/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

Lady of the Lake

Erin Mccarthy

Pro baseball player Dylan Diaz is pretty sure he's going to hell. When you rescue a drowning woman from a lake your first thought should be, "Are you okay?" not, "Can I make mad, passionate love to you?" But the minute sputtering kindergarten teacher Violet Caruthers is on Dylan's boat, that's all he can think about. Maybe it's the potent combo of a nun's personality inside a stripper's body. Maybe it's the way she drives him crazy with desire and laughter. Or maybe, Dylan's finally found what's been missing in his life, and he's not about to let go…

Erin McCarthy

Lady of the Lake

From When Good Things Happen to Bad Boys Anthology


Violet Caruthers had known that Frank wasn’t the most attentive of boyfriends. But if she had been asked, she would have thought that even he would have noticed that his girlfriend had fallen off the back of his fishing boat.

She would have been wrong.

Violet coughed as the shock of cool lake water splashed over her face, and she flailed her arms in panic to keep herself afloat. “Frank!” she screamed at the back of the retreating boat.

The churning motor, the spraying surf, and the obnoxious laughter of the fool she was having sex with drowned out her cry.

She hated dating.

Hated flirting, and posturing, and all the awkward accompaniments of sharing an intimate relationship with a man. She was painfully shy, always had been, and if it wasn’t for one deep, driving urge, she wouldn’t be forcing herself to do it at all.

Except she wanted a baby.

“Frank!” she shrieked again as the enormity of the situation smacked her like the rocking wave from the boat’s wake. “Oh, this is bad, this is really, really bad.”

Frank was too busy chatting with his buddies, boasting over his walleye-catching prowess to even notice that she had lost her grip walking to the cooler for a bottled water. Before she could even blink, she’d fallen right off the side of the boat like some lackwit in a Steve Martin movie.

She wasn’t athletic, but she’d never thought of herself as a klutz before. But that was neither here nor there because she was covered in briny lake water, her glasses dripping from the spray, and she was in the middle of bleepity-bleep nowhere.

Surely he would notice. Seriously. In just a second or two. Any minute now. After all, she was his girlfriend. They had been dating for four months, having sex for weeks and weeks now. They were in a committed relationship. All because she had thought he was just quite possibly nice enough, intelligent enough, and egotistical enough to agree to her plan to have him father a child.

If he was a little geeky, unaware of fashion, and a bit preoccupied with his computer software and fishing hobby, she had been prepared to overlook it. She was no prize herself-leaning towards geeky, unaware of fashion, and a bit preoccupied with her job as a kindergarten teacher. The important thing was he was a good person, with a kind heart. And Frank had seemed like the type that she could lay her plan out to in all its logic. She would appeal to his biological need to reproduce his high IQ in a child, and assure him she expected nothing of him in return. No money, no involvement with the child or her, no nothing.

It had all made complete sense. Before she’d found herself floating in Lake Erie like refuse fallen off the back of a garbage truck and kicked into the water.

The whine of the motor was receding and the boat was going bye-bye and she was going to drown. In a bikini, of all things. She’d never worn a bikini in her life and she’d let her friend Ashley, and the force of her desire to be a mother, talk her into one. That had an American flag pattern with a star right over her nipple. All because she’d thought it might attract Frank’s attention, focus his eyes squarely on her, and inspire unmitigated lust, which would be used to her advantage when she suggested forgoing the condom.

Too bad she had been painfully uncomfortable in the micro-bathing suit, wrapping her arms over her not-so-small chest. Bent over at the waist, she had held a hardback book spread open in front of her so neither Frank, nor his two pals Jay and Shack, would notice that she was virtually naked. She’d spent her entire post-puberty life de-emphasizing her big breasts, and she couldn’t get over that in an afternoon.

Violet treaded water, her legs already straining.

Bikinis were not her.

And now she was going to die in one.

Dylan Diaz smoothed out his sail and pondered that he was such an ungrateful bastard.

Here he had a life some guys would kill for-major baseball career, money, chicks throwing themselves at him-and he wasn’t happy. Tipping back his water bottle, he took a swallow and shook his head at himself in amusement.

What did he want? A flippin’ parade? A street named after him? Endorsements?

Hell, now that he thought about it, he already had those. He didn’t need them, didn’t care about them.

Focusing on a funny spot bobbing in the water, Dylan felt the frustration and discontent roiling inside him. The problem was that he was lonely. The money, the minor fame, none of it mattered when he was surrounded by fakes, hangers-ons, and plastic people.

He missed his family, most of whom were in Miami, while he spent the season both on the road and in Cleveland in a furnished apartment. He missed feeling comfortable around people, trusting they liked him for himself, not for his status or for his money. He’d been a goofball of a kid, loud and mischievous, always having fun. He wanted that back-being just Dylan, instead of Diaz, number twelve,.299 batting average.

“Yeah, they’d be standing in line to feel sorry for me, wouldn’t they?” He scoffed at himself and leaned forward a little.

What was that brown speck? It was kind of big to be a bird. A flip of the tiller and he headed a bit upwind in that direction. He wasn’t going anywhere in particular anyway. He was just sailing around trying to clear his head before he left on a four-game series in New York, yet the only thing he was clearing was his nostrils.

He could never quite get used to the smell of Lake Erie. It was cold, stark, and fishy compared to the saltiness of the Atlantic Ocean.

Six o’clock on a Friday night and he was ready to pack it in for the night. Grab some wings and eat them in front of the TV. Alone. Nice way to spend his twenty-seventh birthday.

“Lame-ass. Whiner. Douche bag.” Insulting himself didn’t make him feel any better, and he narrowed his eyes as he scanned the horizon.

If he didn’t know better, he’d think that brown spot was a head in the water.

He tilted his head, narrowed his eyes. It was a head. With hair. Bobbing.

Ah mi Dios. Oh my God, he’d found a dead person.

With a grimace, he put his water down in the cup holder.

Well, nothing like a floating corpse to make him feel even worse for griping. Ungrateful was an understatement. Here he had life by the balls-he was young, strong, healthy, loaded with cash. This person was dead. It couldn’t get much rougher than that.

Unless the dead guy’s eyes had been pecked out, too. He shuddered. There was a nasty thought.

He’d been hoping for a little excitement, something different for his birthday. This wasn’t what he’d had in mind.

Dylan reached for his radio to call his find into the coast guard when the head lifted.

It was wearing glasses.

He scrambled back a foot before letting out a “Yaahhh!” like a kid in a haunted house. Shit, it was alive.

Then his momentary shock gave way to relief. Alive was good. Better than dead. Unless the person was injured, which was not so good. “Are you okay? Damn, hang in there! I’ll help you out of the water.”

He stood straight up, rocking the boat, and leaned over, reaching out. “Lift your arms, I’ll pull you up.”

The head was actually a woman, with chattering teeth and long hair trailing in the water like seaweed as she stared up at him through waterlogged glasses. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he thought she was in shock. She didn’t move, didn’t speak, and Dylan pawed through the water, locking his grip on both of her wrists.

He pulled hard, and she ripped out of the water towards his boat. But in his eagerness to get her to safety, he misjudged the distance. There wasn’t enough room for clearance and her lower half collided with the hull.

A soft moan carried to him as he winced. Then he pulled again, this time sort of scraping her up the side of the boat before she cleared it. His shoe slipped, he went down on his ass, and she fell right on top of him since he was still holding onto her wrists.

There was pain in his shoulder, a whole lot of wet hair slapping him across the chin, and dead weight landing on his lower half. Well, not dead, but damn close, as heavy and limp as she was.

All that exhausted female fell right smack on him, her elbow nailing him in the nuts, but he took the blow like the man that he was. By swearing. “Fuckin’ A.”

Damn, once a goofball, always a goofball, apparently. Somehow he was managing to turn a rescue into a slapstick comedy act.

With a grimace, Dylan glanced down at the closed eyes, as the wetness of her hair and clammy skin soaked through his shorts. She wasn’t moving. At all. Jesus, maybe she really was dead. He was no MD. Of course, she had moaned, but what the hell did he know? It could have been her last breath.

“Are you okay, lady? Please say something.” He was afraid to move, afraid to exacerbate any injuries she might have, afraid that he was starting to panic a little and that for all he was a macho ballplayer, he was freaking out here.

“Just give me a second,” she whispered in a husky voice.

All right then. Alive, thank God. “But are you hurt? I need to call for help. Let me scoot out from under you.” If she was injured, he needed to get assistance, and he was a good thirty minutes from shore. He had his cell phone in his pocket, and he was close enough that he might be able to get a signal. If not, he’d use his radio.

But when he started to shift, she moaned into his pelvis. “I’m fine. Just let me be still for a minute.”

Dylan stopped moving. She sounded pretty intact, just tired, which had him staring up at the sky in some serious relief. “Nothing’s broken? You’re not bleeding, or delirious, or paralyzed?”


Good, because he was working on an erection, and he was a sick motherfucker if she was hurt and he was getting off on her face being plastered down in his crotch.

But that facial proximity below his waist, coupled with her chest…holy hooters, she had a nice rack. It was all pressed against his hips and between his legs, and his body was automatically responding to the position. He didn’t mean to, knew that there was a church confessional with his name on it for this one, but damn, her breasts were so soft and big.

There was no way those were fake. They felt pliable and bouncy, sort of wrapping around him in a titty hug.

Dylan looked up at the sky and did a practice Hail Mary. He’d be doing twenty of them after this. Might as well make sure he remembered the words.

She turned her head a little, so that her lips pressed right over his fly, her nose burying into his crotch, only covered by thin swim trunks.

The gates of hell swung wide open in welcome for him.

Because he was hard, getting harder by the minute.

“How long have you been in the water? What happened to you?” he asked, followed by, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”

Man, he was blanking out after that. His mother would beat him with her rosary if she found out. Second confession needed-forgetting prayers as well as lusting after unknown, helpless woman.

“Are you praying?” the woman asked, her voice sounding a little incredulous.

“Yes. I’m praying that you’re okay.”

Oh my God, he had just lied. Shit. And taken the name of the Lord in vain.

How many commandments could he break in one day? He was probably coveting his neighbor’s wife right this very second.

The problem was, he hadn’t had sex in an entire year. His body clearly missed it, given its let’s-do-it reaction to a half-drowned woman.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m just tired. Thank you for the pillow.”

“Uh…” Dylan tried very hard not to move. She had to be delirious. She had fallen right onto him two minutes ago, not a pillow in sight. His semi-erection was right alongside her ear, and while he wasn’t going to brag, he was big enough that she should notice its existence. And it damn well wasn’t soft. “You’re welcome.”

But his voice must have given him away-he never could lie well because of his Catholic guilt. Her eyes popped open and she looked up. Wiped her glasses with a finger. Looked down. Looked left to right, then sat up with a scream.

Which gave him a glorious view of her breasts, covered by tiny triangles in a stars and stripes pattern.

Dylan was pretty sure he was saluting the flag.


Violet screamed. She didn’t mean to, but when she opened her eyes and realized she was lying on a strange man’s crotch, and it was all her fault for being stupid enough to think she could charm Frank into getting her pregnant, well, it was the last straw.

She clapped her hands over her mouth to stifle the volume of her horror. The man had saved her life. She should show a little gratitude.

After all, she had been drifting for what felt like twenty minutes, getting weaker and more worried, resorting to drown-proofing techniques to save her strength.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scream…lie on you…cause you any trouble.” Violet winced. She hated meeting new people. It was so awkward and she never knew what to say. And this was awkward in spades.

He pushed himself up onto his elbows and raised an eyebrow. The position brought him squarely into her space. She blushed. Because he was too close to her, because she had stupidly thought his lap was a pillow, and because she was suddenly aware of the fact that he was really, really attractive.

Like Wow attractive. Like Put Naked Pictures of him on the Internet attractive. He was muscular and dark-haired, with deep black eyes. He was Hispanic, for crying out loud.

“Look, you’ve obviously had some kind of accident. Why were you floating in the middle of the lake?”

“I…fell overboard.” Violet scooted backwards, the floor squeaking as she swung her legs around in front of her. She peeled her glasses off and looked around for something to wipe them off on. She’d feel better if she wasn’t viewing the world through water droplets, but she was in a wet bikini. No help there.

“Where’s your sailboat?” He looked puzzled as he sat up, drawing his knees to his chest. Despite her nearsightedness, she could tell it was a very masculine chest. A rippling sort of chest, with fine black hair and a cross tattooed right in the center.

She bit her lip, stuck her glasses back on, and tried to be vague. The truth was just too embarrassing. “It’s a motor boat.”

He was quiet for a second. Then, “Did it drive itself away?”


“Then who did?”

“A person.”

“What person?”

“My boyfriend.” He was making this really difficult.

His mouth twisted into a frown. “Was he trying to hurt you, kill you? Did you have an argument? We need to call the cops.”

Oh geez. Violet shook her head. “No, don’t do that! It was an accident. I just fell over when I leaned into the cooler to get a water.”

His hand reached out and pushed her wet hair back off her face. Violet jerked away from his touch, startled.

“So…why didn’t he just turn around and fish you out of the water? You could have drowned out there!”

“He, well…He, you see…Well, it’s just that…” Violet did some fishing of her own for words that wouldn’t reveal the true breadth of her humiliation.


