Nixon (Raleigh Raptors 1) - Page 62

Listen Audio

I shifted my weight, crossing one ankle over the other. “I knew that if I went to Notre Dame, then either Nick would follow and be stuck in my shadow again, or he’d choose somewhere else and lose the dream he’d had tacked on his wall since he was eight.” I swallowed hard as my emotions rippled, jutting through my armor uncomfortably like I was a dog who’d been pet against the grain of his fur. “And when push came to shove, I didn’t know how to exist without Nathan. He was a part of me—he still is, but we were tethered together back then. So I had my coach send some tape, and I was offered a full ride at Minnesota.”

“You took it,” Liberty guessed with a small smile.

“I took it.” I nodded. “So Nate and I went to Minnesota, and Nick got his chance to shine. Kid almost beat my single-year passing yards record. At the time, I’d been relieved that I’d kept my name up there on the gym wall, but now…” My stomach sank. “Now, I wish he’d beaten me.” My throat started to ache, but instead of shoving the thoughts down and boxing them away, I let myself co-exist with them.

It took a minute to compose myself, but Liberty didn’t move or pressure me for more. She simply sat there with compassion shining out of her eyes.

“His record might not have been good enough to beat mine, but it was good enough to get a full ride to Notre Dame.” I grinned.

So did Liberty.

“He was so fucking happy that day we dropped him off for training camp.” His laugh echoed around my head like he was still in the room with me, like I could reach out and touch him if I tried hard enough. “It was the last time we saw him.”

Liberty’s face fell.

“He died before his first game. Took a hard hit that never should have happened. You don’t hit quarterbacks in practice,” I growled, my hands forming fists of anger that had never let go of Nick’s death. “We donated his organs, and then Nate and I went back to school. I’d tell you that I got over it in a healthy way, but I didn’t. I latched on to the wrong girl, who pretended to love me for three years.”

“Then she faked her pregnancy,” Liberty whispered, putting the pieces together.

“Yeah. And it’s not like I’m the only one who carries shit around from it. Hell, Nathan risked his life doing concussion research. Did you know that Harper designed the helmets we use?”

“She did?” Liberty’s eyebrows rose.

“Yeah. She’s a world-class, go to college when you’re freaky-young, genius. Nate worked with her, and nearly got his ass killed, and you know what he told me? He said he did it to save the other little brothers.” I looked away, choosing to study the photograph of the three Noble boys that hung just outside my dining room. “Nate’s the good one.”

Liberty rose. “You’re both the good ones.”

I snorted. “No. I’m really not. I almost ran Harper out of Nate’s life because I thought she was just using him. I nearly ruined his relationship.”

“It’s understandable to transfer that kind of suspicion,” she said softly, rounding the table to stand in front of me. “And in the end, it seems to have worked out. Harper’s very protective of you.”

“She shouldn’t be.” I shook my head. “And you know what still kills me? Every time I take the field, there’s this part of me that knows I’m living the life he should have had. Like I have to live it for both of us. I have to throw the most yardage. I have to get the best contract. I wear the number nine because his birthday was September ninth, and I carry him with me every single time I run through that tunnel.”

“Because you love him.” She took my hand.

“Because if I’d just gone to Notre Dame in the first place, I would have been the one to take the hit. I would have died, and he would have lived.” There. I’d said it. She could damn me, or she could accept me as I was, but I’d cut my soul open and served it to her on a platter.

“Oh, Nixon,” she raised her hands to my face. “That’s not how it works.”

“You don’t know that.” I backed away slightly, putting a few feet between us. “No one knows that. I tried to buy my parents a house for years after I joined the NFL, and they’d never take it. But Nate gets picked up for the NHL years later, and now they’re living in the house he bought them while my dad won’t even drive the truck I gave him. They might not say it, but they blame me, and they’re right. If I hadn’t thrown that ball with him so much. If I’d taken the first scholarship…” I sucked a breath through my teeth. “And I’m not telling you this so you can do your whole psychoanalyze thing on me.”

Tags: Samantha Whiskey Raleigh Raptors Romance