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“Oh, she definitely doesn’t need us. Courtney is the ultimate micromanager when it comes to her cupcakes. She only let us carry the boxes tonight out of sheer necessity.”

Carlos nodded and turned the car on.

“Well, she’s done a great job so far doing it all herself,” he said. “I get the impulse.”

She could put her hand on his leg or something? Why was she so bad at this? She was usually great at flirting with men. Had she lost her mojo?

“I do, too, but I wish she had more reliable help. Thank goodness I live close by and could race down to the store today.”

Carlos touched her hand.

“You’re a good friend. She’s lucky to have you.”

Nik felt her cheeks get warm.

“Oh, well—”

His phone rang, and he pulled it out of his pocket.

“Oh shit. I’m going to have to take this. Sorry about that.” He pulled over under a clump of trees and turned the car off.

“Hey,” he answered the phone. “Is something wrong? What’s your blood pressure?”

Really? His cousin, right now? She tried not to let out a frustrated sigh. She was pretty sure this meant the universe was against this whole rebound idea.

She sat there silently, trying not to listen. Which was impossible because he was two feet away from her. She pulled out her phone to text Dana so she wasn’t too obviously eavesdropping.

Sitting here, next to Carlos, I think I’ve forgotten what to do with men, all I can talk about are cupcakes and I keep laughing too loud, help—erase erase erase erase. Just because he was facing out his window didn’t mean he wouldn’t turn around at any moment and be able to see everything she was typing.

“Don’t give me this ‘I just wanted to talk to my cousin’ bullshit—you know I’m going to worry whenever you call me from here on out. And I already told you that engagement party was fun, and that I think two of Alexa’s friends secretly have the hots for each other. Did you forget that phone call? Oh! I get it! You’re bored stiff. You’re used to talking to people at work all day and now you’re stuck at home. I get it, bed rest would bore me to tears, too. We have to find more ways to entertain you. What about those books I got you?”

Carlos turned to her and smiled, and she smiled back. He reached up and tucked that annoying curl that kept falling out of her ponytail behind her ear. God, she loved it when he touched her like that.

He moved his hand down from her head to her shoulder. His fingers moved gently, up and down her bare shoulder. She sighed.

Suddenly he let out a bark of laughter. It made her want to laugh along with it.

“You’ve read how many?” He looked down at Nik with a huge smile on his face. “Which was your favorite?”

Oh good, she could stop pretending she wasn’t listening.

“You loved them all?” He held eye contact with Nik, and his smile got even bigger. She could feel a matching smile spread across her own face. “I’ll be sure to tell my friend who recommended them how you felt about them.

“I guess I’d better buy you some more. In the meantime, I’ve heard there’s this thing called Netflix. You should look into it.”

He kept smiling at Nik. It took all she could to resist leaning against him. His eyes crinkled with the laughter she could tell he was holding in.

“As a matter of fact, people do tell me that I’m funny. I’ll bring more books on Saturday, okay?”

He hung up the phone and tucked it back into his pocket. He pushed his hand through his hair and smiled at her.

“As you heard, Jessie loved the books.”

She bit her bottom lip. Good Lord, this man was more attractive by the second.

“I’m glad.” She leaned toward him and willed him to start playing with her hair again.

A car shot past them on its way up the hill, and they moved away from each other.

“We should get you home.”

He turned the key and gunned the motor to get them back onto the roadway. The engine sputtered and stopped.

“Uh-oh.” Carlos turned the key again, and nothing happened. “Shit.”

“Did you run out of gas?” she asked him.

“What? No, that’s impossible. I never run out of gas. I went to the gas station tonight, right after I went to the grocery store . . .” He trailed off, then looked at her in horror. “I didn’t go to the grocery store. I didn’t go to the gas station! I was on my way to the grocery store when I got your text. Shit. I did run out of gas.”

She patted him on the shoulder.

“It’s okay; it’s no big deal. We can call Triple A. You do have Triple A, right?”

He nodded, but made no move toward his phone or wallet.

“I never run out of gas! I can’t believe I let this happen to my car. I never even get down below a quarter tank, but this week has been so busy and I let it go way longer than usual.”

Nik narrowed her eyes at his steering wheel.

“Didn’t you notice your gas light go on?”

He refused to make eye contact.

“The thing is . . . I always keep my gas tank at least a quarter full, so the gas light in this car has never gone on before. So . . . yes, it went on, but I was preoccupied, and I’d never seen it before so I didn’t . . .” She held her laughter in so well, even when he finally turned to look at her, but something in her eyes must have betrayed her. He frowned at her. “The gas light in this car is in a weird place, okay? Are you laughing at me?”

She shook her head and rubbed her hand up and down his arm.

“No, I’m not laughing at you. I’m desperately trying not to laugh at you, here.”

She knew how touchy men were about their cars. He would probably get mad at her for that, but she couldn’t help making fun of him.

But he grinned at her.

“Okay, fine, I will admit that this is a little funny.” He put his arm around her shoulders and lowered his voice. “You have to promise to never tell anyone about this, though. I have a reputation to uphold.”

She nodded and turned so her lips were almost touching his ear.

“Cross my heart; it’s our secret. Just one question: do you think you maybe want to call Triple A to get us out of here?”

He pulled his wallet and phone both out of his pocket.

“Right, of course.”

He made a face at her when he got off the phone.

“They’re on their way, but it’ll be a while. Apparently, ‘out of gas in a safe spot in the hills’ is low priority.”

Nik took off her seatbelt and leaned toward him.

“We might as well get comfortable while we wait for them.” She looked around the car. “How long have you had this car, anyway?”

He closed his eyes for a moment before answering her.

“Almost five years.”

His car had confused her, ever since she’d gotten to know him a little bit. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy to be obsessed with his bright red sports car, but from his reaction when the car had run out of gas, that seemed like exactly what he was. Granted, people in L.A. tended to care about their cars more than anywhere else she’d ever been, so maybe it was just that.

“Why did you buy it?” she asked. “A celebration of a new job or something?”

He shook his head, but didn’t say anything. He ran his fingers down the steering wheel. The silence went on so long that she didn’t think he was going to answer her at all. She opened her mouth to ask him another question when he finally spoke.

“My dad died. Almost five years ago, my dad died.”

Oh God. Leave it to her to ask the asshole question.

“Oh Carlos, I’m so sorry. You don’t have to . . .”

He shook his head and kept talking.

“My parents didn’t have lots of money—they always managed to give us all of the important stuff, but they were both school teachers for thirty years; they were never flush. But it turned out that he had a ton of life insurance. Some in my mom’s name, of course. But some in mine, and some in my sister’s. After he died and I got this enormous—to me, at least—check . . .” He paused for a second before continuing. “Well, I didn’t know what to do with it. I deposited it in my savings account, and just let it sit there for a while. I was going to use it to pay off some of my med school loans. I probably should have used it to pay off some of my med school loans. But then one day, I took a different way home from work. I saw the sun gleaming off of a bright red sports car with a big price tag on the windshield. I turned straight into the lot and bought that car an hour later. My dad always liked flashy things. Sometimes I feel like that was a stupid way to use his legacy, but . . . I think he’d like this car a lot.”


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