The second the whistle blows, Hunter uses every dirty trick in the book to keep me trapped in the corner. I finally break free and get a shot off, but the sophomore goalie, Trenton, easily captures the puck with his glove and then tosses it in the air with a grin.
“Run it again,” Coach demands.
So we do. Once again manhandling each other in the corner. I manage to gain possession and drive the net, but before I can shoot, pain jolts up my arm as the fucker two-hands me in the wrist.
“What the fuck is wrong with—”
I don’t get to finish the sentence. The next thing I know, I’m flat on my back, the wind completely knocked out of me.
His gloves drop. A fist slams into my chest. My helmet slides off, and another fist connects with my jaw. I hear the cheers and shouts of our teammates. Some are egging us on, others trying to break it up. Someone tries to pull Hunter off me. It doesn’t quite work, but it gives me the opportunity to ditch my own gloves and unleash a few decent retaliation blows. But then Hunter punches me again, and I taste blood in my mouth.
Breathing heavily, we take a few more swings at each other, until Nate launches himself between us and forcibly shoves us apart. A couple of the other seniors come up and grab hold of each of us to stop us from attacking again.
“Well? You ladies work it out?” From his perch near the home bench, Coach Jensen sounds utterly bored.
O’Shea looks like he’s trying not to laugh. “Hit the showers,” he tells us.
I look down and notice the red droplets staining the ice. It’s my blood—I didn’t draw a single drop from Hunter. But I’m gratified to note that his cheek is beginning to swell. He’ll have a bruise tomorrow. I’ll have a split lip. Not quite even, but at least I left some damage.
I meet his hard gaze. “I’m sorry, man.”
I think he’s scraping his teeth together, because his cheeks keep hollowing in and out. “Yeah.” He shrugs. “I think you actually mean that.”
We stare at each other. Hunter’s legs slide apart as he gets ready to skate, and the seniors tense, prepared to break us apart again. But he doesn’t move toward me—he skates backward for several feet, eyeing me in thought.
Then he offers another shrug and rotates his body, leaving his discarded gear scattered on the ice behind him. He glances over his shoulder at me. “Don’t worry, Fitz. I’ll get over it.”
I’m not so sure about that.
Three Weeks Later
Six half-naked football players compete in a twerking contest while “It’s Raining Men” blasts out of the wireless speakers.
No, that’s not the setup for a raunchy joke.
It’s what Hollis and I come home to on this chilly Tuesday morning. We’d just finished practice and then grabbed breakfast at the diner in Hastings, because Summer said she needed the dining room and living room for her final fittings.
Hollis’ jaw falls open as he takes in the scene before him. “Is this the wrong house?” he asks me.
“Yeah, Rex!” Brenna is shouting from her spot on the armchair. She waves a dollar bill in the air, while Summer and a girl I don’t recognize laugh uncontrollably from the couch.
The star wide receiver of the Briar football team shakes his ass before sauntering over to Brenna and proceeding to give her a lap dance.
“Nope,” I hear Hollis mutter. “Nope, nope, nope.”
A second later, he’s in front of the entertainment unit, powering off the speaker.
The music stops.
Rex’s dance comes to an abrupt end. At first the big guy looks disappointed, but then he notices me in the doorway and says, “Fitzgerald! Whadda ya think?” He points both index fingers at his Speedo.
Well, technically not a Speedo, but a Summer Lovin’ original. Rex is wearing navy-blue briefs with silver stripes on the sides, and when he does a full turn, I grin at the S stitched on his ass.
“It’s nice,” I tell him. But it’s a bathing suit, and I have no opinion one way or the other about bathing suits. I’ve owned the same pair of trunks for like five years.
Summer rolls her eyes. “Don’t bother with Fitzy. He doesn’t understand fashion.” She gets up from the couch and approaches Grier Lockett. “Don’t move for a sec. Something’s not right with this seam.”
And then my girlfriend drops to her knees in front of another man’s junk and starts fondling him.
“Summer,” I say politely.
She pokes her head from around Lockett’s crotch. “What is it, sweetie?”
“Do you need help jacking him off?”
