A heartwarming new standalone romance about love, family, and football, The Hard Count is releasing tomorrow, and I have a fabulous new excerpt for you. Enjoy!
“You’re mad at me,” he says, his fingers sliding to mine, his thumb covering the top of my knuckles while the rest of his hands hold my palms.
“I’m not mad at you, Nico. I was busy. I have things that don’t have anything to do with you,” I say, still fighting.
“You’re still mad at me,” he says, and I glance up just enough to see his smile, all lopsided and perfect, the dimple that he gets when he’s right in its place. I hate him so much.
“Why would I be made at you,” I sigh, acting as best as I can while my mind races through all of the reasons I am mad at Nico Medina—not a single one of them really his fault.
I meet his challenge, staring back at him, forcing the stern expression to remain on my face, while he looks back at me with perfect lips curved up a hint on one side and unfair eyes that act as target sights. I’m caught in them, and they will not let go.
“You’re mad because of some homecoming dance,” he says, and I laugh once because…fuck!
“Admit it,” he smirks.
“Nico,” I begin, finding it hard to even say his name. “I could care less who you want to go to some stupid school dance with.”
“Couldn’t care less,” he says quickly. I tilt my head and pinch my brow. “You said you could care less, but really…you mean you couldn’t.”
I jerk my hands away and huff.
“Could you?” he says, his hands back in his pockets, his head tilted, angled so I can’t ignore it.
I push my tongue in my cheek and shake my head, glancing away, but always coming back to his gaze. His stupid, perfect, eyes and face that I want to put my hand on. The damned lock of his hair that falls forward when his head leans forward, his tongue caught in his teeth. His kissable lips that I felt in a dream and watched speak in class. His arrogance. His confidence.
“Gah!” I exhale, shaking my head and focusing on the bricked wall behind him. He stands there with one foot against the wall, his back leaning into it, so comfortable seeing me so uncomfortable.
“You make me so mad!” My eyes slide to his, and his lip ticks higher.
“I knew you were mad at me,” he nods.
I stretch my arms out wide, my eyes wider, and I stare up to the ceiling with another shake of my head.
“Fine!” I shout. “Yes, you got me. I’m mad at you! Can I go do class now, please?”
Nico snickers, and I cross my arms over my chest. He pushes forward from the wall, taking a few steps toward me. On instinct, I take one back, but not far enough from his reach. He reaches for my hand again, and I hug myself tighter, tucking my fingers under each arm for protection. I’m throwing a fit now, but I’m this far in, there really isn’t any way to undo it.
Nico holds my elbows when he’s unable to get to my hands, and realizing how ridiculous I would look spinning out of his hold, I give in and let him. His touch is gentle and warm, and I wish I could just get over myself and take his hands back in mine. But I’m scared. My bottom lip shakes with nerves. Nico’s eyes glance at it, so I pull it into my teeth. I want to hide every weakness from him, but eventually I’ll have to curl up inside myself. I have too many.
“Why are you mad at me, Reagan?”
He says my name, and the word falls from his lips soft and sweet. No judgment, no challenge. My lip falls loose from the hold of my teeth and my eyes flutter shut for a long blink. I open again to find him waiting, still looking at me.
“I don’t know,” I say, with a small shake of my head.
“But you are,” he says, and I nod with the same slight movement, sucking in my bottom lip and breathing through my nose.
“Yeah,” I say, my lip falling away and my eyes only able to look at his cheek.
I’m holding myself tighter than I ever have, my fingers actually digging into my sides, my nails rough against my skin through the fabric of my gray Cornwall sweatshirt. Nico doesn’t flinch once. His eyes stay on mine when I give in, and his expression doesn’t shift from the gentle, sweet one he’s held.
His right hand lets go of my elbow, moving to the few strands of hair resting against my forehead, falling over one eye. Nico takes them with his thumbs, moving them behind my ears, his eyes watching his movement then settling back on mine.
“You’ve worn your hair down ever since I said I liked it,” he says.
I breathe in long and deep, letting myself feel this moment—all of it. I have worn my hair down. I did it hoping he would touch it, but never once actually thinking he would.
“That’s how I knew,” he says, and my forehead crinkles. He smiles on one side, repeating the gesture and moving the long wave of blonde hair from my face again. “That’s how I knew I was more than just some guy you wanted on your dad’s football team.”