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The Keeper: Chapter 8



Hey! Anybody in the mood for sushi tonight?


Tonight’s my late class. I’ll probably just grab something on campus.


I’m in. We meeting there or doing takeout?


Have you seen the new bartender? We’re meeting there.


I’ve got Nutcracker practice. Bring me home something?


Sure. Text me what you want.


Helloooo . . . Lindy? What about you?


I’m about to meet Andrew at the rink. I’ll grab something after.


Aren’t you meeting Easton after?


I didn’t tell you that.


I have my ways.


Like on a date?


Scandalous. She’s dating her husband.


Whatever. It isn’t a date. I just told him where I’d be. He might not even show. He had a rough day.


Because Uncle Max was an ass? Or because Jace decked him?


I’m sorry. WHAT?


How did you hear that already?


I’m a physical therapist for the team. I hear everything.


The entire team knows Max was an ass?


No. Mom filled me in on Max when she stopped by for lunch. But the whole team knows Jace hates Easton.


Your family can’t keep a secret to save their lives.


Says the girl who posted my wedding photo on every social-media platform there is, then got so drunk that she didn’t remember doing it?!?


I wasn’t the only one who blacked-out that night, missy.


Can we go back to Jace hitting Easton?


It was awful. Jace is so pissed.


What did Easton do?


Did he get all possessive on your ass?


Did he throw you over his shoulder again like at the club? Because that was hot.


No. Better. He got all sorts of protective and defended me. He basically told Jace to stop treating me like a baby. It was actually pretty damn amazing.


And . . . ?


He may have called me his wife to my brother.


I take it back. That’s hot.


It might have been a little hot.


You know a great way to thank him?


If you tell her to blow my brother, I might actually kill you while you sleep.


They’re married now, Kenz. Pretty sure she’s going to play with his peen.


OMG! Shut up. No talk of peen. I don’t even remember marrying him.


Do you remember screwing him? Because it would be a crime against humanity to forget that.


I didn’t have sex with Easton.


Did you have sex with someone else?


What? No!


Have you talked to a lawyer yet?


Not yet. I’ve got to find one.


You’re related to one, genius. If you really want to get your marriage annulled, you’d have talked to Becket already.


I’m kinda avoiding my entire family right now.


Or you don’t really want the annulment.


I’m calling it now. You’ll be kissing Easton when the ball drops on New Year’s.


I’m with Everly.


Mind your own business.


Ha. Like we ever do.


Whatever. I’ve got to go inside now. I’ll see you all later.


Say hi to your husband for us.


Get creative with the way you say it too. Like maybe on your knees.


OMG. Goodbye!

The rink is nearly empty later that night while I sit and watch Andrew finish a routine with Cara, the young woman who’s currently auditioning to be his next partner. She’s been around the circuit for a few years. Most of us have. Competitive skating is a small circle. And to find someone at our level narrows it even more. Is she as good as me? No. But she’s younger and has time to grow. She could easily surpass me with the right training.

As much as I know retiring is the right move for me, it’s still the strangest thing watching my partner skate with someone else. Andrew and I’ve skated together for years. We can anticipate each other’s next moves, and now we’re essentially picking out my replacement.

Some days, adulting blows.

After their routine ends, I smile and wait for them to skate off the ice, pushing the twinge of unease aside, and give him the honest feedback he needs because that’s what friends do. “That was great, guys.”

“Thanks, Lindy.” Cara beams and slides her skate guards over her blades. “That means a lot coming from you.” She turns and smiles at Andrew. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow for the tryout with your coach then?”

Andrew nods. “Yeah, thanks. Same time tomorrow.”

He watches her leave quietly before dropping down on the bench next to me. “Are you sure you’re done? You don’t want just a few more years before you give it all up?”

“We’ve talked about this already,” I try to say sweetly, but I didn’t come prepared for another guilt trip.

“Come on, Lindy. We’re so good together.” He throws his arm around my shoulder and leans his head against mine. “You’ve always been a competitor. Why stop now?”

