Playing With Fire

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Situational & Other Kinds of Awareness

Holiday

“Hello?” I ask into my phone. This is the third time this week I’ve received a call from a blocked number and while I try to prevent my mind from jumping to conclusions and stifle the panic bubbling in the pit of my stomach, I keep my cool. Spam callers get ahold of new numbers pretty quickly so there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for those calls. There’s no reason to believe... I gulp, shaking my head in an attempt to free those thoughts from my brain.

I hang up the call and a slight shiver runs down my spine. Out of habit, I whip my head in every direction, keeping aware of my surroundings like I learned to do in the self-defense class I took my last semester of college.

Situational awareness saves lives. I repeat the sentence in my head like a comforting mantra as I exit the stadium gift shop.

I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since I moved in with my brother and here I am acting like the same paranoid weirdo, afraid of my own shadow again.

My fleeting moments of fear are suddenly chased away by anger and helpless frustration. It infuriates me that I let myself ever be broken down by a man— something I swore I’d never do after what happened to my mom— but even more than that, I hate that Winston still has such a hold over my life. I spend my days looking over my shoulder, wondering not if but when my ex-husband will come looking for me. He didn’t obey the restraining order in California, so I wouldn’t put it past him to track me down— and it wouldn’t be hard considering my brother is a very public figure thanks to his old heathen ways that kept him on the National enquirer damn near every weekend.

I shudder at the idea of Winston coming here. My hand instinctively floats my belly and I gulp hard, pushing the memories of a life I want to pretend never happened, so far down they can’t ever resurface. Though I know that’s impossible. The scars— physical and emotional— are forever imprinted on me and I suppose they always will be. I’m just waiting for the day they don’t define the boundaries on how I live my life. Dr. Lima says that the only way to get over what happened is to go through the thick of it and come out on the other side stronger. For years, my mother ignored the pain she’d suffered earlier in life and then Andy nearly self-destructed before our eyes internalizing that pain. I refuse to let Winston do that to me. Still. That doesn’t mean it’ll be a cake walk.

I make my purchase and contain my eyeroll at the cashier’s remark about how my brother’s jersey is the most purchased item in the shop, then head for my newly leased Lexus ES350– yet another thing to roll my eyes at.

I insisted Andy didn’t have to lease me a car, considering he’s got four perfectly good ones in the garage. But I couldn’t exactly argue when he countered that if it were up to him, he’d revoke my license for being a safety hazard to anyone sharing the road with me. I know I’m a shit driver. Besides, I’d had my own vehicle returned to Winston when I’d served him divorce papers so I did need something to get around in.

“Holli?”

I still at the sound of my voice for a split second, then relax when I realize I know the owner. Except my entire body tenses again because I haven’t stopped thinking about that voice and the dirty promises murmured to me from our night together.

Schooling my expression, I spin on my heels and plaster on what I’m sure he can tell is a forced smile. I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings on my face. That turned out to be dangerous for me in my marriage.

“Lucas?” I say it like a question. As if I’d forgotten his name. Even if I could pretend to forget I’d had the best sex of my existence, Luke is Andy’s best friend. I should’ve known the one time I engaged in a one night stand something like this would happen to me. “What’re you doing here?”

He raises a brow but only after doing a slow scan down the length of my body and those intense green eyes make me want to squirm under his perusal. “I work here.”

Right.

“Yeah but isn’t your domain on the field or something? I can’t imagine you trekking a mile across this place for a foam finger or a snow globe.”

He glances behind his shoulder as if he’s making sure no one’s bearing witness to this conversation and I roll my eyes.

“That’s what the golf carts are for. And actually, I’m tracking down the custodial supply closet,” he says, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his athletic pants.

I raise a brow. “Do I even want to know?”

His grin is bright and stunning and I don’t realize I’m staring until he speaks again.

“Rookie pranks so... probably not.”

I allow my eyes to do a slow scan of their own and I have to bite back a whimper. I should really be thanking Lucas for putting a stop to what we’ve done— though it never really even got started— I’m a twenty six year old divorcée with more baggage than a bellhop during fashion week. I’m not in the least bit ready for anything emotional having only been divorced from Winston for a year. But the man is just beautiful. While my ex-husband is more tall and wiry, Lucas is bigger. Strong and sturdy in a way that makes a girl feel small and protected. It’s hard to believe I had an up close view of that massive chest and his broad shoulders just days ago.

But none of that matters because Lucas made it very clear that while I’m ‘cute’ enough to fuck behind closed doors, I’m definitely not cute enough to be worth the trouble of pissing off my brother. The memory of his words only strengthens my resolve.

