“Hi, cheekbones,” she murmured, then snapped back to reality. “Bethany—”
Downstairs, the doorbell rang. Even through the bathroom window, Georgie could hear the excited voices of the women outside. Her sister shrugged and pranced from the bathroom, leaving the candles to flicker in her wake.
“Can you believe that?” Georgie asked Rosie in a high-pitched voice. “I’m supposed to just be satisfied with ‘this and that’?”
Before Rosie could answer, raised voices from downstairs captured their attention. The sound of a cheering crowd ripped its way up to the second floor, but it had the force of thousands behind it and surely wasn’t coming from the arriving guests. Georgie thought she caught the corner of Rosie’s mouth tilting into a smile, but it vanished so fast, she must have been mistaken.
“What is that?”
Rosie gave her a bland look. “Go find out.”
Moments later, Georgie descended the stairs into the rapidly filling living room, finding everyone crowded around the television, also known as the source of the cheering. Able to recognize the sounds of a baseball game in her sleep, Georgie stopped short. How could she have forgotten? Today was a home game for the Bombers—and Travis’s official start as their new voice. Her pulse tripped all over itself as she waded through the throng of women, each of them watching her pass on the way to a front-row seat.
There he was. Her fake ex-boyfriend. His sinfully good-looking face filled the screen with an expression more somber than usual. At least more somber than he’d been during their phony relationship. Or was that just wishful thinking that he’d been happy? No. No, it wasn’t. But now a strain played around his eyes and the corners of his mouth, even as he responded to questions from the cohost welcoming him.
“I speak on behalf of the Bombers organization when I say we missed seeing your face on television and we’re looking forward to seeing a lot more of it.”
“Thank you,” Travis said, clearing the rasp from his voice. “Honored to be here.”
“I understand you brought someone along with you today.”
“Yes, I did.” The camera panned out to reveal a dozen awestruck faces of teenage boys in uniforms, one of whom Georgie recognized as the kid who’d delivered their chicken parm. “Doing the play-by-play for the Bombers isn’t my only job. This is the Port Jefferson High School baseball team, and I’m going to be working with them in the off-season. I didn’t think they’d mind watching the game from the booth today.”
Resounding agreements went up from the students, making the cohost laugh. “Something tells me you’re right.” He shifted in his seat, visibly changing gears with a jocular smile. “Now, there wasn’t always a time Travis Ford would have been considered mentor material for the younger generation.” Travis gave him a wry smile but didn’t respond. “What changed?”
Travis flicked an intense look at the camera. “I met Georgie Castle.”
A gasp went up in the living room, hands reaching out to steady her from all directions.
“I’ve met her twice in my life. This time, I was smart enough to fall in love with her.” He took out his earpiece and swiped a hand through his hair. “She taught me more about myself than I ever learned with a bat in my hands. She’s the reason I’m sitting here right now.” With a deep breath, he looked into the camera. Right at her. “I didn’t think anyone could love a broken-down has-been like me. That’s why I didn’t believe you actually loved me. I do now. You made me believe I’m worthy of it. And if I can be worthy of you, I’d consider that my life’s greatest accomplishment.” He paused. “I’m in love with you, baby girl. I want you for my wife. You think I’ll stop at building you a mantel? I’ll work every day to build my girl the life she deserves. If you give me the chance. Marry me, Georgie.”
Georgie pitched forward, the wind leaving her. Dizzy, she caught herself on the television stand. Around her, the Just Us League was going absolutely mad, draining cocktails before they could be fully poured and repeating Travis’s words in total swoon mode. Was this really happening? She pinched her forearm and yelped in pain, her hands flying to her mouth. Oh my God. Travis loved her. And not the Travis Ford who’d stared down at her from a glossy ceiling poster. The man behind the uniform. The most incredible man on the planet. Tears filled her vision and she turned in circles, about to burst from the pressure of love filling her rib cage. “What do I do now?”
“Do you love him back?”
“Of course I do!”
Bethany stepped forward. “It’s only the third inning.” With a knowing smirk, she tossed Georgie her purse. “Bye, bitch.”