“Andrew . . .” I groan and look up at him. “I will always be here for you, but it’s going to be as your biggest fan, not your partner. You and Cara looked great out there. Her lines are beautiful.”

“She’s not you.” His tone is sharp and sets me on edge.

I’m not in the mood for another angry person.

I’ve had enough of that this week to last me through the end of the year.

“No, she’s not me. But I’ve been telling you for months that I’m done. If you’re going to continue competing, you’ve got to find someone else to partner with. Cara is a great choice.”

He tucks my hair over my shoulder. “What if I only want you?”

“Andrew . . .” I pull away.

“The lady said no.”

Apparently, this day can get worse.

When I look up, Easton’s intense gaze is locked on me. Is he . . . ?

He reaches out for me, and I place my palm in his without even thinking about it. A satisfied smile graces his lips as he pulls me to my feet. “You okay, princess?”

“Of course, she’s okay,” Andrew answers.

Easton growls before he rests a finger under my chin and lifts my face. “Ready for dinner?”

“I thought I was meeting you at home?” I ask.

“At home? Lindy . . .” Andrew looks between the two of us, then down at my hand. “He’s a hockey player, Lindy. Come on. You can’t seriously plan on staying married to him. They’re Neanderthals.”

“What the fuck—”

I press my palm against Easton’s chest, then glare at both of them. “Stop. Both of you, just stop. I’m not an object you can fight over like two toddlers in a sandbox.” They both look offended, but at the very least, they’re smart enough to keep their mouths shut. “Andrew, I’m retired. That’s not changing.”

“Does this have something to do with him?” Andrew’s disgust is evident as he looks between Easton and me, and I want to scream. I’m so over this stupid day.

Luckily for Easton, he doesn’t say anything.

Nope. My husband simply wraps his hand around my hip, much like he did earlier, and squeezes, letting me know he’s here. As if I could forget. As if the heat from his body isn’t singeing my skin.

“I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer. If you’d like me to come to your tryout tomorrow night, let me know. I’m going home.”

I move around Easton and ignore both men.

Andrew stands his ground where he is, but I feel Easton immediately move with me. He follows me through the doors into the parking lot before he grabs my hand. “Slow your roll, princess.”

“Slow my what?” I spin around and shove him away. “Listen, hockey boy. Fighting is your thing, not mine. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like arguments. And I really, really don’t like violence. I’ve dealt with all three today. Now, I’m not saying they’re all your fault, but they’ve all centered around you and our marriage, and if that doesn’t scream something is seriously wrong, I don’t know what will.” I close my eyes, refusing to cry. Not now. Not in front of him.

Have I mentioned confrontation makes me cry? Because it does. And it’s not pretty.

Easton’s big, fat feet take two steps my way, but I throw my hands up. “Don’t. Do not touch me.”

“Lindy . . .” he whispers, and I feel horrible for the way those words just came out. “Tell me what you want me to do.”

“Tell me why I married you? Tell me why you married me. Please,” I plead. “Tell me why I’ve been fighting with almost everyone I know for a week, E. Tell me something. Make me understand what you’re doing here in Kroydon Hills? Why take the trade to the Revolution? They’ve been trying to get you for years. Why take it now?”

Easton’s steps are slow. Cautious. Like he’s scared I’ll bolt at any second. With one hand, he reaches up and cups my cheek. “Do you really not know, princess?”

I swallow down what little pride I feel like I have left and lift my eyes to his, blinking back the tears, and shake my head.

“It’s always been you. The answer to all those questions is you, Madeline Kingston. It was you when we were too young for me to admit it was you. It was still you when I wasn’t a good enough man for it to be you. It’s been you every night in my dreams, when I’m not strong enough to save you. When you slip through my fingers and I lose you before I wake up in a cold sweat, unable to shake the image of you dying in front of me from my brain.”

He rests his forehead against mine. “And for one night, it wasn’t just you. It was us.”

“Easton. I . . .” It might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I force myself to take a step back. “I don’t know what to say. It’s hard to think when you’re everywhere.”

E shrugs. “Well I’ll be gone for an away-game stretch over the next week. I leave the day after tomorrow. So I guess you’ll have some time to figure it out.”

