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He’d taken his shirt off in deference to the heat, but the sudden cold made him wish for it now. He paced away from the machinery, tapping his water bottle on his thigh. No longer seeing the shade-dappled backyard around him. Once upon a time, Travis’s father had probably made romantic overtures to his mother. Probably brought her flowers and squired her on dates.

Then Travis had come along and put an end to all of that, hadn’t he? Not only had any semblance of romance ceased, all-out warfare had started. A memory resurfaced, not so different from countless others knocking around in his head. After the initial separation, his mother and father both wanted to go out with friends on the same night.

“You take him.”

“Not tonight. I need this.”

“I need to get away, too. I’ve had him for four nights straight!”

“Oh, wow, four whole nights. It’s called fatherhood!”

“You’re preaching to me? What kind of a mother doesn’t want to care for her son?”

“Maybe a mother who wants her life back. How about that?”

A familiar hand settled on Travis’s shoulder and he spun around, breathing like he’d just run up the side of a mountain. Georgie stared back at him, hand still poised in the air. Travis swallowed hard, battling back the urge to scoop her up and bury his face in whatever part of her was closest. She had that fresh-scrubbed look, as if she’d just wiped off her clown makeup. The little flyaway hairs around her face were damp, eyelashes in clumps, lips pink and parted. Fading sunlight lit her up and drenched her exposed legs, highlighting the concern in her eyes.

“Hey,” she murmured. “You’re here.”

Travis cleared his throat but didn’t get rid of the rust. “Yeah.” She was watching him curiously, seeing too much, and he didn’t have the stomach to explain what had shaken him up. So he forced a smile before she could ask. “I’m here.”

Her attention traveled down his chest and belly, color rising in her cheeks. “You’re here.”

“You already said that.”

She squeezed her eyes closed. “I . . . was just confirming.”

It was unbelievable. One minute around Georgie and warmth crept back into his blood, making him feel normal. Balanced. “Aren’t you going to ask about the construction taking place in your backyard?”

“What?” She jolted, clearly seeing the machinery and lumber for the first time. “Oh! Are you? No. Is this my fireplace you’re working on?”

Travis nodded once. “Recognize the wood?”

Her gaze flicked to his lap. “Wait . . . what?”

“The wood for the fireplace, baby girl.” A laugh snuck out. “Christ, we better punch that V card before you have a nervous breakdown.”

She threw up her hands. “Well, I can’t help it! You turned my perfectly innocent backyard into construction worker porn. All we need is some light jazz.”

“Yikes. What kind of porn are you watching?”

“The respectable-lady kind.”


Georgie gave an exaggerated toss of her hair. “No, I don’t recognize the wood. Where did you get it?”

Travis took a step in her direction, very aware of the fact that they hadn’t touched enough for his liking. Distracted by exactly how much he needed their skin pressed together, he didn’t guard his words. “I’ve been thinking about you constantly.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, swaying to the right. “I’ve been thinking about you, too.”

He caught Georgie, keeping her upright. “Remember those summers you spent in that tree in your parents’ backyard? You sat up there, legs dangling, reading those books . . . What books were they?”

“Those were Seventeen magazines I stole from Bethany and hid inside books. I took the personality quizzes over and over until I got the answer I wanted.”

Caught by surprise, he laughed. “You wouldn’t come down out of the tree until Vivian threatened to give your dinner to the dog.”

A line formed between Georgie’s brows, her gaze moving to the mantel he’d been sanding. “Travis Ford.” She pressed a hand between her breasts. “What did you do?”

“Convincing Vivian to let me saw down the branch took some effort, but I pointed out she has about fifteen trees in the backyard, so she caved.”

Georgie’s face landed smack between his sweaty pecs, her arms motionless at her sides. “Oh no. I hate crying.” Her exhale coasted down his belly. “Oh God, it’s coming. I can’t stop it.”

Relief settled over Travis and he pulled her close, because if she didn’t care about his manual labor smell, neither did he. “You love it?”

“I love it. I worship it. Thank you.”

