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Play With Me: Chapter 43



Have you ever seen a six-foot-four hulk of a man cradle his tiny, newborn baby girl in his arms while singing “You Are My Sunshine?”

“Damnit,” I mutter. “They’re cute.”

“I’m wearing an adult diaper and I tore in places no women should ever tear, all because he has no self-control and couldn’t pull out one fucking time, but I’m so goddamn in love with those two, it’s absolutely unbelievable.” Olivia gazes at Carter and Ireland as they slowly sway together. I swear I see the hint of tears before she scrunches her nose and shakes them away. “He’s so far from perfect, Jennie, but he’s got so much love in his heart. He loves you very much.”

“He has a funny way of showing it sometimes.” I watch as he smiles down at Ireland, then lowers his lips to hers. “He’s the one who taught me how to communicate, how important it was to speak my mind, and then he disappeared on me.”

“I know. You have every right to be upset with him. He made some mistakes, and now he needs to correct them.” She rubs her eyes and sighs. “The night of your interview, Cara and Em were here doing karaoke. He did your song, the one you two always sing together.”

I smile, thinking about the way we trade off so perfectly on our favorite Frozen song, “Love Is an Open Door.”

“He wouldn’t let anyone else sing with him, but he wouldn’t sing your lines either. He was miserable, letting the microphone hang at his side.” She shakes her head. “I don’t know why in the world he didn’t just…not do the song.”

Her guess is as good as mine.

Olivia leans into me, laying her head on my shoulder. “Can I be honest with you, Jennie?”


“I’m glad you decided Toronto wasn’t for you. If you decided it was, I would’ve been happy for you but…sad for us. I love you so much, but I really wanted to keep loving you right here. I know it’s selfish of me, but—”

I wrap her in my arms, heart squeezing. “Thank you.”

“I’m so grateful for you, Jennie.” She swipes discreetly at her eyes. “Okay, Carter. Time to let Auntie J have some baby loving.”

“What? But I’m not done! She’s just—” He hugs Ireland to his chest and frowns at Olivia, twisting away when she tries to take their daughter. “You can’t have her!”

“Carter, give me the baby.”



His brows knit so tightly with his scowl, scrunching his forehead. With a huff, he turns toward me. “You have to be careful.”

“I’ve already held her,” I remind him.

“Well, don’t forget.”

“I won’t forget.”

“Sit on the couch. I don’t want you trying to sit down when she’s already in your arms.”

I fight an eye roll and take a seat, reaching for her.

“Ah-ah,” he tsks. “I will put her in your arms.” He bends, then pulls back. “Tuck your necklace in your shirt so she doesn’t try to eat it.”

I tuck my necklace in my shirt in case my forty-eight-hour-old niece tries to eat it.

He leans in, then back again. “And don’t forget to support her head.”

“I will support her head.” I slowly slide my hand between his palm and the back of her head.

“And don’t—”

“For fuck’s sake, Carter, I know how to hold a damn baby!”

“Geez,” he mutters, gently shifting Ireland into my arms. “Someone’s testy.”

“I swear to God I will rip your balls off and you’ll never father another child again. Now shut up, sit down, or get out of my face.”

He sinks down beside me without another word, cowering from my stare like a scared little boy.

The warm bundle in my arms wiggles and coos, and I gaze down at the most perfect face in the entire universe. Big, hazy, gray-blue eyes stare back at me, framed by dark lashes, and hidden inside, barely noticeable, are tiny flecks of green. She’s going to have her daddy’s eyes.

I trace the bow of her little pink pout, the shape of her tiny nose, before laying my hand on her round, rosy cheek. “She’s perfect.”

Carter’s chin hits my shoulder. “Right?”

“You’re all Mama. Aren’t you, baby girl?”

Carter snorts. “Whatever. Watch this.” He strokes his finger down the side of her face. The corner of her mouth lifts, pulling a deep dimple into her cheek.

I gasp. “You’ve got your auntie’s dimples.”

Our dimples.”

“Yes, you look so cute with your auntie’s dimples, don’t you, sweet Ireland?”

She blinks up at me, slow and unsure, and when her tiny fingers wrap around one of mine, I lose it. I lift her to my chest, cradling her against me as I close my eyes, breathing in her innocence.

“I love you so much, sweet girl. I’ll always be here for you; I promise.”

Carter’s heavy gaze watches me for a moment before he tentatively lays his hand on top of mine on Ireland’s back, the pressure gentle but firm, comforting.

