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Walk-Off

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Walk-Off
A Brio AU Story

When Rio asked his agent to start setting up new business opportunities for him, he thought he was preparing for the future, for his rapidly approaching retirement from the game, not putting himself in a position where he risked incarceration. Again. However, Rio had never met Dean Boland before either, and if ever there was a man who could make him forget the promises he had made to his grandmother and his son, who could drive Rio to murder, it was the douchebag currently trying to get Rio to wear a fucking pig suit. And the fat-faced fucker just kept going on and on about it, too.

Obviously, the idiot didn’t know how to read a room… which seemed problematic for a car salesman. And it wasn’t like Rio was doing anything to mask his irritation, disinterest, or flat-out refusal to participate in such a stupid commercial. You don’t pay a professional athlete double figures for his face and name recognition… only to hide him behind some cheap costume. Plus, ol’ Deansie didn’t even want Rio to say a single line of dialogue. That privilege was saved for his dumb, skinny-ass, white girl secretary.

Oh, and there was a yellow corvette as well.

“Yeah, I ain’t doin’ any of this shit,” Rio announced to whoever could hear him. Hopefully, Gretchen did, so she could shut this nightmare down, but if she didn’t know he was done with Dean Boland and Boland Motors now, she’d figure it out pretty damn quickly when he walked off the lot.

But she was there, right behind him like she always was. Sometimes, it felt like she was perched on his shoulder like a bitchier version of Jiminy Cricket (damn, did Pop hate that movie… and for good reason, too), encouragin’ him to make the right business and financial decisions in life. “Well, you’ll be in breach of contract, then.”

“Too fucking bad,” Rio stated, folding his arms across his chest to physically show her that, yeah, on this, he was digging in his heels.

“No one will want to hire you. You won’t get any more local endorsement deals. This was supposed to be your introduction to the Detroit advertising market, not your swan song.”

“Well, then you should’ve gotten me a better first gig, Gretch.”

She sighed, but she also stopped arguing with him, telling Rio that, despite her half-hearted protests, she knew the commercial was a disaster, too, and definitely not something Rio wanted his name associated with. Taking one last look around the lot - at the rows upon rows of cars; at the small, local film crew… just milling around as they waited to get started; at the ditzy assistant running (and flubbing) her lines, already dressed in her wardrobe for the shoot ; at the stacked redhead just absolutely layin’ into that weasel, Boland - four little kids hanging on her every word and her shirttails …

And, wait, what?!

Interested for the first time since stepping onto the lot of Boland Motors that morning, Rio made his way towards the confrontation not so discreetly taking place off to the side, the sound of Gretchen’s heels tapping behind him telling Rio that she was following him step for step. Besides knowing he would appreciate watching Dean Boland getting torn a new one, Rio wasn’t sure what made him approach the arguing pair. But he had long since learned to follow his instincts, and something was telling him that the redhead was the only good thing the car dealership had to offer. Plus, she was hot as hell - had that whole prim and proper, buttoned up, mama vibe going for her, but you just knew, once she let go a little, she’d be real wild in and out of bed.

“Dean, when I agreed to this commercial, it was on three conditions. Do you remember what they were?”

“Oh, come on, Bethie!”

Bethie ?! Aw, hell no, that couldn’t be her name.

The redhead narrowed her gaze, snapping, “don’t you dare ‘come on, Bethie’ me!” Properly browbeaten by his wife - at least, Rio assumed she was his wife given their argument, though how a fool like Boland managed to get and keep someone like her, Rio would never understand, Dean kept his mouth shut. “First,” she started ticking off her points on her fingers. “I said no corvette.”

“But it’s a classic!”

Derisively, she contradicted, “it’s a mid-life crisis on four wheels, and it’s not what our average customer is looking for when they are shopping for a new car.”

Boland bristled. “Maybe we don’t want just the average customer here at Boland Motors. Did you ever think of that, huh?”

“Dean, the corvette is an impractical eyesore.”

Condescendingly, her husband asked, “remind me again which one of us is actually the car salesman?”

“You know, Dean, that’s a really good question, because the last time I checked, I sold just as many cars this month as you did, and I don’t even work here.”

Rio started to snicker, but Gretchen elbowed him in the side, obviously not wanting him to draw the couple’s attention and interrupt their fight. If he didn’t want to watch the redhead wipe the floor with Boland as well, he might have gone to find his agent some popcorn for the show she was very much enjoying.

“You don’t get it, Bethie! If I sell a car like that…”

She cut him off, impatiently interrupting, “if you really want to sell some yellow vehicles, invest in school buses.” The big buffoon opened his mouth to argue, but his wife bulldozed over top of him. “The second condition was that you would use the commercial to promote those new services we talked about.”

“I can’t just implement a bunch of new policies because my stay-at-home wife thinks they would be a good idea. Change takes money, Bethie.”

“No, change takes effort, Dean - something you obviously didn’t put into this commercial, so why did I actually think you’d try something I suggested for once.”

“What you want me to do just isn’t practical,” Boland defended himself.

“Oh, so now you’re all about practicality! Sure,” the redhead mocked, “spend all of your time trying to sell a canary yellow corvette when you literally have hundreds of other sensible cars in stock, but offering free booster seat installations and a kids station inside the dealership so parents can shop without interruption or distraction? That’s too much; that’s impossible.”

The madder the woman became - and she was fucking livid; it was glorious, the wider her children’s eyes rounded, and the four young faces just stared at their parents, obviously unaccustomed to seeing and hearing such things from them. Rio couldn’t imagine that this was the first time Dean Boland pissed off his wife, and she certainly didn’t come across as a shrinking violet, so they must usually take more care not to fight in front of the kids. Normally, Rio would support such discretion. When he and Rhea disagreed about something concerning Marcus, they worked it out between them, not allowing it to impact how they coparented. But Boland was a fucking moron, and maybe it was a good thing that his kids were finally seeing that for themselves. After all, the world didn’t need four more Dean Bolands anytime soon.

Dean, however, evidently didn’t agree with Rio, because he hissed as his wife, “do you really think this is a conversation we should be having in front of the kids?”

“You know, Dean, I am really glad you finally remembered your children, because that brings me to my third condition: you promised that you’d take them to work with you today, so they could meet Detroit’s Own Rio Salazar .” She didn’t use air quotes, but it was obvious that she was repeating Boland’s words back at him. “Yet, here we are. It’s the day of the commercial, and you slipped out of the house this morning before the kids were even awake!”

“I had commercial prep to do,” the father of four lamely defended himself. How he could even offer up that excuse with his children staring up at him - the very same children he, apparently, broke a promise to, Rio would never understand. “And, besides,”  Boland added, lowering his voice slightly, though he didn’t even bother to check his surroundings. “He’s not exactly someone the kids should be spending time with… if you get what I mean.” If she didn’t, he helpfully gestured in the general direction of his own neck.

“I have a tattoo, Dean,” the redhead reminded her husband. At least, Rio assumed it was a reminder, because if not, again, how the hell did that dimwit manage to knock her up four times?! And, also, where?! “Does it make me any less of a mother?”

“No, of course not, Bethie! But your little spring break mistake isn’t the same thing as a… as a neck tat!”

“Did you know that he’s a father… and, from all accounts, a good one, too?”

Boland scoffed. “What, Wikipedia now provides parenting reviews?”

“We are spending $50,000 for him to star in just one commercial for us, Dean. Did you actually think I wouldn’t do my research before considering your plan?”

“Exactly. $50,000. So, we should make it memorable! That’s why I went with the flying pig idea, because it’s funny, but we’ll also get this great aerial shot of him and Amber soaring into the sky above the dealership.”

The woman sighed, sounding exhausted. “He’s a professional athlete. His contract is never going to allow him to be suspended in the air by some two-bit rig you rented for the day.”

Boland threw up his arms in exasperation. “What do you want from me, Bethie? I’m doing the best I can here!”

If that was the case, Rio really didn’t want to see what Dean Boland’s worst was.

“I want you to play up the fact that Rio isn’t just a professional baseball player. He’s also a father and a busy guy who needs not only comfort and luxury in his vehicles but also functionality, too - booster seats, storage, and flexibility in both his car and his dealership. That’s the type of vehicle that comprises most of our inventory, and it’s what most of our clientele is looking for in a new car.”

“But Rio Salazar is not like our usual clientele. He’s… aspirational! Just like the corvette!”

“So, have him looking at the loaded model, not the standard.”

“Yeah… I don’t know, Bethie.”

“But I do,” Rio finally spoke up, striding the rest of the way across the lot to join the married couple and their children. “Let’s do what she said.”

“But… I’d have to come up with a whole new concept, new dialogue,” Boland protested - face red with embarrassment and fury. “We can’t just… wing it!”

“Let your wife do it, yeah” he suggested, nodding his chin in the redhead’s direction. “She seems quick on her feet, and I’ve liked what I’ve heard from her so far.”

A pretty blush stole across her cheeks, but she wasn’t being modest or shy; she was proud of his compliments, seemed to blossom right in front of him with the smallest amount of praise and recognition. “You… heard all of that?”

“I heard enough, Mama.”

“But Bethie’s just a housewife,” Boland sputtered - still not accepting the defeat or figuring out when to shut his damn trap. “She doesn’t know anything about screenwriting, …”

“We’re hardly talking Oscar bait here,” Gretchen quipped from her customary place beside Rio.

“ … or marketing, or cars - I mean, she drives a minivan for crying out loud!,...”

“That’s good,” Rio interrupted, snapping his fingers together and pointing in acknowledgment. Really, he didn’t give a shit, but how was what the redhead drove relevant to her capabilities? Besides, with four kids, what the hell else was she supposed to cart them around in? “Maybe we could work that into the commercial or somethin’.”

But Dean was on a roll, disparaging his wife, and he either didn’t want to hear anyone else or couldn’t. “ ... or business, or baseball.” Mockingly, he turned towards the mother of his children “that’s the one with the bat and the ball, Sweetie.”

“Really,” she breathed out, feigning shock and awe. “Then what does that make cricket, Dean?”

“Oh, I like her,” Gretchen murmured just for Rio alone to hear. “She’d be excellent at handling insufferable divas… like you. I wonder if she’d be interested in a job…?”

Ignoring the woman in question and her slapback, the big doofus finished with, “If you’re hungry, she can make you a mean sandwich, and she can bake, and knit, and sew with the best of them, but come up with a commercial for Boland Motors? Yeah, I don’t think so!”

Rio shrugged. “Nothin’ she comes up with could ever be as bad as your idea, Man.” Angling his body so that he was ignoring Boland and focused entirely on his wife, Rio encouraged her, “just spitballin’, give me the first idea that pops into your head, Darlin’.”

Sinking her teeth into her bottom lip, she took a few moments to think and then she just… delivered. “Okay, so you’re a harried father, right, trying to get your kid, and your kid’s things, and your things to some type of event. Let’s say it’s a soccer game. But it’s a struggle. Your car won’t do what you need it to do. Then someone pulls in next to you. They’re driving a minivan ,” she purposefully emphasized the car choice both to meet his suggestion but also to irritate her husband, “and it’s just… smooth. Easy. The seats move, the rows adjust, there’s plenty of storage space, and the booster seats are installed properly. When you jealously admire the car’s stylish comfort and effortlessness, the mom tells you to go to Boland Motors. They’ll get you exactly what you need at an affordable price. And they’ll even help you set up your new car, too.”

Sending her an approving wink, Rio jabbed over his shoulder towards her husband, “now, was that really so hard?”

“You liked it then?”

He flashed her a genuine, shit-eating grin. “It’s real dope, Ma.” Raising his voice, Rio announced for the crew, “change of plans. We doin’ what the Boss says.” He didn’t need to explain who the boss was, for his attention towards and admiration of the redhead made it obvious.

“Fine,” Dean huffed, sounding for all the world like a petulant child who just had his favorite toy taken away from him. And… maybe he had? The only logical explanation as to why he’d want his dingbat secretary starring in the commercial with Rio was if he was fucking her. If she had aspirations beyond taking Boland’s dictation , then he was probably keeping her happy with these star making appearances in his local advertisements. “But Amber doesn’t exactly scream soccer mom, and she’ll have to go home and change, but I’m sure she’ll… figure it out.”

“You think that knockoff Barbie doll’s gettin’ anywhere near this shoot? Nah, Man,” Rio answered for Dean, shaking his head in denial. “I want your wife.”

“Subtle,” Gretchen pithily remarked. Rio ignored her.

“I can’t… I can’t act in the commercial with you,” the redhead, flustered, demurred. How someone who was obviously smart and capable and whose body was banging could have so little self-esteem was infuriating to Rio. If it wasn’t for her kids standing behind her… and the fact that the Tigers ownership might frown on their starting center fielder getting arrested for assault and battery, Rio would beat her asshole husband to a pulp. “I mean, I’m just a mom!”

“There’s no just anything about you, Sweetheart.” When she still didn’t look convinced, he continued, “I bet you’re a natural. You came up with that pitch like you’ve been doing this your whole life.” Waving dismissively towards Boland, he said, “Dan can wrangle all your babies for once, and they can watch their Mom be a boss.”

“Ugh, it’s Dean , actually,” the shithead himself corrected.

“But what if I get nervous - you know, freeze up in front of the camera or something?”

Leaning closer to her so that he could bend down and whisper in her ear, Rio advised, “they say the trick is picturin’ everyone naked. I know I will be.” He heard her actually pant , so he quickly pulled back just far enough so that he could meet her gaze. She was staring up at him, not blinking, and Rio knew instantly that, like he would be imagining her, she’d at least be thinking about him without any clothes on. “What’s your name, Baby?”

“Everyone calls me Beth, but my name’s actually Elizabeth.”

Rio smirked, nodded - quite satisfied with the reveal. “Yeah, it is.” She rolled her eyes, but she seemed pleased as well. “I’ll see you on set, yeah?”

-----

It was late, Rio was lingering, and everyone besides the two of them - Rio and Elizabeth - had long since gone home, leaving them alone at the dealership. Gretchen was the first to bow out, claiming that being around so many domestic vehicles was giving her hives. Rio was tempted to point out the irony of her living and working in Detroit of all places, but he didn’t want to set Gretch off. It was fun sometimes to jerk her chain; it was even more fun to flirt with Elizabeth Boland.

Speaking of Boland, he pawned his kids off on one of his female employees and then stomped around the lot, pouting, as they took a couple of cars and the crew and found themselves a park for filming. By the time they returned to the dealership, Deansie... along with all four of the Boland children… had already disappeared. The service department workers left right at five, and the salespeople trickled out as the customers dwindled. Rio had no idea what happened to the dingbat secretary, nor did he care.

What he did find himself caring about, though, was making the most of his time with Elizabeth. His original idea was to get in and get out, earn his fee and go. However, she changed the plans for his off day when she read her jackass of a husband the riot act, when she proved to be just as smart as she was stacked, when she made him laugh. Rio insisted upon multiple takes, realizing that, by the end of the day, the Bolands would probably have enough coverage to piece together several commercials but not caring that he was only getting paid for one. So, it was dark by the time the crew wrapped, and then it only made sense for Rio to follow Elizabeth inside. She said she had to get his check, but, instead, they were sitting across Boland’s desk from each other, two glasses and a bottle of alcohol between them.

Elizabeth poured, sliding two fingers towards Rio before palming her own tumbler. She sipped slowly, coughed. “God, that’s awful.” Rio hummed, agreeing with her, but he still drank, licking his lips afterwards not to savor but simply out of habit. “At least I know he’s not spending all our money on scotch when I haven’t been able to afford a good bourbon in months.” Rio both clocked her drink of choice and raised his brows in question. “We’re broke,” she revealed. “This,” Elizabeth gestured between them, “is our last ditch effort to save the business. Cashed out the kids’ colleges funds to pay for the commercial.”

“With four of ‘em, I hope they were plannin’ on state schools, because $50,000 wouldn’t have gone far.”

“There was only $40,000. I pawned my engagement ring to cover the rest.”

“Damn, Ma. He worth it?”

Beth sighed, shrugged. “It wasn’t about that. If the dealership folds, that’s it. We lose everything - our house, the cars. Dean has us triple mortgaged and maxed out. I’m a high school graduate who has been a stay-at-home mom for the last twelve years, and Dean is… well. Dean is an only child who inherited this dealership from his parents. It’s all he knows.”

And that was saying something, considering the fact that her husband knew jack about selling cars. “If this is you tryin’ to secure a sympathy discount, don’t. There ain’t one.”

“No,” Elizabeth denied, shaking her head and leaning back in her chair. “I know that. And I wouldn’t want one either. If I’m going to get us out of this mess, then I want to really earn it, not rack up even more debts… but of a different kind.”

“So, what are we doin’ here then, Sweetheart? You can’t tell me you just really wanted to drink this piss in a bottle your lesser half calls scotch.”

“You know, I cannot remember the last time I wasn’t at home for bedtime. It must have been, god, when I was in the hospital having Jane.” She grimaced through another sip. “Dean can handle it for once.” After a moment’s pause - he could see her deep in thought, lost somewhere in her mind before shaking it off, she asked, “and what about you? You can’t tell me that Rio Salazar doesn’t have something better to do with his off day than hang out in a crappy car dealership with a bitter, constantly exhausted forty year old mom of four.”

“I’ve had worse company.”

She shot him an unimpressed look but didn’t press the matter. Instead, Elizabeth asked, “okay, then how about this: why is the starting center fielder and leadoff batter for the Detroit Tigers acting in a two-bit local car commercial?”

“The fifty G’s aren’t reason enough?”

“You’re making $2.65 million this year. Try again,” she ordered him.

And then Rio was just honest with her. He told her things that, if anyone else knew, they’d figured it out for themselves; he certainly hadn’t told them. “I’m on the wrong side of 35. It was like… as soon as I blew out those candles - and my kid made sure there were actually 35 of ‘em, too, the little shit, I felt it. Everything was just slower: my reaction time, my bat. Hell, even me.”

“For a guy who hits for contact, not power, and is known for stealing bases and for his hustle plays…?”

“How much research did you do? You have my stats memorized, too?”

“You’re a five time gold glove winner, and you have excellent hands, a rocket of a throwing arm from center field, and your defense is still as strong as ever. But your offensive numbers are down this year across the board. You’re drawing less walks, and your batting average has dipped to just .232 with an on base percentage just under .300 and a slugging a shade under .400. You’ve stolen fifteen bases, been caught four times. Because of your defense and base running proficiency, you have a WAR of 2.4.”

“Damn, Elizabeth. You know baseball.”

She confirmed, “I know baseball.”

“What else does that dumbass husband of yours not know about you?”

Rather than answer him, Elizabeth provided an explanation for her secret sports wisdom. “I haven’t followed the game in years. It… hurts too much. But my Dad was a die-hard fan and a degenerate gambler. He taught me everything he knew about baseball, and my favorite thing in the world was surprising him with some obscure stat or piece of trivia. Then he left. No explanation, no apology. He was just gone, and I didn’t just lose my father; I lost my love for the sport, too.”

Rio repaid her candor with his own. “I have another year left, maybe two. I’ve never been a high salary guy. It took me a while to make my way up through the farm system, and then once I did, it felt like, suddenly, there was Marcus, my son. His Mom and I were never really together, she didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want to be away from my kid more than I had to be. I’ve invested well, won’t need to worry about money, but I go fuckin’ stir crazy now during the off-season; I can’t imagine retirement.”

“What about coaching,” she asked him.

It was only because she sounded genuinely interested that he gave her a straight answer. “Nah, that ain’t me. I was never a student of the game. I sorta just… fell into baseball. I was actually a boxer up until my stint in juvie at seventeen.”

“Now, that wasn’t online.”

He was curious. “If it was, would you’ve still hired me?”

And she was honest. “I don’t know. It likely would’ve depended upon what you did. For example, if you had been arrested for grand theft auto, I probably shouldn’t have you representing my family’s car dealership. The information certainly would have made me think twice about bringing my children here today.”

“Who cares about me? I'm irrelevant. But it was good for ‘em to see both of their parents in action and for who they really are.” Elizabeth flushed, looked away from him, so Rio returned them back to safer ground. “But, yeah, Gretch made sure my record was buried deep. I don’t need the fact that I stole a few hundred bucks from some puffed up country club asshole to buy my grandma a stove thrown in my face every time I go oh-for-five and we lose a game.”

“So, how’d you go from boxer, to juvenile delinquent, to major league baseball player?”

