Fix Her Up

Page 30

Travis raised an eyebrow. “Really? I thought she liked staging.”

“She does, but she wants to make decisions on layout and swing a sledgehammer, too.”

Hell, he could relate to that. Demo day was like heaven on earth for a construction crew. Letting loose on a wall or breaking up concrete was goddamn therapeutic. It couldn’t be so different for a woman wanting to blow off steam. “Has she talked to Stephen?”

Her nose wrinkled. “He turned down the idea.”

“Stephen not wanting to break from tradition?” Travis snorted. “I don’t believe you.”

“No? He already bought the stick-figure family for his minivan window.” A few seconds passed. “Traditionalist or not, he should give Bethany a chance.”

“What if he won’t?”

“She’s going to take it somewhere else. And we’re going to help her.” She circled the rim of her glass with a finger. “That’s the point of the club.”

“And Paul.”

“Always Paul.”

They shared a smile. And then it faded and they went right on looking at each other. For too long. Until alarm started to build in Travis’s gut. Nothing about this felt even remotely fake. On the upside, they were definitely succeeding in being branded a couple. His hands couldn’t seem to stay off her. Without a formal command from his brain, Travis’s thumb continued to brush her neck, his thigh pressing to her knee. Their heads were leaned in so they could hear each other talk over the music, but he was so close, he could hear a whisper. Fuck, she smelled incredible.

“What about you, Georgie? You make any progress planning the entertainment company?”

Her whole face lit up, just inches away from his, giving him an up-close view of her shifting freckles, the stretch of her mouth. “I lucked out, actually. I put an ad on an employment website and found some freelance performers. The owner of their company moved to Vegas and they’re looking for a new home. I’m meeting with them next week.” Her shoulders bounced. “If we click and they’re as good as their references say, I can start booking twice the number of parties.”

“That’s amazing,” he rasped. “Good job.”

Looking down at his hand on her knee, she seemed to lose her train of thought. “Yeah. Um . . . and I’m working with a designer on a new website . . . and I’m taking a webinar on advertising. So basically I’m Michael Douglas from Wall Street now.”

This was how cute she could be on dates. Any man with the commitment gene and half a brain would propose before the dessert course. And it was really bad how much he wanted to kiss her, thanks to the jealousy that spawned. “Michael Douglas wouldn’t look anywhere near as sexy in that dress,” he said, his upper brain clearly not in command.

“I’d have to take it off so he could try it on,” she whispered, seeming to slow down the action of the bar around them. “Just to know for sure.”

A hungry pulse started in his balls. “Should I be worried that I’m getting turned on while you’re talking about Michael Douglas in a dress?”

“No.” He heard her swallow. “Because you’re thinking about me naked, not Mr. Zeta-Jones.”

I definitely am now, baby girl. Thinking of her in that little golden thong he’d seen in one of her shopping bags, how it would look between her ass cheeks. How she’d been on her way to a date with another man with those shopping bags. Jealousy trickled into his gut again—an emotion he was neither used to nor adept at handling. Not by a long shot. The fact that he could get jealous over this girl at all was bad news.

With a warning echoing in his head, Travis stepped back from Georgie and took a long sip of his beer, forcing himself to stop staring at her and pay attention to the bar instead. As he’d expected, the photographer had followed them inside and was now taking “discreet” cell phone pictures on the other side of the room. Several patrons were watching them, some he even recognized from the past or since he’d returned to Port Jeff. There was some head shaking going on, but mostly gleeful curiosity.

“Two Bats.” A hand clapped down on his shoulder, turning him around to face a man around his age he didn’t recognize. He was accompanied by a red-faced woman who was trying to hide behind her drink, a tourist map open in front of her on the bar. “I’m Mike, this is Cheryl.” He scrubbed a hand down his face. “Told her I wouldn’t say anything, but you’ve always been my wife’s hall pass.”

