“’Bye, Oz,” says Maverick, and when the door slams shut as Oz grumbles, Maverick looks at me and smiles.
I take out the ice cream.
Please god, let him not smile at me like that ever again.
We’re so alone, and it’s so quiet, and he’s so . . . bare-chested.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, still smiling.
“Plastic spoons,” I say, like they’re the best invention ever. I purposely ignore his question and make a big ceremony out of studying the spoons—as if there’s a difference between them—and finally I hand him one.
He watches me and takes it between his thumb and forefinger. I almost feel connected when we’re both holding the spoon at the same time. Which is ridiculous.
“It’s dietetic,” I say as he slides the spoon into the bucket of ice cream. He jams it into his mouth. I watch him, uncertain. “It’s good?”
He takes another spoonful and frowns, as if considering.
“Tell me about the fight.”
“Why?” His voice is rough and dry, unlike the cool ice cream he’s eating.
“I want to know. How did it feel?” I ask.
“Why are you not eating?”
“I . . .” I stare at the ice cream.
He lifts his spoon to me.
My eyes widen.
My lips part. And as he moves the spoon forward, I let the ice cream trail on my tongue. I suck it back and grab my own spoon and nervously gobble down another bite.
“Tell me about the fight,” I say again. “I bet you already have fans.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“Oh, come on. You must notice girls.”
“Oh, I notice.” He grins, his eyes twinkling. “A distraction I don’t need.”
I didn’t expect this admission from a guy as young and blatantly hot as him. But then, Maverick is so focused on his career that I can believe getting laid is not a priority. Getting laid, for him, must be something easy and accessible any time he wants it. But fighting in the Underground at the level he wants to fight is not.
For some reason, I feel a new connection with him and I hear myself admit something I’d never even told Miles.
“I’m a virgin,” I whisper.
His eyebrows shoot up, and the surprise mingled with respect mingled with something unnamable I can’t decipher on his face makes the tips of my ears go hot. He opens his mouth as if searching for words, a puzzled frown creasing his forehead as he finally says, “Why?”
“Insecurity about my body, I guess. Wanting it to mean something, not just . . . feel good.”
“What’s there to be insecure about?”
“Seriously, Reese?” he asks softly, disbelieving.
I laugh nervously, nodding with a smile. “Seriously, Maverick.”
I’m talking more with this guy than I’ve ever talked to anyone. Because I want to listen and make him talk to me too.
Listening takes on a whole new meaning with him.
Tones of voice.
A whole new meaning.
He holds my gaze with his, and then he says very quietly, a little huskily, “I think that’s cool, Reese.”
We hold stares for an eon. The room shrinks in size, and his hands spread out over his knees and he drums his thumbs restlessly on both.
I just don’t know what to do with my hands, with my eyes, with myself.
For the first time in my life, I’m aware that in the deepest part of me, I hurt. Then Maverick glances around the room with a frown and rubs a hand restlessly across the back of his neck. “Sorry about this place.”
“Oh no, it’s good. Cozy.”
“I used all my savings to help my dad.”
“I . . . I’m sorry. What happened?”
“Shit, I guess.”
“I’m sorry, Maverick.”
His eyes meet mine, and I detect a strange look on his face when I call him Maverick. It’s such a puzzled look that I pause and immediately want to retract.
“Would you rather I call you Cage? You . . . stiffened when I said your name.”
“I’d rather you tell me about you,” he says, shifting forward in his seat. “What are you looking for?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re here at night. What is it that you’re looking for?”
“I’m not a friendly guy.”
“But what you see is what you get with you, and I like it.”
“You get nothing from me, that’s what you get.”
“That’s fine. I got a penny. And at least I can eat ice cream without you telling my mother.”
We eat a little more. I spot the old, worn gloves by the nightstand and get up to touch them.
“Those aren’t mine. These are mine.” He leans back to grab the others, hands me the pair of new gloves, and sets the old ones aside. “The old ones were my dad’s.”
I glance at the gloves. Well, he must’ve given quite a few people a very good beating with those. “He must’ve been good.”
When he talks about his father, there are clouds in his eyes, and something inside me makes me ache to remove them. “I never watched him fight, but I’ve seen a few videos online. In the early days he was good. But not the best.”
“And you want to be the best.”
“I want to be a legend.”
“Ambitious, are we?”
He laughs softly.
My phone is ringing. “I need to go. I only had one hour.” I answer the call. “Hey, I’m on my way, I’m fine.” I hang up, then steal one last glimpse of him. “Sorry. It’s annoying; my mother asked my cousin to keep a close eye on me.”