Getting Wound Up

By: Jennifer Bernard



Was he flirting with her? Or just teasing her? She didn’t even know anymore, that’s how flustered he’d gotten her. “You like my chocolate chip cookies,” she said weakly. “I’ve seen you eat a whole dozen.”

“I’d have to be dead not to like your chocolate chip cookies.” Was that a meaningful glance from those knee-meltingly blue eyes? “But you’re right, candy isn’t really my thing. Now if more candy had bacon in it, that might be different.”

“I consider that a personal challenge.” If he couldn’t appreciate her, maybe he’d appreciate her candy.

“Game on,” he answered.

They were so caught up in their conversation that they didn’t notice the waiter looming over them until he repeated, loudly, “Dessert?”

Caitlyn burst into giggles, and Eli shook his head “no” to the waiter. He left muttering something about “country kids,” which made them laugh all the more. As they waited for the check, Eli cocked his head at her. “Did you like living in Denver? Did you enjoy being a city girl?”

She leaned toward him. “Want to know a secret? I was homesick the entire time. I missed my family. I missed the diner. I used to call my mom for gossip updates. Do you think I’m pathetic?”

His expression softened, his gaze caressing her. “No, you’re not pathetic. I love the town too. I’ll never forget how everyone helped us out after my dad’s stroke. We didn’t have to cook a meal for about three months. And there was always someone calling to ask if we needed anything.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

A stubborn little seed of hope blossomed in her heart. A vision flashed into her brain—her and Eli walking down Main Street, pushing a stroller, laughing, gazing into each other’s eyes. Another baby hung in a backpack on Eli’s back. He looked so happy, all the shadows gone from his face. And she looked great too, even though she had a little baby bump… Three kids and Eli, that’s all she really wanted in the world.

She banished the vision before it could take hold and torture her too much. “But what if you get signed? You’ll have to go to San Diego. Are you okay with that?”

“Sure.” He shrugged. “Baseball careers don’t last forever. I wouldn’t mind living in Southern California for a while. The beach, the rollerblades, the California girls. You guys could come visit. Once Bryan can travel.”

Aaaaaand…there went her happy vision. Another one took its place. In this one, Eli was on rollerblades, falling flat on his face while she laughed her ass off.

“What’s so funny?” Eli was asking.

“Oh, nothing. Just thinking about what a talented athlete you are.” She smiled at him innocently.

They talked baseball for the rest of the evening. Back in the hotel room, a semi-awkward silence fell between them.

“I’m…uh…going to change in the bathroom,” she finally said. “I’m wiped out.”

“Good idea,” he said quickly. “I’ll probably be asleep by the time you’re done.”

In the bathroom, she took an extra-long time to get control of her nerves. This was silly. She’d spent the night in the same house as Eli back when they were kids. This was no different. Still, she bundled herself up into a pair of pink cupcake-print flannel pajamas that would have been more suitable for January in Nebraska than Kansas in July.

Better safe than tempted.

When she came out of the bathroom, she saw that Eli had had the same thought. He lay on his back wearing sweatpants and a Sapphire Falls Softball League t-shirt, the covers half on, half off. His arm lay across his eyes, as if he was trying to block the light—or maybe the sight of her. “You can turn off the light whenever you’re ready,” he told her.

She crawled into her bed, pulled the covers all the way to her chin, and turned off the light on the nightstand. “Good night.”

“’Night,” he mumbled.

A hushed quiet fell over the darkened room. Too much quiet. The sound of Eli’s breathing made her too restless to sleep. She kept imagining his broad chest rising and falling, his long legs stretched all the way past the foot of the bed.

She tossed and turned, finally deciding it was simply too hot in the room for her favorite pajamas. Carefully, she reached under the covers and removed her pajama bottoms. She sighed, stretching out her legs and wiggling her toes. That was better.

She closed her eyes, then opened one when she heard rustling from Eli’s bed. Peering through the darkness, she saw a pale flash of fabric—he was dropping his t-shirt to the floor next to the bed.

He must have had the same idea. Now they were both half-dressed, and her heart was pounding in her throat. Did he know she’d also stripped down? Did he care? She waited, tense and quivering, for his next move.

He gave a soft snore.

God, she was stupid. Like he’d even notice if she stripped entirely naked and danced across the carpet.

Fine. She pulled off her pajama top. Underneath it, she wore a thin camisole—no wonder she was so hot. Why the heck had she overdressed to the point of suffocation? If Eli was going to be oblivious to her existence, she might as well be comfortable.

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