“You’re not goin’ anywhere, baby.” He steps closer, his fingers twitching, his breath ghosting across my neck. “At least, you ain’t fuckin’ moving until you’ve told me why you’re avoiding me.”
“Isn’t it obvious? You and I are cut from the same cloth, Jack. We don’t do the post-sex thing.”
“Yet here we are.”
“That what you call it?” he laughs, low and husky.
“Yep.” I drink.
“Put the drink down, M,” he whispers. “It’s fucking with you.”
“Really? I thought that was you fucking with me,” I respond, turning to him and pressing a hand against his chest. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Like, right here. Literally.
“It’s my best friend’s birthday.” He smirks. “Why’ve you been staring at me all night like you wanna suck and bite my cock simultaneously?”
“I assure you it was the latter.”
“Sure it was.” Jack steps closer to me again, and I grab my glass with the hand closest to him so I don’t grab his ass or something, ‘cause, shit. He has a sweet-as-hell ass.
“It was.” I drink. Again. Where the hell are my girls? “I feel like dancing.” I finish the glass and twist my body away from his.
His hand finally falls from me as I stalk toward and then down the stairs. I slip into the moving crowd, but I’ve barely moved my hips when two large, strong hands clasp me and tug me backward. The wall of muscle my back slams into is solid, and I exhale on a whoosh even as I close my fingers against the ones clasping my hips.
“Nice try, baby,” Jack says into my ear. “Run if you want. I’m a running back. I’ll chase you and catch you every fuckin’ time.”
“Sounds like a promise you can’t keep, doll,” I reply, my breath catching when he moves my hips against his.
“Sounds like a promise you’re afraid of.”
Jack raises his eyebrows. “Your carpet get into a fight with a stationery store?”
He nods toward the mess on the floor.
“Oh…that. Notes to self,” I mutter, dropping my foot to kick them under the sofa.
“You remember to write down the orange juice one?”
“No, actually. I forgot.”
He licks his fingers and comes over. I kick a little more frantically, because, well, explaining them is going to be awkward. Jack grabs my pen and the orange pad and scribbles on it.
Note to self: Get a second carton of OJ for Jack.
“Noted.” I pull the square off the pad and drop it on the floor with the others.
“Why is my name on the pink notes?”
“And Mitch’s on the yellow?” He turns toward me. His face is dangerously close to mine, and there’s a glint in his eyes that… Well, I don’t know what it is, but it sure as fuck isn’t good.
“I was…drawing up a pros-and-cons list,” I mutter.
“Seems to be a helluva lot more yellow than pink, baby.”
“Well, in my defense, half of Mitch’s say ‘fucked my cousin,’ which adds to his total.” I smile weakly.
“All right, I think I’m gonna regret askin’ this.” Jack sits up straight. “Why are you making pros-and-cons lists?”
I open my mouth and close it again. Shit. I was kind of hoping to avoid this conversation.
“Promise you won’t get mad,” I say softly, looking down.
“M, talk to me.”
“I…” I swallow, sensing that that’s the closest to an agreement I’m going to get. “I saw Mitch earlier.”
I wait, but Jack says silent.
“I asked him why he was outside my apartment yesterday.”
“Doesn’t take a fuckin’ genius to work it out,” Jack grinds out.
“He wants me back.” I look at the TV. “He…doesn’t seem to understand that I’m not in love with him.”
“You sure about that, Macey?”
I frown, snapping my eyes to Jack, who’s now leaning against the table. “Of course I’m sure!”
“Yeah? ‘Cause you don’t seem to hesitate running to him when he comes knockin’ at your door.”
“What are you saying?” I stand up slowly, my stomach twisting at his words and the implications of them.
“According to you, he broke your heart so fucking badly that you hate him. Yet, when he knocks at your door or hangs out outside your apartment, you’re not exactly hesitant when it comes to runnin’ after him to see what the fuck he wants. Yet you can’t call me.” Jack turns slowly. “That’s what I’m fuckin’ saying.”
