“It’s an ear infection. I use to get them before finals a lot.”
He handed me the pills and water. I took them.
“I’ll call the physician and see if I can get you in tomorrow.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
He sat on the couch next to me. Gently grabbing my shins, he placed my feet in his lap and pressed his thumbs into my instep, slowly moving up. I closed my eyes and fought the urge to moan in bliss.
“Megan,” press, “You said for this to work we had to work together. That goes both ways. So don’t keep things from me.” His tone was rough and something in his eyes flickered with a mixture of pain and anger. “If you’re feeling sick, you have to tell me. I can help you before it gets unmanageable. Understand?”
My throat closed up a bit and something very raw, very dark, masked Preston’s charming features.
“Okay,” I whispered.
He nodded and leaned back a little. “Good. Now get comfortable, because next up are your shoulders.”
“Hi, Daddy,” I said and clutched the phone to my ear.
My heart was about to burst with relief. When my phone rang, I expected it to be the wedding planner. Jill had called on average four times a day since I met with her last week. It was fun planning a wedding, but exhausting. Clutching my small grocery bag, I walked from the store back to the hotel up the street.
“How you doing, kiddo?”
“I’m good, dad. Just running some errands.”
“Errands? Shouldn’t you be home in bed?” His voice grew concerned. “Mom said you were sick.”
“It was just an ear infection,” I explained, leaving out that it had been a bad one. And one hundred percent stress-induced. “The doctor told me to take it easy for a few days.” Which I did, with Preston right by my side the entire time. He had been so normal and sweet, like a real fiancé. Taking me to the doctor, filling my prescription and making sure I ate. But something about me being sick obviously unnerved him. As if he needed to heal me himself. Still, his attentiveness and world-class foot rubs had me pushing the edge of spoiled. “How are you doing, Dad?”
“Oh, pretty good. Wish your mother would stop fussing over me all the time.”
“Ah, she just loves you.”
God, this was wonderful. It had been a long time since I had a conversation with my father like this. Like he was there…all the way present in the moment and lucid.
“The hotel business treating you well?” he asked.
I smiled. If only he knew just how well. “It is.”
“Anyone special in your life?”
I swallowed and the spring breeze hit my face as I walked a bit faster. Now was a perfect time to tell him. Tell him that Preston and I were getting married. I opened my mouth to try, but no words came out.
“Megan,” he chided. “You work too hard. You need to take time for yourself.”
“I know, Dad. I just, I’m pretty busy. But I have a few friends at work and having Emma here has been great.”
“Well, that’s good. I just don’t want you to shy away from the other stuff. What that prick did is unforgivable.”
“Daddy, I’m so sorry about Tim and the money—”
“Tim? Forget that low-life. I’m talking about Brian. He’s the real loser. No one hurts my baby girl like he did. He’ll get his, Meg-Pie. You just take care of you and don’t be afraid to get out there. You’re a treasure, honey.”
If I wasn’t juggling groceries in one hand and my cell in the other, I would have wiped the tears lining my eyes.
“You don’t be a stranger okay? I haven’t talked to you in weeks.”
Now the tears stung for a different reason. I talked to my father at least twice a week, this was just the first time he called me and knew who I was.
“Okay, Dad. I love you.”
“Love you too, Meg-Pie.”
He hung up and something deep in my chest ached. I didn’t know when I’d hear him talk to me like that again. What if he never did? What if that was last time my father had a “good day?”
Reaching the entrance to The Strauss Hotel, I realized why I hadn’t told him about Preston. Told him while he could understand. Because I didn’t want one of the best conversations, maybe the last one in which he knew who I was, to be tainted with a lie.
I was marrying Preston. But when my father asked me if I loved him, and he would have, I would have had to say yes. Living a false reality was one thing. Admitting it out loud was another. But lying to my father?
“What’s all this?” Preston asked as he entered the kitchen of the penthouse.
“Just got a few groceries. I was going to make dinner tonight.” When I lifted to my tip toes to put away the noodles in a high cabinet, causing my shirt to ride up, Preston’s fingers skated along the exposed small of my back.
“I was unaware you were so domestic.” His breath danced along the back of my neck as his palm trailed around my side, resting low on my stomach.
Over the last week, I’d learned that his warmth was addicting. Okay, so I knew that after the first night. But now, my body was recognizing his as a mandatory essence. A fix I needed. When he was near, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed. So alone.
“You feeling better?”
His concern made my heart flutter a little. “Yes. Almost done with the round of antibiotics and I haven’t had a fever in days.”
“I’m glad.” His lips brushed against my ear and a flash of lust roiled through my bones and spread to every surface of my skin.
I turned to face him. His green eyes were like getting lost in Oz and for a moment, I forgot about cooking and just wanted to wrap myself around him.
“I recognize that look,” he growled and leaned in to nip my earlobe. “And while I’d love nothing more than to f**k you right here on the counter, we have to get going.”
I frowned up at him. Mostly because he just painted an exciting picture in my mind only to snatch it away. “Where are we going?”
“The Park Avenue Armory. Striker Solutions is having a gathering.”
I’d heard of Striker. It was the company that handled all of the security for The Strauss Hotel. They provided personal drivers who were really bodyguards, and closets that doubled as panic rooms. This company employed some of the top security detail money could buy.