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“Okay . . .” He looks over and begins staring at me, and I can’t help but feel bad for him. I’m shit at giving advice, and I don’t know why I even tried.

I know what it’s like to grow up not having any friends. As a child, I never had a single one until I hit puberty and started drinking, smoking pot, and hanging out with shitty people. They weren’t actually my friends, anyway—they only liked me because I did whatever the fuck I wanted to do, and that was “cool” to them. They didn’t enjoy reading the way that I did; they only enjoyed partying.

I was always that angry little boy in the corner whom no one talked to because they were afraid of me. To this day, that hasn’t changed much, really . . .

But I met Tessa; she’s the only person who genuinely gives a fuck about me. She’s afraid of me sometimes, too, though. Images from Christmas and red wine splattered across her white cardigan bring my thoughts to life. I suspect that Landon cares for me, too, I guess. But that’s still a weird situation with him, and I’m pretty sure he only cares because of Tessa. She tends to have that power over people.

Me, especially.

Chapter ninety-two

TESSA

Is your pizza good?” I ask Smith from across the table.

He looks up at me, mouth full, and nods his head yes. His small hands are holding a fork and knife to cut into his meal. This doesn’t surprise me.

When his plate is clear, he stands from the table and walks his dishes to the dishwasher, placing them inside. “I’m going to retire for the night. I’m ready for bed,” the little scientist announces.

Hardin shakes his head in amusement over the maturity of the kid.

I stand up and ask, “Do you need anything? Water, or to be walked to your room?”

But he declines and grabs his blanket from the couch before heading up to his bedroom.

I watch Smith disappear upstairs, then sit back down and realize that Hardin has spoken less than ten words to me in the last hour. He’s kept his distance, and I can’t help but find myself comparing his behavior tonight to the way he spoke during our phone calls this week. A small part of me wishes we were on the phone now instead of sitting silently on the couch.

“I have to piss,” he announces, then heads off as I surf through the channels on the flat-screen TV.

Moments later Kimberly and Christian come through the front door, followed by another couple. A tall blond woman dressed in a short gold dress saunters across the hardwood floor. I take one glance at her sky-high heels, and my ankles start to ache for her. She gives me a smile and a wave as she follows Kimberly through the foyer and into the living room. Hardin appears in the hallway but doesn’t make a move to enter the room.

“Sasha, this is Tessa and Hardin,” Kimberly kindly introduces us.

“It’s nice to meet you.” I smile, hating that I didn’t put on better-looking pajamas.

“You, too,” Sasha responds, but she’s looking directly to Hardin, who looks back at her for a moment but doesn’t otherwise greet her or come fully into the living room.

“Sasha is a friend of Christian’s business partner,” Kimberly informs us.

Well, informs me, because Hardin isn’t paying them any attention, having fixed his eyes on the wildlife program I ended up landing on.

“And this is Max, who does business with Christian.”

The man, who had been joking and laughing with Christian, steps around from behind Sasha, and when I finally get a look at him, I’m surprised to see Ken’s friend from college, that girl Lillian’s father.

“Max,” I repeat, discreetly staring at Hardin and trying to draw his attention to the familiar face in front of us.

Catching on, Kimberly looks back and forth between Max and me. “You two have met before?”

“Only once, at Sand Point,” I respond.

Max’s dark eyes are intimidating, and he has an overpowering presence that immediately claims the room as his, but his cold features do soften slightly at my reminder.

“Ah, yes. You’re Hardin Scott’s . . . friend,” he says, drawing the last word out with a smile.

“Actually, she’s . . .” Hardin starts, finally joining us in the living room.

I watch in annoyance as Sasha’s eyes follow Hardin’s every movement as he crosses the room. She adjusts the golden straps of her dress and licks her lips. I couldn’t be more irritated with myself for wearing these damn cloud pants if I tried. Hardin’s eyes flicker to her, and I watch as they slowly rake down her body, taking in her tall yet curvy frame, before his attention turns to Max.

“She’s not just a friend,” Hardin finishes just as Max’s hand darts out for a quick and awkward handshake.

“I see.” The older man smiles. “Well, either way, she’s a lovely girl.”

“She is,” Hardin mutters. I can sense his annoyance at Max’s presence.

Kimberly, the perfect hostess as always, walks over to the bar and gathers glasses for their guests. She politely takes drink orders while I try not to stare at Sasha as she introduces herself to Hardin for the second time. He gives her a brisk nod and sits down on the couch. A pang of disappointment hits me when he leaves a large space between us. Why do I feel so clingy all of a sudden? Is it because Sasha is so beautiful, or is it the way that Hardin’s eyes traveled down her body, or how weird he’s been all night?

“How’s Lillian?” I ask to break the awkwardness and the tension and the aching jealousy that’s stirring inside of me.

“She’s fine. She’s been busy with university,” he coolly states.

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