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The rest of the cookout went by without any more glaring issues. Lauren had eventually taken Nick inside and when they came out, he didn’t say anything for the remainder of dinner. Max still felt uncomfortable with everyone and tried to be pretty quiet herself. There wasn’t a need to try and make friends with people who obviously didn’t want her to be there. Thankfully, everyone left as soon as the sun went down and she offered to help AJ with the dishes.

“Did you have a good time today?” AJ asked as he loaded the dishwasher. “I mean besides Nick being a complete ass.”

“I think he hates me. I think most of them hate me.”

“No one hates you.”

“I’m pretty sure Nick, Kevin and Kristen strongly dislike me then.”

“They’ll warm up to you. Just give them some time.”

“They might not AJ, they’re trying to protect you and I’m just some random woman you know.”

AJ shook his head. “They just need to get to know you. And just because they want to protect me doesn’t mean they should be rude to you.”

Max shook her head and wandered out onto the deck to pick up some more plates and cups that were on the table. AJ watched as she walked around grabbing anything that needed to be thrown out and shoved into a plastic bag. He was so aggravated with his family for treating her the way they did. It was ridiculous and he didn’t want to lose her over such stupid behavior on their part.

He finished with the dishes and put the washer around. Max was still cleaning up when he came out and took the bag out of her hands and tossed it onto the table. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her down to the pool and kicked off his shoes.

“What are you doing?”

“I was thinking about going for a night swim and I think you should join me.”

Max pulled her t-shirt tight. “I don’t know.”

“Come on, it was something you loved as a kid and when was the last time you got to do it?”

“It’s been awhile.”

“Then this is the perfect opportunity.”

“I have to head out soon, I probably shouldn’t.”

“Just a short one I promise.”

Without waiting for her answer, he quickly stripped down to his shorts and jumped in. She was still standing there when he resurfaced so he gave her a gentle splash.

“Stop it!” she cried and jumped back.

“Make me!” he replied and splashed her again.

“Cut it out you brat!”

AJ laughed and splashed her a third time. She did a cannonball and laughed as he tried to swim away when he realized what she planned to do.

“Ha!” she said as she came up.

“Ha yourself.” AJ laughed and without thinking, pulled her close.

They came face to face in close proximity and he was surprised she didn’t pull away. Noticing that she was still wearing her shirt, he slid his hands down to grab the hem and began to lift it up. Her hands shot downward to stop him.


“I’ve already seen them Max. You don’t have to hide from me anymore.”

She started to protest but he cut her off.

“Please trust me Max. I’m not going to hurt you.”

After a moment, she stopped resisting and let him pull it up. He tossed it onto the patio and wrapped his arms around her waist.

“See? That wasn’t so bad.”

Max smiled and nodded. For the first time in a while, she felt safe in someone’s arms. She slowly draped her arms around his neck and scooted a little closer; AJ moaned and she was startled by how that made her feel. They stayed like that for a moment and then AJ couldn’t fight the urge anymore. He held her against him tightly and leaned in, pressing his lips against hers lightly.

He drew away to gauge her reaction and was thrilled when he saw the look on her face. Pulling them towards the wall of the pool, he braced himself for balance and kissed her with such force that it surprised the both of them. It took Max a few seconds to move past the shock but when she did, she didn’t hold anything back. She had been bottling up her feelings for such a long time that they just spilled out. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she kissed him with as much passion as she could.
Chapter End Notes:
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