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“There’s no decision to be made—you’re clearly the best candidate,” she replies with the kind of unshakeable confidence only a mother can feel toward her son.

“Thanks, Ma.” I turn onto the street that houses Tuck’s bar and click my blinker to claim the last available parking spot at the curb. “I just got to my buddy’s and need to parallel park. I’ll call you later this week.”

“Sounds good. I love you.” Does she? Sometimes I wonder.

“Love you too.”

We hang up, and I experience the same sense of overwhelming relief as when I got off the phone with my father last week.

I hop out of the car and glance at the neon signs lighting the front of Tucker’s bar. And there’s actually a line at the door. Business is obviously booming. Good for Tuck.

As I approach the sidewalk, I send him a quick text.

ME: Dude, I’m outside your bar. Not gonna make me freeze my nuts off in this line, are ya?

Three dots appear as he types a response.

TUCK: I’m upstairs. Come up. And 4 future—tell bouncer ur name and he’ll let u in. Ur on the perma guest list

Sweet. I’m a VIP.

I bypass the front door and walk to the side of the building, where a narrow door buzzes open the moment I reach it. I know Tuck is staring at me on a camera right now. I helped him set up the system, which he can control entirely from his smartphone. It makes it easier to get in and out of this place. Plus, he takes security seriously. His baby girl and baby mama are the most important things in the world to him.

“Hey,” I say when I reach the second-floor loft.

Tuck greets me with baby Jamie on his hip. “Gaaah!” she shrieks when she sees me.

I can honestly say she’s one of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. The kid belongs in diaper commercials and on baby-food jars. She inherited the best of both her parents, who are disgustingly attractive to begin with, especially Sabrina.

Jamie’s pink rosebud mouth opens, and she gives me a huge gummy smile. Her arms flail in my direction.

Tuck sighs. “She’s such a little attention seeker.”

“Aw, I don’t mind.” I hold out my arms, and the six-month-old practically somersaults into them. “She’s gotten so big, man.”

“I know. Swear to God, I turn around for five seconds and I look back and she’s doubled in size.”

Jamie wiggles happily in my arms, her chubby hands instantly seeking out the stubble on my face. She loves textures and is fascinated by colors. The last time I saw her, she was in total awe of my tats.

“Are you sure you don’t mind that I stopped by?” I ask as he shuts and locks the front door.

“‘Course not. You’re welcome here any time, man.”

“Where’s Sabrina?”

“Study group.”

“So late?” It’s almost ten o’clock.

“Yup. That woman works her butt off.” Deep pride resonates in his voice.

Sabrina is in law school, and, truth be told, I have no idea how she manages to be a mom while studying to be a lawyer. Fortunately, she and Tuck have help—his mother moved up here from Texas in December. Apparently she lives in an apartment a few blocks away.

“How’s your mom liking Boston?”

“She hates the cold with all her heart.”

I grin. I imagine that February in Texas is a tropical paradise compared to these frigid New England winters.

“But her place has a gorgeous view of the Charles. She says it’s pretty to look at, and she gets to see her granddaughter whenever she wants, so she’s happy. We all are.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a good arrangement going on.”

Tucker nods. He looks so blissed out as he stares at his daughter, who’s still running her teeny fingers all over my chin. She squeals every time she encounters a stubbly whisker. “Want a beer?” he offers.

“Sure. But just one. I’m driving back tonight.”

“We’ve only got cans. Jamie’s really grabby lately, and she knocks shit off the counters when we walk by. I’ve had to pick up broken glass enough times that we just decided, fuck it. We’re a beer-can family now.”

“Cans are fine,” I assure him. Still holding the baby, I accept the can of Peak IPA, and we wander over to the couch.

The apartment features an open-concept layout with the living room on one side, kitchen on the other, and dining area in the far corner. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer a decent view of the small playground across the street, and a hallway off the dining room leads to the bedrooms. I helped Tuck renovate one of those rooms into a nursery for Jamie, and as I settle on the couch cushions and reposition her in my lap, I wonder why she’s not currently in that nursery.

