Slam Dunk

Love Lessons, Book 2

Mari Carr

Chapter 1

The Warm-Up

Hey! Welcome back, bro.”

Trey Donovan laughed as his best friend, Jamie, entered Tully’s Bar and slapped him on the shoulder.

“Thanks for getting the table.” Grace, Jamie’s girlfriend, bent down and kissed Trey on the cheek as she and Jamie claimed their usual places.

He and his friends had been holding happy hours at this bar for years. As teachers at a local high school, it wasn’t unusual for them to meet on Fridays to unwind after a long week or to celebrate special occasions—birthdays and big high school sports wins. Today, they were mourning the loss of summer. Come Monday, they’d be back in school, suffering through seven days’ worth of meetings, and the following week would bring two thousand students back to Preston High School for another year.

“Where are Cheryl and Lucas?” Trey asked.

Grace glanced over her shoulder. “They should be here any minute. Cheryl texted me as we pulled in the parking lot. Lucas had picked her up and, of course, he was running late.”

Trey shook his head, grinning. “That idiot will be late to his own funeral.”

“True that,” Jamie concurred. “How was the basketball conference?”

Trey picked up the pitcher he’d ordered upon arriving and poured a glass of beer for Jamie and Grace. “Same old, same old. Little meetin’, lot of eatin’ and shitload of drinkin’. My kind of conference.”

Grace rolled her eyes. “Jeez. I keep waiting for the school system to figure out these so-called basketball conferences are little more than extended bachelor parties.”

Trey laughed. “We have actual meetings during the day. And we let girls come.”

Grace leaned across the table and lightly tapped Trey on the cheek a couple of times. “That’s big of you.”

“Speaking of girls…” Jamie leaned closer. “Was Hottie Hunter there?”

Grace turned to Jamie and blasted him with a laser stare. Trey watched with amusement. The couple had been dating for over a year and they were absolutely perfect for each other. Trey took quite a bit of pride in the role he’d played in helping his two best friends hook up.

“You guys are going to have to give up that nickname for her,” Grace said.

“Why?” Trey asked. “We’ve called her that for years.”

Grace attempted to give him an innocent look that missed the mark by about a mile. “Oh, I don’t know. I just think you might want to break the habit. Soon.”

Trey gave Grace a funny look. It was clear she knew something. One glance at Jamie proved his best friend didn’t have a clue what was up either.

“Unfortunately, Hottie, um, I mean Ellie wasn’t at the conference. Rumor is she’s not coaching at Harper’s Ridge this year.”

“Get out,” Jamie said. “She was really good. Hell, she was the only coach in the district whose team consistently gave your team any competition. Why would she quit?”

Trey shrugged and tried not to let it show how much Ellie’s absence at the conference bothered him. He’d always enjoyed discussing techniques and engaging in some good-natured trash-talking with her. Plus, he respected her talent as a coach. He was going to miss matching his skills against hers across the court. “Nobody seemed to know. It was all pretty hush-hush. Speaking of last minute, I’m out an assistant coach this year. You interested, Jamie?”

Jamie scoffed. “Hell no. I enjoy our friendship too much. There’s no way I could play second banana to you all season. We’d be at each other’s throats during the first warm-up. I’ll stick to softball.”

Grace leaned forward. “What happened to Carol? You guys have coached together forever.”

“You know she’s expecting a baby, right?”

Grace nodded. “She’s not due until early March. I thought she’d decided to stick it out and coach another season.”

“Turns out she’s having twins. Doctor didn’t think she’d want to spend the last few months of her pregnancy courtside. Carol agreed.”

Grace’s smile grew. “Well, how about that? Twins.”

Trey grumbled. “Yeah, great. Now I need to find a new assistant. One who won’t drive me insane the whole season.”

“Hey, guys,” Cheryl called out as she walked into Tully’s. “Look who I found in the parking lot.”

Trey glanced up and, for a moment, he felt as if he’d been sucker punched. Ellie Hunter followed Cheryl and Lucas to the table.

Then Trey’s grin grew and he stood. “Take a wrong turn, Coach Hunter? Harper’s Ridge is on the other side of town.”

Ellie smiled, but before she could speak, Grace answered. “I invited her. We ran into each other at school today.”

Trey frowned, looking at Ellie. “Why were you at Preston?”

“I had a new teacher meeting to attend. I was checking out my classroom when I ran into Grace.”

Jamie looked at Grace. “Why the hell would you go to school on the last day of summer?”

Grace blushed slightly. “I wanted to work on my bulletin board.”

Lucas laughed. “Nerd.”

Grace threw a pretzel at Lucas’s head while the others laughed. Ordinarily Trey would have been amused by their antics, but he was too busy trying to wrap his head around the idea that Ellie “Hottie” Hunter was now his colleague rather than his competition. She looked smokin’ hot in short shorts and a T-shirt that showcased her perfect curves. Trey felt his cock stir.