Darn it, there was no hope for it. Her mind wasn’t devious enough to formulate a reasonable lie on quick notice. She shivered in her wet bikini as a light breeze moved over her skin. She sighed. “He didn’t notice I fell over.”

“He didn’t notice?” His head tilted. His voice was incredulous. “He didn’t notice. His girlfriend fell off of his boat, he drove away and never even noticed? That’s what you’re telling me?”

It sounded even more pathetic by the minute. “He was talking to his friends several feet away from me.” Still angry herself, Violet wasn’t defending Frank so much as herself. Could she look any stupider? “And you have to understand, Frank has a genius level IQ. He gets distracted, and isn’t always aware of his surroundings.”

“That’s asinine.” He leaned across the boat and grabbed his T-shirt.

Thank God he was going to cover that chest up. She was extremely distracted by it. In all her twenty-eight years, she’d never seen that much muscle that close up. All her boyfriends had been pencil thin. All three of them, that is.

“You don’t just not notice your girlfriend falling overboard!”

Violet winced. “Frank does, apparently.”

He muttered something in Spanish, which would have been sexy except she suspected he was calling her a dumb broad.

Which she was. Her pregnancy plan had been ill-fated from the beginning, obviously.

There was no way she was going to let Frank anywhere near her ovulating self ever again. She could forgive him for not noticing that she’d fallen overboard. But it was a good, solid twenty minutes later and there had been no sign of him. If he hadn’t noticed she was gone by now, he would probably bring the boat in, dock, head off with Jay and Shack for dinner, and never even once think of her.

He’d probably already forgotten she’d even been with them in the first place.

It was damn depressing.

“Take your bikini top off,” he said.

“What?” Oh Lord, it just figured. Why did things like this happen to her? She was a good girl. She was nice to her neighbors. She taught small children. She paid her bills on time. She led perhaps the most boring life in all of humanity outside of a penitentiary prisoner, and yet she had managed to fall off a boat and get rescued by a pervert. “No!”

“You’re shivering, you have goose bumps.” He pointed to her bump-covered arms. “And you’ve been in the water for who knows how long. Take your wet top off and put on my dry T-shirt.” He held it out to her.

“Oh.” He didn’t want to see her breasts. He didn’t care about her breasts, any more than Frank did. Violet wondered why she’d spent so much time camouflaging her overgrown chest if it faded into the wallpaper just like the rest of her. Not that she should care. She should be glad that he wasn’t looking at her breasts. Somehow that message wasn’t quite making its way to her brain, though, because she felt mildly offended.

“Thank you.” She took the T-shirt and dried her glasses off on it. The clarity of her vision when she popped them back on her nose made her wish she’d lost them altogether. Oh, my he was hot.

“Your boyfriend is an asshole,” he said.

“Well, he doesn’t mean to be,” Violet assured him.

He scoffed. “You shouldn’t let him treat you like that.”

“It was an accident.” And why was she defending Frank? She’d already decided she wasn’t going to see him again. Sperm wasn’t worth this level of humiliation.

“I would notice if you fell overboard. He should have, too.”

Yeah, sure he would have noticed. Please. Violet knew the kind of woman she was. She was the kind of woman whom men only saw when they sat down across from her for their child’s kindergarten conference. Then she was Miss Caruthers, their child’s starchy, sweet teacher. Other than that, she was invisible to men of all ages.

Completely and utterly invisible. She was a spider web. You never saw it until you walked into it.

But still, she knew that Frank should have noticed. She deserved that much.

“You’re right.”

He nodded firmly. “I know I am. I’m Dylan Diaz, by the way. What’s your name?”

“Violet.” Why did his name sound familiar? Violet was sure she’d heard it somewhere before, but at the same time she was positive she’d never met a gorgeous, buff Latino. She was so distracted trying to place his name, she forgot to be shy. “It’s odd, but I feel like I’ve heard your name before.”

Dylan tugged at the T-shirt she was holding in her hand. “Don’t forget to put this on. You’ll feel better when you’re warmer.”

“Thank you.” Not that she had any intention of taking her bikini top off. Not until she got home and she could stuff it in her garbage disposal and flick the ON switch.

Violet pulled the sun-warmed shirt over her head and almost choked as the masculine smell of sport deodorant filled her nostrils. She was blushing it, damn it, she was blushing. But at least her breasts were covered, and in another ten minutes or so she might actually be able to look him in the eye again. Maybe.

“I’m sorry to be so much trouble. You can just…pull over and I’ll swim to shore.”

When she chanced a look at him, he was staring at her, dark eyebrows lifted. “Are you crazy? I’m not going to do that.” Then he swirled his finger in a circle. “Turn around.”

“Why?” But she did it anyway, because turning was better than looking at him. Because he was gorgeous and she was a nun trapped inside a stripper’s body, with a chess club president’s head.

It was the prim part of her that squawked in horror when his fingers jerked the ties of her bikini top loose at her neck, then deftly slid under the T-shirt and made fast work of the bottom strings, warm fingers brushing over her clammy skin. He harvested the whole dang thing with one last yank, and Violet swallowed hard.

“I’ll just lay it on the deck in the sun to dry.” He did just that, and then grinned at her when she turned back around. “You gave me a heart attack, you know. I thought you were a dead body. Scared five years off my life when you lifted your head up.”

“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely, hunkering her shoulders over so that her tight nipples wouldn’t jut out like twin thimbles. Despite the fact that it was July the water was still cold, causing her to shiver, and well, pucker.

“I’m sorry for interrupting your night. Like I said, if you just take me to the nearest dock or whatever, I’ll get out of your hair. Thank you for…rescuing me.”

He was laughing. Why was he laughing? Embarrassed, Violet stopped talking. Glancing down to avoid his eyes, she saw the T-shirt had plastered to her breasts in two round wet spots, nipples centered like pornographic bull’s eyes.

She almost wished she had drowned.

Dylan wasn’t sure why he was laughing, but it was better than drooling, which was what he really wanted to do.

Violet wasn’t anything like any woman he’d ever met. She wasn’t screaming or ranting or squawking or crying over what had happened to her. She wasn’t pissed off.

She was apologizing for inconveniencing him.

And she was self-conscious about the T-shirt plastered to her chest. His shirt. Clinging to that beautiful chest. Dylan had had so many ta-tas flashed at him over the years, he was damn near immune to the sight. But Violet had him hard, simply because her breasts were naturally beautiful, and because she was shy about a stranger seeing them.

He’d had so many women and their body parts just shoved right smack into his face, that he liked the allure of knowing there was something gorgeous under there that he wasn’t allowed to see. When she’d been on top of him, he’d felt her flesh, but again it had been just a hint, just a tease, enough to make him want to explore her slowly and thoroughly.

Which he wouldn’t, because he wasn’t a total pig, and she had a boyfriend, no matter how much of an ass he was.

“You’re welcome, Vi. But you don’t need to feel bad. It’s not your fault.” He shouldn’t say it, but he couldn’t help it. Any man who didn’t notice his girlfriend was missing was a first-class jerk-off. “It’s your boyfriend’s fault.”

She shook her head. “I’m the one who tripped. And I’m sure he noticed after a minute or two. He’s probably looking for me right now.”

Violet squeezed the water out of her long hair while Dylan groped in his pocket for his cell phone. She wasn’t exactly gorgeous, but more like pretty. Soft. With pale skin and pink cheeks, a pert nose, and a pair of rosebud lips.

Jesus, he was attracted to her. It completely amused him. Maybe he was just feeling protective of her because he’d rescued her.

She licked her lips and tossed her hair over her shoulder, causing her breasts to thrust forward before she realized it and sucked them back in.

Schwing. He could practically hear his dick popping up. Nope, it wasn’t a misplaced hero thing. He was really, really attracted to her.

“Why don’t you call him and put his mind at ease then?” He handed her the phone.

There was only a slight hesitation, then she took the phone from him, dialed a number, and turned a little away from him.

“Frank? This is Violet.”

Dylan rolled his eyes in the opposite direction and reached for his bottle of water.

“Oh, I know, I’m sorry, it was an accident. But someone found me and picked me up.” Her voice dropped lower. “No, no, you don’t have to stop fishing. I’ll just get to shore and call Kindra to pick me up.”

Asshole. Dylan sucked down half his water and fought the urge to grab the phone from Violet and tell Frank to go fuck himself.

Two bright red spots of color were in her cheeks now, and behind her glasses her eyes looked sharp and angry, despite the mild tone to her voice. “No, don’t come over tonight. I’m not in the mood. But you can stop over tomorrow and we’ll talk.”

After saying good-bye she pushed the end button and just clutched the telephone for a minute, her breathing a little quick.

It was none of his business, but he didn’t suppose that had ever stopped him before. “You’re going to ditch him, aren’t you? Please tell me you’re through with him.”

She gave a little sigh. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“No guessing. You deserve better than that, Violet. He doesn’t appreciate you and you need to stand up for yourself here.”

And since when had he become an inspirational speaker?

“It’s not Frank, it’s…something else.” She pushed her glasses up. “It’s complicated. There’s something I want and I can’t have, unless I do something I really don’t want to do because it seems a little risky and unnatural to me.”

She’d lost him with that sentence. “We’ve got a bit of a boat ride ahead of us. You can tell me all about it, Violet. We’re an hour from Sandusky and an hour from Cleveland. Which way do you live?”

“ Cleveland. I live in Westlake.”

“I’m east of that.” The thought of spending another hour on the boat with her was very appealing. And they were really only forty minutes away, but if he held the sail in a little, it would slow them down. Plus, he would have to keep her with him until someone came to pick her up. Maybe his birthday would shake out better than he’d thought it would.

“I live in an apartment right by Burke Airport, with a dock for my boat.”

“Those apartments right on the water there?” Her eyes had widened.

He nodded.

“I know where I’ve heard your name before.” She put her hand on her throat and tugged at the neck of his shirt. “You play for the Indians, don’t you?”

He gave another nod. “Catcher.”

Her breath caught and she looked like she was in pain. “Oh, Lord.”

Usually this was the part where women gushed or flashed him. Instead of giggling or asking him how much money he made, Violet closed her eyes.

And kept them closed.

Damn, she was cute. Dylan reached for another bottle of water from his cooler. “Do you want some water?” He put the cold bottle against the skin of her cheek. “You look flushed.”

She jerked back and opened her eyes. “I don’t want any water.”

“What do you want?” Dylan gave her a slow, lazy smile, and let his eyes linger over her lips. They looked so kissable, so smooth and shiny.

“I want you to push me back into the water and let me drown.”

Dylan laughed. She had a quirky little sense of humor.

He liked that about her. So far, he’d have to say he liked a lot about her, and it had only been ten minutes since he’d fished her out of the water.

Just think what he could like in the next thirty.


Violet didn’t have a sense of humor. It was yet another thing that separated her from the masses and made her feel like a misfit. The first was that she didn’t really like sex, and stood around puzzled a lot of times when her friends talked about it, their eyes rolling back in their heads.

If her eyes were rolling back, chances were she was having a seizure and 911 should be called.

She felt capable of a convulsion right now, because she, Violet Caruthers, kindergarten teacher and the epitome of the social wallflower, was trapped on a sailboat with a gorgeous professional baseball player.

It would have been smarter to die wearing the bikini.

“What do you do, Vi?”

No one called her Vi. It made her sound like a fifties film star, which wasn’t a good fit. She wouldn’t know sassy and sultry if it bit her on the butt.

She chanced a look at Dylan. She wasn’t a rabid baseball fan, but she went to several games a season and caught a few on TV. She remembered seeing him at bat, noticing him precisely because he was so good-looking. It wasn’t a stretch to picture him wearing a tight uniform and dropping down into that catcher squat, his face confident and serious.

This couldn’t possibly be happening to her. “I’m a kindergarten teacher.”

He untwisted the top of the water bottle and handed it to her. “Really? Now, that’s a worthwhile profession. I bet you’re great at it.”

“I enjoy my job.” She took a sip of the water because it seemed rude not to, and she was really hot. The sun was heating her skin from the inside out. Which didn’t make sense, because five minutes ago she’d been shivering.

“I like my job, too.” He studied the horizon.

“Then I guess we’re both lucky.”

The easy grin covered his face again. “Yeah, I guess so. Though I don’t think luck has a whole lot to do with it. People make choices.”

“That’s true.” She had made a choice to have a baby, without a husband, because she wanted a child that desperately. And she was practical enough to know that when you went on a date every three years, the probability of meeting Mr. Right was very small.

The sperm bank hadn’t appealed to her because of the element of the unknown, but after this fiasco with Frank, she was starting to think that might be her only option.

She searched for something to say. “So, how long have you been with the Indians?”

“Three years. It’s a good club.” Dylan tipped his bottle back and forth, back and forth. “So how many kids are in your class? Do you have an apple with your name on it?”

Violet gave a nervous laugh. What a geek she must seem like to a pro athlete. “No apple. Lots of ‘Best Teacher’ mugs, though. And I have twenty students each year.”

“How have you been spending your summer break?”

Conceiving a baby. “Relaxing. Reading. Working in my garden.”

Which suddenly sounded very lame and tame.

