An all-new standalone contemporary romance is coming next week from authors Kristen Callihan and Samantha Young, and I have a sneak peek for you.
How could I put much-needed distance between me and Rhys if I confided deep, emotional history to him? “It’s not relevant.”
“I think it is, if your boy is making such a big deal about it. My guess … Theo is some rich little f***er who screwed you over. Is that why you don’t have a man? You don’t trust guys ’cause of a first love gone bad?”
The memory of Theo still caused a deep ache in my chest, and Rhys’s supposition left a bad taste in my mouth. “He died,” I blurted out. “He was my childhood sweetheart. We grew up in the same town, started dating when we were twelve. He was my first everything.” I turned toward him as he drew to a halt beside me. “I loved him in a way I thought I would get to for the rest of my life. Until one night when we were seventeen, he walked home from a friend’s party, drunk, on a dark country road, and a car hit him. And they left him there to die by the side of the road.” Tears burned in my eyes, but I fought them back. “He was my best friend … and then he was just gone.”
“Jesus, f*** …” Rhys suddenly pulled me into his arms, and I didn’t stop to think before I rested my head on his chest and slid my arms around his back. “Tink, I’m so sorry.”
We were silent a while, just holding each other in the middle of the street, until I felt his arms tighten. His voice carried softly down to me. “My best friend died too.” The words sounded torn from him. “I watched him die in a bout. Jake. We grew up together. He was like a brother to me. And … there was nothing I could do. One minute he was alive … and the next, I watched the light go out of his eyes.”
He shuddered against me and I dug my fingers into his shoulder blades, wishing I could dig the pain right out of him. I tilted my head back and the agony I saw behind all the cocky charm and humor in his eyes made my heart squeeze.
“Rhys,” I whispered, hating to see someone so big, capable, and strong filled with so much grief.
“He left behind a wife and kid. Marcy and Rose. The f***ing sport I loved tore away my brother, tore away Marcy’s husband, Rose’s dad.” He shook his head, fighting his emotion. “First time someone called me the Widowmaker after he died … I threw up.”
“Rhys.” I pushed deeper into him.
Now I knew. I knew why he couldn’t get back in that ring.
“So I get it to a certain extent.” He caressed my cheek, his eyes following the trail his fingers made across my skin. “I get how it feels to lose your best friend. To not be able to move on.”
And I realized he did. Gently extricating myself from his embrace, I reached for his hand. “I don’t think not going back to fighting is an inability to move on, Rhys. It’s a choice you made. A choice you should be proud of.” At the abject surprise on his face, I curled my hand around his and gripped it tight. “I can’t imagine the expectations people had of you as a champion … but I can imagine that those expectations weighed heavily on your shoulders. To turn your back on that, to do what was right for you, to follow your gut … Rhys, that takes more courage than putting on those gloves and getting in that ring.”
Pain flickered across his features, the muscle in his jaw flexing again, as he stared into my eyes. Then he lowered his gaze to where I held his hand and his grip tightened. When he eventually looked up again, there was something like awe in his expression.
And something dangerous to my emotions.
When he spoke, his voice was rough, hoarse. “Let me get you home, sweetheart.”
Our walk to the gym was silent but Rhys didn’t release my hand. When we got to his garage, to his bike, he brushed my hair off my shoulders and carefully put my helmet on for me. Once I got on the bike after he’d straddled it, he took my hands and drew them around his waist so I was pressed as close to him as I could get.
Part of me feared arriving at my place because with the thick tension between us, I half expected Rhys to ask to come up.
And the scary thing?
I wasn’t sure I would say no.
However, Rhys didn’t ask to come up. He stayed on the bike as I got off. He removed his helmet, waiting patiently as I took off mine. He reached for my hand and jerked me toward him.
My heart jumped into my throat, only to nosedive down again when he placed a brotherly kiss to my forehead.
“’Night, Tinker Bell. I’ll see you Saturday, yeah?”
I had to clear my throat to speak. “Saturday,” I agreed, stepping back.
“Not leaving until you’re safe inside, sweetheart.”
Confused, disappointed, I nodded numbly and hurried inside my building. It was only when I was inside the elevator that I slumped against it and whispered, “You are seriously, seriously in trouble, Parker Brown.”