Igniting the Wild Sparks, Book 3

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Chapter 13

Finn doesn’t knock on the door to ask if I’m okay. He hates me. I totally violated him. He’s probably calling Ricky to arrest me. Maybe it’s worse, and he called his mother. Now Julie will also hate me for what I just did to her son.

Holding my stomach to ease the pain and possibly to stop me from throwing up, I grab onto the door handle and slowly slide up against the door to stand, and then lock the door. I turn on the tub faucet, and the roaring water distracts me a little.

I take off my underwear, step into the tub and pull the teddy bear curtain closed before pulling the shower knob. I close my eyes, and the hot water sprays my face. I need to cleanse my gross behavior, but nothing erases the horrifying movie replaying in my mind.

I’ll be forever trapped in here. The cops will smoke me out or worse, Ricky will break down the door with guns blazing and drag his BFF’s ex-girlfriend out in handcuffs, naked. At the trial, all of Finn’s friends will shake their heads at me and whispering. Julie will cry and officers will escort her from the premises. Simone will call me a nasty whore who attacked her big brother. My dad will disown me. Val will say the orange color in my aura was hope that they’ll lock me away forever. Finn will show up to my trial every day, glaring at me from behind my lawyer, some random defense attorney. My face and mortifying story blanket the news, his coworkers offering their sympathies. He’ll go on talk shows and play the field, dating his third baseman. They’ll get engaged on The Wild Side, marry in his church, honeymoon in Niagara Falls, and in rapid succession make their four gorgeous, perfect kids: two boys and two girls, all with magical, color-changing hair, chocolate brown eyes, and cocky, crooked smiles. They’ll live in a mansion, drive expensive sports cars, own a private jet, a baseball team, a soccer team, an entire television network, and buy a small state, like Vermont or a small sub-planet, like Pluto. They’ll live happily ever after, laughing at me rotting away alone in Alcatraz, chained to a rocket carrying a poisonous gas that will take out San Francisco.

Maybe I’ve seen The Rock too many times.

The water pressure drops as the toilet flushes. I locked the door! It’s probably Ricky making a pit stop before he busts me. I can’t even look.

The metal hooks grate loudly against the pole as the curtain slides open, and behind me, someone enters the tub. I hope Ricky at least brought a towel for me to hold onto the last shred of my dignity.

The tub darkens as the curtain screeches closed, hopefully in time to shield my perverted body from the entire SWAT team.

Strong hands clasp my upper arms, and a naked torso rubs against my back. I pray it’s not Ricky. All I need is another reason for Finn to hate me. Taking a shower with his best friend would be one of those.

“Hey. What’s going on with you?” Finn asks next to my ear, his deep voice reverberating off the fiberglass wall. The shower is much better at his apartment, not that I’ll ever see it again. I’ll be showering in an open set-up at a prison with other women judging me and comparing tattoos and boobs. I suppose I can get inked before I go. I wonder if it’d be in bad taste to ask Finn for a referral.

I stare with rising panic at my white shampoo bottle. “How’d you get in here?”

Over my head, he proudly states, “I picked the lock.”

I narrow my eyes. “Are you also best friends with a cat burglar?”

“Huh?”

“Ricky would love to hear about that one.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

My emotions finally get the best of me. “I’m so sorry! Please forgive me!” A sob escapes my throat, and I cover my mouth, so I don’t hurl on the wall to top off my great day.

Forgive you? For?”

“You didn’t want it!” I anxiously rub my hands over my face and shudder. “Taking advantage of you, and even without protection!” I cry into my black-nailed hands as the water beats my forearms.

Squeezing my upper arms, Finn leans into me. “I didn’t want to hurt you more. Of course, I wanted you. I always do, baby.”

“Yeah, but I… I assaulted you. I violated you.”

