“Let’s have dinner,” she suggested. “I can do your interview, and we can talk about some of the things Charli’s into.” He wanted to know more about superheroes and Galactic Renegades, after all. She was doing him a favor here.
“I can’t have dinner with you,” he said.
But there was a note of regret in his voice that made her unwilling to give up.
“It’s just dinner, Alex.”
“It wouldn’t be just dinner.”
The combination of his words and the way he said them made her forget what she’d been about to say. And how to breathe for a second. Yeah, she was definitely going to go for this. “Fine. We’ll stay here and order pizza. My friends will be working out right down the hall.”
“Chaperones?” he asked with a half smile.
“Right. That way no one will take their clothes off while we talk.”
Just one of his eyebrows went up. “I think I’ll be able to keep my clothes on while we eat pizza and talk about Galactic Renegades.”
She shrugged. “Then that makes one of us.”
He moved in closer. She wasn’t sure he was even aware of it, but suddenly he was a few inches into her personal space. “GR and pizza get you going?”
Maya had to swallow before she could answer. “Yeah. But it was compounded by how sweet you were with the kids and the way you handled your staff.” She realized a second too late how that sounded. “Your bo staff. Of course.”
The corner of his mouth quirked. “Of course.”
“Your hands were great…I mean, I’m not used to watching such big hands on the sticks…Your handling was…” She stopped, took a breath, and was finally able to say, “You did well in class.” But her cheeks felt a little warm. She hadn’t thought she was capable of blushing.
“Thanks. I like a woman who can tell me exactly what she wants from me.”
Maya heard the humor in his voice, and she rejoiced inside that he was flirting back.
“So my friends will be here to be sure I behave,” she told him. “Which is what you seem to want.” But given the slightest hint of permission to misbehave…
Again regret flickered in his eyes. “I wish I could—” He stopped and clenched his jaw for a moment. Then he said, “Charli’s mom was a one-night stand. Eleven years ago. Rachel brought Charli to meet me two months ago. I’m behind on…everything…fatherly. I’m trying to catch up as fast as I can. I can’t get distracted. Charli deserves the best of me.”
Wow, there was a lot of information in those few sentences. But two things were clear to Maya right away: Alex needed her help even more than she’d thought. And she liked him even more now. His love for his daughter was so apparent that it made Maya ache a little.
Okay, three things were clear—Alex might be attracted to her but he wasn’t going to act on that.
She nodded. “Got it. And clearly you have to stay for pizza. You need a crash course, and I’m the perfect person to teach you all about the things Charli loves.”
He didn’t respond for several long seconds, but finally he said, “I’ll text Charli’s mom and let her know I won’t be there for dinner tonight.”
He chuckled softly. “Do you always get your way?”
She smiled up at him. “Oh, Alex, this is your way. I’d have you down shooting tequila and dancing with me at Ricki’s if it was my way.”
As soon as she’d said it, she realized she was still pushing. Kind of. She couldn’t seem to help it. Back off. Teach the guy about GR and stop thinking about his big hands on the staff… and all the other things you’d like to see his hands on… She cleared her throat. “Don’t worry, Alex. I’m doing this for Charli too.”
“Of course. She’s a fellow GR lover. I need to be sure her nerdy interests are fully nurtured.”
Alex gave her a smile that made her stomach flip. “I get it. You’re trying to increase your numbers.”
“The number of beautiful geeky girls in the world.”
Maya laughed. “Yes. That’s one reason.”
“Well, thank you,” he said. “Charli is—” He broke off, as if it was hard to explain what he wanted to say. “I’ve been working with kids for a long time. But I don’t get to really fix things for them very often. Charli is mine. With her I can actually make things better. Some things, anyway.”
Oh wow, yeah, she definitely wanted to take her clothes off with this guy. It was good her friends would be here, for sure.
“That sounds pathetic, probably,” he said.
Maya shook her head quickly and made her mouth move—and not say, “I’ve never been so turned on in my life.” “Actually, that,” she said, pointing her finger at his chest, “is the other reason I’m doing this.”
Maya shouldn’t have been surprised when Alex took a hold of her finger and pressed her hand against his chest. There had been chemistry zinging between them since the first second she’d seen him standing in the crowd at the mall two weeks ago. But she was surprised that he touched her without hesitation. And there wasn’t one thing creepy about it.
Dang, his chest was nice and hard. And hot. Her palm was warm and tingly.
The rest of her was pretty warm and tingly too, as a matter of fact.
“Thank you,” he said. Sincerely. No flirtation.
She found that even more tempting.
She should probably ask Alex to produce some proof of this daughter he claimed to have. But she knew he wasn’t lying. There had been something in his eyes when he talked about her that was impossible to fake. It was a combination of love and panic that she’d only ever seen in parents.
Besides, she simply couldn’t waste a single second of time with a guy who looked like this, made her feel like this, and wanted to know all about one of her favorite topics. Because seriously, once he got her going on the Avengers, she might never see him again.
“Okay, let me change and tell everyone what’s going on.” She pulled her hand away and her brain started functioning again. “Do you like Jerry’s pizza?”
“Love it.” His gaze swept over her from head to toe.
“What?” She smoothed her hand down the front of her tank.
“Just taking in the view before you change.”
She felt her body heat.
This was not just about superheroes. No matter how much either of them thought it should be.