Igniting the Wild Sparks, Book 3

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Chapter 9

“Hadley, where are you?”

From my bed, I stare at the TV, not really watching it.

Not only was my boyfriend going to faux propose to me last night, but today is Mother’s Day. The worst day of the year. “I’m not coming to practice, Morgan.”

“Is it because of last night? I’m sorry. Did you two fight?”

“You could say that.”

“What did he say?”

I keep Finn’s sarcastic proposal to myself since Morgan will revive her Dump Finn campaign. Sighing in frustration, I rub my eye and sit up. “He wasn’t happy. Has he asked where I am?”

“He’s away from everyone, talking to Ricky, and he has said nothing to us. He genuinely looks upset.” Poor Finn Wilder didn’t get laid last night. My sympathies.

I say, “Don’t tell him you talked to me. Let him stew a little.”

“He hasn’t called?”

“No.”

“Get here and talk to him after practice.”

“I don’t want to fight with him anymore.”

“We need you here. I have huge news.”

I kick at the sheets and scoot to the edge of the bed. “I only play outfield. What’s your news?”

“I moved my wedding! The hotel offered me a wedding on the fourth! They’re even taking a thousand bucks off! I can’t pass that up! It’s a better date because I’m gaining weight already.”

I smack my pillow and shriek, “Morgan! Two weeks? How will we get this together in time?” Shit! I still have to get with Tonya about Morgan’s shower.

“Chill! I’m supposed to worry! Tonya’s handling the invitations since she does calligraphy. The hotel is taking care of most of it, anyway. They will alter our dresses in time. Only my closest family and friends will be there, plus Ass Rod. It’ll be fine!”

A noisy static sound fills the phone, and Val’s voice takes over. “Babe, where are you?”

I smile at her concern. “I’m home.”

“Don’t you feel well?”

“Not really.” It’s not a lie.

“You and our coach had a fight, didn’t you?”

I sigh. “Yes.”

“I thought so. He looks out of sorts. No smiles, and he’s still talking to Ricky. I don’t think they’re talking shop, either.”

“I can’t be around him. I need to have some time to myself.” God. I may need to do the unthinkable and let Finn go. I’m a burden to him, and I can’t live like that. It’s not fair to either of us.

“Ooh! You can help me with my church rummage sale later! It’s next weekend, and I have to price so many clothes and toys!”

“That sounds fun.”

“Meet me at my church after practice. I’ll take a shower and then call you.”

“Val, you’re brilliant. It’ll be a good distraction .”

“And I would be so indebted to you!”

After hanging up with Morgan and Val, I put on jean shorts and a pink T-shirt. As I grab my shoes, my phone rings.

Noticing it’s Rod, I answer it with an unintentional terse, “What?”

“Where in the fuck are you?”

I roll my eyes and sit down on my couch. “Didn’t Morgan tell you I’m not coming?”

“Yeah, but I don’t listen to that skank. Get here.”

“Why? I think you can manage one practice without me.”

“Yeah, but your boyfriend is flipping out. He asked Morgan where you were. Then he left.” Oh, shit.

“He left practice?”

“Affirmative. I’m guessing he’s on his way to either talk you into coming here or coming on him.”

Jumping up in a rush, I retort, “As always, thank you for being my depraved lookout. I have to go.” Hanging up, I hurriedly step into my sandals and grab my car keys. I can’t face Finn after he humiliated me last night, using my ultimate weakness to make a cruel joke.

Upon exiting my apartment, I morph into a secret spy, swiftly heading to the elevator and then stealthily peering out the lobby windows for Finn’s car.

Dodging him, I hang out at a coffee shop about two miles away while I wait for Val’s call. As I take a sip of my cappuccino, my phone rings. Finn. I silence my phone, so I don’t fight with him in a public place.

I’m not handling last night well. Last night was the wakeup call I needed. Our relationship does have an expiration date. I fucking hate that, and I fucking hate that my proposal will need to be the catalyst. The ultimate ultimatum. As long as I don’t chicken out, I’ll make damn sure he understands we’re heading to the altar. And soon.

Val calls, and I meet her, using the directions she gave me since my car or phone doesn’t have GPS. I only took two wrong turns, but I eventually make it.

“Oh, babe. I’m so glad you’re here.” After Val hugs me, I look around the church’s basement at the considerable mounds of clothes and boxes strewn everywhere. We certainly have our work cut out for us.

