Time Out Read online

  “You need to switch over to thongs,” Tina said to Cindy. “No VPL. Guys like that.”

  “VPL?” Cindy asked.

  “Visible panty lines.”

  Mark shuddered and turned his head, only to catch another conversation.

  “Ethan is such a jerk,” Kendra was saying to Sharee on his other side, their earlier fight apparently forgotten. “He goes crazy when guys talk to me, and whenever I go out with anyone, he shows up.”

  To Mark, the guy sounded like a punk ass stalker. Except…

  Except he’d essentially done the same to Rainey. Twice.

  “What do you think, Coach?”

  He blinked at Sharee.

  “Should Kendra dump Ethan’s sorry possessive butt?” she asked him.

  “Yes,” he said without hesitation. “Boys are like drugs, just say no.”

  Sharee rolled her eyes. “More like boys are like candy—yummy and good to eat.”

  Mark groaned. He was so far out of his comfort zone. “Aren’t you fifteen?” he asked Kendra.


  His mind spun, placing Ethan as one of the guys banned from the rec center. They’d been causing trouble in town, vandalizing, partying it up. From what he understood, most of the girls were scared of them. “No dating Ethan.”

  “You’re not my dad.”

  “No, but I’m your coach. I control your field time.”

  Kendra narrowed her eyes. “That sounds like blackmail.”

  “Call it whatever you want. Date someone who’s not an idiot.”

  Mark desperately tried to tune out all the chattering going on around him.

  It didn’t happen.

  “Aiden is way hotter than Trevor,” Tina said behind him.

  “Definitely,” Cindy agreed. “Aiden has facial hair. It means he’s…mature.”

  “Mature how?” Tina wanted to know.

  “Well, you know what they say about big feet, right? They say it about facial hair too. If he’s got facial hair, he’s got a big—”

  Mark jammed his iPod earphones in his ears and cranked his music, feeling like he was a hundred-year-old man. Jesus. These girls lived in a shockingly grown-up world for their age. They were already jaded, sarcastic, and in some cases, like Sharee, in daily danger.

  He and Rick had grown up poor, but they’d been lucky to have Ramon’s hardworking, caring influence. Some of these girls didn’t have that, or any positive role model other than what they found at the rec center or at school in the way of coaches and teachers. That made it difficult, if not impossible, for a good guy to gain their trust.

  He needed to try harder. He shut off the iPod and opened his eyes, then nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Pepper staring at him.

  She’d slid into the seat next to him. “Hi,” she said.

  “Hi. You okay?”

  “Yeah.” She looked down at her clasped hands. “But my, um…friend has a problem.”


  “Yeah. The guy she likes finally asked her out and they went, only now he’s pretending she doesn’t exist. So I’m wondering what could have happened. Do you know? Why he’d suddenly act so weird toward me—I mean my friend?”

  Mark stared down at her bowed head. Shit. Yeah, he knew exactly why a guy would do that. Probably she hadn’t put out, the bastard. He felt his heart squeeze with affection and worry. “The ass doesn’t deserve you. Forget him.”

  Pepper held out her hand. Mark sighed and reached into his pocket for a dollar.

  “Ryan likes you, Pepper,” Sharee said. “Why don’t you go for him?”

  “Or stay single,” Mark said desperately.

  “She’s not going to lose her virginity staying single,” Sharee said.

  Dear mother of God. “Abstinence is perfectly acceptable,” he said firmly.

  They all looked at him.

  “Were you abstinent during your high school years?” Sharee wanted to know.

  Fuck. He shoved his hands through his hair, and when he opened his eyes again, Pepper was once again holding out her hand. He’d said the word out loud. He fished in his pocket for another buck, but Pepper shook her head.

  “The F-bomb is a five-dollar offense,” she said.

  He shoved a ten in her hand. “Keep the change. I’m going to need the credit.”


  AFTER WATCHING MARK coach the girls to a hard-earned win, Rainey went home and made brownies. Then she drove to the Welcome Inn Motel.

  She wasn’t quite sure what her goal was.

  Okay, that was a big, fat lie. She knew exactly what her goal was. She was just conflicted about it. She’d watched Mark on that bus with those girls, completely out of his element and still completely one hundred percent committed.

  It’d made him so damn attractive. Too attractive. Sitting in her car outside the motel, she called Lena. “Tell me to turn around and go home.”

  “Where are you?”

  “Never mind that. Just tell me.”

  Lena cackled, the evil witch. “You’re at Mark’s,” she guessed.

  “Yes,” Rainey said miserably.

  “You’re wearing good underwear, right? Something slinky?”

  “Lena.” She thunked her head against the steering wheel. “I’m just here to deliver brownies as a thank-you.”

  “Uh-huh. And I’m the Easter Bunny. You should know that I put a condom in your purse the other day. Just in case. Side pocket. Magnum-sized. Ribbed for your pleasure.”

  “Oh my God.”

  “’Night, hon. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

  “There’s nothing you wouldn’t do!”

  “Well, then you’re in for a great night, aren’t you?” Lena laughed and disconnected.

  Rainey stared at the pristine black truck in the parking lot, sticking out among the beat-up cars and trucks around it. They weren’t friends. They weren’t having any sort of a relationship—hot sex aside—and yet…

  And yet…

  Somehow it felt like both of those things were happening in spite of themselves. She wasn’t here to give him brownies. She and every single one of her hormones knew that. But she was already dangerously close to not being able to keep this casual. She wasn’t good at going with the flow and letting things happen. Not when she knew in her heart that she could feel much more than simple lust for him.

  That she already felt more.

  And what if she gave in to it, what then? She’d have to deal with the consequences when he left—and he would—and she didn’t have a game plan for that.

  But then there was the fact that no matter what she threw at him, he managed it. Handled it. Even fixed it. She thought about earlier, how he’d managed to coach the girls to a strong win. How they listened to him. They talked to him.

  A part of her wanted him for that alone. The rest of her wanted him because he was sharp and fearless and intelligent.

  No, you want him because he oozes testosterone and pheromones.

  Oh, yeah. That, too.

  Blowing out a breath, she got out of her car and walked into the lobby, telling herself she was just going to give him the brownies and go.

  Casey and James were in the lobby, reading trade magazines and newspapers, drinking beer, watching soap operas with the woman behind the front desk.

  “Hey, Rainey, I smell chocolate,” Casey said, pouncing on her brownies like he was starving, making her join them.

  James showed her the calluses on his hands from all the hammering he’d been doing. Casey had a nice gash across his forehead after he’d apparently walked into a two-by-four on the job. The talk slipped to coaching the teens and Casey grinned. “Man, as many women as Coach always has throwing themselves at him, it’s been fun watching him have to work at getting the chicks to like him.”

  Rainey’s bite of brownie stuck like glue in her mouth at the thought of how many women loved Mark.

  “You’re an idiot,” Casey told James.

  “No, it’s okay,