“Do you do this just to torture Valerie?” the woman asks.
“It gets her attention.” I try to hide my smile as I think about her snoring softly in my arms last night. It was the cutest thing ever.
“I’m Gracie,” she says as she reaches to the side of me to grab her coffee. “I know who you are.”
“So Valerie talks about me?” I try not to sound cocky as I pass the baker my card and take the box of pastries. “Want one?” I offer the box to Gracie, but she shakes her head.
“I wouldn’t call it talking about you. It’s more like complaining.”
“I see.” I can’t hide my laugh this time. “She’s thinking about me, that’s all I care about.”
“You might be on to something.” I hold the door for her as we exit the coffee shop. “Even with her planning the bachelorette party tonight, she had time to mention you a few times.”
Her words stop me in my tracks, and I turn to face her. “Tonight?” She didn’t mention anything about a bachelorette party.
“Yeah, she’s the one planning it, and it’s sure to be epic.” She checks her watch. “Anyway, it was nice to see you again.”
Before I can stop her and ask for details, she’s hopping into her car and pulling out of her parking spot.
This morning when I woke up in Valerie’s bed, it was so early the sun wasn’t up yet. I lay there and watched her sleeping, her face smooth, devoid of worry and annoyance at my presence. She was so tired last night that she was asleep the second her head hit the pillow, and I didn’t want to disturb that peaceful rest. So instead of waiting around for her to kick me out, I left a note on her counter that I’d have her breakfast in my office. And to make sure, I once again bought all the chocolate croissants. Now she has no choice but to come see me because I know there’s no way she’ll back down from the challenge.
Now I’m hearing about this bachelorette party, and my mind is beginning to churn. What’s she planning on doing? What if she’s hired strippers? I open the door to my law office a little harder than I intended, and the bell on it clangs around loudly.
“Morning, Tidas,” Rebecca says, but then quickly corrects herself. “Mr. Combs.”
“Morning,” I mutter, trying not to be an asshole. It’s not her fault Valerie has me in knots before nine in the morning.
“Your brother has called you twice already. He said you’re not answering your cell.”
“Shit.” I reach in my pocket and see my cell is dead. I forgot to charge it last night at Valerie’s. “I’ll call him now.”
I go into my office, close the door, and reach for my desk phone. I dial his number, and he answers before the first ring can stop.
“Where are you?”
“I stayed with a friend last night,” I offer, not wanting to elaborate to him right now. “I’m at work. What’s wrong?”
“You didn’t come home.” His voice is stern, like he’s angry with me.
“Donovan, I'm a grown man. I can stay out all night if I want.”
“I told Mom you didn’t come home.”
“Fuck,” I hiss and close my eyes. Great, now my mom is going to be riding my ass about who I was with and what I was doing. “We’re not nine anymore, Van. You can’t fucking snitch on me.”
“Too late,” he says, and I can practically hear him shrug. “Was it that bridal shop chick?”
“That’s none of your business.” I clench my jaw. “How the fuck do you even know that? You never leave this goddamn house!”
“I have my ways.” His voice is so cool and unbothered.
“Yeah, well I’ve got work to do, so if you’re only calling to bust my balls, I need to go.”
“Did she bust your balls last night?”
“Goodbye,” I say before slamming the phone in the receiver.
There’s a pain beginning behind my right eye, and I wonder how my brother can cause me to have a migraine so early in the day.
The chime on the office door has me looking up, and I hear Rebecca quietly greet someone before my door is opened. Valerie is standing there in a periwinkle dress that hugs her curves from her tits to her knees.
“You look beautiful,” I say, ignoring her glare as she closes the door behind her.
“Listen, Tidas.” She clears her throat. “Whatever the hell that was last night.” She lowers her voice as I stand up from my chair and move toward her. “Whatever that was,” she repeats. “It’s not happening again.”
“This color suits you,” I say, ignoring her, and I slide my hand around her hip as she backs into the wall behind her.
“I mean it.” Her words are weak as she tilts her head back to look up at me.