She claps with them, her yellow-green eyes narrowed with passion and fire. I approach her, and without a word, I hold my wife’s hand and lead her down the aisle of businessmen and women. A few people pat my shoulder on the way out.
“Diamonds,” she says with the shake of her head. I’ve been keeping this secret from her for months now. A smile lights up her face. “I’d say it’s genius, but I’m afraid of inflating your ego. It’s already hard living with Loren’s and yours together.”
I grin and lower my head to whisper in her ear, “Ladies and gentlemen, she called me a genius, and she didn’t even glare when she said it.”
She shoots me one now.
I kiss her temple and stand up straight, pushing through the double doors into the quiet hallway. Several people in suits and nametags walk around with purpose, leather binders to their chests, paying attention to us only when they recognize our faces.
I hold her by the waist and lift her hand, pointing out the large diamond on her finger, stones encased all around the band. “This was one of the first designs,” I say.
“I have a Cobalt original?”
She appraises the ring on her finger, her lips rising again. “When someone asks me who I’m wearing, I’m going to say me and my husband.”
The strangeness of that appeals to me just as much as it does to her. I lift her chin so her eyes meet mine, her lipstick dark red, bolding her features. “How much time do I have left with you?” I ask her.
“All day,” she says. “I cleared my schedule.”
I frown. “You cleared your schedule?” I almost laugh. “I saw your to-do list this morning. It was five pages long.”
“I’m trying something new,” she says, touching my chest with her hands and smoothing my suit.
“And what’s that?”
“Delegation,” she says. “I have a store manager. She’s taking care of the inventory and the mindless tasks.” Rose opened a boutique with her clothes in Philadelphia, no longer under the command of a department store. She could have accepted a couple offers from them. Many people were asking for a lingerie line from Rose, the demand increasing.
She’s been designing one, but not for H&M or Saks. It’ll all go in her new store. And even though she’s given up millions of dollars in return for being a small business owner, she’s happy. I can see it in her eyes. The pressure of success and fear of failure is finally gone.
“But we do have dinner plans,” she says.
“We do?” My brows rise.
“Loren and Lily are meeting us at a restaurant a few blocks over.” Rose tucks her hair behind her ear. “I think Lily is doing better.” She nods to herself.
After the sex tapes, Rose’s name wasn’t tarnished the way Lily’s was. Women praised her for her openness and many wanted to ask her questions.
Rose looks physically ill when we talk about the differences between this case and the sex addiction leak. Even now, her eyes tighten as she stares off in recollection of the past few months. Lily was quiet towards Rose for a while.
“It’s not fair,” I heard Lily cry to Loren one day.
It’s not really fair.
Rose hates that Lily was beaten down, especially since her sister was the one with the illness. But Rose had sex with her long-term boyfriend. Lily was with many different partners before Loren. Rose was the virgin. Lily was the slut. In the eyes of the world, one is right, one is wrong.
And changing the world—if that’s in anyone’s power—time has to be on your side. One of the few things I can’t control.
Rose’s eyes catch a newspaper on a nearby bench. I follow her gaze to see the headline New Connor and Rose Cobalt Sex Tape Sold for $35 Million. Scott just sold the rights to the footage of us in the bathroom. The one where Rose gives me head. It’s a reminder that he’s profiting off us even months after the reality show ended. We dropped the lawsuit about a month ago. The time and stress to battle him in court wasn’t worth what we have now.
We surrendered. And Scott Van Wright won.
But he didn’t win what matters.
Though, I do take solace in the fact that he doesn’t have footage of us in the Alps, the night Rose lost her virginity, the night we slept together for the very first time. He can sell as many sex tapes as he wants, but that moment is ours, and only ours, forever.
When I reroute my attention from the newspaper and back to Rose, I realize she’s already left the headline in the past. She’s studying me with an entranced, wistful gaze.
“What is it?” I ask. My heart lightens and soars as I keep watching her look at me this way.
She shakes her head with a smile, and tears crest her eyes as she says, “I love you more than anyone.”
My mouth falls a little. I never thought I’d reach that place in her heart, above her sisters. It seemed unfathomable, for however much I wanted it to be true.
When the shock passes, I smile deeply and grip the back of her head, my fingers sliding through her silky hair. “I love you more than I could ever love myself,” I whisper the words and lift Rose’s chin again, raising her gaze to mine, not to say anything else. I just smile as I watch her eyes churn with a familiar, unbridled emotion.
I love knowing I’ll fall asleep and wake up to those impassioned eyes. I love that the most terrifying what if—the one without her—is the path that won’t ever come true. My new dreams are in the faraway future, filled with children. And love.