Authors: Lisa Watson
he evening was a resounding success. Justin and Sabrina showed up, as did Tiffany, and most of Adrian’s staff. His newest client arrived with her husband and a business associate, as did several other couples. Since the gathering was last-minute, Adrian had decided on a cocktail party. The caterer prepared delectable hors d’oeuvres along with a table filled with mini-desserts. There was a bar set up, as well.
Introductions were made, and everyone broke off into smaller groups to converse. Milán was speaking with Tiffany, Sabrina and Justin when her date arrived.
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” she told them hurrying to meet him.
“Hi. Glad you could make it,” she said when he came in.
“Me, too.” He gave her a light hug and followed her into the party.
When she arrived at Adrian’s side, she reached up to touch him on his shoulder. He turned around.
“Adrian, I’d like you to meet Stephan.”
“Hey, how are you?” He shook the man’s hand. “I’m glad you could make it.”
Adrian introduced Aria to both of them.
“A pleasure meeting you,” Aria told Milán. When she turned to Stephan, she stared at him. “You look familiar to me. Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so, and believe me I would’ve definitely noticed.”
Aria blushed as she laughed up at him. Milán glanced over at her date in surprise, but refrained from comment. The four of them parried a few topics until they were interrupted by Adrian’s new client. Milán watched as he was pulled away to discuss business. She made an attempt to interject herself back into Aria and Stephan’s conversation, but it was pointless. They were discussing the merits of almond milk over soy which was definitely not her forte. After a few seconds of trying to seem interested in health food, she excused herself and left.
She walked straight to the dessert table. Grabbing a plate, Milán piled a few sinful-looking delights onto her dish. When she bit into the first miniature cheesecake, Milán couldn’t keep the look of euphoria off her face.
“If that’s what you look like with food, I’d hate to see you with a man.”
Milán opened her eyes to find Sabrina observing her.
“They say that some people use food as a substitute for sex.” Tiffany chimed in when she reached Milán’s side.
“I’m here to tell you both that I’ve joined those ranks,” Milán confided sliding another spoonful into her mouth.
“Trust me, don’t even think about it. All that depressing thoughts will do is cause you to add five pounds to your thighs, and no matter what people say, eating fat-free cheesecake is sacrilege. Honestly, if God would’ve wanted sweets to be healthy for you, would He have made them so sinfully delicious? I think not,” Sabrina observed.
Milán eyed a miniature torte like it had a hundred dollar bill strapped to it. “You are seriously asking the wrong person right about now.”
Tiffany popped a dessert into her mouth. “Honey, my fantasy is being immersed in warm liquid chocolate up to my neck and—”
“Ooh, those look delicious,” Aria replied walking up to the table.
“They are. You should try a few.” Milán reached over and grabbed a plate. She held it out to Aria.
“Oh, goodness no. I don’t eat sugar. It’s bad for your body. I love to look, and smell them, but this is my temple, you know? I’ve got to take care of it. Besides, I try to eat only organic foods if I can.”
Milán. Tiffany and Sabrina exchanged glances. Milán was about to lower the plate on the table when Sabrina snatched it out of her hand.
“I’ll take that.” She started piling desserts onto it. Picking one up, Sabrina bit into it and beamed with pleasure. “Have mercy,” she breathed.
“I see what you mean, Milán. Sheer decadence,” Tiffany said loudly.
“Which reminds me,” Aria interjected. “I’m planning my own little special evening with Adrian this weekend. I’m going to make a sumptuous meal for him. There’s this recipe I’ve been dying to try out. Tofu with scallops sautéed in garlic and roasted seaweed—”
“You’ll have to go to plan B,” Milán interrupted. “Adrian doesn’t like tofu, seaweed or scallops.”
Aria frowned. “Oh, I see. There’s always another one of my favorites, seared Ahi tuna with edamame.” She smiled. “That’s soybeans.”
“Yes, I know.” Milán returned the smile. “Unfortunately, Adrian doesn’t care for those, either.”
Tiffany and Sabrina exchanged amused glances.
Aria raised an eyebrow. “Oh. When he told me he was an avid health enthusiast, I just assumed that included diet.”
“Not that I’m aware of, but then you’d have to speak with him about that.”
“No problem.” Aria glanced around. “So, is there any lighter fare here?”
“Uh, I don’t think so,” Milán replied. “This was thrown together last-minute and I don’t think Adrian asked for any food alternatives.”
Aria nodded and walked off without another word. All three women watched her stride up to Adrian and wrap her arm around his.
“Now that was interesting,” Sabrina commented. “She looked none too happy.”
Milán agreed. “I’m sure they’ll work it out.”
