“Nice one.” But he still held on to her, his arms banded tight around her middle, the fingers of his left hand spread wide and nearly, just nearly, brushing her breast. “Face it, Mia. I won. And I’m going to claim my prize.”
Her ni**les went happy. “Dream on. There’s kids watching.”
He laughed again, and even though she kept squirming, he didn’t let her go. “Not everything is about sex.”
“Between us it is.”
For a beat, he went utterly still. Then he bit lightly on her ear, making her hiss in a breath, and not in pain. “It’s not all about sex,” he repeated. “And I’m going to prove it to you. Tonight. Dinner. With me.”
“As in a date?”
“See you at six thirty.” With that, he let her go and walked away.
“I didn’t say yes!” she yelled after him.
He didn’t even look back, the bastard.
Well, fine. But she wasn’t going. No way. Not going to get in a restaurant and stare at him over flickering candles and wine, and talk…Not going to ride on the back of that motorcycle, clinging to his hard, warm body. Not going to go home with him and let that body make hers sing.
Ah, hell. She was going to go.
Kevin came down the stairs, and Mike took his gaze off the TV long enough to sign, Scary woman left you a text message.
Beth. Mike used the remote to flick through the channels with a speed that suggested annoyance. The volume was earsplitting, not that he could tell, but after a minute he tossed the remote aside to sign in quick, agitated gestures. She said to tell you she’d like a conjugal visit tonight, and bring dinner.
Kevin laughed. She did not say that.
Word for word. Since when is she sniffing around you again?
Since Amber is at the teen center for the summer. Beth’s under the misguided impression I’m a better catch these days.
Mike took in what Kevin was wearing and raised a brow.
Kevin looked down at himself. He’d showered and put on fresh jeans and a clean black T-shirt. Given who Mia probably usually dated—not high school science teachers on a budget—this was probably slumming it. The TV, still at earsplitting decibels, was driving him crazy, so he grabbed the remote. Loud enough for you?
Mike’s face closed. Sorry if I can’t hear it.
The old stab of guilt still brought pain. He knew it, and Mike knew it.
Sometimes he knew Mike liked knowing it. Look, Mia and I are going to dinner. Want me to bring you something?
So you’re going to get fed before she does you this time. That’s nice.
Kevin’s jaw ticked. Do you want something or not?
I’m going to Tess’s.
She might not be up to it, she—
Quit. I know, we’ve been text-messaging. She says she’s pissed, but I think she’s sad. I’m going to cheer her up.
Kevin thought of Mia, and how protective of Tess she was. If Mike fooled around with Tess, as was his custom with women, and then dumped her in about a week, also his custom, Mia would kill him. Maybe you should call Kim. Or Carrie. Or how about—
Yes, but Monica called you, just this morning, said you hadn’t gone out with her in weeks. I bet she’d take you clubbing.
Mike’s smile faded. Last time I went clubbing, you had to bail me out of jail. I thought you’d be thrilled I was doing this. You have a problem with Tess?
No, I have a problem with you screwing around with her and then dumping her.
Mike stared at him. How do you know she’s not the one?
Mike’s face tightened. You’re that sure I’m going to f**k it up?
Kevin didn’t know what to say to that without starting the fight that Mike was clearly looking for. What’s the big deal? Just find another woman to play with.
Why don’t you?
What are you talking about?
Or are you going to come home dragging your heart behind you again?
What does that mean?
Mike stood up. It means you’re one to talk. You’re currently sleeping with the female equivalent of me. You ever think of that? Yet another person in your life that is broken but doesn’t want to be fixed. Yet another person in your life for you to anguish over, and in this case, get screwed over.
Kevin stared at Mike, hearing the words as if his brother had actually spoken them, feeling them settle into his chest. I don’t have time for this shit.
Right. Because it’s about you this time. Mike nodded agreeably. You never have time to deal with yourself, only others. Go. Go get f**ked tonight. Literally and figuratively, see if I care.
Whatever. Kevin strode to the door, feeling far more suited to be heading to an aggressive basketball game than a date.
But maybe a date with Mia would be right up his alley. Maybe for once he’d do this her way. Get all his aggressions and stress out with a spectacular orgasm. And then move on.
Yeah, sounded perfect. But he slammed the door to make it even more perfect. Too bad Mike couldn’t hear it.
Mia dialed Sugar’s number, and while she waited impatiently someone hit the doorbell. Still waiting on Sugar to pick up the phone on her end, Mia pulled open the door, then found herself momentarily struck by the sight of Kevin standing there looking a little attitude-ridden, a little edgy, a little like he wanted to take her up against the doorjamb. Her heart kicked hard.
“Hello” came Sugar’s cranky, Southern voice in her ear, as always with perfect timing. “Who the hell is this?”
“Well, listen to you, all fancy LA voice. I’ve gotten your messages. I suppose you’re wanting money for those plane tickets I’m not using this weekend. And maybe for taking care of Hope all this time.”
“What? No, I don’t want money for taking care of Hope, or the tickets. I just want to see when I can reschedule the flights. I thought—”
“I’m busy then.”
Mia’s eye twitched. “But I didn’t say when.”
“Yeah. See, the thing is, I’m having some troubles. Mental ones.” Sugar’s voice lowered, as if this was a state secret. “I’m having a breakdown on a account of my daughter driving me insane. There’s this thirty-day recovery period, or so my doctor says.”
Thirty days, her ass. “Sugar.” Calm. Be calm. “You can’t just desert your daughter for thirty more days.”
“Oh, but see, that’s the beauty of this. I’m not deserting her at all. She’s with you. And you’re family. I’ll call you in August. Okay?”
