I threw a tennis ball at the wall and caught it repeatedly while the first qualifying round of the Big Air event played on the big screen in my living room.
I could still make my spot for the third round tonight if I left soon, but it would cost me the one thing I wasn’t willing to give up: Rachel.
She’d missed the fucking plane.
What was I supposed to do with that? Was it her way of telling me we were over? That we had no chance? Did she think I’d go without her and prove her right?
My jaw tightened, and I threw the ball harder, catching it as it snapped back. Better the ball than the cell phone I’d pulverized an hour ago when our plane had taken off without us. She hadn’t shown, her phone had gone straight to voicemail, and mine had gone straight into the arrival lane of traffic, where it had been unceremoniously run over by a taxi.
What if this was it? What if there really was no way to get through to her? No way to show her what she meant to me? What if everything had been in vain?
Questions fired through my brain faster than I could answer myself. I felt like I was on pause, waiting for the next time she’d hit play. I couldn’t even settle on an emotion—they were all over the place. I was frustrated that she couldn’t just fucking talk to me like every other girl on the planet. She’s not like any other girl on the planet—that’s one of the reasons why you love her. Touché, brain.
I was hurt that she hadn’t shown, confused as to why. If I had to be honest, I was completely fucking pissed off that I hadn’t warranted a phone call.
But none of that compared to the stark, empty feeling that immediately preceded the terror I tried to keep at bay. Rachel was my center, my gravity, the perfect balance to me in every way. She was the only woman I would ever love, and I couldn’t picture my life without her now that I finally had her back.
I wanted our future.
What the fuck was I going to do if she didn’t?
I couldn’t live without her—couldn’t go back to the empty shell I’d been before she’d shown up. My breaths came so quickly that I nearly looked for a paper bag to keep from hyperventilating.
Calm the fuck down.
It took a few minutes, but my breathing and heart rate came back to normal. I wished I could have said the same for my brain. It was on overdrive, trying to think of every possible scenario as to where Rachel could be.
Was she testing me? Just the thought of that sent another wave of anger through me.
The clock read a little after two p.m. The pizza I ordered would be here any minute and then, after I’d gotten rid of the hangries, I’d go over to her house and make her see that I loved her. I’d hold a goddamned boom box over my head if that was what it took.
Yeah. That’s what I’d do. I’d blare “Skinny Love” and let her be blown away that I still remembered her favorite movie and our favorite song…as soon as I figured out where the fuck to get a boom box.
The doorbell rang, rescuing me from my lame romantic plans, and I headed for the pizza that would save me from any more hunger-based dementia.
I grabbed a pen on my way so I could sign the receipt and opened the door. “Hey, there…” My mouth dropped to the floor. “Rachel?”
She looked edible in her jeans that were slightly ripped at the knee and vintage tee. “You live here?”
“Yeah,” I said quietly, more stunned that she’d shown up to find me than the fact that she’d discovered the last secret I’d kept from her. “How did you know?”
“Wilder,” she said, tucking her thumbs in her jeans.
She looked at me expectantly. “Are you going to invite me in?”
I shook the cobwebs from my brain. “Yeah, of course.” I opened the door to its full width, and she stepped inside, her eyes sweeping over the space and no doubt cataloging the changes I’d made in the last couple of years.
“They told me I had to find someone to take over the lease or pay the full year,” she said, her voice quiet.
“Your dad called me. I told him I’d take care of it.”
“He assumed you’d paid the lease fee.”
“He assumed a lot of things about me. Most of them were wrong.”
“Yeah, I’m picking up on that now,” she said as she walked into my kitchen—her kitchen—and ran her hand along the island counter. “These were Formica. And the apartment ended at that wall.” She pointed to the wall my flat screen hung on.
“I bought the building. It’s what I used that extra money for. Then I knocked a couple of the other units out.”
Her eyes were wide, but she simply nodded. “I like the granite.”
“You said you always wanted dark granite and white cabinets. But I remembered how much you loved the layout, so I didn’t change it.”
She leaned back against the island and looked up at me as I assumed the same position against the opposite counter. “I didn’t stand you up.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she clarified. “We had this thing last night, and Mom turned off my alarm. I made the mistake of launching into them before I clarified my plans for the morning.”
