“We missed you the other night,” Alessandra says over the phone two days after I missed the dinner she’d asked me to attend.
“I’m surprised I haven’t heard from you already.” I’d texted her to say I wouldn’t be there and hadn’t received a message or call in return. Not my sister’s usual mode of operation.
“Some of us have better things to do than chase Ashton Scott around.” Her tone is cutting—unusually so for her.
“And what the fuck does that mean?” I throw the towel I’m holding over my shoulder and take a long drink from my water bottle. After a demanding day in the office, I’ve just spent the last hour running on the treadmill in my home gym.
She sighs. “Fuck, just ignore me, I’m in a bitchy mood and wine isn’t working as well as it usually does. I ran into Cassia today, or should I say that she ran into me, and she’s still carrying on about you.” She stops talking and I hear her drinking. “You really need to put her out of her misery.”
Wiping the sweat from my forehead with the towel, I groan. “What would you suggest I do, Aly? I was extremely clear with what I wanted a year ago when I broke up with her, and I’ve been nothing but clear every time she’s approached me since. I can’t help it if she’s choosing not to listen to what I’m saying.”
“I can’t believe I am going to say this, but you are too nice to her.”
“So, what, you think I should be an asshole to her just because I didn’t love her the way she loved me?”
“Well, you’re an asshole to everyone else! Maybe it will force her to listen.” There’s no love lost between Alessandra and my ex. From the day I introduced them to the day I left Cassia, they were at odds with each other. Cassia’s socialite status and refusal to work rubbed my sister the wrong way. Alessandra doesn’t share Cassia’s belief that an inheritance is a reason to sleep in most days and spend the rest of your time socialising.
“Aly…” I chastise.
She takes another loud sip of her wine. “No, don’t give me that. Cassia has you fooled. She’s a bitch who plays to your good side and as a result she gets away with things that others don’t where you’re concerned. You’re blind to it, Ashton.”
I leave my gym and take the stairs up to my bedroom, two at a time. “I’m not blind. I just have no interest in confronting it. The thing with Cassia is, if you give her an inch she’ll take a mile. If I start a conversation with her, fuck knows what she’ll make of it and where it’ll all end up.”
Alessandra sighs again. “I don’t want to talk about her anymore. I want you to tell me why you didn’t make it for dinner on Monday night.” I hear a loud noise on her end, and then—“Shit, can you give me a minute? Sadie’s just bloody smashed a vase and Malcolm is nowhere to be seen.”
The sounds of her yelling at her daughter for breaking her prized possession and then of her yelling through the house for her husband fill my ears. Alessandra has two sides to her personality—the in-control businesswoman I deal with during the day and this frazzled, wine-guzzling wife-slash-mother at night.
While I wait for her to sort out her domestic chaos, I take the opportunity to stretch. My shoulders are so tight, even after having a massage a few days ago. I’ll need to have Jessica schedule another appointment to get these knots sorted.
“Jesus, don’t ever get married or have children,” Alessandra mutters into the phone. “Although, you’d have it easy because you’re the damn man. Ugh. I should have become a lesbian.”
“I’m concerned about you. Your level of domestic disorder seems to have escalated. What’s going on?”
“Malcolm is going on, that’s what!”
“Aly, you’ve been married for nine years. Surely you two have your shit together by now.”
Another long sip of wine. And then she lets loose on me. “You have no idea about marriage. I’m beginning to think that it wouldn’t matter if we’d been married for a hundred fucking years… He’d still be clueless about how to make his wife happy. Do you know what he had the hide to say to me today?”
I shudder to think. “What?”
Another long sip of wine. Surely that glass is nearly empty. “He suggested I take some defensive driving lessons. Can you fucking believe that?”
I can, but no way in hell am I admitting that to her. Not in the state she’s in. Malcolm adores her and he’s a good husband. Alessandra just loses sight of that every now and then.
Before I have a chance to form a reply, she continues. “Don’t answer that, because I know what you would say. Just take note—never say shit like this to your woman.”
