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Authors: Barbie Bohrman

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BOOK: Something More Than This
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“And here I was thinking it would be a nice, relaxing Friday night,” he says and winks at me. “You owe me.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I reach up and give him a big hug. “Lunch is on me for the next month if you can distract everyone.”

“Katy, I’m a lawyer, not a magician,” he says. “Okay, here goes nothing.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

W
hatever hidden talents as a magician Jonathan has seem to work, because the rest of the time at the game goes by much more smoothly and definitely less uncomfortably. I can’t guess as to what is running through Dylan’s mind, but the tension is defused by at least ten or so notches. Which lets me get back to doing my job, which is what I am here for in the first place.

By the time the game is over and I’m sitting on one of the sideline benches as usual, outlining my article, I hope that Dylan and Rachel have left so I don’t have to experience an awkward good-bye. But much to my chagrin, I close my iPad and look over to find all of them, Jonathan included, still milling around on the far side of the field, closer to the exit gates.

I look up to the heavens and say quietly, “Can’t I catch a break?”

It’s not like I can sit here by myself and pretend nobody else is here, because at this point in the night, they are pretty much the only people on the field. Everyone else is either hanging out in the parking lot or has already left. Standing up as if the weight of the world is on my shoulders, I tuck my iPad and camera into my messenger bag. Then I throw the strap over my head before walking toward them as if I had cement blocks tied to my feet.

“Shadow, we were just talking about you.”

“Really? What about?” I ask.

“Shadow?” Dylan asks at the same time.

Then Jonathan chimes in. “Wow, I haven’t heard that nickname in years.”

“Who is Shadow?” Rachel asks. Conner and Jonathan point to me. She then asks, “What kind of nickname is that for a girl?”

“She used to follow me around like she was my shadow from the first day we met,” Conner explains with a knowing smile. “The name stuck.”

I notice Dylan’s eyes flick to Conner, then to me, the tension coming back into the conversation again. Jonathan, thankfully, saves me.

“All right, so, Conner . . . it was great seeing you again, man. Have a safe trip back home if I don’t catch you before you leave. And I’ll make sure to let Simon know you said hello and you were sorry you missed him this time around.”

He says this and does one of those man-bro hug things with Conner, who is trying hard not to laugh. Seriously, Simon isn’t all that bad. But I can’t blame Conner for not wanting to go back down that road.

“Great seeing you too,” he says to Jonathan. Then, standing up straight, he puts out his hand to Dylan. “It was nice meeting you, Dylan, and you, Rachel.”

“Are you guys leaving?” Dylan asks, looking right at me.

Conner’s attention turns to me. “What do you think, Shadow?”

“Sure, I’m ready.”

“Are you ready to go, Dylan?” Rachel asks. “We can go back to my place and try that wine I was telling you about.”

You can hear a pin drop waiting for someone else to speak up. But out of all of us, it’s Jonathan who decides to say something. “All right, well, I’ll catch up with you tomorrow, Katy.” He looks around to everyone and then says good night before leaving.

“Come on, Katy,” Conner says. “I bet you haven’t even eaten yet. I’ve got some food I can throw on the grill back at my house.”

My vision is clouded with jealousy when I answer, looking straight at Dylan. “That sounds great. Let’s go.”

If it bothers him, he doesn’t let on. He politely puts his hand on Rachel’s back and says good night to Conner and me. Rachel follows suit, throwing over her shoulder an overenthusiastic good night, then lets Dylan guide her to the parking lot.

“So, are you ready?” Conner asks. I nod and he motions his hand with a flourish over to the almost empty parking lot. “After you, Shadow.”

I’m walking slightly ahead of Conner, but my eyes track Dylan and Rachel as they disappear into his car and drive away. And when I finally get into mine to drive to Conner’s house, all I can think about is Dylan and how I must have missed the signs from day one.

CHAPTER TWENTY

Seven years ago . . .

 

I was so nervous.

I’d been preparing for this interview all night until I fell asleep with my face on my desk. I woke up to my blaring alarm clock and the yelling of my not-so-understanding college roommate, Natasha.

Now, as I sat there waiting to meet the editor in chief of the college newspaper, I doubted myself. I had heard stories about him through the campus grapevine. In my journalism class, he was the topic of conversation almost every day. There were a few of us in that class who were vying for the few open slots this year, and the consensus was that Dylan Sterling could spot talent a mile away. So naturally, we each thought we would be the one he would pick.

I had always thought I could spend my life as a sports journalist. But at that very moment, staring at the wood door that said “Editor in Chief,” I didn’t feel ready. There was no way that a lowly freshman would be considered for a spot that would normally go to a senior . . . and usually one of the opposite sex. But I had to try.