Dylan tilted his head. “Sounds nice. Normal. Does Frank live with you?”

“No.” Violet picked at the T-shirt and sighed. “If I can borrow your phone again, I’ll call my friends and see if someone can come meet me at the dock.” So she didn’t have to spend one more second than was necessary with Dylan Diaz, catcher for the Cleveland Indians. Her company must be close to putting him in a coma.

He hesitated, but then handed the phone to her. “There’s no hurry, you know.”

Yes, there was.

In rapid succession, Violet got the voice mail for Kindra, Ashley, and Trish. Damn it. None of them were home, and she couldn’t remember any of their cell phone numbers. She had those programmed into her own phone, which was sitting in her purse on Frank’s fishing boat. She didn’t know what she could possibly say in a message so she just hung up.

“No one home?” Dylan asked.

She shook her head. Her friends all had social lives, darn them. They should all be losers like her.

“No big deal. I can take you home.”

Ye-ah. Like he had nothing better to do. Geez, how humiliating. “Oh, that’s okay. I can call a taxi or take the bus or something.” She had no idea how to take the bus from downtown to Westlake. Not a clue. But she’d rather walk than force a gorgeous millionaire to baby-sit her.

Dylan let go of the whatever sailors hold and moved towards her. “I’m not letting you take the bus home. First of all, my mother would fly up from Miami and beat the hell out of me. Second, I want to spend more time with you.”

“Why?” she asked stupidly, thinking she must have flooded some brain cells during her soak in the lake. What he was saying didn’t make sense.

“Because I want to get to know you better.”

“Why?” To underscore how truly thrilling his life was compared to hers?

But he just picked at the paper label on his water bottle. “It’s my birthday today, you know.”

“It is?”

He nodded. “Twenty-seven today.”

“Well, happy birthday, then. I’m so, so sorry I ruined your birthday by almost drowning.” Could she be any more mortified? Maybe she could vomit on him while she was at it.

But Dylan laughed. “You weren’t interrupting anything. I was just out sailing by myself.”

Now that he mentioned it, he was alone. “Are you having a party later with your friends? I’ll definitely take a cab then.”

“No party. My family all called me this morning. That’s the extent of the celebrating.”

He didn’t sound happy and that made Violet forget that he was a baseball player, that he was gorgeous, that she was a geek. She moved just a little closer to him. “Don’t you like birthdays?”

“Sure. But I don’t have anyone to spend it with this year. It’s a little tough to make friends when you’re on the road all the time.”

“And then I landed in your lap.” Literally. “Not exactly what you wished for, I’m sure.”

He set his water down and locked eyes with her. He was smiling, a smile she didn’t really understand. “Actually, I think you’re the best thing that’s happened to me today.”

“That’s not saying much for your day.”

“I was having a very unexciting day until you floated along.” Dylan touched the tip of her nose with his finger. “But I’m thinking you’re a damn good birthday surprise.”


“I’m attracted to you, can’t you tell?”

Violet was tempted to glance around the boat to make sure she hadn’t missed a gorgeous blonde hiding behind a sail. “I hadn’t noticed that, no.”

His eyes narrowed, got darker. Hotter. “Do you find me at all attractive?”

She could only stare. Was he absolutely joking? Of course she did. A woman in her nineties with cataracts would find him attractive. She was so amazed, she didn’t hesitate to answer. “Well, sure, but that doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because…” Because it was like staring through the window at a two-thousand-dollar dress. You could want it, but it could never be yours. Maybe he did find her mildly attractive because she was sitting right in front of him and he liked women, in whatever form they took. Maybe he saw her as just another easy conquest, a little Friday night fun. A staid boring woman, easy to manipulate. And maybe she was all of those things.

Maybe he was drunk.

But somehow she didn’t believe any of that was true. Dylan seemed, well, almost lonely. But none of that was important because she wasn’t the kind of woman men sought out when they wanted company. “Because it just doesn’t matter. So…your family is in Miami?”

That wolfish smile was still in place, but he leaned back from her, resting on his elbows. “Yep. Mom, Dad, three sisters, all married, and five nieces, two nephews last count.”

“Do you have a house there?” One that hopefully he would be going to in, oh, an hour or so. So she would never have to see him again.

Not that she would. They’d dock this boat and she’d scurry away like the mouse that she was.

And the one chance for a little excitement in her life would be gone.

The thought made her sit up straighter. She had never desired excitement. She liked her life. She did. She was happy and well-adjusted. And come Monday, she was going to shop the sperm bank and have a child.

But wouldn’t it be fun, just once, to think that she, Violet Caruthers, had been desired by a hottie?

Even if that hottie had baked his brains in the sun too long to want her when he could have half the women in the 216 area code.

Maybe he’d already had half the women in town and now he was moving to the bottom dregs. Maybe she shouldn’t care why he was interested, but she should just enjoy it. Keep her head square on her shoulders and just take pleasure in his company, attention, flirtation.

“No, I stay with my parents when I’m down there. I got them a really nice six-bedroom house. And I have the apartment here, but the furniture came with the place. It’s like living in a hotel. I was actually thinking I should buy my own place in Miami, but it always seems like such a waste for a single guy who’s only there half the year.”

He looked a little wistful when he spoke, and Violet realized the downside to his career. He must feel uprooted all the time, living on the road out of a suitcase. “Have you ever been married?”

Not that it was any of her damn business, but the sun must have baked her brains, too. She actually liked him. He seemed, well, normal. Needy. Like one of her students who just needed a hug. Of course, Dylan was also phenomenally gorgeous and wealthy, but she wouldn’t think about that or she’d scare herself again.

“Nope. How about you, Vi? You look like the marrying kind.” He winked.

That didn’t sound like a compliment. “No, I’ve never been married. But Frank would get married if I wanted to.” He would. He was a genius, after all. He knew a good deal when he saw one, and she was Frank’s dream wife. She was quiet, did his laundry, didn’t nag him about his friends or hobbies or the late hours he kept, and would never cheat on him. So they didn’t burn up the bedroom together. Frank still got what he needed.

Violet sighed. She must be hopelessly romantic, because she really just couldn’t bring herself to commit to a lifetime with Frank or to a similar arrangement with another man.

Dylan sat back up and scoffed, all amusement gone from his face. “You wouldn’t marry that guy, would you? He’d probably forget to pick you up for the wedding.”

For some reason, she laughed. It shouldn’t have been funny, yet it was. The image of herself standing in white satin outside her front door for two, three hours while Frank lost himself in some computer software was so heinous it was amusing. Frank would be up to his eyeballs in dirty ashtrays and empty soft drink cans, that strange gleam in his eye when he was working. He would never turn that obsessive focus onto her, and she would always be an afterthought.

Not that it mattered.

“I don’t want to marry Frank. I never did. But he’s a nice guy, decent company, and…I had something I wanted from him. I’m not as innocent as I sound here. In a way, I’ve been using Frank.” Shameful, but true. She’d had her eye on the prize since the first time she’d had dinner with him.

“Well, that sounds devious. I’m seeing a whole new side of you, Vi. What were you using him for?”

The breeze ruffled her still wet hair, and she turned her face to catch the full effect of it. It felt a little like she’d fallen off the face of the earth. They couldn’t see the shore, just a hazy line in the distance, and in the other direction was a vague promise of Canada somewhere beyond the horizon. The rock of the boat was soothing, the water calm, the sun warm as it made its way towards the west.

It felt like none of what was happening was real and that she could say anything. She could tell this stranger what she wasn’t even willing to admit to her girlfriends. That she wasn’t all good and sweet and considerate. Her actions with Frank had been manipulative, and falling into the water was really no more than she deserved. “Is there something you want in life so bad you can taste it? Have you ever felt that sort of desperate urgency?”

“I felt that way about baseball.”

“So are you content, then? Have everything you want now?”

Violet turned in time to see his head moving slowly back and forth. “No, I’m good, but something is missing…and I can’t figure out what it is. I feel restless. I feel like everyone I meet wants something from me.”

“They probably do.”

He gave a snort. “Thanks for the pep talk.”

She felt her cheeks heat. “Well, it’s probably true. You must be in demand.”

“The problem is, people want to use me. No one wants me. That’s why I don’t date anymore. I can’t trust that a woman wants me for me, as corny as that is.”

Violet nodded. For all his money and fame, Dylan was lonely. Isolated. It almost made sense, then, why he would find her attractive. It had been a while since he’d dated, and she was not the aggressive, pursuing type. The discomfort she’d been feeling, the nervousness, dissipated. “And if you don’t trust someone, there really can’t be a relationship, can there?”

“Nope. I do have my game, which I love to play. But I can’t help thinking that there are more important things in life. What do you want, Violet? Or do you already have it?”

Her want was definitely unfulfilled. It even hurt to say it out loud, so deeply did she want to be a mother. “The thing I want is a baby.”

Dylan wasn’t sure what he’d thought she was going to say, but she had looked so fervent that he’d been getting a little nervous. But hell, a baby? That seemed damn innocent after some of the wild scenarios that had run through his head.

“So…you wanted to have a baby with Frank?” Dylan couldn’t stop his eyes from roaming over her body. She had her feet tucked under her legs and the shirt pulled down to her knees, but he knew there were some luscious curves under there. He could picture her pregnant, no problemo, and the thought had him uncomfortable in his shorts again.

He’d never looked at a pregnant woman and felt the urge to do her, but it was running through his mind with Violet. Apparently he wanted to do her any old way he could-front, back, clothes, naked, standing up, lying down, right here on this boat. He really was a sick bastard. She was talking about serious stuff, and he was thinking up ways to get her out of that T-shirt. He almost expected his mother’s hand to pop out of thin air and cuff the back of his head.

But he liked the way Violet spoke, and the way she looked at him. Like he was…sweet. It had been high school since a girl had just looked at him and liked him.

“I wanted Frank to get me pregnant. Then leave, while I raised the child by myself.”

“Whoa.” He squinted a little as the sun broke through the clouds and hit him in the eyes. “So, did Frank know about this? He was cool with it?” Personally, he couldn’t imagine getting a woman pregnant and walking away. But then again, if a woman he cared about, who would make a great mother, asked him for a little, uh, donation, would he be able to say no?

The whole idea of leaving a woman to raise a child alone just didn’t seem right to him, even if that’s what she wanted. And the only women he was close to were his sisters anyway, and he’d share a lot with them-money, a kidney-but he wasn’t going to go there with sperm. Of course, if they had a surrogate mother and wanted to use his DNA to keep it in the family…What the hell was he thinking? His sisters had seven kids between them. Fertility had not been an issue up to this point.

“I was going to talk to Frank about it tonight, but his friends came along-uninvited.”

Was that relief he felt? “Why not a sperm bank? It could get messy if Frank changed his mind after the fact.”

She smiled. “He wouldn’t change his mind. Trust me, he has nothing against children but he has no desire to raise any. And I didn’t want a sperm bank because I was afraid that it was risky. You don’t really know what you’re getting.” Then she shrugged. “But while I was out there treading water, it occurred to me that when you adopt a child, you usually don’t know a whole lot of anything, and I haven’t heard any adoptive parents complain. And sometimes, even when a couple is married, they don’t really know everything about the other person. A reputable sperm bank is quite safe. They screen sociopaths and other mental impairments, so I won’t be getting a serial killer’s sperm. It will be fine, and I’ll finally get what I want-a baby.”

It all seemed logical to Dylan. But something about it still bothered him. This woman having a total stranger’s baby rubbed him wrong. “How old are you? How do you know you won’t get married in a few years?”

“I’m twenty-eight. If I got pregnant today I’d be twenty-nine when the baby is born. I know that’s not old at all, but what if I have fertility problems? A miscarriage? What if I want a second child? I don’t want to wait too long and find out it’s too late. I want to be a mother.” She looked at him, serious and soft-spoken. “More than anything.”

“Well…” Christ, what was he supposed to say? “Good luck.” Brilliant, Diaz, just brilliant.

Violet gave a small laugh, one that did all kinds of things to his guts. He felt like he did after he ran hard laps on a really hot day-sort of light-headed and sick to his stomach.

Because for a single, stupid second there, he had thought about offering himself in place of the anonymous test tube turkey baster daddy.

Which was insane.

God, he’d lost his mind.

He wanted to have sex with her, not a child.

Good thing he’d kept his mouth zipped. And to prevent further possibility of blurting dumb-ass things out loud, maybe he should distract himself.

By kissing her.


Dylan’s mouth was close enough to feel Violet’s hot breath when her hand rammed into his nose and pushed him back.

“Ow,” he said, thinking that was an all-time first. He’d never once had a woman ram her palm up his nostrils. He wrinkled his damaged nose, sniffled a little, irritated with the interruption.

“Sorry,” she said. “But what do you think you’re doing?”

He’d thought it was obvious. “I was going to kiss you. And I’d like to try again if you promise not to hit me.”

“I don’t want you to kiss me.”

Violet looked serious. She didn’t look like this was a really funny joke and she’d start laughing any second now.

Dylan wanted to whimper. It had been a whole year, and he’d been fine, damn it, just hanging in there, and now he wanted her so badly he was itching in his own skin, and she was saying no.

