Rip swatted at the annoying bug.
Wait. That wasn’t a fly swarming his head. The high-pitched whine was a female voice.
No matter what, he wasn’t ready to open his eyes. Hell no. His head was still spinning and his stomach sour. Whoever it was could just buzz off.
A hand on his shoulder shook him. His head rattled. He wanted to knock the block off the person touching him.
Why couldn’t he just enjoy his stupor? The sweet, sweet numbness in his brain.
The hand shook him again, harder this time.
“Rip! Come. On. What are you even doing here?”
Reluctantly, he cracked open his eyes just enough to give this person a piece of his mind. The part that wasn’t soaked in whiskey.
He cursed as he stared right into a woman’s face, barely inches away from his. “What the…”
“Are you okay?” She continued before giving him a change to answer. “Of course you’re not okay. You’re drunk as shit on my front porch.”
Ripley “Rip” Cord could hear the condemnation dripping from her voice. He blinked in an attempt to clear his swimming vision. “Who…are…you?”
“You know who I am, you asshole.”
Rip’s muscles were screaming. He looked down and realized it was because he was lying in a crumpled mess…in the corner of a porch…that certainly wasn’t his.
He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping the vertigo would go away. He needed to figure out what had happened and how he got here. But first, he needed the world to stop spinning.
“Let me help you inside. Though I shouldn’t, you heartless bastard.”
Rip squinted at the female leaning over him. Yeah, he did sort of recognize her. Oh shit. Had he slept with her?
That was the last thing he needed right now. Some scorned woman pissed at him while he was helpless. He’d end up with a knife in his heart. Or his dick whacked off.
Nah. Couldn’t be anyone he’d slept with. Women weren’t his thing, and he’d only hooked up with less than a handful throughout his life. And whoever this was acted like a shrew. He swore he had better taste than that.
He reached behind him bracing a hand against the brick wall, trying to sit upright. Well, it wasn’t a complete failure, he ended up somewhat vertical.
“Where am I?” he croaked.
The woman blew out an impatient breath. He looked at her again, now that he was more level. Yes, he did know her. She was… He grimaced.
Katie. Gil’s roommate. Best friend. Co-worker.
Protector of broken hearts. Or at least one heart in particular.
He groaned while dropping his head in his hands.
He was on Gil’s front porch drunk as a skunk.
His mouth started to water and he leaned over just in time to heave his guts into the flower bed.
What the hell. At least he didn’t puke on her shoes. Which were butt ugly, by the way.
“Get up. How did you even get here? Why are you so drunk?”
So many questions. Not enough answers.
Mostly because he just didn’t know.
She leaned down, tucked her shoulder under his arm, and pulled. He didn’t budge.
Not that he didn’t want to. Sitting on cold concrete was no prize.
“I can’t do this on my own, ass wipe. You weigh a ton. You actually have to help.”
With a grunt, she pulled again and he braced himself against the bricks to leverage himself to his feet. She wrapped his right arm over her shoulders, holding him along his back. Barely upright, he listed to the right. Either he was tilting or the world was. The odds were, it was him.
He carefully concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as she unlocked the front door and helped him inside. Walking was so difficult. He didn’t know how babies learned it. Baby steps. Duh.
He laughed at his own thought, which brought a frown from Katie.
“This isn’t funny.”
He dropped his head in feigned shame. “I know. Sorry.”
He eyeballed the comfortable looking couch they passed. Where were they going? A perfectly good resting spot was right there. If he could just reach it and collapse onto those soft cushions. But no.
He wobbled and she stopped long enough to tighten her hold on him. He grunted when she wasn’t too gentle.
Jesus, she was not a pleasant person. He had thought she was nice at the class reunion. But he had been so wrong about that. She was evil. Pure evil.
She led him to a dark bedroom where she pushed him onto the bed. Shoved, more like it. His stomach rolled as he bounced on the mattress.
Rip didn’t know how Gil put up with her. He was so nice. She was just a—
She pulled off his boots and socks and his jacket, tossing them aside.
“I’m making some coffee so you sober up some before Gil gets home.”
All right, he had judged her too soon. Maybe she wasn’t half bad.
“But I think every organ you have is pickled right now.”
Hopefully Kosher dill, since they were his favorite.
She suddenly disappeared. Rip looked around. He didn’t even see her leave. He shrugged.
He tugged his T-shirt off and struggled to peel off his jeans. He wasn’t sure how long it took him, but eventually he felt free. He wiggled up the bed more and laid his head on the pillow.