He chuckles, more amused than expected, and I raise my head at the sound. “Um, no. You might be strong emotionally and can take a softball to the stomach, but I’m a hell of a lot stronger than you physically. You’re a lightweight, Becks. If I truly didn’t want to have sex with you, I wouldn’t have. There’s no way in hell you took advantage of me. It’s the other way around, really. I should’ve moved you off me instead of fucking you.” He clears his throat, and quietly imparts, “You’re the death of me. I told you that.”

“You said you weren’t a willing participant.”

“Because you weren’t listening to a damn thing I said. Now you’re probably hurting.”

To the shower wall, I grumble, “Only a little.”

Finn reaches over my stomach and smoothly glides his fingers over the bruise, below my ribcage to my belly button. I tense from the movement. He notices because his fingers stiffen, and he says, “No practice this weekend.”

“I’m f—”

“Don’t even say that fucking F-word, Becks. You’re not. You won’t take it easy, and I’m responsible for that. I feel a knot on your stomach. No practice.” At least he can’t feel the knot in my stomach.

“Can I at least watch?”

“No, because you’ll bitch about it the whole time. I’ll pass. I don’t need the distraction.”

“But if I walk around in just my underwear and bra, it’s okay, right?”

“Damn it. Yes, I lose my willpower with you. I’m sorry. But the field is more dangerous. I don’t want a ball hitting you again.”

“Well, shit, coach. Am I permanently benched? I’m such a valuable left fielder,” I gripe, fully aware I sound like a brat.

“Keep it up with your mouth, and you will be.”

I huff, “You’re mean.” His fingers drift across my bruise, which slightly throbs, and yet, his touch soothes it at the same time.

“I’m in love with my stubborn-as-hell left fielder, and I want to protect her. If I’m mean, then so be it. I won’t lose her.”

“She sounds like a lucky bitch.” I can’t help but smile into the shower water.

“Well, I’m a lucky bastard. Perfect match.” I laugh, and his chest heaves against my back as he laughs with me, our playfulness echoing off the shower walls.

Finn kisses the top of my wet head and turning around, I peer up to his damp, brown hair. He warily eyes me, and I send my arms around his waist, hugging him under the water and feeling his heartbeat against my cheek. “I love you, too, Sparks. More than I realized.”

He lifts my chin and bends to kiss me. Smiling over his lips, I reach up and trail my fingers along the side of his face, through his rough stubble, and then snag the chain around his neck to hold onto his key.

Morgan received so many gifts for her last-minute shindig, as Rod called it. I gave her a frilly wedding album, glass picture frames, and a Macy’s gift card, her favorite store.

After the shower Saturday, I listened to Finn and stayed home while he coached practice. He said everyone asked where I was since I had said nothing at the shower about skipping practice. He told everyone I was fine and just needed rest.

That night, Finn skipped Mass again, and we watched a movie on the couch. I laid my head on his leg while he stroked my hair, and I fell asleep. I suck as a date.

Sunday, we stayed in bed most of the morning… actually sleeping. It’s nice to share mundane things with him, instead of rushing through everything until one of us leaves Sunday evening. Now I forget why I fought it so much.

When I exit the bathroom and into the living room, Sparks is eating a bowl of cereal on the couch while watching The Weather Channel. Since we don’t watch much TV together, I thought he only watched the news or ESPN when not watching a movie with me. His glasses grace his face, his hair is a beautiful mess, and he’s wearing dark blue boxers with a gray T-shirt. Perfection. However, I must control myself.

I walk over to him, stopping at a respectable distance. “Where is your dare trip today?”

He swirls his cereal around with his spoon. “Pennsylvania. At a grade school tomorrow before they let out for the summer. A friend dared me. We met at Philip Merrill sophomore year. Now, he’s a station manager at our affiliate up there. He keeps trying to hire me, giving me my own show like I have now, but paying a hell of a lot more than here.”

“Why haven’t you?” He shrugs and takes a bite. Remembering what Val told me about his green aura and his lofty ambitions, I hesitantly ask, “Don’t you want more in your career?”

