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She lets out a long, acquiescing sigh. “Fine. Who’s my date?”

“Brady.”

“Brady? As in your starting pitcher?”

I might be slightly impressed. “Have you been watching ESPN again?” I joke.

“No. I’ve heard you talk about him.”

“Yes, that Brady.”

“And he knows it’s strictly platonic?”

“Yeah. He’s taking a break, too,” I say, unconvincingly.

“Really? How long has it been for him?”

I start to walk backwards toward Trick, but then look down at my watch. “Let me see, by the time Saturday rolls around, he’ll have been on a break for about twelve hours.”

“A player?” she yells. “You set me up with a player?”

“I didn’t set you up,” I tell her. “Because it’s not a date, Murphy Brown. Relax.”

She picks up the nearest thing she can find and throws it across the room at me. I catch the rolled-up hand towel and toss it back. “Saturday,” I say. “We’ll pick you up at your new place at seven.”

I turn back to Trick. “Do you really have nothing but paper plates and a blender?” I ask.

She nods before she puts me through a grueling sixty-minute workout with weights. Then she programs a treadmill for me. “After this, I want you doing laps in the pool. Try to do as much backstroke as you can, we need to keep those arms limber.”

“Yes, boss,” I say with a wink. “Hey, thanks for letting Murphy take your spare room. I’m glad she’s getting away from those bitches that were her roommates.”

“She’s the one who’s doing me a favor. You’d think I’d be able to find one person in this progressive city who’d want to live with a trans, but no. Joan really screwed me over when she left. I won’t fall for that again.”

“You and me both,” I say. I look over at the front desk. “Best to stick with friendship. It’s safe.”

Trick follows my gaze. “Just friends, huh?” she asks. “And you’re double dating with her this weekend?”

“Yup.”

She laughs as she hits the start button on my treadmill, but she walks away before I can invite her along. The more people that go out with me, the better. I was being truthful when I told Murphy that I date to be social. If I only went out with the guys, I wouldn’t be going out much at all. Unlike me, most of them love to have a girl on their arm.

Brady and Sawyer are probably my best friends on the team. And while we are alike on the field, we couldn’t be farther apart in what we want from women. While Brady has a girl in every city, Sawyer has a girl for every night. A new girl. One and done—that’s Sawyer’s motto. While I’m afraid women won’t like me for who I am, they use their celebrity status to bed everyone with a skirt. And mark my words, it will get them into trouble. Eventually.

While I’m running, I think back to my conversation with Lexi yesterday morning. When Murphy went to take a shower, I casually mentioned our father when Lexi gave me a good segue by bringing up Murphy’s dad. I asked her what she thinks became of him—the guy who ran out on us before I could even walk.

She told me she Googled him once. I did, too, the night I saw him. But there are just enough Shane Kessler’s in the world to leave it a mystery. I’ve thought about having Ethan Stone, Kyle’s brother, dig into what became of our dad as Ethan is a highly respected private investigator.

It was clear to me, however, that she hasn’t been contacted by him nor has she seen him lurking like I have. I was relieved. Maybe he doesn’t know she’s married to a multi-millionaire. Because if he did, I’m sure our deadbeat father would be after her money as well.

I vow to reach out to Ethan this week to have him look into it. The last thing I need is for Lexi to be in danger again. Her going through what she did with Grant Lucas several years ago was enough drama for a lifetime. I’ll never be able to thank Kyle and his brothers enough for what they did for her. What they did to bring her back to me.

When my thirty minutes are up, I grab my towel and then almost run smack into a guy as I step off the treadmill. But he doesn’t even notice me. He’s too busy staring at Murphy, who has come over to help someone clear a jam from one of the weight machines.

I watch the guy as he appraises her. He’s not looking at her like Brady and Sawyer look at their sexual conquests. He’s admiring her. Revering her. And although I want to hate the guy for how he’s staring at her, I can’t help but respect him just a little for not outright ogling her like most men do.

He finally notices that he’s blocking my way. “Sorry,” he says. Then he peels his eyes away from Murphy and looks up at me. “Oh, hey, you’re Caden Kessler. Sorry I got in your way, man. I can’t keep my eyes off her.”

I decide to play dumb. “Your girlfriend?” I ask.