Tiffany shook her head. “Why did she think Adrian was a health nut?”
“Who knows? The lightest thing I’ve ever seen him eat was salad, and that was loaded with chicken.” Milán lowered her plate onto the table, but not before having one more treat. “Now let’s go mingle.”
* * *
Adrian was in the kitchen looking for another wine bottle opener when Aria came in. She came to his side. “There you are.”
“Hey. Sorry I disappeared. The bartender needed another bottle opener.”
“It’s fine,” she told him.
“So, are you enjoying yourself?” he asked.
Adrian stopped and glanced down at her. “I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the problem?”
“Well, there’s really nothing here that I can eat. You invited me to a party. I just assumed you’d have something by way of organic food here.”
“Oh. I didn’t know you had a special diet.”
Aria stared at him. “Of course I have a special diet. I told you the first day we met, remember? You were eating a bag of chips at the gym, and I told you how bad they are for you. I must admit I was surprised to see you eating them considering how much of a health nut you are.”
“Who told you that?” he scoffed. “Aria, I work out, but I’m not a fanatic about it.”
She tensed. “I’m not a fanatic, either. I’m just very selective in what I put into my body. I assumed you were, too.”
“Not really, no. Granted I don’t smoke or anything, but—”
“You really shouldn’t drink alcohol, either,” she continued.
“Yeah, well that’s not happening,” he said and then laughed heartily.
Adrian stopped when he noticed her rigid expression. “Oh, you were serious?” He sat the opener down. “Look, Aria. Let me make it up to you,” he said rubbing his hand on her shoulder. “How about we go out for a late dinner after the party?”
She shook her head. “It’ll be way too late for me to eat. I’ve got a class in the morning, as well. I don’t stay out late because it’s important that I rest and stay hydrated.”
“I see.” He lowered his arm.
“I think it best if I left. To be honest, I really don’t see how this is going to work out anyway.”
Adrian was incredulous. “Just because I didn’t have bean sprouts on the menu?”
“It’s more than that,” she said seriously. “You and I aren’t really on the same page. I can’t be with a man that doesn’t view taking care of his body as seriously as I do.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Aria. Would you like me to see you home?”
She stared at him a moment before she replied, “No thanks. I’ve got it. I hope you have a great evening, too.”
* * *
Sometime later, Milán was talking to Sabrina, Justin and Stephan when Adrian came up behind them.
“There you are.” He placed a hand at the small of her back. “I need you,” he told Milán. “Our client has a few questions for you.”
“Oh, sure. I’ll be back shortly, guys.” She hurried across the room.
“Seems like a pretty demanding client,” Stephan observed.
“She is,” Adrian conceded. “But that goes along with the territory.”
“So, how long is this thing going to last? I’ve made plans to take Milán to a comedy show.”
“Really? Who?” Sabrina asked.
When Stephan mentioned the name, Adrian shook his head. “That won’t work, my man. Milán doesn’t like him.”
“Really? He’s gotten great reviews.”
“I know, but he’s not her cup of tea.”
“Hmm.” Stephan was thoughtful. “I guess we can go see a movie. There’s this new one I’ve been dying to see.”
He told them the name, but this time Justin spoke up. “Actually, the four of us went to see that last week. It was great, by the way.”
“Great,” Stephan said sarcastically. “This evening is turning out to be one terrific date night.”
“We’re almost wrapped up here, and then Milán will be free the rest of the evening,” Adrian assured him.
“Gee, thanks, that’s awfully nice of you seeing that you’re her boss and all.”
“Not at all,” Adrian replied, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He scanned the room. His eyes came in contact with Milán. When she glanced up, their eyes locked. She smiled at him and pointed to her watch. Adrian nodded. When he turned his attention back to his group, he saw Stephan’s wary expression. “I’m sorry this has run longer than you anticipated.”
“This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind tonight,” Stephan said in a tight voice.
Sabrina placed a hand on Adrian’s arm. “You know, if Milán is going to get out of here any time soon, I think you should go help her out.”
Adrian nodded. “I think you’re right.” His eyes met Stephan’s again before he strode to the opposite side of the room.
heir new client was holding court next to the fireplace in Adrian’s living room. The deep tan walls, glossy white mantel with the black slate enclosure were the perfect backdrop for his client’s cosmopolitan beauty.
Adrian stopped at Milán’s side. “How’s it going?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“Just great,” she whispered back.
As Milán listened to the woman talk, she wondered if anyone else noticed how many times the woman said “me.” From the enthralled look of her husband and business associate, and several of the other clients, Milán was guessing not. She studied Adrian as he interacted with the diva. He was at ease and never broke eye contact with her. He commented occasionally, but remained silent most of the time allowing her to do the bulk of the talking. It was almost like watching him size up the cougar that night at the restaurant.