Finn glances up at me from behind his glasses as he finishes chewing. Damn, he’s sexy. Must. Focus. “Sometimes, but I’m good.” A heaviness settles in the pit of my stomach. I think he’s less than truthful.

I bite my lip and mull the million-dollar question. Taking a deep breath, I ask, “What’s stopping you from moving there?”

He looks from me to the TV. “Nothing.” Me. He’s definitely lying.

I tilt my head and watch him as he studiously avoids me. “Finn.”

Shaking his head and tearing his gaze from the Midwest’s weather report, he digs into his cereal. “Becks, you have your career, too. I don’t want to interfere with that. It’s hard enough living across town from you. I couldn’t live across states.” Wouldn’t he want me to go with him?

“I don’t want you to miss a great opportunity.”

He swiftly bobs his head at the TV as he tries to drop the subject. “Don’t worry about it. I like Richmond. My heart’s here.” His gaze finally slides back to mine, and I smile at his cute smirk.

Smiling, I cross my arms and ask, “What about on Wednesday? Where are you going?”

He’s suddenly cagey again as he looks to his bowl. “Uh, I forget.” He holds a spoonful to his mouth and mumbles, “Kentucky, I think.”

“Wow. You’re all over the place.”

He swallows with a nod. “I know.”

“When do you get home?”

“Sunday.”

“I won’t see you until then?”

He returns to his bowl. “Yeah. Sorry.” It’s almost like he’s a rock star on tour. Jeez.

I glance at the tan carpeting. “Are you coming home after practice before you leave?”

When I look at his face again, his eyes meet mine. “Yeah. I’m not leaving without kissing you goodbye.”

I dubiously smile. “You’d come home just to kiss me?”

“Well, yeah.” He grins.

“I know living in two apartments is hard.” I wince. I’m a burden to him no matter what I do. His career is floundering because of me. He slowly shakes his head with an odd look in his eyes. “What?” Unsettled by his staring, I tuck hair behind my ears and shift on my feet.

“Like I said at Fenwick Lighthouse. Home is wherever my Becks is.”

I just fell even more in love with Finn Wilder, if that’s possible anymore.

Grinning, I move closer to him, and he transfers his bowl to his other hand and winds his free arm around my hips. His fingers graze under my T-shirt, onto my waist as he watches the weather report. At least he won’t have to put up with my insanity this week.

Shortly after Finn leaves for practice, I notice he left his clipboard. Since he’ll need it, I don’t think he’ll be too mad at me for dropping it off to him. I’ll leave right after if he doesn’t want me to stay. I try calling his phone, but it goes to voicemail, so I grab my car key and head out.

As I walk to where Morgan is sitting on the sidelines, I watch my coworkers on the field. Finn told me Rhonda will take my spot in left field. Lucky her.

“Hey, Had,” Morgan greets me from the bench. “I thought Finn said you weren’t coming. What’s up? You feeling better?”

Clutching the clipboard, I say, “Yeah. He forgot this.” I look to the field again. “Where is he?”

“They were here. Finn told everyone to warm up and then said he and Ricky would be back. I saw them walking to the parking lot. You didn’t see them?”

“No, I didn’t.” I check the surrounding area as if I’m on the run. “Is Cara here?” I ask with a little too much vitriol.

Noticing, Morgan laughs. “No. Just Heckle and Jeckle.”

I giggle. “Which one is my boyfriend?”

“Hopefully, whichever one is better in bed.”

“Shut up!” I laugh. “I’ll give him this, and I’ll leave before he gets mad that I’m here.”

“He’ll get mad?” She taps into her phone and shakes her head at it.

“I’m supposed to rest before our game next weekend. If not, I can’t play.”

She rolls her eyes with a scowl. “I guess fucking our coach isn’t so fun.”

“I’m living with him now.”

She looks up, perplexed. “You moved in with him? I thought you were waiting until after my wedding?”

