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“That’s her.” He smiled.

“Well, I’ve gotta try this out.” I hopped off my swing in the middle of its upward arc and ventured toward the rusty contraption. “Are you sure this thing is safe?” I climbed up the bottom rung of the ladder and stopped, testing my weight.

He shrugged. “Should be fine as long as you’re up-to-date on your tetanus shot.”

Scampering up the ladder before I chickened out, I plopped my butt down so I was perched at the top, my legs stretched out in front of me. Knox positioned himself below me at the bottom of the slide, and grinned up at me playfully.

“Come on down, I’ll catch you.”

I pushed myself forward, expecting to slide down easily. Instead, my jeans rubbed against the dull metal and I scooted about two inches. We both cracked up laughing. “That was anticlimactic.” With gravity proving to be no help, I used my feet to pull my pull myself down, scurrying the entire length of the slide until I came to an unsatisfying stop in front of Knox.

“It was better when I was three.” He extended a hand and I accepted, letting him pull me to my feet.

“Such a letdown,” I joked, nudging my shoulder with his.

“Hmm.” His eyes lazily traveled over me. “I’ll make it up to you.”

“Oh yeah? How?”

He pointed across the street from the park. “See that coffee shop?” I nodded, and he said, “I’ll buy you a hot chocolate.”

“Deal.”

While we sipped hot cocoa at a little café table, Knox called home once again to check on the boys. I loved how dedicated he was to them. It almost made me feel a little guilty for hogging him all day. But there was no denying I’d enjoyed today immensely.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“What is it?” I waited, breathless. Anytime Knox let me in was a small win.

“My test results came today.”

“And? Did you open them?”

He nodded, smiling crookedly. “I’m clean.”

Wow. “That’s amazing news.” A contented little sigh escaped my lips.

“I’m glad you made me do it.”

It was the little moments like this that made my job so rewarding. Knox wouldn’t have gone on his own, and I was happy that I was the one to encourage him. I was even happier at the results.

I drank my hot chocolate slowly, savoring it, almost like I was afraid to take the last sip because it meant our day together would be over. As it neared time to leave, both of us grew quiet as the easy mood from earlier all but evaporated. I remembered what Knox said about the night, and I prayed he wasn’t planning on going out to one of his usual haunts to pick up a woman. That thought crushed me.

“You okay?” he asked, setting down his own cup as if he sensed my somber mood.

“Fine,” I lied.

“I should take you home.” He might have voiced the words, but his body language wasn’t on board. He was leaning toward me, his elbows on the table and his gaze piercing mine.

“Okay,” I breathed. It was dark outside, nearly eight at night. Logic told me I should probably go home, even if the rest of me didn’t want to.

As we neared my apartment, a feeling of sadness settled over me. It had been a magical day. I’d expected to work at the shelter all day and then go home to have dinner with Brian. Oops. I’d forgotten all about dinner with Bri. I’d just tell him my work at the shelter ran late. Never mind this glow to my cheeks and lightheartedness from spending the day with Knox.

Rather than just dropping me off at the curb, Knox switched the ignition off and walked me to the door. We stood together under the little yellow porch light, watching each other. I couldn’t help glancing at his full lips and wondering if they’d taste like chocolate.

Knox shoved his hands into his pockets. He was stalling. Neither of us was ready to say good night.

“McKenna, I—”

Before Knox could finish whatever it was he was going to say, the door flew open and Brian stood between us, fuming. His eyes flashed from me to Knox and back again. Something told me he wasn’t pissed that I’d missed dinner; it was finding me here with Knox that had him on edge.

I shoved past them into the foyer of the apartment. “Geez, Bri, relax. I’m sorry I missed dinner.” I tossed my purse onto the counter and felt a pang of guilt seeing the plate of food he’d prepared and covered in plastic wrap for me.

“Where have you been?” Brian shouted, coming in behind me.

Knox bit out a curse, his posture stiffening as he stepped in front of me protectively. “She was with me. What’s the problem?”

“The problem?” Brian crossed the room to stand directly in front of Knox. He was a fraction shorter and with much less definition in his arms and chest, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he was puffing his chest out, acting like a caged gorilla. “The problem is that I know what you are. I saw you at that meeting.”

“What I am? And what’s that?” Knox asked, casually taking a step closer.

“Not good enough for her.” Brian tipped his head toward me.

“And someone like you is? Why don’t you let McKenna decide that for herself?”

“I’ve been protecting this girl from cocky ass**les like you for years, and I’m not about to stop now.”

“Brian!” I hissed through clenched teeth. I wouldn’t have him insulting Knox.

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