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“You can do that here, probably more so.” My voice was soft and I wasn’t sure if she even heard me.

She suddenly snapped the ball hard at me and I caught it with an “oof.” It was quickly followed by a grunt as her smaller body barreled into my surprised frame as she took me to the ground in a really effective tackle. She straddled my waist and put her hands on my chest so that she was hovering over the top of me and looking down directly into my stunned eyes as she reached up to pull my sunglasses off of my nose.

“I want to. Leave a mark, I mean. I want to leave one on the shop for Phil and because I think you guys are doing his legacy proud.” She leaned down a little and I knew there was no way she could miss the hard ridge that she was currently sitting astride. If the football wasn’t trapped between us we would practically be lying on top of one another. “I want to leave a mark on you as well, Rowdy.”

I grunted and shifted the ball out of the way so I could wrap one of her braids around my hand and tow her toward me. “You did that a long time ago, Salem.”

She shook her head side to side and bit her lip again. She was going to kill me with that. It took her from sinfully sexy to sweet and soft.

“Not a scar, not a wound . . . a mark. Something good. I want you to have good memories of me like I have of you.”

I got her close enough that I could get my teeth in the plump curve of her lip where she had just been biting it. She groaned into my mouth and I felt her fingers curl in the fabric of my T-shirt.

“Spend the weekend with me, Salem.”

Her obsidian eyes went a shade darker if that was possible. This time there was no indecision. Poppy was nowhere to be seen because all Salem could see was me and the desire I had for her flooding my gaze as I pleaded with her through my eyes.

“Okay.” Her voice was just a husky whisper but it was the sweetest thing I has ever heard.

I had to tell her, “Nice tackle, by the way.”

She pressed a laughing kiss to my mouth and climbed to her feet.

“I’ve been waiting to tackle you for years.”

Good . . . because I couldn’t wait to return the favor and I was refusing to think about what it was going to do to me when this stopped being fun, when this stopped being her new adventure, and she decided it was time to move on. She was here for a reason, she was here for me, and I fully planned on enjoying her while it lasted. I already had marks from her, I would surely survive the next set she left . . . especially if they included claw marks on my back from all the things I was planning on doing to her in bed.

I was lucky she had come here for me but knew that my good fortune rarely held out when it came to matters of my heart.



I THOUGHT ONCE ROWDY secured my agreement to spend the weekend with him he would wrap up our time at the park and hustle me off to the closest horizontal surface he could find. Like always he was determined to throw me a curveball, and after a very steamy and not-at-all-appropriate-for-puppies-or park-patrons make-out session that had me all flushed and turned on, he got to his feet and grinned down at me.

“Not the right time or place for that, Salem.”

I just gazed up at him, a little drunk on lust, as he scrounged up a tennis ball for Jimbo and decided the dog made a better fetch partner than I did. I just watched the two of them in silence for a while, mostly because at some point it got really hot and Rowdy took his T-shirt off, which meant I couldn’t look away even I wanted to. I pulled my knees up to my chest and rested my chin on top of one to enjoy the view.

There was nothing little boy about him anymore. He was all hard lines on a lean frame covered in strong muscles and bright ink. I had Internet-stalked him enough to know that when he played football he had been a lot bigger, wider, and more bulked up with muscle, but now he was more streamlined he looked more like an underwear model than a professional athlete. All those corded muscles that ripped across his chest and abs were covered with a layer of scrolling tattoo work that put most of anything else I had ever seen and worn myself to shame.

To go along with the unforgettable anchor that glimmered with a sexy sheen of sweat on the side of his neck, he also had a massive pirate ship tattooed on the center of his chest. It was immersed in a raging storm and fighting blue waves that were the same color as his brilliant eyes. Across the top of the ship, in the masts, was a waving banner with the words GUIDE ME HOME in tattered script and it broke my heart for him. Below the ship was an impressive sea monster with tentacles and mean eyes looking to pull the boat deep into the sea. It was a massive story told across his flesh in a truly beautiful way.

He also had the name “Gloria” in huge letters all along his ribs on one side and it would have really rubbed me the wrong way if I hadn’t known Gloria was his mother’s name. Each giant letter had cute little cherub angels holding it up. On his back on the opposite side of the memorial tattoo was a pinup girl that ran from his shoulder all the way to the top of his low-riding jeans. She was dressed like a pirate and I swear she was smirking at me while I drooled over him every time those muscles tensed and flexed as he threw the ball.

He had sleeves tattooed on either arm. One actually similar to my own and covered with really traditional, old-school, sailor-style work. The other, though . . . it was probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen put on someone’s skin in ink. Around his bicep and down to his elbow was a mélange of Monet’s water lilies. The tattoo looked like someone had plucked the oil painting off the wall and wrapped it around his arm. From his elbow down to his wrist was a re-creation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. They were just beautiful and seemed like they should be out of place on such a rock-and-roll guy that used to be a jock. But no, on Rowdy the classic works of art not only fit, they served to make him even more stunning and interesting.

When he made his way back to me he was carrying my worn-out but obviously very happy puppy. He also wasn’t alone. Three teenage boys trailed behind him staring at him in obvious admiration. He handed Jimbo to me and pushed his Ray-Bans to the top of his golden head.

