Pivoting, she faces me as I close the door. “This is your apartment?”

Nodding, I step past her, heading around the counter and into the kitchen. I place my cane up against the pantry door, comfortable without it in the kitchen since I can lean on counters if necessary. “Signed the lease two days ago. I’m still waiting on some furniture I ordered, and I don’t have all my personal stuff moved over yet, but yeah… it’s mine.”

As I open the fridge and start pulling out stuff I’d pre-cut yesterday, Elena sits down at the small table that seats two. The apartment is small but luxuriously appointed. Hardwoods, crown molding, top-of-the-line fixtures, and appliances.

“Want some wine?” I ask.

“Sure,” she replies, and I nab a bottle of red from a small wine rack that sits between fridge and sink. She watches me silently as I open the bottle, pulling out two wineglasses I’d bought and washed just yesterday. I didn’t want to bring the ones I’d collected during my life with April. In fact, I’m starting over new with everything here.

I hand Elena a glass, then tap mine against hers. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” she murmurs, but I can see she’s incredibly confused.

Smiling over the rim of my glass, I move to take the other seat at the table. Dinner is a simple charcuterie board I’m going to put together along with a cobb salad, but that can wait.

“You said I was living in a ghost house,” I say, and I’m charmed by the embarrassed flush to her cheeks.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” she mumbles apologetically. “I was awful.”

“No,” I correct. “You were truthful and absolutely right. And I was torturing myself there as well. I’m going to sell the house. There’s no reason for me to stay there anymore, so I went ahead and rented this apartment that is convenient to the hospital until I can decide what I want to do permanently.”

“Permanently?” she inquires before taking a sip of her wine.

“You know… whether I want to bother with home ownership or just stay in an apartment. Stay in the city or move to the burbs. Hell… potentially move to another city for all I know.”

“Lots of choices,” she murmurs, and I couldn’t agree with her more. Suddenly, I realize I have a blank palette for my life now. I can paint whatever story I want.

I can’t say Elena will be part of that story, but she did jar me enough to realize the life I was leading was too destructive for me. Ironically, she’s the one who ultimately led to my freak-out last Friday, which caused me to back out of a surgery Brandon had to scramble to cover. Once I’d sobered up after Father’s Day, it had hit me hard how fucked up my life was. I’ve been a dick, an asshole, and a virtually unlovable person over the past year, but I’d never let down a patient until then. Even though Brandon is as adept at performing the scheduled surgery as I am, it had been my patient. That meant they had put their trust in me, and I hadn’t even fucking shown up.

I can’t do that anymore.

I can’t be that type of person.

And as long as I can have Elena on my terms, there’s no reason I can’t explore outside the walls I’ve erected, at least a little bit.

“Why are we here instead of the club?” Elena asks.

I’m caught completely off guard not only by her question, but also by the distrustful tone in her voice.

“Because I wanted to show you this place,” I say truthfully. “And I thought we could perhaps continue what we have outside The Wicked Horse sometimes.”

Her brows draw inward, knitting in consternation. “But this doesn’t mean anything’s changed between us, right? It’s still just sex?”

“And dinner,” I say with a quirk to my lips. “I mean… I’m pretty hungry and figured you are, too.”

She just stares, and I don’t know whether to be amused or offended. It’s so strange for the woman to be the one suspicious of motivation. Moreover, for the woman to be so averse to a relationship. It’s clearly why she’s a little off-kilter tonight.

I reach out to take her hand, trying to reassure her. “Elena… I enjoy the hell out of fucking you. I’ve never been more compatible with a woman before—not like the way I am with you. You and I are so much alike in our desires to keep this casual, right?”

She nods slowly.

“So if you want, we’ll only fuck at the club. But we can certainly fuck here, too, or even at your place sometimes. Just as long as we’re clear on the boundaries, right?”

She nods again before taking another sip of wine. When she sets the glass down, her gaze hardens minutely. “But let’s clarify a few things.”

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