“Duly noted.” I can’t see myself ever settling down with someone for the same length of time Alessandra’s been with Malcolm. Not because I don’t want to, but rather because I can’t seem to find the right woman.
“So where were you on Monday night?” She returns to her earlier question.
“I decided that with the mood I was in Monday night, I was no good to anyone, so I just spent the night at home.” Stewing over what I’d learnt that day.
“You’re pursuing that Willow Street building, aren’t you?”
I ignore the disapproval in her voice. “It’s not for sale, but yes, I’m still pursuing it.”
“How strange… Dad definitely said he was putting an offer in on the Willow Street property.”
“I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
“Oh, I have no doubt,” she mutters. “Now, the reason I actually called you… Please tell me you’re still good for tomorrow afternoon. If you say no, I may just kill you. Or send little humans around to hang out with you… Either would be punishment enough.”
“You fail to recall my love for your little humans. You’ve nothing to worry about—I’ll be there.”
Her relief is clear in her voice. “Thank you, Ashton. And now I will leave you so I can refill my glass before thinking up ways to show my husband just what I think of his idea for me to take those lessons.”
She ends the call and I throw my phone down onto my bed. I pull my sweaty T-shirt over my head and dump it in the laundry basket before stripping out of the rest of my clothes. It’s just turned nine and I’m going to have a shower before dinner and then a few hours of work. A deal I’m trying to close in Los Angeles has hit a problem so I’ll be on the phone with them until the early hours of tomorrow morning.
As I head into the bathroom, my phone rings again.
I just want some peace and quiet.
I snatch it up. “Don’t tell me… You’ve cut Malcolm’s dick off.”
A chuckle filters down the line. “No, I can’t say I have.”
I rake my fingers through my hair. “Thank Christ it’s you. I’ve just had Aly on the phone.”
“Ah, say no more, my friend.”
Jack Kingsley is my oldest friend. And any day I hear from him is a good day.
Sitting on the end of my bed, I rest my elbows on my knees and drop my head forward. “You’re awake early.” Jack lives in LA.
“Yeah, I can’t sleep. Too much shit taking over my mind. How the hell do you do it?” Exhaustion threads its way through his words and I wonder what’s going on with him. I haven’t seen Jack for a good three months, which is unusual for us. Between my trips overseas and his, we normally manage to see each other every month.
“Do what?” I ask.
“Juggle all the balls in your court without going crazy or blocking it all out with an unhealthy addiction.”
Jack has a long history with drugs and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve worried he might not wake up in the morning.
“You forget—work is my unhealthy addiction.” I tread carefully; we’ve had more than one bad argument over his vice.
“Ah, yes… well, I’ve tried to take that addiction up and all I feel is ten-fucking-times worse.” He blows out a harsh breath. “I’m coming home. I’ve had enough.”
“For how long?”
“I’m done, Ashton. I’m coming home for good.”
“Jesus, Jack. What the fuck is going on over there?” As much as I want him back in Australia, I know it’s not where he needs to be. Every time he comes back here, he spirals further down the abyss of despair he lives most of his life in. Jack lives and breathes LA—he has no place living in Australia.
“Directors that are trying to kill my soul and actresses who use me on their way up and throw me away the minute I no longer serve a purpose. That’s what’s going on over here.” His words are sour and he spits them out like they are causing him extreme discomfort.
“But what’s different, because you’ve been doing this for fourteen years now. And fuck knows, you’ve been dealing with asshole directors and fame-hungry bitches for a long time. What’s happened this time to make you want to quit?” He’s actually been acting for a lot longer than fourteen years, but that’s how long he’s been doing it professionally.
“What’s the point to it all, Ashton? Why the fuck do I do what I do? I’m different this time… It’s me. If I have no point—no reason—for putting up with all this shit then I have no reason to continue.”
My head jerks up and I push up off the bed. “Have you booked a flight?” I’m fucking concerned about him now; more concerned than I’ve ever been and the only thing I want to focus on is getting him home. The rest can be dealt with once I have him here safe.