Caught up, she studied his every move. When Adrian spoke, all eyes were on him. There was no denying the powerful presence he had. It wasn’t something you could ignore. Thinking about his previous dating disasters, she almost felt sorry for the women if he had turned the magnetism up full blast. “They’d never stand a chance.”
Suddenly, everyone turned to her.
“Who?” their new client asked with interest.
With horror, Milán realized she had spoken aloud. Her gaze flew to Adrian. She thought he’d be angry to catch her not paying attention. To her astonishment, he was looking at her with amusement in his eyes.
Now that was unexpected,
she mused. Milán slapped a relaxed expression on her face and went with the first thing that popped into her head.
“My apologies, I was thinking about the special order I placed earlier this afternoon. One of my clients was insistent on getting a one-of-a-kind travertine chaise for her pool deck. Imagine it as an outdoor work of art that you could actually lounge on. She was convinced it would be a conversation piece with her friends.”
The woman’s eyes perked up. “Really? I’d think you’d be able to find them all over town,” she said dismissively.
“Oh, not at all,” Milán countered smoothly. “My designer lives on the West Coast. He flies out to fashion these furniture pieces around the owner’s natural environment. He doesn’t believe in working by pictures. He wants to see the outdoor space. It’s all organic. To feel its essence—to be inspired by it.”
There was an eager buzz among the people gathered around. The diva’s eyes glazed over. Milán could almost see her mind racing ahead to the finished product. She exchanged glances with her husband. “Tell me, do you think he would design a piece for us?”
Milán refrained from answering right away. She tapped her index finger on her lower lip as if she were actually pondering the woman’s request. “Well, there’s no harm in asking, is there? I’d be happy to contact him...to check his availability.”
“Fabulous.” Acting as if it was a done deal, the woman slid her arm thru Adrian’s and announced that they were leaving, but would expect a call from Milán when she’d commissioned their new artist.
Adrian glanced at Milán. They shared a private smile before he escorted his guests to the door. By the time he extricated himself, the rest of the party had moved out to the courtyard.
When he reached Justin and Sabrina, Adrian sat down next to them on a cushioned bench. He was all smiles as he relayed their good fortune to his friends.
“That’s great,” Sabrina enthused. “Congratulations.”
“I owe it all to Milán,” Adrian boasted when she came up to them. “She knocked it out of the park.”
Milán’s face reddened at his praise. Just then Tiffany came up behind her followed by Stephan.
“There you are.”
“I’m just about ready to go.” She smiled. “Sorry this took longer than expected. It went great with one of our clients, though.”
“Will you excuse us?” Stephan said, guiding Milán to the other side of the room.
When they were alone, his smile faded. “You know this isn’t exactly the date I signed up for.”
His curt tone caused her to look up at him. “I’m sure it’s not.”
“So what’s the deal between you and your boss?”
“Do you always play hostess at his parties? That seems kind of strange, don’t you think?”
Anger caused her eyes to brighten. “To whom?”
“Oh, come on. What man wants his lady to cater to another man?”
Milán gaped at him as though he’d lost his mind.
“First of all, Adrian is a friend and my colleague.” she stressed. “Secondly, when did we decide that I’m your lady?”
“I guess we didn’t. Kind of hard now, don’t you think?”
“Quite frankly, Stephan, I don’t care for your insinuations.”
“I don’t trust your boss,” he sneered. “I guarantee that man has a hidden agenda where you’re concerned. Call it a hunch.”
“Well, I guess since you’re a
you would know,” she said mockingly.
Stephan set his drink down hard on the counter. “I’m leaving now. Are you coming?”
Milán regarded him from head to toe. “No, I’m not. Enjoy your evening, Stephan.”
He glared a moment before stalking off.
Milán watched him leave. She struggled to get her composure under control before she rejoined the others.
She ran into Sabrina first. She tried to look as cheerful as she could manage.
Sabrina frowned. “What’s the matter?”
So much for composure.
She groaned. “Nothing, just a difference of opinion.”
When Milán nodded, Sabrina guided her off to a more secluded section of the yard. “You want to talk about it? You look upset.”
“Who’s upset?” Justin asked coming up behind them.
“Shh,” Sabrina told her husband. “I’m trying to find out what Stephan did.”
“What did he do?” Tiffany said loudly as she joined the crowd.
By the time Adrian joined the group moments later, the mood was tense.
He turned to Milán. His eyes were penetrating. “Are you okay?”
She nodded. “I’m fine. I...handled it.” She gave him a summary of her conversation with Stephan.
