We’ve been training together for a week and each night we keep playing out this same scenario. I’ll admit it—seeing him there every time… I go weak in the knees.
“Ready?” West glances in my direction and his lips tilt up into this endearing smile. It’s sexy and wicked and adorable all at the same time. I tuck my damp hair behind my ear. There’s one locker room and, within it, two showers. I loitered in the gym when we finished cooling down—washed down the mats and bags, cleaned the mirror, untangled jump ropes—anything to keep from being in the same area as him when he was naked.
I’m attracted to West. There’s no denying it. Whenever he’s around, my heart does this insane fluttering like millions of hummingbirds have taken up residence in my chest. So space…it’s definitely what we need. “I told you I’d take the bus home.”
“I know, but it’s late.” Eleven at night, our latest training session yet.
“Afraid I’m going to kick the bus driver’s butt?”
He chuckles and the flutter changes as the hummingbirds soar into the sky. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m worried about. Come on—let’s go.”
We walk out and I shiver from head to toe. The cold bites at my face, my fingers, my neck and burns my lungs. “The white flag will be out tonight.”
“What?” His breath crystallizes into a fog.
“It’ll be below freezing,” I say quickly, mentally kicking myself for the slip. “The homeless shelters ignore capacity and take in extra people when it’s this cold. Hold on for a sec. I’ve got to take care of something. You can head on to the car.”
I cut to the right of the warehouse and pick up the pace, half-grateful for the chore. Discussing homeless shelters is not on the top of the list…or the bottom. Last week, I told West I understood what it’s like to be homeless. He later asked me about the condition of the shelters. Does he know that’s where my family and I lived for a short time or did he make the assumption? Living in the shelter is my dirty secret. Just as dirty as my breakup with Matt and almost as dirty as my current living conditions.
Because West can be the most annoying guy on the face of the planet, he follows. “What are you doing?”
“I’m pretty sure I told you to stay put.”
West must have a hearing deficiency. “I’ll come along.”
“You never freaking listen, do you?”
West continues to tread on areas of my life where I’ve never allowed anyone. I stop and so does he. “Will you go wait for me in the car?”
“Are you cold, Haley? Because I’m cold. I’m going with or we can stay here and freeze to death. Either way, we’re together.”
It’s cold enough that my wet hair is forming into icicles. “You are so high-maintenance.”
The parking-lot lamp behind him creates a shadow along his face, but that smile is hard to miss. I’m irritated with him and I want to stay irritated with him, but those types of smiles make it hard to stay mad at him for long.
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” he asks.
My mouth gapes. “I am not high-maintenance.”
He rocks his eyebrows. “I’m messing with you. For real, it’s cold, so let’s move.”
“Will you stay here? Just one second. I swear I’ll never be out of your sight.”
In a sweeping motion, he waves his hand for me to continue.
The blacktop beneath my feet crackles as it gives way to gravel and, with West a safe distance away, I approach the tiny camper and knock on the door. The muted and distorted sound of a crowd roaring fades away. John’s always watching a fight—for entertainment, for training, for scouting, for tips on how to beat an upcoming opponent.
The entire vehicle shakes as John opens the door. He’s in the same clothes as usual, a T-shirt and nylon athletic pants. He rubs his eyes as if waking from a deep sleep. “You’re done?”
“We’re done,” I say. “I forgot to get the keys from you so you’ll need to lock up.”
John grabs his coat. “I’ll drive you home.”
“Thanks, but West will do it.”
He peers over my shoulder. “I’ll lock up after I finish watching this tape.”
Nerves cause a flash freeze in my bloodstream. “What about my uncle?” I’ve never come in this late before. Jax and Kaden have, sometimes they roll in later, but never me.
“I talked to him and he knows you’re training. I’ll warn you, he’s not happy, but he’ll let you in. You’ve got to be there by eleven on a school night and midnight on the weekend.”
I shift, suddenly consumed with the urge to run and meet curfew. “It’s eleven now. When were you going to tell me?” Anytime this week could have helped.
“I would have come and gotten you by eleven-thirty and taken you home.”
I assess sleepy “Grandpa.” “Uh-huh.”
The old man cracks a rare grin. “Go on before you do miss curfew.”
I hesitate. “Jax and Kaden weren’t here tonight.”
“But they train at the gym every night.” I know because I’ve been stuck at the hellhole house without them. John cocks a hip against the doorframe, waiting for me to catch up, and it doesn’t take long for the synapses in my brain to fire. “They say they’re training and then they go out.”
“Good night, Haley.” He shuts the door. Jax and Kaden had a way out and they didn’t include me. My insides drop to my frozen toes. Oh, my God, they must seriously hate me.
I say nothing as I pass West.
“Is that his other office?”
“No.” It’s where he lives.
West unlocks the passenger-side door and holds it open for me. “You okay?”
He searches my face and the sympathy screams he knows the answer. I slide into the seat and a few seconds later, he joins me. West revs the engine, blasts the heater and angles the vents at me. It’s a sweet gesture. One that makes me sort of regret not dating fighters.
Thinking of Kaden and Jax and all their secrets, I kick my shoes off and curl into a tight ball in the seat. How did everything become so screwed up?
“It’ll get warmer in a second.” West pulls out of the parking lot and heads to my uncle’s.
He assumes I’m cold. I’m always cold, but I’m trying to hold myself together. Sure, Jax and Kaden weren’t happy with me, but to not tell me John would cover for us…