So far, that hadn’t happened.

Picking up my phone I saw Bliss York’s name. She’d be Bliss Finlay in six months’ time. She was my best friend who I’d been in love with most my life. I was happy for her. She’d faced death and won. She deserved this. I just had always imagined it would be with me. Nate Finlay had come into our world and changed it all.

I still loved her. But I’d accepted she loved someone else, and I was beginning to think she was the reason I feared women wanting more. I had loved Bliss for as long as I could remember. How was I ever going to love someone else like that? It scared me to get too close because in the end, it would hurt them. What if Bliss was still it for me? What if they couldn’t take her place or make me forget? So far, that hadn’t happened.

It wasn’t like I ever thought she loved me back. At least not that way. She’d never acted like she loved me anymore than a friend. It was something I had harbored myself. Our parents were close. My mother and her father had grown up as best friends too. We had been in each other’s cribs since we were born. To Bliss, I was like one of her brothers. Except my future didn’t include jail.

I debated calling her back. I wasn’t in the mood to be happy and listen to her happy shit. My head was still pounding. Then a text lit up my screen. Made a big breakfast. Come eat.

That kind of stuff was annoying. Bliss liked when I visited them. What it did was make me see them be all domestic and happy. I went. Because I couldn’t remember a time in my life I didn’t do whatever I could to see Bliss smile. Slowly though, that need was diminishing. She had Nate to make her smile. I didn’t want that job anymore. Not if I wasn’t going to be coming home to her at night. My plans for my future had always included her. Not now. Not that way at least.

Lila’s idea of leaving town didn’t sound so bad. Take off and reinvent yourself. Find a new way. The problem was I had a job, an apartment, and a life here that I couldn’t just run from. I wasn’t sure how she was funding her adventure, but I didn’t have the funds for that.

I wanted to respond to the text Thanks, but I’ve got plans. Or Thanks, but I’m busy. That would be breaking loose from making her happy. That would be what a real man would do. Instead, I replied, Just got up. Let me shower. Then I’ll head over.

Dropping my phone on my bed, I growled at my weakness. It was like I needed to be nice. To do the right thing. Dammit, I hated that about myself. The last thing I wanted to do this morning was head to their house and eat with them. Why couldn’t they eat alone?

My phone dinged again. Great. Nate’s friend is here visiting. I want you to meet her.

Shit. This was a hookup. And why did Nate have a female friend visiting them?

Yes. We will wait on you to eat.

I wanted to ask more questions, like if anyone else was invited. Because I didn’t need a fucking hookup. Bliss knew me better than that. I was on a “no women” hiatus. She also knew that. This had better only be an honest meet the friend thing. I wondered if Nate’s “friend” was secretly in love with him. Hell, we may end up having a lot in common after all.

I STOOD IN the warm shower longer than necessary. I still had some sand stuck to me in places I’ve never had before. I closed my eyes and tried not to judge myself too harshly. I had been doing what I set out to do. Eli was a nice guy. He was sweet and gentle. And when he’d pulled a condom out of his pocket I had been extremely grateful.

The words he’d said while he made love to me were dirty, but they had made me crazy. Of course, he hadn’t called it making love. He’d used the word fuck a lot. I touched the tenderness between my legs and smiled then. I had been wild. I’d had a one night stand. Me. Lila Kate Carter had been a harlot! That made me giggle.

Even through haze of the warm shower, I could smell bacon and cinnamon. Whatever Bliss was cooking was making my stomach growl with anticipation. After all the dancing, the walking then the best sexual experience I’d ever had, I was ravenous.

Luckily, the sex had sobered me up enough to drive here last night. But I still didn’t think Eli was ready to drive. I left him with Larissa in the parking lot when we had walked back. He’d kissed me like a man hungry for more. I had soaked it all in, not wanting ever to forget that night.

He hadn’t asked for my number, my last name, nothing. It had been just that for him too. A one night stand. It made me a little sad I wouldn’t ever get to know more about him or see him again. Eli would always be my first experience as the new and improved Lila.

Reluctantly, I got out of the shower and dried my hair with a towel, then dressed in a pair of casual white linen shorts and a navy blue sleeveless top that was soft. I started to dry my hair with a hair dryer and stopped. The old Lila Kate would get presentable before going to breakfast. The new Lila would head there with wet hair and bare feet. If I were at home, I’d eat my breakfast like this. Why not here? They didn’t expect me to be fixed up.

I hung up my towel because although I was more laid back now, I wasn’t rude. Then I headed toward the smell of the food. The house that Nate and Bliss lived in was elegant, large, and what I’d expect Nate Finlay to purchase for him and his future wife. It sat on the water just like the house he’d grown up in. It wasn’t anything as elaborate as his parents’ home but it was still very impressive. Bigger than my home for sure.

Just as I stepped into the kitchen, the doorbell rang. Bliss spun around and smiled brightly when she saw me. “Good morning, I’m sorry I was asleep when you got here last night. There are different coffees to choose from right there,” Bliss said as she pointed at a neatly organized pile of coffee K-cup pods. “Take your pick. There’s even some tea or hot cocoa K-cups if you don’t want coffee. Just help yourself. I will be right back. That’s our other breakfast guest,” she said as she left the room to answer the door.

I tried not to think about sitting down with other people for a fancy breakfast with wet hair and bare feet. It was ridiculous to worry about that. I looked at the coffee and tea choices. I liked tea but I preferred a nice bag to steep in hot water—not tea out of a little plastic pod. I picked out a breakfast blend coffee and made my cup.

“Morning party animal,” Nate’s voice startled me. I’d been staring at my cup as it filled with coffee, my thoughts still on last night.

I felt my cheeks heat. Nate was awake when I came in with messy hair, sand sticking to me, and smelling like a bar. He’d laughed. Loudly. Then told me he lied to my mother and told her I was so tired when I got here I fell asleep and that I’d call her in the morning. At the time, I was still floating on the memories of my wild evening. I’d thanked him, apologized for being late, and then went to clean myself up and get to bed.

“Good morning,” I said feeling more embarrassed about my arrival last night. I was thankful that Bliss had been sleeping.

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t drink enough for that.”

He smirked. “Alrighty. Well, Bliss has made one of her feasts. She also invited her best friend over. It may be a setup—I can’t decide. I’m warning you now. The guy coming over is in love with her. She doesn’t believe that. But I see it. Just smile and we will get through breakfast.”