“I always played pickup ball as a kid, yeah, but I wasn’t in Little League or nothin’. We couldn’t afford that shit. It was big in juvie, though, and it wasn’t like they were gonna give me gloves and tell me to go hit someone. So, I started joinin’ the games just for somethin’ to do. But I was good. Got released, got scouted, got drafted, and the next thing I knew, I was eighteen and livin’ in Erie, Pennsylvania, playing Double A ball as a SeaWolf.”

“I’m guessing broadcasting is out, too… for similar reasons?”

“Yeah, you ain’t gonna catch me talkin’ out my ass for three hours every night or tryin’ to relive my glory days on mic while the people at home just wanna know what’s happenin’ on the field now .”

“So, then… car commercials.”

“Car commercials,” Rio nodded slowly, agreeing with her. But then he added, “and other local endorsements… if I can get ‘em. I’d love to own or run a team, but I haven’t made that much money. And, yeah, as much as the Tigers fans seem to love me - I’m a local kid done good, after all, maybe it was my past or maybe it was just me, but I didn’t really embrace the spotlight, so I’m not well known or liked outside of Michigan. Plus, as your husband pointed out earlier, my image don’t exactly scream corporate America, and I ain’t changin’ it for no one. Besides, my kid’s startin’ to get involved in his own shit now. I wanna be there for it, but that’s his, you know? I don’t wanna steal his thunder or anythin’.”

She smiled softly, appreciatively. “Does he play baseball, too?”

“Oh, yeah. But he also plays soccer. And he likes art, and music, and he wants to take karate and swimming lessons. Kid’s all over the place, and I love it.”

“My oldest, Kenny, swims, and Jane, my baby, keeps insisting that she doesn’t want to dance like her sister; she wants to break boards with her hand and her head.” Shaking her own head in amusement, Elizabeth admitted, “I’m pretty sure she just wants to beat up on her brothers.”

That was all it took for Rio to look ahead and see… more - more Elizabeth in his life. It was easy to imagine sitting down next to her on the bleachers while their kids swam laps or earned their next belt level. What he couldn’t picture, though, was Boland, her husband. He just… didn’t belong - not with her, not with their kids, and certainly not in Rio’s vision of a possible yet improbable future.

He wanted her. From the moment Rio first laid eyes on Elizabeth, he had found her attractive. She wasn’t his normal type, but perhaps that was part of what made her so appealing. He suspected that, if he told her about her husband and his assistant, she’d sleep with him out of hurt and for revenge if nothing else, but he didn’t want her like that. He just… he wanted her to want him, too.

He must have been quiet for too long, because Elizabeth started to fidget. She swallowed the remains of her drink and then silently set the tumbler down on top of the desk, pushing it this way and that for several seconds before she suddenly stood up so abruptly that she made her chair roll back into the glass cubicle wall behind her. The swinging blinds threw strange, moving shadows across the otherwise dim space - just a single desk lamp illuminating the small office. Rio joined her on his feet, slowly rounding the desk until they were standing toe to toe.

“I guess you probably want your money, huh?”

“Amongst other things,” Rio drawled, not taking his eyes off of her.

She blushed, glanced away from him. When her hands came up to the front of her shirt, he was taken by surprise, but she didn’t move to undress. Instead, she reached inside of the v-neck of her floral blouse and removed a folded piece of paper. A check. His check. Already filled out and ready for him. There had been no reason for them to go inside of the dealership, to sit in the office and talk like neither of them ever wanted to leave. It was that knowledge that made up Rio’s mind. So, when Elizabeth, check scissored between her right index and middle fingers, held her hand out to him, yeah, he palmed his payment, but he also used the contact to bring her just that much closer to him.

Those amazing tits of hers were brushing against his chest with every inhalation, and he could see that her nipples were pebbled even through her layers of clothing. With her gaze downcast, he couldn’t tell if her eyes were closed entirely and she was nervous, or if Elizabeth was simply playing at demure. But when she abruptly looked up at him - those smoky baby blues ensnaring him completely, his restraint snapped. Picking her up by the waist, Rio set her back down on top of the desk - her husband’s desk , dropped his hands to her knees to press her legs wide apart, and then he stepped into her.

He was pleasantly surprised when she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, allowing her hands to trail up his neck and cup the back of his head. Using her grip on him, Elizabeth pulled Rio down to her, placing his face directly into her chest. He paused, breathing her in. She smelled of something floral - perhaps perfume or lotion, he wasn’t sure, but underneath that scent, he could detect tangy notes of spice. Her sweat; her arousal. And he immediately wanted to taste it, too, so he licked her, dragging his tongue through the line between her breasts. She scratched over the back of his neck, through his close cropped hair, and tugged him to her even harder.

That’s when Rio realized that, as much as Elizabeth wanted this, wanted him, craved his mouth on her, she was also awkward, and shy, and embarrassed, and tense - not because of what they were about to do but because, when they did it, when they fucked, he would be able to see all of her. Yet another flare of annoyance towards her prick of a husband surfaced, but Rio buried it. As odd as it was given the situation, Boland didn’t belong in that room with them that night. Rio wanting to have sex with Elizabeth had nothing to do with her being someone else’s and everything to do with her being Elizabeth . But he knew that a few pretty words wouldn’t erase more than a decade of not being desired and touched the way she needed, the way she deserved, so he would just have to show her.

Despite her insistence, Rio broke away, surging up from her chest to nuzzle at her neck, her jaw. “Nah, Mami,” he purred. “Your tits are dope, but I wanna have all of you.”

Elizabeth gasped, and he used that as the opportunity it was to claim her lips. While he kissed her, alternating between languorous and erotic and hard and biting - fucking her with his mouth both slow and fast, a precursor of what was to come, Rio snaked his hands up her legs and around to the small of her back, yanking her forward so that her ass was just balancing on the edge of the desk. Then, slipping his hands around to the front of her mama jeans, he released the button, pulled down the zipper, and tugged them down until they dangled from her ankles - the boots she wore preventing their complete removal. Elizabeth had to rock her hips to help him, lifting one ample cheek at a time.

With shaking hands, she found his belt, desperately jerking and tearing at it, but she was too keyed up, her coordination shot, and Rio had to help her, slow her down. As soon as his pants were undone enough that she could wriggle her fingers inside of his boxer-briefs, she did so - cupping him, weighing him in her hand and moaning in satisfaction, in anticipation, of what she found, practically petting him.

Once she started rubbing her still-covered cunt against his cock - the soaked fabric of her tiny thong wetting his underwear, Rio ripped his mouth away from hers and, panting, teased, “slow down, Baby. There’s no need to rush. I wanna take my time with you.”

His words didn’t calm her, though, didn’t ease her frantic energy. If anything, they seemed to make her even hungrier, her yearning an ache. Elizabeth’s eyes glazed over with tears, but they weren’t of release or joy, and Rio realized that he had said the wrong thing. Because, yes, they were alone, and the sex between them didn’t need to be a quickie, but their time together was finite. He already knew that she wouldn’t be out of his system with one good fuck, but he could also see that, for Elizabeth, she believed their encounter to be a one time thing. In fact, it should just be the once - the two of them going their very separate ways after an orgasm or two. But did it need to be?

Not wanting to give her a chance to get in her own head and start thinking too much, Rio moved quickly. He seized the bottom of her shirt and drew it over her head, tossing it aside, already forgotten. With his right arm, he cleared the middle of the desk, while placing his left hand in the center of Elizabeth’s chest, gently yet intently easing her down onto her back. Delighted to find her bra had a front closure, with a deft twist of his wrist, he parted the satin fabric, pushing the cups to the side to reveal her overflowing tits. Even flat and prone, her side boob was fucking incredible. And then, finally, Rio blindly reached behind for the desk chair, ripped her panties free and clear of her pussy, collapsed down into the squeaking leather, and then just… dove between her legs.

At first, he didn’t know where to start. He just wanted to feel and taste her everywhere. But then Rio really looked at her: that small Chinese symbols on her hip (so that’s where she was tattooed), those puffy, glistening folds, and that hard little clit that was already at attention - the cool air and his eyes on her notching Elizabeth’s arousal just that much higher, and he hadn’t even really touched her yet. She was squirming, hips barely just starting to ride the night as she sought friction, begged to be filled. And he was going to give her that. But not yet.

Parting his lips and just exhaling onto her mound, Rio grinned when he heard Elizabeth whimper, when he watched her clench on nothing. Ever so gently, he brushed just the point of his tongue against her clit - slowly once, twice, and then like he was fucking tapping out morse code on the swollen bundle of nerves. She bucked up into him - her cunt finding his chin, and he reached out, practically peeled back her labia to fully expose her, putting Elizabeth vulnerably on display. Rio licked from one end of her vulva to the other, running his tongue over his lips to savor her taste before refocusing back on her clit.

Over and over, he lapped at her, keeping the pressure shallow and light. Despite her pleas, never once did he slip his tongue inside of her pussy. He just continued to hold her open, wanting her squeezing on nothing but the anticipation. Elizabeth was practically shoving her cunt into his face for more pressure, more contact, just… more when he rolled the chair a fraction closer and then propped his chin on her mound. Although Rio casually rubbed his scruff against her sensitive skin, wanting to make sure that the sensations didn’t stop entirely for her so to hold her on that edge, he ignored her clit in favor of looking up at the masterpiece before him.

She was all pink and happy, wanton. While Elizabeth writhed on top of that desk, riding his face, her small and delicate hands were savagely squeezing, and pinching, and tugging on her own tits. He could see little crescent moons around her rosy, puckered nipples where she had set her nails against the tender flesh and pressed inward until the pain moved beyond discomfort and became pleasure. Her copper hair was spread out around her like a halo of fire, and her full, flush mouth was hanging open, panting, chanting, wanting to be taken as well. And then there were her eyes - so big, and so wide, and so blue in her arousal that they almost appeared black.

God, those eyes were going to haunt him long after his night with her was over and a thing of the past.

Briefly letting go of her pussy lips, Rio slid his hands up her body until he came to her breasts. But he didn’t join her in playing with the luscious mounds. Instead, he tangled their fingers together and then dragged her touch down, down, down with his. Placing one hand on either side of her cunt, resting her palms in the crease where her legs met her center, Rio whispered his orders against her clit, letting his lips brush against the bundle of nerves with every exaggerated syllable. “You want my fingers? Then you gotta hold that pretty pussy open for me, Sweetheart.”

Elizabeth’s fingers moved to part herself for his gaze, for his touch, before he could even finish crooning the endearment.

In rapid succession, Rio inserted one, then two, and then three fingers inside of her quivering cunt, only giving her one complete thrust and drag before adding to the fullness. Even with his first finger, he could feel the muscles at the mouth of her cunt resisting him for just a moment before sucking him inside. Two fingers was a stretch, and three burned, so Rio knew, by the time he got his cock inside of her, Elizabeth would forever after feel empty. And, god, how was someone who had four babies so fucking tight? She pulled on him so hard, so unrelentingly, that it felt like her pussy was strangling his fingers, and she was dripping with arousal, a pool forming beneath her - the desk blotter catching splashes of Elizabeth rather than ink.

Returning his mouth to her clit, Rio alternated between sucking it harshly into his mouth, scraping it with his teeth, and nuzzling it. Inside and out, Elizabeth was nothing but slippery softness, and he realized that, in order to finger and tongue fuck her into orgasm, he would need to add a contrasting sensation. So, he turned his head and carefully aligned his nose stud with her throbbing bundle of nerves, rubbing and prodding the exposed livewire with the coolness of the metal and the harsh sting of the stone while his fingers crooked upwards inside of her to find that spot - that pulpous, spongy cushion of a wall. At the same time, her wrist was just right there , so he parted his lips and bit.

She came with a mewl that deepened and became richer until she was moaning his name, and, “more!,” and, “yes!”

There was a part of Rio that just wanted to stay between her legs and work her down from her high, lick her clean, but it was his dick, not a diamond, that was hard enough to cut glass, and he knew that, if he wasn’t balls deep inside of her within a matter of moments, he was going to cum in his fucking jeans. So, not bothering to actually undress, just shoving his pants and boxer-briefs down far enough to free his cock, Rio stood up; pulled his wallet from his back pocket before flinging it aside; sightlessly removed the condom, ripped it open with his teeth, and had it down his throbbing, aching, leaking length; and slid all the way home inside of Elizabeth’s still pulsating, constricting walls before she even had a chance to catch her breath or ride out the last waves of her release.

And then he just stayed there, savoring her heat. It was both blissful and torturous. When Rio pulled himself together enough to actually fuck her and not just cum on the first thrust, he realized that he wanted her closer. He wanted her huge, hard nipples digging into his chest. He wanted her tits to practically crush him, her lips right there to take and be taken. And he wanted to look into her eyes, so he could see her staring back at him, watching and knowing exactly who was fucking her so good. But most of all, he wanted to make her bounce .

Picking her up off of the desk in a sensuous arc, Rio pulled Elizabeth into him as he, once more, sat back down in the desk chair. Once they were settled, he started to move, teasing her with what was to come with shallow punches of his dick up into her pussy. But that was more of a distraction than anything else. As soon as Rio had a good grip on Elizabeth’s hips - his fingers stretched back and out to curl into and clench the flesh of her ass, he lifted her off of his cock and then dropped her back onto it. Over and over again; faster, faster, and faster; harder.

Elizabeth tried to find her balance and brace her body by holding onto his shoulders, but Rio shrugged off her touch. Oh, he wanted her hands on him. But not there. And not doing something that would calm the frantic springing, the delicious jiggling, the hypnotizing bouncing of her perfectly rounded and full ass and the most amazing fucking set of tits he had ever seen. So, instead, Rio - his voice just shy of a growl - told her to, “touch yourself, Mama. Or, better yet, touch me while I fuck you.”

When those petal soft fingers brushed against his cock, rubbed against the both of them while he jolted her cunt down, and down, and down again on his dick, Rio’s eyes might have rolled into the back of his head. It only took Elizabeth a single stroke of her thumb against her clit for her to cum for the second time. This time, when she sounded her release, it was like her throat was skipping. Rio was still snapping her onto his cock while also shoving himself up into her. With every jab, her wail would hitch, and with every slight retreat, she’d gasp, and when Rio’s climax hit him, he groaned out his pleasure, shooting his cum deep, and long, and hard. He felt a flicker of regret that it was into a condom and not inside of her.

For several minutes, they just sat there - Rio slumped down in content and satisfied exhaustion with Elizabeth wantonly draped over him. Their bodies quickly cooled in the air conditioned showroom, their sweat drying and making them stick together. As far as Rio was concerned, they could stay there all night - the consequences be damned when morning came and someone, maybe even her husband, inevitably found them. But, eventually, Elizabeth pulled away, a bright and seemingly permanent blush stealing across her cheeks, the bridge of her nose, her chest.

She stumbled to her feet, the pants still ringed around her ankles and the aftershocks of her orgasms making her clumsy and uncoordinated. She redressed rapidly, either unworried about the mess of her cum and sweat between her legs or more concerned about hiding herself once more and covering up what they had just done together. All Rio had to do was tuck himself back into his underwear and jeans, which considering just how phenomenal the sex had been was kind of fucking with his mind. What the hell would happen when they finally got completely naked with each other?

If.

What the hell would happen if they finally got completely naked with each other?

That was a sobering thought, especially since he was right. (He always was.) Having Elizabeth once just wouldn’t be enough. But he wouldn’t ask her for more, couldn’t beg. And he wouldn’t come back here to the dealership, seeking her out. All he could do was let her know that the opportunity existed. If she wanted to have sex with him again, all she had to do was let him know.

Tying off the condom and flinging it into the trash, he said, “there’s a bar downtown. Lucky’s. It’s mine.” Elizabeth was fussing with her hair, trying to make it look like she hadn’t just been thoroughly fucked - twice, when he spoke, his voice startling her slightly and making her jump. She looked up at him with confusion in her gaze, blinking rapidly several times as she tried to wrap her mind around the non sequitur. “If I’m not on the road, if I don’t have a game, or if I’m not with my son, that’s usually where I can be found… if you ever wanted to.”

See me again. Let me fuck you again. Set the world on fire together again and let it burn down around us.

Because that’s what would probably happen if they continued with… whatever this pull was between them. His career was rewarding, but it also made everything else in his life just a little more difficult, just that much more complicated. And then there was Marcus. And her four kids. And her debt. And her marriage. Together, they’d be fucking impossible and so much fucking trouble. But he wanted her anyway.

Sauntering over to her, Rio stopped so, once again - just like earlier, they were standing toe to toe. With the softest of touches, he slid a loose strand of her hair behind her ear, caressed the highpoint of her cheek. “Speak your peace, Ma. Don’t let that idiot husband of yours make all the decisions. You’re smart, and you have good business instincts. Trust ‘em.”

“If I do that, I might save the business, but I also might destroy my marriage.”

“Nah, a boss bitch like you?,” Rio complimented, smirking and making her blush yet again. God, that sight was fucking stunning. Addictive, too. “I’d be your partner.”

With that, he bent down and took her mouth one more time. Just in case. He sipped at her lips, licked into her mouth, and teased her tongue with his own. Releasing her, he reached down and plucked her ripped thong off of the floor, pocketing the ruined lingerie. The last thing Rio heard when he walked out of that office was Elizabeth Boland panting behind him.

-----

It was a few months before he saw her again.

Elizabeth .

The possibility and breadth of summer shrunk, became fall. Pop started back with school, and then the team failed to make the playoffs, leaving Rio with way too much fucking time on his hands and with too many thoughts. They were mostly about her, which pissed him off. He had no doubt that, after their night together, she just returned to her life - her kids, her husband, her PTA meetings, and her color coded activity schedules - like nothing had happened. Like he and they had never happened. When she did think of him, it was probably with guilt or, even worse, regret, and Rio forced himself to confront the fact that, despite the invitation for more that he had given her, she wasn’t going to take him up on his offer.

But then she was walking into his bar - those hips that he just wanted to hold onto until the bruises from his fingertips were permanently tattooed into her skin swaying from side to side like she was trying to hypnotize anyone and everyone who glanced in her direction. And Rio? He was definitely looking. In fact, he was so busy staring at her ass that it took him way too long to realize she wasn’t alone. No, that simple asshole she was married to was with her.

They were on a fucking date… at his bar.

Rio was stuck somewhere between fury with Elizabeth for telling and then bringing her husband to his place and just so fucking happy to see her again that he didn’t care if, in order to spend time with her, he’d have to do it once more right under Boland’s nose. And on top of everything else that he was feeling, there was a healthy dash of respect and admiration, because Elizabeth was ballsy as fuck… and a little brazen, too. She allowed Boland to pick their table - a little two-seater in the center of the room, but she made sure that she took the seat facing the bar. Even before she sat down, Rio could tell that Elizabeth was searching the crowded, busy room for him.

It wasn’t a secret that he owned Lucky’s. After a few posts popped up on social media - random patrons recognizing him and sharing pictures where he was conspicuously, thanks to his local celebrity, in the background, the Detroit media did very little digging - he wasn’t hiding - and found out that he owned the bar. But Lucky’s wasn’t a sports bar, and Rio’s clientele veered more towards millennials and hipsters, and everyone knew that Major League Baseball had a generational problem. Sometimes, it seemed like no one under thirty gave a fuck about the Tigers. This meant that, at least at Lucky’s, Rio was more famous for his large neck tattoo than he was for being a professional baseball player.

So, he blended quite easily - could fade into the crowds and disappear, using their noise as a distraction and a buffer, so when he went home late at night, the quiet solitude of his loft was a reprieve and not a burden. But Rio didn’t just use Lucky’s as a diversion from his boredom and loneliness. When he was there, he was working. On slow nights, he’d commandeer a booth for himself, spread out the books and any other paperwork Gretchen had for him to review, and he’d nurse a gin - just one - while eating up his hours when he wasn’t with his son, or playing baseball, or conditioning with managing his current investments and planning further for his rapidly approaching retirement from the sport. On busier nights, he moved from a booth to the bar, and on the busiest nights, he’d set up at the small desk in the back storage room. Rio earned more dirty looks for bringing his work into a bar than he did those of recognition. Yet, Elizabeth spotted him within a matter of seconds.

Catching the eye of one of the servers working the floor that evening, Rio nodded her over. “Did you see that hot as fuck redhead come in with that dopey lookin’ fool?”

“Yeah, hard not to… but for very different reasons. What do you think that’s about?”

