah?” He stops in the doorway with his toothbrush in his mouth.
“Would you want to hang out this weekend? Maybe come shopping with me in Boston?”
Conor holds up one finger and disappears. A few seconds later, he returns wiping his mouth with a washcloth. “I can’t, babe. I’ve got a semi-final game in Buffalo.”
“Oh, shit, right. I knew that. No biggie. Some other—”
“Take my Jeep.” Conor tosses the washcloth in his laundry hamper.
“Yeah, come to my game,” he says, his eyes lighting up. “You drive down to Buffalo in my Jeep and I’ll ask Coach for permission to skip out on the bus ride back. We can stay an extra night and go shopping, hang out, whatever.”
“Are you sure? I feel like that’s a big ask.”
He aims his crooked smirk at me. Pulling out the heavy artillery, I see. “If we win, I want you there to celebrate with us. If we lose, you can get me drunk and help me feel better.”
“Oh yeah? I don’t know if I’m prepared for the kind of ego stroking that would require.”
He laughs at the innuendo. It feels good being able to joke around again. All we have to do is pretend that foolish kiss never happened, and everything can just go back to the way it was before.
That is, if we both ignore the implications of spending a weekend out of town together.
“So it’s a plan?” he asks.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I say lightly.
“Nice.” He gathers his backpack and we head downstairs to the front hall. Conor opens the door and gestures for me to exit first. “So, not that I’m not grateful for the invite, but why are we going shopping?”
I wink at him over my shoulder. “I’m giving myself a makeover.”
The semi-final against Minnesota is a headbanger from the first whistle. Thanks to some trash talking on social media, our team goes into the game Friday night hot and ready to eat those asshats for dinner. We’re sticking to our game plan, though—high press, be physical. Minnesota is a technical team, but they won’t be able to absorb our pressure for sixty minutes. We won’t let them touch the puck without feeling us breathing down their necks. Every pass we’ll let them know we’re going to make it hurt.
We end scoreless after the first period. Then right out of the gate in the second, Hunter gets the puck on a breakaway and fires it into the net to put us on the board first.
“Atta boy!” Coach thunders from the bench, smacking his clipboard against the Plexi.
He calls for a line change, and Hunter and I heave ourselves over the wall and squirt water into our mouths from bottles brandishing the Gatorade logo. The rest of our line settles on the bench, all eyes glued to the ice. The Briar D-men are struggling to keep Minnesota out of our zone, Coach barking for them to get it together.
“Dude, you need to do that exact same move again,” Bucky’s saying to Hunter. “Deke that ginger-haired fuck and just book it—he’s not fast enough to keep up with you.”
Bucky’s right. Hunter’s the fastest man on the ice tonight. Nobody can stop him.
We change on the fly, substituting Alec and Gavin for me and the captain. We hit the ice hard, ready to extend our lead by another goal. But Minnesota must be seeing their life flash before their eyes, because the next time Hunter receives a pass, number nineteen for Minnesota slams him into the boards. I see fucking red watching my team captain hit the ice, and before the whistle even blows I’ve got that asshole against the glass.
“Get off me, pretty boy,” he growls.
We exchange some punches and elbows. At one point I feel someone wailing on me with jabs to my ribs as both benches clear to take sides in the fight. Ultimately, nineteen and I both sit in our respective penalty boxes for the brawl. Fucking worth it.