Georgie’s smile danced in his head, but he laughed it off. No, a lasting commitment to another person was next level. Wasn’t it? It was enough for now that he wanted stability. To win this job on the network and build a life he could be proud of. A lump built in his throat as he continued to think of Georgie. How she’d felt in his arms this morning. How natural and . . . perfect it felt to start the day with her. And it was impossible to pretend he was at his childhood home for any other reason than making progress within himself. To be better for her. To what end, he didn’t know yet . . . but with the deadline of their agreement fast approaching, the idea of letting her go threatened his sanity.
Forcing himself to focus on the task at hand, Travis snatched the cell phone out of his pocket, tapping the number he’d programmed into his favorites years ago. He didn’t get an answer, but the cheerful recording told him to leave a message.
“Hi. Yeah, my name is Travis Ford. I want to speak with someone about a property appraisal.”
He’d decided to pick Georgie up in a limo at the last second.
It wasn’t a power play or a show of influence. No, if he was honest with himself, the eleventh-hour call he’d made to the limousine company stemmed from his need to soak up as much Georgie as possible. No more lying to himself. Since he wouldn’t be able to read her expressions—and, fuck it, touch her—with two hands on the steering wheel, he’d just pulled up in front of her house in a black stretch. Half the neighborhood was out on their lawns by the time he made it up the path. Tonight had a lot of the same merits as prom night. Travis was wearing a tuxedo, he was picking his date up at the door, and tonight was definitely supposed to signal the end of something.
That reminder caused a baseball to get stuck in his throat.
Travis wasn’t ready for this thing with Georgie to end.
In fact, calling it a “thing” was starting to get on his goddamn nerves. He was closer to Georgie than anyone else in his life. There had been a moment yesterday on the high school baseball field when Travis had dropped every pretense and just let her see everything inside of him. His love for baseball, his sadness over losing the ability to play. He’d forgotten to mask those always-present insecurities and laid them bare . . . and he was still standing. Better than still standing, actually. He felt unburdened. Stronger. Like a better version of himself.
All because of this girl.
Now he was supposed to parade Georgie in front of some corporate assholes and say good-bye to her at the end of the night? A permanent good-bye?
Panic made Travis’s arm too heavy to lift and knock. Why had he decided to put a time limit on this . . . dammit, this thing with Georgie? Being alone had worked very well for him in the past. Answering to no one, keeping every short-lived relationship on his own terms. What he had with Georgie felt outside of his control, though. A flame that fed itself—and he had no fire extinguisher.
The front door of the house opened and Travis’s jaw almost hit the porch. This was not the girl who’d woken him from his self-induced mental coma all those weeks ago. Except for in the eyes. Yeah, she may be dressed to induce fantasies, but that classic Georgie authenticity shone back at him from a pair of green eyes. Unbelievable that her eyes were demanding his focus when she looked insanely hot. Her shoulders were completely bare in the dress, a skirt flaring out around her thighs. Thighs that seemed to stretch forever thanks to the high heels. She was sexy and guileless and there was no one like her.
“Oh, wow,” she breathed. “You, um . . . look very handsome. In that tux.”
Travis’s lower body responded so intensely to the husky quality of her voice, the proof she was attracted to him, that he could only stand there and breathe through it.
“You don’t like the dress,” she said, running her hands down the front of the dress. “I know I’m supposed to be the innocent small-town girl that has saved you from a life of debauchery, but they don’t really make nice enough dresses for that.”
“I tried one with a higher neckline, but I didn’t have the right bra, so the straps kept peeking out the sides and—”
“You look fucking perfect. You are perfect.”
The worry in her eyes melted away. “Thank you, Travis.” Her mouth popped open. “Is that a limo?”
“Yeah.” Travis stepped over the threshold and backed Georgie into the house, kicking the door shut behind him. He didn’t stop walking until her ass bumped the entry table, rattling knickknacks and making her gasp. “Listen up,” he rasped against her mouth. “You stick by me all night.”
