AJ laughs and sits down on the bench seat next to her. The way the child’s father looks at AJ could light up a room in the dark. AJ takes a selfie with the family. I can’t help but smile as AJ politely listens to the father spew off AJ’s stats, and the little girl tells him about her daddy’s man crush. Finally, the mother points at me and tells her husband that AJ is busy. The man reluctantly stops talking and allows AJ to leave. This may have just been a regular encounter for AJ who is used to the attention, but for this family it will be the topic of Thanksgiving and Christmas conversations for years to come.

AJ and I get to the corner booth and I slide into the bench across from him. “That was kind of you,” I say. “You didn’t have to do that.”

He shrugs. “I’d be nothing without people like them.”

His humility only drives that tingling feeling between my legs and that urge to pounce on him.

“So,” I say with an eyebrow raised in question, “this is your reservation?”

He chuckles, playing with the silverware. “More like a standing open invitation on Tuesdays. They have the best burgers in Chicago. Hands down. And I highly recommend the onion rings with their secret sauce.”

“And the garlic fries,” I add.

“That one is a no-brainer.”

The waitress comes over and I take his recommendation about the burger and garlic fries. Most nights when I’m off work, I’m too tired to eat and end up falling asleep on the couch watching something on Netflix. But seeing AJ tonight has woken me up. I doubt I’ll sleep a wink.

We get our food and I can see why he loves this place so much. The hamburgers are the size of my head and the fries are to die for. I didn’t realize just how hungry I am and gobble it down.

“Thank you for giving me the job,” I say between bites.

He shrugs. “It was an easy choice for the board once I recommended you.”

“You suggested me?”

I had a feeling he might have been the final reason I was hired because he knows me—though, with our tumultuous past, I figured he would have been the reason if I hadn’t gotten it.

“I might have brought up your name when I saw the list of candidates applying for the position. But it was your own qualifications that got you in.”

“But why me?” I ask. I just don’t get it. After what I did to him at that party he should hate me. If not hate me, then think I’m a total bitch.

AJ stuffs his mouth, avoiding the question. The waitress comes by to refill our drinks.

Once she’s gone, AJ changes the subject. “How do you like it at the Hope Center.”

“It’s great,” I answer, but I’m undeterred by his attempt at distraction. “Why me?” I press harder.

“Maybe it’s because I just want to fuck you again.”

I nearly choke on the fry I’m chewing. When I look up at him, he seems unfazed by the shock he just gave me and continues to eat.

“Are you serious?” I ask.

He wipes his mouth and takes a drink of his iced tea. Then he looks me straight in the eye, his expression completely serious. “Maybe sex with you that night was so good I needed at least one more chance with you. I had the power and money to get you back into my life, so why not? It was all just an elaborate ruse to get you back into my bed.”

When his lips quirk up into a smile I realize he’s teasing me and I laugh.

I shake my head and continue to eat, but I can’t stop thinking about his words. I wish the thought of being with him didn’t turn me on so much.4AJClaire is here across from me, in my favorite corner booth, in my favorite little dive. My admission shocked her. Good. That was exactly the reaction I wanted. That look on her face told me all I needed to know. She still wants me. I couldn’t be sure before, but now there is no doubt in my mind.

She didn’t take me serious, and that’s good too. I want her to feel at ease around me. She’s finally starting to relax. She tells me about all the people she’s helped so far at the Hope Center. One story in particular she seems fond of, about a sick child who came in crippled by pain and left the center skipping and jumping. She loves her job and she’s dedicated, which is the real reason I made sure she was the one to run the center, but I will admit, I did want her close to me. I wasn’t entirely unselfish in that decision.

I throw down a hundred dollar bill onto the table and we stand up to leave. I wave at the little girl who I took selfies with. Claire laughs.

Tags: Penny Wylder Romance
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