“They’re one short for a game. Do you care if I play with them real quick?”

I shook my head. Really I think they wanted to use Rowdy to impress the gaggle of teenage girls that had collected close by.

“Nope. How about you go be a boy and I’ll head back to my apartment and make some lunch real quick? I’m hungry and Jimbo looks like he needs a nap.”

One of Rowdy’s blond brows shot up and the corner of his mouth hitched up in a grin. “Go be a boy?”

I flicked my hands toward the waiting teenagers and pulled my sunglasses down so that I could look at him over the rim.

“You know, go roll in the dirt and get all sweaty and stuff. Go relive your glory days.”

I got to my feet and put my squirming dog down so that I could reattach him to his leash. Rowdy reached out and tugged on the end of one of my long braids.

“Something tells me my glory days are just starting.” Well, shit. Wasn’t that just enough to have my heart doing a slip and slide all the way to my toes and back to the center of my chest?

“I’ll see you in a little bit.”

He turned away and I heard the boys’ excited chatter and the teenage girls’ collective sigh. I couldn’t blame them. Watching him move while he was only half dressed was definitely a show not to be missed.

I got back to the apartment and gave the puppy some water. I decided I needed to take a shower since I was covered in sunscreen and had bits of grass stuck to me from sitting on the ground all afternoon. When I got out of the shower I put on a sundress that was fitted on top but flared out at the waist—very June Cleaver style—and left my hair wet and unstyled and my feet bare. I was so used to being polished, all shiny and perfect, that being casual at home was just starting to feel comfortable. My quirky and polished style was the armor I wore to show the world and in some way, my dad, that I could look how I wanted, act how I wanted, and still be a successful, beautiful person entirely of my own making. It was strange that Rowdy seemed to prefer the scrubbed-down, bare version of me but I wasn’t going to complain. Looking flawless and put together all the time took a lot of work and sometimes I just didn’t want to put forth the effort.

I never really shared what had happened after I left Loveless with anyone. I had learned some hard lessons and made choices I wasn’t exactly proud of, but I had made it on my own and that was something I would never let anyone take away from me. I never had to go back or ask my parents for anything and that alone was enough to shadow the shame and regret that was attached to some of my more impulsive decisions. I carved my own path when it would have been so much easier to relent, and I had done it with my own style and my own flair, which was why I had decided it was okay for me to live my life on my own terms even if that meant not staying in any one place for very long.

That was part of what was confusing me about this situation with Rowdy. I never hesitated to go after what I wanted, to make my intentions known. But he was tangled up in the past and he had cared deeply for someone I loved irrevocably and that just made the whole mess so complicated that it made my head hurt. Even if Poppy hadn’t returned his feelings, I didn’t like the idea that I was just a substitute for the sister that had gotten away from him. I had way too much to offer to settle for being anyone’s fill-in. This time just doing whatever I felt like didn’t seem like it was going to come consequence free.

I was scrounging around in the fridge looking for something to make for lunch and the pickings were slim. I wasn’t exactly a gourmet cook and I lived right off one of the main roads that ran through Denver, so spending time in the kitchen wasn’t something I did very often. I decided that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some potato chips were going to have to do and figured Rowdy would be all right with it considering our entire day had been spent reliving moments from our youth. I was putting the sandwiches on a plate when there was a sharp knock at the door that had Jimbo rousing from his nap and barking.

I pulled to door open while I was licking the last of the peanut butter off the knife. Rowdy was propped up on the other side, still missing his shirt and even more rumpled and sweaty than he had been an hour ago when I left him in the park. His shirt was hanging like a tail out of the back of his jeans and all the ink that covered him was glistening like wet paint across his smooth skin. His blond hair was messy and falling across his forehead and his aqua-colored eyes were blazing like a beacon out of his face.

I let the hand with the knife fall to my side as we stared silently at each other. His gaze drifted over my damp hair, across my startled face, and down to my bare feet. He took one step inside the door, which forced me to take one back.

“Did you win?” I sounded shaky and nervous even though I didn’t really feel uncertain. I was way more along the lines of breathless and needy.

“Oh, I think I’m about to win for sure.” A sexy smirk pulled at the edges of his mouth. “Do you have anything on under that dress?”

It was a bold question followed by him taking the knife from me and tossing it dangerously in the direction of the kitchen. It clattered loudly as it landed in the sink, and even that wasn’t enough to drown out the sound of my heart pounding loudly in my ears. He was totally in my face and I knew that sandwiches were no longer on the menu for lunch.

I was.

“Why don’t you find out for yourself?” I could play this game with him. After all, there had to be an offense and a defense in order for there to be a game in the first place.

He growled at me low in his throat and kicked the door shut behind him with the sole of his sneaker as he prowled toward me. He didn’t stop coming at me until we were pressed right up against each other. He smelled like the outside and the grass from the park. He felt hard and strong and any idea that this was still the boy next door melted away as the erection bulging at the front of his jeans came into contact with my stomach. His eyes burned hotter than the summer sky, and when he slid his hands around, underneath the thick fall of my still-wet hair, I felt like it was all too much and I was just going to melt in a puddle of anticipation and longing at his feet.