Yeah. I guess I will.

“So when does he leave?” Everly asks as she pours herself a glass of wine. She and Brynlee just got back from the sushi place. Luckily for me, they grabbed me a California roll because I’m starving.

“I don’t know,” I tell them over a mouthful of food. “In two days, I guess.”

Brynlee pulls her phone out and looks at something before looking back at me. “The team flies out at noon. We play in Atlanta that night, then have two more games before we fly home. Our next home game is in a week. I think it’s our only stretch this bad all season.”

“Oh.” I push my food around on my plate with my chopsticks, not liking the sinking feeling this gives me. “Guys, what the hell am I going to do?”

“Girl, you’ve got to figure out what you want before we can try to figure out what you need to do,” Everly tells me as she grabs Bryn’s phone out of her hand and studies the screen. “Your man’s games are on the other side of the country for a week. The man who just got himself traded. For. You. The one who just moved his whole life how many thousands of miles away. For. You. He knows what he wants. What do you want?”

I run my fingers through my hair and cringe. “I don’t know what I want.”

“Yes, you do,” Bryn says sternly. “You’re not some wishy-washy little girl, Lindy. You’ve wanted Easton for years. We’re not blind. Everyone knows it, even if you’re not sure. And guess what? You’ve got him. Now what are you gonna do with him?”

“How much sake did you guys drink at the sushi place?”

Everly laughs. “I told you the bartender was hot.”

“Yeah well, it makes you mean,” I tell them.

“Not mean. Direct,” Bryn corrects me. “Listen, we love you. But it’s not like we don’t know Easton. It’s not like we haven’t watched the two of you together. You’ve danced around this for a long time. It’s almost like what everyone says about your mom and Brandon. Don’t wait as long as they did to figure it out. If you’ve got feelings for him, figure out what you want now. And if you don’t . . .”

My head snaps up. “If I don’t, what?”

Everly cocks her head. “If you don’t, then set the man free, and don’t come crying when someone else snatches him up. Because drunken wedding aside, that man is a keeper. He’s gorgeous and tall with big hands and big feet, so my money’s on a big—”

“Don’t,” I snap. “Don’t go there.”

“Fine,” She sips her wine and attempts to hide her smile. “But I’m just saying, if you let him go, you better be sure that’s what you really want because you won’t get a second chance.”

I know she’s right. I’ve hated knowing he was hooking up with women over the years.

I always dreaded the thought of him bringing someone home to meet the family.

“I hate you both,” I tell them, and Brynlee laughs while Everly just shakes her head.

“No, you don’t. You love us,” Bryn says.

“Whatever. I’m not ready to let him go,” I admit and stuff another piece of California roll in my mouth, completely unwilling to say anything else.

“Oh, Lindy. That’s not good enough.” Everly snatches a piece off my plate.

“Hey, you ate already.” I poke her with a chopstick.

“Hot bartender, remember?” she argues. “We don’t eat in front of the hot bartenders. I’m starving.” She stands and looks down at me. “Do you want him? Or do you just not want anyone else to have him, Linds? Because if it’s the second, you’re a better person than that.”

I grab her glass of wine and finish off what’s left of it. “Fine. I want him. I’ve always wanted him. But not like this.”

“Then how do you want it, princess?”

Everly, Brynlee, and I all shriek, and Easton looks at the three of us like we’re absolutely insane.

Everly snorts. “Jesus Christ, man. Make some fucking noise when you walk in the house.”

“We’re just gonna . . .” Bryn grabs Everly’s hand and tugs her out of the kitchen but not before Everly manages to grab the black to-go container from the table.

I watch them both run away to hide and silently wish they could take me with them. “How much did you hear?”

He looks so damn good in worn blue jeans and a white thermal shirt stretched tight across his chest. Strong and sexy. This man is every fantasy I’ve ever had, and he’s standing right in front of me. But I don’t handle being trapped all that well, and I’m feeling cornered right now.

