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When he started getting dressed, I turned away to the window and clutched my arms around my stomach, trying to ease the ache there. Ugh. Hate that he’s leaving again. Hate that this could be goodbye.

I wanted to ask if I’d see him again, but before I could, he spoke from the door.

“Stay safe, princess.”

I forced myself to answer, “Bye, Greyson.”

How can I know so little about someone and yet need him so much?

He hasn’t called, but this Monday morning I got another kind of call, and with it, an offer for my Mustang.

I ask Pandora as we settle in the office, “So what do you think, is it a good offer?”

Her answer is to ask me why I am selling my car.

Fuck. I try to think of anything but the truth, that it needs to go and I probably need to sell everything but the shirt on my back, and even then the math may not add up, but I just can’t tell her. “It’s impractical.”

“Dude, you live for the impractical.”

“It got flooded! It squeaks now.”

“Which is cute considering you squeak too.”

“Urgh, you’re impossible.”

“Melanie . . . stop buying shit and you wouldn’t need to sell your car. See this shirt? I do something that’s called washing it three times a week. I only need a couple of these and that’s it. See these boots? They’re my signature. I don’t need another pair of shoes.”

“This is not a shopping problem, it’s a different kind of problem.”

“What, like an addiction?” Her brow wrinkles with concern.

“I want to sell it, that’s all,” I mumble.

“Want to sell, or need ?” Perceptive dark eyes suddenly probe into me in silence. “I have an idea. Sell the necklace your boyfriend gave you.”

“Pfft! Don’t think so!” I wave that off with one hand, then I become somber. “I want to sell my car, and I need your advice. Is that a good offer, Pan?”

“I’m a f**king decorator like you, I don’t know shit about cars. Ask your dad. Hell, ask your precious boyfriend.”

“You know what? I will! I will ask him right f**king now! He will be delighted to hear from me.” I pull my phone out. “He even came to brunch.”

“Wow, you dragged him off to your parents’. Really,” Pandora says, then she clucks at me in warning.

“Oh, bug off, Maleficent!” I angrily cry, slapping her with a client’s newly upholstered pillow I was checking for quality.

I’m not going to tell her shit anymore.

I won’t even explain to her the complexities of two single people doing . . . what are we doing?

We’re having sex, that’s what we’re doing.

But I don’t want it to be just sex.

I don’t know how many secrets Greyson keeps, but he has a secret room, and he refuses to talk on the phone near me, both of which are odd. Still, I have a secret of my own, so it’s not exactly fair to feel this way. I would love to tell him, and only him, about mine. Yet at the same time I pray he’s the last man to ever know.

How to relate to a guy you’re dating or sleeping with or whatever, a guy whose respect and admiration you want, that you asked—that you begged—a group of mobsters for more time because you owe them more money than you thought you had? How to tell him that they lifted your skirt and told you they’d give you an extension—of their dicks—if you didn’t pay on time.

I want to puke remembering the night in the alley. I could never tell this to anyone out loud.

I check my text messages. He was the last who’d texted me. Eons ago when he visited my apartment, and I asked who was coming to visit, and he’d said Me.

I tell myself I don’t want to go through all the guessing games again. If he wants me, he wants me. Right?

But my cardinal texting rule niggles at me. Nowadays relationships are so much more equal.

I slowly inhale and text him, Will you be in town this weekend?

And to my surprise, he answers right away.

Yes.

My heart starts thundering. I text back, Any plans?

I planned to look up my princess.

Gahhhh. I love that too much.

She wants to cook you dinner. Will you come?

I will. And so will you.

I grin in delight. Sexy cad.

8 pm Friday?

I could not be happier when I tell Pandora, exaggerating, “He’s coming into town this weekend just to see me.”

“Yoohoo for you.” She sounds bored.