“So am I. I have so much going on in my head right now. Wedding madness, with both Morgan’s and my brother’s this summer. I need to plan a bridal shower in two weeks. I can’t get ahold of her sister, who lives out of town. Finn and I are fighting… again. I’m so stressed that I want to cry, and I’m not even the bride!” Nope. Always a standby bridesmaid.

She puts her hand on my shoulder, and smilingly shakes her head. “I’ll help you! Don’t you worry! Why don’t we have her shower here? There’s a room here that will be perfect! We can throw together a nice shower. We’ll work on the details during the week. Showers aren’t that elaborate or too involved. You make some food, find some games to play, hand out prizes, and the bride-to-be opens gifts! I’ve helped throw plenty!”

“Really, Val? You’re such a lifesaver!”

You are for helping me!”

She guides me over to her temporary office amid the chaos. Our first task together is pricing baby clothes, which kicks my mind into overdrive.

Can I give up never having a baby with Finn? I don’t know.

Can I give up Finn? Never. If I can help it. But he may be happier without me.

“Babe, what’s wrong?”

I hold up little denim overalls. “Baby clothes. They’re cute.”

“Have you and Finn talked about a baby? Is that a bone of contention?”

I peel off a sticker from the sheet. “He doesn’t want kids.”

“Do you?”

“Yes, but only with Finn. I can’t imagine having kids with someone else.”

“He might change his mind. Men do it just as much as women. Sometimes they need a reality check.”

“Val, we had such a horrible fight last night. I can’t even talk to him.”

“What happened?”

I sadly regale to her about dinner and his bended-knee performance at his apartment. She gasps, “Babe! He finally proposed? Why are you just now telling me!”

I flinch at her optimism. “He didn’t. I mean, I think he was going to, but he was only mocking me.”

As I reach for a tiny T-shirt, she says, “Oh, I don’t think he was teasing.”

I look up at her in surprise. “You think he really would’ve proposed?”

She fervently nods. “Yes. You didn’t see him earlier. When Morgan told him you weren’t coming to practice, he tossed the clipboard to Ricky like a hot potato and took off.”

“Cara wasn’t there?”

“No. I had heard she had a graduation or something.”

“She’s after Finn. I know it.”

Val scoffs, “He isn’t interested in her. Anyone can see that.” She sighs. “He’ll come around, babe. Finn doesn’t know what he wants because he doesn’t know what he’s missing. Maybe you should take time away from him. Take a trip. With you here, he doesn’t get his own time to himself.”

“That sounds good. I’ll visit my dad after Morgan’s shower.”

I hope it works.

Finn didn’t call me last night. Still, I cried for over an hour, hearing his words in my head playing nonstop, tearing at my weary soul like one of those small garden forks.

Since Rod has been out of the office with Amos, I haven’t had my usual workday distraction, but Val and I work on Morgan’s shower throughout the day. Then, after work, I help her with the rummage sale.

Tuesday night, I call Finn, but he doesn’t answer. Why is he acting like the injured party in this?

Wednesday afternoon, Rhonda knocks on my office door. “Hadley, there’s a delivery here for you.”

“What is it?” I look from my computer screen to see her bringing a long, narrow box to my desk with a smile.

“Flowers from our coach, I’m assuming?”

Stunned, I answer, “I don’t know.” Opening the box, I find twelve red long-stemmed roses. I dig around and find a card.

To the stars.

I smile at the card as Rod walks into my office. Rhonda nervously fidgets, attempting to pull herself together. Oblivious to her impending giggle fit, Rod points his chin to the box. “What’s that?”

Setting down the small card, I say, “Rhonda handed me this bomb to defuse.” I gasp and throw my hands to my cheeks, sarcastically horrified. She giggles and flickers her eyes from Rod to the box, and then to the ground.

Putting his hands on his hips, he restrains a grin. “All right, smartass.”

Rhonda leaves, and I yell another thank you before turning to Rod. “I thought you were off with Amos?”

“I’m not off with him. Jesus. We weren’t holding hands and skipping through a meadow.” He glares at my laughter. “Anyhow, we’re taking a break.”

I nod to the box and tease, “Did you send me flowers?”

Rod scowls. “What the hell for? Thinking I’m gay? Putting poison stickers on my sandwiches? Skipping out on practice, leaving me without a partner? Making fun of my satchel? Laughing at my kite? Spitting coffee all over me? Yeah, right. I wouldn’t send you dead dandelions spray-painted blue.”

