Together they carried the boxed-up bookcase into Emma’s house and placed it on the floor of her living room. “I need a minute,” Emma panted. “I’m not used to moving furniture.”
“No problem,” Lucas said as he sat down on the couch. “Are you okay?”
Emma sat down beside him. “Fine. Like I said, I’m just not used to moving furniture.”
“That was more than moving furniture, that was moving furniture after doing a marathon.”
She gave his arm a playful nudge. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“That store just never seemed to end,” he said in dazed amusement. “It just went on and on and on and on. I didn’t think we were ever going to get out of there.”
“I told you, I have been known to get lost in there.”
“And I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” he teased, leaning over to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Where do you want this set up?”
“Just leave it for now. I’m not ready to deal with it.” Emma stretched and yawned before settling in more comfortably beside Lucas. “Where were you thinking about going for dinner?”
Truth be known, earlier in the day Lucas has been looking forward to taking Emma out, but after their big shopping excursion, he was a little less than thrilled with the prospect. “Someplace quiet,” he began cautiously. “Someplace intimate and private.”
Emma pulled back and looked at him. “Are you afraid to be seen with me or something?” Her words were said lightly but Lucas sensed a small amount of panic in her voice.
“No, of course not. Geez, where’d that come from?”
She stopped for a moment. “This is because of what happened earlier.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied.
Emma made a face at him. “So you got noticed while we were out. Everyone was super nice and thrilled to get your autograph and some pictures with you. What’s the big deal?”
Standing, Lucas walked to the kitchen and got himself a drink and then asked Emma if she wanted one. It was hard to disguise the limp. “It wasn’t that it was a big deal, Emma, it’s just that it was the first time in a really long time that I’ve gone out and had that happen. It’s not something I enjoy.”
“But everyone was so nice. What’s wrong with that?”
Lucas sighed. “It just reminds me of…”
“What you lost,” she finished for him and watched as he simply nodded. “Oh, Lucas, no one plays football forever. You just finished sooner than you wanted. You made that kid’s day by taking your picture with him. Don’t let it upset you; think about what a great memory you gave him. Make it about the boy and not about you.”
Lucas knew she was right. He handed her the drink and sat back down. “It still doesn’t change the fact that I want to take you somewhere intimate and have a quiet dinner with you.”
Emma gave him a sexy grin. “I know just the place.” She went to the kitchen and Lucas watched as she opened a drawer and turned back to him with a folder in her hands. She flung it at him.
“What’s this?” he asked, confusion written all over his face.
“I don’t understand.”
“You wanted intimate?” she reminded. “Well, how about dinner in bed?”
Lucas smiled. “Is it anything like breakfast in bed?”
“It’s way better,” she promised.
“Well, I’m all for new experiences.”
Emma woke up early Sunday morning with Lucas beside her and smiled. They had shared Chinese food in bed in between lovemaking, and then had indulged in a hot fudge sundae. That had led to some steamy shower sex. Between the sex and the chocolate, Emma was a very satisfied woman.
“I don’t suppose you’d want to make French toast again,” she asked as she snuggled more tightly against him.
“I think you’re getting spoiled,” he replied sleepily.
As if, Emma thought to herself. It was the end of the weekend, and although she felt that they had made some progress in their relationship, she still had no idea what was going to happen from here. Would Lucas stay in town? Was he heading back up to the mountains? Was he going to want to keep seeing her? Sleeping with her? It was all too much to think about.
“You’re awfully quiet over there,” Lucas observed.
“Just thinking of how I could possibly top yesterday’s breakfast.”
Lucas chuckled. “You think about food way too much, Em.”
“That’s because you constantly have me working up an appetite.” Rising up to look at him, she smiled. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“Same here,” he said. “If you really want that French toast…”
Emma placed a hand on his chest. “No, you stay put today. I will whip us up something. You just relax. I’ll even bring you the paper.”
“I don’t want you to go out,” he said, sitting up in the bed.
“I’m not. I get the Sunday paper delivered, so all I have to do is open the front door and there it is.” Grabbing her robe, Emma strode from the room and went to get their coffee started. Then she headed to the door and reached out for the paper. Making up trays as Lucas had done the day before, she set a mug on one along with the paper and then went in search of what she was going to make them for breakfast.
Frowning at the contents of her refrigerator, she decided to do some scrambled eggs and home fries. Pleased with her decision, Emma glanced over and saw that the coffee was ready. She made Lucas’s cup first and carried his tray in, smiling when she saw him sitting up in bed waiting for her.
“To hold you over until breakfast is ready,” she said as she placed the mug on the nightstand and handed him the paper. Then, before she could stop herself, she leaned in and kissed him.
He hummed his approval and wrapped an arm around her to bring her closer. “I think I can wait on breakfast,” he growled, and tried to coax her back into bed.
“Oh, no,” she said, wiggling out of his grip. “I’ve got everything all set up and I would like to eat breakfast on the first try this time,” she said laughingly as she quickly sauntered from the room.
Lucas watched her go with a look of pure male appreciation on his face. She was something else. He had no idea what he was doing here or where any of this was going, and if he were completely honest with himself, he’d admit that it scared him to death. He’d been careful not to get involved with anyone since his injury and yet for some reason he’d let himself get involved with Emma.
