Collide (Chapter 9: Home Run)

The mid-morning air in Central Park was mild but cooler than usual for the second week of August. Emily spread a small sheet under one of the maple trees that provided shade from the vibrant brightness of the sun. Placing her backpack beside her, she took out its contents, which consisted of two sandwiches, a couple of bottles of water, and her favorite novel, Wuthering Heights. All she needed now was Dillon. When she glanced at her watch, she noticed he was already twenty minutes late. As the city around her hummed its daily incessant chatter – even in the serene peace of the park – she decided to give him a call to find out what was taking him so long.

He answered on the first ring, his voice traveling through the phone with a hint of remorse. "Please don't be mad at me."

Taken aback by his greeting, she didn't speak.

"Em, are you there?"

"Yeah, I'm here, but you're not. Where are you?"

"I'm in New Jersey, but – "

"You're in New Jersey?" she interrupted. "Dillon, what the heck? I'm sitting in Central Park by myself."

"Emily, would you just let me explain?"

"Fine, Dillon, explain."

"Remember the Japanese tycoon I told you was interested in investing with Morgan and Buckingham?" He paused, awaiting her reply, but none came. "Takatsuki Yamamoto?"

"Get to the point."

"Shit, Emily, I'm trying to."

She let out a sigh, and he continued.

"He flew in from Japan last night and is only out here for the next two days. He asked to meet with me personally. I got the call early this morning from my boss, telling me to come out here." He answered a question directed at him from someone else in the background while Emily waited patiently. "Babe, I have to go. I'm sorry, but this account is huge."

Again, Emily said nothing.

"Come on," he breathed. "We'll do it another day."

"I know; it's just that I took off from work, and I was really looking forward to – "

"Emily, stop trying to make me feel bad," he let out, his tone clearly annoyed. "This is important to me. I'll be at your place by six." With that, the line went dead.

After the shock of him abruptly hanging up on her wore off, Emily rose to her feet and reluctantly started packing up what was supposed to be their little romantic getaway. As she tucked the sheet into her backpack, she straightened at the sound of her name being called out from a distance. Before she even turned to see the face, a familiar tingle traveled up her spine. She knew who it was. When she finally spun around, Gavin was jogging across the park, smiling, with his niece and nephew at his side. The backpack slipped through her fingertips as she took in his casual attire – a white V-neck T-shirt, cream-colored cargo shorts, and a blue New York Yankees cap. Emily tried to gather her racing thoughts as he approached.

It wasn't just that his presence pulsed through her. It wasn't that his masculine scent lingered on her senses, burning in her mind and plaguing her every dream. It wasn't even that damn kiss. It was his unwavering charm, bold confidence, insane sexiness, and the undeniable male dominance he exuded. Every bit of it seeped from his pores. All of those things – a truly lethal cocktail – scared and fascinated her at the same time. It was as if a twisted paradox occurred whenever she was around him. As much as she seriously felt the need to flee from him at that very moment, she also felt irreparably drawn to him. Suddenly, she became aware of the heightened charge in the air. A tense kind of feeling seemed to press in on her lungs, making her feel breathless. To top it all off with a heavy dose of whipped cream, seeing him now flooded her psyche with their last encounter two weeks ago.

Breathe, Emily…

"Emm-mi-me!" Theresa squealed, running toward her.

Kneeling down to hug her, Emily looked up to Gavin. "What are you guys doing here?" she asked as nonchalantly as humanly possible, considering the circumstances.

Gavin hunched over and propped his hands on his thighs, trying to catch a decent breath. He then stood straight up and smiled. "I'm babysitting for a while and decided to take these two squirts here to play some soccer."

Timothy wrapped his arms around Emily's leg. "Uncle Gaffin took us to feed the duckies, too."

Gavin swished his hand through Timothy's hair. "Yep, we had a certified feeding fest with Donald and Daisy."

"Very cool," Emily replied with a smile. "A business mogul and a nanny all in one."

"Add it to my resume," he laughed.

