Penalty Play

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Chapter 1—Behind the Glass

Matt LaRue had no choice but to make a deal with the devil.

A sexy, purple-haired, tattooed devil who could make his life a living hell. Strike could, and insert had and would.

Matt lived his life by a few simple principles: Never lie or cheat. Be the best person you can be. And only associate with people of the highest ethical standards. After all, he had his boys to consider. And he had an ex-wife who lacked those basic principles. He should’ve known better, and he swore he’d never make the same mistake twice. The next woman he dated would be beyond reproach, which was why his latest dilemma sucked donkey balls.

Yet what choice did he have?

Matt would do anything for his boys, including beg Violet Strider to babysit for an evening. After all, it was just an evening. She’d take good care of them, even if she pissed him off with the simple act of being in the same room.

Vi did not meet his standards in the appearance department. She had purple or pink hair and more tattoos than the entire Sockeyes team combined. He was conservative and picky, and she had a tendency toward being flighty and a free spirit. What’s more in Matt’s estimation, the free spirit label was an excuse to be irresponsible.

Vi was irresponsible—

And fucking hot.

And incredibly sexy.

She brought out the bad boy he’d long ago squelched. And he hated that bad boy. He was a father and a role model, not a man-whore. Not that he’d ever been much of a man-whore, but he’d raised his share of hell in his earlier days. Now he was thirty-four and older and wiser. He needed a wife and a mother for his boys, not a fling.

But, damn, he wanted to have one with Vi, which made no sense at all.

They’d shared one kiss in his kitchen, one long, hot, deep kiss weeks ago. After that, they’d both pretended it’d never happened, which was fine with him. Except that it had, and he couldn’t forget how her mouth felt against his, all wet and needy and demanding. He wanted to—

Fuck.

His doorbell rang, and his boys just about knocked him down getting to it.

“Vi’s here!” Andy, his oldest at seven, reached the door first and yanked it open, ignoring all the lectures Matt had given them about not opening the door before you know who’s on the other side. He sighed. Sometimes he felt he was beating his head against a brick wall.

“Vi! Vi! Vi!” Joey, his youngest at five, jumped up and down with that pure, unadulterated joy only kids could have, and his son’s enthusiasm made Matt smile. There’d been a time when neither boy had behaved that way. In those dark times after their mother deserted them, they’d been quiet and sullen. Thank God, they’d gotten past the stage of missing their mother, and so had he. None of them had seen the woman in close to three years, which was sad and tragic when he allowed himself to think about how callously she’d abandoned them.

Matt hung back and swallowed hard as a jolt of uncontrollable lust rushed to his groin. Vi stood in the doorway with a sassy grin on her beautiful face. He attempted to concentrate on how she wore too much makeup for his taste, how her clothes were too tight, and how her body was covered in too much ink. Vi didn’t do classy or toned down. Vi did in your face and take me or leave me, this is who I am.

This time her hair was purple, a deep, dark purple like the flowers that grew in his grandmother’s garden in late spring.

His gaze dropped from her pouty, bright red lips, to the bouquet of pink and red roses peeking out from her scoop-neck, long-sleeved T-shirt. Her breasts had to be inked, too. In fact, he wondered if her entire body was. Guessing by the few glimpses he’d had of that curvy body, she was inked head to foot.

Holy shit.

He was getting hard, and in front of his boys. Not that they’d notice. They were inundating Vi with questions. She just smiled down at them nervously as if they were aliens who’d dropped from the sky and didn’t speak the language. Vi out of her comfort zone was incredibly sexy.

He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair and bit back a groan.

“You’re late,” he growled, masking his lust with irritation.

“Not by much.” She grinned, now amused and not even a tiny bit sorry.

“Dad, why can’t we go to your game?” Joey whined.

Matt shot him a withering look, but Joey merely blinked. Joey had that wide-eyed, innocent-little-boy act going for him, but Matt was relatively immune to it.

“Yeah, Dad, we want to go.” Andy added his two cents. His older boy was a little more reserved and serious, like his dad.

Matt narrowed his eyes. “You know the rules. Make your beds and put away your clothes and toys. You didn’t, so you’re not going.”

