Surprise shot her brow higher, and Jax studied his profile and the sexy stubble on his chin, the moment filled with warm sunshine, the smell of coconut sunscreen and the sight of Blake’s lean, muscular torso drying in the sun. Salt water beaded on his chest and stomach, clinging adoringly to the hard abs. Heart tripping faster, she pushed the distracting thoughts aside, because right now she needed to focus on what was causing the worry lines around Blake’s eyes.

Something told her they were about more than just a job.

“Did you accept the position?” she said.

His voice was matter-of-fact, logic and reason radiating from his face. “I told them I’d have to think about the offer.”

Despite her uneasiness, a teasing smile crept up her mouth. “Of course you did,” she said, looking down at him. “Because you always stop to consider your next move from every angle.”

And he did, too. Even going so far as to proclaim the first time he’d slept with her as an exception to his rules. He hadn’t said anything more on the subject since. Had he simply extended the offer to include more time?

And suddenly, she needed to know if he were capable of letting go of the rules. Would he always be a by-the-book kind of guy? Was she destined to be an exception until he’d gotten his fill of her crazy ways?

She tipped her head. “Do you ever do anything for fun, just because you want to?”

“I used to be famous for it.”

She let out a disbelieving laugh. “Back when you were three years old?”

“Up until I turned twenty, I was worse than Nikki,” he said, looking up at her again.

Shock drove her eyelids wide. “I don’t believe it.”

“It’s true,” he said easily. “Whatever Nikki has done to drive me crazy, I did ten times worse to my father. High school was one trip to the principal’s office after another.”

Her disbelief must have been obvious, because he shifted to face her, his head propped on his hand. But a part of her was afraid to believe there might be hope for the man.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I want an example.”

“Okay,” he said. His eyes crinkled in humor. “My sophomore year in high school, I put a gator in the pool at school.”

She sat up, shock dropping her mouth open.

“The alligator was only three feet long,” he went on, ignoring her stunned look. “But the coach ignored my hastily scribbled Do Not Feed the Gator sign and didn’t see him until he was halfway into the water. And just for the record,” he went on drily, “it’s impossible to back up from a swan dive.”

The image made her laugh. “And then what happened?”

“Swim practice was canceled, just as I’d hoped. At least until Fish and Wildlife fished the gator out and released him back into the wild.”

“No,” she said with an amused shake of her head. “What happened to you?”

“My dad spoke with the principal and got my suspension cut from ten days to three. He constantly had to use his negotiating skills to bail me out of trouble.” A glimmer of a nostalgic smile lifted his lips. “By my senior year, the pranks got a little of hand.”

She stared at him, trying to take it all in. The image didn’t gel with the Blake she knew. She’d always assumed Nikki was like her mother, while Blake had the steadfast genes of his father. But perhaps there was more of Abigail Bennington in him than she’d originally thought.

And the possibility brought a surge of hope so strong it scared her.

“So what happened to ruin you?” she said.

“Most people would say I grew up.” His eyes crinkled in genuine amusement. “Leave it to Jacqueline Lee to say I’ve been ruined.”

She fought the need to let the conversation continue at a lighter level. To keep the tone easy and fun. But as she stared across at him, she felt an intense need to be honest. If Blake Bennington couldn’t learn to loosen up a bit, if he couldn’t relax those so-called compatibility rules—because no one would ever consider Jax sensible—then their relationship was just a succession of one-night-stand aberrations.

With no chance for more.

Her sincerity was reflected in her tone. “I think you take caution to unhealthy levels.”

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