My stomach did a little flip. “Okay.”
“It’s quite obvious you’ve been more than capable with your assigned duties. Ben trusts you—and you know I trust his judgment. So . . . I’d like to expand your role, give you a bit more responsibility. Of course, it would come with a pay raise as well. How does all that sound?”
What were you supposed to say when your boss found out you were dating her ex-fling and offered you more money? There was no guidebook for that, but I was pretty sure I was supposed to feel grateful. “It sounds fabulous. Thank you for the opportunity.”
“Wonderful. I was hoping you’d say that. I’m going to need help with New York Fashion Week in the spring, especially because of all these doctor appointments I mentioned.”
I wanted to ask again if she was okay, or if there was anything I could do to help, but something in her posture made me pause. It wasn’t any of my business so I just nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Attending castings, talking to the designers, helping to prepare the boys.”
“I can do that. Anything you need.” Wow, maybe my assistant job was finally going to pay off. I was moving up in the world.
“Brilliant. I’ll email you later tonight with more details. But for now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to take a nap.”
“Of course.” I let myself out, leaving Fiona curled up on the couch.
When Fiona finally emailed me that night, I was lying in bed with Ben, using his iPad to video chat with Ellie. But when the email from Fiona came through, I sat straight up and told Ellie I’d talk to her later.
It began with my new pay—a healthy increase from my previous salary. And then went into detail about my duties in preparation for New York Fashion Week.
On the last line of the email I finally uncovered her ploy. I’d be leaving Paris in two days.
• • •
Our relationship was so new, so fragile, I feared what the distance might mean. If this was a Lifetime movie, I’d run away with this man and never look back. But sadly, life didn’t work that way.
The entire ride to the airport, Ben kept telling me he was proud of me, and that I should be excited about this opportunity. I couldn’t help but think it was just a ploy for Fiona to get rid of me since she had learned of my relationship with Ben.
I trusted him, but that didn’t mean I was happy about him spending three weeks alone in Paris with the woman he’d had an ongoing affair with. I didn’t trust her. Not at all.
Ben paid to upgrade my seat to first class, even though I told him it wasn’t necessary, and then walked me as far as security would allow.
“Hey, it’s just three weeks.” He cupped my cheeks in his big palms, meeting my eyes with a worried stare.
“Three weeks and two days,” I pointed out.
Ben smiled and pressed his lips to mine. “We’ll talk every night. I’ll send you dirty texts.”
I giggled despite my sour mood. “Did you just tell me you’d sext me? Spoken like a true f**king romantic right there.”
“Anything for you, baby. I love you, Emmy.”
“I love you, too,” I told him, drinking in that brilliant hazel gaze I’d miss so much. “Behave.”
“I will, I promise. You too.” Ben pulled me snuggly into his arms, lifting my feet from the floor so he could cradle me in a full-body hug. I melted into his embrace.
We could do this, right? It was just a few weeks.
Ben was increasingly hard to get ahold of in the weeks that followed. Maybe it was the six-hour time difference or our work schedules, but we were rarely afforded the time to talk. The only thing that helped me pass the time was that I’d taken one of Ben’s T-shirts with me from Paris. His masculine scent still clung to the fabric, and each night I’d buried my face in the cotton and inhaled deeply. When the scent finally wore off, I worried that it was somehow a sign of things falling apart between us.
Ben had trouble sleeping through the night again and told me he had started taking his pills. It disappointed me, but I understood. The man needed to sleep. He ate dinner most nights with Fiona, which I tried to be mature about—they were the only two left in Paris since Gunnar had returned to New York a few days after me to prepare for another big campaign. But my old doubts and insecurities about their relationship started to creep in again.
I’d been working so much since I’d returned that Ellie and I hadn’t had a proper girls-night-out yet. So tonight she’d insisted we were going to do something. Admittedly, it was exactly what I needed to get my mind off things.