The moisture of her tears slipped down his skin and time seemed to slow down. So slow, he could hear every tick of his pulse, could count every thread of hair on her crown. “You forgive me for missing the appointment?”

Her words were muffled. “I already forgave you.”

“Yeah, but you really mean it now. It’s not grudging.”

“You make it sound like I was sulking.”

He tried to stop himself from kissing her forehead. It was too intimate a gesture, and he was very aware of the lack of cameras present. It was just the two of them. But he didn’t stand a chance against his impulses when she looked so soft. His lips pressed to the spot below her hairline and lingered, his arms gathering her closer. “You were pouting a little.”

Georgie poked him in the ribs. “You’re just trying to make me stop crying.”


Travis tilted Georgie’s head back and brought their mouths together, licking away the salt from her lips. Stealing it off her tongue. Jesus, he couldn’t close his eyes, because her happily tearstained expression was too invigorating. He’d done that? They stood for long minutes in the dimming backyard, wood debris at their feet, Georgie letting him master her with the kind of kissing he’d never participated in before. He kissed her like he was . . . taking care of her. Soothing her. Letting her know he’d stand guard while she wept. And the responsibility made him feel like more of a man than he ever had in his life.

His cock stiffened like a son of a bitch, but when he would have jerked her hips close in the name of friction, Travis let himself ache. Let his flesh beg and fill out his jeans, while he focused on the girl in front of him. The girl offering her mouth in a way that made him feel . . . worthy.

He was almost too dizzy on the sensation to realize Georgie had pulled back. “Travis?” Her thumbs traced his jawline. “What were you thinking about when I came home?”

Telling Georgie about the monsters that lurked in the deepest corners of his mind didn’t scare him. Not anymore. But he didn’t want her sympathy tonight. Tonight was about her. So he kissed her soft mouth again, taking the contact deeper until she gasped into his mouth. “I’m going to take a shower, all right?” He ran his fingers along the curve of her shoulder, pressing a thumb to the side of her neck and massaging. “I’m going to feed you before I introduce you to God.”

Chapter Twenty

What was the deal with panties?

A girl buys a grip of freaking underwear, and within a week, half the silky little mofos have been abducted by aliens or sucked up into some washing machine purgatory.

Where did they all go?

Georgie rifled through her sock drawer, hoping a pair of her overly expensive panties had gone rogue, but no dice. They were all in the bottom of her laundry basket, where they definitely weren’t going to help her get laid.

You don’t need help getting laid. It’s a done deal.


Still, though. Instead of wearing them all immediately, she could have saved them for special occasions. There had been no need to clean her house in an organza thong, although she had felt pretty fancy while scrubbing the toilet. Georgie took a deep breath through her nose and headed for the closet, trying not to peer through the crack in her en suite bathroom door. Travis was naked on the other side, rubbing her soap up and down his disgustingly hot body, getting ready to sex her up. No big deal, right?

She opened the closet door and scanned the contents. A dress would be trying too hard for a night on the couch. Jeans would be too hard to get off—and since she didn’t have any panties to wear, they’d rub her the wrong way. Literally. In her Netflix and chill fantasies, she’d been cool and casual in an oversized, off-the-shoulder sweater and leggings. Easy and effortless. She didn’t own anything like that. Dammit, Boutique Tracy.

The shower spray cut off.

Georgie snapped an oversized T-shirt off a hanger in a panic—maneuvering her boobs to maximum boobiness within the confines of her lace bra—and dropped the shirt over her head. Perfect, right? Her shoulder peeked out. Just like in her fever dreams . . .

Hurricanes. It was the Hurricanes jersey with Travis’s name and number on the back. Oh no. No, wearing his clothing would be way too on the nose. If he saw the loving care she’d put into ironing and hanging the jersey up in her closet, he’d probably deduce she’d spent her teens and early twenties infatuated with him, which absolutely could not happen. She could see his face now—just sheer horror, his eyes scoping for the nearest exit. She’d never be able to look him in the face again, let alone be his casual, just-for-now hookup.