Unfortunately, the widely rumored playboy legislator may have finally broken strategy and brought his extracurricular activities front and center.

I sat back in my chair as I looked at Sara and Andy together, a hot curl of anger sparking in my chest. She was the kind of woman men hoped they’d get to drink in for days, to know better than any other man has, to protect somehow, to take a punch for or to sweep away from an oncoming bus. I looked at every image I could find. She’d smiled so brightly in every photo prior to the ones dated last April. She’d been a natural in front of the camera, the brightness of her smile changing very little over the years.

And this twat had cheated on her—multiple times, if the article was to be believed.

He was a good enough looking bloke, I supposed, though obviously older than her. I clicked through to another article, one that listed his age at thirty-seven, ten years her senior.

According to one story published only two months ago, it was the world’s worst-kept secret that Andy had cheated on Sara several times in the past year, and a growing perception was that he was using her for her family’s name and their money, exploiting the press’s love for their local-celebrity romance whenever his reputation was in need of a little public relations boost.

I glanced through a few more photos before I pushed back from my desk, disgusted. That arsehole had used her. He’d asked her to marry him and then proceeded to f**k everything in a skirt. Christ, no wonder she had issues. And no wonder, too, that she was so mistrustful of paparazzi.

My flat had grown dark by the time I powered off the computer and left the den. I made my way to the wet bar, switching on a few lamps as I went, and poured myself a scotch. The drink burned on its way down, immediately spreading warmth throughout my veins.

It didn’t help, but I finished it anyway.

I poured myself another drink and wondered what she was doing. Was she home? Had she called the cheating bastard back? After looking at those hundreds of pictures, I could just imagine the history they had. What if he called to apologize? What if she was on a plane, headed back to Chicago right now? Would she even tell me? I checked the time and let myself imagine tracking her down, throwing her over my shoulder and bringing her back here. Fucking her into the mattress until I was the only man she remembered.

Clearly, I needed a distraction, and drinking wasn’t the answer.

It took me less than five minutes to change out of my suit and into a pair of shorts and trainers. I took the elevator to the gym on the twentieth floor and took to the running track. As usual this time of day, it was blissfully empty.

I ran until my lungs were on fire and my legs numb. I ran until practically every thought had been wiped from my mind, except one: it would break me if she went back to him.

I went to the locker room, stripped off my sweaty clothes, and then collapsed on the bench, dropping my head into my hands. The silence was broken by the sound of my mobile ringing inside my locker. My head snapped up; I was surprised that anyone would be calling at this hour. I crossed the room and froze when I saw Sara’s picture—a photo I’d snapped of her hand at her throat, the brush of caramel hair against creamy skin—light up the screen.

A horn honked somewhere in the background and she cleared her throat. “Yeah, I’m good. Look, are you busy? I could—”

“No, no. Was just finishing a run. Where are you?”

“Actually,” she said, laughing softly, “I’m outside your building.”

“Of course. Give me a few minutes and I’ll meet you—”

“No. Can I just meet you up there? I just . . . I’m afraid I’ll lose my nerve if I wait.”

Well, that was cryptic. My stomach dropped. “Yeah, of course, Petal. Let me ring the front desk.”

A few minutes later, Sara was walking through the door of the locker room to find me wearing nothing but a towel around my waist.

She looked tired, with red-rimmed eyes and her bottom lip chapped and swollen. It was a softer, younger-looking version of Sara, one I had only seen today in photos. She smiled weakly, giving a small wave as the door closed behind her.

“Hey,” I said, crossing the room. I bent at the knees to bring my eyes level with hers. “You okay? What happened?”

She sighed, shook her head, and something snapped back in place in her expression. “I wanted to see you.”

I knew she was avoiding my question but felt the smile pull at the corners of my mouth before I could stop it. I couldn’t keep my hands to myself and I placed them on either side of her face, brushing my thumbs along her cheeks. “Well, that definitely warrants a trip to the men’s locker room.”

“We didn’t get to finish earlier,” she said, pushing me back toward the showers.

I felt my heart speed up at the feel of her in my arms again, the buzz of static in my ears. She stood on her toes to kiss me, her hands moving to the towel at my hips.

“Hmm,” I said, humming against her mouth. I felt her reach behind me and heard the water start, felt it run warm down my back. “You want to do this here?”

She answered wordlessly, pulling her shirt over her head and shimmying out of her jeans.

“My apartment is just downstairs . . . ,” I said, trying to slow her down. I could already imagine what it would be like to f**k her right here, to hear her screams as they echoed off the tile, but for once I wanted nothing but her na**d body on my bed, top sheet and blankets in a pile on the floor. Maybe her hands tied over her head and strapped to the rails of my headboard.

She ignored me, wrapping her fingers around my c**k and leaning in to bite my shoulder. I tried to clear my head, remembering her expression as she’d walked through the door. It wasn’t unlike her to avoid answering my questions, but tonight she didn’t look hard and feisty; she looked wild for the wrong reasons. Her eyes were too bare, her face drawn. She’d only come for distraction.

My throat was suddenly dry and I ran my tongue over my lips, tasting the cherry lip gloss she wore.

I was a bit surprised by the Sara catalog I’d managed to compile without even realizing it. I knew what her face looked like when she came, the way her ni**les hardened, and how her eyelids fluttered closed only at the very last second, like she wanted to watch every moment until it was suddenly too much.

I knew what her hand felt like curved around my waist, her nails digging into my back and scratching up and down my sides.