“Otherwise, I just don’t know what I’ll do. Please, Mia. Look, I know I’ve been a shit to you while she’s been there—”
“How about for all my life?”
Sugar sighed. “I was kinda hoping you were over some of that early stuff.”
Now Mia sighed. “I am.”
“Then, please. For me.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said, because suddenly Sugar really did sound like she was on the very edge. “But—”
But nothing. She was talking to a dial tone. “Damn it.” She hit the OFF button with her thumb and tossed the phone to the couch. “Damn it.”
“Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think.”
Whirling around, she focused. Gorgeous, edgy guy standing in her foyer, holding an extra helmet, which set her hormones all aquiver as if she was—“A teenager,” she said. And slapped her forehead. “Oh, my God, I’m thinking like a teenager. What kind of influence can I possibly be? I can’t do this. I can’t.” She set her fingers to her twitching eye. “I have no idea how to do this.”
Kevin sighed and set the helmet down. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Really? How? How is it going to be okay? By August I won’t have any eardrums left, or a job for that matter. Kevin, I have no idea what I’m doing here,” she admitted quietly.
“It’s a one-day-at-a-time thing,” he assured her with a lopsided smile that seemed slightly self-mocking as he took her hand. “Trust me on this. Where’s Hope now?”
“Upstairs. Tess is coming by to get her. They’re going to make cookie dough. I guess your brother is joining them.”
Kevin laughed. “Hope’ll make a good chaperone.”
“Do they need one?”
He ran his finger over the furrow between her brows. “Stop worrying.”
“Easier said than done.”
“Know what you need? A ride.”
Her tummy quivered. “Is your house empty?”
He stared at her, then let out a low laugh. “I meant on the bike.”
Damn it. “I knew that.”
He shook his head and took her hand. “Let’s get out of here before I forget why we have to.”
“Yeah, about that…” She dragged her feet. “Kevin, what are we doing?”
“Getting some food, and hopefully some laughs while we’re at it. Sounds like we both need it.”
“I meant more generally than that.”
“I know. Just come out with me tonight. Let’s see where it goes. No plan, no media blitz, no campaign, no expectations.”
She had to smile. “Yeah, okay.”
They rode over the canyons toward the ocean, and as always the experience was both visceral and sensual, almost overwhelmingly so. Mia leaned into Kevin with every turn, her breath catching with wonder at how it felt to have such power between her legs, the utter exhilaration of being so exposed to the elements.
Not to mention the feel of the man she clung to. Every inch of her legs brushed his, his broad back making a perfect resting spot for her br**sts and belly.
And, God, he smelled seriously dee-lish. It should be illegal to smell that good. The evening wind was warm from the long summer day, and the sound of it almost tuned out the rest of the world.
They ended up at a small outdoor café in Malibu, where they shared a finger salad and a huge club sandwich. With the ocean pounding the surf as the sun set, Mia sighed with an odd comfort. “Teaching seems like an odd vocation for a rebel,” she said and picked up an olive.
“A rebel.” He grinned. “You only say that because of the bike.”
“Yeah, I like the bike a lot,” she admitted. And the man on it…
He bit into his sandwich and, watching her, chewed thoughtfully. “If I’m a so-called rebel, it’s only because rules don’t seem to agree with me much. Or authority, for that matter.”
“But to be a teacher and not respect authority…”
“I didn’t say I didn’t respect it,” he said. “But I do believe in showing these kids, or people in general, that it’s okay to have your own thoughts, to do things your own way. As long as it’s legal,” he corrected and shook his head. “We’re still working on that in my classroom. And my house.”
“Yeah, about your brother. You two live together. Have you always?”
“Wait.” He cocked his head. “Was that…a personal question?”
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe. But it’s for Tess, not me. Are you two close?”
He smiled. “Better be careful there, you’re going to get to know me.”
“Funny,” she said. “Now answer the question. He’s had trouble keeping jobs.”
“So you help him out.”
“Yeah. People discriminate against him for his hearing loss, you know? He pretends it doesn’t matter, but it does. And, yeah, I help him out.”
“Does he appreciate it?”
“Sometimes.” He laughed roughly. “Actually, mostly no.”
“Ah. So you gather and collect the needy,” she said. “Whether they like it or not. Is that it?”
“No. That’s not it.” He stuffed another bite in, chewed some more. “Okay, maybe,” he conceded after swallowing. “Actually, we just fought about this very thing. About you, actually.”
She straightened in immediate defense mode. “Me? Why?”
“Mike thinks I tend to put people in my life that need fixing. People that don’t want to be fixed. Himself included.”
Mia connected the dots and felt a frown gather. “Well, he’s right there. I don’t want to be fixed, so don’t even try.”
He lifted his hands as if in surrender. “Wouldn’t even think of it.”
“Because we’re just…you know. Releasing steam.”
“Right.” He nodded sagely. “Nothing else. Not friendship, or affection, or more.”
Her breath caught, jammed in her throat. “Well, maybe a little bit of that.”
Leaning over, he pulled off her mirrored sunglasses.
“Hey,” she protested.
“The sun is down. Your retinas are no longer in danger.”
But what about her heart?
“That’s the first time you’ve admitted we’re more than bed partners. I wanted to see your eyes.”
Her stomach jangled. “I said a ‘little’ bit more. You heard that part, right?”
He laughed softly. “Were you always like this? So independent? So…closed off?”
“You think I’m closed off?”
“Definitely not in bed. But out of it, yeah.”
She stared at him, then looked away, where the waves hit the beach with a rhythm that soothed. “I have not been plied with enough alcohol for this.”