Beverly’s driver returned me to valet at Olives, and, five bucks later, I was behind the wheel of my SUV and heading to Brad’s. Getting the girl was only one part of the equation; I’d still have to figure out a way to get her into the upstairs guest room without Brad finding out. Ideally, I wanted to come home from dinner and have her waiting and ready in the guest room.

I didn’t want her to be in our bedroom. In case the night went awry, in case I couldn’t handle the image of him buried deep inside of her, in case this whole thing was a big mistake that I would spend the next ten years trying to forget ... I didn’t want our bedroom tainted, didn’t want to fall asleep on a bed that she had poisoned. Hopefully that wouldn’t be an issue, hopefully it would be sinfully hot, a moment I would replay countless times. But in case, just in case, I was going to have it held in the guest room. I had no issue with tainting that space.

The downstairs was dim and empty, one small light in the kitchen giving off enough juice for me to navigate through to the stairs. I kicked off my heels and jogged up the steps, the sound of running water hitting my ears. I entered the bedroom, dropping my purse and shoes on a chair, and stripping as I walked, leaving my clothes as they fell, a trail of dress, bra, and panties, I was naked as I pulled on the handle, hot steam contrasting with the cool feel of tile beneath my feet. Brad was in the shower, his gorgeous profile gently muted by fogged glass, his head tilted back under the spray.

I pulled the door wider, steam billowing out, the jets in full motion, and he turned at my approach, his mouth stretching into a full grin, his hand reaching out and capturing me, tugging me inside and against him in one smooth motion. “My baby,” he murmured, his arms wrapping around my waist, his mouth lowering to mine, a breathless, heady kiss that captured my mouth, his tongue teasing and claiming my own. The door swung shut and instantly fogged back up as his hands and mouth reminded me of where I belonged.

Chapter 42

In an empty office in Brad’s wing, I sealed the final envelope by hand, my tongue sweeping over the seal before I pressed it closed. Four envelopes, four applications. Four life paths sitting in the palm of my hand. I could dissolve them all so easily, drop them harmlessly in the wastebasket. Mailing them was planting seeds, setting myself up for an impossible decision that I would never be able to make. I had selected the schools carefully, ignoring Brad’s directive that I choose schools selfishly. We were getting married, joining our lives. I couldn’t make this big of a decision without considering him.

I was applying locally, to the school I had always assumed I would attend, my prior financial situation requiring me to attend an in-state public school with a strong financial aid package. Envelope Two was for University of Florida, a school that was close enough for me to return home on the weekends, a short flight or long drive away. Envelope Three was a stretch, the prestigious program at Dartmouth, a school unlikely to accept me, but one Brad had insisted I attempt. It had been his alma mater, and he seemed confident that his recommendation letter would hold the weight my average application needed. Envelope Four was another stretch—Stanford Law. Another completely selfish application, a school I could never afford, one that was too far away, nestled in the cliffs of the California coastline. But it was a school I had always wanted to attend, so I had painstakingly completed the application, hating every stroke I made of the pen.

I stood, tucking the envelopes under my arm, and walked to the elevators, headed to the mailroom to send off my four potential destinies. I pressed the down button and waited, hefting the envelopes in my hand, sudden stress weighing on me. I wouldn’t get in. I couldn’t get in. I wasn’t qualified, didn’t have the pedigree or prestigious undergrad diploma. But what if I did? What if I was accepted to all four? How would that affect our lives? I made a decision, on impulse, dividing the stack in two and pushing the Dartmouth and Stanford envelopes into the closest trashcan, weeks of Rebecca’s hard work crushed in two firm shoves. It was a rash decision, made against all sane thought processes. But so was my agreeing to fly out to Vegas with Brad four days after meeting him. So was marrying into the worst family in town. And with that shove? With that dump of those two way-too-heavy envelopes? I felt so much lighter. I could physically breathe again. The elevators opened and I stepped on, a happier, saner woman. It was a good decision. My decision. The elevators started their descent.

Chapter 43

Friday night came way too fast, the flurry of details occupying too much of my mind, so much that I couldn’t properly prepare, couldn’t properly dissect my conflicting emotions, my confusion over my feelings. When we f**ked—when he had his hands and c**k on me—it felt too good, he knew too much. How to touch, how to tease, how far to take me before delivering what I needed. It was unfair for me to hoard all that sexual pleasure, for me to covet his talents and deprive another woman from feeling that. I would envision him with someone else, his hands sliding and touching, curving and trailing, his body above, c**k within, mouth upon. The thought was so graphic, so physically arousing that I would instantly buck, my back arching, mind exploding, pushed over the edge and into the star-filled epiphany that was my orgasm. It never failed to send me there, never failed to arouse and excite, the fantasy incredible in its utter lack of jealousy and possessiveness. How different would reality be? Or was it the aftermath I should be considering? The doubts, insecurities? How much of a role would they play?

The evening had arrived, and I would know soon enough what harm my actions would bring. I watched Brad over the curve of my wineglass and wondered.

He had not mentioned his birthday once, and I had given strict instructions to both Martha and Rebecca to not clue him into the fact that I was aware of it. I had acted oblivious, following Brad’s lead when he suggested we go to Centaur for dinner. Dressed in a short dress and heels, my sexiest bra and panty set underneath, I had manipulated our time slightly so that it would fit with my plans. Now we waited on our steaks, him leaned casually back in his seat, his eyes watching me. I fought a smile and set down my glass. “Stop studying me.”

“I can’t help it. You’re breathtaking.”

I leaned forward and captured his hand, raising it to my lips and kissing his palm lightly. “I bet you say that to all the girls,” I said playfully. He shook his head and cupped his hand, cradling my face before leaning forward and brushing his lips over mine.

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