But he had to ask. “Why not?” Why exactly the hell not? He was decent-looking. He made a lot of money. He just wanted a kiss. Just a very small one. Maybe with a little tongue tossed in. And a grope over her unrestricted breasts.

That was it, though. He could stop there.

“Because you probably make out with women every weekend. You’ve probably had sex with hundreds of women, and trust me, after all of that, I’m going to disappoint you.”

Hundreds. Wow. He’d made a decent impression on her after all.

But it wasn’t true.

“I have not slept with hundreds of women. Not even twenty.” He wasn’t going to get any more specific than that. If he said nineteen, she’d think he was a pig. If he said two, she’d think he was a loser. Just keep it vague. “And I told you it’s been a year since I’ve dated anyone.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s been a whole year since you kissed a woman. Or had sex, for that matter.”

“Yes, it does, actually.”

The shock that crossed her face made him laugh, even as he found himself struggling with how much to tell her. But there was something about Violet, about the way she was so different, the way she didn’t want anything from him. The way she looked at him, like she saw the real man and not just the jersey.

Her glasses had slipped again, so he pushed them up with the tip of his index finger. “You look surprised. But the thing is, I told you people use me…and well, that can leave you feeling empty.”

Dylan dropped his hand. “There was a woman about a year ago that I met in a club. I was living it up, you know, partying most nights because I thought if things were loud enough, busy enough, maybe I wouldn’t notice that I wasn’t having as great of a time as I thought I would be at this point in my life. Like I said, I love playing ball, but I was starting to feel like there had to be more than dropping two hundred bucks in a night on drinks for people who didn’t give a shit about me. Anyway, so this girl…I took her home, because she was persistent.”

The memory made him squirm. “She just kind of led me into sex and I let her. And it was so…nothing. You know what I mean? It was just two people screwing and I realized that’s not what I want. That’s not who I am. She wanted a reason to brag to her friends and I gave it to her, and that’s all it was. Bodies slapping. The next day, I was just disgusted with myself.”

He couldn’t believe he was telling her about that night, about that woman whose name he couldn’t even remember. But Violet just nodded, and her small, cool hand lay over his.

“I know exactly what you mean, I’m sorry to say. Sex should not be about what you can get from it and then walk away from. I was using Frank the way that woman was using you, and I’m ashamed of myself.”

Somehow he didn’t think it was the same thing at all. “Yeah, but you were dating Frank. And you want to have a baby. That’s a little more noble than wanting bragging rights.”

“The end doesn’t always justify the means. It was selfish of me.”

“I can’t imagine that you’re the least bit selfish, Vi.”

“I try to be a good person, a good friend, a great teacher. But we all make mistakes.”

He was probably about to do just that. But he couldn’t resist. “Do me a favor, then.”

“What’s that?”

She nibbled on her bottom lip and Dylan’s thoughts shifted below the belt.

“Give me a birthday kiss.”

Oh, geez, he was on that again.

And she wasn’t sure she could say no this time. She fiddled with her hair and watched him. “You really want one?”

“Yes. Really, really.”

“And it’s been a year since you’ve…done that?”

“An entire year. Don’t you feel bad for me?”

Well…if it had been that long, Dylan probably wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t the most exciting or experienced kisser ever created. She did sort of owe him a thank you for fishing her out of the water. And she did really want to kiss him.

She wanted to know what it would feel like to have those muscular arms around her. To touch that rock solid chest and to see if a man like Dylan could teach her how to get her eyes to roll back in her head.

“I feel terribly bad for you. I’ve crashed your birthday and you rescued me, gave me your shirt, your water. I guess the least I could do is let you kiss me.”

“The very least,” he agreed. “But I don’t want you to let me kiss you. I want you to kiss me.”

“Oh. Well.” She wasn’t quite sure she knew how to be the aggressor, but maybe it was time to try. Violet took a deep breath and scooted next to Dylan. If her heart didn’t explode in her chest, she could do this.

He bent over, just a little.

Violet could smell him, a masculine blend of deodorant and sweat from the sun beating down on his bare chest. His hair was short, his eyebrows thick, his chin showing a few whiskers this close up. His shoulders were broad, his tattoo detailed and extravagant, making her want to wince at the pain he must have gone through to get it.

Leaning, leaning, she stuck her lips on his, missing the center a little but coming close enough to make it work.

He didn’t really move his mouth because she didn’t give him time. She just approached, pressed, pulled back.

It was a wimpy kiss, a geeky kiss. The kiss of a woman who hasn’t got a single clue how to please a man.

No wonder Frank didn’t notice she was missing for fifteen minutes.

She could be kissing a man and he could forget her existence. Doze off for a minute or two.

Dylan took her hand, pulled her closer when she would have darted to the opposite side of the boat. “That’s one.”

Violet stopped trying to wiggle away from him. “One what?”

“One kiss. I get one for each year. I’m twenty-seven, plus one to grow on, so you owe me twenty-seven more.”

He looked serious, but he was cracked if he thought she was going to repeat that humiliation two dozen more times. “That’s for pinches, not kisses.”

“Not in Puerto Rico.”

Having worked with kindergartners for five years, Violet knew a fib when she heard one. This one fell in the same category as “I didn’t get a cookie” and “He pushed me first.”


“Really.” He gave her a smile that was meant to be innocent and instead was just sinfully sexy.

And she decided that if he wanted another one, maybe the first hadn’t been as pathetic as she’d thought. Maybe she could even improve on it.

“All right.”


He looked so pleased, she almost laughed. “Really.”

This time, she let her eyes drift half closed as she tilted her head and moved in. She landed in just the right spot and put more pressure into it. His lips were warm, firm, and she found herself relaxing just a little, enjoying it just a bit.

“That’s two.” Dylan’s fingers went into her hair and he shifted his body, bringing him closer to her.

Somehow she’d wound up between his thighs, and it wasn’t difficult to reach out and kiss him yet again, opening her mouth, sighing when he kissed her back and the moment stretched on and on. Their lips moved together and Violet gave in to the urge to rest her hands on his chest.

Desire was stirring, kicking up like a pile of leaves hit with a strong wind. She wasn’t a sexual person, she knew that, accepted that, but this feeling was familiar. This new, mild, momentary arousal.

It would fade if they went any further, just like it always did. But for the moment, it felt promising and pleasurable, Dylan’s hands shifting lower.

“That’s three,” he said when he broke the kiss to breathe.

“I think that was more like seven or eight.” Their mouths had been together for more than a minute, with lots of shifting and turning and pressing.

“No, sorry. From point of contact to final pull back, it only counts as one. It’s in the rule book.”

“The Puerto Rican rule book?” she asked wryly.

Dylan laughed and pulled her up onto his thigh. Her wet bikini bottoms pressed down into his swim trunks. “Yes. Now come here and give me number four.”

Violet went in to this kiss eager, hungry, and felt a kick of heat between her legs when Dylan’s tongue caressed along her mouth. She shuddered as he sucked her lip between his and then gave a light nip. That twinge of want flared up into a throb, and she gave a gasp.

Okay, no one had ever bitten her before. It felt a little wild, a little out of control, a little not-what-nice-girls-do. “Do that again,” she said when he panted in front of her, but didn’t touch her.

“Kiss you? I never actually did. We’re still on number four.” He leaned over and around her, reaching for something.

Violet’s butt wobbled on his thigh and she grabbed his shoulder for support. “What are you doing?”

“Adjusting the sail. We’re about three feet from hitting the break wall.”

Violet snapped her head up and took in their surroundings. They were bearing down on a stone wall.

And there were at least a half dozen people milling around the marina in clear view.

“Oh, my gosh.”

“Don’t worry, we won’t hit the wall.”

That was the least of Violet’s concerns. “People are watching us. People saw us.”

She didn’t even like the man she was kissing to be aware they were kissing. She sure in heck didn’t want an audience of strangers.

“That’s why we’re going to dock the boat and go on up to my place.”

“We are?” The apartment complex loomed behind the marina, an imposing structure, once a warehouse, now converted into luxury suites.

“Yep. I want to have my cake. And eat it, too.”


Dylan hustled Violet down the dock and up the wooden stairs to the elevator. He said a prayer for it to hurry as he pressed the button, then wondered if it was morally wrong to pray for speed in getting a woman naked.


But he did it anyway.

“This is a nice building,” Violet said, standing very close to him, arms crossed over her chest.

“It’s not bad. It’s got a good view and it’s quiet. It’s kind of sterile, though. No personal touches.” He took her hand and pulled her into the elevator.

Violet dragged her bare feet a little. “Are you sure you want to do this? Maybe you should just take me home.”

Willingly take a strike-out? No way. “Do you have a key to get into your apartment?”

“No. It’s in my purse. My friend Trish has the spare.”

“And Trish didn’t answer her phone?”

Violet shook her head, her lips pursing. “No.”

“Then have dinner with me. Relax. Enjoy the night.”

The front of his T-shirt had dried on her, but her hair was still damp, curling at the tips and fuzzing on top. She ran her fingers over the back of it, and looked over his shoulder, her cheeks pink. “Just so you understand, I’m not having sex with you.”

Way to burst his birthday bubble. He had a tree trunk size boner, she was half naked and wet already, and she was shooting him down?

But he wasn’t going to rush her. She had just dumped her boyfriend, after all.

“Okay, then. We can just have dinner and fool around. We’ll have sex on our second date. Wednesday, when I get back from New York.” With a grin, he rubbed the small of her back with his thumb and tried to think pure thoughts.

“This wasn’t a date. This was an accident, where I was dumb enough to fall in the water and you were nice enough to pull me out.”

“So why did you kiss me, then?”

“Because you wanted me to.” She cleared her throat and pushed her glasses up with a frown.

“Then you can have sex with me, because I want that, too.” He grinned down at her, knowing she was embarrassed, wanting to put her at ease.

Wanting her, plain and simple. But he would wait. As long as it took.


He had her trapped by her words, and she knew it. She’d wanted those kisses just as much as he had.

“But I don’t like sex.”

The elevator door opened right as she spoke, and they turned to find his neighbor, Mrs. Martin, standing there with her terrier. “You’re not the only one, sweetie. Most women don’t like sex. They just fake it for the man’s benefit.”

Violet sighed.

Dylan knew he should just walk on by. But he couldn’t stop himself. He was trying to get laid here and Mrs. Martin wasn’t helping. So he said, “No woman has ever faked it with me.”

It was supposed to shut her up, but Mrs. Martin stopped and stared at him in amazement as they exited the elevator, and she got on. “Oh, Dylan, honey, baby. I would guess every woman has faked it with you at one point or another. Along with a lot of other things. They don’t date a baseball player for his sexual skill or his conversation.”

The door rolled shut and Dylan just stood there. The old broad had kneed him in the nuts with that one.

Violet touched his arm. “That was cruel.”

“But probably true.”

“Of course it’s not true. There’s a lot to like about you. Much more than money or a baseball uniform. You’re funny, you’re considerate, you care about your family.” She smiled, while her hand patted his forearm in a gesture that was strangely comforting. “And lots of women like sex, so I’m sure they weren’t faking with you. My friends all seem to really like it. I’m the weird one who can just take it or leave it, and I didn’t want you to be disappointed. And I couldn’t fake it if my life depended on it. I can’t…make noises.”

She finished that startling pronouncement with a blush.

He knew then what he wanted to do. How he wanted to be unselfish, completely generous in the way she seemed to think him capable of. How for once in his life he wanted to do something that really mattered, to give back a little something for all the many blessings he had in his life.

He opened his apartment door, stepped in with her, closed it. And touched her cheek. “There’s a lot to like about you, too. Let me give you what you want, Vi. Let me give you a baby.”

“What?” All the pink flush leeched from her cheeks.

Dylan rushed on, making his case. “My family is very fertile. No history of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, and while we don’t fall in the genius range, we’re all average intelligence. Reasonably good-looking if you like dark hair and dark eyes. Athletic. All of my sisters can sing and my mom can cook.” Maybe he wasn’t what she was looking for in a donor, but he had to make the offer. She was an amazing woman, and maybe he had lost his goddamn mind, but this was right. It was just deep down in his gut right.

She’d make a beautiful mother and he wanted to make her happy.

Violet looked very serious, her eyes wide behind the lenses of her glasses. “You realize what you’re offering? That my child would be your child? But that I wouldn’t want any money or any contact with you?”

Hell, he knew she didn’t want money. In five minutes, he had figured out that wasn’t what Violet was about. She didn’t work that way. “I know that. And I also know you’ll be a wonderful mother. You’ve got that mom vibe through and through. A kid would be lucky to have you for a mom.”

And why the hell had he brought this up in the hallway? Jesus, could he learn a little tact?

Violet sniffled. He cupped her cheek. “I haven’t done a lot of great things in my life. I haven’t been a bad person, but I’ve had it easy. I’ve been into my own happiness. Maybe it sounds crazy, maybe it’s me feeling like a loser on my birthday, but I want to give you this, if you’ll let me. If my sperm is good enough for you.”

She gave a watery laugh. “It’s more than good enough.” And she burst into tears.