“Yeah, I leave tonight, just before midnight.”
“I’ll pick you up when you get in. And you’ll stay with me.”
“Always trying to save me…” he murmurs and I feel his attention slipping away. “You’re a good friend.”
“Are you using at the moment?” I bite out, unable to stop myself anymore.
He sighs. “Nothing more than the occasional joint.” A brief pause before he continues, “I’ll see you on Friday, my friend.”
And then he’s gone.
I don’t waste a minute. Dialling a number I know off by heart, I wait impatiently for the call to be answered.
“Fuck, Ashton, do you know what time it is over here?” Bruce Nielson’s groggy voice filters through the phone.
“Yes, I know what time it is over there,” I snap. “Do you know that your client’s mental state is fucked up at the moment?” If he doesn’t come back with the right answer, I swear to God I’ll find ways to hurt him. Jack’s manager has never impressed me; tonight my tolerance for him has hit rock bottom.
“What? So he punched his director and then went and got himself in a brawl with his ex’s new boyfriend? It isn’t like that shit hasn’t happened before where Jack’s concerned.” This must have just happened because it’s news to me.
“You’re a piece of shit, Bruce, and I’m going to make sure Jack finally sees that. And then I’m going to ensure you don’t work another day in Hollywood.”
I rip the phone away from my ear and stab at it to end the call before quickly looking up another number. She answers much faster than Bruce and is awake just as I knew she would be.
“Ashton, to what do I owe this pleasure?” she purrs down the line.
My dick stirs at the sound of that voice. Josephine Thorne and I go way back and I briefly imagine the lips that voice escapes from. Those lips have given me many hours of bliss. At one moment in my life, I thought they’d bring me decades of happiness, but she walked away before we could go down that path. We remained friends, though, and she’s never let me down.
“Jack’s not doing well. He’s on a flight home tonight your time, but I’m concerned about what could happen in the hours between now and then.”
Josephine loves Jack just as much as she loves me. Hell, the three of us have a past that is entwined together in ways three people shouldn’t be. She was the reason for one of his famous breakdowns after she walked away from him, too.
She doesn’t hesitate. “I can go over to his place now. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
I exhale the breath I’ve been holding. “Thank you.”
“Ashton, I’ve got this. You don’t need to worry; I’ll make sure he makes that flight. You just get our boy better, okay? God knows I’ve been trying.”
I frown. “What do you mean?” It’s been a good year since I’ve spoken to Josephine.
“He started going downhill about four months ago. It was hardly noticeable at first, but I know his signs as intimately as I know his body. I’ve spent so much time with him over the past few months trying to help him, but nothing has gotten through. I really think he needs you—you’re the only one who he’s ever really listened to.”
I grit my teeth. I’m an asshole. My best friend has been suffering for months and I’ve been too damn busy to notice. “Thanks, Josephine. I’ll make sure he gets the help he needs.”
I can’t get off the phone fast enough. The urge to inflict damage on everything in this room explodes through me and I punch the wall.
I lash out, trying to rid myself of the anger coursing through my veins.
Anger at myself.
Jack needed me and what the fuck was I doing? Screwing my way through Sydney and London, and pushing deals through faster than I could keep up half the time, rather than being there for someone I love more than myself.
What the fuck was it all for?
The foreign feelings I’ve been experiencing lately rear their ugly heads and I realise I’m going to need to take this anger and confusion back to the gym. Punching holes in my wall isn’t going to cut it.
“Have you heard from the dude you tried to have sex with after the wedding?” Sienna asks me late Thursday afternoon.
It’s been three days since I scurried from the guy’s hotel room, and I am more than thankful that I haven’t heard from him. I close my laptop and run my fingers through my long hair while stretching my neck. “No, and I don’t want to.”
“Really?” The look she’s giving me tells me that she thinks I’m mad. “Lorelei, that guy was hot. Like, off-the-charts-I’d-do-him-in-a-heartbeat hot. Did you at least get his phone number?”