“According to me?” The words fall from me in disbelief. “According to me? You think I want him here, fucking with me again? You think I want to sit there and listen to him declare his seemingly endless love for me while begging me in the same breath to give him another goddamn chance?”
Jack pushes off from the table and walks to the door. His fingers curl around the handle and he looks at me, his green eyes on fire, so angry that they’re sending tremors through my body. “You answer him?”
“He begged for another chance. Did. You. Fucking. Answer. Him?”
“Mitch.” I spit his name like the poison he is. “Seems he has a message for me.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Macey mutters, walking into the kitchen.
She reaches for the tequila bottle, but I dart forward and spin her so her back is against the counter. No way is she drowning her shit in a tequila bottle this time. No fucking running.
“Leah says otherwise, so, M, why don’t you tell me about his message for me?”
“I said it doesn’t matter!” Macey’s eyes flash with an anger and vulnerability stronger than I’ve ever noticed before.
“It does to me!” I yell, leaning into her. My eyes search her face. “It fucking matters to me, babe, so spit it the hell out.”
“I said. It. Doesn’t. Matter.”
“I say you’re full of shit.” My mouth moves to her ear. “You gonna tell me or do I hafta fuck it out of you, huh? I’m not averse to either, but his name could really kill the mood when my cock is inside you.”
Macey shoves at me and I release her. She storms away from me, toward her room, then stops. “You wanna know? You really want to know what that asshole has to say to you?”
“Believe me, babe. I’d love him to say this bullshit to me. Seems he’s a pussy who has to use his ex-girl to tell me though. So let’s paraphrase. I’d love to know what that asshole has to get you to say to me, okay? Enlighten me, baby. Go ahead.”
“‘Tell your fuck buddy he’s playing to win a whole lot more than the Super Bowl this season,’” she whispers. “Or something along those lines. Close enough, I guess.”
Every nerve in my body goes on high alert. Electric jolt after jolt booms through me, my adrenaline peaking with his threat. The threat he can’t even fucking say to my face. More than that, every protective instinct in my body roars to life louder than an MC club starting their bikes. I feel those words crawling over my fucking skin, almost paralyzing in their determination but laughable in their weakness.
“Baby.” I move toward Macey, determined, certain, strong.
She breathes heavily, her eyes screwed shut, her fists clenched at her sides.
“Look at me.”
She shakes her head.
I grab her jaw and force her head up. “Look. At. Me.”
Her eyes open, and in them, I see a roaring sea of fear and uncertainty tinted with resignation to the words she expects. The words she won’t hear.
“What?” Her whispered word is barely audible.
“If you don’t know the rules, you don’t play the game,” I rasp. “Now, Mitch? He thinks he knows the rules. He thinks he can come back into your life and dictate shit his way. I think he’s sorely fucking mistaken, because he has no idea who he’s messing with.” My fingers creep around to the back of her neck, and her back flattens against the wall. “I play a game every day of my life, baby. I know more rules than you can ever believe exist. He thinks he can meet you for a half-assed drink and threaten me? He’s a joke. I laugh. Really, I do.”
“What?” she breathes again.
“If your fucking ex thinks he can walk back into your life, into my life, and threaten me with taking something that is inconceivably, irrevocably, indisputably fucking mine, he has the shock of his life coming to him.” My words are growled into her ear. “Let him play, baby. He has no idea what he’s just done.”
My front door slams open. “Are you fucking insane?”
“What?” I stare at Leah. A very angry Leah.
“You’re going on a date with Mitch? Fucked-your-cousin Mitch?”
“It’s not a date,” I protest, throwing my wallet into my purse. “We’re just talking, okay?”
“About what? How he can further try to convince you he messed up oh so badly and wants you back?”
I ignore her, throwing my lip balm and nail file into my purse, too.
“Mace, this is crazy. Just come home with me or something if you’re trying to prove a point.”
“I’m not trying to prove anything.” I say the words calmly, but my lungs are tightening. “Last I checked, I was single, and that means I can do whatever I want.”
