Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Too Hard to Forget
by Tessa Bailey
Published by Forever
Book #3 in the Romancing the Clarkson's series
This time, she's calling the shots.
Peggy Clarkson is returning to her alma mater with one goal in mind: confront Elliott Brooks, the man who ruined her for all others, and remind him of what he's been missing. Even after three years, seeing him again is like a punch in the gut, but Peggy's determined to stick to her plan. Maybe then, once she has the upper hand, she'll finally be able to move on.
In the years since Peggy left Cincinnati, Elliott has kept his focus on football. No distractions and no complications. But when Peggy walks back onto his practice field and into his life, he knows she could unravel everything in his carefully controlled world. Because the girl who was hard to forget is now a woman impossible to resist.
RATED: 18+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Steamy Romance Feel Good
Too Hard to Forget by Tessa Bailey is the third book in the Romancing the Clarkson's series, and continues the epic road trip the Clarkson siblings take to fulfill their mothers final wish for them to jump in the Atlantic Ocean on New Years Day, just like she did when she was younger. At this point, Rita, the oldest daughter, and focus of the first book Too Hot to Handle, stayed behind in Hurley, New Mexico, to start a new life with Jasper, a man she had just met and fell in love with. In the second book, Too Wild to Tame, Aaron, the youngest son, stayed behind in Iowa not for the job he went there to get, but because he fell in love with Grace. Too Hard to Forget continues with Belmont, Peggy and Peggy's best friend Sage, just entering Cincinnati for Peggy's stop, with the ultimate plan to make her ex, Elliott Brook's life hell, and get some closure after he broke her heart.
I was looking forward to Peggy's story. Not necessarily because she is was overly interesting in the past two books (they didn't really focus on her that much), but because this is the first romance in the series that is starting out with history and knowledge of one another, whereas the past two books were love at first sight type romances. This might be my favorite of the series so far. There is the forbidden love element, because when their relationship started, she was a 22 year old senior college student, and he was a 35 year old football coach, who was recently widowed. We learn through flashbacks that it wasn't just sex. Peggy fell in love with him, and fell hard. Elliott did too. Not only did he find himself finally understanding what people were talking about when they talked about love, he felt passion like he had never felt before. What destroyed them ultimately was Elliott's guilt. He felt intense guilt for loving Peggy when he didn't love his wife. He faults himself for her death because he was ignoring her phone calls, and when she left the house, she slipped on ice, hit her head, and went into a coma after laying there for hours. He felt guilt for being attracted to Penny.
It wasn't the healthiest relationship though.
Peggy was always there. She listened to him while he told her things he never told anyone. She took care of him. He loved her, but his guilt made their relationship dirty. He frequently punished her during sex, and while she liked it, it made her feel like she was his ruin. He would tell her during the acts that she was his damnation, and he would pray, making her feel like a sin. It wasn't his intent, but it happened. He drove it home when she wanted to stay after graduation, and be with him, and he said awful things to make her leave.
That was the past though. Their relationship in the book was interesting as hell to read. We've always known about Peggy's engagements, and how she left them all before the weddings. She hinted to Rita it was because she never could get over one man in Cincinnati. We learn in this book, that she never stopped loving him. Didn't see herself good enough for those men, because she was walking, talking, sin. Never was able to have an orgasm even because she wasn't being punished for it. While Elliott never did get over her, she couldn't get over him, not just because she loved him, but because she didn't think she deserved love. When Elliott finally woke up, and realized what he had done, his game play to not only win her back, back make her believe him when he says those were his issues, and she isn't bad, I loved it. It was no longer about Peggy trying to drive him crazy. It was them learning a new way to love one another. A healthier way.
The other plots in the book is interesting as well. I love that Elliott has a teenage daughter. It adds that little twist to an already complicated relationship, and when Alice ends up liking Peggy, it's a win for this little family unit. Alice gets a dad back, who has been like a zombie since Peggy left, and she gets a mother figure and friend. Peggy's relationship with her siblings only continues to improve. Sage is hinting at a dark past. With every book, more and more layers are added to these characters, and I went from cautiously liking them, to loving them.
In the end, I totally recommend this book. The whole series really. It's not just head over heels love and insanely hot sex. There is a lot of dialogue that makes these characters and their relationships grow stronger. Not just the featured couple, but the Clarkson family as well.