An alarm sounds, and Olivia starts whipping her shirt off.

“Lunch time! You can get Mama undressed faster than I can, little pumpkin,” Carter coos, tapping her nose. “That’s impressive as fuck, baby girl.”

Olivia lets her shirt fall back into place. “You know what? I think we’ll go upstairs to eat. You two can have some alone time.”

I head into the kitchen when Olivia leaves me and Carter alone for the first time in over a week. I’m not hungry, but I open the pantry, pull out the birthday cake Oreos, twist three apart, layer the icing together until I’ve got one monster Oreo, and smash it between my teeth. I stare Carter directly in the eyes as I open the cupboard beneath the sink, step on the garbage pedal, and toss the remaining cookie pieces inside.

I’ve never seen him work so hard to control the twitch in his eye. There’s a vein in his neck that looks like it might burst if I poke it just right.

He clears his throat, stuffs his hands in his pockets, and ambles over.

“So…” He clicks a beat out through his pursed lips, head bobbing. “Thinking of changing my TikTok handle.”

“Oh yeah?” I check my nails. “To what?”


“But you’re already so iconic as TheTrophyHusband.”

He sighs. “It’s a tough choice.”

“What does Ollie think?”

He rolls his eyes. “She thinks I should change it to my actual name.”

“Ew. So unoriginal.”

“Right? She wasn’t made for the TikTok world.” He stops at the edge of the counter, tracing aimless patterns on the marble. “I missed you.”

I pin my arms over my chest. “You didn’t have to miss me. I was right here.”

“I was upset with you. Both of you.”

“That’s okay, but ghosting me for a week isn’t. That’s not how we solve problems in this family, Carter. Not you and me. We talk. We communicate.”

He hangs his head. “I know.”

“Do you, though? Because we’ve always had each other, and then suddenly you weren’t there, and it made me feel so alone. You’ve always been my biggest supporter, but instead you shut us both out, me and Garrett, and I felt like I’d lost you.

“But the worst part of all? For a second there, I didn’t know who I was without you by my side. I didn’t know who to be if it wasn’t your little sister. I told myself nobody would want me if we were no longer a package deal. I almost moved to Toronto because I convinced myself I was living in your shadow. But then I realized I’d never lived there. You’re my brother, but I’m not just your sister. The only thing keeping me in your shadow…was me.”

Carter’s gaze holds all the remorse of someone who’s had too much time to think about where he went wrong. “I’m sorry I shut you out. I’m sorry I made you feel alone. I’m sorry if I haven’t given you enough space to shine. You always shine in my eyes.”

“You do let me shine. And so does Garrett. He’s so patient with me, and so kind. He makes me feel like I can be whoever I want to be. He talks and he listens. I feel safe with him, Carter.”

“I feel like I’ve constantly failed you. I couldn’t keep your heart safe when Dad died. I couldn’t keep it safe in high school. I’m always…I’m always fucking worried, Jennie, that someone’s going to hurt you. This time, because I let my ego get in the way, it was me.” He takes my hand in his. “I’m supposed to protect you. I’m supposed to be the one you come to, the one you count on.”

“And you are. That won’t change. But I have to be able to take care of myself. Garrett helped me learn how to do that.”

“But…” He nibbles his lower lip. “I thought I was your best friend.”

“Oh, Carter.” I clasp his hand tightly, stepping closer. “You are, and you always will be. But Garrett is, too, like Olivia is for you. When I found Garrett, really found him…I felt so lucky, like I finally found what you and Olivia had, something I thought was never meant for me. Don’t you think I deserve to be loved the way you love Ollie?”

“You deserve the whole world, Jennie.”

“I feel like I have it with Garrett.”

He stares at me for a long moment. “He says he loves you.”

“He does.”

“Do you love him too?”

“So much.” I grin. “He punched Simon for me.”

His eyes light. “He did?”


His chest puffs. “I woulda done it three times.”

“It’s not a competition,” I remind him gently.

He looks away, murmuring his next words. “I’m afraid you won’t need me anymore.”

My eyes sting, and I blink rapidly, trying to stop the tears before they can start. It’s no use. Damnit. Stupid fucking tears. I hate this.

Carter’s eyes widen, hands coming up in front of his face as he rocks and swivels in place, like he has no clue what to do. “Oh no. No, I didn’t mean to—no. Olivia! I made her cry!”

“For fuck’s sake,” she yells back down. “Put on your big boy panties and fix it, Carter! I’ve got a tiny human gnawing on my nipple! I don’t have time for your drama!”

