Her empty kitchen seemed to agree.
Not bothering to swallow the lump in her throat, Georgie moped over to the compote and prepared to knock it into the trash, cheap bowl and all. But then the doorbell rang before she could.
Who . . . ?
No. No way.
It couldn’t be Travis.
Georgie’s gaze darted around the kitchen looking for a place to hide. Letting in the local baseball god to witness her humiliation was so not an option. She paced to the kitchen window and peered through the lace curtain—
He was glowering right at her.
Right, okay. No way to avoid this. His body language could not be making it clearer that he’d prefer to be a million light-years away, so Georgie would merely send him packing, then spend the rest of the afternoon eating bacon and regretting it.
She sucked in gulping breaths all the way to the front door, fingers twisting in her apron. Oh my God. Travis Ford was standing outside her door. Five feet away. Maybe less. She should probably take a moment to savor that, since she’d been dreaming about it since puberty, but she couldn’t stall any longer. With an inward groan, she opened the door and leaned a casual hip on the frame. The picture of complacency. Hopefully. “Hi. So sorry. Brunch is canceled.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder and winced. “Ye olde oven cut out on me last night. I didn’t have your number or I would have texted you. I mean, I wouldn’t abuse the privilege of having your number or something.” Her laugh sounded painfully forced. “But I would have sent a courtesy text.”
His eyes were hidden behind gold-rimmed sunglasses, but she could feel the assessment in them. “If the oven cut out last night, why are you wearing an apron covered in fruit and batter?”
“You can tell that from there, huh?” Playing it cool in the face of having her bluff called, she pursed her lips. No option but to dig deeper. “I haven’t washed it in a while?”
“I can smell what’s happening in there.” He tucked a tongue into his cheek. “No one showed up, did they?”
Oh, this was not the time for that knot to expand in her throat. Not at all. But it formed with a vengeance, pushing out at all sides. Her eyes started to burn—and this was a disaster. Her siblings had flaked out, her parents had barely protested when she canceled . . . and they’d all confirmed what she’d already known. That they didn’t take her seriously. She was going to cry in front of her childhood hero turned mega-crush turned object of her every sexual fantasy. Seriously, Travis was the reason she couldn’t hear “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” without getting horny. Meanwhile if she cried right now, he’d probably lose his boner next time he smelled blueberries. Of course, while all these thoughts raced through her head, she said absolutely nothing, simply stared up at the former Hurricanes shortstop while her eyes ached.
“More food for me,” Travis said finally, stepping over the threshold. “Move it.”
“What?” She couldn’t hide the wistfulness in her tone. “You’re staying?”
“I’ve been eating takeout for a month.” He turned and pointed at her, letting that sink in. “That’s the only reason I’m here. We clear?”
She jogged to keep up with him. “To be fed. Yes.”
“I guess it smells pretty decent, too.”
“I was about to throw it all in the garbage,” she breathed, wiping an eye with her sleeve.
He caught the action as they entered the kitchen and sent her a scowl. “You need a minute or something?”
“Why? Because there’s no crying in . . .”
“I’ll help you. It’s baseball.” Georgie walked to the oven and took out the heaping plates of bacon and waffles. “That was called a segue. I’m being a good hostess by seamlessly bringing up topics of mutual interest. You love baseball. I love Tom Hanks. If we meet in the middle, we get A League of Their Own.”
He slid into a chair and stretched his long legs in front of him, like a prince preparing to be entertained. “I just want to eat bacon.”
Georgie heaped a plate full of waffles, whipped cream, compote, and bacon and slid it in front of Travis. “Okay, fine. We won’t talk about how underrated Geena Davis is.”
“Thank God.” He picked up a piece of bacon, pausing with it halfway to his mouth. “Because Lori Petty was the standout.”
“Don’t.” She shook her head slowly. “Not in my kitchen.”