“But, Dad—” Joey was working himself up to a tantrum, and Matt didn’t have the time or patience for drama tonight. He was late, and he hated being late. He glanced at Vi, who was nervously biting her lower lip. She’d obviously noticed the impending storm and didn’t want any part of it.

“Matt, couldn’t I just take them to the game?” Desperation shone in her big blue eyes as she flicked her gaze from the boys and back to him. She shoved a shiny lock of purple hair behind her ear.

“No,” he said a little more harshly than planned. Vi wasn’t great with kids, but the boys were fascinated by her, probably because she was weird.

“Please, Dad,” Andy begged.

“No. Now be good for Vi.” He turned to Vi and dug in his pockets. “Here’s some cash for dinner and the car keys. Don’t drive over the speed limit, and make sure they’re strapped in.”

Vi bowed low. “Yes, master.”

Matt rolled his eyes, and the boys giggled. He bent down and held his arms out for his boys. “Who loves you?” he asked just as he always did before he left.

Despite their pouting, the boys stepped into his arms and muttered simultaneously, “You do.” Matt hugged them tightly, and they hugged him back. Finally, he stood, grabbed his duffel and keys, and headed for the garage door, leaving Vi to fend for herself, quite pleased that she’d been rendered somewhat speechless. He couldn’t resist one last look over his shoulder.

Vi made a face at him, and he blew her a kiss. She scowled. He laughed as he slipped out of the house.

Matt got in his Mercedes, leaving the SUV for Vi, and backed out of the garage. He chuckled to himself at the panicked look on Vi’s face as he shut the garage door at the exact second Joey launched into a full-blown temper tantrum.

Let her deal with them.

He felt a twinge of guilt over dumping two unhappy little boys on a woman ill-equipped to handle them, but Amelia had insisted Vi would do just fine, and he had run out of options for childcare this evening. His mother’s plane back to Seattle had been canceled early in the day. His backup sitters were all busy or going to the game.

He still disliked the idea of Vi caring for his boys. He disliked Vi in his house. And he really disliked that he wanted her.

Tonight, in the privacy of his bed, he’d probably jerk off thinking how much he wanted her. He’d imagine exploring those tattoos, wherever they might lead, over nice, plump breasts to her pierced belly button, and down long, smooth thighs. He wondered where else she was pierced. He’d seen the belly button piercing one time when she’d worn a short shirt, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Merde.

He needed to ramp up his quest for a nice girl, a devoted wife, and a mother for his boys. Preferably the churchgoing type with hair a natural color and no ink anywhere on her sweet body. Nothing like Vi. He’d been on a few blind dates set up by teammates’ wives, but they hadn’t interested him enough to ask for a second date. Every time, he’d found something wrong with them. He kept picturing Vi, which was too weird for words.

Maybe he was destined to be a single dad the rest of his life.

But he sure as fuck wasn’t destined to be celibate.

 

* * * *

 

Matt LaRue was a self-righteous jerk, and Vi couldn’t stand him, even if he did have a body that would put a Greek god to shame. He infuriated her, frustrated her, and excited her. Lust was blind, not love. And she was in blind, stupid lust with Matt LaRue, the biggest conservative tight-ass in the entire NHL, and so not her type. Yeah, well, tell that to her vagina.

His piercing brown eyes drilled right down to her very soul and made her wet in all the right places. His sharp features reminded her of a dangerous but delectable hawk. Heat spread throughout her body whenever he was within one hundred yards like a lust-induced hot flash. He wasn’t overly tall or overly muscular. He was lean, with a catlike quickness on the ice. Always ready, always watching. He never said much, but she often found herself leaning forward to catch the slight accent in his voice. He sounded straight Canadian, rather than French Canadian, but she could hear a slight French accent in the way he said certain words, such as “merci,” not that he ever said thank you to her.

She could only imagine what his bedroom talk could be like, assuming he talked at all. Maybe he was a slam-bam-get it done, ma’am kind of guy. Only she doubted that.

Sadly, she’d never seen the inside of his bedroom, and they’d only shared one toe-curling, pussy-drenching, nipple-tightening kiss.

Yeah, he did it for her, and she’d rather he didn’t, but she was fighting nature, and nature usually won.

Matt was still a jerk. Most good-looking, wealthy men were. He’d dumped his boys on her, forgetting she was doing him a favor.

He’d learn, and so would everyone else who’d looked down their noses at her.

