Legend (Page 41)

Brooke peers inside. “Food’s on the table.”

She’s gone as quickly as she peered in.

Maverick drags his hand over the back of his head in restlessness, then he cuts me a look that’s dark and frustrated, as if he’s sorry for the interruption.

I shouldn’t be, even though I also am.

My mouth. My mouth feels tingly.

Keeping a healthy distance between us, I follow him out to the living room and dining area. Brooke and I have already had dinner, but the guys are obviously ravenous and I notice there’s a place set for Maverick too.

Maverick waits for me to sit, then he drops down across from Remy and they quietly eat their meal.

“They’re like a married couple. Can’t believe how serious they are,” Pete says.

Riley looks at me and grins. “No wonder they like each other. They communicate by not communicating at all.”

And while the men enjoy their dinner, I look at everyone at the table except Maverick. Even though I can feel Maverick looking just at me.

TWENTY-FIVE

CLEANING UP OZ

Maverick

After last evening with the Tates, with good food and good company, I couldn’t sleep. To see what Reese is accustomed to. How big fighters do it. Today I hit the grocery store, and once I’ve set the bags on Oz’s and my small kitchenette, I stalk to the couch with a trash bag. Oz is watching TV, bottles littered everywhere, bags of open chips scattered on the coffee table before him.

I swipe an arm over the table and send everything crashing into the trash bag.

“What are you doing?” He lowers the bottle he was about to take a sip from.

I go and pluck it from his fingers and toss it into the trash, cutting him with a look. “It’s over, Oz.”

“What’s over?”

“Your f*****g pity party. It’s over. We want to be pros? We act like them.” I take out water bottles from the bag of groceries I brought in.

“You’re pulling my leg.”

He laughs, stomps to the minibar, and pulls out a small bottle. He takes a rebellious swig and plops before the TV again.

“We’re going to AA.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

He takes another rebellious swig. I dial the hotel staff and, minutes later, they’re retrieving the minibar keys.

“You little a*****e! You’re just a kid! You think you can come here . . . just because you’re buds with Tate now, you think you’re the s**t?”

“I know I’m better than what you’ve been giving me. And you’re better than what you’re giving yourself. Hell, I’m better than what I’ve been giving myself. It’s changing, Oz. We’re not going to be the underdogs for long. We’re eating like champions and we’re acting like them.”

“You won’t last three minutes in the ring with Tate in the final. Nobody does.”

“I’m not nobody.” I toss his new bottle into the bag too. “Go clean up, get in the shower, sober up. We’re going to AA or I’ll carry you there. This has gone on long enough.”

♥ ♥ ♥

WE ARRIVE LATE to the meeting. Rows of occupied chairs face a little podium where a guy is telling his story to the rest of those attending. I stop to pick up a booklet titled 12 STEPS and settle with Oz in the back row.

When the guy leaves the podium, I say, “Go up, Oz. Take a page from his book and go up there, make a promise to yourself.”

Oz is already restless without the booze. “You’re a f*****g a*****e, Maverick.”

“But I’m all you’ve got. Here.” I pass him the booklet, and he grabs it and looks ready to combust. And that’s when I hear a familiar voice through the speakers, and I lift my head.

“I’m Reese and I’ve been sober for a year.”

Everyone nods in respect.

And I sit here, like a moron, staring at her like I’ve never seen her in my life.

“I’m shy in nature. Not very verbose and—” She stops talking when she spots me, her eyes flaring wide in a mix of surprise and concern and relief.

And I sit here, still a moron, ready to hang on to every word that comes out of that mouth while something like the scorpion on my back p****s me in the heart.

“I . . .” she struggles to continue, tearing her eyes free, “. . . didn’t have a lot of friends. My father taught in army school, so we traveled a lot. New schools every four years. It made lasting relationships difficult; impossible for me, really.” She pauses and swallows.

Reese Dumas.

Untouchable no matter how many times I’ve touched her.

A perfect body that makes my hands itch with the urge to run them over that figure, an old soda-bottle figure, tiny waist, perfect breasts, perfect a*s.

I can’t f*****g take my eyes off her.

“When I arrived at my last home at fifteen, I felt like I didn’t have anyone on the planet. I was too shy to reach out, even to those who were nice to me. I heard about the school parties, but I spent my nights at home. One New Year’s Eve, I had a glass of champagne and felt a little woozy. I ended up going to my first party, and I was invited to the next. I liked how free I felt, how fearless. It gave me courage to go out. Make friends. I got drunk the next weekend too. I talked more; I was fun; I wanted to be accepted, to connect. I was too closed off on my own. With alcohol, I made new friends, was invited to go out. I thought I was accepted, but when I was sober, I could see I was a diversion. And thinking my friends didn’t really like or know me made me want to drink more to make that go away.” She exhales.