Lilly Wilde

 

Branch

January 5, 2017

 

The phone rings.

I silence the call and drift back to sleep, only to be awakened moments later by a second chime. In my semiconsciousness, I recognize my brother’s ringtone.

Instantly panicked, I answer.

“Yeah, what is it, Jace?” The rasp of sleep coats my voice.

“It’s Mama.”

For fuck’s sake. “What’s she done now?”

“She hasn’t been home in four days and she’s not answering her phone.”

I sit up in bed, dread punching my gut. “Why didn’t you call before now?”

“Because it was your game week.”

“And?”

“You don’t… you never… you’re different on game weeks,” he finally says, his voice small, almost as if he’s afraid to say it.

I run a hand through my hair and try to figure out why the hell I ever trusted Mama with Jace again. “And you’ve been home alone all this time?”

“Yeah. I’ve been going to school and coming home after.”

“Shit, you’re eleven years old, Jace.”

“I know how old I am.”

“Watch it, kid. Don’t get smart with me.”

“I’m not getting smart, Branch. I’m just saying.”

“If you’re old enough to manage without adult supervision for four days, you’re old enough to know you should have called before now.”

“On the first day, I figured she’d gotten up early to run an errand or something,” he says, still defending his position.

“And the days after?” My tone is sharp with misplaced anger I should be directing at someone else.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you call Dad?”

“No. Not like he’s gonna show up anyways,” he replies, his voice sad. “He always gives excuses, especially now that he has that new baby.”

Yeah, he’s probably right. Dad has been hit or miss for half of my life and for most of Jace’s.

“Are you mad?” he asks.

“At you? No.”

“At Mama?”

I’m pissed that he’s concerned about something that a kid his age shouldn’t be. “You don’t need to worry about that. Just do what I say, and I’ll be there later this afternoon.”

“You’re really coming home?”

The optimism in his voice reminds me that I’ve been a real putz of a brother. “Yeah. I said I was, didn’t I?”

“Think you’ll make it before school ends?”

His growing excitement for something as normal as spending time with his sibling kicks me where it hurts.

“You can come to my class and say hi to my friends. They’ll go crazy!”

I grin. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Try really hard, okay?”

That all depends on if I find Mama and in what condition I find her. I look at the time. “In case I can’t get there until tomorrow, I’ll call Jimmy and tell him to be on standby to pick you up after school. And you’ll stay with him and Loretta until I get a flight out.”

“Okay. The bus is here. See you later, Branch.”

I press end on the call and let out a sigh. How the hell has he managed to fend for himself for four days? Four fucking days. Anything could’ve happened to him. I curse again, my train of thought lost as my eyes roam over the small lump in the bed beside me. My gaze lingers on the blond locks snaked from underneath the sheets.

Who the hell is she?

I reach over and pull her hair.

She doesn’t move.

I pull again, this time a little harder. She finally turns over and lets out a deep moan as she looks up at me.

My brows scrunch as I fight to recall the details of the previous night.

I remember the face.

And the sex.

But not the name.

Not that it matters at this point. We’d done the deed, which means there’s no longer a reason for her to be here. “You need to go,” I say and step out of bed.

She sits up, the sheet falling to reveal a rack I abused the night before. “What?” she asks, clearly caught off guard by my aloofness.

There’s always an adrenaline rush surrounding the game, and last night’s was on overload. Hell, it was the Pro Bowl, and although both teams were comprised of some great talent, all eyes were on me the second I stepped onto the field. Sports fans and fellow ballplayers alike wondered if I could live up to the hype. Not only did I live up to it, but I also walked away with the highest ranking of every player in the nation. Is there any wonder things went overboard? That I awoke with a woman whose name I can’t remember? And now it’s time to parlay my success. To fall back into my routine with my eyes focused on the prize, and although the blonde—even in her wake-up state—is beautiful and sexy as hell, she isn’t the prize I want.

“You need to get dressed and go.”

“Just like that?” Disbelief shades her tone as she rubs the sleep from her eyes.

I grimace, not sure why this is seemingly unclear. “Yup, just like that.”

“Are you always so rude after you’ve gotten what you wanted?”

“Sugar, I’m pretty sure I was rude before I got it, so let’s not pretend this is anything more than what it was.”

She crosses her arms over her chest, her brow arched. “Oh? And what exactly was it?”

“An overzealous fan who wanted the opportunity to tell her friends she’d been in my bed.”

“Are you kidding me? Fuck you.”

“If I had time, I would, but I have someplace to be, so…” I trail off, gesturing toward the exit.

“And I thought my ex was a jerk.”

I shrug. Does she honestly think I want to hear this shit?

