Beautiful Player [Beautiful Series]

Chapter 17

It had never been like this, ever. Slow. Almost so slow that I wasn’t sure either of us could get there, or that I even cared. Our lips were only millimeters apart, sharing breaths and noises and the whispered pleas to Feel that? Do you feel that?

I did feel it. I felt every one of his stuttering heartbeats under my palm, and the way his shoulders shook above me. I felt the unformed words on his lips, how he seemed to be trying to say something . . . maybe the same something I’d been skirting around since I snuck into his dark room. Even before that.

He didn’t seem to understand what I was asking.

I’d never expected it to be so hard to put myself on the line. We’d made love—what felt like the true meaning of the phrase earlier; his skin, my skin, nothing else between us. He called me Hanna at the dinner table. . . . I don’t think anyone had ever said that name out loud in this house before that. And even though Jensen—Will’s best friend—was in the other room, Will had stayed with me to do dishes. He’d given me a meaningful look before I headed to bed, and texted me good night, saying, In case there’s any question, my bedroom door shall remain unlocked.

It seemed like he was mine when we were in a room full of people. But here, alone behind his closed door, it was suddenly so unclear.

Are there others? . . .

I thought that’s what you wanted.

The rule should be that there aren’t other lovers . . .

So we break this rule then?

. . . Silence.

But what was I expecting? I closed my eyes, wrapping my arms tighter around him as he pulled almost all the way out and then slid slowly back inside, inch by perfect inch, and groaned quietly in my ear.

“So good, Plum.” His hips rolled over me, one hand sliding down my ribs and back up to cup my breast and simply hold it, his thumb sweeping over the tight peak.

I loved the deep, molten sounds of his pleasure, and it helped distract me from the truth that he hadn’t given me the words I’d wanted tonight. I’d wanted him to say, There are no other women anymore. I’d wanted him to say, Now that we’re doing this without protection, we don’t break that rule, ever.

But he’d been the one to open this conversation before, only to have me shut it closed. Was it true that he really wasn’t interested in being more than friends-who-fuck? Or was he unwilling to be the one to start the conversation again? And why was I being so passive? It was as if my fear of messing things up with him had stolen all of my words.

He arched his neck back, groaning quietly as he slid in and out of me, achingly slow. I closed my eyes, pressing my teeth into his neck, biting down, giving him every bit of pleasure I could think. I wanted him to want me so much that it didn’t matter that I was inexperienced or unsure. I wanted to find a way to erase the memory of every woman who came before me. I wanted to feel—to know—that he belonged to me.

I wondered for a sharp, painful beat how many other women had thought the exact same thing.

I want to feel like you’re mine. I pushed on his chest so he had to roll off me and I could climb over him. I’d never been on top with Will, not for sex, and looked down at him, feeling unsure, guiding his hands to my hips. “I’ve never done this.”

He gripped his base with one hand and guided me over him, grunting as I sunk down. “Just find what feels good,” he murmured, watching me. “This is where you get to drive.”

I closed my eyes, trying different things and struggling to not feel foolish in my inexperience. I was so hyperaware of this earnest feeling pulling my ribs tight, I wondered if I moved differently, more clunky, less carefree and sexy. I had no idea if it felt good to him.

“Show me,” I whispered. “I feel like I’m doing it wrong.”

“You’re perfect, are you fucking kidding?” he mumbled into my neck. “I want to last all night.”

I grew sweaty, not from exertion but from being so wound up I thought I might burst from my skin. The bed was old and squeaky; we couldn’t move the way we were used to—roughly for hours and using the entire mattress and frame and pillows. Before I realized what was happening, Will lifted me off him, carried me to the floor, and sat up beneath me so I could lower myself back onto him. He went so much deeper this way; he was so hard I could feel the press of him in some unknown, tender place. His open mouth moved across my chest and he ducked his head to suck and blow on my nipple.

“Just fuck me,” he growled. “Down here you won’t have to worry about the noise.”

He thought I was worried about the creaky bed frame. I closed my eyes, rocking self-consciously, and just when I thought I would stop, tell him this position wasn’t working for me, tell him I was choking on words and unanswered questions, he kissed my jaw, my cheek, my lips and whispered, “Where are you right now? Come back to me.”

I stilled over him and rested my forehead on his shoulder. “I’m thinking too much.”