He didn’t answer her. Rio might have sought out this particular waitress because she was known for being a busybody, but he wasn’t about to help her speculate about Elizabeth. Besides, for what he wanted her to do for him, it’d be better if she went in blind. “Just… pay attention when you serve them. Let me know what they say, yeah?”

Her eyes lit up, and she smiled widely - like he had given her a bonus, not asked her to eavesdrop on customers and report back to him… which was worrisome, though not his immediate concern. “Sure. You got it, boss.”

The waitress made a beeline for Elizabeth’s table. Elizabeth was still shrugging off her blazer and hanging it on the back of her chair when the server approached. If she or her dumbass husband found such prompt service in such a busy bar suspicious, they didn’t turn down the opportunity to place their orders. While Boland perused the menu - and who did that, especially at his age? How did he not already have a poison of choice, no matter what bar he went into?, Elizabeth watched Rio. Oh, she tried to be discreet about it. If he met her gaze, her eyes would flutter away. She played with her necklace the entire time, running it between her fingers. She grazed her teeth over her bottom lip. But she never said a word.

“They’re celebrating,” his employee revealed when she returned to the bar, slipping behind it to pour drinks. “Or at least he is. Something about sales being up and turning a profit again? I think he mentioned cars, which… totally fits the whole slimeball, puffed up, misogynist douchebag vibe he has going on. You know, I think he checked out my ass while I was taking his order.”

“What about her?”

“Oh, she was totally out of it - in another world entirely. I don’t think she heard a word that guy said to her, and he never even noticed - too busy listening to the sound of his own voice to even see that there was anyone else in the room.”

It was then that Rio looked down and saw what was on the serving tray. “What the fuck is that?”

Reflexively, the waitress’ gaze dropped down to the drinks she had just made. “A lemon drop martini and a chardonnay.”

“She didn’t order somethin’?”

“No, the chardonnay is for her, I think. He suggested it, and she just hummed.” His employee shrugged. “I told you. She really wasn’t paying attention.”

“Dump that shit out and get her a bourbon on the rocks. Top shelf. I’m buyin’.”

That made the waitress pause, look at him suspiciously. “You never pick up the tab for customers.” Then her eyes flashed back over towards Elizabeth, and Rio watched as recognition flared. “Oh wait, is that the woman from your commercial? I thought she looked familiar!”

Bending back down over his paperwork, Rio didn’t acknowledge the realization or the impertinent attention now being directed his way. “Bourbon, top shelf,” he repeated. And then he dismissed the server by pretending that he was once more absorbed by his paperwork.

Although she hesitated, she eventually did as he told her to, pouring Elizabeth a healthy splash of Michter’s 10 Year. The white wine was left behind. As soon as the waitress left to deliver the drinks, Rio pivoted his head to the side, watching Elizabeth once more. Habitually, Elizabeth reached for and palmed her glass, bringing it to her lips… only to be stunned still when she first registered the whiskey. For a moment, she just sat there - hand and tumbler suspended in mid-air, mouth pursed to sip. And then the dazed stupor seemed to wear off, and her eyes - so shockingly blue… even from across the bar - ricocheted up and out until she found him. Elizabeth fixed her gaze on him for ten seconds, fifteen. After nearly a minute, she calmly placed her drink back on the high top table, stood from her chair, and sauntered her way through the crowd and towards the back of her bar, flaunting those voluptuous hips of hers the whole way.

Elizabeth was waiting for him as soon as he entered the short hallway.

Taking her by the hand, Rio wordlessly walked them towards the small storage room. Just from barely touching her soft skin - his fingers braided with hers, he felt a spark catch, ignite. His dick twitched in anticipation. But Rio didn’t immediately make a move, instead allowing Elizabeth to decide if anything more than a conversation would happen between them. When she reached behind him with her free hand, engaging the lock with a quiet in sound but loud in meaning snap, she said more with her actions than if she had explicitly told him to fuck her.

He moved towards her, but for every step that Rio took forwards, she moved backwards… until she was pressed up against the shelves, her breath hitching when she made contact with the cool metal. Wanting to feel that heaving chest against his, Rio crowded against her. Elizabeth moaned deep in her throat at his nearness, at having him so close again but still not (ever) close enough, and he licked his lips in anticipation, considering just where he wanted to taste her first.

Dropping his face into the crook of her neck - her dress already partially unbuttoned to grant him a glimpse of her chest, Rio, at first, just rubbed his face against her, abrading that delicate skin with his coarse scruff. She smelled so good - floral and spicy like before but sweet now, too. He lulled a sigh out of her by simply pursing his mouth and chastely kissing the tender flesh right behind her ear - he could feel her pulse racing, then lower in the hollow between her clavicles, and sweeping his lips back up to the other side of her throat, seeking the very same spot behind her other ear. Next, Rio ran his tongue along the line of her necklace, taking it briefly between his teeth and tugging just slightly.

Nosing his way underneath her collar, he parted his lips and latched onto the top of her right breast, sucking as much of the milky globe into his mouth as he could. All the while and without Elizabeth noticing, he undressed her - starting first with the thin tie around her waist and then slipping one tiny button free at a time, working his way from the hem to the taut and straining bodice. By the time Rio pushed the dress open and stepped back just far enough to gaze upon her mostly bared and naked body - the thin and silky fabric tumbling over her shoulders only to catch and hold in the crooks of her elbows, Elizabeth’s pupils were blown wide and dark, nearly eclipsing the stormy sea of her irises.

He thought she would drop her arms from where her hands were clutching at his belt, but when she didn’t, Rio rasped, “you gonna let me finish undressin’ you, Mama?”

“Only if you let me take all of your clothes off as well. I didn’t get to see hardly any of you last time,” she pouted.

He smirked. “You saw the best parts.”

“Well, I would like to be the judge of that for myself,” Elizabeth replied primly. Adding a dash of petulance, she complained, “and I don’t want to be the only one naked this time.”

“Technically, you weren’t naked last time either.”

“My jeans around my ankles with my shoes and socks on does not count as still being dressed, Rio!” Although she tried to sound stern with him, Rio could hear her amusement, could see her full, plump lips twisting upwards at the corners.

Rather than responding with words, however, Rio ran his eyes up and down her tempting body. Before hooking two fingers into the front closure of her bra, he found a condom tucked inside, letting him know that she had wanted him again just as much as he wanted her. Everything Elizabeth had done that night - coming to Lucky’s, finding him, going into the back had been intentional. She might not have made her mind up for sure until she tasted that bourbon - bourbon he knew her well enough after a single encounter to send to her, but she had been thinking of him. It was a balm to his ego. Twisting the satin and lace fabric open, Rio allowed her fantastic tits to spring free. Then, he dropped his touch to her hips and tangled it into the thin line of her panties, leisurely drawing them over her hips, down her thighs, and letting go only once he reached her knees. “You wanna keep your dress on? I’ll fuck you just like this, Sweetheart.”

Rio didn’t need to undress her completely to get her naked, and he didn’t need her naked to fuck her bare. But they weren’t there. Not yet.

Running his fingers up her legs, Rio paused at her waxed pussy to tease, to whisper his touch over the wet, swollen folds before finding Elizabeth’s forearms and then smoothing downwards. Circling her elegant, fragile wrists, he brought her hands to his chest, settled them there, insinuating that, if she wanted to see him without his clothes on, she was going to have to do something about it herself. Occupied by the task and distracted by every gradual reveal of tanned, toned flesh, Elizabeth never noticed it when Rio started to wield her body as his own, arranging her in the exact position in which he wanted her.

Cupping the outside of her right hip, Rio caressed his palm down, down, down her leg until he could clasp her by the knee, lifting the joint until it was at equal height with his midsection and then swinging it outward, stretching her open until her foot made contact with and he could set her down upon the shelf. Suddenly, her perfect cunt was just right there , begging for attention, and who was Rio to deny either of them? Using just his index finger - his other digits curled up into a gentle, loose fist, Rio found the very center of her pussy, aligning his finger between those puffy lips. Back and forth - from side to side, he rubbed her, burrowing deeper and deeper with every stroke until his entire pointer was buried inside of her labia. And then he just paused, applying a gentle pressure but not actually playing specifically with her clit or diving inside of her pussy. Elizabeth shifted, tried to slide, and twist, and writhe him inside of her, but Rio didn’t oblige her efforts. She wasn’t ready for him yet.

Using the hand that wasn’t already occupied, Rio once more found Elizabeth’s arms - only, this time, he moved just one of them away from where she, having finished undoing his slate gray button up, was working on his pants. She whined in the back of her throat, but the protest was only half hearted. As much as she wanted to touch and undress him, he could tell that she also wanted to see just what he could and would do with her body this time. After enfolding his right fingers around her left, Rio raised both of their hands as far as Elizabeth could reach, turning her grip around to hold onto the top shelf, stretching her out as much as he could without a bed and some silk scarves. Before she could even think of dropping her hand, he squeezed his touch around her wrist just enough so she would know better than to move.

Shifting Elizabeth into place jostled Rio enough so that his shirt was just managing to still hang onto his shoulders, so he shrugged. It fell and caught in the bends of his elbows… just like Elizabeth’s dress - the two of them mirroring each other. Then he just had to make his way back down her body to make one final adjustment, but Rio allowed himself to be distracted on the way. He ghosted his pinkie over her brow, he kissed the pads of his fingers along her cheekbones, and he thumbed the dimple of her chin. As his touch fell lower and lower, his mouth followed the same path - only deviating to take a cherry - just as ripe, just as rich, just as succulent as the fruit - nipple between his lips.

While Rio’s thumb tracked down the center of Beth’s chest and then her quivering and contracting with need, with arousal abdomen, his mouth drank from her breast - pulling and sucking on the vibrant tip like it was sustenance. And maybe it was… of one variety or another. By the time his thumb pressed against and into her mound, Elizabeth’s single, seeking hand had paused in its attentions to his straining cock. She had her little fist wrapped tightly around him - his pants and boxer-briefs shoved aside as best as she could with just one hand, and it caught in mid-wring. Gently, Rio transferred her touch from his dick to her own clit, assisting her in placing the pad of her middle digit against the hungry, waiting and wanting bundle of nerves.

As fast as he could, Rio shoved down his jeans and underwear, reaching out for the condom he had set aside earlier and rolling the rubber down his cock. As soon as he was ready to fuck her, Rio slipped his finger from between her slippery, silken pussy lips and lined his cock up with her cunt instead. Sinking inside of her but only just the head - Elizabeth was sopping wet but not nearly stretched enough for him to just take her, Rio widened his jaw against her breast, drawing even more of her - as much of her areola as he could handle - inside of his mouth. He was almost swallowing her tit, practically choking on it, and it was glorious.

With every shallow thrust, Elizabeth’s honeyed walls relaxed ever so slightly, and she took that much more of him that much deeper. All the while, she continued to massage her clit. Needing fresh air, Rio ripped his mouth away from her chest, dragging his teeth against her turgid nipple as he pulled off of her - his saliva drenching her breast and dripping off of the heavy mound. He took a deep, gasping breath, and then another, and another, and finally one more before reattaching his mouth, though, this time, Rio worshipped the unattended tit.

Holding onto her hip with the tattoo - his thumb finding and rubbing against the ink - with one hand and her ass with the other, Rio eventually bottomed out inside of her. For a moment, he considered just pounding into her, demanding both of their orgasms. His cock was certainly hard enough and his need great enough to do that. But then Rio decided that, instead, he wanted to take his time, he wanted to savor, and most of all he wanted to keep her all to himself for as long as he could.

So, he found a sensual, languid rhythm, set a deep, smooth, and drugging pace. Because her right foot was up on that shelf, Elizabeth’s hips were slightly thrust forward, making it just much easier for her to move with, meet, and compliment the pace and plunge of his cock, riding him like a wave. As her pleasure grew, became brighter, her whispered coos of, “ ooh ,” deepened, became richer… until her hips started to speed up, forcing and dragging Rio with her, and her finger still caressing her clit began applying more pressure, more demand to the point where Elizabeth was practically grinding into the tiny, exposed pearl. If Rio wanted to be the one to get her off, then he’d have to meet and surpass her challenge to cum.

It almost became a race between them - who could push her over the edge and drop her into bliss first. In the end, Rio wasn’t sure what finally triggered her release. What he was aware of was her cunt locking down around him as tightly as she could and milking his orgasm from him. As he shot ribbon after ribbon of cum into the condom he wore, Rio rolled his face in between her two pendulous breasts, opened his mouth, and bit down on a greedy groan of satisfaction - sucking the flesh into his mouth, laving it with his tongue, and then repeating the whole process again and again until it was tender with a developing bruise. His saliva on her breasts, her belly, would dry, and his cum filled the condom, not her cunt, but Elizabeth would still go home with Rio’s mark on her, and that knowledge shot a thrill up his spine.

For several minutes, they just stayed intimately joined together. When Rio eventually had to drag his softened cock out of her tender pussy, Elizabeth whimpered at the loss, and he hissed. But they stayed as close, as connected, as they could as they redressed. Just as they had mostly stripped each other before they had sex, they helped one another redress - Rio throwing away the condom and, for the second time, picking up and pocketing Elizabeth’s panties from the floor. Even after they were completely covered once again, they lingered, exchanging open mouthed and erotic kisses and petting each other through their clothes. Rio only let go of her when she twisted out of his embrace and walked away.

Only… Elizabeth made no move to leave the small supply room. Instead, she went over to the desk he had shoved awkwardly into the corner, fussing with the things on top until she must have found what she was looking for and then bending over to write something down. A few seconds later, she turned to him, a small piece of paper folded in between the index and middle fingers of her right hand. The moment was too much like when she handed him the check at the dealership for Rio to be completely comfortable. To break the tension, he joked, “you better not be tryin’ to pay me again, Ma.”

Elizabeth snorted, rolled her eyes. “Like I could afford that!” Rio could feel his confusion set in - he thought she and her asshole husband were out that night because their money situation had improved? - and it must have shown, only she read the bewilderment to be about the note and not her remark about her finances. “This is my address,” she told him, tucking the paper into the left front pocket of his jeans, copping a slight feel before withdrawing her touch once again. “I can’t go out for drinks every time I want to… see you.” Then, laughing and shaking her head in disbelief, she waved a hand between them. “This is crazy!”

“Yeah, crazy fuckin’ good.”

“So, would you want that,” she asked him, biting her bottom lip and looking up at him with those big blue eyes of hers. “To come over?”

“Baby, I want to cum over, under, on, and most of all inside of you,” Rio confessed, earning himself one of those blushes he enjoyed so much. “And, yeah, I'm down to do that at your place.”

Skirting around her, it was Rio’s turn to go to the desk. Finding what he sought - a pen, he turned back around, sauntering towards Elizabeth. Once he was standing directly across from her, he unbuttoned two more buttons on her dress and peeled it back to expose her bra. He didn’t unlatch the lingerie, though. Instead, he slipped his hand inside of the satin and lace, pulling one of her massive tits right out of its cup. Uncapping the pen with his mouth, Rio then put ink to chest, deliberately writing his phone number onto her breast.

“There,” he announced when finished. “You let me know when, Mama, and I’ll be there, yeah?”

Having already been gone longer than they should have, Elizabeth resituated herself, refastened her dress, and then headed towards the door. He caught up to her with a single, long stride, taking her hand in his as they walked out of the room and back into the bar together. He knew he would have to let go of her as soon as they rounded the corner of the hallway and rejoined the crush of the crowd, but he wanted to touch her for as long as he could. So he did.

As Elizabeth moved towards her table, approaching her pissed off looking husband, Rio hung back. He didn’t return to his spot at the bar right away, wanting to see how the Bolands’ conversation would go. Still standing behind her chair, Elizabeth immediately reached for her glass of bourbon. Its ice had mostly melted, diluting the whiskey but stretching its contents even further. Before she could even take a sip, though, that goofy ass motherfucker was already setting into her. “Where were you, Bethie?”

“The ladies’ room,” she said primly, smoothly. She lied effortlessly without a concern for how easy it would be for her husband to know the truth. All he would have had to do was stand up and look down the hallway for her, and her cover would have been blown. But maybe Dean’s concern only went deep enough to reflect his own complaint rather than all the way to actual worry about his wife. “You know how long the line always is,” Elizabeth added for good measure. Then, as if to punctuate her statement, she drained her glass - the two fingers of top shelf bourbon going down without even a flinch.

“Great,” Boland grumbled, gesturing vaguely in Elizabeth’s direction. “Now, you’re going to need to go again, and I want to get out here. This place is horrible. It’s too loud, too dark. And the service is terrible. Since you left, our waitress hasn’t been back once. I even tried to wave her down, but she acted like I was invisible or something.” Dean stood, reaching behind him for his wallet. “Come on. We’ll just pay at the bar. And don’t even think about asking me to stop for you on the way home. You should have thought about that before drinking so much, so fast.”

“If only you were this worried about monitoring our children’s liquid intake, maybe Janey wouldn’t wet the bed on the nights when you put the kids to sleep.”

“Well, if you were any kind of mother, I wouldn’t have to put them to sleep, because you’d be at home where you belong,” the prick shot back snidely.

But Elizabeth didn’t seem bothered or even hurt by his attack. Instead, she seemed almost pleased to fire off her own accusation. “And if you were any kind of man, then I would be home at night with the kids rather than working late at the dealership to clean up your mess!”

They were starting to attract the attention of other patrons, so Rio stepped forward to intervene. “Elizabeth,” he pretended to greet her, sliding a hand low against the small of her back as he came to stand next to her. Flicking a disinterested glance in Boland’s direction, he added, “Dale.”

“It’s Dean, ” her husband gritted out through clenched teeth. “And what the hell are you doing here ?”

“It’s my place. I was the one who told Elizabeth here,” he angled his head towards her so that he could wink but only she would see it, “about it.”

“You mean you actually like it,” Boland wanted to know, sounding incredulous and scathing.

Rio smirked. “It’s a’ight. The back room’s real dope, but it’s only for VIPs, yeah?”

Elizabeth elbowed him discreetly and then said, “this is Rio’s bar, Dean. He owns Lucky’s.”

“Well, we were just leaving,” Boland announced rudely.

While unwinding Elizabeth’s blazer from her chair and helping her into it, he declared, “drinks are on me. Next time you wanna swing by, call ahead,” Rio spoke directly towards Elizabeth chest, “and I’ll… set up somethin’ special.”

It was Dean who responded. “Thanks.” That single word sounded like it was choked out around a mouthful of nails. “But I think we’ll just stick with Chili’s from now on.”

“Chili’s, huh,” Rio drawled, carnally licking his bottom lip. “Yeah, the eatin’ is real good in your neighborhood, Boland.”

Only… Rio wasn’t eating no loaded boneless wings or deep fried pickles.

He was eating out Dean’s wife.

Elizabeth flushed nearly as scarlet as her polka dot dress, and Rio stood there watching her leave long after she disappeared from his sight, long after even the door had closed behind her. She might not know it yet, but he would be seeing her real soon. There was no fucking way he was going several months again before having that body of hers.

No fucking way.

-----

He gave her two days.

When she didn’t call or text him to arrange a hookup, Rio took it upon himself to go to her - her address invitation enough. He timed his arrival for just after the kids went to school, her husband already off to work. While Elizabeth was taking a shower, he let himself into her home through the kitchen door, following the sounds of the water until he found her. She was already gloriously naked - only steam cloaking her wet, flushed skin, and he leaned back against the vanity, crossed both his legs and his arms, and asked, “is there room in there for two?”

Elizabeth screamed, Rio laughed, and then she proceeded to make him so hard that it hurt as she berated him for scaring her. She said that he couldn’t just walk into her house. What if her children had been home, Dean? What if one of her neighbors saw him sneaking around and called the cops? Not bothering with a towel, she threw a robe on, ranting and raving as she walked around downstairs, compulsively picking up and straightening whatever she saw out of place. Rio never said a word, just let her get it all out, because he knew, if she really didn’t want him there, she would have locked the door.

By the time he cornered her, backing her up until there was no way for her to escape, they were in the dining room - the breakfast dishes, blueberry pancakes, still stacked on the table. He fucked her right there… just turned her around, bent her over, shoved up her robe, and sank inside of that tight pussy. Rio pounded into her so hard that the silverware rattled against the china, the plates jumping and skipping across the wooden surface. Nothing broke, but they made a giant fucking mess - one that he gladly helped right afterwards by licking Elizabeth’s tits, stomach, and, for good measure… just in case, pussy clean. Surprising her made Elizabeth’s heart rate skyrocket, and fucking her so good kept it that way for the duration of his visit.

