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He opened another cabinet.

“Good point, because I was thinking about making pancakes since I see you have syrup here. Any objections? Also, where’s your flour?”

She reached for two mugs from the cabinet above the coffee maker and took the opportunity while his back was to her to admire his ass in his gray boxer briefs.

“No objections at all to pancakes, as long as you make bacon, too. And the dry goods are all under there.”

He added a lot of sugar to his coffee, but she tried not to judge him for that. Some of her best friends added a lot of sugar to their coffee.

Once he was all set with ingredients and pans, she sat at the kitchen counter with her mug of coffee and watched him cook. Just as he flipped the first pancake with a flourish, she heard Courtney’s voice in her head: serious couples don’t go to brunch; they stay home and cook for each other.

Oh shit. Was this a sign that he wanted to be serious? She’d assumed it was clear that that wasn’t what she was looking for right now, given the whole “dramatic breakup that he and thousands of other people witnessed just three weeks ago” thing, but maybe her state of mind wasn’t clear to him?

Did she need to have an actual conversation about this with him? She hated having conversations like that.

But then . . . she’d avoided having an actual define-the-relationship talk with Fisher, and that didn’t work out all that well.

Come to think about it, Carlos did seem like a serious relationship kind of guy. He was kind and considerate; he was close to his family; he’d just bought a house, for the love of God. Men don’t buy houses if they don’t want to get married soon after that. Damn it.

Carlos set a plate of golden brown pancakes and crisp bacon in front of her with a smile. She tried to smile back at him.

“Wow. What service.”

He half bowed.

“I try. Syrup?”

She took a bite just as he sat down next to her. Oh, this was terrible. Not the pancakes—the pancakes were fantastic, that was the terrible part. If she never had these pancakes again because she’d accidentally found the one man in Los Angeles who wanted a serious relationship, she was going to be so mad.

“So, uh. The only problem is that . . .” She took a sip of coffee and tried the beginning of that sentence again. “I just wanted to . . . right now, I’m not sure if I’m . . .”

He looked at her like she had three heads.

“Nik. What are you trying to say?”

She shook her head out of frustration with herself.

“I’m sorry, I’m not making any sense. It’s just that after the whole Fisher thing, and with work being so busy right now, I’m not in a good place for any sort of relationship. But like, this whole thing . . .” She gestured toward him, the kitchen, the couch, the bedroom. “This whole thing is great. And I like spending time with you a lot. I feel like we’re becoming good friends. Just with”—she waved her hand in the direction of the bedroom—“that stuff going on, too. So I just wanted to see where you were with everything.”

No one would believe she made her entire living by putting words together. Did any of the words she’d just said make sense in that order? She had no idea.

“OH.” His shoulders relaxed, and he grinned at her. “Well, thank God for that, because I think this whole thing,” he mimicked her gesture with his fork, “is great, too. And to be honest with you, between work and everything going on with my family, I don’t have the energy for anything even approaching a relationship. So if you’re cool with keeping this casual, so am I.”

She let out a deep sigh and picked up a piece of bacon with her fingers.

“Excellent.” She bit into the bacon, and the salty sweetness of the bacon and syrup combined exploded in her mouth. What a great morning.

He stood up, walked around the counter to get the rest of the bacon, and tossed a strip onto her plate.

“I promise we can hang out and eat pancakes and drink rosé and I won’t propose to you on a JumboTron.”

She clinked her coffee mug against his. Oh thank God. They wanted the exact same thing. This was perfect.

“That sounds pretty ideal.”

Chapter Thirteen

. . . . . . .

Carlos was just driving out of the grocery store parking lot a week and a half later when Drew called. It had been a brutal day at work, so he’d decided to cook something elaborate for dinner to help himself relax.

“Hey, man, what’s up?”

“Hey!” Drew’s voice boomed through the speakers in his car. “How’s the assistant director doing on this fine Wednesday?”

Drew had been the whole reason he’d even applied for the job in the first place. He hadn’t actually seen the opening, but Drew—all the way up in Berkeley now—had and had emailed it to him immediately. Carlos had jumped at the opportunity to move back to the Eastside, but he hadn’t been sure if they were looking for someone with his background for the job. When he got it, Drew maintained that he’d known he would all along.

“I’m still alive; that’s the best thing I can say after today at work.”

“Ahh, one of those days, huh?”

Carlos sighed.

“One of the worst kinds of days. You know the kind.”

“Well, maybe this will make it better: you around this weekend to hang out with your best friend and his fiancée?”

Carlos downshifted as the light changed.

“Oh, you mean Jake and Melissa? Yeah, I’m probably going to see them this weekend, why do you ask?”

“I ask because you can go fuck yourself, that’s why I ask,” Drew said, and both of them cracked up.

“Okay, but seriously, you and Alexa are coming to town? You need a place to stay? You know I live on the Eastside now, right? I don’t know if you know how to get to this side of town.”

“You are such an asshole. Yes, I know you live on the Eastside now. But we don’t need a place to stay. Alexa’s got to go down there with her boss for a conference, so I’m tagging along.”

“Awesome. Everything was so crazy at the engagement party I barely got to talk to you.” He hadn’t seen Drew since Christmas-time and Alexa since before that. “I’ll get to congratulate you two in person.”

“And we’ll get to see the new house, I hope?” Drew asked.

“Of course, but I haven’t put in the basketball hoop yet.”

“And meet whatshername?”

He never should have told Drew he was sleeping with Nik; he knew he’d get the wrong idea. But Drew had texted him the day after they’d first slept together and had asked if he’d seen her again, and it was impossible to not say he’d seen a hell of a lot of her the night before.

“Her name is Nik. I can check to see if she’s free, but I told you, this thing with her is very casual.”

It was a frequent casual thing—they’d only started sleeping together three weeks ago, and they’d already seen each other six times. But after Nik had been the one to bring up that she didn’t want a relationship, he wasn’t worried about how often they saw each other anymore.

How had he gotten so lucky? It was so rare for him to find women who didn’t want a relationship, especially women who were interesting and funny. Not to mention hot. Thank God Nik had dropped into his life.

“Yeah, yeah, you told me. But, you know, check to see if she’s free Saturday night. We’ll even come to your precious Eastside.”

He thought Drew and Alexa would both like her a lot, though. Alexa had always laughed at his jokes, so she’d like Nik’s sense of humor.

“All it takes to get you to the Eastside is for you to move to the other end of the state.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll text you our flight info and details, okay?”

Carlos pulled into his driveway and grabbed the groceries from the back seat.

“Sounds good.”

“Hey, how’s Jessie?”

Carlos had just checked in with her before leaving work. He knew she was getting sick of him checking in on her every day, but that didn’t mean he was going to stop doing it.

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