Authors: Michelle Brewer
Anna didn’t say it, but for some reason, she really doubted that.
From just the few brief glimpses she’d gotten of the real Drew Whitman, she was pretty sure he cared a lot more than he let on.
“And on that note—I should probably get out of here.
If I leave now, I can probably break at least one heart tonight.”
She rolled her eyes as she opened the door and exited the car.
Drew tossed her the keys as soon as she approached his side of the vehicle.
“Thanks for the ticket.”
“Oh, no problem.
If you’re concerned about paying me back for it, I just wanted to make it clear—I
accept sexual favors.
You know, in case you were still interested.”
Maybe she hadn’t been as wrong as she’d thought, and she shook her head at him once more.
“I’m as sober as they come, Drew.
Which means the odds aren’t really stacked in your favor.
“Hey, just thought I’d offer.”
He grinned wickedly as he backed toward his SUV, parked in the street.
“Good night, Annabelle.”
“Good night, Drew.”
He waited until she was inside the house before he got into his vehicle.
And as Anna readied herself for bed, she couldn’t deny the anticipation she felt at the thought of her next encounter with Drew Whitman.
It was nice to have a friend around.
He was an idiot.
Actually, Drew corrected himself, he was
He was approaching a level of stupidity he’d never thought possible of himself.
There were several things about last night that he was displeased about.
None more than asking her that stupid question, though.
to know that she had thought he’d rejected her because he didn’t
And, more to the point, she didn’t need to know that he
No, that was beyond the realm of friendship stuff.
He wasn’t very familiar with all the rules of the whole platonic thing, but that much, he was sure about.
He tried to tell himself that it wasn’t a big deal—that, really, he was just doing this as a favor to Jeff, and it didn’t actually mean anything to him.
Except that he couldn’t lie to himself, as much as he wished he could.
He enjoyed Anna’s company.
He enjoyed spending time with her—he liked it when she smiled at him, or when she gave him a hard time.
It was nice—having a friend.
Jeff had pretty much been Drew’s closest friend for as long as he could remember, and he’d never been to keen on letting anyone else in.
He was sure it had something to do with all of those Daddy-never-loved-me issues he’d had yet to work through, but it hadn’t really bothered him until lately.
He was lonely—and he was pretty sure he had been for awhile now.
In a vain attempt to cast his thoughts away, he reached forward and turned the radio up to near max volume and drummed his hands along the wheel.
He tried to focus on the morning ahead of him—he was sure he would take a little bit of a beating for taking a girl to the game before the show started, but then a good deal of his work day would be spent lamenting the Bengals’ loss yesterday.
They would discuss the plays in detail, and he would inevitably bring up the cheerleaders.
He wondered if he should bring up Anna and her silly questions.
It had been so cute, watching her stand there, biting her lip as she watched the field.
He could see the wheels turning, but he didn’t dare offer her any information until she asked for it, remembering what Jeff had told him a couple of weeks ago.
No, he decided, Anna was off limits.
In several ways, actually.
In fact, he returned to his earlier train of thought, maybe it was best if he just kept his distance…
Cut his losses, before he had the chance to muck it all up anyway.
But a few hours later, during a commercial break, his phone vibrated in his pocket and when he pulled it out, a smile immediately sprung to his lips.
I’m not sure it would be fair to burden you with
cost of the amount of caffeine I require.
Lunch time okay?
just a beat, he quickly typed out another.
I’ll be there.
And he sighed as he accepted his fate.
It really was too late for him to go back now.
As promised, a few hours later, he walked through the doors of the community center, waving to the girl at the desk and heading straight down the hallway that would take him to Anna’s office.
She smiled warmly at him as she opened the door, holding her arm out as if to invite him in.
“I hope you don’t mind…but I couldn’t show up empty handed.”
Drew held up a box that contained a small variety of donuts.
“I’m going to have to go on a diet if I keep you around much longer.”
He rolled his eyes dramatically in her direction.
“I couldn’t remember if it was one or two sugars.”
She told him, offering him a very warm mug.
He had smelled the freshly brewed coffee the moment he’d walked into her office.
“The fact that you remembered sugar at all is enough for me.
A woman after my own heart.”
Drew brought the cup to his chest as he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.
When he opened them again, Anna was sitting on her desk, shaking her head at him.
if I didn’t know better, Drew—I’d think you were flirting with me.”
“I flirt with everything, Annabelle.
Don’t let it go to your head or anything.”
She raised an eyebrow as she took a drink from her mug.
I flirted with the seventy year-old lady I bought these donuts from.”
“That’s the Drew Whitman I know.
Everything with a skirt.”
Drew felt his cheeks flare slightly—which was odd for him, because he wasn’t really a blusher.
So she must have listened to the show this morning.
have a reputation to uphold, Annabelle.”
The guys had made several references to the fact that he’d met up with some mystery woman at the game.
As much as he claimed it was merely a platonic relationship, they hadn’t let up—unable to believe he was capable of such a thing.
At some point, they’d made a comment about how he was attracted to just about anything in a skirt.
