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Bear Meets Girl (Pride #7)(68)

By:Shelly Laurenston

Crush figured that. He could tell Cella would kill a micromanaging boss in his or her sleep.
“Do you think he’ll pay you well?”
“Extraordinarily well.”
“Have a problem about you working with KZS?”
“He hasn’t so far.”
“Respect you as an equal?”
“He already does.”
“Give you free rein on how you manage the team and its resources?”
She sighed. “Yeah. He will.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Finally, Cella admitted, “I didn’t want to look too eager to take this coaching job. My agent would have killed me if I’d looked too eager.”
“That’s valid. What about the rest of the team?”
“They’re not supposed to know yet about Reynolds, but someone must have leaked something because since Van Holtz talked to me I’ve gotten twelve e-mails begging me to take the job, eighteen texts, and more damn flowers. And then there’s Novikov, who for an entire day called me every hour on the hour, ordering me to take the job or he wouldn’t be responsible for what he did to the hillbilly, which I assume meant Reed.” Cella looked off and said, “He’s a little obsessive, that guy.” 
“Ya think?”
“Aren’t you friends now?”
“Apparently. Not sure how I feel about that, though. I mean on one hand, here’s the player I really admire and like as a human being, and when you’re talking to him one-on-one, he’s really interesting. But while I was having lunch with him one day last week, I watched him take thirty minutes just to properly set his new watch. There seems to be a whole process involved. It was weird.”
“God.” Cella dropped her elbows on the table and cupped her chin in the palms of her hands. “So much change.”
“I know.”
“And my daughter informed me last night that now that she’s made the final and unshakable decision to stay with the family and go to school locally, I should understand that it’s time for me to move out on my own so that I won’t cramp her studying schedule.”
“You and your daughter have the oddest discussions.”
“She’s afraid I’m going to push her to go to frat parties and socially network.”
“You will.”
“Of course, I will.”
“You know,” Crush began, seeing his opportunity, “if you want to try this moving out thing without worrying about making a big decision too soon, you can, ya know ... hang out at my house for a while.”
Cella smirked. “Oh, really?”
“Just something to think about. No pressure. No ties that bind. Just you, hanging out at my house, coming and going as you like.”
“Like a feral cat that lives under your deck?”
“I wouldn’t have used that particular analogy, but okay.”
“What about Lola?”
“She tolerates you well enough. And I’m still—”
“Looking for her forever home. Right. Sure.”
“It’s just a casual offer that shouldn’t make you panic in the least.”
“Uh-huh. So we’d be pretend living together?”
“Exactly. We can even start tonight since Meghan is flying to Israel for the second wedding. So you can see if staying at my place works for you in a completely non-pushy way.”
“Cats hate pushy.”
Cella shrugged. “Yeah. I guess I could give it a try.”
“Okay. Sounds good.”
They sat silently for several long minutes until Crush said, “Cella?”
“I guess I should tell you ... I’m in love with you.”
“Pretend in love with me?”
“No, smart-ass. Really, seriously, madly in love with you. Borderline desperate but with enough personal fortitude to keep it under control.”
“Oh. Okay.” They fell silent again, Crush glad he’d gotten that off his chest. But it was when he looked over his shoulder to see if he could figure out which doorway led to the men’s bathroom that he felt Cella Malone suddenly rub her head over his arm and across the left side of his face and neck.
By the time he’d turned back around, she was sitting in her chair, staring straight ahead, composed and completely unruffled.
“Did you just rub up against me?”
She blinked, looking at him as if he’d suddenly appeared. “Huh?”
“I said did you just mark me?”
She pursed her lips, shrugged her shoulders, and finally started blaming everyone else in the room.“Look, if I’m going to stay at your house for the next couple of ... whatever, I just thought it was prudent to make sure I warned off all these bitches who’ve been circling you since the reception started.”
“It’s temporary.”
“Just making sure things are clear.”
“Of course, you are, brave Malone of the traveling Malones.”
“All right fine!” she snapped. “I’m in love with you. There. I said it. Now get over yourself.”
“You know, I think those are the words written on the Taj Mahal: ‘I said it. Now get over yourself.’ Some of the greatest love stories have started with those words.”
Cella laughed so hard that Crush finally lifted her up and placed her in his lap, his arms loose around her waist.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I panicked. Besides, are you supposed tell a guy you love him when you’re at your daughter’s father’s wedding? And you’re not saying it to your daughter’s father?”
“I think it would only be wrong if he wasn’t actually marrying someone else. So I think morally, you’re in the clear.”
“You do understand that no matter where I go, the Malones will always be part of it?”
“Like a wolf pack?”
She shuddered. “If you need some words to describe it, at least use, like, a lion pride or something.”
“That’s fine and, yes, I know that. Just as you know every once in a while, you’ll have to beat up my brothers when they break into the house.”
“Since I enjoy doing that, I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Crush pressed his forehead against Cella’s. “Then I figure the rest we’ll work out as we go along.”
“Then I’m in,” she promised, her eyes closing, her body relaxing into his. “And I really do love you, Crush. I really do.”
“And can I just say, thank God,” Crush murmured into Cella’s ear. “Thank God, I can’t handle Jell-O shots.”
And her explosive laughter made everything for Lou Crushek absolutely perfect.