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black roses

By:samantha christy

reach for her suitcase. “Let me help you with that.”

She stands up and her slender, graceful fingers intercept the handle before I can reach it. “I don’t need your help.” She walks away, pulling the large bag behind her.

I feel like a loser as I catch up to her. We must be a sight. This petite creature lugs a heavy suitcase behind her while her companion, who towers over her and outweighs her by a good hundred pounds, walks by her side. “Okaaaaaay. How about a drink?” I point to a sports bar tucked away in the corner of the arrivals area.

She stops walking and looks up at me in horror. “A drink? I don’t even know you. Why would I want to do that?”

I hold my hands up in surrender. “I just figured after your long flight you might want to unwind a little. Anyway, you’re about to get into a car with me. A drink seems kind of benign compared to that, don’t you think?”

“I don’t really have a choice about the ride, now do I? But I’m still not having a drink with you. I did enough unwinding on the plane.” She turns her back to me and walks away as I follow the movement of her curve-hugging jeans.

“Okay, then. You’re not only a bitch, but a drunk,” I mumble under my breath.

She spins around. I guess she has better hearing than I anticipated. I half expect her to throw her bag at me, or at the very least, slap me. “Yes, I am,” she says. “And that’s why you don’t want to know me. Now—Mason, was it—where are you parked?”

We walk in complete silence to my car. The entire time I complain inwardly about how I was the only one without anything better to do on a Friday afternoon than fetch Ms. Bitchy from the airport.

Not that I’m unhappy with the way I’m spending the off-season. I could be running around doing endorsements, like a lot of the other players. Even as a backup quarterback, I had several offers to choose from. But that’s not me. I like my quiet life. My private life. My uncomplicated life.

I look over at Piper. Why do I get the feeling this woman is anything but uncomplicated?

When we reach my car, I pop the trunk and stand back, watching in amusement as she loads her heavy bag into it. I would offer to help, but shit, she’d probably bite my head off.

She makes no comment about the car. It’s nice. Very nice. It’s the only extravagant purchase I’ve made since going pro. And even though I bought it because I love it, not as some kind of chick-magnet, women usually fawn all over it.

I head around to the passenger side of the car in an attempt to open the door for her, but she beats me there and lets herself in. I roll my eyes at her and keep my thoughts to myself. Slipping behind the wheel, I back out of my parking space and proceed to the exit ramp. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Piper wringing her hands and rolling her shoulders. I see the nonstop tapping of her foot on the floor mat. She must be nervous about being home after so long. I try to ease the tension.

“Your family owns three great restaurants. How come you didn’t go into the business?” I raise my brow with my question as I momentarily take my eyes off the road and stare at her.

She doesn’t break her gaze from whatever is so interesting outside her window. “Neither did Baylor,” she says flatly.

“Okay, I’ll give you that. But why backpack around the world?”

She leans against the headrest, arching her neck into it. Her hair falls behind her and my attention is drawn to a small sparkle on the left side of her nose. It’s a piercing. A tiny diamond so small you can barely see it. “I don’t backpack,” she says. “I have a suitcase. A damn heavy one.”

“I offered to carry it, Piper.” I shake my head. “Are you always this stubborn?”

I think back to the conversations Griffin and Gavin have had about that very same Mitchell-sister trait. When she ignores my question, I ask another. “You didn’t answer me. Why do you travel around the world? And why don’t you ever come home? I know your sisters miss you. They talk about you all the time.”

She opens her eyes and looks at me purposefully. “What are you, writing a book about me or something?”

My fingers come up to rub the bridge of my nose. This is going to be a long drive. “Okay. Well then, do you want to know anything about me?”

“Not particularly,” she says, her eyes back to focusing out her window.

Maybe her sisters haven’t told her about me. Maybe she’s not into American football after living abroad for almost four years. Or maybe she knows who I am but simply doesn’t care.

“How come your boyfriend didn’t come with you?” I ask.

Her head whips around and her face contorts as if I’d asked her why the moon was green. “I don’t have a boyfriend. Why would you even ask that? I’m not going to fuck you if that’s what you’re after.”

I almost run my car off the road from the shock of her words. “Believe me, Piper, fucking you is the last thing on my mind right now. I think I’d rather throw you out the window, but then your sisters would kill me.” I try to compose myself before I say anything I’ll regret. “I was talking about Charlie. How come he didn’t come with you?”

She looks away, but I could swear I see the hint of a smile curve her lips. It makes me wonder what she would look like if she actually smiled. I’ll bet she has one of those smiles that lights up a room. One of those smiles that makes men weak in the knees and incapable of rational thought. She doesn’t look like much of a smiler, though. She has a sad, vulnerable look about her. And damn it, even though she’s probably the biggest bitch I’ve ever met, something about her draws out my protective instincts.

“Charlie isn’t my boyfriend. She’s my best friend.” She plays with a small leather bracelet on her wrist, twisting it back and forth and fumbling with the charm on it. I wonder if it’s from Charlie. One of those friendship bracelets that girls give each other.

“Oh.” I laugh, thinking about bits and pieces of girl-talk I’ve overheard from her sisters