After the Game (Page 29)

“Be good while I get the medicine; then you can have the candy,” I told her.

She made a move like she was zipping up her lips, and I laughed. In moments like these I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.

My Life Isn’t Gunner’s to Control

CHAPTER 34

BRADY

Another successful practice. Anger really made me better. I wasn’t worried about anyone or the rest of the team. I just zeroed in on me and everyone seemed to like it. Tomorrow was Wednesday, and my dad normally came to Wednesday practices. If he did this week, I was walking out. I didn’t want this to be about him.

If I began to feel like this was about him, I’d quit just to hurt him. It would never hurt him as much as he was hurting us, but it was all I had as ammunition. I focused on seeing Riley tonight, and that made it easier to push thoughts of my father out of my head.

“Excellent practice,” Coach said as he walked past me. “Whatever has gotten into you, keep it. Best you’ve played in your life, and I didn’t know it could get much better.”

The bitterness of what had gotten into me simmered, and I could only nod before heading to the field house to shower and change. I wasn’t about to go home and face my father. I was avoiding him the best I could. He hadn’t been home last night when I got there, so I went to bed after hugging my mom and assuring her I was okay.

It had taken all my willpower not to slam my bedroom door and lock it when I went to my room. He wasn’t home, and it was after eight. His working late and after hours wasn’t actually working. It was f*****g. Damn son of a b***h.

I tossed my clothes into my bag and quickly showered then dressed in my jeans and a clean T-shirt. I needed to see Riley. She’d calm me down. I wanted to hit something or someone. Anything to get all this aggression out of me.

“You okay?” Gunner asked, walking beside me as I left the field house.

“Yeah,” I replied, not wanting to get into anything with him.

“You’re different. Angry. S**t’s going on and you’re keeping it to yourself. Reminds me of . . . me.”

Nothing about me was like him. He was a cold, heartless b*****d when he wanted to be. I was never like that.

“I’m good. Just got things on my mind. Don’t want to talk about it.”

He sighed. “Been there. But I found someone to talk to, and she was what kept me from drowning or losing my g*****n mind. You need to talk.”

I was talking. With the one girl he hated above all others. Telling him that would shut him the f**k up.

“I’ve got someone to talk to. Don’t need anyone’s approval.”

“You’re acting like this is my fault. What the hell did I do?”

He’d let his family ruin Riley’s life. He was still doing it. That was what he f*****g did. I inhaled deeply and tried to calm down. Confronting him about this right here while I was raw from my dad’s bullshit wasn’t the way to handle it.

“Just back off and give me space,” I told him as we reached my truck.

“Y’all good?” West asked, stepping out of his truck to look at both of us.

“No, he’s f****d-up about something. Can’t you see it?” Gunner replied.

“I think backing off and letting him be is the best idea right now,” West told him.

I jerked open my door and climbed in. I’d thank West later. Tonight I wanted away from Lawton. All of it.

* * *

Pulling up outside Riley’s house, I wondered if Gunner had followed me. I almost hoped he had. I was tired of secrets. There were too many in my life right now.

Riley shouldn’t have to be a secret, and the Lawtons owed her an apology and a chance to live free again in this town. The front door opened just as I climbed out of the truck, and Riley stepped out wearing a pair of tight jeans that showed off her amazing legs with a blue sweater that matched her eyes. Bryony wasn’t with her, though.

“Hey,” I said as I walked to meet her.

“You didn’t have to come to the door.”

“Yeah, I did. You deserve that.”

She blushed and her eyes lit up. “Bryony ate with my parents and she didn’t get her nap in today. Mom said to leave her here so she could go to bed early.”

So it was just us. As much as I’d been looking forward to spending time with Bryony tonight, it might be best that she wasn’t with us. My anger was still there under the surface, and if anyone confronted me about this, it was going to get ugly.

“Next time we’ll go earlier for her sake,” I promised.

I opened the truck door for Riley, and she climbed inside. Just as I closed it, Gunner’s truck rode past the house. He slowed and our gazes locked. This was it. He knew now, and I would deal with it. At least there would be one less secret in my life.

I turned and headed for my door. When I climbed inside I thought about not telling her what had just happened. But it was going to come out and there would be a confrontation tonight. Gunner was too hotheaded for there not to be.

“Gunner just drove by,” I told her, then started the truck.

“Do I need to get out?”

I turned to look at her. “No. My life isn’t Gunner’s to control.”

Her worried frown made me want to lean over and kiss it away.

“You have too much on you right now to deal with this, too.”

This was the least of my worries. My mother’s world being torn apart and destroyed made Gunner’s temper tantrum seem mute.

“He needs to get over it,” I told her. “Now is as good a time as any for him to deal and grow up.”

She let out a small laugh. “It won’t be that easy,” she told me.

“I don’t care about easy. I care about you.”

The way she seemed to ease and lean closer to me meant my being completely honest was the way to go. She liked that. I did too.

My phone lit up, and I glanced down at it to see Gunner’s name. I clicked ignore and headed for Rossi’s. It was an Italian place in town that cost more and the high school crowd didn’t visit often. I wasn’t in the mood to throw us out there in front of Serena and her bunch.

“You like Italian?” I asked her.

She nodded. “Yes, but Rossi’s costs too much.”

“It’s worth it.”

Sounds Like Willa

CHAPTER 35

RILEY

I had only eaten at Rossi’s with my parents on Sunday afternoons and twice when I was dating Gunner. It was one of the more expensive places to eat around here. I had a feeling that was why Brady had chosen it. To give us some privacy.

I saw his phone light up again, and he glanced at it and ignored it. Then he stuck it in his pocket and continued to look at the menu.

“Is it still Gunner?” I asked him, worried about how this was affecting him.

“No, that was West. Probably warning me about Gunner.”

“If you need to answer their calls, I’m fine with you stepping outside.”

He shook his head. “All I need to do is help them win a football game. Otherwise they can suck it.”

That was a very un-Brady-like thing for him to say. He was becoming less and less Brady-like. His father’s infidelity was slowly eating at him. I wanted him to win the championship, but I also wanted him to be okay mentally. This was too much for him to cover up.

I studied the menu and decided on the lasagna before closing it and taking a drink of my Coke. I didn’t want to harp on this, but he needed to get it off his chest. Holding all this in wasn’t good for him.

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