Her bare feet bump the lower cabinets in a low rhythm. “I’m good.”

I turn and hand off the beers to the men, catching my breath when the pads of Jason’s fingertips brush mine. Is it my imagination or did Jason grow several inches since yesterday? Maybe seeing him shoulder to shoulder with another, regular-sized man drives home exactly how large and intimidating he is. Don’t look at his hand around the beer bottle and remember what you saw it doing. Don’t…too late.

He winks at me, as if reading my mind.

I frown back. “Where do you reside, Mr. Musgrave?”

“Please call me Kyle.”

“Save your breath,” Jason mutters. “We’ve known each other for a month and we’re still not on a first-name basis.”

While Jason and I engage in a very impolite stare down, Kyle takes a long pull of his beer. “Mind me asking why that is?”

My chin lifts all by itself. “He gets his way far too often.”

Jason snorts. “We both know that’s not true.”

I’m pretty sure my face is the color of cotton candy. Lord, I’d like to smack him. “So. Kyle. You were saying you reside in…?”

“Oooh,” Birdie croons behind me. “She went there.”

Jason’s eyes smolder at me down the neck of his beer.

Kyle looks like it’s killing him to hold in his laughter. “Nashville, ma’am. Music city. That’s where I grew up—my mother was a country singer. Daddy played bass in her traveling band.”

“I don’t have to ask if they were lovesick fools for each other. It’s right there in your voice,” I say, reaching out to squeeze his arm. “Did they take you on the road with them?”

“First ten years of my life were spent in the back of a converted yellow school bus.” He gives me a charming smile. “Probably why I can’t sit still now.”

“Well, your affliction is our gain. It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Christ, is this how you’d have been talking to me this whole time if I’d—”

“Answered the door like a gentleman and not smeared motor oil all over my hands?” I pick a speck of imaginary lint off my shoulder. “It’s likely. Yes.”

Jason hoists his beer. “Thank god I’m not a gentleman, then.”

My gasp is rife with outrage.

“Are they always like this?” Kyle asks Birdie.

“Only on days that end in Y.”

Jason saunters in one direction around the table, moving in that slow, king-of-the-castle manner I’ve noticed before. Loose and casual, while somehow projecting a wide array of lethal abilities. He’s got even more of that deceptive swagger going tonight than usual because this is obviously not his first Budweiser. Not that he’s drunk or slurring his words, but his energy is more relaxed.

“Place looks different,” Jason remarks. “You’ve been busy.”

I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or a complaint, so I say, “There’s a lovely indoor farmer’s market just off of King Street. I’ve gotten in the habit of picking up fresh flowers.”

“They’re nice.” When our eyes meet, I see his have softened and a shiver goes through me. I don’t know which side of Jason alarms me more. Sweet or sour. He’s about to say something more, but his attention drops to the screen of my laptop and whatever he sees there darkens his expression faster than a bolt of lightning. “Looks like we interrupted your work.” Before I can respond, he’s already draining his beer and setting it down on the table with a thunk. “We should leave her to it. It’s not exactly standard protocol for the landlord to drop in on a tenant with guests, is it?”

The way he refers to me as a tenant is like a hot poker to the midsection. That distance, the separation of them and me is what I tried to achieve in the beginning, but it was unrealistic. It didn’t work, because I care about Birdie. And it’s impossible to hold someone’s hand in a moment of weakness, the way I did with Jason, and not…become a concerned party, right? We’ve traded confidences. That’s why my throat feels raw in answer to his dismissive attitude.

A light goes off in my head.

The email. He saw the email I started to Elijah.

My symptoms increase tenfold, the bolts tightening on either side of my throat, my stomach caving in. Guilt. “Can I talk to you for a minute, please?”

I’m not sure why I make the suggestion. What could we possibly say to one another here? But he’s already striding for the door. “Yeah.”

“Excuse us,” I breathe, following. As soon as the door is closed behind me, I’m pinned to it. Not by Jason’s body. No. By the pure anger he directs at me. “I’m sorry you saw that.”

The words come out in a blind rush.

They give him pause. They give me pause. He takes a purposeful step closer. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” I say honestly.

“You beautiful, little liar,” he pushes through his teeth.

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