This is a little later than I’d hoped, but on the bright side, it’s a bit longer too. LOL. I’m still on track to post once a week to ten days but real life does have a way of taking over. I’ll leave you with this installment and get back to my WIP while I have a quiet house and time to get some work done! Look for part 6 (NSFW) next week…
Happy Reading! Lane xo
Better Than Engagement- Chapter 5
Have you ever noticed how minor aggravations seem to take on a life of their own at the most inconvenient times? My intuition warned me to be on guard. I had a volatile Latin lover who was already stressed out from work and news of my parent’s impending visit. Running into the sexy intern who made no secret she had a crush on me and wasn’t above making bold overtures was the last thing Aaron would want to deal with tonight. Hell, it was the last thing I wanted to deal with either. It wasn’t like I planned it. Shit happened. Unfortunately I knew logic wouldn’t fly if my boyfriend walked in on me engaged in a chummy conversation with a pretty brunette with stars in her eyes.
I glanced at Curt who pasted on a friendly “about to meet a stranger” look then stage-whispered, “And three, two, one…”
“Hi Matt! I thought that was you!” Jana gushed, squeezing my arm enthusiastically.
“Hi Jana. Funny to run into you here. Um…hey, this is my friend, Curt. Jana is one of our interns. She’s been extremely helpful with the contract we’re working on.”
Curt’s half eye roll said it all and then some. Lame. “Nice to meet you.”
I stood and shoved my phone in my suit pocket while they muddled through cordial introductions. “We’re heading out now. You’re welcome to take our table if you want. It’s packed in here.”
“Actually I’ve been sitting on the other end of the bar with my friends—” She pointed to a group of women gathering their belongings and moving toward the main dining area. “One of them made a reservation but I’m not sure if I’ll stay. Do you have plans tonight?”
“Uh…yeah, actually I do.”
The ensuing stilted pause was awkward as hell. I wanted out.
Curt rustled his keys as he inclined his head toward the door. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you later, Matt. Tell Aaron hi and don’t forget about basketball this weekend.”
He bumped my shoulder as he sidled past us and headed for the exit, leaving me with a perky intern. Great.
Jana bit her bottom lip and batted her lashes shyly. I had to give it to her. She had flirtation down to a science. She was obvious about what she wanted but there was a sudden fragility about her that made it difficult to be abrupt or unkind. Not that I would be. I still had to work with her.
I stepped aside when a couple swooped in to take our table then gestured vaguely toward the reception desk in the adjoining area. “I’m having dinner here tonight. I should get going.”
“I’ll come with you. I mean…to join my friends.”
She flashed a winning smile then followed closely as I made my way through the tightly packed bar to the entrance. At some point she latched on to me, slipping her arm through the crook of my elbow like she needed me to pull her to safety. I gently extricated myself from her grip then craned my neck to see if my date had arrived.
“Bye Jana. See you tomorrow. Enjoy your dinner.”
“Wait! Can I ask you something?”
“Are you with someone? Colleen mentioned that you were but…”
“Is it serious? I don’t mean to come on strong—” She chuckled when I widened my eyes comically before continuing, “—but I like you. You’re a brilliant lawyer and honestly, you’re one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. You always stop what you’re doing to help interns and newbies and I guess I was wondering if… you know.”
“I’m flattered, Jana, but yeah, I’m in a serious relationship. The practically married kind of serious.”
“But not quite!” She held up a finger and made a funny face that went a long way toward defusing the clumsy air between us.
“Yeah, well I’m hoping to change that soon.”
“Oh wow! Congratulations!” Her enthusiasm seemed sincere. I smiled then glanced away just as she threw her arms around me.
And because timing was everything, that was when Aaron walked in.
He stopped in his tracks and gave me a lopsided grin, clearly amused at my predicament. I’d take amusement over jealousy any day, I thought as I pushed Jana away and turned to face my man. Damn, he looked amazing. He wore an electric blue suit coat with dark, slim-fitted trousers. If I had to guess, I’d bet he’d come from a photo shoot where the makeup artist decided to use him as a guinea pig. His hazel eyes were heavy lined and there was a pale tint to his lip gloss.
I was aware of Jana’s excited chatter next to me but I couldn’t really hear her. I was reminded of the first night I met Aaron. He’d taken my breath away. I was in awe of him and freaked out by my reaction. My pulse skipped, my palms were slick and my mouth was like the Sahara. I hadn’t known then what was going on with me. Now, I knew I was in love.
