The Pucking Wrong Guy: Chapter 21

ARI

The afternoon was like a persistent itch in a hard-to-reach spot…annoying as hell. While Blake was at a photoshoot, I’d found myself trapped in what felt like an endless practice session with the team. Two consecutive losses had us desperately needing to step up our game. But the idea of her being away, outside my protective bubble, was driving me insane.

During our water breaks, I checked my tracking app like a man possessed, making sure she was still at the shoot. I had a bodyguard following her around, but she hadn’t responded to my last couple of texts. I WAS NOT HAPPY.

It was on one such break when Soto leaned over, interrupting a conversation I was trying to have with Walker about our favorite Jurassic Park movies. ‘Hey, Ari, had an interesting conversation about you today.’

He was trying too hard to sound innocent, and ice slid around my veins. “Oh yeah?” I answered, matching his casual tone. “Who with?”

A smile slid across Soto’s ugly face. “Just some rando. He was hanging out before practice, asking questions about you. Seemed like a nice guy.”

Suppressing the urge to stab him with my hockey stick, I ground my teeth and took a deep breath, attempting to regain a modicum of control. ‘What kind of things, exactly, was he asking?’

Soto raised an eyebrow, “Oh, just wanting to know when you started dating your girlfriend. What your schedule was like…Nothing big.”

“And you answered those kinds of questions?” asked Walker incredulously, looking less like a Disney prince and more like a Disney villain at the moment as he stared angrily at him.

Total circle of trust material, that guy.

Soto shrugged, acting like it really was no big deal.

“What did he look like?” I asked, an uneasy feeling gnawing at the pit of my stomach.

“You know, it’s funny, Lancaster,” Soto drawled. “But he looked a lot like you.”

With that pronouncement, he skated away, effectively ensuring I couldn’t focus on practice anymore.

When I checked my app during the next break, my worst fears were confirmed.

The tracking app had been disabled.


Blake

The final click of the camera signaled the end of the shoot. It was my third in the last two weeks. I had indeed gotten fired from the restaurant for leaving without a word during my shift…but it had been perfect timing since there was no way I could have made my shifts anyway with these jobs. Evidently, the Renage creative director had been spreading the word that the upcoming campaign was the best she’d ever done—and it was all because of me. It was actually all because of my chemistry with Ari…that was how I’d achieved the look she loved so much. Regardless though, her recommendations were bringing me tons of jobs and we’d be celebrating and unveiling the Renage campaign tomorrow at a release party.

Ari and I were…perfect. He’d been coming with me to my shoots when he didn’t have practice. And he’d even been dragged into a couple more of them.

I was getting addicted to changing room sex.

Which was unfortunate because today, he had practice.

I also liked reuniting sex though. As well as every other kind of sex I had with Ari.

So I guess it was a win-win situation for me.

My life had taken on a dreamlike quality after that night I’d bared all my secrets. I actually felt like his love was physically healing me, and I loved him so much it hurt. I still had so far to go, obviously; a lifetime of trauma and bad coping mechanisms wasn’t going to disappear overnight.

But I could feel myself changing. It gave me hope that he’d been right, that someday, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad.

I thanked the crew and walked toward my dressing room, checking my phone as I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. I glanced up to locate my bag and yelped when I found myself face to face with a very unexpected visitor—Clark.

“What are you doing here?” I spit, my heart battering against my rib cage. His harried and disheveled appearance was a stark contrast to the confident, successful man I’d dated for so many years, and for the first time since I’d known him…I was a little afraid.

‘Clark?’ I asked, my voice calm but tinged with uncertainty. His bloodshot eyes were watching me and I was getting anxious.

‘Blake,’ he began, his voice hoarse and filled with a weariness that hadn’t been there before. ‘I had to see you.’

Instinctively, I took a step back, my hand resting on the edge of the makeup table for support.

‘Why now, Clark?’ I asked, curiosity and caution lacing my tone. ‘I haven’t heard from you really…since I moved. I broke up with you.”

“No, you didn’t break up with meWe never talked.” Clark looked at me with a pleading expression, his eyes searching mine for some sign of understanding. He reached out to grab my hand and I pulled away. ‘Blake, you have to listen to me. Nothing that’s happened has been real.’

I scoffed. ‘What are you talking about, Clark? You were talking to me…and then you weren’t. And I—’ I gulped and took a deep breath, because it was much harder to say something like this in person rather than over text. “I met someone,” I finally finished.

His eyes closed and he took a deep breath, his fists clenching and unclenching. “I know you met someone, Blake. You met a fucking psycho someone.”

I frowned. Psycho seemed a little strong of a word.

‘Ari Lancaster is the reason we aren’t together.”

I nodded, confused. I mean, yes, he was the person I’d met.

“No, sweetheart. Ari Lancaster has been stalking you. He saw you, made a plan, and methodically went through with it to push us apart, Blake. He’s been behind the scenes pulling the fucking strings this entire time. Just so he can control you.”

I snorted and shook my head. “Clark, that’s enough. If you want to talk, we can talk. But you don’t have to make up things.”

“He saw you on a billboard. He found out who you were. And he fucking requested a trade and stalked you to California.”