He didn’t stay long. She had to get to the dealership, and he had some investment properties to tour, but that morning in Elizabeth’s dining room started a pattern. At least three times a week, he would steal inside of the Boland home and fuck the lady of the house so long and so enthusiastically that she’d be drunk on him, stumbling around, by the time he left. Sometimes, he mirrored that first morning and came in through the kitchen, but Rio was an equal opportunist. Whatever door was available to him, he’d use it, and once he found out that the Bolands were no longer sharing a bedroom… or a bed, the French doors that led him directly to the master suite became his entrance of choice. He even started fucking her when her family was at home, tucked safely and obliviously away upstairs.

When they were alone, they didn’t limit themselves to Elizabeth’s bedroom. They had sex in the kitchen, on both couches, on top of the washing machine, even in that goofy-ass motherfucker she was married to’s office. It was Elizabeth who first objected to using condoms. They had the logical, safe-sex talk afterwards, but in the heat of the moment, she smacked his hand away when he reached for a rubber, sinking down on his cock and taking him raw, fucking his brains out. He couldn’t think afterwards for what had to have been at least ten minutes - only the feeling of his cum leaking out of Elizabeth’s cunt and onto his leg she was straddling making him realize what they had done.

Their encounters, in all likelihood, would have continued in that same way - with fantastic, wild sex but little more, but then a happy accident happened. Pop was on a cider kick. Seriously, it would’ve been all the kid drank if allowed, but Rio was out, and Marcus was a picky little bastard. If it wasn’t so annoying… and if he had anyone to blame but himself, Rio might have been impressed by his kid’s discerning taste. As it was, it meant that Marcus refused to drink the regular grocery store swill and insisted that they, instead, go to the farmers market. But not just any farmers market, oh no. Rhea had Marcus convinced that their fresh air market out in the burbs was better than anything downtown… or close to Rio’s loft, so what should have been a twenty minute errand became an afternoon excursion. It was only once he heard her voice that Rio realized of course Elizabeth would go to that particular farmers market as well.

She and all four of her children were selecting a whole basketful of apples - local and organic as the sign said. Elizabeth was telling them to stay away from the red delicious - they might look pretty, but they weren’t known for their eating or their baking quality - when she lifted her head to toss her hair out of her face, catching his gaze and then holding it. For several beats, they just stared at one another, surprised to see the other in such a setting. Once she finally blinked, Elizabeth seemed to register that Rio wasn’t alone, and her face relayed everything she was thinking and feeling: wonder, confusion, realization, and then rapid, searing attraction. She nibbled on her bottom lip, and Rio nodded his head, signaling that she and her children could approach - that he was okay with her meeting Marcus and with Marcus meeting her and her babies.

“Mom,” the oldest one whispered in the way children did that made their attempt at subtlety actually really fucking noticable. “It’s that baseball player - the one from Dad’s commercial.”

“You can just call me Rio, Kid. And I don’t remember your dad bein’ in that commercial with me. Now, your Mom on the other hand…? She rocked it.”

“Yeah, but it’s my Dad’s dealership,” the adolescent boy - Kenny, Rio thought his name was - argued with him, sounding like a chip off the old Dean Boland block. He spoke with the potent mixture of pride and the suspicion that it was misplaced.

“Your Mom works there, too, and from what I hear, she runs circles around everyone else.”

Stepping in before her son could say anything more, Elizabeth corrected, “his name is Mr. Salazar.”

“Don’t do me like that, Ma,” he playfully begged of her. When she glared at him, daring Rio to challenge her further, he braved her potential irritation and suggested, “how about a compromise? He can call me Mr. Rio.” And if the kid called him by just his first name instead, Rio sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything.

“Fine,” Elizabeth agreed reluctantly. Turning towards her children, she gestured at each of them as she said their names. “Kenny, Danny, Emma, Jane, this is Mr. Rio. And you,” she leaned over to be more on Pop’s eye level, not realizing that she was giving him and his son quite the excellent view down her v-neck sweater, “must be Marcus. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“You have ,” Marcus asked wondrously.

“Of course! Your Dad loves you very much, and he’s very proud of you.”

From beside him, his son squirmed happily. Flashing Elizabeth a warm, grateful smile - one that she returned, he tipped his chin towards their basket of apples. “You goin’ bobbin’?”

It was the older girl, Emma, who answered. “We’re having a leaf party, and Mommy’s making us apple dumps, too!”

“Dumplings,” Elizabeth corrected, rolling her eyes. “Apple dumplings . I’m starting to think you just like making things sound gross.” The kids all giggled.

Well, except for Pop. Marcus looked up at Rio mournfully and then turned those big, warm, brown eyes onto Elizabeth. “I’ve never been to a leaf party before.”

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Elizabeth whispered to him before once more raising her voice and addressing her children, “but we’re going to need some eggs if I’m going to make ice cream to go with those dumplings.”

After giving the younger boy, Danny, some money, four pairs of jean covered legs wearing tennis shoes and bright, fall jackets took off for the chickens - the Boland children, apparently, wanting to personally guarantee their eggs were fresh. “They like trying to get as many colors as possible,” Elizabeth explained her kids’ enthusiasm before once more bending down to speak directly to Marcus. “Don’t say anything when they come back, but it’s not really a party. I just tell them that, so they don’t realize they’re actually doing chores.”

“I have chores, too, but Daddy doesn’t make it a party for me, and I don’t get apple dumps,” Marcus snickered, “with ice cream afterwards either.”

“Oh, so now you’re deprived, Pop,” Rio teased his son, feigning disbelief and exasperation. “Wanna tell Miss Elizabeth why we’re even here right now.”

“Daddy wanted to buy cider from the grocery store,” Marcus revealed with exaggerated revulsion. And he certainly picked the right audience for it in the apple picking, eggs straight from the farm to the table using, homemade ice cream making - and who even did that? - woman standing in front of them. “But don’t worry, I told him that the best cider is here.”

“Well, I, for one, am glad that you set your Dad straight. We can’t have you drinking inferior apple cider!”

“Are you going to have cider at your leaf party, Miss Elizabeth?” And, apparently, Pop wasn’t letting this party thing drop.

“Probably not,” she answered him. “We’ll be too busy raking up all of our leaves. We have a lot of trees, and I would swear that all of our neighbors’ leaves somehow find their way into our yard, too. Then, when we’re done, I’ll let the kids jump in them for a little while before we bag them up and carry them to the curb for pickup. Only once we’re all finished will we have our treats.”

“But what if you get thirsty while you’re working,” Marcus wondered in concern. And the little shit sounded genuinely worried and not like he was angling for something. “We bought a lot of cider, Miss Elizabeth. We could share it with you… if we came to your party.” Making his plea sound even more pathetic, Pop laid it on really thick when he finished with, “because we live in a loft, we don’t even have any trees. I’ll never get to jump in a leaf pile.”

When Elizabeth glanced up at Rio, he expected to find her gaze apologetic or even hesitant, but she was gazing at him with just as much appeal and entreaty as Pop. The expression was so close to what she looked like when she was begging him to make her cum that Rio felt his dick twitch, and he shifted uncomfortably where he stood. Could he even be around her for an entire afternoon without getting inside of her? It looked like he was about to find out, because while he could have put off Pop, even reprimanding him for inviting himself, there was no way that Rio could deny the both of them. And wasn’t that a horrifying realization - that the woman he was just supposed to be fucking on the regular held such sway over him even when completely dressed and around their kids.

“If you’re worried about who else might be there…?,” she read his hesitation wrong. In fact, besides his brief exchange with her oldest, not once had the thought of Dean Boland crossed Rio’s mind that day. Her husband was just… immaterial. “It’ll just be us. It’s senior weekend. He considers himself an honorary alum, so he goes over to Ann Arbor for it every year. He won’t be home until Sunday night.”

“What the hell is an honorary alum?”

Elizabeth shrugged, rolled her eyes, obviously finding her husband ridiculous but long since accustomed to his bullshit. Plus, if Rio had to guess, she appreciated anything that gave her a break from him… even if it was nonsense and left her juggling all four babies and the dealership on her own. “Jack, his father, went to Michigan.”

Rio scoffed, disgusted by her buffoon of a husband. “That’s like sayin’ I’m an honorary war hero because my Old Man was a soldier who died in combat before he even met me.”

“And like I’m a professional baseball player, too,” Marcus cheered. The kid was too smart for his own good… but especially Rio’s. He’d have to watch what he said and how he acted around Elizabeth if Pop was going to prove to be so perceptive.

“You might not be a professional yet, but rumor has it you’re a pretty good athlete,” Elizabeth praised Marcus, making the kid practically preen. Jesus. She got to the Salazar men quickly and easily, didn’t she?

Her herd of skipping children came back then with what looked like two dozen eggs. How much fucking ice cream were they making?! “Who’s an athlete,” Kenny wanted to know.

Elizabeth told him, “Marcus is. He plays baseball and soccer, right,” she looked to Rio’s son for confirmation.

Marcus nodded powerfully and then said, “and Daddy said I can try swimming and karate, too!”

That’s all it took for Pop to literally be enfolded into a mass of Boland babies, the five kids talking over each other in their excitement, yet somehow they all seemed to understand everything that was being said. Elizabeth came to stand beside him as they observed their children interacting - the leaf party, apples, and eggs all but forgotten. “You really should join us,” she encouraged him. “It’ll be fun.”

“You sayin’ we don’t usually have fun together, Mama?”

Elizabeth blushed - an answer to his question if he ever saw one - but changed the subject, apparently deciding that he and Marcus joining her and her children was a done deal. “Do you think they could handle my car on their own, so that I could ride back to my house with you?”

“You put Marcus at the wheel and your little one, Jane, on the pedals, and they’d probably be able to figure it out. Your mamavan might come back with a few scratches, though.”

She laughed joyfully, and Rio had to stop himself at the last minute from reaching out for her - to hold her hand, or wrap his arm around her waist to pull her close, or to slide his palm into one of her back pockets, squeezing a handful with every step they took together. He was still recentering himself and pushing the instinct to be closer to her - as close as he could possibly get at all times - away when he realized that Elizabeth had joined the children and was wrangling all five of them towards the exit. When he caught up with them, Rio slid the basket of apples out of her hand, earning himself an appreciative smile (and maybe a hernia) for his efforts.

From that moment on, it was a slippery slope. Yeah, he still fucked her multiple times a week, but it was like a seal was broken once she met Marcus and Marcus met the Boland children. When Rio signed Pop up for karate, he justified selecting a studio in the burbs so that Rhea wouldn’t be inconvenienced by something Rio had promised their son. Yet, he couldn’t so easily explain away why, at the same time, he also paid for two other children to attend - Elizabeth’s youngest and Ruby, her best friend’s, little boy. Elizabeth had confided in him that she was worried about Harry, about how he would adjust to and fit into the Hill family now that his big sister had been diagnosed with a potentially fatal kidney disease. It just seemed inevitable that, in their focus on Sara, Harry might be forgotten sometimes. So, Rio enrolled him in karate, too.

He tried to tell himself that the karate studio and the public pool where Marcus now took swimming lessons, coincidentally at the very same time as Kenny Boland, were additional places where he and Elizabeth could hook up. But she might’ve been willing to fuck him in a locked supply closet at the bar he owned, but there was no way Elizabeth was going to sneak off to have sex with him in an empty locker room or the back of her mamvan while their kids attended activities together. And most of the time, Rio didn’t care. Oh, he was always thinking about getting Elizabeth naked and getting inside of her, but he also just enjoyed her company. She was smart, and she was funny, and they weren’t just fucking anymore; they were friends.

And then they were a whole hell of a lot more than that, too.

-----

They, she , ambushed him.

“What the hell’s this, Elizabeth?”

“I know, I know,” she said instead of an apology or a promise that her best friend and sister were just leaving. Marcus had already abandoned him, running off towards the Boland children and Harry, who he knew from karate, like he hadn’t just played with all of them days before. “But they wanted to meet you. Ruby wanted to thank you in person.”

“It wasn’t for her, Ma.” Rio paying for Harry to attend karate with Marcus and Jane was about Rio wanting to make Elizabeth happy. And Harry wasn’t so bad.

Elizabeth ignored his protest. “And Annie…? Well, I kind of think Annie is going to ask you for something, too, but please do not feel obligated!” He wouldn’t, especially because, as much as he knew Elizabeth loved her little sister, she was also embarrassed by her admission.

“We could’ve avoided all of that if you hadn’t told them about our playdate in the park today.”

She looked at him pointedly. “I knew you never would have agreed to meet them otherwise.”

“And I still ain’t agreein’, Darlin’.” But he also wasn’t leaving either. Not only would Marcus pitch a fit, but it was winter break, so Rio’s opportunities to fuck her on the regular had dwindled drastically. They wouldn’t be having sex on the playground that afternoon… though he wasn’t opposed to the idea under different circumstances - namely that their kids weren’t there, but he also just wanted to spend time with her… even more so than he wanted to avoid her bitches.

Rio stepped closer to her, wanting to demonstrate his next point. Tucking aside the strand of hair that always seemed to fall into her eyes, he rasped, “they’re gonna take one look at us together, Mama, and know that we’re fuckin’.”

She blushed, swallowed thickly, and immediately denied, “no, they won’t!”

“So, your girls don’t know you well enough to recognize when you’re attracted to someone, when you share intimacy with them?”

“It’s not that!” And maybe it wasn’t. Considering how long Elizabeth had been married to Deansie, her best friend and sister might not know what she looked like when she was getting dicked down good. “It’s just… this,” she motioned between them. “They won’t see it.”

“Ah, I get it,” Rio remarked coolly. He could feel his jaw clenching in affront and hurt pride. “They ain’t gonna understand how someone like you could ever be with someone like me.”

“Yes.” He started pulling away, but Elizabeth reacted quicker than he anticipated, and she reached out, grabbing his far hand - the hand that her family couldn’t see - and keeping him close. “Because I’m married .” That wasn’t the response he was expecting, and some of his guard dropped. “Ruby would never have an affair, and she thinks we’re too much alike to ever contemplate me cheating on Dean; Annie, under the right circumstances, would cheat, but she thinks we’re too different to ever believe me brave or reckless enough to have an affair. As for you,” she fixed him with a deliberate stare, “a younger, attractive, successful guy who has everything going for him? If I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that you want me, they’ll never believe it… let alone think it.”

“A’ight, Sweetheart. Let’s go have you introduce me to your…”

“Just… don’t call them bitches,” Elizabeth interrupted him, wincing slightly at the very idea of how that would go over with her best friend and sister. “In fact, don’t swear at all. Ruby’s religious, and Annie… doesn’t need encouragement.”

Rio just stared at her, unimpressed. “You do remember that, for eight months of the year, I talk to the press on a near daily basis, yeah? I think I can handle a few suburban moms.”

“We’ll see,” Elizabeth sing-songed, smirking at him while starting the walk back over towards their bench. In fact, there were two park benches right next to each other - Ruby and Annie on one with a spot still open and the other empty. He could tell that she had picked this spot intentionally, and while, yeah, it was good that they wouldn’t just expect him to stand around talking with them, Rio was more concerned about where Elizabeth would sit, not himself. Because even if he couldn’t touch her the way he wanted to, he still wanted her near. A bench and a buffer between them - because Annie and Ruby were sitting to the sides, leaving the middle open - was not near.

Elizabeth sat down between her girls.

As far as Rio was concerned, that set the whole interaction off on the wrong foot. “Ladies,” he greeted before claiming the other bench. Since it was all for him, Rio spread his arms along the length of the back and laid his right ankle over his left knee.

Before he could even get comfortably settled, Elizabeth’s sister was already launching into him. “Huh. I thought you’d be taller.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot. It’s the whole baseball socks/pants thing.”

“Wait, you play baseball… like professionally? As in... it’s your job?!”

“Annie,” Elizabeth sighed, sounding exhausted. “I already told you this. It’s how we met.”

“No, you said that you met filming a commercial for BM.”

Ruby groaned. “How many times do we have to tell you not to call it that?”

“And we hired him for the commercial,” Elizabeth continued undaunted, “because he plays for the Tigers.”

Annie still looked completely confused. “So, why’s he hanging out with us then?”

Patiently, her older sister said, “our kids are friends,” as she waved towards the playground where there were now six and not just five children playing… thanks to Marcus’ addition to the group.

“And you don’t have, like, a nanny or ten to handle park duties for you,” Annie asked Rio directly.

“I share custody with his Mom. Between that and my schedule, sometimes it feels like I hardly see him as it is. There’s no way I’m givin’ up even a second with Pop that I don’t have to. Besides,” Rio added, deciding that he would just put the matter of money right out there and get it over with. “How much do you think I make anyway?”

“Enough to hand out karate lessons like you’re the male, Detroit Oprah.” Annie raised her voice, imitating the famous media personality. “You get an orange belt, and you get an orange belt, and you get an orange belt!”

“Thank you for that, by the way,” Ruby spoke up again. “My husband, Stan, and I didn’t realize how much Harry needed something of his own until Beth asked him if he wanted to go to karate with Jane. It’s been really good for him.” Her voice turned dry, “though I could do without all of the ‘hi-yahs!’”

Rio laughed. “Pop’s more into the ninja thing - scared his Abuela so bad last week, I thought she was gonna come after both of us with a wooden spoon - Marcus for startlin’ her and me for signin’ him up for karate in the first place.”

Elizabeth snorted and sent him an amused look. “I wonder where he gets that from.”

“I don’t know whatchu you talkin’ ‘bout, Elizabeth. He must get it from his Moms.”

Elizabeth ,” Annie repeated, mocked. “You call my sister Elizabeth ?”

“It’s her name, ain’t it,” Rio countered… like it was no big deal. And it wasn’t, because Beth was too weak, too diminutive of a name for her, and if her best friend and sister couldn’t see that? Well, that was on them.

“Everybody calls her Beth… well, except Deansie who calls her Bethie, but I don’t think we’d be here right now if you were anything like my bastard-in-law.”

“Annie !,” Elizabeth and Ruby reprimanded at the same time.

“What,” the younger woman feigned confusion. “Too subtle?”

“Let’s just… not talk about Dean,” Elizabeth suggested. “I don’t want the kids to hear such things about their father. Besides, he’s not here, and we’re having a nice day, right?”

“You know what would make it even nicer? If I could figure out a way to pay for Ben’s hormone therapy treatments.”

Elizabeth met his gaze, letting Rio know that this is what she was talking about when she said her sister wanted something from him as well. “It’s all on you, huh - no baby daddy or husband to help you figure it out?”

“No, Gregg…,”

“ … that’s her ex-husband,” Ruby supplied, cutting in.

“ … is supportive.”

“You got primary physical custody or joint custody?”

“Primary,” Annie answered hesitantly… as if she didn’t trust where Rio was going with his questions.

“So, he pays you child support, yeah, and has to carry Ben’s medical insurance?”

“Well, yes,” Annie sputtered.

“Then the therapy’s on him. If the insurance won’t cover it, he’ll have to.”

“But he already pays for Ben’s private school tuition. I wanted to be able to do this on my own!”

“What,” Elizabeth gasped, turning incredulously towards her sister. “You haven’t even asked for Gregg’s help?!”

“Bitch, when have you ever had any pride before,” Ruby wanted to know.

So Ruby, the religious one , could call them bitches, but Rio couldn’t? Only… Beth wouldn’t meet his gaze, too distracted by her sister’s revelations to even recognize the hypocrisy. Deciding that he had fulfilled his obligations of politeness - he listened to and accepted Ruby’s gratitude, and he solved Annie’s financial hardship - perhaps in a different way than she wanted, but that wasn’t Rio’s problem, he stood up, announced, “I think I’m gonna let you ladies talk this out without me, yeah? I’ll run and get drinks if you keep an eye on Pop for me,” he asked Elizabeth. She agreed with a smile and a nod. “Text me your orders, Mama.”

As he walked away, Rio realized he had slipped and used a term of endearment for Elizabeth in front of her sister and best friend. It could have been worse; it could have been something more personal, but it still wasn’t something he would call her if they were just friends whose kids played together. Granted, Gretchen didn’t have a maternal bone in her body, so Rio would never call her Mama, but he also wouldn’t call her any of the things he called Elizabeth. Neither Ruby nor Annie seemed to pick up on the familiarity, though, so they were in the clear.

