Your Forever Love (The Bennett Family #3)(13)


by Layla Hagen

“Because I am, but it’s on you to keep me accountable.”

“That sounded businesslike. Are you going to shark out on me if I don’t hold you accountable?” I inquire.

“You bet I will.” His tone is cheeky, almost challenging.

“You can count on me. It’ll be easy-peasy.”

As I grab my purse, slinging it over my shoulder, I steal glances at him and have to swallow hard as I take in his equally imposing and consuming presence. Okay, so maybe it won’t be that easy. Eric’s hand drops to the small of my back, guiding me as we head outside the building. I lean in to his touch, amazed by the warmth coursing through me.

A stubborn wind rustles the leaves and I turn my eyes skyward, searching for any signs of an upcoming storm. The sky is remarkably clear, though, with stars shimmering here and there. I inhale the smell of nearby roses and smile. It’s a beautiful and peaceful evening, almost magical.

“Do you have any place in mind?” he asks me while signaling a passing cab to stop.

“I know a place that opened last month. They have three dance floors and a rooftop bar.”

“Sounds great,” he says after we climb in the car. I tell the cabbie the address, and afterward, we’re on our way. We’re halfway there when my phone rings.

“It’s Alice,” I tell Eric before pressing the phone to my ear and muttering, “Hi!”

“Where are you?” she asks. “You said you’d be working, and your office is empty.”

“I—You’re at the office? Why?”

“I wanted to check on you.”

I love my sister to pieces. “I’m great, Alice. Don’t worry.” In the background, I hear Nadine’s voice and Summer’s unmistakable laughter. “Alice, why are the girls with you?”

“No one’s with me,” Alice replies a little too quickly.

“I can hear them.”

She sighs. “We all came to check on you.”

“You organized a girls’ night out, didn’t you?” Guilt gnaws at me as I eye Eric.

“Sort of. Depends. What are you doing right now?”

“Eric and I are going to get some drinks.”

“You’re on a date?” She practically screams the last words, so of course Eric overhears her. I sneak a glance at him, and sure enough, he smiles.

“No. It’s not a date. It’s as nondate as it can be.”

“Right. Then I was absolutely not planning a girls’ night out. Go back to your nondate. Bye.” The line goes static. One glance at Eric and I confirm he’s about to burst out laughing.

“That was my sister,” I tell him.

“Do you want to go out with her?”

“No,” I answer. “I love girls’ nights out, but I want something different this time.”

Winking, he says, “Let’s enjoy the hell out of this nondate.”

The venue is packed when we arrive, which is not surprising, given it’s Friday night. Eric and I enter through the VIP area. A friend of mine owns the club, and every time we speak, she reminds me that I’m permanently on the VIP guest list. I’ve never taken her up on her offer before. There are three floors, and the first two are too packed to breathe. The third one is for VIP guests only, and even so, it’s crowded.

“What do you want to drink?” Eric asks me.

“Red wine.”

He nods and heads to the bar, leaving me on my own. Several men ogle me with what are clearly unorthodox thoughts, and after a few minutes, one of them walks up to me. He’s wearing a black shirt with a white pattern that resembles an uninspired combination of a zebra and a Dalmatian.

I immediately put my fight face on.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he asks.

“Thank you, but no.” I cross my arms over my chest and look away from him, hoping he’ll get the appropriate unavailable vibe from me. He doesn’t.

“I bet you’re a vodka type,” he continues.

I groan. “Please don’t insist. I’m not interested in anything.”

The guy doesn’t budge. Unbelievable. I do the only sensitive thing and walk away, but the idiot follows me. Right. I knew I should have gone to Judo classes with Alice when she asked me to.

“You can’t—” he begins, but a deep voice interrupts him from behind me.

“Are you deaf?” Eric bellows. “She said no. Fuck off.”

“And you are?”

I have to give it to the guy; he’s got balls. Despite Eric looking every inch an alpha—and a pissed one at that—the guy doesn’t back off.

“Her fiancé. Leave, unless you want to have a black eye to match your shirt.”

At the word ‘fiancé,’ the muscles in my entire body clench. The guy blinks, panicked, and scurries away.

Eric hands me a glass, his gaze following the schmuck through the crowd.

“I was handling him. I can deal with things like this.” I take a sip of my wine, and it tastes delicious.

“I don’t doubt that,” he answers, finally snapping his gaze to me. “But just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.”

“Why not?”

“You have enough on your mind tonight without having to fend off idiots.” He raises his glass at me. “I’ll do that for you. The expression on his face when I said ‘fiancé’ was priceless.”

I tense again at the word, and this time, Eric takes notice.

“I crossed a line saying that?”

I shrug. “No, I’m—I don’t….” I don’t finish the sentence because I honestly don’t know why hearing that word makes me anxious. Probably because it brings back ugly memories. “Anyway, his face was priceless.”

“I’m surprised he bought it,” Eric says.

“You looked scary,” I assure him.

“Yeah, but I’m not acting like a fiancé should.”

This piques my interest. “And how’s that?”

Eric drums his fingers on his glass and the back of my neck prickles, as if he was doing that exact motion on my skin. I let out a heavy sigh as a cold shudder runs down my spine.

Eric steps closer. “If you were my fiancée, everyone here would know it, trust me.”

“How so?”