My face scrunches in confusion as I’m sucked into a Rodism. “What?”

He rolls his eyes. “You ought to send me a truckload of flowers for being a douche canoe.” He peers into the box. “Isn’t there a card?”

Tapping my finger on my chin, reveling in the opportunity to torment him again, I sneer, “Gee whiz, Rod. I didn’t even think to check. I’m so glad you came up with that.”

“Ha. You’re a regular Ellen DeGeneres. We all know who sent ’em to you. If you don’t, then you’re denser than a lead coffin. Our illustrious softball coach is majorly jonesing for you. It’s super-duper nauseating.”

Craning my neck, I aim my ear to the door. “I think Amos is calling you.”

“Calling me what?”

I sigh and wave him away. “Goodbye, Rod.”

As he backs toward the door, he pouts, “Fine. I’m going. So glad you missed me, Hadders. Oh, hey. If you want to give Wilder a speedy bang, there’s a dumpster in the alley. Don’t worry. I won’t post his junk everywhere. For now.”

Regarding him with uncertainty as I shake my head, I ask, “Why am I friends with you?”

Grabbing onto the metal doorframe, he grins while fluffing his brown hair. “For the witty banter, the phenomenal dancing, and the raw, animalistic sex.” Slowly nodding, he suggestively licks his lips, reminding me of how he licks ice cream from his mouth instead of using a napkin.

I cross my arms, holding back a laugh. “In your dreams, sleazebag.”

His eyes pop open, and he drones, “Or my worst nightmare.”

Goodbye, Greg.”

He laughs. “Later, Hadders.”

After he leaves my office, I call Finn before he goes on the air. I don’t expect him to pick up, but he does. “Becks! There you are! I’ve been calling and emailing you! Where’ve you been?”

I counter, “I’ve been calling you!”

“Becks, that phone… Anyway, we need to talk.”

“We are talking.” I almost hear his eyes roll. “Thank you for the roses. They’re beautiful.”

“You’re welcome. I miss you. I have to leave for a couple of days. I’ll be back on Saturday. Though I’ll miss practice.” At least one of us is leaving town.

Feeling a weight lift, I still frown. “Oh. Okay.”

He sighs. “Baby, I… We really need to talk.”

“You made yourself perfectly clear. Then you mocked me. I understand it quite well.”

He blows out a huff and speaks lower, “No, you don’t. That’s why we need to talk. This distance has got to stop. You’ve had enough time, haven’t you?”

“I don’t know.” I thought I did.

“Fuck, Becks. Are you kidding? I’m not allowed to see you during the week, and now you won’t talk to me. You can’t do this anymore.”

I sit down at my desk and lean my head against my hand, loudly whispering, “You’re not helping when you do this!”

Helping? You’re not helping by shoving me away.” I hear rustling as Finn turns from the phone and says something to someone. When he returns, he snaps, “I have to go to work. I guess I’ll see you when I see you.”

“Sparks.”

“Don’t.” The line goes dead, and I’m left listening to the heavy silence.

He hung up on me.

Tossing down my phone, I go online to bring up the live stream of Finn’s broadcast but have to wait for the commercial break to finish. When they come back, the camera is on Finn. His hair is perfectly styled, and he’s wearing a gray suit and a white shirt, accented by a green-and-gray-striped tie, along with an insta-smile. But I see the stress around his eyes. Finn Wilder can’t fool me.

His report is bland, which isn’t like him. He always charms his viewers. He could read an Arby’s menu, and it’d be hot.

At the gym, Shane is pleasant to me, although he informs me I’ve lost another two pounds. And that’s bad? Maybe he should go back to personal-trainer school.

When I get home, I call Finn, but he doesn’t answer. He wanted to talk, yet he won’t open his line of communication. He didn’t even tell me work is sending him.

Climbing into bed, I wait for him to call back, but he doesn’t. I turn off my light and again cry myself into a restless sleep.

As I lie on a bed, in the small room with dark tan walls and a white floor, I notice the machine next to me with equipment attached. I’m instantly creeped-out. When I move my arms and legs, straps restrain me. “Help! Finn!”

Suddenly, the door swings open, and Rod dashes into the room. “Hadders, I’ll help you. Please calm down.”

