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Fourth and Inches​​

Prologue

One Love

 

 

Rob

Evie’s voice floats down the hallway to my ears. The lilting, familiar melody begs me to let go of the restlessness that’s plagued me for so many nights.

Sighing, I abandon my spot on the couch and succumb to her Siren’s call.

I stop at the doorway of our room.

From the king-size bed, her incomparable blue eyes pull me closer.

Her hair’s a rumpled mess, curls cascading down her bare shoulders, long enough now to cover her perfect breasts from my hungry gaze. The white sheets pool at her waist, hiding what I desperately want to taste.

My mouth waters; my tongue grows heavy. Deep thirst threatens to crack my control.

A soft smile on her lips promises my wildest dreams as she beckons me with a single, slender finger. “Come to bed.”

How can I resist that?

I only give her my back long enough to shut off the lamp on the nightstand. When I turn around, she’s gone.

“Evie?”

No answer.

I glance at the bed, excitement building in my muscles. The comforter is pulled up to the pillows, but the unmistakable form of a body beneath can’t be hidden by the darkness.

She wants to play tonight.

I love playful Evie.

Rather than give in to my animalistic urge to throw back the blankets and expose her, I climb on top of her petite body, grinding my erection against the juncture of her thighs until a soft gasp of pleasure gives her away.

Homing in on the exact location of the sound, I press my lips to the blanket and feel the damp heat of her breath through the layers of fabric.

“I love you,” I whisper.

Her answering giggles thrum through my body which tenses with anticipation of everything to come.

The tips of her fingers appear at the edge of the blanket, then she slowly pulls down the veil.

“Julie?”

Sharp green eyes stare back at me in disappointment. “Still lying to yourself?”

I jerk back in confusion, but she doesn’t move. Doesn’t speak.

Tearing the comforter and sheets off the bed in one pull, I search for the source of my joy which seemed so real.

The bed is empty.

Panic overwhelming reason, I spin in circles, searching the shadows in every corner of the room.

My skin dampens with sweat. A rough, scratchy sensation assaults my lips.

I open my eyes.

“Patch, no.” I push my annoying Calico off my chest and sit upright, scrubbing my hands over my face.

Ugh, cat saliva.

She jumps back onto my lap, then tilts her head at me.

“I know, I know,” I sigh. “I’m losing my damn mind.”

Her plaintive meow sounds as heavy as my chest feels.

“Yeah. You’re right. We’ll get through it. We just need more time.”

I wish I knew the specific number of days, weeks, months to get over it. Over her. I’ve been in Sacramento for three months. Been separated from Evie for eight. How much longer until my life goes back to normal?

I glance through the open door to the dark master bedroom. No movement catches my eye. No one’s there. Skeletons are the only things hiding in my closet.

I flop back down on the couch. The most expensive, buttery-soft leather money can buy isn’t enough to slow my racing heart, quench the burning in my chest, or ease the pain which spreads through my entire body.

Fumbling blindly for the remote on the coffee table, I ignore the glass of tequila that falls to the carpet. The big-screen television flickers to life with the push of a button, and with another press of my thumb, a familiar recording plays before my eyes.

“Mike Mitchell, you ran for a hundred and fifty-three yards tonight. If that’s not an amazing debut, I don’t know what is.” The blond reporter with a bright smile and wandering eyes places her hand on Mike’s thick arm. “What else do you have in store for Wolves fans this season?”

Mike responds with some scripted crap, but his patronizing lines aren’t what keep me coming back night after night. My eyes are drawn to the slight figure behind him on the sidelines.

I’ve watched these forty-two precious seconds of post-game more than any film in my life. I have no better idea how to play this off now than I did during the previous two hundred and sixteen viewings.

The bottom line never changes: She was at his debut game, not mine.

What was supposed to be our big moment—gone. Ripped away by bad decisions, ill timing, and years of pent-up trauma.

I’m sure Alex’s whole family traveled to Orlando for his first appearance in the NFL. Mike had Evie on the sidelines. And though I don’t see them on screen, I know his mother and sisters were there, too.

I only had Mom. The rest of my family wasn’t here.

As the television continues to replay the stolen moment, unmistakable pride blooms on Evie’s face. Her eyes laugh, dance, and sing in a way I haven’t seen in person for too long.

She seems so healthy, so happy.

Is it all another mask? More lies?

Without warning, her expression crumbles. Sadness replaces joy, her eyes shining with unshed tears even in the background.

I rewind the clip, searching for the source of her misery.

No one speaks to her. The few players milling around seem to ignore her existence. Her lips never move. She doesn’t make eye contact with anyone around her.

I’ve replayed the scene a million times, but I can never find the switch that trips her mood.

The unexplainable trigger has become my obsession.

Every night, I puzzle the possibilities in my head. The selfish part of me hopes my memory clouds her brain, the same way she refuses to vacate mine. If I have to suffer, then she should, too.

I can’t remember the last time I got a full night’s sleep.

Exhaustion shrouds my bones like a well-worn security blanket. With Patch curled up on my chest, my eyes grow heavy again. Sleep beckons with greedy fingers, so I turn off the television and welcome the darkness.

I’ve gotta take what I can get, when I can get it.

More dreams will wake me before dawn breaks the spell. I’ve been around the block enough times to know how this plays out.

More time, I tell myself. I just need more time.