Unedited and subject to change
My hands shook as I stared down at the little black velvet box clutched in my fingers. I was surprised I hadn't burned a hole in it with my gaze. My body tingled and it felt like there was a brick on my chest, making it impossible to catch my breath.
Why would Stephen think we were to this point?
Maybe this wasn’t a ring, maybe there was something different in there and I was overreacting. As I started to crack the box open, I realized it was my worst nightmare.
A beautiful four-carat diamond ring twinkled in the dim light.
Two minutes ago my life was perfect, but now everything was upside down. I clicked the lid of the little box closed and put the ring back in the desk, like it tried to bite me, slamming the drawer shut. My breaths came faster now and little black dots filled my vision. I had to get out of Stephen’s office before someone came looking for me. The only reason I came in here in the first place was to catch my breath. Fifty of our closest friends and family roamed around our house and everyone seemed to expect me to act like the perfect little girlfriend to my famous live-in boyfriend. Panic rose in my throat and I dashed from the office, promptly running into my sister in the hallway.
Of fucking course.
“Hey, there you are.”
“Oh gosh! I’m sorry, Vi.” I apologized for running into her. The questioning look on her face meant that I hadn’t gotten away with anything. She knew I was freaking out. Shit. We walked back into the throngs of people and I rambled trying to distract her. “Your dress is amazing. I love that color; red always looks great on you.”
She narrowed her eyes at me and I winced. There was no way I could let her start the inquisition now.
“Quit staring at me,” I snapped. “I’m going to go get something to drink. I swear if I come back and you’re still staring at me like I’m a lost puppy, I’m going to smack you.”
Her mouth dropped open in shock and I wanted to kick myself. I hadn’t talked to Violet that way since we were kids. But my life was imploding around me. She knew something was wrong and although she would mean well, there would be an interrogation later if I didn’t avoid her like the plague. Not my idea of a good time.
The first whiskey went down smooth as I waited for the burn that never came. Signaling for another, the bartender set it down in front of me with a raised eyebrow. Fuck her. Stephen paid her to serve drinks, not keep tabs on me. Did it really matter that I was slamming fifteen-year-old whiskey like it was tequila shots? My fingers wrapped around the cool glass and I slowly sipped on this drink. Miss judgy bartender would be happier this time.
I stepped into the bathroom as soon as Violet was out of sight and splashed cold water on my face, trying to take some deep, calming breaths. I needed to pull it together long enough to finish the rest of the party, then I could fall apart. A few more hours. I could do this.
Why did Stephen have an engagement ring? Surely, he realized we weren't ready for that step. Hell, I thought I made it clear that I didn't think I ever want to get married.
I finally calmed myself enough to go back after a few more minutes. The entire time I circulated, talking to our friends, I planned my escape. I smiled and laughed with them, putting up a front, all while deciding where I would go and what I needed to do to leave. Every time I rethought my decision, the panic rose in my chest until I remembered the ring hidden in Stephen’s desk drawer.
Smile. I had to remember to smile at people. One breath at a time.
My dress dug into my ribs and I clawed at the zipper to get it off. It was suffocating me, just like this entire evening. I jumped when Stephen placed a kiss on my shoulder and lowered it easily. Relief filled me as the silky fabric slid down and pooled around my ankles, leaving me in my strapless bra and panties.
"Are you okay, baby? You seem a little out of it."
Wrinkles formed on his forehead as he frowned at me, but he didn't press. I sighed a breath of relief. God, I really did love this man, not that I would ever be able to tell him. He deserved so much better than me. We all knew I was damaged goods. I couldn't stay in one place long enough to be someone's girlfriend, let alone wife.
"So you leave on Wednesday for filming?"
I glanced in his direction and was treated with the sight of his tanned naked chest. He wasn't overly bulky, but he had lean strong muscles that looked good on his large six-foot frame. Light stubble ran across his strong jaw-line and his signature smirk teased the corners of his lips as he caught me staring at him. The sight of him standing there in his dress pants did things to my lady parts.
"Yeah, well kind of, we start running lines on Wednesday. Filming should follow within a few weeks. Once we start that, you can come join me on set if you want."
I walked over and ran my hands through Stephen's dark brown, almost black hair. He'd had it cut this morning, so the edges tickled my fingers. I loved that he kept it longer on the top and short on the back and sides in a more modern cut. It looked sexy when he woke up with bed head in the morning. His whiskey colored eyes bore into mine and I knew he wanted to ask if I was okay again. So I distracted him. My lips met his in a desperate attempt to hold onto any control I thought I had. He groaned into my mouth and gripped my hips in his large hands. We were breathless when we broke apart.
"Baby, tell me what's going on in that head of yours."
His forehead rested on mine. I felt tears prick at my eyes. Now was my chance to ask him about the ring. My mouth opened, but I couldn't do it. What if he said that he had bought it hoping I would change my mind about getting married? It would kill me to turn Stephen down. I wanted nothing more than to not carry baggage from my past that constantly ruined my future.
"I'm just going to miss you."
His lips brushed across mine quickly as he cupped my face. "I'll be back every few days. That's the best part of this gig; I won't be gone for weeks at a time unless I absolutely have to be." I smiled weakly. He unfastened his pants and stripped down to his boxer briefs. "Let's go to bed. I'm exhausted after having all those people invading our space. It was a nice party though."
I nodded and he grabbed my hand. I didn't fight as he curled me into his side. My head rested on his chest and I was lulled to sleep by the comforting sound of his heartbeat. The last thought I had before falling asleep was that he deserved so much more than what I could give him.