“Hi. I’m late,” he said with a cocky smile that grew with each passing second. He knew what he did to me and he fucking loved it.
“You’re perfect.” I pulled Aaron forward and kissed his cheek. Then I put my arm over his shoulder and turned to the bewildered woman beside me. “Jana, this is my boyfriend, Aaron.”
To say she was shocked was a bit of an understatement. She looked blown away and maybe even a little ill. She stared at us long enough that I wondered if she was waiting for a punch line or a “just kidding”. When she sensed it wasn’t coming, she cleared her throat and finally took Aaron’s outstretched hand.
“Oh! Oh…oh right. Um…it’s nice to meet you.”
“You too. Do you work at the firm?” he asked politely.
“Y-yes. I’m an intern who’s interning.” She grimaced as she caught herself and then gestured to somewhere in the restaurant. “Uh, I should go find my friends. I’ll see you tomorrow, Matt. Nice to meet you.”
Cool. That was done. I rubbed Aaron’s shoulder then stepped toward the hostess desk when she called my name. “Come on, babe. I’m starving.”
We were seated at a small table for two in the middle of the restaurant next to a glass and steel banister. There was no neighboring table on one side, but we had a bird’s eye view of the entire space. The hostess set two menus and a wine list next to a tiny vase of wildflowers and the single votive on the white linen tablecloth and assured us our waiter would be with us soon. I opened the leather bound wine list and perused the first page before glancing at my uncharacteristically quiet date.
“They have that Bordeaux you like. Do you want wine or would you rather have a cocktail first?”
“So… that’s Jana,” he singsonged, ignoring my question. He set his elbows on the table and tucked his hands under his chin.
“Yep. I’ll order a bottle of the—”
“She’s staring at me.”
“She’s sitting two tables away.” He huffed humorlessly. “This is going to be interesting.”
“It’s not going to be anything. Relax and tell me about your day. You look hot, by the way.”
“Thanks. Check this out.” Aaron grinned then leaned in farther and closed his eyes so I could see the aquamarine glitter on his eyelids.
When I oohed appreciatively, he fluttered his eyelashes and giggled like a kid. I laughed then picked up my water glass to keep myself from touching him just as the waiter stopped at our table to take our drink order. He left us with a promise of fresh bread and the speedy delivery of our wine.
“So you played dress up today,” I commented when we were alone again.
“I did. Clothes, hair, makeup. It was a blast and pretty much the only thing that kept the day from being a complete disaster.”
“You name it. The designer was late. He insisted on using his own models, but they didn’t fit the pieces he brought with him. He fought with the photographer about lighting, the stylist about the models’ hair and get this… when his tirade went to full scale diva heights, he questioned my fashion sense. He actually called me gauche.”
“And you let him live?”
Aaron threw his head back and laughed. “It may have been a rash decision, but yes. All things considered, I think I handled the situation well. When I suggested we regroup in the morning to give everyone a few more hours to prepare, he didn’t argue. Thank God. The second he left, I made all the necessary calls to be sure I have the personnel I need to get his team in and out before noon tomorrow. I just hope Marsha doesn’t fire my ass before I can prove how fabulous I really am.”
I scoffed. “Why would she fire you? You’re the best assistant art director in DC!”
Aaron gave me a sappy smile and sighed. “That’s why I love you, Matty.”
“What did I say?”
“Sometimes it isn’t what you say. It’s how you look at me when you say it.”
Before I could respond, the waiter returned with our wine and launched immediately into an impressive list of specials. I didn’t hear a word he said. I was engrossed with my date. Aaron was an enigma. He was a whirling dervish who peppered nonstop chatter with animated hand movements and a mischievous glint in his eye. Then he’d stop everything to make a point that left me speechless and ten paces behind him, fumbling to catch up. I felt sorry for anyone who made the mistake of underestimating him.
When the waiter stepped away, I lifted my wine glass and tapped it against his. “How do I look at you?”
“Like I’m the only one here. Like you can’t see anyone but me.”
“Me either.” He reached across the table and set his hand over mine, then he sat back and huffed theatrically. “I just wish I didn’t have the intern in my peripheral view. She’s killing the romantic vibe.”
“Don’t look at her.”
“I’m trying but she’s staring again. I’m feeling self conscious,” he groused playfully.