“I am, but it just sort of happened after I got hurt. He stayed at my apartment, and I don’t want him to leave me. When you’re on your honeymoon, I’ll move into his apartment, depending on the fallout.”

“Think positive.”

“I’m positive I’m going crazy.”

“That’s better. I’ll only be gone a couple of days since our original honeymoon is still planned and paid for the week of the nineteenth. So when I return, I’ll stop by and point where things should go.”

I purse my lips and smile. “Thanks. You’re a lamb.” I check the field again. “Where’s your lover?”

Her face harshly crumples. “Dear God. I hope you’re joking, bitch.” I giggle with a snort as she glares at me. “I don’t know where Dick Rod is. I’m sure he’ll bless us with his presence soon.”

“Well, I’m off. Have fun with Rod.” Smiling at her frown, I wave as I head to the parking lot. As I approach Ricky’s truck, I see Ricky and Finn wearing their red ball caps, leaning against the driver’s side with their backs to me. I hear Finn’s deep vibrato but can’t make out what he’s saying.

But as I walk closer, Ricky says something that makes me stop.

“I know. You’re agonizingly and annoyingly conflicted about your life. You’re worse than a damn woman.” Ricky turns his head to look at Finn, and I quickly dive behind the red truck next to his, peeking around the cab and praying they don’t notice me.

“I know I’m taking a risk, but… I can’t stop. Hell, she can’t stop. Friday night, she would not take no for an answer.” Finn, what the hell? Shut up! I’m going to die. I’m dead.

“Why would you tell her no? Did you lose your sanity membership?”

Finn shakes his head with a frown. “She’s still hurt. She did not care, though. She wanted fucked.” I can’t believe he’s telling him this! I need Rod to hit me on the head now.

Ricky pushes Finn’s shoulder. “Hadley should’ve traded up for me instead of settling for you.”

Finn’s scowl deepens. “Shut the fuck up, prick.”

Ricky readily laughs at the look on Finn’s face before probing, “So, did you?” Oh, no.

Finn’s cocky smirk lifts his lips. “Yeah. It was a tough job, you know.” A lightning bolt would be merciful!

Ricky nods. “Right. So you’re complaining about her wanting sex. That’s such a shame. You have it so rough, having an ugly girlfriend and all. I feel so sorry for you. I bet you need Popsicle sticks and floss to hold up your cock.” Finn shoves Ricky’s arm, making him slide against his truck. Hysterically laughing as he straightens, Ricky says, “Relax, Wilder. She’s pretty.” Ricky thinks I’m pretty?

Finn gapes. “Are you checking out my girlfriend, asshole?”

Sporting an enormous grin, Ricky shrugs while happily chewing his bubblegum. “You can’t help but look at her.” Wow.

With a bogus frown, Finn snaps, “Well, don’t, or I’ll rip your fucking eyes out of your damn head.” Finn would never hurt Ricky, but he has no problem hurting me.

Ricky loudly laughs and shakes his head. “You know I love Hadley. You two are so damn good together.” Ricky punches Finn’s arm. “You could spread the love to your best friend, though.”

“Jealousy is not a good look for you, Tesco.”

“I am, though. You snatched Hadley up before I could.”

“She wouldn’t have given you the time of day.”

“No, because if she had seen me first, she wouldn’t have cared about the time.”

“That is the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.”

Ricky boisterously laughs, and Finn shakes his head. Ricky asks, “Speaking of jealous, what about Cara?”

“What about her?”

“She wants to ride your midnight train to the Big O.”

Finn narrows his eyes. “How do you know that?”

“Come on, man. You can’t tell?”

Finn shrugs. “We’re just friends.”

“You don’t notice she’s jealous of Hadley? I’ve seen Cara giving her dirty looks all through practice. That bitch wants to ride your cock, and I think she’d push your Becks onto the tracks to be next in line.” What?

Cringing, Finn looks away and crosses his arms. “She knows I’m with my left fielder. I’m not interested.” He’d better not be!

