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They released him, and Martinez said, “I’ll get us some beers.”

Sparks and Tyler stood several feet apart, breathing hard and watching each other warily, with Kline standing at the ready to jump in. Sparks was the first to sit down on of the recliners Tyler had brought in from Henry’s place. Actually, most of the furniture he’d added had been Henry’s, with a few of his own pieces thrown in. He had to admit, it felt more like home now that he’d nested, versus when it had been just a place to sleep.

Martinez came back i

n, passing around bottles of Bud before he sat down in the other recliner.

“Jesus, you almost busted my eye socket,” Sparks grumbled.

“You’re lucky that’s all I did.”

When Sparks tensed up, Martinez shouted, “Enough.” With a nod from Sparks, Martinez took a deep breath and added, “Look, Best, I know we came in here hard, but we were just concerned. We’re your friends—”

Tyler released a bitter laugh. “Yeah, great friends. You think I’m an asshole who would take advantage of a single mother just to get a piece of ass.”

Martinez jumped in before Sparks could open his mouth. “You’re right, we were dicks, and even if we did think that, it was none of our business.”

“But, since we’re here and you’re talking about it, are you serious about this girl? Or are you just searching for something, and she’s the first woman to stumble into your path?” Kline asked.

Tyler took a long pull from his beer and sat back into the couch. “She didn’t stumble into my path. Believe me, I tried to avoid her, but I kept running into her.” Looking right at Kline, he said, “That blind date you bailed on? That was her. When I took Apollo to the hospital to make his social rounds, she was there with her son. I decided to go to a different park one morning, just on a whim, and she was there. At that point, I decided God was either trying to tell me something, or I had the worst timing in the world.”

“But do you really like her? Or are you just trying to prove something to yourself?” Sparks asked.

Tyler bristled. “Exactly what would I be trying to prove?”

Sparks grinned then winced. “That you’re not a total douche.”

The other guys seemed to be waiting on Tyler’s reaction, and when he laughed softly, the atmosphere changed. All the anger and tension dissipated, and they were just a group of friends shooting the shit and connecting on common ground.

Just like they used to do in group counseling, where they’d first met.

“I know my track record with women hasn’t been great, but I’ve never deceived anyone. I’ve never made them believe I was in it for anything more than fun, and they all knew what they were getting into. Dani didn’t take my bullshit, not from the moment I met her, and I liked that about her. And yeah, briefly I looked at her as if she was just another notch on my bedpost, but that was before I found out about Noah.”

“And that’s her kid, right? You’ve met him?” Martinez asked.

“Yeah, twice. He’s cute.”

“But are you really ready to date her? Because when you date the mom, you’re dating the kid, too, and for a guy who hasn’t had a relationship last longer than forty-eight hours . . . ”

Kline trailed off, but they all got the message. Did he really think he was ready to be a dad?

“We’re taking it slow. It’s only our second date. If things don’t work out, we’re both adults.”

Sparks sat forward, his dark gaze clashing with Tyler’s in warning. “You’re right, and if that’s the way the two of you are going to play it, fine. But you need to stay away from that little boy until you’re sure, because you don’t want to let him get attached and then have to walk away when things don’t work out with his mom.”

Tyler knew Sparks was right, and that had been his plan, but that didn’t mean he had to like being told what to do. Especially by Sparks, who hadn’t followed his own advice with Violet.

Still, Tyler was tired of fighting, so he kept his opinions to himself. “Fine. Now shut the fuck up, or get the hell out so I can finish my movie.”

Chapter Fifteen

DANI BRUSHED THE curls back from Noah’s forehead while the doctor examined his ear. Her mom sat in one of the empty chairs, watching her like a hawk eyeing its prey.

“So, tell me more about this group of friends. What are their names? How did you meet them?”

“Mom, I don’t really think this is the time,” Dani said. The words came out slightly muffled due to her clenched teeth.

“Huh.” The doctor pulled the otoscope out of Noah’s ear and addressed the nurse. “Do you mind grabbing me a pair of alligator forceps?”

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