I swatted his back and said, “You’re just a sore loser.”

“No, I’m just a guy, probably not the first, to fall for one of your schemes.”

And now I had five and a half days to get him to fall for another.

I said, “I’ll be good. I promise. Unless you want me to be bad, of course.”

He laughed, but the sound was strained. Then without warning he flipped me back over and deposited me on my feet. I gave him a sly smile and he said, “You’re trouble.”

“Me?” I faked innocence.

He shook his head. “Come on, princess. Let’s see the castle before I decide to toss you in a fountain.”

“Wet T-shirt contest? Only if you jump in the fountain with me.”

I’d been mostly joking, but he actually looked tempted.


He said, “I might have to find you a new nickname. I


don’t think you’re proper enough to be a princess.”

“You know the nice ones always have a naughty side. Mine just happens to outweigh the nice by a lot.”

He looked at me, and I was beginning to think I wouldn’t need those five and a half days to break him down.

“Let’s go explore before I . . .” he trailed off and shook his head. “Let’s just go.”

I resisted the urge to do a celebratory dance for his crumbling resolve, and focused on sightseeing. The castle was gorgeous with grand architecture and even grander ruins. Vines and moss grew over steps and up the stone walls, and it was like a fairy tale.

It was now almost completely dark, but the castle was lit up beautifully. Between that and the view of the city down below, there was something stunning everywhere I looked.

But it was Hunt my eyes kept going back to.

We arrived too late to tour the inside of the castle, which apparently housed a gigantic wine barrel that held over fifty thousand gallons of wine.

“We might have to come back to see that,” I joked.

“No time. We’re on a strict schedule.”

And yet we were currently leaning against a wall, quietly surveying the moonlit city down below us.

“So, we can’t have maps, but we have a schedule?”

“You only gave me a week. So, yes. We’re on a schedule.”

“So what if I decide to stay longer than a week?”

“I’d like that.”

He didn’t look at me as he said it, but stayed focused on the city below us. I tried to read his expression based on his profile, but it wasn’t happening.

“And you don’t have anywhere to be? No one you have to go home to?”

“I’m yours for the foreseeable future.”

As a friend. Greeeaat.

Should I be reading something into this? Did he have a girlfriend back home? Is that why he pushed me away? But then what the hell was he doing here in the first place?

I didn’t get any answers before he started pulling me toward the stairs. We didn’t race this time. The view was too good to speed up. Black bleeding into purple bleeding into a village that looked plucked from another century. Halfway down my stomach growled loudly. Hunt smiled and draped an arm over my shoulder, like it was the most natural thing in the world. He said, “Let’s go get you some food.”

This was what friends did apparently.

His arm stayed around me as we arrived back at the base of the hill and wandered back into the city. We found a small café that was empty except for us and one other couple. The owner was also our waiter, and spoke broken English.

“Welcome.” He gestured between Hunt and me and said, “Beautiful couple. Have seated.”

He put us at a small table in a corner surrounded by artwork and candles. Hunt dropped his arm from around my shoulder and pulled out my chair for me. I smiled in thanks. His hand brushed through my hair and across my shoulder when he walked around to take his seat. I shivered in response.

He said, “Cold?” and I shook my head.

Seriously. This guy fucked with my head like nothing else.

“So what’s next on our schedule, soldier?”

“More trains.”


He laughed at my expression and added, “It will be worth it when we get there.”



I resisted the urge to squeal. ITALY. Who doesn’t dream of going to Italy? And talk about making it easy to seduce Hunt. If I couldn’t do it in Italy, someone should take away my vagina because I didn’t deserve it.

“I’m guessing by your smile that you approve of the next leg of our trip?”

“I do.”

“Good, because we’ve got fifteen hours of traveling in front of us.”

I blinked. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“Of course not, princess. We could fly if you’d rather, but I thought since you already had a Eurail pass, you’d prefer to go by train.”

My whiny rant was cut off by the arrival of the owner with our menus, which were in German.


The owner gestured between Hunt and me and said, “Together? New married?”

I started to shake my head, and Hunt said, “Yes. We’re on our honeymoon.”

I raised my eyebrow at Hunt, and he shrugged.

Mind. Fuck.

The owner clapped his hands, smiling and nodding, and held up a hand. “Wait.”

He scurried off, and I faced Jackson. “So . . . husband, huh?”

“Maybe it will get us a free dessert.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Are there any other perks that come with being your fake wife?” Because I could totally get on board for some wifely duties.

“My company isn’t enough?” he asked. He shot me a charming smile that could have knocked down a row of girls like dominoes.

“I’m not going to feed your ego.”

I picked up my menu and started browsing through it for anything that looked familiar. But it had been a long day of traveling and trickery, and all the strange words and letters were just jumbled on the page.

“Speaking of feeding,” Hunt said. “Ordering should be an interesting experience.”

