Page 37 of Erotic Research

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“Welcome home.” He passed her with barely a sideways glance on his way to the kitchen.

Stunned speechless, she watched as he put the beer in the refrigerator and grabbed a couple of plates from the counter. She silently marveled over the fact she had watched him do this very same thing a thousand times and yet even this simple act seemed different, special.

“Wh-what are you doing here?” she asked, kicking herself for the slight quiver in her voice. Cool, Julia.Very cool.

“It’s Thursday, Jules. Pizza night,” he answered as if she were two slices short of an extra large. “Got a supreme to celebrate your return.”

“I know it’s Thursday, but how did you know I was back?”

“I promised your landlady twenty bucks if she called me when you returned. Got the call this afternoon and settled the debt on my way up.”

“My, aren’t we ingenious?” She smiled tentatively, trying to determine his mood.

“I’m not without my resources.” He returned her smile with a faint one of his own. “You look good.”

Julia felt tears clogging her throat at his words. For once, her own words were failing her. Why couldn’t she say aloud all the things she found so easy to write on paper?

He cleared a spot on the dining table, now cluttered with packed boxes. “Getting a jump on spring cleaning?”

“Something like that. I’m surprised to see you here. I thought after you left the cabin—”

“I made a promise to you,” he said tightly.

“A promise?”

“I promised you that no matter how things ended in the cabin, we would still be friends. So here I am.”

Although the words sounded friendly, the tone was forced and Julia knew she had quite a bit of making up to do to him. She’d hurt him terribly and yet her heart swelled at the knowledge he would swallow his own wounded pride to keep a promise to her.

Just when she thought she couldn’t love him any more, he blindsided her with kindness, when all she truly deserved was his disdain.

“Ross,” she started, but he stopped her.

“I got your book,” he said, his words hitting her like an exploding bomb. A small cowardly part of her had been hoping he hadn’t read yet.

After all, the novel was their story and despite the fact Ross was standing in front of her, she couldn’t imagine he would want to discuss such a painful topic.

Did he want to continue the fight, rehash the arguments, berate her for behaving like such a fool?

Panic rising inside her, she tried to act nonchalant.

“Great,” she replied, her voice tight.

“It was good,” he added casually. “Really good. But, Brown Eyes—” He looked down at her. When had he gotten so close to her and had he really just called her Brown Eyes? “—you forgot to email me the last chapter.”

“Oh.” She fought the impulse to step away from him. Taking another calming breath, she stiffened her spine. “Actually, I haven’t written the last chapter.”

Clearly confused, Ross merely looked at her for a moment. “You never send me an unfinished manuscript.”

“Well, the thing is,” she kept on, praying she wasn’t blushing like a fool, “I didn’t like the original ending.”

“Original ending?”

“It was terrible,” she added hastily. “I tried it out, researched it, but it didn’t really work.”

“Is that right?” His voice was flat, emotionless. How she wished she could tell what he was thinking.

“In fact, I was hoping you could help me,” she continued.

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