Oh shit. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…what’s the matter?” Crying was no good. He always equated crying with trouble. His sisters bawled and he got yelled at for making them cry. He hadn’t meant to make Violet cry. Dylan hauled her down the hall into his living room. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

He pushed her down onto the couch and looked around the room. There had to be tissues around here somewhere. Maybe in the bathroom. He sprinted down the hall to the half bath and skidded to a halt in front of the sink. There was a box of tissues plunked down on the counter and he knew he owed the maid a thank-you. Violet’s sobbing was getting louder by the second.

Wine. Maybe some wine would help, too. He grabbed a bottle on the way past the wine rack and set it on the coffee table. She took the tissue he gave her and wiped her eyes with it.

“I’m sorry. I’m not upset…honestly.”

Could have fooled him.

“I’m just…just really touched…that you would do this for me.” She choked out her words and Dylan’s heart clenched. “It’s the nicest thing anyone has ever offered to do for me.”

Now he just felt ridiculous. Overexposed. Dylan stood up. “It’s not that big of a deal.” He fished around in a kitchen drawer for a corkscrew. Then he pulled two glasses down out of the cabinet. He really wanted a beer or a shot of tequila, but he’d settle for the wine. Alcohol in any form was better than none at all right at the moment.

Had he just actually offered to father Violet’s baby? And was he really starting to think there might be something to that whole love at first sight crap?

He turned, the glasses in his hand, and stopped cold, wine sloshing over the rims and onto his arm. Violet was just beautiful. She had taken off her glasses and was sitting with her legs tucked under her, hair flowing down over her chest covered in his white T-shirt. Tears streaked her pale cheeks and her green eyes glistened with moisture.

Maybe he did believe in that love at first sight crap.

And he really did want to give her a baby. Like, if he did one important thing in his life, this was it.

“It is a big deal,” she said. “And I don’t know how to say thank you. Or if I should even accept.”

Dylan handed her a wineglass, and drained the other one. “What, you’ll take Forgetful Frank’s sperm, but not mine?” And he had thought Mrs. Martin had taken a pot shot.

“Well…” She sipped the wine. “I’m not sure I really would have. And it was different. I was trying to talk Frank into it. I might have felt guilty if he had offered. Not that that makes any sense.”

“You don’t have to feel guilty. I’m a big boy. I know what I’m doing. I want to do this.” She was going to use his sperm, damn it, or no one’s at all.

Violet stared at him, squinting a little without her glasses. Then she took his hand and squeezed. Moved in a little closer. Brought her mouth very, very close to his.

“Then I’m just going to say thank you, Dylan Diaz. This means the world to me.”

“You’re welcome.” He had a lump in his throat. A big-ass kneecap-size lump. Maybe he was hungry. “Should we order some dinner? And I can throw your bathing suit in the dryer.” Since he was hoping to get her out of her clothes immediately anyway.

“In a minute.” Violet pressed her hands to his chest, her breasts brushing along his arm. “First I’m going to wish you a very happy birthday,” she whispered. “And finish giving you your birthday kisses.”

Maybe she was merely acting out of gratitude, but Dylan couldn’t bring himself to give a shit. “Sounds good to me.”

The words were barely out of his mouth before Violet covered him with her lips, her movements not exactly smooth, but enthusiastic. Mmm, she was doing a little tongue thing, flicking it back and forth.

Then she bit him.

Holy crap, he felt the force of that through every inch of his horny body. His cock jerked in his bathing suit and he gave a moan of approval. Her tongue tentatively dipped into his mouth and Dylan lowered his hands, further, further until he was cupping her ass in the still damp bikini.

She had an incredible body, which brushed against him soft and lush, sparking desperate lust in him with every touch. Her breathing quickened. His hands gripped harder, bumping her against his thigh. Her lips were sweet from the wine and her skin cool, and he was hotter than hell.

After a long seductive minute, she broke the kiss off, much to his profound disappointment.

Dylan sucked in a breath and ran his thumb over her ass. “That was nice, baby, real nice. And that was number four, remember. You’ve got to go all the way to twenty-eight.”

She licked her lips. “That could take a while.”

Amen to that.

“Uh-huh. No rush. We’ve got all night.” And he was going to just ignore that bullshit about her not liking sex. She sure in the hell reacted to him like she enjoyed sex. And he’d be willing to bet his left nut Frank sucked in the sack.

They might need some practice before they tried the whole conception thing. A couple of weeks to learn each other’s bodies before they went for the gold. Though the idea of dragging it out for months and months held some appeal, Dylan thought better of it. He didn’t want her to be worrying the whole time. Better to hit a home run right off the first pitch.

“Are you busy tomorrow?” she asked, moving away from him to set her neatly folded glasses down on the coffee table.

“I have a plane to catch in the afternoon. Four-game series against the Yankees. But I’m free in the morning.” They could stay up all night practicing their conception technique, then sleep in late.

“I’m asking because, well, I’m actually ovulating right now.” Violet’s back was to him, but he could practically hear her blush. “So I thought, maybe…”

Hot damn. That was all he needed to hear.

Dylan shucked his shorts off and patted his lap. “Let’s go then.”


Violet turned around and nearly fainted. Dear God in heaven, he was naked.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked, clamping her eyes shut. The sight was so distracting, she couldn’t think. “Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”

“It kind of works better that way.” He sounded amused. “Now come over here.”

Violet opened one eye. Holy cow. She’d never seen a man that gorgeous in person before. Her experience with male nudity was limited to skinny, quiet types, and the naked hottie e-mails Trish sent her. Dylan qualified as a naked hottie. He was hard and big. Everywhere.

“What works better that way?” And he was crazy if he thought she was getting anywhere near him. That thing looked like a lethal weapon.

Switching eyes, she spotted another tattoo on his hip, but couldn’t tell what it was without her glasses. There was suddenly spittle in the corner of her mouth. Oh, shoot, she was drooling.

And she didn’t think it was lake water that had her bottom damp.

“Making a baby. It’s easier without clothes on. So let’s take yours off, too.” He stood up and took a step towards her.

Violet opened both eyes in shock. “You mean make a baby by having sex?” Where the heck had he gotten that idea from?

He stopped walking. “Is there another way?”

“Yeah! I was thinking we could stop by my fertility doctor’s office tomorrow and they could withdraw a sample from you.” Violet chanced a glance at his impressive penis. Artificial insemination was much simpler, though maybe not as interesting.

“Withdraw a sample?” Dylan’s jaw dropped. As did something else. “In the doctor’s office? How do they do that?”

“I think they sort of…electrically stimulate you and it comes out.” Come was probably a bad choice of words, but she didn’t think he heard anything past electrical.

Dylan stuck his hands on his head and rubbed his hair. “What? I don’t think so! Jesus, that sounds like torture.”

“It’s modern science. It’s the civilized way to handle this so there aren’t any entanglements. I told you I don’t like sex.”

“But we were making out! You liked that, didn’t you?” Now his hands were on his hips, feet apart, emphasizing just how broad he was. His catcher’s thighs were like steel beams and she was flustered, aroused, confused.

“Well, yeah, but…”

“But what? Listen, if we’re going to make a baby, we’re going to do this the way nature intended. I am not getting my dick zapped.”

That suddenly struck Violet as funny. She clamped her hand over her mouth, but a giggle came out. If it were her, she guessed she wouldn’t want to get electrically jolted either.

“That’s not funny. It’s a horror film, Vi. What if they move it a little too far in one direction or the other? They could do some serious damage. No, I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I really want to do this for you, but no can do on the clinic, senorita.”

She laughed louder.

“Stop laughing.” But he was already grinning. “Well, this is a hell of a misunderstanding, isn’t it?”

Violet rubbed her fingers over her lips and smiled back. “I can’t believe you’re standing there naked.”

“Hey, never say I didn’t rise to the occasion.”

“That you did.”

Dylan’s apartment was filled with lots of low, modular furniture in contemporary black, with sage green sofas. Violet skirted a cube end table and moved towards him. “I’m sorry,” she said, trying to remember where she’d set her glasses down. Things were a touch fuzzy, and since he was naked, she’d prefer total clarity. “It’s my fault.”

“No, it’s not. It was just a misunderstanding.”

He was standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling window that boasted a view of the lake. Violet glanced left and right out the window. “Can’t people see you standing there naked?”

“What people? There’s nothing but water down there.”

“People on boats.” Violet tried to move away from the window, but Dylan took her arm and stopped her.

“Who cares?”

He was really close to her and really naked. Violet took a deep breath and concentrated on his face. “Obviously not you. But I would.”

“So we’ll move into the bedroom before we get you naked.” He kissed her neck, sliding his tongue up towards her ear.

“Dylan…” Violet shivered. That felt awfully good. She was torn between wanting to fling herself on the bed and let Dylan get her pregnant in the traditional, sweaty, skin-on-skin way, and fear that when it came to the big moment, she wouldn’t enjoy herself.

It would mortify her to be naked with Dylan Diaz, accepting such an enormous gift from him, and be unable to please him. Or herself.

“Do you really hate sex, Vi? Did someone hurt you? Were you forced or something?” His hands were gentle on her back, his voice soft in her ear.

“No! Not at all. And I don’t hate it. It’s more like I’m just there for the ride.”

He chuckled softly. “Funny choice of words.”

She couldn’t bring herself to laugh. “I don’t want to ruin it. I don’t want to take this understanding between us and ruin it.”

“Okay.” He put his forehead on hers. “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll order some dinner from the marina restaurant. We’ll drink some more wine. We’ll talk. Take a shower to warm you up and get that lake water off you. And whatever feels right, we’ll do. If it doesn’t, we won’t.”

“Okay.” Violet kissed Dylan, cupping his cheeks with her hands. He was a most amazing man, she had to say. “Thank you.”

“But I’m not putting my clothes back on.”

She reared back, having forgotten that he was naked.

“Just kidding.” He grinned. “Why don’t you hop in the shower while I order something to eat?”

“Great. I like anything without mushrooms.” Violet took off in the direction he pointed and closed the bathroom door behind her.

With trembling hands, she turned on the shower. His bathroom was large, with chrome fixtures and a black and white checked tile floor. Big, white, fluffy towels were stacked on three shelves next to the shower. Violet grabbed one and shook it open, then stripped off the T-shirt and bikini bottoms.

Wrapping the towel around her, she checked the water temperature and adjusted it. There was shampoo and shower gel already in the shower. Two minutes later she was under the stream of hot water, sighing and rolling her shoulders. It felt good to be warm, good to get her fuzzy, half damp hair off her face, good to wash the slimy sensation of lake water off her skin.

The bathroom door opened. Violet jumped, but then reassured herself that there was a shower curtain in faux gray suede, not a clear shower door.

“I brought you something to wear,” Dylan called.

“Thank you.”

“I ordered crab legs and salads. Sound good?”

“Great.” Surely he would leave, any second now. She felt just a touch vulnerable.

“What? I can’t hear you with the shower on.”

Violet pulled the top of the curtain back so she could stick just her face out. Dylan was leaning on the counter, steam rising around him. He had what looked like a hand towel wrapped around his middle. It covered all of about three inches of him, but at least his you-know-what was out of view.

“I said, that’s great.”

“Oh, okay.” He moved towards her so fast, she didn’t have time to react.

He was kissing her. Oh, good grief, he was kissing her, with his hands in her wet hair and tongue plunging into her mouth.

She was naked, hot water sluicing down over her backside, her breasts brushing against the shower curtain, and he was kissing her. Everything in her felt hot and tight, moist, a burn stoking in her inner thighs.

Violet sighed when Dylan pulled back. She wanted to be a wild woman. She wanted to just fling back the curtain and leap on him in a soapy, slippery, wet maneuver. But she didn’t have the guts, the nerve, to do it. And if she did it, she wouldn’t know what to do once she made the leap.

Instead she ducked back into the shower. The bathroom door closed as Dylan left the room, and Violet turned to the little shelf in the shower containing products. There was a disposable razor there. She picked it up and flicked off the lid. She had noticed a row of stubble on her right leg that she had missed. If she did wind up sleeping with Dylan, she didn’t want to be hairy on top of stilted and insecure.

She stuck her leg up on the interior edge of the shower and squirted shower gel on it. The position challenged her balance and she wobbled a bit, grabbing wildly at the curtain. “Darn it!”

Stabilized again, she picked up the razor and bent over.

Dylan turned from shutting the bathroom closet and pondered how badly it would frighten Violet if he just stepped into the shower with her. He was in pain, man. Suffering. Agony.

There was a wet, sexy woman three feet away from him. Who wanted him to get her pregnant, yet at the same time didn’t want to have sex with him. It made no sense. It was pure torture.

He was sure that he was going to die before the night was over. Might as well call up the last rites and stick on his headstone that he died from unfulfilled lust. His mother would be mortified.

Violet said something from the shower.

“What, Vi?”

The curtain rattled and it sounded like she slammed into the wall. Concerned, Dylan called out again. “Vi?”

She didn’t answer him, and he pulled back the curtain, afraid she’d wiped out in his shower and conked her head. She’d had a hell of a day and hadn’t eaten and it was possible…

Holy shit.

Violet wasn’t injured. She had her leg straight out, propped on the bathtub lip, her tight ass sticking up, her breasts falling forward. Her hair hung in thick, dark ropes down her back, and her flesh was pink everywhere from the hot water bouncing all over her.

Dylan almost swallowed his tongue. Instead he must have made a sound, maybe a gurgling from all the excess saliva, because Violet turned, an orange razor in her hand.