“Here,” Trey said, grabbing a chair from an empty table nearby and placing it next to his. He suddenly felt the need to have Ellie in his space, close to him. “Have a seat.”

Ellie acknowledged his friendly gesture with a quick nod of thanks and sexy smile as they sat.

Lucas grabbed an empty glass and filled it, passing it over to Ellie. “So you left Harper’s Ridge, huh? Finally decide you wanted to teach at a good school with a winning athletics program?”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “You must be Lucas. Grace warned me about you.”

Lucas wiggled his eyebrows. “Oh yeah? You like bad boys?”

Trey narrowed his eyes at his friend, annoyed. While they were both known as being flirts—and players—Trey didn’t like the idea of Lucas hitting on Ellie.

“Bad boy?” Trey scoffed. “Jesus, Lucas. You’re as much a bad boy as Justin Bieber.”

They all laughed as Lucas playfully punched Trey on the arm.

Ellie took a sip of the beer. “I needed a change of scenery,” she replied in response to Lucas’s earlier question. “Preston had an opening in the science department, so I took it.”

“What about coaching?” Trey asked, surprised she would give up something she’d so obviously loved.

She shrugged. “There wasn’t an opening to coach basketball at Preston. I mean, that is unless you wanna quit and hand the reins over to someone who actually knows a bit about the sport.”

He grinned. Oh yeah, suddenly Trey wasn’t dreading the end of summer. This school year was looking to be his best yet. It wouldn’t be hard going to work if Ellie was there providing the eye candy. “Not likely. Besides, considering the fact I took my girls’ team to the state championship a couple of years ago, I’d say I know plenty about the game.”

Ellie wasn’t daunted. She leaned closer and Trey caught the light scent of her perfume. Damn, she smelled good. “Word on the street is you’re not going to see that much success this year. Four of your starters graduated in June, which leaves you with a young bench. Anybody can coach naturally talented players. You think you’re up for teaching a bunch of newbies?”

This was what Trey had missed at the basketball conference. Nobody kept both his feet firmly planted on the ground like Ellie Hunter. “Oh, I’m up for it, sweetheart. You don’t have to worry about that.” Actually, at the moment, he was up for quite a bit. He hoped Ellie didn’t look down or she’d see exactly how much he enjoyed sparring with her. His cock was rock hard and threatening to bust a few seams in his pants.

“Where the hell did that summer go?” Cheryl said, waving to the waitress to set them up with another pitcher. “I’m warning y’all now. I’m drinking and dancing my ass off tonight. I’m fucking depressed.”

Trey topped up Cheryl’s glass. “You say the same thing every year at this happy hour.”

Cheryl shrugged. “Why do you think I had Lucas pick me up? I came prepared. DD and all.”

“Speaking of dancing,” Trey said, when the sound of Usher filled the room, “I lined up a few classics in the jukebox for us.”

Jamie groaned. “Christ, man. You picked all black music, didn’t you? Bet you didn’t fire up one single country song.”

Trey stood and gave Jamie a shit-eating grin. They constantly waged this friendly battle over music. “My dollar, my picks.”

He was surprised when Ellie rose quickly. “I love this song.” She grabbed Trey’s hand and led him to the bar’s tiny dance floor. Cheryl and Lucas were hot on their heels and Trey noticed Grace leading an only somewhat reluctant Jamie as well.

He started to move to the music, watching as Ellie lost herself to the song. Holy fuck. She could dance.

After years of Grace’s and Cheryl’s hilarious attempts at keeping up with him on the dance floor, he was blown away by Ellie’s natural grace and rhythm. She had some sexy-as-hell moves for a white girl. On top of that, she knew all the words to the song. When she mouthed along with Ludacris about wanting “a freak in the bed”, he resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to make it through this night without jerking off to relieve his hard-on.

Ellie turned around and moved against him. For a second, he tried to hold her away, knowing there was no way she wouldn’t be able to feel his erection. Then, he figured what the hell. There was nothing he wanted more than to feel her tight ass rubbing against him. He reached for her waist and pressed her closer. If she was surprised by his actions—as well as his cock rubbing against her lower back—she didn’t show it. In fact, she moved slower, more sinuously.

Trey gritted his teeth and tried to ignore how good her body felt against his. Her long brown hair was pulled back in her usual ponytail and he wondered what her hair would look like down, loose around her shoulders. Or better yet, he could wrap that ponytail around his hand and use it to direct her mouth to his cock as she sucked him off. A myriad of red-hot images passed by his eyes as he danced with her. No other woman had ever inspired this much lust in him, but a few minutes with Ellie never failed to drive his thoughts straight to the bedroom.