I throw my arms around Carter’s neck, and he holds me as I cry. “I’ll always need you. That will never, ever change.”

“Promise?” he asks on a whisper.



I’m hit with a weird sense of déjà vu as I hesitate outside Jennie’s door with my hockey bag slung over my shoulder, sticks in my hand, like the first time I was here to check on her, pre–exploding box of dildos in my face.

It’s not that I’m afraid to knock; it’s just that I’m…

I’m a little afraid. Jennie’s so strong and confident. She’s certain about so many things in her life, and the only thing I’ve ever been so sure about, well…it’s her.

I’ve been dying to hold her, kiss her, but I don’t know how to take what I want right now. Do we need time? Do we have to ease back into it? I’ve never felt like there was much easing into anything in our relationship. Sure, some of the pieces came with time. But for the most part, Jennie opened her heart right away and asked for what she wanted, and I gave it to her without hesitation: friendship. I got to have all of her, even the parts I didn’t know I wanted. Now that I’ve had them, I don’t know how to slow down. All I want to do is barrel forward, but I don’t want to push her.

Clearing my throat, I knock. Music filters from inside, and after a few more knocks, I try the handle, stoked to find it unlocked.

The music coming from her bedroom is so loud it’s no wonder she can’t hear anything. I drop my equipment by the door, kick off my shoes, and head down the hall.

“Jennie?” I call softly, sticking my head into her room. Her bedside table is open, blankets mussed on the bed, and I plod toward the bathroom, where I hear her humming, calling my name.

I’m not sure what I expected, but it sure as hell wasn’t a bright array of dildos and vibrators covering nearly every inch of the sparkly white quartz counter.

I also didn’t expect to find Jennie naked and leaning against the wall, eyes closed while she moans, one hand moving between her legs, the other wrapped tightly around Indiana Bones, like she needs something to hang on to.

“Holy fuck.”

Jennie’s eyes flip open, and she leaps into the air, one of her bloodcurdling shrieks leaving her mouth. Haven’t heard one of those in a while. Forgot how much they spike my blood pressure.

She twists in every direction like she’s looking for a place to hide, and when she doesn’t find one, she accidentally swipes every single toy clear off the counter, until they’re buzzing and jumping at her feet. Indiana Bones flings from her grasp, and a scream rips up my throat as that meaty fucker soars through the air, coming right for my face in slow motion.

Ah!” I shriek, clapping a hand over the right side of my face as he strikes me and clatters to my feet. “My eye!”

Garrett!” Jennie screeches, two hands on my chest as she shoves me out of the bathroom. “Out! Get out!

The door slams in my face before I have time to comprehend what’s happening, and when it opens again eight seconds later, Jennie’s covered in one of my T-shirts, cheeks flushed red, music dialed down to a quiet hum. She doesn’t look any less angry, and I haven’t had time to process, so I’m still on edge.

What the hell are you doing here?” she yells at me.

My arms come up, waving wildly through the air. Maybe if I make myself look bigger, she’ll be less scary. “Your door was unlockedI-I-I…I heard my name!”

I leave my door unlocked and say your name all the time!”

Why would you leave your door unlocked if you had all your fuck toys out?”

I do what I want!”

Why are you masturbating with your door unlocked?

I do what I want!” is all she shrieks again. You weren’t supposed to be home ’til midnight, you dink!”

I flew home early to be with you, you turtle!”

She blinks up at me, the rise and fall of her chest slowing, our jagged breaths heavy in the air. “Oh. That’s…” She scratches her scrunching nose. “Sweet.”

We stare at each other for a long moment, and when she launches herself at my chest, I clutch her so tight.

“I fucking missed you so much,” I whisper. She’s so warm, so soft, this perfect body that wraps around mine and makes everything feel so incredibly right.

With her chin on my chest, she gives me a goofy, dimply smile, and when she tells me, “I love you so much,” I cover her mouth with mine.

Jennie’s fingers sink into my hair, tugging me closer as her tongue glides against mine. My hands creep beneath her shirt, skimming the arch low in her back, pressing into her smooth skin and holding her to me.

“You’re really staying?”

“This is where I belong, Garrett.”


“Nowhere else.”

“What about your dream?”

“I want my own studio. I want to teach dance in a way that doesn’t encourage obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I want to teach kids how to love something so much and still have healthy boundaries around it instead of letting it consume them. My dream is to have all the love I want, the love I need, and the love I deserve. And this, Garrett, is where I have that.”