Only… Rio wasn’t so sure that he wanted them to believe the lie. He valued his privacy, and Elizabeth was still very much married, so it made sense that they remain discreet and keep their relationship a secret. Rio didn’t consider himself a celebrity, but he certainly wasn’t some random Joe citizen either. If the team and the media found out that he was having an affair with a married mother of four, his personal life would eclipse his professional life, resulting in drama he really didn’t want to deal with, and if they were outed, Elizabeth’s world would in all likelihood come crashing down around her. It would certainly destroy her marriage - something that Rio didn’t think would be so bad, but it wasn’t up to him. More importantly, it would jeopardize her relationship with her children. Yet… there was a part of Rio that didn’t hate the idea of the world knowing that she was his… as long as they could control the reveal.

But, first, he had to convince Elizabeth that she didn’t hate the idea either.

-----

The last tremor of Elizabeth’s orgasm had long since faded, yet Rio, soft now, stayed inside of her anyway. She was on her back, legs spread wide to cradle his hips, and her arms were wrapped around him - one so her fingers could feather against the line of his spine and the other so she could caress where his hairline met his neck. Rio had his head pillowed against her tits, and whenever he had the urge to taste the heavy, creamy mounds, he did just that - licking, kissing, sucking, nipping. Elizabeth seemed in no hurry for him to pull out, for Rio to leave her embrace, and he knew his best chance to get the response he wanted for what he was about to ask her was if he was inside of her.

“Why don’t you leave him?”

“And what,” Elizabeth wondered warily. “Be with you instead?”

“Well, yeah,” Rio twisted his chin around so that he could press it into her sternum and look up at her, meeting her gaze. “But also not what I meant.”

In her curiosity, Elizabeth stopped running her fingers against him… until he whined in protest. Once she started up again, Rio couldn’t help but savor her touch. “What are you saying then?”

“You don’t need him, Mama. Not for any of it - financially, emotionally, sexually.”

“And our four children,” she wanted to know.

Rio didn’t know everything about the Boland current financial situation beyond what Elizabeth had admitted to him the summer before, but he knew enough to feel safe saying, “he’s a threat to them.”

“Dean would never harm the kids, Rio.”

“There’s more than one way to hurt someone. You know that. He might not smack ‘em around, but selfishly riskin’ the roof over their heads, takin’ food out of their bellies, drainin’ their college funds, and for what? So, he can bail himself out of trouble, because he’s a fuckin’ idiot?” Rio still suspected that it was more than just bad investments that put Elizabeth and her husband so far in debt, but if she knew about that jackass cheatin’ on her, she never even hinted about any infidelity. “You tellin’ me that didn’t hurt your babies?”

Elizabeth sighed. “I agreed that we should use the kids’ college savings accounts to help pay for the commercial.”

“Yeah. Because he gave you no other fuckin’ options,” Rio insisted.

“There are more important things for a child’s security and happiness than money, and you know it!”

“Maybe, yeah, Ma. But don’t forget that I’ve seen the way that motherfucker treats you,” he reminded her. And both times that he had seen the Bolands interact had been in public. Rio couldn’t imagine how much worse it was behind closed doors. Even if they thought the children were in bed or not paying attention, kids just sensed shit like that. “You tellin’ me it’s good for those babies of yours to see their father speak down to and demean their mother?”

“No, of course not, but…,” she started to protest.

Rio wouldn’t let her finish whatever nonsense was about to come out of her mouth, though. “Not to mention the fact that you’re holdin’ everything together for them, and they have no idea. I told you this the day we met, and it’s even more true now, Sweetheart: your babies need to see you as the Boss Bitch you are. You stay married to Dean, you’ll always be savin’ him, and he’ll never let you shine, especially not in front of your kids.”

Whispering, Elizabeth acknowledged, “it’s not exactly like I’m being the best wife right now.”

“Oh, so now you're not supposed to be happy either?”

“I mean, not if my happiness is due to the fact that I’m having an affair.”

“Nah, I don’t buy it, Darlin’. Kids are better off with divorced parents who are happy and fulfilled separately than they are with parents who are still married but miserable. Look at Marcus.” He and Rhea were never married, but Rio knew that Pop was better off with his parents co-parenting than he would’ve been with them cohabitating.

Catching him by surprise and making Rio stir in interest, Elizabeth suddenly clenched the muscles of her cunt around his (for the moment) flaccid cock. “Does this mean you’re finally going to tell me about Marcus’ mother?”

“You gettin’ this excited about someone else?” She squeezed him again. “I’m gonna take offense, Ma.”

Rio!,” she admonished and pressed. “Come on. Tell me. Please?”

He finally had her in his bed - the two of them desperate for more time together as his reporting date for spring training crept ever closer, so the last thing that Rio wanted to talk about was fuckin’ another woman. “We hooked up. I knocked her up. Now, separately, we’re both makin’ sure that Pop grows up right.”

“I imagine she would take just as much issue with what you just said as I do.”

“But see,” Rio circled them back to his original point, “the beauty of me not bein’ with Rhea is that, unless it’s about our kid, I don’t fuckin’ care what she thinks. I’m tellin’ you, Baby, you need to divorce his sorry ass, yeah?”

For several moments, Elizabeth was silent as she weighed and contemplated what he had said. They just… studied each other. When she finally did speak, her voice was hesitant yet hopeful. “I’ll… think about it. Okay?”

She wasn’t asking him for Gretchen’s number, so his agent and lawyer could recommend a good divorce attorney, but it was a start, and Rio would take it.

-----

“You’re late.”

“You’re still here.”

“The food’s good,” Rio remarked casually, finally looking up at the man across from him. It had been nearly twenty years since they had last seen one another, but he’d recognize him anywhere. It was a strange dichotomy. Because he was so quiet, the man could blend in anywhere, not even be noticed, yet once someone really looked at him, his was a face you would never forget. Face tats… just like neck tats… tended to do that, and he had even more now as an adult than he did as a punk ass kid growing up just down the street from Rio.

Without explanation, he slid a plain, yellow envelope across the table. Mick took it, opened it, peeked inside, and then shut it again. “What do you want me to do with him?”

“You a PI, right? Investigate his shady ass.”

“What’re we talking here: insider trading, drugs, murder?”

Rio was taken aback. Yeah, they grew up hard, but what the hell kind of shit was Mick into these days? And he obviously needed to take a second, longer look at that photo, because Boland’s face might’ve screamed that he was untrustworthy, but he definitely didn’t look like some criminal mastermind. “He’s cheatin’ on his wife… with his assistant.” Rio had no proof of this. But he just knew . But that’s also why he was hiring Mick. “You don’t start there, though, yeah? You build up to that shit. I want you to track down all of his affairs, past and present. Document them. Get me proof.”

“Why do you care if some middle-aged white dude is fucking around on his wife unless… you stickin’ it to her?” Rio glared, and Mick laughed. “I can’t believe some basic bitch has you trippin’, Salazar!”

Snapping, Rio ordered, “leave her out of this.”

“I don’t see how I can, given that this is all about her.”

“No, I mean, in your investigation. Don’t interview her. Don’t follow her around. In the envelope, I gave you all of their information, but there are kids involved, Man. Four. I’m payin’ you catch him with his pants around his ankles, not harass Elizabeth and her babies. And don’t let her make you either.”

“Please. If you thought I was some fucking amateur, you wouldn’t be hiring me. No suburban bitch is gonna make me.”

“There’s more to Elizabeth than what meets the eye. Don’t underestimate her.”

“I guess there would have to be,” Mick mused, leaning back in his hair and carding an inked hand through his beard. “To have you this twisted up.”

While he didn’t appreciate Mick’s observations, he also didn’t care what the PI thought about his relationship with Elizabeth. What he did care about was the fact that, whether he was getting paid to be discreet or not, Mick would keep his mouth shut - not only because of their history but also because that’s just who Mick was. “Start with the financials. He inherited a pretty successful car dealership from his father, but he’s broke now. The house is triple mortgaged, credit cards are maxed out. Follow the money… or lack thereof, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find his mistresses.”

“You know, this dude sounds like a real piece of work. I could just take him out for you. In the short term, it’ll cost you more; in the long run, though, much neater than divorce, especially when there are kids involved.”

“What the fuck are you into, Man?!”

Mick shrugged, smirked. “I consider myself a full service private investigator.”

“Yeah, we won’t be needin’ that,” Rio promised him. “Jesus.”

“So,” Mick segued with a nod, simply accepting that Rio wouldn’t be… taking him up on his offer . “When do you want this done by?”

Finished with his meal, he pushed his plate aside. “I’d like a full report when I get back from spring training.”

“And when the fuck will that be? Do I look like someone who watches baseball?”

Rio shrugged. “How the fuck should I know what sports you like.”

With a straight face, Mick replied, “I like ice skating - ice dancing as well... if its quality.” The asshole was serious, too.

“I’ll be back on the last day of March before opening day on April 1st.”

The schedule sucked. In years past, it was still just as tight, but Rio only had to fit in some time with Marcus before the start of the regular season. This year, however, he knew that he’d not only want to see his son, but he’d want to see Elizabeth as well. And for what he wanted to do with her, Pop couldn’t be around with them. There was also the factor of her schedule, too. Would she even be able to get out and steal away a few hours with him? Now, he’d also have to pencil Mick in as well.

As if he could read his very thoughts, the PI said, “I’ll just drop my report off, then. Domestic cases are usually pretty straight forward. We shouldn’t need to meet unless you have questions.”

“And payment?” He’d put a deposit in the same envelope with Boland’s picture and personal information, but Rio wasn’t giving Mick the balance until he came through and delivered the goods. If they weren’t meeting in person, though, at the conclusion of the job, he needed to know how to get the PI’s money to him.

But Mick didn’t seem concerned about the matter. Standing, he stated, “I know you’re good for it.”

Shaking his head in amusement, Rio realized, “so, you do follow my career?”

“Nah, Man. You were always good for it… even back when we were kids running scams in the old neighborhood. Just cause you got out doesn’t mean you’ve changed that much.” To punctuate his assessment, Mick knocked his knuckles against the tabletop twice. 

-----

Rio wasn’t sure what he missed most: her tits, her mouth, or her pussy, but he knew that he wanted to fuck her, and he wished that there was a way that he could fuck all of her at the same time. But in the meantime, though, for as long as he was in Lakeland, playing meaningless games in preparation for the ones that did count, he would have to contend himself with jerking off to just the sight of all three.

Except… when she logged onto Skype that night, Elizabeth wasn’t already in bed or soaking in the tub. Instead, she was curled up on one of the lounge chairs outside on the patio - a tumbler of bourbon in hand and clad in a pair of jeans and a sweater far too thin for the frigid Detroit night air. It was still March. The calendar might have said that it would be spring in less than a week’s time, but there was still snow on the ground in Michigan. Pop said they were supposed to get more, too.

What was even more worrying than her location and her lack of a coat - and Elizabeth was always such a stickler for properly dressing for the weather - were the dried tear tracks he could see on her pale cheeks, the watery film over her somehow even more blue eyes. “Baby, are you okay? Is it the kids? Do you need me to come home? I know I’m not supposed to, but fuck it. If you need…”

“It’s Sara,” she whispered, finally putting Rio out of his misery.

And, yeah, it sucked that something was wrong with the Hill girl, but jesus christ, the fears that had been spinning around inside of his head…? “She needs a transplant, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah.” They were both silent for a moment as the weight of Sara’s diagnosis settled between them. “And not only is Ruby scared to death that she’s going to lose her daughter, but she’s terrified that even if she gets an opportunity to save her, she won’t be able to pay for it.”

“Nah, she doesn’t need to be thinkin’ about that shit. Let the hospital deal with it. Besides, Sara will be able to pick up on that worry, and the last thing she needs is to feel guilty.”

“I know,” Elizabeth agreed with him, nodding as she brought her glass to her lips, sipping before she continued, “I told Ruby that… just in a different way.” So, she softened it up a little, and she probably told her best friend that, rather than the hospital, she would deal with the money issue. Her next statement proved just how well Rio knew his girl. “I’m working on some fundraising ideas, and I already had Annie put donation jars at all the registers at Fine & Frugal. Ruby’s church will help, too.”

“See, Mama, you got this. Now, dry those tears and pull down that sweater a li’l for me. Let me catch a peek at you.”

Like he had wanted, the teasing made Elizabeth laugh. Rio certainly wouldn’t object to her flashing him, but he also didn’t expect anything from her. Yes, most of their Skype calls led to video sex, but it wasn’t a requirement. “God, this is going to sound horrible, but I’m not even upset because of Sara. I’m a horrible aunt and best friend. I’m taking something that's devastating for the Hill family, and I’m making it all about me.”

“I’m not buyin’ that, Sweetheart, so try sellin’ it to someone else. You love that little girl, and you’d do anythin’ for Ruby. She’s your sister just as much as Annie is.”

“Anything except, apparently, put my own issues aside for once.”

“Okay, explain,” Rio demanded of her. “Because I’m not about to listen to you beat yourself up when I ain’t there and able to make you feel good… about yourself.”

Elizabeth looked away from the phone screen and out into her yard, into the empty darkness of the night. “I just… I watched how Stan was with Ruby today, and I was jealous.”

“Because your useless, waste of space husband wouldn’t support you like that?”

“Oh no,” Beth argued, laughing mirthlessly. “Dean would make a huge production of being there for me in the hospital. When people are watching, he loves to put on the husband of the year performance. You should have seen him when all of the kids were born, especially Kenny and Danny - running up and down the hallways, handing out cigars to random strangers, announcing to anyone who would listen that his wife gave him an heir. Of course, by the time the baby and I were released from the hospital, the dealership needed him, and I was on my own with our newborn and, by the time Janey came, three other children under the age of six as well.”

She paused long enough in her explanation to drain the rest of her bourbon, setting the glass down on the table beside her before refocusing on Rio. Even twelve hundred miles away and through a screen, she could effortlessly trap him in that unforgettable gaze of hers. “It wasn’t knowing that his support would be insincere that bothered me either. As I watched my best friend and her husband today, I realized that I wouldn’t want my husband there with me; I’d want you.”

His arousal was instantaneous - inappropriate, too, considering their conversation about a sick child had prompted her admission, but Rio couldn’t have stopped his cock from hardening no matter what he tried to do or think about. “Fuck, Mama, you can’t say shit like that when I can’t get inside of you.”

“I’m going to ask him for a divorce,” she continued like he hadn’t just warned her. Or… maybe she kept talking specifically because he had warned her. Because while she laid out her plans, she also started to take off her jeans. First, she popped the button, then she slid down the zipper, and then she started rocking the clinging, dark fabric off of those ample hips that were seemingly made to be marked and bruised by his hands. “I want to wait until the school year is over - let the kids finish out the semester without the distraction and the anxiety of their parents separating, and then we’ll all have the summer to adjust to our new normal.”

When she tugged down her panties, the angle of her phone prevented Rio from actually seeing her now bare cunt, but he’d recognize those movements anywhere. “As for you not being able to get inside of me right now, I guess you’ll just have to settle for watching me get inside of myself.”

The image on his laptop screen wobbled as she rearranged herself into position, but then all he could see was Elizabeth’s pink and perfect pussy: full screen, high definition, wet. She didn’t tease him… or herself. Apparently, the realization and announcement that they were really and truly going to happen - and not just fucking in private but for all the world to know that she was his, and he was hers - was enough to get Elizabeth just as turned on, just as desperate, as she would have been had Rio taken his time between her legs, building her up with his mouth.

She went right for both her gasping cunt and her throbbing clit, slipping the middle finger of her right hand through the pouty lips of her labia and then pushing, pushing, pushing until her vulva met the base of her knuckle. At the same time, Elizabeth dragged her palm against her mound, finding and rubbing her little sensitive ball of nerves. She quickly added a second and then a third finger, and Rio couldn’t help the spark of pure male pride - jerking off just that much harder - and pleasure at the sight of just how good his cock had stretched her out, leaving her ever more ready to take him or, in this case, her own touch, but what he didn’t understand was why she wasn’t riding her hand yet, allowing the motions of her hips to drive her digits just that much deeper and to elevate the friction on her clit.

Pausing in the tugging, and the wringing, and the squeezing of his dick, already leaking precum, just long enough to really look at Elizabeth, he realized that the video was… jiggling. She had her phone clenched between her thighs, so she couldn’t thrust her hips for fear that it would fall, and he would lose the vision that was before him - of Elizabeth fucking herself with his voice in her ear, and visions of him in her mind’s eye, and the ghost of his touch upon her skin, and the memory of the taste of him on her tongue until she would cum - all creamy, spent, and rosy red. “Baby, where’s your other hand?”

“It’s underneath my shirt,” she answered like it was obvious - voice all breathy yet high and prim, too. The sound of her made his cock twitch, jump. “I slipped it inside of my bra, and I’m pinching and plucking at my nipples just like you do, but it’s not enough; it’s not right,” she whined hopelessly. “My fingers aren’t warm like yours. They’re too soft, not calloused enough. My touch isn’t… yours.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he swore. As his arousal climbed and his orgasm approached, Rio could tell that it would be powerful if not satisfying. They never were - not without her. “Next year, I don’t care what that stupid ex of yours - ” by then “ - has to say about it or if we have to pull your babies out of school - Marcus, too - and teach ‘em ourselves, you’re comin’ with me. I can’t handle this bullshit again.”

“Well, if nothing else,” Elizabeth started, mewled, and then sighed. “I’m cumming... with you... now.

Watching that bare pussy clench down on her fingers, Rio came with a groan and a spasm - his cum painting his belly, his chest. God, he wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t sprain his or her own fingers someday - preferably his, because she wouldn’t have a need to get herself off once he was home again in seventeen days. And, yeah, sure, there’d be road trips throughout the season, but none of them would be a month and a half in length, and surely they’d be able to figure something better out than Skype sex. Maybe she and the kids could take several mini vacations that year, meeting up with him during some of the team’s longer trips. But for the moment….

Still breathing harshly, Rio demanded, “no more tears now, yeah, Ma?”

She brought the phone back up so he could see her face. As much as Rio loved looking at her cunt, he’d always prefer that pouty mouth, those beautiful eyes, and that flaming, copper hair. “I make no promises.”

“Nah, none of that, Darlin’. I gotchu all loose now, relaxed. Ride that. And know that Ruby and Sara could not ask for a better best friend and aunt. You’re gonna rock those fundraisers - raise enough money to get Sara a new kidney… and probably some other kids, too.”

Elizabeth smiled gently and said, “thank you.” It was so simple of an expression but also terribly sincere.

The soft fondness of her tone and her declaration earlier that she was going to leave her husband made him voice a request that had been on his mind for quite some time now. “Will you bring those babies of yours with you to my game on openin’ day? Marcus’ll be there. Usually, my Grandma brings him, but I thought maybe he could hang with you and your kids instead this year. Trust me, Grandma won’t mind.” Before she could answer, he warned her, “it’s a day game, though, so they’ll have to miss school.”

“I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it, but it’s a special occasion, so I think it’d be alright. Just this once.”

“You mean until next year’s openin’ day,” Rio reminded her. He said it jokingly, but at the same time, he also wanted her to know that he was thinking long term for them. He wasn’t just going to break up her marriage and then peace out. Her appeal for him had nothing to do with the fact that she was already taken - forbidden fruit of some other cliche bullshit about adultery.

“Or playoffs,” she suggested, letting him know with those two words that she was just as committed as he was.

Rio couldn’t have dimmed his wide, beaming smile even if he tried. And why the fuck would he want to do that?

-----

When Rio gave Elizabeth a key to his place, this is exactly what he had in mind - that he would come home one day to find her waiting for him; naked… or, in this case, wearing just one of his shirts, done up by only two straining buttons; and on her knees. The pillow was all Elizabeth, but she was allowed creative license. Didn’t mean he wasn’t going to tease her about it, though.

“What’s this - my cock isn’t worth a bruise or two on your knees?”

“Don’t worry, Rio,” she placated him sweetly. “I’ll let you use it, too, when you return the favor later.” Well, it was hard to argue with that kind of sound logic. “Now, are you going to get undressed, or am I going to have to do everything here?”

It was then that Rio realized, not only was he wearing all of his clothes, but he was also still holding both of his massive duffle bags. Letting his luggage fall from his shoulders, they landed with two very solid thumps - one right after the other - on the floor. His shoes were the first to go - kicked off… somewhere. Rio had one hand unzipping his hoodie, shrugging it off, and tugging the t-shirt he wore underneath over his head, while the other shoved his baggy sweatpants off of his hips, letting gravity do the rest. He might have tripped slightly when he tried to walk with the joggers still caught around his ankles, but he eventually toed them the rest of the way off, along with his socks. His boxer-briefs were the last to go, and he made a slight production of it, hooking his thumbs in the waistband and bending over as he took the underwear all the way to the floor. All in all, it took him less than a minute to completely strip, yet by the time he stood back up straight - hands on his hips and arms angled at his side to better display his cock, he was so hard that the head of his dick was brushing against his abdomen.