He moved his hands higher on her waist, his hands slipping beneath her T-shirt as she continued to gyrate in time with the music.

He’d never danced with Ellie, never had more than short conversations with her at conferences and before games, but he’d always watched her. Always been aware that whenever she was around, the rest of his surroundings went a bit blurry, all his focus directed at her.

He was attracted to her. He’d never denied that to himself, though he’d certainly worked hard to hide the fact from his friends. Grace and Cheryl would take a great deal of pleasure knowing he had a crush on Ellie Hunter and knowing them, they’d work overtime to try to hook them up. Grace was always trying to set him up, telling him he needed to settle down.

Ellie turned around to face him, but he didn’t release his grip on her waist. Instead he let his fingers slide over the smooth, soft skin of her tiny waist.

Suddenly it dawned on him exactly how small she was. Looking down, he noticed the top of her head only came to his shoulders. Her powerful personality had always made her seem taller to him.

She continued to dance and her new position gave him a bird’s eye view of her breasts. She wasn’t overly endowed, though she certainly had plenty to fill his palm. She sported an athletic build, trim and firm and fit. He considered all the ways she could use her physical strength in the bedroom and his cock twitched. Jesus. This wasn’t good.

The music changed and a slower song came on. Lucas and Cheryl headed back for the table, but Trey wasn’t ready to let Ellie go yet. He retained his grip on her and pulled her nearer. She wrapped her arms around his neck.

“This is fun,” she said, and he wondered if she meant the dancing or the happy hour.

“I’m glad you came.” The words were true.

She smiled, but he noticed a slight sadness in her eyes. Before he could think better of it, he found himself asking the question that had been nagging at the back of his mind since she’d shown up. “Why did you leave Harper’s Ridge?”

She sighed and he knew she didn’t want to answer. Whatever had driven her away from her school, it had to be serious, considering she’d given up coaching. “It wasn’t exactly my choice.”

“I don’t understand.”

A glimmer of pain shone in her eyes. “I made a couple of bad decisions and I ended up paying for them.”

He frowned. “What bad decisions?”

“I dated a fellow teacher. We lived together for about a year. We broke up last summer when I found out he was cheating on me with another colleague. It’s not easy to have your own stupidity thrown in your face day after day.”

He nodded sympathetically. “That would suck.”

She laughed. “Understatement of the year. Didn’t help my ex is a total shithead who took way too much pleasure in rubbing my face in his new relationship. Much as it kills me to say, I apparently possess more pride than sense, and I got tired of having it battered.”

“Nothing wrong with having pride and standing up for yourself. Better that than being a doormat.”

“Unfortunately, it was a bit more than that. We ended up in a huge battle at the end of the year—a fight that was overheard by several students. Joel, my ex, had seniority and the principal rather strongly suggested that I find a job in another school. Said he’d give me a good recommendation if I went voluntarily.”

“Shit. That sucks.”

She closed her eyes and sighed. “Yeah. I know. Gotta admit the lyrics of this song are pretty ironic. Seem to fit my life lately.”

Trey listened to Bono sing about being stuck in a moment he couldn’t get out of. He leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers. “Maybe. Maybe not. I have to say this is one moment I wouldn’t mind being stuck in for a while.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him. “I have a confession to make.”

“Okay.”

“I’ve always been attracted to you.” Her words blew him away. Hot damn.

“Oh yeah?” he replied.

She smirked and rolled her eyes at his cocky tone. “The thing is,” she started and he knew from her tone he wasn’t going to like what was coming next, “I’ve made a promise to myself and I aim to keep it.”

“What kind of promise?”

“I’m not going to date a colleague again. Ever. From this point on, my dating pool does not include fellow teachers.” She spoke the words with such assurance, he didn’t doubt her determination to abide by them for a minute.

Trey had always dated casually, never considered settling down. As he looked into Ellie Hunter’s dark eyes, he saw a woman who made him think future…and forever.

Fuck.

*

As the song ended, Ellie forced herself to let go of Trey and walk back to the table as Cheryl claimed him for the next dance.

Ellie was on day one of Operation New Life and she was already screwing up. Her vow to avoid workplace relationships had been solid as a rock until she’d walked into the bar and spotted Trey Donovan at the table. She’d been so focused on escaping her ex, Joel, and Harper’s Ridge, she’d failed to consider what she was running toward.

While she’d never spent a great deal of time with Trey, that didn’t mean she hadn’t wiled away some serious hours fantasizing about him. For one thing, he was built like a two-ton truck. He was well over six feet tall with muscular arms, dark skin and chocolate brown eyes she could lose herself in.

Physical attraction aside, she also respected his abilities as a coach. She’d seen far too many screamers in her time. Coaches who thought the only way to get results from their players was to berate, belittle and deafen the kids with loud insults and commands. Trey was a passionate coach, but he never talked down to his girls, never yelled at them for mistakes made on the court.