“No, because I’m not interested. The only reason I went to his room with him was because I was so drunk I wasn’t thinking straight. And then to fall asleep while he was… well, while he was doing what he was doing—” my cheeks flame while I recall what happened, “—I was so embarrassed when he told me the next morning. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and honestly, if he called me, I would probably die of embarrassment.”
Her mouth twitches and a moment later, she bursts out laughing. “You are too much, babe.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “Why?”
She attempts to get her laughter under control, failing miserably. But she manages to splutter, “You can’t even say the words, ‘giving head’. God, you make me laugh.”
Pursing my lips, I say, “Clearly.” My cheeks still feel hot.
“And, who the hell falls asleep while a guy’s eating her out? Unless he was really bad at it?”
“Well, I’m obviously not the right person to ask about that, because I can’t bloody remember.” I glare at her. “Can we please change the subject? I don’t want to rehash this disaster anymore.”
Her laughter subsides and her features soften. “Oh, babe, it’s not that bad. Why are you so embarrassed about it?”
I look down at my laptop for a moment, trying to ignore the feelings of not being worthy that are pushing their way into my head. Looking back up at her, I say, “You know how I don’t do one-night stands?” I wait for her nod before I proceed. “It’s because I feel dirty about them. Being a product of one, and not ever knowing who my father is turned me off them as soon as I understood what they were. Sex means more to me than a quick lay with someone I don’t care about. I’m embarrassed at my behaviour that night—not because I judge one-night stands, but because I did something I don’t believe in for myself.” God, I hope she understands where I’m coming from, because I don’t care that other people—including Sienna—have casual sex. It’s just not for me.
I shouldn’t have worried, though, because she gives me a smile. After eleven years of friendship, she knows me better than anyone. “I get it. And for the record, you are the least judgy person I know.”
“Thank you,” I murmur.
“Okay, changing the subject… Highs and lows. My high is that I’ve scored six new clients this week, and by the end of the week I’m hoping to add at least one more. My low is that the guy who lives in the apartment next to mine still hasn’t noticed me. Not even when I was wearing the tightest dress ever yesterday. Ugh. Do you think he’s gay?”
She looks so depressed over the fact the guy hasn’t noticed her that I can’t help but laugh. Sienna’s a gorgeous woman with her always-immaculately-styled, long, blonde hair and a body she works hard to keep in shape. She also spends hours on beauty, so she’s always dressed well with a full face of makeup. Either the guy is blind or gay. Or just not into hot blondes.
“Probably. I mean, who wouldn’t want you?”
Her depressed expression gives way to a huge smile. “This is why we are best friends. Now, hit me—give me your highs and lows.”
“Well, besides waking up in that hotel room on Monday, my encounter with Ashton Scott does not rate as a high. You know I hate doing lows, though, so I’m not going to call it as one. My high would have to be the fact I booked my flight to Hawaii.” I’ve wanted to visit Hawaii for as long as I can remember. The trip I have planned will tick a few items off my bucket list.
“You haven’t heard from Ashton again, have you?”
“No, I think perhaps he got the message.” Just thinking about him stirs feelings I don’t want. Damn him. As much as he annoyed me, I’ve thought about him a few times this week, and some of those thoughts have been about his ass and his eyes and that voice… Argh!
Sienna’s watching me intently. Pointing at me, she accuses, “You were just thinking about him, weren’t you? And I’m talking about an I-wanna-jump-his-bones-kind-of thought.”
I groan. “How do men manage to do this to us? I mean, I know I have no desire to date a man like him, and yet I can’t help but think about him.”
She mimics my groan. “I feel ya, sister. I think God wanted some fun so he dreamt up ways for men to irritate women and now he just sits back and has a good laugh at our expense.”
Her phone rings, interrupting us, and I listen as she has what appears to be a pissed off conversation. When she ends the call, she looks at me with that look she gives when she wants something. “You love me lots, right?”
