As we lay together, skin to skin, hard muscle against soft curves, I enjoyed the heat of her body against mine. I’d denied myself this simple pleasure for so long, somewhere deep down afraid of getting too attached. But, fuck it, I was already in too far. Now, I might as well see this thing through until the end.
My head was spinning with unanswered questions about where all this would lead. I didn’t have the best track record, and knew I’d inevitably find a way to fuck this up.
As Emma lay curled in my arms, so soft and trusting, I couldn’t help my mind from wandering to more sinister things, like what happened to Ashley might happen to Emma if I wasn’t careful.
I clutched her tighter, not wanting to face reality just yet.
I didn’t like this. Not one fucking bit. In fact, under normal circumstances, I might have stopped the car and demanded to get out.
But considering I had no idea where we were or where we were going, and Emma was looking at me so intently . . . her cheeks pink, her eyes glowing with excitement? Well, it seemed like a dick move to try to back out now. And besides, the more time I spent with her, the harder it was to say no. To all her little rules.
That fact alone should have made me bolt in the opposite direction, but for some reason, my ass was glued to the seat.
“Why won’t you tell me where we’re going?” I asked.
“Ben knows. Isn’t that enough?” she teased.
“No. Ben won’t tell me anything either.”
“That’s because Ben and I have an understanding.” She grinned. “Besides, since when were you the only one who got to plan special surprise dates? Can’t I do something nice for you in return?”
I considered that. It was a sensible question, but that didn’t make the answer easy to swallow. I wasn’t good at accepting gestures of affection. Never had been. So, while I understood on an intellectual level the need to do it, I felt twitchy about the whole thing in a way I couldn’t shake. Especially now. Especially with Emma. After our past few dates, each as sexy as hell but also intimate in ways I had been trying not to think about, I knew I was in too deep. But, damn if I could bring myself to pull away.
“Can’t you at least give me a clue?”
“I swear, you’re like a little kid. Just relax.” She chuckled. “You don’t have to shake the box to figure out what’s inside.”
“I know what’s inside.” I moved closer and ran my palm along her smooth, exposed inner thigh, but she slapped my hand away.
“It’s not that kind of surprise,” she said. I was slightly mollified that her voice was just a little breathless.
“And what if I want it to be? Do we have time?” I nipped her earlobe and she began to laugh, but just as she writhed under my touch, the car jolted to a halt.
“We’re here?” I asked, craning to see out the window, but Emma grabbed me by the lapel and forced me back.
“I get out first,” she said.
“You will not—”
“When I get out, you might get a peek up my dress,” she purred.
Beaten by that logic, I leaned back on the plush cushions and waited as she bent over me, flashing the frill of her lavender panties as she climbed from the car. Then, when the space was clear, I followed her into a parking lot that was filled with gravel rather than pavement.
The building in front of us was so big, it might have been a warehouse in another life. Huge, glowing letters read Family Fun Palace in colorful bright neon.
Son of a bitch. What had I gotten myself into?
“You brought me to . . . what? Babysit?”
“Nope.” Grinning, she shook her head. “This whole place is ours for the day.”
I frowned. “What?”
“You were being so thoughtful with your classic-movie night and your wine tasting, and I figured . . . well, this is probably something you never got the chance to do when you were little. When I was seven, I went to a place like this and broke my tooth riding bumper cars with my cousin Miranda. It’s an important experience in a kid’s life, this kind of stuff,” she said, her expression grave. “This is the type of place you make memories.”
I raised my eyebrows, trying not to grin at the thought of a young, freckle-nosed Emma with a chipped tooth, and failing. “Is that so?”
“It is. Dingy rides, squeaky bolts that may or may not have been checked this decade, one-eyed carnies leering at you. It’s a rite of passage. And today, at this arcade, you are going to have it,” she said, her eyes blazing with determination.
“I’m not going to ride bumper cars with a bunch of ten-year-olds and—”
“We won’t have to. This place is ours. Totally. I bought it out for the day. Bethany’s uncle owns it, and he gave me a good deal. So, come on. No more excuses. What are you waiting for?”
She held her hand out to me just as the gray sky above us started spitting rain, and I didn’t have time to think of a way out. I closed my hand over hers, and we rushed inside the huge metal doors as quickly as we could manage before the downpour began.
It was only once we were inside that I realized exactly how much work she must have put in. At every stall, men and women were waiting for us, smiling while we decided where to walk, and a massive speaker played old nineties hits, songs that I knew from my childhood.
Standing back, I shook my head. “This must have cost you a fortune.” As I automatically tallied up the cost of this many people’s time, it hit me that she’d probably dropped a whole night’s pay on this date. Money she could have used fixing up her beloved brownstone.
Instead, she’d spent it on me. The man who had everything, and nothing, all at the same time.
My throat tightened, and I cleared it with a grumble. “Look, Emma . . . you didn’t have to—”
“Nobody has to do anything. I did this because I wanted to.” She squeezed my hand. “Now, let’s talk tickets.”
Not bothering to look at me, she dragged me toward a little kiosk filled with rubber balls, plush bananas, fashion dolls, and water pistols. Each had a little tag in front of it with a price.
“We have to know what we’re aiming for. You can’t just go earning tickets willy-nilly.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, pick a prize so we can get our minds right and set our goal for the day,” she said. “When I was ten, my dad and I worked all day and night at a place like this to get me the knock-off Barbie doll.”
“Was she your favorite toy from there on out?” I asked, genuinely curious.
She shook her head and let out a snort. “Nope. It broke the next day. Her head came clean off . . . it was a grisly scene. But it was the experience that mattered.” She shrugged one slim shoulder. “Come on, pick a prize.”
I glanced around. There wasn’t much for adults, just a few T-shirts with things like I’m With Stupid written on them. Then my gaze fell on the one thing I’d always wanted as a kid.
“They have foam-pellet guns?” I nodded toward a rack of toys complete with plastic scopes, and Emma beamed.
“Looks like we’ve got a winner. All we need to get is, um, three thousand tickets. Shouldn’t be a problem.”
I raised my eyebrows. Sounded like a problem to me. They might as well have made it a million.
“It’s going to happen. All you have to do is believe and pick a game so we can get this going.”
For a while, we wandered around, looking at carts of food and side attractions before I found the pit of games. There was a huge wall of Connect Four and an animatronic dinosaur game, but my eye caught on a classic and I couldn’t resist.
“Skee-Ball,” I said, taking her hand as we stuffed tokens into the game and balls dropped into the slot.
To my surprise, Emma had a pretty good arm on her, and for a moment I stood back and watched as she sank one ball after another.
“Well, are you going to win those tickets or not?” she teased, shooting me a challenging glance.
“Not if you’re going to embarrass me with your skills. I can’t compete with that.”
“If you’re waiting to find something here you can beat me at, it’s going to be a very long day,” she said with a sassy wink. “I’m what you call an arcade master. A pinball wizard. A—”
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