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I’m going to tell him. I have to tell him everything. It won’t stay inside.

“You came.”

A frown marred his forehead. “Of course I came.” Something was wrong, though. She could see it. Dark circles cradled his eyes, tension riding along his shoulders. “You’re doing great, baby girl. I’ll be waiting at the finish line.”

Georgie nodded, relieved to have a better motivation than murdering Kristin. Taking one more worried look at Travis’s face, she turned and rejoined the women, doing her best to give them her whole focus. They deserved it. Once they’d completed all ten obstacles, they all crossed the finish line together and were immediately handed . . . beer? Bethany, Rosie, and Georgie shrugged and clinked plastic cups.

“We look like we just crawled out of a swamp,” Rosie said, laughing.

Bethany guzzled down half her beer. “We did.”

“But we did it.” Georgie’s laugh turned into a sob, the earlier rise of emotions catching her around the throat again. “You guys, I’ll be back. I have to do something.”

They gave her a mud-covered hug and sent Georgie on her way. Picking through the celebrating crowd on her own, the magnitude of what she was about to do hit. How would Travis react? Would he panic? Would it make him happy?

Either way, she couldn’t look him in the face anymore and water down her feelings. Every time she kept the words crammed down inside, it hurt. And there was a bone-deep knowledge inside Georgie telling her Travis wouldn’t want her to hurt.

The crowd parted and there he was. God, so absurdly good-looking in jeans and a navy-blue sweatshirt rolled up to his elbows. He was looking for her, too, and when he found her, relief etched itself on every line of his strong body. Georgie didn’t care that she looked like Swamp Thing; she could only gravitate toward Travis, and when he opened his arms up, she ran and leaped into them like they were the gates of heaven. To her, they were.

“You were amazing out there,” he said into her neck. “They got tired and you motivated them. You were the leader.”

Her heart lifted. “I promised them they could help me kill Kristin.” Travis’s laugh was so genuine, she wondered if she’d imagined how tired he looked. “Will you kiss me even though I’m covered in mud of questionable origin?”

His mouth found hers, gave it a teasing nuzzle. “I’ve never seen you more beautiful,” he rasped. “The way you smiled out there. The way you’re smiling now . . .”

The decision to come clean, the lack of the burden. It had to be showing on her face. “Travis, I have to talk to you.”

“I have to talk to you, too, Georgie.” The worry was back around his eyes, making her stomach clench, but his mouth continued to sample hers with distracting kisses. “Can we go somewhere—”

“Travis.” Stephen’s voice broke through the personalized fog surrounding them. “How about you put my sister down?”

Travis’s jaw bunched tight. “Not now. Please don’t do this now.”

“You haven’t given me a choice.”

“I can clear this up,” he said, throwing her brother a look. “Just let me talk to her first.” Travis faced her once again, pushing their foreheads together. “Ah, baby girl. I fucked up. This is going to get bad. Just promise you’ll give me a chance to explain.”

Georgie’s breath started to come faster, scraping along her eardrums. This seemed bad. Needing to get some distance from the comforting feel of him so she could be objective, Georgie eased herself to the ground, staving off Travis when he tried to tug her back into the cradle of his body. “Explain what?” Keeping her chin up, she transferred her attention to a glowering Stephen. “What’s going on?”

Stephen’s demeanor turned nervous—and that’s when Georgie started to become truly terrified. She’d rarely seen her brother look anything but self-assured, especially since they’d entered adulthood. “When Travis stood up for you at dinner, he was right. You deserve better. I realized I haven’t been treating you the way I should and I’m really sorry. And I just want to do right by you now. I wish that didn’t mean hurting you,” Stephen finished in a gruff voice. “I just thought . . . when he came to me about your relationship, I thought I saw a change in him.”

Bethany bounded up beside Georgie. “What’s the serious-face summit about?”

Concreted to the ground, Georgie ignored her sister. “Keep going.”

Her brother gave a deep sigh. “It was all fake for him. He was dating you to help land himself the commentator job. None of it was real.”