“Right. Well, I’ll leave you to it. Good to see you,” I say, offering a polite smile before turning toward the West Exit of the stadium.

“Holli, wait.”


Lucas

Holli’s tight blonde ringlets bounce at her sudden halt and she turns slowly on the heel of her running sneakers, a confused expression twisting her features. My heartbeat kicks up a few notches at the sight of her. It’s only been a couple of weeks since I helped move her into Andy’s, but since I haven’t been able to get her off of my mind for any substantial length of time, it feels as though it’s been much longer.

“Yes?” she asks, tilting her head. Her teeth worry her bottom lip and I swear, just the simple action conjures up the memory of me sucking that lip into my mouth. My eyes finally make their way down her body and frown. I know women who’ve paid surgeons the GDP of a small country to give them the proportions Holli has naturally. She’s more petite than leggy, but that night in her hotel room— all luscious tits, small waist, and dramatic hips— she looked more porn star and wet dream in her light blue bra and panties than best friend’s kid sister. However, as my eyes leisurely roam over her today, I notice she’s completely covered from neck to toe in black athletic pants and a zip up hoodie. A navy blue ball cap covers the top half of her wild mane of curls and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was trying to get in and out of the stadium undetected. Why? is the question.

“Busted,” I say, hoping my grin hides how fucking on edge she makes me feel. It’s as if I can’t exist in the same breathing space as her without remembering how sweet she looks mid-orgasm.

She smiles uncomfortably, holding up the white paper shopping bag in her hand. “My brother’s jersey. How much do you think this’ll go for if I can get Andy to sneeze on it?”

I frown. “That’s disgusting.”

She sighs, shaking her head. “I guess there’s always stripping.”

I laugh, trying to picture a girl like Holli grinding on a stripper pole and the corners of her mouth tilt upward into the barest hint of a smile. It’s amazing just how fucking hard it is to not want her when she’s in such close proximity. Just close enough to reach out and tuck one of her errant curls behind her ear. Stupid bro code. “Try keeping that a secret from your brother.”

A mischievous glint twinkles in her big, hazel eyes. “He’d keel over on the spot.” I decide not to analyze her enthusiasm at the prospect. “No but seriously, it’s actually a gift. For mom. But I’m sworn to secrecy so don’t ask.”

I nod, unsure of what else to say. Suddenly, I want more than anything to be anywhere but here. Cameras and eyes cover every inch of this place and I don’t trust myself not to say or do anything that could potentially get back to Andy. Holli and I aren’t even supposed to know each other.

“Well, I should probably get back,” I say, wishing more than anything I didn’t have to.

“Ah yes. God forbid you miss out on taping some poor guy’s butt cheeks together,” she quips, her glossy lips spreading into a grin that has me swallowing hard. “I’ll leave you to it. Nice to see you again, Lucas.” I watch her blonde curls bounce as she heads toward the exit.

I don’t know what it is about Holli that makes me want to stop her, throw her over my shoulder and cart her off to the nearest supply closet. I’ve never been the guy to hop from one bed to the next like some of my teammates.

While I’ve always felt women deserved a little more respect than just being handed my room key and then put in an uber the next morning, on the other hand, none have ever been able to hold my attention for more than a few weeks. I take my job seriously and between my busy schedule— especially in season— and trying to help my mom raise my little brother, dating hasn’t exactly been my number one priority.

My mom got pregnant with Dale a few months before my father died overseas in Iraq and after we were kicked off the Army post where we lived, and the money from the death gratuity ran out, we’d struggled. If it weren’t for my uncle Brett and Aunt Staci, we’d probably have been homeless. I’d never have been able to graduate high school, let alone play football.

I idly wonder what my dad would think of Holli. My mom’s so ready for me to get married and have babies, Holli could very well be a tattooed sex worker and Amber Sutton would just be happy I was bringing home anyone at all. Dad on the other hand, would have more of an opinion. He wasn’t exactly judgmental growing up, but he was definitely more traditional than my free spirited mother. When he wasn’t deployed, he ran our household with a no nonsense attitude and his strict rules.

Despite all that though, I never starved for his attention. Even three thousand miles away, he never failed to let me know how proud he was of me when I got good grades or made my first touchdown in junior high football. I always knew how much he loved me and mom— and Dale when we found out she was pregnant again. I like to think he’d like Holli’s bright personality, but he’d no doubt be disappointed in me if he ever found out I’d ravaged her like some wild bear in a hotel suite not an hour after learning her name.

But it doesn’t matter. She kicked you out.

And she’s Andy’s sister.

Sighing, I turn on my heel and head back in the direction I came. Once I’ve found the custodial closet, I ask the head of janitorial services for what I need and make my way back to the locker room.

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