Authors: J. Sterling
How could I have been so stupid as to think someone like Daniel would ever be a one-woman kind of guy?
He’d told me that he ended things with those other women, and I’d simply believed him, no questions asked.
I knew the answer, but it made me feel stupid inside. I wanted to be special. When we’d talked the night we met about girls wanting to be different to a guy, that was exactly what Daniel had convinced me I was, and I’d bought into it completely. It hurt. I hurt. Before Daniel, I’d shut myself off from feeling vulnerable for so long that this seemed like it might crush me from the weight.
I sucked in a raspy breath and settled into bed before reaching for my iPod and noise-canceling headphones. Music always soothed me, and tonight, I needed it more than I ever had before.
When I woke up the next morning, I was reluctant to switch on my cell. For a minute, I wondered if I could exist an entire day without it. Deciding that probably wasn’t the best idea, I turned it on and watched as it powered up. A lengthy text message from Daniel appeared, telling me that Ben had it all wrong. Daniel wanted to explain things to me, and he begged me not to jump to conclusions.
I had already jumped headfirst into that picture Ben had shown me and into the words he had said.
When I exited my apartment door, I almost stepped on the white rose lying across my blue doormat.
He had been here? When?
Apparently, my headphones had helped drown out more than just my feelings.
Barbara’s long legs walked into my office, and then she plopped down on my couch with a thud.
“I had a shitty date last night. Please tell me all about how fabulous yours was with Mr. Perfect, so I can be insanely jealous.”
Avoiding all things Daniel didn’t last long
. I forced a smile. “Mr. Perfect? More like Mr. I’m Still Dating Other Women.”
Her eyes widened as she leaned forward. “Excuse me? He’s what?”
“We had the most amazing dinner. The conversation, the food—it was…” I struggled to find the right word without being cliché. “Perfect. It was perfect.”
“So, what happened?”
“We walked outside and ran into Ben.”
Her jaw dropped. “Ben, Ben? Like, your ex Ben?”
“Oh my God. Is that the first time you’ve seen him since college?”
Sucking in a quick breath, I moved my hand toward my upset stomach. “Yeah. Can you believe that? Anyway, he pulled me aside—”
“Ben pulled you aside?” she interrupted, clearly wanting to get all the facts straight.
I nodded. “So, he pulled me aside and asked me what I was doing there with Daniel.”
“What the fuck business is it of his? Wait—he knows Daniel? How does he know Daniel?” Her brows pulled together with her sudden confusion.
“If you’d let me finish, then you could stop giving yourself wrinkles.”
Her expression immediately softened as she rubbed a finger across the bridge of her nose like she could erase any creases that wanted to form there. “Finish.”
“So, Ben pulled me aside and asked me what I was doing there with Daniel. I told him it was none of his business, but he told me that Daniel was his business. I asked him why that was, and he said because Daniel was dating his sister!”
“No.” Her head started shaking with her disbelief. “Nope. I don’t believe it.”
“Ben showed me a picture of them together.”
“So what? Were they fucking in said picture?”
I choked out a breath. “No.”
“Were they kissing?” she continued, her tone completely unconvinced.
“What were they doing then?”
“Just sitting there with their faces squished together. They looked cozy, friendly. Whatever. They looked like more than friends,” I all but shouted.
Barbara rose to her feet. “Have you talked to him? How did things end?”
“With or without Daniel?”
“And you haven’t talked to him since, have you?”
I shook my head. “I feel like an idiot. I was hurting. I believed Daniel when he said he called off his arrangements. I fell for his charm and his stupid hot face.”
“Elizabeth, you don’t need to feel stupid unless you don’t give him a chance to explain his side of things. I understand that this is all new to you, but you can’t run away from him like you’re a child. He isn’t Ben, and you’re not the same girl you were when Ben cheated on you.You’re a grown woman, so act like it.”
“Jeez, Barbara, easy on the tough love. I’m a little rusty.”
“Sorry. I just really like Daniel. I, for one, don’t think he’s lying to you. I know a bullshitter when I meet one. While I think he could bullshit with the best of them, I don’t think he does when it comes to you. But you’ll never know if you don’t talk to him like grown-ups do. Be a grown-up.”
