She played his leg like a puppet’s—bending, straightening, rotating out at the hip, bending again, testing angle after angle until she found one she liked. He tried to stay loose, but her hand kept sliding up and down the inside of his thigh, every stroke heating his blood until limp was no longer a part of his vocabulary. The air got sideways in his lungs as she moved her hand even higher. Think cold. Ice cubes. North Dakota in January. He sucked in a breath through clenched teeth as her hand moved again. A couple more inches and she’d find out for herself just how not limp he was.
She gave his leg a shake. “Relax!”
She paused, looked up at his face, then followed his gaze to where her little finger was a hair shy of rubbing up against his balls.
“Oh.” She didn’t snatch her hand away, just moved it down to midthigh. “Sorry. But look.”
He looked—straight down the front of her shirt, which had gaped open as she leaned over him. Her bra was plain beige, not a scrap of lace, but who the hell cared because…boobs. Right there.
She jiggled his foot. “Do you see?”
Oh yeah. He saw. If he leaned forward a little more he could… He reeled in his tongue and looked down at his foot. Whoa. While he’d been distracted, she’d maneuvered his leg so the heel of his boot touched the front of his rigging.
“Try it on your own,” she ordered and sadly, straightened, ruining his view, but improving his concentration by three hundred percent.
He went through the spurring motion while she kept pressure on his thigh so he had to stay in the groove she’d found. He strained, grunted, and finally forced his heel to touch the rigging. Great…assuming the horse would give him a minute or two between jumps.
“Good. Humor me?”
He gave her a cautious look. “Maybe.”
“Switch hands,” she said.
His feet thumped to the floor. “I can’t.”
“Yeah.” He glanced around to be sure Gil hadn’t snuck in. “When I was first learning, I insisted on riding right-handed just like my brother. I sucked. Bad. Until one day Violet’s dad gave me a left-handed glove and rigging and made me use it. Everything just clicked.”
Tori contemplated him for a long, thoughtful moment. Then she said, “So we’d have to change over completely.”
“You.” She circled a hand in the air to indicate his entire body. “We’d have to make you left-handed.”
His stare turned incredulous. “You can’t just decide to change.”
“No? How do you figure amputees manage after losing their dominant hand?”
She raised her eyebrows as if to say point made. “Give it a try.”
“Yes. Hold on with your right hand and try the same motion we just practiced.”
He scowled at her, then down at the rigging, then pried his glove out and grabbed the handle with his bare right hand. It was awkward, with the handhold angled for a left-handed grip, but he could hang on well enough for this slow motion crap. He planted his heel in the shoulder, then dragged it up to the rigging. It still didn’t touch.
“And now…” Tori kept her left hand on his thigh and gripped his right shoulder, tipping him back a few inches. “Again.”
He tried again. Still not quite there. She leaned in, tipping him back a little more. “Again.”
This time the heel of his boot tapped the front edge of the rigging. The whole thing felt weird and off balance and maybe—just maybe—possible.
“Yes!” Tori’s fingers dug in, holding him in that exact position. “This is it.”
Her eyes shone with triumph as she smiled at him. Then, slowly, the smile faded as she became aware of her position, their bodies all but pressed together, their faces so close he could feel the air move when she sucked in a breath. His gaze settled on her mouth. So, so close…
“Whatcha doin’, Daddy?”
Tori flinched, but didn’t jump back. Instead, she straightened, hands still on Delon’s thigh and shoulder. Something flickered behind her eyes, a rapid calculation, before she looked up at Beni and smiled. “We’re working on his new moves.”
“He’s gonna use his other hand?” Beni asked, peering through the railing at the top of the stairs.
“If that what it takes.” Tori’s gaze met Delon’s in a direct challenge. “Right?”
Damn her. Her mother wasn’t the only bulldozer in the family. Tori had just shamelessly used his own kid against him. After all those talks about how a winner never quits, he couldn’t look Beni in the eye and say, nope, he wasn’t even gonna try.
“Right,” he muttered.
“Can I help?” Beni asked.
Tori’s smile widened. “Sure. You can be his coach. And if you’re quiet and listen real close during his appointment on Monday, afterward I’ll show you how to get through the Reef of Doom.”
Beni frowned, doing some calculations of his own. “You said you were gonna show me tonight.”
“Actually, I didn’t,” Tori said. “I have to get home and do my chores.”
“Beni,” Delon warned.
“But I ate my dinner!”
“Beni,” Delon said again, sharper. “If I come up there, am I gonna find your broccoli in the couch cushions again?”
“Or under the bathroom sink?”
“No.” But Beni’s gaze flicked guiltily toward the apartment door and he sidled that direction. “Fine. I’ll wait until Monday.”
“What do you say, Beni?” Delon called after him.
Beni paused to bless Tori with a smile so much like Gil’s it made the hair on the back of Delon’s neck stand up. “Thank you, Miz Tori.”
“You’re welcome, Beni.”
As the door thumped shut behind him, Delon swung his leg over the spur board and stood, only inches from Tori. She might have taken round one, but they weren’t done yet. Not even close. He reached up, cupped her face, and planted a long, slow kiss on her mouth, taking the time to trace her bottom lip with the tip of his tongue. She didn’t move—not into him, not away—but when he lifted his head, her eyes were the hot, hazy blue of a late summer sky.
“I thought we agreed to wait a couple of weeks,” she said, her voice breathy.
Delon cocked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry. Do you feel rushed? Like I’m pushing you, and you’re not sure if that’s the direction you want to go?”
“Good. Then we’re even.” He dropped his hands and stepped back.
She blinked, then shook her head with a wry laugh. “Monday.”
“Monday,” he agreed.
He watched until the door closed behind her. Then he packed away his gear and went upstairs to hunt the elusive broccoli before it rotted and stunk up the whole apartment.