“I just thought, since I work for you, maybe you wouldn’t want—”
“Technically, you don’t work for me. You work for Maryanne. Also, I’m not paying you, and getting a salary is pretty much the defining characteristic of having a job, so again, technically you don’t work for me. And finally, your internship is only for the summer. You’ll be back at school in September and it’s not like any of this will matter anyway.”
“I know, I know. I just don’t want to cause problems for you with anyone in the company. I mean, I don’t want you to feel like you have to—”
“Chloe, you aren’t my dirty little secret. I care about you, I’m proud to be dating you, and I’m not going to hide that. Frost Industries doesn’t have a policy about employee dating, only one about harassment. As long as you don’t feel like you’re being harassed—”
“No! Of course not!”
“Good. And I don’t feel like I’m being harassed—”
“Glad to hear that,” I tell him with an exasperated shake of my head.
“So there’s no problem. Okay?”
“Yeah. Okay.” Except I saw the look on Rick’s face when we passed by and he wasn’t happy. Neither were the other interns. Not that that’s any different from how it’s been since my second day here, but still. It makes me uncomfortable to know they’re all talking about me, and not in a good way. I have to get over that, and I will. But it’s going to take time.
Ethan takes me to a Spanish tapas restaurant for lunch, and he’s such charming company that I forget about everything but being with him. He’s smart and funny and a great listener who—despite running the company—still seems really interested in the minutiae of my day.
He wants to take me to dinner, too, followed by home to his bed, but it’s Tuesday. Girls’ night for Tori and me. And while she missed it last week, I feel like it sets a bad relationship precedent for me to blow my friend off for my boyfriend.
It doesn’t seem to bother Ethan, though he does ask to take me to breakfast in the morning, before he leaves on his business trip. The fact that he’s going to be gone five days almost makes me reconsider my plans with Tori, but I decide to hold firm. Though I do invite him over for some late-night cuddling…and whatever else we happen to get up to.
He accepts with a wicked grin that tells me exactly what he plans to get up to. And into. I can’t wait.
* * *
Wednesday morning I watch Ethan drive away in the limo he called to take him to the airport, and a feeling of anxiety crashes into me. Which is stupid, I know. He’s an international businessman, CEO of one of the most exciting companies in the country. Of course he’s going to travel. Of course he’s going to have to go on business trips. There’s no reason to get upset just because I’m going to miss him.
And yet it feels like more than that. A sense of foreboding is settling over me, making me freeze up deep inside. Even as it’s happening I tell myself that I’m being ridiculous. That we don’t actually have to be in each other’s pockets all the time. That it wouldn’t be healthy if we were.
Determined to shake whatever this funk is that’s settled over me, I grab my briefcase and head toward my cube. As I walk, I send a text to Zayn and the others, asking if they want to meet for lunch in the cafeteria. I haven’t even reached my office when I get three affirmative answers. Their friendliness puts a smile on my face. Rick and the other intellectual property interns might not like me, but at least I’ve made three friends—all of whom are exceptionally cool.
Once at my desk, I dive into the mountains of research Maryanne has heaped on me this week. I thought that with the Trifecta deal having gone through, the amount of stuff they’d need would go down, but it seems like the opposite has happened. There are a million more questions that need answers, dozens of precedents that need to be looked at. It’s more than enough to keep me busy and my mind off Ethan.
I’ve been working steadily for about an hour when I get another delivery. It’s not a blender this time—after Ethan’s last trick, I’ve given up on getting him to take the Vitamix back. Instead, it’s a fancy black box with a silver bow holding the lid in place.
There are no clues to warn me what might be in the box, but still, something tells me that discretion is probably the route to go with this present. Sure enough, when I peek inside, I find a dozen or so pairs of fancy underwear in a rainbow of colors. Red, pink, blue, purple, black—the only thing they have in common is the fact that they are very fancy and very expensive.
There’s a note on top in Ethan’s bold scrawl. All it says is I think I owe you some of these. My cheeks flame as I think about him ripping off my panties yesterday in his office and then another pair at my apartment last night. At the rate he’s going, he should probably set up a standing underwear delivery a couple of times a month.
Not that I’m complaining.
I text him to say thank you, but don’t get an answer for several hours, until after he’s landed in New York.
I like the red ones.
Having had a chance to look at all of them at this point, I know that the red ones are the skimpiest pair he sent me.
Maybe you can wear them, then. Gives me a chance to rip them off you this time.
I’ve always been told blue is more my color.
LOL. Safe flight?
Long. I miss you.
I miss you, too.
Gotta go—business dinner.
* * *
My phone rings about eleven. With Ethan gone, I took the opportunity to catch up on some of the sleep I’ve been missing the last few days, so I’m groggy and half asleep when I answer it.
Ethan’s voice, warm and sweet, pours down the line. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I thought you’d still be up. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“No! It’s fine.” I pull the phone closer to my body, wrap myself around it like I would with Ethan if he were here. Considering the amount of time we’ve known each other, it’s crazy how much I miss him. “How was your dinner?
“Boring. How was yours?”
“Very exciting, actually,” I tease, tongue in cheek. “Tori and I ordered Indian food and watched Firefly on Netflix.”
“That was a great show. Joss Wheedon is a genius.”
“He really is.”
We talk for a few more minutes, about silly, mundane stuff that makes us laugh. Eventually Ethan tells me to go back to sleep. I protest, but I know he’s right. Even I can hear the way I’m slurring words.
