Kash didn’t let me go, and I didn’t move. We continued to stare at each other, and when we heard Candice messing with the food in the kitchen, he leaned close and whispered in my ear. “You need to know that you’re special to me. I meant every single word I sang to you tonight and I will never regret that kiss.” He quickly let me go, then walked out of my room and out of the apartment.

I was staring at my empty doorway when Candice rushed in, eyes and mouth wide. “Oh my God, he was here?!”

Nodding, I just kept staring at the space Kash had just left through and replaying his words in my head. You’re special to me. I meant every single word.

“Well are you okay, what did he say? Did you tell him?”

“Yeah.” My voice was hoarse and I had to clear my throat a few times. “I did.”

Before I could even attempt to stop them, heavy tears rolled down my cheeks and a sob tore from my chest. Candice caught me just as my legs gave out and awkwardly sat us both down. We clung to each other and cried for what felt like hours. Since my phone call to Candice early in the morning after their plane had gone down, I hadn’t actually told anyone about my parents. Dad had been well-known, so people found out in their own ways, but I’d never repeated those words again. And even Candice and her parents hardly ever brought my parents up. Eli refused to talk about them.

Most people attempt to heal from loss. They grieve and deal with the pain that comes with it, and somehow try to keep moving forward in their lives. I hadn’t done that. I’d felt like I’d died with them in that wreck, and instead of grieving and moving on, I’d shut down and built walls around me to keep the pain out and tried to act like it had never happened. Kash had been so right; he’d pegged me from the beginning. I shielded myself from the pain and in doing that pushed everyone except Candice and her family away. But no matter how hard I tried to push him, he pushed right back . . . and I wasn’t sure yet if I loved or hated him for that. Regardless, I loved that man.

Once our tears had run dry, Candice and I made our way to the kitchen, piled up our plates, and grabbed a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each before heading to the couches. Halfway through the movie, she fell asleep, so after getting her to her bed, I set about cleaning everything up and went to take a long shower. As I got ready for bed, I continuously replayed Kash’s words and the sound of his gravelly voice as he sang to me. Each time, the memory of that sound and the heated look in his eyes gave me chills, and each time I think I fell for him a little more.



THE CORNERS OF my lips tilted up at the sound of Rachel’s laugh. I loved it, and though she laughed a lot more now than when I first met her, I didn’t get to hear it near enough.


“Dude, at least tell me you’re hitting that,” the other bartender, Bryce, pleaded as he finished up on a couple drinks.

“What are you talking about?”

“You and your fucking ridiculous constant smiling whenever she’s here with you.” His head jerked in the direction of the tables and I glanced over at Rach, my eyes narrowing as a guy at one of her tables made a grab for her. “That. That’s what I’m talking about. Y’all say you’re just friends, but she’s always looking over at you . . . and you act like the possessive boyfriend when another guy looks at her. And to be honest, it’s kind of disgusting the way y’all are with each other. So why not just admit you’re sleeping with each other?”

I tore my eyes from the asshole who was now fully turned in his chair to keep looking at Rachel as she passed by their table again and looked at Bryce. “Because we’re not.”

“I call bullshit.”

“Call whatever you want. She’s the most amazing girl I know, but for now, all she is . . . is my best friend.”

I’m in love with Rachel. There is no doubting that. And while I have a strong sense that she feels something similar, she isn’t ready for anything yet. What happened after our kiss is proof. At first, I wasn’t ready for a relationship since I was keeping too much from her, but that wouldn’t stop me now. I wanted her to be mine; I was just afraid of pushing her again. As much as I hated not being in control of this, I needed to let her make the decisions.

Things had been different since the night I sang to her; something had changed. She was still a bitch and loved throwing her attitude at me, but I didn’t want her any other way. Rachel was easily the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, and that was what had originally caught my attention, but her attitude was what hooked me. In an attempt to give her the time she needed, I had gone back to being exactly like I always was with her. As if there had never been a kiss, as if I’d never sung for her and told her what she meant to me. The last couple weeks though, through the bickering and friends-only relationship, there had been a charge between us. Well, more than usual, anyway. It was constant, and it didn’t make things awkward; it was almost as if it just made us both more aware of each other physically at all times. And I’m not gonna lie. I. Fucking. Loved it. The way she gasped softly whenever I would brush against her, how her arms would be covered in goose bumps when I pulled away from kissing the top of her head, and how she always seemed to shift closer to me without even realizing it.