"I can't believe you spotted me here," Emily said.

"Well, I actually didn't see you; these two did."

"Uncle Gaffin told us to say we saw you first, Emm-mi-me," Theresa confessed, curling her finger through Emily's hair. "But he did saw you first and said to come wif him to say hi to you."

Drawing up a brow, Emily watched Gavin's face turn a light shade of crimson. "Using children to tell a fib, huh?"

He shook his head and smiled. "Damn, you caught me. Add that to my resume as well." Emily laughed at his response. "What are you doing here?"

"Dillon was supposed to meet me, but he got called into New Jersey." She lifted her backpack from the ground. "I was actually getting ready to go home."

Theresa pouted her lips. "Can you stay and play soccer wif us, Emm-mi-me?"

"Umm," she replied, her eyes flicking up to Gavin. "I'm not sure. Maybe another time?"

Theresa frowned.

"You won't have to endure the torture of being around me too long," Gavin laughed, a smart-ass smile molding over his face. "Colton and Melanie should be here in ten minutes to come get them."

Emily smiled coyly, almost challenging him. "Okay, fine. I think I can handle fifteen minutes of grief." She placed her backpack down. "Can you handle it?"

"Mmm, I can handle it and handle it very well," he smirked. "Can you play soccer?"

"I'm a quick learner."

"And I'm an excellent teacher."

He dropped the ball to the ground, giving it a quick kick. Theresa and Timothy ran after it.

"And being around you is not torture, Gavin," Emily said, jogging away from him after the kids.

He caught up to her side. "Right, you made it clear that it's only grief. But, no worries, I really do take that as a compliment."

Emily simply shook her head and laughed.

Over the next fifteen minutes, although he did partake in the game a little, Gavin mostly hung back a bit and watched Emily play with the kids. Taking a seat on top of a picnic table, his senses reeled at everything about her. His eyes swept over her body, ultimately settling on her face as he admired her smile. His ears listened to the way she laughed while his mind tried to wrap itself around the way his niece and nephew clung to her. He knew children had a keen sense of the aura that surrounded people, so it only justified what his heart already knew – her presence was magnetic. It consumed others, swallowing them whole, and left no room for regret.

As she ran around with them, he watched Emily's wavy hair bounce, the summer sun catching the locks and creating a fiery halo of rich auburn. His need for her snaked through his bones, cutting straight down to the marrow. From the moment he laid eyes on her, she made something strange happen in his chest when she looked at him. Something tightened in his stomach, and he realized he could find himself in deeper than he already was if she looked at him like that too often.

His mind hawked at the inward description of his feelings, knowing there was nothing more he could do to satisfy his hunger. The only thing he knew for sure was that his emotions were caught in a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Being around her was self-inflicted pain at its finest, but it was something he was willing to endure if for one reason only – just to be close to her. The sound of Colton calling his name dragged him from his thoughts.

Thank God for small miracles.

After he and Emily hugged the children and bid Colton and Melanie goodbye, Gavin walked with her to gather her belongings.

"Mr. Blake, it's always a pleasure," Emily said with a smile, extending out her hand.

Gavin didn't oblige by shaking it because he knew if he touched her he wouldn't be able to resist the urge of pulling her into his mouth. Running his hand through his hair, he backed away slightly.

Emily smiled awkwardly and slung the backpack over her shoulder.

Gavin found his words stuck in his throat like verbal gridlock. "Wait, that's it? You're going to just leave me here all by myself?"

"You're a big boy. I think you can find something to occupy your afternoon."

He laughed for a moment and then suddenly his face became serious. "I just thought this could be an opportunity to redeem myself."

"Redeem yourself? What for?"

"For my behavior the last time I saw you. I'm sorry that I made you uncomfortable, but…" He lowered his voice and stared directly into her eyes. "I'm not sorry about the way I feel about you, Emily. They're my feelings, and I can't deny them. But I really just need to be friends with you."