“Being a grown-up is dumb,” I whined.
“Running away is dumber.”
Barbara’s admonishment of me made me question my every action from last night. She was right though. I wasn’t the same girl who had once dated Ben. I had grown, and I shouldn’t even think about handling Daniel the same way I would have handled this sort of situation eight years ago. I needed to suck it up and give him a chance to explain.
If it turned out that he was nothing more than a lying sack of shit, then I could hang his nuts from my rearview mirror. But I wouldn’t do anything rash before knowing the facts.
Whatever the truth was needed to wait because of my busy schedule for the day, but it really couldn’t wait too long because of my pounding heart. I needed to get my head out of this crap and focus on my job, but dealing with Daniel would be the only way for me to do that. He had twisted me up since the day I met him, and I needed some clarity.
My legs shook under my desk as I reached for my phone, nervousness and anxiety screaming through me all at once. It would be one thing if Daniel were the one calling, but it was me calling him, and that very fact freaked me out. I scrolled through my contacts until I reached his name. Pressing Send, I held my breath and pressed my lips together as I waited for the call to connect.
“Elizabeth.” My name sounded so beautiful coming from his lips. “I’m so glad you called. Can you give me a second?”
“Sure,” I answered, my throat feeling instantly parched.
Daniel yelled in the background for someone to give him ten minutes, and I heard the distinct sound of a door shutting before he was back.
“I’m here,” I breathed out, wishing I had some water.
“So, about last night—” he started to explain before I cut him off.
“Me first. I’m sorry I ran away without even giving you the chance to talk to me about it. I know that was immature of me, but I was so upset, and I just honestly figured that you’d lied to me.”
His breath heaved through the phone as I waited for him to speak, yell, chastise me, or something.
“Listen to me, Elizabeth. I’m not going to pretend to be happy about the way things went down last night, but I realize that we both have our own issues when it comes to relationships.”
“You can say that again,” I said, mostly speaking for myself.
“I’m not done,” he snapped.
I immediately quieted.
“This is all new to me, too. Having a girlfriend isn’t something I’ve done in a long time. It’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do lately, but I want to—with you. You have to trust me though. I know that trust is earned, but
I’m not a liar
,” he emphasized, making his point crystal clear. “I’ve never lied to you, and I never will. You have to believe that in order for this to work.”
“You’re right. You’re so right, and I’m sorry. I just saw that picture of you and Kate, and I couldn’t breathe. The way I feel about you frightens me.”
“How do you feel about me?” he questioned, his tone lightening up.
“I like you.” I paused. “A lot.”
“I like you a lot, too,” he mimicked.
“I’m not done,” I pretend snapped. “Thinking that you were still dating someone or that you lied to me about calling off your other women was so hurtful. We’ve just started dating, but I feel things for you that I’ve never felt before. You have the power to wreck me, Daniel, completely fucking wreck me, and that absolutely terrifies me.”
“Welcome to the club.”
“Huh?” I questioned.
“You think you’re the only one risking getting hurt here?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea if you have the same feelings that I do.”
“I’m the one who’s been pursuing you. I’m the one chasing you down and making new rules because I can’t stand the thought of being without you.”
“I’m making new rules, too.” I added. Not too long ago, I’d sworn that I’d never date anyone, let alone him.
“Then, stop acting like you’re alone in this. We’re in this together.” His tone was more than reassuring.
As I listened to him, my heart swelled, the shriveling organ matter it had become last night slowly refilling again.
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
“What do you mean, anything else?”
“Do you have any other concerns?”
“Aside from you annihilating my very being?” I tried to tease, but I wasn’t kidding.
“Yes, Elizabeth, aside from that.” He huffed out a laugh.
I chewed on a pen cap, wondering if I should say the first thing that popped into my head.
“What are you afraid of? Tell me, so I can prove you wrong.”
“I’m scared of you, of losing myself in you and forgetting who I am,” I admitted, feeling weaker than I’d ever felt. It was one thing to be a strong businesswoman in an industry filled with men, but it was something entirely different when my heart was on the line, and emotions were involved.
