Legend (Page 12)

He shifts up higher on his arms, the flex of his torso’s muscles visible through the cotton of his shirt.

“I almost thought you’d arrived to the gym and got yourself kicked out,” I try.

“Not yet. There’s still tomorrow.” He smirks.

And there’s a tinge of merriment in his eyes.

“Wee, and the ducks?”

I jerk my attention back to Racer and my pending business with him. “Right. I promised we’d feed the ducks today.” I quickly pack our stuff and then push the stroller toward the lake. Maverick walks beside me.

I feel him watching me as I stop at the dispenser to fill up a cup of duck food.

“Mavewick, get me out,” Racer commands.

Maverick sweeps him up and sets him on his feet.

“Don’t go in the water, Racer, just stay on the edge, and don’t let them bite your finger. Do it like this. . . .” I show him how to cup his hand. “Or throw it in the water and watch them pick at it.”

He nods and starts throwing all over, sending the ducks after the nibbles.

I sit on the ground, the scent of damp grass surrounding us as Maverick sits beside me.

“Hey, I want to do something for you.”

“What?”

I can’t remember how to breathe.

I give him a moment to explain, but he’s not helping me out, only smiling. His face is open, friendly, his smile captivating. But his eyes are guarded, careful. I try to keep my voice indifferent.

“You mean for the gym?” I ask, a puzzled frown on my face.

He nods. “For that. And Oz.”

“Oh.” I shake my head, laughing softly. “It’s nothing, really.”

When he looks at me, he looks curious, and unsatisfied somehow. But a genuinely appreciative smile touches his eyes. “Trust me. It’s not nothing. It’s something, and I appreciate it.”

His open gratitude makes me so warm. He makes me feel impulsive.

“I’m in a healthy-living boot camp this summer. You’re meeting the new Reese,” I hear myself blurt out.

Wow. Did I just spew it out like that?

I’m so desperate for him to share bits of himself that I’m just totally baring myself to him without his even asking. Thank god he takes it in stride with an attractive little dance in his eyes.

“What was the old one like?” he asks easily.

I shrug and shake my head, not really wanting to get into that.

When he does nothing to fill the silence that settles between us, it leaves me with nothing to do but look up at him. I lift my lashes, and he’s staring at me with a look of total intrigue in his eyes. Wisps of hair tease my face, and I push them away, feeling really restless under that stare.

“Help me kick my own a*s, and we’ll call it even,” I suddenly suggest.

He shakes his head with playful stubbornness. “We’re not even. I still owe you.” His eyes grow thoughtful, and he reaches into his pocket and extracts something. “Open your palm.”

He looks so intense that I open my palm and watch him drop something in it. “What’s this?”

“My IOU.”

I stare at the penny in my palm, then look up at him in confusion.

His voice sounds a little more harsh and textured all of a sudden. “I don’t have a lot right now, but I got this.”

“For a rainy day?” I ask.

“For any day.”

He sounds somber and he looks even more somber, if that’s even possible. His eyes are gloriously intense, and I am utterly dazzled and confused by this feeling of being utterly dazzled.

I don’t understand why he’s giving me this. My ears hot, I look down at the penny, then up at him. What I did for him was nothing, really. It looked like he really enjoyed working out, and I could tell he had talent.

But his eyes are roiling with something forbidden and almost pleading. . . .

He needs me to take this penny.

He needs to know he can pay me back in some way.

I realize he’s got a pride as big as he is.

My chest aches a little. Nodding, I curl my fingers around the penny because something tells me Maverick “the Avenger” Cage never takes back what he gives. He looks like a guy who doesn’t budge, who doesn’t give in easy.

“I can get in after hours to the gym with my membership,” I hear myself say, surprised by how impulsive he makes me. “Do you want to come? When I go back home, I want to buy a new dress, one size smaller than what I wear.”

He looks at me, stays silent, and tightens his jaw, then stares out at the water. “I’m game.”

And we sit there, watching Racer giggle and try to pet the ducks as he feeds them.

And I like being here.

I really like being here.

♥ ♥ ♥

WE MEET AT the gym at 9:00 p.m. I had dinner with Racer, left him with his parents, and told Brooke I’d be back by eleven.

That night, the gym is completely empty. An odd something is in the air. It crackles between us. Around us. The silence only seems to magnify it.

Maverick unzips his hoodie and then, unexpectedly, takes off his shirt. He waits a moment, then walks to set his T-shirt aside. I stare at the body art on his back, transfixed by it. The lights are dim, but I can make out the shape of an open-winged bird. A bird with another symbol or letter or number I can’t make out on its back.

There’s something about tattoos, body art, that’s magical and intimate. A piece of art on your body that identifies who you are, what you believe in, even what you mock.

He turns and looks at me.

He seems to be waiting for me to say something.