“What do you need?”
She grins. “I’m supposed to be taking my nephew to soccer practice this afternoon, but my Mum just called and she needs someone to pick her up from the hospital. I’m the only one who can do it. I would love you forever if you took Tony to practice.”
“What time?” It’s nearly four already.
She pulls a pained face. “You’d have to leave in the next ten minutes. You’d just have to pick him up from my brother, get him there and then stay until I arrive after I get my mum home.”
I stand. “It’s no worries. I’m finished my work for today.”
The relief is clear on her face. “I’ll shout you dinner after practice if you’re up for it.”
“If I’m up for it?”
She laughs and says with a wink, “The kids all go to McDonalds afterwards, so it’d be a burger. Or you could just skip that and go straight for a sundae.”
“I haven’t had a sundae for years. You can shout me dinner.”
We make it to soccer practice five minutes late. I’m stressed because running late for anything always knots my stomach with worry. Tony, on the other hand, just shrugs and thanks me for bringing him. He then runs ahead of me so he can join his team on the field.
I wander to where the parents are standing to watch their kids. It’s an under-nine’s game and by the looks of it, most of the parents are settled on chairs they’ve brought with them. Probably old hands at this by now. They’re all engrossed either in watching their child or on their phone.
That is, except for one mother.
I eye her and bite back a laugh. I’m guessing from what she’s wearing and her perfect blonde hair and face that she just came from the office, but she’s projecting frazzled vibes. A young girl, probably about four or five, is doing laps around her refusing to conform to the woman’s wishes.
As I move closer, I hear the woman shriek, “Sadie, if you don’t sit down now and stop making all that noise, there will be no McDonalds tonight!”
Sadie immediately stops what she’s doing. Her bottom lip quivers and her face crumples. “I want McDonalds, Mummy. I want to go there with Uncle A—”
Her mother appears to be all out of patience and cuts the child off. “Well, sit down and be quiet.”
Sadie finally does as she’s told and as the woman lets out a long breath of relief, she sees me watching. Grimacing, she says, “Unfortunately bribery is my chosen method of parenting. Please don’t judge me.”
Something that doesn’t happen often occurs—a memory of my mother flashes through my mind. I picture the two of us laughing at McDonalds after she took me to netball practice. I suck in a breath. This was right before she died.
I let the memory consume me; the world becoming non-existent in that moment. It’s not until the woman touches me on the arm that I realise I got lost in my thoughts.
“Are you okay?” she asks, her voice full of warmth.
Smiling, I nod. “Yeah… I just got lost there for a second. And I try never to judge anyone, especially parents.”
“Happens to the best of us. Some of us get lost for full nights at a time.”
I frown, not quite sure where she’s coming from with the last part of that.
She waves in the air and says, “Kids. Husbands. You’ll understand one day.”
I hope so.
I nod towards the field. “Your son’s playing?”
“Yes. Bradley loves his soccer. I love the peace and quiet I get when my two children are separated.” I love her honesty.
“This is my first time here. I’m with my friend’s nephew, Tony.”
She chuckles. “Oh, I could tell it was your first time, honey. And that you weren’t here with your own child.”
She sighs. “You’ve still got that youthful glow that announces to the world that you haven’t been sucked into the parenting vortex yet. And you’re hardly dressed for mummy duty.” Her gaze travels to my heels that are sinking into the grass as we speak.
“You’re not dressed for it either. And you don’t look much older than me.” She doesn’t. Even up close, there’s hardly a wrinkle on her face. And her slim body could easily pass as someone way younger than me. This woman is your classic blonde bombshell with her tousled blonde bob, heavily made-up eyes and lips, and a sexy aura that clings to her even in the frazzled state I found her in.
Her brows rise. Looking down, she puts a foot forward to show me the flats she is wearing. I hadn’t noticed them before. I’d been so transfixed by her beauty and personality that I hadn’t taken in the rest of her.
I bet this woman has men falling all over her.