“What about?”

“I’m nervous all of a sudden, and I just feel like you’re mine only for these little bits of time. I guess I don’t like that as much as I thought I would.”

He slid his finger under my chin and tilted my face up so I had to look at him. His mouth pressed against mine, once, before he told me, “I’ll be yours every second if that’s what you want. You just have to tell me, Plum.”

“Don’t break me, okay?”

Even in the darkness I could see his brows pull together. “You said that before. Why do you think I would break you? Do you think I even could?” His voice sounded so pained, it plucked at something raw and taut in me, too.

“I think you could. Even if you didn’t want to, I think you could now.”

He sighed, pressing his face into my neck. “Why won’t you give me what I want?”

“What do you want?” I asked, shifting so that my knees were more comfortable, but in the process, I slid up his cock and back down. He stilled me with forceful hands on my hips.

“I can’t think when you’re doing that.” Taking several deep breaths, he whispered, “I just want you.”

“So . . .” I whispered, running my hands into the hair at the nape of his neck. “Are there going to be others?”

“I think you need to tell me that, Hanna.”

I closed my eyes, wondering if that would be good enough. I could tell him I wouldn’t date anyone else, and I imagined he would agree to the same. But I didn’t want it to be up to me. If Will was going to do this, to be with one person, it had to be something that wasn’t negotiable for him—it had to be him wanting to call it off with the others because of how he felt for me. It couldn’t be some loose decision, a maybe-maybe-not, a whatever-you-decide.

His mouth found mine then, and he gave me the sweetest, most gentle kiss I’d ever felt from him. “I told you I wanted to try,” he whispered. “You were the one who said you thought it wouldn’t work. You know who I am; you know I want to be different for you.”

“I want it, too.”

“Okay then.” He kissed me and our pace started again, small thrusts from him beneath me, tiny circles from me on top. His exhales were my inhales; his teeth slid deliciously over my lips.

I’d never felt so close to another human in my life. His hands were everywhere: my breasts, my face, my thighs, my hips, between my legs. His voice rumbled low and encouraging in my ear, telling me how good I felt, how close he was, how he needed this so much he felt like he worked every day just to get back to me. He told me being with me felt like being home.

And when I fell, I didn’t care whether I was awkward or jagged, whether I was inexperienced or naïve. I cared only that his lips were pressed firmly to my neck and his arms were wrapped around me so tight the only way I could move was closer to him.

“You ready?” Will asked Sunday afternoon, slipping into my bedroom and pressing a quick kiss to my cheek. The majority of the morning had played out this way: a covert kiss in an empty hallway, a rushed grope session in the kitchen.

“Almost. Just packing a few things Mom is sending home with me.” I felt his arms fold solid around my waist and I leaned back, melting into him. I’d never noticed how much Will touched me until he couldn’t do it freely. He’d always been tactile—small brushes of his fingers, a hand lingering at my hip, his shoulder bumping against mine—but I’d grown so used to it, so comfortable, I hardly noticed anymore. This weekend I’d felt the loss of every one of those small moments, and now I couldn’t get enough. I was already debating how many miles we’d need to put between the car and this place before I could tell him to pull over and make good on his offer to take me in the backseat.

He pushed my ponytail out of the way as his lips moved along my neck, stopping just below my ear. I heard the tinkling of his keys in his hand, felt the cool metal against my stomach where my shirt had ridden up the tiniest bit.

“I shouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “I think Jensen’s been trying to corner me since brunch and I don’t really have a death wish.”

His words cooled my blood and I stepped away, reaching for a shirt on the opposite side of the bed. “Sounds like pretty standard Jensen,” I murmured with a shrug. I knew it would be weird for my oldest brother—hell, it would be weird for Will and me, too, when the family knew about us—but all morning long I’d been replaying the previous night in the guest room. I wanted to ask him in the light of day: did you really mean it when you said you wanted only me? Because I was finally ready to take the leap.

I zipped my bag, started to lug it off the bed.

He reached around my body, grabbing the handle. “Can I take that?”

I felt the heat of him, the scent of his shampoo. When he straightened he didn’t step away, didn’t move to put distance between us. I closed my eyes, felt myself grow dizzy with how his proximity seemed to suck all the air out of the room. He tilted my chin and pressed his lips to mine, just a slow, lingering touch and I moved toward him, chasing the kiss.

