Rush me, p.17
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       Rush Me, p.17

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 17

  He made a noise between a scoff and a snort. “You forgot the drugs, the depression, the stress on families and relationships. It has to be the game. ” He shook his head. “Sixty-five percent of players retire with injuries. Even more go broke. Almost everyone’s forgotten. ”

  “I don’t understand. ” I waved at the apartment. “How can you go from a place like this to—nothing?”

  “I told you, I’m one of the lucky ones. Most guys don’t have endorsements, but they do have medical bills and families to take care of and lifestyles to pay off. ”

  “So why do you do it?” I asked again. “Why don’t you play somewhere quieter?”

  “How do you turn down the NFL?” he asked, not unkindly. “You don’t. And even with the lows, there’re all those highs. ” His face softened, his gaze going inward. “And isn’t that better than a life of mediocrity?”

  “Couldn’t you find highs somewhere else?”

  He shrugged. “I haven’t yet. ”

  I thought about Malcolm’s would-be fiancée, the tall, beautiful woman from the pictures in his room. Did she worry about him every Sunday? “What about a relationship?” I asked. “Couldn’t that be just as worth it?”

  He dried his hands on a washcloth. “Why? Looking for a ring yourself?”

  “No, of course not. ” I hopped up and busied myself wiping down the table. “I don’t even like rings. ”

  He snorted, and when he spoke he sounded starkly skeptical. “Sure you don’t. ”

  “I don’t. I think they’re ridiculous,” I shot back. His response rubbed me the wrong way, as though he thought every girl sat around dreaming of a chunk of rock. “I don’t even like the idea of engagement rings. They’re like peeing on a fire hydrant. Guys marking their property. ”

  He laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

  I turned around to face him. “No, I’m not. Besides, they’re stupid. You know why diamond engagement rings are so important? Because of a stupid ad campaign to sell more diamonds in the thirties. ”

  “So we can blame your ad agency boyfriend,” Ryan slotted in.

  “And because they were a form of financial security. Because women were supposed to be virgins when they got married, but by the thirties, they were usually sleeping with their fiancés before the wedding. So if the guy broke it off, women were considered ‘damaged. ’ How screwed up is that? So expensive rings were given so that women knew they weren’t just being lured into bed, and if they were, at least they could sell the ring for money after they were ruined. It was practically a trade for their virginity. It’s disgusting. ”

  Astonishment rounded his sky-blue eyes as he shook his head. “How do you know all that?”

  “I read a lot. Especially feminist blogs. ”

  “Shocker. ”

  “Not to mention dirty gold. ” I started to really get into my rant. “Most wedding bands produce twenty tons of environmental waste. ”

  Ryan held up a hand. “Okay. So you’re saying that if Mr. Draper offered you a ring, you’d tell him it was disgusting and send him away?”

  The idea of John proposing derailed me. “It wouldn’t happen in the first place. ” If he proposed to anyone, it would be his girlfriend.

  “Why are you even dating this guy? Wait. Don’t tell me. ” He raised his brows and smirked, clearly trying to make me uncomfortable. “You’re in it for the sex. ”

  I flushed and looked aside. I wasn’t, because I wasn’t in it. I’d gone out with John because I thought we were dating, and it was only after his girlfriend showed up that I realized he was simply using me as a convenient lay.

  But I hadn’t exactly been considering getting a drink with him for the pleasure of his company.

  “You’re kidding me. ” Ryan gaped at me after I’d been silent too long. “I don’t believe it. ”

  Oh, bad move, Ryan. “Why not?” I lifted my chin. “Your friends just finished telling me about all the girls you take home. Why’s it different for me?”

  “Because it’s you. There’s no way you’re comfortable screwing around with random guys. ”

  Blood skipped my cheeks and rushed past my ears, speeding up my heart with anger. “Why do you say that like it’s so impossible? You have such a double standard. Guess what? We aren’t in the 1930s anymore. Women can sleep with as many people as they want to, and it does not make us sluts while it makes guys heroes. Okay? Do you have a problem with that?”

  “I’m not talking about women. I’m talking about you. ”

  I glared at him. “You don’t know anything about me. ”

  He leaned his hip against the counter, gaze fastened on me. “It’s either not something you do, or you’re playing coy. ”

  I refused to gape, even though I wanted to. What did coy even mean anymore? It conquered up images of Betty Boop, flitting her lids at unsatisfied suitors. “I’ve never played coy. ”

  “So let me get this straight—you don’t play games, and you’re comfortable sleeping around, even with guys like your ad man who you don’t particularly like. ” He raised his brows. “Which means the only reason you wouldn’t sleep with a guy you’re crazy attracted to is if you actually are worried about society’s standards, since it doesn’t bother you, personally. ”

  Wait, how had I gotten into this tangle? Now if I said I wouldn’t sleep with him I’d basically be weakening my argument for sexual equality. “Maybe I’m just not attracted to you. ”

  His lips curved, his eyes chastening me for lobbing such an easy ball. “Bull. ” He polished off his drink, and even his throat was corded and golden. “Admit it. You have issues. You’d never just sleep with a guy for fun. Probably made the ad boyfriend up. ”

  “I did not!” I shouted. The words echoed in the huge room. “For all you know, I sleep with a different guy every night!”

  He put down his wine glass and stepped over to where I leaned against the kitchen island. “Go ahead then. Prove me wrong. ”

  I wanted to. I wanted to wrap my fingers around the back of his neck and pull him forward. I wanted to dig my fingers into his hair, scrape my nails down his back, feel his lips on my mouth and my ear and my neck. I wanted him.

  He knew it, too, and his mouth curved in victory. His eyes locked on mine, heady with desire, as he angled his head down. “I thought so,” he whispered, his breath soft and touched with wine.

  He thought what?

  He thought I was messing with him. Playing games.

  And he had just manipulated the hell out of me. I twisted away.

  He jerked back. “What the hell?” The strain in his voice made me glance up. For a second, he looked bewildered, but he quickly masked it with anger. “Are you serious?”

  “This just isn’t a good idea. ”

  “Really,” he said flatly. “Why the hell not? You’re attracted to me but you won’t even kiss me?”

  “You’re right. I have issues. Happy?” And I was furious he’d tried to play me into sleeping with him. I grabbed my purse and my jacket. “I have to go. ”

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards