She laughs. “Strangely, it does. But you don’t need to come to my place. I’ll be happy to meet you in the parking lot.”
She pulls away from the curb and I give her a look. “I’m not going to stalk you if you give me your address, Ry. Plus, I’m pretty sure I could get it with one phone call.”
“I don’t doubt you could. You seem to be able to get anything you want, Brady. You lead a charmed life, don’t you?”
My eyes close briefly. “You have no idea how untrue that statement is, Rylee.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” she says, sarcastically. “I mean, your injury aside, you’ve got it made. You make more money in one year than most people make in a lifetime. You’re not exactly bad looking. You have a lot of friends – well except down here. And from what I can tell, you’ve got a woman on your arm everywhere you go. A different woman. It’s almost like you have one in every city.”
I sit in silence.
“Oh, my God! You have one in every city, don’t you?”
“Not every city. I don’t have one back home and I don’t have one here.”
“Why not here?” She thinks about her own question and then she answers it. “You are here for six weeks every spring. No attachments, right? See – case in point, you’re living the dream.”
“Things aren’t always what they seem, Rylee.”
Shit. Why did I even say that?
She studies me when we’re stopped at a traffic light. “You’re right, Brady. They aren’t. I’m sorry I made assumptions.”
I shake my head. “It’s fine. You’re right, I’m charmed,” I say unconvincingly.
“Can you forget I said anything? I’m a terrible person to have said it.”
“Sure,” I say. “But I won’t forget what you said about me being hot.”
Her jaw drops as we pass by the familiar TECO line parking lot. “I did not say you were hot.”
“Yes, you did,” I argue.
“I said you were not exactly bad looking. Big difference, Taylor.”
I laugh. “Whatever, Kennedy. So, where are you taking me?” I ask in slight disappointment. “We just passed the parking lot for the streetcar.”
She smiles. “You like those, don’t you? Me, too. Don’t worry, tonight’s plans include streetcars. But first I’m taking you somewhere else.”
“I’m intrigued,” I say, looking at the clock that hasn’t even turned 3:00 yet. “You’re not a late-night person, are you? And how do you manage to get every Friday afternoon off?”
“I put in a lot of ten-hour days, so I only work until noon on Fridays.”
“So I’m your last appointment?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Just good to know, I guess.”
We fall into comfortable conversation as we drive through the streets of Tampa. When we turn in to our destination, I chuckle. “You have a thing for animals, don’t you, Ry?”
She laughs. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
I cover my mouth in feigned abhorrence. “Are you calling me an animal?”
“If the shoe, or hoof, fits.”
“Watch out or you’ll bruise my ego.”
She rolls her eyes. “As if.”
We exit the car and I stare at the large sign that reads ‘Big Cat Rescue.’ As we approach the entrance, I see a poster that says reservations are required and must be purchased in advance. “Uh, Rylee, I think we’re screwed,” I say, pointing to it.
She reaches into her purse and pulls out a piece of paper that shows paid reservations for two at thirty-seven bucks each. I reach for my wallet but she reads my intentions and stops me, putting her hand over mine. “Just, no.”
“Listen, you can pay for everything else tonight, deal? As long as it’s not over the top like we agreed.”
“Right, the rules. What are they again?”
“No touching. No kissing. No drinking. No frivolous spending.”
“No fun,” I interject.
She laughs. “I thought you said you had fun last Friday.”
“Well, there you go.”
We spend the next few hours seeing over seventy exotic cats. Tigers, cougars, bobcats and more, all who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.
“I love this place,” she declares, when we are finishing the tour. “Most people are afraid of these animals, but it makes you see that with TLC, even beasts can be tamed.”
I look at her, wondering if she’s talking about the cats or about me.
Before we leave, our tour guide asks for donations, stating this whole facility is run on them. I can see how much this place means to Rylee, so I get out my credit card. I show it to her and ask, “Do you consider a donation frivolous spending?”
She gives me a genuine smile. “Absolutely not.”
I see her jaw fall open when I tell the tour guide how much to put on the card.
As we walk back to the car, she touches my arm. “A hundred bucks would have sufficed, you know.”
