“No, no.” I shook my head. “It’s fine. If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to.”
I couldn’t deny, though, that her replies intrigued me and sent my sixth sense tingling. While I wasn’t jealous, exactly, I was much more invested in her answers than I should have been.
This is a fling, Luke. Don’t forget it.
I gripped the wheel more tightly and turned my attention back to the road. “Look, I normally meet a couple of old friends at the bar after the game, but I can call and cancel if you’d rather not go—”
“No, don’t cancel. You had no way of knowing I’d be here, and I don’t want you to bail. That said, I’m really tired. Why don’t you just drop me off? I’ll get a nice up-close-and-personal look at that big claw-foot tub of yours, and have some popcorn. A nice little ‘me’ night.”
The image of her shimmering with water as she stood from the bathtub, her pearly-white skin free of a towel, made another rush of need surge to my cock, but I nodded all the same. Suddenly, I felt like I needed the space.
“Okay, if you’re sure. I won’t stay out long.”
I dropped her off and headed for the bar, thinking about Sarah . . . and Prescott Billingsley the Sixth.
Prescott was exactly the kind of name for a guy like that. The ritzy New York royalty that she’d inevitably marry someday. Then, when they had their penthouse and she slid into their claw-foot tub, maybe she’d think about the one in my house and remember . . .
Or maybe not.
Either way, it didn’t matter. This thing we had? It had an expiration date stamped on it, and nobody was more okay with that than me. Charlotte was probably itching to get back to city life, and Lord knew I had enough to do with the distillery to keep me busy for another few years at least.
It was a shame, though. If she were something else, someone else . . . if she were the girl who’d pulled me beneath the bleachers earlier tonight? Well, I might have been able to fall in love with someone like that.
• • •
When I got to the Drunk Skunk, it didn’t take me long to find Case and Ranger already bellied up to the bar and waiting with a third beer in front of the empty stool beside them. As I made my way nearer, Case made a whooping sound and Ranger patted the stool.
“The prodigal quarterback returns,” Ranger said. “Why are you so late?”
“I had to grab Charlotte’s stuff and drop her off.”
“Oh, she headed out of town tonight?” Case asked, but Ranger cut in before I had the chance to answer.
“Of course not. You know Wayne was at the game.”
“Which means if she’s not at the inn and she’s not out of town . . .” Case eyed me as he pieced it all together. “Aw, shit.”
“Shut up,” I muttered, but Ranger hooted again.
“Sure you want to spend your night with us when you got better prospects waiting for you at home?”
“This is why nobody tells you anything,” I said, and then took a swig of my beer.
“People tell us plenty.” Case shrugged. “Just depends if we care to listen.”
“Did you see this one?” Ranger asked Case.
He bit his knuckle and nodded. “She’s pretty. Real nice figure. Would’ve pegged her for Duke’s type if I hadn’t heard about the whole salon debacle.”
“Something happened at the salon?” I raised my eyebrows, trying to act nonchalant but curious anyway, and also oddly irritated by Case’s notice of Charlotte’s figure. He wasn’t blind, after all, and she did have a banging body, but still.
“Yep, heard it from Audrey. Mrs. French always gets her nails done on Mondays, but apparently Charlotte walked in and took her spot. Got her hair done too in some fancy blowout, whatever the hell that means.”
“I don’t know how any of that has anything to do with me,” I shot back.
“A girl whose first goal in town is to get her nails and hair done? Big-city type with some designer handbag? Doesn’t ring a bell?” Ranger raised his eyebrows and my stomach twisted.
“Look, if you’re talking about Sarah—”
Case grimaced. “God, I hope nobody is. I’m trying to have a beer and enjoy my night. No need to relive that nightmare.”
“She wasn’t that bad,” I argued, although I inwardly cringed at the memory.
It was true, Sarah had stuck out around Shady Grove about as much as . . . well, about as much as Charlotte did. But there were differences between the two. Sarah would never have gone to the game with me tonight, and she sure as shit would have minded if I’d wanted to hang out with the guys instead of spending time with her. And she never would have eaten a concession-stand pretzel.
Still, that was the girl I’d thought I wanted to marry. I’d had the ring and everything. In fact, I still had it, tucked away in a drawer along with the note she’d left behind.
But Charlotte wasn’t Sarah. This was a totally different situation and would have a totally different outcome.
I raised a hand to put an end to the debate. “I’m with Case on this one. Why don’t we just have some beers and cool it with all the girl talk? That was a hell of a game tonight, after all.”
Lucky for me, the guys sensed I’d had enough, and turned the subject to tonight’s game. They dissected each of the plays and went over the stats of the star athletes for each team. The Stallions, we all agreed, would do better next week.
Although I tried to immerse myself in the stats and reasoning for every play, I still found myself thinking of Charlotte, and about how I would feel when, two days from now, she climbed into her car and got back to her life. I wanted her to remember me, even if we couldn’t be together. To take a piece of me with her when she went.
If I were being honest, I wanted her to leave a piece of herself behind too. Something for me to remember and hold on to when I thought about what could have been between us.
You know . . . if we weren’t totally wrong for each other.
Luke didn’t wake me on Saturday morning, and neither did the bright, glittery sunshine that poured through the windows of his bedroom. Instead, the phone that I had fallen asleep beside buzzed so close to my face that I shot bolt upright, my heart racing as I frantically glanced around.
I clutched my chest, then let out a deep breath and grabbed for the damned thing, checking to make sure I hadn’t disturbed Luke. But no, he slept on like a log, snoring gently with his mouth halfway open.
I reached toward him, tempted to brush back a tuft of his mussed hair, but then my phone buzzed again and he shifted, swatting it away from him as he snuggled deeper into the sheets.
Reaching quickly, I grabbed the phone just before it tipped over the edge of the bed, then glanced down at the flashing screen. I had so many missed calls and follow-up voice mails that a knot formed in my stomach at the sheer number alone.
Breathing deeply through my nose, I eased from the bed and tiptoed out of the room, careful to close the door quietly behind me before edging my way into the kitchen and opening the dreaded screen.
Okay, all I had to do was look at the last five calls. That was it. If I wanted to listen to them, I would. If not? They could wait for another day.
With another deep breath, I sucked in my cheeks and scanned the list of names.
A number I didn’t recognize.
I did a double-take at the last name, hating the little heart emoji that still lingered beside his name in my contact list, and deleted the message without listening. Okay, that was one decision down. All I had to do now was decide on the rest.
Better to start soft, right? Crawl before you run?
I tapped Valentina’s name and held the phone to my ear.
“Charlotte, hey. Just calling to see what the deal is with the car and the town and everything. I hope you’re on the road. Can’t wait to see you!” She made a happy little screeching noise, and then the message clicked off.
Okay, that wasn’t so bad. I glanced at the list again and chose my next poison—the number I didn’t recognize. Even a bill collector or heavy breather would likely be better than a message from my mother.