As Rio sauntered over to her, Elizabeth was licking her lips in anticipation, her hips even starting to shift a little. “You wet, Baby?”

Elizabeth smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I really would.”

He could see her wicked, wonderful mind working as she held up her right index finger in the universal request for patience before dropping that same hand down to slip beneath the hem of his shirt she wore and then, if her purring, “ooh!, ” was any indication, working at least that one digit… if not more… inside of her pussy. The shadows created by her closed legs and his shirt prevented Rio from getting a good look at what she was doing, but he didn’t have to wait long to find out. Seconds later… and he could already see her juices just coating her hand, she lifted her touch to his cock and then slicked her arousal down his length. Using her thumb, she gathered his own precum, too, rubbing that on him as well, combining their essences… just like when he came inside of her. As soon as his dick was sufficiently lubricated, she fisted him at the base and took his first few inches into her mouth, sucking deeply right away.

And then it was just a blur of sensations for Rio. If she wasn’t jerking him off until she met her own spread and salivating lips, then she was fondling his balls. Elizabeth traced the veins of his cock with her tongue, kissed the very tip of his head, and swallowed around him when he was deep enough to touch the back of her throat. The way she pulled on him with every bob of her mouth made him think that she was thirsty… and maybe she was.

Rio couldn’t blink; he couldn’t breathe. The thought of missing even a second of the vision she presented - spit dripping off of her chin to run down her neck, her chest - making him desperate to not look away. Even when he couldn’t hold back any longer and started to shallowly thrust into her mouth, she just took it; she took him . What finally tipped Rio over the edge was Elizabeth moaning around him, not only because the sound made her throat vibrate and spasm around him but also because it was in that moment that he realized, while she had been tugging him raw with her right hand and practically inhaling him with her mouth, she had been rubbing one out for herself with her left - her moan signaling her own climax and triggering his.

At some point, Rio ended up laying on the ground beside her. It wasn’t comfortable, but that didn’t stop him from yanking Elizabeth down to curl up half beside and half on top of him - their legs tangled together, one massive tit pressed against him while the other rested on top of his chest, and her arms wrapped around him tight… like she never wanted to let him go. Despite the fact that she had just nearly choked on his cock and climaxed herself, Elizabeth regained her composure first.

“As soon as I… can breathe… again,” he panted around his words, “I’m gonna get… between those legs… and clean you up… like the dirty girl… you are.”

Elizabeth laughed joyfully. “I haven’t been a girl in a very long time, Rio.”

“Nah, you’re my girl, ain't’ you?” And she was. It wouldn’t be official yet for a couple more months, but sometimes he thought she had been his girl since the moment she had first smiled at him. She hummed contentedly in agreement, and that was all the confirmation Rio needed. “You and the kids all ready for tomorrow?”

“Yeah, that mix-up with all of Marcus’ new gear for the season somehow, miraculously, included sizes that would fit all of my children.” Her obvious sarcasm made him chuckle. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“Do I look like a fuckin’ seamstress to you?”

“No, you look like a man who knew I wouldn’t accept an expensive gift from you… even if it was for my children, so you had your agent cook up some bogus story about a non-returnable order of kids clothes that wouldn’t work for Marcus.”

“Yeah, I don’t know about that, Ma. Gretch is real particular about the details. She wouldn’t own a mistake she didn’t actually make,” he reasoned thoughtfully.

“She didn’t,” Elizabeth deadpanned. Turning her head so that she could look up at him, she added, “she put it on her assistant. Actually,” Elizabeth corrected, “she said it was her junior assistant… whatever that means.”

“Oh, you see, Gretch has an assistant for her assistant. She and your sister with her ideas about nannies probably should never meet.”

After laughing richly, Elizabeth said, “well to whoever is accepting the blame, I say thank you.” She did it in such a way that she allowed Rio to keep up his story that neither of them believed but also expressed her gratitude towards him. “The kids were thrilled.”

“It’s too bad that second assistant didn’t accidentally order some adult shit, too.”

“Oh!,” she sat up quickly in excitement. Rio mourned the loss of having her body so intimately pressed up against his, but he certainly didn’t mind the view she presented to him. If he stared at her tits while she talked, well… it had been far too long since he had seen them up close and personal, in the flesh. “I actually have something really special to wear. I forgot all about it, but since knowing you, I remembered it again, and I searched through all of my stuff until I found it.”

He really hoped it was a Tigers energy squad uniform. Or maybe she had a jersey that she had repurposed into a short, little dress. Sure, it’d be impractical. They’d be lucky if the temperatures got above fucking freezing, and Comerica was an open-air stadium. Elizabeth and the kids wouldn’t even be sitting in the heated suites. Wanting the complete ballpark experience, they were going to sit in the Tiger Den. But, still, knowing she was up there, rocking his team’s gear and looking hot as fuck while doing it? Yeah, Rio could get behind that.

He kept those thoughts to himself, though. “What’d you tell the kids to say about where they’re goin’ if Carman asks?”

“Nothing.” Puzzled, Elizabeth looked at him closely. “I’m not going to tell my kids to lie to their father. Dean knows that they’re friends with Marcus, and he knows that we all spend time together.”

So, that stupid motherfucker evidently had no problem with his wife hanging out with another man. He either possessed unearned and unwarranted confidence, or he didn’t think enough of his wife to care what she did. Neither option, however, meant that his ego would allow him to just lay down and accept a separation and then a divorce when the time came.

While he was contemplating her dumbass husband’s future reactions, Elizabeth stood up and started towards his open bedroom where he could see her clothes laid out on his bed. Rio scrambled to his feet after her. “Hey! Where the fuck do you think you’re goin’? It’s my turn to use the pillow.”

“The pillow will have to wait for another day. I need to get home, and you’re supposed to pick Marcus up from school, because he’s spending the night here, so he’s ready for tomorrow.” Rio growled in the back of his throat, and Elizabeth must have heard it, because she gentled her tone, made it playfully placating. “However, neither of us are exactly in an… appropriate state to spend time with our children, so if you don’t make it a marathon, we have just enough time to take a quick shower together before I have to leave.”

If by quick she meant a quickie in the shower before he helped her wash up, then that’s exactly what Rio did. He pushed her up against the tiled wall so that her nipples would abrade against the cool, wet surface while he fucked into her from behind. With one of his hands braided through one of hers and braced against the glass door and the other kneading and tweaking her clit until she came, whimpering and sobbing his name, spectacularly around his pistoning cock, Rio himself came balls deep inside of her contracting cunt, the pressure of his cum hitting her cervical wall triggering a smaller, shorter, but no less pleasurable orgasm for Elizabeth.

They were rushing around and getting redressed - Elizabeth in the clothes she wore to his loft and Rio in a clean pair of jeans and the button up she wore while giving him head - when she called out to him, “hey, someone just slipped something under your door?”

Coming out of his closet in just his still open pants, feet bare, Rio made his way towards her. She handed it over like the delivery was strange but not suspicious. Ripping the envelope open, Rio removed an invoice and a super thin flashdrive. Fucking Mick.

“Everything okay,” Elizabeth asked, sensing his irritation. “What is it?”

“Someone who did a job for me has no fuckin’ respect for boundaries, apparently.” But that’s what he got for hiring a private investigator, Rio concluded, especially one who knew him back when and would find it amusing to show Rio, a professional sports figure or not, he was still just as findable as anyone and everyone else. “It’s fine, though. Just annoyin’.”

Until he knew what was on that flashdrive, Rio wasn’t saying anything to Elizabeth about hiring a PI to investigate her fool of a husband, especially since he put Mick on retainer before she decided to ask for a divorce. Even after he saw the proof… and there was no doubt in Rio’s mind that Mick had found the goods on Boland, he wasn’t sure what he would do with it. Elizabeth might not love her husband anymore, but it could still hurt her to learn of his extramarital activities. Luckily, in their rush to get ready and get out to go to their respective children, she didn’t notice his distraction. He kissed her goodbye, copped a quick feel of her tits and ass, and then sent her on her way after cementing their plans for the next day.

-----

Because Rio had to be at the stadium by no later than 9:00 AM for their 1:05 PM start time, he didn’t get to see Elizabeth and her kids before the game. Pop went with him for warm-ups, drills, and batting practice. He liked to shag balls and offer commentary on his Old Man’s skills, and the team was welcoming of his presence as long as it wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Once Rio went back into the locker room to dress for the game, Marcus hung out with the grounds crew, and then one of the bat boys helped him to his seat where, Rio had been assured, Elizabeth and the Boland children were waiting for him.

They won the game. Rio went two for four, walked once, stole a base, scored three times, threw someone out at home, and even drove in a run. He couldn’t have scripted himself a better start to the season. Granted, it was just one game of 162, but Rio felt good; he felt rejuvenated… like this was going to be his year. It made him wonder, if he had always been so content in his personal life, what could his career have been? Because the only difference between this opening day and the last for Rio was Elizabeth.

He rushed through his post-game routine, showering and changing, doing his best to avoid the press. Rio never enjoyed speaking with the media, but he usually did his part. It was required of him by his contract and encouraged by the CBA, but he usually didn’t have six people waiting for him in the stands. Besides, a good game or not, he wasn’t one of the team’s stars, he wasn’t the game winning starting pitcher, and he’d been around long enough for the local reporters to be onto new and better stories.

Elizabeth and the kids didn’t see Rio approaching them - too distracted by whatever it was Elizabeth was showing them. Well, Kenny, Danny, Marcus, and Jane were enthralled by her; Emma was curled up at her side, using Elizabeth’s arm as a pillow, sound asleep. For several minutes, he just watched them all… until Elizabeth tossed her head in an attempt to knock her hair out of her face only to catch Rio. She smiled up at him serenely, and then he joined them.

“What’s this now, yeah?,” he asked, taking a seat in front of them but twisting backwards.

All of the awake children started talking at once, congratulating him on the win and reliving their favorite moments from the game, but it was Marcus’ voice that rang out the loudest. “Daddy, Miss Elizabeth is teaching us how to fill out a scorecard. She said that it was scandal… scandal-what. - what was it again, Miss Elizabeth?”

“It’s scandalous - and shameful, and embarrassing - that a professional baseball player’s son does not know how to fill out a scorecard. So,” she finished with a haughty tone, “I am rectifying that mistake.”

“You judgin’ me, Ma?”

Primly, she replied, “Yes. And finding you lacking.”

Rio shook his head, tsking, but he was also grinning. “That’s cold, Elizabeth.” The kids, already bored with the adults, went back to their scorecard. Nodding towards a slumbering Emma, he asked, “somebody not a baseball fan?”

“No, she had fun,” Elizabeth reassured him, running a hand through her daughter’s hair. “But she was so excited last night that she couldn’t sleep. It finally caught up with her during the seventh inning stretch. She’s going to be so disappointed that she fell asleep.”

“And what about you, Sweetheart,” he wanted to know. “You have fun as well?”

He thought she might demure, and there was always the chance that she would deny and tease him. What Rio did not expect was for her to become emotional. Her eyes glazed over, and her voice was strangled, choked up. “I had no idea how much I missed it. When my Dad left, he didn’t just take my childhood away from me. I allowed him to take baseball, something that I loved, away from me, too. Knowing you has given baseball back to me.”

It was in that moment that Rio realized he was in love with her.

But he couldn’t do or even say anything about it. While the stadium had mostly cleared out, they certainly weren’t alone. Plus, the kids were all there. When he said those words to her for the first time, it wouldn’t be rushed or half-assed, because Rio told Marcus he loved him all the time, but he had never once said that to a woman who wasn’t his Grandmother.

So, Rio bit his tongue and, instead of confessing his feelings, nodded towards Elizabeth’s tee. She had what looked like at least two shirts layered underneath it, but the t-shirt was old, slightly faded, and obviously vintage but in mint condition. “Nice threads.”

“It was my Dad’s,” she revealed, glancing down at the shirt fondly. “He said it was lucky. He wore it for every game during the 1984 World Series. Of course, I don’t remember those games myself, but he retroactively made me memorize all of the stats of our four-one victory over the Padres. When he left, it was in the dirty clothes hamper, and he forgot to grab it. I washed it afterwards, packed it away, and today is the first time anyone has worn it since. So, in a way,” she confessed with a teary smile, “I guess you gave me back a piece of my Dad, too, because when I look at this shirt now, I don’t see him leaving; I see how excited he was to share that World Series Championship with me.”

“Fuck, Elizabeth,” Rio swore, uncaring that the kids could hear or that, if anyone would mimic him, he’d be in for it. Climbing over his seat into the row behind them, her row, he reached for her hands to bring her to her feet. In losing her pillow, Emma stirred, but she didn’t wake. Leaning in close, Rio rested their foreheads together, but that’s all the touching he would, could, allow them. “Please don’t tell me you’re goin’ back to your house now.”

“Why, do you have a better offer?”

“Come home with me,” Rio pleaded. “We’ll order in dinner. I recorded the game, so me and Emma can watch it together, so she won’t feel like she missed out, and you and the rest of the nerds can practice your scorekeepin’.”

“Well, you’re in luck, because the rule was that everyone had to complete their make-up work last night before the game today, and the last thing I want to do is cook dinner. So, you have yourself a deal, Mr. Salazar.”

“Hmm,” he pursed his lips, eyed her closely. “I think it’s actually a date, Baby.” She blushed, smiled, and he took a step back, raising his voice to address the kids. “Alright, everybody grab your stuff. Make sure you ain’t forgettin’ anything. Kenny, I need you to grab your sister’s stuff, too.

Scooping Emma into his arms, Rio waited until she was settled - legs and arms wrapped around him like a koala, little head tucked into his neck - before he led the procession out of the Tiger Den. With Elizabeth bookending them and the kids still chatting away in frenzied happiness, they felt like a unit leaving the ballpark.

They felt like a family.

-----

There was something strange happening with Gretchen’s face.

Gretchen usually had two modes: she was either all business… with a healthy dose of snark, too, of course, or she was mad at him. Though they were currently discussing Rio’s latest investment, her pinched expression wasn’t angry, and she was almost being… nice? Perhaps sympathetic? But that didn’t seem quite right either. Rio was starting to fear that something was really wrong… like maybe she was sick?

“We’re really getting to the point where she needs to be involved, Rio. Have you even told her about any of this yet?”

“Oh, so it’s ready to open now? I need a manager, yeah?”

“No,” Gretchen allowed, wincing. “Not quite.”

Rio, of course, already knew that to be the case. Leaning back in his chair, he stretched his arms out along the sides of it, curling his hands around the ends. “Where exactly are we then, Gretch?”

“We have the zoning and municipality approval forms. I’ve filled out business creation forms, secured our sales tax ID number. The franchise agreements are in place, and our repair facility registration application has been submitted and approved. I’ve also secured our no fault insurance. We are still waiting for the vehicle dealer security bonds to be processed. There’s usually a 30 day window on that, but, otherwise, it’s time to start making the decisions more specific to the dealership: how many sets of dealer licenses and plates do we want to purchase, the signage needs to meet state rules and regulations while still also fitting with the aesthetic of the business, and it’s time to start hiring.” As she listed off everything that she had already accomplished, Gretchen stacked files and paperwork before him. “Fiat Chrysler will determine some of that for us, but this dealership is essentially hers.”

“Last time I checked, it was my name on the business, though, yeah?”

Leaning forward and lowering her voice… like they were confiding in one another, Gretchen said, “but you bought it for her, did you not?”

“Nah,” Rio denied. “This shit’s for me. Did I have her in mind to run it? Sure. She’s good at what she does, and I liked the idea of takin’ her away from him and his business.” In fact, when Rio first approached Gretchen, acting as his lawyer and not his agent, and instructed her to get the ball rolling on starting Salazar Fiat Chrysler, in his mind, Rio had contented himself with at least having Elizabeth professionally… even if she was still Boland’s personally - at least legally. Now, though, he was going to get all of her. “But this is just another piece of the empire I’m buildin’ for myself.” And sure, yeah, he could see Elizabeth running his kingdom with him by his side, but she’d have to earn that seat at the table. She wouldn’t want it any other way either.

Sarcastically, Gretchen challenged, “and if this latest investment had nothing to do with her, then why is it a car dealership? Why did you insist that I purchase the lot closer to Boland Motors despite the fact that there were cheaper options elsewhere? And why did you give me such a tight window in which to operate?”

Shaking his head because she wasn’t listening to him, Rio corrected, “I never said she wasn’t a factor, Gretch; I just said the business ain’t hers.”

“Yet.” To accompany her one word rebuttal, she slapped a newspaper down in front of him, the pages folded back to highlight a specific article.

Leaning forward to appease her, Rio went to just casually glance at the headline… except it was about him, and Elizabeth, and their relationship. Standing so swiftly that he nearly knocked the heavy armchair back and to the ground - as it was, it toppled precariously for several seconds, earning him a glare from Gretch, though Rio couldn’t be bothered to deal with her censure, not then, he snatched up the paper and demanded to know, “what the fuck is this?!”

It was Gretchen’s turn to be taken aback. “Wait, you didn’t know? I thought that’s why you wanted to meet today, why you needed an update on the status of the dealership. Although I regretted that your relationship was scooped, I was also hurt that you didn’t confide in me. I knew there was interest, but this?” She waved towards the article that, as Rio quickly skimmed it, completely exposed both the depth and the length of his relationship with Elizabeth, going nearly all the way back. The author didn’t know about their hookup at Boland Motors that first night, but it cited an unnamed source inside of Lucky’s, Salazar’s bar in downtown Detroit who detailed their second encounter. That fucking waitress! “And then I was also annoyed that you wouldn’t just be upfront with me about your intentions with this latest investment.”

“I just thought you were constipated.”

“Well, dealing with you is often reminiscent of a blocked bowel, but no,” she denied, shooting him a scathing glance. “I thought you were being purposefully obtuse to intentionally irritate me. Turns out, you were actually just being naive and stupid.”

Glaring at her, Rio demanded, “‘scuse me?”

“No, I will not pardon you! You’re too smart of a businessman to make this kind of mistake, Rio!”

“Elizabeth’s personal.”

“Then you shouldn’t have allowed what you feel for her to influence your financial decisions.”

Throwing the newspaper in the trash where it belonged, he stubbornly folded his arms over his chest. “You sayin’ the dealership is a bad investment?”

“To the contrary,” Gretchen argued. “And, in fact, if you will recall back to the day that we both met Elizabeth Boland, I was actually the one to remark on her intelligence and abilities. I even said that I would hire her.”

He rolled his eyes. “The two of you would kill each other within a week.”

“Or we’d team up and turn on you,” she sassed him. Her argument was not without merit, though Rio wasn’t going to admit that to her.

“So, I’m brinin’ Elizabeth into my business, yeah, and you’re my agent and my lawyer, so you’re business, too.”

“Well, I thought we were also friends, but go on,” Gretchen haughtily waved her hand at him, granting him permission to explain his position.

That’s why I told you she’d be managin’ Salazar Fiat Chrysler. But the rest of it - us fuckin’ since the summer, spendin’ time with each other’s kids, and growin’ closer, carin’ about one another?”

Mumbling more to herself than anything else, she commented, “I should have suspected something with that whole Tigers gear ruse you had me orchestrate.”

And, yeah, she really should have. “That’s private, Gretch… even from you - at least until Elizabeth got her house in order and asked that idiot…. Oh, fuck!”

Already grabbing his things and turning to leave, Rio was halfway out of the door before Gretchen even made it to her feet and was calling after him, “what? What is it? What’s wrong now?”

“She was waitin’ until the end of the school year to ask her husband for a divorce. Even if he didn’t see the article for himself - and I still ain’t sure if he can read or not, someone he knows did - one of his salespeople at the dealership, a busybody neighbor, his bitch of a mom. He had no idea… about any of it. Until now.”

Seemingly grasping the full scope of the article’s consequences for the first time, Rio watched as Gretchen’s face became paler and paler. “You don’t think…? I mean, he wouldn’t…?” Swallowing thickly, she finally voiced her question. “She’s… safe, isn’t she?”

“She fuckin’ better be! And if she’s not? Well, she will be again soon, because I’ll end that motherfucker myself.”

