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Legend (Page 11)

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He’s gone.

Disappointment washes over me. I wait a bit, checking the time. Five minutes to leave for Racer.

Reese, you’re acting stupid.

“You’re looking for your friend? The one you come in with?”

“I . . . ah . . . yeah.”

“He hasn’t come in.”

“Right. Thanks.”

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I head to pick up Racer from day care, meet Pete there with the stroller and our snacks, then sit Racer inside and push him to the park. There’s this spot I like under the shadow of a tree. I head there. “How was day care, Racer?”

“Okay.”

He’s scanning the park for dogs, I know.

“This is nice, isn’t it?”

I pull out his fruit bears and open them. He dives in.

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“Racer, I ran extra hard today and I’m suddenly hungry. If I tell you an extra story tonight, would you give me one of your fruit bears?”

“Two stowies,” he negotiates.

“Okay, two stories, for two bears?” I shoot back.

He hesitates, then nods and lets me pull out two bears, examining my hand thoroughly. I let him open my palm.

“See? Two?”

He grins a dimpled grin that I could eat up, and then continues eating.

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I shove them in my mouth and start to set up my blanket and stop in my tracks when I spot the figure doing pull-ups on the tree.

His T-shirt is riding upward due to the lifted position of his arms, and I can see the concrete-like squares of his abs perfectly.

His extraordinary eyes blaze and glow when he spots me a few feet away, not far from the tree. He drops himself to the ground, lithe as a cat and surprisingly quiet, and as he stretches to his feet from the crouched position he landed in, his eyes are direct and interested and warm. No, not warm. More.

There’s a flip in my stomach when his lips curl a little. He ambles over and I have the oddest sensation that he was waiting for me. But . . . was he?

“Maverick,” I say softly to myself.

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“Mavewick!” Racer repeats—embarrassingly loudly—and puts out his fist.

He bumps fists with Racer. “Dude. Cool cap.”

He taps Racer’s Yankees baseball cap. Then his eyes lift to meet mine.

My stomach feels unsettled, but it’s not from hunger, more like from nerves or something like . . . anticipation.

“Didn’t see you at the gym today,” I say.

He shakes his head. “I talked to Oz.”

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“You did?”

He gives me this quiet, perfect smile and simply nods.

“That’s great.”

“Yeah.”

We smile for the most delicious few seconds.

“So you’re fighting during the inaugural?” I ask excitedly.

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He pulls out a page from his jeans back pocket. “That’s me.”

I take and scan the page. It indicates his accepting the Underground terms and rules of engagement, states his coach’s name, and then his name. A dangerous little chill runs down my spine when I read:

Maverick “the Avenger” Cage

And Maverick “the Avenger” Cage is watching me read this paper, studying my reaction.

My palms are sweaty all of a sudden. “Well . . . wow.”

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My stomach is quaking upon seeing his name; I don’t know why. Maverick Cage. His name is a conundrum. Maverick means “rebel,” and cage . . . But it looks like this maverick is coming out of his cage.

He tucks the page back into his jeans. “I had to tell someone.”

“And you came to tell me?” If I sound bewildered, it’s because I am.

He stares into me, a liquid look coming to his eyes. “It wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for you.”

“That’s totally not true.”

He glances down at the stroller. “I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t tell my buddy here.” He fist-bumps Racer again and Racer giggles at the attention.

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“Mom and Dad are busy, so I get to keep him for an extra while,” I tell Maverick.

He stares at me. He has a very stubborn, arrogant face, but when he smiles, pleasure softens his granitelike features. And he’s smiling right now. Dear me. “So he’s not yours,” he says.

“God, no. I wish!”

I can’t think straight when he looks at me. I feel naked. As if he knows that I’ve missed him. As if he knows that just looking at him makes me feel odd. Odd and oddly sensual inside. Responding to him.

I open my blanket and bend over to smooth it on the ground. Then I realize my butt is sticking out, the Himalayas of butts out there for him to see. In tight exercise gear. F**k.

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He sits on his haunches at the edge of the blanket and opens his hand. “Share the blanket with me?”

His knuckles are still scarred. I can’t decide why I keep looking at them. I get a gut squeeze of empathy every time I see the bruises. His hands are huge. He plants them on the blanket, then shifts to lean back on his arms, stretching out his legs before him. Other couples are nearby on blankets. It feels intimate when I set my stuff down, and I feel myself go hot when I sense him watching me settle down next to it.

He spreads out just a little more and squints up at the tree, then looks at me in silence.

I search the picnic bag. “Want some . . . kid food? Or I’ve got . . .” I pull out my emergency Snickers bar, which I’m proud not to have touched yet, and I hand it over. “Plus one water and a drinking cup with a lid.”

I pass the drinking cup to Racer and hand Maverick the water. He takes it. “I’m good.” He opens the water bottle and hands it to me.

I shake my head. I’m not hungry, really. Or thirsty. My stomach feels full of butterflies again and it makes no sense, since I don’t even know him.

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