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“Travis is right,” Morty said, his expression contrite. “Georgie, I apologize. Please finish what you were going to say.”

Georgie and Travis had been staring at each other since the Great Fist-Pounding Incident. Christ, he liked being on her side. Liked the idea of her counting on it way too much. He also liked those pretty parted lips. Remembering how they felt against his sent blood rushing to his cock. There he was, with a hard-on for the youngest daughter at the Castle family dinner. No help for it. Her dress had scooted up so fucking high on her leg—enough to see the shadow between her thighs. A few inches above that would be her panties. Her wet pussy.

I know you’re wet, baby girl.

“I, um . . .” Georgie cleared the rust from her voice. “I was just going to say, Dad, that, uh . . .” Bethany snickered into her napkin and Georgie shot her a look. “Bethany loves Brick & Morty and she’s one of the main reasons it’s so successful. She wants to help it expand. If Stephen takes the time to guide her on a flip, they could double the number of projects the company takes on. She’s never failed at anything, relationships notwithstanding—”

“Thanks, sis.”

“Beth deserves a shot.” Georgie turned her attention to Stephen. “You hate change and need control. We all get it. But this isn’t like the rope swing at the lake when we were kids—and yeah, I’m still salty you made us go through a sign-up sheet to take a turn. It was a rope swing, dude. But we’re adults now and we shouldn’t hold each other back in the name of tradition. Compromise, Stephen.”

“I’ll think about it,” their brother said after a moment, tucking back into his meal. “That’ll have to be good enough for now.”

“Fine,” Bethany responded with a curt nod.

“Fine,” echoed everyone at the table, save Travis.

A few ticks of silence passed.

“Where is Coco?” Vivian said, looking around the room. “Did we bring the dog in from the backyard, Morty?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Georgie, would you mind going out and having a look for Coco? God forbid she ate those toadstools—”

“Sure, Mom.”

Georgie was already up from the table, heading in the direction of the living room. Unable to stop himself from following her progress, Travis nonetheless caught Vivian’s gaze.

She winked at him.

Caught between laughter and keeling over from shock, Travis tossed his napkin on the table. “I’ll go help her.”

Chapter Eighteen

Oh my God.

Georgie floated into the backyard, calling Coco’s name in a croak. Her knees had the consistency of vapor; her heart rapped loudly in her rib cage. If her mother hadn’t sent her outside, she would have burst into flames. Need concentrated itself between her legs, pulsing and tugging and relentless. How was she going to handle the rest of this dinner, Travis sitting so close by, acting like a hero?

“Coco?” she called, tugging her neckline away from her skin and blowing cold air down into her cleavage. Oh, cool. Look at that—her nipples were rocks. “Come here, girl.”

Nothing. No jingling of the dog’s collar.

She walked farther into the backyard, hooking a left and heading down the small slope toward the pool. Walking past the tall oak tree she used to climb in her youth brought back so many memories. The only ones she could conjure at that moment involved Travis. How she’d had the beginnings of a sexual awakening perched in that tree as a preteen, wistfully wishing she had boobs.

The culmination of her feverish daydreams had veered into more adult territory one afternoon when Georgie had been tapped to clean out her parents’ attic. She’d found a box of old VHS tapes, among them a tape labeled FEAR. Since her parents were gone for the day, she’d fired up the ancient VCR in the den, which Morty and Vivian never used anymore but still hadn’t thrown away. Stephen wasn’t the only member of the family who hated change. She’d been pleasantly surprised to find out the movie starred Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon and decided the tape probably belonged to Bethany—but around the one-hour mark, the scene happened.

The one on the roller coaster when Mark uses his finger on Reese.

Until that moment in her parents’ den, Georgie hadn’t even known the meaning of the word “horny.” And, oh Lord, the guilt. Wahlberg played the worst kind of abusive sociopath in the movie, but Georgie got turned on so badly, she’d replayed the scene nine times. She’d finally closed her eyes, flopped over on her back, and imagined Travis reenacting the scene with her. In his Hurricanes uniform. Hands down her jeans, she’d had the first orgasm of her life on the floor of her parents’ den to a VHS tape, while an internet full of free porn sat mere feet away.