“And you’re doing a superb job of it.”
She leaned forward and took the box of donuts from him before settling back on her desk, her eyes on the pastries.
“So did you buy me coffee just so that you could give me a hard time?
Because you could have saved yourself the money and just sent me a text message.”
“I bought you coffee because I’ve had a crappy morning and I needed a dose of the good-
’ Whitman charm to get me through the rest of the day.”
She finally made her selection and handed the box over with a wry smile.
“The fact that you brought sugar earns you double the points.”
Anna was in the middle of chewing her donut, and so she held out a finger.
Drew took the opportunity to choose one for
, setting the box on the desk beside her and taking a seat in the chair in front of her.
“Just a minor budget crisis is all.”
She waved her hand in the air, as if to brush it off.
“I’ll figure it out.”
He had complete and utter faith in her abilities.
Anna was one of the smartest people he knew, and combined with her ridiculous level of stubbornness—well, there was nothing she couldn’t handle, he was sure of that.
“Well, I thank you for your vote of confidence.”
She grabbed a napkin from somewhere on her desk and wiped at her mouth.
“What are friends for?”
“Speaking of which—you know, I was thinking.
I haven’t even really seen this place yet.”
“You want a tour?”
The shock was evident in her voice.
“Well, if we’re going to be friends, and I like to think that we’ve bonded enough to consider ourselves exactly that—then I should probably see what it is you care about so much, shouldn’t I?”
“Are you messing with me?”
Drew couldn’t help but laugh as he shook his head.
He wasn’t sure if he should be offended that she wouldn’t think he cared enough to see what her life was about.
“Well—I hope you’re ready, then—because this is just about the best community center you’re ever going to lay eyes on, Mr. Whitman.
Allow me to formally welcome you to the
She grinned at him as she hopped off her desk and crossed the room
the door open for him.
They walked out into the hallway he was familiar with.
“This leads down to the gym, which I believe you are fairly accustomed with.”
“There are some very high quality bleachers in there.”
She pointed toward another doorway.
“That’s the kitchen there, which…well, is pretty self-explanatory, so we’ll move on.”
She directed him down the long hallway he’d traveled to get to her office before stepping through a doorway.
It was a very large room that was used for at least three different purposes.
“This is the lounge.
That’s the entertainment center, with an extensive collection of movies, and
There was a large TV on a stand, along with a well-stacked case of movies and games.
Two couches and a large chair surrounded it.
“That’s pretty impressive, actually.
A pretty big improvement from the hand-me-downs you begged off every house on campus.”
“You remember that?”
“I only did the heavy lifting.”
He remembered it very well.
Anna had run around in these adorable cut-off shorts, trying to help him carry everything…
, he reminded himself.
She told him, not helping him with that image issue.
But it looks like you’ve done a lot more since then.”
Drew walked deeper into the room, a row of computers along the opposite wall.
“That’s a recent addition.
It took some convincing, and a lot of candy bars, but we finally got them in here.
A lot of these kids don’t have reliable access at home—I wanted them to have a place to go when they have papers to do or—”
“Social networking to tend to?”
“I was going to say college applications, but social networking probably makes up a lot of the usage, too.
It keeps them out of trouble, though.”
The smile on her face was completely genuine.
“Over here is where the tutoring goes down—I’ve got such a limited staff, but some of the kids from campus volunteer here, so it really helps.
They handle all of the tutoring, and most of the chaperoning too.”
Drew looked around again, imagining how lively this place must be whenever it was packed full of kids.
The walls were filled with posters, drawings, photographs—everything was just so vibrant and…personal.
He could see touches of Anna everywhere he looked.
He thought back to his own childhood, wishing he’d had a place like this to go to.
Instead, he’d participated in as many after-school activities as possible just so that his mom would have one less thing to worry about.
Not that it had done her much good, in the end.
Drew gave a little shake of his head, bringing himself back to the present.
“Honestly, Anna—it seems like you’ve really turned this place around.
Whenever I was here to do all that hard labor, it was just so…depressing.
But you’ve breathed life into it.
Every little detail has a little bit of you in it.”
“Thank you, Drew.
That really means a lot.”
“Oh, I’m just speaking facts.
No need to thank me.”
Anna tilted her head to the side, taking a moment to think.
“Want to see my next project?”
“Why aren’t you already showing me?”
She turned back the way they had come, leading him back toward her office, stopping short just outside her door.
“I want to turn this space into a studio.
There are three offices that are just…sitting there.
This place isn’t run the same way it used to be—these offices used to be held by my boss, and my boss’s boss.
But now, they’re at City Hall, and all of this space is being wasted.”
“Like an art studio?”
Anna nodded emphatically.
“Most of the schools around here have done away with the art program—and I just want these kids to have a creative outlet.
Whether it’s painting, drawing, photography…I want to have it all available.”
“That sounds like a great idea—a
great idea, actually.”
It made perfect sense to him to include something like that here, of all places.
“Well, I’m glad you think so.
But, unfortunately, the higher-ups are a little less willing to provide funding.”