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He shook his head.

“See, this is what happens when you go out of your way to help people—they spend the whole time insulting you.”

Nik patted him on the thigh. He wished she would leave her hand there, but no luck.

“But seriously,” she asked, “did you have to go far out of your way to come help? Where do you live, anyway?”

He pretended he was checking to change lanes just to look over at her. He would have driven from clear across the city just to see the way she looked in that tank top.

“Atwater Village, not too far from here. But I was even closer, because I was at the Vons in Silver Lake when I got your text.”

“Oh wow, Atwater Village is such a great neighborhood,” she said. “How long have you lived there?”

Her hair was back in one big ponytail. His fingers ached to pull it out and run them through it.

“Let’s see, it’s the end of May? Almost six months. I bought it in January, which is a terrible time to move, especially with a brand-new job. But it was all kind of a fluke. I lucked into it. The seller had just gotten a new job on the East Coast and had to sell fast, so I got a good deal.”

“Congratulations, that’s fantastic,” she said.

“I still can’t believe I’m a homeowner.” Sometimes when he looked at his house keys, it still blew him away that the place was all his. “It’s tiny, but it works for me.”

He pulled onto the freeway exit.

“Oh look, there’s Courtney in my car,” Nik said, gesturing to the car in front of them at the light.

“Have you been friends for a long time?” Carlos asked.

Nik nodded.

“We went to Stanford together. We lived next door to each other junior year. One night she got locked out and knocked on my door, and we’ve basically been friends ever since.”

He and Courtney both turned to head up into the winding roads into the hills. He hoped that none of the cupcake boxes moved while they went around curves. As much as he’d teased both Nik and Courtney on the way here, he really did want the cupcakes to arrive looking perfect.

“Is that how you met Dana, too?”

She nodded.

“Yeah, but not in the dorms. I met Dana through a theater group on campus. One night, the director hit on Dana in a pretty gross way, and Courtney came with me to rescue Dana.” She shook her head and laughed. “Long story short, that guy woke up the next morning with spray paint all over his beloved car. I’m not going to say how it happened, because no one ever found out. I’ll just say that Courtney is a really good person to have on your side.”

He’d be sure to keep that in mind. He loved his car too much not to.

“Did you move to L.A. together?”

She shook her head.

“No, Courtney moved here right after graduation and has been here ever since. I moved to New York after graduation, but I couldn’t stay away from California too long.”

He had always fantasized a little about moving to New York, but both the weather and the distance from his family had always held him back.

“Do you think you’re going to stay here?” he asked.

One of her curls had escaped from her ponytail. She tucked it back in.

“Oh yeah. I’ve been in L.A. for six years, and it’s home now. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

He nodded.

“Granted, I’ve lived in L.A. most of my life, but I agree. Also, how much farther?”

Nik looked at her phone for the directions.

“Only half a mile.”

He grinned at her.

“How much do you think Courtney is freaking out now?”

Nik leaned back against her seat and considered.

“Well, she’ll definitely be calmer now that we’ve got your help, but she’s always hyped up before she does an event. She’ll be in drill sergeant mode when we get out of the car; I’m going to prepare you for that now.”

Just then, the GPS told them that their location was up ahead on the right. Courtney was already there. She jumped out of the car right when they pulled up and came straight over to his car, already talking.

“Listen to me very carefully. Do not take a single box out of this car without my supervision. Open the trunk and all of the doors, but don’t touch anything yet. I’ll go inside to see where we should unload, I’ll be right back.”

She pulled her apron off to reveal an identical clean apron underneath, flipped her head upside down and redid her ponytail, and walked up to the house. Carlos got out of the car and obediently opened his back two doors and the trunk. He and Nik leaned against the car, almost, but not quite, touching.

He looked down at her. That rogue curl had escaped her ponytail again. He couldn’t resist tucking it back in. She smiled her thanks at him.

“Hey.” She put her hand on his arm. “Thank you so much for helping us. We could have done this ourselves; it just would have been much more stressful for both of us, especially Courtney.”

He slung his arm around her shoulders.

“Does this mean that I get free Cupcake Park cupcakes for life? Because I think that would be an appropriate token of gratitude.”

Nik relaxed against him.

“I don’t know about for life, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to get quite a few free cupcakes out of this. Just make sure to say—”

Courtney came racing out of the door, flanked by two waiters.

“We have reinforcements! Okay, everyone. I’m going to hand the boxes out of the cars to each of you, and we’ll all walk inside carrying a box and put them on the designated table in the kitchen. Nik and Carlos, follow Andre and Kevin here once you have your cupcakes. We’ll do this until we get them all unloaded.”

* * *

• • •

As the five of them went back and forth from the cars to the kitchen, Nik shook her head at herself. Most people who had the hots for the sexy doctor nearby would ask him to get a drink, or would text him increasingly suggestive jokes until he got the hint, or would “injure” themselves and call him in a panic, preferably while wearing a casually elegant sundress and a sexy bra. No, she’d asked him to come help her and her panicked friend drive dozens of cupcakes up into the hills and then carry them as gently as they would bombs about to detonate. And she was wearing an old tank top and torn jeans. And not the artfully torn kind.

Courtney owed her big for this one.

“Okay.” Courtney glanced at the clock after the four of them had stacked all twenty boxes on the table. “I need to set up my trays and arrange the cupcakes, but I don’t need help for that; I have plenty of time. Thanks to you two. You can go.”

Nik turned to Carlos and hugged him.

“Thank you so much. Go and have your relaxing evening.” She turned back to Courtney. “Where should I wait for you?”

Courtney looked at her like she was an idiot.

“You don’t have to wait; you can go, too.”

Nik returned her look.

“You don’t have a car, remember? I have to drive you home.”

Courtney pointed at Carlos.

“He can drive you home. I’ll bring you back your car tomorrow. If you’re waiting around for me, it’ll stress me out.”

Nik looked at Courtney. She saw the glimmer in Courtney’s eyes. Ohhhhh. Courtney was trying to throw the two of them together. Nik looked away.

“I can drive you home, no problem,” Carlos said.

Courtney looked victorious. No one ever called her subtle.

“Are you sure? I’m not really on your way, am I?” Nik asked him. Why was she asking him that; what the hell was wrong with her? Just get in the damn sports car with the hot man, Nikole.

He shrugged.

“No, but you’re not that far out of my way.”

Courtney winked at her and turned to open the cupcake boxes.

“Thanks for your help, Carlos. Your next dozen cupcakes are on me.”

“Are you sure she doesn’t need us to stay and help?” Carlos asked as Nik got back into the passenger seat of his car.

Nik shook her head and put her seat belt on. Okay, this was it, right? She didn’t remember how to do this kind of thing. She hadn’t been at all interested in the past few guys she’d dated until well after they’d asked her out . . . and sometimes, not even then. Should she ask him if he wanted to get that drink after all, on her? Should she just invite him up to her apartment when they got to her place and pounce on him? Or should she just wait to see if he made a move?


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