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He started to pull off her shirt, then stopped and sat up.

“Come to bed. Please?”

She stood up and reached her hand out to him.

Once in his bedroom, he wasted no time in undressing her. She stood there and let him unbutton her shirt, pull off her tank top, unzip her jeans and pull them down to the floor, until she was in only a matching set of a hot pink bra and underwear.

“Where did this come from?” he asked her, as he ran his finger over the lace on the bra.

She smiled and reached for him, but he stepped away. He wanted to concentrate on her first.

“I bought it last week,” she said. “I thought you might like it.”

He touched the lace at her hip and ran his finger underneath it. He kept going until she gasped. He liked it when she made that noise.

“Lie down,” he said. She obeyed him at once.

“Open your legs.” He knelt on the bed in between her legs and stroked her underwear again, first on the outside, and then on the inside.

“You were right. I do like these. I like them a lot. But it’s time for them to go.” He grabbed them from each side and pulled them off her body. She looked down at him. She was already breathing hard. So was he.

He bent his head down to where the underwear had been.

“Let’s see how much you like something now.”

By her gasps and screams and fingernails in his back, she liked that a lot, too.

“You have got to get those clothes off,” she said afterward, as he crawled over her body.

“I had to wait! You would have drawn blood otherwise. Take pity on a poor man.”

She inspected her fingernails and laughed.

“I’ll cut them before next time.” She lay there and watched him as he jumped off the bed, threw his clothes off, and rolled a condom on.

He climbed back on top of her and paused.

“We need to get this off, as much as I love it.” He unsnapped her bra and threw it aside. “Ahhh, that’s better.” He caressed her breasts, and she moaned and closed her eyes. He slid inside of her while her eyes were still closed, and she smiled and clenched around him as their bodies came together.

Afterward, he collapsed on top of her, his head nestled in the hollow between her breasts.

“Mmmm. You know what?” he asked her.

“What?”

“You taste like chilies.”

They both laughed until they cried. He fell asleep, still with a smile on his face.

Carlos woke up the next morning, Nik’s head on his chest, her curls tickling his nose. He looked down at her and smiled. He was so happy to have her with him. He wished she could be with him all the time. His life was so much better with her in it.

“Holy shit.” He sat bolt upright, and she groaned and rolled onto his pillow.

“What? Do you have to be at the hospital?”

He shook his head and stared at her.

“I’m in love with you! I love you!”

He hadn’t meant for this to happen. He’d just thought they were going along, having great sex and hanging out a lot, too, sure, but that it was all just fun. But along the way, he’d fallen in love with this smart, abrasive, caring, hilarious woman.

Now she sat up.

“What? You what?”

He turned to face her. How had he not realized this was happening? She was still half asleep, her hair was standing up straight, and she had that scowl on her face that she always had first thing in the morning. He loved her so much.

“I was just lying here awake and thinking about yesterday, and how happy I was that you were at the hospital, and how happy I was to wake up in bed with you, and how happy I always am with you. And I realized I love you.”

Sure, he hadn’t meant for this to happen, but he was so glad it had. They would be perfect together. They were already perfect together. They got along so well; they laughed together so much; they’d understood each other from the very beginning. Her friends liked him; his friends like her. Hell, his family even liked her after last night. The timing was all wrong, but that didn’t matter. This was going to be so great.

She rubbed her eyes and wrapped the sheet tighter around her body.

“Are you sure you’re awake? You had a pretty stressful day yesterday. If this is you talking in your sleep or the end of a dream or something, it’s okay, I won’t be mad. Go back to sleep and we can pretend this never happened.”

That was the weirdest reaction to an “I love you” that he’d ever heard of.

“I don’t want to pretend this never happened! I’m in love with you!”

“Oh my God, will you stop saying that?” She looked terrified. Why did she look like that?

“Really? That’s your reaction?” he asked her.

She shook her head.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that; it’s just you woke me up with this and I’m so confused.”

He got out of bed.

“Okay. Let me go make us some coffee. I’ll be back.”

He pulled sweatpants on and went into the kitchen. Had he been dreaming? Was this just him being emotional after last night and making some big declaration for no reason?

No. This wasn’t that. He loved her. If the emotions of last night had made him realize it earlier, fine, but it would have come out at some point anyway.

Had he measured the right amount of coffee into the filter? He’d been so busy thinking about Nik that he couldn’t tell. He dumped it all out into a bowl and measured it again and put all of it, plus two more scoops, back into the machine.

When he went back into the bedroom Nik had put on yoga pants and his old UCLA T-shirt. She was sitting on the edge of the bed. He handed her coffee and sat down next to her.

“I thought about this when I was making the coffee, and the thing is, I love you.”

She wrapped her hands around her coffee cup and let out a deep breath.

“Okay. What do you mean you love me? That doesn’t make sense. We haven’t even known each other for that long. You told me you didn’t want a relationship!”

He took a gulp of his way too hot coffee and winced.

“That’s all true. Well, except that it does make sense, it makes perfect sense to me. Also, we’ve known each other long enough to know how we feel about each other. We’ve seen each other in some serious ups and some pretty bad downs. When I’m having a hard time, you’re the perfect person to have around, because you’re warm and comforting, but you’re also honest with me, even when you’re saying something I don’t necessarily want to hear. And you know exactly when and how to make me laugh.”

He took another sip of coffee. It was still too hot.

“And, I did say I didn’t want a relationship. But you know what?” He made a wide gesture around the two of them. “This is a relationship! We see each other at least twice a week. You wake up here in my bed and you stay here and hang out with me instead of racing home. We text all the time. You helped me make food for my cousin. I met your friends; you met my friends. You met my family!”

She blew on the top of the coffee but didn’t take a sip.

“I know, but that all doesn’t mean we’re in a relationship. It just means that we’re good friends. Good friends, who also sometimes have sex.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Sometimes?”

She rolled her eyes.

“More than sometimes, but you know what I mean!” She finally took a sip of her coffee. He watched her face while she drank it. He loved that way she always closed her eyes and smiled at the first sip of coffee every morning. How had it taken him this long to realize that he loved her? Sure, it had only been six weeks, but now that he realized it, he knew he’d felt this way for a while.

“I do know what you mean, but I have plenty of good friends—even good female friends—and I don’t feel about them the way I feel about you, sex or no sex.”

She raised her mug to her mouth again but lowered it without drinking any.

“I just . . . I thought we were both clear about what we wanted here. I was having a great time—I am having a great time with you. I just didn’t expect this today. Or ever.”

He set his mug down on his bedside table and took her hand.

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