“I need to talk to you,” I mouthed.
“Bat signal?” I think he said back.
He nodded, blew me a kiss behind everyone’s back, and was off, herded down the hall and into the elevator.
Sara shrugged, dragging another fry through ketchup before popping it into her mouth, but definitely not looking at me. “Things are fine.”
I glared at her. Things were always fine with Sara.
“I’m serious!” she insisted, leaning back in her chair. “There’s so much noise about it all. I’m just trying to figure out what is truth, and what isn’t.”
“I’ve known him for so long it’s just hard to reconcile it all. But, honestly, I’m doing fine.”
“Sara, pardon the intrusion, because I suppose technically it’s none of my business, but that is the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard.”
“You heard me! This thing with Andy is a huge deal! Bennett wants us to go to France and besides the obvious twelve hundred fifty-four reasons why I shouldn’t go, near the top of that list is you!”
“What?” she repeated, though a bit louder this time. “Bennett wants you to go to France! Oh my God that’s amazing! And wait, what do you mean ‘me’?”
“Yeah, he wants us to have some time away to reconnect before the craziness of New York is upon us all,” I said, before balling up my napkin and throwing it at her. “And I hesitate to leave for three weeks because I’m worried about you!”
Sara laughed, standing to walk around the table and hug me. “That is the sweetest, most idiotic thing anyone has ever said to me. I love you, Chloe.”
“But I’m moving,” I added, squeezing her tightly. “These were going to be our last three weeks together.”
Sara took the seat next to me. “I’m a big girl, and there are planes. I love—love—that you wanted to stay here and take care of me. But . . . I think Bennett might be right,” she said, wincing a little. “You guys need this, and if you can make it work, well, you should throw some skimpy clothes in a bag and drag that man to France.”
I laughed, leaning on her shoulder. “God, it would complicate things so much. I’d have to find someone to do interviews, sit in on all my meetings—”
“But would it be worth it?”
I smiled, remembering how excited Bennett had been when he’d told me about the trip, and how his face had fallen when I hadn’t shared his enthusiasm. “Yeah, it would.”
I rolled over, grabbing my phone from the bedside table and muting the alarm with a swipe of my thumb. I was exhausted, having fallen asleep only two hours before. I’d worked until almost two and then tried to slip into bed without waking Chloe, but she’d stirred and climbed on top of me before I could say anything.
As if I would have stopped her.
I couldn’t really complain that it meant another hour of sleep lost, but now, when her hand reached blindly beneath the blankets, sweeping down my stomach to curl around my cock, I knew I had to stop her. I had a flight to catch, alone.
She was coming to France, but she was leaving a day after me, insisting with a stubbornness all her own that she needed the rest of Friday to get the last few things sorted. I would have waited for her, but because the flights were all last minute there weren’t any direct flights, nor were there any seats together anyway. Deciding to keep my flight, I figured I’d get there early and get us situated at Max’s place.
“I don’t think we have time,” I mumbled into her hair.
“Not buying it,” she said, voice croaky with sleep. “This guy,” she said, squeezing my erection in her grip, “thinks we have plenty of time.”
“The car is picking me up in fifteen minutes, and thanks to your appetite last night, I need another shower.”
“There was that one time you only needed two minutes to come. You’re telling me you don’t have two minutes?”
“Morning sex is never only two minutes,” I reminded her. “Not when you’re all sleepy and rumpled and warm.” I rolled out of bed and walked into my bathroom to the sound of her groan muffled by my stolen pillow.
When I emerged, clean and dressed, she sat up in bed, still hugging my pillow and sort-of-pretending she wasn’t upset that we had to fly separately to France.
“Don’t pout,” I murmured, bending to kiss the corner of her mouth. “You’ll just confirm what I’ve always suspected: you can’t function without me.”
I expected her to roll her eyes or pinch me playfully but she blinked down to my tie and reached to needlessly adjust it. “I can function without you. But I don’t like being away from you. It feels like you take my home with you when you go.”
I laid my garment bag across the bed and took her face in my hands until she looked up, and could see the effect her words had on me. She smiled, tongue slipping out to wet her lips.
With one final kiss, I whispered, “I’ll see you in France.”
I would lose a day in transit, arriving on Saturday. Chloe’s flight was only twelve hours after mine, but because she couldn’t go direct she had to red-eye it to New York and then leave for Paris the following day, getting into Marseille on Monday. It would give me time to prepare for her arrival, but, knowing Max, the house would be spotless and stocked with food and drink and I would have nothing to do.
An idle Bennett . . . and all that.
I settled into the first class cabin, declining the champagne, and pulled out my phone to text Chloe.
Boarded. See you across the pond.
My phone buzzed several seconds later. Rethinking this whole trip. There’s a shoe sale at Dillons this weekend.
I laughed, choosing to ignore this one and slipping my phone back into my jacket pocket. Closing my eyes as the other passengers filed in past me, I remembered our past trips. We’d only traveled together a handful of times, but nothing ever went according to plan. Had I incurred some sort of vacation voodoo I wasn’t aware of? It seemed we were destined to be plagued by trips that went terribly off course, were taken separately, were colored by miserable arguments . . . or were canceled altogether.
My stomach turned when I remembered our attempt at a vacation last Thanksgiving. On impulse one weekend we’d purchased tickets to St. Bart’s and rented a house on the water. It was meant to be perfect but instead it led to the first time Chloe stopped speaking to me since our reconciliation.
I looked up from my desk, my eyebrows inching to my hairline as Chloe slammed my door and stormed to my desk.
“Did the gimp escape the dungeon again, Miss Mills?”
