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There was something more, though. Her surroundings were soft, the glowing light draping her from head to toe. She stood barefoot with a mug of tea in her hand. With bangs. And frayed jeans shorts with the pockets sticking out beneath the hem. This was not the baggy-jeans-wearing brat or flustered Saturday morning cook with flour in her hair. She was a relaxed and—might as well face it—sexy woman standing in the doorframe of her own home.

“Um. Travis?” She waved a hand in front of his face. “Have you received any blows to the head today? Should I call a doctor?”

What is going on with you? He shook himself. “I’m here to look at the fireplace.”

She took a long sip of tea. “That’s not necessary.”

Damn. She was really pissed. “I forgot. I’m human. Whose truck is that?” He rolled his shoulder. “Is it Dale?”

Was it his imagination or did the blood just drain from her face? “No, Dale is . . . on vacation. It belongs to Pete. My fireplace guy.”

Now it actually felt as if he’d received a blow to the head. For a few seconds, Travis even stopped breathing. Surely he’d heard her wrong. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope.” She stepped back into the house, as if preparing to close the door. “You’re off the hook. And I need to get back—”

Travis surprised himself by sticking his boot in the opening. “I said I would be the one to do it.”

“And I said I don’t need you now.”

Travis couldn’t explain why it was so fucking imperative that he be the one to fix Georgie’s fireplace, but it was. Fucking imperative. Some fisherman named Pete wasn’t touching that brick monstrosity when he was perfectly capable of doing the job. The idea of letting her down made him queasy—and he had. Fine. Okay. He could admit this girl had done the impossible by getting him out of bed and out into the world again. She’d actually made him laugh. Filled his refrigerator. Now if she didn’t let him show his gratitude, he was going to be good and pissed.

Admitting to himself that Georgie was responsible for him being in the land of the living again turned over something desperate in his stomach. Without stopping to acknowledge the bad idea, Travis pulled Georgie into a hug, frowning when she didn’t even bother to wrap her free arm around him. Frowning as she fit against him perfectly. Lots of frowning in general. “Hey.” He planted a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m sorry, all right? I should have come by sooner.”

Georgie remained silent, so he squeezed her tighter, noticing she had kind of a smoky peach scent. Is this how she always smelled or was this new, too?

He hesitated for a second before tucking some strands of hair behind her left ear . . . and attempted to ignore the swelling that happened downstairs. Christ. Did his cock just get hard for Georgie? Stephen’s little sister, Georgie? Relax. He’d gone months without sex. That’s the only reason holding Georgie tucked against him was having an effect. Any other time, this kind of contact would be totally platonic. Travis swallowed. “I, uh . . . like your new haircut.”

“Thank you.” Georgie pushed out of his hold, her cheeks red. “You need to go. I have this covered.”

Something akin to panic started to set in. “You’re really serious, aren’t you? You’re not going to forgive me for missing the damn appointment.”

“I forgive you, but I won’t be accepting a rain check.” She backed into the house. “If you’re determined to stay, suit yourself. But I’m not canceling.”

At that, she turned on a heel and vanished into the house. Travis followed, feeling dumbstruck over how this situation had become so important to him. And completely escaped his control. Upon entering the foyer, the first thing he noticed was a collage on the wall beside the coatrack. Georgie sitting in her tree in the Castle backyard, pale legs dangling like a snapshot from his memory. The Castle family crowded around a Thanksgiving turkey. Georgie in a midair leap, holding up the keys to her new house. He started to walk away, when something caught his eye. A picture of him? Yeah. There he was, in his baseball uniform, sitting at the top of the high school bleachers. Stephen sat right beside him, but he wasn’t even looking at the camera, leaving Travis as the main focus.

He strode into the living room with something lodged in his throat.

It lodged even deeper when he saw Pete. He’d been expecting a salty old Long Island man. Instead it was some guy Travis’s age, standing shoulder to shoulder with Georgie so they could look at a sample book. Bald by choice. A beard.

“Can I see your contractor’s license, please?”

