That’s why you’re here.
“Yeah,” he managed, needing like hell to pin her to the car and tongue fuck her into a stupor, the family-friendly persona he was trying to achieve be damned. God help him, he couldn’t keep his neck from craning, breathing once, twice, against her mouth. “That’s what this is all about, right?” He said it mostly to remind himself that their relationship wasn’t real. But when Georgie took the hint and eased away, climbing into her car and driving out of the parking lot, he couldn’t keep the regret at bay.
Striding past the gleeful cameraman to his truck, Travis could only hope tonight had done the trick. Because this fake relationship was either going to kill him before he got the job . . . or start to feel far too real before it was over.
Georgie woke up from a nap with thirty-one text messages and fourteen missed calls.
There was also a half-eaten granola bar stuck to her forehead, but that was beside the point.
She jerked into an upright position and picked a mini chocolate chip from where it had been embedded above her eyebrow, shrugging and popping it into her mouth.
She’d had a midmorning birthday party for a one-year-old, which should have been easy peasy, but both of the organizer’s sisters had come down with a cold, leaving no one to help decorate and serve food, so Georgie had pulled double duty. Made a nice tip out of the whole thing, too, though it had been unnecessary. She’d been far more grateful for the woman’s candor as they’d plated apple slices and ransacked the house for matches to light the birthday candles. They’d been in it together, as opposed to being employer and employee.
It had almost felt like her dating experiment with Travis was already working, but that couldn’t be right. Barely enough time had passed for people to find out—
Fully conscious now, she snatched up her phone again. Oh, this was it.
The Travis was out of the bag.
Leave it to her friends who hadn’t bothered to pick up a phone in months to be texting her now. They’d each messaged her five times.
You’re dating Travis Ford?
Have you . . . you know . . . met the second bat??
You’ve been holding out on us!
Georgie frowned down at her phone. Those kinds of questions weren’t out of the ordinary between her and her friends. But reading them made her feel hollow. There was no excitement to text them back and overshare, like they used to do about their boyfriends before time and distance caused a strain. It was all a hoax, so obviously there wasn’t that typical feminine urge to squeal to her friends.
It was more than that, though. Reading the messages, she could only think about the couple in the bar last night. How they’d treated Travis like a punch line and how he’d allowed it to happen—to a point—as if it were his due. Her irritation renewed, Georgie rose from the bed, continued to scroll through her plethora of messages and missed calls. Most of them were from her mother and she’d be taking the coward’s way out on that one. For now. Vivian Castle didn’t like to be left in the dark, so there would be a wave of passive aggression headed in Georgie’s direction. She’d cross that bridge when she came to it.
Bethany had called several times. No Stephen. Huh. She couldn’t decide if she was surprised or not by that. On the one hand, Stephen never bothered himself with her social life. On the other, Georgie was dating his best friend. At least that’s how it would appear. Had Travis told Stephen they were seeing each other? For some reason, the possibility of Travis taking that initiative gave Georgie butterflies.
Great, big, whopping ones. Which was stupid.
Although, maybe he’d told Stephen it was fake.
Those butterfly wings stopped flapping. Maybe that’s why Stephen wasn’t calling. He was just shaking his head in private over Georgie’s latest antics.
There was no time to think about it now. Tonight was the Just Us League meeting and there was no time like the present to face the firing squad, also known as her sister. She’d promised to be more forthcoming with Bethany, but would it be so bad to keep this secret to herself for now? To let everyone really believe she and Travis were an item?
Resolving to make the decision on the road, Georgie sped through a shower, threw on one of her new pairs of leggings and a loose V-neck. She shoved her feet into a pair of flats on the way out the door and made it to Bethany’s in record time. Before she walked through the front door, she took a deep breath and prepared for a barrage of questions. She got a sniff from her sister instead and an uh-oh look from Rosie.
That set off Bethany. Her sister pinched the bridge of her nose and paced the length of her kitchen. “Uh, hey? A photo of you kissing Travis Ford in the parking lot of the Waterfront goes fucking viral and you just stop answering your phone?”
