A PUCKED SERIES STANDALONE COMING FEBRUARY 21, 2017
I grip the steering wheel and take a few deep breaths, willing myself to put my Hummer in reverse. It’s what I should do. But I don’t. Instead, I shift into park and cut the engine. I don’t move, though. My internal battle is fucking endless. This is the very last place I should be. But I’m here anyway. Because even though I know better, I can’t help myself.
The whole breaking-the-cycle thing is hard to do. And this is part of my cycle. I come back to the people who hurt me, and I let them do it over and over again, always hoping maybe one day the end result is going to be different. Or that the process is going to cure my guilt and alleviate my need to atone.
It never does. But I’m still here.
I check my phone and scroll through the messages that began to accumulate late last night. Tash, my ex—or whatever the fuck she is to me—is in town. I ignored her until an hour ago. There are twenty texts. One every hour. I scroll past the first nine to the ones that brought me here, to this place I shouldn’t be:
I miss u.
I want 2cu.
Don’t ignore me.
u know y it never would’ve wrkd.
We can still be friends.
We can still fuck.
I still think about u.
Come to my hotel.
I leave in the a.m.
Around and around it goes. So I’m sitting here staring at the last two messages—the one containing her room number, and the one from an hour ago telling me she’s getting impatient and won’t wait much longer for a response.
I might’ve been able to ignore the last one if my teammates and closest friends, Randy Ballistic and Miller Butterson, weren’t nailed down by their balls. But they are. They’re both in committed relationships, so a call at nine at night for an impromptu trip to the bar isn’t an option. Besides, Miller’s girlfriend is expecting a baby soon, so he’s not interested in being anywhere she’s not.
It’s understandable, but it means I don’t have any wingmen to stop me from doing this. Truthfully, I could probably call Randy. But I don’t really want to.
I open the door and step out into the unseasonably warm night. I let the numbness set in as I cross the parking lot and enter the hotel, heading for the elevators. I try not to think about how things went down the last time I saw Tash. I try not to feel much of anything.
When the elevator doors open at the twenty-third floor, I almost don’t get off. Almost. But I’m weak for Tash. I don’t know how to say no to her, even though she’s bad for me. I step out into the hall. My palms are sweaty, and my stomach starts to roll the way it used to after a game when I was young. The way it used to when I didn’t perform the way I should’ve and my mum expressed her disappointment.
But I deserved it. I took the best thing in her life away.
My feet feel like they’re made of lead as I walk down the hall to Tash’s room. When I get there, I shove my hands in my pockets and wait for the memories to fade. I need a drink. I need the past to stop haunting me. I need to stop doing this with Tash.
My fist doesn’t feel like it’s attached to my body as I lift it to knock on the door. The click of the lock turning twists the knot of my anxiety tighter. Then the door opens, and there she is.
Tash is wearing a T-shirt. My T-shirt. I don’t think there’s anything on underneath it. Her hair is loose around her shoulders. I know what it feels like between my fingers and on my chest. Her lips curve in a smile that looks more devious than welcoming.
“Hey.” I jam my hands back in my pockets so I don’t touch her like I want to.
“I’m so glad you decided to come.” She reaches out and skims my forearm. I tense when her fingers wrap around my wrist, tugging my hand free of my pocket.
“I can’t stay long.”
“You always say that.” She pulls me through the door, which closes behind me with a metallic slam.
Tash runs her hands up my chest, inciting the sensation of spiders crawling over my skin. She knows I hate that; I grab her wrists. “Don’t.”
“You’re so jumpy. I’m not going to hurt you, baby. I just wanted to see you. Can I hug you?”
I want to believe her, but we’ve done this so many times in the past year. It’s hard to know when she’s being real and when she’s playing games.
I release her wrists, and she wraps her arms around me, stepping closer until her hard body is pressed up against mine. I try not to tense, but the reaction is as conditioned as the sensation it inspires.
“It’s okay, baby,” she whispers. “Just relax.”
I drop my head and turn my face into her hair. It smells like my shampoo. She does this every time. It’s the little manipulations that make it so much harder to walk away and stay away. She makes me believe she actually cares, and then she finds a way to take it all back again.
“I missed you.” I feel her lips on my neck, moving up my jaw.
I don’t tell her I missed her, too. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. Or maybe I’m just stupid. It doesn’t matter. When she gets to my mouth, I open for her and accept her tongue. She tastes like vodka. I wonder if she’s drunk. I’ll fuck her either way, because that’s what she called me for, and I never can say no. I ease a hand down her side until I reach the hem of her shirt and palm her bare ass. I promise myself this will be the last time.
She pulls away, that coy, devious smile turning up the corner of her mouth.
“Come. I have something to show you.” She threads her fingers through mine and leads me down the short hall to the bedroom.
And the second we enter the room, I know I’ve been duped.
In the middle of the California king is a redhead. The color is artificial, but Tash knows what I like. She’s wearing pale green satin, which, if her hair were naturally that color, would offset freckles and pale skin. But it’s not real. None of this is. It’s Tash’s way of telling me, once again, that she’s always in control. Of me. Of this thing between us. Of her emotions. Of mine.
“Lance, this is Erin. She’s been dying to meet you,” Tash says. Like this is normal. Like it’s expected when we haven’t seen each other in weeks, or sometimes even months.
My response is gritty, like the pain is coming out through my mouth. “Hi, Erin.”
“Hi.” She bites her lip, eyes darting from me to Tash and back again. Her excitement is as apparent as her uncertainty.
