The Hook Up
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Looking at him, gilded by sunlight, his expression tight with weariness but earnest as he watches me, I think that I could love this man. I could love him forever. My breath grows short.
“When I do find my own home,” I say, “I’m never letting it go.”
His throat moves on a swallow. “Good plan.” He takes a step closer to me. “I’m sorry, Anna.”
I know he’s speaking of my mother, my loss of safe harbor. “Me too.” But I’m talking about him. Because Drew should never have lost his family. He shouldn’t have to wear a piece of his childhood home around his neck because that’s all he has left.
The tight, antsy feeling has returned. I shift on my feet, my gaze roving the field. Drew takes an audible breath and runs a hand along his sweat-damp hair. His eyes squint as the setting sun’s rays fall full on his face. “You want to try something?”
I raise a brow, and he laughs. “Such a dirty mind, Jones.”
“Why would you assume that?” I cross my arms in front of my chest. But I’m smiling too. Smiling is better. Safer. “Unless you have a dirty mind as well.”
“Of course I do.” He touches the tip of my nose with a finger, making me bat him off in annoyance. He only laughs. “Why do you think we’re so perfect together?”
My breath gets a little unsteady, and the light in his eyes dims a bit. But he simply picks up his football. “However, this time, I was just going to ask if you’d like to toss around the ball.”
“Throw a football?”
“Such a sour face,” Drew observes way too happily. “It isn’t going to blow up in your hand.”
“Says you. I suck at sports.”
He rolls his eyes. “No one is asking you to be good. Just throw it.” He tosses the ball high and catches it without looking. Show off. “Trust me, Jones. It’s an excellent stress reliever.”
Drew proceeds to show me how to hold the ball, placing my fingers on the laces, and my thumb positioned beneath the ball. “Hold it lightly with your fingertips. Finger control is very important.”
“Oh, believe me, bud, I’m a big proponent of finger control,” I say, just this side of saucy. Oh, but it’s a mistake to joke, because I’m remembering those long fingers of his pushing inside of me, curling just so to find that spot that drives me wild.
Sunlight gilds the tips of his long lashes as he blinks down at me. A flush crests his high-cut cheeks. “Stop trying to distract me, Jones. Your cheap seduction tactics won’t work on this hallowed field.” The roughness in his voice tells me otherwise, but I decide to be good.
“Can I throw now?” I fight down a grin. “Or do you have any more deluded fantasies running through your brain?”
“I have tons of fantasies. But you only get to hear them when we have a place to act them out. Now do as you’re told, Miss Jones.”
I submit and place myself in his capable hands as he rattles off instructions—step back this way, hold the ball up by your ear, wind up your arm like so, throw it here, step thusly. I’ll be surprised if I retain half of it.
“Remember,” he says, stepping back to give me space, “let the ball roll off of your fingers. Your power comes from your core and your legs. It’s all about momentum and confidence.”
“Right.” I’m going to mess this up royally.
Drew grins wide. “Yes, the first throw is going to suck.”
“Get out of my head,” I mutter.
He just laughs. “More like reading your expression. Now stop stalling.”
I go through the motions, feeling like an idiot. And the ball wobbles through the air to land with a dull thud some ten feet away. Awesome.
“Welp,” I dust off my hands. “That was fun.”
I turn to go, when he grabs my arm, still laughing. The moron. “Nice try, Anna. But I don’t think so.” He slaps the ball back in my hand. “Again.”
“You like it.” His eyes are gold now, glinting in the sun.
Yeah, I do. I grumble and try again. And again, with Drew stopping me every once in a while to give me pointers. Suddenly, it’s fun. Not spectacular fun, but kind of addictive. I say this to Drew, and he positively shines when he smiles down at me.
“Exactly,” he says. “Why do you think I do this? It’s the need do better every time.”
“To do better?” I stare up at him, shocked. “But you’re already perfect.”
His expression turns soft, warm, and he steps close. “You think so, huh?”