“Dylan!” she said, and put her free hand over her breasts.

Like that covered anything.

He was having none of that modesty bullshit. Ripping the towel from his waist, he stepped into the shower behind her, preventing her from leaping away. If it made her nervous to look at him, he’d just stay behind her.

But he was going to touch her.

Violet stood up, and Dylan placed both of his hands on her waist and pulled her back until she was fitted against him, his cock nestled in the smooth slit between her cheeks.

“What are you doing?” she asked breathlessly.

“Joining you in the shower to help you wash yourself. To conserve water. Save on soap. Get my jollies. Take your pick.”

Dylan reached up and cupped Violet’s full breasts. They both groaned. Her nipples were tight little pebbles when he brushed his fingers across them, and she sucked her breath in hard when he gave a little tweak to each.

She felt gloriously curvy, soft yet firm, her hair clinging to his chest, and her head turning back towards him. Her lips were open, sighs tripping out, and he kissed the corner of her mouth.

“You feel so damn good, Vi. All woman.”

“I always thought I had a stripper’s body,” she said, her little backside wiggling against him like she wanted something. “Which is a total waste on me, since I don’t know how to use it.”

With a laugh, he slid the palm of his hand over the flatness of her stomach and parted her wet curls. “I don’t think it’s wasted on you at all. God knows it’s making me happy right now. I’m going to go to hell for all the things I want to do with you.”

Playing with her curls, he moved his hand around and around, skirting her clitoris and tugging on the springy hairs, spreading her apart, then letting her fall closed again. He kissed her shoulder, licking her dewy flesh from side to side. Her back started to bow, and her breathing changed from slow and deep to rapid and shallow. He moved over her again and again, never really touching, never really leaving, teasing and plucking them both into arousal.

“I…” she gasped.

“Hmm? You what, sweetie?” Dylan stroked his cock between her tight thighs, just once, then twice, clenching his teeth down on the urgent need to thrust and take. He wanted her so fucking bad, but he wanted to draw it out, soak them both in pleasure and wring every last drop out.

When he tapped her clitoris, she shuddered. “I want…”

“What, baby? Tell me what you want.” Dylan dipped his tongue into her ear, moved it in and out while he cupped her mound with his immobile hand. She jerked forward against his hand.

“I want you to touch me.”

“Inside, you mean?” Dylan whispered in a raw, low voice, the palm of his left hand brushing back and forth over her nipple, his right hand still holding her, index finger flicking over her clit.

“Yes. Inside.”

He could barely hear her, but the quiet words, the desperate need nearly did him in. He throbbed against her, wanting to give Violet the passion she had never felt before, wanting her to understand how it could be, wanting to remember himself that sex could be intimate, personal, a gift between two people who cared about each other.

“Whatever you want, beautiful.” And he moved his finger down between her folds and inside her with a deep push of his middle finger.

Shaking the shower water off his face, he leaned over her shoulder to watch his hand covering her, his finger pull all the way out of her, then plunge deep inside her body again.

“Oh, yeah, Vi, that’s perfect.” She was creamy wet, swollen, tight around his finger. When he wiggled his finger forward, stroking like he was dipping into frosting, she jerked away with a moan.

Their feet squeaked in the wet tub as they readjusted. “Don’t get too far away from me,” he teased.

She shook her head, chin tilted up, eyes half closed. “No, no, I don’t want to stop you. This feels…”

Dylan added a second finger to the first and her words dissolved into a gasp. She was holding the wall with both hands, leaning farther and farther forward, her ass bumping into his cock as she started to move with his thrusts.

“That’s it, baby. Damn, that’s sexy.”

He plucked at her nipple as she squirmed, little mewling sounds leaving her mouth at regular intervals. Dylan was sweating, water racing down his taut body, steam rising between them, and he thought without a little self-control he could come just like this, resting along her backside. She was racing forward, and he was pushing her to the finish line.

Bracing his feet as far apart as the bathtub would permit, he let go of her breast, pulled his fingers completely out of her.

She made a sound of distress, head snapping up.

Dylan slipped his thumb down her clitoris, then twisted right inside her.

Violet came with a loud agonized cry, her fingers clutching at the smooth tile wall, her body shuddering around his thumb.

He stroked in complete triumph, reveling in the abandon of her cry, the tightness of her body, the length of her orgasm, which went on and on.

Dylan kissed the back of her neck as Violet quieted down, her back straightening.

“Oh my,” she said.

And she had said she didn’t make noise.

Hah. She just hadn’t met him yet.

“There’s more where that came from.” Dylan turned the water off and stepped back, then out of the shower. Violet wobbled a little, so he grabbed her waist and lifted her out of the tub.

Limp, she fell against him, her breasts colliding with his chest. Oh, man they felt even better this way. Dylan couldn’t wait to get his mouth on one of those.

He grabbed a towel from the rack and lifted her up, hands under her butt. “I’ll dry you off on the bed.”

“Dry me off?” she whispered. “I can do that myself. But, well, if you really want to.”

Dylan dropped her on the bed flat on her back. “I really want to.”

Violet clamped her thighs closed, crossed her ankles, and stuck her hands over her chest. She fiddled with the ends of her hair and looked thoroughly aroused, yet completely embarrassed.

Frank the Fuck-up probably only did it in the dark.

“Shouldn’t you close the blinds?” she asked, darting a nervous look at the window.

Dylan didn’t see anything but the lake, and a couple of aggressive seagulls swooping back and forth. He figured the birds didn’t care if she was naked or not, but he wasn’t going to argue and delay his pleasure.

He ripped the vertical blinds closed with his bare hands instead of using the cord.

The doorbell rang as Violet unfolded the towel and spread it over the front of her.

“Damn, that’s the food.” Dylan stripped the towel right off of Violet’s body.

“Hey!” she protested.

“I’ve got to answer the door.” He tied it around his waist. “You look better naked anyway.”

She thunked a pillow down over her nakedness. “You’re going to answer the door in a towel?”

“Yep.” He jogged to the door, almost losing the towel at one point. He was going to get rid of the delivery person, throw the food in the kitchen, then get back to his real dinner.



Eyes closed, Violet clutched the thick down pillow to her crotch, listening to the sounds of Dylan chatting with the deliveryman.

He had given her an orgasm. In the shower.

She was shocked down to the tips of her water-shriveled toes.

It had felt so good. Easy. She had made sounds, for crying out loud. At one point she had been sure her back was going to snap from straining towards him.

Now she felt a touch embarrassed, a bit sleepy, and a whole lot satisfied. She could go for months on this high.

She was positive she could just slip under his navy duvet and fall asleep. But Dylan expected more. Turnabout was fair play. She owed it to him to let him finish, after the way he had yanked more pleasure out of her in five minutes than Frank had in four months.

So she was mentally prepared to give it to him when he came back into the bedroom, chewing, a cherry tomato in his hand.

“Tomato?” He held it out to her as he tossed the towel to the floor and climbed onto the bed.

“No tha-” Her words were cut off by the tomato being shoved between her lips.

“Eat it. It will tide you over until we get to our dinners.”

Violet chewed, the juice running down her throat and making her want to cough. Dylan tugged the pillow out of her hands and flung it so hard it hit the wall before dropping to the floor. She tried to muster up some enthusiasm as she spread her thighs, letting him know she was ready for him.

With a little luck, he’d be quick about it.

He stopped crawling on his knees between her ankles and just looked at her, his eyebrows raised.

“What?” she asked nervously.

“You look like you’re calculating how fast I can be in and out. I think you’re hoping for sixty seconds or less.”

Her cheeks burned. “Why would you think that?” And how was she so transparent?

“The grimace on your face is a dead giveaway.”

“I’m sorry. I tried to tell you.” Violet tried to roll away, reaching for the towel. Maybe she could strangle herself with it. This had to be the most awkward moment of her life, and to this point, her life had really just been a whole series of awkward moments.

The only time she was comfortable and confident was when she was with her students. Who were all five years old.

But this moment had to surpass all others in pure humiliation.

“Shhh.” Dylan put his hand over her mouth. “Don’t apologize. You did tell me. And I said we’d only do what feels right. Did it feel right in the shower?”

Violet’s body hummed just from the memory. “Yes. Really right.”

“So, let’s just experiment and see what feels right here on the bed, okay?”

“Okay.” She wanted to relax and let it all hang out. She wanted to be able to get down and dirty with Dylan so that he would enjoy himself. “But I need you to tell me what to do, how to please you, Dylan.”

His lips brushed across hers. Dark eyes swept over her face. “Just be you. Just that you care enough to want to please me is enough.”

It didn’t feel like enough. He was willing to give her a baby, the thing that mattered most to her, and she couldn’t even give him a good time in return.

“You don’t have to do anything, Vi. If you don’t want to do this, I’ll go to the clinic. I promise you’ll get a baby one way or the other.”

That made tears well up in her eyes and her heart swell like a balloon. Violet reached up and gently stroked his cheek. “You really have no idea how wonderful you are, do you?”

He shrugged. “Don’t make too much of it. For the most part, I’m just an overpaid jock, Vi.”

“And I thought I had confidence issues? There’s nothing wrong with success, you know. It’s the result of your talent and hard work. You should enjoy it.” She pulled his mouth down onto hers, kissed him slowly and thoroughly. “Make love to me, Dylan. Please.”

He was propped up on his elbows and he pulled back, studied her. “Well, you don’t have to ask me twice.”

Then before she realized what he was doing, he had dropped down between her legs and kissed her. There. Where she felt it shoot through her insides like an electrical surge.

“Oh!” Well, that was eloquent.

It was instinctive to try and close her thighs, but that only clamped her flesh on either side of Dylan’s head and shoved him farther into her crotch. Startled, she dropped them back open. Wide.

Which didn’t work either.

Dylan merely reached out, spread her apart with his fingers, and licked her.

At that point, she stopped caring.

Gripping the duvet, she fell back and started speaking in tongues. “Oh, ah, ye-, bu-, geez, he-,” all flowed out of her mouth in incoherent babbling as he stroked up and down from the very tip of her clitoris to way down low, lower than it had ever occurred to her you could go.

Just when she thought her heart would actually burst out of her chest like an alien entity, he lifted up. And licked his lips.


There was a gorgeous professional baseball player between her legs licking his lips like he’d had a good meal. This had to be a wet dream. Or whatever you called them when women had them. She didn’t usually, but this had to be a dream, because there was no way this could be happening to her.

Dylan bent his head again and did something that made her sit halfway up. Shit, this was real, because she never would have even thought a man could do that. She was pretty sure he was sucking on her, because there were little slurping noises and a tug-pull sensation right at the tip of her…Yowsa.

She was point five seconds away from coming when he let go.

Violet lay on the bed and panted.

“Like that?” He crawled up along her, his erection pressing into her thigh, brushing against her curls, and sending another little shock of lust rippling through her.

Holy crap, she actually wanted him inside her. She ached to have him inside her. Now. This was very, very strange and she hoped like heck it would last, because damn, damn, it was good.

Dylan’s mouth closed around her nipple and he sucked, good and hard, with the kind of pressure that had her straining on the mattress, arching up to him, digging her feet into the bed, clawing at his shoulders. Then the other one-lick, suck, pull, and back to the first. Then over to the other, and back again, until she was slick everywhere on her chest, her inner thighs were dripping with desire, her cries were loud and urgent, her breasts were tingling with sensation.

There was time for one kiss on her lips, his tongue dipping deep inside, twirling and swirling around hers with the musky taste of her own desire, then he was gone again, descending over her chest, fingers plucking, lips sucking on his way by, before he reached her pussy.

Violet had always hated the “P” word. It reminded her of a randy Tom Jones frolicking with Vegas showgirls, and pubescent boys trying to be dirty as they scrawled it over bathroom walls. But for the first time in her twenty-eight years, she felt like she had something more than a vagina, designed to birth children. She had something just for sex, something for pleasure, not function, and when Dylan thrust with his tongue deep inside her, it went into her pussy, damn it, and it felt really, really sexy.

She figured the sexual liberation of Violet Caruthers was complete when she grabbed onto his hair, rammed his head deeper into her, and yelled, “Oh, Dylan, yes!” at volumes she hadn’t even thought she was capable of.

And she wasn’t the least bit embarrassed.

So when Dylan jerked back and moved up the length of her, she knew what was coming, and she wanted it. Seriously, big-time wanted it.

His hair was sticking up from where she had yanked, and his eyes were ink black, cloudy with need, his lips shiny and slick.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Dylan asked, wanting her so bad his arms trembled as he hovered over her. He had her on the edge, he was pretty sure, and he knew he had himself on the edge, but he had to hear her say it was okay. There wasn’t a condom in sight, and she couldn’t have any doubts.

He was sure. Sure that giving Violet a child was the least he could do after she had renewed his passion and excitement for life. His trust in other people. His belief that he was worth something beyond his batting average.

She wiggled beneath him in a way that tested his resolve. “Dylan, please.”

Cock resting at her hot entrance, he swore. “I need to hear you say it. We could get you pregnant and you have to be sure.”

Violet stilled. Stroked her fingers down his arms. “I’m sure. I would be honored to have your child. Truly honored.”

That did him in.