“I heard you say you want me but not like this. Tell me what you want, Lindy. We’ve shared so much over the years. You can’t start holding back on me now.” He leans back against the counter and crosses those arms I love over his chest, and his shirt stretches so damn tight around his biceps. My God. It should be illegal to look that damn good.

“Easton . . . Haven’t you ever noticed I never talked to you about this? Not about you. Not about any guys. I’ve never crossed that line,” I tell him because I don’t know how to give him what he wants.

“I was kinda hoping it was because there weren’t any guys.”

My blood burns with indignation. “You’ve got to be kidding. You used to FaceTime me with women in your bed, but you didn’t want me dating? Seems awfully hypocritical, doesn’t it, E?”

“I never said I was a saint, princess. But think about it for a minute. No matter who I was with, I always ended up calling you. Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?” His hazel eyes are so damn intense, I’m not sure how much I can take.

“You don’t actually think I liked it when you’d call me with a woman in bed next to you, do you?” I demand.

“Tell me why it bothered you,” he pushes back.

“Because . . .” I stammer.

“Use your words, Madeline.”

“Ugh . . . You’re infuriating.” I push back from the counter stool and march across the kitchen to him. “You want to know why it bothered me?”

“Yeah, I do, princess.” He stands tall as I stop in front of him, ready to scream.

“Because I was jealous.” I throw my hands up. “There. Happy?” I yell. “I was jealous they got to be with you like that. In a way I was sure I never would. I was so goddamn jealous because I wanted to be them.”

Easton leans in slowly, careful not to touch me. “None of them could ever be you.”

“But they had you in a way I couldn’t, and I hated that,” I admit, a little quieter.

“Then tell me why you were so pissed when we woke up married,” he pushes again.

“You’re really going to make me say this?” I ask as my voice shakes from frustration mixed with embarrassment.


“Because I’ve wanted you for years, Easton Hayes. And I finally got you, but it was because we were drunk. You never gave a shit about me sober. But I got drunk and flirted with someone in front of you, and you thought, Fuck that, I’ll marry her.” My stomach twists as the words keep coming. “I woke up and was married to the one man I’ve dreamed of marrying, and I couldn’t remember any of it. You don’t even love me. You—”

“Stop.” He slides his hands up my neck and cups my cheeks. “Forget the fact that we’re married for a minute. What do you want from me, Lindy? Do you want me? Want us?”

I lift my eyes to his, and the softness there just about kills me. “Have you listened to anything I just said? Of course I want you. I’ve only ever wanted you, you idiot. But I’m scared, Easton. You’ve been my protector for so many years. What if this doesn’t work out? I can’t lose you.”

“You’ll never lose me.” His thumb caresses my skin. “I’m in this for the long haul, princess.”

“But you can’t know that,” I fight back, desperate to get him to feel my fear and take it seriously. “You can’t be sure.”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life, princess. It was always supposed to be you and me. The timing was just never right before.” His words are whispered against my skin, wrapping around me like a safety blanket.

“Easton . . .” I plead.

“Give us a chance, Lindy.” He presses his lips to my forehead.

Ugh. How am I supposed to think when he’s doing that?

A chance.

Can I do that?

Can I give him that?

Can I let go of that fear?

“A chance?” I whisper back, and Easton tilts my face up to his. “Fine. If you want a chance . . . If you want to even think about staying married to me . . . We need a reset. We need to date. We need to go back to the beginning and redo all the steps we skipped. You’re going to have to woo me.”

“Woo you?” A smile spreads across his perfect lips. Lips I desperately want to trace with my tongue.

“Yes, Easton. If you want to be my husband, then you’ve got to start with the baby steps and win my heart.” I don’t bother telling him he’s had it for a lifetime.

“Woo you,” he repeats again.

I lick my lips and nod.

“I can do that,” he whispers, and just when I think he might kiss me, he runs his thumb over my lip. “Game on, princess. Prepare to be wooed.” Only instead of kissing me, he smiles a devious smile and walks away.

“Where are you going?” I ask, shocked . . . again.

“Oh, baby. I’ve got work to do.”

My head spins from whiplash as I watch him head for the steps and wonder where, exactly, I lost control of the night. And how, exactly, I ended up here.


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