“What? You mean you don’t speak German, just like you don’t speak Czech?”

“Well, I’m definitely not trusting your translations. That’s for sure.”

The owner came back with two glasses of red wine, which he placed on the table between us.

“For you. For marriage.”

I smiled. This fake marriage had perks after all.

“Danke,” I said to the owner.

He placed his hands over his heart and nodded. I took a quick sip from my glass and smiled my approval. He pointed to my menu, and I panicked.

I pointed at the first thing I saw.

Schwarzsauer, which sounded suspiciously like Schwarzenegger when I said it, but the owner nodded all the same.

“Yes. Yes. Gut.”

Then he turned to Hunt, who looked just as lost as I did. He pointed at something and the owner said, “Yes. Himmel und Erde. Is you say, ‘Heaven and Earth.’”

Great. I got the terminator, and he got heaven and earth. The owner took our menus and left. I picked up my glass, smelling the dark, fruity scent.

“Are you not going to try it?” I asked.

Hunt eyed the glass for a moment, and then shook his head. “No.”

“Do you want a beer? We are in Germany, after all.”

“Thanks, but I’m okay.”

“All right, spill. You’re what twenty-five—”


That made him five years older than me.

“Okay, so you’re twenty-seven, which is—*newsflash*—old enough to drink.”

“I’ve done plenty of drinking before, Kelsey. I just don’t do it anymore.”

“Bad experience?”

“Bad life.”

His hands were stiff and jerky as he unfolded his cloth napkin.

“What happened?” I asked, then regretted it a few seconds later. He’d been charming and funny for most of the day, and a dark cloud rolled over him. He had the same tension in his shoulders as the first few times I saw him. “That was stupid. You don’t have to tell me anything.”

“No, it’s fine. It was what always happens with alcohol. A

little became a lot, and my life unraveled around a bottle.”

“So you’re . . .”

“An alcoholic, yes. I was up to one-year sober this time. Or I was until the other night.”

“Was?” I asked. I wracked my brain to try and remember if I’d seen him drink anything. Maybe he’d fallen off the wagon right before I met him.

“I took a drink that night at the baths.”

“When?” I searched through fuzzy memories.

He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?”

“It just doesn’t. It happened. It’s over.”

A thought stuck in my mind like a thorn. And maybe it was part memory or just because I knew myself, but I said, “It was my fault, wasn’t it? Whatever happened . . . you broke your sobriety because of me.”

My stomach clenched, and I felt sick. Maybe I drove everyone to drinking. Not just my mother.

“No, princess. It was my choice. Don’t take that on you.”

He didn’t deny it though. He didn’t deny it, and my head was spinning. He continued, “It’s not my first time off the wagon, and it probably won’t be my last” His eyes shot to the wineglass, and he added, “But I’m good for now.”

I cleared my throat and pushed my chair back.

“I’ll be right back. I’m just going to go to the bathroom.”

I tried to make a graceful exit, but the owner ran over as soon as I stood up. He asked me something in German that I didn’t understand. I just smiled and said, “Bathroom? Um, toilet?”

Nodding, he pointed me toward a dark hallway in the other corner of the restaurant. I ducked my head and practically ran away.


I opened two storage closets before I found the unmarked bathroom, and stole my way inside. I braced my hands on the porcelain sink and leaned my head against the cool glass of the mirror. I don’t know why it was affecting me so strongly, but I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

Jackson was a good guy. A great guy. I’d gotten myself drugged, and he took care of me. I’d oscillated between epic screw-up and bitch at light speed, and he was still here. And somewhere in between all that, I’d ruined a one-year accomplishment.

Now wonder he kept rejecting me.

Not for the first time, I had to wonder why. Why did this great guy give two flying fucks about me? I think he cared more about what happened to me than I did.

It didn’t matter where I was or how many planes or trains I’d taken to get there, the darkness always caught up to me. Not because of bad luck or karma or anything like that. Disaster followed me because I was the disaster. I was a walking, talking hurricane, and my idea of living was taking everyone down with me.

I looked up into the mirror. It was circled by rusting metal, and the low yellow light overhead glowed in the reflection. And there in the center was a girl with pale hair and pink lips. Beauty Queen material. That was what my mother had always said growing up. She wanted me to be the next Marilyn Monroe. She’d tell me that on mornings when she was drunk and retired to bed because of a “headache.” But beauty was a poison. A lie. It was a facade, and nothing more.

When I looked in the mirror, all I could see were the things they tried not to see. The bags under my eyes. The smudged mascara and sunken cheeks. The too-thin arms and the lines around my mouth from frowning. But those imperfections had nothing on the ragged soul that resided underneath.

That was the thing I couldn’t change. I could paint over it with makeup. Distract myself with parties and guys and traveling. But you can’t run from who you are . . . not forever.

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