Long, dizzy moments later, Travis straightened out her panties, using a towel from a nearby shelf to dry the insides of her thighs. He even ran his thumbs over Georgie’s face to fix her makeup. Finger-combed her hair. And he walked her back to the house, with a hand settled possessively on her butt. His smile was so self-assured and comforting, she must have imagined the slight tremor in his fingertips.
A new doubt popped up every time the realtor’s high heels clicked on the hardwood floor.
She couldn’t do this. Paying rent for an office space would be too much pressure. She was a clown, for the love of everything holy. Clowns didn’t have offices.
But successful entertainment company owners did. That’s what she wanted, wasn’t it? To give her eventual full-time employees a reputable place where they could report for duty, have meetings, store equipment. A place where she could greet clients and go over options for their child’s birthday party—and beyond. As of this morning’s series of interviews, she now had a juggler, a magician, and two Disney princess impersonators working on a pay-as-we-go basis. There was no rule that said they needed to stop at birthday parties. The possibilities were endless.
Still, there wasn’t even a scrap of furniture in the two-room space above the bagel shop. She would be putting Ikea furniture together until she was fluent in Swedish. There would be pressure. If she had a slow month, sacrifices would need to be made. If an employee couldn’t hold up their end of the contract, firing them would fall on her shoulders. This was the big time.
Georgie realized the realtor was watching her from across the sunlit room, Main Street spread out behind her in the two identical windows.
“Um.” Georgie turned in a circle. “How many square feet did you say?”
“Eleven hundred.” The realtor tapped a few buttons on her phone. “Kind of cozy, but you’ll be grateful for that in the winter.”
God, she felt out of her element. She’d worn a loose summer dress and styled her hair, hoping a put-together appearance would give her a boost of confidence, but she still felt a little intimidated by the polished realtor. The woman wasn’t even making eye contact with Georgie. It was on the tip of her tongue to thank the realtor for her time and promise to call with a decision later, but it was an excuse to run. To sidestep making a decision. This place was perfect for her needs; she just needed to make the leap.
Georgie paced to the window and looked out over the town she knew so well. It blurred until she could see only her reflection in it. How much she’d changed on the outside. Had she changed on the inside, too?
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, searching for something—anything—that might lead her to believe she was capable of renting this space and turning her small business into a thriving one.
In her mind, Travis’s fist came down on her family dinner table.
She’s damn sure too important to be cut off or spoken to like a child.
A shiver snaked down Georgie’s back. Travis’s blue eyes did look at her like she was important, didn’t they? Like he was not only interested in her thoughts, but . . . needed to know them. She’d set out on a sneaky mission to make Travis believe in himself, but he’d slowly been doing the same for her. They’d been doing it for each other, hadn’t they?
She turned from the window, still not sure if she could pull the trigger. The realtor looked up with an inquisitive expression, and Georgie started to panic, but was brought up short when she heard high heels tapping up the building staircase. A couple seconds later, her sister breezed into the office space. “Hey, Georgie.” She flashed her teeth at the realtor. “Hello.”
The other woman stood up straighter. “Did you have an appointment?”
“She’s my sister,” Georgie answered, lowering her voice for Bethany’s ears alone. “What are you doing here?”
“Just in the neighborhood.” Bethany made a show of removing her oversized sunglasses, taking in the whole office space in one spin of her heel. “What are they asking for rent?”
Georgie named the figure and Bethany pursed her lips, throwing an arm around Georgie’s shoulders and turning them away from the realtor. “That’s a decent price, but we can do better.”
“Not in town, we can’t.”
“No. You’re paying to be on Main Street. I get it.” She bumped their hips together. “You haven’t really been involved in the turnover aspect of Brick & Morty, but no one ever agrees to the starting price. Not even when I’ve staged it to look like the cover of Home and Garden.”
Georgie glanced over. “But this is a rental.”
“Rules were made to be bent.”
Had Bethany ever taken the time to teach her something without a direct order from their mother? Georgie didn’t think so. This wasn’t forced at all, though. They were just two women talking, working toward a common goal. Bethany had shown up to help her because she wanted to, and that alone made Georgie feel worthy. Validated. Like she had every right to be there, making the decision to rent a commercial space and strike out into uncharted territory.
The boost of confidence gave Georgie an idea.
Standing taller than before, she turned toward the realtor. “Brick & Morty is our family company. If you can convince the owners of this building to knock ten percent off the rental price, I’ll talk to my brother, Stephen, about throwing you an upcoming listing.”
The realtor’s lips parted. “You’re Georgie Castle. I . . .” She was already dialing her phone. “I didn’t put it together. Let me see what I can do.”
Bethany gave a low whistle. “Damn, girl. I was going to suggest a five percent discount by offering to pay cash.” She squeezed Georgie. “You do me proud.”
Georgie blinked back the moisture in her eyes. “Thanks.”
Travis knew as much about romantic gestures as he knew about spring fashion trends. But he’d given up the impossible battle of keeping his hands off Georgie. This was what she claimed to need to make it feel right. So here he was. At her house. Breaking and entering.
He twirled the key ring around his index finger and contemplated the cheerful red front door. Fake boyfriends were allowed to come over unannounced, weren’t they? She wouldn’t mind. Probably.
And it wasn’t as if he’d come here to roll around in her sheets or steal her panties while she wasn’t home. He had a mission. The contents of his truck bed were proof enough of that. He’d woken up bright and early this morning and knocked on the Castles’ front door, relieved when Vivian answered—he hadn’t been lying to Georgie about needing some time before looking her father in the eye. Then again, maybe doing so would always be a little difficult, since he planned to do all manner of ungodly things to Georgie. Starting whenever she arrived home from the birthday party she was working.
But he wanted to make some progress before then.
Travis slipped the key into the lock and twisted, letting himself into the house. He walked through the silent interior, smiling as he stepped over a pair of clown shoes, and continued through the rear entrance into the backyard. After propping open the side gate, he started carting materials from his truck, setting up his table saw and belt sander on the back lawn. Carrying the final item on his own was something of a task, because it was difficult to navigate turns with a tree branch on your shoulder, but he managed.
Hours later, he’d sawed the tree branch into equal pieces of lumber and started the process of sanding the rough grain, making it smooth to the touch. He took one water break, only to realize he didn’t have any water. There’d been no choice but to track a little sawdust and dirt into Georgie’s kitchen to retrieve a bottle of cool refreshment. While he stood in the tiny kitchen with vintage fixtures and a sign over the stove that said OH, FOR FORK’S SAKE, Travis got an idea. After making a phone call to a local restaurant, he went back out and commenced sanding once again.
Romantic gestures. This had to be one, right?
He hadn’t witnessed too many of them in his life. Once, during his first season with the Hurricanes, a teammate had proposed to his girlfriend before getting on the bus. He’d gotten down on one knee, right there in front of the friends who proceeded to tease him ruthlessly for the entire ride to the airport. The proposer hadn’t given a flying shit, though. He’d just been happy to get a yes, damn the consequences. At the time, Travis couldn’t believe any man would voluntarily tie himself down. He’d thought the guy was a sucker.
He still did. But he could admit to himself that he wouldn’t mind seeing Georgie that happy. In fact, he craved it. And that scared the shit out of him.
Travis switched off the belt sander and took a slug of water, swiping the wrist of his work glove across his forehead. A large, thick plank lay on its side in the grass, knots and age rings visible in every gorgeous inch—that piece would serve as the mantel. One day, Georgie would put framed pictures of her children on it. She’d start a fire in the wintertime, run her fingers along the glossy texture. Would she think of him?