“What a rude bastard.” Adrian’s tone was glacial. “Lucky he left before I found out.”
“If I’d known it would be such an issue, I wouldn’t have asked him to come.” Milán tried to keep the hurt out of her voice, but failed miserably.
“Don’t you dare apologize for him,” Adrian practically roared with anger. “His behavior was inexcusable.”
“I’m not,” Milán argued, her temper rising, as well. “I didn’t appreciate him implying that something was going on between us just because I was here helping you.”
“The guy’s a jerk and good riddance,” Tiffany huffed before turning to Milán. “Too bad he turned out to be such a jackass.”
Trying to smile, Milán shrugged. “I’ll live.”
“Better to find out now before it got too serious,” Sabrina reasoned.
Milán nodded. “That’s true.”
The Langleys said their goodbyes a short time later and showed themselves out. As if on cue, the remaining crowd filed out behind them followed by Tiffany.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” she asked Milán.
“Of course. I’m going to help Adrian tidy up and then head home. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The two exchanged hugs before Tiffany left.
When they were alone, Adrian’s arm went around Milán. He turned her to face him. “Hey, why don’t you call it a night? The caterers did a great job of leaving everything tidy. I can tackle the rest by myself.”
“Where’s Aria?” she asked looking toward the house.
His expression changed. “Home getting her beauty sleep, I guess.”
“Oh. Does she want a date do-over, too?”
“Doubt it. My body isn’t enough of a temple for her so I doubt I’ll be seeing her again.” He shrugged. “Another one bites the dust,” he joked.
They left the courtyard, headed up the brick stairs and into the house.
Milán watched him return furniture to the original locations. She moved to assist him.
“You don’t have to help, I’m good.”
“I know,” she said kicking off her heels. “But I’m doing it anyway.”
He shook his head. “Stubborn, aren’t you?”
“Like you’re just finding that out?” she laughed and grabbed the other side of his couch.
When the house was set right again they took a break. Grabbing some wine and snacks from the kitchen, Adrian poured them both a glass and then reclined on the sofa with his legs stretched out in front of him. “Well, that went well.”
Milán sat sideways facing him. She swirled the dark red liquid in circles before she sipped it. “The cocktail party or our respective dates hightailing it outta here?”
“Take your pick.”
“I think the business went well.”
“It went more than well,” Adrian corrected. “You were amazing, Milán. Just want we needed and the chaise longue thing? Brilliant.” He raised his glass and toasted her.
“I think that’s your fifth toast tonight,” she laughed.
“Yeah? Who’s counting?”
She brightened at his praise. “So what about the personal?”
His lips curled in distaste. “Hmm. Not so much.”
Milán made a face. “You’re right. That part of the evening was a bona fide disaster.” With a sigh, she leaned her head back against the cushion. “What’s wrong with us?”
Adrian grunted. “Can we help it if we don’t like tofu?”
She burst out laughing. “Come on, clearly something is missing. How else would you explain it?” she reasoned. Standing, Milán started to pace. Her expression turned serious. “Maybe there’s just something about the two of us that’s...lacking.”
“There is nothing lacking about me,” Adrian snorted. “Or you. You’ve got some great qualities, Milán. You’re funny, smart, gorgeous and real.”
She stopped pacing. Her mouth dropped open. “You think I’m gorgeous?”
“Oh, please.” He took a sip of his wine. “You know I do.”
She pondered his words. “How would I know?”
“I told you, remember? The day we met.”
“Oh, that,” she dismissed. “That doesn’t count. You were livid at Jeanie. You would have said the bearded lady at the circus was gorgeous just to prove a point.”
He shook his head. “That’s not true. My standards are extremely high. Hence me still being single, and my mother threatening to rent grandchildren.”
Milán gasped. “She didn’t.”
“Oh, yeah,” he told her. “And I distinctly recall telling you how beautiful you were. I didn’t say that just because I was angry at my mother, Milán. I said it because it’s true.”
Her smile could have illuminated the room on its own. “You’re wonderful, do you know that?”
He laughed. “Now that’s definitely the wine talking.”
“It isn’t.” She flopped down beside him. “Honestly, Adrian, I don’t know how you date the women you do. You say your standards are high, but I beg to differ. None of them have substance, they’re only concerned with the here and now, and they have no aspirations.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that may be all I want?”
She shook her head. “It’s not. You tell yourself that, but it’s not true. I can see it in your eyes. It’s merely camouflage. I’ve always thought you could do better, Adrian.”
The smile disappeared. His eyes turned somber. “Of that I have no doubt, but then so could you.”
“Yes, you. Since I’ve known you, you’ve had a steady stream of suitors, as well. Yet none of them has lasted past the third date. The question is why.”