“Men happened. I’m done with them. I’m done with their bullshit excuses, their selfishness, waiting for them to call. I don’t need them. I have two perfectly wonderful, functioning vibrators and I’ll be taking care of myself from now on, thank you very much.”
“Oh . . . kay.” I wasn’t sure what had brought this on. The last I knew she was single and wasn’t really dating. “Did you go out with someone new?”
“Doesn’t matter.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Already forgotten.”
“He didn’t call, did he?”
“Nope. That asshat.”
“I’m sorry, baby. I’ll get the vodka.”
“Thanks, pookie.” She smiled at me weakly.
I loved how simple things were with Ellie. She was tough and smart and independent, yet in a lot of ways still needed someone to rely on. Deep in my heart I wanted to consider Ben’s invitation to move in with him but I’d feel terrible leaving her—and now certainly wasn’t the time to bring it up.
When I returned to her bedroom with two vodka–cranberry juice cocktails, Ellie was at least sitting up in her bed this time. She happily accepted her drink and took a long sip.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked, sipping my own drink.
“Not at all. Now, tell me . . . are you moving in with him or what?” she asked.
“I, um, I don’t know. He wants me to, I just don’t know if I’m ready.”
She nodded, watching me with soulful eyes. “You know I love having you here, but don’t let me stop you. You’re stuck with me no matter where you live.”
I smiled at her. “True.” Our friendship wasn’t defined by my address. “I think I’m just scared of jumping into his world so completely.”
She nodded. “Then take your time and think about it.”
“I will.” The thing about Ben that she didn’t understand was his need for love and acceptance. He’d grown up without love from two parents, any siblings, or a happy family unit. His mom was in and out of rehab and he never knew his father. He’d come to terms with all that, but I could tell the idea of me rejecting him scared him. And this was a guy who wasn’t easily phased in any other area of his life. The knotted tension in his shoulders, the intensity in his eyes when he’d asked me to move . . . waiting to see what I’d do, how I’d react. If I’d accept him. Him and all this baggage. And there was a damn truckload of baggage where that man was concerned. It was daunting at times. But still so easy to love him at others.
After cooking dinner with Ellie and making sure she was settled for the night, I was chauffeured back to Ben’s place.
His lips at my throat greeted me. “Thanks for coming.” I felt him inhale the scent of my neck and a shiver raced down my spine, igniting all my senses.
I nodded and lifted on my toes to press a kiss to his full mouth.
He had the lighting turned low, and the city lights that glittered through the large picture windows provided a pretty ambience. A bottle of red wine rested on the coffee table with two wineglasses and a fire crackled in the fireplace. Wow. It was very romantic and the perfect end to my day.
“Would you like some wine?”
I nodded and let his fingers dancing at my lower back guide me into the living room. We settled on the sofa and Ben offered me a glass of ruby-colored wine. Hazel and luminous green eyes roamed mine while I took a sip. Delicious. Flavors of spicy pepper and robust black cherry burst on my palate. It was pleasantly tart with just a hint of sweetness. Yum.
“Good?” he asked, trying his own.
“Orgasmic.” I smiled.
Ben chuckled. “Not yet, lovely, but that could be arranged.”
The promise of his skilled hands and glorious mouth on my skin later sent a rush of endorphins through my system.
Now that we were back in New York I felt hopeful that Ben and I could work out the differences in what we each saw for our futures. And hearing his comment about making it official put a kernel of hope in my heart that wasn’t there before. Of course I didn’t want to bring that up straightaway. We’d had too many heavy conversations lately, and an evening relaxing alone together was not something I wanted to spoil.
Ben lifted my feet onto his lap and pulled the throw blanket from a trunk beside the couch to cover us both. He removed my socks, dropping them beside the couch, and began massaging my feet. His thumbs rubbed along the length of my instep and I relaxed into his soothing touch, believing everything would be okay.
The feeling was short-lived, though, because moments later his phone began ringing from inside the kitchen. The first two times he ignored it, but the third time he lifted my feet from his lap and stood.
He cursed loudly, retreating down the hall with his phone in hand.
I heard his bedroom door close softly and the hushed sounds of his voice.
Tossing aside the blanket, I padded down the hallway to investigate. My scalp tingled and the hair on my nape rose. He was acting strange, secretive, and all my senses were heightened. I felt like an intruder watching my life unfold. I felt oddly disconnected standing there, heart pounding in my chest, fists clenched tightly at my sides, trying to eavesdrop. I fought to quiet my labored breathing so I could hear.
“One second. I need to check with Emmy,” I heard him say from behind the closed door. The sound of my name snapped me back into the present.
“How bad is it?” he asked.
I wondered if it was related to his mother and her struggles to stay sober, and my heart ached for him.
“Because I do, Fiona. I won’t cut Emmy out of this.”
My stomach leapt into my throat. He’d gone behind closed doors to take Fiona’s call privately.
The door opened and Ben stood there, clutching his cell phone in his hand. “Which hospital?” he barked into the phone, then he nodded once and ended the call.
What in the hell was going on? “Is everything okay?”
“No.” His voice was flat.
“Was that Fiona?”
I waited, barely breathing, for him to explain what was happening. The vein in his neck was throbbing. He was angry, but about what, I had no idea. “Ben?” I dared at last.
“Fiona’s been admitted to the hospital for exhaustion, and dehydration. She’s gone into early labor and the doctors are trying to stop it.”
She was only about six months along. Way too early for the baby to come.