Top 3 Favorite Moments
1. Peggy pretending to be Alice's acting coach when she locked herself in the bathroom at school.
2. The flashbacks to their previous relationship, especially the one on her birthday
3. Alice and Elliott's conversation about Peggy after Alice learns about their relationship.
4. (bonus) Peggy, Bel, Sage, Elliott, and Alice heading to Kyler Tate's farm to save it
5. (bonus) Elliott's speech when changing Peggy's tire
6. (bonus) Elliott and Peggy's date in the cave
7. (bonus) When winning the football game, Elliott hugging his daughter and apologizing, promising to be a better father.
8. (bonus) Elliott's speech and proposal
Where to Buy
Peggy: "Elliott. You look exactly the same."
Elliot: "Three years isn't all that long."
Peggy: "No. I guess not. It was long enough for them to put a giant statue of you at the entrance. I bet you hate it, don't you?"
Elliott: "Yes. They could have waited until I was dead or retired."
Peggy: "When it comes to you, I don't think those things are mutually exclusive. Anyway, they already think you're a God, so your immortality is a reasonably assumption."
When she took a step closer, he almost dropped the clipboard. In favor of staving her off or yanking her closer? He had no idea. But she only lifted a finger, trailing the smooth pad across the seam of his lips.
Peggy: "The sculptor didn't get your mouth right, though. It's much more generous, isn't it?"
Elliott snagged her wrist and her eyes lit with challenge.
Peggy: "Or maybe the sculptor just hasn't experienced it the way I have."
Peggy: "I've seen you watching me."
He froze, a muscle leaping in his cheek.
Elliott: "You were mistaken."
Peggy: "No. I wasn't. I'm not. You don't have to feel ashamed about it. Not now."
His fists planted on either side of her head with a bash, shaking the lockers, then his face hovered mere inches away.
Elliott: "What would you know about shame?"
Peggy: "I know the last six months were awful for you. They would be so hard for anyone. But especially you, because you carry everyone on your back. The whole school lives for Saturdays. If you'll win or lose."
His brow furrowed, his scrutiny so intense, she wondered how her legs kept from giving out. They must have moved closer without realizing, because the tips of Peggy's breasts grazed Elliott's chest and he groaned.
Elliott: "You ... You don't know anything about me, Peggy."
Her pulse went haywire. The wordless communication hasn't been imaginary. Those hard eyes really had been speaking to her. It was the way he said Peggy. As though he'd tested her name on his tongue a million times.
Peggy: "You know my name."
Elliott: "I shouldn't. Damn you." he grated, pressing closer, so she could feel he'd been affected below the belt. Very affected.
Peggy: "You only mean that half the time. And I do know things about you. You have a different coaching style for each player based on their strengths and weaknesses. When they changed the coffee lids in the campus coffee shop, you kept ripping off the extra little flap until finally you started drinking without the lid. Because you hate anything loose or unnecessary, don't you? I can tell your mood by the way you watch me on certain days, because I watch you , too. Sometimes you're damning me. The rest of the time, you're wondering what I'd feel like -"
Peggy: "Or if I'd let you. I would. I am."
Peggy: "You don't have to be ... faultless with me. Not right now."
Elliott: "Which way do I have to be?"
Alice: "So. You really know how to make a situation about you, huh?"
Peggy's burst of laughter felt like a balloon popping inside her ribcage.
Peggy: "You're pretty funny, Alice."
Peggy: "Alice is terrific. When she says hurtful things to you, she's just being twelve. I said them to my mom. My mom said them to hers, too. She's going to be fine. You're doing fine."
Peggy: "Am I being recruited? 'Cause I would look insanely hot in football pants. Boom. Ticket sales through the roof."
Elliott: "This is why plans and execution are so important."
She tucked her hands beneath her chin and gave him and exaggerated, starry-eyed look.
Peggy: "Tell me more."
Elliott: "Yes, I'm sure you're spellbound."
Elliott: "Maybe I'm punished when I deviate from my path. In fact, I'm certain I am."
Peggy: "Seeing me hurt is punishment?"
Elliott: "Yes. It is."
Peggy: "What's wrong?"
Elliott: "I've never ... I've probably bandaged a thousand injuries, but never one on a woman."
Peggy: "It's the same procedure. Leg-wise, at least. If I had a compound boobie fracture, we'd be shit out of luck."
Peggy: "I love my mother more than anything in the world. I tell her constantly. And if she died tomorrow, I would still have a million regrets. It's natural, Elliott."
Peggy: "Ten Our Fathers and seven Hail Mary's. That ought to make up for how many times you've thought of fucking me today."
