Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 129
Every time I took a step forward with her, it felt like I took a step back again, ending up right where I started. We had slept together, but she seemed nervous of just a kiss now. I didn’t mind. I would take all the time needed to get her back. If it was with one kiss at a time, that was how it would have to be.
When she still didn’t pull away, I leaned in and pressed my lips against hers. She sighed against my mouth as if she was satisfied now. I ran my tongue over her lips, and she opened her mouth for me. I pushed my tongue into her mouth, entering her. The kiss changed from careful and unsure, to hot and passionate, almost immediately. She kissed me back, her arms snaking around my neck, and she shifted a little closer to me.
I got lost in the feel of her. She tasted like wine and something so familiar it was like coming home. Marinara sauce? No, Sadie. The smell of her perfume was in my nostrils, and warmth spread through my body.
Suddenly, she jerked away from me, and I looked at her. What did I do?
“What was that?” she asked.
“What?” I asked.
She jumped up and grabbed my hand, pulling me into the apartment. She moved away from the sliding door and tried to peek around the curtain.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I thought I saw a camera flash,” she said. “My eyes were closed, but still.” She swallowed.
“Stay here,” I said and stepped through the sliding door again. The squeal of tires filled the night, and the blue Jeep that had followed me earlier sped away.
Dammit. Fucking paparazzi were a pain in my ass.
I walked through the sliding door and joined Sadie inside again.
“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re not in danger.”
She shook her head, pacing the living room.
“It was the paparazzi, wasn’t it? I’ve seen how they follow you guys around like lapdogs, taking pictures left and right.”
I nodded. I wasn’t going to lie to her. “It’s going to be fine, Sadie.”
She shook her head. She was still pacing.
“I think we should call it a night,” she said.
She was clamming up on me again. Shit.
“It’s not a big deal,” I said. “We can sit inside.”
She shook her head. “I think I need to go to bed. I’m tired.”
I didn’t want this to be the end. We were having such a good time. I wanted to spend more time with her and kiss her again if I could.
“We haven’t even had dessert yet,” I said.
She smiled apologetically at me. “You can take it with you,” she said.
I sighed. I wasn’t going to win this one.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You keep it. Have it tomorrow, if you want.”
She nodded. I walked toward the door, irritated that the night had ended so quickly. It was impossible to shake the paparazzi. They were like vultures, preying on your most intimate moments.
Sadie hugged me at the door. I didn’t even get a kiss. I walked to my car, and the door clicked shut behind me. It felt like I’d been kicked out.
I didn’t blame Sadie for this. I blamed the fact that I was fucking famous.
When Brian had told me it was no big deal that the paparazzi had gotten photos of us on my patio, I didn’t believe him. I knew what the paparazzi was. I knew how they haunted the players and made everything look terrible. It wasn’t that long ago when Hanson Bell, one of the other Sharks players, was all over the news with women and alcohol.
I didn’t want it to look the same. I didn’t want to be one of the many women the rich and famous had access to for their own pleasure. The idea made me sick, and even though I knew Brian didn’t feel like that about me, I was scared everyone else would think of me that way.
When I arrived at the University on Tuesday for training, I was all over the tabloids. No big deal? Yeah, right.
It was a picture of me kissing Brian, but the photo was grainy so that it looked like they caught us trying to hide something. My arms were wrapped around his neck, my body leaning toward his, and I looked eager.
I’d felt things when I was kissing him, but the photo didn’t portray that. Somehow, the photo made everything look dirty.
And it wasn’t that I’d wanted to hide what was happening between Brian and me, but I didn’t exactly want the world to know. Privacy and secrecy weren’t the same thing.
It was too late now. My privacy had been compromised, and it was embarrassing and invasive. And everyone must have seen it.
As I walked to the field where I was going to train with the girls, people looked at me and did a double take. I was suddenly famous. Or infamous.
“Nice shot,” a professor said to me when he passed me on my way to the training fields. It felt like he hit me in the gut.
The girls were huddled around a phone on the field, talking excitedly. When I arrived, they stopped talking, and I knew right away what the topic of discussion was. All eyes were on me.
“Let’s start our warm-up,” I said. I was in a bad mood, and it was getting worse.
One hand slowly rose.
“Yes?” I asked, even though I had an idea what she was going to say.
“We were just wondering what it’s like to know a pro player,” she said.
“And how you managed to land one,” another said. “They’re all so hot.”
More questions and comments arose now that the first girl had spoken. It was like she had paved the way for the others, and they were all more confident now.
They shouldn’t have been. I shook my head, closing my eyes. Maybe to them, it sounded glorious to be this famous and to be seen with someone like Brian. To me, it was a nightmare. I felt exposed to the world, stripped of all my comforts and put on display without being able to defend myself. That I was a topic of discussion just drove that point home.
“I’m not going to discuss my personal life with you,” I said.