Rex and the others break out in gales of laughter. Summer gives me the finger, and my jaw drops when she reaches around and pats Lockett on the butt.
“Okay, take these off and put on real clothes. I’m gonna need to take that apart and restitch it.”
Lockett hooks his fingers under the waistband.
“In the bathroom!” she squeaks before he can yank his trunks down. “Jesus!”
“Well, you’re no fun.” Pouting, Lockett lumbers out of the living room.
“The rest of you can get dressed too. Everything looks great.” She turns to address Rex, who I know is the unofficial leader of the offense. His quarterback, Russ Wiley, might be the actual captain, but I hear Russ is an egomaniac. Rex, meanwhile, is universally loved.
“So we’re all set for next week? The show starts at nine, but I’ll need you guys there at least an hour before.”
“Don’t worry, cutie. We’ll be there with balls on.”
“Bells,” Brenna’s friend corrects from the sofa.
Rex fixes her with a stern look. “Audrey. When I say balls, I mean balls.”
She snorts and goes back to checking her phone.
“Are you sure the timing is okay?” Summer presses. “I heard Bibby mention something about a team-building retreat, but isn’t it the off-season?”
“It is,” Bibby grumbles.
Jules, another wide receiver, rolls his eyes. “Coach is making us attend this hippie-dippie bullshit course because we fell apart in the playoffs.”
“Because Wiley fell apart in the playoffs,” Lockett corrects, referring to their quarterback.
I don’t miss the disappointment in their expressions. Before this season, it had been a while since Briar had produced a football team with a good record. The fact that they’d ranked so high this year only to lose in the postseason must kill them.
“He thinks we have trust issues,” Jules says. He shrugs. “So we’ve been sentenced to five days of forced camaraderie.”
Brenna raises her eyebrows. “Five days? That’s savage.”
“We get back on the day of the show,” Rex says. When he notices Summer’s worried eyes, he ruffles her hair reassuringly. “But we’ll have plenty of time to spare. The bus is dropping us at campus around seven-thirty, eight.”
Summer nods with relief. “Okay. Perfect.”
As the players leave the room to change into their street clothes, Summer gathers her supplies and tucks them into the huge sewing case on the coffee table. Audrey is now chatting with Lockett, who returns in track pants and a Patriots hoodie. And in the armchair, Brenna is now bent over her phone, her long hair forming a dark curtain around her face.
“Who are you texting?” Summer asks her.
But it’s clearly somebody, based on her secretive tone and the quick glance she flicks in Hollis’ direction. The cloud of hurt in his blue eyes is unmistakable, and sympathy tugs at my gut. I don’t think he’s given up on the idea of him and Brenna yet, but it’s been about a month since they hooked up, and it’s evident she’s not looking for a repeat.
“I’m making a coffee,” he finally mutters, tearing his gaze off Brenna. “Want one, Fitz?”
“No thanks.” I had two cups at Della’s and I’m still wired.
The moment he disappears into the kitchen, Summer launches an interrogation. “Spill, Bee. Who is he? Do I know him?”
Brenna shrugs. “You met him once.”
Summer continues watching her like a hawk. “Who is it?” I’m pretty sure she’s holding her breath as she awaits Brenna’s response. When she doesn’t get one within three seconds, she blurts out, “Is it Jake Connelly?”
My head swivels toward Brenna. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“God, no. It’s not Connelly. He’s such a prick.”
“Then who!” Summer demands. “Just tell me. Otherwise I’ll steal your phone and—”
“Relax, crazy girl. It’s Josh, okay?”
“McCarthy,” Brenna clarifies.
Summer gasps. “The Harvard guy? Oh my God. How do you even have his number?”
“He messaged me on Facebook. Wanted to apologize for losing his shit when he found out who my dad was.” Brenna offers another shrug. “We’re just fooling around, though. Nothing serious.”
I don’t miss how she discreetly slips the phone into her purse, as if a part of her is worried Summer might actually try to snatch it from her. And there’s no more discussion after that, because the rest of the guys file into the room and exchange their goodbyes with Summer. Brenna and Audrey announce they’re taking off too, so our front hall turns into a can of sardines as eight people (six of them enormous football players) put on their coats and boots and various winter gear.