“God.” Leah runs her hand through her hair. “Do you know what you’re doing? Like, have you actually thought this through? Jack is going to go fucking mental.”
I stop, my lungs filling with air as I inhale sharply. “Jack doesn’t get a say,” I eventually reply, zipping my purse.
“Of course he does!”
“Does he?” I look at her. “Does he really? Because three days ago, he came barging in here and demanded I tell him what Mitch said. Then, when I did, he spewed a whole bunch of what I now know to be bullshit about how he wants me and will fight him for me. Then, three hours later, my dad flipped and had one of his moments, and Jack walked out. He’s since ignored all my messages.” My voice cracks, but I blink hard and force strength back into it. “So, no, he doesn’t get a say. He doesn’t even get an opinion.”
Leah’s mouth opens and closes a few times.
“Stop smacking your lips together like you’re gasping for air. You aren’t a fish.”
She frowns. “Why would he do that?”
I lift my shoulders for a shrug, but when they fall, they fall really far. “I don’t know,” I say in a small voice. “Seriously, all we do is have sex and fight. It would be really great if the sex outweighed the fighting, but it doesn’t. I don’t think so, anyway. But…why did he have to come back, Lee? Why couldn’t Mitch just stay away?”
She doesn’t answer, and I continue.
“In fact, why couldn’t they both just stay away? Jack and Mitch. I was much happier with Mr. Jack Rabbit. Oh, God, he’s basically named after my vibrator. I can never use it again. I’m never going to have another orgasm again.” I slump onto my sofa with a groan.
“Wow. That was a lot of thoughts in a short space of time.”
“I’m never going to be able to use my vibrator again,” I whine again, resting my head back on the sofa.
Leah stifles a laugh. “I fucking love that, out of everything you just told me, the thing you focus on is the vibrator.”
“Well, duh.” I roll my head so I can look at her. “Mr. Jack Rabbit was the one thing in my life that was supposed to be constant, and if he died on me, I could replace him, no problem. No begging calls, texts, or talks. No emotion fluctuations or arguments. Believe me. Losing my vibrator is far more traumatizing than losing real, live men who piss me off all the time.”
“When you put it like that, there’s no arguing with your logic.”
“Of course there isn’t. Vibrators are logical. Men aren’t. Vibrators can’t talk shit back to you or walk out on you.”
“Now tell me,” I whisper, curving my arms around her tiny body. “Did he ever want you like I do? In three years, baby, he ever desire you the way I do? He ever make you come as hard as I do? He ever drive you to distraction with insane need? He ever stop for one second and worship your body like the fucking temple I know it is?”
Macey exhales quietly, but it’s the kind of breath I never cared about before. The kind of breath that’s full of unspoken words. Unspoken words I want fucking spoken.
“Didn’t catch that.”
“No,” she breathes out. “No. Never.”
My arms go around her body as I move in front of her and clasp her against me. My erection rapidly deflates with the words I’m about to speak.
“Then, babe, my part in his bullshit game is almost done, except now, I’m calling my play. You go to him, and you let him think we’re done. That he has a chance. You see what he can do to you. You see if he can give you half the things I can—and I don’t even mean materially, M. I mean forever. If you can spend a few days with your ex and truly believe he can pleasure you like I can, treasure you like I can, then I’ll respect your decision. But, baby…” I sink my fingers into her hair and tug her head back so her eyes crash into mine with fire and apprehension mixing together. “Baby, if you think he can love you like I can, then get ready for a fight to the death.”
She freezes in my arms. “Jack.”
“I’m not gonna stand here with your naked body against mine and tell you I love you just to convince you to tell him where to go. I don’t love you, M. But I could. I know I could. You’re more fucking perfect for me than anything I’ve ever known. I won’t lie to you, baby. I crave your body and I crave you, but I don’t love you.”
Her eyes flicker with something indiscernible, but I hold her gaze.
“But just imagine—if I can make you feel physically what he can only dream of, just think of how I could love you one day.”
