Stroked long, p.12
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       STROKED LONG, p.12

           Meghan Quinn
 

  “Pretty sure.” I grin.

  Tilting her head to the side, she studies me and then pokes the corner of my mouth with her index finger. “Hate to say it, Bodi, but your smile is crippling to all uteruses.”

  “What?” I laugh, not sure how to take that comment.

  “And that laugh too.” Without answering me, she shakes her head and starts dealing cards.

  Was she flirting with me just now?

  No, you idiot, she was paying you a compliment since you’re probably scowling like an angry bastard most of the time.

  “The object of the game is to not be the first person to run out of cards. I’m going to divide the deck in half and once all the cards are dealt, we trade off putting cards down. If we see a jack, we have to slap it. The first one to slap the jack wins the pot of cards underneath.” With a prideful smirk she says, “As a warning, I’m very good at this game.”

  “So it’s just slapping a jack, no skill?”

  “There’s skill,” she says as if offended. “You have to have quick reflexes in this game, Mr. Banks. You might be able to stroke long through the water and propel yourself faster than others, but in this game it’s all about cat-like reflexes.” Like the adorable dork she is, she demonstrates said cat-like reflexes, moving her hand out real fast and then retracting it. “Think you can beat that speed? Check this out.” She does it a couple more times but now with sound effects, adding to the fucking adorable sweetness that radiates off her. “Huh, good right?” She wiggles her eyebrows at me.

  “Devastatingly fast,” I tease.

  “Just you wait, Banks. You’re going down. You have no idea who you’re up against.”

  Looking at the sparkle in her eyes that hits me straight to my core, I know I’m up against a force too great for me to comprehend, too grand to undertake.

  It fucking terrifies me.

  Chapter Nine

  RUBY

  “You can’t do that.”

  “Do what,” I ask, grabbing my pile of cards to add to my collection.

  “Listen, I’ve been pretty lenient up until now with your cheating ways—”

  “Cheating ways,” I scoff. “What on earth are you talking about?”

  Facing me completely on the couch, Bodi looks so serious in the dim light of the lit candle. The only reason I can tell he’s accusing me in a teasing manner is by the slight quirk of his lips. The entire night has been almost a one-eighty from our first hang out in his condo. He’s more talkative—not nearly as talkative as me, I still have to drag things out of him—and he is joking. And . . . oh my God, that smile and laugh has made my stomach flip so many times. It’s truly a beautiful thing to see this complex and broken-down man look so relaxed . . . and light. Makes me want to ensure that light never extinguishes.

  “You’re kidding, right? When you put your card down, you don’t move your hand, you just keep it there. How am I supposed to slap the jack if you’re not even giving me a chance?”

  “I move my hand.”

  “Does this look like moving your hand?” Imitating my card playing, he lays a card down and hovers his hand over it, never moving it away. Yes, that is my move and it’s very incriminating, but after seeing Bodi take the first handful of jacks with ease, I had to come up with something to save my drowning self.

  Living in denial, I say, “I see nothing wrong with that.”

  His eyebrows shoot up. “You don’t see how that’s cheating?”

  “Cheating, no, smart tactics, yes.”

  “Is that right?” Moving his head from side to side, stretching out his muscles, he shakes his arms and leans forward, cards propped up and ready to be laid down. “Two can play that way, Ruby.”

  Oh God, he looks so serious, so intense; what was I thinking? He’s an Olympian, competition runs thick in his blood. I am seriously scared for my slap-jack skills.

  “What are you waiting for? Put your card down.”

  It’s almost as if he’s salivating over this game. Why do I find it so cute? Is there something wrong with me?

  “You’re looking a little intense and—”

  A flash of lightning brightens the room, followed by a roar of thunder, scaring me once again. “Maybe we should call it a night.”

  Leaning back, he tosses the cards to the center and smirks. “I see how you are, quit while you’re ahead once I call you out. I get it. Well played, Ruby.”