Peggy: "No one will know. Touch them. Be as rough as you want. I remember what you like. How you like to get mad at my body. Frustrated at it for making you want something natural."
Elliott: "Nothing natural about what we did. You made me behave like a beast. Some of the ways I took you ... some of the places ..."
Elliott: "Did you come back here to make my life hell, Peggy? Answer me honestly. Because you're succeeding."
Peggy: "You always did equate me with hell, didn't you?"
Peggy: "You didn't know I was an unattached woman when you had me against the wall. That's called coveting, isn't it?"
That torturing finger dragged lower and traced the outline of his erection, bottom to top.
Peggy: "Better get inside and confess your sins."
Peggy: "He's kind of a big deal around here."
Sage: "Well I don't care if he crowned King Arthur, he's dead to me if he's the one who hurt my best friend."
Peggy: "You're a little bloodthirsty, aren't you, Sage? It's always the quiet ones."
Kyler: "Football isn't all anyone does. It's mortar, but it isn't the bricks."
Peggy: "One thrust."
Elliott's hand came out of nowhere, molding over Peggy's mouth as his hips crowded the notch of her legs. With a quick maneuver to recline her halfway back, Elliott's erection found the apex of her thighs, delivering an aggressive pump against her underwear that sent a scream climbing up Peggy's throat, only to be trapped by his hand. Knees jerking up out of reflex over the rush of sensation, an orgasm almost - almost - broke past the surface, sending her waters rippling out on all sides. Her legs wanted to hug Elliott's waist, her voice wanted to beg for one more, one more, one more, but he shook his head, denying her, even though his gaze was hot, a low groan issuing from his harshly masculine mouth. He leaned in and nipped the lobe of her ear.
Elliott: "Next time, ask for two."
Peggy: "God, you can be an asshole. I guess that was payback for daring to enter your office without swearing fealty to the Kingmaker."
Elliott: "You think I like seeing you disappointed? You think I ever liked being the one who let you down? I fucking don't. I hate it."
Elliott: "I think you've been the one rescuing me for months. No one can look me in the eye since it happened. Just you. I depend on those eyes of yours most days."
Peggy: "Tell me something good you did today."
She rubbed their lips together and hunger riddled his guy. Maybe even some resentment toward Peggy for making him feel so much.
Elliott: "I ... I left practice to bring her a happy meal."
Her lips curved.
Peggy: "Chicken nuggets?
He grunted a yes and her laugh tickled his mouth.
Peggy: "Start making her lunch at night, so it'll be there waiting in the morning. That's what my mother used to do. Mornings are a bitch, even for the Kingmaker. As for everyone looking at you like you might blow up? They're right.
Slowly, she untangled from him and stepped back, whipped the tank top over her head, leaving herself in nothing but bikini underwear.
Peggy: "So do it here with me where I can put your pieces back together."
Elliott: "You have something to say, little girl?"
Peggy: "You're what a man looks like. You're ... beautiful."
Belmont: "Are you the one?"
Elliott: "The one what?"
Peggy: "Bel, please. Please, don't. Please don't."
Belmont: "You didn't really see her. You're still not really seeing her, so you'll get no sympathy from me. It's going to happen too late, and you'll be nowhere. A goner."
Elliott: "Do you have a game plan?"
Peggy: "This isn't football, Elliott. This is middle school. It's far bloodier."
Elliott: "You're exaggerating."
Peggy: "Were you born an dult or did you manage to wedge a childhood in there?"
Elliott: "I assume you don't want an answer."
Peggy: "Ooooh. You're so condescending sometimes. It's even in the way you look at people."
Elliott: "I don't have a mirror, Peggy, but I'm pretty damn sure that's not how I look at you."
Peggy: "No. You look at me like a dieter ogling chocolate cake. But you should know something."
Elliott: "What's that?"
Peggy: "Even the most dedicated dieter eventually takes a bite."
Peggy: "Malice Alice. Your rescue has arrived."
Alice: "I heard you from in here. Are you from another planet or something? Oh God, there's no way they bought that."
Peggy: "Yeah, there's a pretty good chance some of them didn't. But I think your pops is tidying up any loose ends."
Alice: "I can't believe he's here."
Peggy: "Did you think he wouldn't come?"
Alice: "I don't know. But I've been in here for, like, ten hours. No way I can come out now."
Peggy: "Yes, you can. Tomorrow there will be something else for them to gossip about . Maybe we can even frame someone as a diversion tactic."
