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It felt like it was taking forever. My temples throbbed, as did the somewhat useless space behind my eyes. There was a good chance that I’d cried myself into a brain meltdown. Once I had started crying, it was like a levy had broken inside me. I had no idea how long we stayed in the bathroom, Reece planted on his ass and me in his arms, soaking his dress shirt. I’d only been vaguely aware of him picking me up and carrying me to his bed. He’d held me for hours, only leaving me not too long ago to grab some water and ibuprofen. He’d removed his shirt then and changed into a pair of nylon running pants before climbing back in bed. I was still in my cami and undies, and there was absolutely nothing sexy about that right now.

I was sprawled across his chest like one of those marionette dolls. My cheek rested above his heart and his legs cradled my thigh as he kept his fingers moving against my scalp. Night had fallen hours ago and while neither of us had eaten a thing since that morning, I think both of us were too exhausted to get out of bed and scrounge up something to eat.

“I’m sorry I cried all over you,” I said.

“That’s what I’m here for. I’m your personal tissue. Among other, more fun things, but I’m multipurpose.”

I cracked a grin as I stared into nothing. “I like those more fun things.”

“I know.”

Curling my fingers against his taut stomach, I drew in a breath and was surprised that it felt steady and didn’t hurt. It would be a long time before I fully accepted my role in Charlie’s fate. Maybe I would never absolve myself of guilt completely, but I wanted to try. I really, honestly, wanted to try for the first time.

“Can I tell you something?” Reece asked.

“You can tell me anything.”

“I’m going to hold you to that statement in the future,” he said dryly. “I don’t like to ever say good-bye.”

My brows knitted. “I . . . I remember you saying that once.”

“I did. I told you we never say good-bye. We kiss instead. Hell, we can say anything to each other, but not good-bye.”

“Why?” I whispered, but I thought I already had a good idea to why.

There was a pause. “It’s too permanent, especially in my line of work, the last thing I ever want you to hear from me is good-bye. And that sure as hell will never be the last thing I say to you.”

I shivered as I thought about one day facing a phone call or a knock on the door from—I pushed those thoughts out of my head. That wasn’t trying to take a risk. I would not, could not allow myself to think about the possibility of him not coming home one day.

“There’s something I want you to know, Roxy. I’m a stubborn motherfucker. You know that. I’m not going to disappear on you without one hell of a fight. I can promise you that.”

My eyes burned, and I thought there was a good chance I might start crying again.

With my head somewhat clear, a huge part of me now recognized how . . . how weak it was to keep someone away from you just because you might lose them one day. How silly it was. But there was still a little piece of me that wanted to retreat and not take that risk. I just couldn’t give in to that fear.

“Do you think I’m crazy now?” I asked in a quiet voice.

He chuckled and I liked how the sound rumbled under my cheek. “Babe, I’ve always thought you were a little crazy. That’s what I love about you.”

Hearing him say that now, when my head was sort of screwed on right, stole my breath. “Can you say that again?”

He slipped his hand down my jaw and tilted my head back. Our eyes met, and his chest rose deeply. “I saw them,” he said.

I frowned. “Saw what?”

He took a deep breath as he eyed me. “The paintings.”

For a moment, I didn’t get where he was going with this. Not when he traced the curve of my cheek with his thumb and not when a soft smile curved his lips. And then it hit me.

“The paintings?” I swallowed and started to sit up, but he didn’t let me get very far. “The paintings at my place?” When he nodded, I felt my face heat like I was out under the summer sun. “The ones that are . . . ?”

“Of me?” he supplied.

I squeezed my eyes shut. “Oh my God. Seriously?”


Mortified, I didn’t know what to say. “They were in my closet. Why were you in my closet?”

“Looking for a psycho stalker,” he answered.

My eyes popped opened. “That . . . that was like two weeks ago! You saw them back then and didn’t say anything.”

Reece sat up, bringing me with him. Somehow my body ended up between his legs and we were face-to-face. “I didn’t say anything, because I figured you’d respond this way.”

“Of course I’d respond this way! It’s embarrassing. You probably think I’m some kind of freak. A stalker—a creepy stalker who paints pictures of you when you’re not around.”

“I don’t think you’re a stalker, babe.” His voice was dry.

I screwed up my face. “I can’t believe you saw them.”

He chuckled, and my eyes narrowed on him. “Honestly? I really didn’t know how you truly felt about me until I saw them.”

My brows flew up. “I thought you were all-knowing.”

Reece smirked. “I had my suspicions that you were in love with me from the first time you laid eyes

on me.”

“Oh dear baby Jesus in a manger,” I muttered.

“But I don’t think I was a hundred percent until I saw those paintings, especially the one of me in the kitchen. You painted that after . . . after I left.” His brows lowered as he gave a little shake of his head. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I think it’s sweet.”

I still thought it was a little creepy.

“But you know what’s important? The first thing I thought when I saw them is how much talent you have. It was like looking in the mirror.”

That went a little way to making me feel better about this.

“I wish you’d put your focus there, babe. You have something real.”

Leaning against him, I blew out a soft breath. My mind was churning over a lot today, I wasn’t sure I was ready to look too closely at the whole college thing. “Getting a degree couldn’t hurt.”

“You’re right.” He smoothed his hand up my arm. “It’s smart. Just like doing what you love, no matter what it is, is right.”