As I toyed with the hem of my collared shirt, I thought for a split second about leaving. Maybe I should just come back next year after a new editor in chief was in place. Since Dylan Sterling was a senior, he would be long gone and I wouldn’t have to bear the weight of his rejection. Which I’d been told could be brutal. I was just getting ready to scurry out of there when his door creaked open and a very handsome man with bright green eyes looked at me and asked, “Katy Lewis?”

“Yes,” I croaked and then cleared my throat. “That’s me.”

I held out my hand for a handshake. He reciprocated with a puzzled look. I thought,
this is it
. . . he knows I’m not good enough and already has a preconceived notion about women reporting on sports. I should have left when I had the chance.

“Please, come into my office.” He opened the door wider for me to walk past him.

His office was small and sparsely decorated. An open laptop sat on a utilitarian desk, and there were papers strewn about in some sort of organized chaos. On top of one pile of papers was a pair of black Ray-Ban eyeglasses. And on another pile was a framed picture of Dylan with a very beautiful girl in his arms.

I could tell the woman in the photograph was his match in every possible way. They looked good together, and I stamped down a very fleeting stab of jealousy. It’s not like he would be interested in someone like me . . . plain and mousy. Of course he would be with someone like her: long dark hair, piercing green eyes, and a gorgeous smile. She looked as if she had just finished running some sort of road race since a number was tagged to her tank top. Well, obviously he would be hugging her if she ran a marathon . . . she’s perfect, for God’s sake.

“You two make a beautiful couple,” I said, pointing at the picture.

Dylan, who was in the middle of sitting down, froze. And then he smiled and asked, “What makes you think we’re a couple?”

“Well, I just assumed,” I said, fumbling. “You both look very happy and you’re both very good-looking and . . . I don’t know.” My cheeks felt as if they were on fire, because not only had I started this interview totally wrong, I’d just told him I thought he was good-looking.

He chuckled. “That’s my sister, Carrie, but thank you for all those nice things you said about her . . . and me.”

“Oh God,” I said under my breath. “I’m so sorry.” I started to gather my things and stood up to leave.

“Wait a second, where are you going? The interview hasn’t even started yet.”

Plopping down in my seat again in defeat, I said, “I’m really sorry. I got about an hour’s worth of sleep last night prepping for this interview and don’t know what I’m saying and probably shouldn’t be talking anymore since I keep sticking my foot in my mouth.”

Dylan leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk. “Ms. Lewis, there is no reason to be nervous. Take a deep breath and relax.”

I just sat there and stared at him, at those eyes . . . they were mesmerizing.

“Go ahead, do it,” he said. “I promise, it will make you feel better and we can move on to why you’re really here.”

So I took a breath, held it, and then exhaled.

“One more time,” Dylan encouraged with a knowing smile.

Once I blew out that last breath, I did feel a tiny bit better.

“Are you ready then, Ms. Lewis?” he asked.

I nodded. “You don’t have to call me that. My name is Katy.”

“Well then, Katy,” he said. “Which position are you here for?”

“Sports beat.”

I handed him my portfolio, and to his credit, he didn’t laugh or pause with that look I usually get from men when they hear what type of news I want to cover. It’s a look that’s a mix of incredulousness and amusement. But Dylan Sterling simply took the articles I had been carefully clipping and saving from my high school paper for the past couple of years, then placed them on his desk and started going through them. I watched nervously as he reached for his glasses and put them on, adjusting them once in a while as he read.

It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Every so often, I would catch him peering up at me over the top rim of his eyeglasses, and I would quickly look away. I could swear that with every sneaking glance, Dylan was trying to figure me out. And not in a patronizing way either. It was as if he knew already that I was capable enough. That he wasn’t the least bit surprised that I was a good journalist on my way to being an even better one.

When he finished reading, he closed the portfolio and didn’t say a word for a beat, but it felt more like an eternity. He studied me openly. Dylan stared at me and so I stared back. I didn’t know whether he was trying to intimidate me or if he was trying to figure out a way to gently tell me that I didn’t get the job.

His stare continued until finally I broke under the pressure and looked away again. If anything, I was sure that Dylan Sterling was the king of the stare down. I’d heard he could be a bit intimidating and a lot formidable. But face-to-face, he had an air about him that made you comfortable, regardless of his obvious staring problem.

But the most consistent rumor about him was that he didn’t mix business with pleasure. Dylan Sterling never even dated anyone who was a journalism major. I laughed to myself as I sat there. I didn’t know why I thought it was so comical, but I did.

“Is something funny?” he asked as I tried pathetically to cover my mouth and stop snickering.

“No, not at all, I’m sorry, I just was thinking that . . .” Then I thought better of it. “You know what, never mind. It’s not important.”