“She watches you more than anything else. And she wears those low-cut tops, hoping you’ll stare at her tits.”

“Yeah, they’re hard to miss.” He’s looking?

“As long as you do not test those waters.” Would he?

Finn’s eyes crinkle. “You think I’d sleep with her?”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d…”

“No. I have the only woman I want.”

Ricky sadly says, “I didn’t plan to cheat on Nina, Finn, but I didn’t stop it, either.”

Finn adamantly protests, “I wouldn’t do that.”

Ricky nods, and a sudden grin takes over. “I know you wouldn’t. Unlike me, you are a good guy. I don’t know why in the hell I put up with your sorry ass. Find a hobby, at least. Fuck, you’re boring.”

Finn mockingly smiles. “I’d hang out with Richmond’s Finest, but instead, I’m stuck with Richmond’s Runoff.”

“Damn, you’re a grouch. You need to get laid before you leave.”

“I’m not doing that.” Finn tugs on the back of his hat to realign it on his head.

“Oh, right. Injured player.” Ricky shrugs and adjusts his own ball cap. “If she can’t fully participate, she can suck your cock. I think that one’s in the playbook.”

Finn laughs. “She wouldn’t do that.”

“Why not? Do you think she’s still hung up about it? You said she tried at your mom’s. She hasn’t done it again?” I’m beyond mortified! He said he doesn’t tell Ricky everything!

“No.” Shut up, Finn!

“Maybe because of the roadmap and a magnifying glass?”

“Funny.”

Ricky pops another bubble and smilingly adds, “Sit next to her, whip your dick out and shove her head down. She’ll get the message.”

“She’s supposed to take it easy.”

“She is if she’s fucking you.” Finn incredulously laughs, and before he can reply, Ricky says, “Well, you’re not grouchy because of your sex life. That was embarrassingly evident at Easter. I’ve never heard you that loud before.” What the fuck? Ricky has heard us having sex other times? This only gets worse!

Ricky stretches his arms above his head, and I duck. Through the window of the truck, I see him looking toward the field. Shit. Finn says, “Before we head back, I wanted to tell you that I, uh, told her the one thing I swore I never would.”

Ricky drops his arms and his jaw. “That you’ve wanted to marry her for three years now? Are you engaged?” He gawks at Finn in disbelief. “Shit, why didn’t you tell me, man? You just now mention it?” Three years? I’ve prayed for that long he’d change his mind! What the hell, Finn?

“We’re not engaged.”

“What do you mean? Are you going to officially propose?”

Finn glances at the ground. “Um, I got down on my knee, but she didn’t give me a chance to ask before she took off. But she’s not stupid. She knows I won’t marry her.”

Losing his smile, Ricky glowers. “Fuck. You’re an idiot, and you’ll lose her.”

Not looking up, Finn shakes his head. “We talked. She says she understands.”

“Like shit, she does.”

“I’m getting closer, but… I don’t know. Maybe soon.” Soon? I think my orange is flaring.

Ricky sighs. “Don’t be scared, Finn. Look at all the other shit you do. You let nothing get the best of you.”

“But marriage is different. It’s not a stunt, Rick. If Becks and I don’t get married, then we won’t get divorced.”

“What the hell kind of kindergarten logic is that? Did you read that in a Highlights magazine at your dentist?”

“It’s the only logic that makes sense to me.”

“You’d better get your ass in gear because Hadley will move on.”

“Why should our love be on the condition that I put a ring on her finger?”

“Man, you’re fucked up. Are you still charging into a monsoon without a raincoat?”

I see Finn’s maroon hat bobbing. “Yeah.” Oh, my God.

“Why would you do that? And you’ve been shooting blind since Easter? Finn, you’ll knock her up fast, and that’s the last thing you want.”

“But it’s incredible. Sex is like a different experience. I’m addicted.”

Ricky laughs. “Shit. You weren’t a virgin.”

“No, but I never had sex without one before her.”