“That happens when you’re confronting your parents about the secrets they keep.”
“Familiar with that, are you?” she teased.
“I watch a lot of Dr. Phil,” I admitted.
She outright laughed, and then her smile faded. “You missed the Big Air qualifications.”
I shook my head and pointed to the TV. “I didn’t miss them. I’m watching them right now.” Hell, I’d miss the actual round I was slated for if it meant I got to keep her.
She swallowed, her eyes softening. God, that look…it gave me all kinds of hope, and that felt more dangerous than any trick I’d ever pulled. “That’s not what I meant,” she said.
“Wilder’s pissed when anything doesn’t go his way.” But my anger was diminishing with every breath I took, just knowing she was here.
She bit into her lower lip, and I crossed the distance between us. I gently pressed my thumb to her chin, urging her teeth to let go of the tender flesh.
“You stayed,” she whispered.
“You chose me.”
“I always will.”
She smiled, and my heart pounded, demanding things I was slightly scared to go for. I wanted her in my arms, her mouth on mine, her love and heart mine to claim. But more than that—I wanted her to want the same thing.
“Because you love me,” she said.
“Because I love you,” I promised.
“Good,” she said. “Because I’m so in love with you that it hurts.”
She leaned up for a kiss, and I moved away, even though it almost killed me to do it. “But do you trust me?” That was what it would always come down to between us, and as much as I wanted Rachel—needed her—I needed her trust more.
She met my gaze head-on, her eyes clear and steady. “With my life.” She swallowed. “Enough that I had Dad extend a sponsorship offer to the Renegades.”
Goddamn, I loved this girl. “You’re not scared that I’m just using you for it? That I’ll leave the minute he offers me more money?”
She shook her head. “I’m not. And I had him make the offer before I knew you hadn’t left.” She looked up at the light I knew she’d broken her arm trying to change. “Before I realized that you’d always loved me.”
“I have,” I promised her. “There was never a moment that I didn’t love you. There will never be a moment that I don’t love you. You can love me or not, but that will never change the way I belong to you.”
This time when she launched at me, I caught her, filling my hands with her curves as her mouth met mine.
Her tongue swept inside my mouth, and I gave her control for all of thirty seconds before I took it back, kissing her until she rocked against me, her legs wrapped around my waist.
“We don’t have time,” she gasped.
“We have all the time we want,” I told her as I kissed a path down her neck. Two seconds with her ass in my hands and I was already hard—my body demanding hers.
“No, really,” she said on a breathless sigh as I bit that place where her shoulder met her neck.
“What I have planned can’t wait.”
“But I can get us to Aspen.”
“But I can get us to our bedroom,” I told her as I carried her up the steps to the lofted area of the apartment. Fuck the qualifications. At that moment I needed her under me more than I needed another X Games medal.
“We don’t have—”
I kissed her quiet and walked into the space I’d designed with her in mind. A few steps later I put her in the middle of our bed, then worked her out of her shoes, jeans, and shirt until she lay there in only her underwear.
“Did you know I’ve never had a woman here?” I asked.
“What?” she responded, leaning up on her elbows as I stripped.
“Never. Not once. Only on circuit or at parties, or at their place. I never brought anyone here, because it was ours. And maybe you wouldn’t come back, but if there was even the slightest chance, I wanted to be able to say that I kept this for us. Only us.”
I palmed my dick, stroking up and down the hard length while she watched, her eyes hazing with desire. If she licked her lips like that one more time, it was going to be over before I touched her.
She flipped around and crawled toward me on the bed, the very fantasy I’d always imagined while sleeping here. “And what did you want to do in here?” she asked, like she’d read my mind.
“This,” I said, my only word of warning before I lifted her from the bed and kissed her, filling my hands with her ass, filling her mouth with my tongue.
My fingers found her wet and wanting, already slippery, and I groaned with the feeling of her. “God, Rachel, I don’t know if I can wait.”
“Then don’t,” she said, kissing my ear.
“Fuck, I don’t have condoms,” I growled.
“Didn’t we already have this discussion?” she asked.
“I wasn’t exactly expecting you to show up,” I said, cursing my stupidity.
“Well, I did,” she said. “Check my jeans.”
I balanced her on the bed and picked up her jeans, finding a foil packet in her back pocket. “That might be the sexiest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” I said, ripping it open and rolling the condom on.
