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A laugh boomed out of him. “Way to tarnish the moment.” He studied her. “You really felt safer with me here?”

“Safe as houses.”

He looked satisfied as he brushed her bangs back. “I like knowing that.”

Georgie’s heart was in her eyes. She could feel it. How much she showed him in that moment. Ten years of nursing an all-consuming crush she’d assumed was love, when she’d had no idea that this was what love felt like. This. This was it. So heavy at times it couldn’t be lifted, so light at others it made you capable of floating. Protect yourself, a voice whispered in the back of her head. He doesn’t love you back. Then or now. With a tight smile, Georgie was off his lap. She hit the ground running, her voice unnatural when she called over her shoulder. “We leave in five minutes. Think you can keep up?”

The route she took on their run brought them past the high school. Honestly, Georgie didn’t plan it. But after that, it seemed only natural to cross over through the baseball field. Since the season wouldn’t start for months, the expansive green sat deserted beneath a cloudy gray morning sky, automatic sprinklers ticking and spraying in the distance. Without looking at Travis, she could feel the tension creeping into his frame—his reluctance to go toward the diamond.

He’d started talking to her more about baseball, especially since he’d started gunning for the commentating job with the Bombers. But the idea of actively playing the sport again seemed to make him uncomfortable. As if he wouldn’t allow himself full enjoyment of baseball unless he could be the best at it. Sadness settled over her. Made loss spread in her belly. She could blink and see him in his starched gray Port Jefferson uniform, standing at home plate and tapping the metal bat off his cleats. Trash-talking the catcher. Absorbing love and excitement from the crowd—especially her. He’d so obviously been the best, no one ever questioned his superiority. They celebrated it. Add to that the fact that Travis Ford practically glowed while holding a bat, and Georgie couldn’t help but miss watching him play. The sport was a part of him.

Jogging beside him through the outfield and remembering the deafening cheers from the crowd, Georgie’s gut told her not to stop pushing him. It could be something he loved, even if he couldn’t make millions of dollars playing. More importantly, like she’d told him last night, he didn’t have to be the best baseball player to be the best Travis.

With these thoughts dancing in Georgie’s head, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that the gray light happened to glint off a bat that someone must have left propped against the dugout. No. Coincidences that perfect didn’t exist.

She veered right, praying she was doing the right thing.

“Where are you . . .” Travis stopped following her around second base. “Georgie.”

She didn’t let his warning tone deter her. “I’m just going to grab this bat. I’ll drop it off at the lost and found later.”

“Someone will probably be back to look for it before then.” God, he looked so uncomfortable, rolling his shoulders in that stressed-out manner he broke out only when truly out of his comfort zone. “You should leave it.”

Georgie hummed. “Okay.” She started to return the bat to its original position, but swung it up onto her shoulder instead, bending her knees in a pitiful stance. “Too bad we don’t have a ball.”

“You don’t have a hope in hell of hitting a ball standing like that.” He made an absent gesture that wasn’t really absent. His eyes were zoned in on her. “Choke up, Georgie. If you swing like that, you’re going to knock yourself out.”

“This is how Stephen taught me,” she returned with a frown.

“Stephen was always better at hockey.” Travis took a few steps into the diamond and sighed. “Bend your knees, weight on the back leg.”

She locked her knees and leaned forward.

Travis groaned up at the sky. “You’re killing me, baby girl.”

When he stomped toward her, crossing over the pitcher’s mound and looking like the cover of Sports Illustrated, Georgie took a bracing breath. But she could do nothing to stop the flood of excitement that pooled in her stomach. “What?”

“I know what you’re doing.” He leaned down and growled into her neck. “Come here, anyway. You’re mocking the baseball gods.”

His front curved to her back in such a delicious fashion, Georgie had to close her eyes. His strong, capable arms bracketed her, the scent of male sweat and mint toothpaste giving her no choice but to sway. “Um. Who are the baseball gods?”

“Ruth, DiMaggio, and Gehrig. No question.”

Georgie dropped her voice to a whisper. “Are they watching us right now?”

“They’re too busy spinning in their graves. Slide your hands up, grip tight—and try not to make a sexual innuendo about it.”

