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The second one turns out to be in a not-so-desirable school district. But it’s not Murphy’s fault. I didn’t make that a requirement.

The third one, where we are now, is perfect. In fact, it’s better than perfect. It has everything I asked for and more. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a designer kitchen, even an office that I can make into a playroom. And it has a balcony, something I never thought I’d be able to get in my price range.

“How did you even find this, Murphy? It’s a gem. What’s the catch?”

“It is pretty sweet,” Brady says, taking another look at the balcony. “There must be something wrong with it.” He turns to the manager. “Did someone die here or something? Is it haunted?” he jokes. “Why is it so cheap?”

“Really?” the manager asks. “I was thinking it was going for a bit too much.” He looks at his paperwork and quotes us the rent.

My eyes bug out. Even at my generous salary, it’s three times what I can afford.

“What are you talking about?” Murphy asks the guy. “I called your assistant earlier this week and she said it was a third that price. Are you bait-and-switching me?”

The manager flushes. “Wait – you’re the one who talked to Trisha?” He rummages through his folder. “Oh, my. I’m very sorry. I was supposed to show you 3B not 16F.”

My heart sinks as I glance around once more. “Is 3B anything like this one?”

He shrugs. “If you call a smaller apartment without top-of-the-line appliances and a balcony ‘like this one,’ then—yes.”

“Let’s just leave,” Murphy says. “This is ridiculous.” She eyes the manager as if she thinks he did this deliberately.

“No. Let’s see it. I really like the building. It’s the perfect location for me. It’s close to work, it’s in a great school district, and Stryker will love the indoor playground we saw downstairs.”

“You might as well give it a look as long as we’re here. What do you have to lose?” Brady says.

We take the elevator down to the third floor as I mourn the place I was already envisioning Stryker growing up in.

I’m apprehensive as we enter apartment 3B. I know anything I see will be a letdown after the one on the sixteenth floor. We tour the apartment in silence, looking at the two modest-sized bedrooms, the one bathroom, and the nothing-special kitchen.

“Look over here,” the manager says. “There is this alcove off the dining area. Maybe you could make this into a play area for your child. And I can check my records, this unit might be on the list for upgraded appliances. Did you see the bathroom? I know there is only one, but it’s rather large and has both a tub and a shower – that’s hard to find in this price range.”

The manager looks genuinely sorry to have shown me the wrong apartment.

“Do you like it?” Brady asks, pulling me aside.

“I guess.” I look around again. “I mean, if I hadn’t seen the other one, I’d probably be excited about it. He’s right about that alcove – it’s more space than I thought I’d get.”

Brady walks over to the manager and points to his folder. “Why don’t you go check your records and see about those appliances? Then maybe look to make sure you were exactly right on the rent. Ms. Kennedy would be the perfect tenant. You want her here. Keep that in mind before you come back and tell us your final offer.”

“Final offer?” he says. “This is an apartment, not a negotiation to buy a car.”

Brady stares the guy down. “Everything is a negotiation.” He puts his arm around the manager and walks him out of the apartment. “Do you like baseball?” I hear him say before the door shuts.

Murphy laughs. “I told you he might be good to have around.”

We take one more long look at the place, and this time, I try to picture us here. I picture Stryker sitting at the bar watching me cook pancakes. I picture snuggling him in my bed on lazy Saturday mornings. I picture bringing Mom here for Sunday dinners.

“I think I like it,” I tell Murphy. “In fact, I think I love it.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Brady says, coming back in and joining us in the living room. “Because not only will you have new stainless steel appliances, but the guy came down by two hundred dollars a month on your rent. And you can move in on Saturday.”

I stare at him incredulously. “What did you do?”

“Nothing much. I just promised him tickets to a few games and a shitload of signed crap.”

“Brady,” I admonish him.

Murphy puts a hand on my shoulder. “It really isn’t a big deal, Rylee. Caden gives that kind of stuff away all the time.”

“Okay, well, I guess I should thank you then,” I tell Brady. I walk over and jab him in the ribs. “Thank you.”

He jabs me back. “You’re very welcome.”

I smile. I smile big as I twirl around looking at my new home. I’m finally back where I belong.

