After the Game (Page 3)

He sounded exasperated. I didn’t like the tone of his voice or him thinking he should guide me in the way I was raising my child. A little rain wasn’t going to make her sick. This wasn’t the last frontier, for crying out loud.

“You’ve got another two miles to your grandmother’s house. This storm is gonna get worse. Let me give you a ride. For the baby’s sake.”

The way he said baby infuriated me. He didn’t realize who Bryony was. He along with all the other idiots in this town thought I’d lied. Accused me of it and ran me out of town. All because it wasn’t possible that golden boy Rhett Lawton would rape me. I had to have come on to him. He had to have been the one to push me away. I was his brother’s girlfriend, after all. Why would he rape me? I must be crazy.

I stopped running and turned to look at Brady. He had always been the good guy. Taking up for people and believing the best in them. Except for me. He’d turned on me just like the others had. I was about to open my mouth and tell him exactly where he could shove his almighty tone when the sky roared and lightning shot across the sky. Rain I wasn’t scared of, but I didn’t want Bryony out in an actual storm. My scathing words fell away and instead I said, “Okay.”

He nodded, looking relieved I’d given in, and jumped out of the truck to grab the stroller after I lifted Bryony into my arms. “Just throw it in back. It’s wet anyway. I’ll have to set it out in the sun tomorrow to dry it.”

I didn’t wait to see if he did as I said. I hurried around to the passenger side and climbed in, with Bryony smiling as the raindrops pelted her face. The heat was on in the truck, and her little shiver made me worried Brady could be right and she might get a cold from this. I would get her some orange juice and a warm bath as soon as we got home.

Brady climbed back inside, and I grudgingly glanced at him and forced the words “Thank you” out of my mouth. Not something I’d ever expected to say to him or anyone around here.

He looked at Bryony. “I doubt your parents would want you walking your little sister home in this weather. I’m just glad you agreed to get in.”

My little sister? Really? That was what they were saying in town? I frowned and turned my attention toward the window to look out. I could correct him, but what good would that do? None. He would assume I got knocked up after I left town. Never could my actual story have been true. Although if one took the time to really see her, Bryony looked like a Lawton. She had many of her father’s features. I wasn’t going to point that out, though. I never wanted her to know the Lawtons. They were monsters.

My brother, Vance, had stayed when we left and dealt with all of this. He’d hated them all. But his life had been here. With me gone, the gossip died, and he was able to continue. The talk about my return, however, ended up getting him suspended twice for fighting. He agreed he’d rather go to the private school near where we had been living that had accepted him. He had backed out when we decided to return to be with my grandmother, but my parents believed that it was best for him to finish his school away from Lawton. His IQ was ridiculously high, but so was his temper. I felt guilty for putting him in this situation. When he left last week, he had told me that this was what he wanted to do and not to feel guilty. I’d cried anyway.

Bryony stuck her little chubby hands out toward the heat and turned to Brady to flash him her smile. She had no idea that he was an enemy. I didn’t want her to know about enemies or ugliness in the world.

“What’s her name?” he asked.

“Bryony,” I replied. I didn’t want to talk to him. He didn’t want me in his truck any more than I wanted to be in it. Had it been any other of Gunner Lawton’s friends that had driven by, I’d still be out in the storm, trying not to panic. Brady Higgens wasn’t like that, though. He saw a baby in need, and he couldn’t ignore it.

“You’ve got pretty eyes, Bryony,” he told her.

She tilted her head back and looked up at me. Her damp blond curls stuck to her forehead. I bent my head and kissed that spot. It was hard not to.

“How old is she?”

Again I didn’t want to chat with him, but he was giving us a ride. So if he wanted to pretend that he cared, I would try and participate. “Fifteen months.”

“Wain!” she cheered as lightning struck outside.

Brady chuckled. She was adorable. He was going to be smitten before we got to my grandmother’s.

“You’re a big girl, then,” he said to her.

She nodded her head vigorously. She liked being called big. Even though she also still liked for me to rock her to sleep at night and cuddle her like a baby.

“Does your grandmother still live in the same house?” he asked as he turned down her street.

“Yes.” He would know how to get there. We’d grown up together. Been at the same school, gone to the same parties, played at the same park.

Finally he pulled into her driveway, and I wrapped my arms tightly around Bryony. I needed to get her inside before I got the stroller.

“Let me run her inside, then I’ll get the stroller,” I told him.

“I got the stroller. Y’all go on in.”

I didn’t argue. Opening the truck door I hurried up the sidewalk to the safety of the house. Walking inside I called out for Mom, but she didn’t answer. I wanted to hand her Bryony so I could run back out and get the stroller. Instead I set her down. “Wait right here. Let me get your stroller.”

She nodded, and I turned to walk back out when Brady ran up to the door holding her saturated stroller.

“Thank you,” I said again.

He nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Bryony’s small hand tugged at my pants leg. “Momma is wet.”

Brady’s eyes widened, and I realized what she had just said. Guess he knew now. She wasn’t my little sister after all.

I gave him a tight smile and closed the door before he could say anything else.

Especially for Riley

CHAPTER 4

BRADY

Momma? She’d called Riley Momma. I had heard it, and the look in Riley’s eyes had confirmed it. Which meant what? Had she gotten pregnant that soon after leaving town?

Or before? Could her lie about Rhett been her way of trying to pin her pregnancy on someone she thought she could get money out of? If so, that was sucky. She’d almost ruined Rhett’s future over her need to land someone as a father. It couldn’t have been Gunner’s because she hadn’t slept with him. We all knew it. Someone had gotten in her pants, so she’d had to lie. That much was obvious.

Had she cared too much about Gunner to sleep with him? That was what I’d never understood. Why lie on his older brother? Why not lie on her boyfriend? Unless she thought Rhett was more believable than Gunner. I guessed I’d never understand why she did that. No point in trying to figure her out.

Fact was, Riley had a kid now and the little girl was cute. She appeared to be a good mom, but then I’d barely seen them together. She could be a terrible mom for all I knew.

The whole experience with Riley and Bryony stayed with me the rest of the evening. I didn’t tell anyone I’d given her a ride simply because I didn’t want to explain myself. I shouldn’t have to. I’d like to think any of my friends would have done the same. She’d had a baby and it was storming. But I wasn’t so sure. The hate they all had for her ran deep.

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