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“Are you an addict, Owen?”

She doesn’t skirt around the subject at all. Her straightforwardness makes me cringe, because nothing is a simple yes-or-no answer. And she doesn’t appear to want to wait around for the explanation with the way she’s eyeing the stairwell.

“If I said no, would it even make a difference for us?”

She regards me silently for several seconds, and then she shakes her head. “No.”

I had a feeling that would be her answer. And just like that, I no longer feel like explaining my side of the situation. What would be the point when my answer doesn’t matter? Telling her the truth could just further complicate things.

“Are you going to jail?” she asks. “Is that why you said you’re moving?”

I tilt the bottle and pour myself a glass of wine. I take a long, slow sip from it before answering with a nod. “Probably. It’s my first offense, so I doubt I’m away for long.”

She exhales and closes her eyes. When she opens them again, she’s looking down at her feet. Her hands move to her hips and she continues to avoid eye contact with me. “I want custody of my son, Owen. They would use you against me.”

“Who’s they?”

“Lydia and Trey.” She looks up at me now. “They’ll never trust me if they know I’m involved with you in any way.”

I expected something along the lines of good-bye when she showed up here, but I didn’t expect the hurt that would come along with her words. I feel stupid for not thinking about how this would affect her. I’ve been so worried about what she would think of me when she found out, it really didn’t occur to me until just now that her relationship with her son could be jeopardized.

I pour myself another glass of wine. Probably not a good idea for her to witness me downing wine now that she knows about my arrest record.

I expect her to turn and walk out now, but she doesn’t. Instead, she takes a few slow steps toward me. “Will they let you choose rehab, instead?”

I down the second glass of wine. “I don’t need rehab.” I place the glass in the sink.

I can see the disappointment take over. I’m familiar with that look. I’ve seen it enough by now to know what it means, and I don’t like that her feelings have so quickly moved from wanting me to pitying me.

“I don’t have an issue with drugs, Auburn.” I lean forward until we’re just a foot apart. “What I have an issue with is the fact that you seem to be involved with Trey. I may be the one with the criminal record, but he’s the one you should be careful of.”

She laughs under her breath. “He’s a cop, Owen. You’re going to jail for possession. Which one of you do I trust?”

“Your instincts,” I say immediately.

She looks down at her hands, folded across the bar. She presses the pads of her thumbs against each other. “My instinct is to do what’s best for my son.”

“Exactly,” I tell her. “Which is why I said to trust your instincts.”

She looks up at me, and I can see the hurt in her eyes. I shouldn’t have brought this on her, I know that. I know exactly what she’s feeling when she looks at me. Frustration, disappointment, anger. I see it every time I look in the mirror.

I walk around the bar and take her by the wrist. I pull her to me and wrap my arms around her. For a few seconds, she allows it. But then she pushes me away with an adamant shake of her head. “I can’t.”

It’s just two words, but they only mean one thing.

The end.

She turns and heads straight down the stairs.

“Auburn, wait,” I call after her.

She doesn’t wait. I reach the top of the stairs and listen as her footsteps echo across the studio. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end. I refuse to let her leave like this, because if she leaves with this feeling, it’ll be easy for her never to come back.

I immediately descend the steps and run after her. I reach her just as her hand meets the lock on the front door of the studio. I pull her hand away and spin her around, and then I press my mouth to hers.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Auburn

He kisses me with conviction and apology and anger, and it’s somehow all wrapped up in tenderness. When our tongues meet, it’s a momentary reprieve from the reality of our good-bye. We both exhale softly, because this is exactly how a kiss should feel. My knees want to buckle from the feel of his lips against mine.

I kiss him back, even though I know this kiss won’t lead to anything. It won’t correct anything. It won’t right any of his wrongs, but I also know it could be the last time I ever feel this way, and I don’t want to deny myself that.

He wraps his arm around me, sliding one hand up my neck and into my hair. He cradles my head and it feels as if he’s attempting to memorize every aspect of the way it feels when we kiss, because he knows after we stop, that’s all he’ll have. The memory of it.

The thought of this being good-bye begins to anger me, knowing he gave me hope and then allowed Trey to strip it away with the truth.

The kiss between us quickly grows painful, and not in a physical sense. The more we kiss, the more we realize what we’re losing, and it hurts. It scares me to know that there’s a chance I’ve come across one of the few people in this world who could make me feel this way, and I already have to give it up.

I’m so tired of having to give up the only things in life I want.

He pulls back and looks me in the eyes with a pained expression. He moves his hand from the back of my head and brings it to my cheek, brushing a thumb over my bottom lip. “This already hurts.”

His mouth meets mine again, and he lands a kiss as soft as velvet against my lips. He slowly moves his head until his mouth is directly over my ear. “Is this it? Is this how it ends?”

I nod, even though it’s the last thing I want to do. But this is the end. Even if he were to change his life completely, his past choices still affect my own life.

“Sometimes we don’t get second chances, Owen. Sometimes things just end.”

He winces. “We didn’t even get a first chance.”

I want to tell him it’s not my fault; it’s his fault. But I know he knows that. He’s not asking me to give him another chance. He’s just upset that it’s already over.

He presses his palms against the glass door behind me, caging me in with his arms. “I’m sorry, Auburn,” he says. “You have a lot to deal with in your life, and I absolutely didn’t mean to make things more difficult for you.” He presses his lips against my forehead and then pushes off the door. He backs up two steps and nods softly. “I understand. And I’m sorry.”

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