“I might question if that was an intentional move with anyone other than you,” he admitted.

If Carly didn’t know better, she’d think she heard a need for reassurance.

“I’m not into game playing, Stone. I didn’t intentionally ignore your text. It was a rough day getting Momma back and forth to her appointment.”

“I’m sorry you had a bad day, Carly.”

“You being here helps.”

It also hurt because she needed to be working. A few more minutes would be okay. Surely. Because his fingers felt so good massaging her tight muscles. His hands felt so good touching her.

“I’m glad this is helping.”

“It is. If you’re trying to seduce me, it’s working.”

Whatever she’d thought she’d heard was gone as he said, “I’ll keep that in mind for when I am trying to seduce you. This is about you relaxing, on working out the kink in your neck that you rubbed repeatedly throughout what little dinner you ate. Now, be quiet and just enjoy.”

It would be difficult not to enjoy this man’s hands on her body. His fingers were magic. Magic and wonderful and truly releasing the achiness in her muscles.

She could get used to this, but knew better than to let herself. She’d learned that lesson with Tony.

Not that Tony had ever massaged her neck and shoulders. Not even when he’d been wanting sex had he done anything so giving.

Time with Stone was dangerous and irresistible because he blinded her to everything except him.

What a fool she was.

Maybe she hadn’t learned enough lessons from Tony.

No, she couldn’t judge Stone from what had happened with Tony. They weren’t cut from the same cloth. Plus, she and Stone were friends. There were no long-term expectations.

She wouldn’t rely on him and he wouldn’t rely on her, because they were temporary.

Why did that thought leave a hollow ache inside her?


CARLY’S BODY HAD gone limp over ten minutes ago, but Stone continued to massage her muscles, wanting to make sure when she woke, the tension was gone.

Or maybe he just wanted the excuse to continue touching her. Not as he’d touched her the night before, but a touch meant to soothe.

He smiled at where her mind had gone when he’d told her to lie down. Under different circumstances that would have been exactly why, but exhaustion had been etched on her face. Hadn’t she slept after he’d left the night before? Obviously not. Had she been up with her mother or had thoughts of what happened between them kept her awake?

The soft, even rise and fall of her chest confirmed that she’d fallen asleep. Good. She needed to rest.

Stone straightened, then went to the table to clear off the remains of their dinner. She really hadn’t eaten much, but obviously she needed sleep more than food. He put the leftover food in Carly’s mostly bare refrigerator. Other than her mother’s feeding-tube meals and leftovers from the meals he’d brought, the entire house seemed void of food.

Stone got a washcloth and wiped off the small table where they’d eaten, thinking about Carly.

The night before she’d stood at her closet, studying her wardrobe from the past, and he’d seen the pain in her eyes, the indecision and grief for what had once been. He’d wanted to ease that pain.

At the hospital, he saw the person in the photos scattered around this house. Having spent time with her away from the hospital, Stone knew Carly didn’t have an easy life despite the easy smile she freely brandished at the hospital.

Other than Joyce, Carly provided all her mother’s care. Should he check on Audrey?

Carly constantly went back and forth to her mother’s room, even when her mother was sleeping. He quietly entered the room, saw Audrey was still sound asleep.

Despite having been at the house every night for going on two weeks, this room seemed off limits and he’d only been inside a time or two with Carly at his side. He glanced around the small bedroom that was monopolized by the hospital bed. A wooden rocking chair similar to the one in the living room was across from the bed. A plugged-in laptop sat on the floor next to the chair, as did a water bottle with the hospital logo on the side.

Carly spent a lot of time in that chair.

Too much time.

“Wh-who are y-you?”

His gaze shot to Carly’s mother and he smiled at the frail-looking shell of the woman from the photos. “Stone Parker. We met last week when I fed you spaghetti, remember? I’m Carly’s friend.”

She stared blankly. “Who’s Car-Carly?”

He knew Carly had been having a difficult time with her mother. But Audrey had seemed very clear-headed on the night he’d met her. The blank look in her eyes told the reality.

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