“Please, go ahead.” Dylan actually looked entertained, but I was horrified.

“Well,” I started. “Well, it’s silly, really. But there is a rumor that you don’t date anyone who works at the newspaper or who is a journalism major.”

His face morphed into a kind smile. “And this bothers you?”

“Oh my God, no! Nothing like that! I was just—”

“You were just wondering if it were true?”

He still didn’t seem put off by my question or how this interview was a disaster from the start. Dylan’s eyes grazed over me in the quiet that suddenly consumed the room, but it didn’t feel lecherous or wrong. Instead, he looked at me as if I was his equal and—dare I say—pretty? No, that wasn’t it, was it? Maybe a little bit. It made my skin flush with excitement to think that perhaps he thought of me in that way.

Then I snapped out of that delusion as quickly as it appeared in my thoughts when he cleared his throat and said, “It’s not true, I just haven’t met the right girl.”

“Oh.”

And I didn’t risk saying another word for fear that I would tank this interview more than I already had.

“Ms. Lewis,” he then said and took off his eyeglasses. “I—”

“It’s Katy,” I interrupted him and smiled stiffly, knowing that he was about to dismiss me.

“Right, sorry, Katy.” He handed me the portfolio with the best poker face I’d ever seen. “Your writing is strong and you demonstrate great insight in your pieces. I’m sure your high school paper was sad to see you go.”

I thanked him with a shrug of my shoulders and braced myself for the rejection. But it didn’t come.

“Katy,” he then said with a grin. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

T
hat was delicious. Thank you, Conner.”

“You’re welcome.”

The burger he grilled was to die for. I must have eaten it in about four or five bites, that’s how good it was.

“I didn’t know you could cook,” I say after wiping my mouth with a napkin. “If I did, I would have been over here every night this week.”

His back is to me while he scrubs the grill clean. “Every night, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Then maybe I should have told you before that I could cook.”

I wish I could see his face when he says this, because his voice is so serious that I’m not sure if he’s joking. He closes the top of the grill and wipes his hands on a towel that was thrown over his shoulder, then finally turns around. That sly smile of his is back in place and that usual warm feeling I get when I see it instantly makes me nervous. Because here we are, all alone, it’s almost pitch-dark, if not for the light coming from the pool illuminating the backyard. I look inside myself, trying to find something light and easy to say, but nothing comes out. So I just sit there looking like an idiot, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Conner goes to open the cooler and asks if I want another beer. I decline, saying that I have to drive home and one was good enough for me. Then he drags a chair over and plants it right next to me, sitting down and leaning as far back as he can. I watch from the corner of my eye as he stretches his arms over his head, revealing a tiny bit of the tan skin of his taut stomach. A flush comes over me and I look away quickly, not wanting to be caught red-handed. He finally gets settled and pops open his beer, taking a long sip before holding it loosely in his hand between us.

“It’s a nice night, right?” I ask and then fidget in my seat. “A little hot, though, for late September.”

“Why don’t you take off your sweatshirt then?”

My head spins to him and my eyes go wide in disbelief. “What?”

“You just said it was hot, but you’re wearing a sweatshirt, yes?”

“Yeah, but I can’t take it off.”

He was in the middle of bringing the beer bottle to his lips and freezes. He glances down to my sweatshirt or chest and then up to my face with a knowing smile. “I can lend you a T-shirt if you want.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’ll be fine,” I say too quickly. Sounding nervous and anxious and feeling as if I might melt from not only the heat of the night but the heat I’m pretty sure I saw in Conner’s eyes as he was inspecting my clothes.

“We can go for a dip in the pool.”

“Conner, if I didn’t know you any better, I’d say you were trying to get me naked.”

The word naked and Conner’s name in the same sentence were not the right choice, and I instantly regret it. Because all I can see in my head now is visions of him naked, me naked, us naked . . . just lots and lots of naked. Too much naked for me to process or handle right now.

Covering my face with my hands, I say, “Pretend I didn’t say that, okay?”

“Sure,” he says, chuckling. “It’s like it never happened.”

Something about the way he says that reminds me about the letter and the fact that we haven’t spoken a thing about it. It
is
like it never happened. Like all of this is just making up for lost time and that I’m supposed to act a certain way with him but I don’t know how. And Conner doesn’t seem fazed at all by any of it.

That’s when I start to go from embarrassed to angry. No, angry isn’t quite the right word to describe how I’ve felt ever since he showed back up in my life a week ago. Confused is more like it. And as much as I don’t want to revisit that specific part of my past, I can’t go on being around him without addressing it. It’s too heavy of a weight on my shoulders. Either we’re going to be friends and fix things between us or we move on our separate ways and call this for what it is: two friends playing catch-up.

