She reaches up, cupping my cheek, silently telling me that she gets it, and knows I’m already at my limit. I lean into her touch, cupping her hand with mine, my eyes seeking hers, the connection triggering an unfamiliar warmth in my chest that has nothing to do with desire. “God, woman, what are you doing to me?”

“Nothing you aren’t doing to me.”


I stare into her blue eyes and see the trust there, the understanding I’m not sure I deserve or ever will in this lifetime, but I want to. God, how I want to—and there are suddenly things I want to say to her, about us, about Rebecca, and about my past. But there isn’t time—or maybe this is simply the wrong time.

My forehead settles against hers; my hands go to her waist and caress upward, fingers curving the swell of her breasts, working their way to the hard covers over her nipples. Her breath hitches, the sound driving what I already feel. “I really need to be inside you right now.”

She jerks back and says, “Not in your father’s office,” as if she believes I might intend just that.

It’s tempting. So damn tempting. I lean in, brushing my lips over hers, still teasing the hard tips covering her nipples, intentionally creating a sweet friction in her body that I want to lick away.

She moans and the sound thickens my cock. I dip my tongue into her mouth again for one last sweet taste of her to hold me over until we’re finally alone. “Let’s go tell my parents good-bye and go home.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “Please.”

My lips curve. “Please. I like how that sounds. And ‘Please, Mr. Compton, lick my nipples’ would be even better.”

“Not going to happen.”

I press my cheek to hers and nip her ear, whispering, “Challenge accepted.”

* * *

We walk back to the gymnasium to find it all but deserted, and hurry toward my parents.

My father hands me my jacket, which I slip on. He’s quick to discover that we’ve been in his office, and he draws Crystal into conversation about the photos. I’m equally as quick to hug my mother. Holding my arms, she tilts her face up to study me. “How are you?”

“Far better than expected.”

“I know there’s a part of the past you don’t ever want to think about,” she says. “But I want you to have that special baseball bond with your father again while he’s still here. You both need that.” She softens her voice. “And you know the counselor said there are stages of healing, and you never let yourself go through them all.”

“I am now.”

“Because of Crystal,” she states.

“Because you and Rebecca made me realize life is short.”

She looks at me closely. “Don’t forget that with Crystal.”

“I don’t intend to.”

“That’s the most positive answer I’ve heard from you in ten years. Are you two coming by the house tomorrow?”

“Probably late. We have prep work for next week’s auctions, which reminds me: Crystal’s done very well. Today I reviewed the financials that you haven’t been able to look over. Riptide is kicking ass and the scandal has created buzz, not a mass exodus. Next week’s RSVPs for the auctions are up fifteen percent.”

Crystal comes to our side, and I wrap my arm around her shoulder. “I was telling my mother how well you’ve taken care of Riptide.”

“I knew you were a superstar, my dear,” my mother proclaims proudly. “And you’ve done this all on your own. Sounds like you need to do a little nose-rubbing to your father and brothers.”

“Oh, I intend to,” Crystal assures her. “I’ll be doing just that on Sunday night.”

“What’s Sunday night?” I ask.

“My birthday is next Saturday, during the auction, and Thursday and Friday will be crazy busy, so my family’s having a little birthday dinner for me at my father’s place Sunday night. Want to come along?”

Pleased at the invitation to meet her family and discover the foundation that made her the woman who has turned my world upside down, I am quick to accept. “Looking forward to it already.”

“Sounds like enough testosterone in one room to damage a woman’s ovaries,” my mother quips, sounding very much like her pre-cancer self. “And remember, my dear son,” she adds, “you’re not the pack leader there. Her father is. No matter how much you want to show your dominant tendencies, you respect his first.”

“Such love, Mother. I can barely stand it.”

My mother smirks. “I still love you, you arrogant ass.”

Crystal chokes on laughter and my father drapes an arm over my mother’s shoulder. “Handing out compliments again, I see.” He lifts his chin at Crystal. “Welcome to the love factory.”

Crystal takes the intended bait. “Love factory?”

I explain: “That’s what he called our house when I was growing up. Usually after my dear mother told me I needed to ‘suck it up and move on’ after a bad game.”

“Wallowing in negativity never works,” Dana says, “so yes. I told you to suck it up.” She leans into my father. “And I really need sleep.”

My father kisses her head. “The car is ready to go.” The two of them head to the door, toward Kara. Jacob holds up a hand, signaling for us to wait until my parents have departed for our turn.

My hands settle on Crystal’s waist. “While we wait,” I say, “what do you want for your birthday?”

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