She holds her hand out to me. “Alessandra Spencer. We can be friends, because you say all the right things. For the record, I’m thirty-five, and I only tell people I like that.”
I shake her hand, but before I can introduce myself, a whistle sounds loudly from the field and the commotion happening there attracts our attention.
The coach has obviously made a call that upset one of the parents, because he’s involved in a heated discussion with a father. Both men appear enraged.
As their voices filter my way, my senses go into overdrive.
I know that voice.
“What?” Alessandra asks.
“He’s the coach?” To say I’m stunned that I’m standing here staring at Ashton Scott is an understatement. I would never have picked him for a soccer coach.
“Yes. He’s not a crowd favourite, though,” she replies as she watches another couple of parents circle Ashton, all giving him their opinion on whatever he did.
“It’s no wonder—he’s an arrogant ass.”
She turns to face me. “You know him?”
I meet her gaze. “Well, I wouldn’t say I know him, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him, if you could call it that, and let’s just say I was less than impressed.”
Alessandra stares at me for a couple of moments and then her face breaks out in a huge grin. “I can just tell that you and I are going to be great friends. Anyone who is that honest about my brother is someone I need in my life.”
I swallow down the small amount of remorse I feel for insulting her brother. Holding out my hand, I say, “It’s great to meet you, Alessandra, sister to the most arrogant man I’ve met. My name is—”
A deep voice cuts into our conversation. “Lorelei Winters.”
I spin around to find Ashton Scott standing less than three feet away, his eyes boring into mine.
I straighten. “Ashton.”
Tension swirls around us.
A delicious tension that I hadn’t noticed the last time we met.
As we stand in silence watching each other, Alessandra says, “Oh, my, this is going to be fun.”
Neither of us move.
Neither of us shift our attention from the other.
And when his smouldering gaze travels the length of me before finding my eyes again, my legs feel weak and I know this could get messy.
“You’re at McDonalds?” Jessica’s disbelief blares loud. I might not be standing in front of her, but even over the phone, I can picture the look of shock I know is on her face right now.
I continue watching Lorelei as she stands in line to order food with Tony and her friend. “Yes.”
“Well, I’m going to call it, because I’ve heard it all now.”
“You’ve finally lost the plot. What the hell has possessed you? I mean, can you even remember the last time you were in a McDonalds?”
My gut tightens as I consider what has possessed me. “I’m pursuing a deal.”
“Bullshit, Ashton. You don’t close deals in fucking fast-food joints.” She pauses for a second. “Fuck me, are you chasing a woman? Because there’s only two reasons a man like you does shit—for work or for his dick.”
Lorelei’s laughter floats through the air.
I’ve never been entranced by a woman’s laughter before, but Lorelei’s laugh causes me some pain as my cock hardens.
“You should go home,” I direct Jessica.
“And you should stop bossing me around.”
“I’m your boss, Jessica. That’s my job.” I crane my neck to watch Lorelei bend to retrieve something off the floor. A child has partially blocked my view, but I manage to catch a glimpse. The fitted black dress she’s wearing today barely covers half her thighs and I watch as more of those toned legs are revealed to me.
“And you do it so well,” she says. “I just called to make sure you’re all set for your meeting tomorrow morning with the Brentley Group.”
“Fuck, I meant to get you to reschedule that meeting. I’m picking Jack up from the airport in the morning and I’ll need to keep my day free to spend with him. Do I have anything else on tomorrow?”
She takes a minute before coming back to me. “Nothing I can’t postpone. You want me to do anything for Jack?”
I push my fingers through my hair as knots form in my shoulders. “Yes, can you phone Dr Winthrop and have him on standby. I’m going to convince Jack to go see him in the next couple of days.”
“Shit, is he bad again?” Jessica knows all too well the history here.
“Yeah, I’m worried this time.”
“I’m on it. And Ashton?”
Her voice softens. “You can only do so much for him. You can’t force someone to change and get better. That’s on Jack.”
