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My Darling Bride: Chapter 27


The stadium is alive with excitement as I make my way through the buzzing throng of spectators. The guard at the gate checks my lanyard before nodding toward the stands. I squint against the bright sun and make out Vale’s figure in the packed seats near the fifty-yard line. He waves his hand to catch my attention.

Breathing in the smell of popcorn, burgers, and beer, I wing my way through the tightly packed bodies and reach the spot where Vale has saved me a seat. He pops an eyebrow at me. “You ready for this? Exhibition games bring out all kinds of fans. It’s a good way to get used to real game-day craziness.”

I nod in agreement, taking in the scene as players in their gold-and-black uniforms either run drills or talk to fans. People clamor around them, waiting in line for autographs and photos. Around me, everyone talks excitedly; I can almost taste the thrill in the air. I get why he loves the game. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to stop myself from reading about his injury.

I’m a bundle of nerves, my stomach in knots. I want to run to Graham and beg him not to play.

“Nice jersey,” Brody says to me as he ambles over, holding a hot dog, popcorn, and a beer.

“Thanks. Graham got his number put on one for me,” I say with a smile as he plops down next to Vale.

Graham breaks into a sprint, jogging over to us as he removes his helmet. His hair blows wildly in the breeze as he gestures for me to come closer and join him in the first row, which is taped off from the rest of the stands.

“Hey,” he says when I reach him. “I’m glad you came. I wasn’t sure if you would.”

My chest tightens at his words. “Of course I would.”

“Give me a kiss,” he says softly, “for luck.”

My breath catches in my throat as I lean in and crush my lips against his, willing him to see how much I care about him. He curls his fingers around the back of my neck, intensifying our kiss.

He slowly steps away, his gaze studying my features, before someone shouts his name from across the field. He spins around and takes off without another word.

When the game starts and the whistle blows, my hands ball up tightly.

Vale pats my shoulder. “It’s hard to watch him, isn’t it?”

I nod, willing myself to relax as I refocus. “Andrew has been testing me on plays and positions. He thinks I need to know what’s going on.”

He smiles. “You have a great family, Emmy. Thank you for inviting me to get to know them.”

I nod.

Chewing my lips, I look back at the field.

It’s just a game.

He’s going to be fine.

He wants to play.

He wants this.

I’m remembering the morning I stood on the edge of the desert in Arizona, beguiled and yet terrified of the vastness, afraid of being swallowed whole. By life. By love for a man.

He didn’t say he loved me this morning. He walked away.

I shove those feelings away and focus on the game.

We watch the first few plays, and I search for Graham’s jersey, number eighty-seven, on the field. Maybe the coach isn’t going to play him today. After a few minutes, the Pythons face third down and five around midfield. Their offense subs some players, and my stomach pitches when Graham runs onto the field. The crowd yells out a cheer.

The offense breaks the huddle, and Graham lines up in a blocking stance. Jasper looks over the defense and yells. Graham shuffles a few feet to the left as a linebacker shifts and lines up directly in front of him.

At the snap, Graham and the linebacker collide. Graham shoves the man away and breaks into the middle of the field. Jasper is barely able to throw the ball before getting tackled. Graham catches the wobbly pass and runs directly into the charging team. He’s hit when the safety places his helmet in the middle of Graham’s exposed chest and raises him off the ground.

“No!” I jump up as the thud of the impact seems to echo around the stadium. Graham falls backward, clutching the ball as he’s driven into the turf. When the two hit the ground, there’s a momentary hush from the crowd.

Vale’s hand holds mine tightly as we watch the field.

I can’t seem to breathe as I beg internally for Graham to get up. Please, please . . .

The safety moves to a stand, and Graham, still on the ground, clutches the ball in a death grip.

The referee signals first down.

Graham gets to his feet gingerly, seems to stagger a bit, then flips the ball to the ref and adjusts his helmet before raising a fist to the home crowd, who cheer wildly.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” I hear from a fan behind me. “Toughest tight end in the league is back! Almost died last year and fucking fearless! YEAAAHH!”

He was weaving on his feet, and yeah, I get it, that’s what football is, hard hits and catching the ball, but what if he hit his head too hard? What if he has a concussion and doesn’t even realize it yet?

Vale and Brody and I sit in stunned silence; then more anxiousness rises as Graham lines up for the next play.

Nausea swirls in my gut as he tightens his stance, ready to take down the defense. The ball is thrown to a wide receiver, but my eyes remain on Graham as a defender runs for him. He jumps at Graham and takes him down again. They crash to the ground.

I want to vomit. I want to cry.

Somehow, I hold it together.

On the next play, Jasper throws to Graham again. The linemen chase him, almost catching him as he runs into the end zone for a touchdown. A strangled sound of relief comes from my lips.