Vi had plans. Big plans. Yeah, her life had been interrupted for two years because she’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but she’d moved on and made the best of a crappy situation.

A new name. A new life. A new Vi.

Though vestiges of her old life still existed, she made the most of what she had. She was going to college and majoring in dance, while paying her tuition in an unorthodox way, one she kept secret from her friends. Not because she was ashamed of what she did, but because her new friends wouldn’t understand. Vi got it. Most women weren’t as comfortable with their sexuality as Vi was.

Vi loved dancing, but she wasn’t built for classical dance with a tall, lithe body. Her curvy, athletic body with her ample breasts was suited more for a stripper than a ballerina. Add to that her unfortunate brush with the law, and she wasn’t going to be hired in your traditional college-student jobs, especially once she put a checkmark in that “box of doom” on an employment application. Vi wasn’t a liar. She owned her mistakes, even the big ones. But if people didn’t ask, she didn’t volunteer. Googling her current last name would get a nosy person nowhere, except a Midwestern stay-at-home mom who sang in the church choir. So not Vi.

Stripping hadn’t been Vi’s first choice. She’d tried bartending and waitressing. Neither paid enough to cover her college tuition. She needed more money, and making money dancing was her dream job, even if she showed more skin than most people considered respectable.

Vi didn’t want to be in debt to her eyeballs once she got her degree. She’d stumbled upon her current job by accident, and she’d been perfect for it. Besides getting paid to dance and being adored by men, she was in control, the hours meshed well with her schedule, and she didn’t have to work nearly as much as a bartender or waitress. In fact, she only worked Thursday through Saturday nights, and those three nights paid for everything. Where else could a girl with no skills and a questionable past get a job that paid as well as this one and didn’t require her being on her back?

Taking advantage of her schedule, Vi had loaded up on courses this quarter.

Tonight, she was babysitting, of all things. She was so not a kid person. She’d rather be around slobbering, rude men than a couple of reasonably polite kids. She knew how to handle the men. Kids, not so much. Oddly enough, the boys seemed to appreciate her quirky personality. No wonder, since their dad was a stick-in-the-mud and far older than his years.

Only tonight may not be her night.

As soon as Matt shut the door, Joey’s wailing and screaming increased to ear-splitting proportions. Andy stuck his fingers in his ears and glared at her as if she were supposed to do something.

Like what?

She shrugged and held her hands out. Andy’s look said it all. He considered her a moron.

When it came to kids, she probably was.

Whatever.

It’s not as if she wanted to be a mother. She wasn’t stupid, and she’d suck at motherhood. She was an artist, and she embraced her artistic soul, which refused to be tied down or responsible for anyone other than herself.

The noise became overwhelming, so she turned away and walked into the huge, open family room with the big windows looking out onto the green space in this planned community. She picked up wadded pieces of paper from the floor and frowned when she couldn’t find a recycle bin under the kitchen sink.

She was an idiot. She shouldn’t have agreed to babysit. What had she been thinking? She wasn’t good with kids, not like her bestie, Amelia, who could charm the most recalcitrant three-year-old into doing her bidding. Vi knew the unpalatable truth. She’d taken the job to see Matt again. The two of them had unfinished business between the sheets, and she intended to finish it. He might be a boring tight-ass on the outside, but those types were often tigers in bed. She’d seen the way he played hockey and guessed his bed play would be just as intense and focused.

Vi lifted a hand to fan herself. The visuals racing through her brain were just too much.

Andy tugged on her sleeve. “Make him stop.” He set his jaw and narrowed his eyes. He resembled his dad so much Vi took a step back and blinked several times.

“How does your dad do it?”

“I don’t know.” Andy shrugged and eyed her with a critical gaze. She had the distinct feeling she wasn’t meeting his expectations. Having her around when she was hanging out with Amelia, their former nanny, was very different from her being the one in charge.

“Where’s your recycle?”

Andy shrugged again.

“You don’t recycle?” Vi shook her head, not believing even Matt could be so environmentally irresponsible.

“Nah.”

She opened her mouth to deliver a lecture regarding reasons to recycle, but was interrupted by Joey. Matt’s youngest stomped into the room and stamped his feet on the floor. Tears streaked down his once-angelic face. Right now, he looked like demon spawn.