Alice: "Chess Club Moonlights as Strippers. The middle school paparazzi will eat it up."
Peggy: "You're a funny kid, Alice."
Peggy: "When I was in middle school, I worried about things like my hair and brand names and ... okay, I still worry about things like that. But you're different."
Alice: "That's the problem."
Peggy: "No, it's not. You're already looking back on this day with an adult perspective, aren't you? The way you talked about what's-her-name ... Kim Steinberg -"
Alice: "Oh my God. Lower your voice or she's going to hear you."
Peggy: "Ooh, sorry. But seriously, that's the kind of outlook I never had going to me. Not many people do. You know middle school isn't where life ends, but you're living in the moment kind of grudgingly anyway. You're going to make the ultimate adult."
Peggy turned to Belmont with a how-am-I-doing expression, but her only shrugged.
Peggy: "Go out there and take it all in, Alice. Laugh about it and move on. There are bigger and better things ahead for you. Like the best ice-breaker story ever. Some dopey ex-cheerleader pretended to be your acting coach while you lived in the bathroom for an afternoon. Plus? Chess club strippers."
Alice: "Who i-is that?"
Peggy: "That's your bodyguard. Bel?"
Peggy nudged her brother with an elbow. He nodded at Alice and stepped aside, indicating she should lead the way.
Belmont: "After you?"
Alice: "Whoa. I wouldn't mind him being one of the bigger and better things ahead. I just said that out loud, didn't I?"
Peggy: "Elliott. What are you doing here?"
Elliott: "I wanted to be where you are. Can't stay away."
Peggy: "Come on."
Peggy: "Go to hell."
Elliott: "I've been there. I won property in it."
Elliott: "I was at the bottom of the ocean. Everything was dark ... and then Peggy showed up. She was the surface. And I finally saw something to kick toward. I know that doesn't mark sense -"
Alice: "Keep going. Just keep going."
Elliott: "Peggy. She, uh ... looked at me and saw things I didn't know were there. And she didn't judge me for them. That's a rare thing among adults. She was selfless while I was selfish. I could say things to her no one else understood. But she already knew what I was going to say."
Alice: "Did you have that with Mom?"
Elliott: "No. And I'm sorry about it, Alice."
She nodded and seemed to collect herself.
Alice: "Did you do the same for Peggy? Could she tell you things?"
Elliott: "Some of the time. The thing about Peggy is, she doesn't let you know when she needs you. Not until you've already missed your chance. Mostly I took what she gave me and squandered it."
Alice looked away, but not before he saw horror pass over her features. Horror he was gratified to see, because he damn well deserved it.
Alice: "Sometimes I say things because I'm upset and I don't mean them, like, two seconds later. Do you have that?"
Elliott: "Everyone has that. Especially in our bloodline. You'll apologize to her."
Alice: "Yeah. What about you? Have you apologized to her for ... the squandering?"
Elliott: "It's too late. I'd only make it worse."
Alice: "You're probably right. It's too late."
Alice finally murmured, picking up the remote control and flipping on the television. Animal Planet hummed at a low volume while he hoped for her to continue, but she took her sweet time.
Alice: "She's way out of your league anyway."
Elliott barked out a laugh, sending Alice jumping a good few inches into the air.
Belmont: "Being here is bad for you, Peggy, I can see it. I want to pack you both up and go."
Peggy: "That sounds like you want to stuff us inside your suitcase."
Peggy: "I met this guy today - a football player - and there was just something good about him. He needs help."
Belmont laid a hand on the crown of her head, banishing the remaining chill with which she'd walked back into the hotel.
Belmont: "This is you, Peggy. This is what the right man will see."
Elliott: "You're making my chest hurt."
Elliott: "The way you're sitting there ... the sun making your skin glow. Looking at you makes me want to forget everything else and never stop. Every time I'm with you, I come closer to giving in. Setting aside my responsibilities so I can spend more time looking and listening to each and every damn word out of your mouth. Every time."
Peggy: "You don't have to set anything aide, you can just shift them a little. I'm short. I'll fit.
Peggy: "Childish? You're the one too afraid to admit what's really scaring you."
Elliott: "Enlighten me."
Peggy: "You're scared of feeling anything you on't understand. I might be childish, but you're a fucking coward."
Aaron: "Jesus, Peggy. This is about a road hookup?"
Peggy: "No! Not a hookup. And by the way, you'd be one to talk. I seem to remember freezing my ass off in the woods last week to help build Grace's memorial."