She frowns and shakes her head. “Can I at least take a shower? I won’t have time to drop by my place before work.”

My instinct leans toward the negative, but a quick acknowledgment of my part in her predicament swings my decision. I gesture toward the bathroom. “Be my guest.”

She slides from the bed, not bothering to cover up or grab her clothes. My eyes trace their way up her legs, admiring the tight curve of her ass as she steps away. Whatever her name is, her body is banging. And if I wasn’t about to head out of town, I’d no doubt have her beneath me again for the next couple of hours. Yeah, I’d enjoy wiping that frown right off that pretty little face of hers.

While Blonde and Banging is in the shower, I step into the closet, bypassing row after row of clothes, expensive shit I’ve never touched, and a fully stocked bar to grab a packed duffel bag from one of the shelves. I then text my press agent Connie Wilson and tell her to get me on the next flight to Atlanta.

Still naked, I go to the kitchen and toss some greens, fruit, and protein into a blender and chug it down as I head back to the bedroom, my lips spread into a grin as I scroll my phone, scanning each headline about last night’s game. As usual, “Branch McGuire—The Man on Fire,” is trending. And talks of unprecedented contract deals are on every major sports news feed. I’m pretty sure my agent is already hammering out details with the general manager or with the owner himself. As for sports agents, Vaughn Fletcher’s the best in the business, and he’s the reason I have one of the largest ironclad contracts on record.

A reminder pops up on my screen. My guest appearance on Sports Center the day after tomorrow. I press the speed dial for Connie, letting her know I need to cancel. Before we end the call, she manages to reschedule me for the week after.

Blonde and Banging is still in my bathroom. I scowl at the door, wondering what the hell is taking her so long and starting to regret I allowed her use of my shower. It prolongs her time here, rendering her a lingering annoyance. I don’t do the afters—the goodbye hugs, the post-sex kisses, the after-fuck snuggling—none of that. She served her purpose and I gave her a night she’ll never forget. That’s all I signed up for. That’s all I’ll ever sign up for. The guys on the team coined it the Branch McGuire Sex Motto—Fuck ’em and forget ’em. I shake my head, laughing to myself at those assholes. Yeah, I’m a dick. And I know it, but it’s the only way to protect the two things I hold sacred—football and my sanity.

Interview after interview, I’m asked if there’s a special woman in my life. And year after year, the answer remains the same. Yes, there is someone special. Mary McGuire, the woman who raised me. As for anything beyond that… I’m not that guy. Not the one any woman should set her hopes on. Not the one any woman should dream of marrying. Not the one who will ride in on a white horse and save any damsel in distress.

Instead, I’m the exact opposite. I’m the guy who tells a woman that I’ll never want a relationship. That all I want is to ravage the pink folds of muscle between her thighs. That I’m going to consume her body and walk away when I’m done. The one who’ll tell her all the shameful, erotic pleasures she’ll experience when I’m inside her because that’s the shit she really wants to hear. Who’ll satisfy those indecent desires she craves, even when she’s too embarrassed to admit aloud that it’s what she wants. That guy who will take control and invade every part of her body, make it purr for hours, and leave her sex swollen and aching with need long after I’m gone. Simply put… I’m the guy a woman will lust for but will never claim as her own.

No, I won’t be single forever. I figure I’ll settle down in a couple of decades. For now, one night is enough. I don’t have the capacity to give anything more. Even now, knowing someone is in my space who isn’t supposed to be is making me crankier than usual. I don’t know how married guys do it. It’s enough to make you cut your shit off. Well, maybe it’s not that bad, but I don’t see any bright sides to it.

Pushing down thoughts that serve no purpose, I move toward the bathroom as the blonde opens the door, watching as she drops her towel and pulls on her clothes.

My flight leaves a little before noon, giving me just enough time to shower, dress, and get to DFW International, so I really need to get her the fuck outta here.

“Thanks for an amazing night,” she purrs, looking up at me and resting her gaze on my cock when she’s reassembled.

Yeah, it’s impressive. Even in its natural state.

I motion for her to follow me out.

At the door, she turns and says, “I’m sorry about earlier.”

I smirk. I’m sure you are.

“I’d love to get together again sometime.” She pulls her bottom lip into her mouth and her gaze trails over my naked frame. “You have my number, right?” she asks, when her eyes reach mine.

Is she serious? Like I’d really keep her fucking number? “I sure do, sugar,” I lie. Why do women love hearing what they know isn’t true? I have your number all right. You’re one of the many misguided who think they have what it takes to take me off the market. That shit will never happen. I close the door behind her. Unless Blonde and Banging is her real name, she’s just another one who’s been fucked and forgotten… right along with her number.