Chapter no 5 – Auburn


What the hell am I doing? I don’t do this kind of thing. I don’t invite guys into my home.

Texas is turning me into a whore.

I put on a pot of coee, knowing full well I don’t need caeine. But after the day I’ve had, I know I won’t be able to sleep anyway, so what the hell?

Owen walks out of the restroom, but he doesn’t make his way back to the door. Instead, a painting catches his eye on the far wall of the living room. He walks slowly to it and studies it.

He better not say anything negative about it. He’s an artist, though. He’ll probably critique it. What he doesn’t realize is that painting is the last thing Adam made me before he passed away, and it means more to me than anything else I own. If Owen criticizes it, I’ll kick him out. Whatever this

irtation is that’s going on between us will be over faster than it started. “Is this yours?” he asks, pointing at the painting.

Here we go.

“It’s my roommate’s,” I lie.

I feel like he’ll be more honest in his critique if he doesn’t think it belongs to me.

He glances back at me and watches me for a few seconds before facing the painting again. He runs his ngers over the center of it, where the two hands are being pulled apart. “Incredible,” he says quietly, as if he’s not even speaking to me.

“He was,” I say under my breath, knowing he can hear me, but not really caring. “Do you want a cup of coee?”

He says yes without turning to face me. He stares at the painting for a while longer and then continues around the living room, taking everything in. Luckily, since most of my stuff is still back in Oregon, the only trace of me in this entire apartment is that painting, so he won’t be able to learn anything else about me.

I pour him a cup of coee and slide it across the bar. He makes his way into the kitchen and takes a seat, pulling it to him. I pass him the cream and sugar when I nish with them, but he waves them away and takes a sip. I can’t believe he’s sitting here in my apartment. What shocks me even more is that I feel somewhat comfortable with it. He’s probably the only guy since Adam that I’ve had the urge to irt with. Not that I haven’t dated at all since then. I’ve been on a few dates. Well, two. And only one of those

ended with a kiss.

“You said you met your roommate online?” he asks. “How did that happen?”

He just seems to want to cut right to the core with his heavy questions, so I’m relieved he’s nally given me a light one. “I applied for a job online when I decided to move here from Portland. She spoke with me over the phone and by the end of the conversation, she’d invited me to move in with her and share the lease.”

He smiles. “Must have been a great rst impression.”

“It wasn’t that,” I say. “She just needed someone to split her rent or she would have been evicted.”

He laughs. “Talk about perfect timing.” “You can say that again.”

“Talk about perfect timing,” he says again with a grin.

I laugh at him. He’s not what I initially expected when I rst walked into his studio. I assumed artists were quiet, brooding, and emotional creatures. Owen actually seems very put together. He’s de nitely mature for his age, considering he runs a successful business, but he’s also very down-to-earth and . . . fun. His life seems to have a good balance, and that’s probably the thing I nd most attractive about him.

And yet, a con icted feeling consumes me, because I can see where this is headed. And for a typical girl in her twenties, this would be exciting and fun. Something you would be texting your best friend about. Hey, I met this really attractive, successful guy, and he actually seems normal.

But my situation is anything but typical, which explains the mound of hesitation that keeps growing alongside my nervousness and anticipation. I

nd myself curious about him, and every now and then, I catch myself staring at his lips or his neck or those hands, which seem capable of doing a hell of a lot of magni cent things, aside from just painting.

But the hesitation I’m feeling is due in large part to me and my inexperience, because I’m not sure I’d know what to do with my hands if it came down to it. I try to remind myself of scenes in movies or books where the guy and girl are attracted to each other and how they go from that initial moment of attraction to the point of . . . acting on it. It’s been so long since I was with Adam, I forget what comes next.

Of course I’m not sleeping with him tonight, but it’s been so damn long since I’ve even felt comfortable enough to consider someone worthy of kissing. I just don’t want my inexperience to reveal itself, which I’m sure it already has.

is lack of con dence is really getting in the way of my thoughts, and apparently our conversation, because I’m not speaking and he’s just staring.

