Summer Fling

“Carrie Thorpe.”

I still heard that voice in my dreams. I was going to have to speak to Win eventually. Might as well get it over with.

I buzzed him in. Then I opened the door and watched him lumber up the dimly lit stairs.

He was larger than life, filling my doorway with his height and bulk, bringing the cold and the scent of winter with him.

I didn’t offer to take his coat. “What do you want?”

His dark eyes glittered in the flickering candlelight. Flakes of snow melted in his black curls. “Carrie Thorpe.”

“There’s no such person,” I said.

“No wonder I couldn’t find you.” His deep voice rumbled through me. “I looked, you know. For years. On every form of social media I heard of. But no Carrie Thorpe ever popped up.”

“She doesn’t exist,” I repeated, not believing him.

“Caroline Maplethorpe slumming it in Cortland.” His tone was bitter.

“Caroline Maplethorpe trying not to trade in on her father’s name,” I retorted, stung by his accusation. The truth was far less dramatic.

Win still had the power to annihilate me, but I’d never let him know how vulnerable he made me. Survival. That was my priority.

“You’ve done well for yourself,” I said. I’d followed his career to the majors, his injury two seasons ago, and the subsequent surgery that led him to a rehab stint in Syracuse.

“If you mean better than Flash, then yeah.”

Flash. Jordan “Flash” Gordon. He’d introduced Win to me, in a manner of speaking.

“I got called up for three games, and you disappeared,” Win said. “I went a little crazy.”

“It was time for me to leave. College was starting. The timing had nothing to do with your getting called up.”

That was the truth. Part of it anyway.

He stared at me. Through me. He’d always been able to peer into the crevices of my soul.

“What do you want?” My voice shook.

The intensity of his gaze never wavered. “I don’t know.”

That was new. Seven years ago, Win Winston had always known what he wanted.

“I thought I wanted you, but now you’re telling me you don’t exist.”

There were many things I could have said. I could have asked if he’d never had a meaningful relationship with another woman, but that would imply he’d found our relationship meaningful. While it was certainly memorable, I doubted it had much meaning for him.

Didn’t he understand the rules? What we’d had that long-ago summer was a fling. He was a young, good-looking, up-and-coming pitcher, and I was a young, out-of-control, self-destructive girl on the run from emotions I couldn’t handle. I would have done anything to be able to feel.

I did everything I could in order to feel something. Anything.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“I’m pitching for the Saltboilers until I’m ready for the majors again.”

“I meant, why did you follow me out of the restaurant?”

“Why are you surprised I did?” he countered. “Although I guess that should tell me something.”

We stared at each other for several silent moments.

“You sent your boyfriend home,” Win finally said. His voice was husky, and his gaze flicked to my left hand. “A husband wouldn’t have left, so I know you’re not married. You should have known I’d be knocking on your door.”

I struggled for cool. A third party had never stopped him—or me—in the past. “I think you’d better leave.”

Was it the muted light, or did his expression darken? I couldn’t tell.

“I meant what I said to you that summer,” he said.

The problem was that he’d said a lot of things. We both had. I hadn’t meant much of what I’d said, and based on the facts, I’d assumed he hadn’t either. Besides, the spoken words hadn’t defined the rest of my life.

I wasn’t prepared for his hand to hover over my cheek. Heat from his palm drew my face like night-vision goggles to prey. His thumb flicked a strand of hair off my brow. When his lips brushed mine, a shock of familiarity, of yearning, bolted through me.

“You’re right,” he said, his voice a harsh rasp in the quiet of the room. “I’d better leave while I still can.”

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