I focused back on Bryce and realized he was shaking his head at me and had one hand stretched out toward me. “Hand in your man card. Now.”

My expression was deadpan as I grabbed a stein to fill with beer for one of the regulars who had just walked in.

“I’m so serious. Do you even hear yourself? She’s amazing and she’s your best friend? Dude. I just wanted you to admit you were fucking her, not turn into a chick.”

I threw one of the bar towels at him. “Come talk to me again when you fall in love with someone and stop screwing half of Texas.”

Bryce’s eyes went wide and his jaw dropped. “You’re in love with Rachel. And you aren’t dating or screwing her?”


We both looked over to the redhead who had just snapped his name. Her expression gave a whole new meaning to the phrase if looks could kill. I laughed when Bryce groaned and said under my breath as I walked past him, “My point exactly.”

“Hey there, sugar,” Bryce said smoothly. He called all his girls sugar because he couldn’t remember their names half the time anyway, and when he could he was afraid of mixing them up.

“Don’t ‘sugar’ me. Who was the bitch who just kicked me out of your apartment?”

“Depends on what she looks like. But I’d bet it was either my sister or the cleaning lady.”

Redhead cocked a hip and planted a hand firmly on it while the other slammed down on the bar. “Your place is always a dump; you ain’t got no cleaning lady. And from the things she was shoutin’ at me, she ain’t your sister. So tell me who the fuck she is and why she has a key to your apartment.”

All of our customers at the bar were good, and none of the waitresses had any orders they were waiting on, so I clapped Bryce on the shoulder and spoke softly. “Get her to leave before she causes more drama, or I will when I get back.” He nodded and I headed toward the restroom.

When I was walking back down the hall toward the restaurant, I could hear the redhead running her mouth, and from the sound of it, she wasn’t yelling at Bryce anymore. I groaned and quickened my pace. Bryce needed to stop telling his lays where he worked, and he needed to stop making all of them a key to his apartment.

“. . . assure you, you don’t mean shit to him. I do, bitch. Let’s get that clear right now. Don’t look at him! You have no reason to look at him!” Good God, her voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard. “Run along, you little slut—”

“Um, no. You have five seconds to get your hands off me.”

Shit. I would know that California-bitch tone anywhere. I rounded the corner to see Rachel give a warning glare to Red, grab four steins full of beer off the bar, and give Bryce a look before turning back to the restaurant, muttering something under her breath.

Red gasped and reared back. “What’d you just call me?”

Rachel didn’t look back at her, just took another two steps toward the tables, but Red grabbed the back of her shirt and yanked her so that Rachel tripped over herself and landed hard on her ass, most of the beer spilling out of the steins and covering her and the floor.

“Are you kidding me?!” Rachel set the steins on the floor and got herself upright. When she stood back up from grabbing the mostly empty mugs off the ground Red slapped her hard across the face and I practically ran the rest of the way to them.

Red’s arms were out like she was waiting for Rachel to retaliate, but Rachel was still standing there just staring at her. I grabbed both of Red’s hands and brought them behind her back, twisting them slightly and bringing the backs of her hands together so I could hold them with one of my own. I realized too late that with that move, I probably looked like exactly what I was, but most people were focused on Rachel at the moment.

“Get off me, asshole!”

“Unless you want this to end up a lot worse for you, I suggest you shut the fuck up,” I growled, and pushed her past Rachel, but stopped so I could brush my hand down the red side of Rach’s face. “You okay, sweetheart?”

“Fine.” She flashed a tentative smile at me and turned to put the glasses on top of the bar.

I took Red out of the restaurant and away from the windows before releasing her and bringing my hand up. “Key to Bryce’s apartment.”

“What? No!”

“Lady . . .” I let my face grow cold and stepped right up to her. “I’m only going to say this once. You do not step foot in that place again. You don’t contact Bryce again, and if you ever touch that girl again? I swear to you I will make sure there are charges brought against you.” Her eyes widened and her face paled. Oh, I knew that look well. “I’m betting you have warrants from the look on your face, so I know you’ll do as I say. Now, give me the damn key and leave.”

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