Page 27 of Protective Player


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Mixed in with the embarrassment of having him know my business is a thread of dark anger at his presumption. I narrow my eyes, glaring balefully at him. Sammy starts to get to her feet, but I put my hand on her arm and shake my head, letting her know that I’ve got this. She sits back down and silently shoots daggers at Zack.

“Who in the hell do you think you are, Zack?” I snap. “What I do is none of your business. You have no right to even ask about my personal life. You’re somebody I know from class. We’re not friends and I don’t owe you a goddamn thing, least of all an explanation or justification for what I do in my personal life.”

He folds his arms over his chest, his expression darkening. “You do owe me an explanation, Devon. You led me on. You made me believe there was something between us—”

“When in the hell did I ever do that?”

I can feel the eyes on me from all over the quad as people turn and start paying attention to the scene I’m causing. At the moment, I don’t care. I’m so appalled by Zack’s suggestion that I somehow led him on that I don’t give a damn who overhears me. It irritates me that he’s putting the blame on me when he’s the one acting like a creep.

“You’re always nice to me,” Zack shouts back. “You’re always flirting with me—”

“If you actually think that me talking to you like a classmate is flirting, you’re so much more pathetic than I thought.”

Zack recoils like I just slapped him. He quickly recovers though and leans forward, his face twisted with hurt and outrage. Stepping around the table, moving to within a couple of feet of me, Zack glowers at me with pure hatred in his eyes. If he’s trying to intimidate me, he’s failing. I stand my ground and grit my teeth. No way I’m letting him do this to me.

“I thought you were a nice person, Devon,” he spits. “I never expected you to turn out to be a bitch. And I really never expected you to turn out to be a fucking whore.”

Before I can stop to think about what I’m doing, I rear back and deliver a sharp slap that rocks his head to the side. All around us, I hear the crowd gasp, which is quickly followed by giggles and murmuring voices. His eyes water and his face turns bright red. He looks like he’s immediately regretting what just came out of his mouth. As far as I’m concerned, there are some things that you can’t just walk back from.

“Stay the fuck away from me, Zack,” I hiss. “Don’t speak to me and don’t you ever come near me again. Ever.”

“Devon—”

“Fuck you, Zack.”

The regret in his eyes fades away and is quickly replaced by the anger I’d seen just a moment ago. He clenches his jaw and balls his hands into fists at his sides. “You’re going to regret this. I swear to God, you’re going to regret this.”

He turns and storms away, scores of curious eyes following him as he goes. I’ll be lying if I say his final words don’t make me feel a little concerned. I don’t know Zack very well, but it seems clear that he’s more than a little unbalanced and prone to delusions. And the thought of what he’s capable of scares me.

12

DAWSON

“Dawson.”

Wendy is in the underground player’s parking lot, which is unusual. That she’s waiting for me outside the doors to the arena with a grim look on her face is even more unusual. She’s always got a smile on her face. I quickly rack my brain, trying to recall whether I forgot a scheduled interview with her or something. I come up with nothing. If I scheduled a time for her, I have no memory of it.

“I’m late for practice, Wendy. Can this wait?”

“Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“The story that broke online this morning.”

I stop and turn to her. My thoughts immediately turn to Devon. Somebody leaked the story that I’m dating a college coed half my age. These days, that seems to be a scandal worthy of earning the wrath of cancel culture. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give a fuck what the keyboard warriors are writing about me online, but I worry about the backlash Devon might face if salacious tabloid stories about our relationship start making the rounds.

“What story? What are you talking about?”

“Dawson.”

I turn and see Jerry, the head of arena security standing there, an expression even darker and grimmer than Wendy’s on his face.

“Yeah, give me a minute, Jer.”

“Sorry, Mr. Buck wanted me to round you up the minute you got here,” Jerry replies. “He needs to see you right away.”

“Tell Randy I’ll be there in a minute. I need to finish my conversation with Wendy.”

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