He could only hope she’d enjoyed it half as much.

“I’m going to want to do that again,” he warned, watching her closely.

“I figured as much.”

“You’re okay with that?”

“I’m just trying to figure out what you’re going to tell my mother now that you’ve kissed me.”

He grinned. “You think she’ll ask?”

Carly’s expression twisted in thought. “Actually, I think you’d better run before she asks you to stay forever.”

He couldn’t quite hold his smile.

The light dancing in Carly’s eyes dimmed and concern took its place. “I don’t want my mother hurt, Stone. Nor do I want her to have unrealistic expectations. I don’t have time to invest in a relationship. Not a friendship or more-than-friendship relationship.”

“Because of your mother?”

She took a deep breath, then nodded. “Asking Joyce to stay extra so I can spend time with you isn’t an option.”

He studied her face, the tension etched into her expression. She believed what she said. Maybe what she said was true. He didn’t want to add to her burden, but walking away didn’t seem a viable option, either.

Certainly not an acceptable option.

“We don’t have to go anywhere, Carly. We can spend time together here, with your mother.”

Looking pained, she shook her head. “She’ll get the wrong idea.”

“What wrong idea would that be?”

Rose bloomed in her cheeks. “That we might fall in love, get married, and have her grandchildren.”

This time the but was going to come from him.

“But we’ll know the truth.”

“None of those things can happen,” she agreed.

No matter what happened between him and Carly, and he was hoping a lot would, there would be no marriage, or children. Been there, done part of that, had the deep scars to prove it.

“As long as you and I know the truth, that we’re just good friends, we can make this work if you’ll try.”

Carly’s lower lip disappeared between her teeth a moment, then she let out a long breath. “Oh, there’s a million reasons, but I’m not sure any of them are enough to keep me away from you.”

Warmth filled his chest. “I think I like that.”

She blinked up at him. “What?”

“That you want to be with me that much.”

Carly laughed, which caused her body to move against his and Stone fought a groan. Her body fit next to his so perfectly, so succinctly, so excitedly.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she asked. “You shop, cook, and clean. Every woman’s dream man.”

“Not every.”

That he knew for a fact. Some lessons weren’t soon forgotten.

Yes, he had moved on, had been in several decent relationships since Stephanie, but he’d not let anyone get close.

“If things begin to get complicated, we’ll go back to the way things were, just work friends,” she suggested.

Had she read his mind? Felt the tension memories of the past stirred?

“Sounds perfect,” he agreed. “We’ll keep things uncomplicated.”

Only part of Stone wondered if things weren’t already complicated where Carly was concerned.


“TWISTER? YOU WANT to play a game?”

If Stone had any doubts, the sparkle in Carly’s eyes would have convinced him playing a game was just what she needed.

“But there’s only two of us. Who is going to spin to tell us what’s next?”

“I downloaded an app to my phone that will ‘spin’ for us. You think I was going to risk you having a reason not to play?”

“I have reasons why I shouldn’t play, but—” she glanced at the game he’d gone out to his SUV to bring into her house “—obviously, none of them are enough to keep me from doing exactly that.”

“You’ll have fun.”

“And you?”

“Tangling up on a mat with you?” He waggled his brows. “Yes, I’m going to have fun.”

Still smiling, Carly rolled her eyes. “I’m beginning to wonder how old you really are. Ten or in your thirties?”

“I’m not telling,” he teased, leaning forward to trace his thumb over her cheek.

“Sorry. Did I have dressing on my face?”

He shook his head. He’d brought them grilled chicken salads, plus had picked up some fresh fruit for dessert.

He held up the game. “I play to win.”

“I’ve noticed.”

He arched a brow.

“You don’t seem the type to not get your way often.”

“More often than you obviously think.” His happiness ebbed a little. “That’s life. We win some and lose some. It’s all good and what makes us into the people we are.”

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