I wrinkle my forehead. “Doing what?”
“Cleaning up the beaches and sweeping the near-shore waters for trash. It was one of the best months of my life. We hauled hundreds of pounds of garbage out of the ocean and off the sand every day, then we’d surf all night and hang out around a bonfire. Felt like we were accomplishing something.”
“You’re passionate about this,” I say, admiring this side of him. It’s the first time he’s talked about his interests outside of hockey and surfing. “Is that something you want to do after college?”
“What do you mean?” He comes out in another suit.
“Well, you could make a career out of this. There are probably dozens of environmental non-profits working on the west coast on ocean cleanup efforts.” I cock an eyebrow. “It might not be too late to change majors from finance to non-profit administration and still graduate on time.”
“I’m sure my stepdad would love that.”
“Why does it matter?”
A tired expression washes over Conor. Not just his face, but all of him. He slouches, hunching his shoulders, like the weight of the topic is wearing on him.
“Max pays for everything,” he admits. “My education, hockey, rent—all of it. Without him, my mom and I would barely have two cents to rub together. So when he suggested I major in finance like he did, Mom considered the matter settled and that was it.”
“Okay, I get that he holds the purse strings, but it’s your life. At some point you have to advocate for what you want. No one else will.”
“It felt, I don’t know, ungrateful to argue with him? Like I’d be an asshole to take his money and tell him to fuck off.”
“Yeah, using the words ‘fuck off’ might be a bit harsh, but a frank conversation about how you want to spend the rest of your life isn’t out of line.”
“But the thing is, we don’t talk. I know he loves my mom, and he’s good to her, but with me, I think he still sees a punk from LA who isn’t worth his time.”
“And why would he think that?” I ask quietly.
“I got into some bad stuff as a kid. I was dumb and did whatever my friends were doing, which was usually getting high, shoplifting, breaking into abandoned buildings, whatever.” Conor looks at me with guilt. Shame, even. “I was a little shit back then.”
It’s clear in his expression he’s afraid I’ll view him differently, but none of this changes who he is now. “Well, seems to me you’re not a little shit anymore. So I hope your stepdad doesn’t think you’re still like that, and I’m really sorry if he does.”
Conor shrugs, and I get the sense there’s more to the story than he’s willing to share. His relationship with his stepfather is obviously a real source of insecurities and frustrations.
“You know what would cheer me up?” he says suddenly.
A mischievous twinkle lights in his eyes, sparking my suspicion. “What?”
He walks past me to pull a skimpy black swimsuit off the returns rack near his dressing room. “Put this on.”
“No way. It won’t fit me,” I warn.
“I’ll get naked if it’ll make you feel better?”
“How would that make me feel better?”
He shrugs again, offering a devilish smirk this time. “Always seems to work on other girls.”
Rolling my eyes, I take the suit from his outstretched hand and duck to the next stall. I would never, ever dream of doing this for any other guy, but I know making a joke of it and doing a little runway turn for Conor will take away the dark cloud threatening to settle over his mood. So to salvage the rest of our day, I strip out of my leggings and sweater and put on the damn one-piece.
It’s cut low on my hips with a deep V in front and crisscrossed straps in the back. As predicted, it’s too small. My ass cheeks are barely contained, and my tits are trying to scale the walls like an attacking Mongolian horde. Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and step out of the dressing room.
Conor is waiting out there for me, still clad only in a pair of boardshorts, his long blond hair swept back from his face.
His mouth falls open in shock.
“Here. Don’t say I never gave you anything,” I tell him.
So fast I can’t hold in the yelp that escapes me, Conor lurches forward and rushes us back into the stall, locking the door.
“What the hell are—”
His mouth is on mine before I can finish. Hungry, predatory. Big palms curl around my hips as I’m pressed against the mirror. His tongue parts my lips and all trepidation evaporates as my fingers tangle in his hair. I’m overwhelmed with him. Skin against skin, so very little separating us. His body is warm and firm against mine.
“Fuck, Taylor,” he whispers breathlessly. “Now do you understand how hot you are?”
He’s hard against my stomach. I feel every inch of him, long and stiff, and it puts ideas in my head. Dangerous ideas. I want to slide my hand under his waistband and grip his hot, heavy erection. I want to feel his tongue in my mouth while I stroke him until he’s moaning my name and thrusting his hips and—
A loud knock startles us.
We break away and I hurry to pull on my clothes over the swimsuit before Conor opens the door to the frowning saleswoman standing in the hall.
Without an ounce of shame, my fake boyfriend scratches his bare chest and says, “Sorry, ma’am. My girlfriend needed an opinion.”
I choke down a wave of giggles. “Sorry,” I manage to say.
“Hrmmmph,” she huffs, then stands there and waits while Conor disappears to put on his clothes.
With his trademark grin, he hands her the boardshorts, while I yank the tag from the swimsuit.
Avoiding his amused gaze, I address the sales associate. “I’d like to buy this bathing suit, please,” I say primly.
We’re both practically in hysterics at the register as I pay for the indecent swimsuit beneath my clothes. Then we both bolt from the store like we stole something, laughing all the way back to his Jeep. After the heat and hunger I felt in that dressing room, this bit of levity is much needed. Levity, good. Hunger, bad.
Yup, hungering for Conor Edwards is very, very bad.
Because he’s exactly the kind of man who will break my heart. Even if he doesn’t mean to.
Hunter’s holding up a shot glass at the bar, leading us in what I’m sure is a moving speech about the tough loss in the semi-finals last night and wishing the seniors well while the rest of us look to better days next year. Unfortunately, I can’t hear a damn thing over the music in this club. The bass is rattling the ice in the discarded glass beside me. The floor vibrating beneath my feet is sending a tickle all the way up to my balls.
When Hunter stops talking, we all down our shots and chase the sting with a beer. Man, I’m going to miss these assholes.
Foster bumps my arm and says something to me, but I still can’t hear a word so I gesture to my ear and shake my head. He leans in to shout, “Where’s your woman?”
Good question. When Taylor and I returned to the hotel earlier, I got a text from Summer in all caps demanding to know why she hadn’t been invited on the shopping trip. I reminded her that she and Demi had skipped out on brunch to run errands, to which she informed me that “my conspiracy to keep her away from malls ends today.”