  “That’s not it at all,” I backpedal, even though he sees right through me. “I don’t want to keep you up. I’m sure you need to rest to take down the pound of kale you have in your fridge.”

  “Half a pound,” he corrects with a grin. Fainting, yes. I’m practically fainting. “Let me get you a toothbrush so you can get ready for bed. Do you need water or anything?”

  “I’m good.”

  “All right.” He’s standing now, sticking his hands in his pockets as the rain pelts against his expansive wall of windows. “I’ll take the couch. I washed my sheets today, so my bed is clean.”

  I pack up the cards and shake my head. “You can’t take the couch.”

  “Ruby, I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to make a girl sleep on the couch. I might be socially unaware of some things, but I know it’s not proper to make a girl sleep on the couch when there is a perfectly fine bed in the other room.”

  Not liking the way he puts himself down, I say, “You’re not socially unaware. Don’t say that.”

  Shrugging it off, I see that light in his eyes start to fizzle as he backs away from me. He’s retreating; it’s plain as day. He can be warm. I bet not many get to see this kind, gentle warmth, and I’m thankful I have tonight. But I don’t want it to go yet. I want him back.

  “I’ll get that toothbrush for you.” He starts to walk away, but I quickly grab his hand and spin him around.

  I want to lecture him about how amazing he is, what a kind and soulful person he is, but I know the compliments will roll off him like the rain rolling down the windows of his condo. He needs to be in a better frame of mind, a more accepting frame of mind when I compliment him. Instead, I put myself out there.

  “You can’t sleep on the couch.”

  “Ruby . . .”

  “No.” I press my hand against his chest and search his face. My palm is against his heart, and I feel his fast heartbeat. Is he nervous because of me, or because he doesn’t like to be touched? He isn’t pulling away, and if he didn’t want me touching him, he would pull away. So I hold strong. “Look, this is going to sound really stupid, and I have absolutely no ulterior motives, but I’m in a strange place with a storm that doesn’t plan on going anywhere. Please don’t make me sleep alone in there. I promise to keep my distance. I just . . .” I pause, biting my bottom lip. “I’m scared.”

  The crease in his brow unfurrows from my confession. There is agony in his eyes as he weighs his options. I can tell by the way his eyes search mine this is a tough decision for him, and I can’t figure out why. Am I so repulsive that he’s horrified about the mere idea of sharing a bed with me? Does he think I’m going to be super clingy and try to spoon him all night?

  That’s embarrassing if that’s what he thinks. If only I could be privy to his innermost thoughts.

  “Okay, yeah, I don’t want you to be scared. Here.” He takes my hand, grabs the candle, and takes me back to his room.

  Did you see that, he grabbed my hand. MY. HAND.

  “Let me get you a toothbrush and a hand towel. Do you need soap for your makeup?”

  “That would be great, thank you.” For someone so closed off to people, he is one of the most considerate men I’ve ever known.

  “While you get ready for bed, I’ll clean up the living room. Are you going to be okay?”

  “Yeah.” Another loud clap of thunder booms off the walls, making me shrink. I might be a baby but I can’t help it. When thunder is that loud, to the point you’re afraid your home is going to fall apart, that’s scary, I don’t care who you are.

&nb
sp; “I’ll be quick.”

  And quick he is. I finish washing my face when he appears at the bathroom door. Taking in my freshly washed face, he grins but says nothing. Instead he reaches over me, takes his toothbrush, and carefully applies the perfect amount of toothpaste. Capping the tube, he puts it back exactly where he found it, parallel with the counter. Interesting.

  Wanting to give him some privacy, I dry off the wet counter, check my teeth in the mirror one more time, and leave him to his bathroom. I want to see his ritual. I want to watch his meticulous movements and his calculated placement of his possessions.

  Instead I sit on the edge of the bed, not quite sure if he has a particular side preference.

  The candle that was once in the bathroom is now carried to his walk-in closet where he shuts the door. I’m assuming he’s changing, and I’m kind of giddy to find out what kind of jam jams he plans on wearing.