Georgie stomped her foot. “Travis.”

“Her family owns a remodeling company. She knows at least four men that could do this work.” He jerked a chin at Georgie. “This was just a little act of rebellion, but she’s over it now.”

Indignation rippled across Georgie’s features. “I don’t work for Brick & Morty. I’m a private citizen with my own house who knows how to find my own contractor—whose license I already checked, by the way.” He didn’t like the sharp rise in color on her neck. “You wouldn’t even know I’d hired someone if you hadn’t taken it upon yourself to show up. I’m an adult, Travis. I don’t rebel for attention.”

“All right. I hear you,” he shouted back. Shouted? Yeah. There was something on the line here and he couldn’t figure out what. All he knew was he’d considered this girl a pest a week ago and now he didn’t like the idea of her not coming around anymore. He didn’t like the idea of leaving her with this guy, either. At all. “Should you be alone with a strange man in the house?”

“He’s not a strange man. I performed at his daughter’s birthday party.”

“Oh.” Travis cleared his throat. “You’re married.”

Pete shook his head and held up an empty ring finger, as if to say, Sorry, sucker. “Single dad.” He propped the clipboard on his hip. “And if it were my daughter, I’d be more worried about leaving her alone with Two Bats.”

Hot acid bubbled up in Travis’s stomach. “You sure you want to go there, pal?”

Pete took a step in his direction, but Georgie waylaid him with a hand on his arm. Since Travis could write a five-fucking-volume guide to sex, he easily recognized the rekindled interest in Bald Pete’s eyes when Georgie touched him. “Could you excuse us, Travis?”

He crossed his arms. “I’m good right here.”

Calculation danced across her face a second before she marched up to Travis, crooking her finger like she had a secret. Keeping his attention locked on Pete, Travis leaned down so she could whisper in his ear.

“Dale is my vibrator.”

Travis choked. Had he heard that right? Her smug smile told him he had. The innocent memory of Georgie lying on his bed and mumbling that she needed Dale took on a whole new meaning. Before he could stop himself, his sick mind conjured those frayed shorts being tugged down her legs, her right hand guiding a shuddering device between her thighs. Her head tossing back, mouth forming an O. A little mewling sound left Imaginary Georgie’s mouth . . . and his own hand took control of the shaking toy. “I’ll be outside.”

She dropped back on her heels. “That’s what I thought.”

He walked out of the house in a daze. Since when did a woman talking about sex in any capacity throw him off his game? Nothing caught him off guard when it came to the pleasures of the flesh. He’d seen, done, and heard it all. Not when it came to Georgie, though. She’d been frozen in time in his mind as a gangly preteen. That wasn’t her now, obviously. And that image he’d held of her for so long was beginning to thaw. Rapidly. She was a woman now who . . . masturbated. A woman who didn’t wait around for whatever scrap of attention her brother and his best friend decided to throw her. That message had come through loud and clear tonight.

A minute later, Travis climbed into his truck and watched Georgie and Pete through the front window of her house. Watched her slowly warm back up after their tiff and start to get excited about the design, nodding and beaming as Pete gestured to the old brick fireplace. Travis knew a man’s body language when he was asking a woman out. Pete had it. In response, she shoved her hands in her pockets, probably stuttering through an answer.

Goddammit. This was none of his business. She didn’t want him here. Why couldn’t he turn the key in the ignition and drive home?

Instead of doing the logical thing, he waited for Pete to leave the house, sharing prolonged eye contact with the man through his windshield. Had Georgie said yes to their date? The man betrayed nothing with his blank expression, except for surprise that Travis was still standing—or sitting, rather—guard outside the house.

Join the club.

Chapter Eight

In a testament to her unusual life choices, neither Bethany nor Rosie blinked when Georgie walked into their first Just Us League meeting in full clown makeup. There hadn’t been time to change or wash her face after the seven-year-old’s birthday party. Baby wipes might have been just the remedy, but frankly she didn’t mind hiding behind the mask today.