“Aww. So, little Hadley popped your rubber cherry.”

Raising an eyebrow, Finn chuckles. “I guess.”

“If it’s that damn good, you should just get snipped.”

“She’d kill me.”

“You don’t want kids. You and I could get the group discount.” Ricky laughs and blows a gigantic, pink bubble, snapping it noisily and proudly grinning at Finn, who doesn’t pay attention as he stares at the parked car in front of them.

“If I suggest that to Hadley, she’d threaten to dump my ass, like she did with New River or skydiving.”

“Uh-huh. Right. New River. You still haven’t told her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God. Have you?” What?

“You know I can’t tell her about that, Ricky. She worries, and I told her I wouldn’t do it anymore.” What the hell?

“She doesn’t catch on to all those camping or work trips? She thinks you’re that much in demand?”

“I do work a lot, asshole. Why are you getting so pissed off?”

I’m see Ricky’s glare. “Because lies hurt. I learned that lesson the hard way.”

“You didn’t lie to Nina. She caught you cheating.”

“Yeah, but I lied about all the nights I worked. Do you want Hadley to catch you in this lie?”

“I’m not lying to her. She’s never asked.”

“Come on! She’ll see omission as a lie. Trust me.”

“You’re suddenly Dr. Phil now?”

“I’m just warning you. By refusing to marry Hadley and then with the shit you’re hiding, you’re on shaky-ass ground with her.”

“I’m handling it.”

“I hope so because if she finds out from someone else, you’re fucked and not in the oh-Finn-give-it-to-me-harder way.”

Finn rolls his eyes and snaps, “Okay, Tesco. I get it.”

Holy fuck! We just had a talk about honesty at Chimborazo, but he’s lying to me.

Stunned, I silently creep away, unable to listen to more of Finn’s private revelations about Cara’s sexual aspirations, my damn shortcomings, or his Spiderman desires.

I dart into the nearby bathroom and stand by the doorway, peeking my head out every five seconds to see if they’re still there. Finally, seeing them walk to the field, I wipe my eyes and numbly take the clipboard to Finn’s car, leaving it on his driver’s seat.

Lying on my bed, I stare at the pictures of my Sparks and me. I can’t tell Finn I was eavesdropping. Am I a joke he and Ricky dole out? A blow-job punchline, perhaps? I’m utterly embarrassed.

Looking around the dimly lit bar, I wrinkle my nose in disgust. The floor is sticky, and the red pleather seat underneath my ass is grimier than door handles at a sperm bank, as Rod said. The cigarette smoke burns my throat and eyes. People sitting at the bar try to score a date for the night or an hour while others wallow in their beers alone. Pool balls clacking against each other fill the room.

“Hadders, listen to me.”

I mindlessly stare at the burly bartender pouring a beer from a rusty-looking tap. “What?”

Sudden clicking is next to my ear. “Hadders.” Jumping, I irritably turn to him. “We need to go.”

Blinking again at Rod, I notice his Care Bears T-shirt, which is tight and worn. “Why? I have the right to know.”

“Yeah. I mean, no. You need to rest.”

“No way.”

“This place scares the shit out of me. So does your outfit.”

I look down to see a black denim vest with zippered pockets, buttoned halfway. My red bra peeks through the opening, showcasing ample and unfamiliar breasts. I also the skirt I wore to the club. Even the last two buttons are undone. Thigh-high boots complete my outfit and most of my height.

When I turn to look at the bar again, I notice my hair doesn’t move with me. Reaching up, I feel my short hair beneath my fingers. No more ponytail.

As I contemplate the drastic change in my appearance, I see a plastic bimbo hanging on Ricky’s arm. They stop, and Ricky says something to the bartender while his date giggles and trails her fingers down Ricky’s chest. I can’t believe he’d cheat on Shay after what he did to Nina.