Aaron: "Fair point. Continue."
Peggy: "Could you give Bel a call sometime soon, maybe?"
Aaron: "Is something wrong?"
Peggy: "I don't know. Maybe. I just think he needs to speak to another man. About stuff."
Aaron: "My excitement knows no bounds."
Alice: "Maybe you should go see if they need help."
Elliott: "Yes. I'm just trying to get it together first."
Alice: "You shouldn't. I mean, if I were a girl -"
Elliott: "A woman, then. Like Peggy. I wouldn't want a guy to hide it ... if her didn't have it together. You should just go. Even if you're sweating and that vein is standing out way more than usual."
He heaved a cut-off laugh.
Elliott: "God above, you're fucking gorgeous, Peggy. I know people tell you all the time - which I really don't like to consider too much - but I don't think I've ever said it. Not once. And that's a crime, because you've got the kind of beauty that ties me up in eight different knots. It's the way you straighten your spine ever time you're presented with a problem. How your eyes go wet and soft over things like people losing their farms. Your stubbornness, your willpower, your sense of humor. It's all of you."
Peggy: "What is this? What are you doing?"
Elliott: "Telling you what I see. Saying the things I should have said the first time you came to me in that locker room."
Elliott: "Tell me baby. I want to hear everything you've been keeping in your head, because I was too stupid to ask."
Peggy: "You made me into a sin. When I look at you, I see the word Alice called me last night."
Elliott: "No. No, don't say that. Tell me that's not true. I knew it was bad, but Jesus, not ... not that."
Elliott: "When I got your wedding invitation - that deal with the yellow flowers, pink butterflies, and some other son-of-a-bitch's name - the date had already passed. Two weeks earlier."
Peggy: "You're lying."
Elliott: "I broke my hand punching the hallway wall. I couldn't feel the pain, though. I couldn't feel or hear anything over the sound of every damn thing inside me dying. And that's how I stayed."
Elliott: "You've moved on from me. I acknowledge that - and I'm proud of you for seeing me for the asshole I am. But I'm fighting for my life here. So you're going to tolerate me just a little while longer, understand? I'm not moving. Not until everything is out in the open, all of it, and you can be the one to look me in the eye ... and tell me nothing here is worth saving."
Elliott: "I didn't know what to do with you, Peggy. I couldn't handle the way you made me so happy, when I wanted so badly to feel like garbage. I thought being alone was my due. And you kept just coming and coming, so I fought. I kept on fighting while you were a country away, and I'll regret not going after you for the rest of my pitiful life. But I'll be damned before I let it happen again without tell you."
Peggy: "Telling me what?"
Elliott: "Before you walked into the locker room that day, before you directed a single fucking word at me, I'd fallen for you. I had wanted you and needed you. And I never stopped. I'll never stop."
Elliott: "Will you remember something for me?"
Peggy: "I don't know."
He pressed their foreheads together, steadying her, despite how hard she wished the opposite.
Elliott: "I'm the whore, Peggy."
When she jerked with a gasp, he caged her in, keeping their gazes locked.
Elliott: 'I'm the one that gave my body and nothing else. You gave everything and I wasn't wise enough to accept the best part. Your heart. So when you look at me and hear that filthy word, remember who owns the title."
Elliott: "You haven't apologized to her yet."
Alice: "Yeah, well, you've kind of been hogging her. Taking off your shirt and changing tires. I didn't want to steal your weird thunder."
Somehow, even though Elliott was still reeling over Peggy's revelation back on the roadside, he managed a smile over Alice's mini rant.
Elliott: "Do you think she's not going to forgive you?"
Alice: "I don't know. I was kind of waiting to see if she forgave you first. Is she ... going to?"
Elliott: "I'm going to do everything in my power to make that happen."
Alice: "And then what? Say she does let you off the hook. Are you going to have the new mommy talk with me?"
Elliott: "Your advice back there ... letting Peggy see that I didn't have it together. It got me into her head, so I know what I'm up against. What else you got?"
Alice: "Are you asking me for chick advice?"
Elliott: "No. All right, maybe I am."
Kyler: "And that pretty blond number over there is Coach's girlfriend, only neither of them seemed too keen on the idea. Seemed to be some animosity floating in the air, so don't say nothing about it."
Elliott: "I'm keen on it now."
Peggy: "I don't know how I feel about this ... transformation."
Elliott: "We can figure it out together."
