I think about the present I left on Anna’s doormat. Since the album cover arrived, I’d been wanting to see her expression when she opened it. Now I can only try to imagine. Did she smile in that quick and bright way of hers when she’s surprised? Or did she smile with slow, blooming reluctance, like she’s losing the fight with her emotions?

Did she even like it? Am I pathetic for giving it to her? Hell, if she ever found out how much I paid for it, I’d certainly look like a sap. But it wasn’t as if I could return it; I’d bought it at auction.

Why am I torturing myself with this? I can’t go back and beg for another chance. I have some pride. And I don’t know how to fight for her and still keep it. Giving her the present was the last thing I could do. I can only hope she understands: I’m here, if she wants me.

“Stupid,” I mutter to myself.

A knock on my bedroom door has me sitting straighter. “Be out in a sec,” I call to Gray, who is waiting for me to get my ass in gear. Shit, I really don’t want to go out. But a guy cannot tell another guy that he’d rather mope around the house. Not if he wants to survive the ribbing.

“You got a package.” Gray’s voice is muffled by the barrier of the door, but there’s something about his overly-neutral tone that has my chest clenching.

In two steps, I’m at the door, wrenching it open. He just stands there, a bland look on his face, holding out a wrapped present. For a moment, I frown. Is he being funny? It is from him?

But I can’t imagine Gray using silver paper or an elaborate white silk bow. It’s too feminine.

I have to clear my throat to speak. “Where’d you get it?”

Gray does a piss-poor job of hiding his wariness. “I thought I heard something on the porch. Found this leaning against the front door.”

My entire body tenses against the need to run out of the house and search the street. It had to be Anna. Why didn’t she knock? Hell, I hadn’t knocked, maybe she thought that’s the way I wanted to play things. Not really. I’d just chickened out like a total puss.

“Well?” Gray wags the box. “Are you going to take it? Or should I toss the thing?”

Before he can move to do just that, I grab the present from his hand. I don’t look at it but hold the box down and slightly away from my body as if it might burn me. But my fingers dig into it.

Gray and I stare at each other while I remain immobile with indecision and doubt. Maybe it isn’t from Anna. And why am I dithering like some old lady? I give Gray a dirty look, because he’s starting to smirk, and shut the door in his face. No way in hell am I opening this potential bomb in front of him.

Going for the bandage approach, I rip open the package with one swipe. A card falls to the floor. With a shaking hand I grab it as I study the leather book the torn wrapping paper has revealed. Emerson’s Essays. Gold lined pages. Pristine condition. I sink to the floor, my back leaning against the bed for support. I smooth a hand over the cover and then open the card.

My fingers clench the book so hard I hear the spine creak. Pressing my forehead into my raised knees, I take deep breaths to keep it together. Doesn’t want anything? Is she blind? I want to tear out of the house and hunt her down. Just so I can take her by the shoulders and shout, “You! I want you, you stubborn, deluded pain in my ass!”

At the same time, I pull the book closer to my chest. Emerson’s Essays. She remembered. And she’s given me back a piece of my parents. Did she know I’d be missing them on my birthday? I blink rapidly. Of course she did. Her note all but said it. Suddenly, I find it hard to breathe.

Another knock on my door echoes through my room. “Drew, man… You coming?”

Swallowing several times, I press my fingers against my too hot eyes and find my voice. “Yeah.”

I put the book and card in my bedside drawer and leave the room. Life goes on. Even if you don’t want it to.

Chapter 27

IT’S 10 P.M. ON a Friday night, and I’m at a club. On a date.

When Iris insisted I needed to get out of my funk and go on a date, everything in me recoiled at the idea. But then I pictured Drew’s cold eyes meeting mine as he walked away with another girl. True, he gave me a birthday present, but his card said it all—he couldn’t return it so it might as well have gone to me.

We are over, and I have to accept my mistake and move on.

Cameron is perfect. He’s lithe and dark. His black jeans hug his legs as they disappear into his vintage Pumas. His lean chest is covered by a tattered Mr. Yuck t-shirt, which frowns at me as he leans back and takes a pull of his beer. We’ve been discussing the places we’d like to visit in London, and I’m having fun.

Well, as much fun as a girl can have with a goddamn hole in her chest. A f**king empty hole that won’t go away. But maybe tonight will be the trick and I’ll find a way to fill it back up. I absolutely don’t surreptitiously rub a hand along my breastbone when Cameron turns his attention toward the stage. A band is about to perform, and the stage lights cast a halo of blue light over Cameron’s black hair. Those glossy locks swing over his shoulders when he leans toward me, his breath holding a hint of beer as he talks in my ear. “I heard these guys are great.”

I nod. I really don’t know a thing about the band, but I’ll take Cameron’s word for it. He really is beautiful. Thick black lashes frame his blue eyes, and when he puts an arm around my shoulders?

I feel nothing.

I’m not willing to concede defeat. I don’t move away when his warm fingers rest on the back of my neck. Pretty bold, considering we met about an hour before.

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