Rush me, p.63
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       Rush Me, p.63

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
Page 63

  Ryan’s face shut down even more.

  My gaze flickered back and forth between the two, and then I dropped Ryan’s hand and hauled Thomas off by the elbow. “Thomas, I can handle this, okay?” I pitched my voice low as we approached the pool house door.

  “Rachael. . . ”

  “Thomas. I like you. You’re a good friend. But that’s my boyfriend. ”

  “Your violent, asshole boyfriend. ”

  I pushed the door wide and gave him a pointed look.

  He let out a long sigh. “Fine. Whatever. But, you know, if you’re not back in twenty minutes I’m going to come back for you. ”

  “Don’t you dare. ” I gestured him out. “Oh, and Thomas—if you’re looking for a rebound, I think Sara Milton is, too. ”

  “Ye of little faith,” he snorted, but I saw the flare of interest and the slight grin as he left.

  When I turned back to Ryan, his glacial expression hadn’t changed.

  I lifted my chin. “He kissed me. I didn’t kiss him. ”

  Ryan said nothing.

  “I was looking for you. And he followed me. We were talking about you, actually. And then he just—it was totally unexpected. ” My words blurred together at the end. Why wouldn’t he say anything?

  And then he did. “Okay. ”

  I stared at him. That was it? Okay? “So—it’s fine?” I hedged. He’d punched Matt Barrett in the face for leering at me.

  That wasn’t quite right. He’d punched Matt for winning the game, insulting Ryan’s skill at football and with women, and implying I’d wanted him. Still, if Ryan believed me, why wouldn’t he warm up?

  “I don’t care that he kissed you. ” I waited for my chest to unfold but it remained tight and tense as his expression. “I want to know if he was right. ”

  I flipped back through our short conversation. Right about what? Ryan couldn’t possibly think I was using him for his money, could he? The thought made me sick. “What are you talking about?”

  “Why haven’t you come to my games?”

  Utterly confused by this turn, I shook my head. “What? I’ve gone to some of your games. ”

  I watched his throat convulse. The blue lights of the pool flickered strangely across his face, shaded veils that waved over his skin. “But why won’t you go to the away ones?”

  “I don’t know. They’re far away. Besides, it’s super expensive to get out to all those places. ”

  “You know I’d pay. ”

  My stomach clenched. “I don’t want you to pay!”

  He shoved his hands through his thick golden hair, frustration clear in his voice and on his face. “And that’s what I just don’t get. Why are you always pushing me away? Why can’t I buy you dinner, or a taxi, or a plane ticket?”

  How did wanting to be financially independent constitute rejection? “Okay, first, the first two aren’t even in the same realm as the last. And second—because! I’m not a gold digger! I don’t want to use you for your money!”

  His head jerked up. “You think I don’t know that? You think I’m not perfectly aware you’d prefer I was like Thomas or John or some Williamsburg hipster in weather-inappropriate scarves?”

  “What is that even supposed to mean?” I rubbed my hands over my cheeks and kept my voice low because it hurt to force the words out. “What are you talking about?”

  He shoved a hand through his hair. “I just meant I know that you never wanted anyone like me. ”

  What did he mean, he knew I never wanted anyone like him? I stopped and stared into his proud, wide eyes, and felt my gut twist and tug my heart lower. He was intelligent and strong and funny and determined, but that wasn’t what he was talking about. Did he think I still saw him as I had that very first night? Had I been heaping insult to injury every time I didn’t go to a game? It hurt to think he didn’t realize how proud I was of him. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

  Ryan locked his hands behind his back, impossibly stubborn and proud. “And no one thinks you’re trying to use me. I want to spend the money. I don’t get why you won’t let me. ”

  “Because! I’m not—I don’t—” In my frustration and confusion, I couldn’t even think how to articulate. It wasn’t normal, at least not to me. Maybe Thomas was right—I wasn’t one of those girls. “I’m not a leech. I can support myself. ”

  I could tell by the slight narrowing of his eyes that he spoke to cut. “Your parents are supporting you. ”

  The truth sent heat creeping up my neck and hollowed out my stomach. I twisted my fingers together and blinked. “They’re my parents. I’m sort of their responsibility. ”

  “You’re twenty-three. ”

  I closed my eyes, swallowing against the ache in the back of my throat. “Well, what are you suggesting? That I should just rely on you for everything?”

  “Not everything, but when the disparity’s so obvious—”

  Oh, God. “I don’t care. I want to hold my own. I need to support myself, Ryan. It’s principle, it’s pride—”

  “For God’s sake, Rachael, you have to be reasonable. ” The derision in his voice made my back stiffen and my cheeks burn. “What happens if you move in with me? Are you going to insist on paying for half of the apartment, too?”

  My eyes snapped open and I glared at him. “What makes you think I’d move in with you?”

  He recoiled as though I’d hit him, and I watched him shutter all emotions. The satisfaction from gaining a point was buried by the growing sickness. “I get it. So what are we even doing here? If you don’t want to move in eventually or help each other or accept gifts—what the fuck are we, then, Rachael? Just some casual fling?”

  “Ryan!” I screamed, not sure how this had snowballed so quickly. “I’m not—I just brought you to meet my parents! You’re the one who treated this like it wasn’t serious!” I caught my breath.

  “Me? I had to cajole you into letting me come. You are so standoffish, so scared of letting anyone in—”

  Said the man who refused to introduce me to his family. What a hypocrite. “Fine,” I snapped. “Fine, I guess you’re right. I guess we aren’t anything. ”

  He scoffed and reached out for my wrist. “Don’t be—”

  I evaded him. “What? I am an adult, Ryan. I don’t want you to baby me or map out each of my Sundays until you retire or use your clout to find me a job. That’s not me. ” I shrugged. It hurt in the place behind my eyes, where tears begin. “Maybe Thomas was right. Maybe I’m just not cut out for your world. ”

  “Maybe you’re not trying. ”

  “You know what? I did try. And I’m done. I don’t want to have to deal with jock millionaires and weird values and unreasonable demands anymore. ”

  I watched the surprise and pain flash across his expression, and then his face hardened to granite. He took two lightning steps forward, stopping only a breath from me. His entire body trembled with suppressed emotion. “Then I’m glad I didn’t introduce you to my family. I don’t want them to have to meet some uptight elitist. ”

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New York Leopards