  Please let them be American flags. Please let them be American flags.

  Popping out of the closet, I nearly choke on my own saliva from seeing him in nothing but a pair of Nike shorts that ride low on his hips.

  Now, I really shouldn’t be so turned on by his body. Hell, I can look at it whenever I want thanks to the Internet, but there is something about being in the dark with him, in his bedroom with only a flickering candle lighting up his abs. Yup, I am in full-on lust mode.

  Cringing slightly, he says, “Shit, I didn’t even think about what to wear to bed. Are you okay with this?”

  I wave him off, totally light and breezy, not wanting to mess with his routine, which I know is important to him. “As long as you don’t mind me taking off these sweatpants. They’re comfy and all but they’re a little bulky for bed and this shirt is big enough to be a nightgown on me. Is that okay?”

  He actually looks pained from my question but he nods.

  Jeeze, it’s not like once I take my pants off dragons are going to pop out of my vagina and start biting at his ankles. Oh God, what if he’s afraid my moose knuckle is going to whack him in the middle of the night?

  No, I don’t have a moose knuckle. That was just an unfortunate coincidence.

  “Do you have a side you like to sleep on?” The rain is starting to come down harder and thunder continues to roll through the sky.

  “The right side,” he says curtly.

  Fun-Bodi has retreated, and Mr. Cranky Pants is back. What a joy. Is it really because I asked him not to leave me alone? If that’s the case, I would rather be alone than anger him. I like fun, joking-Bodi, not this cold, stand-offish Bodi. I shouldn’t think that, because I was attracted to him even when he was reticent and aloof. But having seen a warmer side of him, his terse rejection stings. Is it because I was scared? Or is he simply so repulsed by me?

  “I think I might take the couch. Seems like you need your space. I have taken up your night, and you must be sick of me by now. Sorry about that.”

  My confession brings his eyes to mine, the dark of the night reveals nothing on his stoic face. “No, just take the left side.”

  Wow, so warm and welcoming.

  Treading carefully, I answer, “Listen Bodi, I don’t want to step on your toes. I know you have your routine, and I don’t want to mess that up. I can tell you are a little tense right now, and despite feeling grateful to stay the night, I don’t want to overstep my boundaries.”

  Tension rests in his shoulders as he runs his hand through his hair, making it stick up on all ends. “I’m not tense.” He breathes out a heavy breath and stares at the floor as he speaks. “You’re good to stay with me. I don’t want you to be scared.” He pauses and takes another deep breath. I know that look. It’s like the look I saw in my apartment when he was worried about the door being unlocked. My heart reaches out to him. I can tell this is hard for him. “Please get in bed. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”

  “Oh gosh.” I go to his side of the bed and take his hand in mine, capturing it. “You didn’t make me uncomfortable at all. I really didn’t want to step on your toes but if you’re okay with it, I would really like the company. I’m such a wuss.” I try to laugh it off, but he’s still in his retreating mode.

  “Climb in then.” He nods at the bed.

  Simple as that, just climb in, as if he’s not just standing in front of me, shirtless with his toned and shapely shoulders that lead to the nicest arms I’ve ever seen, followed by his rock-hard chest and valley of abs.

  Don’t mind if I do.

  Smiling awkwardly, because that’s what this has become—a very awkward moment—I climb in on his side but work my way to the left to give him his space, making sure not to give him a view of my boy-short clad ass.

  Cool sheets cover my legs and the pillowy soft top of his mattress sucks me in. Is this what money gets you? A bed made by pink unicorns who pluck only the finest materials from the clouds?

  “What’s that?” Bodi asks, lying down and facing me. One of his hands rests under his pillow while the other rests in front of him and his eyes are intent on mine.

  My rapid heartbeat is making it difficult for the air in my lungs to escape. He’s so gorgeous, yet so destructive at the same time.

  “Did I say something?” I ask, getting in the same position so now we look like two gossiping girls at a sleepover.