“Where did you hear that from?” I demanded, shock slithering through me. I felt frozen in place.

“You know as well as I do that money makes people talk. I found out who his P.I. was, and he was totally eager to give me info for the right amount.”

Unease was churning around inside of me, sloshing around like spoiled milk.

“Okay. This is ridiculous. We’re done here,” I finally said stiffly.

“He was the one who planted drugs in my car, who got me on the fucking no fly list. He made a spectacle of your relationship so it would be all over the press! He emailed me pictures of the two of you from a burner account!’

The “no fly list?” Clark was insane. “Do you have any proof of this or are you just throwing things out now and hoping they catch?”

Clark ran his fingers through his disheveled hair, his agitation evident. ‘I know it sounds insane, Blake, but he’s the reason I couldn’t talk to you. I sent you a million messages, called you a million times. Tell me, did you ever get these?” he asked, pulling out his phone. He scrolled through message after message, him begging and pleading with me to answer him and stop ignoring his calls.

My head was spinning, trying to understand what had happened.

“Can you take out your phone?” he asked quietly, staring at me with a look of pity—which I hated.

With shaking hands, I pulled it out, typing in the password that Ari had asked me to add for “security.”

“Go to my contact,” Clark pressed, watching my hands as I navigated the contact list.

Finding Clark’s name, I tapped on it, fully expecting to find…nothing.

But he was blocked.

And I knew I hadn’t done that.

“Maybe I accidently—” I started, confusion washing over me.

“If you check Facebook, you’ll see that I’m blocked on there too,” he said gently.

I couldn’t help but check, desperate for it not to be true. Because I could have accidently blocked him in my contacts…but not on every other app as well.

But it was true. Clark had been blocked on Facebook, Instagram…every other fucking app on my phone.

This didn’t make everything else true.

But they probably were. Thinking back…I’d started not to hear from Clark after that first time Ari had come in…when I’d somehow “lost” my phone and it had been given to the hostess to return to me.

And the Halloween party…I should have been way more fucking suspicious.

The drugs found in Clark’s car–I’d known he didn’t do drugs, but it was so…easy for me to accept everything.

I sank into a chair, feeling like the world was collapsing in on me.

The problem was…everything that Clark had said could be true.

But because I was so fucked up—I still wanted Ari Lancaster with everything in me.

‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ I admitted, my voice trembling.

Clark knelt in front of me, his voice soft and reassuring. ‘I understand, Blake. It’s a lot to take in. But I promise you, I never stopped loving you. I never gave up on us. Now that I’ve gotten you back, we can start over. I’ll move here…or you can move back home. We can fix us.”

I stared at his handsome face, years of memories whirling around in my head.

He was a good man.

But that wasn’t enough for me—not anymore.

“I’m sorry, Clark, “ I whispered, my eyes locking with his. “It’s over.”

He flinched like I’d slapped him. ‘Don’t say that, Blake. I love you! I’ve loved you since the second I saw you.” Tears streamed down his face, his vulnerability laid bare before me. Old habits were hard to kill, and I wanted to wrap my arms around him, to make him feel better.

I think I had loved him once, but not in the way he deserved to be loved.

Not in the way deserved to love someone.

“I hope you can forgive me, someday,” I murmured. It was a selfish thought, but it would be hard for me to live knowing he was out there, hating the memory of me for the rest of our lives.

“Please. Don’t let him do this to us.”

I yanked my gaze away from him, because it hurt to look at him.

“It’s just not enough,” I responded, even though I knew that wouldn’t make sense to him. His face grew determined.

“I would love you in any way that you needed.’

“I think you would try,” I said gently. “But that wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”

He stumbled to his feet, swaying like he’d been stabbed in the heart. “I will find a way to get you back. To prove what we have is enough! I will never give up on us.’

Clark stalked out the door, slamming it behind him.

I sat in the aching silence he’d left for a long, long time.

And then I went home.

A compulsion I couldn’t resist.

It was dark in the house, so dark I was sure he wasn’t home. And I jumped when the living room light clicked on and there he was, sitting on the couch. Relief in his gaze.

Beautiful as always.

And a liar.

“It’s all true, isn’t it?” I whispered as we locked eyes.

He stared at me warily, exhaustion marring his perfect features. I watched as the wariness faded into resolution.

“Yes. And I’d do it all again,” he swore. “I’d do anything to keep you.”

I nodded, a sick thrill rushing through me that didn’t make sense.

I’d do anything to keep you…

No one had ever seen every part of me and vowed to never let me go.

“I’ll sleep in the guest room,” I told him, feeling like it was the right thing to do, even though every sick part of me wanted to climb up in his lap and have him wrap his arms around me.

He nodded, his green eyes glittering unfathomably.

I wandered down the hall to one of the guest rooms, closing the door behind me and leaning my forehead on the cold wood. Did I know him? Could I ever trust him?

What else had he done?

After a minute, I stumbled to the bed and collapsed on it, an ache in my bones…and in my fucking soul.

I woke up in bed with Ari, his whole body wrapped around me, his head buried in my neck. It wasn’t surprising. If he was willing to move states to get me, a little old door wasn’t going to hold him back.

I listened to his steady rhythmic breathing and wondered…how I was going to say goodbye.

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