I was still stuck on that first sentence. “You came over . . .”

He had been there last night. He could tell me what happened. He was obviously involved with me ending up in that hotel room. Did he pay for a room for me? How did we go from arguing to him taking care of me? The empty space in my head was infuriating.

His eyebrows tilted, his tanned skin wrinkling across his forehead. “You didn’t read my note, did you?” I didn’t even have to answer before he was replying, “Damn it. I’m sorry, Kelsey. I thought you would have seen it beside your bed.” He came closer, until I could have reached out and traced a finger along the bare strip of skin that showed every time he checked his balance against the wall or ceiling. “I should have stayed. I never meant for you to wake up that way, confused and scared.”

“I wasn’t scared.”

My eyes stayed steady, and my lip didn’t wobble. My voice was calm and even.

He paused, his mouth still open in the shape of whatever he’d been planning to say next. “Kelsey . . . you don’t have to do that.”

“Do what?” I looked away, unnerved by the way he seemed to see right through me.

“I promised you I would stay, so that you wouldn’t wake up and not know what had happened. And I was going to stay, I just . . . I’m sorry.”

If he’d been there, I wouldn’t have freaked out. I wouldn’t have had to think about the past at all.

“Why didn’t you?”

He cleared his throat and scratched at his neck. “I—uh. I needed a bit of distance. I booked the room across the hall.”


I wanted to ask why, to push for more of an explanation, but I didn’t want him to know that I cared, and that I had been more than scared. I’d been terrified, split open, and even now I was only barely stitched back together.

The train was at full speed now, and the conductor was sliding open a compartment just a few doors down to check people’s tickets. I needed to get back to my seat. I was the one who needed distance now. But I had to ask, “Did you just jump on a train to Prague solely to bring me my phone?”

He smoothed a hand over the stubble on his jaw and shrugged.

“Are you crazy? It’s just a phone.”

“And it’s just a train. If I weren’t on this one, I’d be on another one. Prague is as good a place as any.”

I pushed my phone into a pocket on my backpack and surveyed him. He was a soldier . . . or had been. His hair was still cut short, so either he preferred that style or he’d been in service very recently. But it sounded as if he was wandering just as aimlessly as I was, and I wondered briefly what he was hoping to find here. If he was having better luck than me.

The conductor moved onto the next compartment. I pointed behind me and said, “I better get back to my compartment. You said you saw Jenny?”

“This afternoon, yes. But not since I arrived at the station.”

“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”

I turned, adjusting the backpack on my shoulders, and heading back the way I’d come. He followed behind me, going to his own compartment presumably, and I wasn’t sure whether I should keep up conversation or just maintain the illusion that we’d parted ways.

What exactly did one say to an incredibly hot guy who’d rejected you, hit on you, pried into your personal life, and then possibly took care of you during a drug-induced evening that you can no longer remember?

My resolve to not tell anyone about last night to avoid the pity and the questions and the fallout didn’t work so well when there was someone else here who’d experienced it, too. If we talked about it, there would be no pretending that it didn’t happen. And as much as I was dying to know, I also knew that there was bliss in oblivion.

I moved through one, two, three train cars in silence. And when I was a few feet away from the door to my compartment, I stopped and faced him.

“What did the note say?”

He pulled up short. His mouth opened and closed. It opened again and he said, “That everything was okay. That nothing bad had happened to you. That you were safe.”

“That’s it?”

He balanced a hand on the wall next to me.

“Those were the important things.”

“And the unimportant things?”

“I told you that you could call me by my first name. You can call me Jackson.”

“Does that mean I’m no longer most people?”

He nodded.

“So what am I, then?”

“I’m still figuring that out.”

I cleared my throat, feeling like if I turned away from him, the hook he’d sunken under my skin would tear right through. So, I didn’t turn. Without looking, I gestured behind me and said, “This is me.”

He stepped to the side and held open the door for me. I passed through, waiting for the pull, the tug to turn around and say one more thing or see him one more time. And it wasn’t so much a force as a tingle spreading down my back. When I turned, worried that I waited too long, the door closed, and he was on this side of it.

The tingle spread to my fingertips, and he threw his pack onto the luggage rack that hung from the ceiling.

Quietly, so as not to disturb anyone else in the compartment with us, I said, “Are you following me?”

He smiled unabashedly and said, “Absolutely.”

What do you say to something like that? I stood there gaping, my mouth opening and closing like a fish, and he smiled. Even though I couldn’t put images or memories to what had happened the night before, my body seemed to remember. I felt both relaxed and exhilarated by his presence.

He touched my shoulder in a gesture that seemed not quite intimate, but familiar. He leaned close to whisper, “Good night, Kelsey.”

I struggled to swallow and said, “Good night.”

I watched him fold his too long body onto the couchette in the middle, the one directly across from mine.


He’d been shifting and turning, trying to get comfortable, and he paused.


“Thank you for watching out for me last night.”

