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I drew in a deep breath. “I love you, Reece.”

His eyes deepened to magnetic blue as he stared at me. For a moment, he didn’t say anything, didn’t move, and I wasn’t even sure if he breathed. Then he sprang into action, clasping my hips. He lifted me up and placed me on my back as he came over me, his body blocking out the entire world.

“I already knew that, babe, but nothing is as good as hearing you say that.”

I started to say it again, but his mouth claimed mine with a blazing kiss that rocked me. There was nothing angry about the way we went at each other, and we really went at each other. Neither was it a slow, seductive joining. We were frantic, but this time because there was nothing between us, no words left unspoken, no walls, and most important, no fear holding us back.

Our clothes came off in a rush, and our hands were everywhere. Reece was everywhere, and what he felt for me, which was something I could not doubt, was in every sweep of his hand and brush of his lips. He worshiped what we had together, and as minutes ticked by and with every kiss and caress, I knew I deserved this with him.

I knew he deserved this.

Reece worked his way down my body, his head between my thighs, his mouth on me, his tongue in me. God, he knew what to do. With every lick, he drew me into him. When his mouth moved to the bundle of nerves and he slid a finger inside, finding that ultrasensitive spot, the sensation was too much. I came, head thrown back and my fingers clenching the short strands of his hair. Those tiny kisses and sweet nips of his teeth eased off as my legs fell to the side, boneless. I was barely aware of him moving to the nightstand, but the rip of the foil drew my eyes open. With a heavy-lidded gaze, I watched him roll the condom on and then he was above me, his hand curving around my jaw as he guided himself into me with one quick, shattering thrust. His mouth silenced my cry, and I could taste me on him, the combination highly erotic. I curled my legs around his waist, relishing in the deep, powerful strokes.

Reece lifted his head, his lips glossy and cheeks flushed. Before he could say a word, I told him again. “I love you,” and I said it over and over, until whatever semblance of control and rhythm were lost, until I threw my arms back and planted the palms of my hands against the headboard, anchoring myself as he slammed into me, hitting every nerve and sending pleasure racing through me. I flew apart again, shattering into a million happy, messy little pieces, but this time, he was right with me, with his head kicked back and my name nothing more than a sexy, throaty growl as he spent himself.

He collapsed when he was done, his breathing erratic. “I can’t move,” he murmured, face buried in my neck.

“That’s okay.”

“I’m going to crush you.”

“That’s also okay.”

Reece chuckled. “I don’t like flat and squishy Roxy.”

I grinned. “I’m pretty flat as it is.”

“You’re fucking perfect.” He rolled off me, flat on his back. “Fuck, babe . . .”

Prying my eyes open, I turned my head toward him. One arm was tossed over his eyes and his other hand was on my thigh, as if he couldn’t stand the idea of us not touching. Maybe that was me just having an orgasm-induced romantic fantasy, but whatever.

“You know,” I said, sighing as I reached down, placing my hand over his. I got a little giddy when he immediately flipped his palm up and threaded his fingers through mine. “I would like to paint you.”

“With me knowing?” he teased.

“With you being naked,” I corrected.

He moved his arm and snapped his head toward mine. Those lips curved up at the corners. “I’m so fucking down for that.”

I left for my place about an hour after Reece headed out to work. It was weird parking in front of my apartment and walking inside. Not because I had to hit a button on my new key fob that disarmed the alarm system and clicked it again to arm it once I was inside or because I was freaked out about being in my place after the break-in.

I wasn’t even thinking about Mr. Friendly Neighborhood Stalker.

No. It was the boxes next to my couch. It was the stack of paintings I knew were in there. It was the reminder that Charlie really was gone.

Setting my keys on the end table, I shuffled over to the boxes, feeling a burn in the back of my throat. A huge part of me wanted to turn around, run back to Reece’s place, and hide under the covers, but I needed to deal with this.

But that wasn’t trying—that wasn’t moving past this.

Running my hands down the sides of my shirt, which read I’M A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE, I pulled out the first painting like I was reaching into a box of venomous snakes.

Of course it was a painting I’d done of Charlie and me sitting together on a bench, our backs visible and the trees full of golden and red leaves.

My face started to crumble and my hand shook, rattling the canvas. What happened was so not fair, but it had happened and there was nothing I could do to change that.

Tears still fell as I dragged the box to the couch and sat down. Each painting cataloged either an event with Charlie or where I was mentally while I painted it. It was strange, seeing all the beautiful landscapes and memories of Charlie and me, and realizing that even though I held on to a lot of bad stuff, there’d been rays of sunshine in there. Like the way I saw Charlie. After the incident, I didn’t see him in a different light. He was still the most beautiful person inside and out that I knew.

It was hard going through those paintings, even worse when I placed them in my studio and then moved on to the box, picking out the framed photos of us.

I didn’t ever want to let go of Charlie. I didn’t need to. I just had to get to a place where thinking of him made me happy.

But I needed . . . God, I needed to start letting go of this ugly ball of hate, sadness, and frustration that had festered inside of me for far too long. Instead of learning from what happened to Charlie and living my life to the fullest, I’d nurtured all those nasty feelings. It was like a rotten growth that tarnished everything it came into contact with, an infection that I had to cut out.

Placing the framed photo on the table near where my easel normally was, I glanced at the open door to the hall. Before I knew what I was doing, I’d retrieved my cell phone and then walked into my bedroom, stopping in front of my closet door.

I thought about what Reece had said all those days ago when he’d talked about how hard it was to let go of everything surrounding the shooting. I knew from what he’d said to me the night of the funeral that he was still struggling with truly letting it go, but he was trying.