“You did not just spell out the word ‘sex.’”
“Sorry, still in birthday party mode.” She straightened her spine. “If sex happens—”
A parent cleared his throat behind her. Scarlet-faced, Georgie turned around.
“We were just hoping for a business card,” said a man in a Giants cap who wouldn’t meet her eyes. “You know, uh . . . for the future.”
“Yes, of course,” Georgie croaked, handing him one from her pocket. “We have specials running through Christmas. I look forward to your call.” A moment later, she was alone again with Travis, who was definitely battling a laugh behind his fist. “It’s not funny.”
“Please stop. You know it’s funny.”
“I’m trying to have a serious conversation with you.”
“You’re dressed like a clown and my face is painted like a dog, baby girl. It ain’t happening.” Travis took the car keys from her hand, popped the trunk, and stowed her gear. Once it was put away, he rounded the car with the box of baby wipes she kept in the trunk. “Come here.”
“I can . . .” Clean off my own face. But of course, she wouldn’t be doing that, because it was far too incredible having Travis tilt up her chin and smooth the cool, wet wipes over her mouth, getting rid of her wide red clown smile. Then down her cheeks and over her T-zone, careful as he cleaned around her eyes. All in all, it probably took him a single minute, but it lasted forever, because her brain moved in slow motion, counting eyelashes and wondering if he’d been born with the freckle under his right eye, or if it had popped up one summer as a child . . . and none of these thoughts was productive. Neither was the electricity snapping and humming between them, garnering power from the phone lines and nearby houses, building and building until Georgie had to push Travis away or risk public indecency. “O-okay, I can get the rest.”
Why was he staring at her mouth like that all of a sudden? Like a wolf who’d spotted a lamb. Had he been as affected by what they’d done as she had? It didn’t seem possible when he’d been with so many women. Women who actually knew what they were doing. The subtle sound of a camera snap reminded Georgie this was all for show. Travis wanted a job on a family-friendly network and she wanted adult respectability. She needed to remember that.
Travis cleared his throat. “You’re good.” He tugged out a few wipes and returned the box to her trunk. While he used his reflection in the back windshield to help him clean off his own face, he cut a glance in her direction. “You were saying?”
“Oh. Right.” Her courage to have this conversation had been ferried away on a lust gondola, but she begged it to come back. “Um. Okay, so you heard what I said before.”
“About us having sex.” His jaw popped. “Yeah. I heard.”
“Well, you’re not going to be able to see anyone else for real. While this is going on.” Oh God, what was she doing? Stop. Nope. She kept going. “Won’t you need some kind of . . . action?”
“Yes, Georgie. My very survival depends on it.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
She barely resisted sticking her tongue out at him. “I’m only pointing out that we’re pretty compatible in the adult arts and you could probably teach me a lot. About art. While we’re killing time.”
“Christ. So much to unpack there.” Laughing without humor, he swiped a hand down his face. “My mind hasn’t changed. It’s not happening again. We do this, we keep it black and white.” His jaw bunched as he looked her over. “It doesn’t matter if there’s something of an . . . attraction here. We’re keeping this platonic. That going to work for you?”
She was relieved and disappointed at the same time. Without the magic of his touch, she had a much better chance of keeping her heart intact. Why had she pushed the issue in the first place? Probably because he’d looked at her like she was the last woman on earth that afternoon in his bed—and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Okay, fine. Keeping things platonic was necessary for her self-preservation.
For the next little while, she was Travis Ford’s pretend girlfriend. Pretend. As long as she could remember that, she would walk away from this arrangement with the reputation of a woman of the world. Her heart wouldn’t be a crumbled mess, either. As long as she held this part of herself back.
“Why do you look relieved about the no-sex thing?” He massaged the center of his forehead. “Jesus Christ, Georgie, you are confusing.”
“How do you want me to react?”
“I don’t have a fucking clue,” he muttered, almost to himself. “Let’s go get a drink.”
“Yeah.” After the smallest hesitation, he leaned in and kissed her forehead, his audible swallow echoing her own. “We’ve got a camera following us. No better time than the present.”
“Oh, right.” She forced a flirtatious smile but never felt it reach her eyes. “There. I’m smitten.”
“Great,” he said drily. “I’ll meet you at the Waterfront.”
“Ooh.” She twisted side to side. “Fancy, fancy—”
She scowled at him.
His mouth twitched. “Not enough.”
“Oh, get out of here,” she grumbled, shoving him away.
“Just right,” Travis called on the way to his truck, throwing a smile back over his shoulder that almost melted her into the pavement. “Drive safe, baby girl.”
Travis had an ulterior motive for asking Georgie to get a drink while she was still wearing her clown suit: it would be a lot easier to keep his hands off her in a shapeless polyester tent. Unfortunately, she’d texted him that she’d gone home to change, so he’d been waiting in the restaurant parking lot for twenty minutes with a mounting sense of doom, wondering if she’d show up wearing the skirt again. The one she’d wiggled out of in his bedroom before he’d thrown her down and humped her to an orgasm. He’d been thinking about sliding his hands beneath that skirt way too often lately.
Including right now.
Had the camera given him an excuse to get a little closer to Georgie than he should? Probably. Without that safety net sitting fifty yards away, he probably wouldn’t have risked tipping her chin up so he could clean the makeup off her face. Not kissing her had been a battle, camera or not. He’d found himself wanting to lean in and demand to know what was inside her head.
Was she over the crush?
Yes. The answer was obviously yes. He’d been around plenty of women with an affinity for him and none of them called him on his bullshit like Georgie. None of them challenged or motivated him. When a woman wanted a man, she flirted, right? There was a dance involved. She sure as hell didn’t come right out and propose he teach her about the adult arts. Didn’t that imply she would use those lessons . . . elsewhere at some point?
Travis realized his hands were strangling the steering wheel and forced himself to let go.
Yeah. There was nothing to worry about in terms of Georgie’s past crush. He was not the boy she’d watched from the bleachers. Or the man she’d watched hit home runs from her living room floor. He was a three-dimensional asshole and completely wrong for her—a girl who aspired to start a family and make magic memories.
He was completely wrong for anyone.
Travis tipped his head back, resting it against the driver’s seat. He was walking a dangerous line here by pretending to date Georgie. They needed to make it convincing in public, but not in private. He could not compromise on that, no matter how much he was tempted to do otherwise. And fuck, he was tempted. Might as well admit it. She could turn him on in a goddamn clown suit. As if that wasn’t enough to scare him, since being reintroduced to Georgie the adult, he’d run the gamut of feeling protective, possessive, and straight-up missing her.
But there was a game plan. He just needed to stick to it. Most importantly: to not sleep with her if they ended up alone. In fact, he needed to avoid being alone with her at all costs. No reason to tempt temptation itself. If he could keep his pants zipped for a couple weeks—tops—he’d be Mr. Wholesome and land himself the commentator position. And he could walk away without worrying that Georgie had grown attached.
Travis swallowed a lump in his throat and checked his mirror. The reporter in his blue Honda lay in wait a few parking spaces away, most likely thumbing through the pictures he’d already captured of Travis and Georgie. They were in it now. No turning back. If they hadn’t already set every tongue in town wagging after the birthday party, they would as soon as they walked into the restaurant together. He’d intentionally chosen the Waterfront because it was the busiest spot in Port Jefferson and had been since his youth. With an eatery in back and a bustling bar in front, it catered to young and old. With the sun setting on Saturday night, everyone would be meeting at the Waterfront for a quick dinner and a few drinks, before pub-crawling their way to a Sunday hangover—a Long Island tradition.
Headlights bounced off the interior of Travis’s truck. Georgie’s car.