She swallowed nervously, her voice as low as his. "Gavin, we've talked about this before and – "

Cutting her off, he stepped closer. "I promise you this time. I swear to God I won't say or do anything to make you uncomfortable. I just wanted to get it out there – about the way I feel about you – but now I'm done." He shifted on his feet and took a step back, not letting his eyes stray from her face. "Yes, you've got me twisted for some reason that I can't understand, and I don't know if I ever will. I find you to be the most remarkable…" He drew in a deep breath. "I don't know. There's something about you that just…sets you apart from any other woman I've ever met. And, because of all of it, I'm willing to put my feelings aside just to be your friend." Just to be near you…

Not only did her heart pause with his words, but her stomach also curled in a disturbingly pleasant way as she gauged his face. True emotions swirled behind his eyes, and something deep down told her he was sincere. "Okay, we'll try this again. So you want me to hang out with you here for a little while?"

Gavin took in a deep lungful of air, the knot in his chest releasing, as he realized he had been holding his breath awaiting her answer. "You like baseball, don't you?"

"How did you know that?"

"The night that I found out you were really Emily and not Molly." She nodded and laughed. He grinned. "Before you came into the club, Dillon told me that his girlfriend was a huge baseball fan. That's how I know that little bit of information."

"You want me to play baseball with you?" she asked, furrowing her brows.

"You can take in all of the spectacular sights New York has to offer. However, you haven't experienced New York to its fullest until you've been to a Yankees game." He smiled. "Trevor was supposed to come to the one o'clock game today, but he canceled on me at the last minute." He pulled the tickets from his back pocket and held them up. "I have season tickets, but it would be a shame to let these go to waste."

A confused smile touched her mouth as she contemplated him for a moment. "You want me to go to a Yankees game with you?"

"I do."

"I don't know," she replied, looking down to the ground and then back to him. "That might be a little too much."

His smile was slow, making his blue eyes sparkle mischievously. "Surely, in a stadium filled with 50,000 people, I should be able to hold myself at bay from attacking you."

Emily screwed her mouth to one side. "True," she admitted. "But I'm not even a Yankees fan. I'll be rooting for the underdog. Is that something else you can handle?"

With widened eyes, he placed a hand over his chest, mocking a wounded heart. "Mmm, keep talking like that, and you may find a way to get me to not admire you as much as I do. I'm a die-hard Yankees fan, Miss Cooper," he laughed. "But, yes, I'm sure I could handle sitting next to a non-Yankees fan that I've brought with me."

She shook her head and laughed. "Okay, I'll consider this friendly outing under one condition."

"Anything. Let's go," he said, reaching for her backpack.

"Wait, you don't even know what it is."

He placed his hand on the small of her back and started leading her out of the park. "No problem. Whatever it is, I can most definitely handle it."

She came to an abrupt halt and laughed. "You will listen to me, or I go nowhere with you, Gavin Blake. Do you understand?"

A delicious grin slid across his mouth. "I'm all ears."

"Like that," she motioned to his hand resting on her back. He smiled and pulled it away. "No touching me, no undressing me with your eyes, and no doing that…that damn stupid thing with your mouth when you pull it between your teeth."

He smiled. "Does me sucking on my lip bother you that much?"

Only 'cause it's so insanely hot… "Yes. It's annoying."

He slowly dragged his bottom lip between his teeth, ending it with a luscious popping sound. "Well, the same goes for you then."

She kinked her head to the side and let out a sigh. "Such a smart ass. You've already warned me about not bringing any attention to my lips." She covered her mouth with her hand, the rest of her words coming out muffled from beneath. "Is this better?" He nodded and laughed. "But I don't look at you like I want to rip your clothes off, and surely, I don't touch you."

He shrugged casually. "Since we're being honest, you have no idea how I would love it if you touched me again."

She dropped her hand from her mouth and let it hang open for a second. "See, this is exactly what I'm talking about," she said, turning on her heel to walk away from him.