Then, I hear his voice before I see him. My Sparks. His hair is all brown in the dingy lighting. I want to run to him, but seeing the blonde with her arm hooked through his, stops me. Her hair is in a sloppy ponytail, and she’s wearing a white see-through blouse, displaying her black bra underneath. Her skirt is short enough to make mine demure.

They reach the bar and stand next to Ricky. The blonde sleaze turns to Finn and sinking her fingers into the front of his jeans, yanks him forward. His eyes blaze like before he fucks me.

No. No. No… That’s my look.

Rod grabs my wrist. “Hadders, come on. You shouldn’t see this.”

I can’t take my eyes off of them. “What’s he doing with her?”

“He’s moved on.”

Whisking my head back to Rod, I screech, “Why? He’s mine! I love him!”

“He broke up with you. Remember? You cheated on him.”

“No, I didn’t!” I shriek.

“You met a guy at the gym and took him home. Finn caught you.”

I pound my fists frantically on the table. “No! I would never do that!” I repeat more urgently as Rod’s eyes widen in fear. I watch Finn lean down, and the whore openly French kisses him. He grabs onto her breast in public as he tongues her. The bitch sucks on his tongue like she’s sucking his dick. I want to cry, but I’m too numb to breathe.

Before I can yell his name, a brunette woman taps him on his shoulder. He turns around, and she’s on his lips faster than the first. However, he eagerly returns her filthy greeting. Those are my lips to kiss.

“Finn!”

“He can’t hear you. You don’t exist to him anymore.”

“No!” I impatiently scoot to leave the booth, but it’s like I’m stuck in a bubble. I scream his name, but he doesn’t hear me. Collapsing against the seat, I cry, “Finn, no! Not my Sparks! No! I would never hurt him! I can’t live without him!”

“Becks, wake up. I’m here.”

I jolt and see Finn’s blurry face. Catching my breath, I rapidly blink until I see the concern in his eyes. He brushes a chunk of my hair off my face and asks, “Did you have another bad dream?”

His fingers stroke my wet cheek, and I nod against them. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Looking over my shoulder at the clock on my nightstand, I’m surprised I slept so long. Turning back to him, I ask, “How was practice?”

Still watching me, he sits down on the edge of the bed. “It was good. You didn’t have to drop the clipboard off.”

“I thought you might need it. I didn’t stay.”

“Morgan said you looked for me. I’m sorry I missed you. You could’ve said hi. That would’ve been okay.” I shrug and glance out the window. “At least you got to rest.”

I roll my eyes. “Yeah. Some.”

“What did I do in this nightmare?”

Shaking my head, I force a smile. “Ignoring me.”

“I would never do that.”

I swiftly nod at the floor. “I know.”

Finn lifts my chin. “I’ll miss you.” His gaze flies over my face, but I give nothing away.

“I’ll miss you, too.”

“How are you feeling?” He drops his hand and lifts up my shirt to peer at my bruise. “It’s still a little gnarly, but it looks better.”

I frown and pull down my shirt. “I’m a turn-off.”

He ruefully smiles. “You’re such a turn-off I can’t keep my hands off you.” He leans in and kisses me softly on the lips before resting his forehead on mine and whispering, “I love you, Becks.”

“I love you, too. I hope you have a safe trip.” One that doesn’t include you fucking BASE jumping or hurdling out of a plane. “I can’t wait to see your dare.” And solid proof you’re not lying to me about this trip.

Sliding on his invisible coach’s hat, he orders, “I want you to rest more.”

“I will.” I want to tell him I know his other gigantic secret, but I can’t. Why would he do something he knows will break my heart?

Why is he okay with taking that risk?

“What, Finn? What’s wrong?”

He rubs his fisted hand into little circles on my cheek, his eyes drifting around my face, searching. For what? I’m not keeping major secrets. He whispers, “ You’re so beautiful, Becks.” My thoughts veer from furious betrayal to self-consciously flattered.

I try to smile, but my lips won’t cooperate. I only stare at him, which he returns with an odd, lingering look. Why is he reluctant to go? A skyscraper is probably calling his name.