Travis snorted and threw the entire strip of bacon into his mouth, before picking up the fork, cutting off a giant bite of waffle, slopping it through the compote/whipped cream combination, and tucking it into his mouth. “Fuck. That’s good.”
Until he spoke around the giant bite of food, Georgie didn’t realize she was staring at his mouth the way a charmed snake stares at a dangling pocket watch. She backed away from the table and started to cobble together her own plate, pleasure flooding her over his compliment, gruff though it was. “Thanks. Mimosa?”
He seemed to think about it. “Nah, I’m good.”
“No longer looking for the answer in the bottom of a bottle?”
“See, I knew you were in there.”
“What do you mean?”
The strong column of his throat worked as he swallowed a bite. “The girl who threw lo mein at my naked ass is not the same girl who answered the door.”
She fell into her spot at the table, stabbing her waffle in the heart with a fork. “My brother and sister abandoned me and my parents are probably relieved I gave them an out. Excuse me for having a weak moment.”
“I know a thing or two about being abandoned.” As if he’d caught himself off guard by telling her something so personal, Travis rolled one of his shoulders. “You get used to it.”
Georgie’s heart skipped. “I don’t want to. You shouldn’t be used to it, either.” Just like the morning she’d confronted Travis at his apartment, Georgie was struck by the possibility that he wasn’t the flawless, invincible giant her younger self had perceived. He knew about being abandoned? How? He must have been referring to the professional teams who’d furiously traded him before that final cut. “The Hurricanes were idiots to trade you for Beckman. He couldn’t find the ball swinging three bats.”
His hand paused on its way to grab a napkin, but she thought she caught a spark of interest before he hid it with a shrug. “Nah, he’s decent.”
“Tell that to his batting average.” It took her a few beats to notice Travis’s amusement. “What?”
“Nothing.” He rested his fork. “Not many people bring up the trades to my face.”
“Oh.” Heat tingled at the base of her neck. “I didn’t mean to—”
“Didn’t say I minded,” Travis cut in smoothly. “How long have you been in this place?”
“Four months.” Relieved he hadn’t taken offense to her word vomit, Georgie forked a blueberry into her mouth and leaned back, casting a glance around the kitchen. “There’s so much I want to do, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
He made short work of a second piece of bacon. “You are aware your family owns a remodeling business, right?”
Remembering the text from Stephen’s wife, she waved off his comment. “They’re busy.”
When the silence stretched, she looked up to find Travis watching her. Thoughtfully. Had he ever done that? “What would be your first project, if you could pick anything?”
“The fireplace.” She laughed, a little amazed. “I didn’t even know my first choice until I said it out loud. But definitely the fireplace. It’s this old, faded brick—”
“But you’re eating . . .” Every remnant of food had vanished from his plate. “Oh.”
Travis pushed back from the table and, without waiting for her, left the kitchen. She found him in the living room, running a big, long-fingered hand over the old mantel of the fireplace. “You looking to do some stone work, cut it with a floating mantel?”
She couldn’t hide her surprise. “That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” she murmured, brows drawing together. “Why are you asking? You’re not going to do it for me, are you?”
“No, but I can talk to your brother about getting it on the schedule.” A sardonic smile ghosted around his mouth. “I’m on the payroll. For now. And I can bitch at him without getting fired. If he does fire me, I’ll tell everyone he used to get emotional over Designing Women reruns.”
“You’re working at Brick & Morty?” She breathed a laugh. “Why the sudden need to work? Is this because of me coming to your apartment and—”
“Nope. Keep dreaming.”
“It is,” she said, hopefully to herself. “I know it is.”
“Agree to disagree. Do you want to see the rest of the house?”
His expression said no, but he gestured at her to lead the way. Sort of flustered and a lot prideful, Georgie took his wrist—oh my, so thick—and tugged him through the living room. “The backyard is through here,” she said, presenting the sliding glass door and backyard beyond with a grand sweep of her arm. “I’m going to get a big, sloppy dog someday and this is where I’ll throw his ball.”