Given all the crap on New York’s streets, probably best to just always do that anyway, I guess—

“Hello?” Tessa repeats, her voice closer now.

When I look up, she’s standing a few feet from me.

“You scared me,” she says, her eyes meeting mine. She’s been so nervous since someone broke into an apartment on the first floor a couple months back. She doesn’t say it much, but I can tell by her anxious glance to the door every time there’s a creak in the hallway.

Tessa’s wearing a WCU T-shirt and her black leggings are covered in what appears to be flour.

“Sorry. You okay?” I ask. The dark hollows under her eyes are evidence that she’s not.

“Yeah, of course.” She smiles, shifting her feet. “I’m baking, and how can anything be wrong when you’re doing that?” Her words turns into a wry laugh. “Nora’s here, too, in the kitchen,” she adds.

My brain skips past the latter part for now. “My mom would be proud.” I smile at her and toss my jacket on the arm of the chair.

Tessa eyes it, but decides to let this slide. Aside from the cleaning, she’s a great roommate. She gives me my time and space in the apartment, and when she is here, I like her company. She’s my best friend and she’s not in the best place right now.

“Yes!” I hear Nora yell.

Tessa rolls her eyes and I shoot her a questioning look, to which she just she nods her head toward the kitchen.

“Thank God,” she says sarcastically as I follow her into the kitchen.

The sweet scent grows stronger with each step. Tessa walks straight to the small cart we call an island. At least ten baking pans are stacked on top of one another on the small space.

Tessa lets me in on their reason for celebration. “She must have gotten this batch right.”

“We took over your kitchen,” Nora tells me. Her greenish-brown eyes catch mine for a moment before she looks over at the mess.

“Hey, Sophia Nora de Laurentiis,” I say, opening the fridge and grabbing a water.

Hearing “Sophia,” Tessa opens her mouth to correct me, but then I think she gets my little joke and doesn’t say anything.

For her part, Nora says, “Hey, Landon,” and barely looks up from her task.

I try not to stare at the streaks of purple icing smeared on the chest of her black shirt, which is pretty tight, stretched out over her breasts, and the purple icing so bright . . .

Look away, Landon.

I look down at the purple mess in front of her, except it’s not a mess. It’s a three-layer cake, painted purple and covered in big lilac-and-white flowers. The center of the icing flower is yellow, dusted with glitter. The cake almost looks fake because the icing is so detailed. The candy flowers look as if they could actually have a lovely scent, and before I realize what I’m doing, I lean down and take a whiff.

A small giggle sounds from Nora and I look up at her. She’s watching me like I’m animated.

She’s really very beautiful. The high angles of her cheekbones make her look like a goddess. She’s exotic-looking, with her tan skin and light-brown eyes. Her hair is so dark, it’s shining under the buzzing light in the ceiling.

I need to fix that light.

A knock at the front door interrupts my stare-fest.

“I got it,” Tessa says, then adds with a smile, “It’s so pretty, right?” She nudges Nora’s hip with her spatula and heads to the door. I’m happy to see her smiling.

Nora blushes and turns her chin down. She hides her hands behind her back.

“Indeed it is,” I agree.

Reaching over, I cup my fingers under her chin and lift her face up to me. She gasps, full lips opening under my touch. My spine tingles when she jerks away.

Whyyyy, oh why, did I just touch her like that? I’m an idiot.

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