My panic rises at this bizarre situation, and I thrash against the restraints, and they dig into my skin. “What’s happening to me? I want Finn!”

“It’s okay. He’s here, but he can only stay for a minute.”

I abruptly stop resisting. “Why?”

“That’s the way it is.” Rod shrugs and runs out of the room, leaving me alone again. What is going on here?

A few seconds later, the door slowly opens, and Finn walks in, immediately shutting the door behind him. I’m so relieved. “Sparks! You’re here! I need you!”

Shoving his hands into his black pants pockets, he strolls over to the bed, looking me up and down. “You look like hell.”

“Please get me out of here!” I beg him as I fight against the straps.

He laughs, and then leans over me, propping his hands on either side of my body. His familiar, spicy cologne, the one that turns me on, floats over me. His brown eyes are hard and callous, nothing like the expressive, loving ones I’m used, and they flash when he lowly states, “You’re nothing but a liar. Why would I even help a bitch like you?”

This isn’t my Finn Wilder.

Astonished, I sputter, “I didn’t lie to hurt you! I just didn’t want you to think less of me because I took the Pill! I’m so sorry, Sparks! Please don’t hate me!” I sob. Tears seep out of my eyes, blurring my vision, but I can’t wipe them away.

He laughs, his bright white teeth sparkling against the backdrop of the drab room, yet his face darkens. “You should’ve seen your face when I got down on my knee.” He tilts his head. “It was fucking hilarious. You didn’t want to believe how much you wanted to believe it. What a sad conundrum.”

Heaving against the straps, I cry, “Finn!” I squeeze my eyes shut, praying to God that this isn’t real.

When I open my eyes, he’s closer. His insincere smile curtly disappears. “Don’t ever think I’ll marry you and give you my name. You’re trying to trap me. Why in the fuck would I want to have a damn kid with you? I can’t even trust you to take a damn pill.” His eyes flare with growing disgust. “Now, I’m going to fix your problem so I won’t make a mistake, shooting a load into you.”

Through my cries, I wail, “If you don’t trust me, why are you with me?”

“Because you’re an easy little whore who opens her pussy whenever I snap my fingers. But it’s a fucking disgrace that you won’t suck my dick.” I gasp, and he nods as an icy smirk creeps onto his face. “You’re an easy lay, though. I know the effect I have on you and the rest of the women I screw. You cream when I walk into the room. I don’t even have to leave money on your nightstand when I leave.” He cruelly laughs, to which I cry harder.

To escape, I close my eyes, but that doesn’t him. “You thought I’m in love with you?” I can only turn my head. However, with access to my ear, he whispers, “You’re even more fucking delusional than I thought. I hate you, Hadley Beckett. You make me want to jump off the New River without a parachute. Meeting your sorry ass in this hospital ruined my fucking life. It’s my turn.” He turns on the machine, and the loud humming makes me scream.

I violently awake in a flustered sweat, shaking and crying. Panicked, I glance around my bedroom to gain my bearings. That was the worst and most vivid nightmare yet. I still smell his scent and taste his hatred.

I get up to change my damp shirt and to drink a glass of water. After that dream, I can’t sleep, so I turn on the TV. Does Finn dream about me as he haunts my nightmares?

On Friday, since Finn isn’t at the station to host The Wild Side, they play his recent dare at the racetrack, where he drove the track, which he obviously had a blast, sporting a big grin afterward. He also interviewed some drivers and flirted with Finnatics on camera. One even asked to see his new tattoo. He politely declined, saying it’s difficult to take off his suit with the mic on. Is that the truth, or did he not want to think of me?

After showing his dare, the team’s interviews at the ball field follows. Our interview airs, and shockingly, he left in both of our kisses.

I thought I kissed him first, but after watching it and subsequent replays later, I may be wrong.

When the broadcast returns to the studio, Darren Matthews is initially speechless. He turns to Clare Weekly, a meteorologist.

“Did that just happen? Did we just see Finn kissing one of his softball players?”

“Darren, if you were paying attention, that was his girlfriend. You know, the one who inspired his tattoo?”

“I didn’t expect him to put it on display like that.”

“Why not? It’s daring of him. Apparently, they’ve been together for a long time. It’s nice to see him comfortable with admitting he’s been in a relationship.”

“I thought he had ten girlfriends.”

“I could tell he’s in love.”

“No way, Clare. He’s a huge flirt.”