Elliott: "Now you listen up and you listen good. I'm sure your mama is real proud of you for wearing a suit and a Boy Scout haircut to work every day, but she ain't here. It's just you and me. And my growing irritation. Which is something you really don't want to provoke. You're not taking away this family's livelihood, just do you have a good story to tell your same-haircut-wearing, jerk-off buddies tonight over mojitos or whatever the fuck the world's biggest asshole are drinking nowadays. So here's what you're going to do, unless you intend to go through me."
O'Leary pointed over at the cop, his mouth opening on what was sure to be a stammer.
Elliott: "He isn't going to help you. didn't you hear he went to school with Mrs. Tate? There's loyalty there you'll never understand. But if you don't get back in your pre-midlife crisis of a car and burn rubber back to Mama's house, we'll test that loyalty and see who comes out on top. Or you can reschedule for tomorrow and avoid anything unpleasant. And it would get unpleasant. That;s the kind of man I am. What about you?"
O'Leary: "Fine. You have one day."
Jess: "Kyler, you said Coach and Peggy were a couple."
Kyler: "I also said not to say anything about it. Just let them sleep where they want, Mom."
Jess: "Fine enough. They're mighty interesting pair, is all."
Elliott: "She's the interesting one. I'm lucky she every looked twice at me. Trying to figure out how to make her do it again."
Peggy: “I wish I could have shown my mother I was … more.”
Elliott: “More than what, baby? You’re a goddamn wonder.”
Elliott: “I’m willing to stake everything that she saw what I refused to see. Because if she could raise someone as amazing as you, he must have been a wise woman.”
Peggy: “Here’s some advice. Lower your expectations for adults. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing, either. We might look older, but we’re still thinking and agonizing over our own version of locking ourselves in the school bathroom. I shouldn’t have been kissing your dad. I should never have kissed him in the first place. And there’s a chance it’ll happen again.”
Peggy: “Because none of us are perfect? Because sometimes your heart gets the drop on your head? I don’t know, Alice. Take your pick.”
Alice: “I was supposed to be the angry one. You kind of stole my thunder.”
Peggy: *laughs* “Yeah, huh? Sorry. It’s your turn now.”
Sage: “I plan weddings because … when I was a child, I snuck into a wedding back home in … back home in the South. And it was the first beautiful thing I’d ever seen before that day. And it was the last beautiful thing I saw for a really long time.”
Elliott: “No one ran it by me.”
Kyler: “Feminism says they didn’t have to.”
Elliott: “You’re kind of a smart-ass, aren’t you, Tate? How come it took me four years to notice?”
Kyler: “We never talked off the field or outside the locker room until now, ‘cept that one time in your office.”
Elliott: “Well. We’re talking now and you’re just pissing me off.”
Elliott: “The Bible refers to that as deception.”
Kyler: “Here in Indiana, we refer to it as good business.”
Kyler: “Do I have to write you instructions for this date? Tell her she looks good.”
Elliott: “You should start dreaded your first practice back.”
Elliott hesitated a moment, before yanking out his wallet with a curse and removing one of his credit cards. Lowering his voice, he handed the plastic to Kyler.
Elliott: “I don’t care how much you have to spend, the date with Peggy is mine.”
Kyler’s laughter followed him into the house, leaving Elliott alone with Peggy on the porch. Exactly where he wanted to be.
Elliott: “I like your hair like that. If you let me kiss you, getting a your nack is going to be easy.”
Peggy: “Seduction is usually reserved for the end of the date”
Elliott narrowed his eyes, pretty sure she’d heard Kyler’s offer to give instructions on the way into the house.
Elliott: “I don’t need a couple of smug twenty-somethings telling me how to go on a date.”
Peggy: “Are you sure about that? We’re a long way from the nineties. Maybe you’ll make me a mix tape afterward.”
He reached down and took her hand, holding tighter when her smile wobbled.
Elliott: “If you’re still around afterward, I’ll make you a million of them.”
Peggy: “I can’t think when you’re looking at me like that.”
Elliott: “Can’t help it. I never could. But I’m seeing so fucking much now, I’m just trying to take in as much as I can.”
Peggy: “Elliott Brooks. You’re going to have one doozy of a confession this week.”
Elliott: “Right now, you’re the only one I care about confessing to.”
Peggy: “If we’re attacked by cave people, don’t suggest we split up to find the exit, okay? That’s when people start to die.”
Elliott: “I’ll agree to that if you pretend to be just a little scared. I have to get to second base tonight to make up for the street cred I’m not earning.”
