He slams into Pace, full force, hitting him straight between the legs.
"Omph," Pace releases a strangled grunt and doubles over, dropping the toys to cup his battered manhood.
"Oh God, are you alright?" I spring into action, removing Max from around Pace's leg.
"Just give me a minute," he bites out.
I feel terrible, but then I decide that's crazy. He's the one who showed up unannounced and uninvited, and Max didn’t intentionally hurt him.
Max, oblivious to the pain he's just caused, climbs into the pool that is now lying on the porch.
Composing himself after several moments, Pace stands, rising to his full height. "Strong little guy," he comments.
He really is. We wrestle every night, and he wins. "Pace?" I ask, still wondering what on earth he's doing at my house.
"It's a beautiful day." He smiles, looking straight up at the cloudless blue sky. "Care for a swim?"
Since Max is already in the pool, I know I can't refuse. "Sure. Do you want to take that around back? I'll get Max changed and we'll meet you out there."
He grins at me, knowing he's won this round. Sneaky. I just wish I knew what he was up to.
When I lift Max from the pool, he kicks and screams, until I explain that he needs to put his bathing suit on, and then he relents, letting me tow him back inside the house.
Through Max's bedroom window, I can see Pace setting up the pool, and dragging my garden hose over to fill it.
I quickly strip Max down and get him into a swim diaper and his red swimming trunks. Then I grab the baby sunblock and my sunglasses, and we join Pace in the backyard.
Max toddles toward him without hesitation. Be careful, baby, this man could hurt us.
Pace has dumped the bag of water toys into the filling pool – the colorful balls, buckets and floating plastic animals capture Max's attention and he lets out a loud squeal and begins clapping his hands. He doesn’t have a swimming pool, but given how much he loves bath time, I know he's going to love this.
As he gets near the water, I reach out for Max.
"I've got him," Pace says, closing two big hands around Max's tummy and lifting him into the water so that he can dip his feet.
Max kicks his feet and giggles, clearly enjoying himself.
I feel wary and on edge. I know I said too much last night, and I don't know what Pace must think of me now.
Max sits down in the pool, and I turn off the hose – three inches of water is enough for him to splash around in.
I sit down in the grass beside Pace, both of us watching Max. At least with him capturing our attention, the pressure is off to make small talk. Yet as the minutes pass, I can't seem to relax in the presence of this big, beautiful man who came baring gifts and is playing with my son.
"Pace, I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because it's very sweet of you to bring Max a pool and toys, but I need to understand what this is." I'm thankful for the cover of my dark sunglasses because his gaze settles squarely on mine and his look is serious and intense.
"I get that this is a big deal, and it's scary. It's not just you. You've got this little guy to look out for." He pats the top of Max's head, ruffling his hair. "And you don't know my intentions."
I nod. That's it exactly. He knows about how Max's dad abandoned us. I eagerly await his answer, practically holding my breath.
Pace meets my eyes, his deep blue gaze cutting straight into mine. "So I'll make this crystal clear: I like you, Kylie. I like Max. I came here today because I enjoyed spending time with you and I wanted to see you again."
"Pace, I'm sorry, it's just that after Max's dad, I'm really not looking for anything." The idea of casually dating terrifies me.
"If you never try, how you will know?"
He's right. I know he is, but the logical part of my brain tells me to be careful. The next man I date needs to be husband material. And I'm nowhere near ready for that anyhow. Judging by Pace's good looks and carefree lifestyle, I'm sure he enjoys no-strings sex, nightclubs, and women without stretch marks. But then again, I'd thought Elan was husband material. He'd been mature and settled, and look how well that had turned out for me.
Pace is smooth, but not overtly so. There's a truth in his eyes when he speaks the words. My brain is just hyper aware of men who promise me nice things and push me to want more.
Max slips against the bottom of the pool, sliding under and comes up sputtering from the mouthful of water he's swallowed. Before I can even react, Pace has scooped him up and is holding Max to his chest, patting his back to clear his airway and murmuring encouragingly.
My hands are shaking, but Max is fine. Thank God.
I grab Max's beach towel and wrap him up, clinging to him and kissing his head.
"He's alright, Kylie. I had him," Pace says, his tone defeated.
"I know." I look over at Pace and see that his t-shirt is soaked and is clinging to his tanned skin. My belly tightens and a warm tingly sensation spreads through me. Geez, it's been way too long. "Do you want to come inside and get dried off?" My voice comes out strained and I inhale deeply, trying to regain my composure. "I can make us lunch," I offer.
Pace nods and fishes all the water toys from the pool, setting them aside so they can dry, then he follows me and Max inside.
I know we didn’t finish our conversation from earlier, the one where he challenged me to take a chance and live a little, which is good – because I have no response. "I'll be just a minute, make yourself comfortable," I tell him.