Lorraine glanced at me. She didn’t say anything, which was wise of her. Calling it my personal life was a joke now. There was nothing personal about being posted across the internet.
I knew I sounded grumpy. I was. My mood was foul, and I wanted to get this training over and done with and go back home to hide.
Was this what it was going to be like with Brian? Would I be the center of attention? A face that was recognized even by strangers? Would my intentions and actions be analyzed without me being able to defend myself?
Because if that was the case, I didn’t want any part of this. It was the life Brian, and all the others, had chosen for themselves, but this wasn’t my life. I didn’t have to do this.
I pushed the girls harder than I needed to. I made them run around the field more times than was necessary. Lorraine didn’t once try to stop me. Maybe she understood what I was going through. Maybe she knew the girls could take more than I could at this point.
“Core fitness is the foundation of a cheerleader,” I said when they complained, but I knew I was taking out my mood on them.
We did stretches until they cried out, stopping because they couldn’t anymore. When the training was finally over, I was emotionally as drained as they were physically. I sent them away, and they left, grumbling. Lorraine left with them. She was my friend, and a part of me needed her, but I was glad she left so that I couldn’t bite off her head and then regret it.
I would feel bad about it later. I would apologize to them some other time. Right now, I was being pulled apart by people that didn’t even know me. It put me on edge. I didn’t know who I was half the time. I had no foundation to work from. I had nothing solid I could fall back on to remind myself who I was when they made me look like someone else entirely.
It was hard to defend a person I didn’t know at all, even if that person was myself. Add in the memories that came and went, making me feel raw, and it was all too much for me.
When I got home, I opened the webpage with the photos again. I knew that I
The more I looked at them, the worse I felt. If this was what it meant to spend time with Brian, I couldn’t keep doing it. I didn’t remember what we were before I had my accident. Even though he hadn’t brought anything up since we started hanging out again, I knew he thought about things, remembering, every now and then.
To me, he was virtually a stranger. And the drama that came with knowing him wasn’t something I was willing to accept. I didn’t have to push through this for someone that I didn’t know.
I was going to be selfish. Maybe this hurt him in different ways. Maybe it was unfair of me to write him off for something that he couldn’t control. But I had to look out for myself first.
When I dialed his number, the call rolled over to voicemail after a couple of rings. I would wait for him to finish training before I called him again.
I considered phoning Lorraine, but I didn’t know what I would say to her. She’d been at training today. She’d seen what happened, how I reacted, and she hadn’t said anything to me about it. Sure, I hadn’t exactly been approachable, but she hadn’t tried.
At home, I lay down on the bed and tried to take a nap. Sleep was an escape. Time went past so quickly, and whatever was the matter had to wait. I couldn’t fall asleep, though. I got up and walked to the fridge where I found the Tiramisu Brian had brought with him.
I opened it and ate both helpings. I was eating my emotions. Great. Now I was going to feel horrible about my body, too. I would train with the girls next time to burn off whatever I’d just put on. If the paparazzi didn’t capture it before then.
I knew I was being ridiculous. I was bitter. But I was upset, and I told myself I had every right to be. I didn’t ask for this.
Finally, it was late enough that Brian had to be done with his training. I dialed his number, and he answered on the last ring, when I expected to get his voicemail again.
“How are you doing?” he asked immediately when he answered.
“Have you seen the tabloids?” I wasn’t interested in making small talk.
“I did,” he said. “I’m sorry that it comes across so ugly.”
I shook my head, even though he couldn’t see it. “I can’t do this, Brian,” I said.
I heard him draw a breath. “You mean like, at all, don’t you?” he asked. He sounded tired, and I didn’t get the feeling it was because of his training session.
He blew out his breath again, and it sounded like defeat.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said.
“There’s nothing you can say,” I answered. “It’s too much for me. The memories returning are already throwing me off so much. And with the amnesia in the first place, having photos of us everywhere for the world to misinterpret isn’t something I can handle.”
He was quiet for long enough that I wanted to ask if he was still there.
“What are they misinterpreting?” he asked.
I didn’t know how to explain it. The photos looked so unlike me. They looked like someone caught in the act of doing something wrong, and that wasn’t what we were doing.
“What I see is a man and a woman kissing,” Brian said. “I know it sucks that the rest of the world saw it, too. I would have liked to have that time alone with you, just as much as you did. But I don’t see anything that can be misinterpreted.”
“You’re used to this kind of thing,” I said.
“Not really,” he countered. “Besides all the drama that happened two years ago, which Lacey helped me clean up, I haven’t exactly been in any of the papers for anything other than sports statistics. This is hard for me, too.”
I heard what he was saying, but I disagreed. This couldn’t be as hard for him as it was for me. There was no way it could be.
“Just give me one more shot, Sadie,” he said. “We’ll be more careful, aware of the paparazzi. We’ll plan to be more private. I just want to hang out with othe kissing or the sex, everything we’ve done that might look like we were as serious as could be. Thankfully, he didn’t mention it.