The look he gave me buried the hook even deeper in my chest, and suddenly I was scared to know what had passed between us last night for an entirely different reason. This beautiful, mysterious man had seen me at my worst twice now, and he was still there across from me.

In every city so far, I’d picked up temporary friends. Some were locals. Some were other travelers. But I never had any issue letting them go. I moved on to a different city, and didn’t think twice about them.

But I hoped Hunt would be different. I wanted him to stay.

And at the same time, I was terrified of what that meant, and what it would do to me if he didn’t.


The couchette was too firm to feel like a bed, and sleeping with my backpack at my feet to keep it safe didn’t make for the most comfortable position. Despite that, the low rumbling and gentle swaying motion of the train seduced me into the arms of sleep only a few minutes after I lay down my head. I was still fatigued from whatever had happened to me the night before. I was too exhausted to even stress over Hunt sleeping in the bunk across from me.

Minutes or hours later, I was jostled out of my sleep by the departure of the person on the bunk above me. His bag hit my knee as he climbed down from his bunk. My eyelids felt heavy and swollen, but as I watched him leave, I caught sight of Hunt on his bunk. A dull yellow light shone from above his bed, painting him in highlights and shadows. He lay scratching away at something in a journal. It wasn’t the continuous flow of handwriting, so I guessed he was probably drawing.

I watched him as he focused on one corner of his paper. His tongue darted out to wet his lips, and the muscles of his shoulders tensed as he made short, precise strokes on the page. I found myself wishing I could draw too, so that I could capture the power and simplicity of him in that moment.

He glanced up, and his eyes widened when he saw me.

After a few long seconds he whispered, “Hi.”

“Hey.” My throat was dry, so my reply was barely audible.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

I nodded and rolled onto my side to face him. I tucked my arm beneath my pillow and asked, “You’re not going to sleep?”

He closed his sketchbook and tapped his pencil against his lower lip. As if I needed anything else to draw my eyes there.

“Maybe in a little while.”

“Were you drawing?”

He nodded. “It’s an old habit. It calms my thoughts when I can’t sleep.”

“Does that happen a lot?”


Something rustled in the bunk below me, followed by a breathy moan and noises that were not what you wanted to hear coming from the bed below yours. I met Hunt’s gaze, and we both burst into silent laughter.

He placed his pillow over his ear and flipped off his reading light.

“That’s my cue,” he whispered.

I followed suit and pulled the small pillow over my ear, resting my head on my elbow instead. I stayed staring at the place where Hunt’s face had been before the lights went out, wondering if he was looking at me, too.

My eyes were drooping, and sleep had almost claimed me when a light flashed through the train window and gave me my answer.

Our eyes met, and my stomach lurched despite the smooth motion of the train. The darkness took over again a second later, and I was left trying to calm the unsteady beat of my heart enough to fall back asleep.

When I woke the next morning with grimy teeth and oily hair, Hunt was fast asleep.

Thank God.

If I looked half as atrocious as I felt, Big Foot could beat me in a beauty contest. My back ached, either from the stiff bed or from carrying my massive backpack with me through multiple countries. The underwire of my bra had begun to cut into my skin, and the marks itched.

I leaned over the edge of my couchette and saw that everyone was gone but Hunt and me. I pulled my makeup from my bag and did my best to salvage the greasy, smudged mess on my face. I found a piece of gum for my morning breath, and pulled my limp hair into a high ponytail. Feeling a little more alive, I climbed down from my bunk and peeked past the curtain through the window. We were stopped, and people streamed off the train in large numbers.

I went to the other side of the compartment and slid open the door. Judging by the lines of people waiting to get off the train, I was going to guess that we were in Prague.

Damn it. I’d meant to get off the train as quickly as possible so that I could look for Jenny. I pulled my backpack off my bunk, sliding it onto my back. The weight pulled down on my shoulders, and I swore this bag got heavier by the day.

I almost left.

Or I told myself I almost had. I don’t think I actually got more than one step toward the door before I turned to a sleeping Hunt.

Almost like he could sense my presence, his eyes snapped open the second I took a step toward him.

He rubbed a hand across his eyes, and then across his shorn hair.

“Hey.” His voice was rough with sleep, and that hook beneath my skin pulled taut.

“I think we’re here,” I said.

He nodded, and with that sleepy look on his face, he looked younger. Softer.

“Damn, I haven’t slept that well in a while.”

He stretched, and I drank in the flexed muscles of his arms and the strip of hardened skin between his shirt and his jeans.

Before he could catch me staring, I said, “Seriously? I’m going to need a massage just to recover from that sleep.”

He shifted his legs over the edge of the couchette, and then hopped down beside me.

“I’m used to sleeping in an uncomfortable bed. Feels like home.”

Definitely military. I had a brief flash of memory of a USMC tattoo across someone’s back and knew it had to be his.

I said, “Well at least one of us feels good.”

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