He smiled. “Let me get this stuff in the car and we’ll get out of here, okay?”

“Okay.”

He brushed his thumb over my lower lip. “We’ll be home soon,” he whispered. “And I’m not going to my apartment.”

“Okay,” I said again, legs shaking.

He grinned, lifted the bag, and I watched, barely able to stand, as he left the room.

Going downstairs, I found my sister in the kitchen.

“Leaving?” Liv asked, rounding the counter to hug me.

I leaned into her, nodding. “Is Will already outside?” I glanced out the kitchen window but didn’t see him. I was anxious to get on the road, to say everything in the light of day where it couldn’t be ignored.

“Think he went out back to say goodbye to Jens,” she said, walking back to the bowl of berries she’d been rinsing. “You two sure are cute together.”

“What? No.” Cookies cooled on the counter and I reached for a handful, tucking them away in brown paper sack. “I told you, it’s not like that, Liv.”

“Say what you want, Hanna. That boy is smitten. Frankly, I’d be surprised if I’m the only one who’s noticed.”

Beginning to feel warm, I shook my head. Pulling two Styrofoam cups from the cupboard, I filled them with coffee from a huge stainless steel carafe, adding sugar and cream to mine and cream only to Will’s. “I think pregnancy’s mottled your brain. That’s not what this is about.” My sister wasn’t an idiot; I’m sure she heard the lie in my voice as plainly as I had.

“Maybe not for you,” she said with a skeptical shake of her head. “Though I don’t really buy that one, either.”

I stared blankly out the back window. I knew where Will and I stood . . . at least I thought I did. Things had shifted over the past few days and now I was eager to define this relationship. I’d been so afraid to give it limits because I thought I wanted more room to breathe. I thought it would upset me to hear how he slotted me into his schedule as conveniently as he did other women. Lately, my desire to avoid the conversation felt more about keeping my own heart caged than about how free he was with his. But it was a useless exercise. I knew we needed to have the full conversation now—the one he’d tried to have before. The one we’d touched on last night.

I would need to put myself out there, take a risk. It was time.

A door shut loudly somewhere and I jumped, blinking back to the coffee I was still stirring. Liv touched my shoulder. “I have to be big sister for just one minute, though. Be careful, okay?” she said. “This is the infamous Will Sumner we’re talking about.”

And that, right there, was reason number one I was terrified I was making a mistake.

With coffee and snacks for the road in hand, I made the rounds and said my goodbyes. My family was scattered all over the house, but the only two I couldn’t seem to find were my brother and my ride.

I headed out front to check the car, the gravel path crunching beneath my feet. I neared the garage and stopped as voices filtered out through the cool morning air, above the birds and the creaking of the trees overhead.

“I’m just wondering what’s going on between you two,” I heard my brother say.

“Nothing,” Will said. “We’re just hanging out. Per your request, I might add.”

I frowned, remembering that old saying about not eavesdropping because you probably won’t like what you hear.

“Is ‘hanging out’ code for something?” Jensen asked. “You seem awfully familiar with her.”

Will started to speak but paused, and I stepped back a bit to make sure my long shadow wouldn’t be visible to anyone standing in the garage.

“I am seeing a few people,” Will started, and I could just picture him scratching his jaw. “But no, Ziggy isn’t one of them. She’s just a good friend.”

I felt like I’d been dropped in ice water, goose bumps spreading along my skin and despite knowing he was just following the rules we’d agreed on, my stomach dropped.

Will went on: “Actually, I am . . . interested in exploring something more with one of the women I’m seeing.” My heart started to hammer, and I was tempted to step forward, and keep him from saying too much. But then he added, “So I feel like I should end it with the other women I’m seeing. I think for the first time I might want more . . . but this girl has been cagey, and it’s been hard to take that extra step and just cut off the old routine, you know?”

My arms felt like limp noodles and I leaned against the gate, steadying myself. My brother said something in reply, but I wasn’t really listening anymore.

To say the atmosphere in the car was merely tense was laughable. We’d been on the road for almost an hour and I’d barely strung together more than two words at a time.

Are you hungry?

No.

Temperature okay? Too warm? Too cold?

It’s fine.

Could you put this into the GPS?