“I wanna go to the game!” he howled, hands on hips, jaw thrust out belligerently, and his face a deep red.

“We don’t have tickets.” Hopefully a five-year-old could see the logic in her argument.

“Yes, we do,” Andy said helpfully, disregarding her death glare. He walked to a desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out an envelope full of tickets. “Three seats cuz Grams needed a seat, too.”

Joey stopped crying and rubbed his eyes with his fists. He sniffled and hiccupped. Snot ran from his nose and down his face. Vi stifled a shudder, pulled a Kleenex from the box and handed it to him.

“Wipe your nose.”

He took the tissue and did a shitty job wiping his nose, forcing her to do it for him. How the hell did parents do this stuff day in and out? She couldn’t stomach the gross things they put up with.

“Can we go?” Joey asked hopefully. Gone was the brat of earlier, to be replaced by a dark-haired cherub. Those puppy-dog brown eyes sucked her in, and she couldn’t say no. Besides, she wanted to go. The tickets were right there going to waste, and Vi had become a bit of a hockey fan, reveling in the physicality and sheer grace of the game. The entire spectacle was a chaotic yet orchestrated brutal dance on ice. As a pacifist, she should’ve been repulsed by the brutality of it, but hockey brought out her inner cavewoman, and she couldn’t deny her troglodyte impulses.

She took the tickets from Andy. They weren’t for the skyboxes but for seats on the glass. Even better. She wasn’t a skybox kind of girl. All that socializing and posturing when she just wanted to watch the game tired her, though the free food and alcohol were a definite plus.

“Well then,” she said as she glanced at her cell phone. “Get changed and let’s head out. We want to be there in time to get food and be in our seats by the puck drop.”

“I want a hot dog,” Joey chirped.

“Dad doesn’t like us to eat hot dogs or fried food,” Andy pointed out.

Vi wasn’t a fan of hot dogs herself, leaning more toward healthier foods. “I’m sure we can find something at the stadium that’ll satisfy His Highness.”

The boys giggled, and Vi had to smile. This parenting thing wasn’t so hard. She could do this.

At the speed of light, the little munchkins returned wearing Sockeyes jerseys with their dad’s name and number.

“Well then, boys. Ready?”

They jumped up and down, screaming and cheering. She laughed. Kids were easy after all. Why hadn’t she seen this before? They weren’t complicated or screwed up. Unlike most adults, life hadn’t beaten them down and made cynics of them. She could relate to that. Life would never defeat her or make her older before her time, and the way she saw it, that made her and the kids kindred spirits.

Vi grabbed the car keys, shoved the cash Matt had given her into her pocket, and headed for the garage door. Andy and Joey were hot on her heels. They hopped in the car. Playing the dutiful babysitter, she strapped them into their claustrophobic car seats.

“Dad’s going to be mad,” Joey declared as they pulled onto the street.

Vi shrugged. “He’s always mad at me. No biggie.”

“Dad is a poop sometimes,” Andy said.

“Yeah, he is a poop,” Vi heartily agreed. Matt would be furious, but she didn’t care. It was a Friday night in the middle of January, and she’d taken a night off work for this. What the hell else was she supposed to do with these kids? Play board games all night or watch some torturous children’s program on TV? She’d rather gouge her eyes out with a fireplace poker.

Now she could lust after Matt in peace and fantasize about enticing him into bed for one night of debauchery and no-holds-barred sex. Just the way she liked it. Matt wouldn’t be sorry. Vi suspected it’d been a long time since he’d gotten off to something more than some porn and his own hand. She may not like the man, but she’d love to be his one-night stand.

Vi pulled into VIP parking, thanks to the placard hanging from the rearview mirror of Matt’s luxury SUV. He’d be furious when he saw her and the boys, and she got perverse pleasure out of pissing him off. No one else brought out the worst in her the way he did.

Vi let the boys talk her into hot dogs and fries for them, while she opted for a veggie burger, and they settled into their seats on the glass as the Sockeyes warmed up. Vi’s gaze sought Matt’s sure, strong body through the maze of weaving players. She marveled at how nimble he was on skates, poetry on ice, the dancer in her decided. Her eyes stalked him, watching how he changed direction as easily as she changed hair color. She sat back and enjoyed the view. God, the man was hotness on blades.