“Jessica, there aren’t many people in this world that I’d give everything up for. Jack’s one of those people and I’ll move heaven and fucking hell to get him better.” My tone is a little harsher than I’d meant, but fuck, every word I said is true.
“I know,” she says. And then—“I’ll leave you to your vagina hunting now.”
I shake my head as we end the call. Jessica has a way with words. She would have to be the crassest woman I know, but then again, she does think of women in the same way as most men do.
“Are you going to order something to eat?” Alessandra asks as she and the kids come back to the table.
“You should get nuggets,” Sadie says as she sits next to me. She immediately begins unpacking the meal Alessandra has bought her.
“Why nuggets?” I’m always interested in Sadie’s reasons for things. She has a mind that works in such abstract ways.
“So I can share them.” She shoves a chip in her mouth and grins at me.
I return her smile and ruffle her hair. “Of course, makes perfect sense to me, pumpkin.”
“So much like her uncle,” Alessandra says with mock exasperation.
Directing a grin at her, I stand and say, “And her father.”
Alessandra rolls her eyes. “Go, before that line gets too long.”
She’s right—the line is almost out the door. On my way to the end, I catch Lorelei’s eye. Actually, I catch her watching me and take in the blush that spreads across her cheeks and down her neck when she realises I caught her.
I can’t recall the last time I made a woman blush.
It’s fucking hot.
She quickly turns away and engrosses herself in conversation with her friend again. I take my place in the back of the line and continue watching her.
I’ve dated my fair share of women, but not once have I dated a redhead. Lorelei’s long, red hair was the first thing I noticed about her on Monday. Right before I got a glimpse of her eyes—beautiful green eyes that I’m sure see everything. I may have met her on a day that she’d clearly come straight to work from the night before—a day where she wasn’t at her best—but I could see the sharp workings of her mind.
My mind wanders, not for the first time this week, to thoughts of where she’d come from that morning. It’s almost killed me not looking into whether she’s involved with anyone, but I’ve spent the better part of my time talking myself out of pursuing her. She infuriated me enough on Monday morning to never want anything to do with her, but by the time I left her office for the second time that day, intrigue had settled in. My feelings on the matter have alternated all week. And now I find myself back on the side of wanting her.
She places her order and makes her way to where the team is sitting once she has her food. I wait with only shards of patience for my turn to order. When I finally have nuggets, chips and two milkshakes, I head back to Alessandra’s table.
Sadie eyes me expectantly and I grin as I hand over the nuggets. When I place the milkshakes in front of her and her brother, Bradley, Alessandra glares at me. I simply shrug.
“I can’t wait for the day you have children,” she mutters. “I’m going to be the most favourite auntie in the whole damn world.”
I chuckle as I reach for a nugget. “I would expect nothing less, Aly. Until then, I’m going to continue being the most favourite uncle in the world.”
We finish eating and I forget my infatuation with watching Lorelei while I dedicate my complete attention to Sadie and Bradley. The time I have with these two is sacred time. No deal or meeting comes before them. Hell, they’re the only people in the world I’d eat McDonalds for.
“So,” Alessandra says after we’ve all finished eating, “are you able to fill in for coach again next week?”
I eye her. The way she’s asked that is as if she expects this to be a hard sell. I jumped at the opportunity when she asked me last week to fill in; I’m hardly going to say no this time. “I’ll clear my diary. Any Thursday afternoon is yours.”
Her eyes widen before narrowing at me. “What’s the catch?”
“For God’s sake, Aly, I’m not a fu—” I catch myself before swearing in front of the kids. “I’m not a monster. There’s no catch.”
“You have been pretty assholey for the last few months, Ashton. I hope you know that.”
“What does assholey mean?” Sadie asks.
Alessandra turns her attention to her daughter. “It means he’s been really cranky and treating people badly. But you can’t use that word. It’s an adult only word.”
Sadie takes that in and nods. “So it’s a daddy word?”