Peggy: “Oh, there’s a whole manly point system in play? I had no idea.”
Elliott: “Now you do.”
Peggy: “Now I do. Quick tour of the cave, Elliott. Then you take me somewhere and hit a grand slam.”
A low growl from the depths of his throat.
Elliott: “Football coaches usually hate baseball metaphors.”
He took her hand, bringing it to his mouth to French-kiss her palm.
Elliott: “But I’m getting over it.”
Peggy: “So selfless.”
Elliott’s fingers trailed down from her hair, over her collarbone and hip. Lower. Until he cupped his warm hand against the juncture of here thighs.
Elliott: “You have no idea how selfless I need to be tonight.”
Bending down to swirl his tongue in the hollow of her neck.
Elliott: “You’re going to have to tap out when you’ve had enough of me eating you.”
Elliott: “Good girl. Practice my name now.”
Peggy: “You still carry the rosary beads.”
Peggy: “When we broke up, you said when you looked at me, you saw your own guilt. Your sins. Are you sure you don’t feel that way now?”
Remembering the shocked horror on her face when he’d said those words, he wanted to roar his anguish.
Elliott: “What I said that day was the wrong half of the truth, Peggy. I was guilty, yes. I’d been absent when my family needed me. I still haven’t been good enough for Alice. If you’d come along later, the shit in my head might not have dragged you down with it. We’ll never know. But after feeling … less for the person I failed, then falling straight into crazy for you right afterward, I couldn’t accept what you made me feel without the guilt. So I fought it. It’s no excuse for driving you away. Jesus, I’ll want to take back that day for the rest of my life. But I need you to understand, the failure was mine. You didn’t deserve any part of it.”
Elliott: “You’ve always had every single part of me. Good and bad. From here on out, I’m going to make sure it’s so much damn good, Peggy. Try and trust me.”
Peggy: “This one I can’t really be blamed for. He proposed to me in front of his mom on our third date. She was videotaping the whole thing. I couldn’t say no.”
Elliott: “No. That would have been too hard for someone with a good heart like you.”
Peggy: “The way this little ceremony is hard for you?”
Elliott: “I just listened to the woman who rules me – mind and body – list her ex-fiances. Nothing is this hard.”
Elliott: “You’re a fucking work of art, Peggy. Head to toe.”
He reached out, but instead of touching her breast as expected, he laid his palm flat over her heart.
Elliott: “And this is the best damn part right here. I need you to let me in.”
Were her knees still shaking against the furniture’s wooden edge from the orgasm or his gesture? She didn’t know. Didn’t know. But she couldn’t seem to form words, pressure expanding inside her ribs until she worried she might pop like a balloon. She opened her mouth and nothing by a hum emerged. Elliott lunged forward, obliterating the space between them. His lips interlocked with hers, but didn’t kiss.
Elliott: “Not ready yet? Okay. Okay.”
His voice ripe with … everything. Lust. Intensity. She heard his pants unzip and her anxious wheeze, brought on by the metallic reminder that he hasn’t even been inside her yet. The tearing of the condom wrapper.
Elliott: “I’ll fuck you until you’re too weak to fight what we both know is here between us. Still. Here. Never left. Never lost strength.”
Elliott: “Hey. You get back here to me right now, Peggy. I’m going to drown without you, and you know it. You can feel that if you’re not right here with me, I’m going to slide under the surface. Can’t you? Don’t leave me.”
Peggy: “Elliott. Tell me …”
Elliott: “Tell you what? Let’s hear it, baby. I want to know everything that goes through your head when you’ve got me inside your tight pussy.”
Peggy: “Tell me you missed me.”
Elliott’s head snapped up, his gaze homing in on her, disbelief crackling like a fireplace fire in his expression. Before Peggy could draw a bracing breath, Elliott jerked her off the bureau and walked her toward the bed, laying her down in the center and coming down on top of her, muscle pressing softness, without ever withdrawing from her body. The gravity of his weight on top of her was divine, an although she could tell he was poised to say something, she could also sense his inability to keep from pumping deep into her body and staying there, stretching her as she gasped.
Elliott: “Miss you?”
He grated the incredulous question, dropping his mouth to her temple.
Elliott: “You left me without a soul. I can barely remember the days since you left. They passed without me feeling a single thing. Because you are feeling for me. You’re the only thing that keeps me from being numb. Twice in my life you’ve turned me back into a living, breathing man, and missing you … missing you, Peggy, doesn’t begin to cover it. You revive me.”
