“Ugh,” Pace says. “Get a room.”

The others laugh. Then he thinks better of it. “Never mind. We’d never see you again. Stay, but let’s keep things PG.” He squeezes into the loveseat next to Max and Kylie, throwing his arm around Max as if to emphasize why we are keeping things PG.

Collins says, “Right, Gremlins.” He pulls out the remote and locates the movie easily on one of his satellite services.

“You’ve seen this, right?” he asks me.

I shake my head.

“You mean all this time you just let me call you gremlin, and you weren’t even curious?”

“I knew from the shirt it’s a cute little fuzzy creature.”

Collins shakes his head incredulously and sets the movie to play. He dims the lights, and I settle in next to him. The others all settle in too. I look around me, feeling warmed by their company. I know that we haven’t talked seriously about our future, but still, being here with him, and with his family, everything just feels right. I wonder, and hope that gatherings like this one might become a tradition. I’d love to be able to look forward to family day on the boat each Sunday.

I realize that when I showed up here several weeks ago I was ashamed and embarrassed by my situation and am happy to find that is no longer the case. Now I know I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. I feel wanted. And I love it.

Collins leans down and whispers that we should stay the night on the boat and I gaze up at him, my heart filled to bursting.

Chapter Twenty-One

Collins

I power down my laptop, and gather up my belongings from my desk. It’s Friday, time to start the weekend, and can’t wait to spend it with Mia. Dating Mia Monroe is an experience I was wholly unprepared for. She’s fun and carefree and easy going. Nothing like the Botoxed, uptight women I’ve been with since moving to LA.

Mia and I have been casually dating for the past two weeks. We’ve been to the ballet, made a trip to a world-renowned winery, and attended a designer’s first showing of a jewelry collection—during which, Mia actually yawned. It’s time to change up my game. This is Mia. My Mia. And tonight I’ve got something perfect planned. At least I hope I do.

Smiling to myself as I stroll toward the elevator, I say goodbye to a few dedicated employees who are still here after five o’clock on a Friday. There was an office-poll about my recent transformation. Apparently I look more rested, smile more often, and just seem happier. Shit, one brave soul even asked if I’d had work done, implying I’d gotten plastic surgery. They thought I was unaware of the whispering and quiet conversations had behind cubicle walls. But I wasn’t. In fact I was as curious about this transformation as they were. At first, they assumed my twenty-three-year-old supermodel girlfriend was responsible for the smile on my face. But then they’d seen Mia bring me lunch one day—a steak sandwich from my favorite deli—and realized I was no longer dating Tatianna. I didn’t say a word. I actually thought the whole thing was quite humorous. Besides, it was none of their damn business. I felt happy and ten years younger, and it wasn’t just the fantastic sex I was having. It was because Mia brought out the best in me. I grin as I pass by a particularly chatty administrative assistant. Raising one eyebrow, her gaze darts away from mine and she begins frantically typing on her keyboard. I have a feeling if I look closer, it’ll all be gibberish. “Good night, Miss Corrigan,” I say.

“Good night, sir,” she squeaks.

Chuckling to myself, I punch the button for the elevator that will take me to the underground parking garage. Picturing how the night’s events will go, I can’t help the satisfied grin that uncurls on my mouth. Mia is going to be beside herself when she sees what I have planned.

It’s also the night I’m going to tell her that I want her to officially move in with me—not just crash in a guest room with her things tucked away in a suitcase that she could tow away at a moment’s notice, but to move into my bedroom with me. Share my home with me. I’m excited as shit, and I know if I admitted any of this to my brothers, they’d accuse me of growing a vagina. But things beneath my trousers have never been better. In fact, I felt like a teenager again, growing hard at the mere thought of Mia—often at inopportune times, like in a staff meeting. I pull out my cell and text her.

I have something fun planned tonight. Dress casual.

She replies just as I’m settling into my car.

I can’t wait to see you. I’m leaving work now.

She’s begun working at a big law firm downtown in their accounting department, and she says she loves it. As long as she’s happy. Mia has taught me so much, most of which is that life is too damn short to spend it being unhappy.

After she fell asleep in my bed last night, I grabbed The Gremlin Files and sat with her old scrapbook in my lap, pouring through every photograph, and every doodled word. The pages were crinkled and worn and her soft, feminine scent clung to them. There was a picture of me and Mia, from years ago. She was missing her two front teeth, but smiling as big as she could at the camera. I was looking at her. The look on my face was pure joy. I stared at that picture for the longest time. I felt like that boy again, like I’d recaptured some special piece of my youth. A memory I hadn’t thought of in many years drifted into my head. It was my ninth birthday party, and after my mother sliced my birthday cake, I passed the biggest slice to Mia. My mother leaned over and kissed my cheek, and said, “you’re going to marry that girl someday.” Emotion like I hadn’t felt in years crawled up my throat, lodging a hard lump there. I’d closed the book and wandered back to bed with Mia, curling my body around hers, with a feeling I couldn’t describe for the life of me. Raw emotions over losing my mother were fresh in my mind as were my growing feelings for the woman in my arms. I awoke with a greater sense of purpose and clarity than I’d ever felt.

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