I smirk. Malcolm has a tendency to use many words that Alessandra would prefer he avoid. It’s a constant source of irritation for them.
Alessandra glares at me again for a moment. “I shouldn’t have said it, darling. Your uncle inspires me sometimes.”
I wink at Sadie as she smiles up at me. Wanting to change the subject, I say, “Who wants to come over and hang out with Jack this weekend?”
Both Sadie and Bradley’s eyes light up. They adore Jack. “Me, me!” They both exclaim with delight.
Looking at Alessandra, I ask, “Can I have them for a few hours one day?”
A smile twitches on her face. “You seriously think I’d say no to that?”
“Well, assholey runs in the family, so you do have your moments,” I deadpan and fight the urge to give her more hell when she rolls her eyes again. But Alessandra has her limits and I try never to reach them.
“Okay, it’s a date. I’ll let you know which day once Jack gets settled,” I say as I stand.
“Thanks for today,” Alessandra says, her voice softer. Her gratitude is clear. My sister doesn’t ask me for much, so when she does, I know she really needs me.
I bend and place a kiss on each of the kid’s heads. Nodding at Alessandra, I say, “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Try not to commit bodily harm on your husband tonight.” Then, I turn to Bradley. “Great game today, mate. We can kick a ball around on the weekend. Jack will be up for that, too.” The huge smile he gives me is all I need to know I’d clear every Thursday for the rest of my life for him if need be.
I head out to my car and am welcomed by the sight of those toned legs that I’m beginning to think would look spectacular under me.
Lorelei’s reaching into her car for something and when she leans back out and straightens, I’m standing next to her. “Shit, Ashton, way to shave years off a woman’s life,” she says, clearly surprised to find me so close.
“I won’t tell you what you do to a man’s life expectancy,” I murmur. I can imagine she’s inflicted hurt to many men’s hearts in her lifetime.
My words seem to confuse her and lines wrinkle her forehead as she frowns. “I don’t know what you mean by that.”
I lean in so our faces are close. “It means that you’d only have to give a man a skerrick of attention, let alone treat him to that sharp tongue of yours, and he’d be in danger of deadly damage.”
Her sudden intake of breath is the only sound I hear in that moment. The effect I have on her is intoxicating.
She takes a step back. “I have to go, but it was good seeing you again,” she mumbles.
“Really? I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to see me again after Monday.”
“Well, I was using my manners.” Her no-bullshit approach impresses the hell out of me.
“Manners are always a good way to go.”
Her lips quirk. “It would seem you don’t always practice what you preach.”
“That is true, but I do like to practice things until I get them right.”
Her shoulders loosen and she shifts on her feet as if she’s settled in her spot. As if she’s suddenly invested in this conversation. “I agree—practice makes perfect.”
“Maybe you could help me with that?”
“I don’t think I’d be much help.”
“I beg to differ.”
“In my experience, it’s kind of hard to teach an asshole how to turn over a new leaf.”
Jesus, I’m going to need a long shower after this.
I fight the urge to move closer to her. “I’d imagine it would take a woman with your experience to get the job done.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“First round of practice tomorrow night.”
She doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m busy tomorrow night. But I’d be happy to give you some free advice.”
“Free advice is worthless. I’m more than happy to put the hours into a proper education.”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to snap your fingers and make that happen.”
Oh, baby, you have no idea.
“I could. But I only want the best and I have a feeling I’m looking at her right now.”
She stumbles with her comeback and I taste victory.
And then she schools me. “For a smart man, you have a bad memory. I told you the other day that not everything is for sale. There are no lessons to be bought here, Ashton.”
Her declaration only inspires me. I take that step closer to her. Bending my mouth to her ear, I make a promise. “Although some things aren’t for sale, I’m not a man who gives up. Ever. You seem to have a bad memory too, Lorelei. I told you the other day that I always get what I want, and I wasn’t lying.” I move my face so I’m looking in those beautiful green eyes. “I’m a patient man, but make no mistake, this will happen and it will happen soon.”