A Wildly Seductive Night(13)

By: Lauren Blakely

Clay patted her knees, already decked out in kneepads. “You’re ready, except for one thing,” he said, from their spot on the bench at the edge of the Central Park skate loop.

“My helmet,” she said, with a grin. “And I know you’re hiding it right now.”

Clay pretended to be surprised by her comment. “I would never hide a helmet.”

“It’s behind your back,” she said, her little hand darting around his side, then behind him, where he’d hidden the purple helmet.

“I can’t believe you tracked it down. You must be a treasure hunter,” he teased, then tucked it on her head, her auburn hair spilling out from underneath.

Carly reached up and fastened the snap, then popped up on her wheeled feet, and assumed a “ta-da” pose. “I’m ready. And today I’m going to beat you,” she said, her eyes glinting.

Clay rose, and while he lacked the knee and elbows pads, he had to set a good example for his girl, so his head was safe and sound inside a black helmet. They were ready to tackle the skate loop together.

Carly loved to skate and had started with roller skates at an indoor rink in Northern California when they’d visited Julia’s sister in the Bay Area a year ago. But Manhattan was better for blades, so after Santa had brought her the pair of pink sparkly ones for Christmas, father and daughter had taken up skating together and aimed to tear up the asphalt in Central Park every weekend.

On this Saturday afternoon, as his wife worked on potions with the neighbors, he was the lucky son-of-a-bitch who got to spend the day with his favorite princess in the whole world, little Miss Carly Nichols, aka Speed Demon. She had some serious zero-to-sixty oomph on her blades, and as soon as she pushed off, she was racing.

“Be careful, honey bear. Don’t go too fast,” Clay shouted as he followed her, decked out in his Saturday garb of navy shorts, a T-shirt, and aviator shades for the bright summer sun that beat down on them.

“Try to keep up, Daddy,” she challenged, and her fighting words were punctuated by a long giggle. She laughed while pumping her arms and charging along the lower loop near Wollman Rink.

Of course, he could keep up with her. She was six, and he was in fine shape in his late thirties. Still, he liked maintaining the illusion that it was a battle.

They spent the next hour soaring on their wheels in a loop, passing some skaters and joggers and getting lapped by whizz-bang fast cyclists, as the warm sun baked their arms and spurred them on. As they crested a rolling hill near the end, the sound of a horse’s hooves behind them grew louder, the clippity-clop intensifying.

Carly was intent on beating her father up the hill, and she didn’t notice the carriage picking up speed. She was dangerously near to it. Clay’s pulse jackhammered. Carly was too focused on beating her dad, not on the big animals gaining on her.

For the briefest of seconds, fear took over as the hansom cab drew closer. As his pulse spiked, he raced to her, grabbed her hand, and tugged her out of harm’s way.

He pulled her off the path momentarily, slowing down and stopping to give her a hug. Carly’s shoulders shook as she seemed to fight off tears. “You okay, honey bear?”

She nodded, her lips tight. “You saved me,” she said, both worry and admiration in her tone.

“I’ll always keep you safe,” he said, and he hoped that would always be true.

After his crazily beating heart slowed, they finished their lap around the park, and Carly did that thing she was so damn good at. She batted her eyes and placed her palms together in a plea. “Can we please go on the carousel?”

That seemed a safer horse right about now, so Clay said yes. They changed back into their regular shoes from the pack that was on his back. With Rollerblades tucked safely away and helmets stowed in the backpack, his little princess found a white horse with a red saddle to ride on the merry-go-round. Sweet calliope music played as the carousel spun in lazy circles, and his daughter pretended to ride a horse into the sunset.

Some days, life was crazy with work, and he was yanked in too many directions. Sometimes, he faced deals that were hard to pull off or ones that nearly gave him palpitations, like his cousin Tyler’s wild scheme that had kept him working like a madman all week.

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