The Hook Up
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Sometimes I wonder if my dad would have stayed if I hadn’t begged him not to leave. But I had. And he’d merely looked pained. After he left, I’d curled up under my bed. And my mother had done much the same. Only she had cried. I never did. I wouldn’t let myself.
A warm hand covers mine, and I still. Gently, Baylor relieves me of the knife before cupping the back of my neck. “You’re right,” he says. “That was a shitty story. And your father is a stupid, undeserving ass**le.”
I study the floor. “What? No ‘you’re better off without him’?”
Baylor’s thumb strokes along my hairline. “But you know that already.”
“Yeah, I do.” I risk a glance at him. His expression is so serious, as if he’s hurting for me, when he’s the one who has no family left. Something deep within my heart clenches.
The gentle exploration of my neck doesn’t stop, and his voice drops low and tender. “Some people never understand the gift they have.” A light pressure on the back of my neck eases me closer to his warmth. “And some people wait a lifetime to have someone to love.”
Emotion wells up within me, and it’s warm, dizzying, choking. I want to burrow in and let him take my pain. He’s strong, maybe he can weather it. Oddly, I want to pull him close and hold him as if he is the one in pain. I don’t understand it. This isn’t light or fun. This is consuming me. A steady, relentless attack.
As we stare at each other, his lids lower and his head dips toward mine. My lips part and throb with the need to touch his. I want his taste, to draw his breath into me and let it fill my lungs.
His whisper brushes my cheeks. “Anna…”
The front door opens, and I spring back, nearly knocking the damn frittata off the stove. Drew puts a hand out to steady me, but I’m already turning toward Iris as she saunters into the apartment.
She stops short as she sees us, and George, who is following close behind, slams into her. “Damn, woman, give a little warning.” Abruptly, he stops talking, and they both gape at Drew.
Great. Iris I could have handled. George is another task entirely. And I know I’m going to pay when an obnoxious light gleams in his eyes. His voice is just shy of sing-song when he says, “Hey, Baylor. I’d say you were the last person I expected to see in Anna’s kitchen, but I’d be lying.”
Drew raises a brow at me, and I glare at George, who just smiles and steps forward, offering Drew a hand. “George Cruz.”
They shake hands in that hard, abrupt way guys do when they’re sizing each other up, and I roll my eyes.
“And this is Iris,” I say for my friend who simply standing there grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
Drew offers his hand to her. “The roommate who has excellent taste in parties.”
And Iris f**king titters. God, this is too weird. Baylor is too big for the kitchen, towering over all of us.
“Oh, hey is that food?” George makes a grab for the pan, and I slap his hand. He snatches it back, holding it to his chest. “Ay, woman! Share the love, eh?”
“Get your own.” I split the big frittata down the center and spoon half onto Drew’s plate. “Eat,” I tell him.
George is far from done whining. “But I’m hungry too. Why does he get some and I don’t?”
Iris coughs in her hand, going red. “You have to ask?”
Drew laughs, though his cheeks go a bit red too. He’s not stupid, however, and promptly tucks into his food.
George on the other hand, pouts. “Seriously, Banana? No food?”
Drew’s head snaps up, a smile spreading over his face. “Banana?”
“Yup.” Iris helps herself to a yogurt. “Anna Banana.”
“Her mom calls her that,” George puts in helpfully. “Anna has a ratty old stuffed banana hiding in her closet—”
I smack his head.
I cut a small slice of the remaining half of the frittata, take it for myself then pass the rest to George, the ass. “Just take your ill-gotten gains and flee.”
He makes a happy sound and steals my fork.
Drew’s soaking it all in, and though his smile is large, there are shadows in his eyes. “So you guys know Anna well.”
Iris helps. “We’ve been together since freshman year.”
“Roommates,” George says around his mouthful of food.
Drew’s brows rise at that. “All of you?”
“Until George moved out last year for fear of ‘being overrun by estrogen.’” Iris makes a face. “His words, not mine.”
George nods to confirm, his expression lofty. “A man can only take so many feminine supplies in his bathroom before it’s time to cut and run.”
“I have my own bathroom, you tool,” I say.
“Yes. And you give me food. Now I’m wondering why I moved out.” Quick as a flash, George leans forward and lands a smacking kiss on my cheek. He’s f**king with Drew, seeing if he’ll care.
And it’s working. Drew’s expression goes completely neutral. He picks at his frittata before setting his fork down. “So… you guys…?”
He looks from George to me. Iris makes a horrified face, and George laughs. He’s a stinker, but he isn’t a jerk, and he puts Drew out of his misery. “This might be hard to believe, cuz you’re obviously into our girl, but the thought of doing anything with Anna kind of turns my stomach.”
“Ditto,” I snap back dryly, noticing that Drew looks way too pleased.
George grins at me. “She’s like the sister I never had.”
“Hey!” Iris gives his arm a punch. “I’m your sister!”
“No, you’re my twin. Totally different, 'Ris.”
As George and Iris debate whether there is a distinction between “twin” and “sister,” I lean in close to Drew. “Their constant bickering may have factored into George moving out.”
He chuckles and takes another bite. “This is good, by the way.” He glances at my plate. “You sure you have enough?”
I stop his move to offer me some of his with a touch to his hand. He’s warm, and I want entirely too much to twine my fingers with his and tug him out of here. I pull back.
“That’s sweet, but this is fine. I cooked this more for you.”
His expression is soft. “Thank you, Anna.”
The space between us grows close, quiet, as if Iris and George aren’t squabbling, as if we’re alone. His large thigh presses against my smaller one and heat blooms along the connection. When he speaks, it’s low and just for me. “So, ‘Banana’, huh?”
I give him a look. “If you call me that, you’ll lose a finger.”
