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“I wrecked my last girlfriend. She went on antidepressants, suicide watch, and had to move back in with her parents.”

That was not what I was expecting. I continued listening while our coffee grew cold as he told me the whole sordid tale.

“It’s been really hard for me to date because she would follow me. And as far as pictures with women I was seeing, I tried to limit them so that she wouldn’t target them. She would look them up online and start harassing them, too, trying to get information about me.”

“Well, that’s either the most elaborate story for ensuring you stay single or your ex is one crazy bitch,” I said, finally.

“It’s not a story. I wish it was. As much as it might surprise you, I like being in a relationship. I like having a girlfriend, cooking together, cuddling in bed all day, watching movies. I’m a regular guy, not some commitment-phobic ass**le, I swear.”

I wasn’t sure why, but I believed him. But that didn’t mean his past sat well with me. We talked for a few minutes more, but I feared we were at some kind of impasse. With Braydon unwilling or unable to move forward, and me insisting that I needed all or nothing, I worried about what this all meant.

As much as I’d appreciated finally hearing the truth from him, it hadn’t changed where we stood. He might have clued me in about what was going on, but he hadn’t opened up his life or asked me to be part of it.

We parted ways in the street with a friendly hug and then he was gone, leaving me wondering about how we were leaving things. Again.


That Friday night, I fretted over what to wear. Ben and Emmy were having a little housewarming party for their newly renovated, postflood place together, and I knew Braydon would be there. We’d texted each other off and on over the past week about how our workdays had been, a new restaurant he discovered, trivial things like that. But we had avoided all serious topics. This would be the first time I’d seen him since he opened up to me. I wondered what the night would bring.

I chose a pair of black skinny jeans with knee-high boots and a soft gray sweater that clung to my best assets. Casual yet cute. Emmy had rejected my numerous offers for helping with the party, but I refused to arrive empty-handed, so I stopped on the way over and picked up a giant bouquet of fresh flowers for her. The hostess could never have too many flowers, right?

I was one of the first to arrive and Emmy was still setting up, so I jumped into action beside her in the kitchen. “Where do you need me?”

She gave a quick glance around the kitchen and pointed at a pile of lemons and limes on the counter. “Slice those into wedges for drink garnishes, please!”

“You got it.” I grabbed a knife and cutting board and went to work. Soon we had everything under control, guests began filtering in, and we started setting out cheeses, fruits, and other yummy bite-sized treats, along with plenty of refreshing cocktails. The large arrangement of flowers I’d brought looked perfect in the cut-crystal vase in the center of Emmy’s new dining table.

Helping set up for the party provided a great distraction. But soon the air around me changed and I realized Braydon had arrived. He stood in the center of the living room talking with a tall thin blonde with tits the size of Texas. Just great. Who the hell invited Buxom Barbie?

“That’s Marissa,” Emmy leaned in and whispered to me. I shrugged. I shouldn’t care.

“She’s a makeup artist Ben’s worked with several times. Probably Bray, too. Don’t look so worried.” She bumped her hip into mine, trying to lighten my mood.

It didn’t help. I dumped a bag of pretzels into a bowl and shoved it at her. “It doesn’t matter, Em. Just drop it.” Shit. My hands trembled as I moved on to my next task—refilling the ice. Maybe it had been a mistake to come here. When my eyes lifted to Braydon again, he was alone this time. And watching me.

“You’re not even going to come say hi?” he teased, smiling crookedly at me from across the room.

“Sorry, I thought you were busy,” I called out. Busy with Slutty Barbie.

“Come here.” He opened his arms and I immediately went to him, folding myself into his embrace. His strong arms closed around me and I inhaled against his chest.

“How have you been?” The brightness in his eyes and the sincerity in his voice took me by surprise.

I shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”

His jaw tensed. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but I got called away by Emmy to help with removing the appetizers from the oven.

She thrust a pair of oven mitts at me. “Sorry. I thought you needed saving.”

I shook my head. “No, he was . . .” I searched for the right word. . . .

“He’s sweet with you,” Emmy observed, watching Braydon with a look of admiration.

Yeah, real sweet. He didn’t want to be seen in public with me, and in private he commanded my body and my heart like no one else. A real sweetie. I removed the crab wontons from the oven and began plating them, thankful for the distraction.

I avoided the chance to mingle by staying in the kitchen. I liked this role. It allowed Emmy to spend time with her guests while I kept the snacks refilled and cleared away empty plates, all while sipping my wine in peace and watching Braydon discuss sports, politics, and modeling with various guests throughout the room. I had the perfect vantage point. God, his butt was cute in those jeans. Refilling my own wineglass yet again, I settled onto a barstool at the kitchen island. I’d probably been a little too liberal with my own wine consumption, but what the hell. I was at the housewarming party for two of my married, very in-love friends and was face-to-face with my ex-fuck friend. Yay, me.

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