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“Walk me home, Owen. It’s getting late.”

We walk most of the way to her apartment in complete silence. Not an uncomfortable silence in any way. I think we’re both quiet because neither of us is ready to say good-bye just yet.

She doesn’t pause when we reach her apartment building in order to say good-bye to me. She keeps walking, expecting that I’ll follow her.

I do.

I follow behind her, all the way to apartment 1408. I stare at the pewter number plaque on her door, and I want to ask her if she’s ever seen the horror movie 1408, with John Cusack. But I’m afraid if she’s never heard of it, she might not like that there’s a horror movie with the same name as her apartment number.

She inserts her key into the lock and pushes open the door. After it’s open she turns around to face me, but not before motioning toward the apartment number. “Eerie, huh? You ever seen the movie?”

I nod. “I wasn’t going to bring it up.”

She glances at the number and sighs. “I found my roommate online, so she already lived here. Believe it or not, Emory had a choice between three apartments and actually chose this one because of the creepy correlation to the movie.”

“That’s a little disturbing.”

She nods and inhales a breath. “She’s . . . different.”

She looks down at her feet.

I inhale and look up at the ceiling.

Our eyes meet in the middle, and I hate this moment. I hate it because I’m not finished talking to her, but it’s time for her to go. It’s way too soon for a kiss, but the discomfort of a first date coming to an end is there. I hate this moment because I can feel how uncomfortable she is as she waits for me to tell her good night.

Rather than do the expected, I point inside her apartment. “Mind if I use your restroom before I head back?”

That’s platonic enough but still gives me an excuse to talk to her a little more. She glances inside, and I see a flash of doubt cross her face because she doesn’t know me, and she doesn’t know that I would never hurt her, and she wants to do the right thing and protect herself. I like that. It makes me worry a little less, knowing she has a semblance of self-preservation.

I smile innocently. “I already promised I wouldn’t torture, rape, or kill you.”

I don’t know why this makes her feel better, but she laughs. “Well, since you promised,” she says, holding the door open wider, allowing me inside her apartment. “But just in case, you should know I’m very loud. I can scream like Jamie Lee Curtis.”

I shouldn’t be thinking about what she sounds like when she’s loud. But she brought it up.

She points me in the direction of her restroom, and I walk inside, closing the door behind me. I grip the edges of her sink while looking in the mirror. I try to tell myself again that this is nothing more than a coincidence. Her showing up at my doorstep tonight. Her connecting with my art. Her having the same middle name as I do.

That could be fate, you know.

CHAPTER FIVE

Auburn

What the hell am I doing? I don’t do this kind of thing. I don’t invite guys into my home.

Texas is turning me into a whore.

I put on a pot of coffee, knowing full well I don’t need caffeine. But after the day I’ve had, I know I won’t be able to sleep anyway, so what the hell?

Owen walks out of the restroom, but he doesn’t make his way back to the door. Instead, a painting catches his eye on the far wall of the living room. He walks slowly to it and studies it.

He better not say anything negative about it. He’s an artist, though. He’ll probably critique it. What he doesn’t realize is that painting is the last thing Adam made me before he passed away, and it means more to me than anything else I own. If Owen criticizes it, I’ll kick him out. Whatever this flirtation is that’s going on between us will be over faster than it started.

“Is this yours?” he asks, pointing at the painting.

Here we go.

“It’s my roommate’s,” I lie.

I feel like he’ll be more honest in his critique if he doesn’t think it belongs to me.

He glances back at me and watches me for a few seconds before facing the painting again. He runs his fingers over the center of it, where the two hands are being pulled apart. “Incredible,” he says quietly, as if he’s not even speaking to me.

“He was,” I say under my breath, knowing he can hear me, but not really caring. “Do you want a cup of coffee?”

He says yes without turning to face me. He stares at the painting for a while longer and then continues around the living room, taking everything in. Luckily, since most of my stuff is still back in Oregon, the only trace of me in this entire apartment is that painting, so he won’t be able to learn anything else about me.

I pour him a cup of coffee and slide it across the bar. He makes his way into the kitchen and takes a seat, pulling it to him. I pass him the cream and sugar when I finish with them, but he waves them away and takes a sip.

I can’t believe he’s sitting here in my apartment. What shocks me even more is that I feel somewhat comfortable with it. He’s probably the only guy since Adam that I’ve had the urge to flirt with. Not that I haven’t dated at all since then. I’ve been on a few dates. Well, two. And only one of those ended with a kiss.

“You said you met your roommate online?” he asks. “How did that happen?”

He just seems to want to cut right to the core with his heavy questions, so I’m relieved he’s finally given me a light one. “I applied for a job online when I decided to move here from Portland. She spoke with me over the phone and by the end of the conversation, she’d invited me to move in with her and share the lease.”

He smiles. “Must have been a great first impression.”

“It wasn’t that,” I say. “She just needed someone to split her rent or she would have been evicted.”

He laughs. “Talk about perfect timing.”

“You can say that again.”

“Talk about perfect timing,” he says again with a grin.

I laugh at him. He’s not what I initially expected when I first walked into his studio. I assumed artists were quiet, brooding, and emotional creatures. Owen actually seems very put together. He’s definitely mature for his age, considering he runs a successful business, but he’s also very down-to-earth and . . . fun. His life seems to have a good balance, and that’s probably the thing I find most attractive about him.

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