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“Your stop, sir,” the cabbie says.

I snap out of it and we get out of the car just as my phone rings. I look to see who it is. “Sorry, I have to take this. I’ll just be a second.”

I leave her by the entrance to the pizza place and walk over in front of the next store.

“Hey, bud. How are you?”

“I did something bad,” Danny says.

“You did? What did you do?”

“I left the water on and it got all over the floor. Mommy’s mad at me.”

I look over at Aspen to see her watching me. I turn my back and try to wrap up the conversation.

“I’m sure she’s not mad at you, Danny. It sounds like it was an accident. Once she cleans it up, she won’t be mad anymore. Maybe you could help her. Why don’t you get a towel or a mop and soak up some of the water?”

“Okay. Are you coming over today?”

“No. I can’t come over today. But maybe next weekend. I have a whole day off. Maybe we could go back to the beach.”

“Yay! I have to go. Mommy’s calling me.”

The line goes dead before I can say goodbye.

I spin around and come face-to-face with Aspen. “Ready?” I ask.

She points to my phone. “Who are you planning a beach outing with?”

“None of your business.”

“I’d say it is my business if you’re violating the contract by taking out another woman.”

“I’m not taking out another woman.”

“It sure sounded like it to me. You have a day off and you want to take her to the beach? I heard what you said, Sawyer.”

“Why are you eavesdropping?”

She points behind me. “Because people are starting to gather. They are noticing you. I walked over to tell you since you seemed oblivious to anything but the person on the other end of the phone call.”

I roll my eyes. “It’s not what you think.”

“Then why don’t you explain it to me?”

“I don’t have to explain anything. I’m not cheating on you and I won’t cheat on you. That’s all you have to know.”

“But even meeting another woman somewhere could give people the wrong idea.”

“I told you, I’m not meeting a woman. Now can we please go eat,” I say, walking over to hold the door open. “I’m hungry.”

Chapter Eighteen

Aspen

The waitress brings our beers and almost spills mine in my lap while she’s slobbering over Sawyer.

I study him, wondering what that phone call was all about. Who else would he be taking to the beach? And why is he being so secretive about it if it’s not a woman?

I shouldn’t care. I shouldn’t care one tiny bit, because if he does violate the contract, I still get my money and I get to walk away. That should make me happy. But for some reason it doesn’t. And that reason nags at me in the pit of my stomach when I realize that even though this is all for show, I still don’t want him with another woman.

And that realization makes me just one more pitiful woman in his long line of pitiful women.

I hear a tapping noise behind me, so I look over my shoulder and out the front window to see a crowd gathering and watching us. “Did you have to request a table in the front?”

“It’s the best way to be seen,” he says.

“But everyone will be watching me eat.”

“So don’t eat. Most chicks don’t eat on dates anyway.”

“This isn’t a real date,” I remind him. “And I’m hungry.”

“So eat.”

I roll my eyes at him.

“I’m not most chicks, either.”

He cocks his head to the side and appraises me. “No, you’re not, are you.”

“Listen, maybe you’re used to this by now, but I’m not. I’m not used to people watching my every move.”

“You don’t play the piano in front of people?”

“I do, but that’s different. They watch me play. They don’t watch me everywhere else and take pictures of me when I get into a cab. Or when I drink my beer. What if I get spinach in my teeth?”

He laughs. “You’d look great even with spinach in your teeth. But if it makes you feel any better, I promise to tell you if you get spinach in your teeth. Deal?”

I shrug.

“Let’s talk about something else to get your mind off it.”

“Okay. Tell me why you kiss your fingers and then touch your rib cage every time you go up to bat?”

A smug smile creeps up his face. “Oh, you noticed that?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” I say. “It is kind of my job to get to know you.”

“I guess you could call it one of my rituals.”

“Rituals?”

“Yeah. Baseball is a superstitious sport. Just wait until we get on a winning streak, none of us will shave.”

“Really? How many do you have to win to be on a streak?”

“Usually five or six in a row.”

“And nobody will shave until you lose?”