“I’ll see you Tuesday night before I leave Wednesday morning again.”

My voice is a hoarse whisper filled with shrouded rage. “Okay. I’ll be here.”

His fingers spread into my hair, and he pulls me in to kiss him. It’s a kiss strangely fraught with longing. Longing for what? I’ve been here.

Suddenly, his lips move faster and more firmly against mine. I know his kisses. He wants more. Nevertheless, his conversation with Ricky is like a dash of cold water.

I jerk my head and breathlessly say, “You should go, so you’re not on the road too late.”

He breathes hard over me and slowly nods against my forehead. Is he going to ask me to blow him? I’m in a biting mood.

“I’ll call you when I get to the hotel.” He kisses my forehead and leaves me alone with his lies.

Monday after work, Shane still takes it easy on me, physically at least.

“You’ve lost yet another two pounds.”

My nose crinkles along with my forehead. “You’re on crack.”

“That’s extreme.”

“I’m supposed to be losing weight.”

“Not this fast, and as I’ve told you before, we’re building muscle tone, so you should be gaining weight.”

I widen my eyes. “No, thanks.”

Ignoring me, he glances down to his ever-present clipboard. “Your bruise hinders your abdominal exercises, so we’ll work on your legs and arms.”

“Excellent news,” I drone.

“Are you eating?”

“Yes.” He eyes my body, and I automatically fold my arms to hide.

“Did you see your doctor?”

I incredulously look at him. “For my bruise? Um, yeah. The ER.”

He shakes his head. “No. For your rapid weight loss.”

“No. It’s not a problem.”

“If it continues, I won’t train you anymore until you see a doctor.”

“I’m fine. It’s wedding stress.”

“It could be autoimmune.”

“Isn’t that something my car can have?”

He laughs, and I’m flabbergasted. Shane Parker laughs? I thought he was missing that gene.

“No. You could have a disease where your body attacks itself.”

“Oh.” I thought I attacked myself enough. Now my own body wants to join the gangbang. Fabulous.

Tuesday morning, I stare at the cemetery from my desk. I just received a good-morning email from Finn, and I have yet to respond. We barely said anything on the phone last night. I’m afraid I’ll blurt out that I know about his secret trips with Ricky to fall off buildings.

There’s a knock at my door, and I swivel my chair to see Morgan, perturbed. She asks, “Have you talked to Rod this morning or last night?”

“No. Why?”

“Amos just said Rod called him last night, saying his sister isn’t doing well, and he’ll need time off. Rod left for North Carolina before work this morning to be with her.”

My heart pounds, and I sit up straight. “Eden is that bad?”

“She’s in the hospital with pneumonia again, and he’s afraid she won’t make it.”

“Oh, my God.”

“I wish there were something we could do for him,” Morgan says, walking to the window, Rod’s regular observation spot. “The stupid jerk shouldn’t be alone.”

He’s not the only one alone. “I’m going down there.”

Morgan turns away from the window. “What? You’re driving to Durham today?”

“Yeah. He needs a friend.”

“What will Finn say?”

“He’s out of town. He comes home tonight, but he leaves again tomorrow morning and returns Sunday. That’s why he’ll miss our first game.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay with this?”

“His sister is dying. He shouldn’t mind. He’ll be out of town anyway.”

“Where’s Val?”

I shift to my computer to close out my work. “Out for the day. She has meetings this morning, and then she’s visiting Ali later this afternoon. I think they’re getting massages and their nails done. I’ll leave a note on her desk, telling her I’m taking a couple of vacation days to help Rod. She’ll understand. She loves Rod.”

Morgan laughs. “And you. You’re like her daughter.”

“I wish she were my mother. Her kids are lucky.”

I visit Amos for the name of the hospital and for Rod’s dad’s address. I map out my three-hour drive. Needing to get home to throw a bag together, I shut down my computer, pick up my directions, and grab my purse.

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