I try not to smile. “Is that all?”
“No. You’re damn sexy, too. And one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.”
My heart soars and falls at the same time. I know exactly why he didn’t say the most beautiful. And the fact that he didn’t makes me like him even more.
“But, Brady, there’s one other thing you failed to mention. Before anything else I’m a mom. And I’m also a daughter who is solely responsible for her mother.”
He nods and takes a deep breath. “I know and I understand they are your priorities. I’m not asking you to marry me, Ry. I’m not even asking to be your number one. I can be your number three. I’m perfectly fine with that.”
I almost tell him that I can be his number three, too. But I don’t. He still doesn’t know what I know. And I still don’t know if he really has changed like everyone claims.
“I don’t like to share,” I tell him.
He turns suddenly and cages me to the wall. “I don’t like to share, either.”
“But how can I be sure?”
He knows what I’m asking without me having to say it.
“Do you want Caden and Sawyer to keep tabs on me when we’re away?”
I stare at him and realize he’s being totally serious.
“No … Yes … No. That would be silly and juvenile. But, Brady, I really do mean it when I say I don’t share. It’s a deal breaker for me. I can put up with a lot, maybe even more than most, but cheating is the one thing I can’t forgive.”
“I can live with that.”
“Can you? Because I promise you there will be no second chances. I won’t make that mistake again.”
He gives me a sad smile. “Stryker’s dad?”
I look out the window.
He takes my hand in his. “We’ll have a trial run.”
“A trial run. At dating?”
“Yeah, what do you say – two months? And if you don’t trust me after that, I’ll leave you alone. Hell, I’ll break my lease and move out.”
“Two months? You’re willing to go two months without sex? Without sex with anyone? Including me?”
“What?” He gives me crazy eyes. “I didn’t say that, Ry.”
I stare him down.
“Shit, really?” he says.
“If it’s going to be too hard for you,” I say, ducking under his arm.
He pulls me back to him. “What’s two more months when I’ve already gone four?”
My jaw slackens as I look up at him. “You mean to tell me you haven’t had sex since we—”
“Nope. Not once.”
“You haven’t dated at all?”
“Not exactly. I tried. Hell, I tried hard. After I got back from Tampa I took out lots of girls. But I couldn’t bring myself to invite them into my bed. It felt wrong.”
He laughs at my expression. “Don’t look so surprised. People change, you know.”
“What happens after two months?” I ask.
“After two months I can tell everyone you’re my girl.”
“And Stryker?” I ask apprehensively. “What about him?”
His eyes close briefly. “You’re a package deal, I get that. I … I’d like to hang out with the both of you sometimes, but I might need to work up to that, Ry. I’m not great with kids as you clearly saw tonight. You might have to be patient with me.”
I stand and look in wonderment at a man who lost his whole world and is willing to fight his demons to try again. Still, I’m not a big enough fool to think this could end in a happily-ever-after. Few relationships do. But he looks sincere. And I might be willing to risk my heart for a chance.
“Two months,” I say, pointing a finger at his chest. “And no sex. So don’t even try.”
He pushes me against the wall and leans down so his lips are inches from mine.
I’ve dreamed about his lips so many times. I’ve longed for them. I didn’t dare try out any others for fear of nothing measuring up.
“How about kissing?” he asks, his hot breath dancing across my lips. “Is kissing allowed?”
He’s so close I can’t speak. He assumes consent in my silence and his lips touch mine. They touch mine gently, like a whisper, and then harder, like a scream. He devours my mouth like he’s never done before. His hands hold my face to his as he tells me more with his kisses than he did with his words. His kisses seduce me. They almost convince me. They nearly destroy me.
Breathless and languid, I slowly peel myself away from him. I need to be smart about this. He needs to earn his way back into my life.
“I have to go now,” I say. They are the five hardest words I’ve ever spoken.
“I know you do.” He walks me to the door. “I’ll see you at the gym. And around the building.”
I think about what it will be like to have him living so close to me. And then I have a thought when I remember something the building manager said.
