“Do you hear me?” she asked the speechless twins.

“Yeah, we hear you,” Kent said. “But we gotta go. The pizza was just delivered.”

Colbie disconnected and stared at her phone. “I’ve got to go,” she said, more to herself than anything. There wasn’t anything keeping her here now anyway.

“So you’re leaving early?”

She turned to meet his gaze. “I think it’s best.”

“Colbie —”

“Look, I need to give you your life back. And clearly I need to go fix mine.”

He started to open his mouth, but she knew if he said anything sweet or sexy, she’d cave, so she spoke first. “Look, we both knew this was inevitable, right? I mean, I was going to go back in four days anyway.”

“You’re running away because of what you think happened last night,” he said. “At least be honest about that.”

She crossed her arms, feeling defensive because she’d been as honest as she could be with him.

Okay, so maybe not.

But she didn’t know how to bare her soul to him without getting hurt. And anyway, now they were out of time. “Last night has nothing to do with it,” she said.

“Bullshit. You think I forced my friends to be your friends—”

“You did.”

“—And now you’re going to use that excuse instead of the real problem to run away. Again.”

“Not fair,” she said quietly, his shot taking aim right at her heart and hitting it bull’s-eye. “I understand that you were just trying to help me when you got me invited to girls’ night. I can even accept that maybe I needed that help. But I feel terrible that I’ve been distracting you, Spence. I wish you could’ve told me that.”

His gaze was intense on hers. “I don’t remember ever saying that was a problem for me. In fact, you’ve turned out to be the exception to my every rule.”

She had no idea what that meant. “I practically barged into your life. It was selfish. Just because I was on vacation didn’t mean you were too.” She held up a hand when he started to speak. “You’ve been great about spending time with me. And I’m going to miss you,” she added softly. “But I really do think it’s time for me to go.”

“But you’ve been writing again,” he said. “Why would you cut that short?”

She didn’t want to. Things were going so good that just yesterday she’d sent chapters off to both Jackson and Andrea, her editor.

“Colbie,” he said softly, coming closer, setting his hand over hers where she gripped the counter with white knuckles because she didn’t want to leave him and she didn’t want to leave while everything was going so well with her writing and . . . she didn’t want to leave, period.

“Don’t go,” he said. “Not like this. I don’t want to be the reason. Yes, I need to focus on work, but that’s my problem, not yours. I needed a mini vacay too. I’ll settle back into a routine soon enough.”

She shook her head.

“Would it help if I tell you that I’m not expecting more than what we have?”

She gave him a look of disbelief.

“Okay, you’re right,” he said. “I’d love more with you, and if someone had told me that could happen in three weeks, I’d have told them they had been eating too many of my grandpa’s brownies.”

“No fair,” she whispered.

“I’m not trying to play fair. I’m playing for keeps. Don’t panic,” he said when she just stared at him in genuine shock. “You’ve made it clear that you’re not in this for the long haul. So I’ll take you however I can get you. Long-distance friends with hopefully some seriously good benefits when one of us can travel.”

She could scarcely breathe. “I want you to know how much this time meant to me,” she said, heart pounding, legs weak. “Getting away from my life for these past few weeks has given me clarity on a lot of things. Such as how much of my own life I’ve been ignoring. I was starved for simple things, like friends . . .”

He grimaced. “Colbie—”

“. . . And affection. And,” she went on, giving herself a minute by scooping up Cinder and hugging the cat to her chest, “physical touch as well. You gave me all that and I want to thank you for it. Sincerely.”

He shook his head. “Don’t do this. What we have here is too special for you to mess it up because you’re scared.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

Okay, he had her there. And not wanting these to be the last words between them, she forced herself to meet his gaze. “I found myself here,” she said softly. “And a big part of that was thanks to you. I fell more than a little bit in love with San Francisco and the people in it.” And then because her eyes had gone blurry and her throat too tight to speak, she forced herself to walk out the door.

Chapter 27

#SuckADuck

Colbie was packing her suitcase—with Cinder helpfully sitting in the middle of it, getting cat hair on everything—trying to feel good about her decision to go.

“You understand, right?” she asked the cat.

“Meow.”

“You know you’re coming with me, don’t you? Willa sold me a cat carrier, a comfy, cozy one that you can snooze in all the way across the country right beneath my seat.” Or she hoped Cinder would snooze all the way across the country. It was going to be an adventure for the both of them, but she couldn’t leave the cat behind.

It was bad enough what she was leaving behind.

Or rather, who.

She jumped when her phone rang. Jackson’s name flashed on the screen as the phone danced across the coffee table while she debated whether or not to answer. In the end, her manners took over and she grabbed the phone.

“Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke?” he asked.

“Um . . .” She pulled the phone away from her ear to stare at it. “What?”

“The pages you sent,” he said. “It’s a joke, right?”

A ball of anxiety nearly choked her. As did a ball of anger. She’d slaved over those pages! “What are you talking about?”

“Since when do you write romance?”

Colbie tucked her phone into the crook of her neck so she could grab her laptop and open her story file. She scrolled through the pages and took a deep, shaky breath.

Embarrassment tangled with the anxiety and temper, never a good match—especially since he was right.

She was writing a romance. “Oh my God,” she whispered to herself.

“I mean, yeah, the writing is good. Excellent even,” he said. “But you’re a YA author.”

She closed her eyes.

“It’s that new guy, isn’t it,” Jackson said.

But Colbie was still stuck on what she’d done. Her writing was different but . . . she’d loved writing it. “Okay, yes, it’s different. But there’s still a story there. I can merge both worlds.”

Jackson was silent. A first.

“Look, I’m coming home,” Colbie said. “We can discuss it when I get there.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow.” Her flight was first thing in the morning. She’d be walking away from one of the best times of her entire life. She’d be walking away from new friends. She’d be walking away from Spence.

The thought was crushing, and she knew there was something she had to do before she left. “I’ll see you there,” she said and disconnected. Then she went to the second floor and knocked on Elle’s office door.

Elle opened up and looked at her in surprise. “Hey,” she said. “Again, about last night—”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” Elle said. “I want to make sure you understand that no one meant to hurt your feelings.”

“I know.”

“And I hope you also know that we . . .” she paused and rolled her eyes “. . . like you. Okay? With or without your kickass shoes.”

Colbie had to laugh. “Did that hurt?”

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