However, Trey had a reputation as a ladies’ man and there was no way in hell she was going down that road again. She’d been warned about Joel’s love ’em and leave ’em dating record, but she’d honestly believed their relationship was different. When they moved in together, she’d pictured marriage, children and happily ever after.

Joel had put a definite period to those plans when she’d gotten a migraine and come home early from summer basketball camp one afternoon to find him in bed with her department chair, Dawn. She’d spent the past school year living in hell, moving out of their shared apartment and setting up housekeeping in a smaller place in a less-than-desirable part of town. To add insult to injury, Joel continued dating Dawn and she had been forced to watch the two of them looking chummy and happy together at school each day.

Grace smiled at her when she sat. “I’m glad you came out with us.”

Ellie returned her grin. “So am I. This is a great tradition.”

Jamie put his arm around Grace’s chair. “Consider yourself on the permanent happy hour guest list. Nice to see a woman who can give Trey a run for his money on the dance floor.”

Ellie shrugged nonchalantly. “He’s not that hard to keep up with.”

Her response prompted Grace’s laughter. “Don’t let him hear you say that.” Grace grabbed Jamie’s hand and held it. “Didn’t you hear his song choice? He likes to think he’s Usher.”

Ellie looked over her shoulder, watching Trey try to bump and grind with Cheryl. They were both laughing more than dancing. Ellie was envious of the close friendship this group shared. After spending the past school year alone and miserable, she wondered if her private hell would have been so unbearable if she’d had friends like this group in her life. “Oh jeez. More like Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” she joked.

Jamie, Lucas and Grace laughed loudly.

“Oh man, you totally fit in with us,” Grace said between chuckles. “So, tell us all about yourself. Are you dating anyone?”

Ellie’s matchmaker alarm went off and she repressed a groan when Grace glanced in Trey’s direction. “No. I just got out of a relationship, so I’m not really interested in dating right now.”

Grace was undeterred. “Oh. How long has it been since your break-up?”

“Grace,” Jamie said softly. “Let it go.”

Lucas laughed at Jamie’s warning to his girlfriend. “You know I’m starting to get my feelings hurt. You’re always looking for a woman for Trey. How come you never try to hook me up with anyone, Gracie?”

“How do you know I’m scouting out eligible bachelorettes for Trey?”

Lucas perked up. “Were you asking for me?”

“Hell no,” Grace responded.

“Yeah. I figured as much. Why not?”

Grace picked up a hot wing from the basket in the middle of the table and dipped it in ranch dressing. “Because you are a hopeless player. Trey can be redeemed.”

“Redeemed?” Lucas asked. “Is that what you women call shackled these days?”

Grace looked at Ellie, gesturing with her hand. “See what I mean?”

Ellie nodded. “Hopeless case.”

The music changed once again and this time Jamie and Lucas stood, heading to the dance floor. All three men high-fived and started twirling Cheryl to some country song Ellie wasn’t familiar with. “It’s like you guys have a playlist.”

Grace agreed. “The Cougar Club has been together too long. That’s one of the reasons why I invited you to join us. We need some new blood.”

“Cougar Club?”

Grace shook her head. “That’s the nickname Cheryl gave us. The forty-something women with the thirty-something men. Another reason I invited you. With a younger woman in our midst, maybe the damn name will die a painful death.”

Ellie topped up both of their beers. “I don’t know. I kind of like that name.”

“Oh jeez. I thought you’d be on my side. So about Trey—” Grace started.

Ellie interrupted her with a laugh. “You’re relentless.”

Grace didn’t bother to apologize for her persistence. “Trey’s very special to me. I want to see him find a nice woman.”

“Believe me, I’m not that woman. Besides, I’ve heard Trey’s as big a player as Lucas. What makes you think he even wants to settle down?”

Grace leaned back in her chair. “He turned thirty this past school year. We all went out to celebrate. It was late in the evening and he and I were sitting alone at the table while everyone danced—just like you and I are now. He’d had quite a bit to drink—”

“Shocking.”

Grace chuckled. “He said he was jealous of my relationship with Jamie. Said he was tired of the dating scene and all the games and—”

“He was drunk,” Ellie interjected.

“He was wasted,” Grace clarified. “Which is why I believed what he was saying. He tries to play it too cool most of the time. That night he let down his guard and genuinely spoke what was in his heart.”

“I’m not the woman for him, Grace. I’m sorry, but I’m just not.”

Grace nodded. “I understand. Really. You can’t blame a girl for trying.”

Ellie was relieved by Grace’s easy acceptance and wished she could believe her own denials as effortlessly. Then she wondered about Grace’s relationship with Trey. It was clear they were good friends, but Ellie sensed there was something a bit deeper. She dismissed the wayward thought.