Her fingers curled in his jacket as if they couldn’t help it and he wished she would just rip it off and climb him, damn the dinner party. “What’s wrong?” She laid a tentative kiss on his chin. “Are you nervous?”
“No.” Travis turned his head and caught her mouth with a kiss. It was only meant to be a brief one, but her head fell back and he dove in, pressuring open her lips and rubbing their tongues together. “No, I’m just not sure what I was thinking. This plan. This . . . showing you off in order to get a job.” His thumbs stroked the hollows of her cheekbones. “I don’t like it. I didn’t think this far ahead.”
She was breathing with her eyes closed. “People do this kind of thing all the time.”
“Believe me, I know. That’s why it feels wrong with you.”
Those green eyes popped open. “I don’t understand.”
Travis searched for the right words. Ones that wouldn’t reveal this struggle he was having over tonight being the end. Georgie’s mouth distracted him, though, and all that would come out was the truth. “I don’t want you on display. I don’t want . . . us on display.”
The pulse in her neck visibly jumped. “Us?”
On the other side of the door, the limousine driver honked. Just a light tap, intended to let him know if they didn’t leave now, they wouldn’t make it on time. And thank God for that honk, right? He’d been about to tell Georgie he wanted their relationship to last beyond tonight. That he wanted it to be real. Wanted the right to kiss her, take her out, sit beside her at family dinners. Fuck her into the next stratosphere, take her jogging, show up when she performed at birthday parties, and, most importantly, tell other men to stay the hell away. Wanted the right to do it any time, any day of the week.
He didn’t know the first thing about being someone’s boyfriend. Jesus, though. “Boyfriend” sounded so much more accurate than “thing.” With her sweet body pressed up against him, possessiveness flowing in his blood, they were so far beyond a thing, he almost laughed. Almost. He was too unnerved by the ultimatum he was giving himself. He couldn’t just be her indefinite hookup—she deserved better than that. The prospect of letting her go made him feel submerged in quicksand, but she deserved someone who had a healthy outlook on commitment. Marriage. He was not that man. He would never, ever be that man.
Say good-bye tonight or ask Georgie for more. Those were his only two options.
Taking one final sniff of her hair, he stepped away. “We should go.”
Georgie scrutinized him for a moment and nodded, letting him open the door so they could step onto the porch, before she turned and locked up. Despite reminding himself he and Georgie couldn’t be together, he found himself taking hold of her hand on the walk to the limo, cataloging her blush, her silent Oh God, oh God when she realized the neighbors were staring. A gust of summer wind blew a strand of hair across her mouth and he almost tripped off the sidewalk where it ended.
God, she was gorgeous.
Despite Travis’s inability to stop staring at her, there was a definite strain between them on the ride to Old Westbury. He continued to hold her hand nonetheless, as if letting it go would make time go faster. They remained silent, facing forward in the rear seat, humming down the Northern State Parkway for half an hour before Travis couldn’t take the distance anymore and dragged Georgie sideways onto his lap. She went without protest, tucking her head underneath his chin with a wince.
The weight of her in his lap caused his eyelids to droop. “What was that about?”
“I did lunges this morning. A whole lap around the high school track.”
“More Tough Mudder training?”
She nodded, bumping his chin. “We have thirty-one new members and they seem to have made me their unofficial leader. I have no idea why. But now I feel compelled to set an example.”
Travis’s hand slipped under her skirt and ran a thumb along the outside of her right thigh. He decided not to be offended that her reaction was more rapturous than it was during orgasms. “First of all, thirty-one new members?”
“Yes,” she moaned, shifting in his lap to give him better access to her sore muscles. “My sister-in-law led them to believe we were starting a manless utopia. You should all be seriously alarmed how many women showed up.”
He applied more pressure to the spot just above her knee, laughing quietly when she went boneless, moaning without shame. “Yeah? I better release a man memo.”