Letting out a full throaty laugh, he jogged over to her and gently grabbed her elbow. She eyed his hand. He quickly let go and smiled. "Emily, I'm just kidding with you. Come on, it's just jokes…it's who I am, really."

She cocked a brow, unable to keep the smile off her face as he stood there with an innocent boyish grin. She knew he was anything but. "If you want me to go with you today, you keep your hands to yourself, Blake. Got it? If not, I will make you pay severely for it."

"Sounds kinky," he smirked. She sighed. "However, I'm nothing but a peasant to your request of being a gentleman," he playfully bowed. "Now let's go. We need to catch the number four."

"Wait, we're taking the bus?"

"Uh, no," he laughed. "The number four's the subway."

"Oh, I thought we would drive?"

"Hell no." He took the backpack from her and tossed it over his shoulder. "We're doing this certified New York, doll."

Despite her surprise that she was actually going to spend the day with him, Emily followed, and a couple of city blocks later, they hopped onto the subway. Between a teenage couple making out as if they were at a house party, a guy in a flowered sundress talking to himself while eating Chinese food with his hands, and the mass of overly aggressive Yankees fans chanting "Let's go, Yankees," Emily was more than thrilled when they finally arrived at the stadium.

Once there, they both got something to eat. Emily ordered a hot dog and a bottle of water, and Gavin chose a bag of peanuts and a beer. He showed Emily to their seats, which happened to be right behind home plate. Gavin looked like a kid in a candy store, and Emily found it cute to see a man of such power getting so excited over being at a baseball game.

Gavin glanced at his watch as the stadium slowly started to fill. "We have some time. The game will start within thirty minutes."

Emily nodded and looked down to her phone, noticing she had a missed call from Dillon. She shifted in her seat and began to rethink what she had actually gotten herself into – now that she found herself alone with Gavin at the game. She debated whether or not to tell Dillon where she was, but before she could delve too far into her self-imposed dilemma, Gavin spoke up.

"Let's play fifty questions while we're waiting for the game to start," he popped a peanut into his mouth. "I get to go first."

"Bullshit, you went first the last time. I get to go first."

He laughed. "You don't miss a beat, do you?"

"Not usually."

"Okay, seems fair. Ask me something."

Emily's mind roved over what she knew she wanted to ask him but was unsure if she should. Nonetheless, it was her turn to let her curiosity get the better of her. "I want to know why you and your ex-fiancee broke up."

His expression became guarded for a moment as he stared off into the stands. Emily saw the bright blue of his eyes change as though a cloud passed by overhead – and in that moment, she regretted bringing it up.

He leaned forward, placing his beer on the ground, and then looked back to Emily. "Hmm, my first question addressed to you the last time we played was about your favorite ice cream flavor. You're going straight for the kill, I see."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that," she whispered, looking down to the ground.

"No, it's okay. I just wasn't expecting that right out the gate. But I feel comfortable talking to you about it."

Emily's head snapped up. "You do?"

"Yeah, for some reason, I do." Pulling in a breath, he leaned back in his seat and hesitated for a few seconds. "She left me because Blake Industries was going under at one point. My father offered Colton and me the funds to keep it afloat. But us Blake boys tend to be a little stubborn, and we refused his help, knowing we would get it back on track on our own." He ran his hand through his hair. "I explained everything to her, letting her know that we needed to cut back on some of our spending until I could resurrect the company. She argued with me that I should accept my father's money and called me crazy for thinking we could get back on our feet without his help. Along with Colton, I was firm on my decision not to take the money though. She was living with me in my penthouse after we got engaged. I came home one day after work to a letter – in beautiful handwriting, I have to add – saying that she couldn't take the risk of not living the life I had afforded her." He reached down for his beer, took a sip, and exhaled a breath. "Five years together and her goodbye to me…was a letter."

Emily searched his eyes and was able to see the pain that swirled beyond them. "You loved her," she whispered.

