Slow and Steady Rush Excerpt
“Dude . . .” Logan drew out the innocuous greeting, imbuing it with a wealth of questions. He took a seat across from Robbie’s desk in the football pavilion and settled his hands on spread knees.
Christ, had Logan divined the confused, lustful thoughts Robbie had entertained about his cousin? He’d seen Darcy in the bleachers. Normally, he tuned out the buzz of female chatter and laughter during his practices. He lasered his attention on conditioning the team for their first game, but his gaze had darted to her more times than he cared to admit. Her swinging ponytail, T-shirt, and shorts were in sharp contrast to the rest of the bleacher babes.
His stoicism had turned him an unwilling challenge for every unattached female in Falcon—and even some of the married ones. Football practice had become a minefield of lipstick, short skirts, and cleavage.
Logan was his best friend—outside of Avery. Did he believe Robbie had taken advantage of Darcy? Robbie’s anxiety grew to fill the silence. He broke. “Nothing happened with Darcy last night. I didn’t touch her.”
Not for lack of wanting to, he failed to add.
“Obviously.” Logan chuffed and gestured from Robbie’s head to his toes.
“She was buzzed, and I—wait, why ‘obviously’?” Robbie held his hands up and stopped his excuses. “I’m not a troll living under a bridge.”
“You could have told me, you know. I’m open-minded and accepting.” Logan wagged his finger toward Robbie. “But you’ve been with women, unless you were faking it. Are you bi?”
His blood picked up speed. Adrenaline, shock, incredulity hammered at his heart and disembodied his mind. All he could do was stare at Logan and blink.
“I’m not bi,” Robbie finally said.
“I’m not gay or bi. Where the hell did you get the idea I was? Did Shelia say something?”
Logan crossed his arms and slouched back in the chair. “Sheila said Darcy outed you at practice.”
“Why would Darcy think I’m gay? Last night . . .” Robbie shuffled a hand through his hair to rub at his nape. A headache due to the heat and the late night throbbed at the base of his skull.
“You said nothing happened.” Logan’s voice turned hard, protective, as did his stance, elbows braced on knees.
“Nothing did happen . . . but I thought . . . I mean, she seemed . . . never mind.” She had been attracted to him, hadn’t she? Had he completely misread her signals? “Has she got something against me?”
Logan scratched at the stubble on his jaw. “I don’t know. She’s worried you’re being nice to Ada to get all her land.”
The destructive rumors bordered on hateful. Maybe his first impression of her at the river was right. Maybe she was flighty and selfish. But last night she’d been funny and sweet. “Is she trying to get me run out of town?”
“If Darcy said you were gay, she believed it.”
Robbie grabbed his baseball cap and stood so forcefully the chair rocketed back into a whiteboard, scattering markers. “Where is she?”
“Back home with Ada by now, I’d guess.”
Without another word, he whistled for Avery and walked out. Pulling his brim low, he ignored the sideways glances and whispers. He’d served side by side with gay men. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a farce to appease the political machine. You couldn’t live with a man, face the danger they faced, and not know. Never bothered him.
But his foothold in the town and with the football team was tenuous. Not everyone on the school board had wanted to hire an outsider. He still had to prove himself, and he wasn’t naïve. Rumors circulating about his sexual preference weren’t going to garner him fans in the generally conservative town.
By the time he slid into his truck, he recognized his anger had grown too hot. Avery licked his hand. Robbie closed his eyes and caressed his dog’s soft ears while he breathed deep and counted. By the time he’d reached twenty, his boiling anger had reduced to a simmer.
The bouts of panic and anger he’d struggled with since childhood came less and less frequently and had become easier to control. He drove toward Miss Ada’s with determination tensing his muscles. He’d fight to stay in Falcon.
His truck tossed gravel onto her little convertible in its skidding stop. With Avery on his heels, he hopped out, circled the porch to the kitchen by habit, and yanked the screen door open. Avery bounded inside, and Robbie followed. The screen door hit hard, startling Darcy like a quail ready to take flight, her hands braced on the counter. Avery fed on Robbie’s agitation and barked at their cornered prey.