He sniffed. What was that scent? Turning his face, he shoved his nose into the pillow, inhaling.
He knew that smell. Gil. This was Gil’s bed.
He pulled a second pillow to him and hugged it to his chest. A sense of relief overcame him.
He was in Gil’s room and Gil’s bed.
He might have been drunk—okay, okay, still was—but he’d landed where he intended.
In his lover’s room.
He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, Katie was shoving a mug of coffee under his nose. Damn, either she was as quiet as a Ninja or he must have blacked out for a minute. Or ten.
“I’d help you sit up to drink it, but you’re naked in my roommate’s bed. And I think he’d have a problem if I climbed in there with you. Even if I was only trying to help.”
Rip struggled to push himself up. He got upright enough to be able to sip at the hot brew.
His stomach rebelled.
With narrowed eyes, Katie sat on the edge of the bed watching him sip the coffee. Something was brewing in that little head of hers and he was sure he was going to find out what it was sooner or later. His bet was on sooner.
“Is the coffee helping?”
On the surface her question sounded caring, but the pointed gaze and the tightly crossed arms told him otherwise.
“Yeah. I’m drunk and awake now.”
“Good. So…why are you here?” She pursed her lips stubbornly. She wasn’t leaving without some answers. The sooner he answered, the sooner she would skedaddle.
He blew across the hot liquid before taking another sip. “For Gil.”
“For Gil, or for you?” Her gaze was unwavering as she waited for his answer. Her left index finger was beating a pattern into her right bicep. Tap, tap, tap. Tick tock. Tick tock. Ding. Time’s up.
“I just told you.”
“Well, I think you’re here for yourself because you’re a selfish shit. You need to stop playing with his emotions. You hear me?”
Rip winced. Holy hellion. “I’m not.”
“Oh, you are. You need to man up and either be with Gil or leave him the hell alone. He’s not your boy toy. You can’t just take him out to play when you want to.”
Is that what she thought he was doing? Shit. Did Gil see it like that? “I don’t mean to—”
“Bullshit. I wish I’d never talked him into going to his class reunion. He didn’t want to go, you know. I made him.”
Rip grimaced. “I know.”
“He had a crush on you, and you opened the door to more. Between that night and the weekend at the cabin—”
“I never meant—”
“Listen Mister I’m-a-famous-wide-receiver-for-the-NFL, you knew exactly what you were doing.”
“For your information, I feel the same way about him as he does me.”
“Right.” Katie laughed bitterly. “You do know Gil loves you, right?”
Rip glanced at her, eyes wide. “He… does?”
Sure. Gil has feelings for him. Hell, he has feelings for Gil. But love?
“Of course he does, you shit. How could you not notice? Oh, that’s right, you’re a thick-headed football player that only cares about himself.”
“I care about Gil.”
“Then why don’t you act like it?”
Rip turned away from her and put an arm over his face. “I don’t know,” he muttered.
He was sick to his stomach. Not only from the over indulging but from what Katie said.
He’d never cared for anyone before. Never. His mom had died when he was young, and his pop had been a complete asshole. And, fuck, he did not want to end up like him. Unfortunately, he seemed to be headed down that same path.
First as being deemed The Bad Boy of the NFL—not without good reason—and now with Gil. He never meant to hurt Gil. He liked Gil. He always had. Even in high school. Yeah, so they hadn’t been actual “friends” because they ran in different circles. Gil with the geek squad and Rip with the jocks. But that was normal high school shit. Right?
He had never picked on Gil in high school like the other students had. No, it wasn’t just being picked on. It was downright bullying. The night of their tenth-year class reunion, Gil had asked Rip why he hadn’t ever come to his rescue. Rip’s lame answer was that he’d had a reputation to uphold. He was the captain of the varsity team. He was a jock. It was a bullshit excuse and he had apologized, of course. But it came too late for high school. However, here he was again…trying to live up to his reputation of being a badass pro football player.
And look where that got him…
Sobering up in his gay lover’s house. The lover whom he’d been ignoring because Rip was too much of a damn coward to come out of the closet and be his true self.
That’s because he always had to hide who he really was. Always.
All he’d known most of his life was how to be a good football player.
And now he didn’t even have that.
He emptied the mug and handed it back to Katie. “Thanks…and sorry.”
Katie pushed to her feet. “You’re apologizing to the wrong person.”
She beat feet out of the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her.
The Bad Boy of NFL was no longer.
Now he was just a fuck up.