“Hey, Mia,” I say, cringing at the sound of my own exuberance.

“Yep, it’s Mia. Who is this?”

“Oh, sorry, it’s Meg.”

Her tone turns friendlier. “Oh, cool. Mateo got you a phone? Let me save your number.”

“No, don’t—I mean, he is getting me a phone, but this isn’t it. I’ll let you know as soon as I get that one.”

“Cool. What’s up? Need a lunch buddy? Our air conditioning broke, and I’m dying. I wish you weren’t working. As much as I brag to the guys that I don’t, I definitely miss the pool.”

Mateo smothers a faint smile. I roll my eyes. “Isn’t Mateo your landlord? Make him fix your air,” I say, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Oh, I’m gonna. I don’t have his number. I have to wait for Vince to get home.”

Since she doesn’t know I’m calling her on his phone, I guess I should’ve realized that. “You know, I’ll see him before you do. I can tell him.”

“Awesome. Tell him I’m melting.”

“I will describe the puddle-like sound of your voice,” I promise.

“That’s the spirit.”

Damn, now I really don’t want to ask this. Though, she doesn’t sound like someone who hates his guts… so maybe that should be encouraging. “Okay, remember how you said I could ask you questions that make you feel horribly awkward? Can I cash in on that?”

Making a faint noise of displeasure, she says, “Ugh, so this isn’t a social call?”

“Sorry.”

She sighs. “It’s okay. You live in Morelli Land, I should’ve expected that. Go ahead.”

“I apologize in advance, because this is really cringe-worthy and I do not relish having to ask you this, but… and I should add, I won’t tell him what you say to me, obviously.” I feel a little guilty for that one, since he’s listening, but I don’t want her to be afraid to tell the truth.

“Okay.”

“Did…” I stop, clearing my throat. God, this couldn’t be more awkward. I should’ve gotten off his lap before I took this call. “Did Mateo ever hurt you?”

“Hurt me?” she asks, a little sharply. “Has he hurt you?”

“No,” I say quickly. “No, no, he hasn’t hurt me.” I take a breath. “I heard from someone that he raped you, and I remembered your face when I referred to you as his ex, and I had to know, but I couldn’t ask him, because…”

“He would lie,” she finishes quietly.

My chest feels so tight I have to rub it. “Yeah.”

There’s a brief pause, and though I wish I could see her face, I try not to read into it. I suppose I would be a little thrown if someone asked me this question, but every millisecond that she doesn’t answer with a resounding no, the tension inside of me and within the man whose lap I’m currently sitting on grows and grows.

Finally, Mia speaks. “I’m really glad you asked me. Uh… no, Mateo definitely never did that. He never physically hurt me. He was a dick, he played games with me and put Vince through hell—but no, he never forced me. I was attracted to him, I have an inherited stupidity regarding bad men and he likes to play games with everyone around him to push them away. I think I got too close, maybe, so he had to torch the bridge. We’re cautiously friendly now, but honestly, Vince still isn’t comfortable with it, so just barely. There’s nothing there anymore—if there ever was. I was never right for him. I couldn’t handle him. Those crazy paranoid tendencies of his that you find so adorable? They drove me nuts. I know I joked about you being a match made in hell, but… you like his eccentricities. And if your mouth doesn’t make him want to murder you, hey, cool. He’s a damaged person and you dig it. He’s not going to find that around every corner.”

I’m grimacing so hard at this point my face is sure to stick this way forever. Meanwhile, Mateo’s head is growing so big he’s never going to be able to leave the dining room.

“Be careful with him, but…yeah, if you like him, don’t let our dumb shit get in your way.”

Massaging the bridge of my nose and avoiding Mateo’s smug gaze, I say, “Okay, cool. Thanks so much, Mia.”

“Anytime.”

Mateo takes the phone back, ending the call. “We should call Mia more often,” he states.

Burying my face in my hands, I mutter, “I’m sorry.”

“Which paranoid tendencies of mine do you find adorable?”

Dragging my hands down the sides of my face, I stare at him. “I just accused you of being a rapist.”

Shrugging, he says, “I don’t hold a grudge.”

“I’m the worst person in the world.”

“Not by a long shot. Back to the things you admire about me.”

I shove his shoulder before burying my face in it. “I’m so, so, so sorry.”

He wraps his arms around me, lightly caressing my shoulder with his thumb. “Well, now you know never to doubt me.”

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