Max Carter checked the time on his watch and saw it was a little after three. He was being really fucking crazy now, but he found when it came to Aria Smith, nothing in his world made sense anymore.
She hadn’t forgiven him, nor had she gotten over what happened between them during high school. Not that he had any good enough excuse for calling her lard ass. Whenever he looked at her, he felt like shit. She rarely gave him the time of day, and considering she was a friend of both of his best friends’ women, it made life a little complicated. They were both single, and it didn’t exactly make for a good match for either of them.
He also wanted her to forgive him, for them both to move on from this and not look back, but he knew she was incredibly hurt by what he’d done.
Her front door opened, and she let out a gasp the moment she caught sight of him.
“You scared me.”
Her rich auburn hair was tied on top of her head with ringlets falling down, framing her face. She looked stunning.
For Max, his attraction to her startled him. She wasn’t slender or like any of the women he normally found attractive. Aria possessed curvy hips and thighs, as well as large tits. Her body drew his attention, and he found it next to impossible to have a coherent thought. All logical common sense left him, which was why he was standing outside of her place at three in the morning, ready to walk her to work.
“I apologize,” he said.
He even talked differently with her. He made an effort, where with other women he couldn’t give a shit if they liked his brashness or not.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m not stalking you.”
“This is really kind of creepy, Max. I don’t get it.” She held a thermos in her hands, and she looked a little worried.
“I don’t like the thought of you walking to work on your own. It’s dark and it’s late, and you don’t have a car.”
“Don’t you have to get up at, like, six in the morning?”
“I do,” he said. He didn’t tell her he’d started to go to bed straight after he’d dropped her off at home after her shift had finished. He ate before picking her up, took a shower, dropped into bed, and then got up at two-thirty to be here.
He wasn’t stalking or possessive or obsessive. All he was being was a good friend.
At least he tried to tell himself that.
“Max, you really don’t have to do this. It’s fine. I can walk myself. It’s not a bad neighborhood.”
He’d tried to let her walk on her own, but the guilt, worry, and fear had been too much for him to bear. So, on the days she didn’t know about, he tended to keep an eye on her from a distance.
“I know, and I’m here now. Can’t you give a guy a break and just let me walk you to work?”
Max saw she wanted to argue. She clearly didn’t want him around, and yes, it frustrated him. This was one of the many reasons he wanted to get her to like him. Their friends were very much aware of her dislike of him.
He couldn’t do anything about it either.
How could he get someone to like him, especially with their history? All it had taken was that one name, and it had stuck. It was like he’d given permission for every other person in that school to bully her. Until he called her that name, she’d been left alone. Afterward, she’d been the school punching bag, but he’d not been there. Now he was the one having to pay the price, and it fucking sucked, big time. He didn’t give people permission to fucking hurt her, and yet they’d taken it upon themselves to do so. If he could go back and change it all, he would, but there wasn’t anything he could do.
“Sure, why not?”
She took a sip of her drink, and they started walking down the street. The lights cast a garish glow across the neighborhood. It looked like something out of a horror film.
“Would you like a drink?” she asked, offering hers toward him.
He was about to refuse when he thought better of it. Taking a sip of her coffee, he found it with no cream or sugar. The bitter liquid burned on the way down, and he winced past the pain.
She let out a chuckle. “You hate it.”
“How can you drink that kind of thing?”
“Easy. I need to be awake and alert today for baking. This helps.”
“Do you like the morning shift?”
“I used to. It was a lot of fun, now … not so much.”
“What has changed?” he asked.
She pressed her lips together, staring straight ahead. How had he never noticed those full, fuckable lips. They were plump, sexy, and would look so good wrapped around his cock.
“I don’t want to say. You’ll laugh.”
“I won’t laugh.” She gave him a look, and he held his hands up in surrender. He wouldn’t laugh, not even a little bit. “I promise.”
“Okay, fine. If you do though, you’re not having any more of my coffee.”
“Babe, that’s not a problem.”
She flinched away from him, and Max gritted his teeth. Aria hated it when he used terms like “babe,” “sweetheart,” “honey,” “darling”; any kind of words that were endearments. He hated how she responded to them. With Aria, he was always screwing up, and he didn’t know how to stop it.
“I’ve joined a dating site,” she said.
Max didn’t speak for several seconds. “A dating site? The kind where you meet your forever person?”
She giggled. “You make it sound like I’m looking for a dog.”
“No. Not a dog. I’m twenty-five years old now, and I’d really like to start dating. I’ve got a great job, and a place of my own. June was the one who suggested I should give it a try.”
“Of course she did.” He was going to have to have a few words with June about this. Dating websites were bad news, weren’t they? They were in the news with how men and women ended up dead because of them.
There’s no way he could let Aria go on a date.
“You sure you don’t want to look a little closer to home? There are lots of eligible guys here who’d love to take you out.” He was one of them. If it would help her to forgive him, he’d gladly take her on a date.
Aria snorted. “Not happening. With the dating site I can find people who are not in this town and live maybe a short drive away.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to date someone from this town? I can say we’re pretty awesome.” He wanted to cringe at his own words, especially as their history already dictated that he wasn’t a good suggestion.
Aria stared at him and shook her head. “No thanks.”
“Look, not all the guys are like me, okay.”
“I know they’re not all like you, but I went to school with a selection. Others are married. The others will never get married and are players, and then you’ve got the ones
that are gay. Forgive me for this, but no. I want someone I don’t know who he went with in high school, or anything else like that. Can’t you give me this?”
He wanted to tell her no and to yell at her for being so stupid, but again, the guilt filled him because of his past actions, and it pissed him off.
She smiled, and as she did, it really made his heart race. He’d never noticed her smile in high school, and if he had, she’d have belonged to him, no question about it. The moment she did, her eyes held this sparkle, and it lit up her whole face. She was breathtaking.
“Thank you.” She sipped at her coffee, and he wanted to make her smile again.
Tapping his fingers against his thigh, he tried to think of what else to say to help this along, but again, nothing.
He couldn’t think of a single thing to say.