“Everything looks good,” he said going over my records and completely ignoring my question. “You’re on the pill…” He flipped another page.
“Yeah, I have been for a while. You never said anything about giving my job to someone else.”
“It’s temporary.” He snapped the folder shut and tossed it on the desk next to a small stack of papers. “With the wedding right around the corner, I figured you’d be busy with the planning and hosting guests…like your parents.”
The way he annunciated the last word made me think he knew about more about my family than I thought.
I swallowed hard. “When exactly are we getting married?”
“I was thinking the sooner the better. Six weeks or so.”
“I thought you’d like it that way.” His voice was soft and he folded his arms over his chest—not in a display of dominance but as if trying to determine exactly how to speak next. His cuffs were rolled at the sleeves and his jaw held that amazing shadow of a day’s worth of stubble. Like the night I met him. He was sinful looking. Delicious. But when a sliver of sweet kindness trickled out, he was simply lethal.
I hadn’t thought much of the details, what with just getting used to this charade in the first place. Somewhere deep down, I wanted a wedding soon too. My father grew worse every day and hopefully he’d remember who I was by the time he walked me down the aisle. It seemed silly wanting something like that, given everything going on with his health. But fake wedding or not, I desperately wanted my father there. I wanted him as mentally with me as he could be, but that was not something I wanted to discuss at the moment.
“I have a request regarding my job,” I said.
He eyed me. “Oh?”
“After this marriage is done, I want my same job back, same pay, at the Chicago hotel.”
He looked at me like I had asked him to name all fifty states in alphabetical order. “Are you mad about something?”
“Well, no, I guess I am just thrown that you would make a decision that affects my life without talking to me.”
“That wasn’t my intent, I just assumed that you’d be busy planning the wedding and could use the time. Plus, as my wife you won’t need the money.”
“This isn’t about the money, I love my job and I love what I do. And I get that we aren’t the normal, soon-to-be-married couple, but if we are going to make this work we need to talk to each other.”
“I agree.” He grinned and ran that hot gaze over my face, his smile widening to mega-watt status.
“Is something funny?”
He shook his head. “I'm sorry, it’s just that most women wouldn’t want to work if they didn't have to."
“I'm not like the women you know then.”
“No,” he looked at me and something in his eyes softened. “You aren't, are you? I will tell Olivia you are coming back full time and I will make sure there is a position for you in Chicago when the time comes.”
“Thank you, that means a lot. But with the wedding being so close, maybe you’re right and I should let Olivia fill in for a few weeks.” I didn’t want Olivia to lose out on the hours she seemed to need.
“I’ll let her know,” Preston said. Leaning forward, his voice lowered. “I don’t know about you, but I think for our first pre-marital fight we did quite well.”
Breath left my lungs. I hadn’t realized I was holding it, and I laughed. The way his eyes sparkled with that boyish playfulness was too much to take in. The man was just gorgeous.
“Now, if you’ll come sign these, we can get all this squared away.” He gestured to the small stack of paper on the desk and I stepped toward him.
He handed me a pen and explained every page as we went through it, always asking if I had questions. It was actually pretty thoughtful considering the circumstances.
When we got to the last page, I looked up at him.
“Last one.” He smiled and trailed his fingertip along my chin. The gesture made me all gooey inside. Between the craziness of the situation, adrenaline crashing, and Preston’s hands on me, it was almost like a calm, lust-induced mental state. Sign, sign, done.
Just a business deal.
“This is for you.” He reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a small black box, and set it on top of the contract. The inscription on the top read Harry Winston.
My hands shook as I opened it.
Oh. My. God. The center gem put that necklace from Titanic to shame. A princess cut blue diamond with small white diamonds surrounding it. It was beyond beautiful.
Tears filled my eyes. Not with joy. With sadness. This wasn’t how I thought this day would be. A casual, “Here,” and the signing of papers was not the romantic proposal I had dreamed about. Granted, the only comparison I had was my parents’ story. They were at a carnival, Elvis was playing over the speakers, when my dad pulled my mom into his arms and swayed in the middle of the crowd. There, between cotton candy and “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” he placed a simple diamond on her finger.
“Say something,” Preston whispered.
I shook my head. “I just thought this moment would involve more dancing,” I muttered. Preston frowned, my last statement obviously making no sense.
“I mean…” Staring back at the ring, I tried to come up with something other than what was really going on in my head. “I didn’t know diamonds came in this blue color.”
The thing looked more like a gorgeous meteor than a piece of jewelry. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen.
“Don’t you like it?”
“It’s lovely,” I said, recalling his words to me the night we met. I hadn’t meant to sound so defeated or bratty, but it was the lackluster word that hit home. Everything should be fine. I should feel lucky, but I felt so…empty. So tired. And so alone.
The only person who knew what was really going on, with my parents and the money and all the mess of my past was Preston, and he offered me a nice cold diamond when all I wanted in that moment was something warm.
He maneuvered me to stand before him. My lower back pressed into the edge of the desk behind me and Preston cupped my face, forcing me to look up at him. His eyes were so unnerving. So expressive, yet so closed off.
“You make no sense,” he whispered. I let out a half laugh half sob. “I thought women liked diamonds but you look truly miserable. Should I have taken you to Jared’s?”