Georgie choked on a sob and spun for the door, only to be brought up short by Stephen. He stood at the edge of the crowd. Based on his relieved—and regretful—expression, he’d heard Travis’s declaration of love on live television. “I’ve been wrong a lot lately,” her brother said, jerking his chin in the direction of the door. “Come on. I’ll drive you.”
Travis sat at the front of the bus, bent at the waist, head in his hands. Behind him, the Port Jeff baseball team repeated Bombers chants, high off their VIP status at the game. They tried to make him join in, but he was frozen in time. For all the time he’d spent planning his proposal to Georgie, like an idiot he hadn’t taken into account how long he’d be required to wait for an answer.
Had Bethany followed through on her end of the bargain and gotten Georgie to watch his debut in the booth? If so, why hadn’t Georgie called him? Granted, it would be more poignant to accept his proposal in person. Then again, maybe she hadn’t wanted to reject him on the air. Basically his fate hung in the balance as the bus he’d rented trundled down the Northern State Parkway. And when it slowed to a stop, blocked by bumper-to-bumper traffic, Travis couldn’t take it anymore. He extricated his cell phone from his pocket, preparing to dial Georgie’s number.
Her name and a picture of her in his Hurricanes jersey popped up on the screen.
Wait. She was calling him?
“Georgie?” Travis answered, standing up at his seat, the low tin roof keeping him stooped over. “Say something, baby girl. Please. I miss your voice.”
“I miss yours, too,” she whispered, sending relief cascading through his middle. “I thought I could make it to the stadium in time, but there’s all this traffic—”
His laugh didn’t hold a trace of humor. “I’m on my way to Port Jeff. Can you turn around?” He fell back into the seat, covering his eyes with a hand. “I need you to be there when I get off this bus. If I have to go another hour without seeing you, I’m going to die.” He braced himself. “Did you watch the game? Did you hear what I said?”
“Yes. Travis, I—”
A horn honked on the parkway, drowning out what she said. But the beep came from two places. The road . . . and the other end of the line. “Georgie. Where are you?”
“On the Northern State Parkway. Near the Brush Hollow Road exit.”
An incredulous sound fell from his mouth. He turned in the seat and scanned the westbound lanes on the other side of the divider. Neither side of the expressway was moving, not an unusual occurrence this close to Manhattan. It took Travis a few frantic seconds of searching, but he finally caught sight of a vehicle he never thought he’d be happy to see.
Stephen’s fucking minivan.
“Don’t move, baby girl. I’m coming to you.” He hung up and pocketed the phone, despite Georgie’s exclamation on the other end. Yeah, fine. It was pretty insane to get out of the bus in the middle of the expressway. And probably illegal. Ask Travis if he cared. When he said he’d die without seeing Georgie, his heart had backed him up. It ached like a son of a bitch as he hopped the divider and ran for the minivan, need and determination building with every step.
She didn’t see Travis coming until he was a few steps away, her eyes flying wide on the other side of the passenger window. Her door flew open, her feet hit the pavement, and she threw herself into his arms, sending him stumbling back a step onto the shoulder.
“You’re insane,” she breathed into his neck. “You’re insane and I love you.”
The ground moved under his feet. “Present tense, right? Love not loved.”
“Loved and love. Both.” She looked him in the eye. “I’ve loved and love you in every single way.”
Thanking the man upstairs with a whispered prayer, Travis eased back just enough to take her face in his hands. “I said those things to my father because he poisons everything he touches. He can poison anything he wants, except you. I couldn’t stand your name in his mouth. I couldn’t let him focus on you for a second, so I said something awful I didn’t mean. I’m so fucking sorry.”
“I know. I understand.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, allowing him to lift her off the ground. “I’m sorry you had to face him alone.”
“I’m strongest when you’re around, but I’m going to get better at using that strength, even when you’re not standing beside me.” He laid the first of many kisses on her lips, almost drowning in the perfection of her taste. “If I ever start to lose strength again, I’ll just think of how it felt to lose the girl who loved me, even when I couldn’t love myself.