“Call me tomorrow?” I ask before I hang up.
“It’s your turn. You call me.”
I smile, because every day he proves that we’re together in some new way. And that we really are equals. “I can do that.”
“Good night, Chloe.”
“Good night, Ethan.”
* * *
On Thursday, another delivery comes, this one to the apartment. Tori answers the knock on the door and comes back with a bright pink bakery box.
“Big shock. It’s for you.”
“It looks fattening.”
“I know, right? What is it about men? They like us with perfect bodies, but when they court us, they’re always trying to fatten us up.”
“Court? You think Ethan is courting me?”
She looks at me like I’m a moron. “Obviously.”
“I thought we were in the wooing stage. You said before that he was wooing me.”
“Yes, well, he’s obviously wooed you right into his bed. Now it’s becoming obvious that he wants to keep you there. Hence the courting.”
“Courting.” I repeat the word, try it out to see if I like the sound of it. I do. I really do.
“Oh, God. You’ve got that goofy look on your face again.”
“It’s not goofy.”
“It’s totally goofy. It’s so goofy I’m beginning to feel like you belong in a Disney cartoon.”
I stick my tongue out at her, then reach for the box. There’s no note, nothing to tell me who it’s from. But I know it’s from him, even before I open the box and see the beautiful arrangement of six perfect strawberry Napoleons.
“Have I mentioned that I really like this guy?” Tori asks, reaching in and swiping her finger along the side of one of them to collect the excess cream.
“I do, too,” I say, running my finger along the belly chain I haven’t taken off since he fastened it around my waist. “I do, too.”
Thanks for the Napoleons.
How’s your day been?
Ridiculous. Nothing’s moving fast enough.
Exactly how I feel. What have you been up to?
Looking at surfboards online. When you get back, I want you to give me another surfing lesson.
I’d love that.
So it’s a date?
It’s a date.
* * *
Friday comes and there’s no delivery. Not like I’m really expecting one, but I still wait, just in case. But nothing comes, which is fine, because it’s totally my turn. And since Ethan’s recently upped his game, it’s time for me to do the same.
Because I’m thinking of him, I text him while I’m stopped at a red light on Prospect. I don’t get an answer right away, but I know he’s busy. He’s probably in a meeting or something.
Later that night I text him again. Nothing big, just the beginning of a joke I’d heard at work today. I figure I can deliver the punch line after I get his attention. But by the time I climb into bed, I still haven’t heard from him. It feels strange, but I remind myself that he’s juggling a lot of different things. I’m sure he’ll call when he gets a chance.
Which is why, when I turn off the light, I make sure the phone’s on my nightstand. We’ve talked every night after his meetings, no matter how late it is. I don’t want to take the chance of missing his call.
But the phone doesn’t ring that night.
Or the next morning.
Or the next afternoon.
And he never does answer the two texts I sent him.
I start to get worried. What if something happened to him? It’s not like we’re official or anything. No one would call me if he got hurt or sick or—
“You’re being ridiculous!” Tori tells me. “If anything happened to Ethan, it would make the news, and obviously that hasn’t happened. And the last time he texted you was to make a date to go surfing. He’s probably just busy.”
“I know, I know.”
And I do. He’s a busy guy whose job it is to keep a lot of different balls in the air at any given moment. Besides, I’m not a clingy girl. I never have been and I certainly don’t intend to start now. He’ll call me when he gets a chance. He always does.
Except Sunday rolls around and I still don’t hear from him. Before he left, he told me that he was due in around three and asked if he could pick me up around five for an early dinner. So even though he hasn’t called or texted or emailed (I checked), I get dressed for dinner anyway. Surely he’d call if he doesn’t plan to make it.
Except…he doesn’t show up. Maybe I should be mad, but at this point I’m more terrified than I am angry. Something has to be wrong. It has to be, because the Ethan I know would never behave like this. He’d never just shut me out like this without an explanation. Never cut me off so coldly and completely.
Plus it doesn’t make sense. Like Tori said, the last thing he did was arrange to take me surfing again. Unless he didn’t really want to and I pushed him into it. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I was too pushy—
No. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to spend all night torturing myself over the inner workings of Ethan Frost’s brain. It’s seven-thirty—two and a half hours past the time he was supposed to pick me up. Four and a half hours past the time he was supposed to land. Surely if he’d actually gotten in today, he would have made it home from the airport by now.
Which means I’m going over there. One way or the other, I’m going to find out what’s going on with him. Even if it breaks my heart.
There’s a light on in Ethan’s kitchen window when I pull up to the gate. I know the code from the couple of nights I slept over, so I don’t bother pushing the button to alert him that I’m here. I just punch in the five numbers and wait for the gate to swing open.
By the time I get to the top of the driveway, my heart is pounding like a metronome at high speed. My stomach hurts, my heart hurts, and I’m shaking so badly I can barely get the car door open. This is going to be bad. I can tell, can feel it deep down inside myself. No matter how much I try to tell myself that he just forgot about dinner, I know better. Ethan Frost doesn’t forget anything.
As I walk up to the house, I realize there are actually three or four lights on in the downstairs alone. So he’s definitely home. The knowledge only makes me feel worse. Not as bad as imagining he might not be alone does, but still. I’ll deal with that eventuality only if I have to.