Playing With Fire

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“Korosa or Woods?” He asks.
I snort, taking a sip of my beer. After the bar, Lucas invited me back to his Condo to play pool and drink beer. Five losses in, I finally decided to quit while I was behind and asked him to turn on the Atlanta and L.A. game. “Woods. Career earned run average of 2.00. 1.1 WHIP? He’s kind of an asshole if those interviews are anything to go on, but he’s a dominating asshole.”

“You mean to tell me you don’t pick your sports teams based on the better looking dudes?” He jokes.
I roll my eyes. “Nope. That’s why I’m not a Crusader’s fan.”
Lucas places a hand over his heart. “You wound me woman.”
I wrinkle my nose. “I’m more of a baseball girl. It’s my daddy’s sport.” I grin as flashbacks of daddy and me sitting in the stands at Anderson’s high school games pop into my head.

“There is no action in baseball. It’s just long stretches of boring with a few moments of entertainment. There’s a reason the NFL is the most watched network in the United States.”
I frown. “Baseball is an intellectual sport. You adrenaline junkies are too focused on the instant gratification, you miss the rewarding strategy, chemistry, and intelligence that goes into baseball.”
Winston had hated baseball. It makes me love it more now.

“Wow. Defensive much?” He raises a brow.
I giggle. Seriously? Giggle? Is this middle school? “I take my sports very seriously.”
“Except football,” he says, pointing the neck of his bottle at me.
“I didn’t say that. I just said I wasn’t a Crusader’s fan.”
Lucas shakes his head. “I distinctly remember there being something I really liked about you and now I can’t remember what it is.”
I smack him on the chest. “Hey!”
“I think I remember now.”
I wait for him to continue but he doesn’t. “Well?”

He shakes his head grinning like a small town gossip with a secret. “I think I’ll keep it in the memory bank. For later.”
I snort. “You mean the spank bank?”
Lucas frowns but his eyes dance with humor. “Hey, I’m not just a swinging dick. I bet you didn’t know I graduated valedictorian in high school. I got into thirty two colleges and could have had a full ride anywhere without football.”
I pause. I had no idea. “Seriously?”
He shrugs. “Medical school has always been my backup plan in case I get injured. I got drafted before I could graduate from ASU, but I finished online during the off season. I like having options. I also like having more than one interest.”
I nod, understanding. “That’s smart. To some of those guys, football is all they have. Andy was like that until his wife.”
An errant curl falls into my face, but before I can push it away, Lucas tucks it behind my ear. The warmth of his touch makes my body heat and flashbacks from two of the best hours of my life play on a loop in my brain without warning.
I was never one of those girls, a slave to my obsession for the opposite sex. I had goals and dreams bigger than I could picture. But after being kicked while I was down one too many times, the only dream I’d had for the last four years was to escape my horrendous nightmare of a life. One way or another.
But the awareness warming me from the inside out makes me feel more than lust. It makes me feel woman. Alive. Powerful. Free.
And I’m tired of stifling my own life. I deserve to feel all of those things.
Before I can lose my nerve, I down the rest of my beer and turn to Lucas on his couch. Then I ask him the one thing I haven’t stopped thinking about for the last month.
“Was I… okay? You know… when we fucked?”
Lucas chokes on a sip of beer and I hand him a tissue from my purse. “Honestly?”
I nod, already fearing the answer. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked after all. But I don’t stop him.
His brows knit together. “It kind of threw me when you asked me up to your room, then went shy on me. I was convinced you were going to change your mind and kick me out. But you didn’t. And then I was convinced the shy thing might’ve been an act.”
I huff. “Give me some credit. I’m a little more mature than to play mind games to get a man in bed.”

He flashes me a smile I feel in my core. “I know. That’s why I was so distraught when you pushed me out the door half dressed. I had to do the walk of shame back to my car like a hungover, eighteen year old coed.”
I laugh. “Good. Now you know how all your former conquests feel.”
Lucas has the decency to look sheepish, but he laughs. “You joke but I felt used, Miss DeLower.”
I sigh. “To be fair, I really did have somewhere to be. Thanks for helping me move in by the way.”
“No problem. I—”
My phone shrills, interrupting him and I can’t control the stiffening of my body anymore than the slight undercurrent of fear.
I shut the ringer off and let the caller go to voicemail without checking it. “Sorry. It’s probably just Andy.”
“I don’t mind if you get it. He’s going to find out eventually.”

I bite my bottom lip and decide against it. Especially since a call from my brother is the least of my worries right now. “It’s fine.”
Lucas eyes me skeptically, like he can spot the irregular beats of my heart between lies and the fearsome desperation I can’t seem to escape.
After such a great day, the last thing I want to do is ruin it by running off to avoid talking about my ex.

Because that’s exactly what will happen if he asks the question swimming in such trustworthy green eyes.

“Holli, I don’t know what just happened and you don’t have to talk about it right now, but I’m not going to like it when you do, am I?” He asks, massaging the knuckles of my hand with his thumb.
I avert my gaze but I know it’s useless. Turns out I’m only good at hiding my emotions when my life depends on it. “No.”
He inhales sharply, then blows out the breath. “That have something to do with why you live here now?”

More like everything. I don’t say it aloud. “Yes.”
He nods, tugging my hand and I scoot closer to him, but Lucas reaches for my waist instead and places me on his lap. “What can I do?”
I reach for an ounce of boldness and wrap my arms around his neck, breathing in his clean, non-fussy scent. Everything about this man makes me want to lean on his strength when I have none and feel anything but the crushing vulnerability that comes every time I get one of those calls.

I look up at him, pleading harder than I had the night we met. “Take my mind off of it?”

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