“I’m sorry, Brian,” I said. “I can’t do this. It’s too much.”
He wanted to say something and started his sentence, but I’d had enough. I pulled the phone away from my ear and hung up. It was childish. I was being a coward. But this was how it was going to be.
I dropped the phone on the bed where I sat and folded my arms around my stomach, as if I could physically keep myself together. It was the right thing to do, I told myself. I was trying to protect myself. This was basic survival. I was guarding my heart so that I wouldn’t get hurt.
Brian wasn’t someone I knew very well. Yes, we’d had sex, and it had been wonderful. I wasn’t the type to have one-night stands. But it didn’t mean that I was obliged to be with him now, just because I hadn’t been able to resist him, and we’d slept together.
And although he was kind and gentle, it didn’t mean that being with him was the right thing. I had to look out for myself. I had to make sure that I was all right, first and foremost, and if that meant telling him off again, that was what I was going to do.
I had been through so much, and the last thing I needed was more drama. I just wanted a peaceful life. I knew better than to get involved with a pro football player, even if he was my high school boyfriend, and I was foolish to fall for Brian’s charms.
I kept trying to justify it to myself this way. I kept telling myself that I had the right to make the choices that I made, that I deserved happiness, that with the accident happening and everything, I had to keep drama and difficulty to a minimum. I’d been through enough already.
Brian wasn’t someone I knew. He wasn’t such a big part of my life that I couldn’t function without him. He was just a guy that I’d met once upon a time who I tried spending more time with lately, and it wasn’t working out. It was fair. Sometimes when we tried to connect with someone, we failed.
I could cut the connection now, and it should have been fine.
I lay down on the bed and closed my eyes. Brian was a stranger, I told myself. Losing him wasn’t a big deal. But the little voice in my head countered, if he wasn’t anything to me, if he really was such a stranger, then why did saying goodbye hurt so damn much?
I was at a teammate’s party. The whole team, a lot of cheerleaders, and some other people that had nothing to do with football had turned up. The house, as big as it was, was packed with writhing bodies, music thrumming through my bones, and alcohol around every corner.
Alcohol wasn’t great for training. It did horrible things to your body, and hangovers were shitty when you needed to train, but everyone was in a good mood. It was the start of the season, and we were looking at a great year of football ahead of us.
I wasn’t in the mood to party. The only reason I went was because Hanson asked me to go with him. Lacey was at home with the baby, and he didn’t want to get smashed with the others. I also stayed in control.
“So, what are you doing to do, now?” Hanson asked after I told him what happened with Sadie. He’d seen the articles, and he could relate completely.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. She doesn’t want to talk to me at all. I tried calling her. She’s not even answering.”
Hanson nodded slowly and sipped his beer.
“Maybe just give her some time.”
I sighed. “Time was all I had to give her. With the amnesia, I couldn’t give her anything else. But now, even time seems to be slipping through my fingers.”
Hanson and I stood on the second-floor balcony that looked out over a main living room with double vaulted ceilings and full-length windows that were too tall for any curtains that could be opened and closed. People were dancing in the living room, bodies mashing against each other, grinding, feeling the pulse of the music.
“Did you see the news today?” I asked.
Hanson hadn’t mentioned anything, but I wasn’t sure if he was just trying to be nice.
He nodded. “I did. I wasn’t sure what to say about it.”
It was big of him. The news had another story about me and Sadie all over it, about how we called it quits so fast. Where the hell did they get this kind of information? It was ridiculous how fast news came out.
Being famous was great, but no one respected my privacy, and sometimes that really got to me.
“I have to say, man, I don’t know how you did it with Lacey back in the day,” I said.
Hanson had had so many news stories appear about him, stories that were about him and other women when they weren’t even true anymore. It was a miracle him and Lacey managed to make it work, after all.
“It helps that she’s a PR rep. She knows how to handle bad publicity and what to do so that they print good stuff, too. Like that charity.”
I grinned. Lacey had made Hanson part with an obscene amount of money so the press could start linking him with good deeds instead of bad. He’d looked so damn uncomfortable in a suit, if it hadn’t been so very necessary for his image, it would have been funny.
I sighed. Lacey had been forced to spend time with Hanson, even though she hated his guts half the time, because his image was her job. I didn’t have the luxury of Sadie being around me all the time so I could win her over, even though she didn’t want it.
All I wanted to do was be with her. I didn’t even expect anything other than friendship anymore. She’d been such a big part of my life when the accident happened. I just wanted some of that back.
“I think I’m gonna head home,” Hanson said when he finished his beer.
“So early?” I asked.
Hanson nodded. “The party sounded like fun, but now that I’m here, I realize how my priorities have changed. I’d rather be with my family.”
I understood what he meant. He clapped me on the back and left.
I wondered if I should leave, too. I wasn’t feeling the party. But the alternative, sitting at home, alone and miserable, thinking about what I’d lost, seemed so much worse.