Channeling the anger from years past to this moment, I somehow put it aside and muster the courage I need to move forward.

“Conner, I need to ask you something.”

He senses the seriousness in my voice and leans forward in his seat without saying a word, letting the beer bottle dangle in between his fingers.

I keep my eyes trained on the bottle as it catches the light before finally getting my lips to move. “I was so hurt when I lashed out at you that night, but I never expected you to totally disappear on me either. I mean, you never wrote or called . . . nothing. You were just gone. It was like one moment you were in every part of my life and the next you weren’t. It was as if our friendship meant nothing to you, Conner.”

Still staring at the beer bottle in his hand, I breathe a little easier having put it all out there in the open. But his silence is deafening. Until he puts the bottle down quietly on the ground and stands up. Then he crouches in front of me, putting his hands on the armrests of my chair. I instantly sit back to try to put some space between us, but where can I go? I’m in a chair and he’s
right
there . . . I’m trapped.

“Shadow,” he says softly. “Look at me.”

Without picking up my head, I do as he asks, letting my eyes roam to his for a fleeting glance before concentrating really hard on the ground again.

Conner gently puts his hand underneath my chin, lifting my face up to meet his.

“There you are,” he says. He takes a quick breath. “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to talk about this? About that night? About that letter?”

“Why didn’t you?” The emotion in my voice is almost strangling me. I can’t help the knee-jerk reaction and the consequent tears that build up in my eyes until one lone tear leaks out and falls down my cheek.

“Please don’t cry, Katy,” he says. “I can take a lot of things, but seeing you cry was never one of them.”

“I’m a girl, we cry sometimes,” I say and he smiles faintly.

“That night wasn’t the first time I knew things were different between us,” he says after a long pause. “I knew how you felt about me, and I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that I felt something for you too. But doing something about it is totally different. I didn’t want to lose you as my friend.”

“But you did anyway. You left and never looked back. Do you know how hard that night was for me? Do you have any idea how much you hurt me by taking away your friendship, Conner?”

“I do.”

“Then why?”

“Because I had to, Shadow. Because if I didn’t, then I would have been stringing you along while you were here and I was across the country. Because we were kids and I was terrified at the prospect of things changing between us.” He moves an inch or two closer to me, his face hovering over mine, and he is all I can see. Those hazel eyes boring into mine, looking for something that he lost in the hopes of finding it tonight. Then, oh so quietly, he whispers, “Do you know how many times I’ve regretted doing that to you? I can’t begin to tell you the many nights I picked up the phone to call you. Or all the times I started to write you a letter and never got past the ‘Dear Katy’ part.” Conner pauses, moving even closer. His takes my face gently in his hands, running his thumbs across my cheeks softly. “Do you know how hard it is for me to be around you again? Do you know that every time I’ve seen you in the last week I’ve wanted to take you in my arms and beg for your forgiveness?”

I wrap my hands around his wrists. My heart thumping away in my chest as the moment I’ve been waiting for is within my grasp.

“That letter, Katy, it was too much too fast that night. I couldn’t, no matter how much I wanted you in that way. It would have been wrong, and you know it just as much as I do. Did you actually think I thought so little of you that I could take that from you in my backseat that same night?”

I shake my head, feeling a little confused and a lot overwhelmed by everything he’s saying.

Then in an almost whisper, he asks, “Do you know how much I want to kiss you, Katy?”

Without another word, he tilts my head a fraction, leaning in the rest of the tiny space left between us. And when I close my eyes, he presses his lips to mine finally.

At first it’s a soft brush of his mouth against mine, and my mind goes blank just luxuriating in the moment. Then he angles my head just so to be able to feast on my lips. And when his tongue darts out slowly to touch mine, I lose myself completely. It’s as if I’m floating on a cloud and I never want to come down.

Until the last thing I ever expected comes popping into my head: Dylan.

I pull away from Conner’s kiss. Sitting back in my chair, getting some much needed air in my lungs. I feel as if I might as well have thrown a bucket of ice-cold water over my head. Because the cloud I had been floating on comes crashing to the ground. And all I can see in my mind’s eye is Dylan with Rachel and just how much I don’t want that to happen. I actually don’t want that to happen more than I want
this
to happen with Conner.

“Katy?”

I can’t find the words to explain myself. I’m sweating and I’m not sure if it’s from the kiss, the night’s humidity, or because I’m losing my mind.

“Is everything all right? Should I not have done that?”

Conner searches my face for the answer. But my head is still reeling from a revelation that is bouncing around and taking hold of my heart in its grubby little paws: I think I am in love with Dylan.

Immediately followed by: I need to get out of here before I make the biggest mistake of my life.

BOOK: Something More Than This
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