The crowd erupts into victorious cheers, chanting Graham’s name.

Vale grips my hand. “The game has just started, dear. We’ve got about two hours of this. Are you going to be able to make it?”

I swallow down the emotion in my throat as I nod an affirmative. Graham wants me here—for the pretend marriage—so I’ll stay.

It’s after eight in the evening by the time Graham arrives home from the postinterviews and catered meal the team had for them at the stadium with the owners. I’ve got a book in my hand and Magic in my lap when he walks in the door, dressed in joggers and a T-shirt.

Magic darts to him, hisses, then runs away. “Hey. Congrats on winning the game.” I stand and give him a hug, a long one.

He smirks down at me. “Hey. See, nothing bad happened today.”

“There’s plenty of opportunity with seventeen games.” My words are sharper than I want them to be. “Let me see your bumps and bruises. Any big ones?”

He cocks an eyebrow. “I’ve been iced down already. They’re healing.”

“Show me.”

He lifts his shirt, and I grimace at the giant yellow-and-purple bruise on his side, from his rib cage to his hip.

“Jesus. Is anything broken?”

“Nope. Doc checked me out. No concussion, either, before you ask.” He heads to the kitchen and grabs a beer from the fridge. “You want anything?”

“I’m good. I had dinner with Jane and Londyn at the store after the game.”

He takes a sip from the long neck, his eyes carefully shielded as he asks, “Did you enjoy watching the game?”

I stiffen. “I enjoyed Vale and Brody.”

“So you didn’t?”

“Graham . . .”


I lick my lips. “I was looking online. A new article recently came out. Boston University has diagnosed 345 former NFL players with CTE, out of 376. You’re playing with fire. You may not have it now, but—”

He puts his back to me. His chest rises up and down rapidly. “I don’t need a fucking lecture, Emmy.”

I shove that aside and keep going. “Watching you play was one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had. I know you’re passionate about football. I know it’s what you love, but you’re literally playing Russian roulette every time you walk on the field.” My hands fist, my emotions rising higher. In fear. In love.

He turns to look at me, his lips tightly pressed together. “I never asked for your opinion. I asked you to go to the game because this is a fake marriage, and it’s part of your duties. This isn’t real. Nothing you say really matters, does it? We’ll be finished soon enough.”

I feel as if he’s slapped me. How can he be dismissive of all the time we’ve spent together? Could he truly just walk away once the inheritance comes in? I struggle to blink away the tears, bending to pet Magic so that he doesn’t notice the emotion on my face.

He moves away to look down at some of the mail on the counter, his movements short and coiled as if he’s keeping his emotions bottled up. “I won’t keep you. I’m crashing.”

“Graham . . .”

“Hmm?” He drains his beer and heads down the hall, seemingly nonchalant, but I know he’s upset.

Did my declaration of love, combined with my fear of football, send us off the cliff? “Nothing.”

He holds my eyes for a long moment, emotion swirling in those gray irises, anger and disappointment. He sticks his hands in his joggers. “By the way, I’m leaving in the morning for LA for the game there.”

“What? I thought the game was a week from today?” It’s one I hadn’t planned on attending since it’s so far away.

“Some of us are going early. Jasper wants to hang out in the city. Brody hasn’t gone back to school yet, so if you need extra hands, he’ll be around.”

He’s already to his bedroom door, lingering as he waits for me to answer.

He’s leaving.

A harsh laugh comes from my lips. I want the truth from him, and sometimes the only way to get that is to put everything on the line. “You can’t wait to get away from me. I told you I loved you, and you freaked out. You never acknowledged that I even spoke. Football is only for a while, but love and family . . . those last. They dig into your soul. All it takes is accepting it.”

“I can’t talk about this.”

Something inside me rages. “Right. You’re so afraid of hurting that you’ve chosen to not love at all. You can’t even speak of it. You’ve given up. But then, maybe you aren’t capable of love. Maybe you’re so messed up from your past that you’ll never give it a chance. I love you. Yes, it’s messy and complicated to admit these things to you, but I’m here and ready to try this with you, to see where it goes, to face all our crazy fears together. I’m not Divina. In fact, I’m not like anyone you’ve ever met. I know my value, and it is fucking amazing. I am the person for you. Your person.”

I pause, sucking in a steadying breath. “I’d never leave you. I’d never hurt you on purpose, Graham, but it terrifies me to watch you play.” Not only is it dangerous for him, but the stress of watching him play made my heart erratic as hell. Sure, maybe it was normal heart stuff, but I don’t think so.

I almost tell him, almost, but I can’t. I’m not sure it would matter.

He flinches as his lashes flutter, then vanishes into his bedroom, leaving me there, alone with my heart on my sleeve.

My chest hurts, and I rub it. I laid it all out—and he walked away. Again.


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