The rest of the gang came back to the table and reclaimed their seats.

With Trey sitting so close, Ellie felt her resolve wavering again. He was simply too hot for words. Damn him.

“Hey, Hunter,” Trey said, leaning closer. “I’ve been thinking.”

She pretended to be shocked. “Seriously? I didn’t know you PE guys were capable of that.”

Cheryl giggled. “Holy crap, Ellie. Where have you been? We could have used your help keeping these boys in line the past few years.”

“Very funny.” Trey balled up a napkin and threw it as Cheryl, who dodged it.

“What were you thinking about?” Ellie asked.

“You were wrong when you said there weren’t any positions coaching basketball at Preston.”

Ellie’s heart stuttered for a moment. The absolute worst thing about losing her job had been leaving her team. Coaching basketball had been the best part of her life and when she’d walked away from Harper’s Ridge, she left a large part of her soul behind. “What do you mean?”

“My assistant coach turned in her resignation this week.”

Trey’s words left her speechless as her mind whirled over what he was saying. There was a position open…as Trey’s assistant. She tried to recall if she’d ever felt more torn in her life. The opportunity to coach—even in an assistant capacity—was too good to pass up. However, she was pretty sure signing on for long hours spent by Trey’s side was a very stupid idea. There was no way she could resist the daily temptation, no matter how freaking resolute she thought she was.

“I’m not sure—”

Trey leaned closer, his next words spoken so low she was certain no one at the table could hear them except her.

“I understand why you don’t want to date a colleague. I won’t press the issue. I promise.”

She pulled away and felt a bit like a fool. She’d revealed far too much on the dance floor. She’d felt his erection and it had triggered her own physical needs. Maybe she’d somehow misread the attraction she thought they’d shared. Her face flushed with embarrassment. She’d been here less than an hour and she’d already made a fool of herself. “Oh. Sure.”

Trey rolled his eyes. “Jesus, Ellie. Don’t go down that road. I want you so bad it hurts. I’m just saying I respect your decision. And you’re an awesome coach. I’d like to have you on my side for once.”

She laughed and glanced around the table. Trey’s friends were fighting like mad to overhear their conversation.

“Should we get another table so you two can have some privacy?” Lucas joked.

Trey smirked at him. “Maybe just you could move to another table.”

Lucas laughed. “Big words from a guy sitting here in a purple shirt. You ever see a show called Barney?”

Everyone laughed and Ellie tried to remember the last time she’d had so much fun with a group of colleagues. Her loneliness began to fade.

She looked at Trey. “I’ll think about it.”

He nodded. “As show of good faith, I’ll even try to set you up with one of my non-teacher friends. There’s a local band playing at Bristols in a couple of weeks. Why don’t you invite a few of your girlfriends and come party with me and my boys?”

“That sounds like fun. Thanks, Donovan.”

“No problem, Hunter. I have a feeling this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Ellie laughed, hoping that prophecy came true.

Then the foolish part of her hoped for more.

Chapter 2

Pregame

Ellie nodded mindlessly, pretending to listen to Derek, one of Trey’s friends, as she looked around Bristols. She and a few of her girlfriends had arrived a couple of hours earlier. Trey had saved them seats at a large table and the two groups had merged flawlessly. A little too flawlessly.

Ellie caught sight of Trey on the dance floor with her friend Lisa, and she tried to fight back the twinge of jealousy she felt when Lisa rubbed her body closer to his. Her other friends, Jennifer and Wendy, were sitting at the table talking to a couple more of Trey’s friends, which left Ellie entertaining Derek the Dull.

She’d started the night filled with optimism and brimming with confidence about her decision to move to Preston. She’d been offered the assistant coaching job and she’d accepted it this morning. In addition, the first week of classes had gone smoothly and she genuinely liked her students this year.

Lisa ran her hand down Trey’s side, not stopping until she reached his ass. She left her hand there and moved forward, grinding against Trey. Ellie sucked in a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. The purpose of this night was to try to find some eligible men to date. Trey didn’t qualify for Ellie’s list. She looked to her right and discovered Derek was still blathering. She’d lost track of the conversation about twenty minutes ago. Figures he’d be available for her to date. At least she’d never have to worry about awkward silences with the man. God knew he could fill every second of every minute they were together with mindless chatter.

Trey and Lisa came back to the table. Trey plopped down on the seat beside her and gestured for the waitress, who fought to make her way over to their table. The bar was packed.

“We’re doing a celebratory shot,” Trey declared.

“What are we celebrating?” Ellie’s brain had switched to numb mode ages ago in an attempt to deal with Derek’s conversation and the fact Trey stood a very good chance at hooking up with Lisa tonight. She knew that look on her girlfriend’s face far too well.

