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Carlos put his hand on her shoulder, and she relaxed against it.

“Are you ready to go inside? Or do you need a minute?”

She pulled away from him. She never should have done this, but she had no choice now.

“No, no, I’m fine. Let’s go in.”

He took the key out of her hand and unlocked the door. She could have done that herself, but okay. He pushed it open slowly. Why had she turned off all of the lights before she left her house? Energy-saving nonsense. Now she felt like one of those women in horror movies. One of the ones who got killed in the first fifteen minutes.

Wait, no. Those women never had the sense to get someone else to come with them when they had a bad feeling.

Carlos pushed the door wide open and stepped through it in front of her.

“If the demon gets me, tell my mother I loved her.”

Apparently they watched the same kind of movies.

She followed close at his heels as he walked into the living room and flicked on the lights. Everything looked the same as when she’d left it two hours before: her laptop on the desk against her big bay window, her remote on the floor by her coffee table, her T-shirt and—oops—bra on the top of the couch where she’d thrown them off after getting Carlos’s text. She saw a smile around his eyes when he turned in that direction, but he didn’t let it reach his mouth.

“Is there anywhere to hide in this room?” he asked her under his breath. She shook her head.

She started to walk down the hallway that led to her bedroom, but he put his hand on her shoulder to stop her.

“Let me go first.”

He didn’t wait for an answer. She stared daggers into his back as she followed him down the hallway. Just because she’d accepted his offer to make sure Fisher wasn’t around didn’t mean she was okay with him ordering her around in her own apartment. This had been a terrible idea.

When she walked into her bedroom, he’d already flung open the closet doors and was running his hands through the crowded coat side of her closet. He turned around well after she was satisfied that there was no one hiding among them.

“Are all of these coats . . . yours?” he asked her. “You do realize you live in Los Angeles, right?”

“Shut up. It gets cold here sometimes. And I go to New York at least once or twice a year.”

He shook his head, with a smile in his eyes.

“Mmm, yeah, that totally means you need twenty coats, absolutely.”

She tried not to grin back at him and failed.

He stepped around to the far side of her bed, then went into the hallway and threw open the hall closet. She supposed that Fisher could have hidden in there, if he’d been hiding his contortionist talents from her. He glanced at the shelves full of extra bedding, towels, and boxes of sparkling water, and closed the door without a word. He stepped into the bathroom, and she heard the shower curtain swish across the rod.

“All clear in the bathroom, too. Anywhere else?”

She walked down the hall to the kitchen, simultaneously so relieved she was ready to collapse and feeling so stupid she wanted to hide among all the coats in her closet.

“I mean, I suppose if someone was really trying, they could hide in the refrigerator, or under the couch, but I somehow doubt that. I think we’re all clear.” She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of wine. “I’m sorry for dragging you along on this wild goose chase. I don’t know what got into me. Wine?” She glanced over at him, standing in her living room, and saw him peer under the couch. She smiled and poured two glasses.

“Here.” She handed him a glass and sat down on the couch. “Thank you. I’m not usually . . .” She shook her head. “Anyway, thank you. I hope you’re not too much of a man’s man to drink rosé.”

He sat down next to her and picked up the wineglass.

“No such thing.” He took a sip of the wine and glanced over at her. “You should get your locks changed.”

Okay, that was enough telling her what to do.

“I know I should get my locks changed; I’m not an idiot,” she said.

He put his glass down.

“Hey, I’m sorry. Of course you aren’t. I didn’t mean to suggest that.” He looked at her, then looked away. “I’m used to taking care of all of the women in my family, so I have the tendency to go overboard sometimes. I didn’t mean to tell you what to do.”

She picked up his wineglass and handed it to him.

“It’s okay, really. I didn’t mean to snap at you.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t usually give in to fits of paranoia like this, and I hate it. Sorry for taking it out on you.”

He smiled at her and patted her thigh. She hated herself for wanting his hand to linger there a lot longer than it did.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of. Every woman needs a big strong man to come and protect her; that’s not your fault. It’s just because you’re naturally weak and helpless, just by virtue of, you know, being a woman and all. You needed a man like me to do the hard work of looking under your bed. I understand that you aren’t capable of stuff like that.”

She smacked his arm.

“You asshole.” She was laughing so hard she had to put her wineglass down. “You had me going for at least five or six seconds there! You were so close to me throwing this wine in your face and literally kicking you out of my apartment.”

* * *

• • •

Carlos laughed and relaxed against the couch cushions. He’d been a little worried that she’d get furious at him for that, but he also thought it might break some of the tension. One of the things that he already liked so much about Nik was how independent she was; he should have known that telling her what to do would piss her off. Angela had gotten mad at him just a few weeks ago for taking her car in to get serviced; she’d said she was fully capable of doing it for herself. He’d told her it wasn’t that he didn’t think she was capable of it, it’s just that he’d felt like it was his job to do it. That hadn’t made her less mad.

She waved at his wineglass.

“Drink, drink, I promise I won’t knock the glass all over you.”

He took another sip. He usually made fun of Angela for drinking rosé. She could definitely never find out that he drank it with Nik and liked it.

“But really, don’t feel bad,” he said. “It’s totally normal to freak out about stuff like this. And my stint in the ER during my residency really opened my eyes to how often this stuff happens to women. I mean, fine, he wasn’t here and you felt silly that you had me come up, no big deal. But too many women ignore those feelings or don’t want to feel silly, and I’ve seen some of the aftermaths. Feeling silly is definitely better.”

She took another sip of her wine and leaned back. When she’d sat down on the couch, she’d sat down right in the middle, so he’d had no choice but to sit right next to her. They were so close they were almost touching.

“I almost called you on the way here and told you I didn’t need you, but I knew my friends would have yelled at me and told me not to be a fool.” She paused. “I think I’ve given other people similar advice, now that I think about it. It’s always easier to give people advice than it is to take it yourself.”

Should he put his arm around her? He really wanted to, but she’d just had a dramatic breakup a few days ago, and she might smack him and order him out of her house. But she was curled up on the couch next to him like that, all cozy with her wine; this seemed like a prime situation for making a move, right?

“Speaking of giving advice,” she said, “you said that you spend a lot of time giving advice to teenagers, and I’m totally curious about your job. What does it mean, to be the assistant director of a teen clinic?”

Okay, it seemed like she just wanted to talk, as they sat here shoulder to shoulder in the dim lighting on her couch while holding glasses of wine. Great.

“Excellent question, and one that I’m still kind of figuring out the answer to. I’ve only been doing it for about six months, but I love it so far. Basically, all of the health care of the kids that the medical center serves—who are in the twelve to nineteen age group—is routed through our clinic. The goal is to recognize that teens are in a special place, both mentally and physically, and to serve their needs as best as we can.”

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