His lips keep barely brushing against the shell of my ear, and the heat of his breath tickles, and I can already feel my face flushing hot. And who gets this close to a complete stranger?
I shrug his arm from my shoulders and say the first thing that comes to my mind. “I’m supposed to stay away from you.”
I sound crazy. And like a child frightened of a stranger trying to offer me candy, but as nonsensical as it seems, that’s how I feel. All my senses are on high alert, and the hairs on my forearms are raised, and my breaths are coming faster than they should be considering all I’m doing is standing still.
I feel like prey.
And all he’s doing is smiling at me. And it’s a smile that tells me he has exactly zero intentions of putting any distance between us.
Just then a slim, shorter black guy comes jogging up and says, “Hey. Sorry I’m late, McClain.” When he’s standing a few feet away, I amend my description to less tall. He might not be as towering as the boundary-defying guy beside me, but he’s still big.
Carson, the one Dylan called the leader of the group and the apparent owner of the last name McClain, steps up and says, “No worries. We didn’t give you much notice.” He introduces the new guy as Keyon, and then introduces me and Dylan in turn. I guess Keyon must know everyone else. Then Carson adds, “And that puts us at an even ten. So we can pick teams and get going.”
Torres raises his hand. “I’ll be team captain.”
His proclamation makes my stomach tumble with nerves, and I’m not sure why.
Carson pauses for a moment and then shrugs. “Fine. You and Brookes are probably the fastest. So you can be captains.”
They flip a coin, and Brookes gets first pick. I expect him to pick one of the guys. They’re the obvious choice. As football players, they’re in shape and more naturally athletic. But he fixes his eyes on me for the briefest moment before turning to Torres, his gaze narrowed. He looks at me again.
“Your name is Nell?” he asks.
There’s something about him that feels simultaneously commanding and trustworthy, almost soothing. If he looks at me like that too much longer, I might just tell him my full name, birth date, Social Security number, and anything else he wants to know.
Instead, I nod.
He raises an eyebrow at Torres and says, “I’ll take Nell.”
Ah, damn it all to hell. It’s like Zay lives to ruin all my fun. I narrow my eyes at him, wondering what exactly his deal is. I survey Nell as she leaves me. She’s pretty. No denying that. Short with curves that could kill. Long dark hair and smooth olive skin. And she’s shy.
Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always had a thing for the shy ones. I like being the one to break them out of their shell.
Does Brookes want her, too? Is that what this is about? Or does he just not want me to have her? Probably the second one. I can imagine his lecture already.
No hitting on Dylan’s friends. When you inevitably piss them off or break their heart, you’ll piss off the whole group.
I’m not an idiot. I’m not gonna fuck with Dylan’s friend because then I’ll have Dylan’s boyfriend on my ass. And Silas Moore is not a pleasant person to live with when his girlfriend is unhappy. But that doesn’t mean I can’t flirt with her. I do know how to draw the line, contrary to popular opinion.
Well, just because Brookes has a chivalrous stick up his ass doesn’t mean I have to play stupid. I’m not gonna pick another girl just to make things fair.
“Silas,” I say.
“Dylan,” Brookes chooses.
She blinks a few times before crossing to stand by Brookes and her friend. She says, “I do believe that’s the first time I’ve ever not been picked last for this kind of thing.”
I look at him, wondering exactly what he’s playing at.
I choose McClain. He chooses Dallas.
And then I get it.
He’s going to use the girls to distract my guys.
Sneaky little fucker.
Well, two can play at that game.
“Stella,” I say.
She sighs and gives me a look. “Wrong move, Torres. Wrong move.”
Brookes picks Keyon next, which is what I should have done. He’s not part of our regular crowd. He’s not going to get distracted by anyone. Damn it. That leaves me with Ryan. He says, “Sure. Pick the manager last. I get it.”
Stella shrugs. “You’re not a college athlete. Nor do you have boobs. You were always going to be last. Suck it up.”
My team gathers behind me, and I take a moment to survey our opponents. Brookes, Keyon, and three gorgeous girls, two of whom are dating my two best picks.
As soon as we huddle up to talk strategy, Silas says, “I’m guarding Dylan.”
I barely have time to open my mouth before Carson adds, “And I’ve got Dallas.”
“Aw, come on, guys. You’re doing exactly what Brookes wants you to do.”
Silas shrugs. “No one else is getting close enough to my girl to play one-on-one defense. Sorry.”
“What he said,” Carson adds.
I sigh. “Unbelievable. Is this some kind of disease? Like you tap one girl long enough, and it somehow warps your brain? We’re athletes. You’re supposed to care about being competitive.”
Silas says, “I care about seeing Dylan in a pair of tiny shorts. Those are my priorities at the moment.”
“Fine. I’ll cover Brookes. Ryan, you cover Keyon. And Stell, you get girl genius.”