He gave a quick shrug. "Yeah, she broke my heart. I thought she loved me for the man I was without the glitz and money. I mean, when we first met, I was in my senior year of college, so it wasn't that I was as successful as I eventually became. She betrayed the faith that I had in love when she left." He pressed his lips into a hard line. "Don't get me wrong; looking back on it now, I know we weren't made for one another. One, she was too concerned about the way we appeared in public – anything from what cars her and I drove to what parties we attended in the city." He rubbed at his chin absently and continued. "She wasn't like that when we first met; the change was gradual. Our biggest difference was that she made it clear she never wanted children. I loved her enough to consider a life without having any, but like I said, looking back, she wouldn't have been worth giving up the chance to have a family."

A faint smile touched Emily's mouth. "You want kids?"

"I want bucketloads tucked neatly into a minivan," he laughed.

"Gavin Blake in a minivan?"

"Absolutely," he replied, reaching for his beer. "A funky forest green one, too."

Emily laughed for a moment at his admission. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as he adjusted his baseball cap, feeling a little shocked by everything he just told her. She was now starting to understand his need for filling voids.

"So you haven't seen her since?"

"I have actually. I saw her recently to tell you the truth."

"So how did that go?" she asked reluctantly.

"It was…interesting. I ran into her while out with a couple of my buddies. She talked a bunch of shit, saying she was happy to see the company doing well again. She admitted she missed me and still loved me, and then she confessed that leaving me was the biggest mistake of her life." He popped another peanut in his mouth and smiled. "You can see where I'm going with this, right?"

"Yes. Now that you're financially secure again, she wants you back."

"Bingo, doll. I knew you were quick." He took a swig of his beer. "Besides, her name is Gina, and mine, of course, is Gavin – two Gs. I think it was an omen or something – destined to not work out."

Although he laughed, Emily could still see the leftover pain in his eyes and decided at that point to drop the subject altogether. "I got the invitation you sent to me and Dillon."

"I was going to ask you about that," he replied, motioning to one of the workers selling beers. He ordered another and turned to Emily. "I figured it would interest you, considering…well, you know."

"Yes, and thank you for the invite, but what is it that your mother does exactly?"

"Since she knows she's blessed being a survivor herself, she started an organization to raise money for those in the New York area affected by the disease – women who are either in the midst of battling breast cancer or in remission and the families of women who died from the disease. The donations collected at the benefit are spread out to help pay for ongoing treatment, follow-up care, or – God forbid – funeral expenses incurred by the families."

Emily breathed out. "It's beautiful that she does that."

"Yeah, this will be the tenth year since she founded it. She throws it every October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's pretty spectacular, too. Black tie, champagne, and all of New York's well-to-do gathering for one evening to spend their money on something other than a fucking cruise to Fiji or a new car."

Emily laughed. "Well, we'll definitely be there."

"And I'm happy that you will."

With not a cloud in the sky, the opening ceremony began, and soon after, the game was in full swing. A hard crack of the bat, plunging the ball into the outfield, started the Yankees off on a high note. Throughout the game, Gavin repeatedly brought unwanted attention to Emily, letting every Yankees fan within earshot know that she was rooting for the underdogs, the Baltimore Orioles. Fans from the front, side, and behind them booed her every time the Orioles scored a point. She playfully nudged Gavin, promising retaliation in whatever form she could conjure up. Still hungry and feeling more relaxed with the overall situation, Emily ordered a pretzel and decided to have a beer with Gavin. By the bottom of the seventh inning, the game was tied four-four, bases loaded with the Yankees up to bat.

Gavin smirked in Emily's direction and rubbed his hands together. "Your 'birds' are about to go down."

"You seem pretty confident about that," she laughed, looking at him. "I wouldn't be too sure though."

Gavin's eyes flicked down to the corner of her mouth where there was the smallest amount of mustard, painfully awaiting for him to wipe it off. Without even thinking – in one swift motion – he brought his hand up to her lip, and with the pad of his thumb, he whisked it away.

Startled by his sudden movement, Emily flinched back.

"There was…mustard on your lip," he slowly replied. Quelling the urge to lick it off his finger, he grabbed a napkin.

