Running Interference

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The rich rumble of words came first, followed by a splash of something hot along her neck, and then an impact that had her careening toward the icy snowdrift. Her hands jutted out to break her fall, but she never hit. Instead, a crushing grip circled her right elbow and a jolt set her upright. Somehow her shoulder remained attached to its socket.

“I’m so sorry,” said the deep voice again. “I … ”

She looked from the work boots to the face of the trendily dressed, mammoth man, and her jaw dropped. Cam Simmons.

“Tanya Martin?” he asked. “Holy shit!”

Stunned into silence, she reached a hand to her neck and wiped at the droplets.

He pulled a napkin bearing the Coffee Bean logo from his pocket. “Are you okay?” He dabbed the napkin at her neck, then her chest. A little too rough. But the swipes that followed were a little too friendly.

She nodded and brushed his hand away. How long had it been? Five years. Not that she’d been counting … lately. Their friendship had cooled on a barrage of texts and calls that tapered off as he got used to life away from Cleveland. Eventually the distance between them proved too great to cross. Who needed old friends when you had a shiny new multi-million-dollar NFL contract?

And that contract looked good on him, too. It had turned him into an entirely different person from the anxious, overachieving high school boy she’d spent hours with at Pop’s gym. Taller and bigger, naturally, but there was also a relaxed confidence gleaming in those deep brown eyes. He didn’t just want to be good; he knew he was good.

“What happened to your hair?” she blurted.

He’d had curls that rivaled hers in high school.

He palmed his nearly bald head and smiled. Somewhere angels sang. He’d always been too talented and handsome for his own good.

“I like my helmet to have a snug fit,” he said. “And I was tired of messing around with skull caps. Does it look bad?”

Sly dog. Always digging for compliments, but he didn’t need the ego boost. “Do you really care what I think?” Again, the last five years weighed heavy on her mind. There hadn’t been so much as a Facebook like or a forwarded chain email between them. “I mean, come on. You’re the Super Bowl MVP. You hardly need approval from me.”

“But it would be nice.” He flashed that smile again and her heart spontaneously warmed.

Disturbing. She did not want to have feelings for him after all these years. Their one night together senior year had muddied the innocent friendship, and it had taken years for her to find a neutral place, where she could hear his name, see his face, watch his games without feeling some sense of loss and hurt.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” she said.