“Shouldn’t she be asleep?”

“I was getting ready to feed her. Actually, she was screaming her lungs out about thirty seconds before you got here. She literally just settled.”

“Liar. This beautiful angel could never scream her lungs out,” I retort as I tickle one of Jamie’s socked feet. “Look at how sweet and calm she is.”

Jamie chortles in delight.

“Fuck off. She’s acting sweet and calm because we’ve got company. She’s a little terror in real life. Aren’t you, darlin’?”

The baby gazes at her father with pure adoration.

Tuck immediately caves. “I take it back,” he tells his daughter. “You’re not a terror. Fitz, entertain the princess while I prep her bottle.”

That’s no hardship. I bounce Jamie on my knee and tickle her tummy over her pink onesie while she makes the cutest noises. Damn, this kid is frickin’ cute.

“So what’s going on?” Tucker calls from the kitchen. “It’s not like you to show up out of the blue. Especially on game night. That shot to your eye looked brutal, by the way.”

“You saw it?”

“Yeah, I was flipping between your game and Garrett’s. His is still on. Second period.”

“G’s playing tonight?” I look over at the TV, but a commercial for laundry detergent is flashing on the screen.

“Yeah. He has a series of road games coming up. Playing LA tonight.”

“What’s the score?”

“Two all. G’s looking good.”

“One of those goals his?”

“No. One assist, though.”

“Sweet.” I’m thrilled for the success Garrett’s been having in his rookie season with Boston. He’s so frickin’ talented, and he also happens to be a genuinely decent guy. A bit cocky, sure. Definitely a smartass. But he’s got a big heart, and he’s a good friend.

“Dammit, Fitz.” Tuck’s southern drawl rears its head as he chastises me. “You managed to distract me again. Why aren’t you celebrating tonight’s W at Malone’s?”

I shrug. “Wasn’t in the mood for people.”

“Okay. Then why aren’t you at home?”

Because one of my roommates gave me a BJ tonight, and I don’t know how to act around her.

“I… It’s complicated.” I keep my gaze on the top of Jamie’s head. “Dean’s sister lives with us now.”

“I heard.” Tucker’s tone is cautious. “How’s that working out?”

Well, she gave me a BJ tonight, and I don’t know how to act around her.

“Pretty good.” I keep my own tone vague and smatter kisses on Jamie’s soft cheek, making her giggle again. But it isn’t long before my baby shield is taken away from me.

“You ready, little one?” Tuck drawls. “Mama pumped this yummy goodness out just for you.”

I snort loudly.

At the sight of the bottle, Jamie’s face lights up. A few moments later, she’s sucking happily on a nipple. With a pillow propped under his elbow and a contented baby in his arms, Tuck grins at me.

“She still into you?” he asks.

“Jamie? Yeah, she loves me.”

He rolls his eyes. “I’m talking about Summer Di Laurentis. I remember last winter she had a thing for you. Is that still the case?”

“Yup.”

“I see.” He looks like he’s trying not to smile. “What about you? Do you return the sentiment?”

After a reluctant beat, I dip my head in assent.

His smile breaks free. “Then what’s the problem? You worried about how Dean’s going to react?”

“No. I…” I puff out another breath. “I don’t know if I want to go there.”

Then you probably shouldn’t have let her blow you tonight.

Maybe not, but clearly I don’t possess any control when it comes to Summer. She makes me do the most uncharacteristic things. Well, she doesn’t make me. It just happens. I let her blow me in the locker room, for chrissake. Anyone could’ve walked in on us, and for a dude who hates PDA, drama, and attention, a public hookup definitely doesn’t top my bucket list.

And it’s funny—because wasn’t I telling myself the other night that if Summer was throwing herself at me, then I’d be challenging Hunter’s claim to her? Well, there’s no misinterpreting her intentions toward me anymore. I haven’t been friend-zoned. Her actions tonight proved that.

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