“I’ll never let that happen, and you won’t either.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re too strong of a person to lose everything you’ve worked for, and I’ll never let you. I won’t allow you to fall or lose focus. I want you to be great. I want you to be successful.”
His words made me feel like I was floating on air. I swore, if I looked down, I’d see my desk and lamps below me and the ceiling at my fingertips.
“Is this how real relationships are supposed to work?”
“I think so. What are your thoughts so far?”
“Healthy communication, reassurance, building each other up instead of tearing each other down?” I paused. “I like it.”
“I love it. I’ll see you tonight.”
“You think I’m staying up here after our first fight? How will we have make-up sex if I’m five hundred miles away?”
“Oh my gosh. You really are presumptuous. Good-bye, Daniel.” I laughed before ending the call.
I was excited. Daniel hadn’t lied to me, he wasn’t dating anyone else, and I was getting laid tonight.
I only hoped Barbara wasn’t right about my hoo-ha being broken or out of business or any other strange thing she’d suggested was wrong with it because apparently I’d need it later.
Was I really ready to take this step with him?
I’d know for sure once I saw him later.
“James, get back in here!” I yelled, knowing he was most likely waiting right outside my door.
He burst back into my office. “What happened? I’m dying here.”
“You’re such a chick. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Yeah.” He looked straight at me before getting comfortable on my recliner. “You—all the time. So what? Tell me what happened.”
“She apologized, and we’re good,” I said with a smile.
I shrugged, not knowing what the fuck else he wanted. “What else is there? She said she was sorry for running away, I accepted, and we’ll fuck later. The end. Happy?”
“You’re flying down there again? Why don’t you just move?” He pushed back in the chair and eyeballed me.
“Twenty bucks says you’ll move for this girl before the end of the year.”
“Fifty bucks says I’ll fire you before that.”
He laughed. “I’m just saying, we’ve always talked about having an office down there.”
“No one cares about what you’re saying,” I joked. “Now, tell me you looked over that proposal.”
James straightened the recliner as he leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. “You were right. That one design issue will eventually backfire, causing frivolous lawsuits left and right. They’ll lose everything if they don’t address it before they release. What’s the status on their end?”
“They think I’m wrong.”
James slapped his leg. “So, we’re out then.” He knew damn well I’d never knowingly go through with a flawed investment. “Good luck, boys.”
“We’re out,” I agreed.
“Can I call them? Oh, please let me be the one to tell them they need to find new investors. I love that part.” He was practically foaming at the mouth.
“You’re a sick fuck, you know that? You’re the only guy I know who gets off on crushing people’s dreams.”
“That is not true.” He waved a finger at me. “I only get off on it when they deserve it. When they’re too arrogant to see reality, it gives me great pleasure to bring down the hammer.”
I smiled and nodded my head in agreement. Silently, I was thankful that James liked dealing with this aspect of the business. It made my life easier to be the decision-maker but not the one who delivered the news, especially when it wasn’t what people wanted to hear.
“What are you gonna do about Kate?”
His question surprised me, and I shot him a look.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you just going to let her continue to freak out? Or are you going to talk to her?”
“Last night I strongly suggested to Ben that he pay his little sister a visit. My concerns lie with Elizabeth, not with Kate.”
“Don’t even care.”
“This is great. Please tell me she has a hot friend for me.” He wagged his eyebrows, and I wanted to throw something at him again.
My mind instantly saw Barbara’s face. I knew how much he’d fucking love her and vice versa, but I wasn’t sure if even mentioning that would be a good idea while Elizabeth and I were still sorting ourselves out.
“She’s too busy with work. She doesn’t socialize much,” I half-lied.
She never talked about her girlfriends, but I never found it strange. If it wasn’t for James, I’d never talk or hang out with anyone either.
“You’re lying, but that’s fine. I’m just going to come down with you next time, and I’ll see for myself,” he informed me with a stupid smirk.
“Next time is in a few hours, and you’re not invited.”
“Not tonight. Next time, next time.”
“Don’t you have work to do? People’s hearts to shatter? Get to it.”
He saluted me and gave me a smug-ass grin before walking out.