Sure.

Mind if we stop for a bathroom break?

Okay.

The worst part was that I was pretty sure I was being bratty and unfair. With what Will said to Jensen, he was only following the rules that I’d put out there. I’d never really expected him to be exclusive before last night.

Open your mouth, Hanna. Tell him what you want.

“You okay over there?” he asked, ducking briefly to catch my eyes. “You’re being awfully monosyllabic.”

I turned and watched his profile as he drove: his stubbly jaw, his lips curled up in a smile just knowing I was staring at him. He let his eyes dart my way a couple of times, reaching for my hand and squeezing it. It was so much more than sex. He was my best friend. He was the one I wanted to call boyfriend.

The idea of him being with other women this whole time made me faintly nauseous. I was pretty sure that, after this weekend, he wouldn’t be with them again since—Jesus—we’d had sex without a condom. If that didn’t warrant a serious discussion, I didn’t know what did.

I felt so close to him; I really felt like we had become something much more than friends.

I pressed my hands to my eyes, feeling jealous and nervous and . . . God, just so impatient for us to figure it out now. Why was it easy to talk to Will about every feeling I had but the ones we needed to declare between us?

When we stopped at a gas station to refuel, I distracted myself by going through the music on his phone, building the proper sequence of words in my head. Finding a song I was pretty sure he hated, I smiled, watching him hang up the pump, walk back to his side of the car.

He climbed back in, his hand hovering with the key perched in the ignition. “Garth Brooks?”

“If you don’t like it, then why is it on your phone?” I teased. This was good, this was a start, I thought. Actual words were a step in the right direction. Ease into the conversation; prepare a soft landing and then jump.

He gave me a playful sour look, as if he’d tasted something gross, and started the engine to pull away. The words cycled through my head: I want to be yours. I want you to be mine. Please tell me you haven’t been with anyone else in the past couple of weeks, when things seemed so good with us. Please tell me that hadn’t all been in my mind.

I opened his iTunes and started scrolling through his music again, looking for something better, something that made my mood lighter and more sure of myself, when a text message flashed across his screen.

Sorry I missed this yesterday! Yes! I’m free Tuesday night and I can’t wait to see you. My place? xoxox

Kitty.

I don’t think I took a breath for an entire minute.

Turning off the screen, I sank lower into my seat, feeling like someone had reached down my throat and pulled my stomach inside out. My veins flushed hot with adrenaline, with embarrassment, with anger. Sometime between fucking me without a condom at my parents’ house yesterday afternoon and kissing my neck this morning, Will had messaged Kitty about getting together on Tuesday.

I looked out the window as we pulled away from the gas station and got back on the road, dropping the phone gently into his lap.

A few minutes later he glanced at his phone before wordlessly putting it back down.

He had clearly seen Kitty’s message, and he didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look surprised.

I wanted to climb into a hole.

We arrived at my apartment but he made no attempt to come upstairs. I carried my bag to the door and we stood there awkwardly.

He pulled a stray hair from my cheek and then quickly dropped his hand when I winced. “You sure you’re okay?”

I nodded. “Just tired.”

“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?” he asked. “The race is Saturday so we should probably do a couple of longer runs early in the week and then rest.”

“That sounds good.”

“So I’ll see you in the morning?”

I was suddenly desperate to hold on, to give him one last chance, a way to come clean and maybe clear up a huge misunderstanding.

“Yeah, and . . . I was wondering if you wanted to come over Tuesday night,” I said, reaching out to place my hand on his forearm. “I feel like we should talk, you know? About everything that happened this weekend?”

He looked down at my hand, moved so his fingers could twist with mine. “You can’t talk to me now?” he asked, brow furrowed and clearly confused. It was, after all, only seven at night on a Sunday. “Hanna, what’s going on? I feel like I’m missing something.”

“It was just a long drive and I’m tired. Tomorrow I have a late night in the lab, but Tuesday is open. Can you make it?” I wondered if my eyes were pleading as much as the voice inside my head was. Please say yes. Please say yes.

He licked his lips, glanced at his feet and up to where his hand was holding mine. It felt like I could see the actual seconds tick by and the air felt thick, almost solid, and so heavy I could hardly breathe.