Involved. That didn’t even come close to what he was feeling. One look at her and he ached. Being in the office with her all week and not talking to her, seeing her, touching her? He’d nearly gone mad. How the hell did he move forward from here? This wasn’t part of his plan. Lucas knew that he could never be what Emma needed because he refused to be a part of the world that she lived in. He liked his solitude; he liked his privacy.
But his need for Emma? That was something that went way beyond like.
Off in the distance, Lucas heard her making their breakfast and smiled. There was no need to come up with an answer right now anyway. Right now he was a man who had a beautiful woman waiting to join him in bed again. He’d find the answers to where they were going soon enough.
Unless they found him first.
As was his habit, Lucas always went for the sports section of the paper first and there, on the front page was his own image staring back at him. "Lucas Montgomery finally out of hiding?" the headline read. Lucas found his grip tightening as he continued to read.
"In the almost two years since all-star quarterback Lucas Montgomery’s career-ending injury, no one has seen him. Was he in rehab? Was he in hiding? Nobody knew and no one in Montgomery’s camp was talking. Lucky for us, he emerged today seemingly from nowhere to meet and greet with some lucky fans…"
Lucas looked at the photo of himself and a couple of the teenage boys he’d posed with and felt sick. Hell, was nothing sacred anymore? He’d stopped and signed their papers and smiled for the camera and what did he get in return? Sold out to the local paper. Dammit.
"With a fairly obvious limp, it seems that Montgomery still suffers from his injury. Though he was mum on whether or not he’d be returning to the NFL in any capacity, he’d certainly made these fans’ day."
A string of curses was coming from his mouth as he stood and reached for his clothes. Suddenly the room was too small; he was suffocating. This was what he’d wanted to avoid. He didn’t want to be in the spotlight in any capacity. He didn’t want anyone’s pity or speculation on why he wasn’t the man that he used to be.
Lucas was pulling his shirt on when Emma walked in. “What’s going on?” she asked, clearly confused as to why Lucas was turning her room upside down in his haste to get dressed.
“I have to go.”
She placed the tray of food down on the bed and stood there staring at him. “I don’t understand, Lucas. What’s the matter?”
He snapped. There was no other way to describe it, but something deep inside Lucas finally broke. Maybe it was because he’d kept all of his anger and frustration bottled up and it was just time to let it out. Or maybe this was his way of getting out of a situation that he didn’t have the courage to do on his own.
Snatching up the paper from the bed, he shoved it at her. Emma looked at the story Lucas had indicated, and once she was finished reading, she looked at him quizzically. “I still don’t understand, Lucas. You’re in the paper, it’s a nice story. No big deal. Why are you so upset?”
“You don’t understand!” he started out, his voice louder than she’d ever heard it. “This is why I don’t go out. This is why I live where I do! I don’t want people prying into my life, speculating about my injury!”
“But you have an injury, Lucas!” she yelled back. “If you don’t want people speculating on it, then have the surgery and get it fixed!”
With a growl of frustration, Lucas snatched the paper back from Emma. “What good will that do? Will it make me a quarterback again? Will it give me my career back? Geez, Emma, I can’t even have a full night of sex with you without needing therapy on my knee afterward!”
Although his words were full of rage, Emma couldn’t help but laugh. “Seriously?” she mocked. “Most guys would want a medal for that kind of stamina, Lucas, and not look at it like it’s a bad thing!”
“This isn’t a joke, Emma,” he warned. “This is—”
She cut him off. “This,” she snapped, taking the paper back again, “is an article about how a former football star stopped and signed some autographs for some fans. This,” she said again with emphasis, waving the paper in front of his face, “is a positive story about how your fans have missed you and just want to make sure that you’re doing okay.”
“I’m not that guy anymore!” he yelled. “Don’t you get it? I don’t want to be associated with that!”
“Why?” she demanded. “What is so horrible about being associated with Lucas Montgomery, the athlete? Huh? Tell me, Lucas! Those kids thought you were a hero!”
“Because that man is dead, Emma!” he roared. “He’s gone, he’s never coming back, and now I’m just some guy sitting at a desk, pushing papers around! That’s not a hero, that’s a nobody.” His breathing was ragged and he just wished that Emma would let him be. Taking a deep breath he waited for her next attack. He was ready for it.
What he wasn’t ready for was the look of utter disappointment on her face. “You’re a coward, Lucas,” she said with an amazing amount of calm. “I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. It’s not you, exactly, that’s cowardly, it’s your actions. You have the ability to make this right. Have the surgery, Lucas. Do the world a favor and stop this pity party and have the damn surgery.”
“It won’t change anything, Em,” he said in a voice devoid of emotion. “I’ll still never be that guy again.”
“You know what? Nobody cares if you’re ever that guy again. Be somebody else. Go into coaching, go into league management, go into broadcasting or whatever it is that the guys in the booth do! You have a ton of options, Lucas, and you’ve cut yourself off from all of them because you’re too scared to try. You want to play it safe in your little mountain cave, cut off from the world, and you know what? That’s the guy you should be trying not to be.”
With the newspaper still in her hand, Emma walked over to their now cold breakfast and threw it down on top of the plates before scooping the tray up. “I’ll tell you what, Lucas, I didn’t know you before your injury and I think that I probably wouldn’t have liked you. Go on back to your hiding place; go back to living your empty shell of an existence. Me? I’ve got a life to live.”
And with that, she exited the bedroom and went into the bathroom to do her own form of hiding until she was sure Lucas was gone.