I knew the sounds she made and the way her breath caught when I moved my fingers just the way she liked.

And there were things that were new, things I found myself noticing and wanting to see again and again. The little smile she made when she knew she had just said something funny and was waiting for me to catch up. It was the subtlest thing, just a slight tilt to the edges of her lips and eyes. A challenge.

The way she gently pinched her lower lip when she was reading.

There was the way she kissed me that day on the roof, slow and lazy and like there was nowhere else, nowhere at all to be.

But I didn’t know this Sara. I’d always suspected that the feistiness I enjoyed so much about her was a form of self-preservation. But I never anticipated the way it would feel to see it gone like this; it was like a punch in the gut that took the breath straight from my lungs.

I gathered her hands in mine and took a step back. “What’s going on?” I asked, gauging her expression. “Talk to me.”

She leaned into me again. “Don’t want to talk.”

“Sara, I don’t mind being your distraction but at least be honest with me about it. Something’s wrong.”

“I’m fine.” But she wasn’t fine. She wouldn’t have come here if she were.

“Bullshit. You’re breaking your own rules by even being here. This is better—this is real—but it’s also different and I want to know why.”

She pulled back, looking up at me. “Andy called.”

She smiled apologetically. “He said he wanted me back. Said all the things I once wanted him to say, about how he’s different now and he messed up and could never hurt me again.”

I watched her, waiting. She pressed her face to my wet neck, getting courage. “He’s just worried about his campaign. Our entire relationship was a lie.”

“Something about her name stuck with me, and after you told me about her, I wanted to know what she looked like.” She pulled back, looking at me. “She was familiar, but it didn’t sink in until tonight. I’d met a lot of people with Andy and usually I’d forget their faces two seconds after I shook their hands . . . but I remembered her.”

I nodded, my stomach warming, but let her keep talking.

“So I went home and I looked her up again before I called him back.” She paused, her voice shaking slightly. “He went on and on for a half hour about how sorry he was, how it was just the one time and he’d never be able to forgive himself. So I asked him about Cecily. And do you know what he said?”

“He said, ‘Fuck, Sare. Do we have to do this now? That’s ancient history.’ He f**ked her, Max. Andy was the politician she talked about in her letter. Andrew Morton, whoring congressman from Illinois and f**king his way through the Seventh District. They slept together the night I met her, at a campaign event for Schumer.”

I groaned. I’d been at that fund-raiser, but not as her date. Cecily had been upset with me all night, and left angry, but I never knew why.

She flinched in my arms. “I remember catching him walking out of a bathroom, and we started talking and he was trying to get me to move, but I told him to wait, that I had to use the restroom. And then she stepped out of the men’s room, and looked at him, and then me, and it was really awkward and I had no idea why she stormed off. But she’d been in there with him.”

I wrapped my arms around her as the water pounded down around us, insulating us in a soundproof bubble. This was the smallest world; smaller even than I thought it’d been when I saw her playing pinball, or she urged me into the privacy of a cab in the middle of the afternoon. This was a world where, years ago, Cecily had sex with Sara’s boyfriend because she was upset with me. I didn’t regret having Sara in my arms; I didn’t regret passing up a relationship with Cecily. But I couldn’t help feeling guilty somehow.

“No, you don’t understand.” She looked up at me, beads of water running over her face and she didn’t even care. “We’d only been together for a few months at that point. All along, right up until the end, I’d assumed he wasn’t cheating back then. I thought that had only started recently. But he was never faithful—never.”

I tightened my hold, whispering into her hair, “You know that had nothing to do with you, yeah? It only tells me what a despicable human he is. Not every man is so horrible.”

She straightened, looking up at me, and I could see her biting down a smile. Her eyes were still brimmed with tears but the gratitude in them was real. Something seized in my chest with the way she looked at me, because the dirty sex and no-strings-attached thing we had was great—amazing even—but this, this was something entirely new.

“I was with him for a long time. Part of me wondered if he’d just messed up the one time and I was being unfair. But I’m glad I was right to leave. I’m just . . . ready for better this time,” she said.

I swallowed down this new emotion and tried to sort myself out, remembering that feelings and affection weren’t supposed to be part of the deal, trying to focus instead on where we were and the fact that her very na**d body was still pressed against mine.

“There are plenty of men that would kill for a woman like you,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady, completely unprepared for how it felt like I was being hollowed out and filled with ice water to imagine her with someone else. With that sobering realization, I reached behind and turned off the faucet, grabbing a towel that hung nearby. “Let’s get you dried off; it’s freezing in here.”

“You’ve had one hell of a day,” I said, smoothing her hair. “Let me be the gentleman tonight and I’ll defile you next time.” I wanted to ask her to stay, but I wasn’t sure I could handle it if she said no tonight. “Are you okay?”

She nodded, pressing her face to my chest. “I think I just need some sleep.”

We dressed in silence, openly watching each other. It was a bit of a reverse seduction seeing her pull her jeans on, fasten her bra, cover her br**sts with her sweater. But I didn’t think I’d ever wanted her more than in that moment when I was witnessing her put herself back together.

I was falling in love with her. And I was royally fucked.

Saturday morning I’d started to dial Sara at least twenty times before hanging up just before it would ring. My head told me to give her some distance. But fuck, I wanted to see her. I was acting like a f**king teenager.

Call her, you git. Ask her to come out today. Don’t take no for an answer.