♥ ♥ ♥

DURING THE WEEK, I bury myself in work and in getting some of my personal belongings shipped off to an eBay store so I can liquidate, and fast. My closet suddenly seems huge since I only kept one pair of sneakers, one pair of pumps, one pair of sandals, one pair of Uggs, and one pair of rain boots. I also went down to only three pairs of slacks, two pairs of jeans, a small assortment of tops, and the most basic dresses. My accessories were the most difficult to part with. But I kept the most colorful ones to ensure I could continue wearing three colors daily, even if the splashes of color mostly come from my accessories.

On Friday afternoon, I go splurge at Whole Foods because I’m not cooking cheap food for Greyson—I just couldn’t. So I bring home a brown bag full of healthy and fresh items, slip on the only apron I kept—a frilly yellow one from Anthropologie—and I cook a homemade dinner for him because it just seems like a nice “welcome home” thing to do.

Menu-wise I went for arugula and pear salad with goat cheese and a light vinaigrette, my special pasta pesto, a loaf of homemade bread, and apple tarts dusted with cinnamon for dessert.

I’ve always done my best thinking when I’m cooking. This time as I’m chopping and prepping the food, I think of how I’m slowly beginning to recognize my own needs, as a woman, needs I’d never realized were not being met by sleeping with a dozen different guys, needs that couldn’t possibly be met until you make a real connection—scary, powerful, inexplicable—with someone. Someone you least expect. Greyson’s face haunts me—serious, smiling, thoughtful. I can’t stop recalling and replaying his different kinds of smiles. The smirky one, the sensual one, the indulgent one, the sleepy one, the flat one he gives Pandora, and the one that’s almost there, but not quite, as though he won’t give himself free rein to give in to it . . .

I love that best.

Because it feels like I’m pulling it out even when he doesn’t want me to. Like he’s yielding something to me he didn’t plan to give me.

“Something smells good around here and my bet is that it’s you.”

My blood soars when I recognize the warm, smooth voice behind me. Somehow, Greyson got inside and crept up on me! Without making a single noise. And now he slides his big arm around my waist and spins me around, the move placing over six inches of bad boy with his lips only a hairbreadth away from mine. My senses reel as I absorb his nearness and slide my hands in a fast, greedy exploration up his thick arms.

“Hey,” I gasp, “I—”

He kisses me for a full minute.

A minute and a half.

Our lips moving, blending, my knees feeling mushy because his kisses are better than anything I’ve ever had. And now I can’t think or talk or hardly stand on my own two feet.

He pulls away and I feel myself blush at his heated appraisal. “I like this,” he whispers and signals at my apron, and the delighted light in his eyes makes me feel like I just won top prize on Iron Chef—and he hasn’t even tasted my food yet.

“You’re going to like it even more when you realize I plan to feed you dessert myself,” I whisper. His dirty mind seems to get the best of him, for he looks instantly ravenous. Laughing, I urge him down on one of the two stools at the end of the kitchen island. “It’s not what you think, it’s actual food!”

“Are you taking this off for me?” He tugs the sash of my apron.

“Maybe if you finish your food like a good boy.”

He chuckles, a rich, full sound, his grin devastating, taking over my brain. “You like it better when I’m bad,” he points out.

Biting back my grin, I pull out the pasta dish with a glove, aware of him noticing that I’m only wearing a short dress under my apron—maybe he can even see I’m wearing no panties. The thought sends a tingle through me.

There’s a silence and a creak of the stool as he leans back, kicks off his shoes, and there’s a confused, almost amused tone to his husky voice when he speaks to me, rubbing his jaw as he watches me wind around the kitchen. “I keep wondering what you’re doing all the time.” He pauses, then, his voice lower and thicker than ever, “You miss me?”

“What kind of question is that?”

He gives me a roguish grin. “One I want to know the answer to.”

I return the grin with one of my own as I serve us both, and when I set down his salad and pasta, he clamps his bare hand around my wrist. “Do you?”

Our eyes meet, and he gently stokes a growing fire in me as he rubs his thumb along the inside of my wrist.

“Do you?” he asks, softly.

“Yes,” I whisper. I trail my free hand across his jaw and impulsively lean over to kiss his cheek. Adding, near his ear, “A lot.”

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