He had an average face, but a pleasant one to look at, tanned from hours spent outside fishing, with a slightly crooked nose, square jaw, and spiky dark hair. A few days’ worth of stubble darkened his face and framed a nice set of kissable lips. He might not be drop-dead gorgeous like Brick the goalie or ruggedly handsome like Cooper the captain, but he ticked all of Vi’s boxes when it came to physical attributes. Too bad his personality didn’t match his stellar body.

Matt hadn’t spotted them yet, but once he did, she’d be in deep doggy doo.

She fidgeted in her seat and took a bite out of her veggie burger. She couldn’t believe she was fretting about Matt. So what if he was pissed? She was doing him a favor watching the boys, and she wanted to go to the game. He could ground the boys tomorrow or mete out whatever kind of discipline he saw fit. Tonight, she was here, and she was going to enjoy the testosterone-laden ice arena.

Matt played opposite fellow defenseman Isaac “Ice” Wolfe. Talk about two intense guys, but Isaac won the surly award hands down. Too bad Ice was taken. Vi wouldn’t mind taking him for a spin on or off the ice. All that attitude would burn up the sheets. Distracting herself with thoughts of Ice didn’t work for more than a millisecond. Her gaze stuck to Matt like a magnet to iron.

She tried to keep a low profile and postpone the inevitable, but being inconspicuous was next to impossible considering her purple hair and the two whirling dervishes currently pounding on the glass next to her.

The team was still in warm-ups when Matt chased down an errant puck and came within feet of their seats. The boys pounded even harder on the glass and shouted for their dad. He shot a glance in their direction and did a double take.

The corners of his mouth lifted in a wry grin, and he skated over to them. Shaking his head, he placed a gloved palm on the glass. Both boys slapped the glass in some sort of pregame ritual between father and sons. Matt’s accusatory gaze swung to Vi, and his dark eyes were stormier than gale-force winds in the Strait of Juan De Fuca. She managed a fake, sweet smile, the epitome of innocence. One of his dark brows shot up. His expression seemed to say, “wait until I get done with you.”

Vi couldn’t wait.

She blew him a kiss and winked.

The corners of his sexy mouth dipped downward, and he grimaced. Not sparing another glance in her direction, he spun and skated off, digging the toes of his blades into the ice.

Vi tried to tamp down her excitement, but it was no use. She was a sexual being, and he’d just issued a challenge, whether he knew it or not. She rarely turned down a challenge, especially when it had to do with sex. Matt wanted her. Oh, yeah, he wanted her.

She’d spent a lot of time over the past month thinking about their one kiss. She wanted another and another and—well, call her greedy, but she wanted more. A lot more. Vi never stopped with just one kiss, not when said kiss sent her reeling and knocked her on her ass.

“Matt LaRue, I’m coming for you,” she whispered, and smiled at the man’s retreating back.

 

* * * *

 

Matt was going to strangle one purple-haired, hot-bodied, infuriating woman with his bare hands. Even better, he’d put her over his knee and spank her bare ass.

He groaned at the thought.

Shit.

The visual was enough to keep him warm in his lonely bed all night.

And she did have a gorgeous ass, round and shapely, inviting as hell.

Damn.

He shook his head to clear it. He was in middle of a fucking game. He never thought about women when there was hockey to be played, not even as a randy teenager.

Next to him on the bench, Jared “Hot Rod” Roderick stared at him strangely. Matt stared back.

“What’s your problem?” Matt said.

“You’re muttering to yourself. I thought only I did that.”

Matt shrugged and focused his attention back on the game, even as he felt his ears heat up. He was thankful the helmet hid them.

He prided himself on being the consummate professional, Mr. Dependable, the rock-steady guy his team could always count on no matter what kind of turmoil he faced in his personal life. He was a role model for the younger guys. And Rod could use a role model. Rod’s former puck bunny, now-wife tied him into a knot tighter than a hangman’s noose. Everyone on the team agreed she was a gold-digging bitch always looking for the next best thing. If Rod had been thinking with his head instead of his dick, he’d have never married a woman half the team had already slept with. Rumor had it she’d moved on to other conquests since marrying the dumb sap, but at first Rod seemed oblivious. Now he was just fucking miserable.