Dylan pushed inside her in the raw, and almost came on the spot. Christ almighty, he hadn’t had sex with a woman without a condom since…ever. Everything felt so tight and slick and pulsing, extra aware.

He had also never had sex with Violet, and that in itself made the experience ten times more arousing.

Violet wasn’t jaded. Violet wasn’t greedy. Violet had claimed not to like sex, and yet here she was, beneath him, clamping her ankles together right on his butt, urging him forward.

But he needed a second to just savor, wait. Throb. Try not to come.

He bent his head over her glorious breasts and ran his lips over her nipple.

Using a word Dylan wouldn’t have thought Violet would know, she lifted her hips and spread her legs wider, forcing him deep inside her. They both moaned.

“Want it, do you?” Almost as much as him, he’d bet.

She moved her hips again, and met his thrust so that they were as connected as it was possible for them to be. “Yes, I want it. I want it, all of it.”

Dylan leaned down and kissed her, bit her lip, giving up the fight to hold back. He pushed into her, harder and harder, the headboard smacking the wall, the force of his thrusts dragging the sheets off the mattress. His stomach connected with hers each time he sank into her, and he could hear the sound of their bodies joining, the slick suction intermingling with their hot desperate breathing and Violet’s urgent gasp as he drove air out of her lungs over and over.

Violet strained with him, then suddenly went limp on the bed, her hands falling to his waist. Her eyes locked with his, and she paused before arching up in a silent, graceful orgasm, her body squeezing around his, lips softly parted. Dylan had never seen anything so beautiful in his whole life, the way she took her pleasure and then dropped back down in steps, body relaxing until she was boneless against the mattress.

A feminine smile crossed her lips as she brushed her hair off her face, and that enigmatic expression, that look of complete and total satisfaction had Dylan gripping the headboard with one hand and driving faster into her, the aftershocks of her climax milking his cock and hurtling him into his own orgasm.

He gave a shout as he pulsed, the feeling of his hot come catapulting deep inside her shocking and arousing in its intimacy. It was a new sensation, something he had never done before with any other woman, and he felt a burst of male possessiveness. This woman, his seed.

They were connected forever now.


Violet stuck a pillow under her butt the minute Dylan pulled out of her.

“What are you doing?” he asked, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his arm.

“Keeping it in there.” She lifted her hips up and clamped her legs together. She had read this little technique in a book and figured it was worth a shot. It probably looked stupid, but she felt so relaxed, she didn’t care.

Even if she didn’t get pregnant, Dylan had given her the most incredible sex she had ever had. He had shown her there was nothing wrong with her sexually, that she wasn’t some kind of mutant lacking certain hormones needed to get it on.

“Keeping what…Oh.” He flopped onto his side next to her and kissed her shoulder. “Keeping the ball in the glove, I get it.”

She laughed. “Ball in the glove? Could everything in life and sex be described by a baseball metaphor?”

“Probably.” His big hand brushed lazily over her stomach as he grinned. “We’re hoping to hit a home run here, right?”

“Yes.” She licked her dry lips. “And I guess you do have a bat and balls.”

Dylan laughed. “And I slid into home plate.”

“Eww! That sounds kind of yucky.”

“Okay, okay. I scored. Is that better?” He put his hand under her knees and lifted them, further tipping her vagina.

The gesture was casual, but Violet knew it was intentional. He was trying to help ensure a pregnancy.

Like they were a couple planning on having a baby together.

Like they wanted this.

And while that wasn’t the case, Violet was truly grateful that she’d been given the next best thing. This wasn’t a sterile doctor’s office with injection conception. Nor was it Frank giving her the old wham, bam.

This was a happy, pleasant moment, with a man she could fall in love with under different circumstances.

She had to be careful or she just might do that anyway.

“That’s better. And this may be out of left field…”

He groaned and she giggled.

“But you have the sexiest eyes I’ve ever seen, Dylan. I just thought you should know.” It was a sign of her satiation that she could say that without blushing.

Dylan grinned, his thumb shifting a bit so that he was stroking across her butt, which was pretty much sticking up in the air.

“Thank you. And you should probably know that you have the best pair of t-”

He looked right at her breasts and she smacked his shoulder.

“…toes I’ve ever seen.”

“Toes don’t come in pairs.”

“No? Well, I guess you’d know. You’re the teacher.” He set her legs back down and sat up.

Violet pulled the pillow back out from under her. It was up to fate and his sperm at this point. They’d done all they could.

Dylan leaned over her, inches from her face. She could feel the heat of his breath, smell his sweat and deodorant. He had her caged in with his arms and she had to admit she liked that feeling of being feminine next to his extreme masculinity. “Seriously, I want you to know that I think you have the best of everything. You’re beautiful both inside and out, Vi.”

No man had ever said anything quite that sweet to her before.

It felt natural to reach up and kiss him. Their lips fit together so perfectly, and she felt renewed desire just from that little contact. He felt the same way, if the pressure on her thigh was any indication.

Violet wanted to show him what he had given to her, show him how much he pleased her. And she was curious, very curious, if other aspects of sex with Dylan would be different as well.

She dropped down onto her side and took his erection in her hands and gave a soft squeeze. He groaned in approval, and Violet stroked over him, felt him grow harder in her hold. Even without her glasses, she had a good view of him, of his muscular thighs, dark hair, thick erection.

Giving oral sex to a man had never appealed to her. She had an oversensitive gag reflex and always felt a bit like there was a tree trunk going down her throat. And when you could compare sex acts to forestry it really just wasn’t the least bit sexy.

But as she stroked and squeezed and watched, as Dylan got louder and louder in his approval, and a tiny bead of clear fluid appeared, she wanted to taste him. She wanted to take him in her mouth, lick her tongue over his hot flesh and feel the power of pleasing him.

The tip of her tongue reached out and flicked over him. He jerked a little and said, “Yes, do that again.”

She did. He jerked again, his hand coming down on her head and holding her against him.

When she took him in her mouth and he swore, Violet gained a whole new appreciation for the experience. This was fun. He tasted delicious, warm and salty, and as he filled her mouth, her inner thighs ached with jealousy.

Darn, she was starting to squirm against the bed herself. This was arousing.

He tried to pull back, but she grabbed the bottom of his shaft and sucked in her cheeks.

Dylan exploded with a primal roar, pulling back so that he came in her hand. “Shit, shit, shit,” he said. “That was incredible. What was that for?”

That was for him. That was for her.

A smile on her face, Violet looked up at him. “Happy birthday, Dylan.”


“I’ll let you know what the test results are in a few weeks.”

Dylan stopped checking out the family pictures on Violet’s wall and turned to stare at her. “Excuse me?”

He had driven her home after a nice lazy morning at his place, coffee and eggs and lots of groping. If it wasn’t for his game, he wouldn’t have taken her home at all, but he had to be at the airport in a few hours. She was wearing a pair of his sweat shorts, having pulled the drawstring so tight the shorts overlapped at the waist in a pleat. She’d put her bikini top on like a bra, then one of his smaller T-shirts. He liked seeing her standing there in his clothes, but he didn’t like the look on her face.

She seemed distracted as she glanced over at her answering machine. “Shoot. I was hoping Frank had called. I need to get my purse from him.”

“I can take you over to his place.” Dylan swung his keys around on his finger. “Now let’s go back to what you said before. Test results?”

He had a sickening feeling in his gut. One that told him his plans to have Violet on the road with him for the rest of the summer weren’t the same plans she was making.

“It will be two weeks before I’m supposed to start my period. If I’m late, I’ll take a test and let you know.”

No, no, no. He was not going to play along with this. “I was planning on seeing you before then.”

“Why?” She blinked up at him through her glasses, her arms up in her hair, twisting it around and around. She pulled a rubber band out of her kitchen drawer, and wrapped it around the bun she’d made from her thick hair.

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Because I want to! Because last night we started something and it’s not finished yet. I want us to be together.”

She bit her lip, crossed her ankles. “That wasn’t something we even talked about.”

“So let’s talk about it now. I want to date. I want to see where this can go.” Man, this was ridiculous. He finally found the one woman he thought he could fall in love with and want to spend an entire lifetime with, and she was playing word games with him.

“I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. It could get complicated if I am pregnant and things don’t work out between us.”

“Then we’d be like a million other couples who aren’t together but have kids.” He put his hand in his hair in frustration. She was leaping way ahead on this one. He just wanted to take it one day at a time.

“Exactly.” She nodded. “Which is not what I want. This child is supposed to be mine and mine alone. No money, no interference. That’s what we talked about, that’s what we agreed on. If we date, and it ends in disaster, I don’t want to be dealing with custody issues and conflict when I should be concentrating on raising a child.”

Dylan felt floored. Slapped. Used. “So I really was just a sperm donor? Even after everything we…”

Shit. That hurt. That hurt bad.

Her eyes got moist, damn her. Like she was the one hurting. She put her arms around her middle and hugged herself. “I care about you, Dylan, I really do. In a way I can’t quite believe after just one night. But I don’t fit in your world, and you don’t fit in mine, and if there is a baby, it’s my sole concern right now. So yes, you were a sperm donor. And I should remind you that you offered, by the way.”

Because he was an idiot, apparently.

But God, he wanted her so much. He wanted this woman to be his, totally and completely, to want him the way he wanted her, to have a child together with him.

“Don’t…don’t do this, Vi. Please. We’ll just take things slow. I’m a reasonable person.”

Violet hesitated, than shook her head. “I can’t. Please understand.”

So that was it. Angry, hurt, confused, he scoffed. “I understand this is total bullshit.” He threw his hands up. “Goodbye, Violet. Have a nice life.”

The slamming of her door should have made him feel better, but it only made him grimace.

Well, that sucked. He’d just been dumped.


Three weeks later Violet sat on Ashley’s sofa and tapped her thumb on her knee.

“Who’s keeping time?” Ashley asked, her hands in her blond curly hair.

“I am. I told you that three freaking times,” Trish said, eyes on her watch.

Kindra sat down next to Violet and put her hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, sweetie, no matter what the test says, it’s going to be okay. We’re here for you.”

Violet felt a pit in her stomach that wasn’t a baby. It was guilt. She hadn’t told her friends about Dylan, wanting to wait to see the results of their night together, if there were any. If there was no baby she wasn’t sure she could ever bring herself to talk about him.

It had just about cracked her heart in half when he had left her apartment that morning, his face hurt and angry.

She had thought she’d done the right thing at the time. Now, she wasn’t sure about anything.

It had been a hellish three weeks, her thoughts straying to Dylan over and over again. Wondering if she should call him. Wondering if somehow or other they could work it out.

Alternating between desperate desire that they had made a baby, to the almost shameful wish that they hadn’t so she could find him and fix things between them.

“Thanks, Kindra. I’m going to be fine. Either way.” She said it to convince herself. She had a feeling that if she wasn’t pregnant-despite having sex during ovulation and being five days late for her period-she was going to be absolutely devastated.

After what she had shared with Dylan, she knew she absolutely could not go to the sperm bank and grab any old DNA. She would have to hold out for Mr. Right. Who she suspected she had already sent packing.

If she was pregnant, she was going to be equal parts thrilled and sad, that she had denied her child a father when he had been willing to give it a go.

Her brain hurt. Her heart hurt. Her stomach was doing flips.

“I want to have a baby, you know. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Good thing,” Trish said, carrying the test out from the bathroom. “Because it’s positive. You’re pregnant.”

The room sort of swung around in a disco ball splash of color and light. Violet grabbed the arm of the couch. “Oh, my. I’m going to have a baby. I’m going to have a baby.” She started to cry, tears of joy and relief. Excitement. A twinge of fear.

Her friends crowded around her, giving her hugs and murmuring words of reassurance. “I’m happy, I am. I’m really, really happy.”

Suddenly there were footsteps on the interior stairs that came up to Ashley’s apartment. Violet sat up straighter and wiped her face. Geez, it was Lucas and Mack, her friends’ significant others.

“Ashley has a bigger TV than I do,” Lucas was saying. “We can watch the game up here.”

“Go away, you guys,” Trish said succinctly. “I’m serious.”

Violet sniffled and hid her face behind her hair as the guys stopped and took in the situation.

“What’s the matter?” Mack asked, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Kindra’s fiance frowned at Trish.

“Mack, just give us five minutes,” Kindra said with a quelling lift of her eyebrows.

When neither guy moved, Ashley made a sound of exasperation. “We’re having a girl moment here, okay? We just found out we’re pregnant!”

Lucas’s jaw dropped, his face turning chalk white. “You’re pregnant? Oh, shit, Ash. I told you those glow in the dark condoms don’t work!”

There was a moment of stunned silence while they all processed this, then Trish burst out laughing.

“I’m not pregnant,” Ashley said with a grin, smacking his arm. “And thanks for sharing our sexual habits with all our friends.”

Lucas put his hand over his heart. “Whew. Damn, you scared me half to death. I mean…having a baby isn’t a bad thing, if you’re ready.” With an enormous sigh of relief, Lucas turned to Mack and clapped him on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Dad.”

Kindra gave a squawk. “Hold on, there! I’m not pregnant, either. Though it wouldn’t be a crisis if I were, since Mack and I have been together for almost a year. Though it would screw up our October wedding…my God, I’d never fit in my dress.” She shook her head vehemently. “But no, it’s not me.”

