Rush me, p.7
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       Rush Me, p.7

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
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Page 7

  The doorbell rang. “Pizza!” the delivery guy hollered, and Abe jumped up to grab the door.

  Ryan Carter walked in.

  Chapter Four

  For the first moments, before he saw me, Ryan’s face lit up with a smile as he greeted his teammates. I swallowed. In my memory, his sculpted body and perfect jaw had been overwhelmed by his aggravating personality, but now his golden aura hit me in the gut. I crossed my arms and legs and leaned back on the couch. I wished Abe hadn’t jumped up to take the pizza away, summoned when Keith shouted “Rookie!”

  When he spotted me, Ryan’s lips compressed into thin white lines and his body tensed as he strode over to me. “What are you doing here?”

  “She’s watching the game with us. ” Mike stood and stretched before heading for the food. “She also plays a mean game of poker. ”

  I appreciated the supportive words. I didn’t appreciate that he’d just abandoned me to a pissed off quarterback, who now glowered down at me. “Right. You’re watching the game. ”

  I couldn’t stand without sliding up along him. “You’re in my space. ”

  He cocked a brow, and then dropped into Mike’s seat. His body radiated heat like a furnace, and I was overly aware of his leg an inch from mine. “Sorry about that. You’re in my friend’s apartment. Why?”

  “I forgot my scarf. ”

  He snorted. “Of course you did. ”

  “You’re so full of yourself. Do you honestly think I would leave something just so I’d be lucky enough to see you again?” I stood up. “I’m going to get some pizza. ”

  He caught one of my hands, wrapping his fingers around mine and applying enough pressure that my bones pinched. “We’re not done talking. ” He dragged me back down to the couch with alarming ease.

  I sat straight backed against the arm of the couch, my hand still trapped in his large warm one, and glared fiercely. “Look, I don’t know if you’re, like, ‘king’ of your little crew, but you can’t talk to people like that. ”

  He ignored me, leaning closer and using his size to intimidate. When he spoke, his rancor threw me. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing here, if you get off on mocking the guys. Maybe you think they’re all idiots, uneducated brainless jocks—”

  “No, I—”

  “But these are good men. And they don’t have to take any shit from some condescending bitch. ”

  “Stop calling me a bitch,” I said stiffly. “I didn’t say anything of the sort about them. I like them. ”

  Disbelief clouded his eyes, and he scoffed. “You don’t like me. ”

  “Yeah, well, you’re an asshole!”

  He hit me with a look heavy with mock-disappointment. “Language. ”

  I bit my cheek. I would not get into a “You-started-it” fight. “I’m getting pizza. ”

  “You don’t know the first thing about football. ”

  “Then I’ll learn. ” I jumped up before he could say anything else.

  When I came back, after eating my slices at the table safely ensconced between Dylan and Abe, Ryan had moved on to talk to Keith. I studiously ignored him, fixing all my attention on the game.

  Unfortunately, Ryan had been right, and while the guys occasionally explained pockets and safeties and drives, they usually broke off to cry out at the screen. Without much idea of how the game worked, my mind kept wandering. The rising and falling voice of the announcers lulled me into daydreams, while the football-tracking cameras worked as well as any hypnotist’s pendulum. I shook off sleep and slid my view from the screen, covertly studying the players here. They treated each other with an easy familiarity, even Abe, who they called Rookie. He fetched drinks and food without complaint.

  “Hey, bring me a Hawaiian,” Keith yelled during intermission. Halftime, whatever. When he realized he’d received the last slice, he offered it to me. “You get enough?”

  “Thanks. ” I was surprised and pleased by his solicitousness. “But I’m good. ”

  Abe plopped down beside me. “It’s trafe. ”

  Oh, shit. I hadn’t even thought of that. I was such a bad Jew.

  “Ham and cheese isn’t kosher,” Abe explained when Keith kept staring at him blankly. “And Rachael’s Jewish. ”

  “Is that right?” Ryan looked directly at me for the first time in ages.

  “Yeah. ” Abe leaned back into the couch. His tall, heavily muscled frame took up half the space. “She’s adopting me. We’re going to have Rosh Hashanah with her family. ”

  Ryan’s eyes narrowed, and his head tilted very slowly. “I want to talk to you for a minute. ” He rose to his feet and heading toward the back of the apartment.

  When I didn’t follow, the other guys looked my way. “What?” He couldn’t just drag me around like a rag-doll.

  Mike shrugged philosophically. “Just good manners to hear a guy out. ”

  With a scowl, I got up. Ryan had left the door to the side room open, and when I stepped in, he slammed it behind him.

  “Seriously?” His calmness vanished, leaving the fury I’d seen when he’d first entered the apartment. “What are you doing? You’re inviting Abe for your holidays? What do you want?”

  My pulse jumped. “I don’t want anything!”

  “He’s twenty-one years old. You’re not going to take advantage of him. Is that your game? Is that why you were really in Malcolm’s bedroom the other day?” With each question, he hemmed me in against the wall. Anger sharpened the planes of his face.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. ” I backed up until I stood flush against the wall. I was acutely aware of how his T-shirt stretched taunt over his broad shoulders, and of the restrained tension in his powerful arms.

  “Right. You’re not trying to catch a rich boyfriend. ” Disbelief colored his voice. “Why the hell would a girl who doesn’t like ball spend an afternoon watching a game if she doesn’t want something out of it?”

  For God’s sake. “You’re disgusting. And give me some credit. If I was trying to catch a football player, I wouldn’t exactly admit that I thought you were a total cretin, would I?”

  He cocked his head. “You’re just digging yourself in deeper. So then what are you doing here?”

  “I forgot my scarf. What part of that is too complicated for your thick skull? Or do you have so little experience with women that you just assume we’re all incapable of anything but panting over you?”

  His unkind laugh matched the gleam in his eyes. “Oh, trust me, sweetheart. You don’t want to go there. ”

  He was too tall, too broad, and I kept taking quick gasps and still not managing to catch enough oxygen. I breathed in the heady combination of cedar and soap and masculinity, and it unnerved me as much as my erratically beating heart. “Get away from me. ”

  When he only smiled, I shoved him as hard as I could. His chest felt like marble. He caught my wrists, holding them high until I stood on my tiptoes, teetering toward him. I felt overheated and dazed, and his eyes lidded halfway. The air between us shimmered.

  He only had to tilt his head down and he could kiss me. I caught my breath.

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New York Leopards