I know that tone too. And when his lids lower, his gaze going to my mouth, my heart kicks in my chest. I grip the ball between my hands. “Show me,” I blurt out.
He blinks, his eyes lifting to mine, and a furrow wrinkles between his brows. “What do you mean?”
“Show me how far you can throw the ball.”
One corner of his mouth kicks up. “You want me to show off for you?”
“If I have to ask, it isn’t showing off. But, yeah, I want to see what you can do.”
Drew studies me for a moment, the soft breeze lifting the ends of his hair. Maybe he knows I’m avoiding things, maybe he wonders why. Or maybe he just thinks I’m crazy. As if he’s come to that conclusion, he shakes his head slightly. “Okay, but you’re going to have to snap the ball to me.”
“Snap the ball?” I make a face. “Like bend over...”
His grin is evil. “And I put my hands between your legs. Don’t give me that look. Dex does this for me every game.”
“Is this the point where I launch into a diatribe about the blatant homoeroticism found in football?”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t. But since we’re talking about me putting my hands on you, I don’t think it applies here.” He leans close to my cheek, and his proximity makes my skin tighten. More so when his deep voice rumbles in my ear. “I promise to let you know the next time the team hits the showers.”
“Oh my,” I wave a hand as if to cool myself off, which is only half in jest, “that’s a pretty picture you’re painting, Baylor.”
Drew snorts and gives me a nudge with the football. “Just snap the ball, Jones, before I change my mind.” But he’s grinning as he steps back.
“Fine.” I sigh and get into the position I’ve seen players assume.
Drew moves in closer than I think is strictly necessary. His size and strength is a wall over me. “Mmm, spread those legs wider and get that sweet ass up higher, babe.”
Despite our teasing, heat floods my belly. But I give him a dirty look over my shoulder. “You’re enjoying this way too much.”
He just winks. “You know it. Snap count on three.”
“What does that mean?”
“Third sound I make, you hand me the ball.” He gives my butt a light slap. “Keep up, Jones.”
And then his voice rolls over me like thunder. “Hut, hut, hut!”
Jesus. My ni**les tighten and a thrill courses through me as I obey and toss. He manages to catch the bobbling ball. I turn to watch him, and it’s gorgeous. He’s gorgeous. Up close, his body is poetry. His muscles actually ripple along his torso and up his arm as he throws, his expression fierce and focused. I want to tackle him, throw myself on his body and devour him bite by delicious bite.
I’m so caught up in gaping at him that I nearly forget to watch the ball, but I keep it together and look.
“Damn,” I say. The ball is a rocket, hurtling through the air in a high arc. And it keeps going. Until finally it comes down from space to land with a hard bounce in the end zone.
Drew’s lips curl up at the corners. “Good throw.” He says this to himself, not exactly as praise, but satisfied, and I wonder if he always appraises his work.
My curiosity is drowned out by a long, appreciative male whistle.
The tall blond guy I often see hanging with Drew is jogging down the stairs. “Beautiful, f**king bomb, man. But you missed me by a mile.”
Drew laughs. “And we know how hard it is to miss that big head of yours.”
“You best be thinking about connecting with my hands and not my head, dude.” The blond holds a hand up against the sun’s glare to study the field. “What was that, anyway? Sixty-five yards?” He whistles again and then lopes across the grass, moving as though walking is never an option when he can run.
“Seventy-one,” Drew answers. “But who’s counting?”
Drew’s shoulder brushes mine as the guy stops before us. He is massive, an inch or two taller than Drew and easily twenty pounds of muscle heavier. The guy eyes me with caution, but he puts on a polite smile. “Hey.”
“Hey.” I’m pretty sure Drew’s talked about me, us, and his friend doesn’t approve.
“Anna,” Drew says, “This is Gray Grayson. He plays tight end.”
“Ass jokes are welcome and encouraged,” Gray adds with wag of his brows. Like Drew, he’s extremely good looking, but in a California surfer way, with his mop of sun-streaked blond hair flopping over his tanned forehead.
