#Player (Hashtag #3)


by Cambria Hebert

Chapter One

Rimmel

“You could find out her entire family is full of murderers and I would still love her.”

“Funny you should say that, because it appears her father is the one who killed her mother.”

It wasn’t true.

Even my sharp denial wouldn’t stop what I overheard pounding inside my brain over and over again until I swear my heart beat to the rhythm of those words.

And just like a heartbeat, though no one could hear, I sure as hell felt it.

I couldn’t think about that right now.

There was no room to feel the implications of Valerie’s accusation.

My focus could be only on the man who sat closely beside me. His body wasn’t relaxed like normal. And even though he tried to smile at me with his easygoing, no-worries smile, it didn’t quite come through.

He was worried. Anxious and probably in pain. Though, I’d have better luck pulling out my teeth with my own fingers than ever hearing him actually admit any part of him was in pain.

He didn’t have to say it and I didn’t have to hear it.

I knew. And Romeo was all that mattered right now.

“You doing okay?” I whispered, tilting up my head to look at his face.

His ever-blue eyes found mine and he smiled. “Waiting sucks.”

It seemed like we’d been in the room for hours. Maybe it had been. I really couldn’t say. The concept of time had been reduced to moments.

One moment after the next.

It had been that way since I stepped into the indoor football field, thinking Romeo had asked me to be there.

One moment I was giddy with anticipation, and the next I was hanging vicariously from a field goal post, strung up by rope and looking into the eyes of someone who’d clearly come unhinged.

I shivered, and Romeo’s arm tightened around me. His hand came up and flattened against the side of my head as he gently steered it against him. “You still cold?” he rumbled.

I felt the words echo in his chest more than I actually heard them.

“No,” I replied. He was too close for me to be cold.

But not even the steadfast warmth of the man I loved was going to be enough to completely erase the memory of what Zach had done to me. To us.

“Relax,” Romeo whispered, trying once more to push me farther against him.

I held myself stiffly and lifted my head despite his effort. “I don’t want to lean on you anymore,” I said. “You’re arm…”

“Is broken,” he said. “And it’s over here.” He pointed across his body where he held it closely against him. The skin was a mottled purple color and the flesh was swollen. My stomach flipped over every single time I looked at it.

His arm wouldn’t be like that if he hadn’t climbed up on that field goal to get me down.

“You’re on this side.” He went on like he didn’t realize just how upsetting it was to see him like that. “And you aren’t hurting me.”

I gave in and lay against him. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his skin was smooth, his body so solid and strong that when I closed my eyes, I could pretend nothing on him could ever possibly be broken.

“Rim,” he whispered a few minutes later.

“Hmm?”

“I need you to tell me what happened.” His voice was harsh. “Before I got there.”

My eyes sprang open. Why would he even want to know? Why would he want to relive anything that happened on that field even a second more than he had to?

“It’s over, Romeo. There’s no reason to bring it back up.”

“Hey,” he whispered and slid his body out from under mine.

I moved, immediately thinking maybe my weight was hurting him after all. But before I could go very far, he turned onto his side to face me and palmed my hip, gently motioning for me to do the same.

I glanced down in alarm because the hand he was holding me with was attached to his broken arm. He hadn’t moved it that far or even that much, but I didn’t want him to move it at all.

Even as my body obeyed, turning on my side so we were face to face, my eyes went right to the place just above his elbow where the skin was clearly traumatized.

I really hoped they came in here soon and I hoped they brought a giant Band-Aid. I knew it wouldn’t fix what happened, but maybe not having to stare at it every second would make it easier to process.

“Hey,” he said again, his voice gruff yet commanding.

I looked up.

He shook his head slowly, silently telling me to stop. His hand stayed still against the curve of my hip. He touched me nowhere else.

He didn’t have to.

The azure shade of his eyes caressed me to my soul. I swear he looked at me like no one else ever could. It was like there was nothing else in existence except me. It was like he wasn’t just looking at me, but in me, and I was the most precious thing he’d ever seen.

I got caught up in that gaze. I got caught up in him. My chest felt like it caved in, but not in a disaster sort of way. Like it was sealing in everything he was saying even though no words ever left his tongue.

“How do you do it?” I whispered. My tongue felt thick against the roof of my mouth.

“Do what?” he asked. That look never once left his eyes. If anything, it swept me in tighter.

“How do you look at me like… like I’m everything?”

He made a low sound in the deepest part of his throat. Sort of like a growl, sort of like an agreement. “Because you are.”

“Romeo.” I sighed.

“Rimmel,” he replied. “Don’t forget.”

I started to pull back from the moment, but his fingers tightened on my hip. I looked back up.

“Don’t forget this moment. Don’t forget the absolute truth in the way you feel right now. I love you and I’m not going to stop.”

Emotion welled up in my throat and tears rushed to the backs of my eyes. His words were beautiful, but it was the reason he said them that had me so choked up.

This wasn’t the end.

Beyond this moment, this quiet, whole moment with him, were many more. Many more that weren’t going to be like this one.

We were going to have to keep fighting to keep what was ours.

“I’m not going to stop either,” I whispered.

A smile stretched over his face and lit up his eyes. I leaned closer and sealed my vow with my lips. The rush of heat I always felt when we kissed tingled my toes and they curled into the blankets. I opened my mouth so his tongue could venture inside, and I sighed, so wanting to feel him.

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