I’m a legend. I’m the one people whisper about, even though half of the rumors aren’t true. I’m the man women with no inhibitions want. And I fucking hate it. But it’s become an expectation.
I tighten my grip on our twined fingers and step behind Tash. Skimming her arm with my free hand, I thread my fingers through the hair at the nape of her neck, twisting it out of the way until I can lower my mouth to her ear. “You want me to fuck your friend?”
“You like her?” Tash’s enthusiasm makes me want to throw up.
“I picked her just for you.”
This is how it is between us. Me always wanting just her, and Tash always offering something else.
I brush my lips along the column of her throat, enjoying the shiver that runs through her. “Does she know she’s being used?”
“We’re all being used, Lance. Some of us just choose to acknowledge it for what it is.”
I bite her, my teeth sinking into skin enough to make her cry out, but not enough to cause damage that will last—the opposite of what she’s done to me.
“Get her ready for me, if that’s what she’s here for.”
I release Tash, and her expression is so familiar: confusion mixed with expectation. She doesn’t know how to read my mood. Which is good. I want her on edge, because that’s always how she makes me feel—on the edge. She lifts the shirt over her head, revealing tight muscles I know every inch of.
I’ve had my mouth on every part of her; I’ve been inside her, but not in the way that counts. I’ve never gotten inside her head the way she’s gotten into mine. My biggest mistake was telling her my secrets, because she uses them against me.
She saunters over to the bed and crawls toward Erin. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like this. I don’t seek it out. The last time was with Tash, too.
Four weeks ago she promised she would never do this to me again, but Tash is a liar.
I undress as they start making out. I don’t join them until Tash has made Erin come. And then I do what Tash wants me to: I fuck Erin. I make her come until she cries. I refuse to kiss Tash again, but I kiss Erin until she’s breathless and my name comes out on a tortured moan. And when I’m close to coming, I pull out and tell Tash to suck me off.
I cradle her face in my hands. I’m not rough with her, even though part of me wants to hurt her the way she hurts me. Instead I caress her cheek and hold her gaze as her lips move against the head of my erection.
“Who’s your cock slut?” she asks.
I close my eyes, teeth gritted against what she wants me to say. Words I hate. She knows I’ll never say them myself.
“Tell me, Lance.”
I can’t fucking stand that she wants this, that she makes me do this. Why does she want this? “You are.”
Her smile is triumphant as she wraps her lips around me and waits.
“That’s my girl. Suck like it’s the last time you’ll ever get to have my dick.” I loathe the words as I say them, partially because I can’t guarantee they’re true. And I hate that she loves it when I talk to her like she’s a whore.
I can see the moment she understands that I’m not going to fuck her too, that she’s pushed me as far as she can. She’s broken me in ways no one else ever has.
When I’m seconds away from coming, I lean over to kiss Erin again. She’s so warm and willing. And she’s just a pawn in this game Tash plays with me.
I’m so done with this. I’m so done with being used.
Tash is pissed when I meet her eyes after she takes a shot of jizz down the throat. I get dressed silently while she screams at me, calling me all kinds of names, telling me I’m useless, that I’m an asshole.
I don’t disagree, so I don’t know why she expects more from me. I might want more from her, but I work hard not to expect it.
She follows me to the door, getting between it and me. She’s still naked. “You can’t leave.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m doing.”
She slaps me across the face.
She’s said a lot of horrible things to me—things that made me wish I wasn’t me. Things that make me wonder if this is the kind of hatred I’ll always draw into my life. But the slap is a first.
She follows it up with a backhand to the other cheek.
For a moment I’m thirteen again, standing in the garage, apologizing for missing another shot on the goal, anticipating—with a kind of sick exhilaration—my mum’s first slap to my face.
I grab Tash’s wrists and pin them to the door, pressing my weight against her. Her eyes light up as if this is what she intended, as if she knew hitting me would make me give in. I hate what she does to me. I hate that she makes me weak, and I hate that she knows it.
“Don’t be mad at me for giving you what you want.” She arches, straining against my hold on her, rubbing her tits on my chest.
“I wanted you, Tash. That was it.”
“Come on, Lance. You knew what you were getting into with me.”
“I’m not a toy you get to play with anymore.”
“Fine. No more games. All you have to do is fuck me; then you can go.” She wraps one of her legs around my waist.
I huff out a laugh. “I think you’ve fucked me enough, don’t you? Thanks for the present. I’m sure Erin can help you out where I can’t.” I release one of her hands and reach for the doorknob so I can get the fuck out of here.
“You’re just a fucking whore,” she tells me. “You know that, right? Your dick is the only useful thing about you.” She gifts me with another slap across the face.
“Don’t call me the next time you’re in town. Don’t text. Don’t send emails. We’re done, Tash. For real this time. I don’t care how messed up your life is; you don’t get to take it out on me.”
I wrench open the door, and she follows me into the hall, still naked, still screaming. I wish I had a good reason for putting up with this. Better, I wish I could say for sure that this truly was the last time, that I won’t do this to myself again.
But I can’t.
I take the stairs instead of the elevator, and as soon as I’m outside, I throw up. I want to hit something. I want the feelings on the inside to be outside my body instead.
As soon as I’m able, I get in my Hummer and get the fuck out of there. Otherwise I know Tash will come looking for me, and I’ll end up fucking her in the front seat. It’s happened before.
Instead of heading north to where I live, I drive south out of the Loop. I keep going past everything that’s familiar before I find a bar. I need to drown out all the shit in my head. I need to lobotomize myself against this night. I need the will to stop this thing with Tash.