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Loving Jack

By:Cat Miller

ONE


She was so fucking pathetic. Grace stood there staring at Jack's door  while her heart did a damn good impression of a kamikaze pilot, crashing  and burning for a love that would never be returned. Fuck! She couldn't  keep doing this to herself.

Grace thought back to the event of the evening before and wished she'd  followed through with her plan to leave without saying goodbye to Jack.  But her stupid, romantic heart demanded that she see his face one last  time. She ran her hands through her long dark hair, searching the floor  at her feet for the shreds of her dignity but she found none. Grace  raised her hand to rap on the door but stopped her fist at the last  moment. What if he wasn't alone? The chances that he was alone were  slim. What was she going to say to him? Honestly, there wasn't anything  left to say. She backed away from his door and just kept going. It was  time to go home.



Jack and Grace met in their senior year at the University of Maryland.  Grace was at her first Terps game and she had no idea what was going on.  She'd never been a basketball fan but her roommate, Jessie, was going  to the game and Grace was tagging along for the experience. She was a  senior and her college years thus far had been spent solely in the  pursuit of her degree. She'd dated a few guys but nothing serious ever  came of those relationships. She'd had a like-minded roommate for the  past three years, so it seemed like the natural course of things. They  went to class and study groups. They hung out at the coffee shop and  worked on their laptops. She avoided the party scene completely. A few  of her dates had taken her to clubs and that was okay from time to time.

Grace was the first person in her hard working family to go away to  college. She felt an obligation to give it everything she had and make  every penny of the hard earned money her parents were investing in her  education worth it in the end.

Her old roomy had graduated and last year she'd been paired up with a  new roommate and things had changed. Getting good grades was still her  priority but Jessie had taught her that there was nothing wrong with  having a good time too. She had to admit that she was a lot less  stressed out when her entire world didn't revolve around her studies.  The pressure she put on herself was far heavier than anything her  parents expected her to carry. They just wanted her to be happy. For  Grace, being happy meant being at the top of her class.

At the game she was sitting between Jessie on her right and this  adorable, boy next door type on her left. A player made a three point  shot and the crowd exploded in celebration, everyone that is except for  her and the cutie at her side. He stood there looking as left out as she  did. Grace just wasn't into the game and it seemed her sandy haired  neighbor wasn't either. His friends all reacted with fist pumping, high  fiving, back slapping enthusiasm. He was pushed into Grace and she was  shoved toward him by her mutually excited friends.

Grace stepped forward to avoid slamming into him and lost her footing.  The guy grabbed her upper arm and pulled her toward him to keep her from  toppling over the row of seats in front of them. The game continued and  the crowd settled a bit, but for Grace, time had stopped. She found  herself pressed against a surprisingly firm chest and staring up into a  pair of amused hazel eyes. Damn. What was he hiding under that shirt?  His hair framed his face that was classically handsome. He was  captivating with those pretty eyes and a square jaw. He wore a diamond  earring in both earlobes. He smiled down at her and it transformed him  from the boy next door to a devilishly confident man who knew his charm.  Grace blushed. She'd been standing there in his arms, gawking at the  guy like an idiot. He leaned down to speak over the once again roaring  crowd.

His lips brushed her cheek when he said near her ear, "You wanna get out  of here? I know a great place for burgers." He pulled back enough to  gage her reaction. She nodded dumbly back at him. The combination of his  smile, his firm arms wrapped around her, and the feel of his warm  breath on her cheek had struck her stupid. Any minute now her brain was  going to reboot, any minute, she was sure it would happen, eventually.  He grinned broadly and grabbed her hand, towing her toward the end of  the row. He informed his buddies he was leaving as they went and the  guys smirked and eyed her as she passed.

He tugged her up the steep steps to the exit and out into the corridor.  The stillness and relative quiet of the concession area was a sharp  contrast to the madness of the arena. Televisions mounted at regular  intervals broadcast the game to everyone waiting in line for snacks and  they also reacted to the action on the court. They walked hand-in-hand  and Grace's brain was finally coming back online. She was peeking over  at the boy next door as they walked briskly toward the exit. He looked  down at her with that stunning how-could-you-not-adore-me smile again.         

     



 

"I could eat my weight right now. I missed lunch," he said as if they  were lifelong friends instead of strangers who hadn't even exchanged  names yet. "I'd love a burger or two, unless you'd rather have something  else. It's lady's choice, of course." He squeezed her hand and the  intimacy of it struck her. He had a firm, yet gentle grip on her hand as  they crossed the parking lot and the warmth of his long fingers wrapped  around hers radiated up her arm.

They reached a silver Honda and he released her hand to open the  passenger door for her. Grace looked at the open door in confusion. Had  anyone ever opened a car door for her? She didn't think so. Feeling  suddenly unsure about driving off with a stranger, she looked up into  his eyes, which had appeared hazel in the shadows of the arena but now  looked more of an ocean bluish green under the street lights of the  parking lot. He stood there waiting patiently for her to get in his car.

Grace finally found her voice box, turned to face him, and grinned. She  couldn't help it, his smile was infectious. He made her feel instantly  like they really would be lifelong friends and the longer she looked at  the guy, the sexier he became to her. His clothes were not the  prerequisite game day gear. He didn't sport a jersey or even a U of M  t-shirt like she did; instead he looked like an American Eagle ad with  his distressed jeans and a polo rolled at the sleeves. Her eyes strayed  to his thick arms. Dude was packing some guns.

She took her time checking him out and he seemed to be doing the same to  her. They looked each other over with interest. He didn't look like a  serial killer. No, what he looked like was a whole lot of trouble, and  she was suddenly ready to break some rules. Trouble sounded like a damn  fine thing at the moment.

She extended her hand in greeting. "I'm Grace Yates, business major and  sadly an uninterested sports spectator." He shook her hand gently.

"I'm Jack Landry, art major and abductor of bored females from sporting  events." A slight blush warmed his cheeks and they stood there grinning  at each other like idiots. He cleared his throat and continued, "Sorry  about that. I tend to take control of a situation, every situation  actually, and just go with what moves me at the moment. My family says  I'm a natural leader. My friends say I'm more like a steamroller."

Grace laughed out loud at that and gave him a look of mock indignation  on his behalf. "I can't image why anyone would say such a thing." His  blush deepened and the cutest furrow appeared in his brow. He was  frowning and his discomfort made her feel like an ass for teasing him.

"Come on. Let's go find some food. You rescued me before I had to resort  to choking back one of those giant pretzels." She turned and slid into  the passenger seat. He closed the door for her and she engaged her  seatbelt. Grace noticed the immaculate condition of Jack's car. She was a  bit nervous about putting her shoes on his clean floor mats. When Jack  climbed in beside her, Grace's thoughts returned to her rash decision to  take him up on the dinner offer.

It may be a major no-no to leave with a stranger but this guy didn't  send up any alarms for her. Quite the opposite, in fact, her instincts  said he was just what she needed, what she really wanted. That made him  dangerous in a completely different way. She needed to focus on her  school work and she would, but what was the college experience without  the complication of a mysterious hottie along way?

As they drove through town they chatted about their friends and what  brought two uninterested students to the game. Jack was there for the  same reason she'd gone, his friends were going and he wanted to  experience a game from the stands. Jack liked basketball but his  favorite sport was soccer or European football as he called it. He  enjoyed taking in sports on a big screen from a comfortable seat on the  couch at home or a stool at the bar. The madness, flat beer, and the  overpriced and not particularly appetizing food at the concession stands  were no match for the comforts of home.

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