And I like it. I like it when he stares at me, because it’s been a long time since I’ve felt beautiful in someone else’s eyes. And right now, he’s watching me so closely and with such a satis ed, heated look in his eyes, I would be

ne if we spent the rest of the night just doing this and not speaking at all. “I want to paint you,” he says, breaking the silence. His voice is full of all

the con dence I lack.

Apparently my heart is worried I forgot it existed, because it’s giving me a loud and fast reminder of its presence in my chest. I do my best to swallow without his noticing. “You want to paint me?” I ask in an embarrassingly weak voice.

He nods slowly. “Yes.”

I smile and try to play off the fact that his words just became the most erotic thing a guy has ever said to me. “I don’t . . .” I release a breath to try to calm myself down. “Would it be . . . you know . . . with clothes on? Because I’m not posing nude.”

I expect him to smile or laugh at this comment, but he doesn’t. He stands up, slowly, and brings his cup of coee back to his mouth. I like how he drinks his coee. Like his coee is so important, it deserves all of his attention. When he’s nished, he sets it on the bar and gives me his focus,

xing me with a pointed stare. “You don’t even have to be there when I paint you. I just want to paint you.”

I don’t know why he’s standing now, but it makes me nervous. e fact that he’s standing means either he’s about to leave, or he’s about to make a move. Neither of which I’m ready for quite yet.

“How will you paint me if I’m not there?” I hate that I can’t fake the con dence that surrounds him like an aura.

He con rms my fear that he’s about to make a move, because he slowly works his way around the bar, toward me. I’m eyeing him the entire time until my back is against the counter and he’s standing directly in front of me. He lifts his right hand and—yes, I know you’re in there, heart—his

ngers brush lightly beneath my chin, slowly tilting my face upward. I gasp. His eyes fall to my mouth before scanning slowly over my features, lingering on each one, giving every part of me from the neck up his complete and total focus. I watch his eyes as they move from my jaw, to my cheekbones, to my forehead, back to my eyes again.

“I’ll paint you from memory,” he says as he releases my face. He takes two steps back until he meets the counter behind him. I don’t realize how heavily I’m breathing until I see his gaze fall to my chest for a brief second. But I honestly don’t have time to worry about whether or not my reaction is obvious to him, because all I can focus on right now is how to get oxygen back into my lungs and a voice back into my throat. I inhale a shaky breath and realize it isn’t coee I need right now. It’s water. Ice water. I walk toward him and open a cabinet and proceed to pour myself a glass of water. He props his hands on the counter behind him and crosses one foot over the other, grinning at me the entire time I down half the glass.

e sound the glass makes when I set it on the counter is a little loud and dramatic, and it makes him laugh. I wipe my mouth and curse myself for being so obvious.

His laugh is cut short when his cell phone rings. He quickly stands and pulls it out of his pocket. He glances at the screen, silences his phone, and slides it back into his pocket. His eyes move around the living room once more before they land on me again. “I should probably go.”

Wow. is went well.

I nod and take his cup when he slides it toward me. I turn around and begin washing it. “Well, thanks for the job,” I say. “And for walking me


I don’t turn around to watch him leave. I feel like my obvious inexperience just killed the entire vibe we had going. And I’m not upset with myself for that; I’m upset with him. I’m upset that he would be turned off by the fact that I’m not being forward or throwing myself at him. I’m upset that he gets one phone call, more than likely from Hannah, and he immediately uses it as his opportunity to hightail it out of here.

is is exactly why I never do things like this. “It wasn’t a girl.”

His voice startles me and I immediately spin around to nd him standing right behind me. I start to respond, but I don’t know what to say, so I just clamp my mouth shut. I feel stupid for getting so angry just now, even though he has no idea what was going through my head.

He takes a step closer and I press myself against the counter behind me, leaving the two feet of space between us that I need in order to remain coherent.

“I don’t want you to think I’m leaving because another girl just called me,” he says, explaining his remark in more detail.

I love that he just said this, and it makes all the negative thoughts I was having about him disappear. Maybe I was wrong. I do tend to have irrational reactions from time to time.

I turn around and face the sink again because I don’t want him to see how much it pleases me that he wasn’t making up an excuse to leave. “It’s not my business who calls you, Owen.”