“You?” I rolled my eyes. “Oh please.”
“You’re right. Let’s talk about your parents visiting instead. Whatever you do, don’t tell your mother you have an attractive admirer after you. She’ll insist on meeting her and before I know what hit me, I’ll come home to find Bride magazines with the corners folded on every wedding dress and Jana’s initials circled with hearts on every one.”
I scoffed. “And you’d tell her not to bother with magazines because you’re designing your own gown.”
Aaron snickered appreciatively. “Touché. You do realize if we ever get married, we can’t tell your mother. She’ll freak the fuck out.”
“First of all, it’s ‘when’, not ‘if’ and secondly, that’s her problem… not ours.”
“Ooh! I love it when you get macho territorial and protective, Matty. It turns me on,” he purred, sliding his leg along mine under the table.
“Cut it out. I don’t want to sit here for an hour with a hard on.”
“My bad. I’m not sure I could get hard with my hostile audience. Your friend still looks puzzled, poor thing. Why do I get the feeling she had no idea you’re with a man? I can’t decide if her surprise was comical or insulting.”
I sighed with exasperation and leaned in. “C’mon Aar. Give me a break. I didn’t invite her here and I didn’t suggest my parents make an impromptu visit to DC either. I may not wear rainbow ties to work and talk incessantly about my hot boyfriend—”
“But I never hide who I am or who I’m with.”
“I know,” he said apologetically.
“Hey, I wish it was easier too. I wish my mom was more like yours. Honestly, I would have thought your family would give me a harder time than mine, but they’re so…accepting.”
Aaron cocked his head thoughtfully. “Of course they are. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I opened my mouth and closed it quickly but I couldn’t find my voice right away. When I did, it sounded thick with emotion. “That’s my line.”
“Hmm. The difference with my family and yours is expectation. My family expected me to bring home someone like me and trust me… they weren’t looking forward to it. One of me is difficult enough. Two? No way. But instead of another fabulous freak, they got you. You’re… normal. They love normal. Everyone does! That’s why we’re not easy for your mom to accept. She likes me fine, but I’m not what she expected. She wanted someone traditional for you. In her mind, traditional is safe. She wants you to have what she has and she doesn’t see how you can be happy with anything less.”
Now I really was speechless. He was right. I hated it but everything he said was true. I watched football with his dad and brother and made no attempt to hide the fact I knew nothing about fashion or anything they might consider unmanly. I might have been unexpected but they could relate to me on some level. I was easy.
“We have so much good will and acceptance in our lives,” he continued. “I have to remind myself to let the BS go. It’s not important. Your mom may never like me and if it’s not Jana, who by the way is still gawking at me like I’m an alien…it’s going to be someone else who thinks if my handsome lawyer is really bi, he can probably be swayed back to the straight side of the street.”
Aaron’s self-deprecating smile took the sting out of his bald-faced version of the facts, but I didn’t want to concede that life was unfair and sometimes even good people made life needlessly difficult for the ones they loved the most. I wanted him to forget everyone but us.
I rubbed my nose nervously and shifted in my chair. “She’s still staring?”
“Change seats with me.”
“Now?” he asked, knitting his brow irritably.
When he started grumbling in Spanish, I stood abruptly and motioned for him to get up. “Come on. Let’s trade.”
Anything could happen now. He might refuse and if he did agree, he might stomp on my foot or even elbow me in the gut when he got up. His piercing gaze cautioned me to think twice. I waited patiently while he dabbed the corner of his mouth then slowly backed his chair up and stood. Just as someone dropped a glass a couple tables away. A brief quiet fell and a few heads turned in our direction, as though startled by the jarring sound of breaking glassware. I took advantage of the disruption and pounced.
I pulled Aaron against me and cover his mouth in a searing kiss. I threw everything I had into the connection. I might not be able to fight every injustice but I would always fight for what was mine.
The place exploded with cheers and enthusiastic clapping. Our table’s central location gave the entire restaurant a front row seat to the show. I didn’t care. No one and nothing mattered but him. I pulled back slightly and rested my forehead on his before pointing at my vacant chair. He gave me a dreamy-eye nod but obeyed.
“I can’t believe you did that,” he whispered.
“Why not? I love you. I don’t care who knows. In fact, I want them to know. Should I start wearing rainbow ties to work?” I asked in a faux serious tone.
Aaron shook his head. “No. Be you. That’s all I need.”
To be continued…