Chapter Twenty-six

I stare at my list of appointments, knowing Brady is my next one, and my heart races. I’m taken back to last fall. I was like a schoolgirl with a crush on the senior quarterback. Every time he came in for therapy, I hoped I didn’t screw something up because I was so darn smitten. Every time he left, I fantasized about my hands on him. And when that fantasy became a reality, I was sure I could handle it. I was positive I wouldn’t be like one of his other girls who follow him around like a puppy dog lapping at his feet.

On the outside, I think I did a good job tamping down my feelings, but on the inside – I was barking up a storm. It was the first time I’d felt a connection with a man since being with Denny. But I’m not stupid. I know how that turned out, so connection or not, I wasn’t going to let myself fall for Brady. Until I did.

My father’s words echo in my head. You can’t help who you fall in love with.

I hear a noise and look up from my desk to see Brady standing in my doorway. God, he looks good. His hair is perfectly messy in the most put together way. His t-shirt shows off his biceps and is just tight enough to tease with what’s underneath. His jeans are faded and worn and look soft to the touch. His looks should come with a warning sign, because they are dangerous.

He raises a smug brow as if he knows exactly what I’m thinking. I clear my throat and grab my laptop, not making more eye contact as I pass him on my way to the main room.

“How did your arm feel last night?”

“Fucking great,” he says, looking at it as he rolls his arm from side to side. “Sore as hell, but that’s how I like it. I was right to come back to you. Calvin never works me like you do. You know how far to push me.”

“You’ve still got a ways to go, Brady. You’re only two months post-op on the nerve transposition. While you’re making good progress, you can’t expect to be pitching until at least the three-month mark.”

He smiles. “See, that’s why I need you. Calvin would always say three to six months. He’s not nearly as optimistic as you are. Hell, he would even say we can’t be sure the surgery even worked yet.”

“The surgery worked,” I tell him. “You are ahead of where you were last fall. If the surgery had failed, you’d have stayed the same or even regressed.”

“You’re good for me, Ry.”

I search his eyes and try to gauge the meaning of that statement.

I start him off slowly, with hand grips of various tensions and rubber band exercises. Then I move him up to shoulder and elbow motions that involve the wrist and fingers. By the end of our session, I have him throwing a small rubber ball into a net that bounces it back out. He keeps trying to impress me with how strong his throws are, and I have to chase more than a few balls around the room when they bounce back powerfully, almost hitting us.

“Are you back working with a pitching coach yet?” I ask.

“I never stopped. Since I came back to New York last fall, I’ve been working with him on my form and my motion. He won’t let me throw yet until I get more of my grip back.”

“Good. Like I told you before, it might happen slowly, but then someday you’ll realize you can do something you couldn’t before.”

He laughs. “Do you know how many jars of pickles I have in my apartment?”

“Huh?” I furrow my brow.

“Last year you said that someday I would do something completely normal without realizing it, like opening a jar of pickles. So I went out and bought some.”

“You mean to tell me you sit around your apartment trying to open jars of pickles?”

He shakes his head. “No. I sit around my apartment squeezing stress balls and hand grips and occasionally trying to open a jar of pickles. But after I try one and fail, I throw it away because I have to make sure I haven’t just loosened it for the next attempt.”

I can’t help it when I laugh out loud thinking of his trashcan full of unopened pickle jars. “So, do you limit yourself to pickles, or do you try relish as well?”

We both fall into fits of laughter as we start listing all the different kinds of pickles we can think of.

Laughing with Brady brings on waves of nostalgia. I miss this.

I miss him.

When the room falls silent again, he says, “You worked my ass off today. Did I earn a massage?”

I bite the inside of my cheek as I contemplate it.

“Come on, Ry. I’m a paying client. Treat me like one.”

I roll my eyes and motion to the training table. “Fine. Get on up.” I reach into a cabinet and throw him a hand towel. “But cover up. I don’t want to see … anything.”

He smiles and lies down on the table, balling up the towel in his lap as I asked.

I try to keep my fingers from shaking as I work them behind his neck, around his shoulders and up into the base of his skull. I know just how he likes his massages. I know how he likes to be touched. I know how he likes to be touched everywhere.

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