When I arrive home from work, I know the motorcycle parked at the side of the house means Colton’s beat me home. Home. I sigh, happily. Kicking off my shoes in the mudroom, I go off in search of him. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how big this house is. Maybe someday I’ll talk him into moving us into a cozy one-bedroom apartment. Though I’d miss the ocean views way too much.
I find Colton in his office, his tie loosened around his neck, white shirt sleeves pushed up his forearms and a crystal tumbler filled with bourbon. Hard liquor as soon as he’s home from work? This is new.
"Everything okay?" I ask, sinking down into his lap and bringing my arms around his neck.
He sets down his glass and rests his chin on my shoulder. "Just work." He releases a heavy sigh. "Things are fucked up at the moment."
He doesn’t normally talk about his work much, and I realize that I want to be let in to this facet of his life. He’s the CEO of a company that I know very little about.
"What’s going on with work?" I ask.
He lifts his head and meets my eyes. "It’s nothing for you to worry about, sweetness."
I might not have an Ivy League education like him, but I was pretty sure I could understand whatever was troubling him. Maybe I could even help make it a little better. Isn’t that what girlfriends do?
I rise from his lap and stand before him with my hands on my hips. "I don’t think I have to remind you that withholding information got you into trouble before. You never talk about your work. Let me in. Let me be a true companion, Colton."
The frown line running across his forehead deepens as he watches me. "That’s not…I’m not trying to keep anything from you."
"How do you know Kylie?" I blurt.
"Let’s go have dinner and we’ll talk about everything."
Oh, fuck. He has that look on his face like he has to tell me something unpleasant. Has everyone seen my boyfriend’s cock? Work tomorrow with Kylie is going be extremely difficult if so. As much as I like and respect her, I will not be able to keep my cool if they shared some illicit past.
Once Sophie and I are seated at the dining room table with our plates of food in front of us, I know I can’t stall any longer. I’m not used to bringing people in to my world so completely. Even when I was married, I rarely discussed my work with Stella. I don’t think she even knew what I did, in all honesty. But I also knew it was time to change.
"First, I know Kylie from college. She and I were in the same business fraternity. And a few years ago, when I was founding my charity, I heard from a mutual friend that she’d moved out here and was looking for a job. I interviewed her over coffee. We hadn’t spoken in a couple of years at that point. I found she was more than qualified. She’d left her job at a big marketing firm out east to enjoy the California sunshine. I knew if I didn’t snatch her up, she’d soon have multiple offers from bigger firms."
Sophie fiddles with her fork. "So there was never anything romantic between the two of you?"
"No." It’s the absolute truth, and I’ve never been more grateful that I kept my dick in my pants than I am in this moment. I couldn’t take another look of disappointment crossing my girl’s features. "She’s an employee, and that’s all."
"Okay. Thank God, because work was going to be really strange if you two had some secret past." Sophie grins and takes a big bite of the food on her plate.
"Now, in regards to work. I’m not great at talking about my shortcomings."
She glances up at me and her expression sours.
"We had a bad quarter and the company stock is down fifteen percent."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that CNBC and various news outlets are discussing why the company is tanking and what the CEO is going to do about it."
"Oh. I’m sorry, Colton. I didn’t know."
I nod. "I don’t do failure well."
"This is not a failure, Colton. You are not a failure." Her bright blue gaze burns on mine. "You’re a CEO at age twenty-eight. That’s pretty freaking amazing. And what company doesn’t have poor results from time to time?"
She’s right. "True."
"Do you have a plan for how you’re going to fix it?" she asks.
"I do." I’d met with my senior staff all afternoon to devise a six-month roadmap that would pull us out of the red. Hence why I was home early and hitting the hard liquor. It’d been a brutal day, but at least we had a plan. I’d been shouldering this burden alone, not wanting to worry Sophie, but as she reaches across the table and takes my hand, weaving her fingers between mine, I see how wrong I’d been. Telling her – opening up this way – it hasn’t made the situation worse – it’s somehow made things better. It’s at least put them into perspective. Work was work. It would always be there. There would be ups and downs. But this was my real life. This woman, who was taking me with all my flaws, and loving me anyway.
"You got this," she says, giving my hand a squeeze.
"Indeed." I squeeze back.
We continue eating, and then carry our dishes into the kitchen together. "I was worried for a second that your mood had something to do with Stella, or your divorce settlement," Sophie admits, rinsing the dishes and handing them to me one at a time to load into the dishwasher.
I shake my head. "No. All that’s squared away."
"I can’t believe just like that…it’s all over."
"I know. I’m over the fucking moon about this too. Pace suggested I throw a party."
Her brow wrinkles in concentration. "We should do it."
"Seriously? You want to celebrate my divorce?"
She shakes her head. "No. I want to celebrate us together as a couple. We could invite my family, yours, get everyone together to co-mingle."
"I like that idea." I lean across the kitchen island and plant a kiss on her mouth. "What should we do?"
"I think the only appropriate thing would be a pool party."
"Oh yeah? I didn’t think you’d ever want to go near the pool again."
"That’s the point, Colton. It’s time to move on and let go of the past."
My chest swells with pride. I love this girl.
"Come on, let’s go upstairs." She takes my hand again. "I think a massage might relax you."
I raise an eyebrow at her. "You remember what happened the last time you tried to give me a massage?" The erotic images of us in the shower after her failed massage attempt are burned into my brain.