She giggled like an honest-to-God middle school girl but somehow managed to follow the dictate, even with pheromones having a rave in her bloodstream. “Like this?”

“Good girl,” he said huskily against her ear, bringing his flexing thighs up against hers, securing her backside tightly in his lap. “Now drop that beautiful ass a little. Weight on your back leg.” He groaned as she complied, thanks to her bottom dragging right over the swell of his manhood. “God yeah, just like that.”

Oh boy.

It was safe to say the situation was getting away from Georgie. She’d chanced picking up the bat in an attempt to draw Travis back into his happy place. But the longer this went on, the greater the chance they would end up in an entirely different venue of happiness. She couldn’t let this opportunity pass, though. Who knew when she’d have another chance like this?

When his hand traveled beneath the front of her shirt to massage her breast, his lips leaving an openmouthed kiss on her neck, it was now or never. “I think I got it,” she said in a tremulous voice. “But could you show me, just so I’m sure?”

Travis’s breath sighed out onto her neck. Above them, the sky darkened further, blurring their shadows on the ground, releasing a hint of salt into the air. “I think we’ve done enough for one day.”

Knowing she played dirty, Georgie gave Travis an innocent yet beseeching look over her shoulder. “Please?”

A muscle twitched in his jaw. “Why is this important to you?”

It was so hard to keep the love hidden. This morning in bed. Now. Every time they reached this point where her heart ached to come clean, she drew back, afraid he might catch on. Right now, though, with something so vital on the line, she pushed through the nerves. “I used to sit in the bleachers and watch your games.” She turned and eased away, casting a look at the seating area in question. “By the time they were over, I’d have little moon-shaped nail marks on my palms . . . and they wouldn’t fade for hours. That’s how exciting you were to watch.” She rolled her lips together. “Not because of your batting average. Just because you made everyone want to love something as much as you loved baseball. To feel what you felt.”

Travis seemed frozen. Or maybe they both were, because she couldn’t attempt movement until he gave some sort of reaction. Finally, his chest lifted and fell on a heavy shudder. “When I used to play, we always kept a stash of balls in the eaves of the dugout. There’s probably a ball or two.” He sniffed and took the bat from Georgie, weighing it in his hands. “Better hit a few before the sky opens up.”

She had already turned and was walking at a fast clip to the dugout, a cheer going up in her mind. It was happening. She’d done it. Her foot skidded on some loose dirt as she rounded the corner onto the dugout steps, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw the row of balls. Using her T-shirt as a carrying device, she gathered as many balls as she could and waddled back under the weight, probably resembling a harried duck. “What should I do?”

Travis took a practice swing, tension riddling his shoulders, and Georgie had a moment of panic. What if pushing him backfired?

Instead of answering, he held up his hand.

Georgie tossed him the first ball. He caught it with ease, staring at it a moment. His narrowed gaze eventually drifted out to the fences, his sturdy frame expanding. Preparing. “Stand back, baby girl.”

She looked down to find herself mere inches from the batter’s box. “Oh.” Quickly, she scooted back. “Right.”

Holding her breath, she watched as Travis tossed the ball up in the air. It had been months since he’d swung a bat, yet his body fell right into the familiar motion. His stabilizing leg bent, his arms carrying the bat back, his tongue tucking into his cheek. Muscle memory. And oh my God. Legs twisting, arms and torso flexing, he was magnificent. The ball cracked off the bat and went soaring, up toward the rapidly darkening clouds, and dropped way out in the outfield, rebounding off the fence with a ping.

Georgie could no more stop her loud whoop of pure joy than she could stop the rain that started to fall in gentle drips around them. Travis turned to her with stunned optimism, and she didn’t hesitate to throw him the next ball. And the next. One by one, they dropped into the outfield or roared down the third base line, every thwack of the ball meeting metal making Georgie’s heart sing louder. The rain grew heavier, soaking their clothes and hair, but they didn’t stop until all the balls were gone from her T-shirt. If she had a million more, she would have stood there tossing balls to Travis until the sun went down, watching him grow more confident with every swing, but she couldn’t have been any more victorious when he dropped the bat.