Rush me, p.70
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       Rush Me, p.70

         Part #1 of New York Leopards series by Allison Parr
 
Page 70

  He robbed the breath from my lungs, and I had to fight to fill them again with oxygen. “Ryan,” I said, just a whisper, but it cut through the sudden silence like a shout. Ryan’s head jerked up, and his face, flushed with exertion and excitement, paled, making his eyes stand out even more. This time, they made me think of the Arctic sky. I licked my lips, unable to think of what to say.

  And then the reporters burst out talking. “You’re not dating Carter, are you?” Tanya demanded, while Bruges kept stuttering, sounding outraged at having missed out on the news. There was a camera at my shoulder, a microphone in my face, and then Keith was yelling at the reporters and Dylan wrapped an arm around my shoulders, dragging me forward while Mike warded off people on my other side. I stumbled blindly as they pulled me toward Ryan. Part of me wanted to dig my heels in and resist; I didn’t want to move an inch toward Ryan. I didn’t want to be the one to make the first move.

  But I already had; I had set all of this in motion, I had made the press badge, I had lied and snuck and ended up here. And now I was a foot from Ryan, and the others were retreating, forming a wall against the reporters.

  “Hello,” I said stupidly.

  He blinked, long gold lashes sweeping against his cheeks. “What are you doing here?” His voice was low, but not, thank God, emotionless.

  My mouth hitched up. “Well, you wouldn’t answer my calls. And your doorman turned me away. So I figured this was my best chance of seeing you. ”

  “And why would you want to?” he asked harshly, and then he blinked again, and his face resettled with cold calm. “I’m trying to make this easier for both of us. ”

  I opened my mouth, and then closed it. “What does that mean?”

  He groaned and raked a hand through his hair. “Rachael. Do you honestly think we could have a clean cut? Us? No, we’ll yell and scream and break each other down and rip our claws through whatever’s left. And it will hurt like hell. And I don’t want to go through that again. So the best thing to do is to just call it off without the messy fight. ”

  I took a deep breath. “But I don’t want to call it off. ”

  His face tightened for a half second. “What?”

  I stared at the floor for a good, long moment, and then forced my gaze to his. This was the kind of thing you looked into a person’s eyes to say. “I love you. ”

  “What?”

  I hurried on. “And I know we’re really good—too good—at ripping into each other, but I think it’s because we’re both defensive and don’t really know what we’re doing—” I stopped, wincing. As a profession of love, that pretty much sucked. “At least I don’t. ” I shook my head and stared at our feet again, at my little black boots and his big woodsy ones. “I don’t know how to do this, and I get hurt sometimes, and then I want to hurt you back and since I know your weak spots it’s really easy, but I honestly don’t think you’re a dumb jock, I think you’re one of the most intelligent people I know, and I love that you play for the Leopards, and I’m so proud of you, and even though we fight, I don’t know, I still want to be with you even if we have to spend half our time trying to figure out what we’re doing—which I don’t think we will, because I think once we air this all, hopefully we won’t be on tenterhooks so much—”

  “Rachael. ”

  I snapped my mouth closed, pressing my lips together so tightly they ached. That was the worst profession of love in history. Anyone else would have been elegant and poised and won back their lover within a sentence, and all I had achieved were blazingly hot cheeks, a hollow, sick ache in my chest, and tears in the back of my eyes. I had messed up.

  His hand, warm and calloused, brought my chin up. I kept my gaze pointed down, blinking several times to force back the tears, until the silence became too much. I looked up, worried and afraid of what I would see, but almost instantly I met Ryan’s eyes, soft as spring, curved up at the corners, just like his lips. “Rachael,” he said again, my name coming slowly from his lips. “Did you say you loved me?”

  I swallowed and jerked my head just the tiniest bit. Yes. Somewhere in there, I had said that.

  His smile widened, growing slowly until it had touched every feature on his face, altering it into a portrait of happiness. It kindled a similar, shy warmth in my belly, which dared to blossom as his smile did. “I love you, too. ”

  “Really?”

  He brushed a strand of hair off my forehead. “Even if I don’t know anyone else who would use ‘tenterhooks’ in an actual conversation. ”

  I burned even redder. “I’m sorry everything spiraled out of control at the reunion. I still don’t know what to do. But I don’t want to break up. ”

  “Rachael. ” This time, it made me stop talking. He closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose, where furrows had suddenly showed up. “So much of that was my fault. I shouldn’t have left. I shouldn’t have accused you of thinking like Thomas. ” When he opened his eyes again, they were clear, and locked on mine. “Part of it was jealousy, but mostly I was nervous around all your friends. And I was afraid I wouldn’t live up to your family’s standards, and I just. . . I don’t do well when I’m uncomfortable. ”

  “No. ” I let out a little laugh. “But I shouldn’t have gone off like that either. I just get these knee jerk reactions and I wanted to hurt you. I’m sorry. ” I darted a look up at him with a small smile. “Though, you know, we might have to work on this whole violent, possessive thing. ”

  “Are you serious?” Ryan said. “I showed great restraint, didn’t I? I didn’t punch the guy. ”

  I drew away and gave him a flat look. “Seriously? I believe you chewed me out and then refused to—uh—”

  He smirked. “It’s nice you still blush. ”

  “Shut up. That was not okay. And—” I hesitated. “Did you think I was rejecting you? Because I wasn’t. And I got a job and I’ll come to more games and—I’m so serious about you, Ryan. I don’t want you to think that I’m not. ”

  He looked away, and when he spoke his voice was strained. “You may have noticed that I don’t tend to hang on to relationships very long. ”

  I called up his backlog of famous, beautiful girlfriends. “I’d noticed. ”

  “Part of it—Malcolm pointed this out in great detail the other day—is because I tend to date the same girl. Over and over again. And they’re boring, and so we break up. But you were—different. And I thought you were—out of my league. ”

  I stared at him. Me? Out of Ryan’s league? That was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. I was pretty sure he was the millionaire sports star.

  “Because you cared about all these other things,” he hurried on. “I’m not usually in a position of ignorance, and it scared me. Made me think you might look down on me. ”

  “Ryan, I—”

  “Just let me say it, okay? This is embarrassing enough. ” He took a deep breath. “So when I saw you kissing Thomas—Thomas kissing you—I kind of snapped. It sort of reaffirmed it in my mind. Because even though everything had gone really well until then, even though I’d thought your family liked me, and your friends, and I liked all of them—well, you were still choosing this other guy.

 
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ALLISON PARR SERIES:

New York Leopards