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I blinked up at him. The journey across the city and the emotional backlash of finally being here had caught up with me. I needed a nap. I yawned.

“I’m going to make you some homemade chicken noodle soup. That sound good?”

I nodded, weakly. “Yes, thank you.”

I dozed while he cooked and woke a short time later to the sounds of him moving about in the kitchen. I sat up, stretched, and ventured in to join him. The discarded remains of chopped carrots, celery, and onions sat on a nearby cutting board and a pot of soup was bubbling on the stove. Braydon glanced up from where he was stirring the concoction.

“It’s almost ready. Just waiting for the noodles to become tender.”

“Okay.”

“Go sit. I’ll serve you.”

“Do you have crackers?” I asked.

“Sure do. I’ll bring them.”

I smiled and went back to the couch to wait. A few minutes later, Braydon emerged carrying a bowl of steaming hot soup and a box of crackers.

“Here, eat up. This was my mom’s recipe and she made it for me whenever I was sick.”

“Thank you.” I started in on a cracker first, needing to test my stomach. It went down easily enough, so I moved on to the soup while Braydon supervised. “It’s delicious.” I could taste a hint of parsley and the warm broth was divine. I ate the entire bowlful.

“More?” he asked.

I shook my head. My belly was full for the first time in weeks. No need to tempt fate. I lay back and rested my head on the sofa.

Braydon played with my hair and hummed quietly while I tried to relax.

Opening my eyes several minutes later, I turned to face him. “Well, the soup was delicious, but I should probably get out of your way. I’m not going to be very good company tonight.”

“Stop it. You’re not going anywhere. I invited you here because I wanted to spend time with you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Why did you invite me over?” Today. Finally.

“Because it was time. And you belong here with me.” His hand closed around mine and he gave it a squeeze. My heart pumped wildly in my chest. “And I didn’t invite you over for any funny business. I know I lost those privileges a while ago.”

I looked down at our intertwined hands, thankful that he didn’t mention our slip-up in LA a few weeks ago. “So what do you propose we do then?” If I was feeling better, there would have probably been a hint of suggestiveness in my tone, but I truly felt too crummy.

“We stay in tonight, and not because we’re hiding out here, but so you can take it easy and heal. We’ll watch a movie and get some more of that magic soup inside of you.”

I wanted to make a quip about the soup being the only thing tonight that was getting inside me, but I was too weak and exhausted to even be funny. Sad day right there. “Okay,” I agreed. Honestly, a movie and cuddling with Bray sounded like the perfect evening. Much better than sulking alone in my apartment for the millionth time.

Braydon pulled a woolly throw blanket from the back of the sofa and covered us both. “Come here, kitten. Lean on me.”

I did as I was told. God, he felt perfect. This felt perfect. How did he not feel this between us? He lay down on the couch and pulled me closer, aligning our bodies until we were pressed nice and close. As great as this moment was, there was still a conversation we needed to have. I needed some answers about this puzzle of a man. I looked up and met his eyes, bringing my palm to his cheek. “Thank you for bringing me here today.”

“You’re welcome.” He closed his eyes, relaxing while my fingertips grazed lightly across his stubble.

“Bray?”

“Hmm . . .”

“I have a few things I need to say.”

His eyes slowly opened.

I took a deep, fortifying breath to steady myself. “I know there are things in your past that are preventing you from moving forward. And I’m so glad you told me about your mom. It helps me understand things a lot better. But as for your ex, I just wanted to say whatever she did to you, I’m sorry. We can take things slow, do things your way.”

He remained silently watching me and blinked twice. “Fuck.” That single word was his acknowledgment that I was right, and that I knew more than he realized. “What are you saying, exactly?”

“That I accept you. And your past, and these flaws that make it impossible for you to have a relationship.”

“You don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Then tell me. Explain it to me,” I begged. I was here, in his apartment, and as far as I was concerned, there was no better place or time to have this discussion.

“I already told you there was a girl.”

“And? You’re no longer capable of relationships?”

He frowned. “Not exactly, no.”

I waited, holding my breath, hoping and praying he’d open up and explain it all to me finally.

He licked his lips. “It’s just that my last relationship ended disastrously.”

I listened silently as he opened himself up to me. We lay side by side on the sofa and Braydon told me a little more about the story he’d begun earlier—that his last girlfriend became unstable once he broke things off, and she began harassing him and his family. She couldn’t accept that things were over. That he couldn’t date in the public eye, because she’d harass the new girls he began seeing after her. I could only imagine how the stress of that, coupled with the loss of his mother, made him hesitant to enter into another serious relationship.

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