She drops her eyes and rests her face in my chest. My words hit her hard—I know they did. I’m not fucking dumb. But they didn’t hit her the way they would most girls. Right now, I know Macey couldn’t give a shit whether or not I love her. All she cares about is the fact that she’s the tug toy between two guys. She’s the ball being passed from end zone to end zone, quarterback to wide receiver. All she gives a shit about is that she makes the right decision in the end.
All she gives a shit about is that, when it’s her turn to call the play, she calls it right.
“Somethin’ you should know about me.” My words buzz along her jaw with my lips. “Football is my life. That isn’t ever gonna change, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it.”
“Jack,” she whispers, her fingers digging into my sides.
“Three things you never cared to ask about me that I’m gonna tell you anyway.” I hover my mouth above hers, my eyes steely and intent on hers. “I play the game hard. I fuck harder. And I love even fucking harder than that.”
“Prove it,” she whispers. “I’ve seen the first two. Prove the last one.”
“I won’t force you into choosing between us, but there’s only so many times that motherfucker can stand in front of me and tell me he’s kissed you before my fist will make it very fuckin’ hard for him to do it again.”
“Jack,” she scolds halfheartedly, knocking my chest with her fingers.
I smile. “Baby, I don’t love you and you don’t love me, but love ain’t everythin’. Trust? Desire? Respect? Laughter? Now that’s everything. Love is the cherry on the top of all of those things.”
“I like cherries.”
“Me, too, babe. Especially when they’re five foot somethin’, brunette, and come with a great rack.”
“Jack!” she shrieks, laughing. Macey presses her face into my chest, and my shoulders shake with my own laughter. “I cannot believe you just said that.”
“Laughter,” I murmur, still smiling. “Told you it’s everything.”
She shakes her head against me, pauses, and then looks up at me. The smile dies from her lips. “What if I’m not your cherry?”
“Try me.” I run my thumb over her bottom lip and hover my mouth above hers. “You taste like one?” I cover her mouth with mine. “Yep. And you’re sure as hell a five foot somethin’, brunette, and I know for a fucking fact you have a damned great rack, so no worries, baby. You could definitely be my cherry.”
“Nah. I’m not sweet enough.” A grin slowly breaks out on her face. “There’s a little too much sass in me to be a cherry. I’m more of the sprinkles variety.”
“Chocolate or normal?”
“Normal,” she responds with a sigh. “They’re pretty.”
“And you most definitely are.”
“Pretty? Aw, cute. Do you need your nap now, Mr. Kindergartener?”
I raise my eyebrows. “Are you sprinkles or elastic? Because you bounce back quickly.”
“That’s one of the perks of being a bitch. We have our moments with that emotional crap, and then we snap right on back to unfeeling.”
“If you weren’t crying five minutes ago, I’d be totally fucking hitting on you right now.”
She brings her eyes up to mine, dark and seductive. “I’m not crying now.”
“You offering, baby?” I whisper low, my blood pounding at that sexy look in her eyes.
“I’m not wearing your jersey for any other reason,” she breathes. “And my body is shutting my brain up. So come on, Jack Carr. Remind me why you’re cherry quality.”
My favorite by Emma Hart! I enjoyed everything about Sidelined. Jack is definitely hard to ignore and I didn’t. The chemistry between Jack and Macey leapt off the pages and kept them turning.
It was refreshing that it wasn’t the hero that was commitment shy. Sidelined gives us a story that has both characters needing closure on past relationships before they are able to move forward. Hart gives us some wonderfully likable secondary characters…both sets of family members.
I’m looking forward to Intercepted and Reid’s story.
The son of the best quarterback the league has ever seen, filling legendary shoes as the L.A. Vipers’ quarterback was inevitable for Corey Jackson. So was meeting Leah Veronica—the first girl to hand him his ass without putting a hair out of place.
If only it was that simple.
When Corey discovers who she is, and private photos of Hollywood’s finest find their way online, everything they thought they knew is thrown into disarray.
And when secrets are exposed and hearts are shattered, they have to figure out if they’ve been blindsided by love or reality, and if it’s worth running the extra yard to win the game they never meant to play.