“Three years ago,” he said, taking the box from me and removed an earring, handing it to me. I took it carefully, the weight of it surprising me. It was, by far, the most expensive thing I had ever touched. I put it on, and looked at myself in the mirror, Brad’s watchful face above mine. “I’ll take good care of them tonight.”

He wrapped his arms around me and kissed my neck. “I’m not worried. I’m not letting either of you out of my sight.”

I smiled softly and fingered the remaining earring, bringing it up to my other ear. “Which one of us is more precious to you?”

He frowned at me. “I can replace the earrings. You, I cannot.”

I turned and looked up at him. “No?”

“No.”

He snuck a quick hand up my shirt and I flinched, knocking his hand back down and spinning back to the mirror, glaring at his reflection. He shot me a grin and smacked me hard on the ass, then turned to the shower, turning on all of the jets and then pulling his shirt over his head. Finished with my makeup, my ears brilliantly adorned, I left the bathroom and headed to the bedroom to dress.

Forty-Eight

Cypress was as opulent as I expected, but much smaller. We were greeted by a dignified older man who led us on a winding path through several candlelit tables. The room was pear-shaped, an illuminated pianist in the center of it, and the back, curved wall held four curtained alcoves. We were taken to the farthest one, and he pulled back the curtain to reveal a square table, set for two. We stepped up into the alcove, which turned out to be cozy but not claustrophobic. A window occupied the top half of the back wall and gave a stunning view of the downtown skyscrapers. Other than the view and a lone candle, the room was dark.

“Do you want the curtain open or closed, sir?”

“Open, for now. And would you ask the waiter for bottled still, please?”

“Certainly. Enjoy your dinner.”

The man gave a slight bow and left. Brad smiled at me, reaching over and grabbing my hand on the white tablecloth. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you. You look very handsome yourself, though I am sure you are aware of that.”

“Have you been here before?”

I grinned at him over the candle. “I will save you useless questions on any future dates by informing you that I have not been to any local restaurants that have an à la carte menu.”

“That does save time.”

“How many times have you been here?”

“A few. This is probably my third time.”

I scrunched my forehead at him. “It’s quite a romantic place.”

“Yes, it is.”

“You don’t seem like a romantic type. Seems like you would avoid anything that hints of commitment.”

“You’re wrong on that logic. I am very romantic. It’s part of my whole Don Juan persona. It’s much easier to f**k women when you wine and dine them.”

I raised my eyebrows at him while a waiter arrived and poured us chilled glasses of bottled water. “You do seem to be good at the whole wine-and-dine act.”

We ordered drinks and a selection of appetizers, and once the waiter left, I turned back to Brad. “So, is this whole act to try and get lucky later?”

He looked wounded. “I thought part of the whole ‘girlfriend’ deal was that I was guaranteed to get lucky every night.”

“Oh no.” I shook my head at him. “That isn’t part of the deal at all. Mood swings, PMS, grouchiness, you are guaranteed that. But sex is a constantly negotiated perk.”

“That sucks. No wonder I’m a bachelor.”

“Of course, I was going to wait and spring the bad stuff on you later, so I’m thinking you do have a chance at getting lucky tonight.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“No problem.” The pianist started playing a Frank Sinatra tune and a peaceful lull fell over our table. I watched Brad across the table, his features strong and quiet, his eyes watching mine, his mouth twitching. He was in a good mood, but seemed jittery, nervous, which was very odd. He was normally confidently in control, reassuringly so. He checked his watch.

“Something wrong?”

“No. Just wondering where our drinks are.”

I frowned. Impatience was also out of character, as much as nervousness. At that moment the waiter arrived with our drinks. After setting them in front of us, he bent over and whispered something in Brad’s ear. My eyes narrowed as I watched the exchange, watched Brad’s eyes lighten and his chair slide back as he stood.

“Julia, excuse me for one moment.”

“Wha—?” I didn’t get a chance to finish the question, since I was now alone in the alcove, the settling curtains the only sign that he had even been there. I watched their exit, two suits winding through the tables and disappearing down the hall we had originally entered through. Weird.

* * *

THE PALE LORENZI MANAGER stood by the host stand, with Rebecca’s large frame parked beside him, her arms crossed, expression stony. Shit. He had told her not to come. Brad didn’t stop, but nodded with his head to indicate that they should take this outside. He waited until their party of three passed through the heavy swinging doors, then nodded a greeting to them both. Rebecca didn’t allow the jeweler to speak before she launched into a whispered tirade at Brad.

“Do you know how much this ring costs? Jesus, Brad. I negotiated a chunk of it off, but we are still talking about serious cash. For some chick you started boning a few weeks ago?”

He ignored her and addressed the man. “How did it turn out? Let me see it.”

“It turned out fine. I was there, Brad—I made sure it was perfect—but we seriously need to discuss this!” Rebecca was pissed and getting even more worked up, pushing a blond tendril off her forehead and moving closer to him.

He turned to her, silencing her rant with his eyes. “Thank you for your help tonight. You can go now.” Her eyes blazed at his statement, and he knew she would make him pay for it later. She started to talk, but he held up his hand. “Now. Go. I have to go back inside. We’ll discuss this later.”

She threw up her hands and wheeled around, storming over to her car and yanking the door open. Brad focused back on the jeweler, who had a ring box and loupe out. Brad took the box, opened it and examined the ring closely. It was a platinum setting, two thin strips of small diamonds that arched together and held a brilliant three-carat princess-cut diamond. It looked like an estate piece that had been passed down for generations. It was just as he had envisioned and he clapped the pale man on the shoulder, almost knocking him over in his enthusiasm.

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