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A syndrome that’s much more common than you’d think.

“True, you cannot plan who you fall for,” my mother agrees. “But if you can step back so you can hear yourself think, you’d realize you don’t want to be out in the rain, hit by thunder. Always choose the path with sunlight, is what my momma used to say.”

“Naturally. Nobody picks an awful life out of wanting, Momma,” I groan. “Some people are just luckier.”

“It’s all about choosing wisely,” she insists.

I fall quiet as I wonder why I couldn’t have been wiser a couple of months ago, when I bet my life away on a single night, a single moment, one single outcome. I glance at my parents—so sweet and perfect, in our little bubble of happiness—I couldn’t bear to ask them for the money, could I? Disappoint them this way? How can I take their money and all their pride in me knowing how hard they fought to keep me alive?

♥ ♥ ♥

BY THE TIME I go home, I’m sad. I’m sad about my debt and about my man. I brush my teeth and look at my blank white wall and scowl.

“Bastard,” I mumble. “You ruined my whole week, you f**king bastard. I bet you’re f**king some triple-D blonde right now and her triplets all at the same time, aren’t you? You’re not even a two-timer, you’re like a three-timer, liar, feeding me an I’ll-take-you-to-the-movies f**king line. I swear I was fine until you came back like you ‘got’ me, like you ‘got’ me even if I looked like a hungover mess. God, I can’t believe myself!”

I kick the tub as if it’s the tub’s fault, then yell, “OUCH!”

Scowling, I walk into the bedroom, grab my sleep clothes, pad outside to my living room/kitchen combo to grab some ice cream, slide on my The Princess Bride DVD, and turn on the TV. A couple of pounds of fat, here we go. I plop down and a vibration buzzes across the couch. I scowl and feel around for my phone. I find it way in between the two couch cushions, pull it out, and set it aside so I can scoop out some ice cream. I almost choke on a mouthful when I see a text I hadn’t noticed before.

Be home tonight.

What? My stomach vaults. I read who the text is from and suddenly I want to throw my phone into a WALL. Greyson. I scowl at it and throw it down to the couch and start pacing. I’m not going to answer him. Why would I? He seemed in no hurry to talk to me before, and now he orders me? Like an almighty king? No thanks. I’ll pass on our second date, thank you.

But I check and notice the text was sent hours ago. I tell myself I am not going to respond, I will wait a gazillion days like he did. I set the phone aside and put a big spoonful of ice cream in my mouth, letting it melt on my tongue, but my stomach is squirming and now I can’t watch the TV, I can only stare at my phone and suck on the spoon. Then I bury the spoon in the tub and grab my phone, squeeze my eyes shut, and type.

I’m home but that doesn’t mean I’m staying home. Just depends . . .

On? comes the reply, and quickly.

Whoa, was he waiting, with phone in hand, to answer? It seems like he was.

I wait one full minute. Trembling. Type: On who’s visiting

I don’t mean that as an invite. I mean it as in: I’ll hightail it out of here if he sets foot in my building. But his answer is lightning fast and my heart starts pounding as it keeps staring back at me.

Me.

Crap! I have to leave. I have to leave; I can’t see him! I can’t be this easy! A line must be drawn. He’s already shown what our night together meant to him, and I won’t let myself be devalued by him or any other moron again.

I should leave before he arrives, or when he does, yell through the door, without opening it even an inch, and tell him that I’m NOT INTERESTED! You stood me up, you didn’t get in touch soon enough, I am not your booty call, have a good life!

Yeah. That sounds right.

Determined, I head over to close the living room blinds. When I glance out the window and reach for the string I see a dark sports car pull over and a man in black step out of the driver’s seat. He looks up toward my window and all my systems stop when our eyes lock, hold, recognize. My insides go into chaos mode. A strange excitement makes my knees knock.

Fuck me, it’s really him.

What is he doing here? What does he want?

He heads into the building and I turn to face my closed door, panicking because I haven’t changed, I didn’t change. I’m in my pj’s, if hardly that.

