“Uh …” That tripped me up. “I think I just say, ‘Oh, God!’ ”


Throwing his head back, he laughed.


“How are you holding up with juggling two relationships?” I asked.


“I’m good.” He shoved one hand in his pocket and rocked back on his heels. “I think Tat and Trey are as close to monogamy as I’ve ever been. It’s working out for me so far.”


I found the whole arrangement fascinating. “Ever worry about shouting out the wrong name when you’re coming?”


His green eyes sparkled. “Nope. I just call ’em all baby.”


“Cary.” I shook my head. He was incorrigible. “Are you going to introduce Tatiana to Trey?”


He shrugged. “I don’t think that’s the best idea.”


“No?”


“Tatiana’s a bitch on a good day, and Trey’s just a nice guy. Not a great combo, in my book.”


“You once told me you didn’t like Tatiana very much. Has that changed?”


“She is who she is,” he said dismissively. “I can live with it.”


I stared at him.


“She needs me, Eva,” he said quietly. “Trey wants me, and I think he loves me, but he doesn’t need me.”


That I understood. It was nice to be needed sometimes. “Gotcha.”


“Who says there’s only one person in the world who can give us everything?” He snorted. “I’m not sure I’m buying that. Look at you and your no-name guy.”


“Maybe a mix-and-match situation can work for people who don’t get jealous. It wouldn’t work for me.”


“Yeah.” He held out his mug and I tapped it with my own.


“So Cristal and … ?”


“Hmm …” His lips pursed. “Tapas?”


I blinked. “You want to take my dad out?”


“Bad idea?”


“It’s a great idea, if we can get him to go along with it.” I smiled. “You rock, Cary.”


He winked at me and I felt a little more settled.


Everything in my life seemed to be shaken up, most especially my relationships with the people I loved most. That was hard for me to deal with, because I relied on them to keep me on an even keel. But maybe when everything settled down, I’d be a bit stronger. Able to stand a bit straighter on my own.


It would be worth all the turmoil and pain if so.


“Want me to fix your hair?” Cary asked.


I nodded. “Please.”


WHEN I got to work, I was disappointed to find a very unhappy Megumi. She gave me a lethargic wave as she buzzed me in, then dropped back into her chair.


“Girl, you need to kick Michael to the curb,” I said. “This is not working out for you.”


“I know.” She brushed back the long bangs of her asymmetrical bob. “I’m going to break it off the next time I see him. I haven’t heard from him since Friday, and I’m driving myself crazy wondering if he picked up anyone while doing his bachelor barhopping thing.”


“Eww.”


“I know, right? It’s just not cool worrying about if the guy you’re sleeping with is shagging someone else.”


I couldn’t help but be reminded of my earlier conversation with Cary. “Me and Ben and Jerry’s are only a phone call away. Holler if you need us.”


“Is that your secret?” She gave a short laugh. “What flavor got you over Gideon Cross?”


“I’m not over him,” I admitted.


She nodded sagely. “I knew that. But you had fun on Saturday, right? And he’s an idiot, by the way. One day, he’s going to figure that out and coming crawling back.”


“He called my mom over the weekend,” I said, leaning over the desk and lowering my voice. “Asking about me.”


“Whoa.” Megumi leaned forward, too. “What did he say?”


“I don’t know the details.”


“Would you get back together with him?”


I shrugged. “I can’t say. Depends on how well he grovels.”


“Totally.” She high-fived me. “Your hair looks great, by the way.”


I thanked her and headed to my cubicle, mentally preparing my request to take off from work if my dad called. I’d barely turned the corner at the end of the hall when Mark bounded out of his office with a huge grin.


“Oh my God.” I stopped midstep. “You look insanely happy. Let me guess. You’re engaged!”


“I am!”


“Yay!” I dropped my purse and bag on the floor and clapped. “I’m so excited for you! Congratulations.”


Bending down, he picked up my stuff. “Come into my office.”


He gestured me in ahead of him, then closed the glass door behind us.


“Was it tough?” I asked him, taking a seat in front of his desk.