Relief landed on Georgie’s head like cement. “Oh God. Okay, Stephen. We have a lot to talk about. Now isn’t the time, but Travis and I both had our reasons for dating. At first.” She squeezed Travis’s hand. “It’s super complicated, but please trust me when I say this is real.”

Stephen’s frown didn’t relent. “I heard what I heard, Georgie. He called you a kid last night. Said he’s been using you to his advantage. I’m as surprised as you are.”

“Georgie, look at me,” Travis implored her. “I was full of shit when I said that.”

Georgie couldn’t tear her eyes off her brother. There was more coming. Foreboding made her hands and feet feel like they’d fallen asleep, made her lips numb.

“When Travis told me you two were dating, I told him to back off so you wouldn’t get hurt,” Stephen said, dragging a hand down his face. “I thought he’d leave you alone if I told him you’d been in love with him since you were a kid. But he didn’t. He . . . I can’t believe this, but he used it. He called you a kid with a kid’s crush.”

The blood drained straight out of her. She couldn’t breathe.

“What the fuck, Stephen?” Bethany muttered.

For some reason, Travis calling her a kid landed the hardest blow. How many times had he demonstrated the opposite with his words and actions? Something about the revelation didn’t sit exactly right, but she was too bogged down in mortification to examine what it was.

“A kid with a crush. So you knew how I felt the whole time?” Georgie whispered. “Poor little Georgie. God, you must have felt so bad for me.”

Her mind cluttered up with images of the last couple weeks. Travis above her, his mouth open on a moan. Travis opening a takeout carton in a towel, winking at her across the kitchen. The morning on the baseball field when he picked up a bat again. Was any of that real? Her stomach pitched, sharp jabs of pain penetrating her rib cage. Finding their mark.

“No. No, I didn’t feel bad for you. I knew . . .” Travis rocked back on his heels, a hand plowing into his hair. “The kind of love Stephen told me about wasn’t real. It was just . . .”


“A young girl’s crush,” he answered quietly, his jaw flexing. “Hero worship.”

The oxygen vacated her lungs. “You made that judgment without even asking me, didn’t you?” A punch of misery hit her in the stomach. “Do you have any idea how stupid I feel? Knowing you were aware of how I felt the whole time? Silly clown with her silly, meaningless crush. I guess you never took me seriously, either. Not me and not our friendship,” she managed, moisture gathering in her eyes. “The love didn’t pass, Travis. It just became so much more. I still loved the guy who hit the home runs and showed off for the crowd. I also loved the imperfect man.”

“Don’t say ‘loved.’ Say ‘love.’” Travis made a rough sound. “And Jesus, don’t cry. Please don’t cry.” He tried to come toward her, but Stephen grabbed his arm, holding him off. “Let go of me. My girlfriend is crying.”

“She’s not your girlfriend.”

Georgie couldn’t even be sure who said those words. Her head spun too fast to keep up. She only knew it was true. He’d thought of her as a stupid kid, didn’t take her seriously, just like everyone else. He was aware of her feelings and sloughed them off like they weren’t real. They were. So real that her heart was capsizing under the rupturing pressure.

“Georgie, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Dominic joined Stephen to pull a struggling Travis farther away. It was a losing battle until security joined them, herding a belligerent Travis toward the parking lot.

“Get off of me. Fuck. Just let me talk to her.”

Despite all the doubt paralyzing Georgie, her heart shouted at her to run to Travis, making her cry all the harder. But in the end, she let her sister and friends close ranks around her, shielding her from the crowd as she absorbed reality. Shielding her from the man who’d broken her heart.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Travis lay on the couch in the darkness facing the door. Staring at the hinges and knob, willing them to move. But they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t move.

He’d lost the one person who busted down his door.

As he’d done time and time again over the last several days, he turned onto his stomach and searched for her scent in the pillow he’d brought from his bed. It, too, was gone. He’d sucked it all up on day one. Absorbed it into his bloodstream, along with countless swigs of whiskey and no food.