Matt could relate. The dumbest thing he’d ever done was get hooked up with Brianna, but she’d given him the two most precious things in his life—his boys. He wouldn’t change that for the world, despite the hell she continued to put them through.

Matt was damn glad that chapter of his life was over, but poor Rod’s torture was just beginning. The honeymoon was over, even if he didn’t recognize it. Sooner or later Rod would catch her in the act, and denial would no longer be an option. Not Matt’s problem, though, even if he did feel for the clueless sucker. The kid would get his heart broken in the process, but he’d learn and pick more wisely next time, or not pick at all, like Matt.

Shaking his head, Matt turned his attention to the action on the ice and leaned forward, poised to leap over the boards and start his next shift. A few seconds later, he was on the ice and skating hard. The Jets were a young team and thrashing the legs off older teams. Matt refused to be beaten to the puck by punk kids, and he refused to believe he might be a hair slower than he once was. He dug his blades into the ice and drove toward the puck, instinctively knowing after years of hockey where it was being passed next. He intercepted and smacked the puck to Cedric “Smooth” Pedersen, who’d been lying in wait like a stalker. Smooth glided toward the goal in that deceptively smooth way of his. The guy could turn on a dime, his passes were laser-accurate, and he was faster than hell.

Matt grinned when Ced skated one way and sent the puck in another, right into the waiting stick of Coop in front of the net. While Smooth moved with grace and finesse, Coop was all agile power and brute muscle. He bullied his way past one defender and fired a bullet past the goalie. A few microseconds later the lamp lit, and the Sockeyes scored again, now leading two goals to one.

Matt skated over to butt helmets with a smirking Coop. Their other teammates gathered around while the gang on the bench pounded the boards with their sticks. Matt grinned. God, he loved this game, almost as much as he loved life itself and not quite as much as he loved his boys.

The score held, and Matt managed to keep his thoughts focused solely on hockey until the last seconds of the third period ticked down on the clock. He was on the ice. He and Isaac were playing keep-away with the puck. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Vi and his boys on their feet, pounding the glass. Vi’s incredible breasts bounced against the clear barrier, and he swallowed hard. At the same time, Isaac shot the puck back in his direction, and he missed it. Thank God, the final buzzer sounded, ending the game.

As his teammates streamed onto the ice to celebrate, Isaac skated up to him and glared. “What the fuck were you looking at?” His gaze traveled in the direction Matt’s had gone. “Ah, crap. Seriously? A woman?”

Matt snapped his gaze to the scoreboard, feigning interest in the stats shown there, and ignored his teammate. Isaac matched him stride for stride, not fooled one damn bit.

“And here I thought you were a monk.” Ice snorted and slapped him on the back.

“I am a monk.”

Isaac’s smug smirk indicated he didn’t buy that story. “She’s hot in a biker chick kind of way. Never guessed that’d be your type. Who is she?”

“No one. Just a friend of Brick’s fiancée.”

Isaac hooted with laughter, winked at him, then skated off. Matt had no choice but to skate after him, taking him past Vi and the boys. His gaze locked with hers. Not one iota of uncertainty shone in her blue eyes, which irked him. She should be worried about his reaction. He’d made it clear she wasn’t to bring the boys to the game. She’d ignored his wishes, and she didn’t appear to give a shit.

He glared at her and mouthed the words, “You’re in deep.”

She pointed at her boots, laughed, and blew him a kiss.

Matt sped past, while his mind filled with different revenge scenarios, almost all of them minus clothes.

Merde. Shit. Fuck.

He stepped off the ice through the open half door onto the rubber mat and down the hallway toward the locker room and tripped.

“Hey, old man. You need help getting to the locker room?” Jasper chortled. “I could get you a wheelchair.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Matt growled, which brought a chorus of laughter from the guys behind him.

“He’s sensitive tonight,” Cedric said in a falsetto voice.

“Ah, maybe he’s having his period.” Jason “Wildman” Wilder thought he was way too funny.

“Don’t quit your day job to be a comedian,” Matt said, bringing about another chorus of laughter from the cheap seats.

Matt sighed. Usually he didn’t mind the ribbing. But tonight, he was already irritated thanks to Vi. That damn woman. He’d known better than to leave the boys with her. That’d be the last time, no matter how desperate he might be.

He might be ready for a woman in his life, but Vi was not that woman.