A black cotton T-shirt dress hung loosely but exposed miles of leg. Damp hair waved over her shoulders, and bare feet shifted on the dark-planked floor. Her face was makeup free and pale. Her teeth pulled on both lips, drawing the only color into her face. In contrast to the tension clouding the room, something smelled wonderful and comforting. Sweet and rich.
He skipped the pleasantries. “You announced to everyone I’m gay. Why?”
“I did not.” She pushed up straighter against the counter.
“None of those women got the idea I’m a homosexual from you?”
Her face dropped to her shoulder before popping back up to his. “Well”—she drew the word out—“one of the women eavesdropped on a private conversation I was having with Kat. It was certainly not my intention to wrongly out you to the town. I really thought you were gay, but now I know you’re not.”
He used his size to intimidate her, feeling like a jerk even though he couldn’t stop himself. She pressed farther back against the counter. Avery’s hackles rose, and the dog added a threatening throaty growl to the already dark undertones. Her gaze bounced between them.
“Stand down,” he said to Avery, accompanied by a hand signal. The dog sat, but the reverberating rumble continued. Robbie switched his attention back to Darcy. “Are you trying to get me fired?”
Her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly, drawing his eye. “Of course not. It was a total misunderstanding. Logan told me you were a ‘man’s man,’ and when I asked if Avery was your girlfriend, you said no. You talked about him like he’s your best friend or something. Like you love him.”
“I do love him. He is my best friend.” Christ, why had he admitted that? Next, she’d be telling everyone he was into bestiality.
“I’m so sorry. I’d had a bit too much to drink and wasn’t thinking . . . straight.” Her eyes widened, and she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, but he couldn’t tell if the Freudian slip amused or embarrassed her. “It’s just that, normally someone like you wouldn’t, you know, be into someone like me. When I thought you were gay and being neighborly, everything made more sense.”
Her words dented his ego. “What? A dumb jock couldn’t be interested in an intelligent, beautiful woman?”
Her face shot to his on a quick, indrawn breath. She tucked hair behind an ear before rubbing the ends in a nervous gesture. “That’s not what I meant at all.”
He closed the distance between them, close enough to see every freckle dotting the bridge of her nose. “How are you going to make this right?”
“I made you a banana pudding,” she lilted, pointing to the casserole dish on the counter.
“A banana pudding? Seriously?”
Her hunched shoulders and the fingernail between her teeth transmitted her nerves in waves. Her gaze was stuck on Avery, and Robbie realized the dog had stepped forward with him, his stance protective, teeth bared. A short whistle had Avery retreating to the door with a whine.
“I could tell everyone you were the best lay of my life and when you blew me off in the morning, I got jealous?” she suggested.
The uncertainty in her voice was in stark contrast to the woman he’d sparred with at the river or flirted with at The Tavern. He relaxed his stance and propped one hand on the counter, leaning in. She pulled back as if afraid. Finally, he had the upper hand. A smile wanted to curl his lips, but he forced his face to stay bland.
“Gee, that makes me sound like a real Boy Scout, doesn’t it? While there’s something appealing about your humiliation—unlike you, lying goes against what I stand for.”
“I didn’t lie exactly.”
He ignored her weak defense and wagged his finger in her face. “Not that I wouldn’t be the best lay of your life, I would. But still, as I didn’t close the deal—”
“Close the deal?” Her shoulders dropped, and her chin jutted forward. The fire he’d sensed yesterday flared between them. “You’re not recruiting me to your football team. And, if you wanted to ‘close the deal,’” she said with air quotes, “why didn’t you make a move?”
“Because you were blitzed, and excuse me for being gentlemanly, but I didn’t want you puking your guts up while I screwed you.” He kept his words intentionally crude.
“Yeah, you sound like a real gentleman.” Her drawl dripped sarcasm. “And, I wasn’t drunk enough for a one-night stand with you, Coach Dalton. You overestimate your appeal.” With a flip of her hair and an exaggerated eye roll, she shoved his arm away and started to the hall door.
Honeysuckle shampoo assailed him on his huge, annoyed inhale. He circled her wrist with reflexes honed on football fields and battlefields and jerked her around, ignoring her huff of surprise.
“What are you doing?” she whispered.
