That brought to me the other big thing preventing me from getting my full eight hours: Caleb. I knew I wasn’t his babysitter or his mother, but other than me, he didn’t really have anyone. He wasn’t close with his family and none of his relationships ever lasted very long. I could say the same about myself, but I’d never really had my heart in dating either. There was a time when Caleb had, when he would have done anything to meet the right woman. He was a romantic no matter how much he’d try to deny it. He wanted more than he would let himself believe in.

That’s why things suddenly felt so urgent with Erin. Caleb liked her, really liked her. As the one person in his life that completely knew him, I could see his interest in her written all over his face.

I needed Erin to be who she said she was. I needed her to be a good person. If she wasn’t, I needed her gone before she could do any more damage to my best friend’s heart. Caleb wouldn’t be able to handle it.

If Erin was a con, a liar, I wouldn’t be able to handle it either. I was already in deep.

When I finally gave in to the fact that I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, I rolled out of bed and decided to go for my run before it got too warm. Sure, running during the day was a good way to burn extra calories, but it reminded me too much of my time in the marines and wasn’t my preferred time of day to run. I liked getting to see my adopted hometown before it came alive for the day, before it became loud and boisterous. Las Vegas in the morning was weirdly peaceful. I loved the club, but my morning runs were the only time I ever felt any peace in the city.

Not that it ever lasted. By the time I jogged back to my street, the city was coming alive, people rushing from their homes to get to work or school or wherever else busy people went during the day. After living much of my life the same way, it was strange not living by the schedule anymore.

Once I was back inside my condo, I took a quick shower, toweling off and dressing in athletic shorts and a t-shirt. I snatched my phone from the charger and flipped through my notifications.

I saw I had a text from Mike and opened it.

Check your email, jackass, it read.

Chuckling, I jot off a quick thanks! and closed out of the app.

Mike’s email was waiting for me at the top. There was nothing in the subject line to indicate what he’d found during his investigation.

My finger hovered over the email. It was as if I was daring myself to open it but was too chickenshit to do it.

Sighing, I walked out to the kitchen decided to make a cup of coffee first. I needed a damned cup of coffee in my system before I could read anything.

We hadn’t even known Erin for an entire day, yet so much was weighing on Mike’s findings. Depending on the outcome, our lives could change. If Erin really was no good and she didn’t show, Caleb’s depression could get worse. He liked her so much.

I thought of last night before Caleb and I left the club for the night. He’d smiled more in that short amount of time than he had the last several weeks put together. Maybe longer.

“Wow,” he’d said, a look on his face I’d never seen before. “She’s really something, isn’t she?”

I was prepared to be there for him if Erin’s background didn’t check out. But if Caleb found out I was the reason Erin didn’t show? He’d be furious. Maybe he’d come to realize I’d done it to protect him, but in the throes of his depression, I couldn’t be sure.

If Erin turned out to be the incredible woman she seemed, well, maybe Caleb would change too. Maybe she could help him through the fog that clung to him. Maybe she would love him.

I knew she was on vacation and this was all so soon, but I was hopeful. Probably too hopeful for my own good.

When my coffee was done, I poured a cup and took a swig. I winced as it burned my mouth, but I couldn’t wait. I needed to know.

I opened the email and clicked on the attachment Mike included. A PDF opened and an image of Erin filled my screen. She gave the camera a cheesy smile and had a puppy cradled in her arms. She had on no makeup, her pale hair was pulled up into a high ponytail, and she wore a loose t-shirt and jogging pants.

She looked so different than she had last night and yet there was still something distinctly Erin about the photo, that same curiosity she exhibited last night.

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