“Oooo, shots,” Lisa said, clapping her hands. “I’m in.”

Trey leaned closer to Ellie and she subtly tried to sniff his sexy cologne. She’d noticed it at happy hour a couple of weeks ago and since then, it had become her favorite scent. “We’re celebrating your new coaching job, Hunter.”

She nodded, trying to decide if that was worth celebrating anymore. What if Trey and Lisa started to date? What if Lisa came to all the games and Ellie was forced to watch them hold hands and kiss and—

“Ellie,” Trey said. “Are you okay?”

She pushed the thought away. “I’m fine. Just hot.”

Trey handed her a shot of Patrón with a wicked gleam in his eye. “This will cool you off.”

She rolled her eyes. “Not likely.” Tequila made her burn, but given her current surroundings, that didn’t sound like such a bad proposition. She, Trey and Lisa licked the salt from their hands, downed the shots and popped the limes in their mouths.

Lisa squealed when the song changed and grabbed the other two women at the table. Derek, mercifully, started talking to the guy on his right.

“You having fun?” Trey asked.

She nodded. “Yeah. Sure.”

“You and Derek seem to be hitting it off.”

Ellie shrugged. She didn’t want to insult the guy since he was Trey’s friend, so she played the evasive card. “He’s nice. What’s he do for a living? Telemarketing?”

Trey burst into laughter. Ellie was blown away by the beauty of his smile. It was always there. They’d seen a lot of each other at school as both of them had lunch duty at the same time. He had an incredible rapport with students, joking and having fun with them while never crossing the line of professionalism.

“Derek’s a social worker, but now that you mention it, I think maybe he did miss his calling. Guy can talk for an hour straight without taking a breath.”

Ellie giggled. Apparently, Trey was perfectly aware of his friend’s tendency to talk too much. “Well, in that case, he could have been a telemarketer or deep sea diver.”

“What about the other guys?”

She was touched that Trey seemed to care so much about her having a good time. He’d promised to introduce her to some nice men and he’d followed through on it. It made her feel bad for not trying harder. “They’re nice. What’s Shawn’s story? He’s a little intense.”

“He’s a police officer. This isn’t really his scene anymore. He was crazy in college, but now that he’s sporting a badge, he tries to toe the line.”

“Ah,” Ellie said, nodding. The man had spent fifteen minutes talking about the growing drug problem in their town and a bust he’d participated in. Ellie hadn’t bothered to enlighten Shawn on the fact the drug house the police had raided had been on the street where she lived. “That explains why I keep getting the feeling he’s going to whip out a breathalyzer at any minute and cite us all for being drunk in public.”

Trey shook his head. “You’re not drunk. You’ve been nursing the same beer since you got here. That’s why I bought you the shot. Thought it might loosen you up a bit.”

She wasn’t sure how to respond. She thought he’d been totally into Lisa, but he’d obviously been watching her closely enough to notice what she was drinking. The thought made her warm inside. “I’m not much of a drinker. Actually, I think that shot is already working its magic.”

Whether it was the alcohol or Trey’s close proximity, she wasn’t feeling quite as down as she had been a few minutes earlier. “In fact, I feel like dancing.”

Trey grinned and started to stand. Before he could take her hand, Derek stood as well.

“Hot damn,” Derek said. “I’ve wanted to dance all night. Let’s go.” He grabbed Ellie’s hand and tugged her to the floor. She looked over her shoulder for Trey and spotted Lisa dragging him to the bar for another shot. She sighed and resigned herself to the fact that tonight was going to be a bust.

She closed her eyes and let the music and flashing lights take her away. She was here to meet guys who weren’t teachers. It didn’t look like that was going to happen tonight, but that didn’t mean she should quit trying. She’d wasted an entire year, nursing her wounded pride over Joel. She was about to turn over a new leaf. She moved to the song, letting the rhythm soothe her. She loved to dance. It helped her forget her worries. Her mistakes. Her desires.

*

Trey stood at the bar and watched Ellie dancing with Derek. She looked beautiful. She’d worn her hair down and the long brown waves flowed around her face as she swayed to the music. He’d found it hard to take his eyes off her all night.

“She won’t go out with you.”

Lisa’s voice broke through his daydreaming and he looked at her guiltily. He’d been pretty rude to the poor woman all evening, hanging out with her physically while his mind was a million miles away.

He gave her a questioning glance.

“Ellie,” Lisa explained. “She’s sworn off dating colleagues.”

Trey nodded. “I know. She told me.”

“Personally, I think she’s being a stubborn idiot about it, but Ellie seems to possess more than her fair share of tenacity. When she gets something in her head, she sticks to it. Not that I blame her,” Lisa said quickly. “Joel fucked her up bad. I’d probably still be curled in a fetal position in the corner of my bedroom if I’d been through what she has.”

