“It’s easier to pretend the outside world doesn’t exist,” I finally admitted, doing my best to give him the please-don’t-make-me look that had always worked on him in the past—like that time he’d talked me into doing an extra-credit assignment for math.
“Nah,” he chided, biting back a smile as he wagged a finger at me. “Don’t give me those puppy eyes.”
I proceeded to exaggerate the look.
It wasn’t fair…for me to ask him for anything. He’d already done so much for me.
Roman raked his free hand through his dark hair, crossing the room to kneel at my level. He gently removed the book I’d been reading from my hands, and I swallowed hard. Something rushed in my blood, a hot sort of sizzle that had a lot to do with how damn good the man smelled. Who smells like the perfect combination of the woods after a rainstorm and melted chocolate?
“Teagan,” he said, his voice curling around my name. “You know I’ll back you on whatever decision you make. You want to stay cooped up in my house, in my clothes—which are three sizes too big for you—and never take a step outside that door again, fine. I’m here. But,” he continued, taking my hands in his. “He wins,” he said, shaking his head and squeezing my fingers. “If you make decisions based on the fear of running into him, then he wins. And you deserve to live. To truly live. For yourself, for once.”
Something tight stuck in my throat, and I shifted in the chair enough that Walt hopped off and curled up on his bed across the room. I wrapped my arms around Roman’s neck. “How do you always know the perfect words to say?” I asked over his shoulder.
He smoothed a hand up my back as I clung to him. “It’s my curse.”
I shook my head against him. “There is nothing cursed about you, Roman Padilla. You’re just…” I sighed, releasing him from my bone-crushing hug. “You’re just fucking amazing.”
His eyes flared wide, that smile of his stretching from ear to ear. “Yes, Mami,” he laughed. “There’s the Teagan I know and love.” He stood, motioning me to follow. “We going to get you some new threads or what?”
I’d washed the clothes I’d shown up in over a dozen times now, and he was right, I had been stealing his T-shirts and shorts with increasing frequency. Not all out of necessity either, they were just so damn comfortable, and I felt like I’d been living in too-tight corsets for the past three years.
“You shouldn’t eat that,” Rick said, plucking the quarter-sized brownie bite from my fingers.
I gaped at him, certain he was joking. I glanced around the crowded restaurant. Luckily, we had a secluded booth tucked in a low-lit corner, so we didn’t draw too much attention with his celeb-status.
He popped the chocolate morsel into his mouth.
“Jerk!” I teased, playfully swatting his arm from my seat next to him.
Rick caught my wrist, his grip just this side of painful.
“Babe,” I said, forcing out a laugh as I tried to tug my hand back.
Tried, and failed.
The waiter approached our table, a crystal pitcher of ice-water poised in his hand.
Rick gave him one shake of his head, and the man hurried off.
“Don’t,” Rick said, his voice low, almost a whisper. “Ever call me that again.”
I swallowed hard. “I was teasing.”
“I don’t like being teased.”
I nodded, a sheet of ice skating across my skin.
His features softened, and he released me. I drew my hand into my lap, caressing my wrist. The skin stung and was red from his grip.
Rick smiled at me, smoothing his hand over my shoulder. “You know I only want what is best for you,” he said, his voice practically a coo. “And with how much you’ve been photographed lately, it would only benefit you if you lost ten or more pounds. That way, you’d look natural next to my side. The press would stop calling you a charity case when it comes to my choosing you.”
I wrung my hands, my insides shriveling.
I’d already lost ten pounds. He hadn’t even noticed. I was a curvy girl. I always had been. It didn’t matter if I only ate grilled chicken and veggies for months at a time and exercised five days a week, these hips would never lie.
“You know how much I love you, Teagan,” he continued, tipping my chin up to meet his eyes. “Don’t I always rush home to you? Don’t I always want to spend every second away from practice and games with you? There isn’t anyone else in the world I’d want to be with.”
I nodded, some of the unease melting away. He always did come right home, practically buzzing to spend time with me. How many NFL stars did that? How many celebrities did that? Especially when Rick could have anyone he wanted.