“Jesus christ, Rio!,” Gretchen complained, scowling at him. “I might focus on contracts law, but I am still an officer of the court. You cannot say shit like that in front of me!”

“See. This is why I only tell you about business,” he reminded her.

“Go,” she ordered him, already reaching for her phone from where she was still standing behind her desk. “Go make sure she’s alright. In the meantime, I’m going to start looking into what our legal options are, and I have a reporter to remind that you are a sports figure, not a reality TV star. Do you want to deal with the unnamed source yourself, or can that be my pleasure?”

“Have at her, Gretch. She’s a server at Lucky’s.” Glancing over his shoulder, in parting, Rio added, “don’t say I never give you nothin’.”

“Oh, don’t worry. You give me something every time I have to deal with you: a migraine.”

Gretchen always did need to have the last word.

Slamming the door behind him, Rio practically ran to the elevator bank. His body wanted him to keep moving, to not wait, to just go, go, go. Do . But he knew the lifts would be his fastest option, so he managed to find a little patience. He waited until he was outside and in his car before he really let himself think about his next steps. A part of Rio just wanted to drive directly to Elizabeth’s house, throw her over his shoulder, and never look back. But that would just make things worse in the short term and create even more problems in the end. The idea of just going home, though, and waiting for her to call or come to him was agonizing as all fuck. Plus, he had a game that night. In fact, he’d need to be at the stadium in a matter of hours. With everything so out of fucking control, though, there was no possible way he’d be able to focus on a fucking baseball game.

Slamming his hands against the steering wheel once, twice, Rio pinched the bridge of his nose and then sighed. He needed to get his shit together. Starting the car, he put it into gear, and then he pulled out of the lot and headed into the unknown.

-----

Rio went back to his loft, but with every second that went by when he didn’t hear from Elizabeth, the instinct to act, to fix, grew stronger. He was jittery with tension, and there was this pressure - in his chest, in his head, in the very room itself. All he was doing was pacing, yet his heart rate was elevated, his breathing heavy. Rio called Elizabeth every five minutes on the dot. She never picked up, not even once. And he texted her when he wasn’t calling, but his messages didn’t even display as read. Lunchtime had come and gone, and it wasn’t so much that he was hungry but that, with every minute that ticked by, it got closer and closer to when he was supposed to report to the stadium, closer and closer to game time, and soon, it would reach a point where Rio was going to have to make a decision: the personal or the professional.

Looking down at his phone yet again and seeing no contact from Elizabeth but that it was now pushing one o’clock, he snapped. “Fuck it!” Snagging his keys off of the kitchen island, his long, angry strides quickly ate up the vast distance of the loft until he was unlocking and yanking open his front door… only to find Elizabeth already on the other side.

For several moments, they just stared at one another. Then, when Rio opened his mouth to say something - anything, Elizabeth was right there instead, slipping her tongue past his lips, kissing him until he was dizzy, and then kissing him some more. At the same time, her hands immediately went to his belt, unfastening it and his pants with jerking, savage motions. She pushed his underwear down just far enough to free his cock, and then she pushed him down onto the floor. Rio wasn’t even completely hard yet when she shoved her dress above her waist - no panties in sight, dropped to her knees, and then lined him up with her cunt. After three rapid, demanding, painful squeezes of his dick, she just took all of him inside of her at once, thrusting down as hard as she could and completely swallowing him with her pussy.

She wasn’t stretched and ready. She wasn’t wet. She wasn’t aroused at all. As fast as she forced him inside of her, he could still feel the drag of every inch. It was like his cock stopped and restarted its push into her cunt over, and over, and over again until, finally, thankfully, there was no further for him to go. It was painful for Elizabeth. She did her best to hide that fact from him, biting her lip until it was bloody, digging her nails into her own thighs for purchase, as a distraction, but nothing she did could prevent her from crying out in agony. Rio immediately tried to disengage, to pull out of her, but she clamped down on him, practically taking his dick hostage, and she laid down on top of him to hold him down. He still could have easily dislodged her, but he was afraid that, in doing so, he would end up hurting her more.

“What the hell are you doin’, Elizabeth?! You obviously don’t want this. I …,”

She cut him off. “No, I do; I do!”

“ … don’t want this,” Rio finished.

That made her pause. She didn’t release her inner muscles, and she didn’t sit back up, but she turned her head just enough to look at him. It was then that Rio saw that she was crying. “You don’t,” she asked pathetically. “You don’t want me?”

“Nah, don’t twist my words, Sweetheart. Of course, I want you. I always want you,” Rio reassured her. “But I don’t want this . It’s never supposed to be like this - not between us.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured sincerely. “I just… I needed to be with you. I needed to feel you inside of me, stretching me; I needed to feel you come inside of me… one last time.”

“The fuck’s that supposed to mean, Elizabeth?!” By then, she was so hysterical that Rio could just lift her off of him. As he gently put her down so that she was seated on the floor, he finally noticed that his door was still open. Standing, Rio hastily shoved his dick back inside of his boxer-briefs. It was uncomfortable, because he was still half hard. Not bothering with his pants or his belt, he left them hanging open while he shut and locked the door. Turning back around, he saw that Elizabeth had her face cradled in her hands, and she was sobbing. He wanted to go to her, comfort her, make sure she was okay, give her what she wanted, but there would be nothing final about it, so before he could even touch her again, he needed to know what the hell was going on.

“You gotta tell me what happened, Mama. I’m… more than a li’l worried right now.”

“There was an article… in the paper… this morning,” she started haltingly, hiccupping. “About us. He… he knows. Dean knows.”

Leaning back against the door, Rio crossed his arms over his chest and his legs at the ankles. It was for comfort, though, not obstinacy, though Elizabeth wouldn’t know either way, because she refused to look at him. “I saw it. Gretchen’s on it, but….” But the damage was already done. “I tried callin’ you, textin’. I’d just decided to drive to your house, because I couldn’t handle not knowin’ if you were okay.”

“Of course I’m not okay!,” she yelled, tossing her head back to glower at him. Even if it was in irritation directed at him, Rio was relieved to see that spark in her again. “My husband of fifteen years and the father of my four children just found out that I’m cheating on him in the local sports page of a newspaper!”

“I know it’s not what you had planned, and I know it’s embarrassin’, but you were leavin’ him anyway. This just… moves up your timetable, yeah.”

“Except,” Elizabeth pushed to her feet, flushing when she realized, after her dress fell back down her legs, that the whole time she had been sitting there, her sex had been completely exposed. “When I told Dean that I wanted a divorce, he refused.”

“So, it’s contested,” he shrugged, not seeing why that prick’s cooperation was so important.

And he threatened to take my children away from me.”

Pushing away from the door, Rio angrily walked deeper into his loft. “I’d like to see him fuckin’ try! Judges always favor the mother, and he’s…”

“ … the far more stable option for the kids,” Elizabeth finished for him, though that was certainly not what he was going to say.

Screwing his face up in confusion, Rio demanded, “explain to me how the dumbass who almost bankrupted your family personally and an inherited Detroit car dealership is a dependable influence on your babies, Ma?”

“My Mother was clinically depressed.”

“Okay, but that’s her . She has nothin’ to do with your abilities to be a good mom.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Elizabeth wouldn’t concede his point. “But I also suffered from postpartum depression with all four of my children, and when you combine those….”

“Nah,” he cut her off. Whereas before she was angry, and he was anxious, they’d now traded off their reactions, and Rio was not going to tolerate her argument. “We ain’t doin’ that, Elizabeth. Postpartum depression is common, yeah?”

“Approximately, one in eight.”

“So, are you tryin’ to tell me that, what, twelve, fifteen, percent of all mothers are unfit?”

“He never said that I was unfit,” Elizabeth defended. And why was she still sticking up for that dick after he threatened to take her children away from her? “Just that, of the two of us, he’s not the one with a history of mental illness.”

“Yeah, well, did it ever occur to him that maybe you wouldn’t have struggled so much after you gave birth if he had been there for you at all? Don’t forget, Darlin’, you told me what he was like when you had your babies,” he reminded her. “You did all the work, he claimed all the glory, and then you went home, sore and exhausted, and had to do and take care of everythin’ and everyone, including his sorry ass, all on your own, while he went off to his Daddy’s dealership and did fuck all. As the owner, he was gonna get paid no matter what, making commissions on everybody else’s sales. There was no reason why he couldn’t stay home with you and the kids for a few weeks while you healed, adjusted, but he put that all on you instead.”

“And what,” Elizabeth challenged him. “Are you going to testify against Dean about this for me?”

“Baby, I won’t have to, because even a half competent lawyer will destroy him in court if he tries to play this bullshit card. In the end, he’d be lucky if he didn’t look like the absentee father and unsupportive husband that he is.”

“Even if you’re right, even if everything he said about my family’s history with mental illness proved irrelevant…”

“It would!”

“ … I’m still the one who cheated. I’m still the one who had an affair. I’m still the one who threw her family away. And I’m still the one who selfishly put her own happiness above her children’s wellbeing.”

“Bullshit!,” Rio exploded.

Feigning innocence, Elizabeth rhetorically asked him, “oh, so I haven’t been screwing you behind my husband’s back for the past nine months?”

“Maybe we were just fuckin’ in the beginning, but it’s a whole hell of a lot more than that now!”

“But what - what exactly is it,” Elizabeth demanded to know, practically screaming again.

Rio groaned. This wasn’t how he wanted to tell her, but fuck it. “I love you, Elizabeth!” Softening his voice to just a whisper, he confessed, “I’m in love with you, Mami.”

Her already big blue eyes went impossibly wide. “Oh.”

“And you’re in love with me, too.” He’d want to hear her say the words for herself and to him, but for now, it seemed more important for her to understand what he was trying to tell her. “I don’t care what the courts, your fuckin’ husband, or even you say. You puttin’ yourself first for once was best for you and for your kids. You were always a good Mom, Sweetheart, but now that you’re finally happy, you’re an even better one. That doesn’t make you selfish; that makes you fuckin’ amazing.”

“But...,” she started one last, half-hearted protest.

However, Rio wouldn’t let her. As he talked, he slowly walked towards her, holding out his hands for her to take once they were within touching distance. “I know you’re scared, Baby, and I’m sure that dick pressed on every single one of your insecurities, yeah.” About her family, about her own abilities, about her worthiness. “But you don’t need him. You’re a boss all on your own, but you also have your girls, and you have me, and I’m not gonna let him even try to take your kids. In fact, he’s never gonna hurt you again, Elizabeth.”

Not understanding how he could promise her that, she asked, “what are you going to do, Rio?”

Letting go of one of her hands, he reached up to delicately tuck those persistently stray strands of hair out of her eyes and behind her ear. “You trust me?”

“You know I do,” she assured him.

“Then go. Go back to the house, pack the stuff you and the kids will need for the short term, and get your babies. Bring ‘em back here. And I’m gonna go handle Dean.

“What does that mean - handle,” she questioned skeptically.

“If you wanna know for real, I’ll tell you later, yeah?”

She stared at him closely for several moments before slowly nodding, agreeing with a whispered, “yeah.”

He kissed her quickly - just needing the slightest of tastes, and then, in a move reminiscent of thirty minutes before, though the intention was vastly different, Rio picked his keys up off of the kitchen island and made his way across the loft towards the door. Just as he was about to close it behind him, Elizabeth called out, “Oh, and Rio?” He paused, met her unwavering gaze. “You’re right.”

“I always am, Mama,” he smirked.

“I love you, and I am in love with you, too.”

-----

When Rio strolled into Boland Motors like he owned the place... and that was the idea - to drive Elizabeth’s loser husband out of business with Salazar Fiat Chrysler and then buy up Boland Motors on the cheap, there were two things he knew for sure: he really wanted to beat the shit out of Dean, but he needed him to throw the first punch. So, without knocking, he shoved the office door open so roughly that it swung all the way around and collided with the glass wall behind it. Rio then intentionally knocked into the vertical blinds, sending them smacking into each other loudly and obnoxiously. He wanted to make sure that everyone out in the showroom - employees and customers alike - were watching, and he wanted to make it clear that, if someone wasn’t on the floor, they wanted to be. Because, for what Rio had in mind for ol’ Deansie, he was going to need an audience.

Witnesses.

“You and me,” he waved back and forth between himself and a gaping, already blustering Dean. “We’re gonna have a li’l talk.”

Taking a seat across from Elizabeth’s husband, Rio kicked his feet up onto the other man’s desk, ensuring that he caused several objects to crash to the ground as he waited for a response. “I have nothing to say to you,” Dean sputtered - red in the face and spittle forming at the corners of his mouth.

“Really. Because you had a hell of a lot to say to Elizabeth.”

Dean reached out, tried to push Rio’s feet off of his desk, but Rio wouldn’t budge. In fact, he pushed back even harder, sending a few more items to the floor. Something broke. He heard it. But he never took his challenging gaze off of Dean. “What I talk about with Bethie is none of your business. You were just a phase for her, a mistake, but she’s my wife!”

“But is she? Is she really ?” Licking his lips lewdly and then smirking, Rio added, “because it was my cock inside of her tight, pink pussy less than an hour ago. Not yours.” Dean didn’t need to know the circumstances behind that encounter, though.

Lunging across the desk, Dean attacked him. “You son of a bitch!,” he yelled while tackling Rio to the floor and throwing a sloppy punch. His fist just grazed Rio’s jaw, but it was enough for Rio to unleash on the stupid motherfucker.

Springing to his feet, Rio bent down to grab Dean by the hair, dragging the taller man to his feet. He then held him by the collar, making sure to wrap his hand around Dean’s tie so as to better cut off his air supply. “Now, listen close, yeah, because I ain’t gonna say this again. You and Elizabeth are over. You’re gonna give her the divorce she asked for, and you’re gonna give her primary physical custody, too - maybe even sole custody if that’s what she wants.”

Struggling to speak but still managing to choke out two words, Dean gasped, “screw! You!”

And that’s when Rio threw him up against the office’s glass walls. He just wanted to stun him a little, knock the wind out of him as well, but when Dean broke through and landed on the floor outside of the cubicle, he considered it a bonus. A happy accident. Walking through the now shattered wall - his Chuck’s crushing the glass shards beneath him, Rio approached a prone and slightly bleeding Dean. There were gasps all around them, but no one was coming to their boss’ aid or reaching for a phone.

“You’re a fucking animal,” Dean cursed him. “Just wait until I tell my lawyers about this. Because of you, Beth won’t even be able to see the kids without court supervision!”

“Wait, I’m confused,” Rio pretended to be disorientated. “How’re you gonna pay for even one lawyer when you’re so broke you stole from your kids’ college funds and made Elizabeth pawn her engagement ring in order to pay my fee for your last commercial? See, yeah,” he taunted Dean. “I know all about your back mortgage payments. Wait, my bad,” Rio chuckled to himself. “Make that three defaulted mortgages, a whole wallet full of maxed out credit cards, and the only reason you’ve been able to stave off bankruptcy this long is because Elizabeth has been bailin’ your worthless ass out for almost a year now.”

“Yeah... while she was betraying me with you! She broke up our family,” Dean wailed miserably, self-pityingly. “She doesn’t get to take my kids from me, too; she doesn’t get to be happy after she broke my heart!”

“Yo, Amber!,” Rio called out for Dean’s assistant and mistress. Without waiting for her to respond - because her answer really didn’t matter; the accusation Rio was about to level and the details of which he could provide more than enough to prove guilt, he wondered out loud, “did Dean seem brokenhearted to you when he was eating you out on top of his desk last Monday night?”

After waiting for the bursts of laughter and exclamations of shock to die down, Rio continued, “and what about you, Susan? Was Dean as concerned about keepin’ his family whole when he was bendin’ you over every car in this showroom back when you were his secretary?”

Dean started to struggle - like he was going to climb to his feet to better defend himself, so Rio placed a foot in the center of his chest and held him down. “I wonder what betrayal a judge would find worse: a wife who, after years of her husband ignorin’ her, not givin’ her and their children what they need, worryin’ how she was gonna keep a roof over her babies’ heads, and sufferin’ one embarrassment after another as he cheated on her with anything that looked his way finally findin’ someone to love her the way she deserved; or a husband who fucked one of his wife’s friends while she, the mother of three of his children at the time, was sufferin’ from postpartum depression.” Elizabeth’s condition had not been a part of Mick’s report, but after she confessed Dean’s threats and her own fears about her mental fitness, it was easy for Rio to make that connection.

“She wouldn’t even let me touch her!”

“She’d just had your third baby in four years. I think you did plenty of touchin’. What you needed to do was have a li’l patience, show her some care. Sex wasn’t your right; it was your priviledge. And she had the prerogative to tell you no for as long as she wanted, as many times as she wanted.”

Dean snorted in laughter. “We’ll see if you feel the same way after Bethie starts telling you no!”

Leaning over him, because this was one thing that no one else needed to hear, Rio whispered, “but you see, Deansie , I fuck Elizabeth so good that she begs for more.”

Thrashing against the hold Rio still had against him, Dean struggled to break free. Instead of giving him any space, Rio used his free foot to step on and crush the asshole’s left hand. “Yeah, but you’ll always know that I had her first, and she had my kids, not yours.”

“Maybe, Man. But I couldn’t tell, yeah?” Dean’s attempt to intimidate him, to make him not want Elizabeth, might have been pathetic, but they provided Rio with some insight into the other man’s petty, little mind. “I see how it is, though.”

Sighing and giving up, Dean asked, “yeah, what’s that?”

“You’re like that dick kid who gets everything he wants, so he gets bored quickly and forgets about his last, best toy for the newest and greatest. But then your mom tries to get rid of your old, neglected shit, and there’s some grateful kid who can’t wait to have your used, unappreciated toy, but suddenly, you want it again just because you can’t handle the idea of somebody else havin’ it instead.”

“But Bethie’s not a toy; she’s my wife!”

“Yeah, no shit!” Having to walk away before he literally kicked a man while he was down, Rio finally allowed Dean to regain his seat. With so much glass surrounding him, though, Dean didn’t try to stand up. “Yet, in everythin’ you said, you haven’t once claimed that you love Elizabeth.”

“I just found out that she’s cheating on me with a guy who has a neck tattoo. Excuse me if I'm still a little bitter!”

“Nah, Man, you ain’t bitter; you’re just a greedy, possessive asshole who had his ego bruised.” It was this thought that allowed Rio to realize just what he had to do in order to get Dean out of their lives as fast and as cleanly as possible. “How much?”

Caught off guard, Dean asked, “what?”

“How much will it cost me to buy your cooperation? You give Elizabeth her divorce, the kids, and anything else she wants, and you get what, Dean? What do you really want, because I think we all know,” not only did Rio gesture between the two of them, but he also scanned out into the room at everyone who was so avidly watching them, “it ain’t your wife and family.”

Scoffing, the fool denied, “she’s not worth it, Man. You’re never going to agree to the price I’d want.”

“Name it.”

“Five million,” Dean practically shouted his demands, suddenly all too eager. He seemed to forget that his employees were all watching and listening, because there was no way he’d be able to retain any of their respect after he then went on to say, “a million for Beth and a million for each of the kids.”

“Done.” It would pretty much wipe out his savings. With the new dealership investment, Rio had quite a bit of capital tied into the business’ start up and overhead costs. But he also wouldn’t care if he had to liquidate everything in order to meet Dean’s demands. It was just money. And, yeah, he liked having it, and he liked the security that came with having it, but he could always make more. And he would. “I’ll have my lawyer draw up the contract, and Elizabeth will start divorce proceedings immediately. As soon as the divorce is final, you’ll get your money.”

“I don’t want it in a check!”

Damn, Boland was one shady motherfucker. But Rio didn’t care. He gave him no more than three years to blow through the entire settlement, but once it was gone, that would be Dean’s problem, not his. “Straight cash it is then, Homie.”

Looking around him for help, Dean admitted, “I don’t know what that means.”

Rio ignored him. “You give Elizabeth any grief, if you harass her or the kids, if you even look at her funny durin’ mediation, I’ll start takin’ off zeros, yeah? That’ll be in the contract, too.”

“What… what are you going to tell my kids?”

“Maybe you shoulda thought about that before you traded ‘em for paper.”

Dean started to protest, started to defend himself. “You would have just taken…”

“I ain’t interested in your excuses or your justifications, Carman. We both got what we wanted out of this, so just try to find even a li’l bit of dignity, yeah?” Dean struggled to his feet, having to use his hands for balance and leverage and embedding glass in his palms. He cried out in pain, but Rio’s back was already turned towards him as he headed out the front door. He would be late, and he’d probably be fined, but he would still be able to make batting practice before the game if he went directly from Boland Motors to Comerica. Leveling one more shot at Dean, he called out, “it was a pleasure doin’ business with you, Denny.”