“I’m glad you approve.”
I swept my fingers through her wetness and then pressed and swirled on her clit. Her knees buckled, and I caught her. “I approve of everything you do.”
“More,” she begged, and I willingly gave, beating back every instinct to bury myself inside her.
Instead I used my fingers to pump in and out of her as I stood her back up, teasing and tonguing the rigid peaks of her nipples. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, and for the first time in forever, I felt like I might have a shot at that dream.
“Landon,” she moaned, rocking against me, the sound of her cry revving me even higher.
Her breaths came faster, her muscles tightened, and I knew she was close. God, I wanted to be there with her—needed to be inside her when she flew.
“I need you now,” I warned her.
“Yes,” she said.
It was all the permission I needed. Lifting her slightly, I slipped her thighs around my hips and held her ass as I slid inside her tight, welcoming warmth.
Fuck, she was so hot it felt like I was being branded in the best way possible.
Her ankles locked behind my back, and her arms looped around my neck as she met me in a ravenous kiss. I lifted her up and down, using my body to stroke hers to completion.
She cried out every time I dropped her slightly, letting gravity help me take her deeper, and when it wasn’t deep enough, I leaned her against the wall next to my bed and began a rhythmic pounding that had her keening in my ear for more. Harder. Deeper.
Of course I was ecstatic to oblige.
But I held back just enough to keep her on edge, and even though she arched against me, knowing how to take her own pleasure, I denied her that tiny bit of friction she needed.
“Landon!” she cried out in frustration.
“Tell me you love me,” I demanded.
“I love you,” she told me in pants of her breath against my lips, our foreheads pressed together.
“Tell me this is forever. You and me. Always.”
“Forever.” She gasped as I swirled inside her, hitting her clit. “Always.”
I kissed her with stark relief and passion, then changed our angle to give her everything she needed, thrusting until she came apart in my arms. She clamped down on me as she came, squeezing me like a vise, her head thrown back in the most gorgeous display of ecstasy I’d ever seen.
She pulled me over with her, and I came with a shout, her name a prayer on my lips.
Our breathing was ragged as I backed up to the bed, collapsing until she lay against my chest.
“We. Really. Have. To. Go,” she said, every word between a breath.
“I had more fun when you were coming,” I teased.
She smacked my chest. “Get up and let me show you how much I love you.”
That was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and within twenty minutes we’d dressed and headed out the door. I paid the pizza guy on our way out, and she fed me bites of a slice as we headed toward the airport, my hangries long forgotten.
“There’s not another flight out today,” I told her.
“Trust me,” she said sweetly, using my words against me. As we got closer, she changed her orders. “Turn here.”
“This is the private airport,” I said.
“Yep,” she answered.
I followed her directions until we pulled onto the landing strip. “Is that…?”
“My dad,” she answered.
Fuck. My. Life.
I parked the car where she directed and pulled both of our bags from the trunk. “Mr. Dawson,” I said as we approached him.
He’d ditched the stiff suit in favor of jeans and a Patagonia vest.
“Mr. Rhodes. My daughter tells me I’ve misjudged you.”
I wrapped my arm around Rachel, who tucked into my side like she’d always been there. “In some ways, sir. In others, I was exactly what you thought.”
He nodded. “That’s fair. She tells me that you need to get to Aspen, and I happen to be headed to the X Games for the company. Want a lift?”
I stood dumbstruck for a second until Rachel poked me in the ribs. “What do you say? Want to take your curse for a little spin in Aspen?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
I shook my head and kissed her, uncaring that her dad watched us. I was never going to hide my love for this woman again. Ever.
“No. But I sure as hell want to take my lucky charm.”
She grinned, and I lost my heart all over again when her nose crinkled. “Then I guess we’d better get going. You’ve got medals to win.”
I agreed with her, but only so she’d get her butt on the plane.
I’d always felt like there were two sides of me when it came to this sport, and I still couldn’t figure out how I’d found a woman who could love both.
As Nova, I’d win those medals, hit the ridgelines, smile for the cameras, and win the glory. I was unstoppable with her next to me.
But as Landon, I knew the truth: medals were nice, but I’d already won something so much more precious than gold—Rachel’s love.