“Toughest thing I’ve ever done.” Mark handed me my bags. Sinking into his chair, he rocked back and forth. “And Steven let me stew over it. Can you believe that? He knew all along I was going to propose. Said he could tell by how I freaked out I was.”


I grinned. “He knows you well.”


“And he waited a minute or two before he answered me. And let me tell you, it seemed like hours.”


“I bet. So was all of his anti-marriage talk a front?”


He nodded, still grinning. “His pride took a hit when I put him off before, so he wanted a little payback. Said he’d always known I’d come around eventually. Wanted to make me work for it when I finally did.”


It sounded like Steven, who was playful and gregarious. “So where did you pop the question?”


He laughed. “I couldn’t do it somewhere with atmosphere, right? Like the candlelit restaurant or the nice dark bar after the show. No, I had to wait until the limo dropped us off at home at the end of the night and we were standing outside our brownstone and I knew I was going to lose my chance. So I just blurted it out right there on the street.”


“I think that’s really romantic.”


“I think you’re a romantic,” he shot back.


“Who cares about wine and roses? Anyone can do that. Showing somebody you can’t live without them? That’s romance.”


“As usual, you make a good point.”


I blew on my nails and buffed them on my shirt. “What can I say?”


“I’ll let Steven give you all the details at lunch on Wednesday. He’s told the story so many times already, he’s got the delivery down pat.”


“I can’t wait to see him.” As excited as Mark was, I was sure Steven was bouncing off the walls. The big, muscled contractor had a personality as vibrant as his bright red hair. “I’m so thrilled for you both.”


“He’s going to rope you into helping Shawna with the planning, you know that, right?” He sat up and set his elbows on the table. “Besides his sister, he’s recruiting every woman we know. I’m sure the whole thing will be over-the-top craziness all the way.”


“Sounds fun!”


“You say that now,” he warned, his dark eyes laughing. “Let’s grab some coffee and get this week started, shall we?”


I stood. “Um, I hate to ask this, but my dad is making an emergency trip into the city this week. I’m not sure when he’ll be coming in. It could be today. I’ll need to pick him up and get him settled when he arrives.”


“Do you need to take some time off?”


“Just to get him situated in my apartment. A few hours at most.”


Mark nodded. “You said ‘emergency trip.’ Is everything all right?”


“It will be.”


“Okay. I don’t have a problem with you taking time when you need it.”


“Thank you.”


As I dropped my stuff off at my desk, I thought—for the millionth time—how much I loved my job and my boss. I understood how much Gideon wanted to keep me close and I appreciated the vision of us building something together, but my work nurtured me as an individual. I didn’t want to give that up, and I didn’t want to end up resenting him if he kept pushing me to do so. I’d have to come up with an argument Gideon would accept.


I started working on it as Mark and I headed to the break room.


ALTHOUGH Megumi hadn’t yet kissed Michael good-bye, I took her out to lunch at a nearby deli with delicious wraps and a decent selection of Ben & Jerry cups. I chose Chunky Monkey, she went with Cherry Garcia, and we both enjoyed the cool treat in the middle of the hot day.


We sat at a small metal table in the back, the remnants of our lunch on a tray between us. The deli wasn’t as crazed during the noon hour as some of the other restaurants and full-service eateries in the area were, which suited us both fine. We could hold a conversation without raising our voices.


“Mark’s floating,” she said, licking her spoon. She wore a lime green dress that went really well with her dark hair and pale skin. Megumi always dressed in bold colors and styles. I envied her ability to pull them off so well.


“I know.” I smiled. “It’s so cool to see someone that happy.”


“Guilt-free happiness. Unlike this ice cream.”


“What’s a little guilt every now and then?”


“A fat ass?”


I groaned. “Thanks for the reminder that I have to hit the gym today. I haven’t worked out in days.”


Unless one counted mattress gymnastics …


“How do you stay motivated?” she asked me. “I know I should go, but I can always find an excuse not to.”


“And you keep that amazing figure anyway?” I shook my head. “You make me sick.”


Her lips quirked. “Where do you work out?”


“I alternate between a regular gym and a Krav Maga studio in Brooklyn.”


“Do you go after work or before?”


“After. I am not a morning person,” I said. “Sleep is my friend.”

***

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