"You broke the no-touching-me rule," she breathed out, ignoring what her body was fighting so hard to deny. Even as fleeting as it was, his touch felt insanely good in an insanely bad way.

In one quick stroke, he flicked his gaze down to her lips and then back up to her eyes. "I could've let it stay there."

"And you could've told me about it, too, wiseass." A smile twisted his mouth, one so contagious that she couldn't help but respond with a smile of her own. "Looks like I have to follow through on my promise and make you pay severely for not playing fair."

He cocked an incredulous brow. "Not that I'm against public affection, especially with you, but how do you plan on accomplishing that in a stadium filled with people?"

Emily shot him an evil grin and leaned forward, tapping her finger on the shoulder of a woman seated in the row in front of them.

The woman and her friend sitting next to her turned around.

"I'm very sorry to bother you," Emily said to the blonde. "My friend here is interested in giving you his number. He finds you very attractive and didn't have the nerve to say anything to you himself. Do you have a boyfriend?"

Gavin smiled, shook his head, and all but buried his face in his hands with embarrassment.

The woman and her friend laughed. "I actually don't have a boyfriend right now."

"Well, not that it would matter if you did because that doesn't deter my friend here, but it's all the better that you don't," Emily replied coolly. "Do you have a pen and a paper for him?"

The woman dug in her purse, retrieved a pen, and ripped out a piece of her checkbook. She handed it to Emily, and in turn, Emily handed it to Gavin.

"There ya go, pal. Jot down those digits for the pretty lady," Emily laughed and nudged him with her elbow. "And stop being so damn shy when it comes to picking up women."

With his dimpled smile, Gavin quickly scribbled on the piece of paper and handed it back to the woman.

She took a quick look at it and smiled back at him. "Gavin, huh? Cute name to go with that cute face. You'll definitely be hearing from me."

Gavin nodded, and Emily laughed.

"You're ruthless," he whispered, throwing a peanut shell at Emily's head.

Laughing, she plucked it out. "I warned you."

Many chucked peanut shells into Emily's hair later, the game ended with the Yankees winning by three. During the entire subway ride back to Manhattan, Gavin took great pride in reminding her of the score every few minutes. He also confessed that the number he had jotted down for the woman at the game was a fake. His defense was that he was no longer into women with blonde hair. Shaking her head, Emily laughed and sassed him about his little lie. He made sure to see her home, catching a taxi with her back to her apartment building. After asking the driver to run the meter, he walked her up to the entrance.

Once again, Emily offered him her hand. "It was a pleasure hanging out with you today, Gavin."

"I can shake your hand?" he smiled. "I don't want to break any more rules."

"Yes, it's fine."

He obliged and took her hand, experiencing the same rush of heat he had felt every other time he had the chance to touch her. Feeling like a malicious entity – selfish and wanting – he eventually let go. "The pleasure was all mine."

Drawing in a deep breath, Emily watched as he walked back over to the taxi and drove away.

Riding the elevator up to her apartment, her head grew pleasantly fuzzy, thinking of the wonderful day she had spent with Gavin. She tried to get her nerves to settle because she knew she shouldn't have been with him at all. The balance was hell, but the release was sweet in a disturbing way. She learned things about him that she had never thought possible. Something nudged in her chest, a heightened longing for him mixed with hurt for what he had gone through.

In an effort to take her mind off him, she concentrated on the fact that Dillon would most likely be awaiting her arrival. To her relief, he was comfortably splayed out across her couch when she walked in. Over the next hour, he thoroughly filled her in on his achievement of landing one of the largest accounts his firm had acquired in more than ten years.

Although she debated on whether or not to tell him about her day spent with Gavin, she decided against it, not wanting to dismantle Dillon's happiness. Now all she had to do was convince herself that Dillon's happiness was actually the reason she would hide such a thing. She settled the self-argument firing up in her head as simply as she could.

He didn't ask how her day went, so she didn't tell.