I nod, need for him rising, the need to fix this growing gulf between us.
So many things are a mystery. The origin of the universe, if vampires are real—okay, probably not—but one thing is certain. I love him.
It’s a connection I’ve felt since the beginning.
“I love you too, Ryker. So much. I’ve never felt this way…” My voice cracks.
His eyes gleam as he trails a hand through my hair. “Penelope, I don’t deserve you, but fuck if life isn’t better with you. I’m more of who I should be with you, and I promise you, I will never let you down like that again.” He cups my face, his gaze intense. “You…are…everything.”
I chew on my lip. “Is that what you were saying on the field? That you love me?”
He nods. “I was close to getting on the jumbotron and announcing it. Hell, the team already knows.”
I arch my brows. “They do?”
He takes my hand and leads me over to his truck, which I parked right next to. On purpose? Maybe.
He continues. “Before the game, Coach let me speak to everyone. He pretty much gave me free rein—seems he has a soft spot for you.”
Ah. “I barely know him, but he is friends with my dad. What happened with the team?”
“I took down the bet trophy and chucked it in the trash. I ripped the betting board apart. No more bets. It’s a tradition that’s over and done. My decision.”
I’ve never been in the locker room, but I picture him in his football gear, ripping it off the wall and throwing it in the garbage.
“Was the team upset?”
He shakes his head. “Red, those guys were so fucking relieved to be rid of that thing. Even the defense and Archer’s posse. It’s caused so much shit.”
“Quiet as a church mouse. Maverick’s back next week anyway.”
I suck in a breath. “So how does the team know you love me?”
He smiles softly. “I told them, Red. I made a big, touchy-feely announcement. I said you were the girl of my dreams and if any of them fucked it up and talked shit about us, I’d kick their ass.” He gets a faraway look in his eyes. “Can you ever trust me…us…again?”
Not trusting has held me back long enough.
I nod, a tremulous smile on my face.
His hand curls around my midriff and lingers on my backside, cupping my ass. His gaze is smoldering as he looks down at my non-shirt. “Now, care to tell me where the rest of your clothes are?”
“I’m Madonna. I get to be slutty. There’s no judgment.”
“Fuck yeah, you do. But only with me,” he growls. His lips take mine in a hard kiss, sucking on my tongue and devouring me, tasting me as if he’s stranded in the desert and I’m a tall glass of water. He drinks me down, consuming me.
Holding him tight, I give it right back, my mouth clinging to his. His hands pull me close.
“Can we get frisky in your truck?” I ask a few minutes later.
He cocks a brow. “It’s a hardship, but I’ll do anything for you, Red.”
We walk up to the Chi O house, and it’s a wild scene. People are on the porch dancing and whooping, and music blares from around back as pink and white lights flash in the sky—Chi Omega colors.
I take Penelope’s hand and gaze down at her. Her lips are swollen from my kisses and her hair is a little lopsided, but damn, she is fucking hot.
I give her a quick kiss on the cheek and straighten her pink shirt, which isn’t really a shirt at all, basically just a bra. I’ll let it slide because she’s with me.
We reach the porch, and a few people come forward to slap me on the back and congratulate me on the game. I nod and tug Penelope closer. I don’t want her getting away from me tonight. I want to take it all in. Her. The fact that she loves me. The realization that this year—it’s going to be my best one yet.
Charisma comes barreling through the doors of the house.
“It’s about time y’all got here. This party is OTC!” She’s wearing some kind of wide-brimmed fedora and carries a whip. Blaze tags along next to her, his hand stuck in the back pocket of her khakis. Penelope texted her earlier and said we were back together and that the football boys were coming to the party. I guess word travels fast.
Which might explain Blaze’s yellow parachute pants and tight red silky tank top.
“Nice shirt,” I say to him as the girls talk to each other.
He rolls his eyes. “Charisma. She’s taking this 80s theme seriously.”
I pop an eyebrow.
“She’s telling you what to do and dressing you?”
He shrugs. “You see her. She’s a force. I have a hard time telling her no.”
Margo joins us on the porch with Connor in tow and I pause, feeling my inner caveman getting riled up.
Penelope leans over and whispers, “He’s with Margo.” Her face breaks out in a smile, and she gives my hand a squeeze. She must have been watching my reaction. She does that a lot. We both do, I guess, each of us in tune with the other.
Margo comes forward and presses a wad of clothes into my hand. “No one enters without appropriate attire. Chi Omega rules.”
Penelope giggles, and I think it’s an inside joke.
I look down at the bundle. “You’re telling me I can’t come in unless I put this on?” I release Penelope’s hand to hold up the outfit, a huge pair of lightweight black baggy pants with elastic on the bottom and a tiny blue tank top. “No fucking way.” I check the label. “This shirt’s an extra small…in women’s!”
“We know,” the girls say almost in unison, watching me with relish.
“But it’s Wildcat blue and perfect for you.” Penelope smiles. “We got the clothes on Amazon a while back, anticipating that some big growly football player might not want to dress up.”
“You’re welcome, QB1!” Charisma adds as she and Margo high-five each other.
“Clearly we did this because we had too much to drink at one of the planning meetings,” Margo says with a little hiccup. “But I like it!” She grabs Connor’s hand. “Come on, let’s go get more champagne.”
I look down at the MC Hammer pants and back at Red. She arches her brows. “Whatcha gonna do, Baby Llama?” Her accent is sweet and exaggerated, and I grin.
“Babe, I said I’d show you the world once, and if that means me dressing like this, I’m all in.” My voice trails off as she blushes.
“Stop with the fuck-me eyes you two,” Charisma says. “Off to the changing room with you, Ryker.” She points inside to a bathroom right off the foyer.
Blaze tags along with me as we head into the house. “Dude. I can barely breathe in this thing. Do you think it’s cutting off my circulation?” He tugs at his…blouse?…and I bark out a laugh.
“Red looks good on you, man.”
He mumbles. “It better.”
I head to the restroom.
“I’ll grab us some beers,” he calls out, and I give him a nod.
I close the bathroom door and strip off my jeans and button-down. If this makes Red happy, I’m all about it. I’m picturing her face when she sees me in my outfit when the door opens.
“Dude! Wait outside!” I turn around expecting to see Blaze, but it’s her.