We ventured uptown, even splurging for a cab so we didn’t have to deal with walking to and from the subway in footwear that was more cute than comfortable. Ellie was dressed in skinny black jeans and a beautiful pair of Jimmy Choos. I was in jeans and pair of tall, black, high boots.
I loved fall in New York. There was a whole new wardrobe needed. I’d thrown myself into shopping, owning it like it was my job. It was the perfect distraction. Ellie was all too happy to help. She showed me the best shops in the city where we could get a deal on the latest fashions.
We entered the overly loud club and elbowed our way to the bar. It’d been a long week and nothing sounded better than an ice-cold beer. Unfortunately, the bar was surrounded three-deep with waiting customers waving bills in the air, trying to capture the overworked bartenders’ attention. It would to be awhile until we got our drinks.
“Ugh. Apparently we didn’t get the memo it was douche-bag night tonight,” Ellie said over the music.
“I hate guys like that.” She shot an annoyed glare at the group of guys tucked into a corner booth in the sectioned-off VIP area.
The guys seemed to be celebrating something. Bottles and shot glasses littered their table, and they laughed loudly and shared fist bumps.
“Oh my God. That’s Braydon!” I tugged Ellie’s hand. “Come on.”
“You know him?”
I chuckled at Braydon. For some reason he was stripped down to a tank top and jeans and wore a pair of sunglasses. Inside. And not just any glasses. Women’s heart-shaped, pink, glittery sunglasses.
I stopped in front of their table. “Braydon?”
His crazy-glasses-covered gaze snapped up to mine. “Jellybean?” He leapt from his seat and tackled me in a hug. “What are you doing here?”
I felt like blurting out that Fiona had banished me from France once she learned Ben and I had gotten too close, but instead I politely explained that I was back to work on New York Fashion Week in the spring.
He slipped off the silly shades and his gaze wandered behind me and latched onto Ellie. “Introduce me to your friend.” His tone was decisive and he was practically eye-f**king her. Clearly Braydon liked what he saw. All that dark mahogany hair and pretty olive-toned skin made lesser men weak. And drunk Braydon was no match.
“Oh, right. Braydon, this is Ellie.”
Ellie surveyed him coolly, her expression bored and unimpressed.
“Hiya, kitten.” Braydon smiled.
Eliie rolled her eyes at the cheesy pickup line. “Do you have ears? She just told you my name. Use it.”
Braydon turned to me and his uneven grin told me he was several drinks ahead of us. “Ohh . . . she’s a firecracker. I like that.”
“Embracing your inner douche tonight?” Ellie retorted, her eyes widening as if to make a point.
One side of Bray’s mouth curled up. “Is Ellie short for something?”
Her chin lifted. “Elizabeth. But if you’d like your testicles to remain attached to your body, you’ll stick to Ellie.”
Braydon reached down, unconsciously cupping his manhood. “I’ve become quite fond of these boys, so Ellie it is.”
I didn’t know what had made her claws come out, but watching their fiery exchange was entertaining.
“Well . . . we were trying to grab a drink at the bar . . .” Ellie looked longingly in the other direction.
Braydon shook his head. “We have a waitress, she’ll be by in a minute. It’ll be faster.”
I sat down in the booth next to Braydon, and Ellie reluctantly slid in next to me.
Braydon introduced us to his friends, who, based on their height and features, I guessed were also models. I was now used to being around models, and Ellie, blessed with a healthy self-esteem, didn’t bat an eyelash.
Braydon signaled the waitress and we placed our order. He asked for our drinks to be added to his tab.
“What’s with the glasses, Bray?” I nodded to the pink glasses that lay discarded beside him.
He shrugged. “Found them on the table. Aren’t they cute?” He slipped them back on and grinned at me. Oh yeah, he was trashed. He was funny and playful when he was drunk. Ellie rolled her eyes, clearly not amused.
Braydon leaned closer, throwing his arm around my shoulders. “Big Ben’s not here to bust us . . . you can play with my APA again later.” He flashed his white teeth at me, smiling brightly.
