The door whined as she pushed it open, and I saw a woman, not much older than Kat, with short blond hair and a baby bottle in her hand.
“Is Kat here?” I asked.
Her eyes fell down my form, looking hesitant, and I immediately got the impression that people in suits in this neighborhood meant bad news.
“I’m a friend,” I explained.
Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, are you Mr. Slater? She babysits for you and your wife, right?”
She babysits, too? In addition to working at the garage?
“Sure.” I answered, not sure who this woman was and deciding to protect Kat. “That’s me.”
This woman could be a friend of her husband’s. No use telling the truth, just in case he decided to take it out on her. Not that I’d gotten any information saying he’d been abusive with her, but I had my suspicions. He was the type.
She jerked her head. “Yeah, she’s in the backyard. I’ll walk you.”
She stepped out the front door, and I backed away to let her through as she jogged down the porch steps and around to the side of the house. I quickly followed, but as soon as we neared the rear of the home, I started to slow.
Kat lay on her stomach on the grass, perched up on her elbows, as a small child with her brown hair squealed while catching water from their sprinkler in his little green cup.
She wore a short white sundress with blue flowers and thin straps over her shoulders that carried to her back, and all I could do was gaze down her beautiful, smooth skin.
The dress was completely plastered to her body. Oh, my God.
The sprinkler, which I assumed to be homemade since it was just a two-liter bottle taped to a hose with water shooting out of the two dozen or so holes, was hitting her as she lay on the grass, drenching her back, arms, legs, and dress.
I could see the olive tones of her skin through the wet material.
“Kat?” her friend—or maybe it was her sister—called.
Kat turned her head toward us and locked eyes with me, her smile falling.
I cleared my throat and slid my hand into my pocket. “Did you forget?” I asked, acting casual. “You’re babysitting tonight. Remember?”
Her eyebrows nose-dived and she started to rise. “Huh?”
Her friend laughed and looked at me. “Yeah, I think she forgot.”
“Do you have someone to watch your son?” I asked Kat and then looked to her friend, explaining, “Mine has a cold. We wouldn’t want Jared to get sick.”
Kat sat up, and I dropped my eyes, taking in the way the fabric fell over her body. While the front of her dress wasn’t as drenched as the back, it was wet in certain areas and her chest dripped with water.
I struggled to breathe, and heat pooled in my groin.
Her friend finally sighed. “I can do it, I guess.”
I smiled, my veins running hot with the prospect of being alone with her. “Thank you.”
Her friend walked over and picked up Jared, whose name I’d learned from the investigator’s information, while Kat just sat there, looking a little lost.
“I’m Deena, by the way,” her friend said as she passed by me, carrying Jared. “I take care of all the kids in the neighborhood.”
I reached out to take the hand she offered. “Jase.”
She nodded and walked past me, probably into the house to get Jared out of his wet clothes.
“What the hell are you doing?” I heard Kat ask in an accusing tone.
I turned my gaze back to her to see that she’d stood up. The dress stuck to her body, and her thighs glistened with water.
“You refused the car,” I pointed out.
She approached me with a challenge in her eyes, keeping her voice low. “You can’t buy me. I don’t know what you want—”
“I want you to have reliable transportation for your safety,” I said, cutting her off. “You’re telling me you can’t use a vehicle when you have a child? What if he needed a trip to the ER?”
“You want me to owe you,” she corrected. “You’re married, and I’m not a whore.”
She brushed past me and ran up the steps to the house in her bare feet. It only took a moment before I spun around and charged after her.
Swinging open the screen door, I stepped into the kitchen and caught her arm, pulling her back to me.
“I don’t want you to owe me,” I said in a low voice, staring down at her while we stood chest to chest. “I just . . . I think about you, and I want . . .”
She stood there, her chest rising and falling, like she was too afraid to move and too afraid to run.
A girl like this was used to disappointment—used to being used—but I wasn’t going to hurt her. I wasn’t going to steal from her or hit her, and I wasn’t going to make her do things that put her in danger.
And when I looked at her, I didn’t see just a piece of ass. I saw something to look forward to.
I took a step, walking into her and slowly backing her into the wall. “My marriage is on paper only, and it’s over. I already know that. I don’t want to hurt her, but I’ve never thought about her the way I think about you. I see the way you look at me, kid. This is not one-sided on my part.” I called her out. “Is it?”
She remained still, her breathing trembling like she couldn’t fight, but she was too afraid to give in, as well. She didn’t want to fight me.
“Now we can keep this clean, if you want. I can make good on that lie and let you babysit my son,” I suggested. “Would you prefer that?”