I’m still facing the sink when his hands grip the counter on either side of me. His face moves close to the side of my head and I can feel his breath on my neck. I don’t know how it happens, but my entire body moves involuntarily until his chest is ush against my back. We aren’t nearly as close as we were during our dance, but it feels a whole hell of a lot more intimate considering we aren’t actually dancing.

He rests his chin on my shoulder and I close my eyes and inhale. e way he makes me feel is so overwhelming; I nd it dicult to continue standing. I’m gripping the counter, hoping he doesn’t notice how white my knuckles are.

“I want to see you again,” he whispers.

I don’t think about all the reasons why that’s such a bad idea. I don’t think about what my focus should be on. Instead, I think about how good it feels when he’s this close to me and how I want so much more of it. All the bad parts of me answer him and force my voice to say, “Okay,” because all the good parts of me are too weak to oer up a defense.

“Tomorrow night,” he says. “Will you be home?”

I think about tomorrow, and for a few seconds I have no idea what month it is, much less what day of the week it is. After grasping where and who I am, and remembering that this is still ursday and tomorrow is Friday, I conclude that I am, in fact, free tomorrow night.

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Good,” he says. I’m almost positive he’s smiling right now. I can hear it in his voice.

“But . . .” I turn and face him. “I thought you learned your lesson about mixing business with pleasure. Isn’t that how you found yourself in a bind today?”

He grins with a very subtle laugh. “Consider yourself red.”

I smile, because I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to lose a job. I would choose his coming over tomorrow night over working for $100 an hour any day. And that surprises me. A lot.

He turns and heads toward the front door. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, Auburn Mason Reed.”

We’re both smiling when we lock eyes for the two seconds it takes for him to close the door behind him. I fall forward and lay my head on my arms, sucking in all the air I’ve been missing tonight, straight into my lungs. “Oh, em, gee,” I exhale. is was de nitely an unexpected departure

from my usual routine.

A sudden knock on my door startles me, and I stand upright just as the door begins to crack open. He reappears in the doorway. “Will you lock your door behind me? You don’t live in the best neighborhood.”

I can’t help but grin at his request. I walk to the door and he pushes it open a little further. “And one more thing,” he adds. “You shouldn’t be so quick to follow strangers into random buildings. at’s not very smart for someone who doesn’t know anything about Dallas.”

I narrow my eyes at him. “Well, you shouldn’t be so desperate for employees,” I say in my own defense. I lift my hand to the lock on the door,

but instead of pulling it shut, he opens it even further.

“And I don’t know how it is in Portland, but you also shouldn’t allow strangers inside your apartment.”

“You walked me home. I couldn’t deny you the use of my restroom.”

He laughs. “ ank you. I appreciate that. Just don’t let anyone else in to use your restroom, okay?”

I grin at him irtatiously, proud that I even have it in me. “We haven’t even been on a date yet and you’re already trying to dictate who can and can’t use my restroom?”

He shoots me the same grin in return. “I can’t help it if I’m a little possessive. It was a really nice restroom.”

I roll my eyes and begin to close the door. “Good night, Owen.”

“I’m serious,” he says. “You even have those cute little seashell soaps. I love those.”

We’re both laughing now as he watches me through the crack in the door. Right when the door shuts and I lock the latch, he knocks again. I shake my head and open the door, but it catches with the chain lock this time.

“What now?”

“It’s midnight!” he says frantically, slapping at the door. “Call her. Call your roommate!”

“Oh, shit,” I mutter. I retrieve my phone and begin to dial Emory’s number.

“I was about to dial 911,” Emory says as she answers. “Sorry, we almost forgot.”

“Do you need to use the code word?” she asks.

“No, I’m ne. I already locked him out, so I don’t think he’s going to murder me tonight.”

Emory sighs. “ at sucks,” she says. “Not that he didn’t murder you,” she adds quickly. “I just really wanted to hear you say the code word.”

I laugh. “I’m sorry my safety disappoints you.”

She sighs again. “Please? Just say it for me one time.” “Fine,” I say with a groan. “Meat dress. Are you happy?”

ere’s a quiet pause before she says, “I don’t know. Now I’m not sure if you said the code word just to make me happy or if you’re really in danger.”