Trey smiled. It was obvious Lisa and Ellie were good friends. “She mentioned the ex. Guy sounds like a prick.” He hoped Lisa would fill in some of the blanks about Ellie’s bad break-up. Aside from the few tidbits Ellie had shared on the dance floor at Tully’s, she’d been very closed-mouth on the subject.

“Prick with a capital P. He and Ellie dated for two years, lived together the last year of that. He had us all fooled. He was charming and funny and I don’t think there were any of Ellie’s friends—me included—who didn’t hear wedding bells in their future. Then she goes home one day and finds him in bed with her department chair from work.”

Trey winced. “Shit.”

“Yeah, you can say that again. Ellie went to work every single day last year, held her head high despite the fact there wasn’t a teacher in that school who didn’t know what Joel and Dawn had done to her. On the last day before summer, she sort of snapped. She and Joel got into the mother of all fights. I think it would have been okay except a couple of students walked by with their parents. One of them phoned in a complaint and the principal decided Ellie was expendable.”

“I think the principal kept the wrong teacher.”

“Tell me about it. Ellie’s had a rough year. She’s living in a freaking slum. Her house is smack-dab in the middle of drug city, but she keeps brushing me off when I tell her she needs to move. She’s also tiptoeing around on eggshells because she can’t really afford to lose another job. I’m worried about her. Not sure how long she can keep walking the thin line she’s drawn for herself before she just gets plain old worn out.”

Trey turned to look at Ellie once again and felt the respect he’d already felt for her deepen. “I didn’t realize how hard it had been for her.”

“Yeah well, that still doesn’t make this new vow of hers right. I mean Joel hurt her, not every male teacher on the East Coast.”

“It couldn’t have been easy for her to go to work and face that every day,” Trey added, feeling as if he should defend Ellie’s choices even though they were driving him insane.

“Oh, I get that. But what if Mr. Right is working at Preston and she lets him slip away because she’s too afraid to grab him.”

Trey leaned against the bar and studied Lisa’s face. “Mr. Right?”

She smiled. “Isn’t that who you’re hoping to be?”

“That obvious, is it?”

“You haven’t taken your eyes off her all night. I like you, Trey. You seem like a really nice guy, but I’m afraid your timing may be wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

Lisa took a sip of her drink. “Ellie hasn’t dated anyone since her break-up. She lost her job, made her vow to swear off workplace relationships, and along comes you. She’s gonna fight you. Hard.”

Trey sensed the truth behind Lisa’s words, and then he looked at Ellie once again.

His smile sent a frown to Lisa’s face.

“Why are you grinning?” she asked.

Trey shrugged. “Hard is something I’m very good at.”

Her frown turned to a scowl. “I didn’t tell you those things as a challenge. If you aren’t interested in anything more than getting in Ellie’s pants, then—”

“Don’t even bother to finish that, Lisa.” He turned and looked at Ellie’s friend. He dropped the shield and let her see the real him. “I’m interested in everything.”

Lisa laughed. “Well, in that case… Go get ’em, tiger.”

She and Trey clinked glasses and then Trey watched Lisa walk back to the table to rejoin their group. He started to follow her, but stopped when he caught sight of Derek running his hands up and down Ellie’s back as they danced.

His vision went red. He’d made a promise to help her meet guys who didn’t work at Preston, but after listening to Lisa, he was reconsidering. He wanted Ellie. Bad.

Lisa’s warning gave him reason to pause. He’d told Ellie’s friend he wanted everything. Was that true? He’d never wanted more than casual relationships or occasional hook-ups. He wasn’t exactly proud of it, but he had a booty call list in his cell phone. Women who didn’t mind his late-night, spur-of-the-moment visits. He hadn’t used the list in over a year, but he still had the numbers stored there.

Looking at Ellie, he knew the last thing he wanted with her was casual, but he’d have to proceed with caution if he was going to convince her to take another chance with a guy from work.

When Derek leaned down and tried to kiss Ellie, Trey felt the cable snap. For the first time in his life, jealousy snaked through his body and he started toward the dance floor. He pulled up short when he saw Ellie break away from Derek, whispering something in his friend’s ear. Derek headed back to the table, while Ellie took off in the direction of the ladies’ room.

He debated which direction to go and then he followed her. She’d just entered the small restroom when he pushed the door open, walking in after her.

“What the hell—” she started.

He cut off the rest of her complaint with his lips. He turned and pushed her back against the door as he claimed her mouth. He’d wanted this for too long. Pure instinct drove his actions as he allowed his brain to shut down. He was tired of thinking and analyzing and worrying about how to proceed with Ellie.

Raising his hand, he flipped the lock. It wasn’t until he’d secured them inside that he realized she wasn’t fighting him. She’d raised her arms, wrapping her hands around his neck. She was kissing him back. Seriously kissing him. Her fingers caressed the back of his neck and Trey moved closer, wanting more. Needing more.