“What about your cars?” I ask. “They only allow one per unit here.”
“Sold two of them back in January,” he says, kissing me on the head as I leave. “I even got rid of the bike.”
Maybe he has changed.
“Be safe,” he says as he walks me down the hall. “Don’t talk to any strangers on the way home.”
I laugh as I step into the elevator.
“Mark your calendar,” he says.
“Mark it for what?”
“Sixty days from today. I don’t care where the hell we are or what we’re doing – that’s the day.”
I pink up when I realize he’s scheduling a date for sex.
“God you’re sexy when you blush.”
It’s the last thing he says to me before the doors close.
And before I even say hello to Murphy, I walk to my calendar on the wall and circle June 1st.
Then I get my phone out and Google the Hawks’ schedule.
I don’t know if I’m happy or mad that my ten o’clock appointment got rescheduled. The odds of that being purely a coincidence are very low. It reeks of Brady.
He’s been giving me some space this week. The only times I’ve seen him were at his three appointments and then again last night, when I ran into him bringing a few more boxes to his new place. But every time I saw him, he mentioned the photo shoot. He wanted to make sure I was going to be there.
I contemplate skipping the shoot altogether in protest, but after fifteen minutes of brooding in my office, the pull to see what’s happening on the other side of the gym is strong. I walk into the reception area and then back to the part of the gym they’ve cordoned off for the shoot. They’ve erected screens around it so gym patrons can’t see in, and bright lights are reflecting off the ceiling above.
I approach the entrance to the area and Mason, who appears to be standing guard, waves me by.
“If you stand over in that corner, you’ll be out of the way,” he says, ushering me past some other people.
I didn’t really want to be one of the few who are witnessing the shoot, but now I feel obligated to stay, seeing how I’d have to walk by everyone to leave.
I see Brady standing off to the side as Griffin, one of the other owners of the gym, who is also a big-time photographer, poses Murphy for some photos in front of a weight machine.
Brady sees me and walks over. “Glad you could stop by.”
I eye him skeptically. “It’s not like I had a choice or anything.”
“You always have a choice, Ry.” He winks at me.
I have a hard time not staring at his chest. He’s wearing nothing but athletic shorts and he’s been sprayed with some kind of oily mixture that makes him look like he’s been working out. There is a fine sheen across his body, and his muscles – oh, my gosh – they are more glorious than I remembered.
He catches me staring. “They have me pump iron before every set of pictures, it helps my muscles look bigger for a few minutes.”
“Because they aren’t big enough as it is?” I ask, clearly swooning over his half-nakedness.
He snickers. “I’m glad you approve.”
“Are you done? Did I miss it?”
“No, I did my single shots first and now Murphy’s doing hers. When she’s done, he will shoot us together.”
I stare at Murphy, who’s been made up to look even more beautiful than she already is. It looks like they had her get a spray tan as she’s absolutely glowing. She’s completely in her element. I know she wanted to be a model before her face got damaged. But with makeup, you can barely see her scar and if you can, it makes her look edgy.
An attractive woman comes up to me. “Are you Rylee?”
“I’m Skylar Pearce, Griffin’s wife. Murphy tells me you have a three-year-old son. I wanted to introduce myself and let you know I have two kids myself and would love to get together sometime.”
“It’s really nice to meet you, Skylar. I would love that. Are you the restaurant manager Murphy told me about?”
“Yes. I manage my parents’ place, Mitchells NYC. You should come in if you get a chance. We have a great kids menu.”
“I’ll do that. Thank you.”
She hands me her card. “I have to get to work, but I wanted to stop by and see the excitement and meet you. Call me and we’ll set something up.”
“She seems nice,” I say to Brady after she walks away.
“Yeah, she does. I don’t know her all that well, but she’s right – we need to take you to Mitchell’s. It’s really good there.”
“Are you asking me out on a date, Brady?”
“I don’t know. Is that allowed?” He leans down and whispers in my ear. “I know we said no sex. But there was kissing. Really. Good. Kissing. I’d like to have some more kissing and that usually comes after a date. So how about it?”
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