I laugh. “I’m ne. I’ll see you when you get home.” I hang up the phone and glance at Owen through the opening in the door. His eyebrow is cocked and his head is tilted.

“Your code word was meat dress? at’s kind of morbid, isn’t it?”

I smile, because it kind of is. “So is choosing an apartment based on its connection to a horror lm. I told you Emory is dierent.”

He nods in agreement.

“I had fun tonight,” I tell him. He smiles. “I had funner.”

We’re both smiling, almost cheesily, until I straighten up and decide to close the door for good this time.

“Good night, Owen.”

“Good night, Auburn,” he says. “ ank you for not correcting my grammar.”

 ank you for not killing me,” I say in response. His smile disappears. “Yet.”

I don’t know if I should laugh at that comment.

“I’m kidding,” he says as soon as he sees the hesitation on my face. “My jokes always fail when I’m trying to impress a girl.”

“Don’t worry,” I say to reassure him. “I was kind of impressed as soon as I walked into your studio tonight.”

He smiles appreciatively and slips his hand through the opening in the door before I can shut it again. “Wait,” he says, wiggling his ngers. “Give me your hand.”

“Why? So you can lecture me about how I shouldn’t touch strangers’ hands through locked doors?”

He dismisses my question with a shake of his head. “We’re far from being strangers, Auburn. Give me your hand.”

I tentatively bring my ngers up and barely touch them to his. I’m not sure what he’s doing. His eyes drop to our ngers, and he leans his head against the door frame. I do the same and we both watch our hands as he slides his ngers between mine.

We’re on two separate sides of a locked door, so I have no idea how simply touching his hand can make me have to lean against the wall for support, but that’s exactly what I’m doing. Chills run up my arms and I close my eyes.

His ngers brush delicately over my palm and trace their way around my hand. My breaths are shaky and my hand is growing even shakier. I have to stop myself from unlocking the door so I can pull him inside and beg him to do to the rest of me what he’s doing to my hand.

“You feel that?” he whispers.

I nod, because I know he’s looking right at me. I can feel his stare. He doesn’t speak again and his hand eventually stills against mine, so I slowly open my eyes. He’s still watching me through the crack in the door, but as soon as my eyes are all the way open, he quickly lifts his head away from the door frame and pulls his hand back, leaving mine empty.

“Fuck,” he says, standing up straight. He runs his hand through his hair and then grips the back of his neck. “I’m sorry. I’m ridiculous.” He releases his neck and grips the doorknob. “I’m leaving for real this time. Before I scare you away,” he says with a smile.

I grin. “Good night, OMG.”

He slowly shakes his head back and forth while his eyes narrow playfully. “You’re lucky I like you, Auburn Mason Reed.”

With that, he closes the door.

“Oh my God,” I whisper. I think I might have a crush on that boy.




I groan, not ready to wake up, but someone’s hand is on my shoulder, shaking me.


“Auburn, wake up.” It’s Emory’s voice. “ e police are here.”

I immediately roll onto my side and see her standing over me. She’s got mascara under her eyes and her blond hair is sticking out in all directions. Her unexpected, unkempt appearance scares me more than the fact that she just said the police are here. I sit straight up in bed. I try to nd my alarm clock to check the time, but my eyes won’t open enough for me to see it. “What time is it?”

“After nine,” she says. “And . . . did you hear me? I said there’s a cop here. He’s asking for you.”

I scoot myself off the bed and look for my jeans. I nd them crumpled on the oor on the other side of my bed. As soon as I get them buttoned, I reach into the closet for a shirt.

“Are you in some kind of trouble?” Emory asks, standing by my door now.

Shit. I forgot she doesn’t know anything about me.

“It’s not the police,” I tell her. “It’s just Trey, my brother-in-law.”

I can see she’s still confused, and that makes sense since he’s not really my brother-in-law. It’s just easier to refer to him that way sometimes. I also have no idea why he’s here. I open my bedroom door and see Trey standing in the kitchen, making himself a cup of coee.

“Is everything okay?” I ask him. He spins around and as soon as I see his smile, I know everything is ne. He’s just here for a visit.