  “Sounded like you muttered something about unicorns.”

  “Did I say that out loud?” My face flames with embarrassment. Thank God it’s dark and he can’t see the color change in my face.

  “I guess so. What were you saying?”

  “Just that your bed feels like it was made by pink unicorns plucking fluff from only the most pristine clouds.”

  He chuckles. “So you like my bed?”

  “It’s very comfortable.”

  “I’m glad you like it.” His voice is low, almost like . . . he’s embarrassed from the compliment. Has he hosted many lady lovers in this bed?

  “Do you have practice tomorrow?” I ask, wanting to continue this conversation, this moment in the dark where I catch glimpses of his handsome face from flashes of lightning.

  “Day off.”

  Uh-oh, short-answer Bodi is in tow. I’m going to have to break that.

  “Day off, huh? That must be nice.” Shifting just a little closer but not making it noticeable, just a little more intimate, I ask, “What does Bodi Banks do on his day off?”

  Silence fills the room as the subtle creak of his bed sounds and the mattress dips slightly. Did he . . . did he just move closer?

  Warmth threads through my veins from the proximity of his free hand next to mine. He’s close, so close that if I reached out just a little, we could be holding hands in bed while looking each other in the eyes. Would he want to hold hands with me? He’s given me zero indication if he actually thinks I’m attractive or just an annoying coworker he has to put up with.

  A part of me wants to believe he finds me somewhat attractive. I mean, I brush my hair and teeth, so that should give me some points in the attractive column, right?

  BOOM

  The windows above Bodi’s bed rattle, the condo shakes once again, and my heart jumps in my throat from the powerful storm that refuses to let up.

  “It’s okay,” Bodi says, just as his free hand connects with mine. Before I can consider the soft touch of his fingers on my skin, he grips my hand with his, matching our palms together, his thumb running along mine in a gentle, soothing stroke.

  Every inch of my body tingles, becoming well aware of the effect he has on me. He makes me want more, he makes me yearn for something I’m not sure he wants.

  Needing a conversation so I don’t hear my beating heart roar above the storm, I ask, “Are you excited about the upcoming trials?”

  He seems a little shocked from the question, and I fear he might pull his hand away. But he doesn’t. He continues to hold it, leaving me with a feeling of absolute peace.

  “Trials are the worst,” he confesses. “No one really likes them. They are a hu
mp you have to get over to get on the team. You could be the best in the world but one bad day can hand you a ticket back home with no Olympic rings set for your future.”

  “So I take that as a no.”

  “That’s a no. I will be happy when they are over.”

  “Does that make you nervous?”

  He doesn’t answer right away. What could he possibly be thinking? Is he mad I’m asking too many questions? He has his limits, and I’m trying to find out what they are. I pray I didn’t hit one.

  After a moment of silence, he says, “I don’t think nervous is the right word. I’m confident in my skills, in my training, in my mental game; those are all factors I can control, but there is always something I can’t control, which doesn’t sit well with me.”

  There is so much I want to know. I want to ask about his need to control, about his parents, why he’s so adamant about keeping things a certain way, about his obsession of locking everything, but I haven’t earned that privilege yet and if I ask too early, he will distance himself for good. He’s already teetering on the brink of accepting me into his little world. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my chances of being accepted.

  “That’s frustrating. At least you have a grip on what you can control. You will do great. I know you will.”

  “I believe so.”

  It’s one of the first times I’ve actually heard him talk positively about himself, and it’s refreshing.

  “So you never answered my question.”

  “What question is that?” His voice is low, almost sultry, but I know he’s not doing it on purpose to entice me. He sounds more relaxed, which I can relate to thanks to the little thumb strokes he’s making on my hand, easing the tension in my body from the storm.

  “What do you do on your days off?”

  “Nothing spectacular. I’m pretty boring actually,” he admits. “Pay bills, do laundry, catch up on anything I’ve missed during the week, answer fan mail, and hang out at the club offering free lessons to whoever is there that day.”

 
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