I shook my head and laughed. While some would have thought it was crass the way he’d practically propositioned me for sex, I knew Braydon was only kidding. Ellie shot me a questioning look, but I just laughed it off.
I checked my phone again, wondering why I hadn’t heard from Ben at all that day. I tried not to think about the fact that he was alone with Fiona in the most romantic city in the world.
I opened the door to my hotel room to find a tear-streaked and sobbing Fiona.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” I guided her inside and closed the door. She crashed against my chest, burying her face in my shirt as she cried. I brought an arm around her, doing my best to comfort her.
“I had my last insemination today.” She sucked in a breath to steady herself, her eyes gazing down at the floor. “They won’t do any more on me because it’s not safe to be on those drugs for longer than twelve cycles. That was my thirteenth. I had to beg them,” she said, her voice just a small rasp.
I’d never seen her so down. “So there’s still a chance, right?”
“No. I just know this isn’t going to work. Why would it? The other twelve didn’t. Maybe God or whoever’s up there”—she looked up at the ceiling—“doesn’t want me to be a mother.”
I remained silent, unsure of how to comfort her. I was completely out of my element.
“And even if I could find a new doctor to convince to work with me and take another round of treatment, we’ll be leaving in a few weeks and you’ll be back in New York, busy with your new girlfriend, too busy to help me with my injections.”
“Hey.” I reached out for her hand. “I’ll never be too busy for you.”
She laced our fingers together. “I know. You’re too good to me.”
Unsure of what else to do, I pulled her to my chest for a hug, and Fiona nestled against my neck. After a few moments, the sobs racking her chest had quieted and her hands slid down my sides to cup my ass.
I stepped back. “Fiona,” I pleaded, my tone a weak excuse for a warning. It would be so easy to slip back into our old roles, to fall into bed together, to comfort her that way. But I realized that it never made me happy. I never could sleep for shit the times we did share a bed. That was reserved just for Emmy.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks and blinked up at me. Fiona was a beautiful woman—even with her tears. But I couldn’t do this.
“Ben . . .” She didn’t say anything else, just continued pleading with me with those intense brown eyes.
“If I could fix this, Fiona, I would. You know that.”
Recognition seemed to click for us both at the same time as our gazes snapped together and she took a step closer. “Ben, you could fix this. You could give me a baby. The most beautiful little baby.”
“Fiona . . .” I shook my head.
“Ben . . . no one has to know . . . Emmy doesn’t have to find out. . . .”
I released a frustrated sigh. Fiona had worked hard to build my career, to make me wealthy and successful over the past five years. She’d worked nonstop for me, forgone dating and relationships . . . and I couldn’t help but wonder if she hadn’t been working so hard for me, perhaps she would have settled down into marriage and kids by now.
I led her over to the bed and we each sat on the edge. I hated the hopeful look in her eyes. Growing up without my own father made me damn sure that when I did have kids someday, I wanted to raise them.
“No one will ever know,” she whispered softly.
I gave her hand a squeeze. “I’ll run you a bath. Do you want to stay here with me tonight? Watch movies? Order room service?”
She smiled weakly. “Thanks, dear. That’s brilliant. Exactly what I need.”
“No problem.” I rose from the bed, leaving her to run a bubble bath in the big Jacuzzi tub. I needed to call Emmy but settled for sending her a quick text while the tub filled.
Me: Something came up tonight. Too busy to talk. Miss you.
I didn’t like going even one day without talking to Ben. So even though his text said he’d be busy, I couldn’t resist calling him a few hours later. Of course, as soon as I dialed, I wished I hadn’t.
Fiona answered his phone.
But worse than that, she said he was sleeping and she didn’t want to wake him. Then she promptly hung up on me.
I felt like murdering someone after that. I settled instead for a five-mile jog, a steaming hot shower, and then went about my day. He’d certainly have a lot to explain when he called.
• • •
The shrill tone of my cell phone woke me in the night. I fumbled to find the phone and quickly answered it to stop the ringing.
“Hello?” I croaked, my voice rough from sleep.
“Emmy, baby . . .”