He kept her wrist in a vise, while his other hand settled on the small of her back. The same frisson of desire from the night before seeped into his fingers and gentled his touch. Her face tipped up, her mouth parted, and her blue eyes rounded with an emotion he couldn’t interpret. “Closing the deal.”
His mouth descended. Even though he accepted that he should keep his hands off, his subconscious refused to abide by the logical commands. His tongue coasted along the length of her full, soft upper lip before he pulled it into his mouth. She tasted sweet, like the banana pudding behind her.
He deserved a slap, half-expected one, but instead she delved fingers into his hair and knocked his baseball cap to the floor. Her body melded with his without any encouragement from his hands, which were free to wander up and down her back.
Surrendering to the madness, he shoved the banana pudding to the side and lifted her to sit on the counter, their faces level. Her knees parted, and he stepped into the void. Her heels on his butt pulled him tight against her. God, she was little, but curved and soft and all woman. He pressed into the fullness of her breasts.
Her skirt rode high, an invitation for his hands to coast up bare, silky thighs. He accepted. They moved under her skirt to her hips. The callused tips of his fingers caught on the smooth, satiny fabric of her panties. Her tongue slipped into his mouth. An involuntary groan rose from his chest before he returned the favor, curling his tongue against hers. She pulled at his shoulders, her fingernails scratching through the cotton of his shirt.
He’d kissed her for a very simple reason. He wanted to. His anger and hurt had given him the excuse. It would have been better if she’d been outraged and slapped him away, shamed him out of this attraction. Instead, she turned into a wildcat in his arms. He wanted to shove her panties to the side and tame her.
Avery growled from the door. Could the dog sense Darcy was an imminent threat to Robbie’s sanity? He broke the kiss and heaved in slow, deep breaths. She blinked languorously, her pupils dilated, as if waking from a dream. Her lips were swollen and rosy, and color slashed her cheeks. He wanted her bad. A lurch of fear rocked his stomach, and he threw up walls to protect himself.
Robbie’s kiss stole all logical threads of thought, hurtling her into a territory where only sensations were processed. His soft hair under her fingers, the hard planes of his chest against her breasts, the rough denim abrading her inner thighs, his hands squeezing her hips. But, mostly, his lips and tongue as they worked her into an aroused frenzy.
His mouth drew away from hers, and she floated in the tumultuous aftermath. His face was cast of stone, any sort of gentleness she’d felt in his kiss not reflected in his frigid eyes or frowning mouth. He slid his hands down her legs to pry her ankles from around his hips.
He left her to teeter on the edge of the counter, legs spread wantonly. Forces of nature held true no matter the tipping of her world on its axis, and gravity pulled her to the floor, knees wobbly and hands shaking. After roving his gaze down her body and back to her face, he turned and moved toward the door.
His sudden pivot back made her inhale sharply. In two steps, he had her bracketed between his arms, both his hands on the counter. Their bodies were so close, his heat, his desire pulsed like a living thing, yet he didn’t press into her or touch her in any way.
“I want—” he whispered.
“Yes,” she said, ending on a hiss.
She wanted it too. Wanted him more than she’d ever wanted a man. She’d never felt this needy, this wild. Her legs rocked open, and she rose on her toes. She craved the touch of his hands. He could take her here or carry her to her room. It didn’t matter where he claimed her. It didn’t matter who saw them. They inhaled in synchronicity. She tilted her face to his . . .
“. . . my damn pudding.”
His tensed bicep brushed her sensitive breasts. He tucked the casserole dish under his arm like a football. Performing a militarily precise about-face, he stalked to the door. Avery cut off mid-growl, his head swiveling between them.
A potent combination of anger, lust, and humiliation jolted her body into action. His cap lay on the floor and she kicked it, launching it to the ceiling. Avery caught it on a jump and loped after Robbie. He stopped to retrieve it from his dog’s mouth and mashed it on his head. Avery received a stiff, but gentle pat. Man and dog disappeared around the corner of the house.
She stared out the screen door. A breeze rustled the roses climbing the trellis, the scent at odds with the bile climbing her throat. The spray and crunch of gravel under spinning wheels unstuck her. She picked up the nearest thing to her hand and hurled it at the screen. The overly ripe banana splattered on the floor, leaving a goopy, sweet-smelling mess.
Damn him to hell.