“Actually,” he said, and paused as if he was still considering, “I have a late . . . thing, for work. I have a late meeting on Tuesday,” he babbled. He lied. “But I could make it during the day or—”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll just see you tomorrow morning.”

“You sure?” he asked.

My heart felt like it had frozen over. “Yeah.”

“Okay well, I’ll just”—he motioned to the door over his shoulder—“go now. You sure everything’s fine?”

When I didn’t answer, and just stared at his shoes, he kissed my cheek before leaving and I locked up, heading straight for my room. I wouldn’t think of another thing until morning.

I slept like the dead, not waking until my alarm went off at five forty-five. I reached over to hit the snooze button and lay there, staring at the illuminated blue dial. Will had lied to me.

I tried to rationalize it, tried to pretend it didn’t matter because maybe things weren’t official with us, maybe we weren’t together yet . . . but somehow, that didn’t feel true, either. Because as much as I’d tried to convince myself that Will was a player and couldn’t be trusted, deep down . . . I must have believed that Saturday night changed everything. I wouldn’t feel like this otherwise. Still, apparently he was fine hooking up with other women until we sat down and made it officially official. I could never be that cavalier about separating emotion from sex. The simple realization that I wanted to be only with Will was enough to make me faithful.

We were entirely different creatures.

The numbers in front of me blurred and I blinked back the sting of tears as the snooze alarm broke through the silence. It was time to get up and run. Will would be waiting for me.

I didn’t care.

I sat up long enough to unplug the clock from the wall and then rolled over. I was going back to sleep.

I spent the majority of Monday at work with my phone off, not heading home until long after the sun had gone down.

Tuesday I was up before my alarm and down at the local gym, running on the treadmill. It wasn’t the same as the trails at the park with Will, but at this point, I didn’t care. The exercise helped me breathe. It helped me think and clear my head, and gave me a brief moment of peace from thoughts of Will and whatever—whoever—he was doing tonight. I think I ran harder than I ever had. And later, in the lab, when I had barely came up for air all day, I had to leave early, around five, because I hadn’t eaten anything other than a yogurt and felt like I was going to fall flat on my face.

When I got home, Will was waiting at my door.

“Hi,” I said, slowing as I neared him. He turned around, shoved his hands in his pockets, and spent a long time just looking at me.

“Is there something wrong with your phone, Hanna?” he asked finally.

I felt a brief pang of guilt before I straightened, meeting his eyes. “No.”

I moved to unlock the door, keeping some distance between us.

“What the fuck is going on?” he asked, following me inside.

Okay, so we were doing this now. I looked at his clothes. He’d obviously just come from work and I had to wonder if he’d stopped by here before going to meet . . . her. You know, to make the rounds and settle things down before stepping out with someone else. I wasn’t sure I would ever understand how he could be so wild about me, while fucking other women.

“I thought you had a late meeting,” I murmured, turning to drop my keys on the counter.

He hesitated, blinking several times before saying, “I do. It’s at six.”

Laughing, I murmured, “Right.”

“Hanna, what the hell is going on? What did I do?”

I turned to face him . . . but chickened out, staring at the tie loosened at his neck instead, his striped shirt. “You didn’t do anything,” I started, breaking my own heart. “I should have been honest about my feelings. Or . . . lack of feelings.”

His eyes went wide. “Excuse me?”

“Things at my parents’ house were weird. And being so close, almost getting caught? I think that was the real thrill for me. Maybe I got carried away with everything we said on Saturday night.” I turned away, fidgeted with a stack of mail on a table and felt the crackling, dried layers of my heart peel away and leave nothing but a hollow shell. I forced a smile on my face and gave him a casual shrug. “I’m twenty-four, Will. I just want to have fun.”

He stood there and blinked, swaying slightly as if I’d hurled something at him heavier than words. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry. I should have called or . . .” I shook my head, trying to shake the sound of static in my ears. My skin felt hot; my chest ached like my ribs were caving in. “I thought I could do this but I can’t. This weekend just solidified that for me. I’m sorry.”

He took a step back and glanced around like he’d just woken up and realized where he was. “I see.” I watched him swallow, run a hand through his hair. As if he’d remembered something, he looked up. “Does this mean you won’t run on Saturday? You’ve trained really hard and—”

“I’ll be there.”

He nodded once before turning, walking out the door, and disappearing, probably forever.