Your Forever Love (The Bennett Family #3)(12)


by Layla Hagen

“No, no, or I’ll end up buying all of them.”

“So, you’re taking these?”

“You need to ask?” Toeing them off, I bend to take the shoes, then hand them to her. “Pack them up. On second thought, don’t. Pack my old ones. I’ll walk away in these.”

“Got it. Nothing like a new pair of shoes to brighten the day, right?”

“Amen to that.”

When I walk out of the store, I’m smiling ear to ear, which is what I needed today. I have fielded invitations from my family for the past two days. They all tried to convince me to join them for dinner on Friday evening, but I declined every time, assuring them I’ll be fine on my own. But today is Friday, and I’m not so sure I’m fine.

I remain in my office long after Julie and the team leave, drawing like a madwoman. It’s dark outside when I finally lift my head from my sketch. I put down my pencil, flexing my wrist. A glance at the clock tells me it’s ten. Sighing, I lean back in my chair, staring at the ceiling. I’m not ready to go home, not yet. Today of all days, I don’t want to be alone in my apartment. Maybe I should have taken my parents up on their offer to sleep at their house tonight, but they’d worry about me again.

Rubbing my temples, I flex my stiff neck to the right and the left. Thank God, this isn’t my fifth wedding anniversary.

On our first anniversary, Terence forgot to show up at the restaurant we had reservations at and bought me flowers the next day to apologize. On our second anniversary, he forgot about the reservation and didn’t even apologize for it. On our third one, I didn’t make any plans, and he didn’t bother to pretend he cared about the damn anniversary anyway. On our fourth one, we were in the process of getting divorced.

Today, on what would have been our fifth anniversary, I received a call from my lawyer. He informed me that Terence got himself a new lawyer and wants to appeal the court decision, which was in favor of not giving Terence a single penny, as was stated in the prenup. But apparently, this new lawyer found a loophole in the prenup, and Terence wants to fight again. Well, good. Let him fight. I will do the same. That bastard won’t get one cent.

Sighing, I pick up my pencil again, wanting to lose myself in my drawings again. The ding of the elevator doors startles me.

“Who’s—” I begin, but stop when I see the intruder. Eric.

“Pippa, what are you doing here?” he asks.

“I work here,” I reply, rising to my feet. “Why did you come? Did something happen to Julie?”

“No. She forgot some of her sketches here, and she wanted to work on them during the weekend.”

I inspect my desk, and sure enough, I find her sketches buried under my own.

“Here they are,” I announce. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have brought them tomorrow.”

“I didn’t think you were still here. Thanks.” His fingers touch mine as I hand him the sketches. I’ve been antsy for the past few hours, and the contact both calms and electrifies me at the same time. “Why are you here so late?”

“I stay up late sometimes. I have a lot of work, and I didn’t want to go home.” Pointing to the cupcakes near my keyboard, I infuse my voice with extra cheer as I add, “I have plenty of cupcakes to keep me company.”

Eric’s gaze holds mine for a few seconds, but it’s not a hot look; it’s a concerned one. He breaks eye contact, staring at my designs instead.

“You’re upset,” he says finally.

“How can you tell?”

“You said your designs vary according to your mood. These are dark. Scary.”

“These are scary? Not much of a horror movie man, I take it?”

“Nope,” he admits. “They scare the crap out of me. Always have. Want to tell me what’s wrong?” His voice is low and smooth, almost like a caress. It beckons me to open up to him. I debate brushing him off, but there is no reason to lie to him. Yes, he knows my brothers, but it’s unlikely he’ll tell them anything.

“Five years ago on this date, I married my ex. To fill you in, the reason behind our divorce was that I discovered he’d married me for my money.”

Eric raises his eyebrows, his expression unreadable. Then, to my utter astonishment, he gives me a thumbs-up.

“In that case, I’m surprised you’re taking out your feelings on your designs and not a voodoo doll or throwing darts at his picture.”

I chuckle, grateful for his reaction. No additional questions, no brooding. Just laughing. God, I can use some more of that right now.

“I should have taken my sister up on the offer of going on a girls’ night out instead of staying here by myself,” I admit. “But I didn’t want to worry anyone.”

Eric taps his fingers on my desk as if considering something. “Let’s you and I go out.”

“What?”

“You need a distraction. I’d like to provide that. Besides, I’d like to see a more adult version of San Francisco. Until now, I’ve only seen the twelve-year-old version.”

“How about Julie?”

“She’s asleep, and Ms. Blackwell is at the house with her.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Don’t overthink this, Pippa,” he says in a calm voice.

Oh, why the hell not? This man can make me laugh, and that’s exactly what I need. “Okay. Give me Julie’s sketches. I’ll carry them in my bag.”

“What do you want to do?” he asks.

“I want to dance,” I tell him. “But no weird fifties music.” I hold up my forefinger, accentuating every word with a swing. Eric looks on the verge of bursting out laughing.

“Why, you’re wearing inappropriate underwear again?”

“Maybe I’m not wearing any at all,” I tease. Big mistake. His eyes darken, his lips parting with a heavy exhale. In a fraction of a second, the air between us charges, a blanket of tension settling over us.

“You’re not?” His voice is low and husky, and I shudder listening to it.

“I was kidding, Eric. Let’s go.”

“Before we go,” he says, “let’s set some ground rules.”

“I’m all ears.”

“No hot looks, and no flirting.”

I tilt my head to one side, barely holding back my laughter. “Why do I get the impression you’re talking to yourself, not to me?”