In her nap haze and rush to get out of the house, she’d completely neglected to research how everyone had found out about her and Travis. “Which photo is this?”
“Take your pick! There’s like . . .” Bethany snatched an iPad off the marble countertop and swiped across the screen with a furious finger. “Eleven. Twelve—”
Oh no. This is bigger than I thought it would be. Georgie’s stomach pitched as she crossed the room. “Let me see.” One glance at the screen and she was rolling her eyes. “This isn’t viral. This is the Port Times Record.”
“It’s viral for Port Jefferson,” Bethany shot back. “And the picture where you’re telling off that man in the bar made SportsCenter, so it’s not contained to the local news. It was on Plays of the Week, Georgie. Mom said Dad almost choked on a chicken bone.”
Georgie hopped up onto a kitchen stool, marveling over the face staring back at her from the glass screen. Was that her looking so fiercely passionate? Yes, it was. And she couldn’t find it in her to regret defending Travis. Not for a second. Her belly couldn’t help but flip at the kissing picture, even though she knew the sentiment behind it was contrived. Their affection was all for the camera. Her heart started pounding nonetheless when she landed on the final picture. Travis staring after her in the parking lot with an expression she’d never seen on his gorgeous face before. Maybe it was the camera angle. Travis would never be wistful for her. Not in this lifetime. “Um,” she rasped. “So Dad choked on a chicken bone?”
Bethany slapped her hands on the counter. “What is going on?”
“We went on a date.” Looking for an ally, Georgie turned to Rosie, who feigned fascination with an untouched shot glass of tequila. “We decided that was allowed.”
“It is. But him, Georgie? Travis?”
“Yes. Travis.” Indignation rose up in her swift and furious. It wasn’t just the couple in the bar. It was everyone, wasn’t it? The whole world thought of him as some brainless sex symbol. So much so that he had to date the town’s dopey birthday party clown so people would . . . take him seriously. They both wanted the exact same thing, didn’t they? That did it. She wouldn’t tell a single soul their relationship wasn’t real. She’d be out and proud about her fake boyfriend. “You haven’t spent time with him since he came back. He’s done being thought of as a player.”
“Yeah, but is he done being one?” Bethany gave a long exhale. Georgie could tell she was dying to put in another two cents, but she managed to refrain. “I’m guessing you haven’t spoken to Mom. She has dibs on this kind of information and ESPN scooped her. You’re going to get Guilt Face at Sunday dinner next weekend.”
Georgie started. Their family was close, but with everyone so busy, their dinners were more of the spontaneous variety. Georgie would pop in for lunch or Stephen would bring bagels by and fill their father’s need for business talk. Formal dinners with everyone in attendance occurred only when someone organized a summit. “Sunday dinner? Who called it?”
“Me. I’m breaking the news to everyone that I’m striking out on my own.” Bethany sent Georgie a look down her nose. “If you’d been here on time, you’d know that.”
“Sorry. I’ll be there. Solidarity and all that. Yada yada.”
“Are you bringing Travis?”
Her skin flushed. Bring Travis to a family dinner? Why not just hang herself in a museum so everyone could walk by and pick her apart? “I’ll ask him.”
Rosie rubbed a circle into her back. “Did you go on your date with the fireplace guy?”
“No. Something came up,” she hedged. And looking over at Rosie and her soft, encouraging expression, Georgie encountered a swift kick of guilt. “Rosie, I have to tell you something. I really have no excuse for not calling you sooner . . . I’ve just been so distracted. But you can punch me in the stomach afterward, if you need to.”
Rosie drew back her hand slowly. “What is it?”
“Dominic knows about the newspapers under the mattress. He mentioned it to Travis.” She gave her friend an apologetic look. “You need to find a new hiding spot.”
Two spots of color appeared on Rosie’s cheeks. “Oh.”
“Why should you be sorry?” Rosie gestured to the bottle of tequila with the international symbol for “pour.” “I mean, you’re not the grown man ignoring his wife, instead of just asking her questions and having a normal conversation. That would be too much to ask for. Stupid . . . jackass.”