Recovering control freak, single mom and semiprofessional chaos wrangler Lola Deacon McIntire doesn’t need an arrogant ballplayer to swoop in and save her from anything, much less her flat tire. And she definitely doesn’t need her body to betray her and decide this is the guy to wake up her rusty libido. She isn’t about to upset her sons’ lives for any man—much less one who so clearly doesn’t think he’s dad material.
Jack never thought he’d find someone who wanted to build a life with him, but the more time he spends with Lola and her boys, the more it starts to feel permanent. Even tough-as-nails Lola concedes there just might be a future here—the big, beautiful, messy future neither of them was looking for—but only if Jack will accept he deserves it.
The only person who didn’t seem to notice was Jack. She didn’t particularly expect any special treatment, and it was clear he wasn’t interested in a long, happy life together any more than she was. But when he pushed his plate aside and started to say his goodbyes, she did have to turn her back to make sure her face didn’t betray her disappointment.
When he did finally come up behind her to say goodbye, it was without leaning in and whispering in her ear, and he kept his hands far away from her. It was clear that whatever had happened between him and Deke—and Lola could read a room enough to know that something had happened—meant things were about to come to an end.
Lola was okay with that. She hadn’t really expected anything after the other morning anyway. Still, it was an effort to plaster a smile on her face, especially when he nodded his head toward the hallway. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Lola sighed. “Cover me?” she said to Mary. And then she turned to move past him and walked straight ahead.
“So,” she said when they got to the back hallway. She didn’t think it counted as breaking up when they weren’t together, but she’d never actually been broken up with before so she wasn’t sure. And although she wasn’t willing to make it easier for him, she wasn’t about to make it hard.
“So,” he said. He was nervous. This was going to be worse than Lola had thought.
Well, it wasn’t going to be worse than having Tuck show up in his police uniform the night of the accident, or spending all those long lonely nights when Dave was deployed wondering whether he was still alive.
“Obviously,” Jack said, “we have two very different lives.”
Yep. Lola nodded for him to go on.
“And we both know I am not by any means a catch.”
It kind of depended on how you defined it, but this wasn’t the time to agree or disagree. She clasped her hands behind her back.
“This is probably a really, really bad idea.” He ran his hands through his hair and Lola tried not to think about how cute he was. How cute it was, to have the big, bad Iceman be so nervous because of her. Even if it was because he was about to tell her that he never wanted to see her again.
“But how would you feel about seeing me tonight after you get off?”
“I’m sorry?” That was not what she’d expected him to say.
He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Not get off. That innuendo was not intentional. I meant after you’re done with your shift.”
Wow. He wasn’t even making double entendre jokes. This was seriously strange. And not how she’d expected this to go.
He started pacing.
“I, uh…” He cleared his throat. “Jules mentioned the babysitter puts your kids to bed and stays over on the nights you work late.”
“She did?” Jules was so much more of a troublemaker than she led anyone to believe.
Jack nodded. “I was thinking maybe I could pick you up and take you to dinner somewhere.”
And now Lola was irritated. Never mind that ten o’clock was too late to have dinner. “Seriously? We’re doing the dating thing?” She may have had her breakdown earlier, but it didn’t change her overall goal. “What part of ‘fuck me against the wall’ did you not understand?” Lola was fairly certain she’d been clear on that.
Jack tensed before straightening up to his full height. Then the Jack she knew was back and in front of her—crowding right up against her, pinning her between him and the wall. This time his grin was natural and easy and entirely carnal—just the way she liked it. “I never said fucking against the wall was off the table. I just thought maybe you’d like to grab a bite first.”
Resisting the impulse to say that she would, actually, like to take a bite out of something first, she set her lips in a grim line. Was this truly what he wanted? Or was it just what he thought she wanted, despite what she’d said? Trying to keep the frustration out of her voice, she said, “I don’t want to go on dates, Jack. I don’t want a boyfriend. I don’t want another thing to add to the list.” She wasn’t pulling punches. Not today.
Although he winced and said, “Ouch, babe. That was harsh,” he didn’t seem overly upset. Especially not as he slid his thigh between her legs, looking entirely as if he were going to eat her up. “I don’t want to go on dates, Lola.” He brought his hand up between them. “And I really don’t want a girlfriend.” Though he seemed utterly calm, she could feel his heart beating as rapidly as hers was. “But I do have a list, and it includes fucking you repeatedly, and not just against the wall.” Then his hand closed over her breast, and he pinched the increasingly sensitive tip, and to her annoyance, she couldn’t hold back her gasp. Right here in the hallway of her family’s restaurant.
“I do, however,” he said, “have higher standards than an unheated, unfinished farmhouse.” Her breath hitched as he rolled her nipple between his thumb and forefinger, twisting just enough for a moan to make its way out of her throat.
“Hey,” she managed to say. “That’s my unheated, unfinished farmhouse you’re talking about. Be careful what you say.”
He smiled but didn’t reply. Unless you counted taking her earlobe between his teeth and giving enough of a tug for her to feel it shoot down to her core.
“Okay.” She needed to work at not being quite so easy. “I suppose that could be added to my list, too.”
“Great.” His voice low and raspy, he didn’t pull back. “So what do you say?”
She let her head fall back against the wall as she closed her eyes. Dorie was right. The date itself didn’t matter. She had no illusions about Jack and she wasn’t looking for a replacement for Dave. But she was a thirty-six-year-old woman who had a whole lot of living left to do. She took a deep breath as she opened her eyes, “Okay.”
In a startlingly gentle way, he brushed her cheek with his thumb as he smiled. “I’ll be back at ten to pick you up.”
Keeping the wall at her back, she nodded. “It’s not a date.”
“Not a date,” he repeated, bending down and touching his lips to hers, giving the slightest of reminders as to what his mouth was truly capable of. Then he backed away, keeping his eyes on her until he disappeared from sight.
Science and, in addition to her work as a librarian, has worked as a conference and events planner as well as a Communications and Enrollment administrator in both preschool and higher education environments (although some might say that there is very little difference between the two; Jen has no comment regarding whether she is one of the “some”).