Her nose wrinkled. “Why?”
Travis raked a hand down his face. “Come on. You have to know I’ve got something of a . . . reputation where the opposite sex is concerned.” He waited until Georgie looked at him. “Let’s just say it’s well earned.”
“Yes, Two Bats. I’m aware.” She shrugged as if she hadn’t just called out the size of his cock. “But it’s not like we’re going to—”
“No, definitely not.”
“I mean . . .” She winked at him. “I think I’m safe.”
“You are one thousand percent safe.”
“Okay, you don’t have to be quite so adamant. I do have a thimbleful of vanity and I’d like to keep it.”
Travis laughed. An actual laugh that reached his stomach. How long had it been since that happened? Months. Usually he found nothing funny about someone invading his personal space, but having Georgie in his apartment was . . . surprisingly easy. He didn’t even have to be nice to her and she just stuck around anyway. If he’d been required to entertain or charm someone, they would have been sorely disappointed, but she didn’t seem to expect that. Maybe he’d let her stay for a few more minutes.
“Okay, don’t get weird, but I found this DVD . . .” As if she were unveiling the new iPhone, she pulled out a copy of A League of Their Own with a flourish. “We can put it on in the background while we clean this rat hole.”
Travis plunked his empty beer bottle down on the counter. “You’re insane if you think I’m cleaning tonight. I just spent eight hours framing a two-story addition . . .” He backed away. “Don’t look at me like that, Georgie. My ass is tired.”
“There’s no crying in construction.”
“That’s not funny.”
“You’re right, it was pretty weak. I’m tired, too.” Giving Travis her profile, she hit a couple buttons on the oven, opened the door, and then slid two of the plates onto the center rack. “So I performed at a birthday party this week. The youngest Miller kid?”
Travis went to the fridge to retrieve another beer. “No clue who that is.”
“Really? The parents graduated your year, I think. He’s a ginger. She smokes menthols and always insists she’s quitting tomorrow.”
A long-buried memory from high school trickled in—a group of seniors standing outside the homecoming dance passing around a brown bag with a forty-ounce inside. He could almost smell the cigarette smoke, mint coasting down his throat when he bummed a drag. Travis’s mouth jumped at one end. “That actually rings a bell.”
“I overheard them talking at the party. Ginger Dad is the school principal now, and they’re hoping you’ll come do a demonstration for the team. You know, for inspiration.”
A weight dropped in Travis’s stomach. “Oh yeah?” He pressed his tongue to the inside of his cheek until it hurt. “A bunch of kids? That’s not exactly my kind of thing.”
“Funny,” she muttered. “That’s precisely my thing.”
“Right.” He massaged his eyes. “The birthday parties.”
“Not just birthday parties.” Georgie shrugged. “I love kids. They’re basically magic little balls of optimism that love you unconditionally. I can’t wait for my own.” As if realizing she’d been speaking out loud, Georgie hastily set a spoon down. “Um. Kids don’t have to be your thing to run a baseball clinic.”
Still a little stuck on Georgie’s announcement that she wanted children, Travis asked, “Aren’t you a little young to want kids so bad?”
“Some people dream about playing in the major leagues, others dream about finger paintings drying over the kitchen sink.” She paused. “I want a career, too, but . . . yeah, I want a big, noisy, happy family. You’ve never wanted that at all?”
“No,” Travis said without hesitation, wondering why the word dropped like an anvil between them. Frankly, the idea of being responsible for a child unnerved him. Already here he was, back in Port Jeff, his professional baseball career a thing of the past. Going nowhere. The similarities were too reminiscent of his father to think he wouldn’t fuck up fatherhood, too. He tried to shake himself back to the topic at hand, but it took an effort.
Run a baseball clinic? Damn. He was surprised by how much he didn’t want to pick up a bat. Jesus, he could barely fathom trying to play the sport he used to live for. Why make the effort when he’d lost too many steps to resemble a shadow of his former self?
“Your brother was just saying it’s the busy season right now.” Feeling Georgie’s searching eyes, he paced into the living room, snagging dirty socks as he went. “Everyone is remodeling before fall temperatures set in, and he’s short a couple guys. I can’t leave him high and dry.”
“You could teach them more in an hour than they’d learn in months from someone else. It wouldn’t have to be right away, either. There’s plenty of time before the season starts.” She smiled at him over her shoulder. “They love you. It would be like a dream come true.”
“Drop it, Georgie.”
Hurt danced across her features before she could turn away and hide it, and she continued to load his fridge with enough food for the next few nights. Travis leveled an inward curse at himself. Hadn’t he wanted people to talk to him about baseball and stop walking on eggshells? This girl had done it twice without any prompting. Where did he get off snapping at her for poking a sore spot he hadn’t even been aware of having?
They could be friends, him and Georgie. That’s what was wrong. He didn’t want one—especially her. She was too young, too positive, and too related to his best friend. For some reason, he couldn’t stop himself from thanking her, though, in his own way. For thinking he was worth her attempts to wave away the gloom. “Listen . . .” She turned hopeful eyes on him and he frowned back. “Pick a day next week and I’ll come take some measurements on that fireplace.”
Her hands flew to her chest, flattening there. “You’re going to redo my fireplace?”
“If you don’t make me clean,” Travis said, crossing his arms.
Georgie threw open the cabinet beneath his kitchen sink and started rooting through whatever cleaning supplies the last tenant had left behind, since he sure as shit hadn’t bought any. “I’ll clean this whole place top to bottom if I’m getting a fireplace out of the deal. Does Tuesday sound good for our appointment?”
“Tuesday, fine. But do you understand the ass kicking I’m inviting from your brother, having you cook and clean for me? Not happening.”
She straightened, examining a bottle of Windex. “You seem to be suffering from the delusion that my brother cares how I spend my time. He just wants me out of the way.”
None of his business. None. “He cares about you.”
Her mouth moved into a little O, and Travis found himself staring at it longer than he should. Apparently this was what happened when he didn’t get laid for months. The closest woman started to look good. That was the only reason his fingers were tingling to unsnap Georgie’s overalls and get a good goddamn look at her. Relieved by that iron-clad reasoning—almost—Travis turned away.
“Fine, let’s both clean this fucking place. That’s the only way this doesn’t bite me in the ass.”
Georgie tilted her head. “You mean rats. It’s the only way rats don’t bite you—”
“Shut up, Georgie.”
She got started shoveling garbage and takeout containers into a black garbage bag while Travis ate yet another round of her amazing cooking, not bothering to hide his exasperation when she snuck A League of Their Own into his DVD player. A few times, when she caught him watching the screen and lifted her chin in sarcastic reproof, Travis got the urge to tickle her. Or ruffle her hair. Things he never would have hesitated to do when they were younger. Something made him keep his hands to himself this time, though. Intuition told him an innocent touch could lead down a distinctly not innocent path—and he wouldn’t be questioning that instinct or exploring it any further.
“Have you managed to avoid the dating competition?” Georgie asked while shoveling old magazines into a trash bag.
“Sort of,” he droned, catcalls from the construction site echoing in his head. “Come to think of it, how do I know you’re not a spy? Or worse, a contestant.” When she came up sputtering, Travis winked to let her know he was joking. “What about your dating situation?”
Before he could berate himself for asking Georgie about something that was damn well none of his business, she laughed. “In a word? Dire. Most of the men I come into contact with are off-the-market fathers. Not a lot of young single men hanging out at princess parties.” She picked up a petrified sock and tapped it against the wall, raising an eyebrow at him. He shrugged. “Maybe you should let the dating competition contestants take a tour of your place. Problem solved.”
“If you’re suggesting we stop cleaning, I’m in.”