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“Would you like to stay for lunch?” I asked her. A healthy relationship with a female might be just the kind of normal thing my brothers needed to see from me. And after Jaxon’s wise-ass comment that Knox doesn’t have friends who are girls, I wanted to show them I did. Or at least I could.

McKenna met my eyes and nodded uncertainly. “Okay. That sounds…nice.”

“Cool. But you have to help me cook.”

She smiled warmly at me, a smile too nice and genuine for someone like me, and I felt a stab of regret about luring her into my world. Something in me wanted her, and that was very dangerous.

Downstairs, we found the guys rummaging through the cabinets and munching on handfuls of crackers and chips.

“McKenna’s staying for lunch.” I urged them to put the junk food away and motioned for McKenna to have a seat up on the counter while I gathered ingredients for spaghetti. It was a staple meal around here—inexpensive, easy, and filling. I piled a box of pasta, a jar of sauce, and a package of ground beef on the counter, then grabbed a skillet from the cabinet between McKenna’s legs. She gasped at the unexpected invasion and I rose to my feet, smiling innocently.

“So, how do you know Knox?” Luke asked, looking back and forth between the two of us.

As she paused, obviously struggling to answer his question. “I met her at group,” I interrupted, and she tossed me a grateful smile. I took the opportunity to study her again. Even I had to admit there was something about McKenna that seemed out of place in my life. She was wearing dark jeans that hugged her ass nicely, a white button-down shirt that looked really soft, and little diamond earrings. She looked sweet and wholesome.

Looking down at myself, I took in my worn jeans, a faded black T-shirt, and socks with a hole in the toe. My brothers were no better off. Most of their clothes were secondhand too. Not that we minded; we had what we needed. Something told me McKenna came from money, but I also had the sense she was more than okay slumming here with us. I just wished I knew why. Was she running from something in her life too?

After we ate, the guys headed outside to play basketball, and McKenna and I settled on the living room sofa together. She was different than I would have guessed—not at all stuck-up. She’d laughed and joked with my brothers while eating a big helping of my spaghetti, which was little more than overcooked noodles and runny tomato sauce, and then had helped with the dishes. And now she was sitting cross-legged on my couch looking delectable as f**k. The desire to kiss her shot through me like an arrow.

Knowing I couldn’t do a thing about it was a special kind of torture.

McKenna

“It’s getting dark,” Knox commented, looking toward the front windows.

Following his gaze, I noted the way the late-afternoon sun was sinking into the horizon, leaving the sky with an eerie glow. “Are you worried about the boys being out after dark?”

“No. They’ll be fine.” He was quiet for a moment, but still looked lost in his thoughts. “When night comes and everything is quiet…” He paused, reluctant to continue. I waited, holding my breath and hoping that he’d open up to me. “I realize it’s just me, with all this pressure riding on me, and I need someone. Some company to make me feel whole again.” He cleared his throat and looked down at his hands.

I didn’t like nighttime either, but I wanted to know more about what he meant. “Is that why you go out at night?” I ventured.

“I need that place where I become numb to the world and can forget everything for a little while,” he admitted, his gaze still fixed on the fading afternoon sun.

He was actually letting me in. Even if it was just a peek, seeing inside the mind of this man was like opening a window and sucking in a deep breath of fresh air. It was enlightening.

Nights were the hardest for me too. I wondered if that was part of the reason I found myself here, reluctant to go home. In the darkness, my guilt was its thickest. I lay in bed and thought about my parents, and the feelings of guilt and despair almost drowned me. But I’d never considered throwing myself at a man to make me forget. Volunteering was my escape. I lost myself in the servitude of others. I used their problems and misfortunes to remind myself that people out there had it worse. Perhaps Knox and I weren’t so different, after all. He just medicated himself in a very different way.

He turned back to face me, his dark gaze deep and penetrating. We watched each other for several heartbeats while delicious tension swirled between us. I wondered what had happened to lead him here. I knew he’d lost his mother, and his father had left, but how had he become this lust-filled version of himself?

Watching his sad eyes, I thought I understood what he was saying about the darkness. It was the same feeling that haunted me. I didn’t have bills and siblings to worry about, but my parents’ deaths had left a hole in my heart. I couldn’t stand to be alone with my grief, so I threw myself into work. Knox threw himself into the arms of women. We forced our pain away by chasing after distractions. Sleeping around was his version of my volunteering.

“Sorry, that was probably a weird thing to say.” He shook his head, as if trying to clear the thoughts.

I wanted to take his hand, but instead my hand came to a stop beside his, not quite touching, but sending my message all the same. He hadn’t pushed me away. And I wanted him to know I appreciated it, and that we shared more than he knew.

Turning to face me yet again, Knox’s voice dropped lower, taking on a serious tone. “Are you sure it was wise coming here? Hanging out with me alone?”

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