“Trish?” Lucas eyed her dubiously. Given that she was the least maternal of the four of them and wasn’t even dating anyone, Violet wasn’t surprised at his expression. Yet it made her wonder why he’d pass right over her and had concluded Trish.

“Then who the hell is it?” Mack asked, putting his hand on his hips. “Oh no, it’s the dog, isn’t it? See, I knew that nasty bulldog was sniffing around Bitsy again. Damn, we’re going to have mutant puppies on our hands. Poodles can’t breed with bulldogs, it’s going to be just ugly.”

Violet clapped her hand over her mouth, the urge to laugh mingling with the need to cry hysterically.

“Your precious poodle isn’t having puppies.” Kindra stood up. “Violet is pregnant.”

“Violet?” Mack’s eyes bugged out.

“Yes, Violet.”



Really, just excuse her. They didn’t have to look so damn stunned.

Violet found her voice. “Why do you both look so surprised?”

They shuffled. Looked at each other. She wasn’t feeling up to mercy. They had insulted her with their assumptions that she couldn’t be the one knocked up.

“Because I didn’t think you were all that serious with Frank,” Lucas said, tossing his hair out of his eyes. “We haven’t even seen him in weeks.”

“Besides, I didn’t figure Frank had sperm,” Mack said.

Kindra gasped. “Mack!”

With a sigh, Violet folded her feet under her on the couch. It might be her imagination, but her denim shorts were jabbing her in the gut. “Frank didn’t get me pregnant.” Might as well come clean with them all at once.

They all stared at her.

“Then who the hell did?” Trish demanded.

Ashley grabbed her hand, horror on her face. “Oh dear God, you were raped? Sweetie, why didn’t you tell us?”

“No! I had a one-night stand, okay?” Even saying that seemed wrong, though it was true. Yet it had been something much more than bodies slapping, as Dylan had said. “I slept with the guy who picked me up out of the water the night I fell off Frank’s boat. His name is Dylan Diaz and we’re not dating or anything.”

Which was her fault.

“That’s funny,” Mack said, breaking the stunned silence. “The catcher for the Indians is named Dylan Diaz.” He reached for the remote control and flicked Ashley’s TV on. “What a coincidence.”

Yeah. A huge one. Violet gave a sigh and braved a glance at the TV. Mack had found the Indians game and was pointing. “See? He’s behind the plate right now. Dylan Diaz. Wow. Weird. And he’s having a great season. He’s been pounding them out of the park the last few weeks.”

“I know, it’s amazing,” Lucas said. “His average is through the roof all of a sudden.”

“Violet?” Kindra was looking at her strangely. “Is he the father?”

Violet couldn’t pry her eyes off the screen. There he was. Dylan was down in the catcher’s squat, and he jumped up, ball in his glove, and threw it back to the pitcher. She couldn’t see his face particularly well because of the mask, but she recognized his movements, the shape of his body, the muscles of his thighs.

Oh, geez Louise, she missed him. “Yes, he’s the father.”

“Whoa,” Lucas said.

“That’s cool,” was Mack’s opinion. “The kid will be a ball player.”

“That’s not cool!” Trish yelled. “Think of the legalities here. Custody, child support, it’s a paternity suit waiting to happen.”

“I don’t want anything from him.” The room was starting to spin and whirl again and Violet clutched the couch. Undid the snap on her shorts. Sucked in some deep breaths.

“Then we need to get him to surrender parental rights so he can’t request custody down the road.”

Violet knew Trish was a lawyer, and she was only trying to protect her rights, but Violet just couldn’t think about this right now. “I think I’m going to faint.”

Ashley pushed her head down between her knees. “Just take slow breaths, sweetie.”

Violet stared at the hardwood floor, the grain of the wood undulating bigger and smaller, the black spots shifting.

She didn’t know why she was so hot and light-headed all of a sudden. She’d gotten exactly what she had wanted.

Except she was very much afraid she’d been wrong.

Dylan was drinking a Coke as he headed down the hall from the locker room, his gym bag on his shoulder.

“Hey, Diaz.”

He turned to see one of the assistant coaches coming up behind him. “Hey, what’s up?”

“I’ve been looking all over the damn building for you. They got a certified letter in the front office for you. They overheaded you, then asked me to play errand boy if I saw you.”

“I was in the shower.” He couldn’t imagine what he would have gotten in the mail, and he didn’t really give a shit. “But thanks, I’ll take care of it.”

Nothing seemed to mean a whole lot of anything for the past month, except for cracking his bat against the ball hard enough to force all the ugly, painful feelings right out of him.

So far it wasn’t working, but it was good for his career.

At first he wasn’t even sure why he was so hurt, so upset, but now he realized it was because Violet had showed him a glimpse of something that he wanted. A home, family, love. A wife. Who loved him just as he was, with or without the ball career.

She had shown him a glimpse of that and then taken it all away.

He wanted to love Violet. He wanted to be with her, and every day he spent missing her.

The secretary thrust an envelope in his hand the second he walked into the front office. “Legal’s down the hall if you’re getting sued,” she said, smoothing her hair back from her plump face.

“Gee, thanks.” Dylan ripped the envelope open and pulled out a greeting card. It had a flower on the front and on the inside it read:

Dear Dylan,

Thank you. You hit a home run.

With love,


Well. Dylan dropped his Coke can in the wastebasket and stared at the words again. Violet was pregnant. He had gotten her pregnant. And she was thanking him. With love.

Shock gave way to pleasure. Elation raced through him. A baby. They were going to have a baby.

He grinned at the secretary. He couldn’t help but be a little bit proud that he’d only needed one time up to bat. Not every guy could claim that kind of average.

“Good news?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Dylan handed her the envelope. “Can you throw this away for me, Kathy? I need to go see someone.” He needed to go to Violet, tell her how happy he was for her. Beg her for a chance to take things slow, to date and really get to know each other before their child was born.

She had said she didn’t want that, but Dylan just couldn’t accept that. He wanted a future with Violet.

“There’s something still in this envelope, Dylan.” Kathy pulled out a sheaf of papers stapled together.

“What is it? Read it to me real quick.” His leg was jiggling and he dug his keys out of his gym bag. He could be at Violet’s in twenty minutes.

“‘Dear Dylan’,” she read. “‘Please sign and notarize the following relinquishment of parental rights…’ Uh-oh.”

Kathy shoved the packet of papers into his hand.

Shocked, Dylan stared at it, the words blurring in front of him. It was a two-page document of legal bullshit, outlining how he would never have contact with his child or that child’s mother.

It shouldn’t be news. It was everything Violet had asked for, everything he had agreed to. Everything she had reaffirmed that morning when he had dropped her off. But damn, it hurt deep inside, right about where his heart was, that he could want her so much, and she could have so little interest in him.

And it made him angry, that she would shove this at him, like she didn’t trust him, and right now, when he was feeling excitement and pride that she was going to have his child.

With a nasty curse, he ripped the papers right in two. Kathy jumped in her office chair.

Stuffing the torn pages and the crumpled card back into the envelope, he strode out of the office.

He had a few things he wanted to say to Violet.


Violet glanced at her watch as she checked her tomato vines for ripe vegetables, on her knees on her gardening mat. Dylan should have gotten her letter by now. With a sigh, she picked a tomato and put it in her basket.

She shouldn’t have listened to Trish. Her gut had told her not to send him that impersonal document, but Trish had scared the daylights out of her, insisting that without it Dylan could contest her custody at any point in her child’s life. So she had sent it, and now she regretted it.

Whatever feelings he had for her had surely been killed by that move.

Which should have made her happy, but only made her profoundly sad.

How downright stupid that the first man to treat her with respect, admiration, and sexual interest was the very man she had intentionally hurt.

She heard footsteps in the grass coming from the driveway, and when she looked up, she only needed to see as far as the ankles to know it was Dylan. She could feel his anger, emotion, before she even looked up and saw the fury racing across his face.

“I’m not signing this.” He threw the certified mail envelope down, where it hit her in the knee and landed in the grass, the torn document sliding out.

Violet picked up the pieces and put them back in the envelope, her heart pounding. “I guess not, since you’ve ripped it in half.”

“How could you send that to my work?” He was standing there in jeans and a T-shirt, feet apart in sandals, looking angry and belligerent, yet his voice cracked.

“I didn’t know your home address. And my friend, Trish, she’s a lawyer. She said we needed to do this or you could contest custody.” It sounded cruel, even as she said it. “I’m sorry.”

“You could have just talked to me. We could have worked this out between us before we went straight to the lawyers.”

He was right, and Violet sighed, setting her basket of tomatoes down. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I just feel really scared, Dylan, and unsure what to do.”

Looking out over the common green space her condo and two others shared, he shook his head. “What is it that you want, Vi? Just tell me exactly what you want deep down inside. I want to respect that, I do.”

She was going to cry. She already felt tears welling up. The tears had been coming pretty much nonstop in the last week since her stick had turned pink. It was time to be honest with herself, honest with him.

“I want what I can’t have.”

His swung his head to look at her, black eyes boring into her. “What’s that?”

“I want…you.” Now that she’d said it, admitted it out loud, she knew that was absolutely what she wanted. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she added, “I want you and me. I want our baby. Together.”

Dylan’s jaw moved. He squatted down in front of her. “Well, fuck me, Vi, that’s what I want, too.”

She choked back a startled laugh.

“So, what’s the problem?” His thumb wiped her tears away.

“I don’t want you to feel trapped. I don’t want to force you into what you’re not ready for. And I don’t want you to regret that you got stuck with me when you could have any woman you want. I’m not the kind of woman a man would feel proud to have on his arm.” It hurt to say that, to admit her fears and insecurities, to acknowledge that she wanted him, but understood he had better options.

But after everything she had put him through, she owed him complete honesty.

Dylan stared at Violet and wanted to just laugh. Holy crap, she had put him through five weeks of hell because she was afraid he’d leave her for a bimbo? That was what he was hearing, wasn’t it?

“I’ve had a six-foot-tall, built blonde on my arm before and it leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.” Dylan brushed her hair back and stroked her cheek. “You’re more attractive to me than any other woman I’ve ever met. When a guy cares about a woman, she becomes his standard, you see what I’m saying? Now come here.”

He pulled her into his arms, breathing in her scent, squeezing her tight to him, sighing with pleasure. God, he had missed her. “I like your hair like this, by the way. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever actually seen it completely dry.”

She sniffled against his chest. “Dylan, I really thought I had a logical plan and that it all made sense. I really thought I needed to use my head, not my heart.”

“I know. And now we’ve both agreed that was stupid.” With a grin, he rubbed her back and kissed her forehead. “We’ll just take it slow, okay?”

She nodded, her eyes shiny, her teeth digging into her bottom lip.

“Now, is everything okay? You’re feeling okay? You’ve been to the doctor?” It was starting to sink in that he had gotten her pregnant. Which meant she was having a baby. His baby. In actuality, not in theory.

“I’m fine, so far. I’m going to the doctor in two weeks for my first appointment.” She kissed him softly. “Please come with me if you want.”

That nearly did him in. “I’d love to.” Then, so he wouldn’t embarrass the hell out of himself and bawl, he gave her a smug smile. “And damn, I’m good, aren’t I? Home run first time at the plate.”

Violet laughed. “I did hear you’ve been having a great season.”

“I’m looking forward to a long career. With you.” He touched his lips to hers.

She smiled up at him. “More baseball metaphors?”

“Hell, yeah.” He pulled her up and stood next to her. “Now let’s go in and I’ll practice my swing.”

Rubbing her finger across her lip, Violet peered at him from behind the veil of her long, lustrous hair. “I’d like to try batting, too.”

Dylan went hard. He wasn’t sure what in the hell she meant by that, but it sounded kinky. “Another player has been added to the roster. Violet Caruthers, number sixty-nine.”

She clamped her hand over her mouth and flushed a very charming pink. “Oh, Dylan, that’s awful. I like it.”

He almost groaned. Instead he lifted her up a little, hands on her ass, so he could give her a very open, tongue-filled kiss. “I’ve never had sex with another player before, but there’s always a first.”

With a smile, Violet touched his cheek. “I’m very happy.”

“Me, too, gorgeous.” Instead of a dead body, he’d found a future. A family. Everything he’d been lonely for. Much better than a corpse.

Violet kissed the corner of Dylan’s mouth. “I’m so glad I’m a klutz and fell off that boat.”

“Let’s go inside, you can put that bikini back on, and we’ll reenact the whole thing, especially the part where you put your face in my crotch.”

Violet was feeling so content, satisfied, and pleased with the way things had turned out, she didn’t hesitate. “Sounds fun.”

The look on Dylan’s face was classic.

And the last thing in the world she felt like was shy when she stepped into her condo and peeled off her T-shirt.

Erin McCarthy

Erin McCarthy sold her first book to Kensington Brava through author Lori Foster's website contest in 2002, and has since sold an additional nineteen contemporary romances and novellas to Brava and Berkley Publishing. Her debut, BAD BOYS ONLINE, was a Romantic Times Top Pick, and BAD BOYS IN BLACK TIE was a USA Today bestseller. Erin lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband, two kids, and two cats.