“Nope.”

I cringe. “I’d hate to be the one to clean up the clubhouse sinks after a loss.”

“Yeah, it can get pretty nasty in there.”

“So, why kiss your fingers and touch your ribs?”

“It’s not so much my ribs I touch, it’s my tattoo.”

“You have a tattoo?”

“Yup.”

“Can I see it?”

He laughs a throaty laugh. “You want me to show you my tattoo with those people out there waiting to pounce on anything we do that’s newsworthy?”

I turn around to see the crowd outside that I forgot about for a minute. “No, I guess not. But why do you do it – touch your tattoo?”

“Just something I started back in high school,” he says sadly.

“Do your teammates have any rituals?”

“Every single one of them.”

“They do? What are they?”

“Some of them will eat the same things before every game. Some listen to specific music or wear a particular article of clothing. Caden plays every game with his wife’s engagement ring in his back pocket.”

My jaw drops. “Really?”

“Whatever it takes to make us play our best.”

The waitress brings our pizza and then a few restaurant patrons ask for a picture on their way out the door. Sawyer stands up and obliges them. Before he sits back down, he picks up his chair and moves it closer to mine. So close that our outer thighs touch.

He puts a slice of pizza on each of our plates and then he puts his arm around me. He leans in and whispers in my ear. “It’s hot as shit. Let it cool or you’ll burn your mouth.”

I turn my head to ask him why he’s whispering to me, but when I do, I see he hasn’t pulled away and our lips are inches apart. My breath hitches when I look into his eyes. His eyes are what I’d call icy blue. They are so light-blue, they are almost white. It’s a contrast to his dark hair which makes him even more striking.

I take a moment to imagine him with a beard. I wonder how many games they would have to win for him to be able to grow one. Then I imagine what it would feel like to kiss him after he did.

“I’m kissing you now,” he announces right before his lips find mine.

He doesn’t give me a passionate kiss, but it’s not exactly a chaste one either. When he pulls away, I ask, “Why did you do that?”

“How could I not when you were looking at me with those fuck-me eyes?”

“I was not,” I pout.

“You were. Did Rylee teach you how to do that? I’ll have to tell her you were spot on.” He nods to the window. “I hope they’re getting all this.”

I look at the people outside with their cell phones and cameras and I’m reminded why we’re doing this. Then I get upset with myself when I realize I wasn’t acting. When I was looking at him, I wasn’t thinking that I had to look a certain way because someone told me to or because it was written in a contract. I was looking at him because he’s a gorgeous man who, despite his arrogance and crassness, seems to have me under some kind of spell.

I push my chair back and quickly stand up.

“Where are you going?” he asks.

“Bathroom. I need to wash up before I eat,” I lie.

And as I’m walking to the back of the restaurant, I think about just how good I am at lying. Maybe practice makes perfect.

I stare at myself and shake my head at my reflection. “You can’t feel like this,” I tell the girl in the mirror. “He’s not yours. He’ll never be yours. And you don’t want him to be.”

I hear a toilet flush and I close my eyes. How could I be so stupid?

A woman comes out of a stall and looks at me in the mirror as she washes her hands. “Honey, you’re crazy if you don’t want that man,” she says. “But I wouldn’t object if you sent him over to me if you don’t.”

“I’m just being ridiculous,” I say, walking into a stall and locking the door.

I stay behind the door until the woman leaves, giving myself a pep talk. A silent one this time. Then I walk back out to Sawyer, making a vow not to fall for him.

He’s eating when I return. “It’s good,” he says. “I ordered you another drink.”

“You didn’t want to wait for me?” I ask, ready to give him another lesson on dating. Then I remember the pep talk. “Forget it. Let’s eat.”

He nods to my phone, not caring in the least about what I was going to say. “Bass called.”

“What did he want?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t answer it. I just saw his name pop up. He texted you when you didn’t answer. He wants you to look at some website.”

I stare him down. Does he know no boundaries?

“What?” he says. “You left your phone sitting on the table face up, are you saying I’m not supposed to even look at it?”

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