“Let me see your phone,” I said. Part of me felt bad for doing this, having been with one man upstairs not even twenty minutes ago, and now giving my number to another. But it was time to move past this, and a lunch date with a nice guy seemed like a good place to start.

His smile widened as I handed him his phone, and he gave me his card in return. Taking my hand, he lifted it to his lips. “I’ll call you Monday, then. Hopefully your flowers aren’t completely wilted.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” I said, smiling. “Thank you.”

He looked so sincere, so happy at the simple possibility of seeing me again, and it occurred to me that I should be swooning, or giddy. I really just wanted to throw up.

Joel nodded, opening my car door for me. “Of course. I hope you feel better. Drive carefully, and good night, Chloe.”

He closed my door and I started the engine, my eyes straight ahead as I drove away from my boss’ family’s house.

The next morning at yoga I considered spilling my guts to Julia. I’d felt reasonably certain I could handle things on my own, but after an entire night of staring at the ceiling and completely freaking out, I realized I needed to confide in someone.

There was Sara, and more than anyone Sara would understand how maddening my hot boss could be. But she also worked for Henry and I didn’t want to put her in an awkward position by asking her to keep such a huge secret. I knew Mina would be happy to talk if I asked, but there was just something about her being a Ryan, and knowing what she might have heard that left me feeling less than comfortable.

These were the times I really wished my mom were still alive. Just thinking about her brought a wrenching pain to my chest and tears to my eyes. Moving here to spend the last years of her life with her had been the best decision I’d ever made. And even though living so far from my dad and friends was tough at times, I knew everything happened for a reason. I just wished the reason would hurry up and make itself known.

Could I tell Julia? I had to admit I was terrified of what she would think of me. But more than that, I was terrified of saying the words to someone out loud.

“Okay, you keep looking at me,” she said. “Either you have something on your mind or I’m the embarrassing and gross kind of sweaty.”

I tried to tell her nothing, I tried to brush it off and let her think she was being absurd. But I couldn’t. The weight and the pressure of the last few weeks came crashing down and before I could control it, my chin started to tremble and I began bawling like a baby.

“That’s what I thought. Come on.” She offered me her hand and helped me up and, gathering our belongings on the way, led me out the door.

Twenty minutes, two mimosas, and one emotional breakdown later, I was watching Julia’s shocked expression at a table in our favorite restaurant. I told her everything: the panty ripping, my liking the panty ripping, the various locations, the mid-make-out-session-I-hate-yous, Mina catching us, my guilt over feeling like I was betraying Elliott and Susan, Joel, Mr. Ryan’s caveman declarations, and finally, my fear that I was in the most unhealthy relationship in the history of the world, with no power at all.

When I looked up to meet her gaze, I winced; she looked like she’d just watched a car wreck.

“Okay, let me make sure I’ve got this straight.”

I nodded waiting for her to continue.

She threw her hand up to stop me from finishing. “Yeah, yeah. I got that. And this is the same boss you oh-so-lovingly refer to as ‘Beautiful Bastard’?”

“Correct,” I mumbled, my eyes shifting away from her. “Hate. Very big hate.”

“You don’t want to be with him, but you can’t stay away.”

“God, it sounds even worse to hear someone else say it,” I groaned as I buried my face in my hands. “I sound ridiculous.”

“But the sexytimes? Are good,” she said with a touch of humor in her voice.

“Good doesn’t even come close to describing it, Julia. Phenomenal, intense, mind-blowing, multiple-orgasmingly amazing doesn’t come close to describing it.”

I rubbed my face with my hands and sighed again. “Shut up.”

“Well,” she replied thoughtfully, clearing her throat. “I guess a small penis isn’t his problem, after all . . .”

I let my head fall to my arms on the table. “No. No, it most definitely isn’t.” I looked up slightly at the sound of her muffled laughter. “Julia! This is not funny!”

“I beg to differ. Even you have to see how insane this is. I mean, of all the people I’ve ever known, you’re the last person I would have ever imagined ending up in this situation. You’ve always been so serious, with each and every step of your life so planned out. Come on, you’ve only had a few real boyfriends, all of whom you’d been with for what everyone considered a really silly amount of time before you slept with them. This man must be something else.”

“I know there’s nothing wrong with having a purely sexual relationship with someone—I can handle that. And I know that I can at times be overly controlled, but it’s the fact that I feel I have no control over myself when I’m with him. I mean, I don’t even like him, and yet . . . I keep going back.”