“Gray Grayson?” I shouldn’t repeat his name that way, but I can’t help myself. What were his parents thinking?
Gray winces. But beneath dark blonde brows, his blue eyes show no hint of annoyance. “I know, right?” he says to my unanswered question, which he must get a lot. “My mom had a total crush on Gray Grantham, a character from this John Grisham book, The Pelican Brief.”
“She named you after a character in a book?” I blurt out. Atticus Finch is one thing. Hell, I’m pretty sure the South is peppered with Atticuses and Rhetts for that very reason. But this is a new one to me.
“She was reading it during the end of her pregnancy. Anyway,” Gray shrugs, “she though Gray Grayson would be ‘just so cute.’” Now he’s scowling, but there’s no real anger behind it, only fondness, and a slight wince as if it pains him to think of his mother. “So that’s what I got stuck with.”
“Sometimes we call him ‘Gray-Gray,’” Drew puts in helpfully and earns a punch on the arm from Gray.
“And sometimes I call him,” Gray nods towards Drew, “‘QB with my foot up his ass.’”
Gray eyes the ball waiting in the end zone then looks at Drew. “You ready, man?”
Because Drew is standing so close, I feel the tension in his arm.
“Yep.” Drew glances as me. “It’s Gray’s birthday.”
I give Gray a polite smile, because I’m still pretty sure he doesn’t like me. “Happy Birthday.”
Gray’s answering smile turns more genuine. “Thanks. Though I don’t know about turning 22. It’s like the beginning of the end.”
“I don’t know what he’s crying about,” Drew says to me. “He’s the baby of the bunch.”
Gray sighs loud and long. “Feels like yesterday when I retired my fake ID.”
The corners of Drew’s eyes crinkle. “The way you carried on over that damn thing, you’d think it was your baby.”
“Hey, it gave me years of service, devoted to finding me pleasure.”
I smile at their interplay, but then catch on to what Drew says. “You’re already 22?”
“I told you I was older, Jones.”
“I thought you meant by a day.” I glance between him and Gray. “How is it you’re both 22?” Hell, Drew’s almost 23.
“We redshirted our freshman year,” Gray says, as if this is obvious.
When Drew sees that I have no idea what the hell Gray’s talking about, he gives me a tight smile. “Basically, we spent our freshman year on the sidelines, taking classes but not playing. It’s called a redshirt.”
“Think of it this way,” Gray puts in, “we’re aged like wine. The longer we’re here, the bigger, stronger, and better we get. Why should a program lose out on playing us when we’re reedy little 18 year olds instead of waiting until we’ve reached maximum efficiency?”
It all sounds kind of mercenary, but smart, I suppose. And because there’s a hesitancy in Drew’s eyes, like he expects me to think less of him because of the redshirt, I tell him this, watching as he visibly relaxes.
“College football is nothing if not mercenary,” he says lightly.
Gray gives Drew’s arm a slap. “The guys are waiting. Let’s get a move on.”
But Drew eyes me again. “You want to go? We’re just hitting a couple of bars.”
It’s actually sweet the way he’s visibly conflicted, as if he doesn’t want to leave me but wants to go out with his friends too. I smile and shake my head. “Thanks, but I’ve got a paper due.”
“I’ll walk you to your car.” His fingertips graze my elbow, and I feel the touch between my thighs. Jesus, I’ve got it bad.
While Gray runs off to gather the other guys, Drew and I leave the stadium. The air between us is subdued, as if both of us are too aware that we don’t hang out like this. And it’s just as clear to anyone who’d bother to look that we aren’t just friends. Not by the way we walk so close, our arms nearly touching. His hand brushes against mine, and I wonder if he’ll hold it, but we’re at my scooter, and I reach in my bag for my keys.
Drew sizes up my ride with a quirked brow. “You ride a red Vespa. With a basket on the front?” His dimple is showing. “God.” He clutches his chest. “The urge to make a Red Riding Hood joke is killing me.” An exaggerated groan of frustration leaves him.