“All good,” he says. “Shift just ended and I was in the neighborhood.

ought I’d bring you breakfast.” He holds up a sack and tosses it toward me on the counter. Emory walks around me and grabs the bag, opening it.

“Is it true?” she asks, looking up at Trey. “Do cops really get all the free doughnuts they want?” She grabs one of the pastries and shoves it in her mouth while making her way toward the living room. Trey is looking at her with contempt, but she doesn’t notice. I wonder if she’s aware that she hasn’t looked in a mirror today. I doubt she cares. I love that about her.

 ank you for the breakfast,” I tell him. I take a seat at the bar, confused as to why he would think it’s okay to just stop by without notice. Especially this early in the morning. But I don’t say anything, because I’m sure it’s just me being cranky due to my late night and lack of sleep. “Is Lydia coming home today?”

He shakes his head. “Tomorrow morning.” He sets his cup on the bar. “Where were you last night?”

I cock my head, wondering why he would even ask that. “What do you mean?”

He glances back at me. “She says you called over an hour late.”

Now I get why he’s here. I sigh. “Did you really want to bring me breakfast or are you using it as an excuse to check up on me?”

e oended look he shoots me makes me regret my comment. I blow out an exasperated breath and rest my arms on the bar. “I was working,” I say. “I lled in at an art gallery for extra money.”

Trey is standing in the exact spot Owen was standing in last night. Trey and Owen are probably the same height, but for some reason Trey just appears more intimidating. I don’t know if it’s because he’s always in a police uniform, or if it’s the hardened facial features. His dark eyes always seem to be frowning, whereas Owen can’t seem to help smiling. Just thinking about Owen and the fact that I’ll see him again tonight instantly puts me in a better mood.

“An art gallery? Which one?”

 e one on Pearl, near my work. It’s called Confess.”

Trey’s jaw tenses and he sets his cup of coee on the counter. “I know the one,” he says. “Callahan Gentry’s son owns that building.”

“Am I supposed to know who Callahan Gentry is?”

He shakes his head and pours his coee in the sink. “Cal’s an attorney,” he says. “And his son is trouble.”

I wince at his insult, because I don’t understand it. Owen is the last person I would associate with the word trouble. Trey grabs his keys off the bar and begins making his way out of the kitchen. “I don’t like the idea of you working for him.”

Not that Trey’s opinion matters to me in any way, but I’m a little put off that he even made that comment. “You don’t have to worry about it,” I say. “I was red last night. Not what he was looking for in an employee, I guess.” I fail to tell him the true reason I was red last night. I’m sure that would upset him even more.

“Good,” he says. “You coming to dinner Sunday night?” I follow him to the door. “Haven’t missed it yet, have I?”

Trey turns to face me after he opens the door. “Well, you’ve also never missed a phone call, and look what happened last night.”

Touché, Trey.

I hate confrontation, and my attitude is going to start one if I don’t backtrack. e last thing I need is tension with Trey or Lydia. “Sorry,” I mutter. “It was a late night last night with working two jobs yesterday.

ank you for the breakfast. I’ll be nicer next time you show up unannounced.”

He smiles and reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind my ear. It’s an intimate gesture, and I don’t like that he feels comfortable enough to do it.

“It’s ne, Auburn.” He drops his hand and steps out into the hall. “See you Sunday night.”

I close the door and lean against it. I’ve been getting a very dierent vibe from him lately. When I lived in Portland, I never saw him. However, moving to Texas put me in his presence a lot more, and I’m not sure we’re on the same page when it comes to how we de ne our friendship.

“I don’t like him,” Emory says. I glance toward the living room and she’s seated on the couch, eating her doughnut while ipping through a magazine.

“You don’t even know him,” I say in Trey’s defense.

“I liked the guy you had over last night much better.” She doesn’t bother looking up from her magazine as she judges me.

“You were here last night?”

She nods and takes a long sip of her soda, again not bothering to give me eye contact. “Yep.”

What? Why does she think this is okay?

“Were you here when I called you about the code word?”

She nods again. “I was in my room. I’m really good at eavesdropping,” she says atly.

I nod once and make my way back toward my bedroom. “ at’s good to know, Emory.”

You'll Also Like