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Now it was her turn to blush and look away. She didn’t expect him to have read that story. She couldn’t remember the last guy she’d dated who had read any of her work. Well, Justin had, but only ever to tell her how bad it was.

“Oh, you read that? I didn’t . . .” She looked up at him and smiled back. “Thank you. I was proud of that story.”

He poured more liquid in the risotto and kept stirring.

“Good. You should be. It was excellent. It’s such a hard topic—I know from dealing with it with my patients who are foster kids—and you handled it so thoughtfully.”

She sipped her wine so he wouldn’t be able to see the sudden tears in her eyes. She cleared her throat.

“Thanks for saying that. It means a lot. I was feeling pretty down about my work today, so it was really good timing to hear that.”

He reached out and touched her shoulder.

“I can’t believe that someone as good as you ever feels down about your writing, but I’m happy I could help you realize how amazing you are.”

She laughed. If he only knew.

“I think all writers feel down about their work sometimes . . . or most of the time. At least, I hope they do and I’m not the weird one here.” She swallowed and looked down into her glass. “But also, I had an ex who was pretty insulting about my writing, and despite everything I’ve accomplished since then, sometimes it’s still hard to get him out of my head.”

Good Lord, a few sips of wine on a hard day and she started spilling everything.

Carlos touched her hair, then her cheek.

“Well, he was obviously an asshole who doesn’t know anything about good writing or good people, and I’m glad for more than one reason that he’s an ex.”

She smiled at him.

“Me too.” God, was she ever glad. “It feels stupid to still dwell on something a jerk said years ago, but for some reason I remember some of the negative stuff people have said about my writing like it’s imprinted on the inside of my eyelids, and it’s much harder to remember—or believe—the compliments.”

He poured more wine into her glass.

“Well, now that you’ve told me that, I’ll just have to repeat my compliments a few times, maybe in different words so they’ll stick. Hey, Nik, I really loved that piece you wrote, especially how you managed to make it hopeful while acknowledging the pain.”

Oh shit, now he really was going to make her cry.

“I wasn’t fishing for a compliment there, but thank you.”

Why was she so emotional tonight?

It was probably just because she was about to get her period and was feeling sensitive about everything. Plus, even though she couldn’t remember the last time a guy she dated had given her a compliment on her writing, her friends did all the time.

See? She and Carlos were friends. They had actually been friends first, pretty much from the moment he’d pushed that cameraman out of the way at the stadium. They’d gotten to know each other pretty well before they started sleeping together and had had some pretty deep conversations about their lives long before they’d even thought about getting naked.

How refreshing, to actually be friends with a guy you were sleeping with.

“Um, can I help with anything?” she asked.

He shook his head and poured more liquid into the pan.

“Nope. But it’s going to be about twenty more minutes until dinner is ready; do you want a snack?”

Oh thank God. After his wonderful speech about how you couldn’t rush risotto, she’d felt like she couldn’t mention that she could eat a horse right now. Maybe two.

“Sure,” she said. “What do you have?”

He handed her his wooden spoon.

“Here, stir this.”

She stood barefoot on the warm tile floor of the kitchen and tried to mimic the way she’d seen him stir the risotto. She heard him behind her open a door, then she heard plastic crinkle. After a minute or so, he came up behind her and took the spoon from her. She leaned back against his body and felt his warmth surround her.

“Here. I only gave us enough to stave off hunger, but not enough to spoil our dinners.” He set a bowl down on the counter next to the stove. When she looked in the bowl, she started laughing.

“Are those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?”

He grinned.

“They are indeed. The best snack food ever invented, and I will hear no argument.”

“No argument here. I love that a pediatrician had Flamin’ Hot Cheetos tucked in the back of his pantry. Makes me feel a lot less guilty about my secret snack drawer.”

They demolished the Cheetos in about three minutes flat and spent the rest of the risotto cooking time talking about their favorite snack foods.

“Okay, I think we’re ready.” He took bowls down from the cabinet and nodded over to the living room. “Sorry, I don’t have a dinner table yet. I got rid of my old one when I moved because it didn’t work in this space, but I haven’t had time to get a new one yet. I just mostly eat at the coffee table.”

“Oh no.” She set her wineglass down and shook her head sadly. “I wish you’d told me that before I came over. I can’t eat a meal at a coffee table! Don’t you know who I am?”

He grated cheese on top of a bowl of risotto and handed it to her.

“Oh, I’m sorry, your royal highness, please forgive me?”

She took the bowl and picked up her wineglass.

“I’ll make an exception in this case, but I don’t want you to think this is going to be a common occurrence.”

He waved toward the living room.

“Go sit down, and I’ll bring everything else over.”

She padded into the living room and sank down into the couch.

“What is in this couch?” she asked him, when he came back into the living room, his bowl in one hand and forks for both of them in the other. “Angel wings? Unicorn feathers? Actual clouds from heaven?”

He set the food down onto the coffee table and handed her a fork before he went back into the kitchen.

“That couch is super comfortable, right? I got it at a furniture store’s going-out-of-business sale—I always think those sales are fake because, I swear, some of those furniture companies go out of business like twice a year—but I don’t even care if this one was fake because I love this couch and will defend it against all enemies.”

He came back to the couch with his wineglass, the wine bottle, and a pile of napkins.

She topped off both of their wineglasses.

“Does . . . does your couch have a lot of enemies? Forgive me, I don’t have a leather couch made of pillows sewn by a goddess, so I don’t know these things.”

He picked up his glass, his face serious.

“Oh yes. It’s one of the hardest things about owning a couch like this. People try to storm your home all the time to destroy it because they think anything this magical must be a sin. They warn you about this at the furniture store before you buy it. They had to put a guard on it in the showroom. It was crazy.” He looked at her with a straight face until her laughter finally made him crack a smile.

She stuck her fork into the risotto and took a bite.

“Oh my God.”

He looked up, his fork halfway to his mouth.

“What? ‘Oh my God’ what?”

She was too busy eating to answer at first.

“Oh my God, this risotto, that’s what ‘Oh my God!’ I had no idea it was going to be this good!”

His most smug smile spread over his face, but she didn’t even care.

“Tell me more. What’s so ‘Oh my God’ about it? I want details, please.”

She waved her finger in his face and retreated to the far corner of the couch.

“Stop talking to me. I need to concentrate when I eat this.”

When she was almost done with her bowl, one of the things he’d said about why he liked making risotto came back into her head.

“So what happened at work today that made you need to make risotto?” she asked.

He sighed and put his own fork down.

“It was just a really shitty day, with some of my least favorite parts of this job.”

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