If he hadn’t been so into her sweet kisses, he’d have been grinning his ass off. For several moments, he let himself fall into the pleasure of simply holding her. He licked her lower lip before pushing his tongue inside to taste the slight tang of the tequila and lime. She returned the touch.

“Ellie,” he whispered, but she stopped him from saying more, pulling him tighter, keeping his lips pressed to hers.

Finally, they parted, staring at each other and breathing heavily.

“I don’t like you dancing with Lisa,” she said.

Her words tweaked something inside him. She wouldn’t go out with him, but he wasn’t allowed to dance with anyone else? For a second, his brain failed to process the fact he didn’t want to dance with Lisa. “Tough shit. I don’t want you kissing Derek.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I can kiss anyone I want. I don’t belong to you.”

“Like hell,” he growled, kissing her once more.

Ellie gripped the front of his shirt tightly as she roughly pulled him closer. He knew what was driving his hungry motions. It was jealousy, pure and simple. It appeared Ellie shared the sentiment. She raised her leg and wrapped it around his waist. He took the cue. Gripping her ass, he lifted her so that she could raise both legs. The position pushed her skirt higher and made it easy for him to press his denim-covered cock against her pussy.

Trey reconsidered his previous assumption. It wasn’t jealousy driving this moment. It was desire.

He pushed against her as they kissed, the temperature in the small room rising until Trey decided it wasn’t enough.

“Put your legs down,” he said as he sucked on her lower lip. She followed his command and he lifted her skirt. Shoving her damp panties to one side, he thrust a finger into her dripping cunt.

Ellie jerked at the strong touch before her head fell back against the door.

Her hips met each reentry of his finger. He gritted his teeth and struggled not to come in his pants. She was hot and wet and her inner muscles clenched against his finger.

And she was tight. Holy fuck. He felt lightheaded as he realized just how good she’d feel gloved around his cock.

“God,” she cried out when he added another finger to the dance. Her fingers dug into his arms as she rode his thrusts. She was a firecracker poised to detonate.

He leaned down and kissed her once more. He wanted to taste her screams as she came. He wasn’t disappointed. After a few more thrusts, he rubbed her clit with his thumb and she exploded. He continued to kiss her as he gentled his motions, relishing her slight tremors as she came down from her climax.

The scent of her arousal surrounded them. Trey pulled his fingers from her quivering pussy and lifted them to his lips. She watched through heavy-lidded eyes as he licked her juices from his digits.

She moistened her lips and he couldn’t resist stealing one more heated kiss. He could already see the wheels in her brain whirling. It wouldn’t be long before her common sense returned and she pushed him away.

He gave her a quick, hot kiss that promised there was more to be had. If only she would ask.

“Shit,” she whispered.

The sadness in her voice made Trey pause.

What the hell was he doing? He considered his heavy-handed actions and guilt suffused him. She wasn’t the only one to return to earth with a hard crash.

“Ellie. I’m sorry.”

She closed her eyes. “Don’t. Please. Don’t say you’re sorry. I was a willing participant in all of that. Jesus, I think I might have pushed it further along.”

“No. I followed you in here, intent on getting my own way. You’ve told me your feelings and given me some pretty understandable reasons why you don’t want to date me. I ignored them all because the fact is I want you. I want you so bad I can taste it.”

She blushed and looked at his still-damp hand, as her essence lingered on his lips. “I’m trying, Trey. Trying to do the right thing. But I’m screwing up when it comes to you. Big time.”

“I hear that. By the way, I’m never setting you up with another one of my friends,” he said as she laughed sadly. “My heart can’t take it.”

She nodded. “Agreed. Lisa’s one of my best friends and tonight all I could think about was ripping every hair out of her head whenever she got near you.”

“Ellie—” He wanted to ask her to reconsider her vow, but something in her face stopped him. She’d been hurt. Badly. It was clear those wounds hadn’t completely healed and with his jealousy and desire, he’d torn a few open again.

“This can’t happen again.” Her words cut him like a knife. Lisa had warned him, told him the timing was wrong. She’d been right.

Ellie straightened her spine, returning her clothing to rights. As he observed, she wrapped herself in that hard-earned pride. He imagined this was the face she’d worn everyday last year as she dragged herself to work. She was amazing and strong. She was also ripping his heart out.

“Please.” She whispered the word, but he could hear the agony infused in that single syllable. She turned, unlocked the door and walked back to their table. He followed her, struggling to figure out how to proceed from here. She’d accept his friendship, but nothing more. Taking a deep breath, he made his own vow. She’d receive his friendship.

For now.

But only for now.

~

Buy the complete book:

books2read.com/u/mdN0MW