I lift her into my arms, winding her legs around my waist before I sit on the edge of her bed. “I’m proud of you for recognizing what you need and deserve. And selfishly, I’m happy you’re staying.”

“I was worried if I stayed, it would be because I was too comfortable here, because I didn’t know how to stand on my own,” she admits. “I didn’t want to go for the wrong reasons, but I didn’t want to stay for them either.”

“Standing on your own doesn’t mean without love, Jennie. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone, that you won’t grow unless you’re doing it by yourself. Because you can already do all that. You’re fierce and independent. You can grow on your own, and you can stand on your own. But the most important piece is knowing that you don’t have to.”

“It’s okay to be one part of a whole.” She speaks the words gently, like a realization that’s already dawned, the final pieces coming together, taking it from a fantasy to a truth. Her soft blue eyes lift to mine, and the gratitude shining there, the love, it’s enough to knock the breath from my lungs. “I think you’re the biggest part, Garrett.”

My lips crash down on hers, and suddenly we’re nothing but grazing hands, sliding tongues, slow, wet kisses, like we have all the time in the world to be together. I think we do.

When we break apart, Jennie rests her forehead against mine. “Did you ever worry we’d never make sense? That we were too different to make this work?”

“Sometimes opposites attract. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think we’re all that different, and there hasn’t ever been a part of me that thought we couldn’t be exactly what the other needed.”

I take her face in my hands, studying those violet-blue eyes that hold all my favorite pieces, the humor, the relentless teasing, the confidence, the uncertainty, the compassion, the love.

“Every bit of you fits every piece of me, and that’s how I know. We bring out the parts of each other we’ve spent so much of our lives being too scared to show. You’re my best friend, and we found everything we needed when we found each other. Falling in love with you is like checking the very last thing off my bucket list.”

She snuggles into me, her head on my shoulder. “You know, I’m not sure we ever really fell in love. I think we built it from the ground up. We made each other a priority, made our friendship a safe place to be together and learn together. We wanted honesty and trust, and we worked every day to get it. We planted the seeds, and when I bloomed, it was because you took my hand and made sure all of me got space to shine, even the parts I was content to leave inside the shadows.”

Sometimes I can’t believe she’s a real, like she’s a figment of my imagination, something my brain dreamed up and said, Here’s everything you could ever want, all rolled into one single person. I don’t know how I convinced her to be mine, but I do know I’m never going to let her go.

“I want to keep you forever. Please don’t leave.”

We spend the next hour wrapped up in each other, my fingers trailing up and down her spine as she tells me about the twat-waffle in Toronto who wouldn’t let her order steak. She’s still traumatized about her salad dinner, so I’m taking her on our second date, and we’re getting steak.

“Let me finish putting my things away, then I’ll get dressed,” Jennie says.

I follow her into the bathroom, helping pick up her collection of toys, and I’m reminded that Jennie was masturbating when I walked in here.

“What were you doing with these all?”

“I was giving them a thorough cleaning and I got a little horny while I was waiting for you to get home.” She taps Indiana Bones against my shoulder. “Sue a girl for touching herself while she thinks about her boyfriend.”

“Hit me with that one more time and I get to use this on you tonight,” I roll the pink glass plug between my fingers, “while you’re tied up with this,” I skim the edge of my tie, “while I make you fuck this.” I flick the head of Indiana Bones and lean forward, kissing my way to Jennie’s ear. “And you’ll be on your knees, with my cock down your throat.”

Heat floods her face, her bottom lip sliding between her teeth. The little devil reaches forward with her toy and smacks me once more.

With a growl, I clap a hand to her ass. “Get moving, or else we’re staying here and you’re not getting steak tonight.”

She snickers and salutes me, then produces the labeled box those wonderful toys came from all those months ago, the day Indiana Bones and I met. “Thought these could find a new home at your place.”

“My place? You movin’ in?”

“No.” She laughs. “That would be crazy. Right?”

“So crazy,” I agree.

“We’ve only been officially dating for, like, four weeks.”

“I’ve loved you a lot longer than four weeks, though, sunshine.”

Her beam is bright and warm, just like her nickname. “You have? Me too.”

Linking my fingers through hers, I tug her into me, and we start swaying to the music still drifting quietly through the speaker. My lips touch her shoulder, trailing the slope of her neck. She trembles when I pause at her ear.

“Can I tell you something?”

“Of course.”

“I like crazy.”


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