He laughs. “I wish. Been trying for weeks to get her to notice me. Even asked her out today.”

I stiffen. “How’d that go?”

“She shot me down. Said something about a past relationship. You know her?” He looks at me hopefully. As if I could put in a good word or something.

“Not really,” I lie.

“Just as well,” he says, shrugging. “If you knew her, there would be no way in hell anyone else would have a chance with her.”

“You overestimate my abilities. Not everyone wants to date a professional athlete, you know.”

“I guess,” he muses.

“Well, good luck, uh …”

“Corey,” he says, holding out his hand.

Corey. He’s the guy Murphy mentioned last week when I brought up going on a double date. I wonder if she wants to date him. Then again, he said she shot him down.

I shake his hand, sizing him up as I do. I find myself wanting to protect Murphy. He seems to be a nice guy. Nicer than Tony, that’s for sure. But then again, serial killers are nice, too. It’s how they lure their victims. “Good to meet you, Corey.”

“Yeah, you too,” he says, stepping on his treadmill. “Good luck next season.”

“You a Hawks fan?”

He raises his arm and shows me a Nighthawks tattoo on the side of his ribcage. Damn. I can’t help but like the guy now. “Nice,” I say. “Thanks for showing your support.”

“Always,” he says, before putting in his earbuds.

The whole time I’m doing laps in the pool, I can’t decide if I want to encourage Murphy to date the guy, or warn her away. But I also find myself wondering why I’m even thinking about her at all. And why the hell am I so irritated about Corey expressing an interest in her?

After I shower and leave for home, I all but run into the man who is my father when I round the corner at the end of the block. I throw him against the brick building, holding my hand against his throat. “Why are you stalking me?”

“I’m … I’m not. I just didn’t—”

“Leave me alone, you deadbeat scumbag. And don’t even think about contacting Alexa. If you try, I’ll file a restraining order faster than you can fail a drug test.”

“It’s not like that, son.”

I tighten my grip on him. “Don’t call me son. You lost that right twenty-five years ago. You’ll get nothing from me. Not one penny. Go back to whatever rock you crawled out from under and stay there.”

“Is there a problem here?” a police officer says from his perch on a horse.

I pull away and put my shaking hands down by my side.

“No,” my dad says, followed by a long, drawn-out sigh. “No problem. I was just leaving.”

He turns to walk away, shoulders slumped as he shuffles down the sidewalk. I finally take a moment to study him. He’s wearing khakis and a dress shirt. He’s sporting Doc Martens for Christ’s sake. Probably stolen ones.

Once he turns the corner and I can no longer see him, I breathe.

Then I pull out my phone and call Ethan.

Chapter Twenty-two

Murphy

I’m putting away the last of my clothes when Trick calls out to me from the other room telling me I have a delivery.

“Be right there!” I shout.

I look around the room that is my new home. I smile at the queen-size bed. I can’t wait to sleep in it. It’s much better than the twin I had at the old place. And this room—it’s all mine. No back-stabbing slut to share it with.

I wasn’t sure what to expect coming to Trick’s place. She said she pretty much furnished it with flea market findings. And seeing how eccentric she is, I guess I thought the apartment would be decorated in neon colors or something. Quite the contrary, she’s found some wonderful antique pieces with tons of character. My bed has a wrought-iron headboard with an incredible Greek-mythology-inspired inlay that looks hand-painted. My dresser has been crafted out of distressed wood and each handle has been carved into letters that, together, spell ‘H O M E.’

I pull out the last things from my suitcase—the four hats Caden has given me, and the framed picture of Kelly and me taken the day of high school graduation. I put them all on top of my dresser.

I walk out into the living room to see a huge box sitting on the coffee table. I look around to see if there are any other deliveries, because surely this one is not for me.

Trick sees me looking confused and points to the box. “It’s for you.”

I rip off the envelope taped to the top of the box and pull out the card inside.

Old Man Murphy,

You said you didn’t have any ‘stuff,’ and now that you’ve decided you are a bona fide city girl, I thought you should have some. Happy housewarming!

Caden

“It’s from Caden,” I tell Trick. “He got me a housewarming gift.”

I look at the box cautiously.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” she prods. “Open it!”

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