Why couldn’t she ever do things the easy way?

Instead of running far and fast from an unavailable man, she’d decided to show him that being available wasn’t so bad. Between inviting him out for coffee and bringing him to dinner tonight, she’d intended to prove to Travis he didn’t have to spend his life being passed around. But she’d been hoping to hold at least a small part of herself back in the process. To lessen the blow when he eventually walked. Or found someone else. Or realized definitively relationships weren’t his jam, insecurities or not. But hold herself back from the guy who’d almost broken the good china standing up for her?

Not going to be so easy.

Every time she was with Travis, he revealed something else. A piece of the past, a hope for the future, a tender side. Tonight he’d proved he cared. He’d shown up for her. She’d thought herself in love with the swaggering baseball phenom, but she was dangerously close to falling for this newer, more complicated man. Deeper than she ever could have gotten with her youthful ideal of Travis.

Behind her, Georgie heard the sliding glass door open and close. She stopped and turned, her pulse rocketing into another stratosphere when Travis strode down the slope after her. The hunger on his face made Georgie take a step backward. Oh. Apparently she had this seduction thing in the bag. It had already stuck. Go, team.

As soon as Travis was even with Georgie, he stooped down and threw her over his shoulder. “Where?”

She tried and failed to ignore the new view of his butt. “Wh-where is the dog?”

“The dog is closed in the back bedroom,” he responded in a patient but concise tone. “She’s not in the backyard.”

“Then why did my mom send me out here?”

Travis didn’t say anything.

“Oh.” Georgie drew out the word. “Ladies and gentlemen, my mother the wingman.”

“Pool house or garage, Georgie?”

There was no question as to why Travis was seeking a private location, and it made her blood burn hotter. Although, since she was upside down, a lot of that hot blood raced to her head and made her dizzy. So be it. She’d just voiced her opinion at a family gathering and now Travis wanted to kiss her. If that wasn’t cause for a head rush, she didn’t know what was. “I, um—pool house, I guess?”

They crossed the threshold of the tiny changing hut a few seconds later. The door smacked shut behind them and they were enclosed in darkness. And move over, Mark and Reese, because she’d never been so poised to combust in her life. Travis was breathing heavy as he dragged Georgie off his shoulder, her legs cinching around his waist on the way down. Soft flesh settled on hard to the soundtrack of a groan, a whimper. A slow grind of those ready parts, followed by all-out panting. Growling. He lunged and rammed her backward into the wall, and their mouths locked in a feverish battle.

Georgie’s mind could barely function around the passion of it. The intensity. Her senses turned to blank slates that knew nothing of touch and taste. They waited eagerly for Travis to teach them new ways—and he did. His mouth moved with sensual intention, giving her quality, not quantity. He dragged out and relished every dance of their tongues, every re-angling glide of their lips. Every breath they broke apart to take. Savoring, pushing their foreheads together, sipping at her mouth, his breath stuttering, throat working. Making her feel like the first and last woman to ever be kissed in all of history. And all the while, his rough hands climbed her thighs, eagerly rounding her hips to clutch her bottom. Molding it to the shape of his fingers and palms.

“Open your eyes and look at me, Georgette Castle.” Travis’s voice rasped at her in the near darkness, leaving no room for nonsense. She’d never seen him like that, focused and determined. Serious. Maybe a touch nervous. “Look at me.”

“I’m looking,” she whispered, wondering if he was aware that his erection was pressing hard into the silk of her panties—and if he also realized it wasn’t really an opportune time for a conversation. “I’m here. I’m looking,” she breathed anyway.

“Good.” He kissed her once—hard—then went back to having a serious face. “I can’t do it. I can’t stop myself from taking you.” He groaned against her mouth, using his grip on her bottom to drag her higher on his lap. “I need to be inside this so fucking bad.”

Sparks shot around in her brain, like someone had thrown coffee on the control panel that kept her rooted in reality. “You do?”