Peggy: “Aren’t you worried I’ll break you?”
Elliott: “You could. You might.”
Elliott: “If you never left again, I would still spend the rest of my life missing you. The missing of you over three years … it overflowed and I’ll be wading through it forever.”
Elliott: “I’m sorry. I’m going to do better, okay?”
Alice: “Okay, me too. Me too.”
Elliott: “Good evening.”
You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium as Elliott adjusted the microphone, creating a squeal of feedback.
Elliott: “Sorry. I don’t use these things too often. Usually I just yell.”
Player: “And we listen!”
Elliott: “I love a woman. I … love a woman.”
A tingling started in the top of her head and rioted down, making her nerve endings pulse. If there had been a free chair nearby, she would have fallen into it, but there was nothing but her trembling legs to hold her up. So she just stood there, like a newborn deer, while the crows whispered, their heads swiveling around to find the unknown woman the Kingmaker referred to.
Elliott: “These lights are so damn bright, I can’t tell if she’s here. Or if she left me again. I earned this uncertainty though. So I’m going to live with it and hope she’s somewhere out there hearing me. I wrote a speech about seizing the moment and making sure you let your loved ones know how you feel, but all that just makes me sound like a hypocrite. And I won’t be a hypocrite on top of a fool. A fool is the kind of man who pushes away someone who makes him laugh. Makes him think. Makes him want to try harder and love harder and live harder. Live at all. That’s what Peggy Clarkson did for me. Twice in my life. Twice more than I earned. And this heart she woke up inside me loves her. It’ll beat for her until it stops altogether.”
An object shoved at the back of her knees. She prayed it was a chair as she fell into it, encountering the familiar, elusive squeeze of Belmont’s hand on her shoulder before it was gone. Emotion gathered in her throat and refused to be swallowed or cleared away. Through the shimmering cloak of tears in her eyes, she absently registered the looked in her direction, coming from several ex-cheerleaders … and Kyler. Kyler was right there, smiling knowingly at a nearby table, but the time it took to notice those things was too long. She needed Elliott.
Elliott: “I’ve made some mistakes. With my family. With my Peggy. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. So I’m not going to continue as I have been. I’m not going to ask the woman I need in my life to make changes without giving her anything in return. I need her to know I’m real. That I know what’s important, and I’m going to fight to make her happy. Harder than I’ve ever fought to win a football game. Harder than I fought to push her away. I’ll be taking a leave of absence next season. I have a daughter I don’t know well enough, and someday, she’ll stop caring one way or another. Then there’s the matter of the woman I love. I need to build her happiness into my life and keep it there permanently. I’d trade away every game, every championship, to make that happen. So if she’s here –“
Peggy: “I’m here.”
Peggy: “I still loved you when I got here. I love you now. Forever.”
Elliott: “Enough to marry me, Peggy?”
He stepped back and searched her face with eyes full of relief, adoration, and the remnants of possible loss. Then he fell to his knees and removed a ring box from his pants pocket, offering it up to her as the audience whistled and applauded, cell phones flashing.
Penny: “Is that why you were late?” She half laughed, half sobbed.
His nod was solemn.
Elliott: “I wasn’t showing up here without every single thing you deserve. Marry me, Peggy. Marry … us.”
Peggy: “Does she want me?”
Peggy’s legs turned to jelly and she went down to the ground, kneeling in front of Elliott … and holding out her finger.
Peggy: “A year off, huh? What are we going to do?”
He slid the ring onto her finger and crushed her into his embrace, laying a kiss full of promise on her mouth.
Elliott: “We’re going to make up for the last three and plan the next thirty.”
Peggy: “Sounds good to me, Coach. That was one amazing speech.”
Elliott: “Get used to them.”
Elliott: “Lord, you don’t stop getting prettier, do you?”
Elliott: “If buying flowers is why you were late, they better have magical powers. I was about to send out a search party.”
Peggy: “Let’s say they do have magical powers. What would you wish for?”
Elliott: “A thousand years of you. I wouldn’t even have to think about it.”
Belmont picking up the phone
Aaron: “I miss you, too.”
Aaron: “How are things with Sage?”
Belmont: “I don’t know. I’m just trying to keep from touching her the wrong way.”
Aaron: “What’s the wrong way, Bel?”
Belmont: “Any way I touch her would be wrong. I’m wrong.”
Aaron: “This. You’re wrong about this.”
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