The Man I Want to Be (Under Covers)(6)

By: Christina Elle

They’d met when they were eight. Math class. He sat behind her and threw little balled-up pieces of paper into her hair. That was the first time she tried to punch him. Their height difference wasn’t as vast back then, so she managed to bop him in the jaw, her fist bouncing off as if his skin had been rubber. It was enough to startle him but not do real damage. He’d recovered quickly and told her that if she was going to punch, then she ought to learn how to do it the right way. By thirteen they’d started dating. By sixteen they’d slept together. And by eighteen they were dreaming about their future together. He’d enlisted at twenty-one, proposed to her, and that was the last she saw of him.

Until today.

“You were engaged?” Luke asked Bryan. “To her? Why the hell did you screw that up?”

Bear ran a quick hand over his hair again. “It’s complicated, okay?”

Complicated? That’s it? They’d planned a life together. Children. Hell, if they’d had a little girl, they’d agreed to name her after Kenna’s late mom. And complicated was his best defense for destroying their future?

“It’s over,” Kenna said, working to get her anger back in check. “Our differences don’t have to ruin a beautiful week for you guys. Bear and I”—snickers came from Ash and Luke’s general direction—“will avoid each other the whole time we’re here.” She turned to the brute. “Right?”

Bear scanned the faces of their engrossed audience and his cheeks deepened in color. “Fine,” he agreed.

His embarrassment threw her a little. It’s what she’d been aiming for by airing their dirty laundry to his friends. But he’d never been one to show emotion or weakness before. Hell, in all the years they’d been together, he’d never once let her see him cry. So now, taking in his reaction, she considered that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the same stubborn boy she’d once known.

But as quick as the flush came, it was gone just as fast.

Bear stood at full height, which still had the power to do things to her, given the small flip in her tummy, damn it, and he said, “Sam’s my new badminton partner.”

“Me?” Sammie asked, surprised. “Don’t you mean Ash?”

“Hell no,” Bryan said. “Have you seen him handle a racket?”

Then again. Maybe not.

Chapter Two

Kenna and Ash came in second place in the badminton tournament, which made her smile. Especially since Bear stomped around the sand pissed off that he and Sam placed fourth. Kenna couldn’t help but smile a little over that. It was the small victories that mattered. After, the women trekked across the resort to the spa. Sam had scheduled an afternoon of pampering and relaxation. Kenna didn’t know about the rest of the ladies, but she could sure use some freaking relaxation.

And time away from Bear to get her head on straight.

There were five of them in the steam room, all outfitted in white towels secured under their arms. In addition to Kenna, Sam, and Aunt Estelle, others included Sammie’s grandma, Rose, who kept wiping a finger across her glasses to clear the fog. She had the comforting countenance of a typical grandmom, with her gray hair, round face, and full midsection. Anytime Kenna visited, Rose always made her feel welcome and at home.

Celia, who lived on the same street in Baltimore as Sam, Estelle, and Rose, was quiet and sweet. Kenna didn’t think she’d heard the woman say more than two words in the time since she’d met her. She was the smallest of the older ladies, her bony shoulders protruding out like sharp wings. What softened her appearance was a strand of white pearls and perfect chignon at the base of her neck.

Kenna had spent most of the earlier match stealing glances at Bear, trying to come to terms with the fact that he was actually here. It felt like some sort of dream, or rather a nightmare. Like he’d been manifested, forcing her to remember everything they would never share together. Everything he chose to take away from them.

Thankfully, the steam room and a little girl time was what she needed to forget about all of that.

She closed her eyes and leaned against the slick tile behind her, inhaling slow, deep breaths, letting the hot air fill her lungs. Sweat beaded over her body, and with it, she tried to let go of the negativity she’d brought to the surface after seeing Bear. Finally, her muscles relaxed and her mind wandered into safer territory.

Until Sammie spoke.

“I’m not going to wear the ring this weekend.”

Kenna popped one eye open and took in Sam’s decided expression.

“Seriously,” she went on. “I should’ve never accepted when you offered. It was your momma’s ring. You should wear—”