“Close enough. Papadakis is pushing up launch.”
I stood so abruptly my chair skidded back and banged into the wall. “What?”
“January is the new March, apparently. The first press blast is set to go out January seventh.”
“That’s a horrible time to pitch something like this! Everyone is still drunk or cleaning up the holiday mess. No one is buying fancy apartments.”
“Did you also tell him he needs to stick to counting his Benjamins and leave the marketing to us?”
She laughed, crossing her arms across her chest. “I may have actually used those words. With a few other gangster terms thrown in.”
I sat back down, rubbing my hands over my face. Our flight was scheduled to leave in the morning, on Thanksgiving Day, and there was no way we could leave work now. “You told him this was okay?”
Across the desk, I could sense that she grew completely still. “What was my option?”
“To tell him we’re not going to be ready!”
“But that’s a lie. We can be ready.”
I dropped my hands, gaping at her. “Yes, but only if we work fifteen-hour days through the holidays—and all to accommodate his shitty timing for a launch.”
She threw her hands up, eyes on fire. “He’s paying us a million dollars for basic marketing and we’re inking a deal for another ten-million-dollar media campaign. You think fifteen-hour days are unreasonable to keep our biggest client?”
“Of course not! But he’s also not your only client! Rule number one in business is to not ever let the big dog know how small the other dogs are.”
“Damnit, Bennett. I’m not going to tell him we can’t deliver.”
“Sometimes a little pushback is a good thing. You’re being green, Mills. If you weren’t sure, you should have sent the call to me.”
I immediately wanted to pull the words back into my mouth. Her eyes went wide, her mouth dropped, and fuck, her hands curled into fists at her sides. I reached down to cover my balls.
“Are you f**king serious right now? Are you going to cut my f**king steak at dinner, too, you egomaniacal asshat?”
I couldn’t help myself. “Only if I can feed it to you and help you chew.”
Her face smoothed and I could see her calculate how much effort she wanted to put into kicking my ass. “We’re skipping St. Bart’s,” she said, flatly.
“Obviously. Why do you think I’m pissed?”
“Well, even if we did still go at this point, you’d be sleeping alone with your hand and a tube of lube.”
“I could work with that. These two hands provide some variety.”
She blinked away, jaw clenched. “Are you trying to make me more angry?”
Dark eyes turned back on me, narrowed. Her voice shook a little with one word: “Why?”
“So you can feel the pain more. Because you should have told George that these kinds of decisions have to be cleared with the entire team and we’d have an answer for him after the holiday.”
“How do you know I didn’t say that?”
“Because you came in here and delivered news. You didn’t act like it was a suggestion.”
She stared at me, eyes flashing through a hundred responses. I waited to see how many curse words she could string together but she surprised me instead, and turned to leave my office.
Chloe didn’t stay over that night. It was only the second night we’d spent apart after her presentation at J. T. Miller last June, and I didn’t even try to sleep. Instead, I watched Mad Men on Netflix and wondered which of us would apologize first.
The problem was I was right, and I knew it.
Thanksgiving morning arrived with snow flurries and a wind so strong it pushed me forward into the building as I walked, alone, from the parking garage to my office.
It had never occurred to me that she would leave me again after our fight. I suspected Chloe and I were in it for the long haul, whether the long haul officially began tomorrow or ten years in the future. There wasn’t anything she could do to scare me off.
And while I felt the same was true for her, she rarely walked away from a fight. She either battled with me until I was figuratively on my knees or she ended up on her knees in an entirely different way.
Only a few RMG employees were at work on Thanksgiving—the members of the Papadakis team. And every one of them glared at Chloe as she walked down the hall to get some coffee. Knowing her, she had probably worked late last night and slept under her desk.
She didn’t even glance over to where I stood in the doorway to the conference room. Still, I could almost hear her thinking as she passed every disgruntled team member: “You can suck my dick. And you, too, can suck my dick. And you? The slacker with the pathetic pout? You can really suck my dick.”
She headed to her office, settled in, and left her door open.
Come and get me, she was saying. Come on in and let’s have it out.
But for as much as everyone probably wanted to give her an earful for making us cancel our holiday plans, no one did. Each of us had been raised in the business world under the same ethos: work trumps all. The last person to leave work is the hero. The first person in has bragging rights. Working over holidays gets you into heaven.
And while a more experienced executive would have told Papadakis that what he’d asked wasn’t possible, as always I admired Chloe’s determination. This wasn’t just about meeting a new milestone for her. This was her launching her career. This was her foundation. Chloe was me a few years ago.
After everyone else had left for the evening, I knocked on her open door, gently alerting her to my presence.
“Mr. Ryan,” she said, pulling off her glasses and looking up at me. The city skyline winked behind her, speckled lights covering her entire wall of windows. “Here to show me how to grow a penis so I can get the job done?”
“Chloe, I’m pretty sure if you wanted to grow one, you could do it by will alone.”
She let a half smile form, pushing back from her desk and crossing her legs. “I’d grow one just so I could ask you to suck on it.”
I couldn’t contain my laughter, bending over and collapsing into the chair across the desk from her. “I knew you were going to say that.”
Her eyebrows pulled together a little. “Well, before you say anything else, yes, I know this sucks. And . . . I think you were right. We could be in St. Bart’s right now, on the beach.”
I started to speak, but she held up her hand to urge me to wait.
“But the thing is, Bennett, no matter how much I should have, I didn’t want to tell Papadakis no. I wanted to deliver, because we can, and we should. It’s down to the wire anyway and we’ve had a lot of time to work on this. It felt disingenuous to say we couldn’t make it happen.”