“Not much,” I lied. Truthfully, it would be a hit, but . . . but I wasn’t their little girl they needed to swoop in and save anymore. Besides, they worked hard for their money and I’d like to see my dad retire at some point in this century. I fixed my glasses since they’d started to slide down my nose. “I’m going to be okay.”

Dad stared at me a moment longer and then he stepped back, folding his arms. Something about the sudden hard set of his jaw had me worried. “So, what’s this I hear about you and Reece?”

“What?” I shrieked, hopping up from the recliner.

He narrowed his eyes. “I heard that you two have been spending some time together.”

I gaped at him. Reece and I had only hung out one night, and I so was not going to even think about that night in the presence of my father. Ew. “Who told you that Reece and I have been hanging out?”

“I ran into Melvin at the hardware store yesterday morning. He told me that Reece was seen waiting for you to get off work a few nights back.”

Crossing my arms, I rolled my eyes. “Melvin is delusional.”

“So it’s not true?”

Was that disappointment I was hearing in my dad’s voice? Of course it was. I’m pretty sure Dad wanted to adopt both Reece and Colton.

“Now, I don’t want any details and maybe he was just being a good guy and making sure you were getting home safe since what happened to those girls in the town over . . .” He trailed off, waiting.

“Maybe Melvin needs to stop gossiping.” I tucked a loose strand back as I glanced out the front window. It had finally stopped raining this morning, but it was a dreary day. “Reece and I . . .” How did I explain what Reece and I were when I had no idea? “We’re hanging out,” I finished lamely.


His brows furrowed together.

“We’re friends,” I rushed on, feeling my cheeks heat. “We’re supposed to have dinner tonight.”

A slow smile crept over his face. “Is that so?”

“Yeah.” I shifted from foot to foot.

He nodded slowly. “You know, he’s a good boy. I’ve always thought that you and him would be good together.”

“Don’t tell Mom.”

The smile spread and his dark eyes danced.

“Dad! Don’t you dare say anything to Mom. She’ll read into it, start planning our wedding, and she’ll call Reece’s Mom!”

“They’d both probably start knitting booties for a nonexistent grandchild,” he agreed with a chuckle.

“Oh God,” I groaned, wrinkling my nose. “Not funny.”

“I won’t say anything,” he replied, but I so knew he was lying. As soon as he left, he’d be on the phone to Mom. “I’ve got to get back to the office. Come give me a hug.”

After squeezing the living daylights out of me, he headed outside, stopping on the porch. “Lock the door, Roxy.”

Nodding, I did just that when I closed the door. Even though those two girls and the one who was missing—Shelly Winters—didn’t live here, I wasn’t stupid. And as I headed back to my studio, I mulled over Reece’s suggestion of getting a gun.

“No,” I said out loud with a laugh. “I’d seriously end up shooting someone accidentally.”

Plus, the incident with the book showed I didn’t have the best self-control when my emotions were running high. Granted, throwing a book and pulling a trigger were two very different things, but it still wigged me out, the idea of having that kind of end-game level of power in my hands.

As I poked around the paintbrushes, my thoughts drifted to tonight. Excitement hummed through me, but the happy buzz was coated with unease. I was going to have to tell the truth about what happened between us, and knowing how much Reece hated lying, it was a huge risk.

I could lose him before . . . before I even really had him.

But there wasn’t a part of me that seriously considered continuing with the lie even though I doubted Reece would ever know the difference. To do so was wrong and cowardly, and I had decent-size lady balls.

I just needed to find them.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on a painting of Jackson Square in New Orleans. I’d never been, but I was obsessed with the place ever since I read an epic paranormal romance that mostly took place there.

I’d made Charlie read the books, too, and when we were younger, NOLA was on our bucket list. One of these days, I promised myself I’d go there, not just for me but also for Charlie.

Then I’d be able to tell him all about it.

I’d printed out many different views of the square, and had decided on the view where the three steeples from the gorgeous church rose above the statue of Andrew Jackson on his horse. This would probably be one of the hardest paintings I’d decided to embark on, based on the amount of detail and layering it required.

Hours flew by as I worked on the ring of white flowers that were planted in front of the bronze statue of Jackson. My wrist ached from the thousand or so tiny flicks that ensured the petals had definition, but the dull pain was worth the results so far. However, I still wasn’t sure I was really going to be able to pull it off with watercolors.

It was close to five when my phone rang, startling me. Coming out of the daze I was always in when I was painting, I hopped up from the stool as I wiped my hands on my old jean shorts.

A giddy smile appeared when I saw it was Reece calling. “Hey,” I answered as I picked up one of the brushes.

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