-----

When Rio climbed into bed that night, he was caught somewhere between complete and total exhaustion and a level of exhilaration he’d never experienced before. Because his bed wasn’t empty. For the first time in their relationship, through all of its phases - first just fucking, then becoming friends with benefits, and then falling for each other, Elizabeth was going to sleep beside him. In fact, she was already waiting for Rio in his bed. Granted, sure, she was wearing a full set of ridiculous lady pajamas (they’d work on that), and she had one of her kids with her, but Rio was able to wrap his arms around her waist, pull that delicious ass back into his cock, dip his face into the impossibly soft curve of her neck, and grab more than a handful of titty.

“Damn, Ma,” he rumbled against her. “I’m gonna sleep real well tonight.”

“Oh, so talking - explaining exactly what happened today and answering all of my questions - does it for you, huh,” Elizabeth fired back at him, teasing. Although her voice was its normal tone, so as not to wake the kids, she lowered her volume, and it caused her words to come out a little breathlessly. His cock twitched.

He’d called her on the way to the stadium, letting her know that everything was okay, that she and her children should make themselves at home, and that he was sorry that he couldn’t be there with them, but he had a game. She made him promise to tell her everything once he got home… even if he had to wake her up to do so. Rio wasn’t surprised that she wasn’t sleeping, though, but at least she felt loose against him, relaxed. Already, the game that evening had felt like the longest of his career, and it hadn’t even gone into extra innings, but it would have seemed interminable in retrospect had he come back to the loft to find her agitated and tense.

He had also gotten in touch with Gretchen to start the paperwork on the… terms he had negotiated with Boland, but that wasn’t exactly where Rio thought they should start their discussion. In fact, if he had it his way - which he knew he wouldn’t, she’d never find out just how badly Dean had disrespected her and their children… both during their marriage and in its final, dying breaths. “Speaking of questions, I’m sure your babies had a ton. How they doin’ with all this?”

She paused just long enough before answering to tell Rio that she knew what he was up to and that she was choosing to go along with it… for now. “Suspiciously well.”

“Kids are resilient, Sweetheart, especially the ones with the best moms.”

“Yes, well…,” never one to just accept a compliment, she sounded flustered. He could imagine her blush, and in reward, Rio dragged his lips across her collarbone in a lingering, wet kiss. “Even if that is the case, I literally can’t tell them anything about what their lives are going to be like now.”

“None of that shit matters to ‘em - where they livin’, who’s buyin’ their food… as long as you’re there. You’re all they need. In their minds, everythin’ else will work itself out, because they trust you to do that for ‘em.”

“I think… I think you might be right,” Elizabeth confessed in a whisper, “because they didn’t ask about Dean - not even once.”

“Yeah, well, good fuckin’ riddance,” Rio grumbled. He knew, at some point during their discussion, her ex’s name would come up, but it still irked him that it was being said at all in his bed.

“I’m sure some of it was the excitement,” she conceded. “They’d only been here once before, so spending the night was like an adventure. But the things they were asking me…?”

Rio chuckled, only imagining what might come out of the mouths of Elizabeth ’s babes. “Give me a li’l sample, Darlin’.”

“Well, let’s see...,” she started contemplatively, sifting through an entire evening’s worth of inquiries from her children. “Of course, Kenny wanted to know if this,” she waved vaguely around them, “meant that he wouldn’t have to go to school tomorrow, and Danny wanted to know why, when you live so high in the air - like an eagle …”

“It’s the third floor,” Rio chuckled. “Have your babies never stayed anywhere outside of the ‘burbs?”

Maybe Rio couldn’t see it, but he could hear Elizabeth’s eye roll in her response. “Annie lives in a walkup apartment. It’s just all of your windows. Oh, and I’m pretty sure Danny now believes that’s the reason behind your tattoo.” He had multiple - a fact that Elizabeth had intimate knowledge of, but of course he knew exactly which design she was referring to. “Anyway, he wants to know why you don’t have a telescope.”

“Sounds like you gotta Peepin’ Tom on your hands, Mama. He’s startin’ early.”

“He is not starting anything,” Elizabeth hotly defended, making Rio smirk and squeeze her just that much tighter against him. “And he is not a… a Peeping Tom. Danny likes science - nature, astronomy.”

Biology ,” Rio suggested teasingly. To emphasize his quip, he rubbed his ever-hardening cock between the two fleshy globes of her ass, even dropping down just slightly so that he could slide his length between her thighs, teasing her cunt and giving himself a little more friction. He knew his actions couldn’t go anywhere besides driving them both crazy with arousal, but she was too much of a temptation, laying there, for him not to touch her, not to play.

“Anyway,” she drawled out, ignoring him and getting their conversation back to the kids. “Emma wants to know if you have allergies.”

Rio laughed out loud at that. With the boys each claiming a couch and Emma in Marcus’ room, only Jane was close enough to hear him, but she slept the sleep of a child - heavy, and deep, and full. “Yeah. And why’s that?”

Solemnly, Elizabeth replied, “because you don’t have any flowers.”

“And what about this one,” he asked, curious. Briefly letting go of Elizabeth’s breast, Rio reached out to run a hand through her youngest child’s hair. “What does Lady Janey wanna know?”

Before answering him, Elizabeth twisted around so that she could kiss him. Although it was supposed to be a brief embrace, once her lips touched his, Rio immediately intensified it, prying her mouth open with his tongue and tangling their tastes together for as long as he could. They both eventually separated, though they stayed close - nose nuzzling nose, breathless. “She wants to know if our new house can have invisible walls, too.”

They were getting ever closer to what Rio didn’t want to talk about, but maybe he could delay her just a little bit longer and get her thinking more along the same lines as him. “So, she likes it here?”

“Of course she does. They all do. Kenny likes your flatscreen. Danny likes the view. Emma likes your art, and Jane loves running from one end to the other, uninterrupted.” Marcus did that as well. “But you know we can’t stay here, Rio,” Elizabeth gently stated. “Not only is it impractical - an open air loft with five children between us, but I also need to stand on my own for a while. I don’t want to go from his house to yours.”

“Why can’t it be ours?”

“When the time is right - after I can support myself and my children, provide for all of us, maybe we can talk about an ours then.”

“You at least gonna let me help you?” Elizabeth rolled over then, causing Rio to pout slightly… until he realized that this position worked for him, too. He draped his top arm around her to clutch at her ass, slipped one of his legs between her own and brought it snugly up against her pussy - feeling the heat of her through the thin, satin fabric, and retracted his bottom arm so that he could undo the top few buttons of her pajamas and snake his hand inside… only to encounter more fabric, not skin. “Why the fuck you wearin’ a bra to bed, Baby?”

“You like my… chest, right?”

“I fuckin’ love your tits, Ma, and you know it.”

She squirmed happily but still pressed on. “Well, if I want to keep them where they are and your… regard, then I need to support them as much as possible.”

“Yeah, but that can’t be comfortable,” he argued. “It’d be like me wearin’ a cup to bed, and that ain’t never gonna happen… no matter how much Marcus kicks in his sleep.” When she opened her mouth to continue making her point, he added, “besides, unless I’m fuckin’ you, I want you at ease and relaxed when you’re beside me. If I gotta hold your tits up in my hand because they ain’t as perky anymore, that ain’t gonna be a hardship, Sweetheart, trust me.” Without waiting for a response, Rio reached around her to unclasp her bra, helping her wiggle out of it. To do so, he ended up unbuttoning the rest of her shirt, and Elizabeth slid one arm out at a time before trying to redress. Rio gave her two buttons, that’s it.

“Happy now?” He hummed in contentment. “Now, what’s this additional help you’re talking about,” she got them back on topic. “I’d say, after five million dollars, you’ve already done your part in encouraging my independence.”

“How’d you know about that,” Rio was surprised by her question. “Did Gretchen call you?”

“Noo,” Elizabeth said slowly - like she was surprised but curious by his presumption. “But I’ve known some of the people who work at Boland Motors for nearly half my life, so they did.”

Rio winced. He really should’ve thought of that. Plus, if anyone was going to tell her about his confrontation with her useless ex, he wanted it to be him, so he could… gentle the details as much as possible. “How much they tell you?”

“Enough to know that you should’ve let me take him to court.”

“Nah, Ma, you and the kids don’t need that. You know he would’ve fought dirty, played mind games with your babies. They would’ve had to talk to shrinks, social workers, the judge, and you don’t want all that shit between you guys aired out to strangers.” Rio agreeing to pay him, though, wasn’t just about avoiding a custody trial.  “ I don’t want what we’ve got shared with anybody either. That article was bad enough. No judge is gonna sit in judgment on our relationship. Plus, this way he’s outta our lives for good as soon as your divorce is finalized, and with a cool five mil, he won’t stick around here. He’ll go someplace tacky and sleazy like him - probably Vegas.”

“Yeah. And blow all that money within a few years.” Rio loved that they were so much on the same page.

“But that ain’t gonna be our problem. Gretch will make sure of that. And, now, he ain’t ever gonna be your problem again either, Elizabeth.”

She was quiet for a few moments, obviously considering something, and when she spoke again, her voice was hesitant, soft, hurt… just as he had feared. “Was it just those three women, or were there more? And how did you find out about them, anyway?”

“I hired a PI before I went down to Florida for spring trainin’. There was at least one more woman. Mick stopped diggin’, though, once he had the four. They established a pattern… and a pretty shitty one at that. I wanted to be ready if he fought you on the divorce.”

Elizabeth leveled him with a telling glance. “I didn’t even know that I was going to ask for a divorce until a few weeks ago.”

As well as he could lying on his side, Rio shrugged. “I like to be prepared.”

“Don’t even try to act like you’re some boy scout!”

“Not fuckin’ happenin’, Darlin’.” Pausing for effect, Rio then added, “but I do like to have all of my bases covered.”

The admittedly terrible pun landed solidly between them. For several seconds, Elizabeth just stared at him in shock, and then she started to giggle. He felt her shaking against him before he heard her twinkling amusement. “I cannot believe you just said that.”

Neither could Rio, really, but it got the job done and pulled her out of her darker headspace. “You’re the one with a way with words, Ma. And it’s a good thing, too. Because I’m gonna need your help with my latest business venture.”

Doubtful, she asked, “oh, really?”

“Yeah. I’m openin’ up a car dealership. Let’s just say that you… inspired me in more than one way that first day we met.”

Already rolling her eyes at him, Elizabeth wanted to know, “and this wouldn’t happen to be that new showroom and lot going in just down the road from Boland Motors, would it?”

Rather than address her question directly, he told her, “I want you to run it for me, Elizabeth.”

She narrowed her gaze, starting her negotiations. “I’ll apply for the manager position.”

“Well, I can tell you already that you’re gonna get hired, and you’re gonna piss Gretch off, because that’ll be just one more thing she’ll have to do before handin’ off Salazar Fiat Chrysler to you.”

“From the few minutes I spent around Gretchen last summer and everything you’ve told me about her, I think she’ll appreciate a woman who wants to earn her place, not have it gifted to her just because she’s sleeping with the owner.” She wasn’t wrong, which told Rio that his agent and lawyer was probably right about what would happen once the two of them formally met and started working together. “ If selected for the position, when would I start? I might need to find something else temporarily, so I can get on my feet financially, make some money for a deposit on an apartment. For now, I guess the kids and I will stay with Annie. It’ll be super cramped, but I don’t want to be another burden on Ruby… what, with everything going on with Sara, and Annie loves slumber parties. It’ll be like that… but never ending.”

“You can start tomorrow, actually,” Rio informed her. Yeah, he’d just argued against the very idea with Gretch that morning, but Elizabeth didn’t need to know that… at least, not until Gretchen inevitably told her. “Gretch was just bitchin’ to me today that the project’s to the point where the manager should really sub into the game for the attorney.”

“If you will give me her number, I’ll contact her to inquire about setting up an interview.”

“As for crammin’ you and all your babies into your sister’s - I’m guessin’ shit - apartment, I actually have another option for you,” Rio shared tentatively.

“Please don’t tell me that you own this building; and it just so happens that one of your tenants recently moved out; and the place is rent controlled; and they broke their lease, so you’re still making money off of them, and I wouldn’t even really need to pay you anything for it until after I’ve collected several months of salary from the dealership you also own.”

Unfortunately, no, Rio couldn’t tell her that, but buying his building as another investment wasn’t a bad idea, especially because he’d then be able to extend the loft - combining two of them, so that the living spaces would still have that open, airy feel, but there could also be proper bedrooms. With very thick walls. “Actually, my Grandma has a couple of extra rooms.”

“Rio,” Elizabeth threw him a deadpan stare. “I haven’t even met your Grandmother yet.”

“Well, there’s no better way to get to know someone than livin’ with ‘em.”

She laughed anxiously. “You’re insane!”

“It wasn’t my idea; it was Grandma’s.” Teasing her, he feigned annoyance, “you callin’ my Grandma crazy, Elizabeth?”

Shocked, she asked, “your Grandmother wants me and my four young children to just… move in with her?”

“She hates livin’ alone, says the place is too big for just her, too empty, that she cooks too much food, and there’s no one to eat it. Marcus doesn’t visit her enough; I don’t visit her enough.” In fact, Rio knew that his Grandma was hoping, if Elizabeth and the kids were stayin’ with her, he and Marcus would also constantly be at the house where Rio grew up. “Plus, her place is in your kids’ school district, so they won’t need to transfer, and she already volunteered to take care of ‘em after school, so you can work and not be worried about ‘em being watched by strangers or, worse, Kenny.”

“I… I’ll have to think about it.” Quite frankly, that was more than Rio had even hoped for. “And I’ll want to talk it over with your Grandmother directly… without your input.”

“Eh,” Rio hedged, winding her up even further. To what end, he wasn’t sure, because the only way he was going to fuck her that night was if they stole into the bathroom, and it wasn’t sex, but he was pretty fuckin’ comfortable with her right where they already were in bed. “You drive a hard bargain, Baby.”

Somehow, she managed to strike a balance between sweet and sarcastic, between coy and impish. “Honey, the only thing hard here is you .”

Damn fucking right.

-----

Little League coaches taught their players to mentally list how many outs there were and what the count was before every pitch, because depending upon the results, those factors could change how a fielder reacted defensively. Rio knew this because of the kids and not from personal experience, having never played Little League himself. So, as he stood in center field that night at Comerica - the lights above him blindingly bright, the grass below him so green and vibrant he would have thought it the first day of summer and not early November, and everything in between a screaming sea of navy, orange, and white, Rio could have used that as his excuse for not knowing what the hell was going on, but the truth was that it was the top of the ninth inning of game seven of the World Series, the Tigers had a comfortable lead, and Rio’s mind was already on the celebration ahead.

It was the last game of his professional baseball career, so he should have been savoring it. Taking in the moment. But he just wanted it to be over. Rio was about to win his first - and only - title after what had been the best three years of his career. Not only had he noticed an improvement in his performance after falling in love with Elizabeth and creating a family with her, her kids, and Pop, but his increased productivity coincided with the club making steady improvements. Two years ago they made the playoffs for the first time in several years but lost in the first round, last year they made it all the way to the division championship before getting knocked out, and now, this year, they were about to fucking win it all.

Rio wasn’t sure what sounded first - the boom of fireworks exploding overhead or his fellow outfielders whooping for joy, but he heard both before he realized the game was over, they had won, and he had completely missed the last three outs.

Everyone - players, coaches, family of the team, and the media stormed the pitcher’s mound, Rio right along with them. But he didn’t seek out his teammates. No, instead, he immediately looked for Elizabeth and the kids. The infield was mass chaos, elated pandemonium, and absolute confusion, but they were right there in the middle of it all, seeking him out as well.

Kenny, because of his height, was the first to spot Rio. He took off like a shot, charging towards him, but Marcus was faster. Pop plowed into him so hard - arms already wide open for a hug - that he nearly knocked all three of them - Rio, Kenny, and Marcus - to the ground. Rio had just barely managed to regain his balance, and then Danny was there, too, joining their group embrace. By the time Elizabeth and the girls made it to them - Emma shy and holding on to her Mom’s hand, and Jane being held onto so she couldn’t escape and cause the mischief that seemed to follow in her wake, he could see happy tears in Elizabeth’s eyes. They triggered his own, which he pushed back and away with a wide, contagious smile.

“Hey, Mama,” he whispered against her lips before claiming them as his own. With five kids hanging off of them, Rio kissed her in front of more than 41,000 people in the sold out park that night and the millions of people watching the game from home.

When breathing became an issue and they were forced to separate, just like that opening day game two and a half years before, Rio rested his forehead against Elizabeth’s. It seemed fitting that they should find themselves standing together in this way again given that, the last time they had been so close in the ballpark, a local newspaper reporter saw them from afar and started digging, unearthing their relationship and, while not pushing them together, certainly propelling them together much sooner than otherwise planned. Elizabeth stared up at him, grinning, before opening her mouth to say….

“Rio, what an exclamation mark to your career! You couldn’t have scripted it any better. Congratulations on a terrific series and a fantastic year! I have to wonder, though,” the on-field reporter segued. Not even five minutes into the celebration, and the broadcaster was already looking for a scoop, searching for a story. “Does finally winning a World Series change your mind about retirement?”

“Nah, Man, I’m ready.”

“But you’re still healthy, playing well,” Verducci wouldn’t let it go. “I know the Tigers have a young stud center fielder coming up from AAA next year, but word is that several teams are planning to make you an offer.”

He shrugged lazily, smirked. “Good for ‘em, but I ain’t interested.”

“Won’t you miss competing?”

At that, Rio laughed. “I got five kids between the ages of nine and fourteen. If anythin’, I could do with a li’l less competition in my life.”

“We’ll see you again, though, won’t we? What about coaching? No one ever really leaves the sport for good.”

“What’s that sayin’? Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t love playin’ baseball, Tom; I love makin’ money, and I can do that just as easily as a property developer as I can as a professional athlete… except, as a property developer, I ain’t away from home a third of the year. I get to pick my kids up from school, kiss my girl awake every mornin’, and fall asleep every night on my two favorite pillows.”

From behind him, his family reacted in a series of predictable responses: Elizabeth hissed his name in embarrassed reprimand, Kenny and Danny groaned, Marcus and Jane snickered, and Emma, confused, asked her mom why he liked two pillows better than all of the rest. Meanwhile, in front of him, the on-field reporter’s eyes widened in realization, flickering just once to Elizabeth’s chest before resettling upon Rio. To his credit, Verducci didn’t otherwise acknowledge his remark.

“Plus, I ain’t ever been a student of the game. I’d come in, do what I was told, and then I’d leave. Coaches need to eat, sleep, and breathe this shit. I don’t. If anything, Elizabeth’s the baseball coach, not me.”

“Well,” Tom finally conceded , “if this really is the end, talk about going out on top! You know, though, what I have to ask you,” he warned Rio… probably because there were five kids standing behind him, and the customary answer was go to Disney World. However, Rio had something else in mind. “Now that you’ve won the World Series, what are you going to do next?”

“I’m gonna have me a ring ceremony, yeah,” Rio answered smugly.

Across from him, Tom Verducci actually looked pained - like he was embarrassed for Rio and certainly did not want to be the one to tell him he’d have to wait six months before he was presented with his championship ring. “Oh, actually, you’ll get that on opening day next year. Wow,” the reporter laughed nervously. “You really aren’t a student of the game.”

Reaching behind his neck to unclasp the long necklace he wore, Rio smiled and admitted, “not that type of ring, Tom.”

Then, before another word could be said, Rio turned around, held out the diamond engagement ring between his index finger and thumb, and got down on one knee. “Baby, just so you know, this ain’t me proposin’ to you.”

Giggling through her tears, Elizabeth asked, “oh, you’re not?”

“Nah,” Rio denied. “I’m tellin’ you that we’re gettin’ married. I think I’ve been real patient. But I don’t wanna call you my girl anymore; I wanna call you my wife. So, I’m gonna need you to say yes now, Sweetheart.”

She was already starting to hold her hand out for him, fingers splayed, when she suddenly pulled it back, teasing, “to what? You haven’t asked me anything, Honey.”

“You gonna let me wife you, Elizabeth?”

She sank down so that she was kneeling before him as well, cupped his face, pulled his mouth down to hers, and then whispered, “god, yes!”