Noticing the pint of ice cream still grasped in my hand, I run to shove it back into the freezer, spoon and all. I start pacing around in circles, trying to come up with a new plan, but unable to think for shit. I consider telling my building guard not to let him in, but I hear the ring of the elevator and realize the guard must have recognized the motherfucker from when he brought me home last week.

Deciding not to delay the inevitable, I swing the door open as he steps out of the elevator. He looks straight at me and his gaze drills into me, making a hole straight in my thoughts. One of my neighbors and her husband pass along the hall toward their door.

“Well, hello there, Melanie. A little chilly out.” She gestures to the white silk shorts and near-transparent camisole I’m wearing in complete disapproval and continues on.

Greyson follows behind her and fills up the space one foot away from my threshold with muscle and beauty and testosterone and, I swear, god, I swear, he’s as lethal as a nuclear bomb. My knees, oh, my knees. My heart. My eyes. My body feels both light as a feather and heavy as a tank. How can this be? He’s so stunning I can’t even move. Or blink, or hardly stand; I’m leaning on the door frame.

I’m fully sober. Something I might regret. He’s no longer blurred by the rain, by vodka, or by my stupid illusions of Prince Charming.

The man standing at my door is very real, very big, very tan, and his smile is very, very charming. There is no word for the way he stands there, his eyes dark and glimmering, his cheekbones hard and his jaw smoothly shaven, his mouth so beautiful, tipped up mischievously at the corners. His suit is perfect, playboy perfect, and his tousled hair run with wayward streaks of copper that makes me want to rake my fingers straight through. And he’s here, looking at me as if waiting for me to let him in. A memory of the night he brought me home flashes through me. Where I felt sore because of the way he’d loved me all night. The little mark behind my ear that I found the next morning.

Hanging on to my every instinct of self-preservation, I hold the door only halfway open when he catches it in one big, powerful hand.

“Invite me in,” he says softly, holding the door in his firm grip.

“My car doesn’t need a tune-up, it’s fine, but thanks for checking in on it,” I say, pushing it closed with more effort.

He shoves the door open and strides inside, and I’m frustrated over my inability to keep him out. Now he’s on the wrong side of the door, shutting it behind him like he owns my place. “This building has a laundry chute?”

“That’s your line?”

He crosses the room and pulls all the blinds shut, then he sweeps his gaze across my space with such thorough intensity my insides quiver.

It’s almost like he’s making sure there is no other man here.

He can’t possibly be jealous, can he?

And now . . . now that he seems assured no one is here but me, he starts walking over to me and looking at my mouth, and I’m walking away because every instinct of self-preservation in me tells me to walk away.

“You’re here. Why are you here all of a sudden? Some other date canceled on you last minute?” I demand.

“I have a date I’d like to schedule with you.” His eyebrows pull low over those brilliant, hawklike eyes. “You’re not nearly as excited to see me as I’d hoped.”

“Maybe I thought you were a drunken hallucination. Maybe I hoped you were.”

I back into my kitchen island and he locks me in with his arms, his eyes hungry and almost desperate. Then he cups my face and sets his mouth to mine like he thinks—mistakenly—I belong to him.

“I’m not,” he says softly, then he kisses me again, so deeply I lose my train of thought until he speaks against my mouth again. “A hallucination. And if you need me to, I’ll spend all night reminding you of what it feels like to have my tongue and my c**k buried deep in you and how much you liked it.”

He leans over as if to kiss me again. My voice trembles as I turn my head. “Don’t, Greyson.”

“I don’t like that word, ‘don’t,’ ” he rasps against my cheek. “But I do like you saying ‘Greyson.’ ”

He tilts my head around with the tip of one finger and stares at me like he loves the look of me. I lift one of his arms and he lets me, and I start easing away again, free of him, but not free of his stare. The first night he just kept staring at my eyes like he couldn’t tear his gaze free, but now, now he’s seeing all of me. I’m wearing shorts and a camisole yet my body starts heating as his eyes rake me up and down.

“I gave you a chance and you blew it,” I breathe.

“I want another one.”

I shake my head, but I can’t stop the stupid wings of some huge living thing batting around in my stomach. Suddenly my place smells like leather, like forest, and Greyson freaking King stands there looking like he does, confident, self-contained, his presence somehow demanding all my attention.

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