A little dimple forms along his left cheek. “Why a finger?”
“Isn’t that where the bad guys always start? Lose a finger, then an eye, maybe an ear…” I shrug. “Seemed appropriately threatening.”
“Oh, very. Don’t worry, Jones. I’ve learned my lesson. No nicknames for you.” His index finger taps the tip of my nose. “Our relationship is special that way.”
There it is again. That “R” word. I take a bite of frittata. The eggs have gone cold.
“Well, I’m out of here,” announces George.
Iris’s face scrunches up. “You said you were going with Henry and me to the movies.”
“You don’t need me being a third wheel, 'Ris.” George wears the same expression I’m sure I do when talking about Henry: valiantly trying to hide disgust. “And I’m not in the mood to be one.”
Iris plunks her fist on her hip. “Hasn’t stopped you from going out with us before. Besides, it was your idea to go to the movies.”
George simply shrugs. “Changed my mind. It happens.” He turns to Drew. “Good to meet you, Baylor. I gotta say, you do some impressive work on the field, man.”
Et tu, George?
Drew takes the praise in stride and simply smiles, a polite smile, not like the ones he gives me when his eyes light up and a dimple graces his cheek. “Thanks. I try my best. Good to meet you too.”
George isn’t gone for more than a few minutes when the lock to the apartment door turns and Henry walks in, key in hand.
“You gave him a key,” I hiss at Iris. There is no way I’m letting Henry have open access to our house.
She has the grace to wince. “Not permanently. I’ll get it back.”
“Now,” I snap in a low voice. Beside me, Drew is frowning, having heard the exchange.
Henry saunters up to the breakfast bar. “Sweetness.” He gives Iris a messy kiss, but his eyes are on the rest of us. Mainly Drew. He does a double take as recognition sets in.
“Battle Baylor.” He sets a hand on Iris’s hip. “I thought I was seeing things.”
“Nope,” says Drew, his tone bland, his eyes watchful.
Henry laughs, as if they know each other. I’m not sure that they do. I’ve never seen them exchange any words. Henry ends my suspicion by saying, “Henry Ross. I play midfield on the lacrosse team.” His gaze shifts from Drew to me. “And here I was, beginning to think you didn’t like guys, Anna.”
“Henry,” Iris snaps.
“What?” Henry says, all innocence.
“No,” I say lightly, “you got that wrong. I don’t like ass**les.”
Iris glares at me, as Henry leans his forearms on the bar and gives me a nasty smile. “I figured you were too uptight to put out.”
Before I can say a word, Drew’s warm hand lands on my nape. It engulfs me, a comforting weight and a support. “Careful.”
He’s not speaking to me. His eyes are on Henry. There’s nothing overtly threatening about his pose, with his other hand resting casually on the counter and his shoulders relaxed. And yet the message is clear. Should Henry make a wrong move, Drew would take him down in an instant. I don’t need to be protected. But if feels nice knowing that he’s willing.
Henry’s frown is as contrived as his tone. “Careful?”
“Do I need to spell it out for you?” Drew doesn’t need to raise his voice. The authority of his presence is enough for Henry to look away first.
“You all need to relax. I’m just messing around.”
Aware that Iris is cringing, I refrain from calling him on that lie. Drew does as well, but he doesn’t drop his hard gaze from Henry.
“We going out?” Henry snaps at Iris.
“Yes.” She gives us an apologetic look as she takes Henry’s arm and all but tugs him to the door.
“Leave the key,” I say before they get there.
Henry stops, his shoulders stiffening, and turns his head to glare at me. But his gaze clashes with Drew’s, and he simply shrugs before reaching into his pocket and pulling out the spare set of keys. Henry tosses them on to the counter where they land with a loud clang.
As soon as they leave, I lean against the counter with a sigh. “He’s such an ass**le.”
“I’m guessing Iris doesn’t see that.” There’s a knowing tone in Drew’s voice.
“I’d like to believe that she’s living in ignorant bliss rather than choosing to be with him with eyes wide open.”
I move to take Drew’s plate, but he reacts first, picking up both his and mine and taking them to the sink.
“Whatever the case,” I say as he rinses off the dishes and I open the dishwasher to tuck them away, “she hasn’t kicked him to the curb.”
Drew leans a hip against the counter. “It happens sometimes to guys on the team. They’ll go out with a girl who is bad news, manipulative, caring only about the fame. Every now and then someone will try to warn the poor sap.”
“It’s sweet that you guys watch out for each other.”
His teeth flash in a quick but tight smile. “Well, it isn’t entirely altruistic. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. None of us like to see a guy laid low by head games.” Drew’s broad shoulders lift on a shrug. “Not that it matters. Warning a guy about a girl only pisses him off and drives him closer to her.”
“Which is why I grit my teeth and try to steer clear of Henry.”
Drew’s expression grows pinched. “I saw him at the party. Is that why you didn’t want to go?”
“I didn’t want to go, because I don’t like parties.” I toss the hand towel into the sink. “Henry being there merely made it that much worse.”
The corner of his mouth tilts up. “I’m still glad you were there.” His eyes are liquid caramel, and all thought of Henry melts away in a rush of heat and longing. As if feeling the same rush, Drew’s chest lifts on a breath, and his voice lowers to a rumble. “Show me your room, Jones.”
DESPITE THE HEATED promise in his voice, and despite the fact that he came to my apartment for only one reason, when we get to my room, Drew doesn’t touch me. We lay side by side on the bed, both of us staring up at the ceiling. Our shoulders brush, but that is the extent of our contact. My hands are safely folded over my stomach and so are his. We aren’t f**king. I’m not trying to climb him like a tree, or lick him like a Tootsie-Pop. Though I want to do those things. Part of me always does.