“But he only has eyes for one woman. Let’s get one last look at the forecast.”

My eyes glaze over, and I swipe at them. Reaching for my phone, I call Finn, unsure of where he even is, but he again doesn’t answer or call me back.

Saturday morning, I help Val at the rummage sale before practice. It’s a roaring success, but my mind is on Finn. Though a part of me fears to see him after that nightmare.

An hour before practice, I go home and change into a pink T-shirt and black sweats. I check my phone, but no Finn.

“Hadley’s here!” Morgan shouts. Cara stands in front of the group, holding Finn’s clipboard. Just Cara? No Ricky to save us?

Cara announces, “Okay. Today we’re playing the field and taking turns at bat. When you’re done batting, you’ll temporarily fill the vacant position and allow someone else to take a turn, unless there’s another person who wants to fill it, since there are extra people. Crick and Rod will switch off. Got it?” She sounds super bored. We nod and drone a collective yes. “The only person not here is Brandon. Anyone want to fill his position?”

“I will,” I volunteer, attempting to be a team player.

Cara tosses me a fleeting look and nods, glancing back down at the clipboard. “Great. Rhonda, will you take left field?”

“Sure.”

Cara listlessly sighs. “Okay. Let’s get out there and warm up.”

“Hadders at shortstop. How fitting,” Rod declares, throwing his arm around me. “We need to change the position’s name to short stuff.”

I elbow him in the side, failing at keeping a straight face. “Ass.” He hugs me before shoving me away.

We warm-up for about fifteen minutes when Cara tells us to take our positions, and for one of us to come in to bat. Val volunteers first. Way to be a shining-star example, Val.

Taking my place at shortstop, I can’t help but grin. Only if Bethany was at third instead of Shasta. That was the best. We were such a team.

Val hits the ball to Crick, who sweepingly scoops the grounder and hurdles it to first.

“Well, darn it!” Val grouses with a laugh as the bat she’s holding wilts to the ground. I smile at her, but my initial enthusiasm for being in the infield is already wearing off, my longing for Finn smacking me head-on. I need to see him tonight… if he still wants to see me.

Shasta takes her turn and hits a fly ball in my direction. I run up and easily catch it. Everyone cheers, except for a frowning Shasta. I give her a quick, apologetic smile and scurry back to my position, not feeling sorry.

Rod then strides to the mound so Crick can bat. He takes the ball from Crick and pops the ball in the air a couple of times, instead of throwing some practice throws with our catcher, Amos. As Crick puts on a helmet, Rod tosses the ball into the air and glances over at me, smirking as he catches the ball without looking. Show off. I smile back and try again to concentrate.

Taking a handful of swings before he steps up to the plate, Crick hits the ball to the outfield, and Gloria ambles after it, but not before Crick rounds second. She throws the ball to Shasta, who drops it. She recovers the ball, but Crick makes it to third before her.

Rhonda takes her turn, shaking her ass a little too much as she gets into her batting stance. Does Rod notice her at all, because she’s putting on a show just for him. After four pitches, she finally takes one and makes it to Grant at first base.

Then, Gloria warily steps up, unsure what to do with a bat. Holy shit, we’ll be here all day. From the pitcher’s mound, Rod yells, “Come on, G Thang!” Gloria laughs, which is a rare sight. After six tires, she hits a slow grounder to Rod. He runs up, grabs the ball and wings it to Grant. Gloria never had a snowball’s chance.

From a bench, Cara drearily yells for Rod to go next. He hands the ball to Crick before putting on a helmet and grabbing a bat. With an expression similar to his serious dancing face, he crouches at the plate, ready for action. Crick lobs the first pitch and Rod swings but misses. Pissed, he cusses and steps back, now taking practice swings.

I sigh and stare at the dirt beneath my feet, not wanting to be here. I want to go to Finn’s and wait for him to get home. He said he wants to talk, and we need to. What will he say? What will I say? Is there anything left to even say? Will he break up with me for being a neurotic bitch to him, like he said I was in my dream? Will I cut him loose so he can finally be happy?

The crack of the bat urges me to pay attention, but it’s too late. The ball sails in a line drive and slams me in the abdomen, throwing me backward. As if in slow motion, I fly and then land on my back. Automatically, I curl into a ball and roll to my side as the pain shoots throughout my stomach and ribs. Barely able to breathe, I gasp for air.

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