“Go big or go home,” I say.
“Why do I get the impression you always go big?”
I shrug and then she tosses me the keys.
“You trust me with your baby?” I ask.
“It’ll be good therapy for your arm and fingers. Try to grip the wheel. Open and close the windows. That sort of thing.”
My face breaks into a smile as I open the passenger door for her and then walk to the other side of the car. She laughs when I have to put the seat all the way down and back before I can get in.
“Where to?” I ask.
“Where else? The TECO line.”
As we drive back through the city, Rylee gets a text, laughing at it as she taps out her reply. I wonder if it’s from Alex.
“So, Alex seems to have a thing for you.”
In my periphery I can see her head snap in my direction. “One: he doesn’t. He’s my boss and that would be against the rules, wouldn’t it? And two: that’s getting kind of personal, don’t you think?” She holds up her phone, shaking it at me before she puts it away. “It wasn’t Alex.”
I don’t miss, however, that she doesn’t offer who it was. And when her phone pings again and she pulls it out to answer, I sure as hell don’t miss her devious smile.
She likes this game. But damned if I’m going to let her know how much I don’t.
I find a parking place and buy our passes for the streetcar. “Where to now?” I ask after we hop on.
“Ybor City,” she says. “I’m assuming you’ve been?”
“Of course. They have some good bars there.”
“We’re not going bar-hopping, Brady.”
“Then why bother?”
“You wanted Tampa culture, I’m giving it to you. Tonight you get to see it through my eyes.”
I cock my head to the side and stare at her, looking into those green eyes that are gazing intently into mine. I swear there is something behind them. Something that says she wants me.
She lowers her eyes to the floor as she tucks a stray piece of hair behind her ear after a gust of wind flows through the streetcar. She’s fighting it. I just can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I can’t say how many times over the past month I’ve jacked off to thoughts of her intense green eyes. Her gorgeous hair. Her stimulating touch. But she’s not like the others. She’s different. Smart. Refined. Sophisticated. Fun.
She’s also a woman you don’t have a one-night-stand with. And anything else is off the table.
“Okay then, why do they call it Ybor City?” I ask, trying to change the subject in my head.
“It was founded as an independent town in the late 1800’s by a group of cigar manufacturers led by some guy named Ybor.”
“Hmm. Now that you mention it, I do recall seeing a lot of cigar shops there. My dad is a huge fan, maybe we could stop in a few places. His birthday is next month. Or, would that be throwing around my money?”
She laughs. “No, buying a gift for your dad is nice. We should do it. I’ve never been in a cigar shop before.”
“You’re missing out then.”
“Ewww. I don’t smoke, Brady. And as an athlete, surely you know it’s horrible for you.”
“I don’t smoke, either, Ry. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy an occasional stogie.”
She wrinkles her nose in disgust, making me chuckle.
“Brady Taylor?” someone asks from across the streetcar.
All eyes turn my way and I look at Rylee as she digs around in her purse, fishing out a pen.
I talk to several guys in the man’s group, and when one asks for an autograph, I stupidly try to do it with my left hand. As I scribble out my name, the pen falls out of my grip and onto the floor of the car, then it rolls backwards and tumbles down the stairs. As I watch it fall onto the street and get crushed by a passing car, I wonder if it’s some kind of twisted symbolism.
Some of the guys look at me as if they know I’m damaged goods. A nearby lady offers me a new pen and I finish the autograph with my right hand before signing a few more.
We get to our stop and the group of guys leaves the car. Rylee pulls me down next to her. “We’ll stay on until the next one.”
I’m relieved that she gets it. She gets that I don’t need to be fawned over and prodded with questions. Not until I make it back. If I make it back.
“Hey.” She rubs my shoulder with hers. “It was good that you tried. Maybe next time you’ll be able to do it.”
“Next time could be in ten minutes,” I say.
She giggles. “Oh, right. Maybe next Friday you’ll be able to do it.”
My eyes snap to hers. “Are you saying you’ll do this again?”
“You don’t think you’ll run out of animal places to take me?” I ask with a wink.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com