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“So tell me more about your history with him—if you’re comfortable sharing,” I added.

“Yeah, I’m an open book. We dated for nine months. The best nine months of my life. We traveled abroad, went hiking in Belize, surfing in Thailand, dined in five-star restaurants, attended red carpet events. It was a fairy tale. I thought he was it for me—I’d found my forever. My parents were so happy for me. They wanted to meet him. But they never got that chance.” Katrina clamped her lips shut and the misty look in her eyes made me wonder if I’d hear any more. I wanted to know why they broke up—what had happened to end their fairy-tale romance to make Braydon into the jaded man he was today.

As silly as it was, something else was still bugging me. “Can I ask you a question?”

She nodded.

“When you were together, you went to his apartment, right? I don’t know why it bugs me, but I don’t even know where he lives.”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “I stayed with him most weekends. But he moved a few months after we broke up and I don’t know where he lives now.”

“Oh.” I guess that would stay a mystery.

Katrina straightened her shoulders and kept the topic light. She told story after story about their dating history—the places they’d been, things they’d done—recalling funny things he’d said, often making herself erupt in laughter. It all struck me as very sad. Their relationship had ended two years ago and she hadn’t moved on. Not one bit. My stomach churned. I couldn’t be like this girl. Realization struck me smack in the face. Maybe I already was.

A short time later, we said our good-byes, Katrina making me promise I’d keep her updated on what happened with Braydon, and I agreed.

If anything, my meeting with her strengthened my resolve about Braydon. I needed all or nothing. Seeing how she was still very much hung up on him was almost too painful to watch. I vowed not to become her.

15

A new project at work had left me blissfully busy and was almost enough to distract me from constantly thinking about Braydon. But now it was the weekend and my sorry ass couldn’t stop picturing his pretty blue eyes and messy dark hair or remembering the way his strong arms felt around me. That was why his text on Saturday afternoon totally took me by surprise. It was like he’d somehow known I was sitting here, pining for him.

Braydon: Hiya kitten

Me: Hello

Braydon: I miss you.

Me: Me too.

Braydon: I hate how we left things.

Me: I know.

Braydon: I get that our arrangement didn’t work for you, but the worst part is, I feel like I lost a friend.

It was true, I felt the exact same way. I missed having him in my life. And stalking his photo shoots online wasn’t enough. I had no clue what to say. He knew how I felt. He’d either reciprocate or he wouldn’t.

Braydon: I was wondering if you’d meet me for coffee?

Wow. I had to reread the text twice. He’d never asked me for coffee before.

Me: Sure. That’d be nice. ;)

Braydon: Cool. You free now?

Interesting. Braydon Kincaid missed me and wanted to see me in a casual setting. Progress? My day was suddenly looking up. It was crazy how a bit of attention from this man could change my entire outlook. I was addicted to him.

He suggested a little café that he said was quiet and out of the way, about halfway between his place and mine. I still didn’t know where he lived, but now I supposed I had a clue.

An hour later we were seated at a small round table with steaming mugs of coffee in front of us, an awkward silence big enough to fill a stadium settling between us. I didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know where to look.

“So . . . we’re out . . .” I raised my eyebrows, glancing around the room.

While we were out in public, Braydon was right, this coffee shop was a hole in the wall, a teeny tiny place tucked between a couple of office buildings. In fact, there was only one other patron inside. Suddenly I was seeing our first outing with new eyes. And I wasn’t happy.

I set down my coffee and planted my elbows on the table. “Listen, I get that you’re embarrassed to be seen with me. I know I’m no supermodel, but shit, this is kind of a blow to the ego.”

Braydon leaned forward. “No, that’s not it at all. It’s complicated.”

I waited for him to say more, but he remained utterly silent. “Okay. Bye.” I stood and grabbed my purse from the back of the chair. Complicated, my ass. I wasn’t going to sit here in this dump and pretend it was a date any more than I was going to pretend a polished turd was a Tootsie Roll.

“Ellie, wait.” He rose and clutched my hand, preventing my escape. “I’m sorry. Listen, I’ll explain it.”

He guided me back to my seat and I sat, but I kept my purse clutched in my lap.

“Shit, where do I start?” He rubbed a hand through his disheveled hair.

I bit my lip, waiting.

“There was this girl . . .”

Ah, it always started off with a girl. I hated that someone who had come before me had messed with his head so badly, but I suspended judgment and just listened. He was finally talking and opening up. Maybe this was a start.

“We dated for a while and things were fine. But once it was over, she turned ultraclingy and crazy. She began stalking me. She’d show up everywhere, at my work, my apartment, you name it. Calling nonstop, crying, begging for me back. It got really out of hand and it actually got so bad, I had to get a restraining order against her.”

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