A hole opened in Travis’s stomach. Why hadn’t he taken this possibility into consideration? Of his persona catching up with him in public. The fact that Georgie was bearing witness made it so much worse than ever before. “That so?” He forced a tight smile. “I’m honored.”

Laughing, the man turned to face Travis fully, and he instantly regretted that he hadn’t shut the interaction down harder. The cameraman had already scented blood and was moving closer, within earshot of the conversation. “You can fit her into your busy schedule, can’t you?” Mike jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’d finally get a night of peace and quiet.”

Travis nodded stiffly, shame bubbling to the surface. He wanted to throw Georgie over his shoulder and make for the exit. “Schedule is full tonight, pal,” he rasped, apologizing to Georgie with his eyes.

Mike was clearly not ready to let the running joke drop. “Tomorrow, then. You should be ready for someone new by then, right? That’s Two Bats’s style. Hit her and quit her—”

Travis’s anger erupted. Just blew like Mount St. Helens down deep in his gut. The joke being played at his expense made him queasy, but as soon as the man suggested he’d hit and quit Georgie, a switch flipped and he saw bright fucking red. This is what people think of me. His fist slammed the bar and he turned, crowding Mike. “You want to disrespect me? Be my guest. But don’t you ever—ever—speak about her like that, motherfucker,” he said for the man’s ears alone. “Or the only thing I’ll be fitting into my schedule is your full-time ass kicking. You hearing me?”

Mike’s hands came up in surrender, but Georgie stepped in between them. Travis couldn’t see her face, but the tension in her body told him she was furious. On his behalf? “How dare you talk to him like that? Like he exists for your entertainment. You don’t know him. He’s not like that. Not anymore,” Georgie said, jolting back against Travis’s chest when the camera erupted in a series of shots.

His arm automatically went around her waist protectively, the need to get her out of the restaurant eating him alive. “Baby girl, come on—”

“Apologize . . . to my boyfriend. Now, please.”

“Yeah,” Mike muttered, chin tucking into his chest. “Sorry, I was out of line.”

“Thank you,” Georgie huffed.

With his fucking heart in his mouth, Travis watched his best friend’s little sister turned take-no-shit woman drain her drink and smack it back down on the bar, turning to him with a dazed expression.

“Want to go?”

“Yeah,” he rasped, throwing some money on the bar and guiding her around Mike and Cheryl to the exit. He moved in a trance, barely aware of the cameraman following them, although the man was on his cell phone now, speaking in a low, rushed tone. What the hell had just happened? One minute he’d been sinking into a mire of shame; now he might as well be watching a grand slam sail out of the park.

Even after agreeing to this charade with Georgie, he’d never really expected to shed his image as a lothario. What was the point of trying to change the public’s mind when it was already made up? Had he been selling himself short? Would Georgie defend him with such conviction otherwise?

They hit the parking lot and moved in tacit agreement toward Georgie’s car. “Well,” she breathed. “Tonight wasn’t a very compelling argument for you to stop getting takeout delivered every night, huh?”

“Georgie,” Travis growled, yanking her to a stop at the driver’s side. Her head fell back, calling attention to the strands of hair that had slipped loose from her braid, the streetlight catching the sheen of her mouth. Gorgeous. Outraged, too. All for him. “Thank you.” He couldn’t keep the disbelief out of his voice. “No one’s ever done that for me.”

“Done what?”

He cupped the back of her head, allowing his fingers to weave through her hair. Damn, touching her felt incredible. Especially when she sighed a little and leaned into his palm. “Defend me.”

She scrutinized him for a few beats. “How long have people been speaking to you like that?”

“A while,” he whispered, a hot pulse pounding in his temples.

“They shouldn’t. You deserve better,” she returned, going up on her toes and laying a soft kiss on his lips—just as a flurry of flashes went off, making her eyes go round. She rocked back on her heels, dislodging his hand. “I . . . This thing between us . . . will make it stop, won’t it?”

This thing. This thing. Their arrangement, which would end when they were both satisfied with the results.

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